The labor movement has a rich cultural history, much of which has been lost over the past 50  years. Part of that history was the “Wobblies,” the name given to the first attempt to organize a national union. Formally, it was called the International Workers of the World and it tried to organize all workers into “one big union.” The attempt failed as the growing strength of the great industrial monopolies suppressed the movement, very often through violence. IWW leaders were hounded and often killed. Many became legendary in the history of the labor movement.

Out of that experience came songs and stories that enriched American culture and helped spark future labor organizing. We reprint below two examples of these songs. The first one, Solidarity Forever, became an unofficial anthem of the labor rebirth in the1930’s. We thank Jay Schaffner for bringing the first stanza of the song to our attention.

The second one, The Ballad of Joe Hill, was inspired by its namesake, an IWW member, who was framed on a murder charge in Utah and executed by a firing squad after leading a strike of copper miners in the state. It was written by composer and balladeer Earl Robinson, also in the 1930’s at the height of the organization of the CIO and the meteoric growth of the labor movement during that decade.

It is fitting that we dedicate the thoughts they express to the generation of young workers in offices and restaurants and coffee shops and warehouses and factories around our country  who are fighting to build their unions, and in the process, to rebuild the union movement today.

      SOLIDARITY FOREVER
 ( Written in 1915 by Ralph Chaplin. Sung to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic)

They divide us by our color
They divide us by our tongue
They divide us men and women
They divide us old and young.
But they’ll tremble at our voices
When they hear these verses sung
For the union makes us strong
       Chorus) Solidarity Forever, Solidarity Forever, Solidarity Forever, for the union makes us strong.

When the union’s inspiration
Through the worker’s blood shall run.
There can be no power greater
Anywhere beneath the sun.
But no force on earth is weaker
Than the feeble strength of one
For the union makes us strong.
       (Chorus) Solidarity Forever…(etc.) 


THE BALLAD OF JOE HILL
       Words and music by composer and  balladeer Earl Robinson)

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me.
Said I but Joe you’re ten years dead.
I never died, said he.
I never died, said he.

In Salt Lake City, Joe, said I
Him standing by my bed.
They framed you on a murder charge.
Said Joe, but I ain’t dead.
Said Joe, but I ain’t dead.

The copper bosses killed you Joe
They shot you Joe, said I.
Takes more than guns to kill a man.
Said Joe, I didn’t die.
Said Joe, I didn’t die.

And standing there beside my bed
And smiling with his eyes.
Said Joe what they can never kill
Went on to organize.
Went on to organize.

Joe Hill ain’t dead, he said to me
Joe Hill ain’t never died.
Where working folks defend their rights
Joe Hill is at their side
Joe Hill is at their side

From San Diego up to Maine
In every mine and mill.
Where workers strike and organize
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me.
Said I,  but Joe you’re ten years dead
I never died, said he.
I never died, said he.

COLORADO LAW NOW GIVES EQUAL PROTECTION TO DOMESTIC WORKERS

A new Colorado law, enacted in August, extends to domestic workers in the state the same protections enjoyed by other workers. They had previously been excluded from the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. Colorado thus joins a few other states that have brought equal benefits as other workers under the federal law.

Domestic workers include people who care for children, tend gardens and clean other people’s homes, among other jobs. The law says that these workers are “employees,” the same as if they worked in a factory or office and can file complaints with the Colorado Civil Rights Division against employers for things like cheating them on salaries, discrimination and harassment.

These workers have been underpaid and unprotected by labor laws throughout most of the United States. Colorado had previously passed legislation establishing a minimum wage and overtime requirements for them. The new law extends their rights to those of regular salaried employees.

CPR News, 9/14

APOLOGIZE STARBUCKS AND PAY BACK

In a major ruling Aug. 25 the NLRB ordered Starbucks to repay all benefits illegally denied to workers at hundreds of its stores that voted for a union. It also ruled that Starbucks issue a written apology to the affected workers for the harm it caused and that CEO Howard Schultz record a video admitting to these illegal actions.

More Perfect Union, 8/25

UNION DRIVES ALSO HITTING SOUTH

Southern states, long a haven for non-union shops, are not escaping current union activity. For a description of organizing at Dollar General stores and other locations and how workers in these states are learning the benefits of union organizing, click on the link below.

Facing South, 8/25

MICHIGAN STORE BECOMES FIRST CHIPOTLE RESTAURANT TO VOTE UNION

In Lansing, Mich., a Chipotle facility became the first in the Mexican grill’s chain to vote union. The restaurant chain operates 3,000  facilities in the US. The union drive is backed by the 1.2 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The workers are demanding higher pay and improved schedules.

NPR, 8/26

BILL IN CONGRESS PUSHES FOR DOMESTIC WORKERS BILL OF RIGHTS

Across the country, domestic workers have been among the most exploited. These workers, both employees and independent contractors, provide services in private homes as nannies, house cleaners, home care workers, cooks, and other jobs. A large majority of them are women of color. Their median hourly wage is $12/hour, barely enough to live on, no less to support others in their household.

In the past few years, a number of cities like Seattle have taken measures to protect the rights of domestic workers. In July, Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards awarded over $71,000 in back pay, interest, and civil penalties to a live-in domestic worker who had been robbed of her rightful pay by an employer who failed to pay the city’s minimum wage and overtime pay.

Now, a bill in Congress, originally introduced in 2019 by then Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Cal.) along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and reintroduced in 2021 by Gillibrand and Jayapal and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mex.) sets up a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. which codifies their workplace benefits and rights and increases the tools to enforce the law. In July the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on the legislation that exposed the conditions facing these workers.

Inequality.org, 8/22

NURSES HAVE HAD IT: MINNESOTA NURSES AUTHORIZE STRIKE

Nurses around the country have long been under increasing pressure to do more with less amid deteriorating working conditions, concerns for safety and larger workloads. Hospitals have been saving money by cutting the nursing staff leading to poorer patient care. Now, nurses in the twin cities of Minneapolis-St Paul and Duluth, Minn., have authorized a strike vote as their union negotiations with the hospitals drag on. The Minnesota Nurses Association, representing 15,000 nurses in the area, voted overwhelmingly for the strike authorization, which would be the largest strike of nurses in the nation’s history. The union did not set a date for the stoppage. Before a strike begins, the union must give a 10-day notice.

The Guardian, 8/23

COLUMBUS TEACHERS STRIKE

Members of the 4,500 strong Columbus (Ohio) Education Association went out on strike Aug. 22 over issues that included safe classrooms, schools, and more comfortable working conditions. The union represents city teachers, psychologists, nurses, counselors, and other professionals.

On Tuesday, the second day of the strike, an incident of violence was reported when a man driving by in a car shot a pellet gun at picketers. No serious injuries were reported.

Portside, 8/23

KAISER HEALTHCARE WORKERS STRIKE

After many long bargaining sessions over working conditions at the Kaiser Permanente Healthcare facility in Sacramento, Cal., hundreds of mental health care clinicians walked out Aug. 16 overloading work conditions that prevent them from proper care for their patients. The clinicians say that the company does not leave them nearly enough time or pay to assess their patients’ needs. Many are leaving the company after burnout with patients often having to wait for three months to get regular weekly or bi-weekly appointments. They are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Portside, 8/16

STARBUBKS STRATEGY: IF YOUR LOSING, STOP THE ELECTONS

Using an election in one Kansas store in which four out of its 19 union workers were fired in advance of the vote and the resulting dispute over mail-in bots, Starbucks has filed a legal action charging the NLRB with election misconduct and has asked for the cancellation of all elections at its stores around the country. The transparent move at flagrant union busting is the latest example of Starbucks strategy: if you can’t win an election, make sure it doesn’t happen.

Starbucks Workers United Website, 8/16

CHIPOLTE TO PAY $20 MILLION FOR VIOLATING WORKER RIGHTS

In a legal settlement that exposed some of the nefarious labor practices in the restaurant industry, Chipotle agreed to fork over $20 million in back compensation to 13,000 New York City workers for violating their legal rights. The company will also pay $1 million in civil penalties for violating the law.

The settlement was the culmination of a complaint brought four years ago by the Service Employees International Union against the fast food chain. It prompted an investigation that revealed that Chipotle violated city labor laws by requiring employees to work extra time without their consent, not allowing workers to use accrued time off work for sick leave or safety reasons like domestic violence, and not giving workers their work schedules 14 days in advance.

Low pay and poor working conditions have been a standard practice of the restaurant industry for decades that has led to a gathering push in the past few years to organize unions at places like Chipotle and Starbucks.

Official NYC website, 8/9

STARBUCKS ABORTION PROMISES BRANDED AS PUBLIC RELATIONS TRICKS

Starbucks union activists have denounced recent promises by the company on abortion as a PR stunt aimed at combatting the drive for unionization at its stores. The promises involved Starbucks recent announcements of new employee health care benefits including travel reimbursements for abortion services. The hypocrisy in the policy is exposed by the fact that the company’s announcement specifically excluded employees at unionized stores.

Starbucks Workers United, the union representing unionized workers at the chain has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the tactic threatens “employees with loss of benefits” for union organizing. After the tactic drew public attention, the company reportedly changed its policy and said its policy would cover all its workers but the union pointed out that absent a union contract, the policy could be changed at any time at the company’s whim.

Portside, 8/11

MAXIMUS WORKERS STRIKE

“You deserve a fair share. And you deserve to have your jobs be good union jobs. A multibillion dollar corporation like Maximus has the resources to treat you better. And we’re going åto make sure that they do. Hold firm. I know you’re spread out across communities all across the country but you are not alone. You have each other and you have all of us at the AFL-CIO standing with you.”

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler

Shuler spoke at a virtual town hall meeting in support of Maximus workers on strike at facilities in Kentucky Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia. Maximus is a federal contractor answering  Medicare and Affordable Care Act marketplace lines. Their workers are protesting bad working conditions and are organizing to form a union affiliated with the Communication Workers of America.

Communications Workers of America website, 8/11

COSTCO TEAMSTERS PLANNING NATION-WIDE JOB ACTIONS

Moe than 17,000 employees at Costco stores around the country are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. After rejecting a “last, best and final” contract offer from the compan by a 93-to-7 percent membership vote,  the union says it is close to a nation-wide work stoppage if recently resumed contract negotiations lead nowhere.

Teamsters Union website, 8/4

COLUMBUS TEACHERS ISSUE STRIKE NOTICE

“Final offers” from employers are flying fast and furious these days. One of the latest comes from the school district in Columbus, Ohio  this week. The teachers, represented by the Columbus Education Association, said “nothing doing” to the “final offer” as its delegate assembly voted unanimously  to issue the 10 day notice required by law of its intention to strike. A union spokesperson said that 2,500 of its 4,500 members had attended the meeting where the vote was held.

Columbus Dispatch, 8/4

STARBUCKS UNION DRIVE ROLLS ON

It has been less than a year that a Starbucks store in Buffalo, NY voted for a union. Since then, despite company hostility and union busting tactics, the drive for collective bargaining has spread nearly as fast as the Covid. As of late July, the number of Starbucks stores voting to be represented by Starbucks Workers United is approaching 200 and it appears to be only the beginning. Although still only a small fraction of the 9,000 facilities operated by the coffee giant, the union drive is gaining the momentum of a snowball rolling downhill. We think you’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the coming years.

Starbucks Workers United website

HADLEY, MASS. STORE BECOMES FIRST TRADER JOE’S TO UNIONIZE

Taking their cue from workers at Starbucks, Amazon, and Apple, workers at the Trader Joe’s store in Hadley, Mass. voted 45 to 31 to unionize, becoming the first in the chain to do so. Their union is called Trader Joe’s United. Another Trader Joe’s store in Minneapolis is scheduled for a union vote in September and workers at a store in Colorado have filed a petition for an election with the

NY Times, 7/28

 

UNION CHARGES CHIPOTLE CLOSED STORE IN RESPONSE TO ITS FILING FOR ELECTION

Shortly after workers at the Chipotle store in Augusta, Maine, filed for a union election, the store company closed the store down, an action, the union says, is retaliation for them seeking to organize. The move came just hours before the NLRB had scheduled a hearing on the union petition. It is against the labor laws for a company to retaliate in this way and the union has filed a charge against Chipotle. The company claims that its action was not in retaliation for employee union activity but simply a result of its inability to adequately staff the store, but the timing of the move casts strong doubt on its claim.

NY Times, 7/21

UAW LOCAL LISTS WINS AT CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS

UAW local 2110 based in New York City is breaking new ground organizing workers at cultural institutions across the region. Like all workers, they are fighting for fair wages, benefits, work and life balance and respect at work. To date, workers at these institutions have voted overwhelmingly to join our union:
The New Museum of Contemporary Art
Asian American Writers Workshop
Tenement Museum
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Center for Reproductive Rights
Brooklyn Friends School
Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Shed
Children’s Museum of the Arts
Transportation Alternatives
Portland Museum of ArtMuseum of Fine Arts
Film At Lincoln Center
Manhattan Country School
Studio in a School
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
Whitney Museum of American Art
Hispanic Society of America
Anthology Film Archives
Brooklyn Museum

BALTIMORE STORE: FIRST IN APPLE CHAIN TO ORGANIZE

Workers at an Apple store outside Baltimore have formed the tech giant’s first retail union in the U.S., marking another high-profile victory for the labor movement this year.

Employees at the company’s Towson Center store voted 65 to 33 in favor of joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, according to a vote count conducted Saturday by the National Labor Relations Board. Board officials have not certified the results yet to make them official.

UNDERFUNDING THE NLRB

The National Labor Relations Board was created by the Wagner Act in 1935 to enforce the protections to workers under the law, including the right to organize. In order to function it needs the funding to pay for its investigation of complaints, the legal staff needed to enforce its mandate in offices around the country and the many other functions it is charged with doing.

But for many years, it has been woefully underfunded, which makes it virtually impossible to carried out its major function to protect America’s working people. Despite rising inflation, its funding has not increased since 2014 when Republicans won control of Congress and revived their decades-old campaign to scuttle protections for the rights of working people to organize. For full details, see the article in Labor Notes by clicking on the link below.

Labor Notes, 7/6

 

LOCAL ACTIONS TAKE LEAD ON WORKER RIGHTS

In the face of difficulties in getting the federal government to act, many local governments are taking action to protect workers’ rights. For example, while the federal minimum wage still stands mired at $7.25, fifty-two cities and towns across the country have raised the minimum wage, many are now in the range of $15/hour – affecting some four million workers whose annual income has been boosted by about $7,800. Twenty localities now require companies to provide paid sick days.

State laws are following suit. New Jersey has a  statewide paid sick leave law, New York State recently enacted a law protecting pay for independent freelance workers after New York City passed one five years ago.

Portside, 6/28

 

2nd REI STORE FILES FOR UNION ELECTION

The latest retail chain employees to begin a drive toward unionization were the workers at the REI store in SoHo, Manhattan. They unionized their store in March. Now workers at an REI in Berkeley, CA has filed for a union election. Among the grievances they list is the chronic understaffing that has put a terrific strain on a worker trying to do a job that was meant for more than one person. It has also resulted in employees who are part-time now working 40 hours a week without the same benefits of health care, time-off, and overtime pay as full-timers. Another is the large disparity in pay among full-time workers.

More Perfect Union, 7/9

 

BIG IAM WIN AT ALASKA AIRLINES

Five thousand customer service and ramp workers, members of the Machinists Union (IAM), at Alaska Airlines have just won a three-year contract providing for raises from 16 to 25 percent.

 

STARBUCKS UNION DRIVE ROLLS ON

Starbucks workers are continuing to o organize into the independent union Workers United, From April to June Starbucks workers left their counters and walked out on strike in Seattle and three other locations in Washington State and  at stores in Massachusetts, Virginia, and South Carolina to protest the company’s union-busting tactics.

 

CASINO WORKERS SET TO STRIKE

Some 6,000 members of Unite Here Local 54 that staff the casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, are set to strike at any day now.

 

RR WORKERS SET STRIKE VOTE

The Teamsters Union affiliate, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen are currently taking a national strike vote but a strike at this point is unlikely, say labor observers. This is because railroad workers are not governed by the normal labor laws. They are, instead, subject to the provisions of the Railway Labor Act which empowers the President to convene a board to negotiate a final settlement of railway labor matters.

Who Gets the Bird, 6/25, 7/2

 

STRIKE VOTE OK’d AT HARPER COLLINS

Workers at HarperCollins publishers have voted to authorize a strike if the company refuses to agree to a fair contact. Issues that the union is pushing for include pay, stronger job protection, better family leave benefits and a greater commitment for diversifying staff. Another issue arose after HarperCollins bought out Houghton Mifflin Harcourt trade division and the company’s refusal to include Houghton’s employers in Boston in the union’s bargaining unit or recognize their seniority as HarperCollins employees. The union, UAW Local 2110, represents workers in the editorial, legal, sales, design, marketing, and publicity departments. The current negotiations come after a year in which the company posted record profits.

Publishers Weekly, 7/5

In an earlier post, we described how workers in various museums around the country – scientists, educators, administrative staff, art handlers, gift shop clerks, ushers, and others – are organizing into unions. Here are some of the latest union wins in this field:

Carnegie Museum Workers in Pittsburgh, representing the city’s Museum of Natural History, Museum of Art, Science Center, and Andy Warhol Musum.

Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Milwaukee Art Museum.

Portland Museum of Art.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Museum of Tolerance and  the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Frye Art Museum in Seattle.

Philadelphia Museum of Art.

AFL-CIO Website

Latest figures compiled by the AFL-CIO continue to provide evidence that the American workplace, in many instances, is an unsafe place. Particularly significant is the fact that, in a very large number of cases, workplace fatalities are the result of company neglect, particularly in non-union shops where there is no one to push for needed safety precautions.

Another major factor is the weakening of safety regulations, the reduction of the budget and staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, the federal body that is charged with making and enforcing safety rules, and the meager penalties doled out to companies that are found to violate the rules.

The shocking figures below list only work-related fatalities, not the vastly higher number of serious injuries on the job. They are for the year 2020, the last year for which the AFL-CIO completed a tally of job related deaths in the United States.

Number of workers killed on the job:  4,764.

Number of workers killed each day: 350

Estimated number of workers who died from occupational diseases:  120,000.

Number of worker deaths caused by workplace violence: 765.

AFL-CIO website

Also, for earlier information on workplace deaths and injuries including descriptions of numerous incidents, see Confined Space – Weekly Toll: The Last Shift, 1/17.

The Denver Post reports (6/2) that Colorado state regulators has found Southwest Airlines in systemic violation of dozens of state labor laws including paid sick leave for workers with Covid. Under Colorado’s Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, employers are required to provide paid leave for workers with Covid-19 illnesses and quarantines, or other injuries or appointments. Southwest faces $1.3 million in fines for these violations. The airline has responded by bringing a federal suit claiming that the state has no right to impose these restrictions  on its business operations.

Women are now the backbone of the current resurgence of union organizing, reports USA Today (6/7) ”The vast majority of those who lost their jobs in the pandemic were women,” it writes. “And now the vast majority of those organizing their workplaces are women.”

The latest retail establishment to see union activity is a Trader Joe’s market in western Massachusetts. Workers at the Trader Joe’s store in Hadley, Mass. have filed for a union election to represent the store’s 85 employees, the first attempt to unionize a workplace in a chain that has some 500 locations and 50,000 employees nationwide. According to The New York Times (6/8) the Hadley workers have formed an independent union, Trader Joe’s United, rather than affiliate with a national labor organization.

A call to reevaluate the existing labor laws and employers reaction to the current labor upsurge is the subject of a new report by the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6/8). The report finds that “American workers are taking actions through union organizing, strikes, and other forms of collective action to address their pent-up demand for achieving a stronger voice and representation at work. But their actions are making clear to the American public the obstacles workers face in forming unions under the election procedures provided in current U.S. labor law.”

The research faculty at the University of Washington’s three campuses have voted, by a margin of  606 to 104, to unionize, reports Portside (6/10). The union, Researchers United, will become part of UAW Local 4121 and will represent 1,450 employees of the university.The new wave of university unionization now counts some 100,000 academic employees at over 40 universities and colleges across the country. (Pvortside, 6/13)

The moves at Starbucks to fire and harass employees who support the union’s organizing drives, sporadic at first, has now moved into high gear in Colorado, according to a report by Judith Kohler in the Denver Post (6/16). As workers at the store  in the Cherry Creek shopping district became the seventh in the state to vote for a union, five people from stores across the state were fired or disciplined for union activities, said the union, Workers United. Since firing a worker for union activities is illegal under the labor laws, the company always creates a pretext. A worker at a Starbucks store in Denver, for example, dropped some food on the counter before putting it in a bag and was fired three weeks later for what Starbucks says was an infraction. With labor laws laxly enforced by the NLRB and the courts since the days of Ronald Reagan, the companies have largely been getting away with it. But the labor friendly Biden administration has appointed NLRB members more friendly to union organizing and companies are now relying on the courts and Republican-appointed conservative judges for favorable rulings. Often the companies simply offer motions for delays so that workers, facing food, housing and financial insecurity, simply move on to other jobs. Workers United now says that some 200 complaints have been filed across the country as more Starbucks stores have voted to unionize.