Some big wins for labor over the past couple of months have signaled the rising power of the union movement. It may well be the opening shot across the bow against corporate attacks on unions over the last four decades that has resulted in a steady decline in the standard of living of working people.

UAW President Shawn Fain, shown with striking workers, has pledged an agressive organizing campaign at non-union auto facilities., Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press

The biggest wins for workers were in the highly successful strike by the United Auto Workers against the Big Three car manufacturers – GM, Ford, and Stellantis.  Instead of the usual strike against the entire company at once, it adopted the rolling strike tactic, hitting a limited number of auto factories at each carmaker at a time. The companies never knew which would be next and the strikes at plants that played a vital part in car production affected production as a whole in other places.

And by framing the strike, not only as one conducted by a union against management, but as a fight for working people against the greed that has resulted in huge growth in corporate profits at the expense of declining standards for America’s working people, UAW President Sean Fain ignited the fighting working class spirit that built the union movement in decades past.

When the Big Three finally caved after about six weeks, the resulting contract the union won was the best in the union’s history, unmatched since the contracts won in 1937 after the Flint, Michigan, sitdown strike that built the union. The principal terms of the contract have been reported widely. Outstanding among them are a  25 percent wage increase over the four-and-a-half year contract and an end to the two-tier wage system that saw younger workers never able to earn what workers hired earlier could earn. An end to their second class status and their elevation to the pay scale enjoyed by older workers will give them extraordinary pay raises, in some cases up to 150 percent. The union also won a restoration of the cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment that had been a feature of UAW contracts from 1948 to 2008 when the union gave in to industry’s demand to end it.

And in an important union first, the contract guarantees that workers at battery production plants for its new electric cars will be included in the new master agreement, setting the stage for the union’ s announced goal of organizing non-union electric car manufacturers.

As of this writing, the contract was in the process of being voted on by the UAW membership.

Two other big wins this summer and fall were the contract won by Teamsters Union drivers at UPS without a strike but just the threat of one. In a contract agreed to just 24 hours before a strike was scheduled, 340,000 Teamster members at UPS won raises of $7.50 an hour over five years, with drivers’ pay climbing to $49 an hour and part-time workers receiving a pay increase of 48% on average. The agreement also ends a two-tiered classification for drivers, provides part-timers with longevity raises, adds Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday off, and ends forced overtime on off days.

And the months long strike by the two unions representing TV and motion picture screen writers and actors has produced contracts with substantial gains. The Writers Guild of America, which represents 11,500 screenwriters, reached a tentative agreement with studios on Sept. 24 and ended its 148-day strike on Sept. 27. In the coming days, SAG-AFTRA members will vote on whether to accept their union’s deal, which includes hefty gains, like increases in compensation for streaming shows and films, better health care funding, concessions from studios on self-taped auditions, and guarantees that studios will not use artificial intelligence to create digital replicas of their likenesses without payment or approval.

And in just a few other recent labor actions:

In August, 15,000 American Airlines pilots won pay increases of 46% over four years. After a three-day strike earlier this month, 85,000 Kaiser Permanente workers won raises of 21%, as well as a $25 minimum wage for Kaiser’s workers in California. In March, 30,000 Los Angeles school district workers – bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teachers’ aides – won a 30% wage hike over four years. In Oregon, 1,400 nurses at Providence Portland hospitalsecured raises between 17% and 27% over two years.

And all indications are that it’s just the beginning.

NY Times, 10/31, 11/8; The Guardian, 10/24; Jacobin, 11/1

The biggest news on the labor front this month is the strike by the United Auto Workers against selective plants of the Big Three auto makers. What makes it particularly ground-breaking is that, it signals the reawakening of the UAW, a union born in the militancy of the 1936-37sit-down strike against GM in Flint, Michigan.

The new president of UAW, Sean Fain was elected by a vote of the entire membership after years of a leadership that gave away many hard won gains of previous contracts. He has vowed to make up for the givebacks that has seen record billion dollar annual profits for the automakers while auto workers’ wages and conditions have stagnated. From being among the best paid manufacturing jobs 40 years ago they are now at the point where they have to work 60 hours or more a week just to keep their families afloat. At the same time, the compensation packages for the CEO’s of the Big Three are each over $20 million annually.

Fain has framed the strike as part of a larger struggle of working people against the greed of the corporation. The union is demanding, among other things, a 40 percent wage hike to compensate for the losses it has suffered in real wages in the past decade, a reduction in the work week to 32 hours at full 40-hour pay to share in the benefits of technology, an end to the two-tier wage system that has kept newer workers forever on a lower wage scale, and improvements in the pension system.

It is also demanding that workers at joint-venture battery shops that produce parts for electric vehicles be included in the union contract so that the conversion to electric vehicles do not result in lower standards for workers who produce those vehicles. This demand took a big step forward Oct. 6 when General Motors agreed to the UAW’s demand that workers at GM’s joint-venture EV battery factories will be covered under the automaker’s master contract with the union. It represents a historic breakthrough for American workers as they face transitions to a post–fossil fuel economy.

And in a sign of growing union solidarity, other unions have joined in support of the UAW, with their members joining the picket lines. In a mid-October development, Sean O’Brien, president of the Teamsters Union announced that teamsters will not cross UAW picket lines. Teamsters in the carhaul industry have declared that they will not deliver cars made by the Big Three until they settle with the union.

The American Prospect 9/15; 10/9

Union workers rally for a fair contract. Photo: In These Times

Once upon a time, autoworkers had the best jobs in American manufacturing industries. It was a time when unions were instrumental in building our country’s middle class. Workers at GM, Ford, and Chrysler were able to buy the new cars they were producing. They were able to afford a modest home, to send their children to a state university, to take a family vacation once a year. Flint, Michigan, home of the Fisher Body plant that built the bodies of GM cars, was a prosperous town.

But not any more. For the past four decades, as unions have come under attack from corporations and governments, led by right-wing Republicans (with help from some corporate-friendly Democrats), their strength has waned as their membership severely declined. Along with it, the middle class has been slowly disappearing along with areas of poverty in what had been the manufacturing belt of the country. And autoworkers along with the others have taken it on the chin. Many of their gains, hard won through years of struggle and union organization, were lost. Their union, the United Auto Workers, wound up negotiating union contracts that gave back gains in salaries and pensions, and that created a two-tier wage and pension system in which younger workers could never achieve the benefits their elders had won.

The defining moment came with the union contracts over the past decade when workers made big concessions after the companies pleaded that, facing foreign competition, they were in danger of closing down their factories. The workers made sacrifices while the companies piled up record profits. In just the first six months of this year, the Big Three – GM, Ford, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) – have reported $21 billion in profit and $5 in stock buybacks, rewarding their big shareholders with billions and their CEOs with annual compensation like GM’s top banana’s $29 million last year. And all the while, pleading that they couldn’t afford to give workers the pay and benefits they needed to catch up with some of the things they had lost. Meanwhile, the real wages of workers who make the cars have dipped by 30 percent over the past 20 years. Some make only $15.75 an hour, often having to work long overtime hours just to be able to support their families.

But now, finally, not any more say autoworkers and the UAW. Earlier this year, with some of the old leadership in jail for corruption, the membership elected new leaders by direct ballot, the first time in the union’s history.

With new leadership at the helm, led by  its president, Sean Fain, the biggest labor news this September has been the strike at selected sites of the Big Three, involving thus far about 15,000 workers, with the promise that this is just the opening salvo if union demands are not met. The strike has evoked strong support from a number of Democratic officials and lawmakers and as this article was being written, President Biden was making a special appearance on their picket line.

“Unions built the middle class,” President Biden shouted through a bullhorn on Tuesday. “It’s a fact!”Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

What’s at stake? Aside from signaling that workers have had it and were not going to take it anymore, the specific demands of the union include:

  • Ending tiers.Before a major contract concession in 2007, newly hired auto workers could reach the maximum wage rate within three years and have guaranteed pensions and retiree healthcare. But ​“second-tier” workers — those hired since 2007 — must wait at least eight years before reaching top wage levels and get no pensions or post-retirement healthcare. The Big Three have also increasingly hired workers as low-paid temps, often extending the length of their supposedly ​“temporary” status before they can become permanent employees. The UAW wants to equalize pay and benefits so that all autoworkers, now and in the future, have pensions and retiree healthcare, and can reach maximum pay and permanent status within 90 days of being hired.
  • Double-digit raises.The multimillionaire CEOs of GM, Ford and Stellantis have gotten an average raise of 40% over the past four years, so the union is seeking similarly large raises of around 46% for autoworkers over the course of the four-year contract. The UAW is also calling for significant increases to the pension benefits paid to retirees.
  • Restoring cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), which tie wages to inflation.Once a signature feature of autoworker contracts, the UAW’s former leadership agreed to suspend COLAs in 2009 as GM and Chrysler faced bankruptcy amid the Great Recession.
  • Work-life balance.Because their real hourly wages have fallen so dramatically amid years of concessions, many autoworkers put in 60 to 80-hour weeks to make ends meet, leaving less time to spend with their families. In addition to calling for more paid time off, the UAW is making the eye-catching demand for a 32-hour workweek at 40 hours’ pay. ​“If Covid did anything, it made people reflect on what’s important in life, and it sure as hell isn’t living in a factory,” Fain said last month.
  • Job security.With automakers shutting down factories and moving production to wherever in the world they can exploit workers the most — a process that has gone on for over 40 years and continues—the UAW is demanding the right to strike over plant closures and is calling for the creation of a Working Family Protection Program, which would make the companies keep employees at shuttered factories on payroll doing community service work.
  • Enhanced profit sharing. With the Big Three’s shareholders reaping the benefits of record profits, the union is proposing that workers get $2for every $1 million spent on stock buybacks and special dividends.
  • Ajust transition to electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. Aided by federal subsidies, the Big Three are building EV battery plants as ​“joint ventures” with South Korean tech firms. But these new factories fall outside the collective bargaining agreements covering other UAW autoworkers, so wages and working conditions are far worse than at plants making gas-powered cars. As part of its fight to eliminate all tiers, the UAW wants to extend the same union standards to new EV plants. Since EV workers are not currently covered by the Big Three contracts, this is a public demand rather than a bargaining proposal. ​

A recent Gallup poll found that an unprecedented 75 percent of Americans side with the union in their contract fight. And it is, so far the biggest news in the current drive of American workers for a fair share of the wealth they are producing.

“Working people in this country know what’s really going on,” Fain said in a recent video. ​“We know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck while the companies we work for make out like bandits…We know the truth, and the truth is that the cost of a strike might be high, but the cost of doing nothing is much higher.”

For the UAW rank-and-file worker, a retiree and former president of UAW Local 909 in Warren, Michigan, put it simply. “I think for the UAW rank and file it is so refreshing to see this and to begin to identify with the UAW that they want to identify with.”

NY Times, 9/26; In These Times, 9/11; The Lever, 9/12; The Atlantic, 9/15; Canary Media, 9/19Portside, 9/18; courtesy Locker Associates, NY, 9/20.

On this Labor Day, when labor is stirring all over the country after a summer of strikes and union organizing, along with wide public approval of unions, it is fitting to reprint a tribute to the holiday by US Senator Bernie Sanders that were first printed in The Guardian, 9/4

By Bernie Sanders

Why this Labor Day is so consequential?

It’s not utopian thinking to imagine that, for the first time in world history, everyone could have a decent standard of living.

As we celebrate Labor Day, 2023 let’s take a quick look at the economy over the last few years.

Never before in American history have so few owned so much and has there been so much income and wealth inequality.

Never before in American history has there been such concentration of ownership in our economy with a handful of giant corporations controlling sector after sector, enjoying record-breaking profits.

Never before in American history have we seen a ruling class, utilizing a corrupt political system, exercise so much political power through their Super Pacs and ownership of media.

And never before in American history have we seen the level of greed, arrogance and irresponsibility that we see today on the part of the 1%. Corporate greed is rampant.

Meanwhile, as the billionaire class becomes richer and more powerful, over 60% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and many work for starvation wages and under terrible working conditions. Incredibly, despite huge increases in worker productivity and an explosion in technology, the average American worker is making over $45 a week less today than he or she did 50 years ago after adjusting for inflation.

Today, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, tens of millions struggle to put food on the table, find affordable housing, affordable healthcare, affordable prescription drugs, affordable childcare and affordable educational opportunities. In our country today we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation, and half of older workers have no savings as they face retirement.

And, in the midst of this massive inequality, the United States and the world face enormous economic transformation as a result of artificial intelligence, robotics and other new technologies. There is no question but that many of the jobs being done today will not be here in 10 or 20 years.

Let’s be clear. These technologies, which will greatly increase worker productivity, have the potential to be extraordinarily beneficial for humanity, or could cause devastating pain and dislocation for tens of millions of workers. The question is: who makes the decisions as to what happens in this radically changing economy, and who benefits from those decisions? Do we allow the “market” to throw working people out in the streets because they are “redundant”, or do we take advantage of the increased productivity this technology creates to improve the lives of all?

Throughout the history of humanity, the vast majority of people have had to struggle to feed themselves, find adequate shelter and eke out a living. The good news is that the revolutionary new technology, if used to benefit all of humanity and not just the rich and the powerful, could usher in a new era in human development. It is not utopian thinking to imagine that, for the first time in world history, we could enter a time in which every man, woman and child has a decent standard of living and improved quality of life.

In the United States, for example, the 40-hour work week, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, has been the legal definition of full-time work since 1940. Well, the world and technology have undergone enormous changes since 1940 and American workers are now 480% more productive than they were back then. It’s time for those standards to reflect contemporary reality. It’s time for a 32-hour work week with no loss in pay. It’s time that working families were able to take advantage of the increased productivity that new technologies provide so that they can enjoy more leisure time, family time, educational and cultural opportunities – and less stress.

Moving to a 32-hour work week with no loss of pay is not a radical idea. In fact, movement in that direction is already taking place in other developed countries. France, the seventh-largest economy in the world, has a 35-hour work week and is considering reducing it to 32 hours. The work week in Norway and Denmark is about 37 hours a week.

Recently, the United Kingdom conducted a four-day work week pilot program of 3,000 workers at over 60 companies. Not surprisingly, it showed that happy workers were more productive. The pilot was so successful that 92% of the companies that participated decided to maintain a four-day work week because of the benefits to both employers and employees.

Another pilot of nearly 1,000 workers at 33 companies in seven countries, found that revenue increased by more than 37% in the companies that participated and 97% percent of workers were happy with the four-day work week.

Needless to say, changes that benefit the working class of our country are not going to be easily handed over by the corporate elite. They have to be fought for – and won. And in that regard there has been some very good news over the last several years. We are now seeing workers stand up and fight for justice in a way we have not seen in decades. In America, more workers want to join unions; more workers are joining unions – 273,000 last year alone; and more workers are going out on strike for decent wages and benefits and winning. We’re seeing that increased militancy all across our economy – with truck drivers, auto workers, writers, actors, warehouse workers, healthcare professionals, graduate student teachers and baristas.

Let’s continue that struggle. Let’s think big, not small. Let’s create an economy and government that work for all, not just the few.

Happy Labor Day.


The Clark County school district in Nevada is the 5th largest school district in the country. Its teachers union, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), is not affiliated with either of the two national teacher unions, the National Educational Association or the American Federation of Teachers.

Teachers demonstrating for a fair contract at a meeting of the Clark County School Board in late August
Photo courtesy: Clark County Education Assn.

But the current fight taking place there is a microcosm of the situation unfolding around the country as individuals pushing anti-teacher and anti-education agendas and hostility toward teachers unions run for and sometimes get elected to local school boards. And when that hasn’t worked, state officials in places like Texas and Florida have sometimes moved to intercede with school curricula and administration.

In the most glaring example, one that made national news, the governor of Texas dismissed the Houston city elected school board and school superintendent and installed his own superintendent to run the schools. The new appointee, a former army ranger with no credentials or experience in teaching or school administration and probably couldn’t tell a lesson plan from a McDonald’s menu is now in charge of the education of children in the largest city in the state.

Unlike the more publicized situations, Clark County has not made national news. But the teachers in its schools and their union are currently locked in a battle with school district leadership, led by the school superintendent, Jesus Jara, that is treating teachers seeking to bargain for a contract with contempt. And it’s just a piece of the larger national picture.

The teachers there have been working without a contract this school year and their pay has stagnated. Earlier this year, they went to the state capital in Carson City to lobby for additional funds to pay for long overdue salary increases. They succeeded in getting the legislature to pass a bill and the governor to sign it that appropriated $250 million, specifically for teacher raises. It was part of a larger $2 billion education budget passed by governor Joe Lombardo. But the district school superintendent refused to access the state fund for teachers and will not even present the option to the school board for approval.

The lowest salary for teachers there right now is $50,115. The highest is $101,251. But getting to the maximum is complicated.” One Clark County educator said, “There have been years where salary increases have been frozen. Many veteran teachers feel like they are not being paid what they’re owed and make as much as a brand new teacher. It’s unfair.” Speaking of  the CCEA’s proposed contract demands, she added “This could be a once in a career raise for us. We are fighting for equity here. We have dealt with unfair salaries for too many years and we want the Clark County School District to use the money the state has given us. Teachers fought for that money in Carson City, and these raises are long overdue.”

The union has repeatedly called upon the  district leadership to negotiate a new contract and has presented proposals that would raise teacher salaries by 10 percent the first year and 8 percent the second year. It also called for an additional $5,000 adjustment to attract teachers where there are hard to fill vacancies and a 5 percent adjustment for Special Education teachers. Whereas the district contributes close to $1000 a month in health insurance premiums for school principals, it only pays about $700 a month for teachers, the union simply wants the district to pay the same amount monthly for teachers health insurance as they do for principals. In addition, an increase of 1.8% in state pension contributions started being taken from teacher paychecks this summer; the union wants the district to cover this increase. They have also called for time-and-a-half pay for overtime work spent on supervising after school extracurricular activities.

The district has refused to bargain with the union. Instead, it came back with an offer of only a 6 percent raise the first year and 1 percent the following year but with two stipulations – that teachers had to work a longer day and a sunset clause that the raises would expire after two years, and unless renewed, teachers would go back to their current salaries.

All summer long the union called upon the district leaders to engage in bargaining but the district leaders kept postponing bargaining sessions in what amounted to stalling tactics. Thus, the beginnings of the school year in August saw teachers without a new contract and stuck in the same mold as before.

The CCEA, spurred on by aroused resentment among its members, has begun to hold public protest demonstrations. When the school superintendent scheduled community meetings at coffee shops in Las Vegas to advocate his agenda, teachers showed up to demonstrate and present their side. The superintendent then decided to cancel all subsequent coffee shop meetings. At the early August meeting of the school board of trustees,  thousands of teachers demonstrated outside the meeting. The board shortened public comments due to the teachers presence, which caused an uproar that led to the meeting ending early. Another demonstration, perhaps larger, was set for the August 24 board meeting.

As we prepared this article the union is considering next steps. while the union and district continue to negotiate and the union decides what further actions it will take. Strikes by public employees are outlawed in the state of Nevada which makes the situation more difficult. And the district has further attacked the Clark County Education Association by suing it, seeking to take away its right to bargain for teachers for threatening a strike.

The United States was a pioneer in the establishment of free public education and teacher unions in the last 50 years have raised the status of the teachers and fought for more resources for public schools. The fight of Nevada teachers in this school district is part of the fight taking place all over the country for good schools with well-paid teachers and the ongoing battle to preserve American education.


New York City retirees won major victory earlier this month when a state Supreme Court judge permanently enjoined the city from switching retirees from their traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan. Retirees have been fighting this change that the city is trying to force down their throats for two years.

The scheme is the result of several years of secret negotiations between city administrations and the Municipal Labor Committee representing the unions of workers employed by New York City. Although the MLC is composed of many unions, the two largest ones, the United Federation of Teachers and DC 37 of AFSCME dominate the body. Several other unions have opposed the measure but they have been steamrolled over by the Big Two.

However, rank-and-file committees of the unions, including UFT and DC37 members have spung up, called rallies, testified at City Council meetings, and gained wide support in opposition to the change. They have disputed that the city’s claim that it will save the city $600 million. They have pointed to the fact that there would not be a problem if New York hadn’t tried to pay for a city workers’ promised raises several years ago by dipping into the health care trust fund, thereby pitting retirees against current workers. And they have pointed to a number of ways the city can come up with the money without penalizing retirees.

Ignoring all the protests and the blatant shortcomings in the enforced changes, Mayor Adams’ administration earlier this year signed a contract with Aetna, the giant health care company, to implement the plan. While the city claims that the plan is the same or better than their current one (these advantage plans often offer sweetening items like free gym memberships) they are profit-making companies that are notorious for saving money by requiring many medical procedures and doctor’s visits to get prior approval for payment, which is often denied. They also require you to choose only from panel of their doctors, which would require many retirees to leave the doctors of their choice for someone else. Not to mention that Aetna has been cited by the federal government as one of the leading insurance company perpetrators of Medicare fraud that has bilked the government out of billions of dollars.

The decision by Supreme Court Judge  Lyle Frank made permanent his temporary stay issued a month earlier. He noted that the city had repeatedly promised retirees that by forgoing other benefits when they were active workers, they would be assured of full Medicare and paid medigap coverage free of co-pays and with only a relatively small deductible when they retired. He ruled that the city could not renege on this commitment.

The ruling has thrown the entire plan onto hold, a temporary victory, since a spokesperson for Mayor Adams said he plans to appeal. If the judge’s ruling is upheld it will be a big win for the 250,000 NYC retirees in their two-year fight to preserve the health care they deserve.

The attempt by the city to make this move is part of a larger push by government administrations and legislative bodies to disembody Medicare, one of the federal government’s greatest achievements, and turn it over to the multi-billion dollar insurance industry, further subordinating the health of Americans to greedy bottom line corporate profits.

Labor Start. 8/11

UAW is threatening to strike as early as Sept. 15 at any of the Big Three automakers if their contract demands are not met. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya/File / AP Images)

The Big Three auto manufacturers – GM, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) are facing a different kind of union leadership as negotiations began on a new contract this year. With some of the old leaders now in jail, guilty of embezzling union funds and a referendum two years ago that mandated direct elections of the leadership, the auto giants are now confronted by a leadership with close ties to the rank-and-file members and a renewed determination to wage a strong fight for their interests.

“The UAW is back in the fight,” said newly elected President Shawn Fain, speaking for the new spirit in the union. as he delivered the UAW bargaining demands August 1. While speaking, he was framed by two images in the background. One displayed headlines from the previous week, when the Big Three reported their quarterly earnings, which included soaring profits. The other image detailed how UAW members have lost ground over the past two decades. For instance, current starting wages are $18.04, lower than the rate workers received in 2007, which amounted to $19.60 when adjusted for inflation.

“When you put these two images together, they paint a damning picture of what’s happening,” said Fain. “Not just in our industry but across the economy: the rich are getting richer while the rest of us are getting left behind.”

The current contract, a master agreement for the three auto companies large plants – GM’s Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, Stellantis’s Sterling Heights Assembly plant and Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne – cover some 150,000 workers. It expires September 14.

Among the union’s negotiating priorities presented to the companies are: strong double-digit percentage increases in pay, ending a two-tier wage system, converting all temporary workers into permanent positions and placing strict limits on the future use of such workers, restoring cost of living allowances (COLA) and retiree health care benefits conceded by workers in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, increasing pension benefits for current retirees as well as ensuring all workers receive defined-benefit pensions, and bolstering paid time off.

Fain compared the compensation of auto executives with that of auto workers. GM’s CEO Mary Barra drew compensation of $29 million last year while the starting pay at the GM joint venture Ultium Cells battery plant in Ohio gets only $16.50 an hour. “Our members are working sixty, seventy, even eighty hours a week just to make ends meet,” he said. “That’s not a living; it’s barely surviving, and it needs to stop.”

One of UAW’s big concerns are the new joint venture plants producing batteries for electric vehicles, which were not covered by the union’s contract with the Big Three and have much lower pay and benefits.

When one company, claiming that union demands would nor make it competitive, made an offer that wasn’t even in the same ball park with union proposals, Fain symbolically tossed it in the trash.

As the situation heats up with the threat of an industry strike pending and tensions rising, major parts of the American economy that supply the auto makers are holding their breaths. A strike could severely affect their businesses.

Stay tuned.

Jacobin, 8/4; Fortune, 8/9

In what first impressions indicate to be a major win for Teamsters Union drivers at UPS, the company and the union came to a tentative agreement July 25 on a five-year contract, avoiding a massive strike that would have had a major impact on the US economy. The 325,000 UPS drivers had voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike on August 1, the date the old contract ended, if an agreement on a new one was not reached by that date.

After negotiations broke down in early July, prospects were pessimistic about avoiding a strike until they resumed with a major company concession on part-time drivers July 25. The agreement was sealed a few hours later. The new agreement still has to be ratified by the Teamsters Union membership, a process that will take several weeks.

“We demanded the best contract in the history of UPS, and we got it,” the Teamsters president, Sean M. O’Brien, said in a statement. “UPS has put $30 billion in new money on the table as a direct result of these negotiations.” For the first time in Teamster’s Union history, rank-and-file members served on the union’s negotiating committee.

According to a union statement, the new contract provisions include:

  • Historic wage increases. Existing full- and part-time UPS Teamsters will get $2.75 more per hour in 2023. Over the length of the contract, wage increases will total $7.50 per hour.
  • Existing part-timers will immediately be raised up to no less than $21 per hour, a big boost from then current minimum of $16.20 for part-timers now. and part-time seniority workers earning more under a market rate adjustment would still receive all new general wage increases. Part timers currently comprise nearly half ofm UPS drivers.
  • General wage increases for part-time workers will be double the amount obtained in the previous UPS Teamsters contract — and existing part-time workers will receive a 48 percent average total wage increase over the next five years.
  • Wage increases for full-timers will keep UPS Teamsters the highest paid delivery drivers in the nation, improving their average top rate to $49 per hour. They currently make $42 on average after four years.
  • Current UPS Teamsters working part-time would receive longevity wage increases of up to $1.50 per hour on top of new hourly raises, compounding their earnings.
  • New part-time hires at UPS would start at $21 per hour and advance to $23 per hour.
  • An end to the unfair two-tier wage system and all drivers now entitled to seniority protection.
  • Safety and health protections, including vehicle air conditioning and cargo ventilation. UPS will equip in-cab A/C in all larger delivery vehicles, sprinter vans, and package cars purchased after Jan. 1, 2024. All cars get two fans and air induction vents in the cargo compartments.
  • All UPS Teamsters would receive Martin Luther King Day as a full holiday for the first time.
  • No more forced overtime on Teamster drivers’ days off. Drivers would keep one of two workweek schedules and could not be forced into overtime on scheduled off-days.
  • The creation of 7,500 new full-time Teamster jobs at UPS and the fulfillment of 22,500 open positions, establishing more opportunities through the life of the agreement for part-timers to transition to full-time work.
  • No concessions from the rank-and-file.

The contract, if ratified,  is a big win for the new teamster leadership, which is closer to the ßrank-and-file members, that ousted the old guard in a direct election of the entire membership last year. Previously, the leadership was chosen by delegates at national conventions.

Teamsters Union Website, 7/25; NY Times, 7/25

This one is hard to believe. In Austin and Dallas, Texas, ordinances had mandated 10-minute breaks for construction workers every four hours. These workers, 60 percent of whom are Latino, mostly work outdoors, often in blistering Texas heat. The 10-minute breaks allow them to rest, drink water their bodies have lost, and generally take a brief respite from the heat. A simple act of humanity, yes?

But the Republican state legislature and Republican Governor Greg Abbott say no! According to them, it is just another one of those “hodgepodge of onerous and burdensome regulations” on Texas businesses. A measure passed by the legislature and recently signed into law by Abbott, to take effect in September, nullifies the Austin and Dallas ordinances and prevents any other local governments from passing similar protections for workers.

Days later, a 35-year-old utility lineman who was working in 100-degree temperature to restore power in Marshall, Texas, died of heat exhaustion. Unions and civil rights groups have been enraged by the new law, warning that it will cause more heat-related deaths and illnesses in a state that already tallies the highest number of worker deaths due to high temperatures.

“In the midst of a record-setting heatwave, I could not think of a worse time for this governor or any elected official who has any, any, kind of compassion, to do this,” said David Cruz, the communications director for League of United Latin American Citizens National (Lulac), a Latino civil rights group. “This administration is incrementally trying to move us backwards into a dark time in this nation when plantation owners and agrarian mentalities prevailed.”

A simple question could be asked of Abbott and the Texas lawmakers: “Are you guys human?’

The Guardian, 6/26

For many years labor unions have been in a “long slide,” declining from the 1950’s when more than one in every three workers belonged to unions to only 11.6 percent in 2021. There are many factors responsible for this, writes William E. Scheuerman in his book A New American Labor Movement. Among them are the offshoring of jobs hastened by the trade agreements that saw millions of American manufacturing jobs disappear as corporations moved plants to low wage areas around the world, automation, corporate consolidation and its all-out war on labor.

Fred Wright cartoon courtesy of United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)

But a part of the blame rests on unions themselves, he writes, “recognizing but not placing major culpability on factors such as business unionism, ineffective organizing techniques, lack of militancy, overly bureaucratic leaders who are unresponsive to their members, and emphasis on electoral politics rather than organizing.”

An example of the latter is labor’s failure to extract some major quid pro quos from Democratic politicians even when Democrats had large majorities in Congress and a Democratic president. As a result, the Taft-Hartley Act 0f 1947 is still on the books. Section 148 of  that law allows states to outlaw the union shop, resulting in  some workers gaining the benefits of union members without joining the union and paying dues. The act has encouraged union busting since its inception, throwing quicksand in the path of union organizing. By quietly acquiescing instead of actively opposing the law and demanding that politicians commit to repealing it, unions have been shooting themselves in the foot for more than 75 years.

But there are signs of stirring in the ranks of labor. Among younger workers and women workers a new militancy is growing as a majority of Americans today look favorably upon unions, the highest number  in the past 60 years. According to the National Labor Relations Board, in just one year, from 2021 to 2022, there has been a 60 percent increase in union elections with 77 percent resulting in a union victory.

And this stirring among rank and file workers is beginning to ripple upward. Two major international unions, the Teamsters and the Auto Workers unions, have replaced their top leaderships in the past year with more militant leaders who are more closely connected to their membership. A sign of this is the United Auto Workers’ withholding its endorsement of Biden and national Democrats, insisting on a promise from them that the money now pouring in to the manufacture of electric vehicles go to companies that hire union workers and pay union wages and benefits to its workers. While very few doubt that the union will eventually endorse and campaign for Biden, considering the terrible alternative, the Auto Workers union is letting the Democrats know that they can no longer be taken for granted.

Dollars and Sense, 5/23, pages 4, 42-45