Richmond, California is seeing a big jump in union activity with the unionization of 850 workers at the Hello Fresh facility. For Unite Here Local 2850, the union leading the drive, it will mean a big jump in their membership and a major step in Unite Here’s campaign to organize the rapidly growing meal kit industry. In Mingo Junction, Ohio, 175 steelworkers at the JSW mill are pushing to be represented by the United Steelworkers. JSW is a company based in India that is one of the world’s major steel companies.
A few other major union activities include:
- 350 janitors, members of Service Employees International Union Local 105, at Denver International Airport who conducted a one-day strike October 1 to enforce their demands for higher wages and better working conditions. A full-blown strike is a strong possibility if negotiations with management break down.
- A continuing strike by several hundred members of United Auto Workers Local 509 at Senior Aerospace in Burbank, California.
- A strike by 420 distillery workers represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23-D at Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky.
- Steelworkers Local 40 in Huntington, West Virginia, now has 450 workers on strike at Special Metals, the largest nickel alloy plant in the world.
- San Antonio (Texas) Symphony’s 72 musicians, after previously taking a big pay cut, are striking against management’s demand to cut dozens of jobs.
- Other labor actions involve two thousand hospital workers in Buffalo, NY, and 2,000 telecommunications workers in California. The Buffalo hospital workers are members of the Communication Workers of America, Local 1133, who have been on strike at the city’s Mercy Hospital.
Who Gets the Bird, 10/2/21, (Email newsletter by subscription), Denver Post, 10/6
Union Actions Mushrooming Across Country
The Guardian reports a big spike in union actions around the country as workers in a wide range of industries are demanding higher wages, better safety and working conditions, and fighting against cuts in staff. The number of these actions are difficult to follow, particularly since they are barely reported in the press. Just a few of them are listed below.
- Some 24,000 nurses and healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente in California are set to take a strike authorization vote. If they strike, they will join 700 building engineers already on strike in the San Francisco area. Strike authorization votes are also in the works with 3,400 health workers in Oregon and 7,400 health workers at USW Kaiser Permanente. Rejecting the company’s claim that their “Labor Management Partnership,” created 24 years ago was the framework with which to solve the issues and should not be abandoned “in the spirit of partnership” a union spokesperson, registered nurse Denise Duncan, said, “We have people burned out, complaining of mental health issues and PTSD. We’re in a situation as a union where we’re concerned about the future of nursing.”
- Other union workers voting to authorize strikes even as their contract negotiations continue are transit workers in Beaumont, Texas, and Akron, Ohio, group home workers in Connecticut, cafeteria workers at Northwestern University, and 2,000 workers at Frontier Communications in California. Strike authorization votes are also taking place among graduate school workers at Columbia and Harvard Universities. Authorization for a bargaining team to call for a strike vote has come from graduate school workers at Illinois State University. Tens of thousands of other workers throughout the country have also authorized strikes or are on the verge of doing so.
- Recently settled strikes involved 2,000 carpenters in Washington State, 1,000 Nabisco factory workers in five facilities across several states and 600 Frito Lay workers in Kansass
Michael Sainato in The Guardian, 10/1, Portside, 10/1,
For an interesting discussion on the prospectives for a vibrant future of the labor movement, click on the link below:
Almost 250 Refresco workers in New Jersey, mostly Latin American immigrants, voted in June to join jjhe United Electrical Workers union (UE). Their victory was the largest National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) win in the U.S. by a group of blue-collar workers in the first half of 2021, and came over a year after workers at the plant staged a walkout to protest the utter disregard for their safety shown by management during the pandemic.
The union win came, according to UE, after years of abusive treatment by supervisors, low wages, paltry benefits, sexual harassment, an unforgiving attendance system that penalizes workers for getting sick, and constant schedule changes.
An indication of the new awareness of workers to the values of belonging to a union is the way workers in small shops have begun to unionize. One recent example of this is the vote of 39 employees at Greenlight Bookstores’ two locations and Yours Truly Stationery store, all in Brooklyn, NY to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. The co-owner of Greenlight says that they will “voluntarily recognize the union.” Several other bookstores in the New York City area have already voted to join RWDSU over the past two years.
In a similar action, workers at Colectivo Café in Milwaukee, closely voted for a union, Local 494 of the International Union of Electrical Workers. However, the closeness of the vote will make contract negotiations with the company difficult.
One of the reasons for the expansion of charter schools over the past couple of decades is the desire of states and local cities to get around the heavily unionized teachers in public schools. But charter school staffs are increasingly organizing in the face of the work loads and other undesirable conditions in many chartrer schools. In one of the latest actions on this front is the vote of the 142 teachers in North Bend, Oregon’s virtual charter school, Virtual Academy, to join the state’s American Federation of Teachers.
Who Gets the Bird, 8/2-19/2021
President Biden in April signed an executive order creating a task force to examine existing policies regarding labor unions and issue a series of recommendations within 180 days on how they can be leveraged to promote worker organizing and collective bargaining in the federal government and recommend what new policies should be created.
In the wake of the defeat of the drive to unionize Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, many theories are being advanced on why the union lost and what labor’s strategy should be in the future. One such theory appeared recently in The American Prospect by its editor at large, Harold Meyerson.
Meyerson contends that there has been a shift in the composition of the American working class. The ability of unionize workers, he says, depends upon their applicability.
“Blue-collar and low-paid service sector workers fear being discharged, harassed, or downgraded by management, or even having their workplace closed, for supporting unionization,” writes Meyerson, “even though many such management threats violate federal labor law. (The penalties for such violations, however, are altogether negligible.) Professionals, by contrast, usually know that management would have trouble finding and training their replacements, and that they have a decent chance of finding comparable jobs elsewhere.
He points to recent events at The New York Times where a majority of the 650 tech workers had formed a union under the aegis of the News Guild of New York, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America. Times reporters, editors, photographers are already unionized. These tech workers include engineers, project managers, designers, quality assurance staffers, and data scientists and analysts.
On the other hand, “successful unionization campaigns among blue-collar workers have been few and far between” although they have suffered the most exploitation and the ones who need the protection of unions the most.
Meyerson points to one remedy – passage of the PRO Act which would deter management from retaliating against blue collar workers who try to form unions.
When a big company wants to get rid of a union or prevent one from organizing, they don’t often do it by themselves. They hire a specialist. Law firms and consulting firms that earn fancy fees for skirting around the weak labor laws are readily available and they’ve been doing a great job at union busting. In large measure, they have been instrumental in the decline of labor unions over the past several decades. Aided by weak requirements for federal reporting, data on this service is spotty but researchers at Cornell University estimate that some 75 percent of US employers are paying in the neighborhood of $340 million annually for their services.
Three of the biggest law firms that do this work are Littler Mendelson, Ogletree Deakins and Jackson Lewis. Consultants such as IRI Consultants and the Labor Relations Institute are also very skilled at union avoidance. IRI even used to offer a “money-back guarantee” if its efforts were unsuccessful.
IKEA, the furniture manufacturer, hired Ogletree Deakins to help it crush unionization efforts in Stoughton, Massachusetts, in 2016. Google hired IRI Consultants, to deal with attempts to organize its work force.
The pockets of these firms are jingling from the work they do in keeping workers from organizing for better pay and working conditions
— The Conversation (8/24/20)
LABOR DEMANDS: PASS THE PRO ACT
A number of labor leaders, in a call to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, have made it clear to the party’s US Senators that their support of the PREO Act is crucial to union support and financial contributions to their campaigns for re-election. The act, passed by the House of Representatives, currently has 47 sponsors in the Senate, all Democrats. There are only three Democratic holdouts, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Mark Warner of Virginia. Of the three, only Kelly is up or re-election in 2020. A fourth, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is not a sponsor, but has indicated he supports the bill.
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act has long been a goal of organized labor. It overhauls current labor laws by, among other things:
- Allowing workers to win union representation if a majority signed cards
- Outlawing “captive-audience meetings” where workers, on company time, have to listen to anti-union messages
- Establishing penalties for employers who fire union supporters
- Prohibiting the permanent replacement of strikers
- Repealing the parts of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 that ban “secondary boycotts” and allow states to prohibit the union shop.
The Pro Act was a key provision on President Biden’s agenda in his campaign for president last year.
In other actions, members of the building trades unions rallied in front of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s Manhattan offices on Saturday, May 1, part of a week of more than 700 events calling on the Senate to pass the bill. “This is not a rally against Schumer. It’s in support of the PRO Act,” said Freddy Bastone of Building Trades for Workers Democracy. “Schumer says he’s going to push this. We want to make sure it happens.” And the AFL-CIO reported that it was spending an amount in the seven figures on TV and media ads targeting senators in states with significant union memberships to support the bill.