The week in US unions, May 13-20, 2021

Programming note: My wife and I are officially on baby watch, so there is a non-zero chance next week’s weekly roundup will be delayed as I learn to change a diaper. Wish us luck!

NEW ORGANIZING

New election filings at the NLRB:

Big shops: 270 paramedics and EMTs at Virtua West Jersey Health Systems in Mount Laurel, NJ are organizing with HPAE (AFT), following filings among over 300 RNs and other staff by HPAE at Virtua’s hospital in Willingboro, NJ. 190 workers at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City are organizing a union with UAW Local 2110. 130 educators at Building Blocks Development Preschool in Commack, NY are forming a local of NYSUT (NEA/AFT)

Medium shops: 80 track maintenance and train operations workers for Bombardier in Escondido, CA are organizing with the Carpenters, which probably annoys the BMWE, BLET, the Teamsters, ATU, TWU, SMART, and the Machinists, though the Carpenters have a history of not minding what other unions think of jurisdictional raids. 50 CNAs and support staff at Hayward Convalescent Hospital in Hayward, CA are organizing with SEIU Local 2015. 45 crane operators and other workers for Intermodal Mexico in Jacksonville, FL are organizing with Teamsters Local 769, building off of this week’s win in Fort Lauderdale (see below, in the “NLRB wins” section). 39 workers at ADM Animal Nutrition in Quincy, IL are organizing with the Machinists. 36 lab workers at Sun Chemical in Kankakee, IL are seeking to join Local 498C of the International Chemical Workers Union Council (UFCW), who organized the production workers at the plant last month. 28 mechanics for Aery Aviation who work at the Aviation Logistics Center for the US Coast Guard in Elizabeth City, NC are organizing with the Machinists

Small shops: 24 wind technicians for DTE Energy in Breckenridge, MI are organizing with Utility Workers Local 223. 23 cannabis workers for JDRC (a Cresco subsidiary) in Champaign, IL are organizing with UFCW Local 881, keeping the weed organizing rolling in Illinois. 17 healthcare techs and others at St Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA (yes, the hospital where nurses have been on strike for three months) are joining UFCW Local 1445, who already represent 600 support staff at the hospital. 16 workers at Rinehart Sanitation in Pottstown, PA are joining Operating Engineers Local 542. 10 workers at the Del Monte Farm Shop in Toppenish, WA are forming a union with Teamsters Local 760. Seven workers at the People First Federal Credit Union in Allentown, PA are organizing with Teamsters Local 773. Four vacuum arc remelting operators (it’s a steel thing) at Finkl Steel in Chicago, IL are joining Boilermakers Local 1247. Four air traffic controllers at the Groton-New London Airport in Groton, CT are joining NATCA. Four more air traffic controllers at the Rapid City Regional Airport in Rapid City, SD are doing the same, in the first NLRB election filing in South Dakota in 2021. Four fare inspectors for HNS in Hartford, CT, a subcontractor for CT Transit; most CT Transit workers are with ATU, who is involved in this case, as is Teamsters Local 671. Four workers for LIA/Linkitall, a defense contractor that does staffing or consulting for IT or HR somehow related to bus operations at Fort Detrick in Frederick, MD are joining Operating Engineers Local 99. Two nursing staff at Fresenius Kidney Care in San Juan, PR are joining Union General de Trabajadores, which is apparently an 1199 SEIU affiliate.

NLRB wins…: After more than six years since initially filing for an election, which was overturned due to rampant violations by employer Sysco, and has been in an NLRB legal hell for years, 165 drivers and warehouse workers in Grand Rapids, MI have voted 62-61 to join Teamsters Local 406.42 security guards and drivers for Loomis Armored US in Portland, OR voted 16-4 to join SPFPA. 22 security guards at the Henry Ford Hospital in Wyandotte, MI voted 13-5 to join the Michigan Association of Police. 21 healthcare support staff at Dignity Health in Redding, CA voted 15-1 to join SEIU UHW. 21 support staff at Glendale Center, a rehab/nursing home in Naugatuck, CT voted 13-3 to join 1199 New England. 21 drivers for wine delivery company Zephyr Express (aka Zepexco) in Benicia, CA voted 18-1 to join Teamsters Local 315. 19 crane operators and other workers for Intermodal Mexico at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, FL voted 16-0 to join Teamsters Local 769. 16 workers for steel construction contractor Campbell Certified in Oceanside, CA voted 9-0 to join the Iron Workers. 15 communications operators (emergency dispatchers) at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, OR voted 8-4 to join SEIU Local 49. 12 TV news employees for Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO-TV voted 10-2 to join SAG-AFTRA. Eight editorial staff at The Longview Daily News in Longview, WA voted 6-0 to join the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild. Three truck drivers for UNFI in San Diego voted 2-1 to join Teamsters Local 63.

...and losses: 161 manufacturing workers who make adhesive and coating products for Parker Lord in Saegertown, PA gave the Machinists a drubbing, in a 39-110 vote against unionizing. 153 sanitation workers for Allied Waste Services in Boise and Mountain Home, ID voted 56-72 against joining Teamsters Local 483. 60 manufacturing workers at Wabtec in Las Vegas 16-38 against joining UE Local 777; the company makes trains and train components, and UE already represents their main plant in Erie, PA, which was formerly part of GE’s rail division. The Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers got crushed at International Paper in Beaverton, OR, with 32 workers voting 5-24 against the union. 19 workers at Victory Lane Ford dealer in Litchfield, IL voted 8-11 not to join Machinists District Lodge 9. 15 digital reporters for Syracuse, NY ABC affiliate WSYR-TV voted 3-11 against joining NABET-CWA. The new, independent Union of Security Cooperation Analysts lost their election, 3-4, among 8 consultants at Sabel Systems at Camp Smith, a Marine Corps installation in Honolulu, HI.

Decertifications: 118 technical and support staff at Owatonna Hospital in Owatonna, MN squeaked out a win against a decert effort, sticking with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota Local 113. 30 workers at scrap metal processor Sweed Machinery in Gold Hill, OR decertified Machinists District Lodge W24 with a 16-11 vote.

Outside the NLRB: 17,000 student researchers at the University of California system announced their campaign to unionize with UAW 2865; if they win, it will not only be the largest new union effort in years (some enterprising reader can tell me what was the last single campaign of that size, and raids don’t count), but it will nearly double the size of Local 2865, and catapult them to the largest local of the UAW. AFT Vermont has quietly been on an organizing tear in 2021, with 685 clerical and technical workers at the University of Vermont voting to unionize 333-122 at the Vermont Labor Relations Board; the union will have their fifth new organizing vote of 2021 in June, among 700 additional professional staff at UVM. The editorial staff at Forbes are organizing for voluntary recognition through, you guessed it, the New York NewsGuild. Workers at independent bookstore Skylight Books in Los Angeles have had their CWA union voluntarily recognized by management, in the second west coast bookstore organizing win for CWA this year, after Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Folks interested in further tools to track new organizing at the NLRB should check out Kevin Reuning’s new site which maps out the geography and some other data visualizations of NLRB activity.

STRIKES & BARGAINING

In Worcester, MA, St. Vincent Hospital’s campaign to replace striking Massachusetts Nurses Association nurses rolls on, with more and more jobs being posted for permanent replacement. Becker’s Hospital Review has a useful cheat sheet rundown of some of the largest healthcare labor disputes of the past year.

The Warrior Met UMWA coal miners remain on strike in Brookwood, AL, and are organizing a big strike support fest. If you can’t make it in person, you should check out the marathon livestream starting Friday morning at 10am CT, care of the Valley Labor Report.

ATI is hinting at (or making a show of) its willingness to resume negotiations tomorrow as the Steelworkers strike drags on.

Around 180 workers who make specialty fibers for the auto industry at Unifrax in Tonawanda, NY are on strike with USW Local 4-2058. The Steelworkers lost an election among a group of 23 workers earlier this year at what appears to be the same plant, but this appears to be a separate group of workers who are striking after rejecting the company’s final offer, and the contract having expired in January.

School support staff in Sunbury, PA with the Shikellamy Education Support Professionals Association (NEA) are on strike as of last Friday, as new contract negotiations have stalled for nearly a year and a half, and the district moves to outsource the jobs (primarily teaching aides and secretaries) to a staffing agency. 260 educators with the Gateway Education Association outside Pittsburgh have set a strike date for Monday, May 24th. Soon after, 69 educators in rural Greene County, PA authorized a strike of their own. Between this, the Keystone Oaks strike in February, the Mars school district strike authorization, and the large Propel Charter School network organizing, it certainly seems like something’s in the water in Pennsylvania K-12 (or the PSEA has been doing something right).

Elsewhere in K-12 unionism, 15 truck drivers for the Seattle Public Schools with Teamsters Local 174 say a strike is imminent. About 200 K-12 custodians with the Association of Salem-Keizer Education Support Professionals (NEA) in Oregon’s second-largest school district are raising the alarm about pandemic-related overwork, burnout, and workplace bullying. In Salem, MA, 22 bus drivers are facing outsourcing, as the district looks to subcontract their jobs, with AFSCME Council 93 pushing back. The long saga of attempted state takeover of the Providence public schools took a very strange twist this week, with a high-level administrator arrested for inappropriately touching a student’s feet (link-clickers have been warned), which seems to have thrown a wrench in the larger plan to use the state takeover to charterize the district and weaken the Providence Teachers Union, which was apparently a pet project of now ex-Gov. Gina Raimondo, now the US Secretary of Commerce; it all seems complicated and bad, and Randi Weingarten visited the district as a reinforcement.. The Idaho Education Association came out with a pre-emptive anti-endorsement of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s potential run for Governor of Idaho. For Iowa educators it’s too late for such interventions, with a charter expansion bill being made law this week.

IATSE members struck the new Top Chef spinoff, “Top Chef Family Style,” and won within 24 hours, avoiding a threatened replacement with scab workers.

A group of workers at Austin, TX-area juice chain JuiceLand calling themselves “the United Front of Juice Comrades” struck last week and successfully closed down five stores and won a wage increase, kind of, by raising tip guarantees, though workers are pushing for more action.

Around 650 nurses with SEIU 1199NW at Logan Health in Kalispell, MT have authorized a strike. They first voted to unionize in July of 2019, and still don't have a first contract. They’ll need to deliver a 10-day notice before a strike can legally take place.

The Ziff Davis Creators Guild, part of the New York NewsGuild, has authorized a strike at PCMag, Mashable, and AskMen, after two years of negotiating for a first contract.

Another local teachers union in California has authorized a strike, this time in Sebastopol, CA. Teachers in Rincon Valley also authorized a strike this month, and Santa Maria teachers rallied against impasse, but haven't yet made moves towards a strike.

The 2300-member ATU Local 1005, which represents Metro Transit workers in Minneapolis, has rejected the company’s “best and final offer.” I haven’t seen a strike authorization vote or other hints to next steps, but rejecting a final offer is certainly not a marker of impending labor peace.

The 2900 workers at Volvo Truck in Dublin, VA with UAW Local 2069 voted down the tentative agreement that brought their two week strike to an end by a resounding 91%. It seems the TA (and agreement to end the strike) had been to a large extent imposed by the UAW International over the desires of the local bargaining committee, and the vote margin reflects that level of fuck up, but even that detail is murky, as the union is letting little information get out. Jane Slaughter at Labor Notes has a great story on the no vote.

Having successfully avoided a massive 1199 New England nursing home strike, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is now hoping to avoid a massive 1199 New England group home strike slated to begin tomorrow, May 21st.

115 call center workers strike at DC’s public transit system WMATA, we hardly knew ye. The ATU Local 689 strike in Hyattsville, MD lasted about ten hours, with a return to work agreement that made sure no strikers would be disciplined, but also didn’t settle the underlying contract settlement dispute that provoked the strike in the first place.

SEIU 1199 has won a $15 minimum wage for their 90 members at Cincinnati State Technical & Community College, but the Operating Engineers are at an impasse in negotiations.

AFA-CWA has secured a one-year contract extension with pay raises and healthcare costs caps at Alaska Airlines, and has generally managed to stay afloat (aloft?) in bargaining during the pandemic.

After a year of bargaining, 70 workers with SEIU Local 668 at six low-income health centers with the Public Health Management Corp. in Philadelphia have their first tentative agreement. So do 170 hospital support staff with SEIU Local 49 at Providence Milwaukie Hospital in Milwaukie, OR, as do University of New Mexico faculty with AAUP-AFT. The 20,000 state employees with AFSCME Local 4041 have their first (and the state’s second-ever, after CWA beat AFSCME to the punch last week) tentative agreement after a new law legalized state employee collective bargaining in Nevada.

Building cleaners in Bloomfield, NJ continue protesting with SEIU 32BJ against a subcontractor’s move to cut wages and benefits.

CWA is calling for increased scrutiny of AT&T’s recently announced plan to spin off Warner Media and combine it with Discovery; mergers and splits have set the stage for union busting or erosion of standards in the past, and CWA is consistently weighing in on these moves. I don’t immediately see how or whether it’s related to the union’s NLRB petition for unit clarification that CWA filed regarding nearly 10,000 AT&T Mobility workers in District 3 (covering Puerto Rico and the South) but I wouldn’t be shocked if there were a connection there.

Total Terminals at the Port of Long Beach notified the ILWU that they’re planning to automate their operations. Between automation on the west coast and the use of non-union labor on the east coast, one wonders if there’s a broader move against longshore unions in the works.

POLITICS & LEGISLATION

The “third category” compromise on worker status continues to spread, this time, most depressingly, to New York, as Josh Eidelson reports. The idea is to strike a grand bargain that neither keeps gig workers explicitly misclassified nor gives them the rights that come with employee status. But of course it’s not a bargain at all; it’s a carve-out for the gig companies that have violated the spirit and letter of employment law for many years, and a way for unions to cut themselves in on something, in the face of their inability to organize gig workers on a meaningful scale. You may recall the Connecticut AFL-CIO endorsed a similar effort in that state, only to be shot down by the national AFL. But Connecticut has less than a sixth of the number of union members New York has, with NY unions comprising more than a tenth of the whole US labor movement; it’s hard to imagine New York union leaders being overruled inside of the movement. Another depressing detail was John Samuelsen of the TWU’s support for the move, as the TWU-backed Rideshare Drivers United has been the largest and most credible California gig workers organizing project, and stood steadfastly against any “third category” move. 

The first labor complaint under the USMCA has been filed by the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and others against an auto parts supplier in Mexico for harassing and firing union organizers and supporters.

A Missouri judge ruled that a law prohibiting collective bargaining for state employees, signed on the last day of ex-Governor Eric Greitens's tenure, is unconstitutional, per the state constitution. The judge ordered the state to bargain with AFSCME Council 72, CWA Local 6355, and SEIU Local 1, who all represent Missouri state workers.

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey is talking a big game about recognizing his campaign staff’s union, with the only caveat being that his staff apparently hasn’t yet made moves to unionze. One of the odd signs of the times is that recognizing a campaign staff union is such a progressive bona fide that candidates now publicly advocate for staff unions even before the staff do.

Philadelphia’s FOP Lodge 5 faceplanted in their attempt to unseat DA Larry Krasner. SEIU had a mixed night across the state in Pittsburgh with the loss of incumbent mayor Bill Peduto to progressive challenger Ed Gainey, considering that the union split over that race, with 32BJ endorsing the incumbent and SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania going for Gainey as punishment for Peduto’s intransigence against the union’s organizing efforts at UPMC.

INTERNAL POLITICS

AFSCME Local 884, representing 400 city workers in New Haven, CT, has been trusteed and its leaders suspended for apparent failure to pay dues to the national union; this was apparently triggered by a group of 911 dispatchers trying to break away from Local 884 for poor representation.

The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers at Grinnell College in Iowa is considering affiliating with the UE, as part of a larger affiliation decision among student worker unions (both graduate and undergraduate) across several campuses: Grinnell, Washington University of St. Louis, University of Maryland, Princeton University, and University of Chicago. All are currently independent, though Chicago and Princeton were both formerly affiliated with AFT (and Chicago was the first big election win after the NLRB once again reversed its position on private sector grad student worker unionization in 2016). The UE currently has student workers at Kenyon College, University of Iowa, University of New Mexico, and some schools in North Carolina (and possibly others I missed).

Vanity Fair published a story on internal tension in the New York NewsGuild over a dues increase (sign of the times!). The local has apparently run a budget deficit every year since 2017, and has expanded its staff and organizing efforts, as evidenced by the weekly cascade of new organizing campaign announcements with an approximate 100% win rate. The problem faced by the NewsGuild (not exclusively, but especially, the New York local) is that they’re organizing far faster than they can win first contracts, since the journalism industry is one gigantic hot shop. That means they’re spending staff time on shops that don’t yet pay dues; by the local’s own projections, in 2021 they’ll have 3,500 dues-paying members and 2,500 not-yet-dues-paying members. Part of this tension is emblematic of the whole labor movement; unions as institutions are beholden to their dues-paying members, and unless there’s deep member education on the value of solidarity and organizing the whole industry (as opposed to just spending all your money on servicing existing workplace units), the insiders can feel shortchanged. You can imagine a legacy journalist paying 2% of their paycheck to organize whippersnapper digital journalists and not quite seeing how that’s a good ROI. But of course the alternative is the slow erosion of union density in the industry, and the attendant erosion of standards. Anyway, it’s a good problem to have, but a reminder that rebuilding the labor movement is going to come with all sorts of unforeseen and thorny challenges.