The week in US unions, May 20-27, 2021

You may have seen there was a mass shooting in San Jose, California this week; it appears it occurred at a pre-shift meeting of ATU Local 265. The union has set up a relief fund for members and families impacted, which you can contribute to here.

NEW ORGANIZING

New election filings at the NLRB: 130 workers at the Brooklyn Museum are forming a union with UAW Local 2110, which is on an absolute museum-organizing tear; some workers at the museum are already represented by AFSCME DC37, but Local 2110 is apparently not contesting for those workers. 105 editorial staff at Forbes are unionizing with the New York NewsGuild. 65 drivers for German logistics company DB Schenker are unionizing with Operating Engineers Local 399 in Edwardsville, IL. 50 operations and maintenance workers at the massive Covanta Essex incinerator in Newark, NJ (which you’ve definitely noticed if you’ve ever driven on the New Jersey Turnpike) are organizing with Operating Engineers Local 825. 40 concrete mixer drivers for GCC Concrete in El Paso, TX are joining Teamsters Local 745. 31 delivery drivers for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits in San Antonio, TX are organizing with Teamsters Local 657. 28 workers at DeLaurenti Food & Wine at Pike Place in Seattle are organizing with UFCW Local 21. 28 technicians at David Taylor Ellisville Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealer in Ballwin, MO are joining Machinists District Lodge 9. 19 warehouse workers who make salt for Cargill (the second-largest privately held corporation in the country, behind Koch Industries) in Buffalo, IA are joining Teamsters Local 371. Ten plumbers and gasfitters at Reading, MA contractor A. Fresco, Inc are unionizing with UA Local 12

NLRB wins…: 127 therapists, nurses, and educators at the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh voted 92-20 to join AFT Pennsylvania. 30 sanitation drivers for City Carting in Stamford, CT joined Teamsters Local 813 by a 16-10 vote. 29 EMTs and paramedics with the Westerly Ambulance Corps in Westerly, RI voted 15-0 to join the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics, NAGE-SEIU Local 5000. 21 lab techs, skilled tradespeople, and warehouse workers for industrial centrifuge and other equipment supplier Kason Corporation in Millburn, NJ voted 9-6 to join UFCW Local 312. 12 police sergeants at Brown University voted 10-0 to join the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, NAGE-SEIU. Nine electricians with contractor Fortino & Sons in Syracuse, NY voted 5-4 to join IBEW Local 43. Six medical clericals at Dignity Health North State in Redding, CA voted 4-2 to join SEIU UHW

...and losses: 161 manufacturing workers at Parker Lord in Saegerstown, PA, which makes engine components, voted 39-110 against joining the Machinists; this is the fifth over-150-workers NLRB election the Machinists have lost in the last year, out of seven elections they’ve run. That’s a pretty bad run, compared to the roughly 60% win rate among NLRB elections of over 150 workers over the past five years across all unions. In that five year period, the Machinists won just nine of 25 elections, which means either the Machinists are just not organizing well or there’s a broader trend among manufacturing workers not voting to unionize. 50 equipment operators and mechanics at the Fairless Landfill in Morristown, PA voted 14-29 not to join Operating Engineers Local 542. Looks like the 32 workers at flour miller Grain Craft in Ogden, UT voted 0-13 against joining BCTGM (though the NLRB site has some errors in this filing, so could be off). 12 electricians for Higher Limits Development in Huntingdon Valley, PA voted 3-9 not to join IBEW Local 98

Decertifications: 77 tree trimmers for Davey Tree Expert Company in Grayling, MI voted 8-29 to drop their membership in IBEW Local 876. NABET-CWA Local 53 beat a decert among 25 TV techs at Fox News in Las Vegas in a 14-9 vote. Nine outside telecom workers with contractor Northwest Line Builders in Medical Lake, WA are no longer with IBEW Local 89 after a 0-4 vote. I tend not to make much of decertification filings (because it only means that 30% of the workers signed a petition, and they tend not to make it to a vote), but the filling to decertify Operating Engineers Local 407 at ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, LA is concerning as the Exxon lockout in Beaumont, TX (see below) drags on, and a broader industry-wide push to bust refinery unions has all but gone public.

Outside the NLRB: Staff on Brad Lander’s campaign for NYC comptroller unionized with the Campaign Workers Guild. Dianne Morales’s mayoral campaign is doing something like unionizing, I guess, according to a brand new twitter account and a 3am tweet but I don’t know what to make of it; seems to be veering towards public relations effort more than material gains effort, but that may just be my cold, cynical heart.

GM is building two new battery production facilities in Ohio and Tennessee for its electric vehicles and it sounds like some sort of soft deal has been cut with the UAW, as the company moves from cold to lukewarm on the idea of these battery workers becoming UAW members. 

UAW Local 2865 officially filed 11,000 authorization cards with the California Public Employment Relations Board. The 17,000 grad student workers with Student Researchers United will catapult Local 2865 to the largest local in the UAW.

STRIKES & BARGAINING

The UMWA strike at Warrior Met in Brookwood, AL got a shot in the arm with Strikefest, a weekend-long fundraiser and live concert. It also seems like the miners are holding the line, getting arrested, and at least occasionally blocking scabs from strike-breaking. Check out More Perfect Union’s recap of how things are going. 

And while UMWA’s 8 weeks on strike is long, Massachusetts Nurses Association’s St Vincent Hospital strike in Worcester, MA is longer, nearly at the 3 month mark. Jacobin ran an interview with MNA President Katie Murphy on the strike and its broader implications, as the hospital and union are still far apart on key issues. 

Refinery workers for ExxonMobil in Beaumont, TX with USW Local 13-243 remain locked out since May 1st. Mindy Isser has a great rundown of the lockout at In These Times. It’s been over two weeks since the union and the company have met, and the endgame is unclear. In the most comparable case, 200 members of Teamsters Local 120 in St. Paul Park, MN have been out of work since January, and the company won’t even admit it’s a lockout, claiming the employees are on strike. Here’s hoping for a better outcome for both groups of workers.

The other long strike in the US, by Steelworkers at ATI in Western PA, Lockport, NY, & New Bedford, MA, drags on, with the neat ritual of a near-weekly Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reporting that the union and management have scheduled another negotiation session. The strike entered its ninth week on Tuesday.

100+ nurses with the California Nurses Association (NNU)struck San Francisco’s Chinese Hospital for 24 hours, from Tuesday to Wednesday morning. They voted to unionize in August 2019, one of San Francisco’s last group of hospital nurses to do so, and still have not reached a first contract.

Around 1500 healthcare workers with NUHW in Southern California voted to authorize a strike. They work across several clinics and a hospital in the USC system, as the university demands concessions.

About 650 nurses for Logan Health in Kalispell, MT gave their strike notice and are preparing for a three-day strike, June 1-3. The nurses organized with SEIU 1199NW in June of 2019 and still don’t have a first contract.

IUPAT District Council 14 authorized a strike, by a 687-28 vote, against the Finishing Contractors Association in Chicago. If no agreement is reached, the Painters will strike June 1st.

130 sanitation workers with Teamsters Local 117 in the Seattle area voted unanimously to authorize a strike, and got right up close to the deadline before apparently reaching a tentative agreement which will go to a vote this week.

Soon after the first tentative agreement was rejected by 91%, UAW Local 2069 brought forward a new TA with Volvo Truck in Dublin, VA, and was met with a renewed round of skepticism from members. They set a voting date in June, and then pushed it back a few days, so we should know the fate of this second TA on June 6th or 7th. As Freightwaves pointed out, the two-week strike in March wasn’t necessarily painful for Volvo, considering the rolling layoffs that microchip shortages have brought to the auto industry, with a strike meaning the company didn’t have to provide layoff pay and were able to divert their short supply of chips to other plants. Members are aware of this, and it seems to have fed some of the frustration about these rounds of bargaining, which hasn’t eliminated the two-tier wage structure that has been at the core of the dispute, along with rising healthcare costs and shortening the contract (currently it’s five years long; members want three, and the new TA is six).

250+ educators with the Gateway Education Association outside Pittsburgh didn’t end up striking after all, reaching a deal on a new contract.

An arbitrator found that the Social Security Administration has (once again) engaged in bad faith bargaining with the Association of Administrative Law Judges, IFPTE. In another Federal Labor Relations Board decision that seems important, a judge ruled in favor of AFGE Local 17 at the Department of Veterans Affairs when the agency followed guidance from a Trump Executive Order in 2018 limiting union official time. I don’t follow these things closely enough to know, but it’s interesting to see a labor board functionally overturn an EO in favor of the union.

The New York Times has a look into the troubles the NFLPA has encountered in trying to organize a pseudo-boycott of official off-season workouts.

United Campus Workers (CWA) at University of Kentucky is celebrating a raft of victories, including raising the school’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1st, after the minority union’s organizing and protesting for improvements.

HBO fired a group of orchestral musicians on the show The Gilded Age (an upcoming series that is indeed about the 1920s and wealth inequality, and stars prominent socialist Cynthia Nixon), and the American Federation of Musicians filed an unfair labor practice charge, before apparently coming to an agreement. Elsewhere in classical music labor, IATSE Local 829 filed unfair labor practice charges against the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, following weeks of protest. Outside DC, IATSE Local 868 is protesting the Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD for cutting union ticket-taker jobs.

The Santa Cruz, CA METRO transit system has extended the contract of its CEO and General Manager over the objections of the two unions– SMART-TD Local 23 and SEIU Local 521 – who represent METRO workers. Management refused to even meet with the unions throughout the pandemic and is refusing to allow any remote work, plus paying the CEO $22,000/month.

At In These Times, Hamilton Nolan has a profile of UNITE HERE’s efforts to unionize the New Orleans hospitality industry. 

AFSCME 699 celebrated Endangered Species Day with a rally for three wrongfully-terminated zookeepers at the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, IL

In Santa Clara County, CA, three unions – SEIU Local 521, County Employees Management Association (Operating Engineers Local 3), and the Registered Nurses Professional Associationrallied for the county to use federal relief funding to improve working conditions and public services.

Members of Teamsters Local 533 in Reno, NV showed up in protest at a Regional Transportation Commission meeting, accusing transit contractor Keolis of failing to provide lactation breaks and sanitary facilities to a nursing mother. Just to make sure they got their message across, they brought their huge “KEOLIS TRANSIT HATES LACTATING MOTHERS AND THEIR BABIES!!!”banner.

Over 100 workers at Cascades Containerboard, who make corrugated cardboard filler in Niagara Falls, NY, are still waiting on their first contract, two years after unionizing with Machinists District 65

POLITICS & LEGISLATION

There was an entire Twitter cycle around the New York gig workers pseudo-unionization bill, as Labor Notes and others obtained a copy of draft legislation. TWU President John Samuelsen spend a few good days decrying the “Elite Twitter Intelligentsia” (like the chair of the New York State Senate Committee on Labor, Jessica Ramos?) and said, like others have, that TWU would “listen to the workers.” The trouble with this line when discussing labor law for gig workers is that those gig workers are, by definition and by law, unrepresentable, and don’t really have credible organizations that can meaningfully speak for them, just scattered token leaders and campaigns that more often than not do not have a real base among the broader worker population. So you can find an individual gig worker who will endorse any given position, but you can’t find an organization of gig workers that can credibly claim to speak for any considerable chunk. But maybe that’s changing! In this case, it was Las Deliveristas, the 32BJ-backed group of NYC delivery workers, who Samuelsen was following, and who came out against the bill, along with 32BJ, effectively killing it.

These efforts to establish a labor law side deal for gig workers will continue until there is actual misclassification reform, which is to say, until the PRO Act is passed in some form. In a small but encouraging sign, the Arizona Democratic Party officially passed a resolution calling on their two Democratic Senator hold-outs Kelly & Sinema to back the bill. Since US parties aren’t really parties, this doesn’t mean what it might in most other countries, but it might move the needle; Kelly’s got a re-election to win in less than 18 months, and he might have to care what the official state party thinks, or not.

Apparently the 30,000-member UNITE HERE Local 11 of CA & AZ is opposing the federal Save Hotel Jobs Act meant to bring back the hotel industry, despite the national union strongly and vocally supporting it. Local 11 tends to march to the beat of its own drum, but I don’t immediately get the inside baseball behind this one. In Nevada, a state bill has landed on a compromise position regarding the ability of hospitality workers to return to their old jobs, which is obviously a huge priority for Local 226.

The Rhode Island statehouse passed a priority bill of 1199 New England, mandating safe staffing ratios in nursing homes. Obviously nursing homes have been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic, and, as evidenced by the mass strike threat in Connecticut, 1199 New England intends to do something about it.

Laborers Local 79 is looking to the NYC City Council to address the use of highly exploited non-union construction workers.

INTERNAL UNION POLITICS

Maximillian Alvarez of Working People podcast has an interview with David Van Deusen, the president of the Vermont AFL-CIO, on why the national federation is “monitoring, investigating, and ‘threatening further action against’” the state affiliate. Steve Early had a piece on the scuffle last month, which flared up in November around the Vermont affiliate’s talk of a “general strike” in case of a Trump coup attempt.

In The Guardian, Steven Greenhouse has a useful look at the UAW, which is now counting down to a membership-wide referendum on whether to switch to direct elections for top officers, something very few unions do, and something no union has ever held a referendum on, as far as I know.

In a surprise election result, SEIU Local 1000, the union of 96,000 state workers across California, has a new top officer, Richard Louis Brown, who unseated incumbent Yvonne Walker in a five-way race. Brown won with 33% of the votes of a dismal 7,880 cast (that’s about an 8% turnout of the 96k represented, though Local 1000 supposedly has a considerable membership problem, so not all 96k would’ve been eligible to vote, which more on that below…) I make this point just to underline how soft the internal political orders of so many of these unions are, I mean this guy just won with 2600 votes! I invite you to imagine the mileage one could get out of a “Justice Democrats” of the labor movement. But perhaps the bigger point here is that Richard Brown has some unconventional ideas for Local 1000. One is that if they don’t get a 21% across-the-board raise in their next contract, they’re striking; cool with me. Another is that they will cut dues in half; not sure how you run a 96,000 member strike on half the resources. Another is that they’ll disaffiliate from SEIU (Local 1000 apparently has some constitutional independence from SEIU but is certainly not actually independent). Another is that they’ll stop all political contributions and support, which is just bonkers for a public union in California, let alone his rationale which has something to do with reverse racism against white people (Brown is not white, for the record). He also wants to end the “poll tax” for voting in internal elections, which is his innovative way of characterizing the membership (i.e., dues-paying) requirement for voting on internal affairs. To that end, he appears to have paid at least one member to vote (good catch from C.M. Lewis), which is a big no-no. If he doesn’t get taken out on election violations, it’s hard to imagine trustee-happy SEIU not bringing the hammer down on Brown, maybe under the pretense of financial trusteeship (halving dues will not bring good financial tidings).