The week in US unions, August 5-12

NEW ORGANIZING

New election filings at the NLRB: 340 home care workers for Golden Years Home Care in East Longmeadow, MA (outside Springfield) are unionizing with 1199 SEIU. 140 workers at a ThyssenKrupp crankshaft factory in Danville, IL are organizing with the Machinists. 83 clerical workers for Elizabethtown Gas in Elizabeth, NJ are unionizing with the Utility Workers. 74 mechanics and clerks in Jacksonville, NC for Vertex Aerospace are organizing with the Machinists. 70 drivers for US Foods out of Morganton, NC are unionizing with Teamsters Local 391. 70 drivers for freight carrier 10 Roads Express based in Warrendale, PA are unionizing with Teamsters Local 249.

Small shops: 26 physicians and others at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services in Gallup, NM are unionizing with the Union of American Physicians & Dentists (AFSCME). 17 workers at environmental services firm Spike Enterprise in Channahon, IL are unionizing with Operating Engineers Local 150. Five maintenance workers at refrigerated logistics operator Americold in Modesto, CA are joining Teamsters Local 386. Five US Foods drivers based in Charlotte, NC are joining Teamsters Local 509. Three workers at a Lafarge Holcim ready mix plant in Tonawanda, NY are joining Operating Engineers Local 17

NLRB election wins…: 47 drivers for wholesaler Sysco out of six facilities in Minnesota voted 23-15 to join Teamsters Local 120. 40 workers who make plastics for JSP Resins in Butler, PA joined the Steelworkers in a 19-15 vote. 22 security guards at the Federal Trade Commission in DC voted 10-0 to join SPFPA. 20 clerical workers at the massive ongoing Hanford plutonium processing facility cleanup project in Richland, WA voted 14-2 to join the Metal Trades Department (AFL-CIO). 26 lab techs at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, PA voted 10-7 to join PASNAP. 11 workers at a liquid natural gas facility owned by NAES Corporation in Tacoma, WA voted 10-1 to join the Inlandboatmen’s Union (ILWU). Three more Safeway bakery workers in Oregon joined BCTGM Local 114, this time in Portland, after a 2-1 vote. Three building engineers at 950 L’Enfant Plaza SW, a big I. M. Pei-designed office building in DC voted unanimously to join Operating Engineers Local 99. Two workers at First Transit in Baltimore both voted to join ATU Local 1764

...and losses: 110 drivers and mechanics for Garten Trucking in Covington, VA voted 30-65 against joining the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (an affiliate of the Carpenters); I’ll also take this occasion to say that I foolishly noted in an aside when this election was first filed, that this union of west coast paper workers organizing freight truck drivers in Appalachian Virginia “is so strange that I actually wonder if it’s some kind of clerical error” which prompted Sam Nelson, union-knower extraordinaire, to graciously point out that actually the AWPPW already represents 1300 paper workers in Covington, which makes it considerably less surprising they’d try to organize Garten, a company that was founded to ship materials associated with that plant. 33 Head Start workers in Helena, MT voted 1-8 against joining the Montana Federation of Public Employees (NEA & AFT).

Raids and decertifications: 250 nurses at Pottstown Hospital in Pottstown, PA voted to stick with their union, PASNAP, in a 122-63 vote. UFCW Local 1996 appears to have filed to raid a unit of 47 workers at Pepsi in Macon, GA, currently represented by Teamsters Local 528. 45 workers at frozen and canned vegetable processor Lakeside Foods in Poynette, WI dropped Teamsters Local 695 in a 15-28 vote. 10 bus drivers for Number 22 Hillside LLC based in Hoboken, NJ, which does business as Academy, which up until January contracted with NJ Transit until being accused of millions of dollars worth of fraud in the form of just not running bus routes they were paid to run, voted against either joining Teamsters Local 560 or sticking with UCTIE Local 621 and are now non-union; the drivers had joined UCTIE in 2018 in a raid against their then-union, RWDSU Local 108, in a petition filed two weeks after SEIU Local 276 filed to raid the union using the same lawyer as UCTIE, which is all convoluted and just to say this all sounds quite dubious.

Outside the NLRB: In weird-things-that-happen-when-the-labor-market-gets-screwy, this story of a bouncy castle emporium plus bar and grill in Milwaukee exhorting its employees to unionize (with MASH, Milwaukee Area Service & Hospitality Workers) is worth a read. Also a helpful illustration that while we activists may want unions to be perpetual vehicles of class struggle, they have also historically played a stabilizing role for uncertain labor markets. K-12 bus drivers and custodians and other support staff in Kokomo, IN formed a union last school year, but the school board has refused to recognize them and refused to say why, while the workers continue to push. The Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, AZ, recognized its employees’ union with CWA Local 9415 after card check showed 68% support.

STRIKES & BARGAINING

St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA, says they’re “done negotiating” with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and plans to hire hundreds of replacement workers, starting this week. The union says they think they’re bluffing -- "If they were going to replace us, I think it would've happened back in May when they said they were going to replace us,” citing a general nurse shortage.

In Labor Notes, Luis Feliz Leon has another piece on the UMWA strike at Warrior Met in Alabama. The union points out that through contract concessions over the past 5 years, the workers have functionally given the company $1.1 billion in pay, benefits, time off, and so forth. Now they want it back.

The 800-strong mechanics strike by Machinists Local 701 at 56 car dealerships in Chicago continued into its second week; the last time these workers struck, in 2017, they were out for 7 weeks, so this could certainly be a prolonged fight.

200 members of BCTGM Local 364 who make Oreos and Chips Ahoy for Nabisco in Portland, OR are on strike as of late Tuesday night. The top concern the local is citing is the company’s push to drop overtime pay for weekend work and other scheduling changes, while the national union says it’s about parent company Mondelez’s years-long outsourcing of union jobs to Mexico. 

The Teamsters Local 142 Pepsi strike in Munster, IN hits the one-month mark today, and the neighboring city of Hammond says they’ll boycott Pepsi if the company doesn’t settle an  agreement by next Friday. The main issue is that the company wants to sextuple healthcare premiums. The union does not want that.

The Teamsters Local 533 strike against transit contractor Keolis in Reno, NV also continues, with the mayor getting involved. Also at issue in this strike is healthcare, specifically the management of the health fund and the level of employer contribution. While Keolis claims to be acting in good faith and acting shocked that the union won’t bend, they’re also calling the police on strikers.

About 100 mental healthcare workers with 1199NW at Cascade Behavioral Health in Tukwila, WA struck last week over safety concerns after a violent incident with a patient. It’s unclear to me whether the core issue the workers are raising is understaffing, or security presence and/or police responsiveness to issues at the facility.

Hundreds of tech workers at the New York Times walked off the job as part of the New York NewsGuild response to the Times’s refusal to recognize the union and delay for months. Two of the workers spoke with Jacobin last week about their fight.

Teachers in Naperville, IL have filed an intent to strike, starting August 19th. The two big issues are increased paid parental leave and compensation for excess workloads (a near-universal issue in K-12 unionism). Champion, OH teachers authorized their strike weeks ago, and just got their final offer from the district; not through the federal mediator as they agreed, but via a public Facebook post from the district, clearly meant to publicly pressure the union. Some Detroit teachers are calling on their union to strike ahead of the start of the school year. Teachers and principals in Florida got $1,000 bonus checks and while that might seem a meager premium for exposing yourself to COVID, thousands of K-12 workers didn’t even get that, so now the unions are negotiating for those who were left out.

AFT Local 6244, the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (“LEO”) at University of Michigan is taking advantage of a clause in their contract to “quit the contract,” giving the university 30 days to renegotiate a new agreement or let it expire, which among other things would mean the “no strike” clause would no longer be in effect as of September 5th, as the union was careful to point out. At the core of the dispute is pay parity for lecturers across campuses, with Flint and Dearborn non-tenure-track faculty making considerably less than those on the main campus in Ann Arbor.

Sunday night, after agreeing to a one week extension past the contract deadline, 1,000 telecom workers for Consolidated Communications in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine with CWA Local 1400 and IBEW Locals 2320, 2326, and 2327 reached a tentative agreement, averting a strike.

UPS Teamsters in West Springfield, MA rallied this week against excessive overtime, an issue which has long plagued UPS drivers but in particular since the beginning of the pandemic. In a statement, the company essentially said, “Well, the union contract lets us do it,” to which I think most UPS drivers would say… well, see below, under “Internal Union Politics.”

Speaking of excessive overtime, Jacobin’s Alex Press ran a piece on how that issue also plagues the film and TV industry, with IATSE members and others being worked to the bone. 

IAFF Local 83 and the city of Topeka, KS remain at an impasse over firefighter wages. Alexandria, LA firefighters with IAFF Local 540 broke their own stalemate after 13 years without a raise, with the new base pay announced a whopping $32,000 by 2024.

The Steelworkers want to make decarbonization-related capital investments part of negotiations with the nation’s refineries, per a strategy conversation in advance of beginning talks with Marathon, who for the first time will take the lead in setting the pattern as Shell, who used to lead for the refineries, now operates only one facility in the US.

POLITICS & LEGISLATION

The state of Virginia is trying to claw back millions paid out in unemployment benefits to thousands of school bus drivers across the state, due to a loophole in state law about 10-month employees getting these sorts of benefits. The Virginia Education Association is representing the drivers in the dispute, a smart move as these drivers may soon have collective bargaining rights for the first time under the new state labor law reform.

A right wing think tank in Oregon is suing the state over the decision of the state legislative staff to unionize with IBEW Local 89; they’re arguing that it violates the separation of powers, since the union agreement would fall under the purview of the executive branch-overseen state labor board. This is basically silly and would in theory apply to all public sector unions, basically, which I’m sure is the think tank’s fever dream.

It’s hard to place this item under any one heading, as wide-ranging and deep its analysis is, but Andrew Elrod’s piece in Phenomenal World about the construction industry, labor shortage, union density, labor deregulation, and more is really worth a read. It’s a great look at the complex factors that have brought down workers in this country, and implies the sorts of political, organizing, and bargaining moves that would have to be made to undo the damage.

INTERNAL UNION POLITICS

The IFPTE has a new president, Matthew Biggs, who was elected at their convention last week in the wake of the retirement of Paul Shearon.

The SAG-AFTRA election is in full swing, with ballots having been mailed on August 2nd and to be counted on September 2nd. For an overview, check out this very in-depth Deadline article, but I don’t actually know the best source for play-by-play updates, except the very messy social media activity of the two slates. The showdown is between two slates: Unite for Strength and Membership First, headed by Fran Drescher and Matthew Modine, respectively. Drescher has the incumbent leadership’s endorsement, while Modine is aggressively challenging how that leadership handled, in particular, members’ healthcare during the pandemic. While union challengers tend to face incredibly steep odds, Modine’s bid seems to have gathered some momentum, just judging on the prominent endorsers and slate members Membership First has picked up. If you’ve got any further insights on this election, as a SAG-AFTRA member or observer, I’d be curious to hear them.

The AFL-CIO will officially have a new president next Friday, when the executive council meets to officially name Trumka’s replacement for the remainder of his term. It would be surprising if the replacement were anyone other than the IBEW’s Liz Shuler, the current Secretary-Treasurer and acting President, but presumably they will then need to fill Shuler’s seat. This could be a moment for a grand bargain with Sara Nelson, theoretically averting a leadership challenge in 2022, or not.

The huge labor story that’s getting very little coverage is that the Teamsters election is essentially a referendum on the largest private sector contract in the country, could lead to the largest strike in decades in 2023, and UPS is scared. And that’s not the O’Brien-Zuckerman press shop talking (though I am a partisan in this fight, having worked for Zuckerman’s near-miss election in 2016), that’s industry analyst site Freightwaves. UPS faces increasingly stiff competition in package delivery from Amazon, and labor costs are over half of their operating expenditures. Meanwhile, O’Brien and Zuckerman have come to prominence particularly over their willingness to challenge UPS, whose workers make up about 1/6th of the Teamsters membership -- and a higher proportion of the fewer than 20% of the members who tend to vote in national union elections -- meaning they’re not about to agree to a concessionary contract after staking their political fortunes on their capacity to fight back. The UPS workforce has grown significantly during the pandemic, and if that holds, a 2023 strike could be the biggest the country has seen in half a century. If such a development isn’t yet on the public’s radar, it certainly is on the minds of UPS workers.