The week(+) in US unions, September 23 - October 2
The newsletter is officially moving to Saturdays, so enjoy this 10-day mega edition. It’s too long for your e-mail inbox, so click through to read the whole thing. Also, I wrote a piece for Labor Notes about the UAW referendum that’s coming up, check it out here.
New election filings at the NLRB: A whopping 850 workers at Hello Fresh in Richmond, CA are unionizing with UNITE HERE Local 2850 (which will be a 25% increase in membership for that local based on 2019 numbers, and a 100% increase based on 2020 numbers) as part of a national UH push to break into the growing meal kit industry (which is estimated to be a $13 billion dollar industry by next year). 175 steelworkers at JSW Steel, an Indian company that is in the top 25 steel producers in the world, are organizing with the Steelworkers at its Mingo Junction, OH plant (these are the kinds of major core industry employers unions should be going after all the time, but are obviously much harder to win at than scooping up 3 to 5 members here or there). 123 nurses at San Dimas Community Hospital in San Dimas, CA are organizing with SEIU 121RN. 95 railcar maintenance workers for TTX in Mira Loma, CA are organizing with the Steelworkers.
Smaller shops: 71 guards at a Boeing facility in San Antonio are joining SPFPA. 69 workers for Citizen, the app that lets you report that you heard a car backfire and thought it was gunshots, are unionizing with CWA in New York. 58 utility workers at the United Illuminating Company based in Orange, CT are unionizing with the Utility Workers. 40 EMTs, paramedics, and RNs for Arizona Ambulance based in Sierra Vista, AZ are joining IAFF Local I-60. 40 workers at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista, CA are joining IATSE Local 122. 39 workers at the Estron Chemical plant in Calvert City, KY are organizing with the Machinists. 35 workers at a DHL location (I think this is the equivalent of a UPS store as opposed to a UPS hub, because most (all?) DHL workers in the US are already Teamsters, but I may be wrong about that) in Oak Creek, WI are organizing with Teamsters Local 344. 35 support staff at Meadow View Rehab in Montrose, PA are unionizing with SEIU Healthcare PA. Teamsters Local 294 is going after 33 workers for XPO Logistics in Albany, NY; XPO is a years-long strategic target for the IBT (but with only two shops successfully organized, as far as I know). 28 cannabis workers at Curaleaf in Mokena, IL are joining UFCW Local 881, which has been successfully organizing weed workers across the state (though I’ve heard rumors the Teamsters have been repeatedly trying to get on the ballot after UFCW files for elections).
Tiny shops: 19 utility workers for Xcel Energy in Minneapolis are unionizing with IBEW Local 160. 18 hotel workers at a La Quinta in St. Louis are organizing with UNITE HERE Local 74. 11 service and technical workers at Tuality Physical Therapy and Chiropractic in Hillsboro, OR are joining AFSCME Council 75. Ten utility workers for Seminole Electric in Tampa are joining IBEW Local 108. Ten cement masons for contractor Hoffman Structures based in Seattle are joining Cement Masons Local 528. Nine research assistants at two bird sanctuaries in Volcano, HI are joining Teamsters Locals 481 & 996. Seven workers who service and distribute mining equipment for Epiroc in Harrisburg, PA are joining Operating Engineers Local 542. Six workers at Cemex in Bakersfield, CA are joining Operating Engineers Local 12. Six workers at a Recology compost facility in Salem, OR are joining Teamsters Local 324. Five bakery workers at the Safeway in Wilsonville, OR are joining BCTGM Local 114. Three skilled tradesmen for C&W Services in Boston are joining the Area Trades Council of New England (which is made up of Operating Engineers Local 877, IBEW Local 103, Plumbers Local 12, Carpenters Local 51, and IUPAT District Council 35.) Three recycling truck drivers with the Midwest Paper Retriever in Joliet, IL are joining Teamsters Local 179. Two lab techs for Chase Corporation in Pittsburgh are joining Machinists District Lodge 98.
NLRB election wins…: 131 staffers at the Audubon Society have voted 90-14 to join CWA. 72 healthcare techs at Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles, OR, joined OFNHP (AFT) in a 45-4 vote. 36 nursing home workers in Streamwood, IL voted 17-4 to join SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana. 25 doctors at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services in Gallup, NM voted 15-9 to join the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (AFSCME Local 206). 16 medical clericals for Tuality Healthcare in Forest Grove, OR voted 9-1 to join AFSCME Council 75. In two votes, 11 drivers and warehouse workers for Four Seasons Fresh Transport in National City, CA voted 8-1 to join ILWU. 11 glaziers in Canton, GA joined IUPAT Local 1940 by 6-1. 11 quarry workers for Agregados Piedra Blanca in Arecibo, PR voted 2-0 to join the Laborers. Four air traffic controllers at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville, WI voted unanimously to join PATCO, the one affiliated with OPEIU and in an “alliance” with the Teamsters, not to be confused with the PATCO affiliated with AFSCME, neither of which should be confused with NATCA which is the largest air traffic controllers union. Two HVAC techs for DUCTZ of South Jersey in Cherry Hill, NJ both voted to join SMART Local 19.
...and losses: GCC-IBT Local 458M got walloped in a 6-28 vote among 43 workers at Earth Friendly Products in Addison, IL. 27 workers at Balducci’s grocery store in Scarsdale, NY barely failed to unionize with UFCW Local 342 in a 10-11 vote. 11 workers at the Garfield Beach CVS in Hemet, CA voted 2-4 against joining UFCW Local 1167. 8 F-35 training instructors for Lockheed Martin at the Luke Air Force Base, AZ split 4-4 on joining Machinists Local 519.
Decertifications & raids: Teamsters Local 222 is raiding a unit of 220 concrete drivers at Jack B. Parson Ready Mix in northern Utah and southern Idaho from the “Independent Union of Concrete Handlers, Drivers, and Operators,” which the Teamsters appear to be contesting as a company union based on charges filed in August; I can’t find anything else about the “independent” union, which is a bit of a red flag. 47 workers at Platinum Ridge Rehab in Brackenridge, PA voted in a 1-44 landslide to decertify AFSCME District Council 84. 41 rental car agents for National and Alamo in Portland, OR kept Teamsters Local 305 in a 20-15 vote. 30 CNAs at Bishop Noa Senior Home in Escanaba, MI decertified the Steelworkers in a 9-12 vote. 22 workers at Alro Steel distributors in Dayton, OH voted 8-10 to drop Teamsters Local 957.
Ohio Senatorial hopeful Tim Ryan’s staff are unionizing with IBEW Local 1466, apparently, once the workers actually sign cards. I don’t know if it’s just a matter of garbled press releases, but it’s really telling (and maybe illegal? Section 8(a)(2)? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer) that politicians are recognizing staff unions before staff members even sign the cards. Almost as if it’s more about good press for the candidate than employees organizing for their own interests.
The California PERB is tsk-tsking at the University of California for not recognizing Student Researchers United, the massive new 17,000-member UAW unit that filed union cards. The union has started testing the waters to see if researchers would be willing to strike, if it comes to that.
Ford announced they’re building four new plants (one of which is four times the size of Rouge! If you’ve been to Rouge you know that’s insane) for 11,000 workers to make batteries and electric trucks in Kentucky and Tennessee. Going south is a red flag in terms of these jobs being union and, if they are union, not undermining standards of existing Ford UAW members. But electric vehicles are proliferating, and the union faces an existential threat if they can’t maintain standards.
Chicago beer company Goose Island used the pandemic as an occasion to bust the union drive among its 125 workers.
STRIKES & BARGAINING
2,000 Buffalo healthcare workers with CWA Local 1133 at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital struck Friday morning against understaffing and low wages. There are actually more than 2,000 workers whose hopes hang on this contract, but only the one hospital is permitted to strike. It’s open-ended, so this could be a long one, but let’s hope it’s not.
The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters is back at the bargaining table with the contractors association, with a rank-and-file representative from the dissident Peter J. McGuire Group sitting at the table. This article has some good details on where things stand in this weeks-long strike.
450 workers at the largest nickel alloy production facility in the world, Special Metals’s Huntington, WV plant, are on strike with Steelworkers Local 40 as of Friday. Fifteen minutes down the road, 50 workers for Swiss pump manufacturer Sulzer are on strike in Barboursville, WV with Machinists Local 598, as the company apparently attempts to gut the seniority system.
Teamsters Local 553 transit workers in Reno, NV are on strike -- again. They went out just over a month ago for the first time, and are back at it as transit contractor Keolis tries to make changes to scheduling and seniority that would result in longer hours and worse working conditions for drivers.
The 420-member distillery workers strike at Heaven Hill in Bardstown, KY continues as UFCW Local 23-D fights management’s attempt to move to an “alternative” schedule which would eliminate weekend overtime, among other issues.
Several hundred members of UAW Local 509 at Senior Aerospace SSP in Burbank, CA remain on strike. There has been zero press coverage of this strike, despite being a large industrial action in a big metro area, but a curious reader of this newsletter went to the picket line and spoke to some workers, who say there has been no scabbing, and say the biggest issue is proposed healthcare cost increases. For Labor Notes, we’ve been able to make contact with a couple workers but would love to learn more.
The 72 musicians of the San Antonio Symphony are on strike (with what I think is an independent union) in response to a management proposal to cut dozens of jobs even after the musicians took an 80 percent (!) pay cut.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association strike at St Vincent in Worcester, MA is now the longest active strike in the US in the last 15 years, per the union. As far as I know, the final sticking point is a petty one: Tenet doesn’t want to give all the strikers their old jobs back, which would be trivially easy for the company to do, but is a huge hardship for the members, so they’re holding out.
350 janitors with SEIU Local 105 at Denver International Airport went on strike on Friday. The main issue is wages, with janitors currently making only $17 an hour. They were back to work Saturday morning.
Early Friday afternoon, the UAW and John Deere announced a tentative agreement. In keeping with UAW’s infamous blackout negotiations style (which has been particularly bad at Deere, and at the protracted fiasco at Volvo in Virginia earlier this year), members won’t even get a “highlighter” until next Friday (each member gets a single copy of the highlight sheet and has like a three hour window to pick it up, at least according to the rules of some locals) and won’t vote until Sunday the 10th. It’s a good occasion to read Labor Notes’s article on fair (and unfair) contract ratification processes. Anyway, before the TA was announced, I wrote up an update for Labor Notes that was out of date by the early afternoon. I think it still captures the mood:
Thursday night, 10,000 members of nine UAW locals in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas counted down the hours to the expiration of their contract with John Deere. The members had voted to authorize a strike by 99% two and a half weeks ago. Many members expected to be walking a picket line when the clock struck midnight. Locals had assigned picket duties, and arranged for carpools for different shifts. Management had cancelled third shift and emptied perishables from vending machines at the Ottumwa Deere plant.
It came as a shock to at least some members when, at 12:01am, UAW Local 281 posted on their Facebook page: “We’ve been notified by the bargaining team we are on an extension. Good progress has been made but they are still talking. Report to work tomorrow.” In an email from the company with the subject line “Our Work Continues,” members learned that “John Deere and the UAW have agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement through Oct. 15.” The UAW website had even less detail: “The UAW and John Deere have agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement as the parties continue to make progress towards reaching a tentative agreement.”
Members on social media were outraged. One member wrote on Facebook: “What happened to all the ‘Will strike if provoked’ BS? What is the union’s definition of provoked?? Can we get shirts saying ‘Will back down if threatened?’” Some feel an extension signals the union backing off of its strike threat, and gives more time for Deere to build up inventory in case a strike does hit, weakening the workers’ leverage. Chris Laursen of Local 74 told Labor Notes, “If we give Deere an extra two weeks to catch up on production and they don’t bring back something good, the torches and pitchforks are coming. The membership is not at all in the mood for another concessionary contract.”
The UAW has previously told members that they should expect a “highlighter,” with toplines from any tentative agreement (but not the agreement language itself) between October 6th-8th, and a ratification vote is set for October 10th. Other than that, the UAW is adhering to its negotiations blackout policy, as the membership waits for the next move.
The massive strike vote across several dozen IATSE locals is officially underway, and for once there is just too much press coverage to even attempt to aggregate it all. The best explainer is this article, but the basics are: three big contracts are expiring, with something like 65,000 workers covered, and though some of these are region-specific, they also include national locals like the camera operators, which means that filming will be shut down across the country, reaching as far as Georgia and Oklahoma if it comes to a strike. If it does, it’ll be the largest private sector strike since the 2007 GM strike (74,000 workers). The outcome of the strike authorization vote isn’t really in question, as far as I understand it, but it’s important to have a really strong majority especially on a strike of this scale, to make sure production is truly shut down.
Two thousand more workers at healthcare giant Kaiser are set to authorize a strike with UNITE HERE Local 5 in Hawaii, as their contract expired Thursday night. As I mentioned last week, they’ll join 24,000 UNAC/UHCP (AFSCME) members, 7,400 Steelworkers Local 7600 members, and 3,400 OFNHP (AFT) members who are taking their own strike votes, or publicly moving in that direction. These unions are all part of the Alliance of Health Care Unions, one of two cross-union bargaining formations at the 200,000+-employee non-profit. The Alliance unions’ national agreement expired on Thursday, but only those whose parallel local agreements also expired on Thursday are considering strikes. Aside from the unions named above, UFCW Local 1996 in Georgia also has a local and national agreement expiring, but I haven’t seen anything about their next moves. 700 members of Operating Engineers Local 39 in Northern California, members of neither of the bargaining formations at Kaiser, have already been on strike since mid-September.
Healthcare beyond Kaiser: 350 healthcare workers with SEIU UHW at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, CA will strike for four days starting on Monday, primarily over understaffing, and another 400 healthcare workers with SEIU Local 49 at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield, OR will strike for two days starting on Tuesday, as the hospital seeks to outsource its support staff. AFSCME Local 2650 healthcare workers are threatening to strike over understaffing at McLaren hospitals in Flint and Lapeer, MI. Washington State Nurses Association members info picketed for a fair contract that addresses, you guessed it, staffing and safety concerns at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, WA. 1199 New England’s group home strike threat remains alive, even as one of three Connecticut operators settled a contract with the union.
Higher ed: Grad student workers with UAW Local 5118 at Harvard have authorized a strike for the second time in two years. They had to strike for their first contract, and it looks like they’ll have to strike for their second one. Dining workers at Northwestern University voted to authorize a strike with UNITE HERE Local 1, while contractor Compass continues to delay negotiations.The California Faculty Association (SEIU/AAUP), representing faculty across the very large California State University system declared impasse as their contract expired after 18 months of negotiations. This triggers a potentially extended fact-finding process, after which a strike could be on the table. Not a strike threat, but Yale University launched a new major capital campaign today, and UNITE HERE showed up to protest the university’s fundraising on top of its $1.5 billion endowment while mistreating its workers and the residents of New Haven. Also not a strike threat, but elsewhere in higher ed, AFSCME Council 3 released a report highlighting racial disparities in wages across the University of Maryland system, and calling for a raise to at least a $15/hour minimum wage.
Bus drivers: AFT Local 6341, the Las Cruces, NM school bus drivers union, voted to authorize a strike on Tuesday, but is exploring a contract extension before actually striking. School bus drivers with ATU Local 618 in Warwick, RI have been picketing schools and when six (out of 174) called in sick Friday, the district shut the entire First Student-run system down for the ay, despite the union saying they had nothing to do with it. The school bus driver shortage in Henrico County, VA is so bad that teachers are having to stay hours later at school to wait for kids to get picked up.
Tortilleria workers at El Milagro in Chicago’s Little Village have filed NLRB charges against their employer, after the safety walkout last week.
The hundreds of dealership mechanics with Machinists Local 701 in the Chicago area have “marginally passed” an agreement from the hold-out dealerships, ending the two-month strike.
UNITE HERE Local 2 members who work at San Francisco’s Oracle Park won some big gains in a new contract after a credible strike threat. Workers will get immediate $3/hr pay raises, going up to $7/hr increases by 2024, and $1.50/hr hazard pay on top of that for games worked in 2020 and 2021.
96 workers at Beneficial Bank in WA, OR, and CA have a union contract, a rarity in banking. They organized last March with CWA Locals 7901 and 9412.
Exxon has offered a new settlement to the 600+ refinery workers locked out in Beaumont, TX since May 1st, but Steelworkers Local 13-243 says it doesn’t actually address the seniority concerns, so it doesn’t sound like we’ve arrived at a resolution to the lock-out.
Homecare workers in Minnesota are getting a raise through SEIU.
SMART-TD Local 60 is the first of many New Jersey Transit rail unions to reach an agreement; I assume these generally follow a wage pattern, but haven’t looked into the details.
1200 grocery workers with UFCW Local 1776 in Ohio and West Virginia have a new contract after ratifying an agreement by 55%, which signals that a large number of members weren’t happy with the deal.
Montclair, NJ educators have a new one-year contract with just over 3% raises; the district and the union had some serious return-to-work battles over the past year, and it’s unclear why the contract is only one year, but they could be related. Moorhead, MN educators have a new contract, as do teachers in Flint, MI.
Members of the United Soccer League Players Association have a first contract with USL, which is a “second tier” soccer league I’d never heard of.
400 members with Montana Nurses Association Local 4 at Deaconess Hospital in Bozeman, MT have a contract with employer Bozeman Health after a credible strike threat and filing ULPs.
In Las Vegas, UNITE HERE Local 226 (“the Culinary”) organized a march calling for members to get their jobs back and return to work; over twenty thousand members are still out of work.
The carceral state: Prison guards at the Florence, CO Supermax federal prison with AFGE Local 1169 are protesting dangerous conditions, with long shifts and forced overtime. AFSCME Local 2629, representing jail employees in Louisville, is calling on the head of the jail to resign. The San Antonio police union contract has expired, after months of conflict, a ballot measure to ban collective bargaining by police, and new union leadership. The Aurora, CO police unions organized a vote of no confidence in their department chief.
Bus drivers for SEAT, Connecticut’s Southeast Area Transit system, with ATU Local 1209 are calling for increased protections from assaults by unruly passengers. They cite attempts to enforce the mask mandate as the source of the disputes, and this seems broadly true across transportation (Sara Nelson of AFA-CWA spoke to Congress about this last week). Calls for more protection for transit workers from the public are common, and seem to have seen an uptick during the pandemic. UFCW grocery workers are calling for something similar, with the added threat of mass shootings compounding the felt need for more security.
The Machinists are fighting New York Air Brake Corporation’s decision to outsource 125 jobs from Watertown, NY to Acuna, Mexico.
Teen Vogue, our zoomer vanguard, is educating the masses on how to effectively do strike support. Probably useful reading this week, judging by all of the above.
POLITICS & LEGISLATION
The unions played their role in this week’s “Dems in disarray” narrative, as right wing austerity Democrats -- er, I mean, “moderates” -- tried to tank Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. For those who haven’t been following every twist, for months there’s been a strategy to couple the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to the $3.5 trillion ten-year budget reconciliation bill, using one as leverage for the other. Republicans and some Democrats want to pass the infrastructure bill but shrink (or tank) the big spending bill, which is the one that has all the social programs. Progressives have held the line, saying both bills have to be passed together. This has theoretically been the unions’ line too, but this week they buckled, with NABTU saying fuck it, just give us the infrastructure bill (which makes sense, that’s where the vast majority of their potential jobs are), but then the AFL-CIO came out with that position too, and then the AFT came out with that position, which is really just silly, since that’s where all the funding their members care about will be; some members launched an open sign-on letter in protest. They all say “we need both,” but passing the infrastructure one first gives up all the leverage for a larger reconciliation package, and everybody knows it. For better or worse, the unions just don’t have that sort of influence, and Joe Biden seems to have entirely disregarded the unions’ position and appears to be forging ahead with the original plan. The Wall Street Journal looked at the union spending behind the push to pass the $3.5 trillion reconciliation deal. As an unintended consequence of the infrastructure/reconciliation bills impasse, 3,700 Department of Transportation employees have been furloughed, most of whom I think are AFGE members, but could have knock-on effects for other groups of workers who work with the agency.
In a rare move, a group of unions in Maine, including Teamsters Local 340, the Machinists, and Maine’s IUPAT, are publicly drafting a primary challenger to incumbent Democratic Governor Janet Mills.
Also in Maine, the Maine Lobstering Union (which is for whatever reason a Machinists affiliate) filed a lawsuit against the federal government for closing productive lobstering grounds.
Two union-backed candidates for the CalPERS pension board won their elections.
INTERNAL UNION POLITICS
The Carpenters international has dissolved its St. Louis-Kansas City Regional Council, merging it into its Chicago council. It isn’t immediately clear to me what motivated the decision, but there is a general move towards regional consolidation in the union over the past decade at least (and probably longer, I just don’t know the history). In the Carpenters, these regional bodies hold a good deal more power than the local unions, but the international president, Doug McCarron, holds by far the most, with I believe sole power to merge and rearrange these units. McCarron has run the union since 1995, the longest-serving international president of any large union, and after Hoffa officially retires next year, the only remaining 90s incumbent.
Finally, I wrote an overview of the past and present of the corruption scandal, concessionary bargaining, and historic referendum happening in the UAW for Labor Notes. When the Teamsters went through a parallel process in the late 80s, it was national and local news, with magazine features and public scrutiny; I’ve barely seen any coverage of the UAW’s referendum anywhere outside a few left publications, Detroit local news, and automotive industry analysts. This really could be a watershed moment for the US labor movement, as was the switch to direct democracy in the Teamsters (which paved the way for the Sweeney reform leadership slate win at the AFL-CIO in 1995, and obviously the 1997 UPS strike, the largest strike in my lifetime). If you’re interested in supporting the members organizing for union democracy in this iconic union, you can donate to the cause here and check out this call on Tuesday night about what a reformed UAW could mean for climate action.