The week in US unions, October 9-16

Welcome to all the new subscribers! This has been a hell of a busy week, so you may not see the usual detail, but we’ll (hopefully) be back to regular programming by next Saturday. Readers will also note I’ve reorganized the “new organizing” section to go at the bottom; let me know if you hate that change and I’ll reconsider. Finally, I’m hosting a panel this Wednesday about the incredible moment union reformers are having in both the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers; you should join! It’s free.

STRIKES & NEGOTIATIONS

10,000 UAW members are on strike at John Deere in Ankeny, IA; Waterloo, IA; Dubuque, IA; Ottumwa, IA; Davenport, IA; Moline, IL; Milan, IL; and two small warehouses in Denver and McDonough, GA, despite the company’s efforts to sell members on the deal up until the last minute. It’s the biggest strike since 2019, as workers bucked both the company and their union leadership in rejecting a tentative agreement by 90%. As with any big strike, there are plenty of issues workers care about, but at the top of the list are wages (Deere’s offer is less than the cost of inflation, while the company has its most profitable year on record) and retirement security (for generations, Deere workers had healthcare and a full pension after retirement; those hired after 1997 have no retiree healthcare and a very weak (like, $500/month) pension, and the company’s proposal would’ve eliminated all pensions for new hires. There is a strong identity among “post-97” hires, who feel they were sold out by their predecessors, and are unwilling to do that to the next generation. One of the refrains among strikers has been “No third tier!”). The last Deere strike was 35 years ago, and lasted five months. This time around, Wall Street is saying that Deere can’t afford a long strike (and they’re paying attention to the internal UAW politics here as well), and the CEO and Chairman John May sold off some stock just before the strike began. Salary workers forced to work through the strike have already started crashing tractors, and many have expressed their support for the UAW, as they’ve been seriously mistreated by Deere as well. I have been covering the story extensively for Labor Notes and am working on collecting my reporting into a proper feature story. Until then, you should just check out my Twitter feed for the latest twists and turns.

The CWA Local 1133 hospital workers strike against Catholic Health in Buffalo is on day 15, and New York Attorney General Tish James has ordered scab agency Huffmaster to cease and desist, as it is illegally providing security services to the hospital. You might remember Huffmaster from their work beating up on a Teamster supporter of the Nabisco strike in Portland.

1400 BCTGM Kellogg’s workers who make breakfast cereal are still on strike in Memphis, Omaha, Lancaster, PA, and Battle Creek, MI against the company’s attempt to end the “two-tier” set up by permanently forcing workers into the lower tier, as strike leaders told me for Labor Notes. The company has now begun hiring scabs, which, if you weren’t already not buying their cereals now would be a good time to start, considering last time they did this the scabs peed in the corn flakes. Thankfully, bikers are here to protect us.

The St Vincent strike of 700 Massachusetts Nurses Association members in Worcester, MA has gone on for a full seven months now, as Tenet Health refuses to give a number of the strikers their jobs back, a totally vindictive move.

The 450 Steelworkers Local 40 members on strike at the largest nickel alloy production facility in the world, Special Metals Huntington, WV plant, are still on strike, with the local news having no real updates.

420 Heaven Hill whiskey workers with UFCW Local 23-D in Bardstown, KY have been on strike for over six weeks, against an “alternative schedule” proposal that would functionally eliminate the weekend (an issue shared across the BCTGM strikes and the contract imposed on IBEW workers in Orlando). A truck driver flipped off the strikers and then flipped his truck. Eyes on the road, pal.

Reno, NV transit workers’ second strike of 2021 is now entering its fourth week, with contractor Keolis apparently going on local radio to talk about its new contract offer -- without ever actually presenting it to Teamsters Local 533.

185 group home workers at four locations in Connecticut (specifically Hartford, New London, Columbia, and Danielson, CT) are on strike with 1199 New England (SEIU) against operator Sunrise Northeast. They haven’t had a pay increase in 15 years, among other issues. This was going to be a 600+ worker strike, but some of the home operators settled.

Around 40 workers at Erie Strayer, which makes industrial concrete-mixing equipment in Erie, PA are still on strike with Ironworkers Local 851. They held a rally yesterday, protesting the company’s offer of a five cent an hour raise.

80 members of Teamsters Local 20 and Teamsters Local 377 in Toledo and Warren, OH respectively, are on strike at medical waste company Stericycle as of Wednesday morning, as they’ve worked without a contract for a year and the employer apparently tries to cut wages and benefits.

Some number of workers at Smithfield’s in Sioux City, IA walked out apparently demanding higher wages, which the company rebuffed. I haven’t seen any other details on the action, so reach out if you’ve got more information.

In Calvert County, MD, Monday saw another non-union school bus driver sickout, after similar in Anne Arundel County two weeks back. As you’ll see below in the “New Organizing” section, those AA County drivers are now formally unionizing with UFCW Local 1994, we’ll see if these Calvert County drivers do something similar. And yet another group of 30 school bus drivers also held a sickout, this time in Bullitt County, KY (thanks Cornell Labor Action Tracker for that one!)

IATSE has set a strike deadline of Monday, setting the stage for the largest private sector strike since 73,000 UAW workers struck GM in 2007, but potentially idling far more than the 60,000 or so IATSE workers, as massive parts of the film and tv industry will be shut down. At least one local told its members on Thursday to “assume there will be a strike and hope there isn’t,” but talks between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers continued through Friday.

The build-up to a potential ~40,000-worker strike at healthcare giant Kaiser in Oregon, California, and Hawaii is reaching a fever pitch, as several unions -- UNAC/UHCP (AFSCME), OFNHP (AFT), and USW Local 7600 -- announced massive “yes” votes in their strike authorizations. Meanwhile, UNITE HERE Local 5’s 2,000 Kaiser workers in Hawaii and two additional units of Kaiser therapists in Hawaii and Northern California (who would be striking for their first contract) are taking strike authorization votes. The heart of the issue is a two-tier contract proposal that would mean an on-average 26% pay cut for all new hires, and a piddling 1% increase for all current employees. Proper two-tier (where new hires get a worse contractual deal than current employees, selling out the next generation and causing a long-term race to the bottom exacerbated by internal divisions) is relatively rare in the healthcare industry, though Kaiser workers struck against such a proposal back in the ‘80s. The 700 Operating Engineers Local 39 workers who’ve been striking Kaiser (though not as part of the national contract) have been faced with at least two instances of vehicular assault, per a local reporter, which is troubling. I’ll have a story out with Labor Notes about this soon, with my colleague Sarah Hughes, so look out for that.

About 50 Minnesota Nurses Association nurses in Plymouth, MN will strike from Sunday to Wednesday, as members fight for a contract with better benefits and paid holidays.

5,000 county workers with SEIU Local 521 in Kern County, CA have voted to authorize a strike after rejecting the county’s “last, best, and final” offer; the top issue is low pay that has led to widespread understaffing, with hundreds of county jobs vacant.

Seattle Carpenters officially ratified their tentative agreement after a long and contentious strike in which rank-and-file members, some organized as “the Peter J. McGuire Group,” successfully voted down four contracts and forced a strike. Luis Feliz Leon at Labor Notes had some of the best coverage of the strike, and I’ve personally heard from building trades workers across the country who were cheering them on.

IATSE Local 22 members at DC’s Kennedy Center ratified a contract after authorizing a strike. It includes wage freezes in the first year, but better COVID protections.

In the other IATSE strike authorization you haven’t heard about, IATSE Local 838 at Bethesda, MD’s Strathmore have gotten the support of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra union members who refuse to cross a potential picket line.

UNITE HERE Local 1 members at Northwestern University and DePaul University are receiving student support as each group of dining workers prepares to strike. Neither group has set a date as far as I’ve seen, but both have authorized.

AFSCME Local 3800’s contract for workers at the University of Minnesota is up this year, and the union protested at the Board of Regents’ meeting to make sure they were aware of their issues.

One interesting trend across the public sector is that the COVID-induced austerity that had workers bracing themselves for cuts have in many cases failed to materialize, like at California community colleges, where one union president says 2021 has seen their biggest cost-of-living adjustment since 2008.

My Labor Notes colleague Luis Feliz Leon wrote about the New York Taxi Workers Association members struggle against debt peonage.

INTERNAL UNION POLITICS

With perfect timing, ballots drop in the UAW’s national referendum vote on direct elections of top union officers (which I wrote about extensively for Labor Notes here) on Tuesday. The UAWD caucus has been organizing for this for almost two years, and is having a “get out the vote” call for UAW members tomorrow at 5pm ET, which you should send to any UAW members you know. It is kind of incredible to have Deere workers’ 90% “no” vote on a UAW-negotiated contract line up with a first-time-in-80-years chance to elect a more responsive and accountable national union leadership.

Speaking of a new national union leadership, Teamster Ryan Haney has an article at Labor Notes looking at the 2021 Teamsters election, in which members are currently voting on new leadership for the union after more than two decades of James P. Hoffa at the helm. If the Teamsters for a Democratic Union-backed “Teamsters United” slate wins, we may be one step closer to a strike at UPS in 2023, which would dwarf almost anything we’ve seen in the 21st century.

The former Executive Director of SEIU in California, which represents 700,000 members, more than a third of SEIU’s total membership, has been taken into custody on embezzlement and tax charges

Having fended off the widely-disliked Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association’s attempt to raid TWU and Machinists members, TWU is turning the tables and announcing intentions to raid AMFA members at Alaska and Southwest Airlines, though President John Samuelsen says “It’s not a raid, because they are not a union.”

On Sunday, eighty some IBEW members traveled to the National Electrical Contractors Association convention in Nashville to protest the employers and their union agreeing to deals that extend the working week and the workday, as weak contracts proliferate across the South. The most egregious is the IBEW Local 606 agreement in Orlando, imposed by a labor-management arbitration board, that institutes 15-cent raises and eliminates overtime for Saturday and Sunday work, or any workday shorter than 10 hours. This is another story I’ve been following, so reach out if you’ve got any insights into the concessionary bargaining happening in that union.

NEW ORGANIZING

New election filings at the NLRB: 652 staff and non-tenure-track faculty at Bates College in Lewiston, ME are organizing with SEIU Local 1989; this filing showed up last week but it was one-sixth the size. 546 faculty at Antioch University in Seattle are organizing with SEIU Local 925, who organized the school’s adjuncts 7 years ago. 240 grocery/retail workers at Fred Meyer in Richland, WA are unionizing with UFCW Local 1439. 142 Northwestern University library staff in my hometown of Evanston, IL are organizing with SEIU Local 73. After the national staff organized, at least 109 workers for the Audubon Society in nine field offices are following suit, also organizing with CWA.

Smaller shops: 71 nursing home workers at Norwichtown in Norwich, CT are unionizing with 1199 SEIU. 60 school bus drivers for Annapolis Bus Company in Anne Arundel County, MD, who struck two weeks ago, have officially filed to join UFCW Local 1994. 42 staffers at conservation non-profit Forterra in Seattle are unionizing with OPEIU Local 8. 36 sanitation workers at Green for Life in Dearborn, MI are unionizing with Operating Engineers Local 324. 31 cannabis workers for Curaleaf in Skokie, IL are organizing with UFCW Local 881, with no intervention (yet) from the Teamsters (see below). 30 workers at Half Price Books in St. Paul, MN and Roseville, MN (two of the chain’s 120+ locations) are unionizing with UFCW Local 1189 in two separate votes. 29 nurses and techs at two locations of Kern Radiology in Bakersfield, CA are unionizing with NUHW in two separate votes. 25 workers at special education outfit INCLUDEnyc are unionizing with OPEIU. The Teamsters Local 777 and UFCW Local 881 turf war (which as I understand it is rightly Local 881’s turf, but that’s just what I’ve heard from UFCW partisans, to be fair) over cannabis workers in Illinois continues, as both try to get on the ballot for 19 workers at Verilife dispensary in Romeoville, IL; the same is happening at two other Verilife locations in Chicago and Arlington Heights. 15 workers at DC’s District Animal Hospital are joining the Machinists. 14 merchandisers for Suiza Dairy in Hatillo, PR are joining CGT. 14 electricians for contractor APT based in Fort Washington, PA are joining IBEW Local 98. 12 janitors for contracting company Integrity National in Denver are joining SEIU Local 105. Five maintenance workers on Fort Irwin Army Base (CA) are joining Machinists District Lodge 725

NLRB election wins…: 43 boilermakers for Austin Maintenance & Construction in Artesia, NM voted 9-2 to join Operating Engineers Local 351. 25 dump truck drivers for Valdivia Trucking in Santa Rosa, CA voted 15-5 to join Teamsters Local 665. 13 workers at a CVS in Murrieta, CA are joining UFCW Local 1167 after a 6-3 vote. 

...and losses: 1199 SEIU lost a large vote among 395 home care workers for Golden Years Home Care Services based in East Longmeadow, MA, with a count of 31-123. 114 workers for the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative voted 24-70 against joining IBEW Local 1900. Laborers Local 11 lost badly in a 5-34 vote among construction workers for Dynamic Concepts in DC. 30 EMTs and paramedics at Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus, NJ voted 6-6 for the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics (NAGE-SEIU Local 5000), losing the vote. 17 workers at the Lake Road Power Plant in Dayville, CT voted not to join Operating Engineers Local 30, 5-11. Ten fiber techs for utility Cumberland Electric in Clarksville, TN voted 4-4 for IBEW Local 175, with ties going against the union. Four mechanics for Island Energy Services in Kapolei, HI voted 1-3 not to join IBEW Local 1260

Decertifications and raids: 162 utility workers at the Monongahela Power Company’s Harrison Power Station in Haywood, WV voted 85-53 to stick with the union, in a failed decertification vote. 14 quarry workers at two locations in Oglesby and Utica, IL stuck with Operating Engineers Local 150 in a 7-3 vote. 

Security guards: SPFPA is raiding a unit of 110 security guards who work for Marriott at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, MD. National Association of Special Police and Security Officers and URSO are squabbling over 65 security guards in Suitland, MD. SPFPA beat an attempted raid by LEOS-PBA of 56 security guards at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD

Starbucks is choosing to remodel two stores in the Buffalo area, with very curious timing as members are undergoing a unionization effort with Workers United.

FOX ran a piece on the national wave of museum organizing in the pandemic, which is one of AFSCME’s big priorities; clearly the reporter isn’t signed up on UAW Local 2110’s press list, as they’ve been winning museum after museum as well.

In a rare breed of victory, the UAW has won a strike over union recognition at a ZF axel plant in Marysville, MI, bringing over 300 workers into the union. It used to be a Stellantis (formerly FCA) operated facility, but ZF took over operations and then violated a union neutrality agreement.