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The week in US unions, Oct 16-23
Bad news, folks: the NLRB site crashed, so we’ve got only a partial account of filings this week. I’ll play catch-up for next week. As I continue to try to help keep the John Deere strike on the national radar, I did a bunch of media stuff this week, including a video on Joe Biden’s failure to live up to his own “most pro-labor administration in history” identity for More Perfect Union, and conversations with Krystal, Kyle, & Friends, The Insurgents, and Crooked Media’s “What A Day”. For you readers, Gabe Winant and I tried to take stock of the whole strike moment for Labor Notes and The Intercept.
STRIKES & NEGOTIATIONS
The John Deere UAW strike rolls on across 11 locals in Iowa and the Quad Cities (plus a facility each in Georgia, Denver, and Kansas). I’ve continued to report on it closely, and to be in touch with many many dozens of workers. I collected my reporting into a piece over at Labor Notes that will help catch you up. Since that came out, Deere (possibly illegally) withheld CIPP payments (these are earned wages based on a department-level quota system where the quota creeps up by 2% every 6 months) and planned to cut strikers off of their healthcare next week but then walked those two egregious moves back, in a win that means either Deere felt the heat of public pressure or negotiations are progressing (I mean, in theory Deere wouldn’t commit to keeping strikers’ healthcare if they thought they’d be out for six more months, but that’s me speculating), or both. What Deere didn’t walk back was their pursuit of injunctions against picketing in various counties. They won a ridiculous preliminary injunction from Judge Marlita Greve in Davenport, IA, limiting the number of picketers to a whopping four, and banning burn barrels and chairs, just to spite the strikers. The UAW is challenging it in court, and an emergency community rally was held at the Scott County courthouse. Hopefully these injunctions get rolled back, and don’t spread, though Polk County apparently held a hearing, and there are of course rumors about other jurisdictions. The UAWD caucus helped organize a public fundraiser to purchase supplies for striking workers and has raised over $100,000 so far; you can chip in here.
Two thousand hospital workers in Buffalo remain on strike at Mercy Hospital with CWA Local 1133, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showing up to support. Apparently the local healthcare system is beginning to seriously feel the strain, which really underscores why Catholic Health needs to settle a fair contract and address staffing issues at Mercy.
Around 1800 telecom workers for Frontier Communications in California went on another grievance strike, after they walked off the job for a day two weeks earlier, as I wrote about for Labor Notes. The context is stalled negotiations for a new contract after a one year extension with no raise expired and the eight CWA locals involved authorized a strike.
1,400 BCTGM workers striking Kellogg’s in four cities (Omaha, Memphis, Lancaster PA & Battle Creek MI) are ready for the long haul, if that’s what it takes. Management has started sending in busloads of scabs, while the public has chipped in nearly $200,000 for these workers to hold the line; contribute here if you can.
700 Massachusetts Nurses Association members at St Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA continue their stalemate with healthcare giant Tenet, as do 1,100 Warrior Met UMWA miners, while the state spends untold funds escorting scabs in and out of one of the mines, while the other remains shut down.
450 members of Steelworkers Local 40 have now been striking Special Metals in Huntington, WV for three weeks, with lots of community support. Down the road, 50 members of Machinists Local 598 at Sulzer Pumps are back to work after reaching a tentative agreement after two weeks on strike. But 1,000 more Huntington workers may be out within a week (see below).
420 UFCW Local 23-D whiskey workers for Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, KY have a tentative agreement after six weeks on strike. Rumor is the TA vote is today, so we’ll see how that goes. The big issue in this strike was, like at Nabisco and like for Orlando IBEW workers, the elimination of overtime pay for weekend work, functionally eliminating the traditional work week. A reminder that in the 21st century, the “folks that brought you the weekend” are still fighting defensive battles on this stuff.
About 200 transit workers for subcontracting giant Keolis in Reno, NV with Teamsters Local 533 have a tentative agreement ending their second strike in three months. It takes a lot to strike, go back, and strike again, so hoping these workers got some big gains.
It sounds like the 1199 New England strike against Sunrise group homes at 28 locations in Connecticut is still on, though I haven’t seen any news updates. Ditto for the Stericycle strike by Teamsters Locals 20 and 377 in Toledo and Warren, OH respectively; still on strike, no big updates. Same goes for the Ironworkers striking Erie Strayer, which a congressman visiting the line apparently characterized, bizarrely, as “an American tradition that many other countries can’t do,” per local news.
Sixty-some musicians with the San Antonio Symphony are nearing the one-month marker of their strike with AFM Local 23. Management has proposed cutting full-time jobs and replacing them with part-time musicians, which is of course unacceptable to these highly trained career musicians. Alex Birnel interviewed a striker for Jacobin.
Today marks day 81 of the Cascade Behavioral Health strike in Tukwila, WA, which began as a sort of wildcat over safety grievances that was then embraced and backed by the union, SEIU 1199NW. Sarah Hughes wrote about it for Labor Notes last month.
Around 50 ER nurses with the Minnesota Nurses Association in Plymouth, MN held a three-day strike.
School bus: School bus drivers in Warwick, RI with ATU Local 618 have temporarily postponed a strike, after First Student granted a one-week extension, kicking the can down the road. Dozens of non-union Charles County, MD school bus drivers organized a sickout, cancelling service on Friday. School bus drivers in Winston-Salem, NC also planned a walkout but apparently met with management and called it off.
Other non-union workers: Non-union charter school employees in Weddington, NC apparently struck for two days after their principal was abruptly removed (thanks ILR Labor Action Tracker for the heads up!). Non-union employees at Netflix held a walk-out in protest of anti-transgender programming and practices at the streaming giant.
Two thousand more workers at Kaiser, this time with UFCW Local 770 in Southern California, have voted to authorize a strike, and UFCW Local 1996, representing 2500 Kaiser workers in Georgia is currently voting, with UFCW Local 21 in Washington State apparently next in line, per a release from the Alliance, a cross-union bargaining formation at the healthcare giant. By my count, this will bring the number of workers on strike watch at Kaiser to closer to 45,000 if you include the newly-organized therapists who are looking at a first contract strike.
Over 1,000 blue collar and service workers in Huntington, WV will strike on November 3rd if Cabell Huntington Hospital does not settle a contract with SEIU 1199 WV/KY/OH by then.
Around 250 NNU nurses for Community First in Chicago have announced their intent to hold a 3-day strike starting on October 29th. They previously struck for one day in July.
Santa Cruz, CA county workers with SEIU Local 521 say they’re ready to strike, and are packing local board meetings to let management know.
The Columbia University Student Workers Union (a unit of UAW Local 2110) has set a strike date of November 3rd, which would mean 3,000 student workers on strike. Their last strike ended in kind of a fiasco, in which the strike was “paused” without a membership vote and then the tentative agreement rejected over the recommendation of the bargaining committee, who were then all replaced in a membership vote. So this is sort of a rerun of the last strike, but with new leadership who are theoretically more eager to keep a strike going and less eager to settle a less than stellar deal. Harvard grad workers with UAW Local 5118 will beat Columbia to the punch, however, with a strike set for Wednesday through Friday of this week. Elsewhere in higher ed, Northwestern workers with UNITE HERE Local 1 won raises and more after authorizing their own strike, which has now been called off.
300 flight attendants with AFA-CWA for regional carrier Piedmont voted 100% to authorize a strike. Due to the arcana of the Railway Labor Act, which covers airline workers, it’ll be over a month before any actual strike happens. Also under the RLA, two unions (SMART and BLET-IBT) have sued a big railroad carrier, which my colleague Joe DeManuelle-Hall points out could be a first step towards strike activity.
5,000 TWU Local 234 workers for SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transit agency, are voting on a strike authorization tomorrow, which could mean a strike as early as 12:01am on November 1st. The union is pushing for pandemic pay and parental leave, among other issues, with one of the disputes being the length of the contract (an underappreciated but crucial issue for union negotiations).
Just after I published last week’s newsletter, IATSE and the AMPTP came to a tentative agreement, which a hastily released statement characterized as a “Hollywood ending.” Many members aren’t seeing it that way, and many more likely haven’t yet made up their minds, as the actual deal still hasn’t seen the light of day. The killing of a member on the set of an Alec Baldwin movie filming in New Mexico has also fueled concerns and outrage about safety and working conditions on the job, the core narrative demand of this contract campaign, as my colleague Sarah Hughes at Labor Notes reports. Surprisingly (to me at least), the Area Standards Agreement, which follows the pattern of the larger Hollywood Basic Agreement, does not have a tentative deal (unlike the HBA) but the strike deadline passed without an official extension or any strike action. Members have been expressing frustration about not being able to see the details of the agreement, which frustration was also part of the leadup to the John Deere strike. If we learned anything from Deere, it’s that it ain’t over until the members vote to ratify. Deere “avoided” a strike one minute after the original strike deadline, only to face its first labor action in 35 years two weeks later.
UNITE HERE has announced plans for a big day of all sorts of activity on Thursday, include unionization votes, strike authorization votes, marches, and pickets across the US and Canada. Will be exciting to see what they’ve got in store.
POLITICS & LEGISLATION
Fairfax County, VA firefighters with IAFF Local 2068 now have collective bargaining rights. A new state law lets public sector workers bargain union contracts -- if they can get their local jurisdiction to agree. Joe DeManuelle-Hall had the story for Labor Notes earlier this year.
In an attempt to loosen the tight labor market, Wisconsin is turning to 14-year-olds.
INTERNAL UNION POLITICS
For updates on the UAW and Teamsters election (and beyond), you should check out this panel I hosted with Ken Paff and Carthy Boston of Teamsters for a Democratic Union and Michael Cannon and Scott Houldieson of Unite All Workers for Democracy, the groups trying to change the direction of each of those unions in historic votes that are happening right now across the country. Working People also spoke to Justin Mayhugh, one of the core organizers with UAWD and a GM autoworker in Kansas City.
Washington Carpenters with the Peter J. McGuire Group, the rank and file network that was instrumental in voting down four consecutive tentative agreements and building towards a massive strike, are fundraising for legal defense fees as they face retaliation from their union’s lawyers. You can donate here.
New election filings at the NLRB: 800 more HelloFresh mealkit prep workers are unionizing, this time in Newark, NJ, and this time with the Brotherhood of Amalgamated Trades, not UNITE HERE (as in Richmond, CA, and Denver, the only other two HelloFresh facilities to be openly organizing); the catch is that the “Brotherhood of Amalgamated Trades” is widely understood to be a company union, which is deployed in cases like these where an employer is worried about a real union coming in and organizing the workers. They’ve played this role before, like when Waldner’s office furniture locked out Teamsters Local 814 but claimed they were still using union labor because they hired a Brotherhood of Amalgamated Trades-affiliated subcontractor. 500 healthcare workers at LifeLong Medical Care in Berkeley, CA are organizing with SEIU UHW. 145 workers at Wellfound Behavioral Health in Tacoma, WA are unionizing with SEIU 1199NW. 135 school bus workers for First Student in Carol Stream, IL are organizing with Teamsters Local 777, presumably joining the Teamsters’ master contract of something like 20,000 First Student workers across the country. 135 faculty members of the Maryland Institute College of Arts in Baltimore are unionizing with SEIU Local 500. 70 bakery workers for Spruce Confections in Boulder, CO are unionizing with BCTGM Local 26. 47 workers at Dave Steel Company in Chesnee, SC are organizing with Ironworkers Local 854, which, if they make it to a vote, will be the first NLRB election held in South Carolina in 2021; if they win, it’ll be the biggest win in the state since March 2018, which is depressing. 45 workers for Intralot in Bolingbrook, IL, who make, service, and deliver gambling machines for the Illinois Lottery, are organizing with IBEW Local 176. 27 weed dispensary workers for Verilife in Rosemont, IL and 27 more in Ottawa, IL are organizing with Teamsters Local 777, as they continue to spar with UFCW Local 881 for Illinois weed workers. 16 staffers for the ACLU of Virginia are unionizing with the Washington Baltimore News Guild. 12 more workers for Kern Radiology in Bakersfield, CA are joining NUHW; 12 warehouse workers for UNFI in Hopkins, MN are joining Teamsters Local 120. Nine drivers for industrial cleaning supplier Hillyard in Warminster, PA are joining Teamsters Local 107. Five aircraft techs at Fort Smith, AR are joining Teamsters Local 373. Five air traffic controllers at the Cincinnati Municipal Airport are Four welders for Dupill in Richland, WA are joining Plumbers Local 598.
NLRB election wins…: 207 pharmacists and dieticians at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle voted 117-31 to join SEIU 1199NW in two votes. 144 museum workers for the Guggenheim Foundation in NYC joined the UAW Local 2110 victory tour, in a 93-10 vote. 78 mental health workers at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis voted an impressive 53-1 to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. 70 clerical workers for Elizabethtown Gas Company in Elizabeth, NJ are joining the Utility Workers after a 33-17 vote. 37 drivers for Prairie Farms Dairy voted 20-9 to join Teamsters Local 337. 35 workers at Curaleaf in Worth, IL are joining UFCW Local 881 in a 24-10 vote in which Teamsters Local 777 appears to have gotten either 0 or 1 vote. 29 nurse anesthetists in Traverse City, MI won what I believe is an independent union (possibly a breakaway from Michigan Nurses Association, as more hospital corporations spin off their anesthesiology operations) in a 24-3 vote. 20 drivers for Liberty Tire Recycling in Atlanta won their union, 15-4, joining Teamsters Local 728. 13 utility workers at North Shore Gas Company in Waukegan, IL voted to join IBEW Local 2285, 7-5.
...and losses: Machinists District 8 lost a big one at Thyssenkrupp Crankshaft in Danville, IL, where 178 workers voted 47-71 against the union. Seven workers at a Dollar General in Barkhamsted, CT voted 2-3 against joining UFCW Local 371, probably due to severe anti-union behavior. Five workers at construction equipment company Sunbelt Rentals in Caledonia, MI voted 2-3 not to join Operating Engineers Local 324.
Decertifications and raids: 37 workers at what I think is a halfway house sort of social services agency the Kintock Group in Newark, NJ decertified District 1199J NUHHCE (AFSCME) in a 7-17 vote. 14 workers who make flour for Ardent Mills in York, PA voted 3-11 to decertify Teamsters Local 776. 13 workers at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo decertified Teamsters Local 449 in a 4-8 vote.
Security guards: 58 security guards in DC at Medstar Washington Hospital Center voted 12-32 not to join SPFPA. 41 security guards in Phoenix also voted not to join the SPFPA, 5-19. 10 security guards in Michigan voted 3-6 against joining Federal Contract Guards of America.
In the biggest official new organizing win of 2021 (of course pending the University of California’s recognition of the 17,000 member unit of student researchers), over 3,300 faculty members and librarians across the University of Pittsburgh network won their election with the Steelworkers. It’s the biggest faculty union win in over a decade.
The independent Amazon Workers Union on Staten Island, NY is officially filing for an NLRB election. The Staten Island facility opened a few years ago, and was an early target for RWDSU, but never got anywhere close to an actual vote. Then some workers organized a walkout early on during the pandemic, which seems to have rolled into this new effort. According to reporting, they’ve collected something like 2,000 cards out of a workforce of 7,000, which is roughly the minimum you need to file for an NLRB vote, but is far from the minimum you need to win an NLRB vote, if you ask almost any union organizer. It’s pretty unlikely this wins if that is indeed the level of support, but also it’s not like the labor movement has figured out how to organize these giant employers (I mean, nobody even mentions Walmart as an organizing target anymore) so why not throw some stones at Goliath.