The week in US unions, October 23-30
Thanks for your patience on this delayed edition of the weekly newsletter; Deere and Halloween combined set me back a couple days. Will be back on Saturday schedule this week. Anyhow, this week I went on Chapo Trap House to talk Deere and the labor market, spoke to Katie Halper (with Alex Press), and went on KPFA radio in Berkeley. Other big picture conversations worth your time are Max Alvarez and Luis Feliz Leon writing about “the lower frequencies of class struggle” and Josh Eidelson on the labor shortage and forced overtime crisis.
STRIKES & NEGOTIATIONS
A Deere worker, Richard Rich, was killed by a driver while leaving a picket line in Milan, IL, early Wednesday morning. Members had been complaining for weeks about non-functional streetlights on the busy road, and at worksites across the company, members complained of being forced to cross dangerous roads on foot to reach the picket line, as Deere would not allow them to park on company property. You can donate to Rich’s family here. On Saturday, Deere and the UAW announced they had a tentative agreement, on the seventeenth day of the 10,000-member strike. Contract highlights (not, it should be noted, actual language changes, which is of course crucial, and has been a point of contention in past Deere contracts) came out Sunday, after some was leaked Saturday night. Voting is set to begin Tuesday 10am Central Time, and we’ll know Tuesday evening which way it went. As for what’s actually in the thing, the headline is that they doubled the first-year raise to 10% upon ratification (and went up to 20%, as opposed to 12%, over the six-year contract), and they killed the “third tier” (i.e., they saved the pension from being eliminated for all new hires). What it doesn’t do is end the post-’97/pre-’97 divide; post-’97 hires still have no healthcare after retirement, and still have a weaker pension (though this offer even further boosts the pension, so instead of 1/3rd of what pre-’97s have, it’s probably closer to half of what pre-’97s have). Lots of people are asking me whether it’s going to pass. I don’t know whether it’s going to pass. Lots of members are still committed “no” votes, but a member I spoke to who hasn’t voted “yes” in 20 years says this will be his first yes vote on a Deere contract. I think it’s incredibly heartening that 10,000 workers can strike a Fortune 100 company and double the raise and save the pension from elimination. It’s of course not enough, but could be considered one battle won in the war against two-tier. Or you could say that if Deere was ready to move this far in 17 days, another couple weeks -- especially as they begin their next fiscal year -- could get the workers even further.
The CWA Local 1133 strike at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, NY has entered its second month and in a very un-Christ-like move, Catholic Health has cut off the 2,000 strikers’ healthcare. In a pandemic. Because the workers are on strike for safer staffing ratios. I think they should change their name to Satanic Health.
Warrior Met has found an Alabama judge willing to ban the UMWA’s 1100 members from picketing, after 8 months on strike. It’s temporary, and comes in the wake of a totally bogus smear campaign against the miners about picket line “violence,” in a dispute where multiple picketers have been hit by cars driven by scabs and management. The miners are headed back to NYC this week to protest hedge fund Black Rock, which partially owns the mining company.
Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA is “patient dumping,” i.e. leaving patients who need care outside the hospital, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is reporting. They’ve been out as long as the Warrior Met miners, almost to the day.
The BCTGM strike at Kellogg’s continues, and made history by being the first active picket line visited by a sitting Secretary of Labor, when Marty Walsh showed up in Lancaster, PA this week. On the other side of the aisle, members are noting the lack of GOP support for the strike, including the mayor of Battle Creek, MI, the “cereal capital of the world,” who instead of supporting the strikers is involved in busing in scabs, as his company contracts with Kellogg’s. The company and the union are apparently back at the bargaining table this week, but I haven’t heard any substantive updates. Elsewhere in BCTGM strikes, Dan DiMaggio looked back at the Nabisco strike for Labor Notes.
The Heaven Hill whiskey strike in Bardstown, KY is over, after the 400+ members voted to reject a contract offer. Yes, you read that right. The UFCW (of which the Heaven Hill strikers are Local 23-D) has a “2/3rds rule” for continuing a strike, so though a majority of voting strikers voted against the contract offer, the strike is over since fewer than 2/3rds rejected the deal, as Dave Infante reports for his whiskey publication, Fingers. You’ll recall this is the same mechanism that ratified the 2018 UPS contract after a majority no vote, with the difference being that Teamster activists organized to eliminate the rule at this past summer’s convention. At Heaven Hill, the most egregious contract provision is the one that says you only get overtime pay if plant-wide attendance hits certain metrics; if your coworkers don’t show up for work, you don’t get your overtime pay.
Harvard graduate student workers with UAW Local 5118 held a 3-day strike, as they and other private sector grad workers unions struggle to achieve a normal level of labor peace and reliable contracts. Same goes for student workers at Columbia, who are planning to begin a strike on November 3rd, if they don’t get a contract; they organized a show of force on Friday to set the tone. At the other Columbia, the college in Chicago, hundreds of faculty voted to authorize a strike, after crossing the three-year anniversary of their last contract expiration. The 17,000 University of California student researchers who have filed for union recognition but are not being recognized by the administration (despite the state labor board’s opinion that they must be) are now moving to a strike authorization vote. Adjuncts in Fresno, CA at State Center Community College continue to speak out about low pay and not being paid for prep time.
School bus drivers: Following in the footsteps of school bus drivers across the country since the new school year began, 25 Las Cruces, NM school bus drivers with AFT Local 6341 held a one-day strike on Thursday, after authorizing in September. 83 drivers in Lee County, FL, held a sick-out on Monday, which the district is calling an illegal strike; ILR Labor Action Tracker says they’re with the Florida Education Association. School bus drivers in Wake County, NC organized a sick-out as well. I previously said these folks were non-union, but I believe at least some of them are North Carolina Association of Educators members.
K-12: 800 K-12 educators in Scranton, PA have a strike deadline of November 3rd. Hear that, Joe “self-proclaimed most-pro-union-president-of-all-time who-also-constantly-talks-about-Scranton” Biden? The district has preemptively announced plans to cut these workers off their healthcare if they strike. Educators in Anderson, IN appear to have organized a sick-out on Friday, as contract negotiations sour. Educators in Coshocton, OH ratified a tentative agreement with just hours to go before their strike deadline.
There is a momentary obsession on the US right with tying strikes and walkouts to vaccine mandates, despite the strong evidence that it’s got basically nothing to do with it (and the more glaring historical antipathy of the right to any sort of worker action, but of course the target here is the federal government, not in most cases the employer per se). Notably, many right wingers were giddy as they watched Southwest flights get cancelled, though the pilots association and the airline both said they had nothing to do with mandates (and insiders telling me the same). That all said, this week I’m seeing the first local reporting on walkouts around mandates, at Moog in Buffalo, at United Launch Alliance in Alabama, at GE in Schenectady, NY with IUE-CWA Local 301, and at Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, KS, where the president of Machinists District Lodge 70 said not getting the vaccine is like being “a modern-day Jew” which, as a modern-day Jew, I don’t even know what to say about that because I find it so funny. Workers at the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, FL rallied against mandates, with the apparent official backing of several unions: TWU Local 525; IBEW Local 2088; SPFPA Local 127; Machinists Local 610; and IATSE Local 780 per local news and flyers advertising the event.
The organizers of the walkout at Netflix against anti-transgender practices and programming have filed an official NLRB charge against the streaming company.
A few thousand union members rallied in Pasadena, CA yesterday, and Kaiser has already begun recruiting replacement workers, as the looming strike threat at the “non-profit” healthcare giant continues to balloon. This week, therapists and pharmacists in Northern California and Hawaii who recently organized with UNAC/UHCP voted to authorize a strike for their first contract, as did NUHW mental health workers, who aren’t part of the Alliance (the cross-union bargaining formation that is currently at the national bargaining table with Kaiser). UFCW Local 1996, representing 2500 Kaiser workers in Georgia, took a strike authorization vote that closed at 5pm today but I haven’t seen results publicly announced, and UFCW Local 21 in Washington state is holding some informational pickets this week and a “town hall” that I think will include discussion of a strike authorization vote but I don’t have a good source on that. 700 members of Operating Engineers Local 39 remain on strike for six weeks now, as they wait for the other unions to join them. You’ll recall that the core issue in this dispute is, again, the imposition of a two-tier contract with drastically cut wages for new hires and meager raises (1% a year) for current workers.
IATSE has come to another tentative agreement, this time for the 20,000 or so members across 23 locals under the Area Standards Agreement, which follows the pattern of the larger Hollywood Basic Agreement but has some core differences. Members of the 36 locals covered by the two big contracts have yet to see contract language, but there have been town halls on the local level to go over the highlights that have been released. The local leaders under the Hollywood Basic put out a statement recommending a yes vote, but acknowledging that there will be some sizable group of members voting no. This is a departure from the last contract in 2018, where one of the largest locals recommended a “no” vote; she has come to Jesus this time around, apparently. It’s unclear when the actual vote will take place. Voting down a recommended tentative agreement is pretty rare, and IATSE’s electoral college-style system could result in a majority no vote on a contract that still gets ratified, but if the Deere workers taught us anything with their 90% rejection of a recommended TA, it’s that a strike isn’t off the table until the members cast their votes.
A thousand blue collar and service workers with 1199 WV/OH/KY at Cabell Hospital in Huntington, WV have not only authorized a strike for November 2nd, but are rumored to have rejected a proposed tentative agreement this week.
Around 250 TWU Local 1 transit workers may strike in Akron, OH on Thursday if a tentative agreement is not reached. The union is asking for 9% over three years, which is apparently too rich for the transit authority’s blood. 5,000 SEPTA workers with TWU Local 234 have averted a strike by ratifying a new contract, after getting days away from their strike deadline.
The Michigan Nurses Association is holding an informational picket at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI, and openly talking about escalating to a strike authorization vote if there’s no movement on management’s part.
After issuing a “picket notice,” 1800 healthcare workers with 1199SEIU and SEIU Local 200 at Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester have a tentative agreement.
Observers say a Major League Baseball work stoppage is all but certain for early December. It would be the first since 1994.
In Kansas, state legislators just got a 5% raise; state workers haven’t had a raise in a decade. AFT Kansas is calling them out to do something about it.
Word is that Machinists Local 1005 has authorized a strike at the Daimler trucks plant in Portland, OR; I haven’t seen any official statements or reporting.
51 highway employees for Franklin County, MO have reached an impasse on their new tentative agreement through Operating Engineers Local 148, and the county says they’re just going to go ahead and implement their proposed deal.
SEIU Local 73 says the village of Dixmoor, IL illegally laid off all five of their union public works employees with no notice.
1,180 steelworkers with Steelworkers Local 1123 at Timken Steel in Canton, OH have ratified a new four-year contract. The Teamsters have a first contract for 400 maintenance techs at Allegiant Air after they joined the union (or were accreted into the union, I can’t tell from news reports) in 2018.
The 600 Exxon refinery workers with Steelworkers Local 13-243 who have been locked out in Beaumont, TX since May 1st, are two weeks out from a decertification vote, and the company is providing “decertification updates” that say that non-union workers make more than union members. This should be illegal.
At Labor Notes, Alexandra Bradbury has two great stories from the world of union distribution workers, one of UPS Teamsters taking the boss at their word and showing up en masse for forced overtime, and another of NALC letter carriers organizing against after-dark delivery.
POLITICS & LEGISLATION
It appears that the civil penalties provisions of the PRO Act, in which employers can be fined $50,000 for unfair labor practices and $100,000 for illegally firing workers for organizing, are still in the Congressional budget reconciliation bill, if it ever gets passed. It’s far short of passing the entire PRO Act but would be a huge deal; right now, employers basically do whatever they want and pay minimal fines (or just put up a flyer on a bulletin board in the break room) for union-busting. Putting some teeth into the law would theoretically deter this kind of behavior, and make organizing less impossible.
Two sitting Biden cabinet officials visited picket lines in the past weeks, with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack showing up at Deere’s Des Moines Works in solidarity with UAW strikers, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh showing up at Lancaster’s Kellogg’s plant with BCTGM strikers. Alex Roarty reports that some labor leaders want more from the administration, while others just want to say thank you for doing so much, don’t even worry about it. The article also includes a weird quote from a “senior administration official” making the true but nitpicky (for a White House official, certainly) point that we’re not currently at a historic level of strike action.
INTERNAL UNION POLITICS
In a totally bizarre twist, the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters has apparently submitted to a trusteeship due to unspecified election tampering, with rumors that leader Evelyn Shapiro has resigned. You’ll recall that the union leadership reluctantly called a strike after members voted down four consecutive tentative agreements; the strike ended recently on the fifth TA vote, which is presumably the election that was tampered with, but I don’t think we know the specific yet. Luis Feliz Leon is covering the story closely for Labor Notes, so you should follow him to stay up to speed, and read his first two pieces here and here for context on the complicated dynamics between the membership and leadership of that union.
The UAW's Administration Caucus has quietly opposed the referendum that threatens their control (80 years running) of the national union. Finally, they have publicly weighed in, saying members should NOT be allowed a direct vote on who runs their union. On the other side of the referendum, UAWD member organizer and active autoworker Justin Mayhugh spoke with Belabored and with Working People about the battle for the soul of the UAW.
Note: Some of the filings below are from the previous week, when the NLRB site was down, but just eyeballing this, it certainly looks like we’re seeing a statistical uptick in the number of workers covered by new election filings. Too early to call it a trend, but could make a lot of sense as a response to 18 months of pandemic life...
Recent election filings at the NLRB:
Bigger shops: The independent Amazon Labor Union has officially filed for an NLRB election in Staten Island, NY for 5500 Amazon warehouse workers; according to press reports, they have “over 2,000” signatures, which sounds to me give or take like they’ve gotten 40% of the unit signed up. As I’ve noted before, filing without a majority (and at a place with a guaranteed big boss fight like Amazon, without a supermajority) is unconventional to say the least. Also seemingly unconventional is the petition asking for an election date of March 30, 2022, five months out; especially at a place with such high turnover, time tends to favor the employer (which is why employers love to stall a vote as long as possible, and why it was a big deal with the Obama NLRB committed to “fast-tracking” NLRB votes (i.e. taking weeks, not months; though Canada takes mere days)). 600 student workers at Kenyon College have officially filed for an NLRB election after organizing and striking with the UE. 260 journalists at POLITICO are organizing with the NewsGuild. 180 workers for Dairy Farmers of America in New Wilmington, PA are organizing with Teamsters Local 261. 180 “youth care workers” at migrant detention center Trail House in El Paso, TX are unionizing with Operating Engineers Local 351. 180 service and technical employees at Placentia-Linda Hospital in Placentia, CA are organizing with SEIU UHW. 170 workers who make turbine blades for PCC Airfoils in Wickliffe, OH are organizing with IUE-CWA. 149 school bus workers technically employed by staffing agency Precision HR in Hartford, CT are organizing with ATU. 143 workers at Headway Emotional Health in Minneapolis are organizing with OPEIU Local 12. 108 staffers at Leadership for Educational Equity, a non-profit leadership development firm in DC, are organizing with the Machinists.
Medium & small shops: 76 RNs at Springfield Hospital in Springfield, VT are organizing with UNAP. 75 workers for commercial sealant manufacturer Tremco in Ashland, OH are organizing with Teamsters Local 507. 68 drivers for restaurant supplier Martin-Brower in East Point, GA are organizing with Teamsters Local 528. 32 gas workers for Black Hills Energy in Colorado are unionizing with IBEW Local 111. 27 workers at Sterigenics in Gurnee, IL, which uses gamma radiation to sterilize medical products (I googled it) are unionizing with Laborers Local 681. 22 hotel workers at the Hollywood, CA Hilton Garden Inn are organizing with UNITE HERE Local 11. 17 construction drivers in Logan, UT are joining Teamsters Local 222. 16 school bus drivers for contractor Dean Transportation in Roscommon, MI are organizing with the independent Dean Transportation Employees Union, which has been around since the 70s. 14 workers who store millions of barrels of gasoline in a massive underground salt cave for Sawtooth Caverns in Delta, UT are unionizing with IBEW Local 1619. 13 slot machine technicians at the Hard Rock Casino in Wheatland, CA are unionizing with Operating Engineers Local 39. Ten workers for pump supplier Xylem in Mokena, IL are joining Operating Engineers Local 150. Ten skilled trades workers for Massmann Geothermal in Zimmerman, MN are unionizing with Plumbers Local 539. Nine utility workers for Eversource Energy in Berlin, CT are joining IBEW Local 457. Five workers at construction equipment store Wildcat Materials in Columbia, MO are joining Laborers Local 955. Five staffers for political advocacy group Massachusetts Senior Action Council based in Quincy, MA are joining OPEIU Local 6. Five drivers for film equipment rental firm Production Resource Group in Van Nuys, CA are unionizing with Teamsters Local 399. Three maintenance workers for Nature’s Fynd, which makes “fungi-based foods for optimists” in Chicago are joining Operating Engineers Local 399. Three parking attendants in Manhattan are joining Teamsters Local 272. Two flight simulator techs in Swanton, OH are joining the Machinists. Two dump truck drivers for Argent Materials in Oakland, CA are joining Teamsters Local 853.
NLRB election wins…: 153 workers at the Sutter Center for Psychiatry in Sacramento voted (in two separate votes) a combined 96-8, to join NUHW. 98 workers at industrial gas supplier Matheson in Waverly, TN, voted 38-24 to join Operating Engineers Local 369. 29 techs at Taylor Hospital in Ridley Park, PA voted 12-1 to join NUHHCE District 1199C (AFSCME). 15 laundry drivers for Hospital Central Services in Auburn, WA voted 11-4 to join Teamsters Local 117. 12 maintenance and skilled trades for contractor Medxcel at Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, IL voted 7-5 to join Operating Engineers Local 399. Six workers for mining/quarrying company Epiroc in Harrisburg, PA voted 4-1 to join Operating Engineers Local 542.
...and losses: NUHHCE District 1199C (AFSCME) lost a big one, as 182 technical and support staff at Friends Behavioral Health System in Philadelphia voted against the union, 23-60. 50 workers at Timber Products in Yreka, CA voted overwhelmingly, 5-37, against joining the Machinists. 1199 New England has apparently broken their winning streak, losing a vote among 41 nursing aides at Quinnipiac Valley Center in Wallingford, CT, in an 8-8 tie. 22 medical techs at Kindred Hospital in Rancho Cucamonga split 4-4, not joining SEIU Local 121RN. Two forestry “work planners” for Arbormetrics in Hazard, KY couldn’t agree, splitting 1-1 against joining IBEW Local 369.
Decertifications and raids: A decertification petition has been filed for 600 poultry workers with UFCW Local 27 at Mountaire Farms in Selbyville, DE. Teamsters Local 813 appears to be raiding a unit of 20 sanitation workers from LIFE 890, a company union profiled by ProPublica in 2018. Eleven laborers with Laborers Local 1 at Hacienda Landscaping in Chicago beat back a raid against company union National Production Workers Union Local 707, in a 7-3 vote.
New York City has just agreed to mandate “labor peace agreements” for all “human services” contractors, affecting something like 200,000 workers, mainly in the non-profit sector. These agreements mean that employers have to stay neutral in any organizing efforts, and are an important toehold for organizing these workers who do contract work for the city.
Workers United won a favorable NLRB decision against Starbucks which means they get to have votes at individual stores, rather than across the whole regional chain. This is of course better for the workers because they have a better shot at winning some of the stores rather than having to win one big vote, including shops where workers are not yet organizing. Theoretically this could be an opening across the country for organizing locations of the chain, but I haven’t heard of any other unions getting in on the action, or even Workers United spreading it beyond Buffalo, though I’m sure things are happening behind the scenes.