The week in US unions, January 15-22, 2022
This Thursday, I’m co-facilitating a workshop on Running for Union Office, featuring speakers who’ve done it from the NewsGuild, the Teamsters, SMART-TD, and AFSCME. Free to the public, and all are welcome. Register here.
STRIKES & NEGOTIATIONS
The UFCW Local 7 King Soopers strike in Colorado is over, though the tentative agreement has not yet been ratified, and members apparently don’t know details, and won’t until right before the ratification meetings on Monday. If it’s as strong as Local 7 leaders are implying it is, it could set an important pattern for other big grocery negotiations happening this year, particularly among the handful of locals in Southern California and Washington state and elsewhere that have teamed up to informally bargain together. As I’ve mentioned before, Kroger is one of the largest private employers in the country, and over half its workers are unionized, but divided across 350 contracts with pretty widely varying wages and conditions.
Meanwhile, the Teamsters Local 174 strike in Washington is very much not over, with the 300+ concrete truck drivers having now shut down a host of construction projects. One would think the other developers and contractors would be getting pissed at these six concrete contractors. Kim Kelly wrote up the fight for the Nation, with some useful historical perspective.
Longer still has been the BCTGM Local 37 strike against Rich Products in Santa Fe Springs, CA, which makes ice cream cakes and the like for Baskin Robbins and others. Striking worker Cristina Lujan spoke on video with Max Alvarez from the Real News Network.
But the longest of all is, of course, the Warrior Met strike by 1100 UMWA miners against metallurgical coal firm Warrior Met in Brookwood, AL. Sarah Jones at New York magazine has more. I also stumbled upon this “quant newsletter” that spends many hundreds of words on the state of Warrior Met’s stock price without reference to the longest-running labor dispute in the country, which, like, is kind of revealing.
Just as I was putting out last week’s newsletter, I learned that the 250 sanitation workers with Teamsters Local 542 had “reluctantly” voted to end the strike against Republic in San Diego, with workers ratifying an essentially identical agreement to the one they had rejected just 11 days prior. Voice of San Diego has some insights on why things broke that way after what was a strong picket line that even shut down Seattle-area sanitation for a few days while the picket line was extended against Republic there.
Some new big strike threats have surfaced this week. First, on the railroads, the 17,000 BNSF workers with BLET (IBT) and SMART-TD who said they’d be moving towards a strike authorization vote have in fact formally authorized the strike, though BNSF is suing to put the brakes on it, and the decision will apparently be made by a Trump-appointee judge on Monday. Perhaps the bigger news is that the 11-union rail bargaining Coordinated Bargaining Coalition is also moving in the direction of striking, covering 105,000 rail workers across major freight companies. I’d strongly recommend you follow my Labor Notes coworker Joe DeManuelle-Hall’s work on this, as he’s been talking to rail workers and can explain the mysteries of the special labor law (the Railway Labor Act) which covers these workers. We’re not as close to a strike as a normal strike authorization would mean, because of the wonky way in which the RLA works, but at the same time railroad workers do seem to be at a breaking point. Speaking of the RLA, AFA-CWA flight attendants at Piedmont Airlines (a mid-Atlantic regional carrier owned by American) have a tentative agreement after authorizing a strike in October.
A number of municipal and county public workers got much closer to striking this week as well. In Portland, OR, 1100 workers across six unions voted to reject the city’s latest contract offer, have authorized a strike, and held a “practice picket” this weekend. They’ll have to submit a 10-day notice before they actually walk out, but the threat seems quite credible. 3,500 workers in Hennepin County, MN with AFSCME Locals 34 & 2822 are one step ahead of Portland, having filed their own 10-day notice four days ago (though the strike date they’re talking about is February 2nd) after rejecting a contract that fell short of their demand for 5% annual raises for three years. And one step ahead of them are 1600 county workers in Santa Cruz County, CA with SEIU Local 521, who’ve set a strike date of January 25th (Tuesday). The feared crush of austerity in the immediate wake of the COVID economic crisis was averted by lots of federal spending, but it looks like these city and county workers are experiencing some of the same push factors as we’ve seen in the private sector – a tight labor market, disappearing pandemic perks like hazard pay, and a general raising of expectations among so-called “essential” workers.
Of course, these aren’t the only public workers who’ve been talking strike. In both Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, the K-12 unions are openly talking strike as both are in contract negotiations; Minneapolis seems a step further along, having authorized a strike authorization vote (though as far as I know the vote hasn’t actually been scheduled). Over four hundred teachers and other educators in Euclid, OH have put in a 10-day strike notice, after working for over four months without a contract. The Oakland, CA teachers union gave the district 48 hours to come up with a COVID safety proposal, after rolling teacher and student sick-out actions; the deadline passed without a deal, but talks are still underway this weekend, say local reporters. Educators at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC held a job action on Friday, shutting down classes for the day over both violence and COVID-19 safety issues. Plus negotiations sound rocky in Duluth, MN and Escambia County, FL. Educators in Oxford Hills, ME put in a vote of no confidence in their superintendent, while Sheldon, IA seems to be the one place where K-12 negotiations are going just fine.
Workers who make the Corvette for GM in Bowling Green, KY are also on the strike path, but nothing immediate, as they’re under the national GM agreement in addition to their local negotiations, as I mentioned last week; Jalopnik has some good details on the fight.
In Virginia, a couple groups of public sector workers rallied for the right to collectively bargain, a decision that is now up to local jurisdictions per the newish state law. In Virginia Beach, VA, city workers with UE Local 111 pushed for a local ordinance, and United Campus Workers is making noise at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia.
After bargaining for a first contract at Dish Network since 2010 (yes, 12 years), members of CWA Local 6171 in Krum, TX have a two-year agreement. Hat tip to Sam Nelson for this one, who summed it up better than I ever could.
MLB Players Association bargaining with the MLB resumed after a leisurely six weeks of no talks during an ongoing lockout. The lockout will of course be much more visible if it continues beyond the off-season, and delays the March 31st season kick-off, which is apparently increasingly likely.
For Labor Notes, Elana Kessler and Richard Marcantonio wrote about how three Bay Area transit locals across three different jurisdictions – ATU Local 192, ATU Local 265, and TWU Local 250A – united to organize for hazard pay for transit workers, and how that energy is feeding into their respective contract campaigns.
Hospital workers with SEIU Local 49 who struck twice at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield, OR are celebrating their new contract. Meanwhile, hospital workers with SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin rallied outside Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, WI for a fair contract of their own. Their counterparts with SEIU Healthcare Michigan at Mercy Health in Muskegon, MI were a bit more forceful with their rally, talking openly about some form of job action.
In San Antonio, symphony musicians with AFM Local 27 have been on strike since September, and are now calling for the resignation of the symphony board. Symphony musicians in Springfield, MA still don’t have an agreement after 18 months without a contract, but management is forging ahead with concerts on the schedule.
In other municipal union contract news, Springfield, IL fire and Fresno, CA police contract disputes have both reached kind of histrionic-seeming levels. Things are much calmer in Albany, NY and Sandusky, OH. Sounds like Austin, TX’s EMS workers are somewhere in between. In East Hartford, CT, the city workers union has agreed to outsource sanitation services.
Two faculty unions at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo rallied ahead of a Board of Trustees meeting, as they fight for a pay increase and better COVID safety protocols. You’ll recall negotiations at other public universities in Michigan got quite contentious last year. For a bigger-picture look at some of the most active organizing in higher ed, Rithika Ramamurthy, President of the Graduate Labor Organization at Brown University, wrote a broad assessment of grad student workers’ current prominent role in the labor movement.
The three unions that represent Social Security Administration employees – AFGE, NTEU, and the Association of Administrative Law Judges – have all reached return-to-in-person-work agreements.
POLITICS & LEGISLATION
The Biden administration enacted a $15 minimum wage for all federal civilian employees, affecting 67,000 workers, in a move that honestly seemed kind of quiet for an administration looking for bread-and-butter wins.
The Biden administration is also expanding the H-2B visa program for 20,000 more nonagricultural workers, a move “the unions” (per this Bloomberg Law article, which cites UNITE HERE and AFL-CIO leaders) are pushing back on.
New election filings at the NLRB: 1100 workers who mostly make Reese’s at Hershey’s second-largest plant in the US, in Stuarts Draft, VA, are organizing with BCTGM; it’s only the 25th or so 1,000+ worker filing at the NLRB in the past five years, and of those, no non-healthcare or -education workers have won, so this would be an important victory. Local reporting has some of the details of the union drive as of November. 420 RNs at Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, NY are organizing with 1199 SEIU. In a shot across the bow, 250 port truck drivers for XPO Logistics at the ports of Los Angeles and San Diego have filed for a union election with Teamsters Locals 848 & 542; the reason it’s a big deal is that the company calls these workers “independent contractors,” which would mean they’re not entitled to union organizing rights, and the Teamsters are essentially calling the question on the NLRB on the independent contractor status of port truckers (and possibly creating a precedent for many, many more workers currently misclassified (so as to avoid certain duties and rights) as independent contractors). It’s a serious test of Biden’s new NLRB, and could open the floodgates for several million workers to formally unionize. 176 Starbucks workers across eight stores – Santa Cruz, CA, Baltimore, two in Richmond, VA, Memphis, Boston, Brighton, MA, and Mesa, AZ – have officially filed for elections with Workers United; some of these are new announcements this week, some I believe are just stores that had waited to file the official paperwork after announcing. 118 hospital techs at the Providence Medford Medical Center in Medford, OR are organizing with SEIU Local 49. 116 retail workers at REI in New York City are organizing with RWDSU.
Smaller shops: 74 white and blue collar workers at the Northeast Parent and Child Society in Schenectady, NY are organizing with CSEA Local 1000 (AFSCME’s largest affiliate). 40 more Charles County, MD school bus drivers are joining the 300+ others who filed for union elections across over a dozen subcontractors, with ATU Local 689. 33 nurses at Stanford’s Children Hospital in Palo Alto, CA are unionizing with the independent Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement, in two separate elections. 28 cannabis dispensary workers at INSA in Salem, MA, as well as 20 more at Sanctuary Medicinals in Gardner, MA are organizing with UFCW Local 1445. 26 hospital techs at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, OR are unionizing with Operating Engineers Local 701. 22 nurses at Elizabeth Nursing Home in Elizabeth, NJ are organizing with NUHHCE District 1199J (AFSCME). 20 workers at Valaurum, which I guess is in the gold-investing business, are unionizing in Portland, OR with IBEW Local 89.
Tiny shops: 17 attorneys and staffers at legal non-profit Justice at Work in Philadelphia are unionizing with the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia. 15 workers who make battery chargers for the Motor Appliance Corporation in Washington, MO are unionizing with the Machinists District Lodge 9. The 11 Google Fiber workers in Kansas City (who are actually employed by what I guess is a staffing agency? BDS Connected Solutions) have officially filed for an election with CWA. Seven workers at Central Connecticut Fire Protection in Meriden, CT are joining Sprinkler Fitters Local 669. Six building cleaners at an office park that houses intelligence agencies in McLean, VA are joining Operating Engineers Local 99. Five HVAC mechanics for Duct Doctor of Southern New Jersey in Cherry Hill, NJ are joining SMART Local 19, as are three mechanics at A&S Cooling in Runnemede, NJ. Four “restroom service technicians” for Crown Restrooms in Woodstock, IL are joining Teamsters Local 301. Four staffers at labor-adjacent consulting firm Concerted Action based in Oak Park, IL are joining the Washington Baltimore News Guild.
NLRB election wins…: 94 drivers and warehouse workers for Penske in Auburn, WA voted 40-10 to join Teamsters Local 174. 50 hospital workers at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers, NY voted 25-1 to join 1199 SEIU. 19 workers at the nuclear plant in Monticello, MN voted 12-6 to join IBEW Local 160. 14 workers for First Transit in Exeter, RI voted 9-0 to join ATU Local 618. 10 maintenance workers at the Crestwood Village Co-op in Whiting, NJ unanimously voted to join Teamsters Local 125. Nine workers at tire wholesaler K&M Tire in Portage, WI voted 6-3 to join Teamsters Local 695. Eight call center workers for Intralot, which makes electronic lottery machines in Bolingbrook, IL voted 3-2 to join IBEW Local 176. Three sanitation workers at Republic in Missoula, MT voted unanimously to join Teamsters Local 2.
…and losses: 74 freight truck drivers for Lineage Logistics in Richland, WA voted 25-39 against joining Teamsters Local 839. 27 sanitation workers for Headquarters of Montana (I think this is a port-a-potty pun) in Black Eagle, MT voted 6-17 against joining Teamsters Local 2. 15 grocery warehouse workers at UNFI Wholesale (formerly Supervalu) in Hopkins, MN, deadlocked 6-6 on joining Teamsters Local 120, so they will not. Two wound care program coordinators at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco could not agree on joining the California Nurses Association, so they split their vote, and did not.
Company unions: Of the eight freight drivers at CMA Logistics in Elizabeth, NJ, only one bothered to vote on whether to join the bogus Transportation, Production, & Warehouse Employees Local 438, and he voted yes, so they’re “union.”
Cement truck drivers at Cemex in Los Angeles held a “practice picket” after the company was found to have committed 23 National Labor Relations Act violations as workers organized with Teamsters Local 986.
As Activision Blizzard gets acquired by Microsoft, a group of workers is officially unionizing with CWA, while “several dozen” workers have been striking against Raven, an Activision Blizzard subsidiary.
For Buzzfeed News, Caroline O’Donovan looked back at the big losses at two large HelloFresh facilities, where workers voted against joining UNITE HERE in Aurora, CO and Richmond, CA last year.
And finally, the new Bureau of Labor Statistics unionization numbers came out this week and they were predictably depressing, with 241,000 fewer union members now than there were a year ago, and two million fewer than there were 20 years ago, despite there being 14 million more workers added to the workforce in those two decades. 10.3% of US workers are union; 6.1% in the private sector. There are tons of ways to slice and dice the data but the punchline is the union movement, measured in the fundamental metric of organization – or membership – is continuing its downward trajectory. It also remains true that there are 14 million unionized workers in this country, which is a massive organizational and social base from which to build. As Tom Geoghegan wrote: “Just 16 percent of the work force now, down from 20-25 percent ten years ago. Maybe it will drop to 12. Once it drops to 10, it might as well keep dropping to zero… The other day, I saw a friend, a journalist, who used to write about labor. Now he writes about something else. He said, ‘A few years ago, when labor was dying, that was interesting. But now it’s dead, and it’s been dead. People want to hear about something else.’” That was 31 years ago. Thanks for reading.