The week in US unions, February 19-26
Last week, I wrote about the PRO Act and the predictably-depressing 2021 unionization numbers for Labor Notes; I was as glad as anyone to hear Joe Biden mention PRO during his State of the Union speech, but a strategy that ain’t. The Cornell Labor Action Tracker’s new annual report pairs well with my armchair quarterbacking and is well worth a read, and is a different kind of depressing: just .1% of US workers struck in 2021, and half of that was a one-day sympathy strike. Finally, thanks again for sharing the newsletter widely with friends and coworkers and for your patience; we should now be back on a weekend publication schedule over at WGTB HQ.
STRIKES & NEGOTIATIONS
During what I would imagine is just about the craziest week for oil negotiations since March 2020, the Steelworkers and the Marathon-led table of big oil employers have announced a tentative agreement covering 30,000 refinery workers, about a month after the last contract expired. According to Reuters, the deal is for a 12% raise over four years, which wages-wise is not an improvement from their previously-rejected 9% over three years, so I’m very curious to know what else is in this agreement. In just the past four weeks since the contract expired, Texas crude oil prices have swung up by between 3-7%, and with the Russian war on Ukraine likely to continue to spike those prices, plus a newfound patriotic interest in onshoring oil production, it seems like a huge missed opportunity to not get more of that money in workers’ pockets, especially when workers are strike-ready (they struck in 2015, too!). But then again, this is an industry that has been openly talking about busting its unions and has taken high-profile lockout action against hundreds of workers from Minnesota to Texas over the past year. Speaking of, Exxon workers in Beaumont, TX will go back to work next week after 10 months, with Steelworkers Local 13-243 voting 60% to accept the deal that, as far as I can tell, is a loss on the seniority/scheduling issue that was part of the core of the conflict that sparked the conflict last May. And like clockwork, another huge energy company, Kinder Morgan, is apparently planning on locking out its 160 Steelworkers members at a terminal in Pasadena, TX over a rejected contract due to overtime and scheduling concerns, which is to say, the energy industry continues to be aggressively organizing against its workers.
And if the dissonance of supposed national interest combining with anti-worker attacks wasn’t doing it for you in the oil industry, check out what our venerable war industry is up to. Machinists Locals 388 and 1191 remain on strike at aerospace defense manufacturer Eaton (formerly Cobham) in Davenport, IA. In a throwback to the Deere strike in the fall, where UAW Local 281 in Davenport was the local hit with a draconian injunction that basically killed their picket line, the union is forbidden to have burn barrels or tents, which is to say, make it at all tolerable to be on an Iowa picket line in February. Speaking of defense contractor work stoppages during a simmering global military conflict, 300 workers for Collins Aerospace in Troy, OH are locked out after UAW Local 128 members voted 230-37 to reject the company’s “last, best, and final” and the company decided to pre-emptively lock them out.
Elsewhere in ongoing blue collar strikes, Teamsters Local 174 put forward a deal on a one-year extension for six concrete contractors who 330 drivers are currently striking, but the owners rejected it, says the union. That means 15,000 construction workers in the greater Seattle area stay out of work as concrete has stopped flowing, while federal mediators try to make some progress. 450 members of Steelworkers Local 40 in Huntington, WV still have no deal on the table with Special Metals after 150 days on strike. Bargaining has supposedly resumed for 55 members of Steelworkers Local 14919 who’ve been on strike at Sherwin Williams in Bedford Heights, OH for a few weeks now, though information is quite scant (the article I linked is barely an article). And few dozen Machinists on strike at three locations of engine manufacturer Cummins in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts are still on the line, with students in Maine showing their solidarity. The BCTGM Local 37 Jon Donaire strike among workers in Santa Fe Springs, CA, who make ice cream cakes for Baskin Robbins and similar products for similar big chains, has ended. Workers ratified a contract and are headed back to work.
As I blurbed for Labor Notes, a few weeks ago around 15,000 teachers in Puerto Rico struck for a pay increase, after 13 years of no raises to their base pay of $1,750 per month. After a few days, the Governor announced a temporary $1,000 monthly increase starting in July, but teachers have kept on marching. Other public workers joined the protests to challenge low salaries in other jobs, including firefighters, who haven’t seen a raise in over two decades. The teachers plan to strike intermittently, and held a national strike last week, as they challenge sweeping austerity measures on the island, from reductions in services to cuts in pensions.
Man, you’d hate to be a west coast port boss right now; the ILWU contract up and down the West Coast expires on June 30, and as Freightwaves put it, “The ILWU has a reputation for hard bargaining and enters the talks in a strong position. The union is expected to leverage the congestion to pressure container lines and their terminal partners, while insisting its highly compensated members are due a cut of carriers’ record profits, which Drewry now estimates at $190 billion in 2021.” If you’re the Democrats, you really don’t want a lockout (or more likely, an informal slowdown) at multiple chokepoints of a brittle supply chain in an election year.
But then again, maybe you can just get the judiciary to do your dirty work for you, like they’re doing to 17,000 SMART-TD and BLET-IBT workers at BNSF, in another key supply chain labor dispute. A judge ruled that the unions’ strike authorization was invalid because the issue they’re fighting – a draconian attendance policy known as “Hi-Viz” that would functionally eliminate most weekends for most workers, as I understand it – is deemed “minor.” Tell that to the wave of multi-generation rail workers now quitting over it. Meanwhile, the Warren Buffett-owned BNSF is raking in insane profits, as Berkshire Hathaway’s quarterly earnings report this weekend revealed; 14% over the same quarter last year, for a whopping $1.5 billion in three months.
The small but mighty Great Lakes Coffee recognition strike by UNITE HERE Local 24 in Detroit is still on after a couple weeks, and a new ULP filed by the union could make history if it gets picked as the “Joy Silk” candidate. It’s a textbook test of the doctrine, which I helped explain in a video with More Perfect Union last month; I think “Joy Silk” has a great ring to it, but I could get used to the “Great Lakes Coffee” doctrine.
And speaking of ULPs, Teamsters Local 533 bus drivers’ triple strike of 2021 is still reverberating, with transit subcontracting giant Keolis still settling unfair labor practice charges filed last year.
A couple of the unions at the Sappi Paper Mill in Skowhegan, ME are now working under expired contracts, and have been holding large rallies; I haven’t followed it closely but when large blue-collar unions are rallying against expired contracts, I’d bet my fifty cents on a strike down the line.
Machinists Local 44 members who manufacture rockets that go to space for United Launch Alliance in Decatur, AL have taken a unanimous strike authorization vote, as the esteemed Valley Labor Report, uh, reports.
ATU Local 1001 is telling its members, transit workers in the metro Denver area, to expect around 25% raises over three years in a forthcoming tentative agreement.
After three years of working on a first contract, and a decertification attempt near miss, Massachusetts Nurses Association nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, MA have won. And speaking of MNA decertification near-misses, the St. Vincent Hospital nurses in Worcester beat an effort to drop their union.
K-12: Having authorized a strike, Minneapolis and St. Paul educators have put in their 10-day strike notice and are set to walk on March 8th if they can’t reach deals in their respective districts, with SEIU Local 284 taking a strike vote on March 2nd; the total number is just about 8,000 workers ready to strike. Barbara Madeloni has the story for Labor Notes. Educators in Gilroy, CA have hit an impasse in negotiations with the district, on a contract that expired last June. In Indiana, the Red for Ed movement is alive and well, with educators in Fort Wayne and nearby organizing “walk-ins,” a favored tactic of the big 2018 teachers strikes.
Higher Ed: Northeastern University (Boston) dining workers with UNITE HERE Local 26 are turning to student groups for support as they rally for a raise. Northwestern University (my hometown of Evanston, IL) dining workers with UNITE HERE Local 1 (and other unions on campus) are doing the same. Downstate, at the University of Illinois, SEIU Local 73 members are rallying against stalled contract negotiations.
POLITICS & LEGISLATION
For Labor Notes, Luis Feliz Leon wrote about the Teamsters Local 117 and Uber-backed bill moving in the Washington state legislature, the latest legislative effort to establish something other than full employee rights for so-called “gig workers.”
The Charlottesville, VA city council rejected a collective bargaining ordinance being pushed by transit workers, as workers go jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction to win collective bargaining rights. I haven’t tracked every fight, but this is the first one I’ve heard of being attempted and failing, though the council says they’re just “postponing” for further study (though this is the second time that’s happened). In Maryland, which has a similar process (though much longer-standing, and thus more jurisdictions have already won their rights), the Machinists are backing a bill to win bargaining rights for public library workers in Harford County, building off their organizing among nearby Baltimore County public library workers. Colorado is also looking at expanding its public sector collective bargaining, with public education workers being a particular sticking point; right now it’s permitted but not required for a district to negotiate with employees who unionize.
Joe Biden named his new Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and national union leaders are happy about it. Though to be fair I think we would’ve seen quite similar statements no matter the nominee, though Brown Jackson is clearly the most labor-friendly of the short list.
AFGE is pushing on the Biden administration to move the Department of Homeland Security to fulfill its promise of extending collective bargaining rights to TSA agents.
INTERNAL UNION POLITICS
SEIU Local 1000’s VPs have successfully taken action to suspend president Richard Louis Brown, apparently after he moved to suspend a couple of them. Brown won the presidency of the large and influential statewide local of California state employees last year in a surprise victory, and it’s been basically an ongoing internal war ever since. The best source I’ve seen on this has been C.M. Lewis’s tweets and related coverage at Strikewave.
Ed Mullins, former head of the NYPD’s Sergeants Benevolent Association has formally been charged with wire fraud in an attempt to defraud the union of a bunch of money.
The UAW has formed a new region for western states, carving out part of one region which currently spans from California to Florida, and another which goes from Washington state to Missouri. As I reported for Labor Notes a few months ago, the west coast academic locals in particular are probably happy to see this, especially with the new addition of 17,000 new members at the University of California. It also presumably means that there will be a new seat created on the International Executive Board, just in time for the first direct elections, which will take place some time this year or next. And speaking of those elections, there was a big development today with the announced retirement of Terry Dittes, longtime Vice President for GM, one of the top slots in the union, and obviously big news before the upcoming election and upcoming 2023 Big Three negotiations. I know a lot of members and some officials who will be happy to see Dittes go, but all of this points to the coming leadership fights in the union; will the incumbents run as a full or partial slate? Will anti-establishment feelings lead to all new leadership? Or will members want to stick with safe bets, of the limited number of people who have negotiated national contracts? Even if those contracts have been disappointing to large swaths of the membership?
New election filings at the NLRB: 1,456 medical residents and interns for Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, CA are organizing with the Committee of Interns and Residents (SEIU). 343 more Starbucks workers at 14 stores have officially filed for NLRB elections with Workers United in… Olympia, WA, Phoenix (x2), Hamilton, NJ, Farmville, Springfield, and Richmond, VA, Seattle, Jacksonville, FL, Plover, WI, Nichols Hills, OK, Hialeah, FL, and Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, OH. By my count, that makes 2,033 Starbucks workers who’ve filed for an election across 78 stores since the start of the new year. Though the strategy is to go store-by-store, taken together this is now officially the largest NLRB organizing effort outside of Amazon since the newsletter began. And that’s just of the official filings; the number of announced-but-not-yet-filed stores is something like 110. 140 workers at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia are organizing with NUHHCE District 1199C (AFSCME). 100 construction workers for J. Ginger Masonry based in Newcastle, CA are organizing with Bricklayers Local 3. 94 nonprofit staffers for social services agency Step Up On Second in Los Angeles are unionizing with SEIU Local 721. 90 drivers for beverage distributor Markstein Beverage Co. in Sacramento are organizing with Teamsters Local 150. 68 support staff, plus 20 LPNs, at the Shenandoah Senior Living Community in Shenandoah, PA are unionizing in two different elections with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. 58 paramedics and EMTs at University of Cincinnati Medical Center are joining the existing AFSCME Local 217, which already represents 350 workers there.
Small shops: 35 journalists at the Charlotte, NC Observer are organizing with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild. 31 nurses at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Methuen, MA are joining the existing union there, the Massachusetts Nurses Association. 18 pharmacists at a Walgreens in Oakland, CA are unionizing with UFCW Local 5. 17 political staffers for End Citizens United in DC are joining the Washington-Baltimore News Guild. 17 workers at three data centers in Washington are unionizing with Machinists District Lodge 751. 15 workers who service air compressors for Ingersoll-Rand in Elmhurst, IL are unionizing with Operating Engineers Local 150. 14 workers at the Northwest Primary Care Association in Seattle are unionizing with Machinists District Lodge 751. 13 terminal operators for PBF Logistics, which I think is in the business of oil and gas storage, are unionizing with Steelworkers Local 286 in Philadelphia. Ten workers for Create Crane & Rigging in Rockford, IL are joining Operating Engineers Local 150. Eight workers who make the show Rick & Morty, and seven more who make Solar Opposites (which is maybe somehow connected to Rick & Morty?) in Burbank, CA are joining IATSE Local 839, aka the Animation Guild. Seven sprinkler fitters for Foothills Fire Protection in Scottsdale, AZ are joining UA Local 669, as are two more for JR’s Fire Protection in Baltimore. Six HVAC workers for regional grocer Pyramid Foods in Rogersville, MO are joining UA Local 178. Five drivers and dock workers for Linde Gas & Equipment in Cranston, RI are joining Teamsters Local 251. Four sanitation workers for GFL Environmental in Battle Creek, MI are joining Teamsters Local 406. Three maintenance engineers at MC Hotel in Montclair, NJ are joining Operating Engineers Local 68. Two cake decorators at an Albertsons in Tigard, OR are joining BCTGM Local 114.
Steelworkers Local 12-591 is seeking a “unit clarification” among 213 refinery workers at Marathon’s Anacortes, WA plant; this is a way to accrete new job titles into an existing union, and I usually don’t cover them (because they’re usually wonky and the filings are often unclear) but with the Steelworkers’ ongoing national strike threat against Marathon and the other big oil employers, seems worth noting.
NLRB election wins…: 320 paramedics, EMTs, and dispatchers for McCormick Ambulance in Compton, CA voted 63-11 to join NAGE-SEIU Local 5000 (aka the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics, a national local). 164 workers at Lines for Life, a substance abuse and suicide prevention organization in Portland, OR, voted 74-42 to join AFSCME Council 75. In a huge win for the Starbucks Workers United movement, a third store – this time outside of Buffalo – has voted in a landslide to unionize; 43 Starbucks workers in Mesa, AZ voted 25-3 to join the union, the third store to officially vote yes of the over 100 stores that have announced their intentions to do so. 39 social workers at Wellfound Behavioral Health Hospital in Tacoma, WA voted 9-6 (weak turnout, but it counts) to join SEIU 1199NW. In other coffee organizing, 27 baristas at five Pittsburgh locations of the Coffee Tree voted 17-3 to join UFCW Local 1776. 19 weed dispensary workers for PharmaCann in Schaumburg, IL voted 15-0 to join Teamsters Local 777. 17 workers at Community Work Training Association, which runs work release programs for incarcerated people in Bellingham, WA, voted 7-3 to join Teamsters Local 231. 14 workers at linens and uniform supplier AmeriPride in Troy, NY voted 5-1 to join Teamsters Local 294. Four dietitians at the Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, WA all voted to join UFCW Local 21. All three painters at the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas voted to join Painters Local 159. Both school bus mechanics for Durham School Services in Bettendorf, IA voted to join Teamsters Local 371.
…and losses: 285 workers at the North Pacific Paper Company in Longview, WA narrowly voted against joining ILWU Local 21, in a 108-116 vote; the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (an affiliate of the Carpenters) was also on the ballot, but appears to have only gotten two votes, kind of impressively low. Ten workers at Colgate Heating in Buffalo, NY voted 4-5 against joining the Steelworkers. Teamsters Local 830 couldn’t get a single vote out of the ten beverage distribution workers at Congo Brands in Philadelphia, who went 0-5 against the union.
Raids: Ten workers at M. Fried Store Fixtures in Brooklyn, NY – “The #1 Gondola Shelving Supplier Nationwide!” – currently represented by United Production Workers Union Local 17-18 (the former Hasidic protection union that was then taken over by its largely Latino membership in a contested election, in response to which the employers all brought in new company unions to raid Local 17-18) are being raided by “International Brotherhood of Trade Unions” Local 713, a totally fake union.
Security guards: 40 guards in New Orleans are joining UGSO. The Union of Patriots Plaza is raiding 12 guards from International Guards Union of America in Hyattsville, MD. SPFPA is raiding a unit of six guards at L’Enfant Plaza in DC repped now by LEOSU.
Outside the NLRB: 200 airline mechanics for Lufthansa in Aguadilla, PR will vote on joining the Machinists, after a decision from the National Mediation Board; they’ll have nearly two months to vote, and we’ll know the results on May 5th.
Lots of Starbucks organizing news continues to roll in, with the most satisfying being Dave Jamieson’s account of how their fancy law firm missed a deadline by eight minutes because Microsoft Outlook crashed. Sad! Less entertaining are the details of the 11th-largest private employer’s efforts to smear a part-time worker who has been a leader of the campaign, as More Perfect Union revealed in leaked audio.
There’s a new front opening in the independent contractor debate, and it’s not port truckers or Uber drivers, but Atlanta Opera hair and makeup workers who are vying to join IATSE, with management claiming they’re not really employees. Now it’s in the NLRB’s hands.
Finally, as we near the in-person March 25-30th union vote at Amazon’s Staten Island facility, the NYPD arrested three organizers (two active employees, one former) with the independent Amazon Labor Union. It’s worth keeping in mind that the RWDSU effort in Bessemer, AL will have their vote count during the Staten Island election, on March 28th, so that’s going to be a heck of a week for Amazon discourse. Get your thinkpiece ready.