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The week in US unions, March 26-April 2, 2022
Amazon Labor Union. Amazon Labor Union!! The independent union is going to need massive public support and, among other things, is fundraising to take on Goliath. Donate here.
STRIKES & NEGOTIATIONS
The Sacramento City Teachers Association and SEIU Local 1021 are still on strike in Sacramento, and parents have taken to occupying the school district’s headquarters. The district raised its wage offer, but health care cuts are still on the table, and class size and more student supports remain core issues that don’t seem to be meaningfully addressed by the district’s counter. Other K-12: In the St. Louis area, 120 educators at five Catholic high schools are preparing to strike; they recently met at the Basilica for Mass with supporters. In Lawrence, KS, K-12 support staff with PAL-CWA rallied at the school board meeting for, among other things, a $15 minimum wage; 400 of these workers make under $13 currently. Rochester, NY educators ratified their new contract by 60%. Elk Grove, CA school bus drivers with ATU Local 256 have a new contract, after their last one expired in June and strike talk was rumbling at least since September. Educators in Dickinson, ND are in negotiations over extending the school day and/or getting a 1% raise.
In Texas and Southern California, massive grocery strike threats continue to escalate, with at least 35,000 California grocery workers ready to walk at Kroger and Albertsons-owned stores; my guesstimate is down a bit since Strater Brothers, a smaller regional chain, has a tentative agreement, but as you’ll see from this update from UFCW Local 135 (one of seven locals in bargaining), out of town staff are in stores “to offer their support when it comes to taking action and getting results.” That’s a fancy way to say “help organize the strike.” Meanwhile in East Texas, UFCW Local 455 is back to the brink of a strike, having backed off on a couple previous threats over the past 18 months as Kroger continues to go for the throat. You’ll recall that Kroger already agreed to a contract which was then ratified by members but has refused to actually sign it over disputes over back-dues that they withheld illegally for months as they tried to all-out bust the union. If the Texas Kroger workers walk, that’ll be another 17,000 grocery workers on strike.
And that’s not the only strike the SoCal grocery workers might join forces with; 55,000 Los Angeles County workers’ contracts expired at midnight on Thursday, and SEIU Local 721 held a mass rally in downtown LA, in preparation for what would be a huge strike. Apparently the official strike authorization vote hasn’t been tallied yet, but it seems to be a credible threat.
In Northern California, 500 refinery workers at Chevron in Richmond, CA are already on strike with Steelworkers Local 5; More Perfect Union spoke to members on the picket line. As far as I’ve seen, still no word from any other oil & gas rejecting local agreements.
The UMWA strike at Warrior Met metallurgical coal outfit in Brookwood, AL has passed its one-year mark. The picket line saying is “one day longer, one day stronger,” but there are of course limits to that concept. Solidarity to those workers holding the line. Meanwhile, outside Salt Lake City, UT, 1300 workers for mine operator Rio Tinto got a last minute agreement to avert a strike among Steelworkers, Operating Engineers, IBEW, and Machinists at one of the largest copper mines in the world.
Journalists at the Miami Herald, its Spanish-language sister paper El Nuevo Herald, and the Bradenton Herald struck for one day on Friday with the NewsGuild. After Buzzfeed announced huge cuts coming to their News operation, the NewsGuild of New York organized an emergency strike authorization votes, which members ratified by 91% with 90% of the unit participating.
Hundreds of graduate student workers at Indiana University are preparing for a recognition strike with the UE; the administration rebuffed their requests for an official election, so they’ll have to win their union the harder (but stronger) way.
Starbucks has fired yet another worker leader in the Workers United union drive, this time in the campaign’s home turf, Buffalo. The workers are calling for a boycott of the fired worker’s store, and raising funds for the fired worker (chip in here if you can).
For Labor Notes, David Bacon has the story of tulip farmworkers who struck in Mount Vernon, WA with Familias Unidas por la Justicia.
Workers at the Anthology Film Archive in NYC struck for one day, as they fight for a first contract, having organized with UAW Local 2110 last year.
Members of Teamsters Local 25 (new Teamsters national prez Sean O’Brien’s home local) struck five trade show companies in Boston; as you can see if you click the link I posted, there’s very little info out there on the strike at the moment.
A couple dozen non-union food service workers at Maru Sushi in Kalamazoo, MI are on strike primarily (it sounds like) over wage theft. Some reports I’ve seen say over 80% of restaurants engage in some form of wage theft, which costs workers in the ballpark of $8 billion annually.
But surely if you work in food service in the heart of the seat of government in must be different, right?! Well, not that different. In DC, 175 Senate cafeteria workers organized with UNITE HERE Local 23, won voluntary recognition from contractor Restaurant Associates (the Senate contracted out its in-house food service in 2008), but are still contending with low wages, high healthcare costs, and weak job security.
In Montgomery, AL, staffers with the Southern Poverty Law Center, organized with the Washington Baltimore News Guild, held a protest against the non-profit’s return to work policies, which, ironically, disproportionately affected a unit staffed primarily by Black women.
In the wake of a proposal to reorganize the VA, Massachusetts Nurses Association members and allies rallied in Northampton, MA against the possible closure of the VA hospital there. My understanding is that what has been released is a preliminary proposal, and is likely to be fought hard by the several unions that have large numbers of VA workers (which includes NNU, AFGE, and probably others I’m not immediately thinking of).
35 separate contracts for 43,000 state workers in Connecticut have been sent to the legislature for approval by Governor Ned Lamont; I assume this is pro forma (and is not something I’ve heard of in other states, but I may just be ignorant re this step in some state employee bargaining).
Pilots for Alaska Air Lines with ALPA continue their signature stoic demonstrations for a contract after three years of negotiations; though the picketing pilots are off-duty, it seems like it’s affecting operations, with 30% of its flights canceled or delayed on Friday.
POLITICS & LEGISLATION
Some climate groups and others are planning a protest at the White House on April 23rd, in one last (?) push for meaningful funding to address the climate crisis in Congressional budget reconciliation (this used to be called “Build Back Better,” but yeah we don’t talk about that anymore); what’s interesting here is that SEIU and IUPAT are the two unions on board so far.
After taking office last week, the new Teamsters leadership made an effort to kill the formerly-Teamsters-backed Washington state legislation that enshrines gig workers’ second-class status in the law. Unfortunately, Governor Jay Inslee signed it anyway. And while we’re covering state legislation, I thought it was interesting that Illinois’s legislature passed a bill requiring more break time for workers. Meanwhile, on the federal level, three Democrats killed the confirmation of David Weil to head the Wage & Hour Division of the Department of Labor; Weil is known for his book, The Fissured Workplace, about how employers use misclassification and contracting and wage theft to pulverize workers.
INTERNAL UNION POLITICS
Ray Curry, head of the UAW, said he’s running for re-election when the union holds its first-ever membership-wide direct election of top officers. This is in contrast to two of his top deputies, Terry Dittes (VP for GM) and Cindy Estrada (VP for Stellantis), who both announced they will be leaving their posts when their terms expire. Curry has only been President since July, and is finishing out his predecessor Rory Gamble’s term, who retired last summer. Oh, also, the union lost 6% of its membership in 2021.
The Arkansas NEA has a new president. So does the Springfield, IL NEA, where the former president resigned after being arrested on suspicion of domestic violence… and has now been re-elected after not having been charged.
The United Soccer League Players Association, the union of 900 minor league soccer players, has affiliated with CWA, because why not.
New election filings at the NLRB: 410 workers at Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, NY are organizing with 1199 SEIU. 404 Starbucks workers at 16 new stores filed for elections with Workers United in… Richmond, VA, St. Louis and Bridgeton, MO, Minneapolis, Latham, NY, Portland, OR, Madison, WI, Asheville, NC, Chandler, AZ, Seattle and Tumwater, WA, Worcester, Brookline, and Westford, MA, Lawrence, KS, and Chicago. 155 workers who make pipes and fire hydrants and similar things for Mueller Water Products in Kimball, TN are organizing with the Steelworkers. Around 138 film and TV post-production workers are organizing in about a dozen elections with CWA at Universal, Warner Brothers, Disney, Paramount, Apple Studios, HBO, CBS, and Netflix (my numbers are fuzzy because the filings are a bit confusing, but this is ballpark). 110 school bus drivers for First Student in Victorville, CA are organizing with Teamsters Local 572. 72 workers who I think do tech stuff for real estate listings company Appfolio in Denver are unionizing with CWA. 69 workers at Folkestone nursing home in Wayzata, MN are organizing with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. 47 hotel workers at the Hilton Suites Magnificent Mile in Chicago are organizing with UNITE HERE Local 1 (which, like, maybe this is a milestone of some kind for the hotel industry post-COVID?).
Small & tiny shops: 30 roofers for contractor Miller-Thomas-Gyekis in Pittsburgh are unionizing with Roofers Local 37. 27 more workers at Diversified Gas & Oil in the Charleston, WV area are organizing with the Steelworkers, joining 90 others on the other side of the state who filed last week. 22 bakery workers at Petee’s Pie in NYC are unionizing with UFCW Local 1500. 18 drivers and sales workers at truck company Kenworth in Dearborn, MI are organizing with Teamsters Local 283. 16 ER techs who work for Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth, a contractor for the Department of Energy working on decommissioning a nuclear plant in Piketon, OH are unionizing with the Steelworkers. 15 theater workers at Westmoreland Cultural Trust in Greensburg, PA are organizing with IATSE Local 3. 12 healthcare workers at Dignity Health Orthopedics in San Francisco are joining SEIU UHW. 12 respiratory therapists at West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell, ID are unionizing with Teamsters Local 483. Nine duct cleaners for SaniTech Services in Nesconset, NY are joining SMART Local 28. Eight workers at South Coast Iron in La Habra, CA and five workers at Titan Steel Fabricators in El Cajon, CA are unionizing with the Iron Workers. Eight workers at construction equipment outfit Sunbelt Rentals in Midland, MI are joining Operating Engineers Local 324. Seven workers in the meat & seafood department at a Fred Meyer (Kroger) store in Eagle River, AK are joining the UFCW. Five sprinklerfitters for ABJ Sprinkler in Glassboro, NJ are joining UA Local 669. Five “budtenders” at Nectar dispensary in Portland, OR are joining UFCW Local 555. Four ambulance workers for American Medical Response in Burlingame, CA are joining IAFF Local 2400. Three skilled maintenance workers at Aspira charter schools in Chicago are joining Operating Engineers Local 399.
NLRB election wins…: 56 food service workers for Union Kitchen in DC voted 18-11 to join UFCW Local 400, after having struck in February. 54 K-12 educators at Menlo Park Academy charter school in Cleveland voted a whopping 46-3 to join AFT Local 6570. 53 mental health workers at Rainbow Health in Saint Paul, MN voted 36-2 to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. 52 hospice workers for Sutter in San Francisco voted 27-16 to join NUHW. 52 drivers for US Foods in Charlotte, NC voted to join Teamsters Local 71, 35-13. 25 LPNs at a nursing home in Carneys Point, NJ voted 10-5 to join Teamsters Local 830. 16 retail workers at Crossroads Trading voted 9 to zilch to join UFCW Local 3000, as did both pharmacy techs at the Monroe Medical Center in Monroe, WA. 16 early childhood educators at Fruit and Flower Child Development Center in Portland, OR voted 5-1 to join ILWU Local 5 (over AFT Local 3432, who got zero votes). Nine landscaping workers for Scapes in Snohomish, WA voted 5-0 to join Laborers Local 292. Six workers at the Wild Rice Electric Cooperative in Mahnomen, MN voted 4-1 to join IBEW Local 1426.
…and losses: 104 hospital techs at Providence Medford Medical Center in Medford, OR voted against joining SEIU Local 49, 35-51. 96 workers who make fruit juices for Ventura Coastal in Visalia, CA voted 7-86 against joining Teamsters Local 948, which is an impressively large margin of defeat. 26 workers at glass contractor Hershocks in Harrisburg, PA voted against IUPAT Local 252, 7-19. 18 theater workers at Northern Stage Company in White River Junction, VT voted 3-6 not to join IATSE Local 919. 12 clerical workers at Sysco in Fremont, CA did not join Teamsters Local 853, 5-6.
Security guards: 203 prison guards at the ICE detention center in Aurora, CO voted 62-18 to join the United Professional Security Officers of America (with SPFPA and UGSO both apparently receiving zero votes, though they were also on the ballot). 110 “detention transportation officers” in Laredo, TX are joining SPFPA. 77 security guards at federal buildings in Kentucky who I think are currently with LEOSU are being raided by SPFPA (either that, or both are going after the same unit).
Decertifications and raids: 49 hospital techs at Warren General Hospital in Warren, PA who are currently repped by AFSCME District Council 85 (Local 469 to be precise) are forming an independent union, Warren Techs United; PASNAP nurses at the hospital just got their first contract, which I wonder if that had any part in this dispute. 41 transit workers for the Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway in Cape Cod, MA voted 3-34 to decertify ATU Local 1548. I don’t usually list decertification filings (because it’s not that hard to find 30% in a unit that will sign something saying “I want the union out”), but 28 workers for Kinder Morgan in Chesapeake, VA filed to decertify the Steelworkers, which is notable as the oil & gas industry continues its crusade to deunionize its workforce. 13 millwrights and other workers at Lovegreen Industrial Services in Eagan, MN decertified Carpenters Local 548 in a 6-7 vote.
OK, what can be said about the Amazon Labor Union? I said last week this would be a historic week for Amazon workers, but what an understatement that was. I’ll spare the think pieces, but suffice to say the win on Staten Island was a total shocker; the biggest new organizing win at the NLRB over 50 years, and by an independent union with no institutional backing, at the second-largest private employer in the country. The two best things I’ve read on it are the two that are most focused on talking to the workers themselves, namely Luis Feliz Leon’s reporting in Labor Notes and the interview Eric Blanc did with worker organizer Angelika Maldonado in Jacobin. Amazon has responded by attacking the NLRB itself, which if Amazon and Starbucks team up and go for the throat, this could become a huge political battle, but I don’t know if they’d go for that over just interminable delays. Meanwhile, the Amazon Labor Union has another NLRB vote at the end of April, for another smaller facility on Staten Island. ALU is demanding Amazon agree to begin bargaining in early May. In Bessemer, AL, the RWDSU likely lost again, but there are more challenge ballots than the margin by which they trail in the votes, which is to say: 1) there’s still technically a chance they won but we won’t know for a while; and 2) they did better than last time, which is impressive and might be a decent barometer for general worker sentiment at the retail giant. Dave Jamieson has the story.