The past two weeks in US unions, April 23-May 7, 2022
Thanks all for your patience as I took a week off (in part because the Labor Notes Conference is just weeks away, and between the thousands of attendees and hundreds of workshops, we’ve been quite busy. Hope to see many of you there!), which also means this one’s a two-fer, and thus quite a long one.
STRIKES & NEGOTIATIONS
At noon on Monday, 1100 workers at CNH Industrial (aka Case) with UAW Local 807 in Burlington, IA and UAW Local 180 in Racine, WI walked off the job, on what the Local 807 president expects to be a 3-6 month strike, with replacement workers ready to go as the strikers exited the buildings. The company has already set a date to cut the workers off of their health insurance. The two big issues that stand out in the strike are two different kinds of two-tier, one particularly depressing. First, of the 13 manufacturing and engineering plants CNH operates in the US, only three are union (the ones on strike in Burlington and Racine, plus one in Fargo represented by the Machinists, whose contract isn’t up until 2024), and the non-union workers make something like $5.50 an hour more than the union workers. I have to assume that the total compensation package (like, adding in healthcare and retirement and other benefits) is better at the union plants, but still, striking to make as much as your non-union counterparts is bleak. Obviously just striking two plants of 13 in the country isn’t going to give you as much leverage as you could have if you could organize all 13, but how can you organize all 13 when they’re already making 20% higher wages? The second strike issue that stands out is an internal two-tier, where workers hired before 1996 are making something like $6-$8 an hour more than those hired after 2004 (with those hired between ‘96-’04 making somewhere in between). There’s an obvious parallel here with Deere, and workers I’ve spoken to say they were directly inspired by the Deere strike – same union, same industry, some shared issues, some shared geography. But the Case strike is smaller, both in raw numbers and in proportion of the company’s workers on strike. Also similar to Deere is the fact that CNH/Case just recorded its most profitable year ever, and the wage rates are similar, and the tiers are similar.
Over 1,000 graduate student workers with UE at Indiana University have voted to extend their recognition strike into its fourth week, which, especially for a recognition strike, is impressive. Speaking of impressive recognition strikes (or similar), Strippers at Star Garden in Los Angeles have turned a lockout into a safety strike into a union drive. We’re hoping to have these two groups of workers together on a panel at the Labor Notes Conference, as if you needed another reason to register.
The 500 Chevron workers on strike with Steelworkers Local 5 in Richmond, CA are seeking to reopen negotiations with the company after weeks of no contact. Meanwhile, the refinery workers are getting support from environmentalists, who took to the Bay to “extend the picket line.”
300-some workers with Teamsters Local 355 at Sysco in Jessup, MD have been on strike for over a week, though there’s been very little press on it (which is just odd to me, considering how many worker and supply chain thinkpieces there are, and how close to DC it is, but I should stop being surprised). Apparently it’s causing some local restaurants to scramble, which hopefully means the company is feeling it too. Workers with Operating Engineers Local 139 are on strike at the Seven Mile Creek Landfill in Seymour, WI. Sixteen ready-mix drivers with Teamsters Local 238 in Cedar Rapids, IA are on strike for a raise.
Nearly 5,000 nurses with the independent union CRONA (that’s the Committee for Recognition Of Nursing Achievement, for you acronym heads) at Stanford Health in Palo Alto, CA struck for a week and won a 17% raise over three years, which is kind of amazing. Also amazing is that in the midst of the strike, 1,450 medical interns and residents voted to unionize. Elsewhere in big hospital contracts, 1800 workers with SEIU Healthcare Michigan in Muskegon, MI have won 20% increases. Maybe the nursing crisis is finally forcing employers to pay up.
In DC, drivers with ATU Local 689 for the DC Circulator, the bus lines run by private contractor RATP Dev, struck for three days and won 18.5%-25% pay increases. Part of what provoked the strike was the big pay differential between the Circulator drivers and their WMATA (the DC transit system) counterparts, a clear violation of the union principle of equal pay for equal work.
K-12: Oakland, CA teachers struck for one day last week against the planned closures of seven schools, and other budget cuts and service reductions. The district had tried to get the state labor board to intervene, but couldn’t stop the work stoppage. In Salt Lake City, K-12 workers rallied for wage increases, but didn’t walk off the job.
Another week, another Starbucks workers strike, this time for one day, back at Starbucks Workers United’s home turf, Buffalo, NY. This one is of particular national relevance, being in response to CEO Howard Schultz’s probably illegal choice to boost benefits for all non-unionizing stores, as a clear move to scare workers out of organizing, in what is essentially a protection racket. While the aggressive union busting move will certainly have some chilling effect on the 8,500+ unorganized stores, it also makes a first contract fight pretty clear-cut: make those extra benefits and pay uniform and permanent, plus basic union rights like just cause. Starbucks corporate just inadvertently showed that a master contract is totally feasible for the company. Aaaand then another one, in Niagara Falls, NY.
And speaking of walkouts at big-name companies with active organizing drives, about 100 Amazon workers in Shakopee, MN walked off the job demanding higher wages and leave time for Eid; this group of predominantly Somali workers has organized locally for years with the Awood Center, but obviously this stuff has a new valence in the age of the ALU.
A couple dozen cannabis farm workers in Gresham, OR are on a recognition strike, as they push their employer, CBN Holdings, to recognize them as members of UFCW Local 555. Since they’re agricultural workers, they’re excluded by federal labor law, so have no legal recourse to respond to union-busting and the firing of a prominent organizer. What they do have, like all workers, is the power to stop working, so they’re using it.
Strike authorization votes: Workers for Los Angeles County with SEIU Local 721 have taken an absolutely massive strike vote, with 55,000 workers voting by 98% to strike. SEIU mega-locals sometimes authorize strikes without much apparent intention of actually striking, but it would be a bit silly not to take this one seriously, given the times, if nothing else. 3,000 workers for Arconic across four Steelworkers locals (Local 105 in Davenport, IA, Local 115 in Lafayette, IN, Local 309 in Alcoa, TN, and Local 420A in Massena, NY) are taking strike authorization votes on Thursday. The contract expires Saturday, May 15th. Gas utility workers for National Fuel Gas (I swear, some of these company names) with IBEW Local 2154 in Western PA & NY have authorized a strike. 1600 nurses with the Oregon Nurses Association at the Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland have voted to authorize a strike. They’ll need to give a ten-day notice before walking off the job. In Plattsburgh, NY, 800 nurses and hospital workers with NYSNA also authorized a strike at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, having been working under an expired contract since September 2020. 200 workers at Kemps ice cream maker in Rochester, MN are on the verge of a strike with Teamsters Local 120, having rejected the company’s latest contract offer by 135 to 1. After abrupt layoff announcements and the fastest strike authorization vote I’ve ever heard of, the Buzzfeed NewsGuild has a first contract.
10,000 workers with UNITE HERE Local 54 at nine Atlantic City, NJ casinos face contract expirations at the end of the month, and like everywhere else, workers are looking for big gains in the face of inflation; the head of the employers’ association says they’ve already given substantial gains during COVID, but hard to tell if that means they’re open to further raises or the exact opposite. Elsewhere in UNITE HERE, Local 23 is still pushing for action from the US Senate for its 175 dining workers in DC, setting a deadline of May 18th for some kind of movement, with a vague threat of escalation.
The city of Delray Beach, FL has given its cops a 10% raise, but the union wants 9% more. Teachers in Delray Beach just got an “up to 3.5%” raise, depending on their evaluations and test scores. Once all the teachers quit, at least the cops will be there to round up the truant kids.
700 Machinists at United Launch Alliance in California, Alabama, and Florida have a new contract, averting a potential strike.
AFGE is in a fight with the Office of Personnel Management over telework; because the Office never implemented digital filing systems long advocated by the union (and maybe required under the Paperwork Reduction Act), workers are being unnecessarily forced back to in-person work in DC.
UFCW Local 3000 in Washington State, the largest grocery workers local in the country, voted to ratify a new contract with Albertsons and Kroger; UFCW Local 8 in California did the same, both averting the strikes and strike threats we saw in Colorado and Southern California earlier this year.
POLITICS & LEGISLATION
A surprising number of union-related things happened in Congress this week, notably the Bernie-chaired Budget committee bringing in Amazon Labor Union leader Chris Smalls to testify, while Bernie also called on the President to stop doing business with Amazon (namely its $10 billion NSA contract, which is disturbing on its own terms) while it engages in union-busting. Another Bernie-led effort was an amendment to push semiconductor manufacturers who are getting tons of federal money to not union-bust or offshore jobs, which was defeated 87-6 (if you’re curious, it was Baldwin, Booker, Merkley, Markey, Warren, and Bernie voting for the no-brainer pro-worker rule). Particularly ridiculous because the point of the funding is in part to end reliance on foreign semiconductor manufacturing, a huge deal during the pandemic, which is obviously 100% undermined if the companies can then take that federal money and put it in non-US facilities. But 87 Senators can’t be wrong! On the House side, the Congressional Workers Union enjoyed a big breakthrough, with the chamber taking up the bill to legalize their right to unionize, while House Speaker Pelosi raised the salary floor to (a yes, still meager) $45,000. Some House Democrats are calling for more funding for the NLRB.
The UAW and several states filed federal lawsuits against the USPS for moving production of its new electric fleet from a union plant in Wisconsin to a non-union facility in South Carolina.
In Colorado, a long-awaited collective bargaining bill is finally being introduced in the legislature, with many carve-outs and internal squabbling that I have not yet done my homework on. Last I heard they were trying to exempt either K-12 schools or higher education, and now there’s something about county executives wanting out, and all of these potential carve-outs of course divide the union support for the whole thing. Apparently 450 amendments have been drafted, which makes me want to just go watch a movie or do anything else but wade through them.
AFGE Council 238, the EPA’s biggest union, is calling on the President to declare a climate emergency.
INTERNAL UNION POLITICS
On Tuesday, ballots will be counted in the leadership elections in the UFT, the largest local union in the AFL-CIO, representing 120,000 K-12 workers in NYC. It's a long shot, but if the challengers can unseat the forever-incumbent Unity Caucus, it would be an earthquake. The challengers, represented in this piece in New Politics, in some ways have more momentum than they've had in decades. If they make a dent, it will be for their activists' leadership on school closures at the beginning of the pandemic, and anger with UFT-approved changes to NYC's retiree healthcare plan. Besides pro-incumbent bias in all internal elections, the retiree issue in the UFT is why Unity can never actually lose. They have sole access to the retirees, many of whom live out of state, and whose votes make up ~52% of the total (even with a constitutional cap to limit it). The UFT also commands something like 15% of the AFT delegates, and much more than that of the NYSUT delegate count, so if you change UFT leadership, you're pretty close to changing AFT leadership, and the AFT is the largest affiliate of the AFL-CIO. A big domino for reformers. The UFT has been a longstanding interest of mine, and I wrote about some of this and more back in the early days of this blog.
SEIU Healthcare Michigan was placed under trusteeship by SEIU national, for the second time in less than five years.
New election filings at the NLRB: 461 Starbucks workers at 18 stores filed for union elections with Workers United in the past two weeks, in: Phoenix; Atlanta; Seattle (x3); El Paso; Peoria, IL; Happy Valley, OR; South Burlington, VT; Fresno, El Dorado Hills, and Brawley, CA; East Amherst and Farmingville, NY; Winter Park, FL; Glen Allen, VA; and Smyrna and Alcoa, TN. Notably, 91 Starbucks workers at three stores in Madison, Fitchburg, and Monona, WI are apparently unionizing with UFCW Local 1473 which is like clearly a violation of even the most basic understanding of union jurisdiction, though nobody is yet publicly beefing over it; Paul Blest had a good piece on it at Vice. 360 players for the United States Football League (there’s a “United States Football League”? They have 360 players? They’re based in Birmingham, AL?) are organizing with Steelworkers Local 37. 170 non-tenure track faculty and librarians at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY are organizing with SEIU Local 200. 118 school bus drivers for Durham in Waterbury, CT are unionizing with ATU Local 448. 115 aircraft mechanics for Vertex Aerospace in Cherry Point, NC are organizing with the Machinists. 110 behavioral healthcare workers for M Health Fairview in Minneapolis are unionizing with CWA (I am confused by this; SEIU Healthcare Minnesota already represents something like 2,000 workers at this employer and is actively organizing more). 110 workers at an Apple store in Towson, MD have filed for a union election with the Machinists because of course we need three different international unions for the three stores that are publicly organizing. 90 workers with Utility Lines Construction Services in Bridgeville, DE are unionizing with IBEW Local 126. 90 workers who make concrete and gravel for American Rock Products in Pasco, WA are organizing with Teamsters Local 839. 75 grocery workers at a Fred Meyer store in Tumwater, WA are organizing with UFCW Local 367. 62 staffers at reproductive health policy non-profit the Guttmacher Institute in NYC are organizing with OPEIU Local 153.
Smaller shops: 50 nursing home workers at the Terraces at Park Marino in Pasadena, CA are unionizing with SEIU Local 2015. 45 healthcare workers for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Seattle are joining the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (AFSCME). 38 healthcare workers for Hospital Damas in Ponce, PR are organizing with 1199 SEIU. 36 workers for Petrogas West in Ferndale, WA are joining Teamsters Local 231. 33 dairy truck drivers for DFA in Florence, NJ are unionizing with Teamsters Local 463. 30 workers at Hillcrest Senior Living in Red Lake Falls, MN are organizing with AFSCME Council 65. 25 chemical workers for Elementis in Proctor, WV are unionizing with the UFCW (specifically its International Chemical Workers Union Council). 25 workers at the Graduate Hotel in New Haven, CT are organizing with UNITE HERE Local 217, which I’m sure the Yalies are happy about. 25 nursing home workers at The Bridge in Longmont, CO are joining CWA Local 7777. 20 firefighters who work for Aerostar Airport Holding in Carolina, PR are unionizing with Hermandad de Empleados de Oficina. 17 workers for Badger Daylighting in Orange City, FL are joining Operating Engineers Local 673, which is the third Badger filing by an IUOE local since March. 17 coffee workers at 1369 Coffee House in Cambridge, MA are organizing with UNITE HERE’s New England Joint Board, as are 10 more Boston coffee workers at Phinista. 17 staffers for adoption non-profit Adoption STAR in Buffalo are joining CWA after having moved for voluntary recognition. 14 dancers with the Boulder Ballet in Boulder, CO are unionizing with AGMA. 13 “Breast Cancer Assistants” at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago are joining SEIU Healthcare Illinois. 13 skilled trades workers for Jones, Lang, LaSalle in Norwood, MA are joining the Area Trades Council of New England. 11 workers at Wonderland Smoke Shop in East Brunswick, NJ are joining UFCW Local 360. Ten field techs for Windstream Communications in Charlestown, MA are joining IBEW Local 2222. Ten workers at a BMW dealership in St. Louis are joining Machinists District 9. Nine mechanics at Sebert Landscaping in Bartlett, IL are joining Operating Engineers Local 150. Nine pharmacists at a Kroger in Saginaw, MI are joining UFCW Local 951. Seven data entry workers at the Cannon Air Defense Complex in Yuma, AZ are joining the Machinists Local SC310. Seven maintenance workers at the Westin in Long Beach, CA are joining Operating Engineers Local 501. Six dispensary workers at Bloom Medicinals in St. Louis are joining UFCW Local 655. Five mechanics for US Foods in Plymouth, MN are joining Teamsters Local 120.
NLRB election wins…: In the midst of the big nurses strike mentioned above, 1,450 medical residents at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, CA voted 835-214 to join CIR (SEIU); another 56 medical residents at the Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles voted an impressive 53-0 to do the same. After winning neutrality from Grinnell College’s administration, the independent undergraduate union there won an election among 720 student workers with an impressive 327-6 (that’s 98%!) margin. With the caveat that NLRB reporting lags reality considerably, over the past two weeks, across 23 more ballot counts at Starbucks stores across the country, Starbucks Workers United won 20 outright, with 563 workers voting a combined 266-68 (that’s 80%!) in favor of the union. There are now officially newly-unionized shops in Leesburg, VA, Phoenix and Avondale, AZ, Plover and Oak Creek, WI, Tallahassee, Boston, Brighton, and Watertown, MA, Hamilton, Hopewell, and Summit, NJ, NYC, Seattle and Olympia, WA, Eugene, OR (x2), St Paul, MN, and Cary and Peoria, IL. Three in Phoenix, Eugene, and Raleigh, NC were unsuccessful on the initial count, but at least some of these have a potentially determinative number of ballots challenged by the company. ATU Local 689 filed for elections among 300+ workers at something like 18 school bus contractors in Charles County, MD in January, and results have started trickling in; of the two companies whose votes were finalized this week, 33 drivers voted a combined 14-13, winning one and losing one. 142 workers at the Community Health Centers of Burlington, VT voted 59-11 to unionize with AFT Vermont. 122 workers at J. Ginger Masonry in Newcastle, CA voted 40-13 to join Bricklayers Local 3. 87 workers at the Northeast Parent and Child Society in Schenectady, NY voted 45-22 to join CSEA Local 1000 (AFSCME). 78 paramedics at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center voted to join AFSCME Council 8, 50-12. 50 hospice workers for Sutter in San Mateo, CA voted 34-6 to join NUHW. 45 workers at Grifols blood bank in Gainesville, FL voted 19-8 to join UFCW Local 1625.
Small shops: 23 workers for building products distributor Weyerhauser in Stockton, CA voted 16-6 to join Teamsters Local 439. 16 building services workers at UC Riverside voted 11-3 to join Laborers Local 1184. 13 staffers at the Northwest Regional Primary Care Association in Seattle voted 12-1 to join Machinists District Lodge 751. 12 workers at Dignity Health Orthopedics in San Francisco voted 9-2 to join SEIU UHW. 12 workers who make fuel cells for Fuelcell Energy in Danbury, CT voted 8-4 to join Operating Engineers Local 478. Ten data center engineers for Digital Realty in NYC voted 8-2 to join Operating Engineers Local 30. Ten warehouse workers and drivers for Point Dedicated freight company in Laredo, TX voted 6-4 to join Teamsters Local 657. Seven school bus dispatchers for First Student in Belvidere, IL joined Teamsters Local 325 in a 5-1 vote. Seven maintenance workers at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee, MN voted 5-1 to join Operating Engineers Local 70. Five workers at Fort Bliss, TX voted 4-0 to join Operating Engineers Local 351. Two of three workers at a Safeway bakery department in Idaho Falls, ID voted to join UFCW Local 555. Same goes for three maintenance workers for ASPIRA charter school in Chicago, who voted to join Operating Engineers Local 399.
…and losses: It’s not yet recorded at the NLRB, but obviously the most notable vote count was that at LDJ5, the 1600-worker Amazon facility in Staten Island, where the Amazon Labor Union was trying to extend their win; the workers ended up voting against the union two to one, which stings, but doesn’t seem to have blunted the momentum too much. Obviously we’re due for a tie-breaker, though no one else has yet filed for another Amazon vote. 274 grocery delivery drivers for Weis Markets voted 44-202 (that’s 82%) against joining Teamsters Local 764. 192 healthcare workers for non-profit Step Up on Second Street in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Santa Monica, CA narrowly voted against joining SEIU Local 721, 51-54. 83 nursing home workers at Cypress Ridge Care Center in Monterey, CA voted 29-36 against joining SEIU Local 2015. 78 workers at Diversified Gas and Oil at five locations in West Virginia voted 35-38 against joining the Steelworkers. Only four of 22 drivers for Premier Recycle Company in San Jose voted, and tied 2-2 on joining Teamsters Local 853. 16 nursing home workers at Ecumen in Owatonna, MN deadlocked 6-6 on joining UFCW Local 663. Eight building engineers in downtown Denver tied 3-3 on joining Operating Engineers Local 1. Five “budtenders” at “Budlandia” in Portland, OR voted 0-2 against joining UFCW Local 555. Two sprinkler fitters in Lexington, KY couldn’t agree, voting 1-1 against joining UA Local 669.
Decertifications and raids: Honestly I got lost in reading the NLRB documents on it, but 45 tugboat workers in Los Angeles just voted to join the Masters, Mates, and Pilots over the Inlandboatmen’s Union (ILWU) or the Seafarers (the latter of whom didn’t make it onto the ballot). Somehow the 39 security guards at the Whitney Museum in NYC are yet again going through a contested union election, not the first time since I started the newsletter. 34 sanitation drivers for Himco Waste-Away (great name) in Elkhart, IN voted 19-13 against dropping Teamsters Local 364. 23 workers who make flour for Ardent Mills in Gibsonton, FL voted 9-12 to decertify RWDSU Local 938; their counterparts in York, PA also voted to decertify their union (Teamsters Local 776) in October, which makes you wonder what the employer’s role is in all this, or if there’s something else going on at this company/industry (incidentally, this is the kind of thing I would only be aware of by obsessively tracking NLRB votes over a period of many months). 17 workers at metals recycler Metro Metals NW in Tacoma, WA stuck with Teamsters Local 117, beating a decertification attempt, 10-4. Nine terminal operators for Sunoco at three facilities in Westville, NJ, Malvern, PA, and Aston, PA voted 0-7 to drop the Steelworkers.
Elsewhere in new organizing, I thought this piece on the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, organizing in non-union workplaces outside of the NLRB, was a great read (disclosure: I am very fond of EWOC, having helped get it off the ground in the early days of the pandemic. You should give them money here.)
Lots to report in the world of Amazon organizing (and its byproducts) this week: Amazon management is getting it from all sides, including from the NLRB and corporate as the company tries to cope with the shocking Amazon Labor Union victory in Staten Island, firing even more union leaders for good measure. The NLRB has also set a date to hear Amazon’s challenges to the election in Staten Island, which challenges were so sweeping as to necessitate hearing the case outside of the local NLRB’s jurisdiction; it’s getting picked up in Arizona (which insiders tell me is probably not the jurisdiction the company wanted). Meanwhile, Amazon’s anti-union consultants are bragging about their work, even though they kind of suck at it, and as another facility goes public with its organizing efforts, this time in Garner, NC.
Not to be outdone on the Amazon case, the NLRB appears to be fully throwing the book at Starbucks corporate, and, among other things, compelling Howard Schultz or his deputy Rossann Williams to record a video talking about how badly they’ve behaved, to be distributed to all Starbucks employees. Obviously, these companies often don’t care much what the NLRB has to say, but it’s nice to have a little pro-worker law enforcement once in a while. This piece in The Guardian took another look at the Starbucks anti-union campaign, through the lens of Starbucks Workers United in Denver, one of the handful of cities that’s seen a pre-recognition Starbucks workers strike.