The week in US unions, February 19th-26th, 2023
The ILR Labor Action Tracker’s 2022 report is out, and it’s a must-read for anyone who’s obsessed enough with the US union movement to subscribe to a weekly newsletter on the topic. It also fills a crucial gap now that the Biden administration simply stopped tracking strikes under 1,000 workers. Eric Dirnbach also came out with his annual blog post about the state of all things union, which is another big picture reality check worth a read.
STRIKES & NEGOTIATIONS
The Warrior Met strike has ended. I mentioned last week the UMWA offered to end the strike by having hundreds of miners return to work in Brookville, AL (without a contract); that offer has now been accepted by the company, and Kim Kelly, who has been nearly synonymous with this strike in terms of press coverage, has the post-mortem.
The TUGSA (AFT Local 6290) Temple University grad worker strike in Philadelphia has not, as members voted down a contract offer by over 90 percent; the administration said the bargaining team promised to recommend the deal to membership, which members of the bargaining team said was a lie.
Musicians Local 802 is on strike against Distinguished Concerts International New York, a production company that puts on concerts at Carnegie Hall and other prominent NYC venues; the musicians first unionized in 2019, and mediated talks for a first contract (yes, four years later) broke down in January. Elsewhere in NYC, about 100 staffers at New York Legal Assistance Group struck for two days with UAW Local 2325.
Workers who make roof shingles for CertainTeed in Portland, OR walked off the job with Laborers Local 737 on Wednesday afternoon; I haven’t seen any news coverage, but last I saw on social media, they were still on strike as of this weekend.
A few hours before that, about 100 workers for Continental Cement in Hannibal, MO with USW Local 11-205 walked off the job in an unfair labor practice strike; they’ve been without a contract since May.
ATU Local 689 is contesting Loudoun County, VA’s position that the county can’t fine operator Keolis for failure to provide service during the now quite-long strike of 170 some workers; it kind of boggles the mind that the private operator of public transit still gets paid by the public while it fails to operate said transit, but hey, anything to turn the screws on some bus drivers, eh?
The less-common K-12 support staff strike is getting, well, more common, this month, with SEIU Local 284 food service workers still on strike in Hastings, MN after several weeks. About 100 school support staff with AFSCME Local 51 in Morgan County, OH filed a 10-day strike notice which would have them on the picket line as early as Monday. And oh, yeah, the 30,000 Los Angeles K-12 support staff with SEIU Local 99 just announced a mass rally in March as they team up with UTLA (who also have not had a contract since the school year began). Speaking of big school districts, UFT activists in NYC are raising the alarm about the continued push to privatize retiree healthcare, despite a pattern-setting agreement being announced with DC37, the city workers’ union. And speaking of K-12 strikes, teachers in the Penns Manor district in Clymer, PA are going on strike starting Monday, having authorized way back in November.
In higher ed, 1200 researchers and postdocs with UAW Local 4121 at the University of Washington have authorized a strike, following in the footsteps of their fellow West Coast UAW higher ed unionists in California.
In the skies, ALPA FedEx Express pilots have authorized a strike authorization vote (not a typo), while Teamsters Local 120 flight attendants for regional carrier Sun Country picketed in Minneapolis (in February!).
The sleeper big story of this week may end up being 6,000 Caterpillar workers with four UAW locals walking out on strike (mostly in and around Decatur and Peoria, IL, but also a small group in York, PA) when the clock strikes midnight on March 1st, and their contract expires. The UAW’s typically closed-door negotiations means there’s been little press coverage, but workers overwhelmingly authorized a strike last month, and the company has been prepping for a strike since at least November (when salary-side non-union workers reached out to me). Workers have been watching their counterparts at Deere and CNH walk off the job over the past 18 months, and win big at Deere (where workers were already considerably better off than at Cat). Of course, Caterpillar’s labor claim to fame is the ill-fated battles of the 1990s, which earned the company one of the most vicious anti-union reputations of any big unionized manufacturer. That inspirational and tragic legacy will loom large over any potential walkout. If you don’t find it too rage-inducing, check out this scab staffing agency’s take on the dispute; their take is that the end of the CNH strike makes it easier to find Midwestern manufacturing scabs, but the tight labor market makes it harder.
After the protracted dispute among Senate cafeteria workers, it’s the House’s turn; some 155 UNITE HERE Local 23 members under two contracts (catering and dining) in DC are fighting megacontractor Sodexo for a similar deal as the one the Senate workers won last year.
SEIU Local 521 city workers in Bakersfield, CA picketed for a fair contract this week, as they’ve been working under an expired deal since July.
Coffee workers at three Somerville, MA cafes (shoutout Diesel) have ratified a union contract with UNITE HERE’s New England Joint Board; it is, in fact, possible for baristas to win a contract.
I don’t usually roundup bargaining statements or white papers, but I thought AFGE’s push to maintain telework – from a climate angle – was interesting. The union (and other white collar workers, especially in the public sector) has had rolling fights, agency by agency, to maintain pandemic-era telework policies, especially as workers have relocated and otherwise made lifestyle adjustments.
The Writers Guild has a date set – March 20th – to begin negotiations with the AMPTP, the employers association, before their contract expires May 1st. There’s a serious amount of strike speculation surrounding these talks, not least because the Directors Guild, which usually goes first and sets a sort of pattern for the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA, has deferred to the apparently-more-pissed-off Writers Guild. A big Hollywood walkout would be a heck of a way to inaugurate what could be the striking-est summer of the 21st century.
POLITICS & LEGISLATION
So, who’s going to be the next Labor Secretary? Julie Su seems to be the path of least resistance (and popular with labor and progressives), already being the deputy at DOL, but AFA-CWA’s Sara Nelson is now apparently in the conversation, as is the NFLPA’s ex-head DeMaurice Smith.
In Maryland, unions including the Machinists and AFSCME are pushing for multiple labor reform bills, as the supermajority blue state still doesn’t have universal collective bargaining for public employees.
INTERNAL UNION POLITICS
The ballot count in the UAW election runoff to determine the first-ever directly-elected president of the union will start at 9am on Wednesday, and we’ll probably have a good sense of the outcome by the end of the week. Turnout is up by about 40 percent from the first round, with the final number of ballots probably going to land just a little north of 140,000, of one million mailed (though 650,000 of those to retirees). The vote count comes almost six years after the first charges were brought in the Chrysler corruption scandal that triggered a Department of Justice consent decree that triggered a referendum on direct elections that triggered the union’s first-ever membership-wide direct leadership elections. In the final days of ballots being mailed back, and days before a potential Caterpillar strike, the International Executive Board voted to increase strike pay to $500 a week, which had been a hugely contentious fight at the union’s convention last summer.
In other national union election news, CWA incumbent president Chris Shelton is retiring ahead of the union’s July convention, and is endorsing Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens to succeed him. I haven’t seen other candidates announce their intention to run, but you also don’t usually see campaign websites for candidates who expect to run unopposed.
NYC’s TWU Local 100 experienced some union politics by other means.
New election filings at the NLRB: 1,566 UPenn medical residents in Philadelphia have officially filed their NLRB petition with CIR SEIU, while another 810 medical residents, this time at the University of Buffalo, are organizing with UAPD (AFSCME). Elsewhere in highly-educated unionism, 900 grad student workers at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH have filed for an NLRB election with the UE, as the grad worker organizing wave also rolls on. 150 healthcare workers in the Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit are organizing with UFCW Local 3000. 134 pharmaceutical manufacturing and warehouse workers for Topiderm in Amityville, NY are organizing with UFCW Local 342. 62 clerical workers subcontracted by Amentum to the Department of State in Sterling, VA are unionizing with Operating Engineers Local 99. 62 doctors, nurses, and midwives at Providence Women’s Clinic locations in and around Portland, OR are unionizing with the Oregon Nurses Association (AFT). 52 baristas at three stores in Somerville, MA, Branford, CT, and Sutton, WV (the state’s first!) are organizing with Starbucks Workers United. Another 39 dialysis clinic workers at a Fresenius in Elk Grove, CA are joining SEIU UHW. 19 cannabis workers at [deep breath] “Grow OP Farms LLC, dba Phat Panda LLC, dba Sticky Frog, dba Hot Sugar” in Spokane Valley, WA are unionizing with UFCW Local 3000. 18 plumbers for BLOX, which makes modular medical rooms in Bessemer, AL are joining UA Local 91. 18 Asplundh tree trimmers in Willow Grove, PA are unionizing with the Utility Workers, though most other Asplundh union shops are IBEW, as far as I’ve seen. 17 AV workers at NYC’s School of Visual Arts Theater are joining IATSE Local 306. 15 workers at green recycling outfit Zero Waste Energy in San Leandro, CA are joining Machinists Local 1546, though Teamsters Local 70 and ILWU Local 6 are listed as “involved parties” (which usually means they represent some members at the company, but that’s just my speculation and is a little confusing for a small outfit). 13 ER doctors at Providence Medical Center in Medford, OR are joining AFT Local 6552. 11 skilled hospital maintenance workers for UPMC Jameson in New Castle, PA are joining Operating Engineers Local 95. Nine food service workers at Green Sage Cafe in Asheville, NC are joining Teamsters Local 61. Eight dispatchers with the Texas New Mexico Power Company in Alvin, TX are joining IBEW Local 66. Three plumbers for Custom Plumbing in Crown Point, IN are joining UA Local 210. Three workers at construction equipment outfit Herc Rentals in Scott City, MO are joining Operating Engineers Local 513. Two more bank tellers with the Lake Michigan Credit Union in Bonita Springs, FL are joining CWA.
NLRB election wins…: 77 staffers at Freedom House, a democracy-promotion NGO (not the homeless shelter of the same name, as I mistakenly guessed when they first filed), voted 49-5 to join OPEIU Local 153. 72 drivers and dispatchers for FCC Environmental Services recycling company in Dallas voted 35-30 to join Teamsters Local 745. 31 non-profit staffers at the Western Massachusetts Training Consortium in Northampton, MA voted 8-6 to join UAW Local 2322. 29 ballet dancers at the Texas Ballet Theater in Fort Worth, TX voted 20-6 to join the American Guild of Musical Artists. 23 workers at Braeburn Alloy Steel in Lower Burrell, PA voted 19-4 to join the Steelworkers. 19 workers who make turbines for Ethosenergy in Houston voted 11-7 to join Carpenters Local 724. 13 construction workers for Caliber Concrete in Milton, WA voted 3-0 to join the Laborers.
…and losses: 28 warehouse workers, refinishers, and drivers for CORT Furniture in North Bergen, NJ voted 8-16 against joining Teamsters Local 814, who initially filed for an election in March of 2020.
Decertifications and raids: SEIU District 1199 WV/KY/OH narrowly survived a decertification attempt among 167 support staff at Cleveland’s Lutheran Hospital, 70-61.
In case you thought the UE wasn’t organizing enough grad student workers, the union has announced drives at the University of Minnesota (where the 4400 or so grad workers have started signing cards) and Princeton (where apparently a majority have already signed up; I’d like to think this is because of my hard work as an AFT staffer working on the Princeton grad for like a month six years ago). Elsewhere in higher ed, the UAW is organizing non-tenure-track faculty at NYU and at Harvard, where undergrad workers are organizing as well (though not, as far as I’ve seen, affiliated with an established union). And adjacent to higher ed, nurses at DC’s George Washington University Hospital are unionizing with the DC Nurses Association (NNU).
In a rare non-education or -healthcare related organizing drive (51% joking), 283 workers at a New Flyer electric bus plant in Shepherdsville, KY won a card check vote to join IUE-CWA (thanks to a reader for the tip, and sorry to my friend who worked on that campaign for erasing your valiant efforts).