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Transit Workers Win Organizing Victories: Worker Wins

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Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with a series of wins for transit workers and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. 

St. Louis Metro Transit Workers Agree to New Contract: After a months of difficult negotiations, working people at St. Louis Metro Transit won a new three-year deal that increases wages and benefits by more than $26 million. More than 1,500 Metro workers are members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 788 who work as vehicle operators and mechanics.

Southern Poverty Law Center Employees Vote for NewsGuild-CWA Representation: Employees of the Southern Poverty Law Center voted to join the Washington-Baltimore News Guild/TNG-CWA. The members will now move forward on setting a “foundation for a legacy of equal rights, respect and dignity for all workers, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, and national origin.”

UNITE HERE Members at The Modern in Hawaii Win New Contract: Members of UNITE HERE Local 5 at The Modern Honolulu reached an agreement with Diamond Resorts, which owns and operates the property. The agreement includes a significant pay raise.

Editorial Employees at NBC News Digital Join NewsGuild-CWA: Some 150 editorial workers who create digital content for NBC News have voted to join The NewsGuild of New York/TNG-CWA. The unit includes reporters, video journalists, editors, social media strategists, designers and editorial staff from various NBC digital properties.

Registered Nurses at University of Chicago Hospitals Join NNOC/NNU: Nurses at two University of Chicago hospitals overwhelmingly voted to join National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). More than the 90% of the 320 registered nurses voted to join NNOC/NNU. Kathy Haff, a RN for 27 years in the emergency department, said: “Joining the union means that we will now have a real voice in patient care decisions. We can be better advocates for our patients and make sure we have a say when policies are implemented.”

UAW Members Ratify New Fiat Chrysler Deal: After nearly five months of negotiations, UAW members approved a new four-year deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The deal decreases health care costs for lower-paid production employees, a key goal of the UAW.

New York MTA and Largest Union Reach Agreement: After six months without a deal, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and members of Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100 reached a tentative deal. Local President Tony Utano said: “I am happy to report that we have reached a negotiated settlement with the MTA that I believe the Local 100 membership will ratify in overwhelming fashion.” Previous proposals from management sought to cut back overtime payments, increase worker health care costs and limit vacation accruals for new employees.

Jews United for Justice Join NPEU: Working people at Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) announced they are unionizing with the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU), an affiliate of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE). The organization focuses on advancing economic, racial and social justice in the Baltimore-Washington area by mobilizing local Jewish communities into action. Rianna Lloyd, a JUFJ staffer, said: “We have campaigned for the rights of all workers in Maryland and [Washington,] D.C., including nonprofit employees. We know the importance of keeping dedicated, talented people on the job, and in negotiations we are going to focus on the well-being of JUFJ staff. We want to create a work environment that workers want to stay in.”

Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art to Voluntarily Recognize Employee Union: Two weeks after workers at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) launched a campaign to join AFSCME, MoCA agreed to voluntarily recognize the new union. The new unit will represent more than 120 staffers. The workers sought to unionize in order to obtain higher pay and better benefits.

Fairfax Connector Strike Ends with ATU and Transdev Reaching Agreement: A strike that shut down service for Fairfax Connector bus rides ended with a victory for Transdev employees. The tentative agreement allows workers to go back on the job while details of a bigger deal are negotiated. ATU International President John Costa said: “Our strike was a victory, sending a loud and clear message to Transdev that we won’t tolerate their unlawful tactics at the bargaining table. We do reserve the right to walk off the job again if the good faith bargaining by Transdev disappears.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on March 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

House Passes Bill to Dramatically Strengthen the Power of Unions

House Democrats just passed an important blueprint for strengthening unions and building worker power. If signed into law, the labor law reforms within the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would amount to the biggest change to the rules governing employers and workers in generations. Among other major features, it would bolster workers’ ability to unionize, expand organizing rights to more workers and strengthen the right to strike.

Although flawed­, the legislation would go a long way toward reversing decades of GOP-backed efforts to grind unions into dust.

“This is about stemming the assault that the Republicans are making on the rights of working men and women in our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who sponsored the PRO Act along with 218 other House members, including three Republicans, called the legislation the “most significant update in U.S. labor laws in 80 years” and “a major step towards creating an economy where everyone can succeed.”

But the PRO Act, which the House approved Thursday evening with a 224-194 vote (mostly along party lines), has essentially no chance of becoming law anytime soon.  Although 40 Democratic senators do support the Senate version of the bill, it is unlikely to be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate and will not be taken up for consideration during the current legislative session by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

So why did Speaker Pelosi bother bringing the bill to a floor vote this week? It’s an election year. The PRO Act strengthens Democrats’ claim to be the only party really fighting for the middle and working classes. And it hands organized labor a victory to point to, giving unions a rallying cry that could serve to solidify their members’ active support for whomever becomes the Democratic nominee later this year.

“Stand with us today and we’ll stand with you tomorrow,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at the press conference alongside Democrats.

None of this is to argue the PRO Act’s passage is solely a ploy by Democrats to shore up labor’s support as the campaign season lifts off. It signals the Democratic Party’s leftward movement since the 2016 election cycle. We’ve seen a wave of labor actions among teachers, journalists and nonprofits; it is no coincidence that the party has embraced an ambitious labor law reform bill amid this new organizing momentum. Democrats are shifting left along with the party’s base.

While it’s true that voting for a bill you know will not become law anytime soon isn’t exactly an act of political courage, members of Congress deserve applause for passing a measure that would clearly add muscle to a flailing union movement.

What the PRO Act would change

For about the last 40 years, employers have whittled away at labor power and unions through a host of unionbusting tactics. Meanwhile, GOP-controlled state legislatures have passed so-called “right to work” laws that have kneecapped unions by allowing employees to opt out of paying dues even though unions that still must represent them.

To counter all of this, the PRO Act, would among other things:

  • Penalize employers who fire or retaliate against workers trying to form a union.
  • Streamline the union certification process.
  • Prohibit employers from forcing employees to attend anti-union meetings, often deployed during organizing drives.
  • Eliminate right-to-work laws, which exist in 27 states.
  • Ban the permanent replacement of striking workers
  • Legalize secondary boycotts and picketing.
  • Make it harder to classify workers as independent contractors (similar to California’s AB5 bill, which Uber and Lyft are fighting).

It all adds up to a potential power rebalance that could help to counter rampant inequality and generally stagnant wages across vast swaths of the U.S. economy. Various groups aligned with business—from The National Retail Federation to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—are, of course, apoplectic over the proposed legislation.

Major omission

The PRO Act does indeed include a “grab bag” of measures for which unions have long been pushed. But there’s one big thing missing in the bill when it’s placed in the context of the last few decades of labor law reform campaigns: a provision allowing any group of employees to organize through a majority sign-up process (“card check”), rather than through a voting process monitored by the National Labor Relations Board.

Remember the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the reform law pushed by the labor movement during the 2008 election cycle that died in the U.S. Senate after passing through the House? Its centerpiece was card check, without conditions, making organizing much easier by circumventing the commonly drawn-out election process. The PRO Act only requires card check if an employer is found to have violated labor law during a failed union election.

It matters because card check alone could be as powerful as all of the PRO Act’s provisions for boosting union density and labor power. Strangely, the PRO Act, the biggest piece of labor law reform legislation in years, contains a watered-down version of EFCA’s centerpiece. Whether or not this signifies a strategic retreat on the part of Democratic leaders, who surely remember the battle over EFCA, is unclear. But it is puzzling, given that the PRO Act is—at least until the White House and the Senate flip to Democrats—mainly an aspirational statement of values and solidarity. Why not include card check as well, so there’s no daylight between the party and unions as the election approaches?

Card check is still an avowed goal of some legislators, namely, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who both laid out their plans for empowering workers and labor unions last year. (Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Andrew Yang also support card check.) The Sanders and Warren plans make the PRO Act seem relatively small bore, more tactical than structural in its approach to rewriting the rules workers must live by.

That does not mean the PRO Act is just window dressing; it would mark significant change if enacted. The House vote is notable, albeit essentially symbolic. A real victory must wait until Democrats win a Senate majority and the White House—and still prioritize rebuilding the labor movement as much as they did yesterday.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on February 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America’s War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

Bernie’s labor support snowballs

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Most national unions haven’t picked a favorite yet in the Democratic presidential primary.

It’s been a boon for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has already racked up 11 labor endorsements, more than any of his Democratic rivals, most of which are from local, regional and statewide unions. And some are among the most powerful labor organizations in early-voting and Super Tuesday states.

“He’s picking up more labor endorsements because the national unions, almost without exception, have not made endorsements, which implicitly or explicitly sets the local and regional unions free,” said David Kusnet, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton who co-authored a book with an ex-AFL-CIO president. “He has a lot of friends and fans and supporters in the union movement, and some of them are succeeding in pushing their local labor unions to endorse him.”

The local endorsements are filling the political void left by national unions, still gun-shy after the acrimonious 2016 primary election left many rank-and-file members furious that their leaders supported Hillary Clinton over Sanders. Most are staying neutral for now, including some that have longstanding relationships with Joe Biden.

Five unions have come out for Biden, including three international or national unions, and three have gone for Warren, one of which is a national group that also co-endorsed Sanders. None has endorsed Pete Buttigieg.

The support of labor unions such as New Hampshire’s SEIU Local 1984, which represents more than 10,000 members, gives Sanders a boost of momentum and ground troops in critical early-voting states. Sanders has also won the backing of large teachers local unions in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, and in Nevada.

“We will have boots on the ground, canvass for him, get out the vote,” said Rich Gulla, president of SEIU Local 1984. “He’s talking good-paying jobs, he’s talking health care. I think he’s resonating with labor and, quite frankly, with a lot of working people in this country that are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, and I think that’s why he’s getting the endorsements that he’s getting.”

Though Biden has fewer unions backing him, he won the support of two international unions that together represent nearly 400,000 U.S. members: the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Iron Workers. Sanders has three national unions behind him.

Given teachers’ and nurses’ close relationships with members in their communities, Sanders’ team is hopeful that their canvassing will be especially effective.

It’s unclear which candidates other labor groups will endorse as the primary unfolds. More building trades are expected to side with Biden at some point, and there is a possibility that some pro-Sanders local unions will put pressure on their national unions to put their weight behind him.

Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under the Clinton administration, suggested that Sanders’ success stems from his work courting unions and their members, including by proposing to offer them advantages if Medicare for All passed. Under his plan, businesses whose workers have union-negotiated health care coverage would have to renegotiate their contracts if single-payer became the law of the land — and direct any windfall to the employees.

“Sanders has been particularly diligent in appealing to unions and workers. He’s proposed expanding union power and doubling union membership during his first four years in office. He’s demonstrated solidarity with striking workers,” Reich said. “Many unions are still weighing other candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, but Bernie seems to be in the lead right now.”

Sanders might also be benefiting from the effort he’s made to professionalize his 2020 campaign, including his political operation. In 2016, he had no political director. Analilia Mejia, who previously worked for SEIU and UNITE HERE, is now his national political director.

“I come out of the labor movement. My deputy comes out of the labor movement. A bunch of the staff comes out of the labor movement,” she said. “I was talking to one labor leader and they were like, ‘It’s nice to talk to a campaign that understands the difference between a lockout and a strike.’”

Sanders’ campaign has also texted and emailed its supporters to encourage them to stand on picket lines and raise money for labor groups.

“When I was political director [for unions], the thing I most wanted was a big turnout at my actions. And we were like, ‘Hey, wait — we have a list of people who care about Bernie. Let’s tell them they should come out in solidarity,’” Mejia said.

While Sanders’ supporters in labor unions are campaigning for him in early states, the pro-Biden Fire Fighters are blanketing the same areas. In Iowa, international leaders are meeting with locals and educating them about the caucus process, including how to persuade people during the second alignment.

“That is when you can use the influence, the voice, your reputation with your neighbors to say, ‘Come stand with us. Stand with your firefighters and stand with Joe Biden,’” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the IAFF. “They trust you, they admire you, they hold you in high regard.”

This article was originally published by Politico on January 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.

Greater Boston Labor Council Makes History with Latest Election

Kalina Newman

The Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC), AFL-CIO, made history last week with the election of the first woman of color to its top office. Darlene Lombos takes over as executive secretary-treasurer, replacing Richard Rogers, who officially retired after leading the GBLC for the past 16 years.

Lombos brings more than 20 years of community and youth organizing experience in the labor movement to the position. She served as vice president of the GBLC and has been the executive director of Community Labor United since 2011. A vital asset to the greater Boston community, her work continues to protect and promote the interests of working-class families and communities of color in greater Boston and throughout the commonwealth.

“I am honored to lead such an amazing group of dedicated workers in the Boston area,” said Lombos. “Rich was a true mentor and I look forward to continuing his legacy of empowering working families for years to come.”

Rogers, a member of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 391, leaves behind an impressive legacy in the labor movement. Prior to leading the GBLC, Rogers served on the staff of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO for 21 years, 12 of those as the state federation’s political director. He was the chief organizer for several influential political campaigns, including Ted Kennedy’s 1994 U.S. Senate race and the elections of Jim McGovern and John Tierney to the U.S. House of Representatives. He played an integral role during his four terms as GBLC executive secretary-treasurer in growing and strengthening the Boston-area labor movement.

In recognition of his lifetime of hard work and dedication to the movement, The Labor Guild awarded the prestigious Cushing-Gavin Award to Rogers in December 2019.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on January 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kalina Newman is an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. Previously, she covered metro news for the Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in ARLnow, DCist, and the Washington City Paper. Kalina graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a degree in journalism.

Michigan steel mill closure announced two days after Trump told Michigan crowd ‘steel is back’

Donald Trump, Wednesday in Michigan: “Look what I’ve done for steel. I mean, the steel is back. We taxed all the dumb steel coming in from China and other places, and US steel mills are doing great — they’re expanding all over the country, and they were gonna be out of business within two years the way they were going.”

Friday, CNN reported that US Steel is closing its Great Lakes Works mill near Detroit, with a loss of 1,500 jobs. The company will shift steel production to a mill in Gary, Indiana, and will also continue making sheets of steel outside of Pittsburgh and in Arkansas.

Trump’s steel tariffs did briefly give the industry a boost, but obviously things are not going so well recently, and 1,500 workers are getting some terrible news for the holidays, though the facility won’t close until spring.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Loyola Marymount cafeteria workers win a deal, so Thursday’s debate will go on as scheduled

Happy holidays! This week’s gift is that the Democratic presidential debate will go on as scheduled on Thursday, Dec. 19, after food service workers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles reached a tentative deal with Sodexo, the company that employs them. All seven candidates who’ve qualified for the debate had said they would not cross a picket line, even if it meant missing the debate, and the Democratic National Committee was pressing for a resolution after Sodexo walked away from contract negotiations with the workers and their union.

DNC Chair Tom Perez, a former labor secretary, said, “I was proud to help bring all stakeholders to the table, including Unite Here Local 11, Sodexo and Loyola Marymount University, to reach a deal that meets their needs and supports workers.”

Workers will receive increased pay and job security and reduced healthcare costs under the tentative deal. That’s the value of organizing and solidarity, with the workers’ union, UNITE HERE 11, effectively using the leverage provided by the debate, and the Democratic candidates standing where they should, with workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Maine Union Members Answer the Call on Path to Power

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Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1253 member Tina Riley never had any desire to get involved in politics until she was recruited to run for the Maine Legislature in 2015.

She knew it would be a challenging race. The district was traditionally a union stronghold, but it had been trending conservative in recent years due to a decline in union membership caused by union busting, layoffs and mill closures. But with strong union support and preparation, Riley said, she had the tools she needed to run her first successful campaign in 2016, narrowly winning by 57 votes.

Riley was instrumental this session in requiring the use of registered apprenticeship programs on larger renewable energy projects as a way to build good jobs in the energy sector and blocking attempts to weaken electrical licensing standards.

“The state employees union and the teachers union are quite visible to the Legislature. They’re focused on the kinds of jobs in which their members are engaged. Most people are less aware of how trade unions operate,” Riley said. “Sometimes legislators would speak disparagingly of short-term construction jobs. They needed to hear that thousands of construction workers depend on those jobs to feed their families—and they did hear it. And it changed their thinking at times.”

Riley herself came into the union through an IBEW apprenticeship nearly 30 years ago and has worked as a maintenance mill electrician as well as run her own contracting firm with her husband, who is a union worker at the Rumford Mill.

For union members considering a run for office, she encourages them to take the Maine AFL-CIO Worker Candidate Training as well as meet with party leaders and local legislators to learn about the job.

“I think it’s essential that we, as a legislature, be extremely cost-conscious, but foremost, we need to consider the overall well-being of the people we serve,” Riley said. “Good jobs, with good pay and dignified treatment by our employers, is a critical piece of that overall well-being, and it is always the union voice that brings that perspective to the table.”

When Rep. Scott Cuddy, an IBEW 1253 member, talks about the need for more labor voices in the Maine Legislature, he gets pretty passionate.

“You can serve in the Legislature,” he advises union members. “Every union member that I’ve met who has shown any interest in politics could absolutely do a great job in the Legislature. And I really hope they do, because there needs to be more of us.”

Cuddy knew he wouldn’t have an easy path to the Statehouse when he made the decision to run. After losing his initial race in 2016, he persisted and won his seat in the 2018 election. He had just started a night job installing lighting on the Bar Harbor Airport runway, but he was able to campaign during the day and take candidate training offered by the Maine AFL-CIO.

“It was actually the best job I could have had in terms of getting the time to knock on doors,” he said. “So by the time I was done with that, I was so happy when the election rolled along.”

Cuddy says union members bring a unique perspective to government in that they have a sense of class consciousness and understanding of the employer-employee relationship. He says that many union members are uniquely suited to legislating because they understand how to negotiate, so they can prevent bills from getting watered down in the political process.

Cuddy emphasizes that union members also can have a positive influence on their colleagues. He noted that while some legislators may not want to listen to a union staffer, they are more willing to hear from other legislators on important labor bills.

“A lot of decisions get made in the caucus room,” Cuddy said. “People stand up, they make their pitch, and when you have union members in the room who can talk about the importance of collective bargaining rights, it carries a lot of weight.”

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on July 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Gillis is a writer at AFL-CIO.

Labor Activist Wins Primary Election for White Plains Common Council

Jenn Puja (IUOE), a labor activist and organizer, won her primary race for White Plains Common Council in New York this week. Puja, along with two other labor-endorsed candidates, advanced to the general election in November.

Puja received strong labor backing, including from Operating Engineers (IUOE) General President James T. Callahan, and thanked all unions for their work once the primary results were in. Puja said, “There’s a first for everything. This is the first time the primary has ever been in June. This was the first time I’ve ever run for office, ever. I’m overwhelmed, and I’m proud of the people-powered, grassroots, positive campaign that we’ve all run.”

If elected in November, Puja will be the youngest woman ever elected to the Common Council.

Puja is the labor council director for the Westchester-Putnam (N.Y.) Central Labor Body. She was born into a union family and has fully committed herself to the advancement of the union movement. She saw this election as an opportunity to increase her impact fighting for working people in White Plains and around the region.

Puja is proud to stand with her union brothers and sisters to support them with their local labor issues on picket lines, at rallies and behind the scenes. As an organizer, she has affiliated dozens of new locals as she cultivates coalition partners throughout Westchester and Putnam Counties.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on June 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Gillis is a writer at AFL-CIO.

Bernie Sanders staffers approve first-ever union contract for presidential campaign workers

Sanders’ campaign will be the first in U.S. presidential election history with a unionized staff, though a handful of down-ballot races in 2018 featured successful union drives through the new Campaign Workers Guild.

The contract secures overtime pay for campaign team members paid by the hour and 20 paid vacation days per year for hourly and salaried staff alike – plus four monthly “blackout days” where staffers can’t be called in to work on their day off. The pact establishes transparency about pay within the campaign and sets a process for appeals should anyone feel they’re being underpaid for the work they’re doing. But the detailed attention to pay equity doesn’t stop with those sunlight provisions.

The contract also sets a cap on managers’ pay. As United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400’s Jonathan Williams explained to ThinkProgress, no executive on the team can be paid more than three times the compensation of the highest paid category of rank-and-file campaign staffers in the bargaining unit. If the campaign wants to bump an executive past that point, they’d have to make commensurate raises in pay for the unionized campaign workers.

“This is an effort for us to live up to the values of the campaign and address income equality,” Williams said in an interview. “They can’t grant lavish salaries to their top executives, as it were, without first ensuring they’ve raised the compensation for all the unionized workers.”

The pay transparency clause requires management to share outside consultants’ compensation with the union in addition to compensation within management, but large consultant payouts would not necessarily trigger the automatic staff pay hikes built into the manager pay cap, Williams said.

Interns like Reg Ledesma, who served on the union’s bargaining committee, will be paid no less than $20 an hour. In addition, full-time volunteers will get first crack at staff positions when the campaign hires to expand, and all staff will receive “broad coverage for mental health care services,” a union press release characterizing the deal said.

“You feel more at ease knowing you’re backed up by the strength of the union,” Ledesma said in the release.

That holistic support goes far beyond pay. For instance, the blackout days policy epitomizes the way this contract uniquely confronts the notoriously endless scutwork of professional electoral politics. Days off are rare in the campaign world, and staffers are almost always “on call” even when not actively working. But under this policy, managers are required to accommodate the staffers’ blackout days requests or provide an alternative blackout day within three calendar days of the request — provided the staffer gives 24 hours notice prior to the request.

Figuring out how to structure a policy to provide truly restorative time off on a flexible basis proved challenging, Williams said, but both sides wanted to balance campaign employees’ enthusiasm for their work with the campaign’s need to have someone on call at all hours – without succumbing to the sleep-when-it’s-over burnout common to campaign staffers.

“You have highly motivated employees who want to see a campaign win and are willing to put in long hours, but we don’t want them to be disincentivized to take time off when they need it,” he said.

Campaign manager Faiz Shakir concurred: “These aren’t machines, these are humans. On the management side it’s important for us to respect that people are going to need time off, an opportunity to recharge, and disconnect for a moment if they can.”

The contract is “an opportunity to find those moments,” Shakir said in an interview. “They’re hard to come by in a campaign. But I think we can find them.”

The May 2 ratification vote among bargaining unit members was not unanimous, Williams said, but the proposed contract was approved with a majority of the 100 currently covered employees. The contract, like all steps of the unionization process, was accomplished in brisk fashion. Williams attributed the efficient bargaining process to the Sanders management team’s own enthusiasm for seeing its workforce organize.

Williams described the Sanders managerial team more as allies than adversaries in the unit-defining process as well.

“Where a hostile employer might only meet with you once a week or once a month… so that negotiations drag on forever, we were meeting multiple days a week for long days, and we were given all the time we needed with the bargaining committee to formulate proposals and solicit feedback from staff and all that. It was productive, thorough, and quick.”

“They were amicable to [our proposed unit structure]. It wasn’t contentious,” the union staffer said. “It was a model campaign.”

Shakir says the management team was driven by a sense of higher purpose. “It’s an opportunity not just for ourselves but to show and teach others that the process can be peaceful and productive.”

The deal also reflects an ongoing shift within the broader community of progressive institutions, which have traditionally relied on young and ideologically motivated people to accept relatively light entry-level pay and intensive schedules, with the promise of moving to jobs with better pay and greater influence dangled as the payoff for paying one’s dues. Unionization drives at major progressive nonprofits have altered the landscape – and Sanders’ embrace of a unionized campaign staff may raise labor standards for everyone who plies their trade in political campaigns.

“We’re hopeful that the Sanders campaign and so many other new entities that are unionizing will be educational to a new generation,” said Shakir. “Hopefully they’ll think, hey, that’s something we can repeat over and over again.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Alan Pyke  covers poverty and the social safety net. Alan is also a film and music critic for fun. Send him tips at: apyke@thinkprogress.org or

 

Stop & Shop Workers Vote to Ratify Contract—Although Benefits Will Shrink for New Part-Timers

On Wednesday, May Day, the last of five United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals ratified a new three-year contract with Stop & Shop, following a 10-day strike—one of the largest the U.S. private sector has seen in years. Workers at Local 1459 in Springfield, Mass., voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new contract—in line with near-unanimous approvals by four other locals since the strike ended April 21.

The strike began in the week leading up to Easter, when 31,000 UFCW union members across New England walked off the job after Stop & Shop said it needed to “adapt to market conditions” to compete with behemoths like Walmart and Whole Foods/Amazon. Noting it is the only fully unionized grocery chain in New England, one with a pension plan and above-industry wages, the company proposed raising healthcare premiums, freezing overtime rates for part-time workers (who make up 75% of its workforce) and reducing pension benefits for non-vested employees.

UFCW members viewed these proposals as steps toward a two-tiered workforce, with full-time Stop & Shop employees at one level and part-time workers at another.

“I don’t think it’s right—it should all be equal,” says Mike Landry, an assistant meat manager who’s worked for 37 years at the Northampton store. “That’s why the union is fighting.”

Given the Easter holiday, one of the year’s busiest weeks for grocery shopping, the timing of the strike was particularly rough for Stop & Shop, owned by Dutch retail giant Ahold Delhaize. The company reportedly lost between $90 million and $110 million in sales, or about 3% of projected 2019 profits.

At one Stop & Shop in Northampton, Mass., the supermarket was virtually empty while picketers held signs outside, discouraging shoppers from entering the store. Inside, the bakery was closed, along with the deli, meat and seafood counters. The produce selection was hit or miss. A single-digit skeleton crew of workers outnumbered customers, and only self-service checkout was available. To keep the lights on at the company’s 246 stores in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, Stop & Shop brought in replacement workers and sent corporate office employees to man the stores.

The grocery chain also hired temporary truck drivers and warehouse workers after about 1,000 Teamsters union members refused to cross UFCW picket lines. Management had to scramble to get food into stores and trash out the doors.

Ratcheting up pressure on the company was possible thanks to picket line protection language in Teamster contracts, says Sean O’Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25. “We enforced that language—we will never cross a picket line,” O’Brien says. “After their shifts were over, hundreds upon hundreds of Teamsters would go down and walk the picket lines.”

Out on the picket line in Northampton, Susan Jacobsen, 72, a member of UFCW Local 1459, and her colleagues saw solidarity firsthand: Local elected officials and customers joined in. Rabbis across the region told congregations it’s “not kosher” to shop at Stop & Shop ahead of Passover. A handful of U.S. presidential candidates joined picket lines, too. And members of a slew of unions—teachers, nurses, building trades workers and public sector workers—all helped support striking workers by joining picket lines and providing resources, O’Brien says.

“It’s been absolutely fabulous,” says Jacobsen. A bakery worker with Stop & Shop for 21 years, this was her first-ever strike. She picketed every day.

“If you firmly believe in the principles you’re standing for, there’s nothing onerous about it,” Jacobsen says. “People need to stand up for what’s right.”

When asked whether he would vote to ratify a new contract, David Morse, a UFCW Local 371 member in the Northampton store’s seafood department, said he’d be disappointed if future part-time hires see frozen overtime pay or reduced pension benefits. But, “it won’t stop me from voting for it,” he said. “We went through hell just to get what we have.”

When the strike ended, there was plenty for the UFCW to celebrate. Stop & Shop gave up its push to force employees’ spouses to take any health insurance offered by their own employer. The union also said Stop & Shop “kept healthcare affordable” with “low deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.” The new contracts also hold the line on all sick time, personal days and paid holidays for current and future employees—Stop & Shop had wanted to reduce paid holidays and sick days for future employees.

But the company got some of what it wanted as well. New part-time workers won’t see time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays, as current employees do. Instead, they’ll get a premium (e.g., an extra $1.50 per hour the first year) that will grow to a time-and-a-half rate after three years of employment. And then there’s this: The new contracts significantly reduce pension benefits for new part-time hires. While a current part-timer gets $225 per month after working 10 years, a new part-time would get $100, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported.

“It came down to, we had to get people back to work,” Tim Melia, president of Local 328 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International, told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “There were a few things we weren’t that happy with. At the end of the day,” he said, “we had to accept this contract, and it was worth bringing back to the members.”

But across the country, unionized chains are still on the defensive. “There’s nothing left of Shaw’s, A&P, Pathmark, Waldbaum’s, Tops and Grand Union,” industry analyst Burt Flickinger told the Hartford Courant. “The Walmart bear is eating all the union competition.”

“I did this for other people’s children, for my grandchildren,” Jacobsen says as she restocks a shelf with cakes on her first day back at work. “We have got to stop this, putting people in tiny wages with no benefits.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at In These Times. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America’s War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. A

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