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Rutgers Strike Wins Big, But More is Needed to Change Higher Education

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After a five-day strike in April, members of the Rutgers faculty, graduate student, librarian, and clinician unions voted 93 percent to accept a new contract which included dramatic gains.

The strike was the first in Rutgers’ 253-year history, and remarkable in that all instructional workers walked out, including full-time faculty, grad workers, and adjuncts. Rutgers is the oldest large public university in New Jersey with 67,000 students.

The agreement includes big salary gains: 30 percent for the lowest-paid adjuncts in the first year, and 43 percent across the life of the contract, plus 33 percent raises for graduate teaching and research assistants. For adjuncts, it also includes multi-semester and multi-year appointments — a first — as well as professional development funding, binding arbitration for grievances, quicker and new paths to advancement, and a new title (we’re no longer “part-time” lecturers, but simply “Lecturers”).

The seeds of the decision to withhold our labor were sown several years ago. The executive board of the adjunct union was united in the belief that transformative contracts are only won through a massive organizing effort that credibly threatens a strike.

Bargaining: Open and United

While the university refused to recognize the merger (as we expected), the critical principle had been established: we saw ourselves as One Faculty, and demanded in the forthcoming contract campaign that management engage us that way.

That’s precisely what happened. We fought for open bargaining principles to shape negotiations, with considerable (if not complete) success. For example, management tried to limit our numbers at bargaining sessions. On one occasion, as our strike loomed, they refused to enter the room with 50 members observing our negotiations. We held firm, voted, and insisted that we’d only meet with our co-workers present. Ten minutes later, management entered the room to bargain with us.

We also negotiated across all job categories as if we were one bargaining unit: postdocs, grad workers, counselors, adjuncts, non-tenure track, and tenure track faculty. While management initially resisted this, eventually they acceded. Throughout the bargaining process, they seemed thrown off guard by our unity.

Another key element of maintaining unity was that the three faculty unions took our strike authorization votes at the same time. The energy for the strike was unprecedented: 80 percent participation among those eligible to vote, and 95 percent in favor. The effort to organize ourselves into a strike-ready workforce not only set the conditions for the gains we would make, but transformed our unions in the process.

Once the strike began, member participation on the picket lines and creative protests demonstrated our strength, and generated media attention and political pressure on the university. Student supporters of the union rewrote the 1961 Bruce Channel song “Hey Baby” to pressure university president Jonathan Holloway, singing, “Hey Holloway, I want to know, will you raise my wage?” It was very catchy, and went viral on social media. Our singing and dancing and vibrant picket lines garnered student and community support.

Debating the End

The day before the strike was called, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy offered to host negotiations if we postponed the strike for 48 hours. We welcomed the support from the governor, but we refused postponement. The strike was where our power lived, and we could not halt it on promises of a better deal.

Once negotiations shifted to Trenton, engagement with the governor’s office was tricky. While the state came up with additional funds to support our demands, the governor also wanted us to end the strike to approve a “framework” for the contract. The framework was reached after grueling, week-long negotiating sessions designed to pressure both sides to move toward an agreement.

Right Call?

The unions’ leadership bodies ultimately called for a suspension of the strike, while the bargaining teams continued to negotiate the remainder of the contract. At the same time, we made clear that we would be willing to return to the picket lines if necessary — the strike was “suspended, not ended.”

This was a controversial decision, and it merits a debate. A sizable minority within the union’s governing bodies believed the strike was suspended at a time when the unions retained power to press for greater gains. They called for a delay in signing the framework to further discuss the matter over the weekend. But the governor was threatening to remove tens of millions of dollars he had previously committed if the framework was not agreed to that evening and the strike suspended.

Though it was never overtly stated, it was also suggested that were the framework not accepted that night, Rutgers would seek (and likely receive) an injunction declaring the strike unlawful, something it had not done to that point due to the governor’s request. Under this scenario, if the strike continued, adjunct faculty and perhaps other striking workers could have faced firings.

Whether the unions made the right choice in a highly fraught moment should certainly be debated. What is clear, however, is that without the decision to withhold our labor, few of the enormous gains we made would have been realized. In short, we learned that if you are not preparing to strike, you are not preparing to win.

More remains to be won, but for now, we celebrate our gains, and our historic strike that made them possible.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at Labor Notes on May 11, 2023.

About the Authors: Bryan Sacks is the vice president of the Part-Time Lecturer Faculty Chapter AAUP-AFT Local 6324, the Rutgers adjuncts’ union. Michael Beyea Reagan is an adjunct at Rutgers University and a rank-and-file member of Local 6324.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions.


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Opinion: “Police Unions are Spitting in the Face of Solidarity”

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Hamilton Nolan

This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into a law a bill aimed at making it much harder for public employee unions to exist and function. Watching a Republican governor with his eye on the White House aim a crude legislative club at public unions is a familiar sight.

Rather than dwelling on why DeSantis is an oily bum, let us use this opportunity to discuss another, unseen villain in this sickening process: police unions. 

Unions disagree on all types of things. They have different memberships. They have different priorities. Some are conservative and some are liberal. But the one thing that all unions should agree on is that every worker deserves a union. Every union should be willing to speak up when access to unions is under attack. And, in general, every union does.

Except police unions.

The bitterest irony of all is that major public unions like the American Federation of Teachers or AFSCME have always been unwilling to support measures cracking down on police unions, because they fear that any support for restraining public unions will be used against their own members. Okay. How’s that working out? 

Now the teachers in Florida are getting railroaded, and the cops are exempt, and the cops are just fine with it. That is unconscionable. There should be zero doubt in any honest labor leader’s mind that police unions would happily stand by while every other union in America was crushed — as long as they were okay themselves.

Kicking police unions out of the AFL-CIO would not deny cops the basic right to unionize. It would just prevent the police unions from drawing on the power that the solidarity of the entire labor movement gives them, and then spitting in the face of the rest of the labor movement when it is time to show some solidarity back to us.

For the past week, I have been walking picket lines with members of the Writers Guild who are on strike. The solidarity has been incredible.

The actors of SAG-AFTRA are out there every day. So are the TV and film workers in IATSE. The truck drivers in the Teamsters have routinely refused to cross our picket lines, shutting down a number of TV productions. I’ve seen teachers and musicians and laborers wearing their own union shirts and carrying picket signs next to us. They do so not for personal gain, but because they understand solidarity. It is an incredibly heartening experience.

Have I seen any police unions? Ha. Funny. Of course not. Never.

Yesterday, on a picket line in Brooklyn, one cop showed up in his official capacity, to keep an eye on things. I had been contemplating this column, so as I marched past him, I hollered out, “Where’s your union? Why aren’t you out here?” He smiled at me and gave a friendly laugh, as if I was kidding.

No, man. I was serious. But I can see why you wouldn’t think so. You’re in a police union. Worker solidarity is one big joke to you.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on May 10, 2023.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. 

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions.


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Union “Salting” Tactics Need Revival

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Today’s revival of union “salting” could not be more welcome or more urgently needed.

A tactic as old as the labor movement itself, salting describes going to work in an unorganized workplace where there may be a chance to help initiate new union organizing.

It’s also a label for taking jobs at already unionized employers, hoping to play a positive role. But here I will deal with the former: taking jobs to help spur new organizing.

LABOR’S CRISIS

Whatever amount of salting is underway today — it’s impossible to precisely measure — it cannot come soon enough. The U.S. labor movement is mired in a crisis that threatens its very existence.

A bare fringe of the working class, 10 percent, belongs to a union. The rate of unionization has been cut in half in the past 40 years.

Virtually all employers are ferociously anti-union, and they’ve been able to construct enormous legal and illegal obstacles to unionization efforts.

The unorganized workplace is a de facto dictatorship of ever-lower wages and living standards, where blue collar, white collar, and even professional workers are held helpless in the employer’s grip.

With an army of unorganized workers arrayed against the dwindling union garrison, it is unlikely that any further forward progress for the existing unions or the working class as a whole will be possible without a revival of union organizing on a larger scale.

Widespread salting can and must be a component of these urgently needed organizing campaigns.

CRISIS BY THE NUMBERS

Union organizing efforts today are at best incidental and sporadic. Occasional large or name-brand campaigns achieve some media attention and provide an illusion of union vitality.

Several recent sizeable graduate student wins, the Starbucks movement, Amazon, and activity in the nonprofit sector are all welcome — but are still collectively too small to reverse the overall decline.

Organizing efforts in the public sector are largely stalled, with union recognition still banned in many states and localities. In the private sector, the number of National Labor Relations Board-supervised union authorization elections now hovers at historically low levels.

I joined the labor movement in 1979; that year 7,266 NLRB elections were held, with a union win rate of almost 45 percent.

In 2021, the number of union elections fell below 1,000, with a win rate not much more than 50 percent. The 2022 numbers show some improvement, but nothing approaching what’s needed.

The size of the units organizing today has also shrunk significantly, translating into far fewer workers organized.

While the U.S. union movement is the most financially wealthy union movement on planet Earth, allocations of resources to tackle the organizing crisis are minuscule and often short-lived. (See Chris Bohner’s “Viewpoint: It’s Time to Tap into Labor’s Fortress of Finance.”

The 2022 AFL-CIO Convention’s much-publicized “transformational” organizing initiative remains invisible. Some individual unions have increased the resources they are dedicating to new organizing, but the sheer size of the task demands far more. Salting is one way that activists can dive in to initiate organizing and pull the institution along.

SALTING CONTROVERSIAL?

Employers decry salting as illegitimate. In fact, they routinely allege that workers who help lead any union organizing campaign in the workplace are “union plants.”

Bosses allege this even when it’s an absurdity — the sincerity and authenticity of everyone who challenges their total control must be discredited.

Anti-labor politicians occasionally team up with employers to denounce salting, in an attempt to somehow scandalize it. Bogus Congressional hearings have been held from time to time to denounce salting.

The current salting efforts at several name-brand corporations may catch the attention of these extremist anti-union elements in the current Congress. So be it. Their clumsy efforts in the past, given to shrill hyperbole and wild exaggeration, have always fallen flat.

The defense of labor’s salting projects must take an above-board, straight-on approach: Salting is often the required form of resistance to the employer’s workplace dictatorship.

When organizing is a de facto illegal act — when workers are fired and victimized by the tens of thousands for exercising their paper right to unionize — salting is the completely justified response.

It acts as a catalyst for the workers already on the job who are frequently supportive of unions but nearly purged of hope and terrified of organizing, for fear of retaliation. When the workplace has been reduced to this situation, those who confront it as salts are doing truly commendable work.

Ultimately, all of us are salts.

We have no means to earn a living other than finding a boss to hire us — and why shouldn’t we desire to start a union, or strengthen an existing union, while we’re there?

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on May 3, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Chris Townsend has been a union member, organizer, and staff member for 44 years, spending the bulk of his career as a staffer for the United Electrical Workers and the Amalgamated Transit Union. He can be contacted at cwtownsend52@gmail.com.

Visit this Workplace Fairness page to learn more about unions.


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Labor Movement Growth: Its Seeds are Spreading

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Hamilton Nolan


In 2015, a group of my colleagues and I decided to try to unionize our company, Gawker Media. This mostly involved an intense, weeks-long process of speaking to everyone we worked with to convince them why this would be a good idea.

As we did that, one thing became clear: Even in a newsroom populated overwhelmingly by outspoken left-wingers, most people didn’t know that much about unions.

How did they work? What were the rules? We encountered not hostility so much as people chewing over, for the first time, something they had never really considered.

There were two obvious reasons for this. First, there were not many unions in our particular industry at the time, so few people had ever been union members before. And second, only one in ten workers in the whole damn country were union members, meaning that, unlike in past generations, few people had grown up with a parent or friend or relative who was a union member.

A consequence of the long term dwindling of union density was that casual contact with unions had also dwindled. Fewer people had a mom who was a shop steward, an uncle who went on strike or a friend who could tell them about a great new contract at their job. Lower union membership meant more widespread ignorance about what unions were all about — which, in turn, meant that every new organizing drive was more of an uphill battle. The decline of unions in the past drove further decline in the present. 

But this dynamic also runs in reverse.

As more and more companies in our industry unionized, unions rapidly evolved from a novelty to a necessity. The people who won a union at one workplace told their friends at the next workplace. It spread. It became less mysterious. For non-union workers, every new union somewhere else was a reminder that they might be missing out on something. After four or five years, it started to be more noticeable when a newsroom wasn’t unionized. The idea, made real, sold itself. 

Here is some good news: This snowball effect that propels the labor movement forward is getting big now.

Big enough to pay attention to. Think about the implications of the fact that tens of thousands of people in higher ed — most of them grad and undergrad workers — have unionized in just the past two years. Tens of thousands more of them, already unionized, have gone on strike.

A characteristic of this particular group of workers is that the vast majority of them are not going to spend their entire careers on college campuses. They will go through these big union drives, contract fights, and strikes, and then they will go out into the world. All over the place. Credentialed in every field, they will go to white collar offices and blue collar jobs and, no doubt, into service and retail jobs.

Each one of them is a seed that can grow another union wherever they end up. Tens of thousands of young people, all former union members, experienced in labor battles, percolating into every crevice of the working world. Tens of thousands of young people who know what unions can do, who know how organizing is done, who are harder to trick with anti-union lies, filtering into countless non-union workplaces. Everywhere. 

This is how it spreads. This is what we need.

Every union is important for its own members, but what is even more important about the current wave of campus union activity is that it has big numbers of people involved, and those people are about to scatter like dandelion seeds blown in the wind. The most vital legacy of these higher ed unions will not be what they do on campus, but what they lead to everywhere else. 

There is another ingredient adding fuel to this fire: attention.

The past decade’s widespread unionization of media outlets did not produce a huge number of new union members, but it did produce a drastic increase in reporters who were interested in organized labor, which led to more coverage. That interest found a home, most notably, in the union drives at Starbucks and Amazon, lending both of those campaigns a national importance that exceeds their raw numbers. 

I spent the past year reporting and writing a book about the labor movement, and everywhere I went, people told me that they were inspired by Starbucks and Amazon.

The increased media focus on labor combined with these name brand campaigns has elevated the idea of unions into the national consciousness.

Every big strike that makes the news helps. If screenwriters go on strike on May 1, as looks possible, Hollywood will shut down, and labor power will grab center stage every time anyone turns on their TV. Even normies have heard of this stuff.

This may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t. It provides people with a reference point — a mental foundation to build on. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on April 20, 2023.


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Watch for Employers Using Benefits as Bargaining Chips

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It’s never a bad idea to be suspicious of your boss, especially when they act like they’re doing you a favor. For workers at FrontLine Service, a Cleveland non-profit that serves the unsheltered, distrust of our employer is one of the critical sentiments that binds us.

FrontLine workers, members of Service Employees Local 1199, provide crucial services to some of the most marginalized and neglected people in Northeast Ohio. Every day, we assist folks struggling with mental health crises, substance abuse, lack of housing, and other hardships.

The work is arduous and the pay is low, but we do what we can to serve the communities in which we live and work.

Last June, our contract with FrontLine was ratified by a narrow margin. Throughout negotiations, there was a persistent sense shared by the bargaining committee that management wasn’t telling us the truth. We were continually given vague, cliché-ridden responses to our inquiries.

As the window for negotiations closed, it appeared that a strike was imminent. However, the minor contract gains we managed to achieve were enough to win the approval of a slim majority.

SUDDENLY THEY LIKE IT

Nearly all of our most ambitious demands were rejected. One such demand was for the implementation of a four-day workweek: 32 hours a week, an additional full day off, with benefits and wages reflecting whatever increases were won through bargaining.

As appealing as the idea of a shortened workweek was to us, none of us thought it had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting added to the contract. If anything, we thought that it could be a bargaining chip we’d give up in order to obtain something else.

So, we were surprised when a few months later management requested to meet with us to discuss how a four-day workweek pilot project could be implemented.

The first draft of management’s proposal included stipulations that would lengthen the workday, cut worker benefits by 15 percent, reduce sick, personal, and vacation leave, and increase the daily productivity standard by an hour.

The proposed pilot would involve 25 out of a workforce of 300 people. This small sample for the pilot is, we believe, inadequate for measuring the four-day workweek’s effectiveness and, more importantly, could undermine solidarity and divide workers.

DID OUR HOMEWORK

In our counterproposal submitted to management March 23, we made it clear that we will not accept any modifications or reductions to hard-won gains in our contract.

Members of our bargaining committee conducted extensive research and we had several illuminating meetings with employers who successfully implemented a four-day workweek, both non-profits and for-profits.

All this suggested that FrontLine’s proposed pilot would be a failure. Cutting benefits, lengthening the workday to 9 hours (a 36-hour workweek), and increasing productivity requirements would diminish any advantages a four-day workweek could offer workers.

When we pushed back in our meetings, management offered some version of the same answer we received during negotiations last summer: “We would if we could, but we can’t.” FrontLine’s revenue, which exceeded $28 million in 2022, is mostly acquired through government grants and Medicaid billing.

When we asked if they had made any good faith efforts to obtain increased funding to raise wages, retain staff, and attract new workers, management declined to respond.

DISTRACTION FROM WAGES

As the concept of a four-day workweek becomes more mainstream, we would be wise to consider how employers and their consultants are responding to the idea’s increased popularity.

In the case of FrontLine, it appears that management’s proposal for a four-day workweek pilot is a Trojan Horse.

Once implemented, management could, through a clause in their proposal giving them “unilateral authority” during the duration of the pilot, refuse to negotiate terms and conditions with our union.

FrontLine Service is severely understaffed, so much so that in February they formally asked Cuyahoga County to search for other non-profits that could replace workers in at least one FrontLine building.

According to management, understaffing is why they want to pilot a four-day workweek. If they can retain staff and attract new workers, they figure they might be able to keep their lights on a little longer. It also would allow FrontLine to appear ‘progressive,’ while they continue to neglect our real concerns.

Management’s proposal delivers a two-fold blow to workers: It allows them to manipulate our contract without negotiating with us, and it distracts from the question of higher wages.

Compared to other agencies offering similar services, FrontLine’s wages are deplorable, with some workers making as little as $15 an hour. Prior to the ratification of our most recent contract, the lowest-paid workers made $13 an hour.

During negotiations last summer, our committee repeatedly told management that if they want to retain and attract workers, they need to offer higher wages. “We would if we could,” management told us, “But we can’t.”

We are waiting for management’s response to our counterproposal. Whether the pilot will favor workers or management, or whether there will be a pilot at all, is yet to be determined.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on March 30, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Adam Barrington is a supportive housing case worker. He is a member of SEIU 1999 and the Industrial Workers of the World.


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Make One Big Higher Ed Union

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Hamilton Nolan

Higher ed is unionizing. Like crazy!

Last year, every single one of the five largest filings for NLRB union elections in America — each representing more than 3,000 members — were for graduate workers at various universities. University of California workers pulled off the biggest strike of 2022. New units of more than 1,000 people, rare in most of the union world, have become commonplace in academia.

This wave shows no sign of slowing. Just this month, thousands more grad workers at the University of Minnesota and Duke filed for elections. Since the beginning of 2022, more than 45,000 graduate and undergrad workers have made moves to unionize, according to Daily Union Elections, a site that catalogs union filings. And those workers have been voting “yes” for unions at nearly a 90% clip.

In many cases, these newly formed grad worker unions spring up alongside existing unions covering adjunct and full time faculty, as well as various service workers, on their same campus. In aggregate, higher ed today is the largest and most aggressively organizing industry in the union world.

There’s just one problem: They don’t have their own union. Until they do, they will never be able to exercise their full power in the fragmented and territorial union world. And that is bad news for all of us.

Thousands of newly organized grad workers have joined UE, a progressive union whose roots are among industrial workers. Thousands more are in UAW, making up a significant minority of the auto workers union. Other higher ed units are sprinkled among AFT (a teachers union), SEIU (a service workers union), CWA (a communication workers union), Unite Here (a hospitality workers union) and other big unions. All of those unions have one thing in common: They are not higher ed unions. They are unions that (admirably) organized higher ed workers.

Now, I ain’t criticizing anyone here. This is, in many ways, how union organizing should work.

When a gusher of interest leaps up in an unorganized sector, existing unions should see it as an opportunity, and should be happy to offer their services to draw these workers into the labor movement. Many different unions have done this in higher ed. Great! Love it! But this should be understood as one stage in an evolving process — a process that proceeds towards the creation of one big union with all of higher ed under one roof.

Today, the overflowing energy among grad workers specifically is powerful enough to be the engine that unifies all the splintered, existing units into one.

There are two main reasons to do this.

One is the same reason that all industries could benefit from having a single union representing all of its workers: It concentrates the industry’s labor power in one place and creates the strongest possible counterweight to the power of the industry’s employers.

Industrial unions, especially ones that can achieve high union density, are the most effective way to achieve a balance of power not just in one workplace, but in an entire field of employment. The industry-wide issues well known to all struggling workers in higher ed — the gig-ificiation of teaching, political assaults from right wing politicians, declining state budgets — take industrial strength to combat. Ten separate unions have a harder time concentrating their firepower than one big one does. This is a basic insight that should, ideally, drive all long-term labor organizing in America.

Unfortunately, unions have grown so weak that we tend to be grateful to find anyone willing to organize workers, and seeing these groups coalesce into a real industrial union becomes a faraway luxury. But guess which industry, above all others, now has the density and the fire to ascend to the next stage of development? That’s right — it’s higher ed.

This is not some grand insight. There is, in fact, a group called Higher Ed United that brings the many unions together for discussions and strategy. But there is not, so far, a meaningful effort to do the (tedious, time-consuming, and very worthwhile) work of starting a new union for these hundreds of thousands of workers to be a part of, as one.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 21, 2023.


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How to Avoid No-Strike Contract Clauses

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One thing you can be sure of when bargaining your first contract: management will demand a contract clause barring strikes while the agreement is in effect.

No-strike clauses took hold in the 1940s. During World War II, the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and defense industry executives issued no-strike/no-lockout pledges to guarantee production. When the war ended, many union leaders, apparently seduced by the experience of “labor peace,” agreed to similar pledges in their collective bargaining agreements.

Today, an overwhelming percentage of U.S. labor contracts, 94 percent according to a survey by the Bureau of National Affairs, contain no-strike clauses.

NO-STRIKE LANGUAGE

A typical no-strike clause reads: The union hereby agrees that no employee shall engage in, induce, or encourage any strike or work stoppage. The union also agrees that neither it nor any of its officers or agents will call, initiate, authorize, or participate in any such strike, work stoppage, slowdown, sickout, or other withholding of services.

Once a no-strike clause is ensconced in the contract, it is almost impossible to remove it. For years to come, employers will be free to fire workers who have the temerity to stop work to protest abusive employer conduct or blatant violations of the labor agreement.

Moreover, courts may order the union to pay the employer for lost income or property. To top it off, the employer may be permitted to rescind the entire labor agreement.

Note: It is not widely known, but provisions in U.S. labor law allow workers to violate no-strike provisions in order to protest “abnormally dangerous” working conditions or serious unfair labor practices that “substantially undermine” the integrity of the contract (see Section 502 of the National Labor Relations Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Arlan’s Department Store decision).

Nonetheless, few arbitrators or courts have had the courage to enforce such laws to overturn discharges or dismiss employer lawsuits.

INITIAL RESPONSES

Initially, a union may want to assert that a no-strike provision is so anti-union, so deep a concession, or so dangerous to members and officers that it will not even consider allowing such language in the contract.

Other Countries

French law says the right to strike is a constitutional privilege that cannot be waived in a collective bargaining agreement.

Canada, on the other hand, says strikes are only lawful before a labor contract takes effect or after it expires — in essence creating mandatory no-strike clauses.

Many U.S. states prohibit government employees from striking at any time. Nonetheless, public authorities invariably demand that public sector contracts include no-strike clauses.

Under the NLRA, however, a no-strike clause is a “mandatory” subject of bargaining. This means the union must discuss the matter in good faith with the employer and explain its objections.

Nothing in the NLRA, however, requires a union to agree to a no-strike clause. Moreover, because a no-strike clause is a mandatory subject of bargaining, the union may strike to keep it out of the contract.

If the union cannot keep a no-strike clause out of the contract, there are several ways to make it less damaging. As a first matter, the union should demand that the language be clearly restricted to the contract term. The union must be able to strike when the contract expires.

Second, the union should argue that the ban on strikes be limited “to matters that are subject to the union grievance procedure.” If a dispute does not fall within the definition of a grievance or, for other reasons, cannot be taken to binding arbitration, why should the union disarm itself by agreeing not to strike?

Third, the union should demand that strikes be permitted in certain circumstances. One is when all of the pre-arbitration steps in the union grievance procedure have been exhausted (like in the GE contracts mentioned below.) Another should permit strikes against serious unfair labor practices or unusually dangerous working conditions.

Another should permit the union to respect bona fide picket lines set up by other unions (i.e., sympathy strikes). For example, the Teamsters national UPS agreement protects drivers’ right to refuse to cross primary picket lines.

Fourth, the union should demand the removal of any language barring it from taking part in other pressure tactics during the contract term: for example, peaceful demonstrations, rallies, bannering, and boycotts.

Fifth, the union should demand language that protects itself if workers engage in spontaneous work stoppages without direction or leadership by the union. Example: “The Union shall not be liable for damages resulting from unauthorized actions of its members.”

GOLD STAR UNIONS

Some unions have bargained deep concessions from employers on strike rights. The IUE-CWA contract with General Electric has long allowed the union to strike mid-contract if a matter cannot be resolved in the grievance procedure.

The Teamsters Central Region UPS Supplemental Agreement allows the union to strike over grievances that are not resolved at the last step of the grievance process, which involves the company president of labor relations and the union national package director.

The Teamsters National Master Freight Agreement allows the union to strike if the employer fails to carry out a final decision of a grievance committee or reneges on a settlement.

The Longshore (ILWU) contract with the Pacific Maritime Association allows the union to refuse work: (1) in case of a good faith fear of a health or safety risk; (2) in the event of an “onerous” workload; or (3) to avoid crossing a bona fide picket line.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on February 27, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Robert Schwartz is a labor attorney and the author of “No Contract, No Peace: A Legal Guide to Contract Campaigns, Strikes, and Lockouts.”

Learn more about unions here.


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Rail Workers of the World, Unite!

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Maximillian Alvrez

From unions in the United States fighting to save our supply chain from the destruction wrought by corporate tycoons, Wall Street vampires, and bought-off politicians, to the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT) leading the fight against austerity politics and ruling-class union busting in the United Kingdom, to rail workers with the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in France joining their compatriots in the streets in a general strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s neoliberal attack on the country’s beloved pension system, rail workers around the world are fighting different battles in the same war: the class war. 

In this special international episode, we bring together a panel of rail workers from the US, UK, and France to talk about what they are up against, what the struggle looks like in their corners of the world, and what we can all do to connect those struggles and build international worker solidarity. 

Panelists include: Ross Grooters of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and Railroad Workers United in the US; Cat Cray and Clayton Clive of the RMT in the UK; Matthieu Bolle-Reddat of the CGT Cheminots Versailles in France.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 3, 2023 alongside a podcast recording and transcript.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at In These Times. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.


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Now One of the Best Times in History to Be an Organizer

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As a community organizer, I often imagine what it would have been like to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and win the Voting Rights Act. I always find inspiration in Dr. King’s words, especially this passage from his final book, Where Do We Go From Here?

“Let us be those creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny,” King wrote. “To a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humanness.” 

Seen from today, the achievements of Dr. King and his generation seem monumental – they opened the door to civil rights for millions. Surely theirs must have been the best, and most satisfying, time to be an organizer. 

But the truth is community organizing is never easy. In Dr. King’s time, as now, change never feels inevitable – even when, looking back, you were on the cusp of victory. And the resources you need to create lasting change are rarely available when you need them. 

That’s one reason I wholeheartedly believe that we are living in the best time in decades to be a community organizer, with the opportunity to finally realize a key part of Dr. King’s dream. Because right now, a new generation of dissenters and organizers has won investments into our communities at levels we have never seen before.

Investment

Over the next ten years, roughly $4 trillion will be invested across the country through four federal programs: The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and the CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 

This is an enormous level of investment – more than four times the total size of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Nearly half of these funds are already available to communities through ARPA, with the rest to come soon. And none of this would have happened without decades of work by dedicated community organizers.

But just as with the Voting Rights Act, the passage of these laws only opens the door: they don’t achieve everything we want, and it will take many hands to unlock their full potential. And unlike the New Deal, these funds are spread through an often-confusing web of agencies and grants, with different rules in every state. But the opportunity to make tangible improvements to the lives of millions of people is real, and this is where we, as community organizers, come in.

Good organizers know how to “cut an issue” – help communities understand what is at stake and recognize an opportunity for action. We bring people together, get to alignment and consensus, build solidarity and trust in one another. We inspire, and most importantly, move people into action to create change together. 

What We’ve Been Waiting For

As organizers, we have strong intuition for big moments, and if we ever needed an opportunity that could build community cohesion and solidarity, this is what we have been waiting for!

People’s Action’s Leveraging Federal Resources program, led by senior strategist Ann Pratt, is working with our member groups to identify and navigate these federal funding opportunities so they can find and demand the resources that will help their communities most. We also work with them and their elected officials to make sure these resources reach communities in the most effective ways. 

One example of this is in Pennsylvania, where the Whole Home Repairs Act has helped make $125 million in ARPA funds for home improvements available to communities across the state. This law was written and championed by two state lawmakers who came through our candidate trainings, Nikil Saval and Sara Innamorato, and with the support of our local affiliate, Pennsylvania Stands Up.

By taking the message of Whole Home Repairs to local communities across the state, PASU and these lawmakers were able to build support across political lines in both rural and urban areas. And most crucially, implementing home repairs now through ARPA will then make it easier for homeowners and communities to qualify for green energy improvements in the future.

This strategy is replicable, and is now being studied and followed by People’s Action member groups in Connecticut, Washington State and Massachusetts and beyond.

Funding and Programs

There are more victories to celebrate – such as in St. Louis, where Missouri Jobs with Justice helped fund a Guaranteed Basic Income, and on the Jersey Shore, where the New Jersey Organizing Project won ARPA funds to help families fully recover from Superstorm Sandy. We’ll hear more about this soon – but what excites me is the opportunity these victories create to bring thousands of people into our fight to create a better future for all.

These are just a few examples of what these federal funds can do when they are coupled with good organizing.

Good organizers will recognize the opportunity these new programs offer to help us restore our belief in one another, and in what government can do for – and with – us, when we cogovern with officials like Saval and Innamorato who share our values and commitment to fight for us all.

So yes, we are living in one of the best times in history to be an organizer, because we have the opportunity to more fully realize King’s dream.

If we want to have a multiracial democracy that finally lives up to its promises and potential, we have to start by restoring our faith in one another, in what good government can do, and the ability of collective action to improve our lives.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at OurFuture on January 16, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Sulma Arias is a contributor for OurFuture.


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My Co-Workers Got My Job Back

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I’ve never organized before. What we’re doing at Amazon is all new to me.

When I first started working at KSBD, the Amazon air hub in San Bernardino, it was the middle of the pandemic and they were hiring in mad numbers. No one else was. I needed a job fast and it seemed like the kind of place where I could move up.

KSBD is brand new. It opened in April 2021, and I was among the first hired; depending on the season, there are about 1,200-1,600 workers there. It’s located at an airport, so a few hundred people work outside with the planes and the rest of us are inside. I work on the docks, unloading trailers. It operates 24/7.

When I started at the warehouse, I was organizing — I just didn’t recognize it. But I was focused on the work process and making the warehouse run more smoothly. It seemed like Amazon had opened KSBD without a lot of planning; like we were testing the operation as we went. I was really hands-on. We helped to make the way we moved freight through the warehouse safer and more efficient — but for the same low pay.

But then I went to an all-hands meeting of everyone in the warehouse, and some of my co-workers stood up and challenged the managers about unexpected holiday closures. I learned that when Amazon closed the warehouse for additional days around Christmas and New Year’s, some people lost almost a full week of pay. Suddenly they didn’t have the money they were counting on to buy gifts. One of our co-workers lost her place to live.

So Many ways to Get Fired

On your first day at the facility, Amazon really likes to pound it into you that you have a future with the company — that a lot of people get promoted and there’s room for progression. They tell this to everybody in group meetings and one on one in our departments.

But you learn pretty quickly that almost none of the Tier 1 associates, entry-level employees like me, ever become managers. You start to hear the stories about people who have applied for promotions and have all of their paperwork in line and they never hear back. They never move up.

When you first get hired, they also tell you that there are many ways to get fired. “We can’t even list them all,” they say. “We can’t tell you all the reasons, because that would take forever.”

In the warehouse they watch you. There are cameras everywhere. When you are under surveillance like that, and you know you can get fired at any moment, it makes you scared. The fear is instilled from Day One.

Why We Went on Strike

I would like to get paid a dignified wage. I literally barely make enough to support myself; $19.20 an hour, which doesn’t go very far in California. I have nieces and nephews and brothers. I want to be able to do things like take them out to dinner or buy them birthday or Christmas gifts. This year I wasn’t able to do much of that.

I would also like the warehouse to be a safe place; we have high rates of musculoskeletal injuries, concussions, heatstroke, and repetitive motion injuries. And I would like it to be a place where you are not in fear of losing your job all the time. Where you could have a career, or stay there and have a good job for a while.

That’s why last summer we started our group of KSBD employees, Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, and went on one-day strikes in August and October.

Each time, about 150 of us walked out — the majority of the shift. While we were outside the facility, we heard that managers were frustrated and the volume of freight being processed was way down.

Since our strikes we have won some safety improvements: we got more access to water and fans, and managers finally acknowledged we have the right to take heat breaks to prevent our bodies from overheating. And we have won $1-an-hour increase, with more for the night shift. These changes are why we won’t stop organizing.

Stickers: ‘Where is Sara?’

Since our first strike in August, union-busters in our facility have targeted me and other worker leaders.

I don’t know if it’s something most people can imagine. A consultant employed by Amazon is paid a lot to watch us, to talk to the people I work with, and just to be there. Or they isolate me, assign me for the day to a different area with just one or two other people. It definitely has an effect on my mental health.

When I spoke up to the building manager about this retaliation against all of us, they suspended me. My job was threatened. But my co-workers had my back.

We quickly put together a plan. Someone suggested wearing stickers that said “Where is Sara?”

We mapped out how to get everyone in the warehouse talking about Amazon retaliating against an associate, and we filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

They wore the stickers until I was reinstated, three days later.

I kept my job — and I owe it to my co-workers working together.

For me the highlight of working at Amazon is being part of Inland Empire Amazon Workers United — spending time with my co-workers and making our workplace better and safer. When it’s you vs. Amazon, you know who has the power. But when we work together, there’s nothing better to protect you.

This blog was originally posted at Labor Notes on February 6, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Sara Fee works at the Amazon air hub in San Bernardino, California, and is a founding member of the Inland Empire Amazon Workers United.


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