Workplace Strikes Surge During Pandemic, Empowering Workers

From today’s Washington Post:

Factory workers, nurses and school bus drivers are among the tens of thousands of Americans who walked off jobs in October amid a surge of labor activism that economists and labor leaders have dubbed “Striketober.”

The strike drives, experts say, stem from the new leverage workers hold in the nation’s tight job market: Having seen the massive profits their companies collected during the coronavirus pandemic, they want their contributions acknowledged in the form of better pay and working conditions.

While work stoppages may contribute to near-term inflation and production tie-ups, economists say they could fundamentally change the economic standing of millions of workers. Here’s what you need to know about the tide of recent strikes.

There are a number of reasons, but ultimately it comes down to how the pandemic has changed the way people see themselves, their employers and their jobs — especially if going to work heightened their risk of exposure to the deadly virus. So while millions of people quit or switched positions, others have staged walkouts — or at least are threatening to.

“People don’t want to go and die at work. I mean, they’re not compensated enough,” said Kim Cordova, president of the 23,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers in Colorado.

Strikes or strike authorizations — when a union supports a walkout if negotiations with management break down — typically revolve around compensation. At John Deere, where 10,000 workers at 14 factories walked off the job on Oct. 14, employees want better pay and retirement benefits. The company offered 5 to 6 percent raises in a new collective bargaining agreement, but workers say it’s not enough, given the company’s soaring profits.

Kaiser Permanente nurses and health workers in California and Oregon want the health care provider to drop a proposed two-tiered wage and benefits system that would compensate new employees less than existing ones. More than 30,000 workers represented by several unions authorized a strike in an Oct. 11 vote.

Read the complete story here.

Unionization Efforts by Amazon Workers Dealt a Blow After Alabama Vote

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon workers at a giant Alabama warehouse have voted against unionizing, a significant blow to a months-long campaign that pitted union activists against one of the nation’s most powerful employers and briefly appeared poised to reenergize the American labor movement.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort to unionize employees at the facility in Bessemer, Ala., while 738 workers voted to join the union, according to a vote result Friday overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Some 5,876 warehouse workers were eligible to cast ballots by mail-in vote starting in February.

The result came after a days-long count that was announced online via livestream, and after nearly a week in which the labor board reviewed and certified, behind closed doors, all cast ballots. There were 505 contested ballots set aside during this process and not included in the final tally. The union said the majority were contested by Amazon. The labor board determined there weren’t enough contested ballots to affect the election result.

It was the closest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. had come to a union, unusually in a right-to-work state with enduring Deep South history. In Bessemer, worker concerns over the company’s handling of COVID-19 workplace safety converged with the racial equity movement to set in motion one of the most closely watched American union drives in recent history.

The RWDSU said it intended to challenge the result, which it characterized as the result of intimidation and unfair practices by Amazon during the campaign. Amazon on Friday disputed union messaging that it had unfairly influenced the vote, and thanked the Bessemer workers for participating in the vote.

The chasm reflected the dual reality that many Amazon workers say they navigate: On the one hand, earning higher than minimum wage, with benefits, at one of the world’s most influential companies at a precarious time for the economy and jobs. And on the other hand, enduring the exacting control and pace of work in warehouses that Amazon has come to be known for, to meet the quick delivery goals customers have come to expect — all as consumer demand boomed during the pandemic.

Read the complete article here.

California pays homage today to another American hero with a complex legacy

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Let me tell you about an American hero whom the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education might find, um, troublesome.

Cesar Chavez stands surrounded by reporters.

He opposed undocumented immigrants to the point of urging his followers to report them to la migra. He accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from a repressive government and gladly received an award from its ruthless dictator despite pleas from activists not to do so.

He paid his staff next to nothing. Undercut his organization with an authoritarian style that pushed away dozens of talented staffers and contrasted sharply with the people-power principles he publicly espoused. And left behind a conflicted legacy nowhere near pure enough for today’s woke warriors.

A long-dead white man? A titan of the business world? Perhaps a local politician?

Try Cesar Chavez. The United Farm Workers founder is the first person I always think about whenever there’s talk about canceling people from the past. He’s on my mind again, and not just because this Wednesday is his birthday, an official California holiday.

On Jan. 27, the San Francisco school board voted to rename 44 schools that it felt honored people who didn’t deserve the homage. Some of the condemned make sense — Father Junipero Serra, for instance, or Commodore John Sloat, the Navy officer who conquered California in the name of Manifest Destiny. Others are worthy of debate. Should we really champion Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence who also fathered multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings? Or John Muir, the beloved naturalist who didn’t think much of Black and Indigenous people?

The board’s move was rightfully met with disbelief and derision. In a year when parents are clamoring for schools to reopen, this is what board members spent their time on? And are kids really harmed if they attend a school named after Robert Louis Stevenson or Paul Revere?

Which brings us back to Chavez, the revered labor leader whose bust President Biden recently put on prominent display behind his desk in the Oval Office. On Wednesday, First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Delano, Calif., to celebrate the state holiday with the Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers foundations, her office announced over the weekend.

Read the complete article here.

It’s Time to Strike! This Could Be the Last Stand for American Workers

From today’s New York Times:

Labor Day hit with an extra knife-twist of cruel irony this year, in an America that is barely trying to pretend anymore that the plight of tens of millions of working people merits national concern.

On Friday, the government announced a slowing recovery from the job losses and economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Nearly 14 million Americans are now unemployed, and almost eight million more are euphemistically called “involuntary part-time,” meaning they would work more if there were enough work.

In March, as part of a wider stimulus, Congress expanded unemployment aid by $600 per week, a plan that scholars say may have temporarily reduced the nation’s poverty rate. As of mid-August, about 29 million Americans were receiving some form of unemployment assistance.

But the $600-per-week bonus ran out in July, and Senate Republicans have rejected Democrats’ bill to extend the payments. The G.O.P. is now working on its own more limited plan, though several Republican senators are reluctant to support even that.

Inaction may prove disastrous. Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist for S & P Global, told The Times last week that federal aid was meant as a kind of economic bridge through uncertain times, but, she added, “it looks like the ravine has widened and the bridge is halfway built, so there are a lot of people stranded.”

Bovino’s image suggests a way out of this mess: Workers should band together and demand, collectively, a bridge across the ravine.

To put it more plainly: It’s time for a general strike. Actually, it’s time for a sustained series of strikes, a new movement in which workers across class and even political divides press not just for more unemployment aid but, more substantively, a renewed contract for working in an economy that is increasingly hostile to employees’ health and well-being.

This may be the American worker’s last stand: If we can’t get our government to help us now, when will we ever?

Read the complete article here.

Strikes erupt as US essential workers demand protection amid pandemic

From The Guardian Online:

Wildcat strikes, walkouts and protests over working conditions have erupted across the US throughout the coronavirus pandemic as “essential” workers have demanded better pay and safer working conditions. Labor leaders are hoping the protests can lead to permanent change.

Food delivery workers have become essential in New York after the city closed restaurants and bars to the public on 16 March.

Norma Kennedy, an employee at an American Apparel clothing plant is one of those people. Kennedy along with dozens of other workers walked off her job in Selma, Alabama, on 23 April after two workers tested positive for coronavirus. The plant has remained open during the pandemic to manufacture face masks for a US army contract.

“We left for our own protection,” said Kennedy. “Beforehand, management said if someone tested positive they would shut down and have the plant cleaned. When workers tested positive, they didn’t want to shut it down. They’re not really concerned about the workers.”

Working conditions, low pay and lack of safety protections have triggered protests throughout the pandemic as workers across various industries, including food service, meat processingretail, manufacturing, transportation and healthcare have come together to protest about issues, many of which were apparent before the coronavirus.

“There are no federal mandates or requirements to implement the social distancing guidance or anything else. It’s only guidance and employers can choose to implement them or not,” said Deborah Berkowitz, director of worker safety and health for the National Employment Law Project. “And that is why, in an unprecedented way, they are walking out to bring public attention to the fact that their companies are not protecting their safety and health.”

Read the complete article here.

Amazon, Instacart Workers Demand Coronavirus Protection And Pay

From NPR News Online:

Some Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, N.Y., and Instacart’s grocery delivery workers nationwide walked off their jobs on Monday. They are demanding stepped-up protection and pay as they continue to work while much of the country is asked to isolate as a safeguard against the coronavirus.

The protests come as both Amazon and Instacart have said they plan to hire tens of thousands of new workers. Online shopping and grocery home delivery are skyrocketing as much of the nation hunkers down and people stay at home, following orders and recommendations from the federal and local governments.

This has put a spotlight on workers who shop, pack and deliver these high-demand supplies. Companies refer to the workers as “heroes,” but workers say their employers aren’t doing enough to keep them safe.

The workers are asking for a variety of changes:

  • Workers from both Amazon and Instacart want more access to paid sick time off. At this time, it’s available only to those who have tested positive for the coronavirus or get placed on mandatory self-quarantine.
  • Amazon workers want their warehouse to be closed for a longer cleaning, with guaranteed pay.
  • Instacart’s grocery delivery gig workers are asking for disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer and better pay to offset the risk they are taking.

Read the complete article here.

Airline catering workers plan protests at major US airports on Thanksgiving week

From today’s CNBC News Online:

Hundreds of airline catering workers are protesting this week at some of the largest U.S. airports to demand higher wages and better benefits during what’s expected to be a record Thanksgiving travel period.

Some of those workers, who prepare and deliver meals to airlines and are represented by the Unite Here labor union, are planning to block airport roads or stage sit-ins around ticket counters and pre-security areas on Tuesday at airports including those serving New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Philadelphia.

Others plan to picket and hand out pamphlets about their demands, according to the union, which represents more than 20,000 airline catering workers. Airlines for America, a trade group, expects a record 31.6 million travelers to fly on U.S. airlines during the 12 days around Thanksgiving, up nearly 4% from last year.

The protests are the latest demonstrations by emboldened workers who are demanding a bigger share of corporate profits, which have surged since the last recession more than a decade ago. Airline workers have been particularly visible this year after airlines reported disruptions they said were due to workers trying to gain leverage in contract talks. President Donald Trump signed a bill ending the longest-ever government shutdown in January, hours after a shortage of air traffic controllers disrupted flights.

Read the complete article here.

Early UAW votes on ending the GM strike are a mixed bag

From today’s CNN Online:

Nearly 50,000 General Motors employees are in the process of voting on a tentative labor deal that could end their five-week strike. The early results are mixed.

The Warren Technical center, in Warren, Michigan, which is made up mostly of engineers, voted 85% in favor of the deal. It also passed easily at a metal stamping plant in Saginaw, Michigan, and a transmission plant in Toledo, Ohio.

But at the enormous assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, which has almost as many UAW members as Warren, Saginaw and Toledo combined, members voted narrowly against the deal by a 51% to 49% margin. That factory builds three different SUVs, including the GMC Acadia, and the Cadillac XT5 and XT6.

Union locals across the country are voting on different days. They will remain on the picket lines while the vote is completed. The nationwide results are expected to be announced Friday evening.

The tentative deal reached last week would pay members an $11,000 signing bonus and raise hourly pay for veteran workers 6% over the life of the contract, to $32.32. And many workers who have been getting by on $275 a week in strike benefits are eager to get back to work earning more than $30 an hour.

The deal also will allow many temporary workers to become permanent employees, which will significantly improve their pay and benefits. And the union got GM to drop its demand that workers pay a much greater percentage of their own health care costs.

But union members are angry at GM’s management, because the deal would lead to the closure of three US plants: an assembly line in Lordstown, Ohio, and transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and Baltimore.

Although GM has found other jobs for most of the employees who were working the plants when production ended earlier this year, most of the workers had to relocate. Those displaced workers, and some of those who lost their jobs and have not taken new ones, will get a chance to vote on whether to accept this deal.

Read the complete article here.

Chicago Teachers Go On Strike, Capping Years Of Social Justice Activism

From today’s NPR News Online:

For the second time in seven years, Chicago Public Schools teachers will be on strike starting Thursday, walking out of class, they say, in the name of better schools.

Gathered on the stage of the union hall on Wednesday, the Chicago Teachers Union said its delegates were in full support of moving forward with a strike. Delegates had already authorized the walkout and set a date so it would have taken a reversal to cancel the strike.

“We have not achieved what we need to bring justice and high quality schools to the children and teachers of Chicago,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We need to have the tools we need to do the job at our schools. We need pay and benefits that will give us dignity and respect. We are on strike until we can do better.”

Altogether, more than 30,000 workers will be on the picket lines. This includes 7,500 teacher aides, custodians and security guards who members of SEIU Local 73. SEIU said Wednesday evening it had rejected CPS’ contract offer and planned to strike on Thursday along with CTU.

Officials say schools will be open, with principals and other administrators supervising any children that need a place to go. They also are telling parents they can bring their children to libraries and some community organizations.

Some 300,000 students who attend district-run schools will be impacted. Another 62,000 students who attend charter and contract schools run by private organizations will not be affected.

Read the complete article here.

After 30 days on strike, GM-UAW talks suddenly face a deadline

From today’s Detroit Free Press:

The clock is ticking for General Motors executives to reach a proposed tentative agreement with the UAW, people close to the talks said Tuesday.

The union’s move to summon its National GM Council to Detroit for a meeting Thursday morning was a pressure tactic to prompt GM leaders to reach a deal acceptable to the UAW, said three people familiar with the talks.

Talks continued Tuesday, with GM CEO Mary Barra and President Mark Reuss joining UAW President Gary Jones at the “main table” with the UAW’s lead negotiator in the talks, Terry Dittes.

That was widely seen as moving the talks toward their final phase, but no agreement had been reached Tuesday afternoon. Also present were the bargaining committee members for both sides. A person close to the talks said Barra and Reuss did not stay for discussions through the afternoon.

“Mary’s got two days to come up with a contract, then the National Council meets to decide what to do next,” said a person briefed on the negotiations late Tuesday.

For such heavyweights to show up to the main table indicates a proposed deal is likely close at hand, likely to happen late Wednesday or in the early morning hours Thursday prior to the National Council’s meeting, said one person who had been briefed on the talks.

“If they don’t have a deal, they will give us an update and let us know what the protocol is at that point,” said a UAW local leader who asked to not be named. “Product allocation is an issue GM has come late to the table on.” 

Read the complete article here.