A Voice at the Table: Worker Wins

A Voice at the Table: Worker Wins

Despite the challenges of organizing during a deadly pandemic, working people across the country (and beyond) continue organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. This edition begins with:

City Workers in Alexandria, Virginia, Vote to Form Union Through AFSCME: In a near-unanimous vote, labor and trades workers for the city of Alexandria, Virginia, elected to form a union with AFSCME in September, taking a big step toward ensuring better pay and benefits for themselves and gaining a greater ability to advocate for their community. The 191 public service workers voted 96% in favor of joining together through AFSCME Local 3001 (District Council 20). “We all knew what was at stake, and we came through to win a voice at the table,” said Jason Hitt, a city building engineer. “We’re excited to bargain a contract that represents the best interests of our communities and families—the way it should be.” Public service workers in nearby Arlington County also formed a union with AFSCME earlier this year after a 44-year law banning public service collective bargaining was overturned.

UNITE HERE Members Win Strike at SFO: After a three-day strike, 1,000 restaurant workers who are members of UNITE HERE Local 2 secured a tentative agreement with long-overdue pay increases. Many of these workers at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) have been stuck earning around $17 an hour for the past three years despite the high cost of living in the Bay Area, which has increased even more since the pandemic. “This strike was so worth it to give my family a better life,” said Blanca Gay, a restaurant worker who has worked at the airport for 30 years.

Bobcat Workers Win Union Vote with USW: The United Steelworkers (USW) scored a huge organizing win when a group of 700 workers voted in favor of forming a union at the Bobcat facility in Bismarck, North Dakota. “Bobcat workers deserve a fair union contract that provides fair pay and promotes a healthy work-life balance with limits on mandatory overtime and provisions for paid time off,” explained Jacob Klein, a worker at Bobcat. “We are proud to join the United Steelworkers and look forward to the next step of the process—working together to negotiate a fair first collective bargaining agreement.”

Congressional Staffers Make History, Form First-Ever Union: The legislative aids, schedulers, press assistants, regional staff and others who work for Rep. Andy Levin had an unprecedented organizing victory by unanimously voting to form the first congressional staff union in American history. Levin, a former union organizer who represents a congressional district based in the Detroit suburbs, helped spearhead the effort to expand union organizing rights on Capitol Hill. The labor movement congratulates these brave congressional workers and, while they may be the first, we’re confident they won’t be the last.

Alaska Airlines Pilots Reach Tentative Agreement on New Contract: Pilots at Alaska Airlines, members of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), will vote for approval of a new contract after leadership agreed to a tentative deal. “We are pleased, after three years, that we have reached an agreement addressing all the areas in which we’ve lagged our mainline carrier pilot peers for nearly a decade,” said Capt. Will McQuillen, chair of the Alaska Airlines ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC). “Not only does this agreement recognize the crucial role pilots have played in the success of Alaska Airlines, it will also help our airline remain competitive in the industry.” The pilots are seeking a contract that makes them competitive to comparable airlines in areas such as scheduling flexibility, job security, compensation, and improved quality of life.

Video Board Crew for Minnesota United Soccer Team Approves Union Representation: The technicians at Allianz field bring the beautiful game of soccer to life on the video boards for fans of the Minnesota United Football Club of Major League Soccer. And they are eager to use their collective voice on the job, having voted 18–9 in favor of forming a union with Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 745. The Minnesota United crew is now the first group of in-house video technicians in Minnesota to win union representation. “We are excited about the results and look forward to sitting down at the bargaining table with the team,” said camera operator Nick Quinn.

Thousands of JetBlue Ground Workers Organizing with IAM: The Machinists (IAM) filed for a union election on behalf of some 3,000 ground operations workers and baggage handlers at JetBlue. These workers say below-standard industry pay rates and benefits, poor and unsafe working conditions, unjustified discipline and terminations, among many other issues, are their reasons for wanting IAM representation and a seat at the table. “I congratulate all JetBlue Ground Operations workers for uniting in solidarity and demanding that a union representation election be conducted,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. “It’s been a long road for these brave workers to get to this point, and the IAM stands shoulder to shoulder with them. We will mobilize our union’s significant resources to ensure that these brave and resilient JetBlue workers have a fair and free election.” “It’s high time that JetBlue workers gain the dignity and respect of a union contract and a strong voice on the job,” said IAM Air Transport Territory General Vice President Richard Johnsen. “When our country needed essential goods and services [sent] to where they were needed most during the pandemic, JetBlue workers answered the bell and risked their lives and health to make that happen. What did they get from management? They got their hours and pay cut because they didn’t have a seat at the table. That will end very soon.”

Nurses in Austin Vote for Union with NNU: The 800 nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center (ASMCA) in Austin, Texas, voted overwhelmingly (72% “yes”) to form a union with the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). Nurses said they organized to win improved patient care standards and strong contracts, and ASMCA is now the largest private-sector hospital in Texas to form a union. These new union members are the latest example of growing momentum among nurses organizing in southern states like North Carolina and Florida. “This victory is just the beginning,” said Geovana Hill, a registered nurse in the renal unit. “As nurses, we always have and always will stand committed to providing the highest quality of care to our patients….We are more than ready to win a strong first contract, which will help with nursing staff retention.”

Art Institute of Chicago Instructors Join AFSCME: After a strong majority of instructors at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago signed union cards, the workers have asked the Art Institute to voluntarily recognize the new unit as part of AFSCME. Some 600 lecturers will be represented by the unit, which already represents another 600 staff members in other roles.

Maine Medical Nurses Secure Tentative Agreement: Registered nurses at Maine Medical Center (MMC) have reached a tentative agreement with hospital administration on their first union contract, which improves patient and workplace safety, wages, benefits and working conditions. This agreement comes on the heels of the nurses’ recertification victory on Aug. 18 with the Maine State Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), which MMC RNs won by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, showing overwhelming support for the union. “The momentum from our huge recertification victory gave us the final push we needed to get this deal done,” said Nadine Kern (not pictured), a member of the union bargaining team and critical care nurse. “Nurses are more engaged and unified than ever. It’s our unity that makes us strong.”

Griffith Observatory Planetarium Lecturers Join Actors’ Equity: Employees who work as planetarium lecturers at Griffith Observatory have unanimously signed authorization cards to join Actors’ Equity Association and are asking for voluntary recognition from the city of Los Angeles. “We are incredibly proud and deeply protective of the work we do here,” said Michael Faulkner, one of the lecturers. “The team of live narrators in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium are integral to the mission of Griffith Observatory, and a big part of what makes it one of the City of Los Angeles’ most unique, inspiring and beloved institutions. Multiple generations of Angelenos remember fondly their first encounter with the universe accompanied by the sound of one of our voices. Organizing with Equity, to have a collective voice when speaking to our employer, is one way of ensuring mutual respect between the parties, so that the tradition of live lecturers can remain a cherished part of the Griffith Observatory experience for millions of locals and tourists alike.”

Natural Gas Workers in Eastern Kentucky Vote for Union with UWUA: In late August, 90 workers for Delta Natural Gas Co. who provide natural gas to homes and businesses in eastern Kentucky overwhelmingly voted in favor of forming a union with the Utility Workers (UWUA). Despite an active anti-union campaign against the organizing effort by Delta Natural Gas, workers voted for union representation by a 65% majority. “We are excited to welcome this group to the UWUA and to begin bargaining the members’ first contract,” said UWUA National President James Slevin. “Delta Gas workers stood strong together throughout this campaign, enduring an aggressively anti-union employer and retaliatory actions along the way.”

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Workers Ratify Contract: Employees at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, represented by the Electrical Workers (IBEW), ratified their first union contract. The agreement includes wage increases, relocation assistance, rollover vacation days and more. “This contract is an exciting next step forward for our team and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Deputy Data Director Will Hoffman. “Through this contract, our bargaining unit has secured important provisions that will benefit and empower DPW staff for years to come, create more staff permanency and continue to strengthen our partnership with senior leadership. We are following in the finest traditions of the Democratic Party, the party that supports working people and their right to organize a union in their workplace.”

Workers at Condé Nast Secure Voluntary Recognition to Form Union with TNG-CWA: More than 500 staffers at a dozen publications won voluntary recognition of Condé Nast Union, one of the newest bargaining units to become part of The NewsGuild of New York-CWA Local 31003. The newly recognized union, which includes more than 100 subcontracted employees, represents editorial, video and production workers at famous titles like Bon Appétit, Teen Vogue and Vanity Fair. With this organizing victory, all of the magazine giant’s publications are now union. “My colleagues and I have shown through our organizing that we will not settle for these precarious working conditions,” said Jess Lane, an organizing committee member at Condé Nast Union. “A lot of our problems exist across our industry, and we hope that other companies and workplaces take notice.”

BCTGM Wins Organizing Campaign with Dairy Workers in Utah: Some 100 workers at an industrial dairy owned by Danone in Salt Lake City voted to form a union with Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Local 401. Danone is one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world, and it’s best known for its line of popular yogurts like Dannon and Activia. With this organizing win, BCTGM now represents workers at all five Danone plants across the country.

Union Writers Win $4 Million Settlement with Amazon Over Unpaid Residuals: The Writers Guild of America—a coalition of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) and the Writers Guild of America West—announced that it has settled an arbitration against Amazon. The settlement secures more than $4 million of unpaid residuals (plus interest) for 37 union screenwriters who worked on more than 30 films for Amazon’s streaming service. The win comes a month after the two unions won a $42 million settlement against Netflix over self-dealing by the streaming giant. The Writers Guild of America said, “We will continue our enforcement work to ensure that streamers pay writers fairly for the content we create.

Union Contract Makes Historic Equal Pay Possible for USWNT: Labor leaders from across the sports world came together at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the historic signing of the new collective bargaining agreement that, for the first time, guarantees equal pay between the men’s and women’s national soccer teams. The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) Players Association has been fighting for equal treatment for years.

Interpreters Favor Union Over Billionaire-Backed Freedom Foundation: The workers who serve as spoken language interpreters for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries voted in a representation election, and more than 81% of them cast ballots for Interpreters United, an affiliate of the Washington Federation of State Employees-AFSCME (WFSE-AFSCME). The election circumstances were unique, as the anti-union Freedom Foundation inexplicably provided support for a rival “union.” “To our knowledge, this is the first time the Freedom Foundation has actively campaigned and set up a phony ‘union’ to run in a representation election,” WFSE-AFSCME explained. “Workers and organized labor should be vigilant for similar strategies that may play out elsewhere across the country.”

Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia Workers Vote to Form Union: Production employees at Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia have something to smile about after voting “yes” for a union with Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 8. One hundred percent of the votes cast were in support of the IATSE. Last month, the stagehands, technicians and engineers employed by production company Live Nation at the 1,000-person capacity entertainment venue in Philadelphia petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an election of eligible employees. Other stagehands who work for Live Nation Philadelphia are already organized with Local 8, including those at The Fillmore Philadelphia. “Next door at the Fillmore, the workers get health benefits, more money, job protections doing the exact same job that we do,” said George Spencer, a lighting engineer at Brooklyn Bowl. “We are happy and thrilled to be in union with IATSE Local 8. We look forward to bargaining a fair deal.”

Thousands of Minor League Baseball Players Start Their Union with MLBPA: Professional athletes—like every other worker in this country—deserve a voice on the job and a seat at the table. Minor league baseball players have achieved that goal, having secured voluntary recognition for their unprecedented union with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). The AFL-CIO proudly welcomed the MLBPA into our family of unions. The minor league players’ historic organizing campaign was won in just 17 days’ time, with a significant majority of authorization cards submitted last week. “This historic achievement required the right group of Players at the right moment to succeed,” said MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark. “Minor leaguers have courageously seized that moment, and we look forward to improving their terms and conditions of employment through the process of good faith collective bargaining.” To the thousands of new union athletes, we say congratulations. You strengthen us all, and it’s amazing to have you in our labor movement.

Politics and Prose Workers Reach Contract Agreement: After nine months at the bargaining table, workers at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., secured their first union contract with UFCW. The new agreement includes wage increases for nearly every worker after the members formed the union in January to become the city’s first unionized bookstore. “I am excited,” said employee Isa Salazar. “This is what we started out to do. We were coming from a place of care and concern to improve this workplace that we definitely love.”

Staff at Disability Rights Ohio Fight to Form Union with OPEIU: The workers at Disability Rights Ohio (DRO)—a nonprofit organization for people with disabilities—are seeking to create a new union with Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 792. After getting wind of their organizing campaign, management at DRO “wasted no time in sending negative, confusing and biased anti-union emails to all staff,” the workers said. Despite their employer’s opposition, an overwhelming majority of staff have requested voluntary recognition. DRO workers are forming a union to bargain for increased transparency and equity, improved staff retention and well-being, competitive compensation, and meaningful benefits.

Cannabis Workers in Michigan Vote to Form Union at State’s Largest Dispensary Company: In many states across the country, the recreational cannabis industry is booming. And as businesses grow, so are worker organizing campaigns. The employees at Lume Cannabis Co.’s adult-use dispensary in Monroe, Michigan, joined the labor movement when they enthusiastically voted to form a union with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 876. Lume is the largest recreational cannabis business in Michigan, with dispensaries in more than 30 cities across the state. “Unions built southeast Michigan, and we’re honored to be the newest part of the rebuilding effort,” said Michael, a worker at the Monroe dispensary. “A unionized Lume means better working conditions for employees, better relationships between the store and corporate management, and an improved experience for cannabis enthusiasts.”

Columbus Museum of Art Workers Organizing with AFSCME: Cultural workers are making a lasting impression on the labor movement as they come together across the country with the energy to organize and the enthusiasm to win. So it is with workers at the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA), who announced that they are organizing to form their union, CMA Workers United, with AFSCME Council 8 in Ohio. They join their colleagues at the nearby Wexner Center for the Arts, who announced their intention to form a union with AFSCME in March. “Our goal is just to help the museum achieve its mission by helping to attract and retain the necessary workforce to do so,” Mark Harrison, a CMA employee and a worker organizer, told The Columbus Dispatch.

Alaska’s Union Members Help Deliver Stunning Special Election Win: In an astounding result, pro-labor candidate Mary Peltola won Alaska’s special election, becoming the first Alaska Native elected to serve in the House of Representatives. The Alaska AFL-CIO gave Peltola its enthusiastic support earlier this summer in her bid to represent the state’s lone congressional district after the death of longtime Rep. Don Young. The state federation celebrated her victory on Wednesday: “Today was a big win for Alaska’s working families! Congratulations to Mary Peltola!” Fresh off another special congressional election win last week in New York’s competitive Hudson Valley region, the results from Alaska confirm that labor has the momentum heading into the final stretch of the midterm campaign.

Architecture Workers, First of Their Kind to Form a Union, Create Blueprint for the Future: Workers at Bernheimer Architecture (BA) in New York City secured voluntary recognition from their employer, becoming the first private sector union of architectural professionals in the United States. In forming Architecture Workers United with the Machinists (IAM), these new union members are motivated to uplift their profession and industry in ways that could not be done by acting alone. Centered around the principles of respect, value, growth, transparency and impact, they are ready to use their collective voice and make a lasting change. “Though we are stepping into uncharted territory in many ways, we are overwhelmingly excited, and hopeful, to bolster the values that make BA special,” they said. “We encourage and invite other practices to join us in this endeavor to reshape the industry at large.”

Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Content Creators Organize with SAG-AFTRA: The content staff at Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp., the home of Pittsburgh’s NPR news station 90.5 WESA and independent music station 91.3 WYEP, announced their intention to form a union with SAG-AFTRA. A super-majority of workers delivered their petition to management to form the Pittsburgh Public Radio Union. “When I started my career at WYEP 10 years ago, I said I’d be proud to share music with the people of my hometown until I retire. I still feel that way,” Joey Spehar, host of WYEP’s “Morning Mix,” explained. “But as a single parent, especially, I feel that organizing our labor force is the only way to ensure income equity, equality and transparency, and to ensure that we can not just survive, but thrive along with the organization we care so much about.”

SAG-AFTRA Ratifies Netflix Agreement: Members of SAG-AFTRA voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new agreement with Netflix. Nearly 90% of members voted in favor of the new contract. “The gains we achieved in this contract are historic. A convergence of opportunities to leverage presented themselves,” said SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher. “Now was the time to strike while the iron was hot or forever be chasing contract reconstruction always outside our grasp. The advances in reducing exclusivity are seminal. The journeyman actor now has the freedom to work multiple jobs and make a living with less restrictions. Our negotiating committee, staff, board and member body all came together in perfect harmony. We now enter into a new chapter that levels the playing field, giving actors the respect and dignity they so rightfully deserve!”

UNITE HERE Local 11 Secures Union Recognition at Chateau Marmont: After years of organizing, hotel workers at the iconic Chateau Marmont on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip have reached an agreement with their employer to recognize their union with UNITE HERE Local 11. Workers there reported a toxic work environment, with allegations of sexual harrasment and racial discrimination at the workplace. Both union and management committed to starting a new chapter while commending their improved relationship. “My daughter was my biggest inspiration to organize the union. When I started [organizing], my daughter was just six months old; now she is almost three years old,” said Walter Almendarez (not pictured), a 23-year bellman at Chateau Marmont, as he reflected on the hard-won union campaign. “Having a union means I will be able to provide a better future for her and make her proud.”

Professional Women’s Soccer Players Win at the Bargaining Table: Fresh off of their groundbreaking equal pay victory at the bargaining table in May, the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association (USNSTPA) will be officially signing their historic collective bargaining agreements with the U.S. Soccer Association. The signing ceremony will take place on Sept. 6, one day after Labor Day, at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., after the U.S. Women’s National Team’s soccer match against Nigeria. The contracts are the first of their kind to provide identical economic terms for both the women’s and men’s professional soccer teams. The NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA), which represents many of the same professional women’s soccer players, also noted the free agency window opened for the first time in the league’s history this morning. The union called it “a significant milestone for the NWSL, brought about by the solidarity and determination of players who believe that free agency is central to the NWSL’s ability to live up to its potential.” While the NWSLPA celebrated this victory, the union also filed a grievance in defense of 22 players’ rights to free agency under their collective bargaining agreement.

2–0 Score as REI Workers Win Second Union Election: Workers at an REI store in Berkeley, California, voted by a wide margin to form the second union at the outdoor and fitness gear retailer. Their organizing success comes after workers at an REI store in Manhattan voted in March to form a union with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union-UFCW (RWDSU-UFCW), and it signals that our organizing momentum is continuing to grow. The workers in Berkeley, who are now members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 5, said they are fighting to change their working lives for the better. “As REI continues to grow and evolve, I want to see REI stay true to the values it holds itself to and to the legacy of its founders,” said Michael, a worker at the Berkeley store. “I am voting yes because the sustainability of REI relies on its employees.” You can learn more about the organizing campaign by visiting OurREI.com.

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Members Ratify New Contract: Workers at the Charlotte Symphony, represented by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), ratified a new contract that will last through August 31, 2024. “The negotiations and resultant contract represent a very thoughtful and thorough look at our collective bargaining agreement,” said Bob Rydel, a horn player and chair of the Negotiations Committee. “The musicians are grateful for the collaborative process and the partnership we have with the staff and the Board of Directors.” Key features of the contract include a 5% salary increase, expansion of the orchestra season, more equitable auditions, guaranteed payments for electronic media and other benefits.

Kenneth Quinnell
Wed, 10/05/2022 – 10:56

Updated: October 11, 2022 — 8:32 am