As we examine the new Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Annual Union Membership Report, it is striking that corporations and their hired politicians have been at the throats of working people for years, attacking our rights to negotiate on the job. And that has left us weaker.
There are millions of working people who want and need a union but who are being prevented from forming one by their employer. And instead of penalizing bad actors, our outdated labor laws have made union avoidance nothing more than the cost of doing business. This must change.
"The truth is, collective action in America is stronger than ever," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "We’ve seen the source of our power in defeating the TPP, even when most people told us we couldn’t. We’ve seen it in successfully raising wages at the state and local levels against great political odds."
We see this desire for collective action every day from coast to coast, in industries far and wide. Below, we have detailed just a sampling of amazing organizing wins and what happens when people come together to make changes on the job:
Working people at Verizon who went on strike last year made huge gains, including getting a raise and adding 1,300 new call center jobs on the East Coast.
In August, members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA at United Airlines voted to ratify a new contract, which provides immediate economic gains, sets a new industry standard and ensures flight attendants can achieve the benefits of a fully integrated airline. The five-year agreement includes double-digit pay increases, enhances job security provisions, maintains and improves health care, protects retirement and increases flexibility.
Also in the month of August, working people at eight Zara locations in New York chose to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW. Zara is owned by Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer, and the company did not oppose the union drive. More than 1,000 employees now will be represented by RWDSU/UFCW Local 1102. RWDSU/UFCW represents workers at such retail stores as Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, and supermarkets, drugstores and car washes.
Hotel workers in Las Vegas took on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and won a fair contract with their union Culinary Workers Union Local 226 after a high-profile fight in 2016. Watch the video below to hear Celia Vargas' story about what it was like to work at the Trump hotel without a contract:
Also in Las Vegas, working people at the Boulder Station Hotel & Casino voted "union yes!" "It is very simple: We voted for the union because we want to have a union at Boulder Station," said Rodrigo Solano, a cook at the casino, which opened in 1994. "After all these years of fighting to make our jobs better, it is time for management to listen to us: We want to have fair wages and good health benefits like tens of thousands of other casino workers in Las Vegas."
In Cleveland, teachers won a historic union charter school organizing victory when educators and support staff at the University of Cleveland Preparatory School joined the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the AFT to address high turnover and improve education for their students.
Working people who are members of AFSCME saw a net gain of 12,000 new members added to their ranks. AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement:
“AFSCME has made a commitment to getting back to organizing basics, building power at the grassroots level and hearing the unique concerns of every public service worker in one-on-one conversations.... So even in the face of an anti-labor onslaught, despite efforts to manipulate laws against working people, it’s clear that organizing works."
In Baltimore, more than 1,400 working people at BG&E gained a union voice with IBEW. And in Memphis, Tennessee, a "right to work" state, hundreds of working people at Electrolux voted to join IBEW.
By a nearly 3-to-1 margin, Columbia graduate student employees voted yes for their union—the UAW—in an NLRB election. Many of the 3,500 student workers who will be represented say they chose the union to bargain on their behalf for better health care, benefits for dependents, payment procedures, housing opportunities and grievance procedures. Students who work as teaching and research assistants won the right to join a union after an August ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. Columbia University is challenging the election results, and critics have called the appeal baseless.
In California, after four years of instability and threats of hospital closures or major cuts in patient services, registered nurses voted to approve a new contract covering nearly 1,500 RNs at four former Daughters of Charity hospitals in Los Angeles and the Bay area.
And in the growing digital media field, more than 90% of 70 digital journalists at Fusion Media Group voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East. WGAE also represents several hundred digital journalists at Salon Media, The Huffington Post and ThinkProgress.
Even though collective action remains strong, we recognize that the labor movement has challenges. The biggest challenges have been put in place by corporations and their hired politicians who have been at the throats of workers for years. The ugly truth is, because of these attacks, we live in a country where working people are constantly denied our right – our constitutional right – to join a union in the first place. With the way the deck is currently stacked, it’s a miracle that brave workers continue to find new ways to organize and that today’s numbers aren’t even worse. But we also recognize our own challenges. We must be a better movement for a changing workforce. We must adapt our structures to fit the needs of today’s workers. We must not be afraid to challenge ourselves to better serve working families. And we know we will succeed because we are committed to doing just that, inspired by the spirit we see in working people every day from coast to coast, in industries far and wide.