A Dramatic Win: 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 several groups of organizers who won voluntary recognition of their new unions.

Washington State Hospice Care Workers Vote Overwhelmingly to Join IAM: Master social workers and bereavement counselors at CHI Franciscan Hospice Care Center in University Place, Washington, voted overwhelmingly last week to join the Machinists (IAM). The vote was 37–2 and turnout was high for the new 44-person bargaining unit. “I couldn’t be more proud of everyone’s efforts in this dramatic win,” said Gary R. Allen (not pictured), the IAM general vice president of the Western Territory. “The collaborative efforts used during this campaign are improving our organizing culture and establishing the IAM in the health care industry….Our new members work in the hospice care unit—one of the most demanding and important roles in health care.” The campaign was a joint effort among the IAM’s Organizing and Healthcare departments, Western Territory and District 751.

Memphis Brewery Workers Vote to Join BCTGM: In the midst of a pandemic and in the face of an unrelenting, anti-union campaign, workers at Blue's City Brewing Company in Memphis, Tennessee, stood strong in solidarity and voted to have a voice in their workplace as members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Local 149. Because in-person meetings during the pandemic have been limited, the organizers used creative ways to educate and communicate with the workers throughout the campaign, including text messaging, animated videos, social media and small outdoor union gatherings while wearing masks and social distancing. ”Faith without hard work is nothing. With the very best team of organizers, I pushed on these last two weeks doing everything I could to make sure the workers were educated on their rights and felt safe in their decision to become members of our union,” said Local 149 President Letitia Malone. “We won because they believed we could.”

Minnesota Public Radio Staff Join SAG-AFTRA: The staff at Minnesota Public Radio's two music stations, 89.3 The Current and Classical MPR, have joined SAG-AFTRA, with more than 80% of employees voting to unionize. Steve Staruch, a host on Classical MPR, said: “This is an amazing day for those of us who work at Classical MPR. We have been heard, and with SAG-AFTRA’s representation, we now have a seat at the table when decisions are made about our careers and our families. With our colleagues at The Current, we look forward to negotiating contracts that acknowledge and reward our work, our dedication and our passion for serving our listeners.”

WGAE Members at Committee to Protect Journalists Ratify First Union Contract: The 30 members of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), at the Committee to Protect Journalists ratified their first contract after a year of negotiations. The new three-year deal includes significant gains in salaries, worker protections and other benefits. Lowell Peterson, executive director of WGAE, said: “This collective bargaining agreement demonstrates the Committee to Protect Journalists commitment to a welcoming and innovative workplace for Guild-represented employees. It shows that employees who form a union can build upon what they love about the place they work and win real gains at the bargaining table.”

United Soccer League Players Affiliate with CWA: Members of the United Soccer League Players Association (USLPA) voted to join the Communications Workers of America (CWA). USLPA represents all United Soccer League Championship and League One players. USLPA Executive Committee member Tommy Heinemann said: “We are pleased to enter into this partnership with CWA and are grateful for the relationship we have forged over the past few years. Their union expertise combined with their proven track record of supporting workers is second to none. CWA is a community-focused organization, which aligns with our organization's belief that players play a vital role in developing and enhancing local communities. We view our collaboration with CWA as strong support for our organization in our prolonged fight to complete a historic collective bargaining agreement.” 

Organizing Victory: Houston Teachers and School Staff Members Vote to Join AFT: In a huge win for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Texas labor movement, Houston educators and school support staff members voted overwhelmingly to elect the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) and the Houston Education Support Personnel (HESP), respectively, as their consultation organizations. More than 93% of teachers and in-school support staffers voted for HFT, and 80% of school support personnel, including school bus drivers, bus attendants, custodians and food service professionals, voted for HESP. Both unions are affiliates of AFT. Wretha Thomas, president of HESP, said: “Blue-collar workers and HESP members stand in unity with a strong voice in [the Houston Independent School District] and in Texas. We are proud to announce that all HESP blue-collar workers will have a voice at consultation. No more injustice.”

Content Creators at D.C.'s WAMU Vote to Join SAG-AFTRA: Content creators at WAMU 88.5 FM, licensed by American University, voted unanimously to be represented by SAG-AFTRA. The new union will begin negotiations toward their first contract. WAMU reporter Ally Schweitzer said: “This is a remarkable day. For the first time in the station’s history, employees have won the legal right to advocate for ourselves in the workplace. We look forward to negotiating in good faith with American University."

IAM Local 1580: Seasonal Employees at Seneca Foods Vote to Join Union: More than 193 seasonal employees at the Seneca Foods processing facility in Leicester, New York, voted to join the Machinists (IAM). The win was especially notable because even though just 30% of the workforce signed representation cards, an overwhelming majority of workers voted to join the union. The seasonal workers, most of whom are from Puerto Rico and work 12-hour shifts, will join IAM Local Lodge 1580, an affiliate of IAM District 65. “These employees have seen the disparity of how they are treated compared with how full-time workers in the facility are treated and compensated under a collective bargaining agreement,” said District 65 Directing Business Rep. Ron Warner. “They know we can make a difference, and that is why they voted for the IAM. Since the majority of the workers spoke only Spanish, I’d also like to give special thanks to [IAM] Chief of Staff Juan Negron and [Local 1580] Chief Steward Luis Diaz who were integral in communicating with our new sisters and brothers.”

IAFF Members Lead Campaign for Referendum to Hire Six New Firefighters: Members of the Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 3432 in the small city of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, led a campaign last month for a local referendum to increase the property tax levy to fund the hiring of six new firefighters. “Having six new firefighters/paramedics will enable us to better serve the community without exhausting our members with excessive amounts of overtime,” said Local 3432 President Tony Thomas. “The IAFF was with us every step of the way. From help with campaign strategy and messaging to the development of yard signs, mailers and ads, the international provided invaluable service and support.” Voters passed the referendum 66% to 34%.

AFM Reaches New Agreement with TV Networks: American Federation of Musicians (AFM) International President Ray Hair announced on Wednesday that the union had reached a new three-year agreement with CBS, NBC and ABC after months of difficult negotiations. In an email to members and supporters, Hair wrote: “Despite fierce resistance from the networks, we succeeded in obtaining a streaming residual when TV programs are exhibited on advertiser-supported [video on demand] (AVOD) streaming platforms. We also achieved annual wage increases and additional health and welfare contributions. The new AVOD residual is a fundamental, structural contract change that would not have been possible without the solidarity, activism, hard work and enormous time investment of all involved in the negotiations, for which I am very thankful.” The tentative agreement is subject to ratification.

Verso Books Staff Join Washington-Baltimore News Guild: Staff at Verso books voted to join the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, a unit of the NewsGuild-CWA. Managment voluntarily recogized the union. In an interview with Lithub, senior publicist Julia Judge and editor Ben Mabie said: "For many in the media, the union is, if anything, a sign of our common commitment to our work. It takes work getting the union off the ground and keeping it up. But that work of putting our shoulders on the wheel is perhaps the only thing that makes the promise of a life in publishing possible, where we can have some dignity on the job and the resources we need to make it into a lasting vocation."

California Nurses Secure New COVID-19 Protections: Members of the California Nurses Association (CNA), an affiliate of National Nurses United, secured a tremendous victory in the fight against COVID-19. New infection control measures match demands nurses have made since the beginning of the pandemic. Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, a president of CNA, said: “This is an amazing and welcome move. We applaud California for being a leader in requiring this type of testing program because it is desperately needed to fight this virus. There are simply too many asymptomatic people with Covid, and without robust testing, our hospitals will remain centers for spreading the disease instead of centers of healing as they should be.”

Philadelphia's University of the Arts Join AFT: More than 350 full-time and adjunct faculty at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia voted by 99% to join AFT. The faculty will negotiate for improved job security, livable wages, reasonable workloads, adequate health insurance and other issues. Assistant Professor Laura Frazure said: “Prior to being hired full time, I was an adjunct professor at UArts and several other institutions for 18 years—at times teaching at five different colleges. I am excited to win a union at UArts to give faculty a meaningful voice in university governance and a central role in defining the culture of the institution.”

Staffers at Film at Lincoln Center Vote 29-4 to Join UAW Local 2110: The National Labor Relations Board election included workers in film programming, development, communications and public-facing theater operations. The new unit is part of the Technical, Office and Professional Union, Local 2110 of the UAW. Dan Sullivan, an assistant programmer for Film at Lincoln Center, said: “We work at this organization because we love both the institution and the work we do. We want nothing more than the ability to concentrate on doing our jobs well, especially under these historically difficult circumstances. But in order for that to happen, we need the leverage and security that a union will bring.”

Workers at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Join UAW: An overwhelming majority of workers at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, have voted to join the UAW. The organizing drive succeeded in the face of challenges to the museum's operation because of COVID-19. Jon Feng, a members and visitors service representative at the museum, said: “I find this redistribution of power meaningful. I believe in our ability to work together to negotiate and then uphold a more just workplace for all.”

Kroger Workers in West Virginia Approve New Contract: By a vote of more than 3-1, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 voted to approve a new contract with Kroger. The three-year deal includes enhanced health care benefits, a program to reduce diabetes drug costs and wage increases. In a release, Local 400 said: “While no contract is perfect, this agreement is a significant improvement from the last offer that was resoundingly rejected. By standing together, we were able to preserve our health care funding for the life of the contract and make other improvements that resulted in a fair deal.”