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:
Slate Workers Ratify Second Union Contract as Members of WGAE: The 56 members of Slate Union-WGAE unanimously ratified their second contract with the online magazine, Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) announced on Monday. The new three-year contract includes significant wage increases, 13 weeks of paid parental leave and a budget of $10,000 a year for diversity initiatives, to be spent at the discretion of the labor-management committee. Workers at Slate won union recognition in January 2018, and ratified their first collective bargaining agreement in January 2019. The Slate bargaining committee said: “In just more than three years since our first contract with the WGAE, the union has significantly improved the economic and employment conditions of Slate’s staff. This contract improves upon the previous one with five additional weeks of parental leave, higher salary floors, guaranteed increases in annual cost of living raises for more than half of the staff, and other critical benefits. We are proud of the work we did with the WGAE to secure this contract and are hopeful for the future of Slate.”
IAFF Gains New Affiliate in Michigan: The Fire Fighters (IAFF) welcomed the new members of Perry Fire Rescue-IAFF Local 5360 as the international union’s newest affiliated union in Michigan. “The Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union leadership has done an incredible job organizing new IAFF locals and increasing membership,” said IAFF 8th District Vice President Mark Sanders. “Our new Perry Rescue Local 5360 members will be great assets to the 8th District and the state of Michigan. It is great to have them as part of the IAFF family.” The Perry Area Fire Rescue is a combination fire department with a growing number of full-time firefighters who provide fire and EMS response to several jurisdictions in Shiawassee County. “As decisions are being made about the future of our department, we want to make sure we have a seat at the table,” said Local 5360 President Seth Arabanas. “We look forward to doing our part to move our department forward and to network with other IAFF locals like ours.”
UFCW Members at King Soopers Ratify Agreement to End Strike: After a 10-day strike, thousands of workers at King Soopers in Colorado, represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7, ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement with their employer on Monday. This groundbreaking contract meets many of the union members’ demands, including significant wage increases, better health care and pension benefits, new paths to full-time employment and enhanced safety measures at work. “From the beginning of this process, we promised our members that we would procure the very best contract we could. We are excited that our members voted overwhelmingly to ratify this industry-leading contract that will ensure King Soopers will respect and protect Essential Workers as well as pay them fairly,” said Local 7 President Kim Cordova. “This would not have been possible without the support of our allies throughout Colorado and across the country. To those who stood alongside our members, honored the picket line, and showed up in solidarity, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
IATSE Local 8’s Training Center in Philadelphia Secures $1 Million State Grant: With a proud legacy of preparing workers for good union jobs in Pennsylvania’s entertainment industry, Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 8 will receive $1 million from the state to expand its training center in Philadelphia. State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler announced the grant award on Jan. 14, which will support Local 8’s project to renovate its facility and train more entertainment workers. “The entertainment industry is one of the fastest growing segments in our economy. As we continue to grow and service this industry, we are pressed to provide the training necessary to keep the work in Pennsylvania,” said former Local 8 President and Business Manager Michael Barnes, who is now IATSE’s first international vice president. “Working with Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, Local 8 was successful in obtaining state matching funding to expand our training facility to address the anticipated demand for entertainment following the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Raven Workers Launch Video Game Union: Workers at Raven Software’s quality assurance (QA) department on Jan. 21 launched their new union, the Game Workers Alliance Union, with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). They are seeking voluntary recognition from their employer as a supermajority of workers expressed their desire to form a union at the studio owned by video game giant Activision Blizzard. These video game employees mostly work on the popular Call of Duty series. “Today, I am proud to join with a supermajority of my fellow workers to build our union, Game Workers Alliance (CWA). In the video game industry, specifically Raven QA, people are passionate about their jobs and the content they are creating,” said Becka Aigner, QA functional tester II at Raven. “We want to make sure that the passion from these workers is accurately reflected in our workplace and the content we make. Our union is how our collective voices can be heard by leadership.” On Dec. 6, more than 60 Raven workers walked out in protest after Activision Blizzard laid off 12 of the studio’s QA testers. The Raven QA strike was the third work stoppage since Activision Blizzard was sued in late July over sexual harassment and misconduct claims. Earlier this week, CWA responded to Microsoft’s plan to acquire Activision Blizzard and called for workers’ voices to be heard in the future direction of the company.
WGAE Members at Salon Ratify Second Collective Bargaining Agreement: Salon staffers unanimously ratified their second contract since joining the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). The new three-year contract includes salary increases, minimums salaries, longevity bonuses, expanded paid parental leave, strong diversity language and other benefits. In a statement, the Salon bargaining committee said: “We worked hard and in good faith with management to secure a contract that will vastly improve life for current and future employees. We believe the contract will not only lift the standards at Salon, but in the industry. Raising the salary floor and pay equity were high priorities for us, and now no WGAE member will make under $60,000. And our minimums for all titles better reflect the quality of our work and the dedication of our colleagues.”
Veterinary Workers in Upstate New York Make History, Vote to Join IAM: Veterinary assistants and technicians in Brighton, New York, voted overwhelmingly to form a union with the Machinists (IAM)—and these new union members are the first veterinary workers on the East Coast to form a union. The National Labor Relations Board announced the results in mid-January as more than two-thirds of workers voted in favor of forming the VSES Employees for Change-IAM to collectively bargain with their employer. Sam Estes, an ultrasound technician, told WXXI News: “We’re gonna band together and actually be able to have the conversations we’ve been hoping for and hopefully they’ll be good negotiating partners through that process with us.” “This historic election resulted from courageous workers in the veterinary industry who not only wanted to make change for themselves but wished to set an example for veterinary workers all across the nation,” IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. said. “I congratulate Liz Hughston and the National Veterinary Professionals Union for their partnership to make this victory a reality. Today’s victory put the veterinary industry and private equity investors on notice about making sure their business model is based on equity and respect.”
New Jersey State AFL-CIO Gets Pro-Worker Bills Over the Finish Line: The New Jersey State AFL-CIO is celebrating a string of legislative victories that came at the tail end of the state’s last legislative session. Several pieces of legislation advocated for by the state federation and its affiliates passed both houses or were signed into law this month. They include the Responsible Collective Negotiations Act, which ends the ability to impose contracts, creates a new topic of “permissive” subjects of negotiations and fixes several membership issues caused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision. The state legislature also passed bills to toughen penalties for assaults on New Jersey’s transit workers, promote apprenticeship programs in public works projects and mandate periodic cancer screening for firefighters. New Jersey State AFL-CIO officers, President Charles Wowkanech (IUOE) and Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan (Workers United), said: “As a new legislative session begins today, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO thanks legislative leadership, Gov. [Phil] Murphy and all the legislators that voted in support of a pro-worker agenda throughout the ‘lame duck’ session of the legislature that ends today.”
Maine Democratic Party Staffers Gain Voluntary Recognition of New IBEW Local: Staffers at the Maine Democratic Party voted to be represented by IBEW Local 1837 and the party voluntarily recognized the new unit. “We’re all really excited. All of our staff are very much on board with it,” said April Thibodeau, party affairs director and a shop steward. “By forming a union, we hope that we can set better work-life boundaries, create more permanency in our staff, and strengthen the relationship between the Maine Democratic Party and the labor movement in Maine.”
Art Institute of Chicago Workers United Certified by NLRB: Employees at the Art Institute of Chicago voted to form a union, becoming an affiliate of AFSCME. The Council 31 unit consists of 266 art installers, curators, custodians, librarians and retail workers. “Winning our union means a voice in our workplace and a chance to improve working conditions for ourselves, our colleagues and those who will follow us for generations to come,” said museum archivist Anna Feuer. The new union members are seeking higher wages and better working conditions.
Animation Guild Organizes First Company Outside of Los Angeles with Titmouse Studio in New York: Employees at Titmouse, the New York studio that produced "Harriet the Spy" and "Superjail!," have voted to join The Animation Guild, IATSE Local 839. This is the first group of employees from outside of Los Angeles County to organize with the guild since it was chartered in 1952. Titmouse management voluntarily recognized the union, which includes 3-D modelers, directors, storyboard artists, prop designers and others. The new union is seeking to review worker classification and role definitions, improve overtime payments and unrealistic schedules, set wage floors and upgrade health benefits. “I’m overjoyed that my students and young peers will be able to thrive in an environment that supports them from today forward. To my fellow New Yorkers in animation and production, I’m confident that our collective pain is being recognized now that we have a seat at the table,” said Titmouse story artist Chrissy Fellmeth.
WGAE Members at Jewish Currents Ratify First Union Contact: Seven members of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) who work at Jewish Currents unanimously ratified their first union contract with their employer this month. Founded in 1946 and relaunched in 2018, Jewish Currents is a daily digital and quarterly print publication dedicated to covering the Jewish left, and the left more broadly. The editorial staff organized with the WGAE in July 2020 and received immediate voluntary recognition. Their inaugural contract includes significant wage increases and improvements to benefits. Lowell Peterson, WGAE’s executive director, said, “The editorial staff at Jewish Currents won a contract that includes fair pay, benefits, work-hours and a seat at the table with the Board of Directors. It is through the power of collective bargaining that workers can win a real voice in their work life.”
IUOE Local 49 in Minneapolis Approves New Contract, Cancels Potential Strike: Members of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 49 who work for the city of Minneapolis ratified a new contract in early January. The union, which represents 110 public service workers who are equipment operators and mechanics, had voted last month to authorize a strike if necessary. “This was a challenging negotiation, but it has now come to an end, and our members look forward to continuing to do the work necessary to make the city of Minneapolis function,” Local 49 said in a statement. “Budgets are a priority document, and we expect Twin Cities public sector entities to make their frontline workers more of a priority in future years. Our members keep cities operating and they have earned that respect.”
Columbia University Student Workers Tentatively Approve New Contract: Student workers at Columbia University tentatively agreed to a new contract that raises wages and improves health benefits. The workers ended a 10-week strike upon reaching the tentative agreement. The contract includes pay raises, dental insurance, an emergency medical fund and other benefits. “It has been a really, really long road,” said Lilian Coie, a member of the bargaining committee. “Even though the agreement isn’t perfect, we’re very happy with it.”
Image Comics Staffers Form Comic Book Workers United: Creating the first union in comics publishing, workers at Image Comics voted to form Comic Book Workers United (CBWU), an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America. “We’re beyond thrilled to announce that today we, Comic Book Workers United, have WON our union election, making Image Comics the FIRST unionized comic book publisher in the United States,” a statement from CBWU said....Winning this election is only the beginning—as always, we are #drawninsolidarity and are eager to continue working together with CWA on the next steps towards securing a strong, fair, and exemplary first contract for comic book publishing workers.”
Federal Firefighters Secure New Benefits and Safety Measures: Firefighters who work for the federal government will enjoy new benefits and safer working conditions with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), recently signed into law by President Biden. A priority provision for the Fire Fighters (IAFF) in the 2022 NDAA will permit federal firefighters to voluntarily swap shifts. It also establishes a new parental bereavement leave benefit and requires the Department of Defense to prevent the use of toxic chemicals in firefighting foams. “The demanding 72-hour workweek required of our federal fire fighters is nothing short of brutal. I know firsthand just how difficult it can be to tend to personal or family matters without the flexibility of shift trades,” said IAFF General President Edward Kelly. “Correction of this oversight is long overdue, and I am confident this legislative victory will go a long way in resetting the work-life balance of those impacted. I am also very pleased that our federal brothers and sisters will have access to a new parental bereavement leave benefit available to them following the loss of a child. Perhaps most importantly, the provisions around toxics [perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)] will provide additional tools to extinguish cancer from the fire service.”
Workers at Politics and Prose Form First Bookstore Union in Washington, D.C.: Workers at bookstores and cafés across the country are joining together to have a collective voice on the job. The employees at Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose are among a growing number of these workers forming unions, having received voluntary recognition from their employer. The new members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 are the first workers at a bookstore in the nation’s capital to create a union. “We are proud to join the growing movement of booksellers and baristas across the country who have unionized their workplaces,” said the Politics and Prose Workers Union organizing committee. “Forming our union has not only served as an affirmation of our shared values within the Politics and Prose community, it will also strengthen our workplace and ensure the long-term success of our beloved community hub. We look forward to negotiating our first contract and welcoming more bookstore workers in D.C. and beyond into our union family.”
UNITE HERE Workers at Colonial Williamsburg Unanimously Ratify New Contract: Workers at Colonial Williamsburg, members of UNITE HERE Local 25, voted unanimously to ratify their new contract. The new contract includes pay increases, dramatic changes to mandatory overtime policies, a new system for assigning overtime and other benefits. “We have said throughout this campaign that teaching history should not mean re-living it at work,” said John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 25. “Now, our members can take pride in the fact that they have won 21st-century working conditions at Colonial Williamsburg.”