Worker Wins: A New Way of Doing Business

Our latest roundup of worker wins includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. 

AFSCME Maryland Celebrates Pro-Worker Legislation Victories During 2024 Session: Following the end of Maryland’s legislative session, AFSCME members and leadership are celebrating the passage of bills securing collective bargaining rights for state supervisory employees and public library workers. More than 7,000 state workers will be gaining the right to join a union later this year, in what AFSCME Maryland Council 3 called the largest legislative expansion of collective bargaining rights in the past few decades. State employees in supervisory roles expressed that because they previously haven’t had collective bargaining rights, there hasn’t been a clear way to address workplace issues or push for policy reforms. Similarly, library workers around the state are hoping access to a union will allow them to advocate for better pay, grievance processes and other workplace improvements. AFSCME hopes these policy changes will help the state retain and attract a quality public sector workforce who can continue to deliver essential services to local communities. “Once again, AFSCME members showed up and made their voices heard in Annapolis,” said AFSCME Maryland President Patrick Moran. “We also thank Governor Moore for including negotiated raises for state workers in his budget, and we look forward to continuing our work together to ensure Maryland’s working families are not left behind.”

Wisconsin Gov. Evers Protects Child Labor Law with Senate Bill 436 Veto: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers delivered remarks Monday at the Wisconsin State Council of Machinists’ 2024 spring conference in Madison and vetoed S.B. 436, which would have eliminated the requirement that employers obtain a work permit in order to employ 14- or 15-year-olds. The work permit process keeps young workers safer at work through parental oversight and gives critical information about where kids work and what jobs they’re doing to Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development, so it can better enforce child labor laws. In 2017, then-Gov. Scott Walker, a national disgrace, signed a bill passed by fellow Republicans in the state Legislature that eliminated the work permit requirements for 16- and 17-year-olds. The bill Evers vetoed would have expanded and built on this exemption. “Governor Evers continues to stand up for the safety of our kids by protecting child labor law in Wisconsin,” said Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale. “The dangerous push to weaken child labor law in Wisconsin and across the country comes at a time when more children are harmed at work or work hazardous jobs.” “Eliminating these permits would have been a reckless gamble with the well-being of young people,” said Machinists (IAM) International President Brian Bryant in a press release. “Work permits are not merely red tape. They are essential shields protecting our children from exploitation, unsafe conditions, and disrupted education. By vetoing this bill, Gov. Evers has shown clear leadership in prioritizing the safety and welfare of Wisconsin’s future workforce.” 

DreamWorks Animation Production Workers Form Union Under IATSE: Production workers from DreamWorks Animation have officially voted to form a union with The Animation Guild (TAG), also known as Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 839, and the Motion Picture Editors Guild (IATSE Local 700). In total, 160 workers are joining the ranks of their DreamWorks artist, technician and editor colleagues who are already union members. This victory also marks the largest unit to date with a seat on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to join the union. Production staff organized with the goal of preserving their workplace culture at DreamWorks amid recent announcements of significant company policy changes like increased outsourcing and a retraction of most remote work for production staff. DreamWorks and The Animation Guild have had a relationship since the studio started. In those first days, DreamWorks was interested in offering the same working conditions as the other studios in order to attract the best talent possible. Today, we extend that coverage to ensure the production staff can enjoy the best working conditions we can negotiate with the company,” said Steve Kaplan, The Animation Guild’s business representative.

Austin Pets Alive Workers File to Become Nation’s Largest Animal Shelter Union: On Thursday, Austin Pets Alive (APA) animal shelter employees in Texas filed to form a union with Machinists (IAM) District 776, taking a first step toward creating the largest animal shelter union in the country. Austin Pets Allied Workers (APAW) members are calling for voluntary recognition from management. Their core bargaining goals include implementing policies supporting the well-being and safety of both animals and workers, increasing wages, improving benefits and codifying fair employment practices. “I want to join with my co-workers to form a union because workers like me who are on the front lines of animal care deserve to feel safe and supported in our mission-fulfilling work at APA,” said Ryan Martinez, an APA staff member. “I know that a strong union contract negotiated by affected employees is the best way to make that happen, which will ultimately improve conditions for the animals in our care.”

Biden-Harris Administration Announces $20 Billion Investment to Create Good-Paying Clean Energy Jobs: On Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its selections for $20 billion in grant awards to fund tens of thousands of clean energy and transportation projects in communities across the United States. The grants, made available through the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund created by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, will create a national clean financing network of recipients that will help kickstart projects across the country to reduce pollution while providing local communities with quality, good-paying jobs. AFL-CIO Chief of Staff Julie Collier sits on the board of the Coalition for Green Capital (CGC), one of the eight recipients. Of the $20 billion allocated for the largest federal climate investment in the history of the United States, at least $4 billion will be dedicated to investment specifically in rural areas. “President Biden and Vice President Harris have put communities at the center of their Investing in America agenda,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The selectees announced today will deliver transformational investments for American communities, businesses and families and unleash tens of thousands of clean technology projects, like putting solar on small businesses, electrifying affordable housing, providing EV [electric vehicle] loans for young families and countless others. That translates to good-paying jobs, energy bill savings and cleaner air, all while delivering on President Biden’s historic agenda to combat climate change.”

AFM Musicians Ratify New Motion Picture Agreements: The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) announced Tuesday that members have voted to ratify the Basic Theatrical Motion Picture and Basic Television Motion Picture Agreements contract that was unanimously recommended by the bargaining committee in February. This deal represents a massive victory for musicians working in film and television. Some of the wins members have secured include residuals for content made for streaming, enhanced health care coverage, performance bonuses and new protections to safeguard against generative artificial intelligence. “This agreement is a monumental victory for musicians who have long been under-compensated for their work in the digital age,” AFM International President and Chief Negotiator Tino Gagliardi said in a statement. “It wouldn’t have been possible without our members’ unwavering strength and unity, along with the tireless organizing efforts that led up to this historic contract.”

Workers at Oakland’s Creative Growth Form a Union: Staff members at Creative Growth—a nonprofit based in Oakland, California, that supports artists with disabilities—are requesting voluntary recognition as they join AFSCME Council 57. Creative Growth United’s bargaining unit would cover an estimated 34 workers, including art facilitators, instructors, program coordinators, gallery staff members and other direct-service providers at Oakland’s second-largest arts organization. The union delivered its announcement to the interim executive director and board of trustees on Tuesday, with workers citing concerns such as high turnover rate for management and the need for more equitable hiring practices and standardized benefits. “Unionizing will improve working conditions for all staff at Creative Growth. It will also improve conditions for all artist-clients, who benefit from a more harmonious and rooted organizational culture, reflected in better planning and more effective and committed direct care staff,” said Creative Growth United in a community petition. “We believe every worker deserves a living-wage, and every worker has the legal right to form a union, without fear of retaliation or intimidation.”

Rail Labor Applauds Final Two-Person Crew Rule for Train Operations: In a victory for rail workers’ safety, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a final rule establishing a minimum requirement of two-person crews for most Class I freight and passenger railroad operations. Workers have been sounding the alarm for years on the necessity of federal regulation to improve working conditions both on the tracks and in rail yards. This move from the Biden administration is in sharp contrast to the administration of former President Trump, who in 2019 withdrew a proposed regulation on crew staffing, saying that no additional safety regulations were “necessary or appropriate for railroad operations.” “This rule acknowledges that crew size is fundamentally a safety issue at its core. Rail workers experience the risks of the job daily, and have made it clear that two-person crews are inherently necessary to ensure the safe operation of our rail systems,” said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD). “We thank President Biden for ensuring that his Administration delivered this essential rail safety rule.” “This final rule is essential for safety and is long overdue,” said Transport Workers Union (TWU) International President John Samuelsen. “The TWU looks forward to the swift implementation of a two-person crew requirement.”

Transit Workers in Arlington, Virginia, Vote to Join ATU: Arlington Transit (ART) workers have voted overwhelmingly to be represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689, joining the ranks of their organized counterparts at multiple other local transit systems in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. A whopping 99% of ART workers voted in favor of joining Local 689, including bus operators, mechanics, fuel island attendants, technicians and cleaners. The staff are employed by private transportation company Transdev, who is contracted to operate Arlington’s local bus service. Just last month, ATU members at Northern Virginia transit system Fairfax Connector—who are also employed by Transdev—ratified a well-bargained new contract after a successful 15-day strike. “On behalf of Local 689, congratulations to the ART workers on their election victory and welcome to our family,” said Local 689 President Raymond Jackson. “Local 689 will continue to fight to ensure that every transit worker in our region has fair wages, strong benefits, and protections on the job so that they can support their families and be treated with dignity for the hard work they perform every day to move our region.”

Nashville East Bank, LIUNA Agreement Hailed as ‘New Way of Doing Business in This City’: Laborers (LIUNA) Local 386 and the company heading up a massive development of the East Bank property in Nashville, Tennessee, have agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) related to worker safety, pay and other benefits for the construction project. The Fallon Company is responsible for handling hiring and managing development of the roughly 95 acres of land on the East Bank riverfront that’s owned by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Construction will include a Tennessee Performing Arts Center and 695 affordable housing units, among other commercial and public uses. The MOU establishes a priority in the bidding process for contractors looking to work for Fallon based on their track record of and future commitments to things like worker safety, on-time pay and quality health care benefits. Additionally, a company also could get a leg up in the bidding process if it agrees to work with local registered apprenticeship programs. “It’s refreshing to us that the developer saw this as a priority,” Local 386 Vice President Ethan Link said. “We had shared values around that, which for years has not been the norm here in Nashville.…It’s a totally different posture than what we’re used to.” “Having that East Bank job, if it was set up in those ways, it would make me feel secure,” said Cydney Jenkins, a 2022 graduate of Music City Construction Careers, a certified apprenticeship readiness program. “It would make me feel appreciated on the job, but it would also give me the chance to not be so far away from my children.”

Equitas Health Workers United Members Ratify Their First Contract with the LGBTQ+ Health Provider: Union staff at one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS-serving health care providers, Equitas Health, have ratified their first contract with the nonprofit health system. Equitas Health Workers United (EHWU), a local of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, which is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), represents more than 200 front-line, client-facing workers at 15 Equitas Health locations across Ohio. The union announced the victory on Friday—workers first began organizing in 2021, filed for a union election in May 2022 and then won their vote in August of the same year. The agreement includes retroactive wage increases, signing bonuses, a binding grievance and arbitration process, a labor-management committee with direct participation from the board of trustees, and more. “We started organizing our union three years ago because we are committed to providing our clients with the best care possible, and we couldn’t do that while management was making poor decisions without input from staff who work directly with clients,” said Breann Smith, a medical case manager and member of the EHWU bargaining team. “That’s why we prioritized contract language that gives us different ways to have an impact on the decisions that affect our work and our clients’ care.”