Worker Wins: A Bright Future of Worker Empowerment

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

Postdocs Form Union at Albert Einstein College of Medicine: Postdoctoral researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, one of New York’s most prestigious research institutions, have won their union election in a landslide victory. Einstein Researchers United-UAW will represent about 230 workers who make crucial contributions to public health, climate science and many other areas. Newly minted members say that union representation will allow them to enjoy workplace rights, improved benefits, more family-friendly policies and practices, and will create conditions where their work is valued. Rohan Misra, a postdoc fellow in the genetics department, said that “despite the fact that postdocs drive the world-class research produced at Einstein, I’ve witnessed firsthand the lack of support many of us face in addressing our needs, especially during a cost-of-living crisis. Our international status compounds these challenges, making fair pay and adequate support crucial.”

Hillcrest Better Buzz Workers Vote to Join UFCW: Workers at Better Buzz Coffee’s Hillcrest location in San Diego voted on Friday to join United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135. Better Buzz is one of the largest local coffee chains in San Diego County, with locations in Southern California and more new branches opening in Arizona. The unit includes baristas, trainers and shift supervisors, who organized under the name Better Buzz United. Workers started discussing unionizing in January—with core concerns including low pay, inconsistent scheduling and lack of benefits like health care and PTO—then filed a union election petition in April. “I’m extremely grateful to all of my coworkers for showing up and showing out in support of granting workers a voice,” said barista Jackson Ducksworth in a Local 135 press release. “This is another step towards a bright future of worker empowerment!”

AFGE and TSA Sign Historic New Contract: AFGE and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) signed their first union contract last week under expanded collective bargaining rights recently extended to airport screeners by the Biden administration. This contract is a huge victory for transportation security officers (TSOs) who, for nearly two decades, have lacked many of the key labor rights guaranteed to most federal employees and were also some of the lowest paid in the federal workforce. Agreement wins include a more streamlined grievance process and arbitration rules, improved pay and expanded work-life balance policies like shift trading. The deal also memorializes the recently expanded bargaining rights, given that the change occurred administratively, which will protect these rights from being simply reversed by a future administration. “The TSA has existed for over 20 years, and there has never been a contract like this in its entire history. When the agency began, we weren’t even allowed to join a union, much less negotiate a contract,” said Hydrick Thomas, president of AFGE Council 100, which represents TSOs nationwide. “This new contract includes rights that are a huge step forward from the early days of the TSA. As the rights of the workers at the TSA have improved, so has turnover at the agency. More experienced TSOs mean a more secure flying experience for air travelers, and the new rights achieved by our members mean more employees will make serving the flying public a long-term career.”

Disneyland Character Workers Vote to Form Union with Equity: An overwhelming majority of the Disneyland Resort cast members who bring the magic of the amusement park to life voted to form a union on Saturday with Actors’ Equity Association (Equity). The new bargaining unit—named Magic United—includes about 1,700 workers who perform as beloved characters at the park, as well as the staff members who supervise interactions between park visitors and characters and train these performers. Disneyland is already a highly unionized workplace with staff in different roles represented by a number of different unions, but character workers have long been one of the few departments without collective bargaining power. Equity already negotiates on behalf of performers in shows at Walt Disney World and in Disney theatricals on Broadway and on national tours. “They say that Disneyland is ‘the place where dreams come true,’ and for the Disney Cast Members who have worked to organize a union, their dream came true today,” said Equity President Kate Shindle in a press release. “These workers are on the front lines of the Guest experience; they're the human beings who create lifelong memories when your kids hug a character, or when your family watches a parade roll by the castle. The next step will be to collaborate with them about improving health & safety, wages, benefits, working conditions and job security. After that we will meet with representatives of the Walt Disney Company to negotiate those priorities into a first contract.”

Biden Signs Labor-Backed, Bipartisan FAA Bill into Law: President Biden signed into law a bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill on Thursday that aims to improve aviation safety while strengthening protections for both passengers and airline workers. H.R. 3935, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024, will address the air traffic controller staffing crisis, strengthening protections for flight crew, modernizing mental health and medication protocols for pilots, creating a national plan to enhance recruitment, hiring and retention in the civil aviation workforce, and more. Major labor unions across the aviation industry have hailed this legislation as a clear and meaningful win for safety and worker rights. “This reauthorization of the FAA is a victory for workers, and the AFL-CIO is thrilled by its passage,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler in a press release. “While rejecting harmful policy changes, this bipartisan agreement strengthens safety standards, supports workforce growth and enhances aviation infrastructure….The AFL-CIO is proud to work with our allies in Congress and all the aviation unions of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, on this reauthorization.”

New Flyer Workers in Alabama Ratify Union Contract, a Triumph for Labor in the South: IUE-CWA members at New Flyer's Anniston, Alabama, facility overwhelmingly ratified their first contract with near unanimous agreement. The agreement will raise the pay of most workers by 25% to 38% by 2026, includes language to restrict forced overtime, expands paid time off to include more parental leave and codifies Juneteenth as a contractual holiday. Workers at New Flyer—a subsidiary of NFI Group Inc., one of the world’s largest bus and coach manufacturers—formed their union with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) earlier this year. They were able to organize free from managerial interference because of a labor peace agreement CWA negotiated with the company in 2022. Additionally, thanks to the tireless advocacy work of community-allied organizations like Jobs to Move America, New Flyer also agreed to a community benefits agreement that would hold it accountable for instituting hiring and promotion practices that would help boost historically disadvantaged groups. This victory is not just a win for workers at the company, but also a beacon of hope for Southern workers across industries. "I think this will put New Flyer on the map as one of the better-paying jobs in the area. With the union now in place, it will also make it a great place to work,” said Marcus King, a worker at New Flyer, in a CWA press release. “The union will bring equality and a safer environment for us workers. This is the beginning of a legacy that will last for generations, and I am proud to have been part of getting this started.”

UW Student Workers Reach a Deal with University After One-Day Strike: After thousands of academic student employees (ASEs) at the University of Washington (UW) went on strike Tuesday, the bargaining team of International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Local 4121 announced later that night that they had reached a tentative agreement. The union has been working diligently in bargaining sessions with university administrators since February, securing deals on all provisions except wages. UW academic student employees—including teaching assistants, researchers, tutors and others—voted nearly unanimously in April to authorize a strike and hit the picket lines early Tuesday morning to pressure administration to give them the fair pay they deserve. By 9 p.m. of the same day, they had reached a deal. Wins include the largest raises the bargaining unit has ever won in a contract, $0 health care premiums maintained, paid leave time for immigration appointments and hearings, grievance timeline improvements and more.

Natural Grocers Workers in Oklahoma Win Union Election: After years of organizing, workers at Natural Grocers in Norman, Oklahoma, voted to join United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1000 on Thursday. Staff have been working toward this victory since 2021, enduring hourslong captive-audience meetings from notorious union-busting consultant firm the Crossroads Group and retaliation against pro-union workers. But despite these tactics, newly minted UFCW members are emerging victorious. Core concerns that have animated organizing efforts include fair pay with regular raises, quality health care coverage, protections for pregnant workers, job security and improved bereavement leave—specifically language that is inclusive of co-workers who have passed. “I want a union because I care deeply for my coworkers, my store, my community, and the future of the company,” said Natural Grocers staff member Bridget Burns. “I believe that a union provides a more accessible feedback representation system for workers and that this would enable the company to better uphold their founding principles.”

WGA Members at Sesame Workshop Ratify New Contract: On Friday, members of Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) and Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) at Sesame Workshop overwhelmingly ratified a new five-year collective bargaining agreement. The 35-member bargaining unit at Sesame Workshop secured a groundbreaking expansion of the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) jurisdiction over programs made for platforms such as streaming and social media, minimum rates increases, protections against artificial intelligence, better paid parental leave benefits, increased minimum script fees and huge improvements to new media residuals. “Congratulations to our Sesame Workshop writers, who won groundbreaking protections that will allow them to continue creating children’s media,” said WGAE President Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. “Make no mistake—these historic gains mark an important step in organizing animation. Writing for children’s media and animation isn’t easier than other forms of screenwriting, and those workers deserve the same protections.”