Worker Wins: We Will Have Their Backs

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

AFSCME President Joins OHSU Workers in Contract Fight, Celebrates Organizing Win: Last week, AFSCME President Lee Saunders rallied with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) postdoctoral workers who are negotiating their first contract and congratulated biomedical researchers at the university who recently organized with Oregon AFSCME (Council 75). Members of OHSU Postdoc Workers United organized the rally as OHSU administrators have slow-walked the bargaining process by refusing to make progress on key issues like fair pay, improved benefits and provisions ensuring principles of equity and inclusion. Despite the fact that the 235 postdoc researchers are some of the scientists behind important discoveries that have brought in $600 million in federal funding to OHSU, the administration has continued to insult workers with status quo economic proposals. “You’re standing up for what you believe in, you’re standing up because you have a seat at the table. They have a responsibility to negotiate a fair contract with you. And if they don’t, we will raise all kinds of hell,” Saunders said to the crowd of postdoctoral workers. At another event, Saunders joined biomedical researchers who had their election to join Oregon AFSCME as Research Workers United (RWU-AFSCME) certified by the Oregon Employment Relations Board late last month. OHSU’s research staff is responsible for life-saving work studying cancer, seizure disorders and more. The unit includes almost 2,000 workers who will soon start bargaining for a contract that will improve wages, job security, benefits, resources and work-life balance for unclassified researchers. Saunders told workers, “With your new union, you can demand greater accountability and transparency from the university. You can demand answers about what they’re doing with grant money that is supposed to be for research.”

New York State Senate Passes Retail Worker Safety Act: Last week, the New York State Senate passed the Retail Worker Safety Act, a landmark piece of legislation mandating corporate retail employers to adopt comprehensive violence prevention plans to protect retail workers. The bill, which was endorsed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union-UFCW (RWDSU-UFCW), is now headed to Gov. Kathy Hochul's desk for her signature. In addition to requiring established violence prevention procedures, the act also compels employers to train workers in de-escalation and how to handle active shooters. Large retailers with 500 or more workers nationwide also will need to install panic buttons throughout their workplaces. In a survey of workers conducted by RWDSU-UFCW, 57% of respondents have experienced verbal harassment or intimidating conduct in their workplace within the last year, and 88% said they would feel safer if a silent panic button was installed. “When the bill is signed into law, basic protections will be provided for both workers and customers. Throughout this campaign, we have heard deeply troubling workers’ stories from all over the state—stories of violent crimes, senseless shootings and harassment,” RWDSU-UFCW President Stuart Appelbaum said. “Workers in retail stores in New York should never have to experience anything like this. One thing is for certain, however: employers can and should do more to protect their employees. That’s why we’re championing this critical law, which requires that retail employers take full responsibility to protect their workers from violence.”

University of Pennsylvania RAs Unanimously Ratify First Contract: Undergraduate and graduate resident advisers (RAs) at the University of Pennsylvania have ratified their first-ever union contract with 100% voting yes on the new agreement. Members of United RAs at Penn became the first RA union in the Philadelphia area in September when they joined Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 153. Before the new two-year contract, student workers received only a partial meal plan and a room in exchange for about 20 hours of work per week. They now get an additional 20 meals as part of their dining plan, an annual $3,000 stipend in the first year of the contract—to increase to $3,100 in the second year—and, for RAs who worked this spring, a $750 retroactive stipend. Workers have also secured provisions, including support during the disciplinary process, a grievance and arbitration procedure, a labor-management committee to give workers input into the College House system and more. “As a graduating senior who has worked on this campaign for years, it is remarkable to finally see RAs receiving compensation for the important work they do at Penn,” said Conor Emery, a member of United RAs at Penn, in an OPEIU press release. “I hope other RA unions in the Philadelphia area and beyond can learn from our negotiation campaign to strike even better deals with their employers, and I hope other student workers on Penn’s campus can feel energized to unionize and to bargain their own contracts too.”

Public Theater Workers Vote to Join IATSE: Crew members at off-Broadway’s Public Theater have officially voted to join the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), becoming the fifth off-Broadway group to do so since IATSE launched its organizing efforts earlier this year. This overwhelming election victory at one of New York’s most prominent not-for-profit theaters follows similar recent wins, including at Atlantic Theater Company and the off-Broadway musical “Titanique,” earlier this year. Unlike their Broadway counterparts, off-Broadway backstage workers are currently largely nonunion. In March, Public Theater management declined to voluntarily recognize the production workers’ union, but members weren’t deterred. Now having secured representation, they’ll soon be bargaining over improvements to working conditions, wages, health benefits and more. “I’m really excited that my fellow production workers and I will be able to have a say in what our jobs look like,” said props worker Milo Robinson. “We’re hoping that negotiations will bring benefits we all need, including a living wage and access to healthcare. Having a union at the Public feels like a big step in making off-Broadway a more sustainable career.”

Staff at the American Folk Art Museum Vote Unanimously to Form Union: Staff at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) voted unanimously last week to form a union with International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Local 2110, just a month after cultural workers at the museum announced their intent to organize. The museum, founded in 1961, has two locations in New York City: its public galleries on the Upper West Side and a facility in Queens. AFAM Union will represent workers across departments, including curatorial, information technology, retail and others. Members are hoping to negotiate a contract that will ensure fair wages and benefits, uphold workers’ rights and conditions, and create a better work environment that embodies values of equity, inclusivity and transparency. “I did get the pleasure of being onsite in Manhattan when the votes were counted and it was so exciting to see a unanimous vote from my colleagues across the museum in every department,” says Eve Erickson, executive assistant to the director and chief executive and an administrative manager at AFAM. “I am really looking forward to working with my colleagues across the museum to collectively ratify a contract that benefits everyone and builds a better future for the museum.”

UAW Members at Ultium Cells Reach Industry-Defining EV Tentative Agreement: UAW Local 1112 reached a landmark tentative agreement (TA) Friday at Ultium Cells in Lordstown, Ohio, marking a historic breakthrough for electric vehicle workers. Ultium Cells is a joint venture between General Motors (GM) and LG Energy Solution, and workers there build electric vehicle batteries for GM vehicles. Members voted in 2022 to join the UAW—this local TA builds on the successes of the national contract the union forged last fall as part of the Stand Up Strike and brings Ultium Cells workers under the master agreement. Wins include a 30% raise over three years for production, quality, SRP and material handling workers; protected paid relief time during shift; guaranteed full pay for bereavement and jury duty; and more. “Eighteen months ago, this company was on a low road path to poverty wages, unsafe conditions, and a dark future for battery workers in America,” said UAW President Shawn Fain. “Ultium workers said, ‘Hell no,’ got organized, and fought back. Now they’ve more than doubled their wages by the end of this contract, won record health and safety language, and showed the world what it means to win a just transition.” “Organizing to win our union took relentless persistence on behalf of hundreds of my coworkers at Ultium. Negotiating this contract was no different,” said Local 1112 Shop Chair Josh Ayers. “We want this agreement to become a cornerstone for current and future battery plants across the nation. First we planned. Then we took action. And now we have a tentative agreement to be proud of.”

Landslide Vote Grants Collective Bargaining to FCPS Staff, Educators: In a historic victory, 96% of instructional staff and more than 80% of operational workers at Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) voted to be represented by Fairfax Education Unions (FEU), an alliance between Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT)—an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliate—and Fairfax Education Association (FEA). The campaign is the most successful public sector collective bargaining campaign won in 25 years, and will allow FCPS educators and staff to collectively bargain as one voice for the first time in nearly 50 years. There has been a statute banning collective bargaining in Virginia since 1947—it was enacted in part as a response to efforts by Black nurses, janitors and orderlies to form a union at the University of Virginia Hospital the year before. In 1977, the Virginia Supreme Court banned public sector collective bargaining, and in 1993, a law was passed to codify the ban. Flash forward to 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance granting county workers the right to collectively bargain after the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 that allowed counties, cities and towns to adopt collective bargaining ordinances. However, the ordinance did not apply to FCPS employees. Then, on March 9, 2023, the Fairfax County School Board finally voted to extend those rights to school workers. To say this resounding victory has been a long time coming is an understatement. And newly minted FEU members are ready to start bargaining on a contract that will improve learning conditions for students, enforce smaller class sizes and increased prep time, advocate for better safety and mental health resources in schools, and more. “Today marks the culmination of a 47 year-long fight to win collective bargaining at Fairfax County Public Schools,” said David Walrod, president of FCFT, in an FEU press release. “This is undoubtedly a historic moment in Fairfax and a monumental step forward for labor.”

Fairfax County Public Schools Workers Win Historic Election: As of early Monday morning, more than 27,500 Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) workers are now members of Fairfax Education Unions (FEU)—an alliance between Fairfax Education Association (FEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliate, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT). Teachers, counselors, librarians, bus drivers, custodians, teaching assistants and other critical staff members who make the ninth largest school district in the country run voted by a massive margin to organize for the wages, benefits, and voice on the job they deserve. “Today’s message is clear: Persistence works, and the 1.75 million members of the AFT look forward to supporting Fairfax educators as they build a sustainable future for themselves, the public schools and the students they serve,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten in a press release. “We will have their backs as they bargain to ensure that every Fairfax public school is a place where parents want to send their kids, educators want to teach, and kids thrive.” Check out FEU’s announcement on social media here.

Lemonada Media Union Wins Voluntary Recognition: The Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) announced Thursday that the creative staff at Lemonada Media, an award-winning podcast network, has won voluntary recognition of their new union, Lemonada Media Union. Full-time and part-time producers and engineers for the network started organizing in the wake of a volatile media landscape to ensure and codify the rights and benefits they currently enjoy. The unit will begin bargaining its first contract soon, and its core priorities include worker input on company decision-making, standardized processes for promotions and advancements, equitable severance packages, worker protections in the event of an acquisition, and other critical safeguards. In addition to Lemonada Media, the WGAE represents podcast production staff at Crooked Media, the iHeartPodcast Network, Pineapple Street Studios, Pushkin Industries, The Ringer and Spotify Studios. “We’re excited to welcome the creative staff at Lemonada Media to the Writers Guild of America East,” said Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, president of the WGAE. “Lemonada joins the Guild as part of our ongoing unionization efforts to raise industry standards for the dedicated people who want to make a career working in podcasts. We look forward to securing workplace protections and benefits for the unit.”

Eight Tribune Publishing Units Ratify Historic First Contract: After five years of negotiations between Alden Global Capital and a joint bargaining committee, journalists at eight Tribune Publishing-owned outlets have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a historic first contract. Tribune, a newspaper print and online media publishing company, was acquired by hedge fund Alden Global Capital in 2021. When this deal went through, The NewsGuild-CWA members were in the midst of bargaining for a contract and had expressed concern about the purchase given that the hedge fund had a reputation for aggressively cutting staff during media company takeovers. But despite these hurdles, journalists remained steadfast in their fight and are now celebrating a contract that includes guaranteed raises, protection of their 401(k) match, increased job security and much more. The deal covers newsrooms at Orlando Sentinel, Tidewater (The Virginian-Pilot, Daily Press, The Virginia Gazette and Tidewater Review), Morning Call, Suburban Chicago Tribune (The Beacon-News, The Courier-News, The Naperville Sun and The Daily Southtown), Design and Production Studios, Hartford Courant and Tribune Content Agency.  “Helping organize our union in 2018 gave me agency I have never felt in my career,” said Suburban Chicago Tribune Guild unit chair and member bargainer Wendy Fox Weber. “Six years later, we finally have a contract with Alden Global Capital. The company fought us every step of the way, and everything in that contract is thanks to the work of a dedicated group of member bargainers. I am honored to have helped bring it to ratification.”