Worker Wins: The Priceless Value of Having a Union Contract

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

Eight Tribune Units Ratify Historic First Contract: After five years of negotiations with Alden Global Capital, journalists at eight Tribune publications voted overwhelmingly to ratify a historic first contract. The two-year contract includes raises, maintenance of existing employer 401K matches for all employees currently participating, union-sponsored health insurance, new holiday pay for part-timers, an additional bereavement day, carryover of one week of vacation to the following year, guaranteed severance pay if a reduction in force were to occur, just cause provisions preventing arbitrary discipline and termination, a formalized grievance and arbitration process, notice requirements and seniority provisions for layoffs, recall rights, social media protections, byline/credit line rights, rights to a safe and sanitary workplace, among others. “We finally did it: Orlando Sentinel workers have secured a union contract for the first time in the newspaper’s 148-year history, establishing two years of raises, protecting our retirement plans and overall setting the foundation to build a stronger newsroom,” said Cristóbal Reyes, a member of the Orlando Sentinel Guild and joint bargaining committee. “This could not have happened without the passion and resilience of our members and our commitment to standing with our comrades at sister guilds throughout the Tribune chain from the bargaining table to the picket line, as we staged a historic one-day walkout. Four long years battling with ‘the Darth Vader of the newspaper industry’ have brought us to this moment, and we have no intention of slowing down. Soon it will be on to the next battle, but we fully intend to bask in the history we are building together.” Newsrooms covered by the contract include: 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.

AFSCME Members at Philadelphia Museum of Art Win Longevity Settlement: Members of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) Union—a chapter of Philly Cultural Workers United, AFSCME Local 397, and an affiliate of AFSCME District Council 47—and management have successfully settled a contract dispute, ensuring longtime workers get the longevity pay they deserve. In fall 2022, after two years of negotiations and a three-week strike, members ratified a quality contract that met workers’ needs and concerns. Wins included provisions like hourly wage increases, affordable health care options, paid parental leave and longevity raises. However, in April of this year, members reported that the museum had been shortchanging many staff who are contractually guaranteed to receive that agreed-upon longevity pay. Local 397, the union for cultural workers across Philadelphia, condemned this attempt at undermining the deal and a grievance was filed immediately while workers gathered thousands of petition signatures calling for PMA to do right by its dedicated workers. All this coordinated pressure paid off late last month when Philly Cultural Workers United announced it had reached an agreement with the museum that enforced the contractual language around the longevity pay members had ratified. “Public petitions, stickers, buttons, testimonials, memes, all staff meeting actions, press outreach, political outreach. A full 10 months of perseverance, collaboration, solidarity, and care went into getting to today—longevity payday,” said Philly Cultural Workers United Vice President Amanda Bock on social media. “Proud of and thankful for all my union siblings who knew that sticking together and fighting for one another was how we would win this thing.”

UFCW Members Ratify First Union Contract at Minnesota Half Price Books Stores: Workers from four Twin Cities Half Price Books locations voted to ratify their first union contracts on Friday, ensuring that their jobs are protected, safe and sustainable. Half Price Books is a chain of new and used bookstores in the United States—staff in Minnesota were the first in the nation to form a union with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Workers in the Twin Cities, who organized with locals 663 and 1189, sparked a wave of collective action that has already spread to stores in four other states. Members in Coon Rapids (Northtown), Roseville, St. Louis Park and St. Paul won their union elections in 2022 and now have secured new contracts with wins like wage increases of 33%, a functional grievance procedure, protections for transgender workers and much more. “Through the hard work of the entire bargaining committee, we have shown all of our coworkers the priceless value of having a union contract. This is going to help everyone at Half Price Books, and it will continue for decades to come,” said Aaron Kerr, who works at the Roseville location.

Firefighters Ratify Contract to End Boeing Lockout: At the end of last week, Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local I-66 members at Boeing ratified a new contract with the aerospace company that includes key wins for workers like improved pay and a better seniority scale, ending the weekslong lockout. The four-year agreement includes wage increases of 2% to 3% per year and guaranteed overtime, increasing average annual pay by up to $21,216. These wins bring Boeing’s firefighter wages closer to parity with the pay scales at local fire departments. The union negotiating team also secured a one-time $1,000 signing bonus and some other compensation improvements that allow workers to reach top-level pay faster than the previous proposals. Workers returned to their jobs on Saturday, continuing their critical fire-prevention and medical emergency response work that has saved Boeing billions of dollars in insurance premiums. “Boeing Local I-66 fire fighters stood tall in the face of a multi-billion-dollar company trying to break their ranks. The entirety of the Labor Movement stood with them, as did President Biden,” said IAFF General President Edward Kelly. “We’re grateful our rank-and-file members got the contract they deserve, which provides them with fair pay for their critical work.” “This was a David and Goliath story, and I don’t think Boeing expected us to stand together and fight the way we did,” said I-66 Local President Casey Yeager in a press release. “The pay was important, but our members also wanted to be respected because we love Boeing, and those employees are like family. This contract shows us that Boeing values the work we do.”

New Jersey Transit Workers Ratify New 3-Year Contract: The Transport Workers Union (TWU) announced on Sunday that New Jersey Transit workers have voted to ratify a new three-year agreement with the transit agency. NJ Transit is the country’s third-largest provider of bus, rail and light rail transit, connecting major destinations in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. Represented by Local 2001, the car inspectors, mechanics and coach cleaners who make safe public transportation possible in New Jersey voted with 80% of members in favor of the new contract. Wins include pay raises, the addition of Veterans Day as a contractual paid holiday and another paid sick day, bringing the total to six. The deal also has no givebacks to management, ensuring that previously secured wage and benefits improvements remain unchanged. “I want to congratulate Local 2001 for negotiating a new contract that betters the quality of life for our hardworking New Jersey Transit workers and their families,” said TWU Rail Division Director John Feltz.

Newark Teachers Union Reaches Tentative Agreement with School District: The Newark Teachers Union (NTU)—an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—and the district announced a tentative agreement on Friday that would increase the starting salary and give educators a 4.5% raise for each of its five years. The five-year agreement would give educators raises averaging 22.5% over the life of the contract and a $3,000 increase in the starting salary for teachers (raising it to $65,000 per year) in order to help combat understaffing and attract new, talented staff members. Additionally, the contract would empower teachers to select and design curriculum within their subject areas, putting their expertise in the drivers’ seat and ultimately helping students. The bargaining unit includes teachers, classroom aides, guidance counselors and other roles such as psychologists and reading specialists. “We felt the best way to get a contract that helps Newark students succeed and thrive would be to be partners, not combatants,” NTU President John M. Abeigon said. “What makes this contract transformational and a model for other districts is that teachers will have a genuine voice in all aspects of Newark education, including having seats on committees that deal with instruction issues and district operations.”