Wave of strikes sweeping across U.S.
Tens of thousands of workers fed-up with low wages, shoddy or imperiled benefits and unsafe work conditions are going on strike in the largest wave of Labor unrest since a series of teacher strikes in 2018 and 2019, which won major victories and gave the American Labor Movement a significant boost.
Workers in a range of industries from healthcare and food production to Hollywood and academia are largely focused on higher wages, fighting cuts and threatened outsourcing, and demands for better working and safety conditions, especially in light of COVID-19.
The pandemic has provided an unexpected shot in the arm to Labor unions by increasing bargaining power amid increased union drives and labor shortages in some industries.
Fourteen-hundred members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco, and Grain Milling (BCTGM) union went on strike against Kellogg’s cereals on Oct. 5, marking the third time this year the BCTGM union has gone on strike at a major food producer.
The company and employees are gridlocked over pay and benefits, including health care and retirement, NBC News reports. Union leaders say the company is also threatening to offshore jobs to Mexico. (See related story Page 1.)
After more than a year of unprecedented challenges for health care workers, 24,000 Kaiser Permanente employees began voting last week to authorize a strike, following a breakdown in negotiations on a new contract.
Kaiser Permanente employees have been in negotiations since June.
The Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), representing 3,400 Kaiser Permanente employees, cites low 1 percent hourly wage raises and a two-tiered pay system proposed by Kaiser Permanente among the main concerns for employees.
“These proposals would accelerate the already devastating staffing crisis, putting our patients at risk in the future,” OFNHP said in a press release announcing the strike vote.
“Striking is always our last resort, but Kaiser seems determined to push forward proposals that would hurt staff, patients, and our entire public health system,” Kaiser Permanente registered nurse and president of OFNHP Jodi Barschow said. “Kaiser needs to do the right thing and put our patients before profits.”
About 24,000 nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente in California represented by the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals will vote on a strike authorization from Oct. 1 through Oct. 10. The union took issue with Kaiser Permanente’s 1 percent wage increase for workers, cuts to wages for new staff, and benefit cuts in the company’s most recent offer.
“We have people burned out, complaining of mental health issues and PTSD. We’re in a situation as a union where we’re concerned about the future of nursing, (and) how we recruit and retain nurses and other healthcare professionals,” said Denise Duncan, a registered nurse and president of United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP), which represents about 24,000 nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente in California.
About 700 building engineers at Kaiser Permanente in the San Francisco area already are on strike.
Other unions representing thousands of workers at the company with expiring union contracts also are considering strike authorization votes.
Meanwhile, some 2,500 nurses and other hospital staff represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1133 went on strike Oct. 1 after failing to reach a fair agreement on issues of understaffing, equipment shortages, low wages, and healthcare costs. Tina Knop, a nurse at Mercy Hospital, argued unsafe staffing ratios, lack of support staff and supply shortages have worsened working conditions through the pandemic, and made it more difficult to adequately care for patients.
“What we’re fighting for is to have better staffing and Catholic Health to come forward and work harder to actually staff their facilities,” said Knop. “They’re not providing us with support, emotionally or physically, and all they want to do is cut our pay, take away the pension targets and charge more for our health insurance.”
FILM AND TELEVISION WORKERS
After four months of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced a strike authorization vote for 60,000 workers across the film and television industry in the U.S.
Hollywood workers have reported long workdays and unsafe schedules that have worsened during the pandemic. Pay rates for many workers have remained low, at just above the minimum wage in the Los Angeles area, while streaming services and shorter television series have also depressed wages.
“They wouldn’t have much to film if we weren’t here building everything for them,” said Joe Martinez, a IATSE Local 44 member and special effects technician. “They need to start looking at it from a perspective of what would happen if we weren’t there. And then it changes the whole dynamic, because there’s no way they would ever have a central product if we weren’t there.”
The Kennedy Center’s IATSE-affiliated stagehands unanimously voted to authorize a strike, forcing management back to the negotiating table and winning a good three-year contract that includes better health and safety protections and locked-in jurisdictional rights.
Across the country, several other large groups of workers have voted to authorize strikes while continuing new union contract negotiations, including:
- 2,000 Frontier Communications workers in California.
- Transit workers in Beaumont, Texas, and Akron, Ohio.
- 450 public works employees in Minneapolis, Minn.
- Dining workers at Northwestern University.
- Hundreds of group home workers in Connecticut.
Graduate workers at Harvard and Columbia University are currently holding strike authorization votes and Illinois State University graduate workers have authorized the bargaining team to call for a strike vote.
About 1,100 coal miners in Alabama have been on strike for the past six months and 2,000 carpenters in Washington have been on strike since Sept. 16.
JOHN DEERE WORKERS
On Sept. 12, 10,100 John Deere production and warehouse workers in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas, represented by nine locals with the United Auto Workers, voted 99 percent in favor of a strike authorization if a new six-year union contract isn’t attained through negotiations with the company.
The United Auto Workers announced a tentative agreement with John Deere last week, but workers have yet to ratify the agreement.