By KENNETH QUINNELL and AARIB GALLANT
Despite the challenges of organizing during a deadly pandemic, working people across the country (and beyond) continue organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.
• UFCW workers at Heaven Hill Distillery approve new contract – After a strike that lasted six weeks, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members at Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky reached an agreement on a new contract. The new contract preserves affordable health care, increases pay, maintains overtime provisions and strengthens retirement security, among other provisions. The strike came after six months of negotiations led to a proposal from the distillery that was rejected by more than 96 percent of members in a vote.
• First game workers in North America to win collective bargaining rights – The workers who create the popular role-playing games Starfinder and Pathfinder announced on Oct. 21 that they had won voluntary recognition from their employer, Paizo. United Paizo Workers is affiliated with the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees-CWA (CODE-CWA) and includes more than 39 members. These workers are the first game employees in North America to win collective bargaining rights.
“Now the real work begins,” the union said. “One of our goals is to increase wages to better match the cost-of-living, and that is likely to be the first topic we tackle. Following [the Oct. 14] announcement of our unionization, even more Paizo employees joined us.”
• Code for America staff become latest tech workers to join OPEIU – Workers at Code for America (CfA) have voted to join Tech Workers Union Local 1010, an affiliate of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). Code for America, a nonprofit that focuses on closing the technology gap between public and private sectors, voluntarily recognized the union and contract negotiations are expected to start soon.
“Nonprofit and tech workers alike are becoming increasingly aware of the power a union brings them at work,” said OPEIU Organizing Director Brandon Nessen. “Unionizing gives working people agency to advance not only their own interests, but the mutual interests shared by both staff and management.”
“We are pleased Code for America management took the step to voluntarily recognize our union, CfA Workers United, today via a democratic card-check process,” said Aditi Joshi. “We look forward to working together with CfA management to continue building a culture at the organization that empowers all employees to show up to work as their full selves, each and every day.”
• Bend the Arc staff form union with NPEU –The Staff of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice has joined together with the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU)/IFPTE Local 70 to form the Bend the Arc Workers Union, the two organizations announced on Friday. The union has received voluntary recognition from management. The Bend the Arc Workers Union said it works to support the interests of its members, and promote solidarity and equity while advancing social, racial and economic justice in their members’ workplaces and communities.
“Bend the Arc is organizing the Jewish community to fight for a country where all of us are safe, free and thriving — and we want the same for our workplace,” said the Bend the Arc Workers Union organizing committee. “We are excited to have another tool to support Bend the Arc’s mission internally and continue our goals for anti-racism within the organization. In forming a union, we draw from a long legacy of Jewish labor organizing in the United States and across the world, individually and collectively grounded in our ancestors’ fights for workers’ rights and collective power.”
• Pitt faculty members vote to form union in organizing victory for USW – The University of Pittsburgh’s 3,300 faculty members are looking forward to bargaining their first union contract with the school’s administration after the faculty’s successful vote to become members of the United Steelworkers (USW). The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board held a mail ballot election for faculty members, following more than two years of delays as a result of legal challenges from the administration.
More than 71 percent of the workers who voted cast votes to join the union. “This result has been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait,” said Tyler Bickford, an associate professor in the university’s English department. “It’s a good feeling to know that we as faculty members have finally achieved what all workers deserve — a voice in the decision-making process that affects our lives on the job.”
• Ohio workers at Worthington Libraries vote union yes – Librarians and other workers at Worthington Libraries voted 80–10 (89 percent) to form their union with the Ohio Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The organizing campaign was driven by concerns that too many library policies, including health and safety concerns and paid leave policies, were being made without any input from library employees. Worthington Libraries is now only the second library system in central Ohio where workers have organized a union, and their organizing campaign has sparked interest from librarians and workers at other libraries.
“We organized our union because equity and democracy are pillars of public libraries,” said Libby Vasey, a librarian at Worthington Park Library. “All workers at the library, especially those who work directly and daily with the people we serve, should have a voice at the table where workplace decisions are made.”
• West Virginia as Machinists approve new contract – In yet another #Striketober win, a two-week strike is over after members of Machinists (IAM) Local 598 voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new three-year contract. The 50 workers went back to the job site at Sulzer Pumps in Barboursville, West Virginia, on Oct. 24. The new, improved agreement increases wages, secures seniority rights, stabilizes health care benefits and creates a new pension plan with matching employer payments.
“I’m so proud of IAM Local 598 members for standing strong and winning the contract that themselves and their families deserve,” said IAM District 54 President T. Dean Wright Jr. “Thanks to their determination and the support of the community, we have protected some of the best careers in the area. Our members look forward to getting back to work building a great product right here in Barboursville.”
• AFT settles student debt lawsuit, wins big gains for borrowers – The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), AFT President Randi Weingarten and eight individual AFT member plaintiffs reached a landmark settlement with the U.S. Department of Education in the case Weingarten v. DeVos, and, as a result, tens of thousands of student loan borrowers can expect imminent relief from their student debt.
Under the historic agreement, all Public Service Loan Forgiveness applicants who were denied relief will have an opportunity for their cases to be reviewed, setting public employees across the country, including teachers, nurses and firefighters, on a path to a life-changing reduction or elimination of their crushing student debt burden.
“Congress pledged relief to those who dedicated their lives to serving the public, but 98 percent got a debt sentence instead,” Weingarten said. “Today is a day of vindication for the millions of borrowers who took the government at its word but were cruelly denied through no fault of their own.”
• IAM Local 701 mechanics return to work after eight-week strike – Members of Machinists (IAM) Local 701, working as auto and truck mechanics in the Chicago area, attained a new contract in September after an eight-week strike that left management again in disarray.
The dealers association, known as the Chicago New Car Dealer Committee (NCDC), had been making drastic proposals at the bargaining table. But as the union’s contract campaign picked up steam, more than 20 dealerships broke away from NCDC and bargained their own interim agreements with Local 701. The NCDC eventually withdrew all of its initial proposals and settled for virtually the same terms as the interim agreements signed by over 100 other dealerships.
“This strike was the result of yet another attempt by the few anti-union dealers who remain in the NCDC association from four years ago to break our union,” said Local 701 Directing Business Representative Sam Cicinelli. “I’m extremely proud of the resolve, tenacity and solidarity of the membership. Their unflinching determination led to yet another benchmark agreement across our industry.”
The members’ new contract provides significant wage increases, no changes to health benefits and increased funding for Local 701’s training program.
• UFCW Local 2 members secure a fair contract with significant pay increases – Over 1,800 members of UFCW Local 2 won a new contract with Triumph Foods that includes the largest pay increase in the company’s history. The six-year contract includes a starting wage that is higher than the average wage of other regional meatpacking companies. All current production workers at the meatpacking plant in St. Joseph, Mo., will also receive a minimum $2.75 per hour increase.
“Our union is thrilled that Triumph Foods has agreed to implement this significant wage increase,” said UFCW Local 2 President Martin Rosas. “This rate is almost 15 percent higher than current starting wages, which is an incredible investment in Triumph team members who work so hard to supply pork for consumers.”
• Michigan to reinstate prevailing wage for state construction projects – In a big win for workers in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that the state will now require contractors and subcontractors to pay prevailing wage on all state construction projects. The reinstatement of prevailing wage will ensure that qualified workers are utilized to construct and repair Michigan’s physical infrastructure while allowing contractors to compete for bids fairly.
“Requiring a prevailing wage to be paid in state contracting means safe, quality construction projects completed by highly skilled workers. It means working women and men getting paid a decent wage that can support a family. It means no more race to the bottom to find the cheapest labor while companies pad their bottom line. It also means a fair competitive bidding process for contractors,” said Michigan State AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber (UAW). “All of this is especially important as we look to rebuild our economy after the devastation caused by the pandemic and look to improve and modernize our infrastructure. Michigan families will be better off because of Gov. Whitmer’s action today.”
• Maine public employees ratify new contract – The Bangor Federation of Public Employees (AFT Local 6071) ratified a new contract for the mechanics who maintain the city’s buses, police cars and fire trucks.
“Overall, we feel that this was an improvement over the initial proposals made by the city,” said Serina DeWolfe, labor representative for AFT Local 6071. “Initially the city only wanted to give the members a one percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) raise for each year of the collective bargaining agreement. We ended up with a two percent COLA for each year PLUS a 2.5 percent wage step raise for each year of the contract. The members are happy with the increase in not only the wages but the safety eyewear increase and the increased accrued comp time. The negotiations went smoothly and we credit the city for working collaboratively with us to reach an agreement we can all live with.”
The contract includes annual wage increases, increased allowances for safety equipment and other benefits.