Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Walmart has fired about two dozen workers who joined a one-week strike in early June, and issued warnings to about another 35. Brandon Garrett, a worker from Baker, Louisiana, was fired June 28, three weeks after he joined OUR Walmart members protesting at the corporation’s annual shareholder meeting in Arkansas, for not showing up on the days he was on strike. Garrett, who worked as an overnight stocker, said he told his supervisor it was illegal to fire him, because he was striking to protest unfair labor practices—and got the response, “We don’t recognize strikers.”
Gov. Brown Intervenes to Stop Second BART Strike
California Gov. Jerry Brown intervened Aug. 4 to halt an impending strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers, saying it would “significantly disrupt public transportation services.” The order, requested by BART management, prohibits either a strike or a lockout for seven days, and the governor may then impose a 60-day cooling-off period. The issues are the same as those that provoked the five-day strike in July. Management is insisting that workers, represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021, pay more for health care and pensions. The unions say that would mean a pay cut for many workers.
The AFL-CIO praised President Barack Obama for calling for more manufacturing and “middle-class jobs” July 30—and sharply criticized him for choosing to give that speech at the Amazon “fulfillment center” in Chattanooga, Tennessee, “a location that neither pays those good wages and benefits nor is a place that offers manufacturing jobs.” The union’s blog noted that Amazon takes a hard line against unions, and that most of the 15,000 workers at its warehouses and shipping centers are hired through temporary agencies, often have to do 12-hour shifts for $12.50 an hour, and don’t get health benefits, sick days, or vacation. Next time, the blog said, the president should “make sure that the company he's gracing with his presence isn't part of the problem.”
Unions Try Creative Organizing Tactics
With union membership at its lowest point in nearly a century, labor is trying new kinds of organizing, from worker centers to one-day strikes at fast-food chains and Walmart, which have long resisted unions. "The fast-food and Wal-Mart strikes are exciting examples of workers reinventing the strike, going on offense and challenging inequality," said Stephen Lerner, a labor and community organizer and architect of the Justice for Janitors campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If unions can't organize through traditional methods, labor strategists say, these tactics can show how coordinated action can win some concessions from employers.
Union Raids on Rivals Rise
With overall membership declining, unions are often battling one another for members. The Teamsters are trying to win American Airlines mechanics away from the Transport Workers Union, and the National Union of Healthcare Workers unsuccessfully wooed 45,000 California health-care workers represented by the Service Employees International Union. “If a union isn't doing its job, it should be voted out,” said NUHW secretary-treasurer John Borsos. But TWU organizing director Frank McCann says competing for members is “really hurting labor in this country,” and the focus should be on “fighting for a voice for the workers that don't have a voice.”
SEIU Bows Out of Vermont Home Care Election Drive
The Service Employees International Union has withdrawn from the election to represent Vermont’s 7,000 home-care workers, leaving it to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. SEIU organizer Matthew MacDonald said that “having a big fight that could potentially get very negative” was not “in the best interest of building the labor movement here in Vermont.” AFSCME already represents some Vermont public employees, while SEIU doesn’t have any members in the state. The two unions worked together to get the state to pass a law that designates the home-care providers as state employees for the purpose of collective bargaining.
Upstate NY Plumbers Get $10.8 Million in Madoff Settlement
Local 267 of the Plumbers & Steamfitters union in DeWitt, N.Y., got checks for $10.8 million July 31, restitution for money the union’s pension fund invested in Bernard Madoff’s $17 billion Ponzi scheme. The money is the local’s share of a $219 million settlement reached in November between Madoff’s victims and investment funds that funneled their clients' money to him. Local 267 has recovered about 70 percent of the $20.6 million it invested with Madoff, business manager Greg Lancette said, but the scam forced the union to charge members more for pensions and delay their retirement. Two other upstate unions, Local 73 of the Plumbers & Steamfitters in Oswego and Local 112 of the Plumbers & Pipefitters in Binghamton, also got money from the settlement.
Philadelphia Convention Center Carpenters Settle Strike
A strike by five labor unions at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia Aug. 1 ended after 16 hours when the center’s labor broker agreed to extend their contract for a year. Local Eight of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the largest union at the site, began the strike, four other locals joined, and the sixth wouldn’t cross the picket line. Elliott-Lewis, the labor supplier, has been trying to change work rules and bring down labor costs.
Workers at the Nippon Paper Industries USA mill in Port Angeles, Washington approved a six-year contract July 31, ending a $3-an-hour pay cut and bringing their wages back to what they were in 2010. The 200 workers, who went on strike for five days after the company imposed the pay cut in March, narrowly approved the deal, under which they’ll pay more for health care and won’t get a raise until at least 2016. “You are looking at six to seven years, more likely seven years, without any wage increases,” said Darrel Reetz, vice president of Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers Local 155. The mood at the contract-vote meeting he attended was “somber, frustration.”
Two years after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 stripped government workers of collective-bargaining rights, most of the state’s public-sector unions have lost between one-third and two-thirds of their members—and have been forced to find new ways to resist. “Work sites have become hellholes,” says Marty Beil, director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, but with no more grievance procedures, “we talk a lot with our local unions and our leadership to do direct action, because that’s really the only effective tool that we have left.”