As a CUNY adjunct starting this semester without a contract, I am filled with anger, terror, and excitement — a mix of reactions I’ll try to explain here. My anger predates our current contract struggle. Having taught at various CUNY campuses over the past six years, I’m furious about adjuncts’ working conditions and the resulting student learning conditions. As underpaid, expendable, and often invisible employees, adjuncts, who teach the majority of classes at the university, often find out our schedules mere days — or even hours — before the semester begins, and we are therefore forced to throw together syllabuses and assignments at the last minute.
On Tuesday, August 22, the Teamsters union announced that its members voted to ratify the national UPS contract by 86.3% – and with record turnout. Workers won significant raises, the abolition of the two-tier driver system, air conditioning in package cars, thousands of new full-time jobs, and more. In our previous episode, we discussed the gains of the tentative agreement and the years of Teamsters organizing it took to make them possible, including the past year’s contract campaign which built a credible strike threat. In this episode, we dug deeper into the various layers of members’ reactions to the contract, as well as what’s required of the membership to enforce it and build on it moving forward.
Warren, Michigan - Sunday afternoon at the Auto Workers (UAW) Region 1 Pavilion in Warren, Michigan, felt a lot like church. Auto workers came together in sweltering heat to rally each other with fiery speeches, cheers, and songs in the first Big 3 contract rally anyone can remember. The contracts with Ford, General Motors (GM), and Stellantis expire September 14. “I’ve been told throughout this thing that we’ve set expectations too high. You’re damn right we have, because our members have high expectations, and record profits deserve record contracts,” said UAW President Shawn Fain at the rally. “As a union, we have to lead the fight for economic justice—not just for ourselves but for the entire working class.”
Contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (which includes Chrysler) began in July. Instead of engaging in the traditional handshake across the table with company executives — a photo op implying the parties were working together to achieve a “competitive agreement” — UAW President Shawn Fain visited auto plants to shake hands with the UAW rank and file. This represented a break with the class-collaborationist former leaders of the union. Both parties have submitted written proposals to the other side. For the first time in decades, the UAW is making bold demands on the companies, including substantial pay increases, elimination of tiers in wages, benefits and pensions, restoration of the cost-of-living allowance (COLA) and, significantly, a 32-hour work week at 40 hours pay.
The clock is ticking toward September 14 at midnight, when the Auto Workers’ contracts with the Big 3 automakers expire. The new leaders of the UAW have come out swinging, and in quickly growing numbers, members are stepping up to prepare for a strike. The agreements cover close to 150,000 workers at Ford, General Motors (GM), and Stellantis. In early August President Shawn Fain presented a list of “the Members’ Demands” to the companies, calling them “the most audacious and ambitious list of proposals they’ve seen in decades.” These bargaining goals are aimed at undoing concessions extracted by the companies from previous union administrations since before the Great Recession.
Some 323,000 U.S. workers have struck so far this year. Another 340,000 were in gear to strike, until their nationwide mobilization forced the company to concede. UPS Teamsters are voting on the deal through August 22. “After 25 years of [former Teamsters President James P.] Hoffa and his givebacks, we came out ahead,” said Eugene Braswell, a delivery driver and Local 804 steward. “This is the first time in all those years that I have a national contract that I can vote yes on.” How are UPSers making sense of their gains at the table? I spoke with two dozen rank and filers. Some were relieved they didn’t have to strike.
To make company negotiators feel their power, ironworkers in Augusta, Maine, got loud—hammering on beams in the plant and leaning on their car horns. “Hammer time” was one of many pressure points they used to win a good contract in May. Another one: when the company dragged its feet in bargaining, workers just stopped putting in extra hours—and stopped going the extra mile when they were there. Ironworkers Local 807 represents 85 shop fabricators at the facility, owned by the steel manufacturing company Cives. Their contract had been extended twice for short periods, but as the company continued its slow walk, the workers voted unanimously against extending it any further.