Today Vanessa Krinker, 49, drives the number 45 bus to and from Garden Home in Southwest Portland. She wears a TriMet uniform and is a proud member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. But in 1997 she was active with Teamsters Local 63 in Southern California, and took part in one of the greatest strikes of the modern era. Krinker was a part-timer at a small UPS hub in Victorville, California, in the Mojave Desert an hour northeast of LA. She’d grown up nearby and had been at UPS two years. Her job was to load and unload trucks. It was hard work. Part-timers’ wages had been frozen at $8 an hour for 14 years. But under new leadership, Teamsters prepared for a fight with UPS, holding rallies and circulating a petition signed by over 100,000 members.
2021 saw high-profile strikes and contract battles that put unions in the public spotlight. And 2022 could potentially be more explosive. Workers are already sensing their increased leverage in a tight labor market. They’ll be feeling the squeeze of record inflation while their employers rake in profits. There’s every reason to hold the line against concessions, or to win back what they gave away before. A Bloomberg analysis in November found that nearly 200 large union contracts (covering at least 1,000 workers) would expire between then and the end of 2022. Together these contracts cover 1.3 million workers—and there are hundreds of thousands more covered under the hundreds of smaller contracts that are also expiring.
The struggle of the miners and the Amazon Army appears in no major labor history book. I decided to leave it out in my first book When Workers Shot Back (Ovetz, 2019) due to the lack of documentary evidence to write an entire chapter on it. This oversight is a mistake. The Amazon Army has much to teach us today about the interconnected struggle between waged and unwaged workers, immigrant and native labor, productive and reproductive labor, industrial unionism and organizing for power on the shopfloor, and the use of labor law and unions as a strategy for managing and suppressing class struggle.
A month into the nation’s largest work stoppage, striking John Deere workers are holding out for a better deal. For the second time in a month, 10,000 Auto Workers at John Deere stunned both the company and the union leadership November 2 by rejecting a tentative agreement. Workers at the farm equipment manufacturer remain on strike. Company and union negotiators are set to meet today for the first time since the deal was voted down. The vote was closer than on the first tentative agreement, which was rejected by 90 percent of members. This time, 55 percent voted no. It came as a shock to many analysts, given the concessions workers had been able to wring out of Deere during their first two weeks on strike.
It’s going to be a very good year for the top dogs and shareholders at Deere & Co. The Iowa-based equipment manufacturer says it earned more in the first nine months of its fiscal year than during its best year in 2013. The corporation’s third-quarter results are nearly $4.7 billion. John May, the company’s CEO, made over $14.7 million in total compensation in 2020. Reports are that his salary increased 160 percent during the pandemic while laid-off manufacturing workers saw “incentive” pay cut. On October 14, 10,000 unionized skilled manufacturing employees at Deere & Co. initiated their right to bargain by rejecting the contract put forth by management and going on strike. Does it surprise anyone that skilled workers went on strike after the company agreed to bump pay by little more than $1 per hour over the next 6 years?
On Monday, Nov. 8, the historic St. Vincent Hospital nurses strike will reach the eight-month mark, another sad milestone in their struggle against Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, a for-profit corporation that has spent more than $100 million and engaged in a number of unfair labor practices to retaliate against the nurses for exercising their right to advocate for safer patient care. The strike is the longest nurses strike in state history, and one of the longest of several strikes by workers across the nation, who are standing up to corporate greed and the devaluation of essential workers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The strike has caught the attention of labor and social justice advocacy organizations from across the nation, after Tenet has pursued an aggressive campaign to undermine the nurses’ union rights, and to permanently replace the nurses, what some in the labor movement have called a “PATCO moment,” referring to efforts by the Reagan administration to replace air traffic controllers following their strike in the early 1980s.
As the rich and comfortable stayed indoors and rode out the worst months of the pandemic on their Peloton bikes, workers around the country shifted into a different gear. Ten thousand farming equipment workers in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, and Georgia walked out of their jobs, joining 1,400 cereal workers at Kellogg’s plants in Nebraska, Michigan, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, as well as 1,100 coal miners at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama and nurses in New York and Massachusetts. And thousands more are waiting in the wings—from workers in academia, to health care workers at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon, California, and Hawaii, to film and television workers in the entertainment industry who averted a strike after threatening to walk off the job and reached a tentative agreement, which will now be voted on.
Last week, in the space usually reserved for sage editorials, the New York Times published Tom Morello’s ode to the radical Industrial Workers of the World and to Joe Hill, that union’s martyred troubadour. The Wobblies, as they were called, were the advocates of a militant, all-inclusive unionism and their songs—like “Solidarity Forever” and “Bread and Roses”—inspired tens of thousands in the industrial war they waged against the ruling class of America’s first Gilded Age. A couple days earlier, Bret Stephens, the conservative Times columnist, warned Democrats not to link their fortunes too closely to a revival of the labor movement, something he seems to take for granted. In support he recalled the militant coal mine strikes that nearly wrecked the British economy in the 1970s.
The tentative deal is for the Basic and Videotape Agreements, which affect some 40,000 film and television workers. According to IATSE, the proposed contract addresses issues at the heart of the dispute, including “reasonable” rest periods, meal breaks, a living wage for workers at the bottom of the pay scale and “significant” increases in compensation from new media companies. The tentative agreement, which still must be ratified by IATSE members, features as deal points a living wage for the lowest-paid earners; improved wages and working conditions for streaming; retroactive wage increases of 3% annually; increased meal period penalties; daily rest periods of 10 hours without exclusions; weekend rest periods of 54 hours; the addition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday added to the schedule as a holiday; and adoption of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Earlier this week in Savannah, Georgia, 54 of the 200 bus drivers in the Savannah-Chatham’s school district went on a wildcat “sick out” strike over pay and other issues. Workers said they were upset with their low pay and with the district who maintains that bus drivers must keep allowing students who don’t wear masks on buses — a rule that bus drivers contend with. The wildcat action wasn’t sanctioned officially by the bus drivers’ union, the Teamsters. So, the union then formally sanctioned its shop steward, Kendrick Banks for participating in the unsanctioned, possibly illegal, action and removed him from his position as the union’s shop steward. Several union members, including Banks, resigned from the union as a result of his removal, according to the Savannah Morning News.
When negotiations failed to produce a new contract at a Volvo plant in Virginia this spring, its 2,900 workers went on strike. The company soon dangled what looked like a tempting offer — at least to the United Auto Workers local leaders who recommended it to their members: Pay raises. Signing bonuses. Lower-priced health care. Yet the workers overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. And then a second one, too. Finally, they approved a third offer that provided even higher raises, plus lump-sum bonuses. For the union, it was a breakthrough that wouldn’t likely have happened as recently as last year. That was before the pandemic spawned a worker shortage that’s left some of America’s long-beleaguered union members feeling more confident this Labor Day than they have in years.
Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in U.S. history. In 1921, around 10,000 coal miners in Logan County, West Virginia, who had been trying to unionize with the United Mine Workers of America went to war against about 3,000 coal bosses, state police, private security forces and scabs. For five long, bloody days, those miners in their red bandannas — the Red Neck Army, as they called themselves — held the line, fighting like hell for their futures and their families. Over a million shots were fired, over a dozen people died, the coal bosses dropped bombs and poison gas on mining camps, and the conflict ended only because of federal intervention. Blair Mountain was a pivotal moment in U.S. labor history and a hallowed chapter in the struggle for workers’ rights.
A strike that began at a Nabisco factory in Portland, Oregon last week has now spread across the country to Nabisco facilities in Aurora, Colorado, and Richmond, Virginia, where Oreos, Ritz crackers, Chips Ahoy, and other popular cookies and crackers are baked and packaged. Hundreds of striking Nabisco bakery and distribution workers who are members of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union have been forced to work 12 to 16-hour shifts during the pandemic, often six or seven days a week. Meanwhile, the snacks giant has proposed turning eight-hour shifts into 12-hour shifts without overtime, increasing mandatory work on weekends, and creating a two-tier healthcare plan that costs significantly more for new hires, workers say.
This week marks the 40th anniversary of an illegal strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) that was decisively broken by President Ronald Reagan. That strike began on August 3, 1981, when more than 12,000 air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration went on an illegal strike after their negotiations with the administration failed to produce an acceptable contract offer. Within hours, Reagan appeared in the White House Rose Garden, flanked by Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis and Attorney General William French Smith. If the strikers did not return to work within 48 hours, he announced, they would be “terminated,” fired and permanently replaced.
Amid ongoing protests, the diaspora watched as journalists reported the arrest of a Supreme Court justice and a police inspector in Haiti on Feb. 7, the day opposition leaders, civil society and human rights groups say President Jovenel Moise should step down. During the week leading up to Feb. 7, politicians and civil society groups from throughout the diaspora called for U.S. intervention, some citing the need to convene dialogue, while others called for a transitional government. The U.S. State Department has stated that Moise’s term ends in February 2022 and has called for elections this year, despite widespread distrust of the electoral process.