Hospital Union Claims Victory in Johns Hopkins Contract Fight

by Bruce Vail

1199SEIU President George Gresham (right) protests low wages with fellow union members in a three-day picket line outside Johns Hopkins Hospital in April.   (Jim McNeill/1199SEIU)

1199SEIU President George Gresham (right) protests low wages with fellow union members in a three-day picket line outside Johns Hopkins Hospital in April. (Jim McNeill/1199SEIU)

(July 11) A bruising four-month fight between healthcare workers’ union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and Johns Hopkins Hospital is coming to an end: Members voted on Thursday and Friday to ratify a new agreement covering about 2,000 medical center employees.

The battle has been unusually intense compared with negotiations in the past, featuring a three-day strike in April and a voracious media campaign shaming the wealthy hospital for abandoning its lowest-paid workers. And though the new contract falls short of initial demands that would have more widely boosted wages among staff, local 1199SEIU leaders still view its ratification as a welcome victory after months of struggle.
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Labor in History: Mobtown and the Stirring of America’s Unions

by Bruce Vail

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An illustration from an 1877 issue of Harper’s Magazine depicts the bloody confrontation between state militia and Great Railroad Strike supporters that took place on the streets of Baltimore. (Public Domain)

Many historians date the first great industrial upheaval of American labor to July 16, 1877, when workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad began refusing to work in protest against a round of wage cuts ordered by the company’s senior managers. Battered by years of economic depression, high unemployment and miserable working conditions, the workers in Baltimore and beyond had finally been pushed to the breaking point.

Even without any broad-based union organization, the B&O strike immediately seized the public imagination. The unrest spread rapidly to other railroads before expanding to include workers at mines and factories in widely scattered locations across the country. At its height, the six-week-long “Great Railroad Strike” involved an estimated 100,000 workers in more than a dozen states, and succeeded in paralyzing much of the nation’s transportation system.

The sudden uprising engendered fear—and more than a little panic—among railroad executives and government officials. Within just a few days, the first great national strike in U.S. history became one of its first great industrial tragedies, as state militia units and federal troops moved to suppress the movement. Soldiers fired on strikers and protesters during epic clashes in Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and elsewhere. More than 100 people were killed; thousands more were injured. In the end, the strike was crushed, setting a precedent for the violent suppression of labor unrest that would stain American labor history for generations to come.

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Teamsters Back School Bus Drivers in Fight Against ‘Rampant’ Wage Theft

by Bruce Vail

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Baltimore area bus drivers, shown here protesting wage theft last May, will collect $1.25 million from employer Durham School Services once their settlement is finalized in April. Photo via Teamsters Local 570

More than 350 Baltimore-area bus drivers are preparing to celebrate victory in a $1.25 million wage theft case against Durham School Services, an Illinois-based bus-contracting company with operations across much of the country.

The case, which covers the employees at Durham between March 2010 and September 2013, reflects a troubling national trend of companies cheating workers out of their earnings. “Wage theft is a huge problem, and it’s outrageous,” says Andrew Freeman, one of the attorneys at Brown Goldstein Levy, the Baltimore-based firm that filed the suit against Durham last year. In their suit, the plaintiffs accused the company of failing to pay employees for overtime work such as bus inspections, bus cleanings, fueling, and other related tasks.

The settlement of the U.S. District Court case should be finalized April 4, with distribution of the stolen wage money following immediately afterward, says Moe Jackson, a union organizer for International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 570. For almost two years, the local has been trying to organize the drivers and aides at Rosedale, Jackson says, where employees are also bristling over low pay, substandard benefits and overbearing management practices. The Teamsters initiated the wage theft case on behalf of the workers, officers say, as a step in the unionizing process. Continue reading

Unite Here Campaign Takes Flight at Baltimore-Washington Airport

by Bruce Vail

On December 6, workers rallied outside of Prospect Capital Corporation, which owns the company that handles most of the concessions at Baltimore-Washington Airport. (Unite Here)

On December 6, workers rallied outside of Prospect Capital Corporation, which owns the company that handles most of the concessions at Baltimore-Washington Airport. (Unite Here)

During President Barack Obama’s December 4 speech about income inequality to the Center for American Progress, he named “airport workers” among the many Americans who struggle with low wages and long hours. It’s unlikely that Obama was aiming his shout-out at union campaigners at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)—but given their recent flurry of activity, maybe he should have been.

At BWI, Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers throughout the United States and Canada, is ramping up its organizing campaign to a critical stage. The campaign focuses on food and service workers in the airport, most of whom would easily match Obama’s description of Americans who “work their tails off” at poverty level wages.

Yaseen Abdul-Malik is one of those BWI workers. Now 28, he was first recruited by the Baltimore-based Unite Here Local 7 two years ago, when organizing at BWI was largely clandestine. Now, he’s become a public face for airport employees—and he says he’s trying to “break the shackles of fear” that hold many of them back from demanding the better wages and working conditions they deserve. Continue reading

‘Hyatt Hurts’ Boycott Inflicts Pain on the Hotel Giant (Updated)

by Bruce Vail

 

Jeff Nelson (R), research director of UNITE HERE, with Charlotte Knox (L), a 25-year veteran housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore who told the City Council that working conditions have deteriorated.   (Photo courtesy of Bill Hughes/UNITE HERE)

Jeff Nelson (R), research director of UNITE HERE, with Charlotte Knox (L), a 25-year veteran housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore who told the City Council that working conditions have deteriorated. (Photo courtesy of Bill Hughes/UNITE HERE)

UPDATE: The full 14-member Baltimore City Council voted unanimously on March 18 to approve a resolution aimed at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore hotel, where a union organizing drive is currently underway. The resolution, passed in a voice vote, calls on Hyatt to sign a ‘Labor Peace Agreement’ to improve hiring practices and to protect the city’s financial interests as a union-sponsored global boycott goes forward. 

BALTIMORE—Hyatt Corp received an implicit vote of ‘no confidence’ from the Baltimore City Council late last week when the Labor Committee advanced a resolution to halt the hotel giant’s union suppression efforts.

The resolution pressures Hyatt to sign a ‘Labor Peace Agreement’ that would allow UNITE HERE Local 7’s organizing campaign at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore to go forward without obstruction from managers. Approved in a 3-0 vote on March 14, the resolution now heads to the full City Council, where it enjoys overwhelming support.

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Fired Hyatt Workers Win Their Jobs Back

by Bruce Vail

L to R: Union supporter Angel Castro stands with Hyatt workers Mike Jones and Tarrance Taylor, who were fired, then reinstated.

L to R: Union supporter Angel Castro stands with Hyatt workers Mike Jones and Tarrance Taylor, who were fired, then reinstated.

BALTIMORE—Three hotel workers fired last year for pro-union activism at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore are back on the job this week as part of a January 26 deal to settle unfair labor practice charges brought by UNITE HERE.

Mike Jones, the last of the fired employees to resume his old job, reported for work this week. He’s eager to restart his union organizing activities, he tells Working In These Times. (The story of Jones’ firing and his efforts to win his job back were the subject of a Working In These Times story in November of last year.)

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Understanding Your Economic Power within Your Community to Garner Strength

by Cory McCray

by Cory McCray

 Metro Baltimore Council AFLCIO President Ernie Grecco.

Metro Baltimore Council AFL-CIO President Ernie Grecco.

There have been many lessons that I have learned from being a part of the labor movement, and there have been many lessons that I have learned from Metro Baltimore Council AFLCIO President Ernie Grecco. Many of those lessons I have shared with friends and leaders within my community. A broad action that was exhibited by President Ernie Grecco, gives me another opportunity to share the learning lesson that we may already know, but find that it is always great to reiterate the principles that we know are effective.
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