A Southern Workers’ Movement Can Change the Nation

by Eric Fink

OrganizeTheSouth-640_Feb17“Organize the South” was the call on Monday evening February 17 in Durham, North Carolina, where an overflow crowd gathered for a discussion on “How a Southern Workers’ Movement Can Change the Nation.” Worker advocates and adversaries alike have identified the South as a crucial battleground in the fight to reverse the long decline of the U.S. labor movement. This Fall, the AFL-CIO committed itself “to develop a Southern organizing strategy” as “one of its top priorities”. The UAW’s bid to represent workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee became a focal point in that fight, and the union’s narrow defeat in last week’s NLRB representation vote has led some to suggest–dolefully in the case of union supporters, cheerfully in the case of union busters–that a southern organizing strategy remains futile.

The panelists at Monday’s event in Durham rejected that pessimistic conclusion. Their common message was that unions can win in the South, and doing so is an essential part of the broader goal of defeating the reactionary political and economic agenda nationwide. The key to labor’s success in the South is cultivating and mobilizing community support for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions.

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Disney’s Magic Kingdom Losing Its Sparkle For Workers

by Bruce Vail

The Service Trades Council, an association of six union locals representing over 35,400 Disney employees, is negotiating a new contract with the resort. (Walt Disney World International Program/Creative Commons)

As workers prepare to negotiate new labor agreements at Walt Disney World, some union members are wondering whether the magic has disappeared from the “happiest place on earth.”

The resort’s largest labor contract, which covers some 35,400 workers, is due to expire at the end of March. Though formal negotiations toward a new agreement haven’t yet begun, says Ed Chambers, president of Lakeland, Fla.-based United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1625, there are already signs of difficulties ahead.

Chambers leads a coalition of six different union locals known as the Service Trades Council, which will hammer out new contracts with Disney in the coming months. According to Chambers, the council saw its first clear signs of unrest in August 2013, when resort managers offered to extend the existing contract for another 16 months and raise wages 3.5 percent. Though the council ultimately declined the offer, he says, some union leaders are now unsure whether Disney can be convinced to improve on it. Continue reading

Maryland Unions Hit Jobs Jackpot with New Casinos

by Bruce Vail

An artist's rendition of the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, one of several gambling sites making Maryland's billion-dollar casino industry a boon for local labor. (Gamblegal / Wikimedia Commons)

An artist’s rendition of the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, one of several gambling sites making Maryland’s billion-dollar casino industry a boon for local labor. (Gamblegal / Wikimedia Commons)

Labor unions in the Washington, D.C. area got an early Christmas present December 20, when Maryland state officials announced their approval of a plan to build a massive MGM Resorts International casino complex just a few miles from the nation’s Capitol building.

The news comes as a welcome sign of organized labor’s vitality in Maryland, which has seen falling union membership during the last decade. As of 2012, unions represented just 12.3 percent of Maryland jobholders—a decrease of 23,000 workers from the previous year.

One of Maryland labor’s responses to this challenge has been to lobby on behalf of expanded gambling long before casino construction ever takes place, usually in return for a mutually beneficial “labor peace agreement.” In the case of MGM Resorts, the gambling powerhouse received its approval from the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission with the help of an ad-hoc coalition of local labor unions, says John Boardman, an officer of D.C.-based Unite Here Local 25. He estimates that the $925 million project will generate about 2,000 temporary construction jobs and 4,000 permanent ones. Continue reading

Workers Battle With Grocery Chains Over Obamacare Implementation

by Bruce Vail

UFCW Local 21, UFCW Local 367 and Teamsters 38 bargained with representatives from major supermarkets, including Kroger, to keep their health benefits.   (mcsquishee / Flickr / Creative Commons)

UFCW Local 21, UFCW Local 367 and Teamsters 38 bargained with representatives from major supermarkets, including Kroger, to keep their health benefits. (mcsquishee / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Unions representing about 30,000 grocery workers in the Puget Sound region claimed a victory last week in a labor contract fight that centered on the implementation of Obamacare in the area’s biggest supermarket chains.

Western Washington state locals of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Teamsters have been bargaining for months with representatives from Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons, all among the largest supermarket chains in the country. In addition to the elimination of health insurance coverage for 8,000 part-time workers, the initial demands from the grocery retailers included extended wage freezes and selective elimination of overtime pay, according to Seattle-based UFCW Local 21. The workers were within hours of beginning a strike before a last-minute deal was reached on October 21. Continue reading

Yes, 87,500 Workers Won’t Get Thanksgiving Holiday, But That’s Not Their Biggest Concern

By Bruce Vail

Department store chain Macy’s, known for its lavish Thanksgiving Day parade, is taking heat for canceling the holiday for many of its 175,000 employees. On Oct. 13, the Chicago Sun-Times reported the news that Macy plans to break with its 155-year practice of closing its stores on Thanksgiving Day.

Macy’s spokesperson Holly Thomas confirmed to Working In These Times that about 750 of the company’s 850 stores nationwide will be opened at 8 pm, requiring some 87,500 workers to give up a part of their traditional family holiday. But she stressed that no employees would be required to report to work against their will and that a sufficient number of volunteers had already been recruited. Further, those workers will all receive time-and-a-half holiday pay for their full shifts, Thomas says.

And surprisingly, the largest union local representing Macy’s workers had a similar take. Gail Rogers, Secretary-Treasurer of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 1-S, which has over 3,500 members in New York City and nearby Westchester County, says she sees no reason to criticize Macy’s as long as the company honors its union contracts. “We received notice a couple of months ago, and Macy’s will be honoring our contract. Nobody is going to be forced to work if they prefer to celebrate the holiday, and the volunteers will all be getting time-and-a-half. Plenty of our members are willing… so there aren’t a lot of complaints,” she says. Continue reading

Back in the Big Labor Fold

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Last Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—the 1.3 million-member union of retail workers, chiefly supermarket employees—announced that it was leaving the breakaway mini-labor federation, Change To Win, and rejoining the AFL-CIO. Of the six unions that left the AFL-CIO in 2005 to form Change To Win—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, the UFCW, UNITE HERE, the Laborers, and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—only SEIU, the Teamsters, and the Farm Workers (the last with probably fewer than 10,000 members) remain. Two-point-zero-something unions do not a federation make, but then, Change To Win, despite all its lofty ambitions, never amounted to a federation.

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UFCW Affiliates with AFL-CIO

by Mike Hall

UFCW photo

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) announced today that it is affiliating with the AFL-CIO. UFCW President Joe Hansen said, “We join the AFL-CIO because it is the right thing to do for UFCW members, giving them more power and influence.”

It is about fostering more opportunities for workers to have a true voice on the job. It is about joining forces to build a more united labor movement that can fight back against the corporate and political onslaught facing our members each and every day.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement:

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