On the picket line

Historic strike victory by Kentucky tobacco workers

When seven tobacco workers, who came from Mexico to work in Kentucky on H-2A visas, channeled their anger about wage theft into a historic strike, they won. Under federal law, these workers were supposed to be making $10.92 an hour in Garrard County, Ky. However, their boss, Wayne Day’s farm, which sells tobacco to Universal Leaf, stole thousands of dollars from their wages over a three-year period. Workers made only $7 an hour in 2015 and $8 an hour in 2016 and 2017. Occasionally, the workers were paid only a piece rate, earning as little as $3 an hour.

After reaching out to the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the Latinx farm workers on Oct. 11 wielded the greatest weapon they had: withholding their labor. Three weeks later, on Nov. 2, they won a settlement totaling $20,000 in back pay as well as lawyers’ fees — about half of what they were owed. (Payday Report, Nov. 10)

Striking worker Christian, quoted in Payday Report, recounts why the strike was historic: “We didn’t know we were launching the first tobacco strike in recent Kentucky history, but we got the grower’s attention by doing so, and we are glad that with the help of FLOC, he was pressured to pay us much of the wages we lost.” A strike and strong allies add up to workers’ payback!

News Guild workers battle Washington Post

Reporters, multimedia specialists and other workers at the Washington Post are ramping up their fight for a fair contract against their Goliath boss, Jeff Bezos. The Post owner and Amazon mogul is worth more than $80 billion; he’s one of the world’s richest people and got that way by playing dirty with workers. He brings a legacy from Amazon of tax dodging, ruthless competition and anti-worker practices. One Amazon worker noted Bezos would rather “put ambulances outside its distribution centers … than install adequate air conditioning.” (Huffington Post, Sept. 1)

Since he bought the newspaper in 2013, Bezos has slashed retirement benefits, frozen a healthy pension plan and more. (Washington City Paper, Oct. 31) Bezos’ latest offer is a scant $600 signing bonus in the first year, followed by a $10-per-week raise in the second year. The profitable paper also wants to cut severance pay by 80 percent and take away workers’ right to sue should they win pay discrimination cases before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

With red balloons aloft and bolstered by a noisy rag-tag band, nearly 100 workers, represented by the Washington-Baltimore News Guild (Communication Workers Local 32035), and community members demanded a decent contract on Nov 14. Workers’ signs read “Hands off my severance” and “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” The latter sign reflects a Guild study showing that white men earn more than other workers at WaPo. (dclabor.org, Nov. 18)

Strike alert: UPS aircraft mechanics warn customers

As the holiday shipping season takes off, so does the struggle of 1,300 United Parcel Service aircraft mechanics and related workers who maintain UPS’ massive cargo fleet at 90 airports around the country. UPS is trying to drastically cut workers’ health benefits, forcing them to pay dearly for health care, and refuses to increase its contribution to pensions. Meanwhile, third-quarter earnings of UPS, which currently delivers over 15 million packages per day in 220 countries worldwide, exceeded projections by billions. However, every penny in UPS coffers derives in part from the back-breaking, round-the-clock work of aircraft mechanics amidst toxic chemicals and exhaust from jet engines and equipment. Access to affordable health care is essential when doing such dangerous jobs.

Teamsters Local 2727, headquartered in Louisville, Ky., began its campaign for fair contract terms with a strong letter to CEO David Abney on May 1, International Workers’ Day, signed by more than 900 union members. They protested UPS’ plan to strip them of health benefits and declared their willingness to fight for a fair contract. They have since voted to strike.

Local 2727’s latest fightback initiative is an advertising campaign, launched Nov. 21 and continuing through the holidays, warning customers there may be delivery delays if the workers are forced to strike. The ads run in editions of USA Today and the Seattle Times; in seven of UPS’ largest markets from New York to Los Angeles; and on Facebook and Instagram nationwide. (Teamsters Local 2727 press statement, Nov. 21)

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