On the picket line: Fighting retaliation at Google & Boeing, Rutgers faculty win

Fighting retaliation at Google and Boeing

Two mega-billion-dollar U.S.-based international corporations retaliated recently against employees who dared to organize for better working conditions.

About 20,000 Google workers staged a multicontinent walkout last November demanding changes in how sexual misconduct allegations are handled. An internal email published April 26 by Wired reported that two employee activists behind the protest accuse Google of retaliation. Google denied it.

Employee activist Claire Stapleton was demoted from marketing manager after the walkout. Only after her lawyer contacted Google did management conduct an investigation and walk back her demotion. “While my work has been restored,” said Stapleton, “the environment remains hostile.” Meredith Whittaker, who co-signed the email, said her role has been “changed dramatically.” She was told she had to give up her role at the AI Now Institute at New York University, which she co-founded, and to stop her work on artificial intelligence ethics. The women write: “Our stories aren’t the only ones. Google has a culture of retaliation, which too often works to silence women, people of color, and gender minorities.” (bbc.com, April 23)

In November 2018, Richard Mester, who brought 30 years of engineering experience to Boeing in South Carolina where he has been a flight safety inspector for five years, was suddenly fired — along with two other employees — for allegedly failing to report a bird strike. Impossible, said Mester, who had just been elected a union shop steward. The three workers filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging there was no bird strike, but that it was just an excuse to fire workers in the ongoing International Association of Machinists unionization drive. Boeing filed an objection. The NLRB refused to comment.

“Boeing has no qualms about squashing any possibility of a union down here,” Mester told the May 3 Guardian. IAM Associate General Counsel Bill Haller explained: “[Boeing wanted] to send the message that if you support the union you’re going to get fired. They’re not being subtle.” In an email to the Guardian, Boeing denied retaliation.

In addition to accusing Boeing of spying on workers who voted in the election, the union is seeking $100 million in a wage theft case — the largest involving a federal contractor. “They started writing people up for things that were the norm. They’ve targeted union supporters,” said an unidentified Boeing worker hoping to avoid retaliation. He noted that after the union vote, Boeing increased the workload of workers who voted for the union, reduced quality control and frequently re-assigned workers to job openings in different locations.

Rutgers faculty win historic contract!

In a late-night bargaining session, on the brink of a strike (which would have been the first in the university’s 253 years), 5,000 full-time faculty and graduate workers at Rutgers University won a victory with a robust seven-year contract. They organized jointly with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers. During more than a year of pickets and protests, the union won support online and in the classroom with a creative social media campaign as well as “picket with your professor” events.

The workers’ gains address equity, security and dignity. Now there is equal pay for equal work for female faculty, faculty of color and for faculty in the Newark and Camden campuses. All faculty can now apply for equity correction if they believe their peers are unjustly earning more. Significant pay increases will help the lowest-paid members. Graduate workers will see their pay increase from $25,969 to $30,162 over the course of the contract. The union also won $20 million for diversity hiring and the guarantee of a workplace free of harassment and stalking, enforced by binding arbitration.

The contract revises the “green card” policy, so that faculty can now sponsor non-tenure-track faculty for permanent residency. NTT workers, often the most exploited, will have grievance procedures. Graduate employees and NTT faculty also won greater job security. The union won language requiring academic freedom that applies to social media. Though this is an historic victory, nearly 3,000 part-time adjuncts still await a contract, fair salaries and health care. Stay tuned. (Rutgers AAUP.org, April 17)

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