On the picket line: Teachers, bus drivers, AT&T workers & library workers

Led by teachers, unions respond to ICE raids 

Among first responders dealing with children left behind after the record-breaking Aug. 7 Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on seven meatpacking plants in Mississippi were local teachers. Delegations of rank-and-file teachers and nurses — members of the American Federation of Teachers — traveled to Canton to assist local educators, community members and the Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), which represents many of the detained workers. 

With millions of children affected by increased ICE raids targeting undocumented workers, many teachers are unprepared to deal with the trauma and anxiety students suffer in im/migrant communities. Over 2.5 million undocumented youth attend U.S. public schools, and 4.1 million who are U.S. citizens live in homes where one or both parents are immigrants. 

That’s why the AFT has developed training materials to help teachers understand the psychological impact on children and support those whose parents are deported. Pamphlets like the free, online 40-page guide for educators titled  “Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and Refugees and School Support Staff” and other resources, such as a model curriculum and sample lesson plans to teach children about the politics of immigration, are on the AFT website. (Payday Report, Aug. 22) 

Some unions are starting to train workers how to fight raids. More than 30 national unions, including the Painters Union, UNITE HERE, the Ironworkers, the Bricklayers, UFCW, Teamsters and Laborers have launched Working Families United to help unions focus more on immigrant rights organizing. (Payday Report, Aug. 31) Stay tuned. 

Bus drivers win union after 35-year struggle

The city of Alexandria, Va., outside Washington, D.C., set up DASH bus service 35 years ago to create a cheaper, nonprofit, nonunion alternative to unionized regional MetroBus service. Ever since, drivers at DASH have been reaching out to Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 to organize for decent wages and benefits. But the city used every trick to crush union drives, including firing two activists this year. 

Local 689 did more than file an unfair labor practice charge; they built a winning campaign using a survey showing two-thirds of the drivers had to work overtime and one-third worked a second job to get by. The workers, many Ethiopian immigrants, would accept nothing less than the same contract terms as those of regional bus drivers.

DASH made a fatal error when it announced it had to hire temporary drivers to increase bus service when Virginia’s commuter rail system was closed for repairs over the summer — and intended to pay the temps more than the experienced workforce. No wonder the drivers voted unanimously to strike unless DASH matched regional union standards. When commuter outrage exploded, management caved and finally met all the drivers’ demands. Ratification was unanimous, 111-0. (Labor Notes, July 30) The power of the strike threat wins again.

When CWA workers strike AT&T, they win

More than 22,000 AT&T Southeast workers walked out at midnight Aug. 23 after AT&T repeatedly failed to bargain seriously. The unfair labor practices strike lasted four days and received a flood of support from the community and political candidates. 

Represented by Communication Workers (CWA) District 3, the mostly linemen, wire technicians and customer service representatives in nine southern states won a strong agreement. The five-year contract includes a 13.25 percent wage increase, boosts to pension and 401(k) plans, better job security and more customer service positions. The company backed down on raising health care costs.

Once authorized management officials met with the union Aug. 28, it took no time to resolve outstanding issues. (Cwa-union.org, Aug. 30) This historic strike — the largest in the private sector in the South in more than a decade — was a win for the workers! 

Carnegie library workers open the union book

On Aug. 14, more than 300 library workers — librarians, library assistants, clerks and information technology professionals — across 19 branches of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library system voted 60 percent in favor of joining the United Steelworkers (USW) and won a union.

The campaign, which kicked off in June, grew through Facebook groups such as  Library Workers United and Community and Students for Academic Workers. The workers received support from other librarians and library unions, including the Free Library of Philadelphia, whose union passed a resolution and posted messages of solidarity. Isabelle Toomey, a children’s librarian, wrote that she was proud of her coworkers for organizing: “I am so excited to start this next chapter and look forward to working toward a contract that we deserve.” (USW.org, Aug. 14)

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