On the picket line
St. Louis janitors ready to strike for $15 an hour
Some 2,100 Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1 janitors in St. Louis voted to strike on Jan. 30, the last day of their current contract. The workers could walk off the job any day now at major buildings like St. Louis County facilities, US Bank Plaza, Bayer, Boeing and the Wells Fargo building. Many workers are struggling to raise families on wages as low as $10 an hour — so low they need public assistance to pay bills.
The janitors, majority African Americans, staged a strong civil disobedience action the morning of Jan. 27 at the major midtown intersection of Washington Avenue and North 7th Street. Many protesters held signs reading “Honor King: End Racism,” linking their low pay to the fight for racial equity. As the St. Louis American reported, “The racial income gap in the St. Louis region has grown by more than 10 percent since 2010, with black families three times more likely to live in poverty than white families.” Alishea Bell, a single mother with two teenage children, says she needs to work another full-time job on top of full-time janitorial work cleaning the trading floor at Wells Fargo.
Janitors say they’re fighting for One St. Louis, a region where all working families can support themselves with at least a $15 wage and good union jobs. Both the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and St. Louis County Council passed resolutions supporting janitors negotiating for a $15 wage. Mayor Lyda Krewson signed an executive order Jan. 17 for a new $15 an hour minimum wage for city civil service workers. (Labor Tribune, Jan. 30) Stay tuned.
Negotiations continue for grocery workers in D.C. area
Local 400 of the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area has been in negotiations for a new contract at Giant and Safeway stores since September. Their goals are “wages we can live on, schedules we can depend on, health care we can afford and retirement we can count on.” (OTPL, Dec. 8)
After several more weeks of contentious bargaining, a federal mediator urged both sides to take a cooling off period until the new year. However, as of Jan. 24, after three weeks of “difficult, complicated and frustrating” negotiations, Local 400 reported that “we remain far apart on nearly every single issue. … We will not be rushed into a bad deal.”
UFCW knows that owners of both chains used similar delaying tactics last year when negotiating contracts on the West Coast. For the record, Ahold Delhaize, the parent company of Giant Food, made profits totaling more than $2 billion in 2018. Cerberus, the private equity firm behind Safeway’s parent company, has extracted more than $350 million in management fees and dividend payments from Safeway/Albertsons since 2013.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 11, Local 400 learned that 17 Shoppers stores were being sold or closed immediately, with 26 to follow in coming months. So Local 400 had to scramble to negotiate a fair compensation package for workers who were being laid off. The final deal, which only a union could bargain for, included months of severance pay based on years of work as well as health care coverage.
The union’s strategy over the past five months is to accept contract extensions in order to continue bargaining and to “keep the pressure on” through dozens of protests involving thousands of members. (ufcw400.org)
Transit Equity Day, Feb. 4
One of the national actions of the Labor Network for Sustainability is Transit Equity Day, Feb. 4. Transit Equity was launched a few years ago by the Amalgamated Transit Union to align workers’ rights with civil rights and promote a green environment. Feb. 4, Rosa Parks birthday, was chosen by TED to celebrate her role in the Civil Rights Movement for refusing to give up her seat on a (public) bus. As noted on labor4sustainability.org, “We want to make the connection to this act of resistance to highlight the rights of all people to high-quality public transportation powered by clean/renewable energy.” The website invites all unions to join in the campaign to educate, agitate and organize workers by setting up committees and passing resolutions to support public transit as a civil right and fight climate chaos.