On the picket line

‘Lessons from the First Union Climate Strike in the U.S.’

The one-day, unfair-labor-practices strike on a very cold Feb. 27 evening by Service Employees (SEIU) Local 26, which represents 4,000 commercial janitors in Minneapolis, was overwhelmingly successful. Janitors and their allies fought for green cleaning techniques to reduce carbon emissions from corporate office towers, which account for over 70 percent of carbon emissions from all buildings in Minnesota. The workers, mostly immigrants from Somalia, Mexico, Ecuador and Nepal, were joined by high school students, who led last year’s climate strikes, and environmental justice allies like MN350.org and the Sierra Club.

The hard-fought contract includes funding for a green cleaning initiative to reduce waste, water and energy consumption while transitioning from toxic chemicals; it will be developed with the workers’ input. Wages will increase by $2.20 per hour over the course of the contract for full-time workers (13 percent over four years) with part-timers hourly pay rising from $11.12 to $16 (44 percent increase). All full-time workers will earn six paid sick days by the second year of the contract. Health insurance costs are reduced and sexual harassment policies are included. 

The union summarized three lessons learned from the strike: It takes hard work to build a coalition, but it’s worth it. Local 26’s tradition of open bargaining for all members helped develop deep agreement with membership about what the union was fighting for. When a union tries to “bargain for the common good” and take positions outside traditional labor relations, companies will try to ignore demands that require them to give up control — unless the union is willing to strike. (Labor Notes, April 30)

UFCW petitions for members to be treated as frontline workers

Local 400 of the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has started a petition on their website addressed to governors to recognize their members — grocery store, pharmacy and food production workers — as frontline workers. Please sign the petition!

All UFCW workers “deserve the same benefits as other frontline workers. … We keep stores stocked with food and medical supplies … to make sure families have what they need to weather this crisis. We need your support to keep ourselves and our families safe during this crisis. … Without us, our country would ground to a halt during this crisis.” (ufcw400.org)

Students introduced to trades in St. Louis area

In March, before the coronavirus shutdown and millions became unemployed, the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council organized apprenticeship tours to introduce more than 400 high school students to their programs. The Trades Council started the program because “young people will respond if they get a chance to find out what the work is like” and “the trades provide an excellent way to make careers in an unpredictable economy.”

Over the course of a weekend, students from 13 high schools around St. Louis were introduced to 11 trades, including those of sheet metal workers, boilermakers, carpenters, electrical workers, plumbers and pipefitters and operating engineers. Trades Council officer Totsie Bailey stated: “We’ve had a lot of good feedback about it. … The locals did a very good job. … Guys took off work to help. They were that interested in showing off their local unions.” Bailey added, “And the kids were really interested.” 

In addition special schoolwide outreach events were held at several schools. Some 47 industries were represented at Mascoutah High School where 1,200 students heard from union and industry speakers. Another 1,600 students learned about trades work on Freshman Orientation Day at Granite City High School. 

An article in the Mascoutah Herald noted: “These in-person presentations give students a real idea of how these careers impact their community.” The Trade Council plans to continue this hands-on program, with strong support from high schools. (Labor Tribune, April 27)

Union for nonprofit workers grows in April 

On March 25, the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union announced a union drive. By April 29 seven nonprofits had joined their growing fold.  Three new members were legal organizations: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which joined April 13; the National Women’s Law Center on April 22; and the National Immigration Law Center on April 23. Also joining on April 23 was the Groundwork Collaborative, which deals with economic policy and related issues. Friends of the Earth affiliated on April 29. 

The NPEU’s mission is to help workers at nonprofit organizations dedicated to social and economic justice create positive, productive workplaces. The union’s goal is to negotiate collectively for higher pay, better benefits and a voice in each organization. Its contracts encourage a collegial relationship with management and establish standards for “fair and equitable treatment of all staff.” (npeu.org)


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