On the picket line

Union members vs. white-supremacist Capitol mob

UNITE HERE Local 25 called on hotels in the D.C. metro area to close or permit staff to opt out of reporting to work on Inauguration Day. Black Lives Matter activists stood in solidarity with the hotel workers union out of concern for the safety of workers, especially Black and Brown workers. 

Despite videos showing drunken, unmasked rioters in hotel lobbies on Jan. 6, several hotels owned by larger corporations, like Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn and the Hyatt, opted to remain open Jan. 20. These chains’ management worried about losing revenue, rather than guarding against harassment or dangers to their workers.

The Association of Flight Attendants — CWA (AFA-CWA) won a victory when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that unruly passengers will face fines and possible jail time. (tinyurl.com/y3a8hs8q) AFA-CWA International President Sara Nelson stated that anyone who participated in  the “mob mentality” of the Jan. 6 riot should be placed on no-fly lists. (tinyurl.com/y3z86dvl

Major unions unanimously condemned the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A few denounced it as a white-supremacist riot. Actors’ Equity proclaimed: “As a union and a democratic organization, we are appalled by this attack on the values we hold most sacred. The disgraceful scenes coming out of the nation’s capital have undermined America’s institutions and its standing in the world. Displays of the Confederate flag and other symbols of white supremacy and hate were meant to subjugate and terrorize people of color and those of certain faiths. This poison attacks the diverse membership of our union and the labor movement.”(tinyurl.com/yys4yemu) 

Communication Workers (CWA) President Chris Shelton issued a statement calling white supremacy “a poison that has been with us since the beginning of our country, and the confederate flag is its symbol, meant to subjugate and terrorize Black, Brown, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Indigenous people.” (tinyurl.com/y4tjax5y) The Retail Workers Department Store Union (RWDSU), National Nurses United (NNU), Service Employees International (SEIU) and United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers (UE) all characterized the Capitol mob as white supremacist. (Portside.org, Jan. 7)

NYC Teamsters strike, win wage increase at Hunts Point Market

The essential frontline workers in the Bronx, N.Y., stood up to their bosses and won. Hunts Point Market is the largest wholesale food distributor in the world, the major distributor for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and serves 49 states. As food shortages became a concern during the COVID-19 crisis, Hunts Point’s workers kept food moving during freezing winter cold and summer heat. 

These workers prevented a major blow to the country’s supply chain. Their labor prevented severe chronic hunger in cities facing high rates of critically ill COVID-19 patients. Several Hunts Point workers have died from COVID, and over 300 battled the disease. These workers never received hazard pay. 

The workers, all members of Teamsters Local #202, demanded a $1 an hour raise and better health care benefits. The multimillionaire bosses first countered by offering a measly 32-cent wage increase. These same bosses received $15 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans at the start of the pandemic crisis. 

The workers, some with 20 years seniority, refused to put up with this inequality. Refusing to back down, the 1,400 Teamster warehouse workers and drivers hit the picket line Jan. 16, staying there 24/7, denying truck after truck an off-loading. On Jan. 18, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio sent in the NYPD, some in riot gear, to break the picket line.

Cops outnumbered strikers and protesters 2-to-1 and arrested six strikers for blocking the roadway. Since these essential workers are heroes, the people cried out immediately against the police action. Respect and support for the strikers grew, and hundreds of supporters joined the picket line, as other unions and organizations (including Workers World) showed solidarity. 

As shipments of potatoes and onions for McDonalds sat unloaded, the Hunts Point Market management conceded on Jan. 23, offering workers a 70-cents-an-hour raise in the first year, with a $1.85 bump by the third year. Additionally, workers need make no additional contribution for their family health care benefits. 

One striking worker held up a copy of “The Teamster Rebellion” by Farrell Dobbs,  about how that union leader and revolutionary socialist organized truckers in Minneapolis. He said he’s reading the book because “it teaches you about how the union started. I wanna learn more. I wanna have more power. I want more people to have a union. Because without a union, we’re going to lose power in this country. So the more knowledge I get, the better I become.” Inspirational words indeed!  Congratulations to Teamster Local #202 members. (Leftvoice.org, Jan. 22)

CWA battles Lumen Tech

Jeff Storey, multimillionaire CEO of Lumen Technologies, provides another example of corporate U.S. giving lip service to the Black Lives Matter movement. During the uprising against police terror and racism last year, Storey said that “we must be against racism and violence against Black People” and “value our differences as strengths for unification.” Empty words considering that Lumen Tech designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday for non-union  employees only.  

Union workers at Lumen (formerly known as CenturyLink) are represented by CWA Local 7777 in Denver, Colo. A delegation of African American workers from the Communications Workers petitioned Storey, asking that he designate the federal. MLK Day as a paid holiday for all Lumen workers. The letter was signed by 1,500 Lumen employees and community supporters. The union requests that Storey and Lumen management meet with them regarding racism at Lumen. (tinyurl.com/y6l979xg)

This action reflects the upsurge in tech-industry labor organizing over the past year. The pandemic crisis has sharpened the focus on who is an essential worker — and the tech industry is included. As tech giants’ profits explode, like Lumen, Amazon and Google’s, workers are demanding more rights and a larger share of the pie.

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