On the picket line

Ohio auto parts workers move to unionize

Workers at the Borger auto parts plant in Norwalk, Ohio, have experienced sexual harassment, racism and safety problems. Wages and pay increases are “merit-based,” which in practice means they are inconsistent and based on favoritism. Pay is lower than other comparable businesses in this deindustrialized part of the country.

Borger is an international company; workers in Borger’s German plant are unionized. A majority of the 170 workers at the plant signed union cards to join Workers United (part of Service Employees, SEIU) and demanded management recognize their union.

When union representatives collect signed cards from a majority of a bargaining unit (the grouping of workers seeking union representation), they can ask management to voluntarily recognize the union. This is referred to as a “demand for recognition,” or “card check,” and bypasses petitioning the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a secret ballot election. Borger bosses refused to recognize the union by card check.

This was unfortunate but not surprising, given the bosses’ utter disregard for their employees. Workers charge that women only get promoted if they enter into a personal relationship with a supervisor. One worker who lost a finger due to faulty machinery was mocked by management — while he waited for medical assistance.

When management denied the union recognition, the workers walked out. The strike began Jan. 21 and ended Jan. 30, when workers returned to the job without making any concessions.

They plan to petition for a union authorization election with the NLRB. One of three things happens when the NLRB receives a request for election petition: 1) there is an election; 2) the NLRB dismisses the petition because it is not proper; or 3) the union withdraws the petition — usually because the union believes it will lose the representation election.

Solidarity with Borger workers and support for their ongoing labor struggle will help them win.

Teachers unions defy return to unsafe classrooms

Teachers unions across the country are mobilizing to protect their members, as many school districts call for the return to in-class learning. This comes after leaks from a CDC statement that reports a low risk to contracting COVID in school. The statement doesn’t take into account the higher contagion risk of the new COVID variant strains, the crumbling ventilation and infrastructure of urban schools — or the vaccine distribution debacle.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan is calling for teachers to defy the school district’s order to return to the physical classroom. Jordan said, “There is absolutely no reason, other than sheer cruelty, to bring members into unsafe buildings Monday.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 5)

In Chicago, the situation has developed into a contentious battle between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The mayor, who ran as a “progressive,” has repeatedly misrepresented the negotiations with the union and threatened teachers with harsh disciplinary action if they don’t return to the classroom. The standoff escalated when pre-K and special education teachers were ordered back into schools Jan. 4. Many refused to work in person, and dozens were deemed absent without leave, locked out of their Chicago Public Schools remote-teaching platforms and denied pay.

Before the much larger second wave of kindergarten through eighth grade students was due to start in-person classes Feb. 1, union members formalized the remote-only tactic as a collective labor action, which meant that if teachers were locked out on a large scale, they would go on strike. The mayor had to succumb to the union members’ solidarity, pushing back the timeline to force teachers back in the building. Within the Chicago school system, 80% of families are in favor of continuing remote learning until it is deemed safe to return to in-person learning.

The CTU and CPS reached a tentative agreement Feb. 7, averting a strike. In a major win for the union, no teacher will be forced back to an in-person classroom without being offered the COVID vaccine. The city also conceded on the issue of accommodations for staff who ask to continue working from home because they live with a medically vulnerable household member.

The agreement will next be reviewed by union leadership and then go to a vote by the rank and file.

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