On the picket line
McDonald’s workers win settlement
In Los Angeles, between April and August 2020, workers at a McDonald’s complained about inadequate protection from COVID, including lack of social distancing and forcible exposure to customers who refused to wear masks. Following strikes to protest these unsafe working conditions, McDonald’s management retaliated by firing several workers.
On the fired workers’ behalf, Service Employees Union Local 721 filed a letter with the California Labor Commissioner’s Retaliation Complaint Investigation Unit. The Labor Commission’s judgment requires McDonald’s to pay more than $125,900 in lost wages and retaliation penalties and orders that management offer the workers their jobs back.
Maine hospital union busting
The MaineHealth health care corporation has come under attack by the governor of the state and the Maine State Nurses Association — for providing COVID vaccine to out–of–state members of the Reliant Labor Consultants firm, hired to bust a union organizing drive by nurses at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
This is a direct violation of the state policy on vaccine distribution. It demonstrates the callousness of corporate health care. Hiring union–busting firms is an attempt to deny nurses the right to organize and to have a voice in their working conditions and the delivery of patient care.
Additionally, MaineHealth administered the COVID vaccine to these individuals, when so many elderly and immunocompromised state residents are on waiting lists, caught in the nightmare of the COVID vaccine rollout.
Janel Crowley, an RN in the neonatal intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center says nurses are “working to form a union to give them more of a say in the high-level decisions affecting them and their patients. This is pretty much all patient-driven. We saw gaps in the care that our patients were able to receive because of policies. That’s why we’re trying to get this seat at the table, to really deal with the people who make the decisions that have no real direct line to the bedside.” (tinyurl.com/gxgt7y9k)
Black women workers lead strike, ‘mean business’
The Atlanta Washerwomen Strike, that erupted less than twenty-five years after the 13th amendment’s ratification, is a fine historic example of the unity and strength of Black women workers.
By 1881, the promise of Reconstruction for the Black population of the southern U.S. had been replaced by the racist, violent legal system: the Black Codes. Despite this oppressive environment, 20 Black laundresses in Atlanta formed a trade union called The Washing Society.
Most households during this time hired out the backbreaking task of laundering and ironing their clothes. Black women were 98% of those workers. The job required making soap and starch, hauling water, and standing hours at laundry tubs scrubbing clothes or using hot irons to press out wrinkles. The Washing Society demanded higher wages and autonomy over their working conditions. They began a door-to-door campaign and held rallies to recruit more laundresses. Their membership eventually grew to 3,000.
In July of 1881, the city laundresses went on strike, causing havoc in Atlanta households. The local businesses, politicians and press came down hard on Society members. Several were arrested for disorderly conduct. But the Society’s letter to Atlanta mayor Jim English demonstrated their fearless determination. That August, the Society won all their demands and opened the door for wage increases for Atlanta maids, cooks, hotel workers and nurses.
The letter reads in part: “The members of our society are determined to stand to our pledge and make extra charges for washing, and we have agreed and are willing to pay $25 or $50 for licenses as a protection, so we can control the washing for the city. We can afford to pay these licenses and will do it before we will be defeated, and then we will have full control of the city’s washing at our own prices, as the city has control of our husbands’ work at their prices. Don’t forget this. We mean business this week or no washing.” (tinyurl.com/1al5px7r)