On the picketline

Art Institute of Chicago

Following a union drive in September 2020 that garnered majority support, workers at the Art Institute of Chicago museum voted overwhelmingly to form the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United. They will be represented byAmerican Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 31. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) 249 workers will also be represented by the union after a vote achieves the necessary majority.

Pro-union workers and supporters gather outside the Art Institute of Chicago, Sept. 9, 2021.

AFSCME already represents 10,000 workers at 91 museums across the country and 25,000 at 275 public and private libraries, including the Chicago Public Library, the Walters Museum in Baltimore, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Workers at the Art Institute of Chicago cite a need to negotiate better wages and working conditions as the impetus to form their union. Layoffs and furloughs by the museum during the pandemic put the workers in a precarious position. 

Rachel Perman, a school receptionist put it plainly: “I voted yes, because in nine years of working at SAIC my largest raise was 49 cents. We deserve equity, respect and a living wage.” Ironically, the Art Institute of Chicago museum is home to the famous painting American Gothic by Grant Wood depicting hardscrabble midwestern farmers. Wood painted the iconic masterpiece in 1930 as the U.S. was sinking deeper into the Great Depression and the labor movement was on the rise.

(Chicago Tribune, Jan. 12)

Image Comics

Comic Book Workers United has become the first union for workers in the comic book publishing industry. After Image Comics failed to voluntarily recognize the union, workers there won the right to collectively bargain, in a 7-2 vote. CBWU is affiliated with Communications Workers of America (CWA), who assisted with the union drive and will be at the bargaining table with them. Image Comics is the industry’s third largest publisher of comics and graphic novels; the Walking Dead and Spawn are two of their more lucrative series. (cbwupdx.com)

Republic Sanitation Workers

Sanitation workers at Republic Services in San Diego have been on strike since Dec. 11, 2021, after the company failed to bargain in good faith in new contract negotiations. These essential workers have endured the trauma of being on the frontline of the pandemic for two years. 

Republic Services is the second most profitable waste disposal company in the U.S. The Phoenix-based company had a net profit of over $1 billion in 2020. In January, Republic board members received $230,000 in stock options, along with $100,000 cash. Bill Gates is the company’s largest shareholder, and his investment advisor is a Republic board member.

The Teamsters union represents more than 7,000 Republic workers nationwide. The union is currently in negotiations with Republic over contracts which expired in 2021 in seven locations: San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Stockton and Richmond, California; Seattle; and New Orleans. 

San Diego workers have had their picket line strengthened through solidarity from Seattle Republic workers. In a Jan. 12 interview with Channel 10 news, Rafael Mejia, a San Diego driver for Republic and member of Teamsters Local 542, said: “The drivers (in Seattle) respect the picket line, so they don’t cross it; they honor it. They honor our picket line, and they don’t go to work. We’re just trying to tell the company how strong we are; just make sure they know that we are together, and regardless of what they do, they’re not going to break us.”

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