On the picket line

Twin Cities teachers 

This month could see more than 8,000 teachers in Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, leaving the classroom to walk a picket line. Teachers in both cities voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike which could begin in early March. 

Teachers have spent the last two years struggling to maintain some sense of normality for the 62,000 public school students. Remote learning was difficult, and teachers spent valuable time caring for the social needs of their pupils — making sure they had food and were in a safe environment. Many students needed help getting internet access and school supplies. 

A key union demand is for the district to provide much needed mental and emotional health services for students struggling to catch up both academically and socially. Teachers want guarantees of classroom sizes that will allow for optimal learning. 

St. Paul Federation of Educators President Leah VanDassor stated: “Just think about kids who left during the pandemic, as fifth-graders came back as seventh-graders, seventh-graders came back as ninth-graders; that’s a huge shift in their lives . . . And there’s just not enough people in the school who are trained to recognize that and be able to even route children to correct resources that they need to help them with whatever that happens to be.” (tinyurl.com/5xmkyuct)

Sherwin-Williams workers strike

Workers at the Bedford Heights, Ohio, paint plant, members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 14919, went on an Unfair Labor Practice strike Feb. 5, after working without a contract since October of last year. “Through our hard work and the dedication of its Steelworker member workforce, the Sherwin-Williams Bedford Heights Plant has been profitable and greatly contributed to the success of the corporation,” said Local 14919 President Terrell Williams. “All we are asking for is a fair and just contract that keeps up with inflation and provides economic sustainability and security for our members.” (usw.org)

As USW points out, Sherwin Williams is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a glitzy new headquarters in downtown Cleveland and a research center in nearby Brecksville, Ohio. Therefore, “Sherwin-Williams should be willing to invest in the employees [who] earned them the profits and enabled the company to make these expenditures.” (usw.org)

Hershey not sweet for workers

Hershey Chocolate factory workers have a long history of militant union organizing. In 1937, Hershey workers went on a sit-down strike at the Pennsylvania plant, part of a huge wave of plant occupations by workers across the U.S. at the time.picket line of Hershey workers in the 1930s

Workers at the Hershey Chocolate plant in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, are in the process of voting to join the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM). Ballots were mailed Feb. 24 to the 1,300 workers and will be counted later this month. Worker grievances include forced overtime and long hours; some workers reported that they worked over 70 days without a day off. 

Older workers in solidarity with younger workers are calling for dismantling the unfair two-tier pay scale. Hershey has experienced record profits, and workers want more compensation for the profits they are generating. Hershey has retaliated against union organizing by hiring the union-busting firm Labor Relations Institute and forcing workers to sit through anti-union propaganda meetings. 

Hershey has a history of anti-union tactics. In 1937, the Hershey company brutally suppressed a sit-down strike at its Pennsylvania plant. But two years later, Hershey Corporation signed an agreement with the Bakery and Confectionery International Union (now part of BCTGM), becoming one of the first American candy companies to unionize.

Since July 2021, BCTGM has struck Frito-Lay, Nabisco and Kellogg’s.

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