On the Picket Line

Immigrant detainees strike ICE detention centers

Immigrants fighting deportation while being held in two federal detention centers in California have organized a labor strike to protest unsafe working conditions and the outrageously meager compensation of $1 per day. These workers are responsible for cleaning dormitories and bathrooms at the Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex facilities, which are run by the private multimillion dollar GEO Group corporation.

The Florida-based company reported a $551 million profit in the first quarter of 2022 alone. In a statement released by the Golden State Annex strikers, the workers pinpoint the injustice and greed of the for-profit carceral system: “We are being exploited for our labor and are being paid $1 per day to clean the dormitories. Meanwhile, private prison corporations like the GEO Group receive tens of millions each year to accommodate us detained in ICE custody.”

Reports of black mold and other toxins in the facilities have prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to launch an investigation. Immigrant advocates are supporting the workers’ heroic labor action and holding protests outside the facilities to call attention to the inhumane conditions inside. (tinyurl.com/ydfjvfhn)

University of Pennsylvania housekeepers rally for a decent contract, June 2, Philadelphia. Credit: Teamsters for a Democratic Union.

UPenn workers defeat two-tier pay

University of Pennsylvania housekeeping workers won a major contract victory. Rank-and-file members of Teamsters Local 115 launched a successful campaign prior to contract negotiations. They surveyed over 200 members about issues, held conference calls to keep members informed and nurtured members who wanted to get more involved in organizing.

The rank and file were vocal and held demonstrations to garner public support. The activities put pressure on their union leadership to press their demands and on the university to bargain in good faith. In June the 250 housekeepers ratified a five-year contract that ended the two-tier pay system (a grossly unfair pay structure meant to disrupt worker solidarity by paying newer workers less than higher seniority workers for the same work) and provided wage increases.

Teamster member Therese Wible said that in her 31 years as a union member, this is the best contract she has seen. “We haven’t seen raises like this since the ’80s, and I’ve never seen our union hall so packed.” The workers vow to continue their grassroots solidarity campaign to keep both employer and union leadership focused on the demands of the rank and file. With their contract victory, they proved it is a strategy that delivers! (tdu.org/upenn-teamsters-defeat-2tier)

Television production workers unionize

The 20th Television Animation company has voluntarily recognized The Animation Guild (TAG), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 839, as the bargaining agent of production workers for “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad!” animated TV shows. (Deadline, July 5) The company action came after 90% of the workers across all three shows demonstrated support for union representation.

No union-busting law firms were hired. No worker organizers were fired. No protracted NLRB election happened here; the supermajority was recognized via “card check.”

Besides collective bargaining for rights like a fair wage, health care and other benefits, the production workers want to change the narrative around the work they do. The job was often viewed as a stepping stone to advancement, but many workers like writers’ assistants and production coordinators have made it a career.

Jason Jones, who works on the “American Dad!” production, says many workers love what they do and don’t want to move on to something else. “I would hope that it galvanizes everyone else to organize and recognize their own self-worth and not believe in that old studio construct that production is somehow a stepping stone to a better career path.” (tinyurl.com/593uz5t5

Marie Kelly

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Marie Kelly

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