For the moment, the labor movement may have dodged a bullet. The Supreme Court did not do what many had feared it would do in the case of the cement drivers’ strike at Glacier Northwest: overrule longstanding precedent that employers generally cannot sue unions in state court over strikes covered by the National Labor Relations Act. Photo: Teamsters Local 174
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Glacier Northwest v. Teamsters Local 174 is outrageous—valuing property over workers’ rights. But it could have been much worse.
Unions still have the right to strike. Employers still can’t generally sue unions in state court for losses caused by strikes. But the decision does open the door to whittling away those rights more in the future.
The practical impact of the Court’s decision is that employers will be suing unions more often for alleged property damage caused by strikes—and that therefore unions (and their attorneys) are likely to be more cautious.
But the Court did not do what many had feared it would do in this case: overrule longstanding precedent that employers generally cannot sue unions in state court over activities—like strikes—covered by the National Labor Relations Act.
Instead, it found that this case fell under an already-existing exception for intentional damage to employer property or failure to take reasonable precautions to prevent such damage.
Workers and unions are right to be furious at this ruling. But we should be careful not to sensationalize or overstate it—which could do more damage to the right to strike than the ruling itself does, by making workers scared to exercise it.
“American workers must remember that their right to strike has not been taken away,” said Teamsters President Sean O’Brien in response to the ruling. “All workers, union and nonunion alike, will forever have the right to withhold their labor.” His statement went on:
The Teamsters will strike any employer, when necessary, no matter their size or the depth of their pockets. Unions will never be broken by this Court or any other.
Today’s shameful ruling is simply one more reminder that the American people cannot rely on their government or their courts to protect them. They cannot rely on their employers.
We must rely on each other. We must engage in organized, collective action. We can only rely on the protections inherent in the power of our unions.
The question the Supreme Court considered in the Glacier case was whether the employer could sue Teamsters Local 174 in state court over the allegedly intentional destruction of the company’s concrete when striking drivers who had set out with deliveries of ready-mix concrete returned their loaded trucks, requiring the company to dispose of it before it set.
Prior court cases say that an employer can’t sue a union in state court over activity arguably covered by the National Labor Relations Act. Instead, the employer has to go to the National Labor Relations Board.
There is an exception, though, if striking employees intentionally damage employer property or don’t take reasonable precautions to protect employer property. For example, in one case, employees walked out of a foundry when molten iron was ready to be poured—which the court found could have caused substantial property damage.
This exception is narrow: property damage that is intentional or caused by a lack of reasonable precautions. It doesn’t include things like economic losses due to temporary closure of a store or factory, strawberries rotting in the field because farmworkers are on strike, or milk going sour in the fridge because baristas have walked out.
The trial court in Washington state dismissed Glacier’s claim because it found that the Teamsters’ strike action was arguably protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The Washington State Supreme Court affirmed.
The United States Supreme Court has now overruled that decision and sent the case back to the trial court, because it says that—assuming the facts alleged in the employer’s complaint are true—the union did not take reasonable precautions to prevent concrete from hardening.
The Supreme Court did not order the trial court to decide against the union, just that the case be allowed to proceed. And it left open the possibility for the state courts to dismiss the case again, depending on what the NLRB does about a pending unfair labor practices complaint against Glacier related to the same strike.
The NLRB issued its complaint against Glacier after the Washington State Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the state court case. The U.S. Supreme Court explicitly did not rule on whether the lawsuit would have been preempted if the NLRB had issued the complaint earlier.
Depending on how future cases play out in state and federal court, Glacier could end up being a relatively small change to labor law or another in an escalating series of court decisions chipping away at the right to strike.
Already the laws are stacked against powerful strikes. Employers routinely obtain injunctions limiting where and how many strikers can picket; economic strikers can be permanently replaced; secondary targets often can’t be picketed; and so on.
Comparisons to other areas of law, like abortion rights, are useful. Roe v. Wade was not overturned in one night. It took nearly 50 years of legal battles in which courts questioned and undermined Roe v. Wade, until a conservative majority finally overruled it.
Similarly, right-wing attorneys and judges will try to build on Glacier to expand employers’ ability to sue unions. But for the moment, the labor movement may have dodged a bullet.
The Supreme Court has ruled against Teamsters Local 174, the union whose workers were sued by their employer, Glacier Northwest, for allegedly causing intentional damage to the company’s cement trucks during a strike. | Background photo: Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons / Collage by People’s World
WASHINGTON—By an 8-1 vote, the right-wing-dominated U.S. Supreme Court has curbed the right of the nation’s workers to strike by allowing companies to sue unions in state courts whenever they wish for alleged “damage” strikers cause, overruling the National Labor Relations Board even if it is already investigating and handling the dispute.
It is no surprise to the labor movement and its allies that a Court that, for the first time in history, took away a constitutional right by killing Roe v. Wade, would continue its right-wing crusade by beginning to chip away at the sacred right of all Americans to withhold their labor to make gains or to protect themselves on the job. The only dissenting justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, warned that the ruling moved in the direction of ushering in indentured servitude across the nation. She declared that her colleagues misread the primacy of U.S. labor law and that the ruling indeed would allow turning workers into indentured servants.
Somehow, lawmakers and judges act as if labor law is not “real” law, allowing themselves to deny, for example, that the encouragement of collective bargaining is the legal, lawful policy of the United States government under the terms of the National Labor Relations Act. Justice Jackson is apparently the only judge on the Supreme Court who recognizes that adhering to U.S. labor law is as much a requirement as adhering to any other law.
Justice Jackson made her opposition to the ruling known in blunt remarks after the Court released its decision: “The ruling places a significant burden on the employees’ exercise of their statutory right to strike, unjustifiably undermining Congress’s intent. Workers are not indentured servants, bound to continue laboring until any planned work stoppage would be as painless as possible for their master.”
The decision in Glacier Northwest v. Teamsters Local 174 outraged Teamsters President Sean O’Brien and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sarah Nelson. AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler predicted that when the case will be tried over again in Washington state, the union will win.
Under current law, strikes are legal under the National Labor Relations Act unless there is deliberate property damage, violence or both. In plain English, the justices in the majority took away the word “deliberate,” letting bosses sue unions for any alleged damage strikes cause. It would open the door to company agents themselves causing damage and then blaming it on workers or their unions.
“It’s like putting a tax on the right to strike,” Harvard labor law professor Sharon Block, a former NLRB member, told CBS’s business channel.
In the six-year-old case, Glacier, a cement company, sued Local 174 for striking and letting cement in trucks dry in Glacier’s yard, costing it $100,000 in damage to the trucks, plus lost business. Local 174 denied the charges, saying the workers ensured the cement truck drums were still spinning, keeping cement wet, when they left. It called Glacier’s suit retaliatory labor law-breaking.
The NLRB General Counsel agreed and took over the case, but Glacier went to Washington State Supreme Court to argue it could sue the local for damages. That court threw that case out, saying federal law pre-empted Glacier’s damages try. The U.S. Supreme Court majority didn’t.
“By reporting for duty and pretending as if they would deliver the concrete, the drivers prompted the creation of the perishable product,” the cement, Trump-named Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote, swallowing the company’s line. “Then, they waited to walk off the job until the concrete was mixed and poured in the trucks. In so doing, they not only destroyed the concrete but also put Glacier’s trucks in harm’s way.”
Because they did so, in her lengthy retelling of the dispute, Glacier could sue the local for damages. The ruling reverses precedents and opens the floodgates to similar expensive lawsuits by firms against striking unions. AFA-CWA’s Nelson said the decision could lead to more militancy.
“If the Supreme Court interferes with the already limited right to strike, it’s going to create even more instability in the workplace,” Nelson predicted at the end of a zoom press conference on another strike issue. “They have to respect this human right or workers will take it into their own hands.
“There will simply be a breakdown in the law. We will see a lot more strikes.”
O’Brien said the ruling showed the court’s tilt towards the corporate class and the “billionaires …they socialize with at cocktail parties and who they owe their jobs to in the first place.” The justices “are not upholding the law,” he added.
“American workers must remember their right to strike has not been taken away. All workers, union and nonunion alike, will forever have the right to withhold their labor. The Teamsters will strike any employer, when necessary, no matter their size or the depth of their pockets,” he promised.
“Unions will never be broken by this court or any other. Today’s shameful ruling is simply one more reminder the people cannot rely on their government or their courts to protect them. They cannot rely on their employers. We must rely on each other.”
Shuler predicted that in a rerun of the company’s case in Washington state courts, the union would win. Her statement did not touch the wider issues Block, Nelson and Justice Jackson raised.
“The Supreme Court unnecessarily gave the employer another bite at the apple” by relying on “unfounded allegations in the employer’s complaint that the union intended to damage the cement trucks when it called the strike,”` Shuler said.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
Teamsters rally in Boston on April 2 in preparation for opening of talks in a new contract with UPS. The talks are expected to be contentious, and union President Sean O’Brien, seen at left, has been warning members to prepare for a strike the package delivery firm will force on them. | via Teamsters
WASHINGTON—With negotiations over a new master contract about to begin, the Teamsters are warning their members to prepare for a potential forced strike at United Parcel Service.
The union’s new president, Sean O’Brien, has been touring the country ever since his inauguration, vowing to UPS Teamsters that the union would go to the mat for them on key demands, especially abolition of the two-tier wage scale. The other half of his message: Expect the company to staunchly resist.
The union has 340,000 Teamster members at UPS, one of every four Teamster members overall. It’s the largest current private-sector contract in the U.S.
The Teamsters-UPS contract is important for several reasons:
With the hated two-tier system—one tier for part-time drivers and a higher one for full-timers—as centerpiece of the current contract, its abolition strikes a chord not just among Teamsters but among unionists nationwide.
Ending two tiers is also a goal of the Auto Workers in their coming contract talks with the Detroit 3, for example. Other bosses have imposed it on other workers, often under the guise of “merit pay,” as a divide-and-conquer tactic, for two decades.
An aggressive stance towards UPS was a key O’Brien campaign plank when he decisively beat former President Jim Hoffa’s endorsed candidate in the 2020 one Teamster-one vote presidential race. His running mate, and now Secretary-Treasurer, Fred Zuckerman, toils in a UPS warehouse in Louisville, Ky., and heads the local there.
Using a since-deleted provision from the Teamster constitution, the then-pro-Hoffa union board imposed the last contract on its UPS members. They had voted it down, but in a low turnout. The ensuing uproar prompted Hoffa’s retirement, deletion of that provision, and fueled O’Brien’s insurgent campaign.
O’Brien’s victory was another marker in the recent years of increased worker militancy nationwide, along with the uprising of under-paid, exploited workers in warehouses, port trucking, adjunct professorships, fast food, Starbucks, Amazon, home health care, and elsewhere.
Preparing for the opening of the talks on April 17, Teamsters UPS unionists held a large rally April 2 in Boston, headquarters of O’Brien’s home Local 25. The current contract expires July 31.
“We will set the tone for organized labor and the entire country with this contract. There is no better organization to set that bar high than the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,” O’Brien told the crowd then. “We are not going to accept and take what UPS gives us. UPS Teamsters have fire in their eyes and the intestinal fortitude to take on this company.”
“We told UPS very clearly we want a strong contract for our members, and we want it done on time. On Aug. 1, if we don’t have the contract you deserve, there will be no UPS Teamsters working,” Zuckerman warned.
The company has the money to both raise pay and create more full-time jobs, the union says. Its revenue exceeded $100 billion last year for the first time as deliveries soared due to more online consumer purchases, and it paid CEO Carol Tomé $19 million.
“UPS Teamsters have given their sweat equity to this company over the last five years and sacrificed during the pandemic. Now it’s time for UPS to pay up. There will be no concessions,” Local 25 President Tom Mari declared.
Besides eliminating the two-tier wage system, the workers also demand UPS promote more part-time drivers to full-time jobs. That was a demand in the last pact, too, and UPS failed to come through.
Creating more full-time jobs would also end forced overtime, another union goal, along with an end to corporate harassment and more protection from job safety and health hazards, notably heat-related illnesses.
In a column in Southern California Teamster, Randy Cammack, president of Los Angeles-based Joint Council 42 and Secretary-Treasurer of Local 63, seconded the message to sock money away in anticipation of a forced strike.
“We have started negotiations for the WRSA (Western Regional Supplemental Agreement) and the SWPR (Southwest Package Rider) and SWSR (Southwest Sort Rider),” he explained. The supplemental agreement is language that affects the 11 Western states, and the riders include language that affects the six Southwestern states. National negotiations begin in April.
“It is imperative members start putting money away in case we go on strike. The IBT has made it clear that if we do not have an agreement by July 31, 2023, then we will be going on strike. Business agents and stewards have been getting Contract Unity Pledge Cards signed in all the work groups and reminding members to save, save, save!
“Strikes are used as a last resort to get the company to agree at the negotiating table. The strength of that strike lies in the ability to not cross the picket line. The fight continues at the negotiating table and updates will be available throughout negotiations,” Cammack said.
The pre-bargaining update was even stronger:
“Teamsters put UPS on notice during supplemental bargaining meetings throughout the country refusing the company’s outrageous insistence on cost-neutral agreements,” it reported on the day of the big Boston rally. “While some progress was made on various proposals by the union, Teamsters also saw some disturbing backsliding by the company.”
The regional bargainers kept reminding UPS honchos of the July 31 deadline, but “UPS negotiators chose to either ignore economic proposals altogether or ask that such proposals be paid for with concessions elsewhere.
“All supplemental negotiating committees are holding firm against concessions while presenting proposals for more paid time off” in sick days and holidays, stronger seniority language, better grievance procedures and stronger anti-subcontracting provisions, among other issues.
“Supplemental negotiating committees have made it clear to the company that UPS is delusional if it thinks there will be a cost-neutral contract after it raked in more than $13 billion in profit last year thanks to the hard work of our members.”
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).
PHILADELPHIA—Last week, the Temple University Graduate Student Association (TUGSA) ended a historic 42-day strike by overwhelmingly ratifying a contract which included far more than the Temple administration ever insisted it would give.
The union faced unprecedented retaliation, persevering as members’ healthcare was manually shut off by their employer twice and tuition fees were charged to members totaling thousands of dollars.
As an institution which consistently markets itself as Philly’s “diversity university,” Temple is an alluring place for young people looking to find an education that caters to the poor and marginalized. That made its actions against striking student workers particularly appalling.
Keeping with the Temple University tradition of students fighting for social justice in spite of their administration, graduate student workers established the first and only graduate student union in the state of Pennsylvania here in 1997.
TUGSA has since been bargaining with the university in contract negotiations every four years, and its membership has grown steadily. It presently represents over 60% of graduate workers, which is no small feat when approximately 20% of your bargaining unit leaves at the end of each year.
A few of the notable wins TUGSA enshrined in the new contract include:
The elimination of tiered wages.
An immediate pay increase to $24,000 for employees with nine-month appointments (which, for full-year employees, becomes the $32,000 the union had as its goal wage). Additionally, graduate workers will receive a $500 return to work bonus and a $1,000/year raise for each of the four years this contract covers, an impressive precedent to set.
Parental leave was increased from five days to three weeks.
The creation of a workload review committee to guard against overwork and major changes to the grievance procedure which should increase speed and improve outcomes.
“Funeral leave” becoming “bereavement leave,” meaning workers no longer have to provide evidence that some part of leave was specifically a funeral. Leave has increased from three to four days, and it now covers the passing of grandparents and allows for an extra five-day extension for workers having to travel internationally.
Dependent healthcare, which was previously not covered, is now partially subsidized, creating a foot in the door for future expansion and taking the costs down from 30% of the average salary per dependent to 13%.
Guaranteed access to the list of bargaining unit members before the semester begins, as opposed to the previous amorphous deadline which frequently hindered union recruitment.
As the TUGSA strike winds down and the strike wave at other employers across the country ramps up, it is worth examining this fight to see what others can glean from this strike’s success. Having been on the ground for its entirety myself, I saw a number of practices and strategies TUGSA employed which others will hopefully replicate.
TUGSA’s Contract Negotiations Team included multiple former presidents of the organization. The current president is a second-year PhD student, meaning he will be in a position to have both seen this round of contract negotiations and participate in the next one, as will his vice president. My strike captain was not the only first-year student in that position and even more first-years served as strike coordinators. This leadership structure, which engages and fosters talent early, set up TUGSA’s success from the beginning.
Over two months passed between TUGSA’s strike authorization vote and the beginning of its strike for numerous reasons. As mentioned in my previous People’sWorld article on the strike, one of Temple University’s first strikebreaking measures was to threaten international workers’ visas. By avoiding a strike during the winter break, not only was TUGSA able to ensure international students were granted re-entry into the U.S. but also maximize picket visibility.
Additionally, unlike in most other industries, graduate workers are paid once on the final day of the month, rather than weekly or biweekly. By waiting until Jan. 31st specifically, TUGSA set up its strikers to have a month’s worth of pay in the bank, with the added benefit that Jan. 30th was Temple University’s final day to drop classes, a significant date for teaching contracts.
What “strategic timing” means for a workplace varies by industry and circumstance. TUGSA was able to adapt to the specifics of its conditions and this facilitated a more successful strike.
Unions are supposed to be democratic institutions by definition, but TUGSA’s leadership was uniquely transparent with its members from the beginning. This paid dividends.
Leadership fought for open negotiations prior to the strike to ensure rank-and-file members were present to witness everything that happened and, when the administration demanded closed negotiations, diligently recounted everything they possibly could to rank-and-file afterward.
Leadership’s continued honesty with goals and expectations, sharing their perspectives and concerns, and managing the union as horizontally as possible built so much trust that when those inevitable times came that leadership was barred from sharing information with rank-and-file, we knew they were competent and respected their judgement. In return, information and rationales for decisions were shared after the fact if they could not be shared beforehand.
Solidarity between unions
From Unite Here showing up to reinvigorate the pickets with food and chants to the AFL-CIO hosting a rally for all locals despite the wind and rain, the solidarity that characterized this strike was palpable.
From the beginning, the American Federation of Teachers sent out fundraising emails to all other branches to raise money for the strike fund, and the recent Philadelphia Museum of Art Union, which had just come off strike, sent members to share information from their experiences. In fact, knowledge-sharing was one of the core facets of the inter-union relationship that benefitted TUGSA benefitted.
The union was in near-constant communication with other academic unions around the country which had been in similar positions, sharing ideas and strategies. TUGSA even directed its members to other unions’ demonstrations during the strike and, in the days since, has made it clear that this will be the norm moving forward.
Temple University is home to nearly a dozen unions, as well as an organizing committee for undergraduate service workers, TUUWOC, that is presently fighting to unionize. TUUWOC put much of its own organizing on hold to stand with TUGSA. Meanwhile, TAUP, the union for professors at Temple, called for a vote of no confidence against the president, provost, and chairman of the board, which is presently scheduled for April 10th.
Utilizing political resources
It is not abnormal for unions to send delegates to lobby state senators and representatives. It is abnormal, however, to rent a charter bus and bring 50 neon-clad strikers to the state capitol all at once to canvass virtually every office there.
TUGSA was uniquely tactful in its use of its political resources. From enlisting electeds to draw the press while strikers signed up for food stamps to networking with state officials to work as go-betweens with the administration, TUGSA effectively walked a delicate line. It managed to avoid rejecting aid from potential allies while also never leaving the workers’ fate solely in politicians’ hands.
Innovative social media usage
Going viral on Twitter is not always a guarantee of success, but TUGSA rode its luck to a fair contract. By parlaying views into donations, endorsements, and alliances, TUGSA managed to spend 42 days on strike without ever getting lost in the news cycle.
The tone of TUGSA’s social media presence was informative yet personable. Meanwhile, because rank-and-file members were not policed in their online communications, the result was a parallel set of social media accounts under the name of “TUGSA Strike Crush.” While the official accounts kept their distance and provided information, the Strike Crush accounts not only engaged the talents of social media-minded members but also provided a space for informal communications and jokes.
While other types of leaders may have been concerned about this renegade account, TUGSA embraced it, taking it as a sign of member engagement and folding it into the union as an informal, autonomous social committee.
Amplifying members’ talents
TUGSA’s response to the Strike Crush phenomenon is a microcosm of the larger strategy TUGSA utilized: giving its members space to explore and utilize their talents for the cause.
One member who’s passionate about graphic design joined together with workers from the printmaking MFA program to produce T-shirts at rallies to fundraise. Prior to the strike, one union leader with programming talents used Python to generate mass emails for the union. (Mass emails would be part of the strategy throughout the strike.)
Speaking personally, I am a political scientist who at one point conducted preliminary research for a book on protest music; they handed me a megaphone and I taught the strikers my favorite union songs. On the musical front, our picket saw everything from electric guitars to accordions to an eventual entire brass section.
The union allowed space for and encouraged members to bring their passions to the picket line. By the end, professional dancers performed in the middle of our picket lines wearing TUGSA beaded bracelets and knitted TUGSA hats. Everyone had space to bring something to the table and, when given the opportunity, they did.
Adjusting to advice
Regarding everything from how frequently to take breaks to masking guidelines, TUGSA remained unafraid to adjust to good faith criticism. Leadership and members resisted the urge to “feed the trolls,” coming with critiques from without, while simultaneously listening to and adjusting to critiques from within.
The results are palpable in the contract ratification vote—344 to 8. This does not happen without members who feel comfortable voicing their concerns and leadership which takes those concerns into account.
The parameters of a successful proposal were determined not by the negotiations team alone but by polling members and large group deliberation. Under those conditions, a successful vote was inevitable.
Collaborating with undergraduates
Neoliberal institutions like Temple view undergraduate students as “customers” of education. TUGSA was able to utilize this relationship the undergraduates had with the administration to apply pressure.
Learning loss caused by the hiring of unqualified scab teachers brought students to file an ongoing class action lawsuit. They risked their grades not to cross our picket line and instead held multiple walkout demonstrations, one of which included approximately 2,000 students.
On their own accord, the students formed a TUGSA solidarity committee which is continuing to operate even after the strike, rallying to ensure students who stood in solidarity with the union are not penalized for assignments they missed in scabbed classes.
Prioritizing joy and community
Burnout looms large over activist communities across the capitalist world, and unions are no different, but strike teams for TUGSA diligently guarded against fatigue by foregrounding camaraderie.
Unlike in other situations, where organizers must plan for the long-term while managing the short-term, strikes are ephemeral. They demand an “unsustainable” amount of effort because they are not meant to be sustained, and adjusting to temporary, high-level organizing can be a source of shock and overwhelm, even for seasoned organizers. TUGSA recognized this from the beginning and made sure that pickets, rather than adding stress, became the place strikers went for stress relief.
The strike fund was strategically used for communal lunches each day and healthcare costs to guarantee no one was left behind. Pickets were characterized by art, music, dancing, and banter between comrades. Strike teams became tight-knit families, and the union held more social events than before the strike, both formal and informal.
TUGSA never took itself too seriously, leaving space for jokes between chant leaders and witty slogans on friendship bracelets. The union understood that the best guarantee of longevity in an organizing space is the community it builds.
TUGSA balanced between the serious task of striking and the solidarity that can come from just having fun together. By the end, we weren’t on the picket line every day just for the wages, the healthcare, or the benefits—we were there every day because the picket line was where all our best friends were.
It was the place to cry when the administration retaliated against us, with people who understood. It was the place to catch up with one another while walking in circles for hours. It was the place where we could vent or laugh or celebrate or scream—whatever we needed, we became for each other.
Through solidarity, as the saying goes, the union made us strong. That is why we won.
Raegan Davis is a community organizer based in Philadelphia. She serves as archivist for the Philly YCL and organizes with the Temple University Graduate Student Association while working on her MA in Political Science. You can find more of Raegan’s work on Twitter, @RaeReadsTheory.
French communists have slammed the decision of President Emmanuel Macron to impose his highly unpopular bill that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron shunned parliament Thursday by opting to push through his controversial plans by triggering a special constitutional power known as Section 49.3.
The rarely used maneuver will likely spark a vote of no confidence in Macron’s government. The pensions bill had already completed its passage through the Senate earlier in the day but still required support from the National Assembly before becoming law.
But the government changed course just before the vote was scheduled in the Assembly because it was unsure whether it had enough votes to pass the bill. That’s when Macron decided to go over the head of parliament and make the bill law by presidential decree.
The pensions bill is the flagship legislation of Macron’s second term, but the deeply unpopular plan has sparked major strikes, and millions of people have taken to the streets in protests across the country since January.
As lawmakers gathered in the National Assembly to vote on the bill, left-wing members of the parliament—including deputies from La France Insoumise, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and others—broke into a boisterous rendition of “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.
The impromptu sing-along prevented Macron’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne from speaking and prompted the speaker to suspend the session.
Once the session was back underway, Borne announced the plan to invoke 49.3, saying: “We cannot take a gamble on the future of our pensions system.”
Amid chaotic scenes and calls for a vote of no confidence in Macron’s government, French Communist Party General Secretary Fabien Roussel said Macron was “not worthy of our Fifth Republic.” He added, “Parliament has been flouted and humiliated to the end.”
Roussel called for a referendum vote on the pension plan. “Let’s engage in a great popular battle alongside the unions.”
Meanwhile, police in Paris “requisitioned” sanitation workers in the capital and threatened them with prosecution if they continue their week-long strike action against the pension plan.
Roger McKenzie is the International Editor of Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper.
Kevin and Larisa Borowske were fired and evicted by property management company FirstService Residential in Minnesota, they suspect because they were organizing against wage theft and for a union. Since the company required them to sign non-compete clauses, they believe they are restricted from doing similar work. Photo: SEIU local 26.
Originally published in Labor Notes on February 2, 2023
Kevin Borowske is still mulling it over after being fired last week—and evicted as of February 28. Was he a scientist with the proprietary recipe for a cleaning solution? Was he the holder of a confidential blueprint concealing the secret rooms in the condo?
Otherwise, he’s at a loss as to why the property management company FirstService Residential had him sign a non-compete agreement when he was hired as a caretaker—a job that blends janitorial and light housekeeping services—at a high-rise building in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A non-compete agreement bars the worker from taking a similar job with another company for a period of time. You might assume that such agreements would mainly be used to keep workers with proprietary information from being poached by a firm’s competitors. But now all kinds of employers require workers to sign them—so many that the Federal Trade Commission is considering outlawing the practice.
Borowske is banned from working for FirstService’s competitors, under threat of lawsuit; the agreement he signed says he would even owe the company any legal fees associated with a suit.
His wife Larisa Borowske was fired, too. They suspect they were let go because they were involved in protesting wage theft by their employers and later striking.
BLOCKED FROM WORK
The Borowskes’ jobs involved living on-site, because they were on call for emergencies. Now unemployed and homeless, the couple has one month to find new housing—and can’t get new employment in the only sector they’ve known for nearly a decade.
“We’re older employees, but we still have a little time to work,” said Borowske, who is 56. “We can’t go to another building and become caretakers.”
The Borowskes feel like their life has been turned upside down. Along with their housing and their job, they lost their health insurance and more.
“Oh, my goodness, my life insurance was terminated on the same day [I was fired],” Borowske said. “In fact, they supply us with telephones; they shut off our telephones. So we couldn’t communicate, and we had to run out and buy telephones.
“I’m just not sure how we’re supposed to survive this, but we will.”
Borowske describes himself as “an award-winning employee”—four years ago, he was one of three workers who got special recognition, out of a pool of 650. His good reputation has earned him the support of condo residents; many have been calling and offering to hire him for small repairs to tide him over until he secures another job.
But he politely declines. “I can’t, because I’m afraid of what would happen if FirstService found out.”
The FTC proposed a new rule in January to ban employers from forcing workers to sign non-compete agreements. The Minnesota legislature is also considering outlawing the practice.
If enacted, the national ban would boost worker earnings by an estimated $300 billion per year across the economy. Studies show that non-compete agreements depress wages, probably in large part by suppressing wage competition—employers don’t have to worry that their employees will leave for a better-paying competitor.
Courts already frown on non-compete agreements; often they are ultimately ruled unenforceable. But no matter the eventual outcome of a court case, FirstService still reaps the short-term benefits of terrorizing workers and discouraging organizing.
“Back when we got hired, they’re like, ‘You have to sign [the non-compete agreement] if you want to be an employee of FirstService,’” Borowske said. “And of course, at the time, I didn’t really give it much thought. You just do what they tell you.”
His starting pay in 2004 was $8 hourly. Over the years his pay rose to $16.05, which he credits to the Service Employees’ national Fight for $15 campaign, even though his job at FirstService was nonunion.
Management didn’t give Borowske a reason why he was fired, but he thinks his union organizing and wage theft settlement have put a target on his back.
At the outset of the pandemic in March 2020, Borowske went to management about being underpaid. By June, he had joined a lawsuit that found that FirstService Residential had not paid overtime to 100 workers “by failing to include housing credits in calculating the regular rate of pay used to pay overtime compensation,” according to court papers.
The company settled for $250,000, of which $150,000 went to the 100 caretakers. The Borowskes’ payouts were $12,095 and $2,919.
Last October, Borowske was among 300 maintenance and desk attendants who went on an unfair labor practice strike at seven of the largest condo buildings in the Twin Cities. They were striking against management’s intimidation tactics as they organized to join SEIU Local 26.
“Because of my unionizing efforts, my wife and I got terminated,” he said.
Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes | email@example.com
Starbucks baristas on strike in Memphis, Tenn. | via @Un1onBarbie on Twitter
In Seattle, Starbucks baristas at CEO Howard Schultz’s home store, The Roastery, brought Scabby the Rat to their picket line. Chants and signs from coast to coast—including in crayon on a Baltimore County, Md., car—declared: “No contract, no coffee!”
At an unidentified Starbucks, Santa had to strike: “Even my elves are in unions!” he said in a film clip. “Shame on you, Mr. Schultz.”
At the Starbucks store at Ashland Ave. and Irving Park Road on Chicago’s North Side, so many customers honored the picket line that at 11 a.m. on Dec. 16—the first day of a 3-day nationwide forced strike—managers closed the store.
“Who shut it down? We shut it down!” the exuberant picketers shouted via bullhorn.
“SHAME ON STARBUCKS” read a big bedsheet banner during what participants called “mega picketing” at three Starbucks St. Louis stores. Minnesota participants, joined by members of the Communist Party club there, thronged to the picket line, despite typical Minnesota December temperatures, even at midday: 5 degrees below zero.
And in Ithaca, N.Y., at a store the giant chain keeps threatening to close—in retaliation for unionizing—workers added a song for their Jewish customers, just before Chanukah began, sung to the children’s tune of Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel:
“Union, union, union
A fair contract we say.
And if we don’t get it,
We will strike all day.”
The object of all this activity: To force Starbucks’ bosses back to bargaining with the workers who have unionized at 260-plus of the monster coffee chain’s stores since the grassroots organizing drive—aided by Starbucks Workers United (SWU), a Service Employees affiliate—achieved its first success in Buffalo just over a year ago.
The three-day forced strike #DoubleDownPicketing on the weekend of Dec. 16-19 was the latest effort by the workers to get the bosses to bargain in good faith, despite CEO Schultz. There were two short sessions in late October.
In the first, lasting about five minutes, the workers barely began to present proposals when the bosses’ union-buster called a caucus and led management in a walkout. They never came back. The second was even shorter: Bosses refused to talk because hundreds of Starbucks workers nationwide had tuned in via Zoom.
The weekend action, which SWU described as the longest against the giant coffee chain, showed yet again that Starbucks baristas, like other underpaid and overworked workers—especially in fast food eateries, coffee shops, and bars—have had it up to here with corporate exploitation and greed, and have taken to unionizing and to the streets, in response.
They join port truckers, retail workers, adjunct professors, museum workers, Amazon workers, and warehouse workers—among others in a mass movement agitating for union recognition, better pay, safer working conditions and respect on the job, in numbers infrequently seen in decades, and certainly not coast to coast. But that’s what happened here.
They also got wide public support—despite a few “brew your own coffee remarks”—from the Twitterverse.
“Switching up my routine to support@SBWorkersUnited,” one tweet said. “This #Union brother won’t cross picket lines. #BoycottStarbucks Solidarity is more than just a word, it’s a conscious action that requires commitment. Be an active part of the #StarbucksStrike. Retweet in #Solidarity.”
“SCABS TRIED TO SLOW US DOWN AND WE CAME BACK STRONGER,” another reported. “#DoubleDownStrike #NoContractNoGiftCards #NoContractNoCoffee #SBWU #UnionStrong.”
“Those big executives that are sitting up in their offices picking their noses all day are about to find out real fast who actually runs the company,” a third tweeter commented.
The strikers picked up heavyweight intellectual backing, too, of a sort. A new study from the Harvard Business School of the nation’s 250 largest corporations, listing the 50 best for workers on various quality of life issues—not just pay, but benefits, diversity, and opportunities for advancement—showed Starbucks was second to last in its category, retail. Only McDonald’s was worse.
“Starbucks earned one of the lowest ratings in the study, placing it in the bottom 50 of the surveyed companies, beneath brands with notably poor reputations for worker treatment including Walmart and Dollar General,” the news story on the study adds. The study didn’t distinguish between unionized and non-unionized firms.
Starbucks’ exact finish in the multifactor rankings could not be determined, from the confusing way it posted its findings. But another pro-worker group posted the survey anyway, noting in irony the Howard Schultz Foundation—yes, the CEO’s non-profit—financed it. The overall #1? AT&T, which is unionized.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).
Yes, a strike of railroad workers could bring the national economy to a halt, including stopping the flow of millions of dollars a day in profits to the railroad companies. But let’s keep in mind that it’s big business —not workers—that has crashed the nation’s economy at least three times in recent memory. There was the dot com bubble, driven by venture capitalists in 2002. In the Great Recession of 2008, it was the subprime loan industry. And this year monopoly price gouging—especially in the oil industry—is inflicting inflation pain on the nation. In none of these cases did Congress act against the culprits.
It’s never been clearer who the ruling class of this country is than when Congress and the president respect big business’s rights but are quick to sacrifice those of workers.
The fact that a strike by railroad unions—collective action by more than 100,000 workers—will impact the economy, including bosses’ profits, is exactly their leverage. Isn’t that what a strike is all about? Being denied the right to strike is like being put in a boxing ring and the referee saying you have to keep our hands at your sides and you’re not allowed to punch, but your opponent has no restrictions.
This isn’t the first time that the railroad industry has used government power against the workers. Railroads are the oldest U.S. monopoly, going back over a century-and-a-half, and they are still crucial to the economy. There is a long history of attempts of the workers to organize and of government interventions.
Prior to legislation in the 1920s and ‘30s, the usual forms of government intervention were injunctions and armed repression by state militias, the National Guard, federal troops, and private goons protected by all of the above. A lot of this is recounted in the book Labor’s Untold Story, which details the smashed railroad strikes of 1877 and 1894.
In 1946, and again in 1950, President Harry Truman issued executive orders and signed emergency legislation overriding the guaranteed right to negotiation (after a lengthy cooling-off period) contained in the Railway Labor Act.
Most of the important rail strikes in this country’s history occurred during economic downturns, when labor was at a disadvantage anyway. What’s different about 2022 is that there is a tight labor market, for once creating a favorable negotiating environment for workers. That makes “even-handed” government intervention all the more pernicious and intrinsically anti-labor. No wonder the railroad corporations immediately embraced Biden’s call for anti-strike legislation, while most union leaders did not.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to discount concerns about the political ramifications of the economic disruption that would result from a rail strike in today’s political scene where fascism is a real threat.
Fascism is now embodied in the Republican Party, which represents the most extreme and dangerous elements of finance capital, powered by racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. The capitalist forces in this array include oil and coal, arms and prison industries, and the biggest transnational monopolies. Through their financial networks of banks, venture capitalists, hedge funds, and tech monopolies, they control and profit from big segments of the economy—including the railroad industry, the nation’s most profitable industry with a 50% profit margin.
The fascist danger is always on the agenda with regard to electoral issues: it’s hard to contemplate doing anything that would strengthen the MAGA forces in the political field. But for forces in the anti-MAGA coalition to side with the big corporations on such an important workers rights issue is itself going to create divisions in the anti-fascist forces.
The problem is that Biden’s position to deny workers’ right to strike actually makes the fascist danger greater. Why? Because it increases working-class disenchantment and cynicism, particularly—but not only—among the youth.
Progressive pro-worker legislators, who constitute a strong and growing—but far from majority—influence, are between a rock and a hard place on this.
No substitute for a negotiated contract
Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to add seven days sick leave to the imposed contract was a useful initiative that workers’ rights supporters could rally around. But it is not a substitute for a negotiated contract ratified by the affected workers. Sanders’ proposal passed the House as a separate bill but it failed in the Senate while the anti-strike legislation passed.
There’s a need for cleareyed, unambiguous partisanship. After all, political alliances are based on issues, and on this one the working class has a fundamental issue with cancelling the right to strike.
We’ve got to defend the working class. However, to defend the class is more than attacking corporate Dems: We’ve got to continually raise the issue of building the movement. Had there been more pressure on the ground, Biden and Pelosi would never have dared to impose this settlement, as seen by Pelosi’s about face after Sanders’ and others’ pushback.
Still on the table is the fundamental principle that interfering with the right to strike—whether it’s by the troops, courts, or legislation—can never be an option.
As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.
Carl Wood is a retired union leader and a member of the Labor Commission of the Communist Party.
Originally posted on People’s World on June 29, 2020 10:52 AM by Mark Gruenberg
BATH, Maine—Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and a parade of other prominent politicians are supporting the 4,300 Machinists Local S6 workers forced to strike by their bosses at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine.
“A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity. I urge Bath Iron Works to come back to the table and make a fair offer to the hardworking men and women of IAM Local S6,” Biden declared on June 25.
The former vice president thus joins Maine’s entire congressional delegation and top state officials in urging the shipyard’s president, and his corporate chieftains at General Dynamics, to bargain in good faith and reach a contract with the local, which represents 64% of all the yard’s workers.
Company demands for extensive out-of-state subcontracting of their work to the lowest bidders, unlimited shift changes that would destroy seniority, and health care cost hikes that would wipe out proposed 3% annual raises, forced the workers to walk at 12:01 am on June 21.
The S6 members first rejected the company’s “last, best and final” offer by an overwhelming margin. Then 84% of those voting OKed the strike.
Relations between the union and company management are so bad that even two probationary workers, who had started their jobs only on June 15, and who could not vote, tweeted that they were proud of their colleagues. It’s the local’s first strike at the yard in 20 years.
The BIW workers, all skilled machinists, are building seven destroyers for the U.S. Navy. A spokesman for the yard’s parent firm, General Dynamics, said it “was prepared” to keep construction going, though it didn’t say how. A Navy spokesman e-mailed a defense-oriented paper the service hopes the two sides settle their differences peacefully.
Postings from Local S6 leaders on their Facebook page reveal company intransigence. The rejected pact was for three years. And IAM President Bob Martinez backed them up in a strong letter to Bath Iron Works’s CEO, Dirk Lesko, and a public statement.
“Don’t Buy The Company’s Lies and Spin,” one Local S6 Facebook posting was headlined, covering BIW’s health care proposals.
“Average premium costs from 2017 to 2020 only went up by a total of 8.4% for BIW yet they want a 5% annual increase in premiums (15% total) plus higher out-of-pocket costs. There is no justification for higher out-of-pocket costs.”
“BIW is just trying to push everyone into the high deductible plan. The increases in prescription drug copays, deductibles and annual maximums…will hurt those that need to use their health care the most, many of whom have sacrificed their health by working in the physically demanding jobs in a shipyard or have complications related to a pregnancy.”
Left unsaid in that posting is the BIW members are “essential” workers forced to toil through the coronavirus pandemic, often in close quarters without social distancing. Martinez made that point.
“This strike is about more than wages and benefits,” he said. “It is about working people having a voice in their futures and taking a stand for their families and the state of Maine.”
“Despite our repeated warnings to the management of Bath Iron Works, this employer has continued to take taxpayer dollars and outsource good Maine jobs to out-of-state contractors.”
“The company is engaged in flat-out union-busting, and is exploiting the current pandemic to attempt to outsource work from its dedicated employees, who are risking their health to build ships that protect our national security.”
“For generations, our members at Local S6 in Bath proudly built the military ships that keep our servicemen and women safe. They are the reason why ‘Bath Built is Best Built.’ We simply ask management recognize the sacrifices our members have made, and work with us to find a solution that promotes the well-being of our membership, their families and the entire state of Maine.”
The Maine AFL-CIO threw its weight behind Local S6, too. The strike vote “should send a crystal clear message to BIW management: Respect your workers, go back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair contract,” state fed President Cynthia Phinney tweeted.
“The union has struggled and bargained over decades to make these safe, quality jobs that Maine workers can survive in over a long career and earn a decent living. BIW proposals roll back job quality, worker protections and safety,” she added. “All over this state and country the essential people are rising up to demand respect, justice and a fair share of the wealth we create. The broader labor movement stands with the workers at BIW in their struggle for a fair contract.”