PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO CONSIDER THESE LABOR ISSUES NO MATTER THE SUPPORT OF UNIONS. CITIZENS CAN SUPPORT UNIONS WITHOUT BEING A UNION MEMBER AS THE WORKPLACE LAWS WON BY THE UNIONS OF LAST CENTURY BENEFIT ALL!
Check out this Facebook page: the movement is growing!
June 30 ·
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a corporate trade deal that places profits over everything and would affect half of humanity, but the mainstream media refuses to cover it at all.
Share to break corporate media's censorship.
I want to make clear, it is not only the working class and poor being driven deeper into poverty. The middle-class employee is feeling it as well. I spoke of public universities now filled with part-time adjuncts and we are watching as nursing staff and other medical employees with strong middle-class salaries feeling the cuts of Affordable Care Act reform. Post Office employees were strongly middle-class as were MTA bus drivers and all are under attack from privatization. Doctors know they are next as their profession becomes a cog in a profit-driven system. The problem is global corporations having complete control of our US and state economies. Ending that power is the solution to protecting all US workers AND IT CAN BE DONE!
WE NEED EVERYONE ENGAGED IN POLITICS----RUN OR ADVOCATE!
It is a bad sign for democracy when US universities attack the very professors who for centuries were the ones charged with holding power accountable. Taking away tenure and making professors predominately adjunct was meant to kill political activism on US university campuses.....and is why there is silence today. I am glad to see the movement below.
Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014, 3:10 pm
UIC Faculty Rekindle Fight for Public Education With Historic Strike
BY Rebecca Burns
University of Illinois----Chicago
As a tenured professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), Josh Radinsky never expected to participate in a strike—or to see so many of his colleagues ready to do the same. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like a ghost town today,” Radinsky marveled as he and a group of colleagues picketed outside an empty academic building yesterday morning.
Tuesday marked the start of an unprecedented two-day walkout staged by UIC United Faculty (UICUF), the union that represents more than 1,100 tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members at the state university. Strikes by university professors are a rare occurrence: The first of its kind at UIC, the faculty strike is also one of only a handful at U.S. colleges and universities during the past five years. Since gaining recognition in 2012, though, UICUF has been locked in a stalemate with university administrators over its first contract. In December, faculty members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if progress wasn’t made at the negotiating table.
This week, the union made good on its threat: Faculty members walked out of their offices on Tuesday morning, fanning out into picket lines across campus.
Though the sight of picketing professors may be novel, it’s become increasingly evident to many that the union and administration were coming to loggerheads. As Radinsky, who’s taught for 14 years in the university’s College of Education, says about the strike, “This needed to happen—I think it’s about time.”
As it’s geared up for a strike, UICUF’s central contention has been that the university is not as cash-strapped as it claims to be. The union argues, based on reports of auditors and bond ratings, that UIC has more than $500 million in unrestricted reserves. And during the past five years, according to UICUF, even while the school has deferred faculty raises and withheld other benefits in the name of tough fiscal times, it has also increased the number of administrators by 10 percent.
Though the union says that some progress has been made during negotiations on non-economic issues such as academic freedom, the two sides are still sorely at odds about pay and benefits. Specifically, UICUF has put the penurious conditions of non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty at the center of its struggle: NTT faculty members currently make a minimum of $30,000 annually, and the union is demanding a $45,000 wage floor. Though the university offered $36,000 in its most recent counter-proposal, union negotiators say this does not constitute a good-faith negotiation.
“We don’t see that as an actual compromise,” says John Casey, a non-tenure-track lecturer who is a member of the union’s bargaining team. Casey teaches a freshman writing course and says his low wages impact his ability to give his students the attention they deserve. He says he’s had to take a string of outside jobs, including a recent one as a bicycle tour guide, to make ends meet while teaching at UIC.
For its part, UIC maintains the union’s proposals for tenure-track faculty would lead to a 23 percent hike in costs for the university; its proposals for non-tenure-track faculty would increase costs by 27 percent. “A work stoppage or strike is not in the best interest of the faculty, the University, or our students,” the university said in a statement issued last week on its website. “However, under Illinois law, educational employees in a bargaining unit without an applicable no-strike clause in a contract have a right to strike. Each professor or instructor has the right to strike, or to work.”
The UIC strike represents a new height of coordination between tenured and non-tenure-track faculty, who often bargain contracts separately and sometimes see their interests as divergent. As I’ve reported previously, UICUF has found a unique way to maintain solidarity between the two groups. In 2011, the university successfully blocked tenure-track and NTT faculty members from forming a single bargaining unit—a move union activists say was an attempt to “divide and conquer.” But the two groups have maintained the same core demands and the same bargaining team, operating as a unified group even though they must ultimately bargain two separate contracts.
Though the last major wave of faculty unionization took place in the 1970s, labor organizing in the academy is on the rise again. A surge of organizing among adjunct professors during the past year has won new, adjunct-only unions at several private universities, including Tufts University in Massachusetts. This resurgence is “a direct outgrowth of the large increase in the use of low-paid contingent faculty,” says William A. Herbert, a distinguished lecturer at CUNY and executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.
However, he notes that the labor action at UIC is fairly unique because of the “apparent [tenure-track and NTT] faculty unity and prioritization for improving the working conditions of contingent faculty.”
Casey, who was an adjunct activist even before UIC unionized, tells In These Times that he was initially uncertain whether working with tenured professors would be the best path to improvements in his own conditions.
“I was skeptical when we first started about how the relationship would work,” says Casey. “[But] our tenure-track faculty have been amazing allies.” Among the benefits of working in conjunction with tenured faculty, he says, is that the most vulnerable faculty members may be shielded from retaliation. “I mean, my boss was out here today on the picket line,” Casey notes. “That’s pretty remarkable.” (Department heads at UIC are not included in the union, but many have expressed support for the strike.)
Many labor activists are hailing today’s walkout as a historic development whose impact could extend beyond Chicago. For example, faculty members at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the flagship campus in the state system, are currently in the midst of their own union drive. And many of those professors have their eyes on UIC as a bellwether for the rest of the state.
Given the expanding ranks of NTT faculty at Urbana-Champaign, UICUF’s ability to secure a higher wage floor for equivalent positions at UIC “would be a huge boost for us here,” Susan Davis, a professor in the Department of Communication at Urbana-Champaign and a member of the pro-union Campus Faculty Association, tells In These Times via e-mail.
Davis also points out UIC higher-ups could be taking a hard line in contract negotiations with UICUF in an attempt to stem the tide toward faculty unionization at other campuses. “We think the administration is playing hardball with UICUF in part because they could set a dramatic precedent for the University of Illinois as a whole,” she continues.
Spokespeople for UICUF estimate more than 1,000 faculty members participated in the first day of the strike and that about half of all classes were cancelled. More than 200 people, including students, attended a midday rally on Tuesday. The group chanted, “Chop from the Top!” and “No Contract, No Peace!” while many marched with distinctly professorial picket signs, such as “I Teach, Therefore I Am (Exploited)” and “The Inductive Method: No Contract, No Work!”
Campus service and maintenance workers represented by SEIU Local 73, who are in the midst of their own contentious contract negotiations and could strike in March, also came out to demonstrate solidarity.
“We’re hoping that this will show us a way towards a stronger contract,” says Michael Schmitt, a member of the union’s bargaining team, who says the $13 to $17 an hour wages in Campus Parking Services aren’t enough for him and his co-workers to make ends meet. Though other campus unions have clauses in their contracts that prohibit them from striking in solidarity with faculty, many still attended pickets during their free time on Tuesday.
Faculty strikes are distinct from those at other workplaces in that they don’t actually cut into the university’s bottom line—though they can disrupt day-to-day business on campus, students have already paid tuition for the classes being cancelled. Therefore, faculty strikes are most often a short-term, symbolic tactic aimed at gaining public attention and support, says Herbert.
UIC faculty members insist, however, that their two-day walkout is a warning to the university before bargaining sessions resume again on Friday. “We’re out here today to show urgency,” says Casey. “If we don’t see any progress ... we will go out on indefinite strike.”
Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014, 8:10 pm
College Adjuncts Union Scores Victory at Maryland Institute College of Art
BY Bruce Vail Email Print MICA adjuncts celebrate after filing their petition to unionize. (SEIU 500)
BALTIMORE—Part-time college faculty members at the historic Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) scored an impressive win on Tuesday when they voted overwhelmingly to bring a labor union on campus for the first time since MICA’s opening in 1826.
When I speak of shareholder class this article does a good job showing what this means. You and I may have pension funds but with boom and bust of bubbles lose most of what we gain every five years. This is not really being a shareholder. Neo-liberals and neo-cons work for the shareholder class and that is at most 5% of the US population. Also, you can see how the people controlling these global corporations are increasingly becoming the same 1% and-----the banks.
So, labor has to fight across industry and not only for one corporation. I shout out that we do not want labor unions taking the structure of global corporations as they expand overseas to organize and that is what we are seeing. Demand your labor union works locally and remains controlled locally. It is this International status of unions like the AFL-CIO and SEIU that has them paired to neo-liberal pols.
UPS, FedEx owned by most of the same monopoly banks
Highlights the need for industry-wide organizing, unionizing FedEx workers
By Dave Schneider and Dustin Ponder
Jacksonville, FL – Despite ‘competing’ as the world's two largest parcel delivery and shipping companies, UPS and FedEx are owned by many of the same banks. According to NASDAQ's ownership summary of both companies, 12 of the top 20 owners of UPS and FedEx are the same banks, investment groups and financial institutions.
Both multi-billion dollar corporations are under 'institutional ownership', which means that a majority of their shares are owned by financial institutions, banks and other large monopoly corporations. According to NASDAQ's ownership summary of UPS on April 11, nearly 71% of UPS shares are owned by institutions. FedEx, a smaller company than UPS, actually had greater institutional ownership, with 83.94% of the company's shares owned by institutions, according to NASDAQ.
However, most of the largest institutional owners of both UPS and FedEx have substantial interests in both companies. For instance, Vanguard Group Inc., a Pennsylvania-based investment bank that manages nearly $2 trillion in assets, is the single-largest owner of UPS and the third largest owner of FedEx. Vanguard Group is a massive financial institution that boasts the largest ownership in many other large, well-known corporations including Apple, Exxon Mobil and Microsoft.
Primecap Management Company, based in Pasadena, California, is the largest owner of FedEx, holding nearly 19 million shares of the shipping company, according to NASDAQ. However, Primecap is also the 16th largest owner of UPS stock, holding more than 6.3 million shares, also according to NASDAQ.
In all, 60% of the top 20 owners of both UPS and FedEx are the same banks, investment groups and financial institutions.
Institutional ownership is incredibly common among the largest 500 publicly traded companies.
Despite this fact, companies like UPS stress to workers the need to “compete” against rival workers in their industry, like those at FedEx. UPS's collective bargaining agreement includes an entire article on competition that states: “The Union recognizes that the Employer is in direct competition with…other firms engaging in the distribution of express letter, parcel express, parcel delivery, and freight, both air and surface.”
The company leverages this poison pill of competition to justify subcontracting union work and undermining union standards. It creates an adversarial relationship between workers of UPS and FedEx, when in reality the owners at the top are united in extracting the most profit possible from workers at both companies. When the owners of UPS and FedEx are one in the same, ‘competition’ means which management team can exploit their workers the most and extract the most profit for the banks that own the whole industry.
A prominent argument used by UPS claims that workers must accept concessionary contracts to remain ‘competitive.’ They argue that employing tried-and-true militant tactics, like striking as the Teamsters did successfully in 1997, will result in FedEx stealing UPS’s customers. Historically, the union movement addressed this by organizing entire industries, instead of single worksites or employers. This meant one industry, one union, and at times - one contract. At its best, this method of organizing and bargaining takes wages out of competition and sets industry-wide standards to prevent subcontracting and a race to the bottom through ‘competition.’ Tactically, if the 1% owners of both brands are united, then to combat them and win, workers across the entire industry must also unite.
The attempts of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to organize FedEx have been foiled by U.S. labor law, which misclassifies workers and stifles their ability to unionize. FedEx Ground drivers are misclassified as independent contractors and are legally barred from union representation, even though in practice, they are effectively workers directly employed by the company. FedEx Express drivers are also misclassified under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), as opposed to the National Labor Relations Act. The company claims their employees are ‘airline’ workers, and thus would need to unionize nationally all at once. The RLA also places many more restrictions on workers’ rights, including the ability to strike. It also forces the workers into binding arbitration, which often serve the interest of the boss instead of the workers.
The banks and financial institutions that own both UPS and FedEx are united in their push for lower wages, part-time poverty jobs, fewer benefits and weaker contracts. To effectively fight their race to the bottom, union workers at UPS must organize FedEx workers, regardless of the legal fictions created by politicians in Washington.
Dave Schneider and Dustin Ponder are both rank-and-file Teamsters and members of Part-Time Power at UPS, which is a national group for UPS part-timers.
All across the nation nurses have been out protesting the most of any union. They are on the front-lines of the Affordable Care Act and the Obama/neo-liberal cuts of almost $1 trillion from Medicare. We all know those cuts were allowed to be designed by health corporations and hit the patient access and health industry labor.....nurses for one. If health industry and education industry are going to be drivers of the 21st century economy then driving these groups to poverty is not a solution for a healthy economy or quality health service. It's not meant to be say neo-liberals----it's all about the corporate profits!
Did you know there is actually growing unemployment for nursing after decades of being told there were shortages? So much for this 'growth' industry. It is a combination of staff layoffs and importing immigrant labor to work in the health field that has this strong middle-class employment under attack.
In Baltimore, it is Johns Hopkins who makes a living recruiting foreign health care workers to the US to replace US workers and they do it to exploit these immigrant workers. I have a friend who works in Hopkins' research labs from the Middle East who says she is simply used to do the most mundane of lab work-----the assembly line of lab research and has no chance of anything better. She will leave to return home after being assured a good life in America. Meanwhile, Baltimore has 50% unemployment in the black community and 36% in the general community. It is these policies that have to go and these situations permeate the health industry.
We thank the nurses unions for shouting out for patients rights and fighting for labor justice!
Private equity firms are being handed all public health especially in Maryland and not coincidentally fraud and corruption is soaring!
Using the excuse of Medicare budget cuts was the plan for dismissing staff and creating a structure for maximizing profits. Remember, the Medicare Trust is low because these same health institutions spent a few decades robbing it through fraud.
' at a time when more health care is shifting from in-patient to outpatient services'.
The Affordable Care Act is about denying most people the ability to access the most basic of medical procedures and private equity firms say----get used to it because people will be getting the only care they can afford at home.
Nurses walk out at Quincy Medical Center
By Robert Weisman and Jessica Bartlett | Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent April 12, 2013
QUINCY — Hundreds of nurses marched in a drizzly chill Thursday, carrying signs, waving union flags, and drumming on plastic bins in a 24-hour strike to dramatize their complaints about staffing levels they say compromise patient safety at Quincy Medical Center.
They called in big political guns, notably US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, the South Boston Democrat who is running for US Senate, at a noon rally. They even rolled out an inflatable Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld. The private equity firm that owns the hospital’s parent, Steward Health Care System, is named after the mythical creature.
“The dog came out of retirement,” said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, who said the hellhound’s only previous appearance was at a protest last year outside the New York headquarters of Cerberus Capital Management, which formed the Steward hospital and doctors group in 2010.
Inside the hospital, doctors and administrators said it was largely business as usual — except that they canceled elective surgeries for the day and brought in about 60 replacement nurses. They also hired trucks with billboards proclaiming the union was living in the past. Nurses stood in the street trying to block the trucks and attach their own signs to the vehicles.
“In today’s economy, nurses sitting by empty beds making $52 an hour is not feasible,” said Daniel Knell, who took over in 2011 as president of Quincy Medical Center.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Dr. Nissage Cadet (left) and hospital president Daniel Knell discussed the strike.
At the end of the day, nothing was resolved. Nurses were set to return to their jobs Friday morning without a contract. And there was no agreement between the two sides on the basic facts of what prompted the unusual one-day strike. While the nurses cited inadequate staffing, management insisted the union was pushing for higher wages and benefits.
The walkout took place against a backdrop of looming cuts in government funding for Medicare and Medicaid, the public insurance programs for older and low-income people.
“There is a lot of pressure being put on the hospitals,” Lynch told more than 200 nurses and their supporters. “The reimbursement rates are not there. They are being put under pressure to reduce costs, and they are looking at making nurses work longer hours with fewer nurses on staff. That’s not the way we need to be going.”
The strike got underway at 6 a.m., when unionized nurses walked out of the hospital to join nurses from Norwood Hospital, Morton Hospital in Taunton, and other Steward-owned and nonprofit hospitals who came to show their support.
“We need to bring it to the community to support the issues,” said Paula Ryan, a recovery room nurse at Quincy Medical who chairs the union local. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a struggle every day, nurses trying to provide the better care.”
Regulators from the state Department of Public Health showed up before dawn to make sure replacement nurses were certified and had been trained by hospital officials. A contingent of Quincy police officers — paid for by Steward — kept watch at the protest. “The financial impact for today alone is exceptional,” Knell said. He warned the hospital could be hurt further if patients chose to go to competing hospitals in Boston, Milton, or Weymouth because of what he said were false charges of safety problems.
“If the community doesn’t support the facility because of the rhetoric, it could do financial damage to us,” Knell said.
Nurses authorized the strike last month after their negotiators failed to reach agreement with Steward on a new contract. Their last contract expired before Steward acquired the bankrupt hospital in October 2011. Through an understanding between labor and management, they have been working under the terms of a separate Steward contract with union nurses at Steward-owned Carney Hospital in Dorchester.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
A nurse from another Steward hospital waved a sign outside Quincy Medical Center to drum up support.
The union was notified in February that the hospital will close a 40-bed medical surgical floor and lay off 30 nurses who worked there along with 40 technicians, orderlies, and laborers, though the cuts have yet to take effect. Union officials contend that will aggravate already overcrowded conditions, but hospital officials insist there are often empty beds.
Steward and Cerberus executives are more interested in making money from their for-profit community hospitals than caring for patients, union members said. But hospital officials said the Quincy strike was part of a national union effort to inflate wages and keep staffing unnecessarily high at a time when more health care is shifting from in-patient to outpatient services.
“I consider nurses as our colleagues, and I value the work they do for patients,” said Dr. Nissage Cadet, chief of surgery at Quincy Medical Center. “But health care is changing, and that’s the right thing for patients. Steward came in and bailed out a hospital that was about to close in months. The quality of the institution has never been this good.”
On the picket line, however, nurses said conditions have gotten so bad that patients are being “boarded” in the emergency department for long periods while waiting to see a doctor. Department nurse Kathleen LeBretton said such episodes happen two to three times a week.
Hospital officials insisted they only board psychiatric patients in a section of the emergency room while they await transfer to other hospitals because Quincy Medical does not have psychiatric beds.
The nurses were supported by Dr. Robert Noonan, a private practice physician who sometimes works with Quincy Medical Center. “There was a patient last month who was a patient of mine in her 80s,” he said. “The closed surgical floor was full, and she was boarded in the emergency room for 18 hours.”
Hospital officials contended the nurses and their backers were making false claims in an effort to get more money.
“I’ve been a nurse myself,” Knell said. “And when I took my oath to take care of my patients, I meant it. I don’t know that I would ever walk away from the bedside of my patient for financial reasons.”
These agreements are often small gains for the union members but what is most important is the citizens of the state and communities coming out to say enough is enough. The workers cannot bear any more of the cuts designed to save money to be sent to corporate subsidy rather than people's paychecks.
For those not liking unions we need to remember everyone benefited from the policies built on union activism. It is the only organized group which advocates for workers and I would suggest that what most people do not like about unions has more to do with bad union leaders and not the mission. We need strong labor policy and law enforcement to reverse this wealth inequity and rebuild a healthy economy so everyone should be fighting for these issues.
We do need to see these unions fighting for the losses of the economic crash and fraud----we do not want to simply pretend we are starting again in the 1960s as union members lose these decades of accumulated wealth to corporate fraud and public malfeasance. It is not public sector benefits and wages emptying government coffers---it is the corporate fraud and government corruption.
PROTECTING UNION MEMBER'S WEALTH IS AS IMPORTANT.
Maryland is privatizing its Maryland Transportation Authority piece by piece and are now handing buses to VEOLA----busting wages, benefits and unions themselves all under neo-liberal control of government.
Friday, Apr 11, 2014, 1:01 pm
With Solidarity in Spades, Vermont Bus Drivers’ 18-Day Strike Results in Big Win
BY Jonathan Leavitt
An outpouring of students, community members and allies from other unions turned out to support the strike. (All photographs by Jonathan Leavitt.)
At 6am on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, 40 bus drivers and a dozen community members defied negative-10-degree weather to picket outside the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) bus garage in Burlington, Vt. The action marked the beginning of nearly three-week-long transit strike over concessionary contract demands that would capture the imagination of much of Vermont and culminate in victory.
“Management misjudged us,” said CCTA driver Jim Fouts, speaking to In These Times from the impromptu victory rally on April 3. “We don’t drive together, we don’t have a lunch room to eat together,” said Fouts. But on the picket line, he says, “we turned into icicles together and we started to get to know one another.”
Traven Leyshon of the Vermont AFL-CIO leading Teamsters 597 members and supporters in chants on a negative 10 degree picket line. (Full disclosure: The author was part of the strike's solidarity committee and is a member of the Vermont Workers' Center, which supported the strike.)
After months of failed negotiations and working without a contract since June 30 of last year, drivers voted 54-0 on March 12th to reject CCTA management’s final contract offer. Drivers could not stomach monitoring disciplinary procedures that they saw as “abusive," such as being tailed by supervisors, reviewed via bus videotapes, and suspensions of as long as a month. The added demand that drivers work eight hours over the course of an exhausting 13.5-hour “split shift,” which could be extended through forced overtime to 15 hours, sparked concerns among bus drivers and community members that CCTA management’s demands risked “community safety.”
A new generation of strikers St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Monday, a school day, and the temperature was negative 5 degrees, but at 7a.m., a steady stream of parents dropped off their students to march the picket line. Seventy-one Burlington High School (BHS) students walked the proverbial mile in another’s shoes, shoulder to shoulder with their bus drivers in a show of solidarity that harkens back to a much older, bolder labor movement. The students accompanied the bus drivers every foot of the circuitous 2.3-mile bus route from the Cherry Street picket line to the front office of the high school, where administrators greeted the students with applause and excused absences. The handmade signs students carried would paper the lobby for the duration of the strike.
“This is Vermont, and even record cold temperatures cannot keep us away from supporting the workers of our state,” says Sabine Rogers, a senior at BHS. “Students showed how much they support fair working conditions and how much they support the work that you bus drivers do each and every day.”
“As we started to walk, we went from a fairly quiet group to chanting with a bullhorn and really getting into it,” says BHS senior Henry Prine. “One quiet student told me he doesn’t like loud noises or large crowd, but it was such an incredible experience. He fell in love with organizing in that moment.”
BHS Students on the picket line beside their CCTA drivers.
Prine detailed the prefigurative movement-building BHS students did before the strike. Through his student delegate position on the school board, Prine convinced the body to pass a resolution stating the school district would not hire scab bus drivers to cross picket lines. Prine says that as negotiations broke down and a strike appeared imminent, he began talking with other seniors ("and underclassmen too") about ways BHS students could take an even more powerful public stand. The students drafted a petition calling on CCTA management to meet the drivers’ demands, and Mayor Weinberger and the Burlington City Council to support the bus drivers.” According to Prine, the petition drew more than 500 signatures in one day’s time. “That’s more signatures than people get to keep the hockey program,” he says.
This petition would be presented to Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger in a March 10 City Council meeting by ten BHS student organizers. Weinberger and his City Council allies had earned a reputation as anti-labor for gutting Burlington’s Livable Wage Ordinance despite popular support for policies to reduce the growing disparity of wealth.
Rogers, motivated by her experience on the strike line, would build out a student carpool in solidarity with drivers, using some dusty ward maps to collectivize students’ overlapping routes to school. In the strike’s final week, students organized teachers to host bus drivers in their classes. Striking drivers presented labor history and origin story of their job action to 80 students in four classes in the three days leading up to the strike settlement.
Rogers believes the experience transformed a culture of alienation at her school. “The solidarity and community and sense of activism that has been such a big player in this whole past few weeks—I definitely see that continuing as part of the atmosphere at BHS,” she says.
‘This is the movement of the people’ Nine days into the strike, the drivers would face a massively heavy lift. With the backing of Mayor Weinberger, eight of the 14 members of Burlington's City Council co-sponsored a resolution calling for the contract negotiations to enter “binding arbitration.”
According to a statement in responde to the resolution by the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals (a local of AFT Vermont), binding arbitration decreases the likelihood of a favorable outcome for workers and communities by placing “all decision-making in the hands of a third party, someone with no relationship to the workplace or community directly affected by his or her decision” and who is not accountable for the results.
To speak against binding arbitration, 150 drivers and supporters marched upon the City Council's March 26 meeting, chanting “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union!" After they filed into the chamber, City Council President Joan Shannon informed the crowd that the customary public comment period at the beginning of the meeting would be delayed by a special executive session. At that point, the entire driver solidarity march assembled outside the chamber door and unleashed perhaps the most boisterous rally City Hall has ever seen.
Bus drivers, other unions and community solidarity activists lead a speak-out in Burlington City Hall on March 26.
The hallway and steps leading to City Hall’s second floor and the Mayor’s office were suffused with swelling throng of students, members of United Electric (UE), the Vermont Workers’ Center, the Vermont State Employees Association, Vermont National Education Assocaition (Vermont NEA), the newly formed Vermont Homecare United (a local of ASFCME) and many bus drivers. Loud applause and chants of "What do we want? Fair Contract! When do we want it? Now!" resounded in hallway’s marble and into the City Council chamber in a scene many would compare to the 2011 occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol by pro-union protesters.
"Where is the freedom? Where is the chance?” bus driver Noor Ibrahim, an immigrant from Somalia, asked the impromptu rally. “I was told there is a chance here in this country. Where is the right of the poor people? [CCTA management] are misusing the money of the taxpayers. From now on we have this strike as experience, we don’t need to back down.”
Noor detailed how three years ago his wife was pregnant and “the doctor said the baby wasn’t moving.” He set up an appointment on his day off so he could support his wife, even filling out the vacation paperwork as an extra precaution. Less than 24 hours before the appointment, he said, CCTA’s management told him he would have to work. “When I asked them, they said ‘We don’t care about you, we don’t care about your family all we care about is the bus moving,’ " said Noor.
As drivers continued telling personal stories like these and the raucous rally spilled over into public comment, two of the eight resolution sponsors, Karen Paul and Tom Ayers, pulled their names off. Councilor Paul was evidently moved by the driver’s stories; she introduced a successful amendment to “remove the resolution from the agenda” entirely, adding, “I’ve learned a great deal tonight. If we go forward with the agenda, I’ll remove my name from the resolution.” By the council meeting’s denouement, the focus had shifted from binding arbitration to a discussion led by progressive councilors of whether or not to sanction CCTA management.
“This is the movement of the people,” Nigerian CCTA driver Ade Fajobi told In These Times. “The voice of everybody changed the votes of City Council.”
‘Every step you take on your picket line is our step’ On Saturday, March 29, the 12th day of the strike, an all-night, 18-hour negotiation session broke down, yet again, over CCTA management’s demand to increase drivers’ split-shifts 12.5 to 13.5 hours. “They basically tossed the same pile of dung back in our faces,” said Jim Fouts. In response, hundreds of supporters gathered at Burlington City Hall, beneath a 12-foot wide bright blue banner reading “Work With Dignity” and “Fair Contract Now.” A massive University of Vermont (UVM) feeder march and brass band joined, and Vermont residents lent their voices to the drivers’ cause.
A brass band joins the picket line on the second day of the strike.
“By using your right to strike, you're creating a stronger movement of workers,” said Amy Lester, a member of Vermont NEA and the vice-president of the Vermont Workers’ Center. “Your strength is our strength. Your courage is our courage. Your momentum is our momentum. Every step you take on your picket line is our step. We all have your back, keep fighting and don’t give up.”
To loud applause, FaRied Munarsyah, a Workers’ Center member and 20-year CCTA rider, called for “temporary replacement managers.” Michelle Gałecki of UVM’s Student Climate Culture said, “Livable jobs and public transportation is a green issue, but it’s also a human rights issue.”
“We have been swallowing this pain for the last ten years,” said Noor Ibrahim, from the steps of City Hall, with dozens of CCTA bus drivers behind him. “We cannot live in this hostile environment. We deserve respect.”
Chief Steward Mike Walker, driver Noor Ibrahim, and many more drivers leading the March 29 march.
Just days later, after threatening picket line-crossing scab drivers, CCTA management would finally capitulate. CCTA agreed to a contract with language limiting monitoring and discipline, reducing "forced overtime" to 13.5 hours a day instead of 15, and maintaining drivers’ split shifts at the current 12.5 hours. Though drivers conceded an increase from 13 to 15 part-time drivers, the union was able to win language preventing CCTA from using retirement or termination to reduce the entire bargaining unit slowly to part-time status. On April 3, inside the local VFW’s Eddie Laplant ballroom, drivers voted 53-6 to adopt the new contract.
A growing movement for work with dignity According to James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers Center, "In the current context of the attack on public transit, the public sector and the labor movement nationally, this is a tremendous victory for work with dignity that benefits all working people in the long haul.”
Indeed, the solidarity unionism that blossomed in Vermont’s late-winter snow could be—like the Chicago Teachers Union, Portland Teachers Union or Boeing Machinists—another harbinger of rebirth for rank-and-file reform movements buttressed by community solidarity.
The successful 18-day job action “really shows what happens when a few people speak out and continue to speak out towards a common goal of having a strong union,” said driver Jim Fouts in the bus terminal, in the afterglow of the victory celebration. “When I first came here the union was weak, because it was a business-as-usual union. Then some activists started saying, ‘This is wrong. We can vote on things. This is supposed to be a democracy.’ And really it was a bottom up movement to change our union.”
According to former drivers Chuck Norris-Brown and Scott Ranney, a reform caucus with the local solidified over breakfasts in local restaurants in the spring of 2009, around a petition circulated amongst drivers that helped win stewards elected by drivers, not merely appointed by Teamsters higher-ups. The caucus, nicknamed the Sunday Breakfast Club, soon began coordinating with Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a national, independent rank-and-file movement within the Teamsters. In 2011 contract negotiations, Breakfast Club members did the shopfloor organizing and the local outreach to community members and other unions to build public support. "A seed was sown which kept the Teamster Local to the grindstone, and almost all of the community action that resulted in major support for the recent drivers strike was based on earlier Sunday Breakfast Club contacts and strategies," says Ranney, who also believes the caucus empowered rank-and-file members and paved the way for the unanimous rejection of the concessionary contract.
Tearing up, Fouts describes how Local 597 followed the advice of a Labor Notes organizer Ellen David Freidman, to build power and beat back concessions: “ ‘Turn enemies into neutrals, you turn neutrals into activists and you turn activists into leaders,’ ” he quotes. “That’s what we did.”
"We won this fair contract because of our unity and the tremendous support from our community,” says Rob Slingerland, CCTA bus driver and spokesperson for the drivers.
Many drivers, even in the midst of the victory party, said they’d already begun reciprocating the solidarity unionism they experienced from other unions during their strikes. “We were talking about solidarity with other unions before we even went over our contract today,” says Slingerland. He says that drivers have already volunteered to join marches on the boss at Vermont's HowardCenter, a counseling and medical-services center where workers are in the process of unionizing with AFSCME. “We got the help and now we’ve got to give the help," he says. "Vermont is so small, but this movement is so big."
Slingerland described an “umbrella of fear,” his co-workers used to work under and how the victorious strike changed workplace power relations and gave drivers a sense of dignity. “A lot of drivers have discovered the power that they have within as a person,” said Slingerland, “you put that together as a group and you end where we are today, with a victory.”
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Striking bus drivers lead the March 29th community solidarity march with hundreds of supporters. .