“Homestead” is one of those place names in U.S. labor history – like Haymarket and Flint – that carries a lot of meaning. The courageous 1892 struggle by the workers of the Homestead mill and their community, against robber baron Andrew Carnegie, his union-busting lieutenant Henry Clay Frick, and the Pennsylvania National Guard, ended in defeat for the workers and killed the idea that craft unions could succeed at collective bargaining in mass production industries. But in Mike Stout’s memoir of his life as a worker and union leader in the Homestead mill’s final decade, he makes clear that something of the rebellious spirit of 1892 survived. “For me,” he writes, “1892 and 1982 are part of a whole, two points on the same pole of resistance and spirit of solidarity that sprang up, thrived, and was eventually suffocated at the great Homestead steel mill.”
UE NEWS Updates
Workers at the Willy Street Co-op, who voted to join UE by a wide margin in September, ratified their first UE contract in March. The new contract addresses all of the issues in their organizing program, including getting rid of a widely-hated attendance policy and making progress towards a living wage. The more than 300 workers work in three stores around Madison, as well as an off-site kitchen and a central office.
At the end of February, Local 228 successfully negotiated a three-year contract with a new contractor, LDRM, which took over operations of the National Visa Center on March 1. The new contract includes hefty wage increases, measures to soften the blow of runaway insurance costs, and no substantial concessions on language.
The first meeting of the newly organized UE-Wabtec Conference Board was held on March 13th at the UE Local 506 union hall.
The UE-Wabtec Conference Board is made up of UE locals whose members work for Wabtec Corporation, a Pittsburgh-based rail transportation manufacturing company that employs more than 27,000 workers in dozens of countries around the world.
Nearly 30 members from UE Locals 506, 610 and 618 attended the conference board meeting.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, UE Local 203 — which represents grocery workers at the cooperative City Market’s two stores — immediately requested to bargain with management over a number of safety measures, along with hazard pay. After management responded with a paltry offer, the local also began a wildly successful “photo petition” on social media which ultimately won $3 per hour in hazard pay and additional protections.
On March 16, six days after North Carolina governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UE Local 150 leaders Darrion Smith, Nathanette Mayo and Angaza Laughinghouse held a press conference at the state capitol building, demanding expanded sick leave for all workers, personal protective equipment (PPE) including N95 masks, gowns and gloves, hazard pay, and other protections for essential frontli
The work performed by the teachers, speech language pathologists, and registered nurses of UE Local 613 at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children requires a high level of technical and social skills.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the local has also needed to confront new challenges in maintaining the participatory principles of bottom-up, rank-and-file unionism. Led by the efforts of their executive committee, union representation and meetings have proceeded with minimal interruption.
In mid-March, as the number of COVID-19 cases began to increase across the country, UE Local 506, whose members work at Wabtec’s huge locomotive manufacturing facility in Erie, PA, began pressing the company to take action to ensure the health and safety of its members, their families and the Erie community.
UE Local 170, which represents state workers throughout West Virginia, has been working in many different ways to help their members in this time of need. “We just received our first order of 500 cloth masks, gloves, safety glasses and wipes to give out to members at the state hospital,” reports Vice President Leslie Riddle. “Due to back orders this has been a difficult process at times. But we have placed orders for several more.”
Local 1123’s most recent contract with National Consolidation Services was signed in late 2018, when the business was on the brink of bankruptcy. The local was forced to accept a wage freeze and a “new hire” tier $3 per hour below the regular rate, but got the company to agree to a wage reopener in April 2020. Negotiations took place on April 16, and the union negotiated a settlement which provides for 50-cent across-the-board wages each year and removes the tier.
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