As the first anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic approached, the UE International Department asked two of our international allies, Unifor (Canada) and Zenroren (Japan), to share with UE NEWS readers a glimpse into what work and life is like now in their countries. We asked these allied unions to share what their government’s response to the virus had been like, as well as how these unions were organizing or in other ways helping workers to protect themselves during these new health and economic challenges.
UE NEWS Updates
Over the past year, workers in Canada have felt much of the same effects as workers across the world. At first, initial enthusiasm for the contribution of essential workers was applauded and then their pandemic pay was cut. Front-line staff engaged in the fight for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), sometimes facing employers who deliberately prevented workers from accessing life-saving PPE. After the initial wave of layoffs related to COVID-19 shut downs, many workers are back to work with heightened health and safety protocols. However, many workers, including those in the airlines, hospitality, and gaming sectors, are still largely out of work. Others, including in aerospace, are watching layoffs mount. A year into the pandemic, Canadian workers continue to fight for sector-based relief packages and expanded workers’ rights.
The North American Solidarity Project presents the Worker Power Online Exchange Series, seven public webinars from March 20 to June 9. The events are being jointly organized by the unions of the North American Solidarity Project, including UE.
“Given the current pandemic, Medicare for All is needed now more than ever. Thousands of American families will face astronomical medical expenses due to the COVID virus. Many will be forced into bankruptcy because of their inability to pay. Today is the day we make Medicare for All our top priority for 2021.”
“This has been a really busy period,” UE Director of Organizing Gene Elk told the General Executive Board during their January meeting. “We now have opportunities to organize hundreds of workers.” Elk gave an overview of several large campaigns the union is currently engaged in, among 1500 graduate workers at the University of New Mexico, 900 graduate workers at New Mexico State University, and 700 largely black city workers employed in the utilities, public works, and sanitation departments of the city of Virginia Beach.
Debra Gornall, who retired as Eastern Region President in 2017 after four and a half decades as a UE member, local leader, field organizer and international representative, passed away on January 17.
Tinius Olsen workers, members of UE Local 155, ratified a new three-year agreement on February 12 after tough bargaining.
UE members at Tinius Olsen make materials testing machines, sales of which have been slow due to the pandemic-related slowdown in the construction industry. Despite this, the union was able to prevail upon management to preserve their $1.25 hazard pay through August. Workers will then receive a one-time bonus of $650, and a two percent wage increase in each of the second and third years of the contract.
Pittsburgh “frontline” singer Anne Feeney, who performed at UE rallies, picket lines and conventions for over 35 years, passed away on Wednesday, from COVID-19. Feeney told the UE NEWS in 2017, “I love going to picket lines,” and she could often be found wherever workers were in struggle.
Nearly 1,000 graduate workers at the University of New Mexico — a clear majority — have joined United Graduate Workers of UNM/UE, and have petitioned for recognition with the state labor board. But the university administration has filed a motion seeking to strip graduate workers of their right to form a union under state law, reneging on its prior public commitment to respect graduate workers’ right to organize.
When new managers at Portescap met with the UE Local 155 last fall to begin negotiations for a new contract, they declared their intention to make wages, paid time off, and even overtime dependent on improvements in productivity and attendance. They said they didn’t want to give raises to workers who were just doing “the bare minimum.”
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