On June 4, Walmart workers in several U.S. cities staged protest strikes, demanding higher wages and “Respect Now!” This was the latest manifestation of a growing movement for change among people at the bottom end of economic inequality, low-wage workers in such industries as retail, restaurants and fast food, and logistics. Three weeks earlier, on May 15, fast food workers across the U.S. and around the world struck to demand a $15 hourly wage.
The encampments are gone: young people no longer sleep in tents at Zuccotti Park near Wall Street or in the financial centers of other cities. But the impact of the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to be felt. Its participants performed a vital public service by making Americans aware of how economic inequality has gotten worse in our country. The issue of inequality has now become a force in our politics and culture, and it’s fueling new forms of protest and fightback by members of the 99 percent, particularly the bottom 20 percent who work hard but are cruelly underpaid.
A year-long campaign of rank-and-file worker action, organized by UE members at the big Rocky Mount Engine Plant (RMEP) owned by Cummins Engine, has resulted in a big wage increase for all workers. Technicians (production and operations workers) will receive an 80 cent across-the-board hourly raise and skilled trades will get 75 cents, even though they don’t have a contract or a certified majority union.
A coalition of unions representing employees of the Town of Berlin has reached agreement with the town administration on healthcare covering all the workers. The coalition includes two units of UE Local 222, the statewide public employee union. These are Sub-local 52, the blue collar workers, and Sub-local 28, white collar workers.
This is the second coalition bargaining agreement on healthcare between the town and the alliance of five unions, which also includes the Home Health Care Workers-AFSCME, Berlin Police Union-AFSCME Local 1318, and Middle Management Association.
For the second consecutive contract, UE Local 329 members employed at Kennedy Valve have made substantial gains in wages, benefits and working conditions. On June 7 members overwhelmingly ratified a new four-year agreement which was the result of careful work by the local leadership and UE staff. Kennedy Valve, a foundry, is a leading producer of fire hydrants and water valves.
The agreement raises hourly wages by $1 immediately and 50 cents in each of the last three years of the contract. The first year wage increase alone is more than 5 per cent.
Long before their contract expiration last June, the bargaining committee for UE Local 222 Sub-local 43 surveyed their members to learn which issues needed to be addressed in negotiations. The most important issue for all members was maintaining the current Blue Cross/Blue Shield PPO health insurance plan, and limiting the cost increase for these hard-working, underpaid professionals.
Members of UE Local 150 employed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) met on March 19 with the head of that department, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, about many serious workplace issues. On the same day, the union publicly released to the public and the media a 25-page report on issues facing DHHS workers. (You can download the full report as a PDF file from the link below.)
March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), an annual tradition that began over a hundred years ago. While celebrations continue worldwide, few people remember that the holiday was first initiated by American Socialists. As legend would have it, they were inspired to hold a demonstration in order to mark the anniversary of an 1857 female garment workers’ strike in New York.
On February 5, members of Local 1004 overwhelmingly approved a new three-year agreement with their employer, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. The agreement includes increased raises over the last contract and higher hourly evening and night shift differentials, and also protects members' health insurance benefits and retirement plan matching contributions.
In February, by a margin of nearly 2 to 1 over the incumbent company union, Renzenberger rail crew drivers at more than 30 rail yards covering the length of California voted in a mail-ballot election to be represented by UE. Like Renzenberger drivers who have previously joined UE in Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio, these workers suffered from low wages, outrageously unfair work rules, abusive bosses, and lack of benefits.