Meeting over Zoom on June 9 and 10, UE’s General Executive Board reviewed the union’s work over the previous five months, including organizing that has brought in thousands of new members, and debated and passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year (July 2022-June 2023).
At the opening of the meeting, General President Carl Rosen welcomed four new members of the GEB who were newly elected to at-large seats at the Western Region council meeting in March: Fred Hatef, Local 1008, Delores Phillips, Local 1118, Michael Tomaloff, Local 1186, and Jessica Van Eman, Local 1477.
In his organizational report, Director of Organization Mark Meinster reported that the union has brought in thousands of new members, and the union’s main goal right now is to consolidate those gains. He noted that in the current economy, three workers quit for every one worker who is fired, and that this gives workers more bargaining leverage than they have had in generations. Workers are starting to take the organizing process into their own hands, as demonstrated by the independent Amazon Labor Union, who do not see much in the mainstream of the labor movement. Meinster noted that UE, with our traditions of independence and worker-run, rank-and-file unionism, has an important role to play in this moment.
Meinster reviewed recent organizing victories, including the National Labor Relations Board election that brought almost four thousand graduate workers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology into UE; the second NLRB victory for workers at the Refresco bottling plant in Wharton, NJ after their union-busting boss convinced the board to throw out their first election; and the new city budget won by municipal workers in Virginia Beach who don’t yet have formal collective bargaining rights. The new budget raised the minimum wage, established a step system, and raised wages for all employees by at least five percent, and in many cases much more.
At New Mexico State University, Meinster reported, UE Local 1498 has been fully certified to represent over 900 graduate workers. While the administration was engaging in legal delays, the UE organizing committee was running a campaign to force the university to cover the tuition for graduate employees. The semester-long campaign featured rallies, press conferences, reports, and an occupation of the office of provost, which resulted in the provost getting fired. In the process the NMSU administration decided not to appeal the case to district court. NMSU graduate workers are electing a bargaining committee and will be meeting with the employer starting on July 1, Meinster said.
At the University of New Mexico, UE Local 1466-United Graduate Workers has been at the bargaining table since mid-April and have reached tentative agreement on several language issues. A major sticking point is that the administration doesn’t want to agree to any non-discrimination provisions in the contract. At Indiana University, members of the Indiana Grad Workers Coalition-UE voted to suspend their recognition strike at the end of the semester, and announced their intention to resume the strike on September 26.
Meinster also reported on UE Local 696’s first contract struggle at Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, efforts to rebuild UE Local 170 in West Virginia, Local 222’s organizational work among paraeducators, and upcoming negotiations with Hallcon, where UE’s national agreement expires on September 1.
(Press coverage of many of these struggles can be found at the “UE In The News” section of the UE website, at ueunion.org/in-the-news.)
This fall, Meinster said, UE will hold a training for local leaders called “Building Power: Strengthening Our Locals by Involving Members.” It will be a four-week training on Zoom, 90 minutes each session, from September 7 through 28, led by him, Education Director Kari Thompson, and Staff Coordinator Kim Lawson. Interested UE members should contact their staff representative.
Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker gave a report on the Leadership & Staff Development Program, and several of the program’s participants who serve on the GEB offered thoughts about their experiences.
Western Region Vice President Larry Hopkins, Local 1177, said that the program “has been going in the right direction. We’re learning a lot about UE principles and the core values of what labor unions are about, what UE is about.” Fred Hatef, Local 1008, who was elected to the GEB since beginning the program, reported, “I have been able to take back what I’ve learned to my local to help strengthen it.”
Eastern Region Vice President Antwon Gibson, Local 610, said that the program has been “a long time coming, I think it’s excellent. I think it’s important that we all refresh one another as we grow and learn.” He also reported that fellow program participant Sekia Royall, Local 150, participated in his local’s recent negotiations.
Several participants expressed their appreciation of learning about the history of Juneteenth and of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union led by African-Americans which organized porters who worked for the Pullman Company on the railroads. Delores Phillips, Local 1118, who, like Hatef, was elected to the GEB since beginning the program, shared that she lives right outside of the area where the Pullman company was founded, and that she “got to see a lot of that history.”
(Director of Organization Meinster also noted in his organizational report that LSDP participant and Local 243 President Wayne Morrison will be coming onto UE staff as a Field Organizer in July.)
In the education report, President Rosen reported on plans for UE participation at the Labor Notes conference, and also made note of new resources available from the National Union. The booklet “Open Books, Tight Fists,” which details UE’s approach to financial integrity, has been updated and is available online at ueunion.org/open-books-tight-fists. Both a print version and a Spanish translation are in the works. The National Union has put together a YouTube playlist of good videos to play at local union meetings (link available at ueunion.org/resources), and has published a Vietnamese translation of the booklet “Aims & Structure,” which can be ordered from the National Office at (412) 471-8919 or downloaded as a PDF from ueunion.org/aimstoc.html.
During the political action report, GEB members discussed plans for a UE delegation at the Juneteenth Moral March on Washington and to the Polls and UE ally Summer Lee’s successful bid in the Democratic primary for an open Congressional seat in the Pittsburgh area.