UE was organized from the bottom up by electrical, radio and machine workers who understood that only a militant and member-run union could take on the large corporations in their industries. These early UE members acted on their belief that only through uniting all workers — irrespective of race, gender, nationality, political or religious beliefs — to confront their employers could the working class achieve a measure of justice. From our inception, the rank and file played the leading role in our organizing efforts. That same idea — that workers can and must do the work of organizing — is animating thousands of workers today and driving the largest wave of worker organizing into UE since the 1940s.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers sacrificed their health and wealth with little recognition or compensation while America’s 719 billionaires in the U.S. saw their fortunes increase by more than $1.6 trillion. The minimal economic safety net put in place during the pandemic — including income supports, subsidized child care, paid leave and moratoriums on evictions and student loan payments — has largely expired. Coming out of the pandemic, workers were met with sharp increases in food, rent, healthcare, and other necessities of life. Rising costs for housing, childcare and other basic needs ate up any wage gains.
But even paltry increases in wages — canceled out by price increases — were too much for corporate America. Executives waged an offensive during this period to convince the public that inflation could only be cured by attacking workers’ standard of living. Meanwhile, these same corporations used the excuse of rising inflation to gouge consumers and fatten profits. Corporate leaders handsomely rewarded themselves, with executive bonuses topping $33 billion last year.
Only ten percent of workers in the country belonged to unions last year, the lowest number on record. Low union density is the result of several factors, including the rightward shift of the mainstream of the U.S. labor movement, the intensification of employer attacks against the working class, and the erosion of protections of the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain. While the Biden NLRB recently made some needed changes to address the lack of meaningful organizing protections, labor law in the U.S. still largely rewards employers who break the law.
Despite this, workers are fighting back. Employees of name-brand firms such as Amazon, Starbucks, Apple and Trader Joe’s have used bold and innovative tactics to force their employers to the bargaining table. Strikes and stand-downs, such as those waged by UE Locals 506 and 618 at Wabtec in Erie, PA, Local 1004 at Henry Mayo Hospital in Santa Clarita, CA and Local 150 in Durham, NC are on the rise. UE members waged long fights to secure first contracts at Refresco in Wharton, NJ, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, Planned Parenthood of Western PA and PTI in California. Filings for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board increased by over 50 percent from 2021 to 2022, and filings for the first half of 2023 show a continued rise.
More often than not, young workers are leading these efforts. Having grown up under the threat of economic crisis, climate catastrophe, war and the decay of the political system, young people are undergoing a significant leftward shift in political consciousness. Eighty-eight percent of eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-olds support unions — the highest rate of any age group. As recent high-profile organizing drives and initiatives like the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC) — a joint project of UE and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) — have shown, young workers are ready to take the organizing process into their own hands, just as the 1930s generation did when building industrial unions like UE.
Young workers not only played critical roles in recent UE strikes and contract fights, but have led UE’s successful efforts to organize over 24,000 graduate employees across nine universities (and counting). These workers, who work in laboratories, conduct research, teach classes, and grade papers — who perform crucial labor that makes universities run — are rarely paid enough to live on. They face a variety of challenges, from dangerous working conditions in laboratories to harassment by their supervisors, who are often also their academic advisors. In the face of these conditions, organizing committees at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Chicago, Dartmouth College, the University of Minnesota and Stanford University waged vibrant, militant and participatory campaigns that mobilized thousands of workers and led to union election victories by remarkable margins.
During this period, UE also deepened its work in Virginia and North Carolina by launching the Southern Worker Justice Campaign, an effort aimed at organizing primarily Black municipal workers in both states. In 2022, municipal workers in Virginia Beach launched a public campaign for collective bargaining, winning an important victory when the city adopted a budget with significant improvements. In the fall elections, workers helped to elect a new pro-collective bargaining majority on the council, and the union is pressing forward with efforts to bring hundreds of municipal workers in Virginia’s largest city under the UE banner. In Charlotte, NC and Greensboro, NC, UE Local 150 members organized to win substantial wage increases and other concessions.
Thousands of workers joined UE over the past two years because of our firm commitment to our principles: aggressive struggle, rank and file control, uniting all workers, political independence and international solidarity. We have stuck to our principles for 87 years. Our forebears fought difficult battles to keep these principles alive for future generations. As more and more workers seek a fighting, democratic organization, it is time for our generation to ensure that “Them and Us Unionism” not only survives, but plays a leading role in the years to come.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 78th UE CONVENTION ADOPTS THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZING PLAN TO BUILD OUR UNION:
- UE will continue to serve as the “Union for Everyone” and will organize across the industrial, service and public sectors of our nation’s economy, serving as a beacon for workers seeking a fighting, member-run union and uniting workers from a wide range of occupations in the common pursuit of aggressive struggle to improve our conditions;
- UE will provide a home to workers across the economy, placing special emphasis on waging campaigns at sister shops and in industries where we have an existing presence, building our bargaining strength in order to defend past gains and improve our conditions. These sectors include rail manufacturing, higher education, government contractors, rail crew transportation and retail groceries.
- UE will continue to build its ranks in existing UE base areas, prioritizing areas with viable organizing targets, the active support of member volunteers and community allies, and other key strategic factors that enhance our prospects for success;
- UE recognizes right-to-work as a relic of Jim Crow laws and understands the racist origins of modern anti-union law. We further recognize the role that racism and white supremacy play in furthering corporate campaigns against labor rights and we therefore affirm efforts to organize predominantly Black public-sector workers in Virginia, which now has limited bargaining rights for municipal workers, and in North Carolina, where our members’ struggles for the past 25 years have served as a model for workers organizing throughout the South;
- UE will continue to welcome the historic movement among thousands of graduate workers to build strong, militant and democratic unions on their campuses, and will work to win strong first contracts covering the thousands of workers who have recently organized into UE.
- UE will look for opportunities for joint organizing work with allied organizations, such as the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, the Southern Workers Assembly, Warehouse Workers for Justice, and other unions and worker centers.
- UE will build, defend and support rank-and-file unions among state, county and municipal employees in states where we currently have public workers under contract, as well as in states where our public employee members are denied the right to collective bargaining, and we will fight to win full bargaining rights for public workers in states where those rights are abridged;
- UE will not shy away from taking on large private-sector corporations. As resources allow, UE will test bold and innovative strategies to organize large private sector employers in industries such as e-commerce, tech, manufacturing and retail.
- UE will continue building its worker-led organizing model, seeking to synthesize both long-standing UE organizing approaches and our experience during the pandemic with the recent influx of thousands of new members and apply these lessons to the organizing campaigns ahead. We will continue to test new organizing strategies, such as building pre-majority unions where formal recognition cannot be achieved in the short term, waging recognition strikes, and employing other militant organizing tactics;
- UE will invite independent unions to join us as the national home of independent, member-run unionism, and we will offer refuge to workers in other unions who are seeking to escape corrupt, undemocratic conditions;
- UE will build our ranks through internal organizing wherever open-shop conditions exist and will develop new plans and materials to assist locals in states that have adopted right-to-work-for-less laws or other measures to undermine union strength and security;
- UE will involve our rank-and-file members in organizing whenever possible and will take the following steps to encourage more members to help organize the unorganized:
- We will provide training and support for members who wish to become involved in organizing and we will provide members with the tools for reaching out to nonunion workers in their communities and industries and engaging them in the organizing process;
- We will continue joint sponsorship with regions and locals of organizing trainings, blitzes and other special programs for which lost time and other costs are shared by the national and the region or local to make greater member participation possible;
- We will encourage locals to negotiate for better union leave provisions to enable more members to get time off the job to assist in building the union;
- We will respect cultural and language differences in our organizing work, and we will continue to reach into our ranks to find more volunteer organizers from diverse backgrounds.