Labor News

July 9, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Workers Defeat New Hampshire Attempt to Pass Anti-Union “Right-to-Work” Law

On June 3, workers defeated an attempt in the New Hampshire House of Representatives by anti-union forces in the state to pass so-called “right-to-work” legislation. If passed, unions would have been barred from collecting dues from all the workers they represent, even as "free-riders" receive the benefits of collective bargaining agreements. The bill (Senate Bill 61) passed 13-11 in the state Senate in February. Had the House passed the bill, Governor Chris Sununu (R) was prepared to sign it into law. However, the House voted 199-175 against its passage. 20 Republicans joined every House Democrat in voting against the bill. Following the first vote, the House then voted 196-178 to indefinitely postpone the legislation, meaning that “right-to-work” cannot be brought up for another vote in the chamber until 2023 at the earliest.

Anti-union forces have long attempted to pass “right-to-work” legislation in the state, failing in 2011, when then-Governor John Lynch (D) vetoed a bill, and again in 2017 when the House voted against it.

“Senate Bill 61 would allow an individual to be represented without bearing any of the costs,” said State Rep. Chris Soucy (D-Concord). “This is just not fair. Union association would be the only business association forced to provide representation without compensation.”

Brazilian Public Cleaning Workers Win Vaccine Prioritization Following Strike

On June 8, cleaning workers in Brazil’s largest city of São Paulo held a 24-hour strike, protesting the failure of the city government to prioritize them in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The cleaning workers, called garis, are those who collect garbage and clean the city streets in Brazil. Throughout the pandemic, these workers have been on the front lines, sanitizing their communities while risking exposure to the virus.

Vaccine distribution has been slow in Brazil under the right-wing government of President Jair Bolsonaro. As of June, the country has one of the highest infection and death rates from COVID-19. In São Paulo, only 27 percent of residents have received one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, with only 11 percent of the city fully vaccinated. Over 2,000 garis contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic, with more than 50 deaths.

Brazilian labor confederation Conascon sent requests to multiple government officials asking for the cleaning workers to be placed in the vaccine priority list. After receiving no answer, workers went on strike, marching to the City Hall of São Paulo. Following the strike, the government moved to add the garis to the priority list, providing 300 doses per day to the workers. Garis across São Paulo began receiving shots the week of June 14.

“It’s exciting to see the category being vaccinated,” said Roberto Alves, president of the SIEMACO union. “Vaccine doses represent not only immunization, but also hope for better days.”

Educators at Chicago Charter Schools Win Tentative Agreement Following Two-Day Strike

On June 10, teachers and staff represented by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) reached a tentative agreement with charter school operator Urban Prep, following a two-day strike by workers.

The educators, who voted unanimously to strike in a May vote, began their work stoppage on June 7 at all three of Urban Prep’s campuses in the city. Going into the strike, workers’ central demand was an improvement to the charter network’s special education resources. According to the CTU, management refused to adequately fund these services for the nearly 3 in 10 students in the network who qualified for them.

“We have been trying to land an agreement that respects our students, our families and the educators who serve them for three years,” said Urban Prep math teacher Dana Wilson before the strike. “Roughly 30 percent of our students need special education services that are chronically shortchanged. Classrooms desperately need resources and our schools need stable staffing, instead of bloated bureaucracies and foot-dragging on vital student needs.”

In the agreement, Urban Prep committed to follow all special education laws, and teachers won additional paid leave, back pay for three years they were denied raises, and salary increases.

Over 2,000 Meat Packing Workers in Sioux Falls, SD Win Tentative Agreement Following Strike Authorization

On June 10, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 304a reached a tentative agreement with Smithfield Foods on a new contract for over 2,000 workers at its meatpacking facility in Sioux Falls, SD. The agreement followed the workers voting 98 percent in favor of striking on June 7, after the company refused to offer a good contract during three months of negotiations.

The Sioux Falls facility is responsible for over 5 percent of the pork supply in the United States. In April 2020, the plant closed in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak. However, under pressure from Smithfield and other meat companies, the Trump administration forced meat packing facilities to stay open. While workers were forced back to work, companies neglected to protect them during the pandemic. At the Sioux Falls Smithfield plant, nearly 1,300 workers contracted the virus. Even after the workers continued to do their dangerous work during the pandemic, Smithfield still refused to offer wages in line with other pork plants in the region. Following the strike authorization, Smithfield finally agreed to raise the starting wage, as well as provide bereavement leave and a one-time bonus.

“I don’t think that [Smithfield] realized how tired our workers are right now,” UFCW Local 304a Business Agent Tina Gonzalez told SDPB Radio. “I don’t think that they realized and really understood that [workers] would much rather struggle for a couple of weeks or even a month of going out on strike than continue to work under the conditions that they were.”

The Struggle Continues in Alabama as 1,100 Coal Miners Remain on Strike

In the May-June 2021 issue of The American Postal Worker, we reported on the Warrior Met Coal Miners’ strike in Alabama, which began on April 1. During negotiations both before and during the strike, Warrior Met refused to offer good wages and benefits, instead demanding drastic concessions from the workers. The miners vowed to stay on the picket line as long as it takes to win a good contract.

Warrior Met’s refusal to bargain in good faith insults the workers who sacrificed for the company when it faced bankruptcy in 2015. That year, the miners accepted a bankruptcy contract with $6/hour pay cuts, longer work weeks, and the loss of overtime compensation, all while upper management received bonuses. Now, with Warrior Met in stronger financial health (the company had a net income of $300 million in 2019) and executives receiving millions of dollars in compensation, the company still refuses to offer its workers a fair contract.

“The APWU firmly stands with these courageous strikers. This battle is yet another example of Wall Street financiers getting rich on the backs of workers,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “The members of the UMWA stood by us during our Stop Staples fight and recently during our U.S. Mail: Not for Sale and Save the Post Office campaigns. Let’s stand up and support them during their struggle against corporate greed.”

As miners remain on the picket lines, they have received an outpouring of support from fellow union members and the community. The UMWA holds solidarity rallies each week for workers. Community groups across Alabama and the country are holding events to raise money for the miners’ strike fund. On May 22, local radio show The Valley Labor Report held the Alabama Strike Fest, a music festival fundraiser at a local union hall in Brookwood, AL. On June 22, miners and allies passed out flyers and protested on Wall Street in New York City, in front of the owner’s offices.

APWU members are encouraged to contribute to the UMWA strike fund. Donations can be accepted online ( or via mail. All donation checks are to be made out to the UMWA 2021 Strike Aid Fund, and mailed to:

UMWA 2021 Strike Aid Fund

P.O. Box 513 Dumfries, VA


ExxonMobil Refinery Workers Locked Out in Beaumont, TX

On May 1, 650 workers, represented by the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-243, were locked out of the ExxonMobil oil refinery in Beaumont, TX following the expiration of their collective bargaining agreement. While the workers preferred to stay on the job during negotiations for a new contract, the company escorted union members from the facility, and replaced them with scab contractors to operate the refinery at 60 percent capacity.

USW has presented ExxonMobil with multiple offers since the lockout began, but the company has refused to move, instead demanding workers accept language that removes basic seniority, safety and layoff protections from the contract.

USW filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board in May against ExxonMobil for coercion, refusal to bargain and modifying their union agreement. However, workers remain locked out as this issue goes to press, while scab labor continues operations at the refinery. “We want to be back to work, but we want to do it with a fair agreement that is not solely beneficial to one side,” Local 13-243 member J.T. Coleman told In These Times. “We are willing to work. We all want to return to work. But we want to do it with something that ensures our security, our seniority and our safety.”

Mission Hospital Nurses Ratify First Union Contract

In the November-December 2020 issue of The American Postal Worker, we reported on the landmark union victory by registered nurses (RNs) at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC. On July 1 and 2, the new union members, represented by National Nurses United (NNU), overwhelmingly voted to ratify their first ever union contract, winning strong pay increases, workplace safety measures, and improved patient care protections, among other substantial gains.

The new three-year contract and preceding union election followed a long struggle by nurses at the forprofit hospital. RNs faced intense union-busting tactics, including management delaying the election for over six months in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Congratulations to the dedicated Mission RNs who have worked for many months, including through the worst pandemic in a century, to achieve these legally binding protections,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “This agreement will also inspire RNs in nonunion workplaces across the country about what they, too, can achieve by winning a collective voice for their patients and themselves.”

800 Nurses Remain on Picket Line in Massachusetts as Strike Passes 100 Days

On March 8, around 800 registered nurses, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), walked out at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA, beginning a strike against the for-profit hospital. The strike began after over two years of requests by the MNA to increase staffing at the hospital, and over 17 months of work without a new contract, including through the COVID-19 pandemic. As this issue goes to press, nurses remain on strike, with hospital management refusing to offer adequate staffing proposals in negotiations.

While nurses were forced to pick up the slack of unfilled positions, Tenet, the hospital’s operator, made a profit of $414 million dollars in the fourth quarter of 2020 and received more than $2.8 billion from the CARES Act. Yet the funds were not used to hire more staff or improve the hospital’s infrastructure.

“The challenges and barriers we have encountered while trying to safely care for our patients have been monumental,” wrote Maureen Mulcahy, a nurse case manager at the hospital, in an op-ed in the Telegram-Gazette. “Our Herculean effort is no longer enough. Why are we on the picket line? We have already done the talking, our words have fallen on deaf ears. Now we are doing the walking.”

APWU Joins Global Postal Union Conference

In late May, an APWU delegation joined unions from more than 100 countries for the UNI Post & Logistics World Conference. UNI is the global union federation that brings together service sector unions around the world. They campaign for workers’ rights and to ensure decent jobs and collective bargaining in sectors like Post & Logistics, Commerce, IT & Communication, and Sport, among others.

The Conference happens every four years. Unions discussed and debated UNI’s strategies, and gave updates on campaigns, priorities and challenges for postal workers.

A key theme of the conference was that postal operators worldwide are undergoing rapid transformations as technology changes the way people use the mail. Just like our experience in the United States, postal unions globally must confront massive reductions in mail volume, new technologies that change operations and the nature of work, and hostile governments and employers reluctant to invest in the future of the services our countries need.

Another important debate was on the future of the sector more broadly. The APWU, together with the NALC, presented a resolution to the Conference calling on UNI to coordinate a global organizing response to the rise of Amazon. It recognized the courageous organizing of the RWDSU in the Bessemer, Alabama union drive, but noted that a global behemoth like Amazon will only recognize the rights of its workers with a coordinated global response.

President Dimondstein briefed the Conference on the recent successful APWU campaigns in defense of the public Postal Service, vote by mail and the ongoing challenges ahead. He noted two critical lessons from our struggles: “We must unite our demands as trade unionists with the people’s recognition of the critical role of public Postal Services. And we are stronger when we lead people in action. Our campaigns were won by moving thousands of members and allies onto phones, into the streets and in the media.”

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