Labor News

March 18, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Labor Law Overhauling PRO Act Passes in House of Representatives

On Feb. 5, one of the strongest labor bills in decades passed 224-194 during a House of Representatives floor vote, following a strong push from union members and workers to gain cosponsors and advocates for the bill. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a major overhaul of labor law, would vastly improve the rights of workers across the country, make it easier to join unions, and increase penalties on employers who violate the rights of workers.

The bill is ambitious. The legislation would improve not only the rights of workers already in unions, but those looking to form unions as well. The bill would create new penalties for employers who violate federal labor law by retaliating against workers attempting to unionize, allow workers classified as “independent contractors” to form unions, and make it easier for workers to seek compensation when employers disrupt union activity. The bill also would make it illegal for employers to permanently replace striking workers.

“This bill is for working people,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Our movement is bigger than any party or politician, and we will not rest until the PRO Act is the law of the land and the rights of workers are restored.”

Communications Workers of America (CWA) members were integral in the campaign to bring the PRO Act to the floor for a vote. The union’s members organized callin days and lobbied Congress members to pass the bill. National Nurses United (NNU) Executive Director Bonnie Castillo also wrote a passionate op-ed in The Hill in favor of the bill.

“Congress must pass the PRO Act…not just because it’s popular and right, but because it protects members of the public who are served by working people every single day,” Castillo wrote.

After passing in the House, the PRO Act now moves to the Senate. Currently Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said he will not consider the legislation. CWA is urging fellow union members to sign its petition to push the Senate to pass the bill. To sign the petition, go to

Kickstarter Employees Vote to Form First-Ever Tech Union

On Feb. 18, employees at the online crowdfunding platform Kickstarter voted to form a union. The workers – organizing under the name Kickstarter United – will now become members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153.

The 47-36 vote in favor of unionizing comes after more than a year of organizing, during which management routinely engaged in unionbusting tactics. Organizing began in earnest after management attempted to pull a crowdfunding project from the site to raise money for a comic book called “Always Punch Nazis” after pressure from far-right online trolls. While workers successfully kept the project on the platform, they began organizing a union to officially gain a seat at the table.

Six months after Kickstarter United went public with their intent to unionize, two lead organizers were fired and another was pressured to resign while management continued attempts to persuade employees not to sign union cards.

Workers overcame management’s attempt to bust the union, and now have the first union covering all non-management employees at a tech company. Kickstarter United’s victory comes on the heels of a year that saw an increase in worker action in the tech industry, including walkouts at Google. 90 Pittsburghbased contractors at Google also successfully unionized last year.

“I’m overjoyed by this result,” Dannel Jurado, a Kickstarter senior software engineer, told the New York Times. “There’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s a first step to the sustainable future in tech that I and so many others want to see.”

Health Care Workers in Minnesota Win New Contract After Strike Vote

On Feb. 6, over 1,800 workers at HealthPartners clinics overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. The workers, represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, voted 95 percent in favor of a seven-day unfair labor practices (ULP) strike, following HealthPartners’s refusal to bargain with workers in good faith during contract negotiations that began when the previous contract expired on Jan. 31. The strike threat worked: on Feb. 18, HealthPartners conceded to the workers’ demands for fair wage increases and no cuts to health plan benefits and overtime pay. The agreement came in the final hours before workers were due to walk out.

The strike would have included caregivers in over 80 different jobs, who work at 30 clinics across the Twin Cities. 1,200 OPEIU Local 12 members also committed to honor the picket lines should workers have walked out on Feb. 19.

“We are very proud of how our membership stood up together and fought back huge cuts and cost shifts to health care and overtime pay that management had insisted on for months,” said Nancy Wickoren, a 31-year licensed practical nurse at HealthPartners and member of the union’s bargaining team.

Workers have not yet ratified the contract, but are expected to do so by the time this issue goes to press.

WNBA Basketball Players Win Groundbreaking New Contract

On Jan. 14, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and its players union, the WNBPA, came to an agreement on an overhauled contract. The new eight-year collective bargaining agreement is a major paradigm shift, setting a new precedent for women’s sports on both a domestic and international level.

Under previous agreements, many WNBA players were often forced to travel overseas during the offseason to play internationally in order to earn more money. The new contract includes pay raises that average around 25 percent, plus a 50-50 revenue split between the league and the players. The contract also mandates players receive full pay while on leave due to pregnancy, as well as improved maternity leave, childcare stipends, and travel benefits.

The WNBPA’s members used their social media influence to increase public pressure on the league during negotiations, beginning when the union opted out of the previous CBA in November 2018. As a result of their efforts, the new contract improves not only the current standing of WNBA players, but is now a model for equitable labor contracts in all women’s sports.

“We’re providing a new starting line for those who come after us,” WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike told the New York Times.

Massive Strikes Erupt in France Against Proposed Pension Reforms

On Dec. 5, more than 30 trade unions joined together in massive strike actions across France in protest of forthcoming proposals from President Emmanuel Macron to overhaul the country’s pension system. The proposals, unveiled a week later, include raising the country’s retirement age by two years, while also combining France’s 42 separate pension plans – individually tailored by profession – into a single, one-size-fits-all points system.

The strikes have seen widespread participation across the country: trade union CGT reports that over 1.5 million people joined in the protests at their peak in December. The most effective actions have come from workers targeting important economic sectors and massively impacting the country’s operations over the holiday season and into the new year.

Much of the labor action centered on the country’s transport system, as rail workers, air traffic controllers, port workers, and other public transport workers joined in on the walkouts over the course of the strike. Most striking transport workers returned to work after six weeks, the longest transportation strike in French history.

Actions also included targeted power cuts by electric workers, who shut off electricity at an Amazon distribution center outside Paris on Dec. 22. After transportation workers returned to work, electric workers once again cut power to 30,000 people in Paris suburbs in a show of solidarity.

As this issue goes to press, workers have succeeded in forcing the government to back off its raising of the retirement age. However, targeted strikes and actions remain ongoing as the other proposed reforms make their way through the French legislature. Further updates on the strikes and pension reforms will be posted here.

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