Monday, October 25, 2021
For years, essential workers have worked extremely long hours for low wages in substandard, unsafe conditions – doubly so during the pandemic – all the while wealth inequality grows, and big corporations made record profits. Fed up with this reality, throughout October, more than 100,000 workers in the United States – from manufacturing, filmmaking, health care, and more – participated in or prepared for strikes in one of the largest increases of organized labor in the twenty-first century. They’re demanding increased wages, meal and rest breaks, better benefits, and shorter shifts. Labor advocates and others on social media have rebranded the month as #Striketober.
“Corporate America wants to frame this as a ‘labor shortage,’” wrote Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “Wrong. What’s really going on is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a healthcare shortage. Unless these shortages are rectified, many Americans won’t return to work anytime soon.”
In case you missed it, on Tuesday night’s “Daily Show,” Trevor Noah did an entire segment on ‘Striketober.’ “With more job openings than ever and more people quitting than ever, workers suddenly find themselves with a lot of leverage,” he continued as tens of thousands of workers from Hollywood to healthcare push for better conditions and pay. “Going on strike is not a step that workers take lightly,” he added. “When people do go on strike, they probably have pretty good reasons for doing it.”
Whether it’s news about essential workers taking on Kellogg’s, Kaiser Permanente, John Deere, and so much more, below is a round-up of recent events.
- NBC’s Today Show reports, “Thousands of U.S. workers are now on strike, including John Deere employees for the first time in 35 years. Millions more have quit their jobs in recent months, and now Hollywood appears headed toward its own work stoppage.”
- In an Intercept piece entitled, “The John Deere Strike Shows the Tight Labor Market Is Ready to Pop,” Jonah Furman writes, “Workers are increasingly militant—that is, unwilling to accept bad terms of employment. Strike activity is rising from a decades-long low as “essential” workers demand that the boss treat them as essential & valuable… Ultimately, the issue in dispute across these strikes is whether American workers can be muscled back into the punishing labor market conditions of the pandemic and the several decades that preceded Covid-19 that made the pandemic so brutal within the insecure and unequal American workplace.”
- In a Bloomberg piece entitled, “U.S. Labor Unions Are Having a Moment,” Bloomberg, the authors report that “In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, unions are finding they suddenly have the upper hand—or at least, more solid footing—when it comes to negotiating wages and benefits, spurring a flurry of new picket lines. Nearly 40 workplaces across the nation have gone on strike since Aug. 1, according to Bloomberg Law’s database of work stoppages, almost double the number during the same period last year.” Declared Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, “Essential workers are tired of being thanked one day and then treated as expendable the next day. The headline isn’t that there’s a shortage of people willing to return to work. Instead, it’s a scarcity story. We have a shortage of safe, good-paying, sustainable jobs.”
- In a New Republic piece entitled, “John Deere, the Great Resignation, and the Revenge of the Essential Worker,” the author writes, “Of all the images coming out of the current strike wave—the motorcycle club joining the Kellogg’s picket line, New York City taxi drivers shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge—the apparent chaos at the John Deere plants is among the most viscerally satisfying. Last week, more than 10,000 workers across 14 plants went on strike after rejecting the tractor maker’s contract offer, an offer that included a 4 percent increase in pay the year after its CEO made $15.6 million himself.”
BUILDING WORKER POWER
- In a crucial policy shift, DHS will move to prevent employers from using the threat of deportation to keep immigrant workers from speaking out about poor workplace conditions. Immigrant labor advocates have spent years fighting for this.
- Over 10,000 workers with John Deere went on strike on October 14 after rejecting a contract that offered minimal raises following the company’s most profitable year on record and denied pensions to new hires.
- Over the weekend, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a union representing over 60,000 television and film production workers, reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, preventing a strike that would’ve shut down film and TV production. But that’s only half the battle: IATSE leadership needs to take the deal to a vote with its membership, and members are telling the media they will likely vote no, given that the deal itself didn’t achieve many of the demands from the rank and file.
- About 96% of the nearly 3,400 workers from Kaiser Permanente in Oregon voted on October 10th to authorize a strike over issues like safe staffing, patient care, and a fair contract. “Our members turned out in record numbers to say that they are willing to do what it takes to save patient care in Oregon,” said Jodi Barschow, who is a nurse at Kaiser Sunnyside and the president of OFNHP. “Kaiser’s proposals would be a disaster for Oregon’s entire care system and show a profound disrespect for the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives during COVID.”
- Philly domestic workers, with support from Councilmember Kendra Brooks and nine additional co-sponsors, have made history by winning a unanimous City Council vote to make October 13 the official Dorothy Bolden Day in Philadelphia. The fight for recognition and respect for domestic workers in Philadelphia is far from over. One of the most important ways you can support nannies, housecleaners, and caregivers is learning and following the labor protections that we won under the unprecedented Philadelphia Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
- Registered nurses at Community First Medical Center in Chicago have issued a 10-day notice to hospital management announcing they will hold a three-day strike from Oct. 29 through Nov. 1, 2021, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). “…we still are incredibly short-staffed, our equipment is very often broken, and we struggle to find adequate on-site resources to care for our patients.”
- According to a new brief from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “It will take until 2206—ALMOST 200 YEARS—for Latinas to reach equal pay with White men if progress continues at the same rate as it has since 1985.” Latinas make just 57 cents, on average, for every $1 made by white, non-Hispanic men. Over the course of a 40-year career, Latinas stand to lose more than $1 million. Read IWPR’s new brief. #LatinaWomenCantWait #LatinaEqualPay
- Human Impact Partners, a national nonprofit made up of public health practitioners and researchers, wrote a recent letter to Walmart executives and board members, enclosing its new research that shows how boosting pay could result in specific improvements in its workers’ health and therefore benefit their communities. These include prolonging their lives by two years, preventing low birth-weight rates, and more.
- According to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data done by the Center for American Progress (CAP), “While unions increase wealth for all households, regardless of race or ethnicity, they provide larger increases for Black and Hispanic households when compared to their White counterparts… For Black households with a union member, the median wealth is more than three times that of nonunion Black households. For Hispanic households with a union member, the difference is fivefold.”