A ROUND-UP OF SOME OF THE MAJOR U.S. LABOR STRUGGLES
Sherwin Williams strike in Kentucky
Ernie Gotta reports: For the second time this year, Sherwin-Williams paint company is facing a strike in their U.S. production facilities. On June 2, after seven weeks of negotiations, workers and members of Teamsters Local 783 at the Bowling Green, Ky., facility walked off the job and onto the picket line, unable to reach an agreement over working conditions. The company’s intentions to strangle the strike, intimidate workers, and stonewall negotiations were clear with a memo informing workers that they would lose health-care benefits on June 1st, a day before they hit the picket line!
Striking Teamster and Sherwin-Williams worker Leigh Mather posted the following note on Facebook about her experiences on the picket line: “I’m posting this because I’ve had a few people ask me why we’re striking at our Sherwin-Williams facility. Despite what you may see me post online lol., striking isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not all taking photo ops & hanging out with friends.
“It’s continuing to show up to fight for your rights on no sleep, when your personal life is hectic. When the company you work for isn’t giving you any hope for change. It’s accepting strike pay … which isn’t even 1/3 of your normal paycheck.
“Multiple streams of income, and a dedicated mind are imperative during times like these. Times where you’re being tested, & pulled in different directions. & I’m so honored to be a part of all of it. It’s humbling. It’s exhilarating, & liberating. It’s also discouraging, terrifying, and exhausting. If you see us out on Central Ave, honk your horn.”
We urge readers to make a contribution to the Teamsters Local 783 strike fund and turn out to support their picket lines at the factory located at 347 Central Ave, Bowling Green, KY 42101.
Quarry strike in Chicago area
Cooper B. reports: For seven weeks, since June 7 to July 26, 300 members of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), Local 150, were on strike against companies of the Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association (CAAPA). These companies produce gravel and sand for many construction projects needing concrete and asphalt, and require the operation of heavy equipment in quarries. Local 150 represents over 23,000 workers in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana.
According to the June 13 strike update on IUOE Local 150’s website, “The strike against large material producers Lehigh Hanson, Vulcan Materials, and Lafarge Holcim started on June 7 after Local 150 filed federal unfair labor practice charges against each company with the National Labor Relations Board. Approximately 300 heavy equipment operators went on strike at 35 facilities across Northern Illinois, and the companies have brought in replacement workers, often from other states and without appropriate skill or safety training.” Other grievances included unilateral changes to time-off procedure.
The CAAPA naturally denied any wrongdoing. They nonetheless bused in underpaid scab labor to try to break the strike and maintain their profits. They were obviously not bargaining in good faith. In the June 23 strike update, IUOE President-Business Manager Jim Sweeney claimed that company representatives went to picket lines and attempted to lie to the workers about the progress of negotiations.
Despite the pressure from CAAPA, IUOE Local 150 maintained the strike until a contract was negotiated and approved, which includes a number of improvements to the contract. Among the changes won by the strike were a 16% increase in the minimum wage for the duration of the contract, health care paid completely by the employer, and clearer language on layoffs and seniority. The strike decidedly ended in a victory for the workers.
With their strike, Local 150 halted production at these 35 quarries, further halting several public works, including a local highway interchange. According to the Chicago Sun Times (June 7, 2022) nearly all construction projects across Northern Illinois had been affected, resulting in changed deadlines and rising costs. This strike demonstrates the power and centrality of even small groups of workers.
Nurses organize strike in Minnesota
Some 15,000 nurses working represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) authorized a strike with overwhelming approval on Aug. 16, and are preparing to strike as contract bargaining continues. Negotiations have been ongoing since March, with hospital management offering nurses a paltry 4% pay raise—well below the actual rate of inflation—while executives across the 15 hospitals staffed by MNA nurses make 10 to 40 times as much as the nurses do.
In addition to inadequate wages, the MNA has raised understaffing as a key issue of the strike, with already threadbare staffing burnt out as pandemic caseloads push the health-care system to a breaking point. The MNA reports that 2,000 of its members have quit since the beginning of the pandemic, echoing a trend experienced by nurses across the country.
As of press time, a start date for the Minnesota strike has not been set. Workers’ Voice encourages our readers in Minnesota to rally to the picket lines and support what will likely be the largest strike of 2022 thus far.
The MNA strike is occurring at the same time as an open-ended strike by 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health workers in California. Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers walked out on Aug. 15 after management rejected the union’s demands for increased staffing and measures to “end dangerously long waits for mental health therapy appointments.” Signs on the picket lines read, “Patients before profits!” Local 39, representing stationary engineers and clinical technologists, was planning a concurrent sympathy strike.
BCTGM workers on strike at Ingredion in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
About 120 workers affiliated with BCTGM have been on strike at an Ingredion corn starch processing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in response to an inadequate “last and best” contract proposal from management. On August 1st, union members went on strike after unanimously the proposal, which would have offered raises below the rate of inflation, and also would have left open the door to 12-hour shifts, forced overtime, reduced vacation, and a reduced healthcare package.
An additional concern during the strike is that Ingredion is bringing in strikebreakers who lack the adequate safety training to process corn starch, an explosive compound during industrial production.
BCTGM Local 100G has been fighting Ingredion since 2015, when it acquired the Cedar Rapids plant from the Penford Corporation during a labor dispute. The BCTGM voices project has recorded a podcast of excellent interviews with Local 100G workers. Local 100G is asking supporters to attend their picket line at 1001 1st Street, SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404, to issue solidarity statements, and to donate to their strike fund on GoFundMe.
Photo: Kaiser mental health workers on the picket line in Oakland, Calif. (Rich Petroncelli / AP)