On the Picket Line: Amazon Teamsters, IAM Aerospace, and UE workers


Strike grows at Amazon facilities in Southern California 

Teamsters at one Amazon facility and another non-union facility in Southern California are on strike. Workers at the facility in Palmdale joined the Teamsters in April and went on strike on June 24 over unfair labor practices that include reinstating workers that were unlawfully terminated, recognition of their union, bargaining with the Teamsters over wages, and respect for the contract they just negotiated. The next day, workers at a facility in San Bernardino (ONT1) went on strike in solidarity demanding that Amazon stop unfair labor practices (“ULP”).

The ULP at Palmdale stems from Amazon dragging their feet to recognize the union at their Delivery Service Partner, Battle Tested Services (BTS) a third party contractor. BTS agreed to a contract negotiated with their 84 workers who joined Teamsters Local 396.

Brandi Diaz, an Amazon driver, said in a statement released by the Teamsters, “Amazon workers across the country know that this company always puts its profits ahead of our safety and our families’ livelihoods. We are extending our picket lines and picketing outside of this second Amazon facility to force this company to end its unfair labor practices and treat Amazon workers like human beings.”

These types of solidarity strike actions will be necessary for the growing movement to be successful in organizing Amazon.

6000 IAM union members on strike after voting “no”!

Union members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) voted “no” to Spirit AeroSystems’, “last, best, and final offer.” In a statement, the union leadership said, “The IAM’s dedicated and hardworking membership at Spirit AeroSystems has worked without fail during tumultuous times, including a pandemic that saw everything grind to a halt. Most of our members have concluded that the company’s offer is unacceptable. IAM District 70 and Local 839 will regroup and begin planning the following steps to bring the company back to the table.”

The Spirit AeroSystems factory in Wichita, Kan., is Boeing’s largest airframe supplier. Reuters reports, “Spirit is one of the most consequential suppliers for aerospace heavyweights Boeing (BA.N) and Airbus (AIR.PA). The Wichita site makes the entire fuselage for Boeing’s bestselling 737 MAX narrowbody jet and the forward sections for most of its other aircraft, as well as pylons for the Airbus A220.”

The concern for Boeing is that a strike for more than a few days could seriously back up production for programs like the 737 Max, which have already faced a number of quality control setbacks.

The pressure is on Spirit to sign a contract soon. RBC Capital Markets analyst Ken Herbert, a longtime aerospace supplier base expert, said to Aviationweek.com, “We believe Boeing and Airbus are likely to be impacted by any further delays at Spirit’s facility. With increased production rates planned across both Boeing and Airbus, Spirit is likely to feel increased pressure to get a contract signed as soon as possible.”

The bottom line is profit, and Spirit is making plenty of it despite trying to nickel and dime its unionized workforce. Spirit Aerosystems reports, “Spirit’s full-year 2022 revenue was $5.0 billion, up 27 percent from 2021. This increase was primarily due to higher production deliveries on the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 and A220 programs, as well as increased Aftermarket and Defense and Space revenue, partially offset by lower production deliveries on the Boeing 747 and 787 programs. Overall deliveries increased to 1,297 shipsets during 2022 compared to 1,022 shipsets in 2021. This includes Boeing 737 deliveries of 281 shipsets compared to 162 shipsets in the prior year.”

The “no” vote must have taken union leadership by surprise after the negotiating team had unanimously agreed to the terms of a contract with Spirit. However, when the contract went back to the union membership, it was rejected by 79 percent. After 13 years between contracts, workers weren’t ready to accept any contract that does not improve their material conditions. According to the Seattle Times, workers rejected a package that included, a 16% pay raise over four years and “up to a compounded 34% average pay increase over that period, with cost-of-living adjustments and a guaranteed annual bonus. The offer also gave a 14.7% increase in retirement benefits and an agreement to end mandatory overtime on Sundays.”

Following a vote that would send 6000 workers to the picket line, Spirit halted production on Thursday, June 22. The company sent a notice to workers indicating that it was not a lock out and that workers would be paid for the missed days until June 24, when the strike officially started.

Workers’ Voice applauds the bravery of the IAM members who voted down a contract that does not meet their needs. These workers are setting an important example for the working class by going out on strike and refusing to take crumbs from the bosses’ table.

Union workers strike for “green” jobs and power on the shop floor

After rejecting the company’s last, best and final offer, the 1400 members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Locals 506 and 618 went on strike on June 22 at Wabtec’s locomotive plant in Lawrence Park, Pa. At the center of the contract fight are big questions. One question includes the right to strike over grievances, which boils down to how workers can use their power on the shop floor to win a fight against the employer instead of dealing with expensive, long, and demoralizing arbitration processes. Arbitration as a means to resolve shop-floor grievances takes all the power away from workers and puts it into the hands of a third party. Winning the right to strike over grievances would be a significant step forward and an example for union leaders everywhere who regularly give up that right in contract negotiations.

A Wabtec electric-battery locomotive purchased by Union Pacific.

Another important question in this contract fight is transitioning Wabtec toward the production of “green locomotives.” “Building green locomotives is essential to the future of our country, and will benefit the local economy here in Erie,” said UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson. “Unfortunately, Wabtec’s unwillingness to work with us to resolve problems, either through the grievance process or through contract negotiations, is a major impediment to that bright future.”

recent report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst found that producing of green locomotives at the Erie plant could bring thousands of new, high-quality jobs to the area—which has been hit by de-industrialization. The union states that, during contract negotiations, it had proposed language to guarantee that green locomotive work be done in Erie.

This attempt at a “just transition” is part of a broader effort by the UE called the “Green Locomotive Project.” The UE states, “The Green Locomotive Project will create good union jobs, address climate change, and clean up pollution in the low-income communities and communities of color which bear the brunt of pollution from rail yards. It will bring workers and their unions together with rail yard communities and environmental justice organizations to demand a future of good union jobs, livable communities, and a sustainable planet.”

The statement continues, “By upgrading all of their locomotive stock to modern ‘Tier 4’ standards for long-haul routes and to zero-emissions technologies in rail yards, the railroad companies could significantly reduce both the pollution around rail yards and their carbon footprint.”

While the “Green Locomotive Project” moves the fight for a just transition against climate change in a better direction, the goal must be to keep 100 percent of fossil fuels in the ground and complete the conversion to renewables. This means organizing the entire labor movement to place demands on the corporations like Wabtec and the government. The wealth from these companies could change the polluting infrastructure immediately, yet they cannot even take up the proposals of the UE for a modest move to less polluting locomotives. Ultimately, no real green transition can take place under capitalism; the transition will have to be led by a government run by and for working people.

In the meantime, readers can support these workers by making a contribution to their strike fund: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/support-ue-members-striking-for-green-jobs/

Top photo: Teamsters.org

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