Philadelphia labor rallies demand dignity and justice on the job


On Thursday, July 20, in Philadelphia, about 100 members of the Teamsters Union and their supporters held a morning rally outside of the UPS facility on Oregon Ave. A couple of hours later, well over 100 members and supporters of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) gathered at Love Park, near City Hall, to demand a just settlement from the Hollywood bosses. Both of these spirited rallies focused on the greed of the bosses from UPS to Hollywood. A theme of equity, fairness, dignity, and justice ran like a thread through all of the speeches.

Since the beginning of May, the WGA, representing 11,500 screenwriters, has been on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. More recently, SAG-AFTRA went on strike against the American Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Hollywood’s studios and production companies. At stake in both of these strikes is the question of fair pay and the dangers represented by new technologies that threaten the livelihood of working actors and writers.

Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA, said in a recent speech, “What happens here is important because what’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor, when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run.”

What’s at stake in the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes?

This strike is about new technologies and the right to a living wage. Actor Sheryl Lee Ralph, one of the stars of the television series, “Abbott Elementary,” spoke at the Philadelphia rally about the struggles of the majority of actors who are not big-name stars, saying, in “our union 80% of them [members] don’t earn the $26,740 needed to qualify for health insurance.” Ralph was joined by her co-star, Lisa Ann Walter, who said, “When the world sees people on television and movies, they figure they’ve got it made; they’re all millionaires; they have several yachts. … As the years have gone on, the business has paid those of us who are not the $20 million actors less and less and less until it is just about basic wage.”

Walter continued, “We will not go back until there is a fair deal on the table for not Sheryl and I, because we can negotiate a contract, but for each and every person that we stand with on the stage, because if they don’t have a fair deal, we can’t live with the deal we have.”

New technology from streaming services to AI is at the heart of this strike. Hollywood bosses want the right to generate scripts using artificial intelligence and to use these technologies to reuse the images of actors in other scenes and projects. In this case, actors would lose control over the use of their image to studios.

Another aspect is the lack of residuals paid by streaming services like Netflix. These companies technically pay residuals, but the unions and their members say the amounts and pay schedules give actors and writers merely what they used to get. Residuals owed for reruns of network shows often amount to nothing. Traditionally, actors and writers are paid for each time a show runs on television or cable, or when someone buys a video.

Actor Whitney Morgan Cox said, “I did an episode of ‘Criminal Minds’ and was getting residuals… and then ‘Criminal Minds’ moved to Netflix and those checks stopped coming. And then it did a resurgence on cable TV, I got a couple more checks. It went to streaming—the checks stopped coming.”

What’s at stake in the Teamsters’ fight?

At the end of this month, 340,000 UPS Teamsters may go on strike. Like the writers and actors, the issue for Teamsters is one of justice and fair treatment. As UPS CEO pay has skyrocketed, the company has refused to bargain in good faith. In 2022, UPS CEO Carol Tomé received a total compensation package of $19 million, most of it in stock awards. In 2021, her total compensation was $27,600. Tomé’s pay is 364 times higher than the $52,144 median pay for UPS workers.

UPS reaped record profits during the pandemic, but few of these profits have trickled down to the full-time and part-time workers whose labor ensured these profits. Teamsters at UPS toil in the heat and cold every day of the year to deliver more than 24 million packages daily, amounting to more than 6 billion packages delivered annually.

While management has reportedly agreed to air conditioning in new delivery trucks and to phase out two-tier wages, few details on the negotiations are available because negotiators have signed non-disclosure agreements. This lack of transparency in the negotiations is a disturbing violation of the members’ right to know what is happening.

During Thursday’s Philadelphia rally, one member, a UPS driver, spoke about his experiences during the pandemic as an “essential” worker: “What if we have kids? What if our mothers are sick or our fathers? ‘Just go to work.’ It took two weeks to get masks, it took two weeks to get gloves. … I was asked what I should do … how do I keep my family safe? I was asked, why don’t you just get a hotel room for a day or two until this has all passed? The company never lowered their rates for packages … to help anyone else. Why did I have to take money out of my pocket?”

He continued, “They still  kept pushing us. ‘We have gloves for you, we have masks for you. Just keep coming to work.” … 75% of our members did come down with COVID. We got the pay for two weeks, but if you got COVID again, you were on your own.”

Richard Hooker, president of Teamsters’ Local 623, also spoke and put UPS management “on notice that their time is up.“ Hooker said, “We run this country. When America needed us, they depended on us. Now, we need America to stand with us, which they are doing and we appreciate that. Come Aug. 1, if we don’t have an agreement, we’re going to be on the side of the road, and I need everybody out here to come stand with us. Because nothing moves unless the Teamsters move it!”

The Teamster rally was attended by a cohort of Democratic Party politicians, from state senators and representatives to city council members and the liberal district attorney, Larry Krasner. These politicians all pledged their solidarity and support to the Teamsters. However, working people would be wise to exercise caution when the Democrats come calling with promises. We only have to look back a few months to the forced settlement in the railroad workers’ contract fight, when Democrats in Congress and the White House shoved a rotten deal down railroad workers’ throats.

Fight for justice!

Working people, whether they create art or deliver packages, deserve fair treatment and justice. They deserve compensation for their labor and safe working conditions. In recent years, we have seen an uptick in union activity and union organizing.

Ultimately, the problem is capitalism itself. The ruling class wants it all, while workers’ needs take second place. The capitalist financier Warren Buffett said it this way: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Building solidarity with striking workers is an urgent task. In the long run, we have to rebuild fighting unions, which are capable of taking on the bosses with power and determination, and an independent working-class party that will fight for workers and oppressed people every day of the year.

  • Solidarity with SAG-AFTRA and the WGA!
  • Solidarity with UPS Teamsters!
  • Fight for workers’ power and socialism!

Photo: John Leslie / Workers’ Voice

For further reading:

Teamsters and UPS renew negotiations: What’s next?

Hollywood on strike

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