Protesters gathered in bright red t-shirts and matching masks bearing the Independent Drivers Guild logo. Placards bearing slogans like “Freeze Hiring, Reactive Workers Now!” and “Unlock Uber” were being handed out at a table toward the entrance. What the gathering lacked in sheer numbers, it made up with enthusiasm. A wide range of speakers approached the podium — IDG members, drivers, local and prospective politicians. Nearly every speech was followed by a spirited call and response from the crowd, culminating in pro-union chants. Previous protests have found drivers opting for other locations — perhaps most notably in 2019, when Brooklyn Bridge traffic toward the mayor’s residence at Gracie Mansion was slowed to a crawl. Today’s location was perfectly suited for such an event. The gathering was framed by the Falchi Building, a large office space in Queens, New York, housing some 36,000 square feet of Uber offices. The neighborhood of Long Island City has long served as an epicenter for the city’s ridesharing operations. Lyft has offices nearby, as does the Taxi Limousine Commission (TLC). Walk down a block or two and you’ll almost certainly stumble across rows upon rows of yellow cabs. The concerns of gig workers are nothing new, of course, but today’s crowd gathered in Long Island City, Queens to add support to a proposed bill currently making its way through the state legislature in Albany. The legislation is designed to make it easy for gig economy workers in the state to unionize. “Currently, the gig workers have no voice in their workplace. No voice to negotiate pay or benefits of workplace policies,” bill sponsor state Sen. Diane Savino of Staten Island explained in a recent interview. “And I have been talking about this issue for several years now. The world of work is changing, and labor law has not caught up to technology and how it has changed the world of work.” read more here
Commercial Observer Staten Island is not the only place where Amazon workers want to unionize. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is fighting to represent Amazon fulfillment center workers at BHM1 in Bessemer, Ala., filed objections with the NLRB in April to Amazon’s conduct during their union election, alleging that the e-commerce giant threatened, intimidated, and confused workers ahead of the vote. While employees in the Bessemer warehouse voted in April against unionizing, with only 738 in favor of the 3,215 ballots cast, the election results could be set aside if the NLRB finds that Amazon illegally interfered with the vote, CO previously reported. The RWDSU alleged that Amazon threatened workers through mandatory meetings and emails, saying that unionization would lead to a loss of business at the facility, which could lead to layoffs or a shutdown, and that Amazon changed the timing of a traffic light outside of its warehouse, reportedly to prevent pro-union workers from canvassing while workers were stopped at the light. The union also alleged that Amazon tried to make it appear that the corporation controlled the election process by placing a ballot collection box in the Amazon parking lot, and pressuring workers to use the Amazon-installed box, which was located within the range of Amazon-owned surveillance cameras. Amazon installed the box, despite the fact the NLRB denied Amazon’s request for a warehouse-based drop box. “The fact is that less than 16 percent of employees at BHM1 voted to join a union,” an Amazon spokesperson previously told CO. “Rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda. We look forward to the next steps in the legal process.” The RWDSU has attempted to unionize the Staten Island warehouse, too. In 2018, the union announced its intention to unionize workers to address safety concerns, lengthy unpaid security checks, unreasonable hourly quotas and insufficient breaks, as reported The Verge, but that union hasn’t materialized.
In Bessemer, disgruntled employees reached out to a local union that had recently notched some big wins; it was what we in the labor movement call a “hot shop.” And the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union did what it could to control the terrain and timing of the campaign, but existing labor law makes that nearly impossible. Still, organizers should take on these potentially paradigm-shifting struggles wherever they emerge—even if they lose more often than they win. Successful movements grow out of these sorts of failures. We celebrate, for example, the civil rights victories of the Birmingham campaign in 1963 but rarely discuss how the seeds of this success were planted in a failed desegregation campaign two years earlier in Albany, Ga. As the National Labor Relations Board adjudicates the RWDSU’s accusations that Amazon illegally interfered with the vote, we can draw inspiration from the workers in Bessemer and turn their very public loss to labor’s advantage. Read more here
RWDSU Local 220 Shop Steward Edna DeGelleke (seated) with co-workers Connie Grant (right) and Jolie Hughes. While she’s older than almost all of the residents she cares for, 86-year old Edna DeGelleke, a Licensed Practical Nurse at Sodus Rehab Nursing Home in Sodus, New York, has no plans to retire. “For me, giving patients love and affection is the greatest part of this job. It’s fulfilling taking care of people, and also helping keep residents connected with their families,” DeGelleke said. DeGelleke began working at Sodus in September, 1975, when she began working there full-time after beginning as a volunteer at the then-new facility. And now, despite the fact that most of her co-workers are decades younger than she is, DeGelleke shows no signs of slowing down. The RWDSU union shop steward works 12-hour shifts, six days a week, and has no plans to retire. “I’m in no rush, this job does my heart good and keeps me busy. I think it helps residents here to have someone their age to relate to, and I still love coming to work,” DeGelleke said.
Local 1102 members at 970 Kent Condominium in Brooklyn, New York, recently secured a new contract that improves wages and benefits for the building services workers. The contract brings annual wage benefits for all members, and It also provides improved contributions from the employer to ensure affordability for member health insurance plans. In addition, the membership will benefit from increased contributions to retirement plans thanks to the new contract. For these members, their strong new agreement recognizes their contributions as essential workers during the pandemic. They’ve been there to serve residents at the building throughout the entire COIVD-19 crisis, and will continue their important work with an improved contract.
The White House on Thursday launched an effort to increase the number of American workers belonging to unions, address income inequality and redress a power imbalance that favors employers. The agenda was unveiled at the first meeting of President Joe Biden's labor task force, which he created in April. Vice President Kamala Harris, who leads the group, said the work was a high priority for the administration. "When there are more union members, there is less income inequality," she said. Harris also said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed fractures in the system designed to protect worker rights. "For whom things were bad, today they're even worse." she said. read more here
The New York Health and Essential Rights Act was signed into law late Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, setting enforceable health and safety standards to protect workers from the transmission and community spread of COVID-19, as well as any future airborne infectious diseases. Known as the HERO Act, it directs the state health and labor departments to create an airborne infectious disease standard covering all private employers within 60 days, which would take effect 30 days later. Businesses will have to provide personal protective equipment for all employees, set up safe social distancing and disinfecting protocols, and also ensure adequate airflow. Read more about this story at Gothamist
NJ.com Essential workers were praised for staying on the job during the coronavirus pandemic, but as the region moves more into an economic recovery, experts and advocates fear those workers might be left behind. How to help essential workers, especially those of color, who make up a number of the working poor, was part of a Regional Plan Association assembly discussion about how to equitably recover from the pandemic. The panel, that included U.S. Senator Cory Booker and U.S. Rep Andy Kim, both D-NJ, also directly discussed ways to correct inequities that existed before the pandemic. While there was an outpouring of support for essential workers during the darkest days of the pandemic, New Jersey even declared an essential workers heroes day in March, the warehouse and retail workers, janitors, housekeepers, food and package delivery workers still need to be lifted from the ranks of the working poor, according to members of the panel. “Banging on pots doesn’t make them essential,” said Dr Herminia Palacio, former New York City deputy mayor for health and human services. “Their salaries aren’t essential, their benefits aren’t essential. How do we reorient resources, so we have predictable outcomes?” She warned that the window to change conditions and help these workers “is narrowing.” Panelists talked about how essential workers, especially people of color and women, were affected by higher death rates, economic and housing insecurity and other issues that threaten to leave them behind again unless action is taken. Legislation proposed by Booker could provide a federal renter’s tax credit to help workers who spend 30% or more of their take home pay on housing. The concept is similar to federal tax deductions homeowners now receive for state and local property taxes. “We can do something big and bold and make sure all our brave families can have a shot at a good home,” he said. “The hard reality is stagnant wages for working class people make it harder to make ends meet.”
Recently, Amazon won a closely watched National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election against the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. But it did so only after spending millions of dollars on harassing and intimidating its workers for two months before the vote. Now, the company is using the same strategy to bust a new independent union drive at its Staten Island facility in New York. Unions and worker rights advocates are pushing for legislation that would protect against these types of actions. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which has passed the House and is currently pending before the Senate, would limit the ability of corporate bullies like Amazon to interfere with workers’ choice to form a union. The anti-union campaign at Bessemer provided a stark lesson on why change is desperately needed. Powerful corporations such as Amazon must no longer be allowed to bully with impunity when their employees try to improve working conditions. Amazon’s Anti-Union “Stalking” When she testified before the Senate Budget Committee in March, Amazon worker Jennifer Bates described the anti-union campaign at Bessemer as a form of “stalking.” Workers couldn’t escape Amazon’s anti-union message, even when they were in the stalls of the restrooms, where the company had displayed anti-union handbills. In addition to its high-paid union avoidance law firm, Morgan Lewis, Amazon spent millions of dollars on at least three different anti-union consultant firms whose job was to dissuade the Bessemer employees from supporting the RWDSU. Weak reporting rules for anti-union consultants mean that we will never know exactly how much Amazon spent. The PRO Act would change that and bring greater transparency. Amazon forced Bessemer workers to attend hour-long, consultant-conducted, anti-union captive audience meetings — ominously called “education meetings” — multiple times per week; if they dared speak up, their ID badges were photographed and they were expelled from the meetings. The PRO Act would prohibit these fear-inducing forced listening sessions, which are already unlawful in most developed democracies. Read the rest here at Truthout
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 21, 2021 RWDSU Contact: Chelsea Connor | [email protected] | 347-866-6259 Alvin Bragg Contact: Richard Fife | [email protected] | 917-617-4188 (NEW YORK, NY) – Today, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced its support for former Chief Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg for Manhattan District Attorney. “Alvin Bragg brings the experience and values that we need in a Manhattan District Attorney at this crucial moment. Throughout his career, he has prioritized the needs of workers, tenants and other vulnerable communities to make sure their rights are protected, and voices are heard. He also upholds the levels of integrity that the office deserves and brings an awareness of the need for greater accountability and reform. For these reasons, the RWDSU is proud to endorse Alvin for Manhattan District Attorney,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “I am proud to have the endorsement of the RWDSU, one of the most progressive and active unions in New York and across the country,” said Manhattan DA Candidate Alvin Bragg. “We saw this commitment to our city on the frontlines helping our city get through this pandemic, and we see it every day through the hard work of its members. “The COVID pandemic has exacerbated what remains a chronic and unacceptable problem in our city – a systematic pattern of abuse by bad actors who pad their checkbooks on the backs of struggling working people. It ends when our movement for change channels the power of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to hold accountable employers who cheat and endanger their employees. This is an urgent matter for fairness, for economic opportunity, and for racial justice and I look forward to working with RWDSU to make New York a safer, better, and more just place to work - for everyone.” # # # The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.