Video Tribute to RWDSU Civil Rights Trailblazer Henry Jenkins

Link to video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1Y4KuYXxPI Henry Jenkins, who passed in November, 2011, left behind a vibrant legacy of helping countless thousands of working families build better lives for themselves. His life’s work spans decades and influenced generations in the south. And while Jenkins found his home in the labor movement which he loved, his commitment to justice went beyond even his union activism, embracing the civil rights movement that changed America forever. It is no exaggeration to say that Henry Jenkins put his life at risk to help others as he fought for economic justice in the south in the 1960s and beyond. His lifetime of commitment to the labor movement began when Jenkins was just a teenager when he went to work at the Ward Baking Company in Birmingham, Alabama in 1948. There he helped make breads and cakes in an environment so hot that at the end of the day there wasn’t a dry spot on his body. It was hard work, but it was also a union job, and Jenkins quickly came to appreciate the difference it made – a difference that was especially poignant in the deep south still caught in the chokehold of Jim Crow and segregation. Jenkins’ membership in the RWDSU helped ensure that he was entitled to fair wages, good benefits, and vacation time, things that many other southern workers – African American or otherwise – didn’t enjoy at the time. Jenkins has said that most importantly, union membership brought equality and fair treatment on the job. It was an equality that he and his African-American co-workers had yet to enjoy outside of work, during an era where disenfranchisement was still the norm. Jenkins immediately got involved in the union and became a shop steward, and then moved on to become an organizer, spreading the seed of union activism throughout Alabama. During the time Jenkins and his fellow organizers were bringing an RWDSU voice to workers in Selma, Montgomery, and other cities and towns throughout the south, the civil rights movement was blossoming as a new generation of Americans declared they’d had enough of the old ways. And the burgeoning civil rights movement and the labor movement often crossed paths. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., viewed the labor movement as an important component of civil justice and racial equality, and he worked side by side with unionists in the South. In 1965, Jenkins himself personally delivered tents and other supplies to marchers along the route of the landmark Selma to Montgomery marches that proved to be a pivotal event in the civil rights movement. Fighting for Change, Never Backing Down The violence and intimidation that sadly marked the civil rights movement also crossed over into the labor activism in the south that Jenkins had dedicated himself to. In 1964, while driving through Montgomery to speak with workers at Whitfield Foods who wanted to join the RWDSU, Jenkins’ 1962 Ford came under fire, and he found himself with a bullet hole in his windshield. He had been targeted by the Klan and harassed by crooked police officers. He received threatening phone calls at home in the middle of the night, from the same types of scared people who saw that their world of inequality, segregation, and bigotry was coming to end. But like the civil rights activists who would change the South, Jenkins never gave up and he never backed down. His courage helped bring a union voice to thousands of workers in Alabama who needed a union to help them stand up for themselves. In 1979, Jenkins was elected president of the Alabama and Mid-South Council, serving until earlier this year when he announced his retirement. Jenkins also served as an RWDSU Vice-President and Regional Director, and as a UFCW International Vice President. During Jenkins’ tenure as council president, the RWDSU continued to bring a voice to working people in the south, extending far beyond Birmingham, Alabama, where Jenkins started out. Thanks to a culture of activism and organizing that was the hallmark of Jenkins’ leadership, the Alabama and Mid-South Council flourished. Facing the Challenges of Post-Civil Rights Movement South Jenkins’ tenure was characterized by a growth in RWDSU membership for poultry workers, who work demanding jobs in sometimes brutal conditions. As the poultry industry has grown and changed, so have the need for worker protections, and the RWDSU was there to bring a union voice where it was needed most. Jenkins became an outspoken advocate for the rights of immigrant workers. He likened the terrible treatment of immigrant workers to the viscous bigotry suffered by African Americans and fought for their equal treatment. Jenkins never really stopped working – up until his recent illness, he could still be spotted at the Alabama and Mid-South Council offices, offering advice and assistance to the new generation of union activists who he had inspired. While he will not be given the opportunity to enjoy a lengthy retirement, those who knew him say he was truly happiest doing what he had spent most of his life doing: helping bring tremendous positive change to the lives of working people.

NEW JERSEY ECONOMIC RECOVERY ACT OF 2020 - STATEMENT FROM RWDSU LOCAL 108 PRESIDENT CHARLES N. HALL JR.

(NEWARK, NJ) –  Today, in response to the committee passages of the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act A4/S3295, Charles N. Hall Jr., President of Local 108 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) issued the following statement: “We are pleased to see that the agreement between the Governor and legislative leadership on economic recovery and tax incentives reform includes labor harmony provisions. Good high-paying jobs for our members are a win for our union and a win for New Jersey. We support this legislation and urge it's swift passage.”

KFC, Taco Bell Workers Get Mail-Ballot Vote In Union Election

A National Labor Relations Board official held Friday that workers at a combination Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken should vote on whether to unionize via mail given the rise in COVID-19 cases in their area, directing an election in an industry that has largely evaded organized labor. NLRB regional director Paul J. Murphy wasn't persuaded by arguments from Pak Norwich Management Inc., which operates the restaurant in Norwich, New York, that an in-person election "would allow for maximum employee participation" in the vote on whether about 20 workers at the facility should be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, UFCW. The company didn't offer "any specific reason," according to the decision, for why mail voting wouldn't be appropriate for its particular situation, but instead pointed out that the board generally prefers in-person elections. "While the board has, indeed, expressed a general preference for manual balloting, it has never hesitated to ballot by mail when the circumstances warrant it," Murphy said. If the workers at the restaurant vote to organize with the RWDSU, their union would be a rarity in the fast food industry, particularly among the major fast food companies. Currently, some locations of Burgerville, a chain in the Pacific Northwest, have unions certified by the NLRB. read more at Law360

Pandemic May Spur Retirements Among Not-So-Old New Yorkers

Some unions and political leaders are seeking to make the hard choices a bit easier. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents workers at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, has many older members who have worked for a long time. These workers, says union president Stuart Appelbaum “are, of course, more likely to suffer severe effects from COVID.” So when stores began making plans to reopen to brick and mortar customers, the union “made it important to take into account older workers for whom it may not be safe to go back to work,” he says. The two department stores agreed to transition packages to make it easier for employees to retire early, Appelbaum said. In general, workers retiring at 55 and over with at least 15 years on the job—who tend to make more money than younger employees—can receive one week of pay for every year of service up to 26 weeks. Those under 65, and so too young for Medicare, will still have to find health insurance. Despite that, Appelbaum says many workers have opted for payments, although the union did not have specific numbers.  read more here 

Amazon effort to thwart Alabama union drive suffers early defeat at labor board

SEATTLE — The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday rejected Amazon’s bid to delay a hearing on the union drive of Alabama workers into January, as the e-commerce giant signals its willingness to vigorously battle employees trying to organize. Bessemer warehouse workers notified the NLRB last week that they want to hold an election to create a bargaining unit that would cover 1,500 full-time and part-time workers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The agency had scheduled a Dec. 11 hearing to determine, among other items, whether to call a union election. But Amazon failed to persuade the agency to delay the hearing by at least a month. The union opposed rescheduling the hearing at all. The NLRB decided to push the hearing back a week to Dec. 18 without offering an explanation. read the rest at Washington Post  Continue reading

ShopRite Makes Hazard Pay Deal

ShopRite has struck a hazard pay deal with about 50,000 union grocery workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers – announced a new agreement on hazard pay for nearly 50,000 union grocery workers in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The deal with ShopRite, the largest employer in New Jersey, recognizes the ongoing risks ShopRite workers have faced as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and provides retroactive hazard pay ahead of the holiday season that covers all hours worked between July 26 and August 22, the union said.   read more about it here 

How would Bessemer Amazon workers form a union?

A push by workers at Amazon’s Bessemer fulfillment center to form a union drew national attention last month. But what does the process of forming a union look like? And how might it look during the busiest time of the year, in the middle of a pandemic? Employees at Amazon’s facility in Bessemer notified the National Labor Relations Board Nov. 20 that they want to hold an election to create a bargaining unit that would cover 1,500 full-time and part-time workers. The group would be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). read the full story here at AL.com 

Respect Our Supermarket and Retail Workers This Holiday Season

By RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum Even in the best of times, the holiday season is very stressful for workers at retail stores and supermarkets. Big crowds, irritable customers, hectic days and the need for workers themselves to take care of their own holiday obligations can all weigh heavily on workers’ shoulders this time of year. In 2020, however, with the historic COVID-19 pandemic heading toward a terrifying new peak amidst a second wave, this stress is going to be exponentially worse. This holiday season, we owe it to these workers to provide comfort, protection, and understanding as they continue to put their lives on the line so that we can all have the best 2020 holiday season that’s possible under these difficult circumstances. We’ve already seen what the pandemic has done to the front-facing workers who have kept New York and the rest of the country moving as we’ve been forced to dramatically change our lives to fight COVID-19. A recent study in Boston shows that approximately 20 percent of frontline supermarket workers tested positive for COVID-19, and that these workers are up to 22 times more likely to test positive than the general population. At least 108 American grocery store workers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Retail workers have had a tough time too, with fewer hours, fewer available jobs, and the added stress of the pandemic. The same study reported that retail workers reported having increased anxiety and increased cases of depression during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we struggle with this second wave, we are all concerned about schools closing again and taking care of our families and children. It’s a rough time for all New Yorkers, but for these frontline workers, it’s even worse with the added stress of working through the holidays. Employers need to give serious consideration to renewed “hero pay,” bonuses that recognize the danger these workers face. These workers also deserve additional paid time off in the event that they or someone close to them tests positive for the virus. We need to provide not just safer workplaces, but social support from employers and customers for workers who are helping us through this crisis and a second wave that threatens the progress we’ve made in New York. And most of all, when we go to supermarkets and retail stores this season, we need to be as considerate as possible to these workers who will be a big part of making the 2020 holidays the best they can be for our families. Let’s protect them by ensuring we are wearing masks and doing it properly, by doing our best to social distance and keep our hands clean, and by staying home if we aren’t feeling well. Most importantly, let’s recognize what they are going through and do everything we can to make this season as anxiety-free as possible. This season, a little kindness will go a long way toward ensuring these workers are able to enjoy the holidays as much as we hope to with our families. This column appeared in the Amsterdam News 

BLACK FRIDAY STATEMENT FROM RWDSU PRESIDENT STUART APPELBAUM

“Retail workers experience heightened stress and pressure during the holiday season, even in normal times. However, this year that stress is exponentially increased because of the serious health and safety risks resulting from the pandemic. Workers are in public-facing jobs; and they interact with larger numbers of customers during the holiday season, risking their own exposure to COVID-19 as well as possibly bringing it home to their families. Customers can limit the exposure workers face by wearing a mask at all times while shopping, sanitizing their hands before and after entering a store, staying 6-feet apart from workers and other customers and most importantly, treating workers with dignity and respect while they shop. This holiday season, retail workers need customers to do everything they can to help keep everybody safe,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). 

Contract Victory for new Bloomsburg Members

After a long, difficult battle with management for their first union contract, RWDSU Local 262 members at Bloomsburg Care & Rehabilitation Center in Pennsylvania have won numerous improvements. The new contract includes improved starting minimum rates, annual raises, an affordable healthcare union medical plan, secured paid time off and improved job security, addressing many of the issues the workers had when they won their campaign to join the RWDSU in May, 2020. The 90 workers at the facility now have the security and voice on the job provided by a union contract. “I am extremely proud of these members. Through patience and perseverance we achieved a really strong first contract that provides a solid foundation for contracts to come,” said Local 262 RWDSU President, Daniel Righetti.  The BCRC employees fought hard for a settlement that shows respect for the important work they do to care for their residents, and a strong, outspoken negotiating committee made the difference. “The BCRC employees united as a cohesive team, remained stronger together and were victorious. I’m very proud to have worked and be a part of this team.” said Local 262 RWDSU Business Agent Danielle Albano.