Collective Action Is Key to Keeping Labor Strong

By Mery Concepcion

When the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to public sector unions last month with its decision in Janus v. AFSCME, some pundits were quick to sound the death knellfor organized labor. Those pundits haven’t been paying attention, a panel at the AFL-CIO showed earlier this month. The event brought together workers from different sectors, all of whom have made organizing inroads over recent months to improve the conditions in their workplace.

Titled “Collective Action on the Rise: How the Labor Movement can Sustain the Momentum of Change, the panel, moderated by journalist Michelle Chen, asked how the labor movement could capitalize on the momentum from collective actions like the teacher strikes that gripped the U.S. last spring. Union membership is at an all-time low. But as Chen put it, there’s value in expanding ideas of the labor movement beyond formally-recognized unions, and taking a look at “what it means to really think about labor as a collective social enterprise.”

That’s something Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a law student and research assistant at Harvard Law School, thought about while working on the campaign to unionize Harvard graduate students. The grad students organized with the United Auto Workers in order to bargain for higher wages, affordable housing, and healthcare benefits. When questioned by skeptical family members about why she, as a graduate student, was organizing with auto workers, Sandalow-Ash responded with a message of solidarity.

“The UAW represents 40,000 grad workers and 25,000 academic workers overall but also our union movements are more powerful when we are not separated by what kind of work that we do. We’re more powerful when we all stand together,” she said.

Anna Simmons, an elementary school counselor and mental health therapist in Morgantown, West Virginia, explained how this solidarity had worked in practice earlier this year. As part of the American Federation of Teachers, she organized with teachers from all over the state in February to strike for higher wages and affordable healthcare.

When union leaders returned from the negotiating table with a contract that would give teachers a better deal than other public sector workers, Simmons was part of a large group teachers who refused to accept the deal and continued to strike until all public sector workers were offered the same terms.

“If we all are together and we’re all unified and we’re all in solidarity on these issues we can make tremendous impact on the lives of ourselves, of our future generation and as a nation,” said Simmons. “It wasn’t just about a $2,000 increase on our salary, it was about saving our state.”

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Human Service Workers at Persad Center Vote to Join the USW

From the USW

Workers at Persad Center, a human service organization that serves the LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS communities of the Pittsburgh area, voted last week to join the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

The unit of 24 workers, ranging from therapists and program coordinators to case managers and administrative staff, announced their union campaign as the Persad Staff Union last month and filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We care about our work and the communities we serve,” said Johanna Smith, Persad’s Development, Communications, and Events Associate. “We strongly believe this work and our connections to our clients will only improve now that we will be represented by a union.”

The Persad workers join the growing number of white-collar professionals organizing with the USW, especially in the Pittsburgh region. Their membership is also in line with the recent work the Steelworkers have been doing to engage LGBTQ+ members and improve contract language regarding issues that affect their lives.

“Workplaces are changing and evolving, and the labor movement is changing and evolving along with that,” said USW Vice President Fred Redmond, who oversees the union’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee as well as the USW Health Care Workers Council. “This campaign gives us an opportunity to diversify our great union while uplifting and empowering a group of workers who give their all for others.”

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work