It’s not just a question of money. Unions fight for better hours, safety and working conditions

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CNN Business

It’s not just a question of money.

There has been an increase in labor activism — including strikes and organizing efforts — over the past year, which is driven by factors far beyond pay rates and benefits.

If salary were the only issue, the nation probably wouldn’t face the risk of its first national railway strike 30 years from now next week, a walkout that could cause legs to fall under the supply chain still struggling and be another blow to the US economy.

A presidential panel examining this labor dispute recommended that the two parties agree to a five-year contract that includes an immediate 14% raise, back pay from 2020 and a 24% salary increase over the term of the contract. contract. That’s less than the 31% raise over five years sought by the union, but more than the 17% previously offered by railroad management.

This was enough to get some unions to accept tentative agreements, but not the unions that represent more than 90,000 workers, including those who make up the two-person crews on freight trains. They seem ready to strike unless Congress acts to keep them on the job.

These unions say they are not rejecting the wage offer. It is rather the work rules, staffing and planning proposals they oppose, which require them to be on call and ready to report for work, seven days a week for much of the year. If it were just a question of salary, an agreement between the two parties would probably already be in place.

“We’re not going to sit here and discuss [wages] or health care. We are beyond that,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the union which represents conductors, one of two freight train workers with the engineer.

Unions say working conditions are pushing thousands of workers out of jobs they would have previously held for their entire careers, creating untenable conditions for the remaining workers. The modification of these work rules, including the availability requirement, is the main request.

“Word has spread that these are not attractive jobs, the way they treat workers,” said Dennis Pierce, president of the union representing engineers. “The employees said, ‘I’ve had enough.'”

And it’s not just the railway workers who have reached this breaking point.

Monday about 15,000 the nurses went on a 3-day strike against 13 Minnesota hospitals, saying they needed to improve staffing levels and better control schedules in order to provide patients with the care they deserved and keep the nurses they needed on the job.

“We are not on strike for our wages. We are fighting for a say in our profession and work-life balance,” said Mary Turner, ICU Covid nurse and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, the union leading the strike.

More … than 2,000 mental health professionals are on strike against Kaiser Permanente in California and Hawaii. Union members there say the lack of staff deprives patients of care and prevents them from doing their jobs effectively.

Alexis Petrakis, a member of the union’s bargaining committee and a child therapist at Kaiser for three years, said she had never been in a union before and did not expect to go on strike this time . But she said poor quality of care and the company’s inability to schedule visits for new patients for up to six weeks due to staffing issues prompted her and her colleagues to leave.

“Being away from my patients is heartbreaking. But what I come back to is that they were getting inadequate care,” Petrakis said. “The curtain is going up on this broken system. do everything I can to make their care progress better.

Columbus, Ohio teachers went on strike at the start of the school year complaining about large class sizes and dilapidated schools where lack of heating and air conditioning has created miserable classroom environments. The school district, the largest in Ohio, quickly settled.

Complaints about working conditions, safety and quality of life do not only provoke strikes. They are also causing an increase in organizing efforts.

The successful organizing effort at an amazon

distribution center in Staten Island, New York, began with worker safety concerns in the early days of the pandemic. It was the first successful union vote at Amazon


Worker safety protocols and the desire to have a voice in the way stores are run are the main reasons baristas at more than 200 Starbucks nationwide have voted to join a union over the past nine months.

These non-economic problems may seem unique at today, but they were the very foundation of the American labor movement a century ago.

Employees fighting for safer working conditions and quality of life issues such as weekends, vacations, paid holidays and a 40-hour week have helped unions gain a foothold in the United States and have led to their growth in the first half of the 20th century.

Union members are not the only ones concerned about these issues. Some economists attribute the so-called “Big resignation» who saw a record number of workers leaving their jobs from 2021, greater employee attention to quality of life issues. And they say the pandemic has brought these issues to light for many workers.

Beyond the impact this has had on the broader workforce, concerns about working conditions have led to a rise in union activism.

There have been 263 strikes so far this year, according to a database kept by Cornell University, up 84% from the same period last year.

And there were 826 workplace union elections from January to July this year, up 45% from the number held in the same period of 2021, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board, which supervise the votes. Unions’ 70% pass rate in these votes is much better than the 42% in the first seven months of 2021.

These surges of activity would never have happened without the non-economic issues at the forefront, according to union officials.

“That’s certainly what’s driving the voice of workers across the country. It’s not just wallet issues,” said AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Fred Redmond. “They want their voice to be heard. They have terrible working hours. Workers find that their bosses don’t respect their voice, they don’t respect them. »

Experts agree that unions are enjoying new success due to workers’ anger over non-economic issues.

“Unions succeed when they build on things that workers care about,” said Alexander Colvin, dean of the school of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.

“The schedule, the health and safety issues, it’s very important“, he added. “There is definitely an opportunity for unions there.”

And experts say these problems are a good sign for the continued strength of unions in the future.

“The rise of non-economic issues…suggests a renaissance of the labor movement,” said Todd Vachon, professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “The economic demand for labor comes and goes. The broader the demands of workers, the better able they will be to withstand changes in the business cycle.

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