Grad workers strike, urge Columbia’s leaders to follow the law and negotiate

Graduate workers at Columbia University in New York City are on strike.

Instead of teaching classes, conducting research, and grading papers, teaching and research assistants, members of the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110 (GWC), on Tuesday morning walked off the job.

After the strike began, about 1000 graduate workers gathered on campus for a rally. They carried signs reading, “Bargain Now, “UAW on strike,” “Pro-Union=Anti Sexual Harassment,” and others.

The rally was briefly interrupted by about two dozen construction workers wearing their hard hats and marching toward the rally chanting, “union, union, union. . .”

The show of solidarity, organized by New York City’s building trades unions, surprised the graduate workers, but they quickly responded by cheering their supporters, blowing whistles, and joining the chants.

For that moment, the chant of “union, union, union. . .” created an unlikely bond between the hardhats and the student workers.

The graduate workers blamed the strike on Columbia’s administration, which for 17 months has refused to recognize the results of a union election that the union won 1602 to 623.

“We work hard and are dedicated to the core principles of this University, but we have had enough,” said Olga Brudastova, a teaching assistant at Columbia’s civil engineering and engineering mechanics department. . . “As long as they refuse to respect our legal rights, we will take action to take our power back.”

The organizing effort among Columbia’s teaching and research assistants goes back for years, but a breakthrough happened in the summer of 2016 when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that graduate workers at private universities had the right to join a union and bargain collectively.

That ruling led to a December 2016 union vote at Columbia in which 70 percent voted for the union.

Despite the overwhelming support for the union, Columbia’s administration led by President Lee Bollinger refused to recognize the union and challenged the vote.

In December 2017, the NLRB ruled against Columbia’s administration finding that “the Employer has failed to carry its burden,” noting that Columbia’s challenge was based on weak evidence in an election in which the margin of victory was 979 votes.

“In these circumstances, we find no reasonable doubt as to the fairness and validity of the election,” stated the board in its decision.

Despite this rebuke, President Bollinger continued to ignore the union’s demand that the administration begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

After repeated attempts to make Bollinger follow the law and bargain with the union, last week GWC took a strike vote in which 93 percent voted to authorize a strike if the administration refused to bargain.

After the strike vote, the union sent a letter to Columbia’s administration announcing that union members would strike on April 24 unless the administration agreed to come to the bargaining table.

President Bollinger sent a last minute message to graduate workers warning them, not to go on strike.

However, when the administration failed to respond to the union’s demand by the deadline, the 3000 members of GWC walked off the job.

 

 

The union called the strike “a showdown between the Academic 1 percent of deans and administrators and the 99 percent of younger academic workers.”

“We work long hours for Columbia, and most of us take home less than $30,000 a year while securing millions in grants and research funding,” Brudastova said. “We want a union because we want real recourse when faced with sexual harassment or assault, and progress on issues like late pay, dilapidated lab facilities, and benefits.”

While graduate workers struggle to make ends meet, administrators at Columbia like Bollinger, who likes to burnish his credentials as a liberal champion of the poor, are doing much better.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Bollinger’s annual compensation of $4.6 million makes him the highest paid chief executive among his peers at private universities in the US.

The union said that the strike will last until April 30, the last day of classes, unless the administration agrees to come to the bargaining table.

While the strike is scheduled to end in a week, members of the union said that they are ready to take further action if Columbia’s administration continues to flout the law.

“This is only the beginning,” said Ian Bradley-Perrin, a PhD candidate in public health. “If Columbia continues to refuse to bargain with us, they should expect us to strike again. We love our work and our students, but we need the security of a contract to move forward. We won a democratic election that was certified by the federal government, and the law is clear. It’s time for Columbia to come to the table.”

A solidarity fund has been set up to support striking graduate workers.

 

Union finds pay discrimination at LA Times

A report by the new journalists’ union at the Los Angeles Times finds that women and journalists of color at the newspaper are under paid.

Last January, the Times journalist voted to form a union and bargain collectively with their employer.

In order to prepare for its first negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement, the union, the LA Times News Guild-CWA, requested pay data from the Time’s owner Tribune Online Content, better known as Tronc.

After reviewing the data, the union issued a report on its findings.

A summary of the report states that “Tronc has underpaid women and journalists of color by thousands of dollars a year at the Los Angeles Times, suggesting systemic salary gaps by race and gender.”

The union released the report last week to its members, and it angered employees in the newsroom.

“I’ve long thought (the Times) underpays women and people of color. But to see the numbers in this (union) report is infuriating,” tweeted a Latina employee.

“It’s so grim to be able to mathematically quantify exactly how much my company undervalues me and dozens of my talented, hardworking coworkers,” tweeted another female employee.

The union received pay information for 323 newsroom employees in the newly created bargaining unit, which includes reporters, photographers, copy editors, designers, and other newsroom employees.

After analyzing the data, the union found that on average women in the Times newsroom are paid 70 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.

The report examined pay for people working in similar jobs, and noted that with a few exceptions pay disparities exist in all job classifications.

For example, the average reporter’s salary is about $95,000, but the average female reporter’s salary is $87,564 and the average reporter of color’s salary is $85,622.

Some of the pay gap can be explained by the age and experience levels of the Times employees.

Because of past hiring practices and other employer decisions, most of the better paid, longer tenured employees at the Times newsrooms are white males.

But, notes the union, this is only a partial explanation of the pay gap.

After comparing salary data for people in the same job classification with the same level of experience, states the report, we “found (that there are) scores of individual women and journalists of color who, on average, make thousands of dollars less than white and male co-workers of similar ages and job titles.”

Employees responding to the report said that discrimination at the Times goes back before Tronc bought the paper.

“Let’s be clear, this is not a problem created by Tronc,” tweeted a Latina employee. “This is the result of a culture in the newsroom that undervalues women and people of color, especially those hired through the Metpro program and then tasks those same reporters with working some of the toughest stories.”

Tronc describes its Metpro program as “a unique program designed to help beginning journalists launch careers and boost diversity at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune (another paper owned by Tronc where journalists are organizing a union).

Tronc will likely not own the Times for very much longer.

In February, Tronc announced that it had sold the Times for $500 million to Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Los Angeles biotech entrepreneur.

That sale is still pending, but Soon-Shiong visited the Times newsroom last Friday to share his vision of what the Times should be with newsroom staff.

It’s not clear whether he had anything to say about the union’s report.

From the start of its organizing campaign, union supporters have stated that one of their main goals was to fight pay discrimination in the newsroom.

In a letter written last October to fellow newsroom staffers, members of the union organizing committee said that winning “equal pay for men and women and equal pay for journalists of color” was one of its main goals.

The union said that it plans to follow up on the findings in the recent report.

“The findings shed light on why the Los Angeles Times unionized after 136 years. We’re a stronger newsroom when we look out for each other. We will be meeting with our members soon to discuss this report and what should come next,” said the union in its summary of the report.

Flight attendant union to Wall Street: raises were fair, punishment wasn’t

The leader of the American Airlines flight attendants union hit back at Wall Street for punishing the airline for giving pay raises to its pilots and flight attendants.

“It seems Wall Street is putting pressure on the airline industry to squeeze out more revenue, but they could care less about passengers or front-line workers, ” said Bob Ross, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Ross made his comments after a CitiGroup analyst named Kevin Crissey  criticized American for giving its pilots and flight attendants pay raises that brought their salaries up to the same level as their counterparts at Delta and United airlines.

In a note to investors, Crissey griped that the pay raises were “frustrating (because) labor is being paid first again (my emphasis). Shareholders get the leftovers.”

Crissey was not alone. Other Wall Street analyst downgraded their assessment of American causing the price of the airline’s stock to plummet.

In rebuttal, Ross wrote an opinion piece that appeared in Aviation Weekly setting the record straight.

First of all, American has been extremely generous to its shareholders.

Ross points out that between 2014 and 2016, American authorized stock buybacks worth $9 billion to investors, and during the same period, the company paid investors $600 million a year in dividends.

Combined, the stock buybacks and the dividends are substantially more than the $1 billion over three years that the employee raises will cost.

Ross goes on to describe the sacrifices that he and his fellow workers made to keep the company operating after the airline industry downturn following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York and Washington DC.

Workers gave American $6 billion worth of wage and benefit concessions during the decade that followed 2001.

Those concessions meant that some of his fellow union members lost their homes, cars, and savings.

Finally Ross criticized Wall Street for its short-term thinking. Ross called the employee raises an investment in frontline staff, which American needed to make to remain competitive.

“Underpaying key front-line employees leads to high turnover and low morale, which is not a recipe for quality service. Treating workers fairly is a better long-term strategy,” said Ross.

While Wall Street was punishing American for being too generous to its employees, it continued to support extravagant pay for CEOs.

According to the New York Times, “in advisory votes that S&P 500 companies held for their shareholders on executive pay last year, they received average support of 91 percent.”

Referring the an AFL-CIO Executive Pay Watch report, the Times goes on to report that in 2016, CEO pay raises averaged 6 percent and that the average CEO pay in 2016 was $13.1 million.

The AFL-CIO Executive Pay Watch report shows that the pay gap between CEO’s and workers continues to grow.

The average pay in 2016 for CEOs was 347 times greater than the average pay for workers,  that’s up from 335 times greater in 2015.

The fact that Wall Street considers pay increases for CEOs to be just the cost of doing business while it sees pay increases for workers as an aberration that must be contained explains why income equality continues to increase.

“Too often, corporations see workers as costs to be cut, rather than assets to be invested in,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “It’s shameful that CEOs can make tens of millions of dollars and still destroy the livelihoods of the hard-working people who make their companies profitable.”

CA DirectTV workers stand together in solidarity to protest unjust firing

DirectTV installation and maintenance technicians in Sacramento, California refused to work on January 30 because one of their fellow technicians was unfairly fired.

The company fired Anthony Estrada, a two-year DirectTV employee, because it claimed that he lost a $300 meter used to aim satellite dishes.

According to the workers, Estrada’s firing was the first time that the company had fired someone for losing a meter or other tool of any kind.

“We have had guys lose a meter before,” said one technician. “They just made them pay the depreciation cost.”

Estrada is one of 130 DirectTV workers at the company’s McClellan Business Park office in Sacramento

The workers are members of Communication Workers of America Local 9421, a 1500 member local whose members work for AT&T in the Sacramento area.

AT&T bought DirectTV in 2015, and since then many DirectTV workers have joined CWA locals.

California and Nevada DirectTV workers, including those in Sacramento, joined CWA in 2016 and have been bargaining for their first contract.

At present, because there is no contract there is no agreed upon grievance procedure for resolving the kinds of unfair disciplinary actions that led to Estrada’s firing. As a result, the workers decided to take direct action to protest the company’s unjust firing.

The job action began on a Monday, and escalated on Tuesday when workers showed up outside the DirectTV service center and refused to go to work again.

At that point, the company said that it was locking out the workers.

The company’s action however, failed to intimidate the workers, and they showed up again on Wednesday en masse with picket signs reading, “WE ARE ONE.”

On Thursday, the company refused to allow the workers to use restroom facilities in the office, but the workers maintained their picket lines outside the office.

While the workers’ job action continued, the union and the company met to discuss ways to end the job action.

On Friday morning, the two sides announced an agreement, and the technicians resumed work on Friday afternoon.

The agreement did not restore Estrada’s job immediately; instead, the two sides agreed to bring the issue of his firing to the bargaining table.

The union and company are scheduled to meet on February 8 at which time CWA will present its case for reinstating Estrada.

“It didn’t go 100 percent the way we wanted to, but it’s still not over yet,” said Estrada to the Sacramento Bee.

In the meantime, John Miller, president of Local 9421 had high praise for the new members of the local. “I want to say I am very proud of my guys and extremely impressed with the solidarity they showed in uniting for one of their own. I’m very proud to have this group in my local,” said Miller.

Supporters of Nissan workers: “Worker rights are civil rights”

A group that included civil rights activists, clergy, local elected officials, union members and leaders, and students on January 26 demonstrated outside of a Nashville Nissan dealership to protest civil rights violations at the Nissan factory in Canton, Mississippi.

“We are proud to stand with our friends in Mississippi to call attention to civil rights abuses at Nissan’s assembly plants,” said the Rev. Ed Thompson, chair of Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), a coalition of faith leaders, community organizations, and labor unions. “We believe workers’ rights are civil rights. We’re asking Nissan to do better by its hard-working employees, and we’re asking Nissan’s dealers and customers to join us in this cause.”

The Nashville demonstration was the first of a series of planned actions being taken to raise awareness of troubling conditions at Nissan’s Canton factory, which manufactures several Nissan models including the Altima, Frontier, Murano, and Titan.

Workers at the Canton Nissan factory have become concerned about safety at the factory, a punishing production quota that exacerbates safety problems, a two-tiered wage system that pays temporary workers much less and provides fewer benefit than permanent workers, and the company’s campaign of coercion and intimidation directed at workers who want to form a union.

Workers who have been trying to form a union local of the United Autoworkers (UAW) have seen their safety deteriorate since the plant was opened in 2003.

“People get hurt too often at Nissan and these injuries can rob us of our ability to provide for our families,” said Ernest Whitfield, a 13-year Nissan employee in Canton who attended the Nashville demonstration. “We’re forced to decide if we should work with an injury, or report it and potentially lose our jobs. It strips away your dignity to feel like the company values production numbers more than the safety of the people who make it successful.”

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in July fined Nissan for safety violations at the Canton plant that that caused serious injuries to two workers. According to OSHA, both workers were hospitalized because of falls caused by slip hazards that the company failed to correct. One fall happened in October 2015; the other in February 2016.

At the Nashville demonstration, a delegation delivered a letter to the dealership’s owner from the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a civil rights coalition supporting the Canton Nissan workers.

The letter, signed by Dr. Isiac Jackson, president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi and chairman of MAFFAN, says that despite promises that Nissan would “bring quality jobs to our community for years to come, over time, Nissan has decided to take a different path. Today, the company exploits its predominately African American workforce in a number of ways.”

Speaking at the Nashville demonstration, Vonda McDaniel, president of the local labor council, criticized Nissan for the disparity between what it says are its values and the way that it conducts itself at the Canton plant.

“Nissan spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as a socially responsible car maker,” said McDaniel.. “But the reality is, Nissan is turning a blind eye toward workers’ rights and safety problems at its assembly plants. It’s time for Nissan dealers and customers to recognize that what they’re selling and buying just doesn’t fit the image of what Nissan claims it’s producing.”

Similar demonstrations are planned for Nissan dealerships in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, Charlotte, North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina, New Orleans, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Workers at two Trump hotels settle labor disputes

Union members at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas won their first union contract, and workers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC won the right to conduct an organizing campaign without management interference.

The two separate agreements with the management of the two hotels were announced on December 21.

In Las Vegas food and beverage and housekeepers, who one year ago voted to join UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Local 226, reached an agreement with hotel management on their first union contract that raises wages and provides a pension, health care benefits, and job protections.

“This agreement is the result of tremendous efforts of the parties’ leadership teams. Both the Culinary Union and the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas extend their congratulations to each other and each look forward to a mutually productive and peaceful labor-management partnership,” reads a statement issued by Local 226.

While the statement suggests that the two parties are on the road toward building a mutually respectful relationship, the history of the workers’ struggle for a union suggests that the road to enlightened labor relations at the Trump hotel may be a bit rocky.

Workers at Trump Las Vegas began talking about organizing a union in 2014. That talk quickly became a full-fledged organizing campaign, and for a year, pro-union workers with the help of union organizers talked one-on-one to other workers about the benefits of having a union.

They told their fellow workers about the 35,000 union workers at other Las Vegas hotels who were paid better wages and had pensions, excellent health care benefits, and job protections.

Some union supporters wore buttons to work to express their support for the union.

Management reacted with a campaign of its own. The Trump Las Vegas hotel, which is co-0wned by billionaire Phillip Ruffin, spent $560,000 to prevent workers from organizing a union.

In June 2014, five workers were suspended for wearing union buttons to work and talking to other workers about joining the union.

A year later, they were awarded back pay for lost wages after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that hotel management had violated their right to speak freely about joining a union.

The union filed other charges of unfair labor practices including allegations of physical assaults against union supporters, verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats.

In August 2015, the NLRB ruled that Trump Las Vegas acted illegally to prevent workers from joining a union by suppressing their free speech, illegally interrogating employees, threatening them with reprisals for supporting the union, and in one instance, physically assaulting union supporters.

Things didn’t get any easier after workers voted in December 2015 to join Local 226. Hotel management refused to bargain with the union for a first contract.

Eleven months after the workers voted to unionize, the NLRB ruled that Trump Las Vegas Hotel management violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to bargain with the union

Hotel management reacted by appealing the decision rather than negotiating.

However, management’s attitude toward the union made an abrupt and unexpected about-face, and in December, the two sides announced an agreement on the workers’ first collective bargaining agreement.

The turn around came as President-elect Trump was facing intense scrutiny about his business holdings and the potential conflicts of interest that would exist between those holdings and his responsibilities as President of the United States.

Among the possible conflicts of interest were his shares of ownership in the Trump hotels in Las Vegas and Washington DC that were both subject to unfair labor practices investigations being carried out by the NLRB.

The New York Times reports that Trump and his transition team have been working vigorously to create an image that no conflicts of interest will exist after he becomes President.

To do so they have been trying to resolve some of the most blatant examples of potential conflicts of interest, including Trump’s labor relations problems in Las Vegas and Washington DC.

As a result, the Trump hotels in these two cities moved quickly to settle their labor problems.

In Washington DC that meant reaching an agreement with UNITE HERE Local 25, which has been helping workers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC organize a union.

Local 25 announced that the agreement will allow a union organizing drive to proceed without management interference.

“(The agreement) satisfies the union’s goal to represent and ensure strong working conditions for hospitality workers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area,” said John Boardman, president of Local 25.  “We look forward to pursuing a mutually productive partnership with Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.”

Fight for $15 victory in Minnesota; airport workers choose union

Workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on November 14 became union members.

They joined SEIU Local 26 after a long organizing campaign that grew out of the national Fight for $15 Movement.

“This victory did not come easy, but it was worth the effort,” said Abdi Ali, a cart driver who has worked at the airport for eight years.”We are always there for each other, and now we will finally have a real voice at the airport.”

Ali and the 600 other new union members work for AirServ, a Delta Airline subcontractor. They are baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, cart drivers, wheel chair agents, and other service providers whose work is essential but whose wages are low.

Their organizing campaign began in 2013 at about the same time that low-wage workers across the US were striking and demonstrating for an increase in the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Airport workers in Minnesota took part in the early Fight for $15 street demonstrations. After the street actions were over, they took the fight for $15 to their jobs and began organizing a union.

AirServ workers and other low-wage Minneapolis-St. Paul airport workers demonstrated, picketed, petitioned, and testified for higher wages and better working conditions.

Their organized efforts won paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage for all airport workers. The new airport minimum wage was $10 an hour, $1 above the state’s minimum wage.

Those victories showed the power of collective action, but they fell short of the workers’ ultimate goal–a living wage and an organized voice on the job that could give them a say in determining the terms and conditions of their work.

So, the AirServ workers pressed ahead for union recognition. In June, the workers voted to strike unless the company recognized their union and took steps to improve working conditions.

The strike was averted when AirServ agreed to establish a process that would allow workers to decide whether they wanted to join a union without interference from the company.

But details about how workers would make this decision were left unclear.

For two months, AirServ and negotiators from Local 26 negotiated the details of a fair process.

In August, AirServ workers grew impatient and authorized another strike unless an agreement on a fair process could be reached.

Finally the union and the company agreed that the company would recognize the union if a majority of workers signed union representation cards and a neutral third-party verified the signatures.

In November after the signed authorization cards were verified, the company announced that it would recognize the union.

“I couldn’t be happier than I am today,” said Ali after hearing the news.

The union victory was especially important to Misrak Anbesse, an airplane cleaner and like most of the other AirServe workers is an immigrant from East Africa.

“Winning our union was a big step for us—and for everyone working to raise up people of color and immigrants in Minnesota,” said Anbesse.

“We’re all working together for a better life for our families,” she added.  “I know the community here in Minnesota will keep supporting us as we bargain a good contract and work to raise wages at the airport even more.”

Honeywell workers reject company’s latest offer

After enduring a lockout that has lasted six months, workers at two Honeywell plants in South Bend, Indiana and Green Island, New York, on November 12 rejected the company’s latest contract proposal.

“We’ve been out here for too long to cave for something like this,” said Tom Simpson, a member of UAW Local 9 to the South Bend Tribune.

The lockout began in May when members of Local 9 in South Bend and UAW Local 1508 in Green Island rejected Honeywell’s contract proposal that would have raised health care premiums, raised health care deductibles by as much as 400 percent, frozen pensions, stopped company pension contributions, and given the company complete control of the workers’ health care plan, which meant that the company could impose more benefit reductions without bargaining with the union.

“We’ve got a lot of people that relied on the quality insurance they had,” said Adam Clevenger to Workers Independent News. “And what they want to offer now is gonna just put a burden on those people and what they’ve worked for all these years.”

In its latest proposal to end the lockout, the company offered to limit premium increases to 15 percent per year for the next five years and make contributions to workers’ health savings accounts to offset some of the higher premium costs.

But Honeywell’s proposal still included major reductions to the workers’ health care and pension benefits.

Honeywell is hardly a struggling company that can ill afford to provide quality health care and retirement security to its workers.

It ranks 75th on Fortune’s list of the world’s 500 largest companies.

It employs about 350 production workers at its South Bend and Green Island facilities, where it produces wheels, brakes, and fuel systems for commercial and military aircraft.

But it  is a highly diversified company that owns manufacturing facilities all over the US and the world that produce consumer products, automation and control systems, and other aerospace products.

It even owns a uranium processing plant in Metropolis, Illinois.

It also is a very rich company. According to Bloomberg, with $9.1 billion in cash on hand, “Honeywell International, Inc. has more cash than almost every one of its peers.”

Only General Electric and Boeing have more.

But instead of using a pittance of its pile of cash to maintain quality health care and retirement security for its workers in South Bend and Green Island, Honeywell is looking for other ways to spend its money.

It recently announced that it was raising its annual investor dividend by 12 percent..

It is also about to go on a buying spree. Bloomberg reported in March that Honeywell was planning to spend $10 billion to buy other companies.

In a report to investors, Honeywell said that it had already spent $2.5 billion on new acquisitions and $1.9 billion to repurchase stock from investors.

Meanwhile, its workers in South Bend and Green Island have endured a six-month lockout over what amounts to a tiny fraction of the company’s cash stash.

XPO workers resist anti-union campaign; vote to join Teamsters

XPO Logistics workers in Illinois and Connecticut resisted an intense anti-union campaign and voted in two separate elections to join the Teamsters.

“This is all about us workers standing up to this corporate bully and demanding fair wages, affordable health insurance and an end to the mistreatment,” said Ted Furman an XPO employee at the company’s North Haven, Connecticut warehouse. “XPO’s CEO, Bradley Jacobs, had the audacity to come to our warehouse and tell us we don’t need a union, and then he returned just a couple of days before the election. Well, Mr. Jacobs, we are now proud Teamster members!”

The North Haven warehouse workers on October 13 voted 72-49 to join the Teamsters and became XPO’s first warehouse workers in the US to unionize.

On the same day, XPO drivers in Aurora, Illinois also voted to join Teamsters Local 179.

“Our victory is important to all of us because we have seen how XPO operates since taking over Con-way Freight,” said Cliff Phillips, a driver in Aurora. “XPO is treating us unfairly, denying us any voice on the job and just seems interested in the bottom line. But now we will fight back as Teamsters!”

XPO Logistics is one of the world’s largest transportation and logistics companies. It operates businesses in every link of the supply chain all over the world.

It has been on a buying binge as it tries to capture more of the transportation and logistics market. In 2015, it purchased Con-way Freight, where the Teamsters were conducting an organizing drive.

After the purchase, XPO continued and expanded the anti-union efforts initiated by Con-way.

In Aurora, XPO spent money on a union avoidance company to keep its Aurora site union free.

On the days before the Aurora union vote was taken, consultants from the union avoidance company hopped into the cabs of freight trucks and gave drivers lecutures on the right to work for less by remaining union free.

XPO has used other tactics to prevent workers from joining a union.

In Laredo, Texas, workers at what then was Con-way voted in 2014 to join the Teamsters.

Instead of bargaining with the union, the company went to court to overturn the election.

When XPO bought Con-way, XPO could have withdrawn the challenge and recognized the workers’ union, but the company chose not to.

Unfortunately for XPO, a federal judge in September denied XPO’s request to set aside the Laredo election results.

“The company has tried to do everything to delay and frustrate the workers, but for over two years they have remained strong and united in their fight for a more secure future and a voice on the job,” said Frank Perkins, president of Local 657.

Tyson Johnson, director of the Teamsters Freight Division, urged XPO to halt further efforts to nullify the union vote.

“We demand that the company gets serious about negotiating a contract in Laredo. These workers have waited far too long,” said Johnson.

Shortly after the union victories in Connecticut and Illinois, the Teamsters took advantage of the momentum generated by the pro-union vote and conducted a mass leafletting of XPO work sites.

“The national campaign continues to gain momentum (as). . .workers have realized that the new XPO, which is highly unionized in Europe, needs to be a union employer here in the US, too,” said a posting on the Teamsters XPO Facebook page.

The next union election will take place at an XPO site in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania where 52 drivers will vote on whether to join the Teamsters.

Ryan Janato, an XPO driver in Aurora had a message for the King of Prussia drivers and other XPO workers who want a union voice on the job.

“They said it couldn’t be done. We did it; you can’t be scared of these guys. The union busters come in; they did what they tried to do. It didn’t work. We made a better future for our families and co-workers, and you can do it too. Just believe in your local,” said Janato.

Washington farmworkers vote yes for a union

Farmworkers in the state of Washington have voted to join a union.

In a secret ballot election held on September 12, workers at the Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, Washington voted to join Familas Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ).

“This win is a win for all farmworkers,” said Ramon Torres, president of FUJ. “Now we will be getting ready for a union contract negotiation process.”

Sakuma Brothers Farms is a vertically integrated agribusiness that among other things is a large scale producer of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries on its farms in Washington.

Sakuma sells its berries to Driscoll’s, a global agribusiness that distributes berries to markets all over the world.

The workers at the farm in Burlington are immigrants from Mexico. Most are Triqui and Mixteco indigenous peoples from the state of Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico.

Three years ago they formed FUJ and began organizing to fight for better pay, better working conditions, and better housing in the dilapidated labor camps where many of the workers live while picking berries.

A wage theft suit initiated by FUJ won an $850,000 settlement in which Sakuma agreed to pay workers for unpaid wages.

FUJ’s organizing also won increased wage rates for workers.

However, Sakuma refused to recognize FUJ as the workers’ union and refused to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

To win union recognition, FUJ called for a boycott of berries produced at Sakuma Farms. The main target of the boycott was Driscoll’s, Sakuma’s primary distributor.

Supporters of the boycott established solidarity boycott committees primarily in cities along the West Coast. The committees urged stores such as Costco and Whole Foods to stop selling Driscoll’s berries.

In another act of solidarity, members of the International Longhore Workers Union in July refused to load Driscoll’s berries onto a ship in the Port of Seattle.

In the summer of 2016 when the berry picking season began, things began to heat up in the fields.

On July 20, 200 workers walked off the job in a blueberry field to protest wage rates and the limited number of hours they were allowed to work.

They went back to work the next day without the issues being resolved.

Another walkout took place on August 9 when workers objected to a management decision to lower the blueberry wage rate in a particular field from $0.60 a pound to $0.56 a pound.

At the same time, workers in another blueberry field were being paid $0.77 a pound.

After walking off the job, the blueberry pickers marched to a blackberry field and urged workers there to join the walkout.

Management tried to stop the blueberry workers from talking to the blackberry workers and even threatened to call the police.

After intense discussions between the two sides, management agreed to sit down and talk with representatives from the workers, and the two sides reached an agreement.

The company agreed to raise the wage rate in the blueberry field where the walk out took place to $0.65 per pound if the workers agreed to return to work.

Despite the victory, workers were frustrated by this and other ad hoc agreements with the company. They wanted something in writing that would guarantee fair treatment. In short, they wanted a contract.

Three weeks later, FUJ called for another walkout and urged community supporters to join workers on the picket lines.

When workers in blueberry fields began walking off the job on August 27, they were cheered on by FUJ members and supporters who had gathered on a picket line.

Those who walked out and their supporters marched to other fields and urged more workers to join the strike.

“We don’t walk out of the field because we just feel like it,” said Tomas Ramon, a member of the FUJ coordinating committee. “This is the only way that Sakuma listens to our demands for pay that is fair for our labor. That is why we need a union contract, so we can work and not to be calling for work stoppages in order to get a fair wage.”

After the walkout, Sakuma’s management sat down with leaders of FUJ for more talks. As a result, the two sides agreed to hold a secret-ballot union representation election on September 12 in which farmworkers would vote on whether to join FUJ.

In return, FUJ agreed to end the boycott.

During most of the organizing drive, Sakuma’s management contended that only a small percentage of farmworkers supported FUJ.

But when the ballots were counted, 77 percent voted to join FUJ.

“We want to thank all our supporters that helped made this victory happen,” said Felimon Pineda, vice president of FUJ. “We are looking forward to a new and productive relationship with Sakuma.”

Strike at IKEA store in Massachusetts

Workers at the Stoughton, Massachusetts IKEA store on November 16 held a one-day strike after IKEA management refused to recognize their union.

“Instead of doing what’s right, IKEA has chosen to fight hard-working employees,” said Chris DeAngelo, one of the striking workers. “That is wrong. All we want is the chance to earn a better life. We wish IKEA would honor its own policy and respect workers’ rights.”

The strike took place in the store’s Good Flow In Department, the department responsible for implementing IKEA’s business strategy of getting goods from suppliers to store shelves as quickly as possible.

As a result of the strike, newly arrived goods remained unloaded in trucks outside the store.

In a media release, the workers’ union, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCU), said that the strike shut down normal store operations.

The strike began Monday morning at 2:00 A.M. when the workers walked off their jobs and began picketing the store.

The previous week, workers in the Good Flow In department presented a union authorization petition signed by 75 percent of the department’s 33 workers and requested that management recognize their union and bargain collectively.

At that point, IKEA could have acknowledged that an overwhelming majority of the department’s workers wanted a union and wanted to bargain collectively over wages and working conditions.

Instead, the company refused, sparking the strike,

IKEA, a company based in Sweden with stores and distribution centers all over the world, promotes itself as a socially responsible corporation committed to social and environmental justice.

IKEA’s internal code of conduct states that employees have the right join a union of their choice and bargain collectively, but IKEA management in Stoughton has actively worked to prevent workers from joining a union.

“The (strike action) highlights a failure to follow IKEA Group policies, which explicitly state support for the right of workers to bargain collectively and join a union of their choice in the company’s internal code of conduct,” said UFCW’s media statement.

IKEA’s anti-union actions began almost as soon as the workers began talking about forming a union.

In June, the National Labor Relations board charged IKEA with interfering with the Stoughton workers organizing attempts.

“My co-workers and I came together to make IKEA better because we love our jobs and we believe in the company’s values,” said IKEA worker Nancy Goetz in June after the NLRB charged IKEA. “In other countries, IKEA works collaboratively with the workers’ unions to solve problems. I never thought that IKEA would allow supervisors to intimidate and interrogate us. I expected more from IKEA. I expected that my rights would be respected.”

In October, the NLRB reached a settlement with IKEA that required the company to post information on the store’s premises informing workers of their right to join a union.

One of the grievances that led to the union organizing campaign is the lack of  job security at the store.

“I’ve been here for two years, and I’ve seen them fire a lot of people for no reason,” said Veronica Cabral to the Brockton Enterprise. “I want job security because I have a family to take care of.”

Workers consider the company’s arbitrary attendance policy that does little to recognize family and life commitments outside of work as the main culprit for the many unfair firings at the store.

Shawn Morrison told the Enterprise that minor violations of the attendance policy can easily mount up and lead to a worker being fined.

To make matters worse, a fired worker has no right to appeal the firing even if it is capricious and without merit.

The Stoughton IKEA workers are the first workers at an IKEA store in the US to join a union.

Workers at IKEA’s furniture plant in Danville, Virginia and at two IKEA distribution centers–one in Perryville, Maryland and the other in Savannah, Georgia–have joined the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Truthout reports that workers IKEA stores in College Park, Maryland and Seattle, Washington are also trying to form unions and that in response to these organizing drives, IKEA has hired Jackson Lewis, the most prominent union avoidance firm in the US.

Strikers: “We want a better life;” raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour

Thousands of fast food, home care, and other low-wage workers in 270 cities across the US on November 10 joined the largest unfair labor practices strike yet in the campaign to increase the US minimum wage to $15 an hour.

They were joined by FedEx workers, Las Vegas parking valets, short-haul truck drivers at ports, and many other who support a living wage paycheck for all.

In Oakland, California, strikers and their supporters chanted, “We want a better life,” which succinctly expressed the desires of the strikers and the motivation behind the Fight for $15 movement whose growing momentum has vaulted it into a national political issue.

Speakers at rallies supporting the strike described the Fight for $15 as a civil rights issue, and at several rallies, speakers talked about the connections between the Fight for $15 and the Black Lives Matter and the immigrant rights movements.

In Milwaukee, Fight for $15 strikers and their supporters were joined by Black Lives Matter and Voces de la Frontera Action, an immigrants rights group, in a march to and rally at the Republican  presidential debate. A banner at the front of the march, expressed the solidarity of the marchers. It read,

FIGHT FOR $15

BLACK LIVES MATTER

IMMIGRANT JUSTICE

“What you saw last night was three of the most important social movements in this country coming together into one movement that puts forward a common agenda and a vision of hope, ” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action, in a statement issued the day after the march and rally.

Fight for $15 organizers see the successful strike and the attention that it gathered as an important step toward politicizing the fight for a decent minimum wage.

A banner at the top of the Fight for $15 website has this message for federal, state, and local candidates running in an election: “Come get my vote.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for President, got the message.

Sanders spoke at a rally of federal contract workers. These low-wage workers, who clean federal buildings and work in the dining facilities that feed US House members and senators,  joined the nationwide Fight for $15 strike and have been engaged in an ongoing effort to organize a union.

“People in this country who work 40 hours a week deserve a living wage,” said Sanders to the strikers as he held an umbrella to keep the rain off his head. “And workers all over this country deserve the right to organize a union.”

In California, supporters of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour took another step toward making the fight a political movement.

On November 9, the day before the Fight for $15 strike, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced that it had gathered 500,000 signatures on a petition for a ballot initiative that will give California voters a chance to decide whether to make $15 an hour the state’s minimum wage.

In order to qualify for a ballot initiative, the petition needed 350,000 signatures of registered voters.

“Public support for this initiative is overwhelming because people know you simply can’t live in California on $19,000 a year, and they want to create a path to a better life for all low-wage workers and their families,” said Martha Alvarez, a certified nursing assistant and member of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West.

Minimum wage workers, weren’t the only ones to join the Fight for $15 strike.

FedEx workers in Gardenia, California on November staged a one-day unfair labor practices strike to push for their own demands for union recognition by FedEx.

US Uncut reports that the strike interrupted delivery service in the South San Francisco Bay Area.

The Gardenia FedEx workers were joined by other FedEx workers and others who are seeking to join the Teamsters union.

The Teamsters expressed the union’s support for all workers fighting for better wages and working conditions.

“The Teamsters joined with thousands of truck drivers, valet attendants and low-wage workers across the country today in a day of action to raise awareness about the sorry state of wages and benefits for millions of everyday Americans on the job,” said the Teamsters in a statement about the day of action.

The union’s statement of support for those fighting for a decent wage said that if workers want fair wages, they need to join a union.

“The Labor Department’s own statistics prove why joining a union is important,” said the Teamsters.” The median union worker earns more than $200 a week . . . than a non-union one. That’s why the Teamsters have stressed the importance of labor union membership in our recent “Let’s Get America Working!” campaign.

NLRB rules Tucson taxi drivers are employees not independent contractors

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director has ruled that Tucson, Arizona Yellow Cab taxi drivers are employees rather than independent contractors and that a union representation election at Yellow Cab can move forward.

NLRB Region 28 Director Cornele Overstreet reversed a decision he made in 2013 in which he ruled that the Tuscon taxi drivers were independent contractors.

Overstreet wrote that he reversed himself after the NLRB reviewed his original decision and remanded the case to him for further review in light of the Board’s 2014 ruling in the FedEx Home Delivery case that “refined (the NLRB’s) approach for assessing independent contractor status.”

I have concluded that the drivers in the petitioned-for unit are statutory employees and are not independent contractors. Accordingly, I shall direct an election in the petitioned-for unit,” writes Overstreet.

Back in 2013, the Tucson Hacks Association (THA) petitioned the NLRB for a union election at Yellow Cab. When Overstreet denied the association’s petition, it requested a review by the NLRB.

When the NLRB agreed to review the original decision, THA turned to the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) for assistance.

OPEIU, which represents 4000 taxi drivers in Las Vegas and San Diego, provided attorneys who argued THA’s case before the NLRB.

Mel Schwarzwald, OPEIU’s general counsel said that the new ruling will have a far-reaching impact beyond Tucson.

“We believe that it means a great deal not only to these drivers but to many cab drivers across the country,” said Schwarzwald to Workers Independent News. “What the regional director has done is said that taxicab drivers are really employees, rather than independent contractors.”

Overstreet wrote that the NLRB’s refined test for determining independent contractor status requires that “empirical considerations should predominate over a surface reading of the bare terms of a contractual arrangement.”

The director noted that Tucson Yellow Cab drivers sign a contract in which their status is defined as an independent contractor, but that for a worker to be a truly independent contractor, the worker must have “actual entrepreneurial opportunity for loss or gain.”

When looking at the facts of the case, Overstreet determined that the drivers’ entrepreneurial opportunity was greatly restricted.

For example, Yellow Cab fired one taxi driver who set up his own dispatch system to service his personal clientele of about 100 regular riders even though the company encourages them to build personal clientele.

Overstreet also noted that the drivers have little control over setting rates for the service they provide and the hours that they work.

“Economic realities dictate their schedules,” writes Overstreet. “Drivers must work 60-119 hours a week to cover the cost of (leasing their cab) and expenses.”

Drivers also have little control of the dispatch system. According to Overstreet, the dispatch system is like a game of roulette over which drivers have little control.

“The Employer like the proverbial house, controls and benefits from the game by controlling the parameters.”

Driver pay, the amount left over after the driver pays to lease the cab and other expenses including fuel, is determined by the company.

Cab leases typically cost between $90 and $105 a day. Weekend lease rates increase to as high as $150 a day. Discounts are available for 12-hour leases and for new drivers.

Overstreet estimates that gross pay not including tips ranges between $12 an hour and $2 to $3 an hour. The estimated hourly wage for most drivers is somewhere in the middle of this wide spectrum.

Drivers pay the full amount of the Social Security tax if they want to be eligible to draw Social Security and the full amount of any health insurance they might purchase.

Both the THA and OPEIU are anticipating that a union election will be held soon, and in an open letter to fellow taxi drivers, Robert Aros, co-chair of THA, explained the benefits of unionizing.

“In 1982, when I started working as a cab driver, we were unionized,” said Aros. “We were paid by commission, worked eight hours a day, and had complete benefits. As independent contractors what have we gained? More importantly, what have we lost?”

He also emphasizes the precarious nature of the drivers’ present status. If they get hurt on the job, there’s no Workers Compensation; there’s no grievance procedure; and there’s no earnings guarantee.

“How many hours do you have to work just to live at subsistence level? Do you even make minimum wage?” he asks his fellow drivers.

The company may ask the NLRB to review Overstreet’s decision, and if it does, the union election could be delayed.

But Schwarzwald told Workers Independent News that he believes “there should be a vote fairly soon.”

More adjunct faculty vote to join unions

Adjunct faculty at two universities in September voted to join two different unions. At another university, a union election has been delayed by the lockout of government employees who supervise union representation elections.

Adjuncts at Duquesne University’s McNulty College voted 50-9 to join the United Steelworkers (USW); however, the university has said that it will not recognize the union pending its appeal of an earlier ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

By a vote of 128-57, adjunct faculty at Tufts University in the Boston area voted to join SEIU, and they expect to begin negotiating a new contract soon.

Instructors at Bentley University near Boston also voted in a union representation election. Their ballots were supposed to be counted on October 4. But the shutdown of the federal government has caused staff at the NLRB who would normally count the ballots to be locked out.

After instructors at Duquesne petitioned for a union election, administrators appealed to the NLRB seeking to stop the election from proceeding arguing that the school’s affiliation with the Catholic Church exempted it from US labor laws. The NLRB denied the appeal, but the university has continued to press its case for an exemption on religious grounds.

The university’s case was undercut recently by the Association of Pittsburg Priests. The association on October 8 published a letter in the Pittsburg Post Gazette reaffirming its support for the adjuncts’ effort to seek a living wage and to organize a union.

“We believe that it is both appropriate and necessary to question and challenge recent assertions by Duquesne University that it should be granted a ‘religious exemption’, from the sanction and procedures of US labor law in order to block adjunct teaching faculty’s ability to organize, form a union, and collectively bargain,” reads the letter.

The challenges facing part-time faculty at Duquesne were driven home by the recent death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, who taught French at Duquesne.

After teaching for 25 years, Vojtko’s contract was not renewed last spring.

She died on September 1 of a heart attack. At the time of her death Vojtko was 83 years old and living in poverty.

The situation for adjuncts at Tufts is not nearly as drastic as their counterparts at Duquesne.

Their pay is higher than most adjuncts, and they have some health care benefits.

But they still face job insecurity, and the Tufts administration has been seeking takeaways.

Their pay has been frozen since 2008, and the university has changed their pay structure.

Andy Klatt, a Spanish instructor at Tufts told Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Education that the organizing drive was a defensive move.

“The university has already started taking things away from us,” said Klatt to Flaherty. “We’re  relatively better off than others, but there certainly seems to be a desire on  the part of the university to cut us down to size.”

Flaherty reports that when bargaining begins, the union will seek more job security, a raise, and equitable pay per course.

Tufts joins a number of urban based institutions of higher learning where adjuncts have voted to join SEIU.

Their effort is part of SEIU’s metro strategy, which seeks to use the power of already existing SEIU locals in metropolitan areas such as Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington DC to attract and organize adjuncts in their respective areas.

SEIU created Adjunct Action to carry out the metro strategy.

Bentley University is another of the institutions where Adjunct Action’s campaign has taken hold.

Adjuncts last spring petitioned for a union election because like other adjuncts across the country they don’t know from semester to semester whether they will have work or if they do, how much work they will have.

Bentley adjuncts also want better pay and affordable health care. Adjunct faculty have access to the university’s health plan, but Bentley doesn’t pay anything for the premiums.

“Better pay, benefits, and job security for adjuncts will directly transfer to a rising quality of education for our student body,” said Elaine Saunders, an instructor to The Vanguard, the Bentley student newspaper. “Also, we have had support from full-time faculty who care about the disparity because they know we are equally dedicated to our students.”

Voting on union representation began in September, but  since 1,600 NLRB staff have been forced off the job by federal government shutdown, ballots have not been counted.

More short-haul port drivers go on strike, seek union membership

About 30 low-wage short-haul drivers at the Port of Los Angeles on August 26 became yet another of a growing group of low-wage workers to go on strike.

Drivers for Green Fleet Systems (GFS) went on a one-day unfair labor practices strike to protest intimidation and harassment by their employer. The strikers said that the company is trying to thwart their attempt to join the Teamsters.

The strikers received support from other workers all over the US, including a group of GFS short-haul drivers in Savannah, Georgia, who are fighting their misclassification as contract employees.

“For too long port drivers have been treated unfairly, and it is time to take a stand,” said Randy Carmack, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42 and secretary-treasurer of Local 63.

Teamsters Local 848 has been assisting GFS workers in their organizing campaign. Teamsters Local 728 has been helping the GFS workers in Savannah.

“These giant corporations must stop exploiting these workers and cease their intimidation tactics,” added Carmack. “Everyone deserves respect on the job and an opportunity to provide for their families.”

GFS told the Los Angeles Times that it pays some of the highest wages in the industry.

But the short-haul industry is notoriously low-paying.

According to Marketplace, “studies show that port drivers earn an average of $28,000 a year,” well below the $74,605 annual salary the Economic Policy Institute estimates is needed for “a secure yet modest living standard” in the Los Angeles area.

Low wages aren’t the only problem motivating GFS short-haul drivers to organize.

“In the past, GFS management had been very racist towards many of us,” said Francisco Valencia a 12-year veteran port driver who has been with GFS for four years. “They screamed at us and humiliated us in front of everyone. The working conditions and the way that we are treated is not just. We deserve to be treated as human beings.”

Valencia like many of the port drivers is an immigrant. Valencia was born in El Salvador.

In response to he drivers’ organizing campaign, GFS has mounted an anti-union counter-offensive.

The company’s actions caused workers to file unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board. According to the charges, GFS has asked employees to sign an anti-union petition, offered workers wage increases for opposing the unionization effort, and interrogated them about union activities.

If GFS workers win their union organizing drive, they will become the second group of short-haul drivers at the Port of Los Angeles to unionize.

Last year, drivers for Toll Group voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters, and earlier this year, they signed their first collective bargaining agreement.

The GFS drivers in Los Angeles work directly for the company and therefore have the right to join a union and bargain collectively, but most port drivers are classified as contract employees and are denied that right by law.

Many of these drivers say that they’ve been misclassified and should be treated as company employees rather than as contract employees.

One such group of drivers work for GFS in Savannah. When GFS drivers in Los Angeles went on strike, 130 Port of Savannah GFS drivers signed a letter that was sent to a company manager asserting their solidarity with the striking GFS drivers on the West Coast.

In the letter, the workers described their own treatment by the company as similar to that of sharecroppers.

“We are fighting misclassification because all port drivers should have the same rights,” reads the letter. “Port drivers in Savannah are sick and tired of being treated like modern day sharecroppers, just on wheels. This must end and that is why we support Green Fleet drivers who are organizing in Los Angeles.”

The Savannah workers ended their letter by pointing to the similarities between themselves and the GFS drivers in Los Angeles and expressing support for their unionization drive.

“Drivers at Green Fleet Systems have been unfairly treated, harassed, interrogated and intimidated because they are coming together to form their union,” reads the letter. “We call on Green Fleet to stop mistreating its drivers in Los Angeles and respect their right to form a union.”

Austin taxi drivers join AFL-CIO

The Taxi Drivers Association of Austin (TDAA)  announced recently that it has received a charter from the National Taxi Worker Alliance, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. The Austin taxi drivers are classified as independent contractors and thus are barred from engaging in collective bargaining, but they think that joining organized labor will give them added strength in their collective effort to fight for better pay, benefits, and job security.

“The bare minimum protections required for a taxi driver to have a dignified life are not available to us today because of the economic instability we work under,” said Merga Gemada, vice president of TDAA at a press conference announcing the group’s affiliation with the AFL-CIO. “At the same time, drivers are not covered by workers’ comp or disability and have no insurance to protect themselves in the case of an accident. Today’s affiliation is also the launch for the TDAA’s campaign for economic rights and dignity, in which drivers are demanding greater job security and a safety net against their precarious working conditions.”

A report issued in 2010 by Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid describes in detail just how precarious it is being a taxi driver in Austin. According to the report, the average taxi driver in Austin earns about $200 a week before taxes, $90 a week less than a Texas minimum wage worker who works 40 hours a week.

But taxi drivers work an average of 12 hours a day, six and one-half days a week, and 51 1/2 weeks a year.

Because they are classified as independent contractors, they have no company sponsored health care or pension benefits.

They must also compete against unregulated transportation options such as the numerous pedicabs in downtown Austin, and Super Shuttle, which drives people to the airport.

Taxi drivers have few if any protections against unfair personnel actions such as the termination of their contracts with Austin’s three cab companies.

Even though TDAA can’t bargain collectively, it has been standing up the rights of taxi drivers especially in dealing with the City of Austin, which regulates the cab companies. Through various forms of collective action TDAA has won a minimum fare from the airport, stopped an effort to impose a maximum fare from the airport, and increased the number of cab stands in downtown Austin.

TDAA has also won the right to represent taxi drivers at the Austin transportation department and to have presence a various stakeholder meetings where transportation issues are discussed and plans developed.

TDAA has been opposing plans supported by the cab companies to increase the number of taxi licenses in the city. Doing so would increase cab company profits but lower pay for those already working as taxi drivers.

Taxi drivers in Austin are largely immigrants, trying to eke out a living in a city where the cost of living has been rising rapidly.

By granting them their union charter, the AFL-CIO has recognizes that their effort to improve their conditions through collective action is an important form of struggle to improve the lives of working people even though it does not conform to the traditional collective bargaining paradigm.

By joining the National Taxi Workers Alliance, TDAA becomes part of family that includes taxi workers in New York and Philadelphia.