Small Victories Point to Labor Revival Across Country
The President is at Johnson Controls in Holland, Michigan today, touring a high-tech battery production plant. It’s the kind of project that has engendered a revitalization in Michigan in manufacturing, where jobs with a living wage are popping up, jobs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as promote economic expansion.
One of the other bright spots for the economy in recent weeks has been a spate of labor victories, in blue-collar and white-collar professions. From organizing writers in cable television at the WGA East to warehouse workers at an Ikea plant in Virginia, to sales clerks at H&M stores in New York, to the solidarity in walkouts at Hyatt in Chicago and Verizon wireline workers throughout the Northeast, there is a small labor revival going on. And with new NLRB rules on union elections, which will hopefully reduce intimidation and speed the election process, we could see more victories in the future.
This is positive not only from a political context, but it has clear economic benefits. Inequality clearly spikes when union density is lower, and wages suffer as well. So while I’m not sure you’ll ever see union density in America at the levels of the 1950s and 1960s, any improvement on this front is positive. Especially during a time when workers have suffered attacks on their right to organize.
Perhaps the best example of this is the odyssey at Honeywell, which ended after a 13-month lockout.
After being locked out of their jobs for the last thirteen months, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-699, which represents 228 workers at Honeywell’s uranium enrichment facility in Metropolis, Illinois, agreed to a three-year contract that would return them to work. The contract was ratified by a vote of 113-75 last week.
The new agreement resists all the major issues that Honeywell sought to include such as increasing health care cost for current workers and eliminating health care for retirees. Workers will receive a one percent wage increase in the first year of the contract and a two percent increase in the second year.
However the contract does switch new hires to a different type of pension system, known as a shared equity pension, which will likely over the long run earn new hires significantly less than the defined pension currently enjoyed by union workers. Also, the new contract changes seniority for workers bidding for jobs in other departments, but does not change the way the seniority system functions during layoffs […]
After a day-long debate and vote at the union hall on August 2, USW Local 7-669 President Darrell Lillie said the membership approved the agreement, including a separate back-to-work provision. He declared: “We fought one day longer on all the core issues and won them to our satisfaction. All of us who were locked out by Honeywell in June of last year who want to go back to work are doing so with union pride, a union contract and union solidarity.”
Honeywell wanted to bust this union. They didn’t want it to exist anymore. Through perseverance and persistence, these labor activists didn’t get everything they wanted, but they stuck together and kept the union alive. They should be commended for doing their part to ensure the American dream for all citizens.