Labor Struggles – Where’s Our Contract?

Labor Struggles – Where’s Our Contract?

by Cindy Cole

Over the past few years labor unions organizing successes have been in the news.  But some big companies have used fierce union busting tactics, like firing workers who organize, requiring captive audience anti-union meetings, threats to shut down a worksite and more to fight this trend. Despite that, the independent Amazon Labor Union has been able to organize several Amazon warehouses.  Also, Starbucks workers have organized 21 cafés in the last few years.  However, over a year after the success of these organizing drives neither union has been able to secure a first contract. We need to look at the right to collective bargaining as a two-step process: 1) organizing a union and 2) negotiating a contract. The workers are at a strong disadvantage at the second step. 

Without a negotiated contract, workers are not guaranteed higher wages, health benefits, good working conditions, retirement plans, or a grievance procedure.

Refusing to negotiate is a tactic that has been used over and over by employers. When collective bargaining became legal through the Wagner Act, passed by Congress, and signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on July 5, 1935, General Motors, the nation’s largest company at the time, refused to negotiate. The union, organized by the United Auto Workers, had to use a more militant tactic. The Flint Sit Down Strike of late 1936 through 1937, where union members took over factories, brought GM to the table. It was a months-long fight involving thousands of workers, police, and the national guard. The wives of the strikers brought them food so they could survive. It was tense and sometimes violent on both sides.

Jane McAlevey, a union organizer, writes that what new and established labor unions need to recognize is that “high energy organizing” never stops.  This includes high participation by workers in a transparent negotiating process and when a contract is secured be assured, she writes, that the employer will set out to violate it. Workers need to fight back collectively and not leave it just to their lawyers. Unions and their communities need to win real improvements that will propel more workers to take the risk of unionizing.