Tense U.S. labor market strikes for more wages

Oct. 18 (Reuters) – Thousands of workers remain on strike across the United States demanding higher wages and better conditions despite Hollywood makeup artists and cameramen reached a deal over the weekend to avoid a walkout , and the tight job market has only emboldened them.

Kevin Bradshaw is an employee of the Kellogg Co (KN) grain plant in Memphis, Tennessee, where most of North America’s Frosted Flakes are made. He feels anything but thrilled at the cuts in health coverage, retirement benefits and vacation that union officials are asking about 1,400 workers on strike since Oct. 5 at factories in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Canada. Tennessee.

“Enough is enough,” said Bradshaw, vice president of Local 252G of the International Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union at the Memphis plant. “We cannot afford to keep giving to a company that has achieved record financial returns.”

Some 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers in movies and TV shows on Saturday avoided joining Kellogg strikers, but the near strike was the latest show of force from union members who say they are fed up with the increases meager or zero and other returns. Kellogg officials could not be reached for comment, but said the company’s compensation was among the best in the industry.

Union activists complain that while many of their members were deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis, this has not been reflected in the way they are treated by employers. With a White House administration they see as sympathetic and a labor market that saw a record number of Americans resign in August, unions are ready to test corporate resolve.

So far, at least 176 strikes have been launched this year, including 17 in October, according to Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker.

“The workers are on strike for a better deal and a better life,” Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest union federation, told a conference on journalism in the country last week. SABEW.

“The pandemic has really exposed the inequalities in our system and workers are refusing to return to shitty jobs that put their health at risk,” she added, noting that the term #Striketober was buzzing on Twitter .

Despite a few setbacks, including a failed organizing campaign earlier this year at an Amazon.com (AMZN.O) site outside of Birmingham, Alabama, union leaders believe the stars are aligned so that they are making gains.

“We have entered a new era in labor relations,” said Harley Shaiken, professor emeritus of labor at the University of California, Berkeley. “The workers feel like they are in control and there is a lot of lost ground to be made up.”

“What we are seeing is a fight to come back or at least stay in the middle class,” he said.


Union membership has declined steadily over the past decades, falling to less than 11% of employed Americans in 2020 from 20% in 1983, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Healthcare workers take part in a strike to protest against working conditions in hospitals amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, United States on October 4, 2021. REUTERS / Lindsay DeDario

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However, 68% of Americans now approve of unions, the highest proportion since 1965, according to a Gallup poll in August, and that rate climbs to nearly 78% for 18-29 year olds.

The widely held view among organizers that President Joe Biden is the most pro-union president of modern times helps fuel the hopes of union leaders. In April, the Democrat created a task force to promote the organization of work.

Two months earlier, he had defended workers’ rights to form unions in the run-up to the failed attempt to organize Amazon workers in Alabama. The teamsters are committed to continuing to try to organize the company’s warehouse operations.

Further setbacks for the unions were recorded in Beaumont, Texas, where Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) locked out 650 workers at its refinery and an adjacent plant in May after a local union of United Steelworkers refused to submit a contract proposal. Union leaders have scheduled a vote on the contract for Tuesday, but urged members to reject it.

Exxon said the lockout was necessary to avoid the disruption of a possible strike and that the seniority changes it wants to impose were necessary to ensure profitability. Meanwhile, some union members have decided to withdraw their union certification.

In some industries, discontent has been striking: 90% of hourly workers at Deere & Co (DE.N), represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW), rejected the company’s contract offer last week and went on strike.

The 10,000 workers at the largest farm equipment maker are looking for higher wages and pension benefits, or, as Mitchell Smith, UAW Region 8 director, “said,” a better piece of the pie. .

Deere declined to comment, but after UAW members voted in favor of the strike, the company said it wanted to maintain its employees’ position as the highest paid in the industry.

Workers behind the scenes in Hollywood, represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Employees (IATSE), had called for reduced working hours, more rest periods, meal breaks and wage increases for those who are at the bottom of the salary scale.

As Hollywood workers avoided a strike, the picket lines could become even more crowded.

More than 28,000 healthcare workers at 13 Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Southern California and hundreds of medical centers voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to authorize a strike. They want more salaries and higher staffing levels to reduce the burnout made worse by the pandemic.

This demand is echoed by nearly 2,000 healthcare workers who have been on strike since October 1 in Buffalo, New York.

“We have been working short-term at Mercy for five years,” said Kathy Kelly, a 38-year nurse at Mercy Hospital in the Catholic Health Care System, during the picket hiatus. ” Enough is enough. We can’t give that much. “

Report by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston, Julia Love and Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Kannaki Deka in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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