Brothers and Sisters, as we step into 2022, I am optimistic for an incredible year to come. Looking around our industry, I see opportunities unlike anything I have seen in my career. Across our jurisdiction, Local 150 members worked solid hours last year, and it is hard to see that going anywhere but up this year.
The week before Christmas, District 1’s out-of-work list was around 100. Those of you who have been around awhile know that is remarkably low for this time of year. Even in years where the snow doesn’t fly early, work slows down sooner than Christmas.
We have infrastructure work booming across our area, and with massive federal spending coming in, our concern is going to be manning all of these projects. Therein lies one of the most exciting opportunities of all for a lifelong organizer.
In almost every area that we have any level of non-union competition, we will find ourselves short of operators. A lot of small non-union startups are built around only one or two decent operators, and if those operators can be convinced to try working for a union company for a big bump in wages, what happens to the non-union company? We know what happens, and that is the kind of scenario that organizers dream about.
With this opportunity, we also need to be vigilant in ensuring that every operator around us has a union card. When it gets hard to find qualified workers, employers will get a little creative. Don’t be shy when it comes to carding another operator. Have your card out when you approach him or her, introduce yourself, and ask to see their card. Any good union member will appreciate what you’re doing, and if you catch a non-bargaining unit member working, you will have put a Brother or Sister member to work.
Based on the things that I have seen over the past few months, I am convinced that the pandemic has given workers and unions the opportunity to make the kind of gains nationally that we haven’t achieved in generations. Workers are no longer blind to the fact that our labor is valuable, and if we withhold our labor, companies can’t stay open. As labor legend Big Bill Haywood said, “If workers are organized, all they have to do is put their hands in their pockets and they have got the capitalist class whipped.”
At Starbucks, a well-liked employee at a Buffalo shop was treated with cruelty when she was too sick to continue working, and her coworkers were upset enough to join her in the first successful union election at a Starbucks. That’s one shop out of 9,000; but there are votes outstanding at two other Buffalo locations and election petitions filed in Boston and Knoxville, with more sure to come.
John Deere employees opened “Striketober” with more than 10,000 employees hitting picket lines across Illinois and Iowa. Communities rallied around them, bringing food and coffee to picket lines in support of what they were trying to achieve. After just over a month, they accomplished their goals, including larger wage increases and the protection of their employer-paid healthcare. Some people complain that things like employerpaid healthcare are relics of the past. Only for those who aren’t willing to fight for them.
When striking Kellogg’s employees voted down a proposal last month, the company said it would permanently replace them. Hackers sabotaged their online job application form, consumers boycotted their products, and President Biden spoke out against Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s learned the hard way that workers are more than just a commodity. You can’t run a business with just anybody off the street, and if you treat your workers like dogs, American shoppers are increasingly likely to leave your wares sitting on the shelf.
Strikes work best when companies can’t keep doing business as usual, and that usually takes a combination of action from the workers and support from the customers that keep that company running. The fact that we have continued to see this happening is exciting. We have what we need to make some real gains, and now we just need to keep the momentum going.
Employers and politicians don’t give us what we want because they like us. I mean, as nice a guy as my mother will tell you that I am, the only language these people understand is pressure. When Kellogg’s can’t sell Pop-Tarts and it hits their bottom line, someone at the top steps in to fix the problem. Similarly, when Nabisco relocates plants to Mexico and its remaining American workforce hits the streets, it scrambles back to the table to minimize the damage.
In Washington, the national labor movement has been pushing the PRO Act to solve the decline of union density. We know who will vote for it and who won’t, and unfortunately we don’t have enough to get it done. The solution is not to keep asking, but to make them vote for it or to present an alternative that is a hell of a lot worse for opponents than a friendly little piece of legislation.
I have always been blessed to be a part of the Local 150 family, because this union has never twiddled its thumbs waiting for riches to rain from the sky. We hold up our end of the bargain by being the best, and then we go out and get what we are worth. When someone doesn’t agree, we never back down from a fight. Local 150 members don’t have the best contracts in the country for no reason. Anyone who knows us knows that we don’t take no for an answer, and we fight smart.
In Illinois, this year will be the push for the Workers’ Rights Amendment (WRA), which is like a local PRO Act. It will protect the rights to bargain and organize in Illinois’ Constitution and ban laws that neighboring states have used to beat workers down. If labor can’t get it done in Washington, we will show them how to get it done in Illinois. And like everything else that we have, we will need to fight for it. That will mean each member pushing everybody they know to get out and vote for it. Supporting workers is popular in every part of America right now, so all we have to do is get the word out.
My sincere wish is that 2022 will be an even better year than 2021 was for you and your families. More work, more good health, and more reasons to be optimistic for the future. For the labor movement, I hope that we will continue what we started last year. While I like a single coffee shop voting in a union, I like massive strikes covering thousands of workers even more. American workers have got some catching up to do. Better pay, more affordable insurance, and more respect in every workplace. This year, more than any other year in memory, all the pieces are there to make it happen. So let’s go get it, and support everybody who is out there fighting for a better deal, and we will look back on this year as the start of something transformational.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall.