Over the Last Week, At Least 85,000 Workers Were Out on 13 Different Strikes

Michael Arria

Striking teachers, school staff, and supporters march through downtown Chicago on the ninth day of the Chicago Teachers Union strike on October 25, 2019. (Photo by Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Accord­ing to the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics, 485,000 U.S. work­ers were involved in strikes and lock­outs dur­ing 2018. That’s the high­est num­ber since 1986. The data for 2019 won’t be released until 2020, but there’s a good chance that num­ber will be exceed­ed, a point dri­ven home by the fact that, over the last week, at least 85,000 work­ers par­tic­i­pat­ed in 13 dif­fer­ent strikes across the Unit­ed States.

The crest of the strike wave has pri­mar­i­ly been rid­den by school work­ers. About 26,000 Chica­go teach­ers have now been on strike for 12 days, demand­ing that May­or Lori Light­foot be held account­able for her cam­paign promise to bol­ster sup­port staff and decrease class size. The work stop­page has now last­ed longer than the Chica­go Teach­ers Union (CTU) 2012 strike, which end­ed up spark­ing its own strike wave.

Hun­dreds of CTU mem­bers showed up for the Wis­con­sin upris­ing of 2010,” Chica­go activist and strik­ing teacher Ken­zo Shi­ba­ta told In These Times. We learned what was pos­si­ble and we con­tin­ued orga­niz­ing for our 2012 strike. Edu­ca­tors in West Vir­ginia, Los Ange­les, Okla­homa and Ari­zona cit­ed us as inspi­ra­tion for their strikes. The Sol­i­dar­i­ty is con­ta­gious. They’ve passed back that inspi­ra­tion and we’re here as a boost of momen­tum to this teacher strike wave.”

On Octo­ber 17, about 8,000 CPS staff work­ers in the city also went on strike, rep­re­sent­ed by SEIU Local 73, with union lead­ers reach­ing a ten­ta­tive agree­ment with the city on Octo­ber 27, which mem­bers still have to vote on. Work­ers are not back at school, how­ev­er, as CPS remains shut down by the CTU strike.

In a show of sol­i­dar­i­ty, the local Team­sters union is refus­ing to cross the pick­et lines to make deliv­er­ies. We stand behind the teach­ers union 100% and believe they should fight for every form of ben­e­fits and relief for the chil­dren they are seek­ing,” Team­sters Local 705 offi­cial Juan Cam­pos told the Chica­go Tribune.

In Men­do­ta, Illi­nois, about 2 hours away from Chica­go, 76 ele­men­tary school teach­ers went on strike Octo­ber 16, look­ing for wages that are com­pa­ra­ble to their neigh­bor­ing dis­tricts. Class­es resumed Octo­ber 28 after mem­bers of the Men­do­ta Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion rat­i­fied an agreement.

In Ded­ham, Mass­a­chu­setts, hun­dreds of teach­ers dealt the state its first teach­ers’ strike in 12 years, vot­ing on Octo­ber 24 to approve a walk­out by a vote of 258 – 2. Teach­ers walked out the next day in defi­ance of a state order, as it’s actu­al­ly ille­gal for pub­lic employ­ees to strike in Mass­a­chu­setts. The teach­ers had been work­ing with­out a con­tract for over a year — and had attempt­ed to nego­ti­ate one for almost two. They were look­ing for stronger health insur­ance and a con­tract that address­es sex­u­al harassment. 

Right now there is a move­ment of work­ers across the coun­try who are tak­ing back their pow­er at a scale we have not seen in recent mem­o­ry,” tweet­ed Inde­pen­dent Ver­mont Sen­a­tor and pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Bernie Sanders on Octo­ber 25. I stand with edu­ca­tors in Ded­ham, Mass­a­chu­setts. This takes courage.”

On Octo­ber 27, it was announced that a ten­ta­tive deal had been reached, and school resumed the next day. Details of the new agree­ment have not yet been released.

The teach­ers’ strike wave is also hit­ting the West Coast. On Octo­ber 21, dozens of teach­ers called out sick in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia — some of them doing so as part of wild­cat strike that was unau­tho­rized by their union, the Berke­ley Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers. The teach­ers have been work­ing on an expired con­tract since the sum­mer. It was good old-fash­ioned orga­niz­ing. It hap­pened through the whis­per net­work,” his­to­ry teacher Alice Bynum told a local paper. They’re back at work now.

The cur­rent strike wave is cer­tain­ly not lim­it­ed to teach­ers. About two dozen san­i­ta­tion work­ers for Repub­lic Ser­vices in Marsh­field, Mass­a­chu­setts, have been on strike since August 29. They’re demand­ing afford­able health care and a liv­ing wage. Team­sters 25, the union that rep­re­sents the employ­ees, cites Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute data which shows that the work­ers with one child are mak­ing 40% less than the state’s liv­ing wage. Repub­lic Ser­vices’ biggest sin­gle share­hold­er is bil­lion­aire Bill Gates, who makes $100 mil­lion annu­al­ly off div­i­dends from his shares. Last month, two dozen of the strik­ing work­ers protest­ed out­side of a Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion gala in New York City, hold­ing signs that read, Bill Gates treats kids like trash.” Strik­ing employ­ee Bernard Egan-Mul­li­gan told New York Dai­ly News, We’re here because Bill Gates is a 32% stock­hold­er in our com­pa­ny. We fig­ure our share­hold­ers would like to know what’s going on.”

The work­ers have now extend­ed the strike into Indi­ana, as more than 70 Repub­lic work­ers in Evans­ville have joined the pick­et line.

At least 50 bus dri­vers in north­ern Vir­ginia, rep­re­sent­ed by Amal­ga­mat­ed Tran­sit Union Local 689, are on strike in response to their garage being pri­va­tized as some of their ser­vices are now being con­tract­ed out. They’ve been fight­ing for a new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment for months. 

Around 1,700 ASAR­CO cop­per work­ers are on strike in Ari­zona, angry about pen­sion freezes, health insur­ance costs, and a lack of rais­es. For the past nine years, these work­ers haven’t seen a pay raise,” Team­sters Local 104 sec­re­tary-trea­sur­er Kar­la Schu­mann told NPR. They’re work­ing in some of the most dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous con­di­tions out there, and it’s just unfath­omable and unten­able to do that to these guys.”

Rough­ly 75 work­ers at the lux­u­ry Bat­tery Wharf Hotel in Boston are also on strike. UNITE HERE Local 26, who rep­re­sents the work­ers, says its mem­bers are look­ing for high­er wages, bet­ter pen­sions, pro­tec­tion for immi­grant employ­ees, and sex­u­al harass­ment pre­ven­tion. Ear­li­er this month, the Eng­lish singer-song­writer and activist Bil­ly Bragg head­lined a ral­ly in sup­port of the work­ers. The strike at the Bat­tery Wharf Hotel goes to the very heart of the prob­lems in our soci­ety,” Bragg told Boston Mag­a­zine. Work­ing peo­ple feel they no longer have any agency over their lives.”

About 700 Ser­vice work­ers in San­ta Clara Coun­ty, Cal­i­for­nia have been on strike since Octo­ber 2. SEIU 521 filed more than 15 com­plaints of unfair labor prac­tices lead­ing up to the strike. In addi­tion to com­plaints about poor work­ing con­di­tions, employ­ees are upset with the deci­sion to move the San Jose Fam­i­ly Resource Cen­ter, as well as an alleged­ly unsafe envi­ron­ment for chil­dren at the Receiv­ing, Assess­ment and Intake Center.

On Octo­ber 27, more than 50 fast food work­ers at Oregon’s Burg­erville chain end­ed a 4‑day strike after the com­pa­ny agreed to con­tin­ue nego­ti­a­tions with the employ­ees. The work­ers have been agi­tat­ing for a liv­ing wage for the last 18 months.

The longest auto work­ers strike in 50 year just end­ed with 49,000 Unit­ed Auto Work­ers (UAW) mem­bers return­ing to Gen­er­al Motors on Octo­ber 26. The employ­ees were able to secure small rais­es, par­tial­ly phase out a two-tier” wage struc­ture, and win a bet­ter process for tem­po­rary work­ers to become per­ma­nent, but poten­tial fall­out and fur­ther unrest looms as the agree­ment includes plans to close down three factories.

Tim O’Hara is Pres­i­dent of UAW Local 1112, where the Lord­stown, Ohio plant is set to close. He told the local news that he felt betrayed by the vote. We just want­ed them to remem­ber that what hap­pened to us can hap­pen to them cause there’s noth­ing in this con­tract that stops GM from show­ing up unan­nounced at their plant the Mon­day after Thanks­giv­ing — for exam­ple, like they did to us — and telling them they’re done,” he said.

The new Gen­er­al Motors con­tract was announced just a day after over 3,600 UAW-rep­re­sent­ed work­ers at Mack Trucks end­ed a two-week strike as a result of a ten­ta­tive agree­ment being reached.

More work stop­pages could be on the hori­zon. Teach­ing assis­tants in Decatur, Illi­nois are set to strike for a new con­tract. About 4,000 men­tal health clin­i­cians across 100 Kaiser Per­ma­nente facil­i­ties could go on strike in Novem­ber over staffing short­ages, and the Lit­tle Rock Edu­ca­tors Asso­ci­a­tion has set up a fund in the event of a col­lec­tive job action.” At a recent meet­ing, Lit­tle Rock Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Tere­sa Knapp Gor­don said teach­ers didn’t want to strike, but they were pre­pared for any­thing if their cur­rent con­tract is allowed to expire. That’s the last thing we want to do,” she said, But you can bet your bot­tom dol­lar that if that is what it takes to make sure our chil­dren are pro­tect­ed, then that’s what we will do.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. cor­re­spon­dent for Mon­doweiss. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @michaelarria.
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