We’re halfway through 2023, and so far it’s lived up to experts’ predictions of being one of the most active years for labor strikes in recent memory. Below is a round-up of some of this year’s most significant strikes and strike authorizations.
LAUSD Teachers’ Strike
In late March, workers for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second largest public school system, embarked on a three-day strike hoping to secure pay increases as the cost of living in Southern California rapidly outpaced their wages.
The worker’s efforts were ultimately successful. In April, LAUSD ratified a contract negotiated with the teachers’ union, UTLA, that raises teachers’ pay by 21% over the course of three years, bringing the average LAUSD teacher salary to $106,000 by 2025. The agreement also included salary increases for LAUSD’s nurses, mental health workers, and special education teachers, along with promises to reduce class sizes. More than 94% of the 27,171 ballots cast by UTLA members were in favor of the new contract.
Hollywood Writers’ Strike
On May 2, the membership of the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA), a union representing approximately 11,500 Hollywood writers, went on strike. Hollywood writers are fighting against numerous trends in the entertainment industry that have caused their pay and job security to decline significantly over the past decade while industry profits have ballooned, particularly for the likes of streaming companies such as Netflix, which reported a $5.6 billion operating profit for 2022.
The writer’s strike is still ongoing with no end in sight. Highly anticipated TV projects such as “Stranger Things” and a “Game of Thrones” spinoff have been delayed and other major series are expected to be postponed. Beyond the changes Americans may see on their television screens, the strike also figures to have significant consequences for the economy at-large. The last writers’ strike in 2008 cost the California economy $2.1 billion as writers and countless other workers that support the entertainment industry– designers, electricians, grips, and restaurant workers – felt the crunch of the work stoppage.
UNITE HERE Local 11 Strike Authorization
On June 9, members of UNITE HERE Local 11, a union representing service and hospitality workers across the American Southwest, overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. The union could now call for 15,000 of its members across dozens of Southern California hotels to strike. Doing so would amount to the largest industry wide strike in U.S. history.
The top priority for the hotel workers is securing higher wages to combat the persistent rising cost of living in Southern California. Even though Hotel profits in Los Angeles and Orange County now exceed their pre-pandemic levels, the workers that form the backbone of their operations still struggle to make ends meet.
A strike may take place as early as July 4th weekend.
Teukolsky Law commends workers for the gains they’ve made this year and recognizes them for the courage it takes to put themselves on the picket line.
Last week, UNITE HERE Local 11, a union that represents service and hospitality workers across the American Southwest, asked 15,000 of its southern California members to vote on a strike authorization. Workers overwhelmingly voted to authorize the strike, with 96% of Local 11 members voting in favor. The strike authorization is a significant step towards convincing the region’s hotel operators to consider pay increases for their workers, many of which struggle to make ends meet.
Local 11’s move comes less than a month before 62 of its contracts with Southern California hotels are set to expire. For months, the union and hotels have attempted to negotiate new agreements but have failed to reach a consensus on Local 11’s proposals, including pay increases for its members and other provisions meant to address employees’ healthcare, pensions, work eligibility, and issues related to understaffing.
As California has emerged from the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism industries have roared back, with visitor spending expected to set new records in 2023. However, the workers that form the backbone of the two industries have largely not reaped the rewards of rebound. Rent hikes and increased living costs continue to force many hotel workers out of their homes while their employers fail to address persistently low wages.
Teukolsky Law stands in solidarity with Southern California’s hotel workers and commends the work Local 11 is doing to ensure workers are fairly compensated and protected heading into the summer.
NLRB levels Complaint Against USC, Pac-12, and NCAA, bringing a multibillion-dollar enterprise one step close to unionization.
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleged in a complaint that the University of Southern California (USC), the Pac-12, and the National Collegiate Athletics Associations (NCAA) are joint employers and willfully misclassify their football players, men’s basketball players, and women’s basketball players as “non-employee student athletes” to discourage them from engaging in protected activities such as unionization. The complaint calls for USC, the Pac-12, and the NCAA to reclassify those athletes as “employees” in their handbooks and rules.
The employment-status of college athletes is the most pressing issue facing the world of college sports and threatens to upend the foundation of the multibillion-dollar industry. For decades, the NCAA has argued that amateurism - a model in which college athletes get 0% of the revenue generated by their sports – was necessary to maintain the value and integrity of college athletics.
However, as coaching salaries have ballooned and TV deals for college sports approach nearly $10 billion, the amateurism model is increasingly seen as exploitative and has come under increasing scrutiny, leading some experts to expect the model to collapse under mounting pressure in federal courts and state legislatures.
If the NCAA’s amateurism model were to collapse, whether due to the aforementioned pressures or NLRB complaints, the repercussions would be monumental, prompting questions of how to compensate over 500,000 NCAA athletes, 85% of which live below the poverty line.
According to the NLRB’s complaint, a hearing on their case is scheduled for November 7, 2023, in Los Angeles.
San Bernardino Amazon workers walk off the job, demanding higher pay and improved working conditions
On Monday, August 15, dozens of San Bernardino Amazon warehouse workers at the company’s largest air freight facility on the West Coast walked off the job, seeking higher pay and safer working conditions. The work stoppage is the product of months of organizing by an independent group of warehouse workers called Inland Empire Amazon Workers United. The group has received organizing assistance from the Warehouse Worker Resource Center (WWRC) and Teamsters Local 1932, two local labor organizations.
This past July, members of the independent warehouse workers group delivered a petition with more than 800 signatures to the air hub’s management. The petition outlined how average rent prices in San Bernardino would require a full-time Amazon air hub worker earning a starting wage of $17 an hour to pay roughly 75 percent of their monthly income post-taxes on rent.
Workers at the San Bernardino facility have also expressed concern about brutal working conditions caused by excessive heat, especially during the summer months when temperatures at the airport regularly reach 95 degrees.
The walkout is part of a broader wave of labor organizing campaigns across the country at Amazon warehouses. In April, employees at a massive Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted by a wide margin to form a union, the first successful unionization attempt by Amazon workers in the company’s history. Since then, at least two other Amazon facilities have either held a vote to form a union or are nearing a vote. San Bernardino workers who participated in the stoppage on Monday don’t have immediate plans to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board, but said they would consider filing for a formal election in the future.
Teukolsky Law stands in solidarity with the brave warehouse workers in San Bernardino who are willing to put their jobs on the line to improve working conditions and wages not only for themselves, but for all of their fellow workers. If you are an Amazon worker who has been treated unlawfully at work, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
Though we are only three months into 2022, thousands of workers across the country have already taken significant steps towards securing improved working conditions, higher wages, and greater corporate commitments to their general well-being. Below are some organizing achievements by workers this year that we would like to take a moment to highlight:
Amazon: On Friday, April 1, employees at a massive Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted by a wide margin to form a union. The vote marked the first successful unionization attempt by Amazon workers in the company’s history. Some commentators view the vote as milestone event that might signal a turning point in workers’ organizing efforts against Amazon, a company many union leaders regard as an existential threat to labor standards.
Starbucks. Since February of this year, seven Starbucks locations – two in Mesa, AZ, three in Buffalo, NY, one in Seattle, WA, and one in Knoxville, TN – have voted to unionize, bringing the total number locations that have voted to unionize to nine. Starbucks employees have cited low wages, lackluster benefits, staffing shortages, and unrealistic performance metrics as the main drivers for unionization. Since the first Starbucks locations voted to unionize in December 2021, approximately 160 Starbucks locations have filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize.
Chevron Corporation: In March, employees at a Chevron Corporation oil refinery in Richmond, CA went on strike. The strike came after the company’s contract with the United Steelworkers Local 5 union expired the previous month. Workers in Richmond are demanding higher wages and staffing improvements, both of which have become increasingly urgent as inflation soars and some Chevron employees feel obligated to work 70 hour weeks to make ends meet.
Kellogg: After 1,400 Kellogg workers went on strike in 2021, workers at a Kellogg’s plant that makes Cheez-its won a new contract that included a 15 % wage increase. According to the workers’ union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, it is the largest wage increase employees at the location have ever seen.
Warrior Met Coal: Nearly 1,000 coal miners in Brookwood, AL, remain on strike in what has become one of the longest coal mine strikes in American history. The miners have been on strike since, April 1, 2021, and are demanding that their wages be restored to the levels they were at prior to Warrior Met Coal’s 2015 bankruptcy. They are also fighting for improved workplace protections, such as excused absences for family emergencies. Warrior Met Coal recently reported its most profitable quarter in three years and said it was hiring new workers during the strike.
We commend the work of Union Organizers and employees who continue to work tirelessly towards a brighter future for workers. Even though the union membership rate declined in 2021, three months into 2022, the prospects for the American labor movement looks very bright.
From today until March 26, members of seven local grocery store unions across Southern California will vote to determine whether they will go on strike. The vote comes after negotiations between union leaders and the owners of Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/ Pavilions failed to lead to a new contract with better wages and benefits for workers. The vote also comes after United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) locals filed unfair labor practice charges against the companies for interfering with employees for engaging in union activity and refusing to disclose information requested by the locals in order to bargain for their members’ contracts.
Union leaders are fighting on behalf of approximately 60,000 Southern California grocery store workers to secure higher wages. Following a pandemic that led to a financial windfall for large grocery store chains, many workers still find themselves struggling to make ends meet, often making little more than the minimum wage and suffering from food insecurity as the cost of living in California continues to get more expensive.
In addition to fighting for higher wages, union leaders are also working towards increasing the minimum number of hours that part-time workers can be scheduled and securing language that protects workers from being kept after their scheduled hours. Workers also want better safety for both workers and customers in terms of COVID protocols, and staffing increases to offset the shortages they faced during the pandemic.
The results of the vote are expected to be announced on Sunday. The vote will not necessarily result in a strike, though it does give union leaders the right to call a strike if an agreement with grocery store companies cannot be reached.
Teukolsky Law commends the brave and difficult work of UFCW and hopes to see an agreement advancing grocery workers’ well-being and dignity reached soon.
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.