The last month has been action-packed for organized labor in the US. From the football field to the classroom, unions have been flexing their muscles to preserve themselves in this era of widespread budget cuts and contraction. Here’s a sampling of what’s been going on:
You may not have realized it, but if you work in downtown Boston you were mere hours away from a world of overflowing trash bins and uncomfortably sticky floors this week.
In the wee hours of October 1, a strike of 14,000 janitors represented by SEIU Local 615 was averted. While hundreds of the union rank-and-file held a candlelight vigil in East Boston that Sunday night—expecting that the next day they’d be walking a picket line—union reps were busy hashing out a last-minute deal with the Maintenance Contractors of New England.
The deal contained major concessions to the union, particularly over opportunities for full-time employment. Currently, about 70 percent of Local 615’s janitors work part-time hours. In the new contract, 680 full-time positions will be created in the next four years, and any new building of 450,000 square feet or more in the Boston area will be staffed full time.
The union also won concessions on personal days and legal recourse for poor working conditions. Not only will the janitors of Local 615 earn one personal day per year for the first time, but the Maintenance Contractors agreed to create a watchdog organization to “investigate and abolish illegal and unfair employment practices in the janitorial industry.”
OUT OF THE RINK AND INTO THE STREETS!
In the big, wide—and often overlooked—world of professional hockey, a lockout of National Hockey League players is currently cutting into the regular season, which was supposed to start on October 11. The NHL has already canceled the entire preseason, after the 2004-05 collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) expired.
At issue are a number of givebacks team owners have requested the NHLPA accept in their new contract. These include a decrease in the money players receive from Hockey Related Revenue, a five-year cap on contracts, and changes to eligibility for unrestricted free agency, moves that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman claims would save the league up to $465 million.
Many forecasters are predicting, however, that Bettman would rather get repeatedly cross-checked by Patrice Bergeron than let the lockout cancel another regular season, like it did during the 2004-05 lockout.
Granted, this doesn’t exactly have the markings of a Marxist fairy tale. Like their counterparts in the NFL, professional hockey players regularly pull down high six- and seven-figure salaries, and many have supplemented their income by playing in the American Hockey League and European leagues during the preseason lockout.
SCHOOL’S OUT FOR … THE WEEK
The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) began a strike on September 10, which ran through September 18 and saw 26,000 teachers walk off the job. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the Board of Education squared off for over a week with the teachers over pay increases, access to arts programs at schools in low-income areas, and the role of test scores in evaluating teachers.
Ultimately, the union received major parts of what it wanted, including a 4.4 percent average annual pay increase and the hiring of 512 new arts and music teachers, while capitulating to demands by the city for increased class sizes and an increase in test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations. Throughout the strike the CTU saw a massive outpouring of solidarity from other unions and activists, as well as an outpouring of derision from conservative pundits and local media outlets like the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.
Those in the latter category have criticized the teachers’ union for asking too much from its already cash-strapped district. Moody’s, a leading bond-rating agency, downgraded the Chicago BoE’s debt from A1 to A2 on September 27, citing debt added by concessions to the teachers’ union as a factor in its decision.
Replacement Refs Suck
If you’re a football fan, you know the deal already—you probably spent much of September staring at the television with an unholy mix of terrible wonder and facepalming disdain.
The collective bargaining agreement that the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) held with the NFL only lasted through the 2011 season. For the new contract, the NFL asked—among other things—for the refs to switch retirement plans, take on new personnel and accept smaller-than-desired annual salary increases. Rather than finish negotiations with the NFLRA, the NFL began to hire replacements in June, drawing mostly from college and high school league, effectively beginning a lockout of the NFL refs.
Players, commentators, and even President Obama voiced their concerns about not only the potential for bad calls, but players’ safety. But it wasn’t until week three of the season, when a (*cough*) disputed, game-changing touchdown in the last second of a Packers-Seahawks game forced the league to respond to the public and offer the NFLRA major concessions.
The union ratified its new contract on September 29 in a 112-5 vote.