Workers’ Resistance Bulletin: October 8

Labor Shortages Plague Health Care, Education as Workers Quit in Droves

Across the country, tens of thousands of educators and health care workers are quitting their jobs, citing poor pay, burnout, and overwork. Many workers have explained that although these issues have been intensified by the pandemic, they have been present in the health care and education sectors for decades.

According to the Morning Consult survey, around 18% of pre-pandemic health care workers have left the profession, while another 12% have been laid off. This has exacerbated already-dire staffing shortages in hospitals nationwide, and leaves remaining nurses, doctors, and other hospital workers even more overworked and overwhelmed. One health care worker surveyed stated, “Sometimes I find myself running a building completely to myself with 47 residents.” These conditions are behind the many strikes, walkouts, protests, and other actions health care workers are carrying out across the country.

While data on teachers is less comprehensive, the data that does exist shows a dramatic rise in resignations and early retirements in schools across the country. Schools outside of Detroit and districts in Kentucky were even temporarily closed or went fully remote when they could not fill teaching vacancies, while cities like Providence, Rhode Island report that 10% of their teachers have left the district, and states like Florida report a 67% rise in teacher vacancies in schools statewide.

IATSE Members Vote to Authorize First Nationwide Strike in Union’s History

This week, 36 locals of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) voted almost unanimously to authorize a strike during their current contract negotiations with the country’s largest movie and television production companies. These 36 locals, which all work under the IATSE’s current “Basic Agreement” with monopoly media production companies, represent in total roughly 53,000 technicians, construction workers, engineers, craftspeople, costumers, and other tradespeople in the production of films, television shows, and other media across the country.

Joining the wave of worker mobilizations surging across the country, it is first time the union has ever voted to authorize a strike since its 1893 founding. The authorization occurs as production companies have refused to respond to the union’s latest proposals regarding better working conditions and pay for their membership.

Oregon Health Care Workers Conduct Two-Day Strike to Protest Outsourcing, Staffing Issues

Health care workers including custodians, nursing assistants, pharmacy technicians, and other hospital support staff carried out a two-day strike this Tuesday and Wednesday at the McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield, Oregon to fight for safer and better working conditions amid contract negotiations. The hospital is one of two for-profit hospitals in the state and is managed by Tennessee-based health care corporation Quorum Health Corp.

The specific grievances of the striking workers include understaffed and overworked floor shifts, poor pay, and a lack of good-faith bargaining on the part of hospital administration. One worker criticized the hospital’s treatment of workers, saying to the local ABC affiliate, “It’s sad to see that people who have worked here for 20, 30, 40 years are treated like they are forgotten.”

Instead of agreeing to the workers’ demands to improve poor working conditions, which workers say are causing many to leave the hospital to work elsewhere, the hospital plans to outsource around 100 jobs to a non-union staffing company based in Texas.

Nurses, Lower-Paid Health Care Workers Lead in Buffalo Hospital Strike

The strike of over 2,000 health care workers at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York entered its eighth day today as workers continue to struggle with health care corporation Catholic Health over key demands such as lower nurse-to-patient ratios and better wages for the hospital’s lowest-paid workers.

While the environmental staff at Mercy Hospital are expected to perform such duties as the cleanup of blood and human waste, many are paid less than $14 an hour, less than the starting salaries of workers at Buffalo-area franchises of fast food companies like McDonalds and Tim Hortons. One long-term custodian described the conditions to Buffalo News: “When I get my paycheck, I can barely pay or I have just enough to pay the bill, and then nothing left for me. That’s sad. I feel like we shouldn’t have to live like that or think like that, when you’re working in an environment like this.”

Janitors at Denver International Airport Stage Walkout for Better Pay

After voting overwhelmingly to authorize a strike on September 29, 350 janitorial staff at Denver international Airport staged a one-day walkout last Friday to demand better wages for their labor. The strike took place after workers rejected employer Flagship Aviation Services’ final offer made during their ongoing contract negotiations, with 99% of Service Employees International Union Local 105 members voting in favor of the one-day strike. While the airport is municipally run, the city of Denver subcontracts out much of the day-to-day operations to private companies like Flagship Aviation Services.

The janitors claim that the amount they are currently paid, $17 an hour, does not come close to compensating them for the amount of work they do. The airport is also currently understaffed, which the workers blame on the low pay and long hours. “We don’t have enough people because we don’t get a fair wage,” one veteran janitor, who has worked 18 years at the airport, told the local Fox affiliate.

Bay Area Hospital Workers Stage Five-Day Strike over Understaffing, Working Conditions

Health care workers at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, California went on strike this Monday as part of their struggle against understaffing as well as unfair and dangerous working conditions at the hospital. While Sutter Health brought scab workers en masse this week to replace the striking health care workers, the strike is only scheduled to last five days and will end this Saturday morning at 5 a.m.

The striking workers said that staffing shortages pre-dated the pandemic, and were due to poor hospital management, over-scheduling, and ill treatment of staff. One emergency room technician interviewed by Bay Area News described the dire situation: “We’re drowning. … There’s just not enough staff. … We can’t give adequate care. We feel like management is ignoring our concerns and is leaving us to fend for ourselves. We can’t do it all anymore.”

Kentucky Bus Drivers Picket School Board

Bus drivers in Bullitt County, Kentucky picketed in front of the Board of Education last Friday, as workers consider going on strike if their demands are not met. The workers drive dangerously overcrowded buses for low pay, averaging around $9 per hour, and receive virtually no protection from the financial effects of contracting COVID-19. Drivers who get sick with the virus receive little assistance from the Board of Education, and are forced to either use their sick days or receive no pay.

Nichole Marshall told the Bullitt County School Board at a public meeting, “We’re ready to leave if something doesn’t happen before fall break. You might not have enough drivers left to drive [students] to school.”

Chipotle Workers in Queens Walk Out, Strike

Restaurant workers at a Chipotle in Queens, New York City walked off the job and went on strike last Friday after their employer failed to communicate with them in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida last month. The workers were not informed when they could return to work for a week, and as a result lost a week’s wages. The workers formed a picket line outside the Queens Center Mall in response.

Roger Meza, a striking worker, told amNY Metro: “I’ve been working for Chipotle for seven years now and, after all this time, I feel like Chipotle doesn’t care about workers. They say they care, but they don’t really. Chipotle just wants to maximize profits and when an emergency like this happens, they just want to get the most bang for their buck, instead of taking care of us like they should.”

Barboursville Machinists Strike for Fair Contractor

Fifty machinists and foundry workers at Sulzer Pumps in Barboursville, West Virginia went on strike last Thursday after their contract expired. The workers, represented by Machinists Union Local 598 (District 54), rejected their employer’s final contract offer because it attacked seniority rights, which allow long-time employees a variety of benefits.

Workers at All US Kellogg’s Cereal Plants Strike

1,400 workers at all of Kellogg’s cereal production plants are on strike despite the company’s threats to outsource their jobs to Mexico. The workers are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM), and are striking in Omaha, Nebraska; Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee.

The workers went on strike after the breakdown of year-long negotiations between the company and the union. Among the workers’ grievances are low wages resulting from a two-tier employment system, threats to outsource their jobs, inadequate heath care and retirement benefits, as well as the elimination of holiday and vacation pay. Bryon Leche, an electrician at the Battle Creek plant, told the local NBC affiliate: “Some people at the plant don’t have a scheduled day off for the entire year. We’re not willing to accept that anymore. So we’re going to stand up for our transitional employees at the plant that deserve better.”

El Milagro Workers Protest Again Despite Retaliation

Workers at the El Milagro tortilla factories in Chicago, Illinois protested again last Thursday with significant community support after the company failed to meet a deadline for negotiations set by the workers. The only communication that workers have received from management are two letters attached to their paychecks, which denied the existence of unfair pay and sexual harassment, and accused the workers of trying to hurt the company. Workers also received a letter threatening termination if they decide to strike.

Heaven Hill Distillery Workers Still On Strike

Over 400 distillery workers in Bardstown, Kentucky have been on strike for more than 3 weeks, fighting for higher wages, overtime pay, and reduced health care costs. The workers have held their picket line without insurance or any income from their employer. The company has also sent the striking workers a misleading letter, insinuating that their grievances are based on a misunderstanding, in an attempt to persuade them to accept the previously rejected contract. Workers have stated that they will continue to strike until they receive a better contract.

Redbank Valley Teachers Continue Strike

Redbank Valley teachers in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania have been on strike since September 13, after going over 800 days without a contract. The contract proposed by the Redbank School Board would freeze pay for two years and increase the cost of health care. If the strike does not end before October 19, both the teachers’ union and the school district will be forced into mandatory arbitration with the state.

Madison Moore, a recent graduate of Redbank Valley High School, told Explore Clarion: “For over 800 days, the teachers have worked in good faith without a contract and have tried to negotiate a fair contract that’s acceptable for both sides. The board insists since it’s their final offer, it must be accepted. This is not how good faith negotiations happen.”

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