It’s Labor’s Moment

President, James Slevin

Baseball players in the minor leagues, retail workers at REI in Cleveland, Starbucks baristas across the country, school bus manufacturers in the South and strippers in California recently secured big organizing wins that will build their power and secure better benefits and safer working conditions. These groups of workers – in roles, industries or regions we don’t typically associate with being unionized – demonstrate an evolution in the labor movement and what it means to be a union member.

In more good news about how unions are embracing our differences and expanding: over the past few years, several professional athletes’ unions including the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), National Women’s Soccer League Players Association (NWSLPA) and Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) joined the AFL-CIO. This is a testament to the federation’s leverage as a voice for all working people.

Besides these and other organizing wins and the expansion of the AFL-CIO, the other feather in labor’s cap is working people successfully elected the most pro-labor president in a generation. That means a Biden Administration-lead Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and other federal agencies are looking out for working people, not looking to cut them off at the knees at every turn, like the previous administration.

In short, the labor movement is having a moment. More people want in on leveraging their collective power and we have some high-ranking elected officials who are willing to partner as we all work to advance our goals together. We at UWUA can leverage our own strength and capitalize on this moment.

It’s good timing that UWUA’s 32nd Constitutional Convention convenes this year, following this good news and an overall surge in union petitions. From October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, union petitions went up by a remarkable 57%.

This convention is a chance to hear from some of those at the Starbucks Workers Union, MLBPA, and WNBPA about how we can learn from their struggles and hard-fought victories. These organizations are behind some of the most exciting organizing wins of late that represent breakthroughs in their industries.

For example, the MLBPA announced in March that minor league players ratified their new CBA, securing big wins for the players including retroactive pay for exhibition play, medical and pension provisions and a 401(k) plan for players.

If you’re skeptical about what utility workers might have in common with Starbucks baristas or with professional athletes, I think you’ll be surprised to see we have more in common than you think. Growth across the labor movement and generally increased awareness about the benefits of organizing will spill over into our industries.

Speaking of organizing in our industries, you may have heard about some of UWUA’s recent organizing wins including in the hard-to-organize states of Georgia and Kentucky. We also organized our first group of members working in renewable energy at DTE in Michigan.

In April, UWUA held one of the largest and most widely attended organizing trainings in recent memory in Roswell, NM. The training – which you can read more about in this issue – armed members with the skills to help organize their unorganized colleagues and facilitate a successful organizing campaign. Let’s put our heads together to determine how UWUA can do more of these trainings that lead to even more organizing wins.

To be clear, I’m not pollyannish about where we’re at. Both the UWUA and the larger labor movement have a way to go before we can get back robust organizing and membership numbers. But all that we’re up against has never stopped us from taking on Goliath-size challenges before.

Over four days of the convention, we have an opportunity to reset and refocus our mission so that it reflects the ways the labor movement is evolving and the needs of UWUA members today.

Let’s take this chance to look beyond our own personal struggles and the struggles we face within our locals or companies. Let’s take this moment to better understand the fights other working people face. Learning, understanding and empathizing with others makes us better allies and more empowered members of the labor movement. We are the future of labor and I look forward to coming together very soon to determine UWUA’s future together.