Fortunately for Local 400 member Eric Jarrett, that wasn’t the end of the story.
Eric works as an overnight stocker at Safeway #1019 in Alexandria, Virginia. His store is one of the few locations that is supposed to be open 24 hours.
But one night, Eric was instructed to close the store when there was no cashier on duty. Even though he was following instructions, Eric’s manager suspended him and one of his coworkers.
“You have to have at least one checker in the store for it to stay open,” Eric said. “But the guy who normally does the job had hurt his shoulder and was home for two weeks. So the store had to be closed occasionally because we had no checker or because the floors had to be waxed. The store manager knew all about it. When customers started complaining, instead of accepting responsibility, they blamed it another stocker and me. But I am in no position to close the store. I wasn’t the one who decided to do it.”
Eric didn’t take this sitting down. He worked with his union representative and immediately filed a grievance and pursued it aggressively.
“I was out of work for three and a half weeks,” Eric said. “Tom [Rogers, his Local 400 representative] spoke on my behalf and did a marvelous job of getting me reinstated as fast as he could. I was impatient and apprehensive, but Tom calmed me down. He knew what he was doing and reached a good settlement.”
Eric was reinstated and awarded full back pay for the time of his suspension and justice was served.
“I’m good where I’m at right now, but as far as I’m concerned, Safeway owes me [and my coworker] an apology for throwing us under the bus,” Eric said. “Safeway used to be a good company, but they don’t care about their employees, only the bottom line. They’re making lots of money in my store, but they keep cutting back hours and running on a skeleton crew. This company can’t run by itself — they need us. I’m just thankful our union’s got our backs.”
An overwhelmingly non-union electorate voted in favor of unions. What does that portend?
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A sign against Proposition A in Kansas City, Missouri, on August 1, 2018
Union supporters were able to rest easy on the primary night of Tuesday, August 7. Early in the evening, news outlets reported that the “right to work” initiative on the ballot was trailing badly, and many counties where it was expected to fail hadn’t yet tallied their votes.
Yet something extraordinary awaited those who put off sleep. As the night crept on, and the precinct results poured in, what looked initially like a solid labor victory turned into an absolute rout. In the end, two-thirds of Missouri voters rejected Proposition A, the state’s “right to work” bill, sinking it by a 67 percent to 33 percent margin.
The last time a “right to work” measure was on the ballot in Missouri was 40 years ago. Union supporters beat back that initiative in 1978 by a decisive 20 points.
The 1978 result might not have surprised many at the time. Back in the late 1970s, nearly one out of every four workers in Missouri belonged to a labor union, and union members and their leaders are always the core constituency opposing “right to work” campaigns.
With roughly a fourth of the workforce organized, another large fraction of the state’s electorate was married to, otherwise related to, or neighbors with a union member. They likely heard from members what researchers have found in studies of “right to work”: that the passage of these laws leads to declines in union memberships—an outcome, of course, that is a core motivation for “right to work” backers.
Declining union memberships, meanwhile, have their own set of consequences, none of them positive from the perspective of average workers.
Declining union memberships, meanwhile, have their own set of consequences, none of them positive from the perspective of average workers.A growing body of scholarshipfinds that membership declines are associated with lower pay and worse benefits, not only for formerly organized workers but also for non-union workers who benefit from a strong union presence.
That matters, because even at the peak of labor movement membership in both the United States and Missouri, the majority of workers weren’t unionized.
Patrick Denice and I have some forthcoming research which finds that non-union, private-sector workers—that is, the majority of the workforce—would earn substantially more if unions were as strong today as they were in the late 1970s. Among non-union men working full-time in the private sector, we find that annual pay would be approximately $3,170 higher had unionization rates not tumbled from the 1970s on. Among non-union, full-time women workers in the private sector, annual wages would be $935 higher absent union decline.
These positive “spillover” effects are especially large in occupations where organized labor still retains a sizable presence in Missouri, like construction. A typical construction worker in the state earns $24 an hour, $7 more than the state’s median hourly wage. Had Proposition A passed, a predictable consequence would have been a reduction in the number of unionized construction workers, and with that, lower pay for union and non-union construction workers alike.
Outside of construction and a handful of other industries, the story for unions in Missouri has been bleak. Today, fewer than one in ten workers belongs to a union; the private-sector rate is 7.5 percent, just one point higher than the national average.
The decimation of organized labor in Missouri since the last time “right to work” was on the ballot makes the defeat of Proposition A all the more surprising—and, perhaps, important. It is one thing to vote down an anti-union measure when a sizable fraction of the electorate belongs to or is closely related to someone in a union. It is another thing altogether to do so when few workers have any direct or indirect experience with organized labor. In the end, four times as many Missourians voted against the measure as there are union members in the entire state. Opposition to the measure crossed party lines as well. Early calculations suggest as many as half of the Republican voters rejected Proposition A.
The hundreds of thousands of non-union voters who voted against Proposition A provide the real story of labor’s large win in Missouri. Contrary to conventional wisdom, unions are increasingly popular, surprisingly so given all the negative press and political hits they have taken over recent years. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, more than 60 percent of U.S. adults approve of labor unions. Far more Americans say unions should have more influence in this country rather than less. Younger Americans, in particular, approve of what unions do: Two-thirds of those aged 18 to 34 support them.
A recent survey by a team of researchers at MIT provides union leaders and union supporters even more grounds for optimism. The researchers asked non-union, non-managerial workers whether they would support a unionization drive at their workplace. Half of the respondents replied yes, revealing a huge pent-up demand for workplace representation.
Yet the exception to this growing body of encouraging public opinion on unions had been the data on “right to work.” Polls consistently find majority support for these measures. Union opponents’ effective branding of the issue likely explains much of its popularity. If you’re unfamiliar with unions and what they do, why wouldn’t you support your so-called “right to work”?
What the win in Missouri has taught the broader labor movement is that a sustained, well-financed campaign can educate a largely non-union electorate about “right to work” laws, successfully, and truthfully, recasting them as anti-worker.
What the win in Missouri has taught the broader labor movement is that a sustained, well-financed campaign can educate a largely non-union electorate about “right to work” laws, successfully, and truthfully, recasting them as anti-worker.Labor’s victory in the state also provides the wider movement with more evidence that, despite a series of setbacks in the courts and state legislatures, the public stands with it on key issues.
That public support is needed now more than ever. While the defeat of Proposition A is rightly being celebrated among union supporters, the win is largely symbolic. All it does is restore the status quo to collective bargaining in the state, a status quo that has been anything but friendly to unions over recent decades.
Nonetheless, the victory reveals growing recognition on the part of union and non-union workers of what a weakened labor movement leads to: lower wage growth, higher poverty, and, in general, a two-tiered economy decisively tilted toward the interests of the richest among us. The next step for unions and their allies is to harness this widespread support for their cause and translate it to policy victories that go beyond the symbolic. Missouri has shown the labor movement that the public is ready to join the fight.
After nearly a year of negotiations that led to a strike authorization vote, a group of 90 grocery home delivery drivers working for Safeway.com voted overwhelmingly to ratify their first-ever Teamster contract last night. These drivers, of whom 60 are Local 174 members and 30 are Local 313 members, are now full-fledged Teamsters for the first time in their careers as Safeway drivers.
The new agreement will bring many improvements to the working conditions and lives of these drivers. Wages will increase across the board, with some of the lowest-paid drivers seeing double-digit percentage increases. The group will also finally receive affordable health care, which most did not previously have access to as they were held to part-time hours and the costs were prohibitive. For many, this will be life changing as they can now qualify and afford health care for not only themselves, but for their families as well.
Another exciting benefit for the group, and one that is unusual for a group ratifying a first contract, is that they will be joining the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Plan. This will begin the process of building a secure retirement with a defined benefit pension plan – which is also nearly unheard-of for “part-time” workers.
As for improvements to working conditions, they are numerous and include better scheduling rules, daily guarantees, hard limits on the length of unpaid breaks between shifts in a given day, and dramatic improvements to safety. Safety and vehicle maintenance issues had previously been at the forefront of drivers’ minds.
“I can’t wait to work under this new contract,” said Safeway.com driver and Bargaining Committee member Michael Fanning. “There are so many improvements … the difference in our day-to-day life on the job is going to be like night and day. I’m psyched.”
Jeff Frazer, a 12-year driver and Bargaining Committee member, was equally excited. “This contract means security. We finally have some security in our schedules, in our jobs, and in our retirement. We’ve never had that before. This is huge.”
Now that the agreement is ratified, these drivers are ready to head to work and enjoy their new lives as Union members.
“This is a great day for the Teamsters and an even better day for these Safeway.com drivers, who were the first in the country to organize and are now the first in the country to work under a Teamster contract,” said Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks. “I am proud of these drivers for their courage – courage to vote ‘yes’ to join the Teamsters, courage to vote ‘yes’ to authorize a strike, and now the sweetest part: to vote ‘yes’ on a contract that will improve their lives.”
People opposing Proposition A listen to a speaker during a rally in Kansas City, Missouri.
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Missouri voters made history on Tuesday, blocking the state’s Republican lawmakers from enacting right-to-work laws to cripple labor unions. The state’s primary voters rejected Proposition A, which would have made it illegal for unions to charge fees to workers they represent who don’t want to pay them, by a two-to-one margin when the vote was called by Decision Deskaround 10 pm Eastern.
Missouri was on track to become the 28th state to enact such a law. Last year, the state’s then-governor, Republican Eric Greitens, signed the right-to-work bill, saying that it would encourage businesses to move to the state. Missouri would have followed Michigan, Wisconsin, and other Rust Belt states that have passed similar anti-union measures in recent years under pressure from business groups.
But workers and union leaders in Missouri put up a fight. They gathered about 300,000 signatures — more than double the number needed — to freeze the law and put it on the ballot for voters to decide. On Tuesday, voters rejected the bill.
Tuesday’s election marks the first time voters have overturned a right-to-work law through a ballot referendum since Ohio did something similar in 2011. No other state has even tried to in recent years. It’s also a major victory for the US labor movement at a time when Republican leaders, big businesses, and the courts have doubled down on their attempts to weaken the influence of labor unions and the workers they represent. And after the US Supreme Court’s June ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which mandated right-to-work rules for all government unions, Missouri’s vote is a sign that unions are far from dead. They might even see a revival.
Workers have been waging a war in Missouri to defeat the law
In states without right-to-work laws, employees at unionized workplaces don’t have to pay union dues, but they do have to pay “agency fees.” These fees are lower than the dues members pay, but they cover the union’s cost of negotiating employment contracts that benefit all workers. Right-to-work laws make it illegal for a union to charge those fees, which can strain its finances and give workers an incentive not to pay dues. This is known as the “free rider” problem, in which some workers benefit from union contracts but choose not to pay for it.
That’s what Missouri politicians wanted.
But workers and unions in Missouri have fought back. They built a massive campaign to defeat the Republican law, gathering 300,000 signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. Construction workers, ironworkers, and steelworkers knocked on about half a million doors to mobilize voters to the polls, according to the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of unions. A union-backed group raised $15 million for the effort — more than five times the amount of money raised by two business groups supporting the right-to-work bill.
Labor groups had framed the issue as a fight between workers and greedy billionaires. The campaign even enlisted actor John Goodman, a Missouri native, for a 30-second radio ad.
“The bill will not give you the right to work,” Goodman says in the spot. “It’s being sold as a way to help Missouri workers, but look a little deeper and you’ll see it’s all about corporate greed.”
That message has resonated with unionized workers across the country, whose wages remain flat as CEOs earn record-high salaries and corporations reap massive tax cuts.
Teachers across the country have led the revolt against such pro-business policies that swept through conservative states in the past decade — policies that never led to the promised economic boom. With the support of their labor unions, teachers in states like Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia have forced state lawmakers to raise business taxes to pay better wages.
Missouri might be the start of a similar backlash, one targeted toward Republican right-to-work policies that hurt labor unions and the middle-class workers they represent.
Right-to-work laws are great for businesses, not workers
When Republicans took over a historic number of state legislatures in the 2010 midterms, they focused on two things: cutting taxes and weakening labor unions. With support from pro-business groups, lawmakers began to expand right-to-work laws from the South to Midwestern states with a strong union presence.
In 2012, lawmakers in Indiana and Michigan passed these laws. At the time, the country was in the midst of the Great Recession, and politicians promised that relaxing labor laws would attract businesses to the state and turn around the economy. Since then, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and West Virginia have passed right-to-work laws too.
Economists have been closely studying the economic impact, and none have found any evidence to back up the claim that right-to-work laws boost the economy. At best, the laws slightly increase the number of businesses in the state, but they don’t really benefit workers. At worst, these laws lower average wages for all workers after they are passed. The latter is the most likely outcome, based on the research.
One study conducted by economist Lonnie Stevans at Hofstra University in 2007 found that right-to-work laws did lead to an increase in the number of businesses, but those economic gains mostly went to business owners. Meanwhile, average wages for workers went down.
One 2015 study showed that Oklahoma’s right-to-work law didn’t lead to more jobs, but it also didn’t seem to affect wages.
Had voters in Missouri approved Proposition A, they would probably see a similar drop in income, according to economists at the University of Missouri Kansas City. In a 2014 study, they concluded that Missouri’s shifting to a right-to-work statewould result in an annual loss of $1,945 to $2,547 per household.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that anti-union laws would hurt middle-class families. The decline of labor unions is largely responsible for the growing income inequality in the United States.
Missouri could reverse the decline
Back in the 1950s, about one-third of American workers belonged to labor unions. Today, only about one in 10 workers are unionized.
This is the culmination of decades of decline in private sector unions in America, caused by a variety of factors including slower employment growth in unionized workplaces (compared to nonunion workplaces); anti-union legislation, particularly in the South and more recently the Midwest; the automation, offshoring, and general decline of union-heavy industries like textiles and auto manufacturing; and more sophisticated corporate anti-union drives.
Labor unions were largely credited with helping maintain stable middle-class factory jobs in Rust Belt states like Missouri in the ’50s and ’60s. But the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, plus the aggressive corporate lobbying to weaken labor unions, has been a driving force behind the massive income gap in the United States.
In 1965, CEOs earned an average salary that was 20 times higherthan the average worker’s; by 2016, their salaries were 271 times higher.
Strong unions have helped reduce inequality, whereas weaker unions have made it easier for CEOs, sometimes working with market forces that they have helped shape, to increase it. The decline in unionization since World War II in the United States has been associated with a pronounced rise in income and wealth inequality.
Missouri voters — and workers across the country — have shown that they are ready to reverse that trend.