MultiCare Workers Vote “Yes” to Join UFCW Local 21

L21 MultiCareOn August 11, MultiCare workers from Covington Emergency Department in Washington state, voted to join UFCW Local 21. With a union voice, the health care workers will now have the tools to provide better quality care to patients and support each other in the workplace. Key issues that were important to workers include job security and protections, cost-of-living increases and yearly step increases, labor management committees to address staffing concerns, and affordable benefits.

For years, the current UFCW 21 members at MultiCare have been pushing for a fair process for workers to be able to join and stay in their union. In the 2015 negotiations, the nearly 2,000 current members kept pushing for this as an integral part to the negotiations. During a negotiation session in early May, Covington ED worker Rebecca Anley came to a to talk with the bargaining team and thank them for “standing with us” at Covington ED.

The win is a result of the team effort between current members working closely with interested workers and the strong support from the community. By working together, members won the conduct agreement that included the community election provision in the contract. This, and the courage of the workers at Covington are what helped bring about this organizing win.

MultiCare Health System is a not-for-profit health care organization based in Tacoma, Wash., that made over $700 Million in profit in the last three years. It is the largest private sector employer in Pierce County, Wash.

Why Unions Matter: Fighting to Protect Our Jobs

Sylvia, in black vest

Sylvia Hovington knows first-hand just how important unions are.

Sylvia is a member of UFCW Local 1776 and works for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). The Local represents 3,500 members working retail at PA Wine and Spirits Stores and in the warehouses that deliver to licensees such as bars, restaurants, and sporting facilities.

Coming from a “labor family”, Silvia started working for the PLCB in her twenties, seeking a job that that would support its employees and had advancement opportunities.  “Make sure you join the union!” Silvia’s aunt told her. And of course she did; she’s now been a member for 28 years. Sylvia’s daughter is also carrying on the family tradition–her UFCW job enables her to work for the PLCB as she finishes up college.

But in 2013, the job Sylvia loves and the security it provided for her family came under threat. For years, Republicans in the state House of Representatives have been trying to privatize the sale of liquor in their state, meaning 3,500 good union jobs would be lost and sent to retailers like Walmart, which pay low wages and treat their workers poorly, Sylvia notes. In 2013, Republican governor Tom Corbett, who claimed he would stop at nothing to pass a privatization bill, helped push a bill through the state House.

For the first time in her career Syliva was scared for her job. “How was I going to feed my family?” she thought. Her husband also had a good job but they needed more than one salary to pay their mortgage, car payments, her daughter’s tuition, and support the rest of her family. “It’s a very scary thing when your livelihood is about to be snatched away from you. It doesn’t just affect the worker but their whole family.”

But Sylvia and her fellow Local 1776 members “were not going down without a fight.”

As a shop steward, Sylvia was used to keeping her fellow members updated and educating young members about what being part of a union family means. Now, she would be doing that across the state.

In order to stop the privatization bill from passing in the state Senate Local 1776 and members like Sylvia went into overdrive to save their jobs. They held lobby days in Harrisburg, went from store to store talking to Wine and Spirits workers, and sent letters to their representatives telling them not to support this bill that would hurt the families of over 3,500 workers and be bad for the state budget.

After months of mobilizing workers and spreading their message, receiving support from other UFCW Locals and the International as well as other labor unions, Sylvia and fellow union members have come out victorious. This year, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the privatization legislation.

“The reason why we still have our jobs is because we belong to a union,” says Sylvia. “Unions keep the jobs flowing.”

She wants the Republicans who have been trying to pass the privatization bill in her state and who have claimed that unions are unnecessary to know a few things.

“The UFCW has helped me so much. My Local offers daycare reimbursement that helped me work when my daughters were young. They make sure you get dental and medical. They make sure we are payed a good living wage. Without them, I might not have been able to take my maternity leave.”

Without the protection and support of a union, says Sylvia, workers are not guaranteed these things. And that is why she is thankful this Labor Day, that unions exist.

The fight for PLCB workers isn’t over since they could face similar legislation again. But they know that whatever happens in the future, the union has their back.


The Voting Rights Act at 50: Progress, Then Peril

via SEIU

via SEIU

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the monumental Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act ensured that no one would be barred from the right to vote based on the color of their skin. The right to vote is a civil right. Americans vote to elect people we believe will protect our rights and fight for what we believe in. For working Americans, who we elect impacts us workers and members of the middle class. No one, of any race, should be unfairly be kept from making their voice heard at the polls. Voting is how many of us fight against Right-to-Work and other legislation that sets workers back. It’s how we advocate for paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, and a host of other policies that will lift workers up and help us provide a decent living for our families. This largely helped Black Americans to exercise the right to vote, especially in the South, where they faced obscure and discriminatory tests when attempting to register to vote.

Nine years before the VRA was signed, only about one-quarter of eligible black voters in the South were registered, in large part due to unfair literacy tests and other Jim Crow tactics.

The passage of the VRA also required seven states “with histories of black disenfranchisement to submit any future change in statewide voting law, no matter how small, for approval by federal authorities in Washington. No longer would the states be able to invent clever new ways to suppress the vote.”

President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the bill into law, called it “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.” This proved to be a true proclamation–by 1968, just three years after the Voting Rights Act became law, registration among black southerners had increased substantially, to 62 percent.

The VRA also enabled progressive legislators working to advance civil rights to build upon what the VRA promised:

not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to actively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

But since the historic election in 2008, conservative legislators have used the success of the VRA to advocate for the dismantling of several key pieces of it. Claiming “voter fraud” as their battle cry, Republicans who gained control in 11 state legislatures in 2010 took away early voting, “same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places.”

Then, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Shelby County v. Holder to directly countermand “the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on.”

But the VRA can’t continue to “do its job” if its power continues to be chipped away. It’s imperative that we restore it. We cannot “move on” when racial hatred and injustice is still evident in cities across our country. Evidence that the black vote is still being suppressed is plentiful:

In her dissent of Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that, while studying the VRA’s reauthorization in 2006, “Congress found there were more D.O.J. objections between 1982 and 2004 (626) than there were between 1965 and the 1982 reauthorization (490).” She noted that in a majority of those objections, the Justice Department cited “calculated decisions to keep minority voters from fully participating in the political process.”

Thanks to the Shelby decision, North Carolina was able to pass a bill “that cut the state’s early-voting period nearly in half, taking away one of the two Sundays when black churches run highly effective ‘souls to the polls’ voting drives. It ended same-day registration and invalidated student IDs for voting.”

By cutting provisions of voting laws that protect voters from being disenfranchised, and enacting sections that unfairly affect the poor or minorities, our legislators are doing a disservice to America.

But there are people fighting back against intrusions on our voting rights. Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. regularly leads protesters joined by progressive lawmakers and familiar faces of the civil rights movement at Moral Monday events, speaking out against the attacks on the VRA. He has referred to the time since the Shelby decision as “our Selma”—adding that on the day of the decision, June 26, 2013, “we had less voting rights than they had on August 6, 1965.”

Reverend Barber and his congregation of supporters in the south and beyond continue to mobilize people who won’t back down threats to the VRA and all of its protections that ensure black, Latino, and people of races can exercise their right to vote. As union members and workers, we must do the same.