OpEd: NYC Leading National Resurgence in Union Organizing
By Vincent Alvarez
As our economy continues to battle income inequality, an increasing number of New York City workers are looking to unionization as the key to higher wages, benefits, and rights in the workplace. With Labor Day and the September 12th Labor Day Parade just around the corner, workers in and around New York City can take pride in the great strides being made in labor, originating right here in the Big Apple.
It has been long understood that New York City sets the pace for trends and movements across the nation. This idea also rings true with union organizing. Within the last year, Citibike workers, graduate student and adjunct professors, and digital media writers at Gawker, Salon, and Vice have joined the ranks of car wash, fast food, casino and airport workers who have been organizing and standing up for a voice at work. Workers in these industries – some previously non-unionized - are voting to join the Labor Movement because they understand the importance of working together to improve conditions for their workplace.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, nearly six in ten workers believe that unions provide real benefits for their workers. Of this number, the highest percentage is workers aged 18 to 34. I think it’s safe to say that these workers were some of the most affected by the Great Recession, as many of them were either college students, or recent college graduates, who had trouble finding full-time employment.
Many of these workers have found themselves frustrated with a job market that has been unable to keep pace with the demand for meaningful employment. This frustration gained national attention during the days when the Occupy Movement was camping out in Zuccotti Park, which helped to change the narrative about income inequality, corporate greed, and other wrongs that can be righted through organizing.
Recently, TWU Local 100 organized 250 Citibike workers right here in New York City. This contract -- the first of its kind in North America -- covers the men and women working as mechanics, technicians, call center agents, and “balancers,” who stock the docking stations with bicycles. Under the contract, workers received 20% raises, stable scheduling, a promotional system, as well medical leave, and eight weeks of paid parental leave. The foundation that Local 100 laid here in New York has already been replicated for workers in Boston, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
Another group of workers who are standing up for their rights are graduate workers, who have been organizing at a number of local universities. Graduate students at NYU made history in 2013 holding the first union vote in 13 years. NYU agreed to recognize the union, and accepted the contract in March of 2015. This agreement again made history, making NYU’s graduate union the first in the nation to be recognized by a private college. Their determination is a testament to the importance of fair compensation for all working people.
This has also been a year of firsts for 250 digital media writers, who have been organizing with the Writers Guild of America East. In June of this year, writers at Gawker were the first to vote to unionize, and since then, their counterparts at Salon and Vice have also voted to achieve the wages, benefits, and job protections afforded by having a voice at work. Union strength and solidarity were put to the test early-on, as Salon management refused to recognize the union. Union members from various industries and locals spoke up for their new union brothers and sisters, because they all understood that an attack one group of workers is an attack on all workers.
The victories for workers at airports, casinos, and fast food restaurants, and these newer union organizing campaigns reflect a re-energized Labor Movement here in New York City, and across the country. We are committed to the on-going fight to for higher wages, and we look forward to marching together on September 12th, as we don our union colors and paraphernalia in the name of a movement that is much bigger than ourselves. The New York City Labor Movement, the nation’s largest, has a proud tradition of standing up for the rights of working men and women, and these new union members are continuing that tradition by bringing a voice to a new generation of workers.
Vincent Alvarez is the President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which represents 300 unions and 1.3 million workers in the New York City metro area.