News & Commentary

December 22, 2021

Fred Wang

Fred Wang is a student at Harvard Law School.

Yesterday, the Kellogg strike ended after striking workers ratified a new contract broadening the scope of the company’s cost-of-living wage adjustments to cover all employees. The eleven-week strike started in early October, spanning four of Kellogg’s breakfast cereal plants. The agreement concludes a monthslong contentious negotiation, during which Kellogg controversially threatened to permanently replace striking workers, prompting criticism from President Biden.

Notably, the contract does not do away with Kellogg’s two-tier compensation system, under which newer employers received lower wages and less generous benefits than longer-tenured workers. Instead, the contract merely provides a limited avenue for lower-tier employees to attain senior status and benefits. Anthony Shelton, the president of the workers’ union, described the agreement as a “fair contract” that “makes gains and does not include any concessions.” But Trevor Bidelman, a Kellogg’s worker and the president of the union’s local Grand Rapids chapter, expressed disappointment in the contract, noting that Kellogg’s replacement threat might have swayed the vote. Nevertheless, as the Huffington Post reported yesterday, Bidelman said he was proud of workers who took to the picket lines and “[s]tay[ed] out this long,” describing the strike as a “huge step” that “inspired many people.”

Amazon workers are speaking out as the company continues its rollback of COVID-19 safety protocols amidst spikes in COVID-19 cases. According to a new report by The Markup, Amazon warehouse workers across the United States have noticed a marked rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases at Amazon facilities. That includes two Oregon warehouses where “still-active outbreaks have been ongoing for more than 565 days,” as well as two California warehouses subject to active Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections due to COVID-related complaints. Despite such outbreaks, Amazon has relaxed certain COVID safety measures (such as mask mandates and twenty-minute breaks), while suspending others (such as on-location testing).

Union members remain a key political bulwark for the Democratic Party. A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund revealed that in the most recent presidential election, “union members voted for the Democratic Party candidate in much greater proportions than did nonunion members.” In short, union voters helped compound President Biden’s advantage among certain already Democratic-leaning groups, while keeping him competitive among groups that leaned towards Trump. The findings are in line with decades of political science research affirming that union members are “integral to the Democratic coalition.”

In related news, after Senator Joe Manchin pulled his support from President Biden’s signature social and climate spending bill, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), the country’s largest coal-mining union, urged the West Virginia Democrat to reconsider his opposition to the legislation. As this report from Bloomberg describes, the initiative included “several provisions that would aid coal workers,” including tax incentives encouraging manufacturers to employ out-of-work miners. The UMWA is not the only interest group pushing Senator Manchin to reverse course. But as this piece from The Hill notes, “the statement from the mine workers’ union might be the most impactful. Manchin was born into a coal mining family and for decades has worked closely with the UMWA, which named Manchin an honorary member last year.”

Ten years after fast-food workers across the United States launched the Fight for $15 movement, a record number of states and localities have followed suit. According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, twenty-one states and thirty-five cities and counties—a record number—are set to raise their minimum wages at the turn of the new year. In two states and thirty-one localities, the minimum wage will reach or exceed $15 per hour for some or all employees. Although many states—especially southern states with a disproportionate concentration of Black workers—have not budged from the federal floor of $7.25, the record number of states and localities that have or will is a testament to the decade of activism, organizing, and solidarity that made such an outcome possible.

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