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Reviews |  These memory workers went on strike to save lives


This is the route they have chosen.

By our calculations, 85% of eligible workers signed union cards within a week, and they approached management to demand recognition of their union. They gave management 72 hours to respond. We uploaded videos on social media showing workers talking about the union campaign, which meant that the campaign was immediately made public. After Rawlin said he would not voluntarily recognize the union, the workers gave notice of their intention to strike.

A strike for recognition is a radical act. In all my years of work, I had never been involved in one. My introduction to unionizing dates back more than two decades, when I took a job at an Amazon warehouse in Seattle, hoping to organize the workforce.

Back then, in 1999, the company was poised to become the Walmart of the internet, opening fulfillment centers across the country. Already, Amazon appeared to be fiercely anti-union. Company policies made it difficult for people to congregate or talk to each other much. When rumors spread that the Seattle warehouse was getting organized, management started looking for us for flyers and other pro-union materials.

Despite the failure of this campaign, my desire to organize remained. I had seen in unions what I had not seen in other forms of activism: power. The possibility of closing a business seemed to be the only brake on the frantic race for corporate profit. So I took a job with a SEIU local, 1199NW, for health care workers in Washington, where I learned the basics of organizing: tell the workers it’s their union and behave. you this way; workers know the risks; never lie.

As we won union elections in state hospitals, I realized that unionization could achieve more than the right to collectively bargain wages and benefits. It can be transformative. People decide to go back to school. They finally make an appointment to see an eye doctor instead of relying on “readers” from the grocery store. They leave violent partners. In short, they begin to imagine a better future, one that includes them. I loved witnessing that.

But I also felt that we were fighting an uphill battle. Union membership had been declining for decades. The Labor Board’s 1949 “Joy Silk” doctrine“, the fair standard under which many members of the Greatest Generation joined a union, argued that when workers present union cards and seek recognition, employers must recognize the union and begin the bargaining phase unless they have a “good faith doubt” about the union’s claim to a majority, making it illegal to insist on an election simply to buy time and undermine the campaign. The Joy Silk standard was discontinued around 1970 and the rules became more employer-friendly.

The attack on workers’ rights continued under Ronald Reagan, then George HW Bush, then Bill Clinton. With the rise of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, I have seen workers internalize anti-union sentiment. When most people think of the presidency of George W. Bush, they think of the September 11 attacks, the war in Iraq or Hurricane Katrina. What I remember is the assault on work. Overtime rights have been eliminated, federal safety standards have been rolled back, and many government employees have lost important whistleblower protections.


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