Big wins for unions are wins for many others as well

The last few months have been good for trade unions in the US, long seen as being on the decline. We had strikes by the United Auto Workers,Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, all gain big wins, albeit after hard fought struggles.

United Auto Workers (UAW) strikes yielded pay raises and abolition of tiered wages that gave lower pay to newer hires. Tens of thousands of nurses, ER technicians, and pharmacists recently concluded their strike against Kaiser Permanente by winning 21 percent raises over the next four years. The prolonged Hollywood writers strike ended with studios granting almost three times their original pay offer.

UPS workers recently averted a strike by ratifying a five-year contract that their union hailed as “the most lucrative agreement the Teamsters have ever negotiated at UPS.” The topper: public approval of unions is at a six-decade high.

Earlier the UPS Teamsters union got a good five-year deal by threatening to strike.

UPS workers on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to ratify a new contract that includes higher wages for workers, effectively eliminating the risk of a strike that would have been the biggest in 60 years.

About 86% of voting members approved the contract, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said in a press release announcing the vote results. The agreement, which will also create more full-time jobs and will secure air-conditioning in new trucks, covers about 340,000 UPS workers in the U.S.

UPS drivers will earn an average of $170,000 in annual pay and benefits by the end of the five-year contract agreement, UPS CEO Carol Tomé said in an earnings call earlier this month. The vote was the highest share in favor of a contract in the history of the Teamsters at UPS, the union said. 

“Our members just ratified the most lucrative agreement the Teamsters have ever negotiated at UPS. This contract will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers,” Teamsters general president Sean M. O’Brien said in the Tuesday statement.

O’Brien said the new contract “raised the bar for pay, benefits, and working conditions in the package delivery industry.”

When workers gain in one area, other workers, even non-union ones, benefit. After the UAW got major concessions from the big three US auto makers GM, Ford, and Stellantis, Honda and Toyota also gave big raises to their workers, putting pressure on Tesla to also improve wages, benefits and working conditions.

Honda has announced that it will raise the pay of some US workers by 11% after UAW’s historic strike wins, where it earned 25%+ pay increases at all of the Big Three American automakers. After Toyota did the same last week, this shows how union wins tend to affect entire industries, raising conditions for even nonunionized companies who have to compete for workers.

The news today comes from Bloomberg, who saw a Honda company memo detailing the pay increases. Not only will associates on pay progressions gain a base pay increase of 11% starting in January, but Honda will reduce the amount of time it takes to reach the top wage and add more than 10 new benefits for workers, including child care and student loan benefits.

The base pay increase is significantly smaller than the 25%+ increases, which UAW won in its deals, but the shift to a faster progression to top wages echoes one of the main points of UAW’s contract negotiations, which earned similar progression speed increases at the Big Three as well.

But this isn’t the only similar announcement from a nonunionized company, as Toyota took the opportunity to hike the pay of most of its US assembly workers by 9.2% immediately after the UAW deals were announced. After Toyota’s pay hike, UAW President Shawn Fain recognized that it was a response to his union’s new contract, saying, “Toyota, if they were doing it out of the kindness of their heart, they could have chosen to do it a year ago.”

Non-union companies had to do something because they fear that when their workers see union workers get big benefit increases, they too might demand to form a union.

Adam D. K. King argues that UAW’s rank-and-file democratic process in the process is a good model for other unions, especially those in Canada, to follow.

From the outset, Fain’s bargaining strategy has been intimately tied to the UAW’s preparations for strikes and job actions. Similar to the US Teamsters before them, the UAW proactively engaged its members well ahead of any “stand-up” strikes and established a unique approach where job actions were tied to progress at the bargaining. This approach differs from the standard bargaining practices commonly observed throughout North America.

I hope these successes provides greater impetus to unionization drives at companies like Amazon and Starbucks who have engaged in ugly union-busting tactics. When unions prosper, we all benefit. People tend to forget that that pretty much all the benefits that all of us enjoy today, such as the 40-hour work week, paid leave, pensions and retirement accounts, health benefits, increased work place safety, and so on all came about as a result of union efforts.


  1. lanir says

    I had a roommate some years back who was very anti-union. He wasn’t a very agile thinker so even though he’d had the good fortune to work a union job the only thing he took away from it was that some money came out of his paycheck and some people who he said had terrible work behaviors were unable to be fired.

    This is going to sound nonsensical if you actually think about how workplace economics work. But I think what sold him on anti-union views is thinking he had more control over his paycheck if the union dues weren’t coming out of it. And this is undoubtedly true if you only look at the union dues coming out but it kind of ignores that you’re getting higher wages in the first place because of the union. It’s as bizarrely unrealistic as Trump wanting to stop vote counting and say he won if at any point during the counting his total looks higher than his opponent’s. Or racing someone and arbitrarily declaring the finish line is anywhere that you reach first.

  2. Jazzlet says

    Don’t forget the weekend, certainly in the UK unions were directly responsible for getting employers to give them a half day Saturday, and eventually a full day.

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