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Minnesota unions plan to wage simultaneous strikes

New York CNN  —  Nearly 10,000 workers from a coalition of separate unions, working for a diverse group of employers, are planning a series of coordinated strikes in Minnesota this week and next. Their aim: Exert leverage at the bargaining table. First to the picket lines Monday are about 4,000 janitors who work cleaning corporate offices who began a strike scheduled to last three days. They were joined Tuesday by 1,000 workers at a dozen nursing homes who are planning a one-day strike. And about 4,000 teachers in St. Paul are due to go on strike next week. Union leaders say the strategy is already paying dividends, as a number of unions set to wage strikes of their own this week recently reached deals that provided double-digit percentage pay increases and retirement and health benefits their members never had before. One of those deal was announced Monday evening, when Laborers’ International Union of North America announced it had reached a deal with the City of Minneapolis on a new contract for about 500 municipal workers. The union said the deal included raises totaling 30% over three years, which it said was the largest pay raise the union had ever won. And it said it will continue to support the unions that have not yet won a deal. “This victory shows that when we are united in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters, we have the power to win,” said AJ Lange, business agent at the local union representing the workers. “When we stand together, we can’t be ignored.” Other recent deals include one that covers about 2,500 bus drivers, another that covers about 2,000 security guards, as well as contracts for about 500 workers who clean big box stores at night as well as about 100 employees of Minneapolis’ downtown improvement district. “The only way we’re going to be seen and heard is if we show we’re ready to take action together,” said Greg Nammacher, president SEIU Local 26, one of the locals leading the effort. These kind of collective strikes are common and somewhat easier in Europe, where union membership is more widespread and unions can strike in support of other unions, even if their own contracts have expired. Under US labor law each union needs to be striking to reach its own demands, and can not walk out in a sympathy for other unions’ labor disputes, even if their contract may allow them to honor another union’s picket lines. But those kinds of sympathy strikes are allowed in most of Europe, and thus make general strikes across broad swaths of those economies far more frequent. But most of these contracts expired weeks or months ago, and the unions’ planned to stay on the jobs under terms of the expired contact until a critical mass of union members were able to strike. “It wasn’t very effective for us to each be doing this on our own,” said Nammacher. “The breakthroughs we have in the contracts that have already settled is due to the public attention that is not possible without the coordinated effort.” One striker wants to retire but can’t One of those on the picket lines Monday was George Mullins, 66, who has worked as a janitor cleaning office buildings for 35 years. He works at the corporate offices of Target, employed by a private cleaning contractor. He said his pay of $18.62 an hour is barely enough to get by on. “There’s a lot of things you used to be able to do that you can’t do with the inflation that’s set in,” he said in an interview with CNN. “I want to retire, but the reason I’m still working now is there’s no pension.” He was able to raise a family with his pay in the past, but he said if his children weren’t grown and on their own, he couldn’t support a family with his pay today. “Some of the younger workers are quitting. Some are picking up other jobs, which means less time with your family,” he said. He’s gone on strike twice before, but those were both one-day strikes that he and the union knew would be over quickly. He doesn’t mind staying out longer this time. “I’m willing to stay out as long as it takes,” he said. “The wage is not keeping up with the cost of living.” A spokesperson for Mullins’ employer did not return a request for comment Monday. Strikes have become far more common across the US economy in the course of the last year. There were 33 strikes by 1,000 or more workers last year, a 43% increase from 2022, according to the official Labor Department count, the biggest number of large work stoppages in America in more than 20 years. Striking United Auto Workers (UAW) march in front of the Stellantis Mopar facility on September 26, 2023 in Ontario, California. Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images Related article 2023 was year of the strike. Here’s what could be ahead in 2024 Roughly 462,000 workers were on strike at some point in 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, which means 16.7 million days of work lost when researchers account for the number of strikers and the length of the strikes. That’s up from only 127,000 strikers who were off the job for a total of 2.2 million days in 2022. A separate database kept by by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations that tracks strikes both large and small shows 451 work stoppages in 2023, up 9% from the 2022 total. The fact that multiple unions plan to strike together in Minnesota is giving members more confidence, according to Jamie Gully, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa. Few of his 1,000 members who are due to go on a one-day strike Tuesday have ever been on strike before, even for one day. “For the workers, seeing that they’re part of something bigger has been really motivating and less scary,” Gully said. He said he hopes that if these negotiations prove successful, unions elsewhere in the country will use the same strategy. The United Auto Workers union arranged for the contracts they reached with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis last fall – contracts that ended six-week strikes at those companies – to expire on April 30, 2028, in hope that other unions would also have contracts expire at the same time, allowing a May 1 strike across the economy. May 1, or May Day, is an international labor holiday.