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On the picket line (includes IWW News)

Union membership rising

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the largest rise in the number of U.S. workers belonging to labor unions in the last quarter-century. In 2007 the rolls increased by 311,000 for a total of 15.7 million workers, despite a decline in manufacturing jobs, particularly in auto.

The overall percentage of organized workers rose to 12.1 percent of the workforce, including 7.5 percent of private-sector workers and 35.9 percent of public-sector workers. Membership grew most in construction and health services, with a higher rate of 14.7 percent in Western states compared to 13.8 percent in Midwestern states.

Labor leaders hailed the turnaround. Stewart Acuff, AFL-CIO organizing director, cited organizing drives of 40,000 child care workers in Michigan and New York. (New York Times, Jan. 26)

Directors Guild finalizes new contract

On Jan. 17 the Directors Guild of America agreed to a contract for its 13,500 members, after months of informal talks with the production companies (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers). After members ratify the contract, the deal will take effect on June 30.

The three-year contract achieves a breakthrough in several digital areas, which are similar to the issues in the Writers Guild of America strike. The deal roughly doubles the residuals rate paid for film and TV programs resold on cassettes and DVDs. (This rate is much higher than that last offered to the writers in early December.) For the first time the deal requires studios and production companies to pay a reuse fee when advertising-supported programs are streamed free over the Internet. Among other gains, the agreement also increases minimum compensation rates. (New York Times, Jan 18)

Writers Guild back to the table

After negotiating a contract with the DGA that includes new or increased compensation for digital uses of directors’ work, the AMPTP announced it would resume “informal” negotiations with the Writers Guild of America. They suspended talks a month into the WGA strike in early December.

The WGA announced in mid-January that it would continue efforts to organize reality and animation writers but not as part of the current contract negotiations. (New York Times, Jan. 23) Though the WGA allowed the Screen Actors Guild Awards to proceed on Jan. 27 and will not picket the Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, what’s to become of the Oscars scheduled for Feb. 27? WGA holds the fate of the Oscars as a very strong bargaining chip.

Starbucks picketed in NYC

On Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday holiday, Jan. 21,

picketers in Manhattan protested Starbuck’s refusal to pay workers overtime on the national holiday. The pro-union crowd, carrying an Industrial Workers of the World banner, chanted outside a Starbucks at Fifth Avenue and East 33rd Street.

The IWW, founded in 1905, has been striving to organize Starbucks workers since 2004. Last April the National Labor Relations Board—no reliable friend of labor—accused Starbucks of breaking the law 30 times while fighting pro-union activity at four shops. After braving the cold weather for about a half hour, the protesters moved to Wild Edibles, a seafood shop that the IWW is also trying to organize. (New York Times, Jan. 22)

Washington Post workers seek contract

Working without a contract for the past five years, 400 mailroom workers who assemble the newspaper at Washington Post printing plants started an unusual campaign to kick-start negotiations.

Members of the Communication Workers initiated a radio, print and billboard advertising campaign in early January focused on the paper’s signature sections. One headline is “Looks like greed is in Style. Just ask Washington Post executives.” Each ad directs readers to a Web site,, which discusses the issues and asks supporters to write to Post CEO Donald E. Graham or the Post ombudsman. One of the company demands, which the workers refuse, is dropping their pension plan to join the company’s. (New York Times, Jan. 21)

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