Posted on 11 January 2012 by @nzmrmn
That was quick.
I just saw on Twitter via Zoniel Mharajs (@UnionCityPatch) that Bakery Workers Union Local 125 at the American Licorice factory in Union City, CA voted 81 to 61 in favor of accepting the management’s offer and are calling off the strike.
Zoniel’s article contained this quote from the vice president of Local 125 Rene Casillo: “I think if we stayed out a little longer, we could have broke them” but “[t]he workers didn’t want to stay out.”
According to a statement from the company issued last month, the company’s offer included paying the entirety of the proposed $3,000 family and $1,500 individual health insurance deductibles in 2012, and paying for half of the deductibles in 2013 and 2014. The contract includes a 30-cent retroactive hourly raise for 2011 and 35-cent raises in 2012 and 2013.
You can check out my previous article and video interviews with some of the workers on the picket line from yesterday. Personally, I more surprised than disappointed that this happened so quickly at the federal negotiation table in Oakland. Rene Castillo was disappointed but the union voted democratically to accept the offer. I agree with Rene that if they had voted to stay on the picket line a little longer, based on what I saw on the line yesterday, the workers had the momentum.
At the same time, one month in the middle of winter is an incredibly long time to hold down a nonstop picket. It’s costly to families to not have a normal income. It’s cold out. Food is expensive, gas is expensive, housing is expensive. Strike funds get drained, especially with 178 workers. The tenaciousness and reserve of the workers was difficult to put into words and I only saw second to last day of the strike. They’d been out there since December 5th.
I think that this experience working in solidarity with Local 125 is a learning process for both Occupy Oakland, Occupy as a whole and unions who ask for our support. The biggest lesson to me is that time is of the essence. I heard rumors about Local 125 asking for support perhaps a week ago yet it took until yesterday for us to get organized enough to get down there and support them. This isn’t to point fingers. I should have done something earlier instead of passively waiting for instructions or a committee. So should have you if you felt passionate about it.
Our tactics were effective. Occupy can do things that union members can’t, like sit down in front of vehicles crossing the picket line.
The biggest lesson that I took away from this is we absolutely cannot dawdle when workers’ rights are under attack and our brothers and sisters put a call out for our help. Our goal should be to be able to deploy ourselves and our resources the next day within the Bay Area to any union that requests support in a labor struggle.
This is the first time Occupy Oakland or any Occupation as far as I know of was specifically asked for help in a labor dispute. Despite the settlement agreement, I consider yesterday a success. We are learning and adapting. This movement is fluid, evolving and its many moving parts are becoming finely tuned. Our network and connections with others in the 99% are growing stronger. I liked the people on a personal level on the picket lines. I won’t forget Yolanda, Maria, Juana, Maria and Rene Jr. or Sr. I met new people from Occupy Oakland and the labor community. I broke bread with them. The humor and conversations I had with others with will stay with me. I live in Richmond and have only driven through Union City before yesterday. I have a feeling I’ll cross paths with these comrades again sometime soon.
This is mutual aid in action. It won’t be perfect from the start and likely never will be. But there’s a first time for everything. Things cannot be divided into neatly packaged victories and defeats. This was another mix. The workers got stuck with an unfair out-of-pocket health care increase but also got small hourly raises to offset that cost and a retroactive raise for 2011. And they’re back to work. Too many of us can’t say the same in this grim economy.
It is a little after 5 PM in middle of January in downtown Oakland. I am looking out over Broadway. The sky is dark blue and the clouds are pink from the sunset. It’s twilight in the dead of winter in the Bay Area but we’re still here. This is about more than tents. Remember, after the winter comes the American Spring.
-Noah Zimmerman Twitter @nzmrmn