- Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop - http://www.newstips.org -

Bucking trend, garment workers win union victory

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While union membership is at historically low levels [2], with organizing campaigns mired in an increasingly hostile legal terrain, workers at a Northwest Side garment plant won union representation in a swift victory last week.

One factor was the support of a local group that helped pioneer the worker center movement [3], which utiliizes community organizing strategies to assist low-income and immigrant workers with workplace issues.

Workers at Artistic Stitches Inc. [4], joined by leaders from Arise Chicago [5], will discuss the significance of their victory at a media event Thursday, January 31 at 12:45 p.m. outside their plant at 2639 W. Grand.

The mainly Latino packers and machine operators voted last week to join Workers United [6], a union with roots in historical garment and textile industry unions that’s affiliated with SEIU.

Stitches workers contacted Arise after they staged a spontaneous walkout to protest working on Thanksgiving without holiday pay, said organizer Jorge Mujica.  He explained their protections from retaliatory firings under labor law.

But when they started discussing their problems in the workplace,”there were so many different issues that we could never solve them one by one,” Mujica said. “It would take months, years.”  He told them, “You guys need a union.”

Among the issues was the company’s practice of laying off its workforce every December and hiring them back the next month, without seniority and sometimes at substandard apprentice wage levels, Mujica said.  Other issues ranged from hygiene to preferential treatment – and a holiday pay policy that changed from year to year, he said.

Workers United is seeking a meeting with management to begin negotiating a contract, said Margarita Klein of the union’s Midwest regional board [7].  Otherwise the union will launch a “first contract campaign.”  “We’re really hoping they will try to have a smooth transition,” she said.

It’s the first organizing victory for the union in some time, and the partnership with Arise Chicago was crucial, Klein said.  “It was a perfect relationship,” she said.  “And this is only the beginning.”