From strippers in North Hollywood to service workers in Atlanta and graduate students in Michigan, workers across sectors of the economy are taking direct action and fighting for what they deserve. But they are also facing retaliation, union busting, and even violence on the picket line. If we want to see the labor movement grow, we need to be there for workers when it counts the most, and we need to do whatever we can to make sure they win their fights.
In this worker solidarity livestream, recorded on April 5, 2023, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez speaks with a panel of workers about their respective strikes and struggles at the Star Garden Topless Bar in North Hollywood, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the University of Michigan, and more.
Links to strike/hardship funds:
- Stripper Strike NoHo linktree
- Support Striking Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Workers
- Hearst Media Union website
- UMich Grad Workers Strike Fund (GEO AFT-Michigan Local 3550)
- (Petition) Planned Parenthood: Give Grace Her Job Back
- Medieval Times Performers United, Buena Park, strike fund
- The Union of Southern Service Workers website
Studio Production: David Hebden
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Welcome everyone to The Real News Network. My name is Maximillian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s so great to have you all with us. The Real News is an independent nonprofit, viewer supported media network. We don’t do ads. We don’t do paywalls. And we don’t take corporate cash, which means we need each one of you to become a supporter of our work so we can keep bringing you coverage of the voices and issues you care about most. Before we get going today, I just wanted to ask if you could head on over to therealnews.com/support and become a supporter of our work because it really, really makes a difference and it allows us to keep doing work like these Worker Solidarity livestreams that we are trying to put on every month. And that is what we are here to do today.
If you subscribe to The Real News Network, you know that we have been putting together these monthly Worker Solidarity livestreams in order to lift up the voices of folks on the front lines of different strikes and worker struggles around the country. We are going to continue to do these. We are going to continue to broaden the voices that we bring on and put in conversation with one another. We want to broaden that out internationally as well, and we can’t do that without your support. And we thank you all so much for tuning in, for caring, and especially thank you to all of you who are already supporters of our work because it’s because of you that we’re able to do this.
Now, we did not have a Worker Solidarity livestream last month. As folks know, we were dealing with the passing of our comrade and colleague, Marshall Eddie Conway. We thank all of you for your patience as we took time to grieve and prepare Eddie’s memorial service.
But we are back at it in the month of April, and we will continue to put on more of these livestreams as the year continues. Because workers in industries and sectors across the economy, across the country in different states, different types of jobs, from academia to media, from entertainment to education and healthcare to logistics, workers everywhere are standing up and fighting for what they deserve.
And when that happens, all of us are called to action. We all have a stake in workers winning their fights against the bosses, winning their fights for better, safer workplaces, for more dignity on and off the job, for the respect that they deserve from management. And workers deserve to have more of a say in their jobs. And that is exactly what workers all across this country and beyond are doing by organizing into unions, or even if they’re not in unions, taking direct collective action.
And we all need to support that because as I said, not only do we all have a stake in workers improving their lives, their workplaces and the world that we share, but also because as you have no doubt learned from the past livestreams we have done and as you have no doubt heard from the voices of workers on strike at CNH Industrial or railroad workers, workers at Warrior Met Coal and beyond, it really, really matters when the public is behind workers who are on strike, workers who have been unjustly fired, workers who are being retaliated against or harassed at work by their bosses and managers. When we all stand up for each other, when we show up for each other, it allows us to hold the line one day longer, one day stronger. It gives us the strength that we need to keep fighting the good fight and ultimately helps us win our struggles.
And when we win, more folks are encouraged to get off the sidelines and to get involved in the fight. This is all of our struggle. We all have a role to play here, and if we want to see the labor movement grow in this country and beyond, then we can do that right here right now by supporting one another and lifting up one another’s struggles.
And I could not be more honored to be joined by another incredible panel of folks today who are going to do just that. And we’re going to go around and introduce you to our amazing panel in just a second.
But before we do, I wanted to shout out a couple of crucial struggles going on right now that we wanted to shout out, but we couldn’t get folks from those struggles on the call today. There’s only so many spots we can have on a livestream. And of course, when folks are on strike, that’s a very intense time and schedules don’t always permit an hour and a half livestream.
But in case you missed it, there was a really important action that spanned multiple states in the South yesterday led by the Union of Southern Service Workers. On Tuesday of this week, fast food, retail, and warehouse workers walked off their jobs in three states, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina to protest dangerous working conditions.
And on top of that, the Union of Southern Service Workers filed a groundbreaking civil rights complaint alleging South Carolina’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration “engages in egregious discrimination based on race”, by failing to inspect workplaces with disproportionately black workforces. This is really important stuff that’s happening in the south. And if you want to follow along, which you definitely should, we have included a link to the website of the Union of Southern Service Workers in the YouTube description for this livestream. Follow them on social media, check out the work that they’re doing. Vocalize your support for Southern Service Workers in the South who are standing up and fighting back against exploitation, racism, sexism, and so much more.
We also wanted to shout out Cisco workers who have been on strike since the end of March. Teamsters at Cisco, Louisville, and Cisco, Indianapolis went out on strike at the end of March, citing unfair labor practices and bad faith bargaining with Cisco management. Cisco, as we know, is one of the most massive food product distribution services, multinational corporation. And this strike is very important and it’s spreading because the workers in Louisville and Indianapolis have actually been joined by Teamsters locals in California where workers walked out at Cisco facilities in solidarity, bringing the strike to about 1,000 Teamsters, Cisco workers around the country. If you want to follow up on that strike, you can follow the Teamsters, their social media accounts. You could also follow the social media accounts of Teamsters for a Democratic Union. They’ve been posting a lot about the Cisco strike.
And of course, I also want to shout out our brothers, sisters, and siblings who are on the streets as we speak all across France and have been striking valiantly for weeks and weeks protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s deeply unpopular overhaul of the country’s beloved pension system. He has undemocratically invoked special powers from the Constitution to override parliament in order to ram through these reforms raising the retirement age and workers across France are pissed, rightfully so.
And you no doubt know about this if you subscribe to The Real News Network because we have published multiple on the ground documentary video reports from the streets of France on the strike over the past couple weeks. You can also watch my latest segment of the Art of Class War on Breaking Points where I spoke to Mattieu Bolle-Reddat, train driver and General Secretary of the Versailles Branch of the CGT. We were also joined by Gaz Jackson of the RMT Union in England. And we spoke about the strikes there.
And if you want to know what you can do to support our siblings in France, Mattieu lays it out in that Breaking Point segment as well as a recent Working People episode where we had Mattieu on along with rail workers in the UK and the United States. Shout out to our siblings across the pond. Stay strong, keep fighting. We are with you.
Lastly, before we get to our panel, if you watched our previous Worker Solidarity livestream, you know that one of the panelists that we had on there was the great Erin Zapcic from Medieval Times Performers United in Buena Park, California where workers at the dinner performance experience of Medieval times. I grew up right down the road from that Medieval Times in Buena Park, so this hits very close to home, quite literally and figuratively.
But workers there are fighting a really important fight, and they went out on strike on February 15th and have been holding the line ever since. We actually checked in with Erin before this livestream, and Erin is in bargaining right now as we speak. She couldn’t join us on the livestream to give us an update on the state of that strike, but she did send in a video update for all of our Real News viewers, and we’re going to play that now. And then we’re going to get right into the livestream with our incredible panelists. Here is an update from the Medieval Times strike in Buena Park, California from Erin Zapcic.
Hi everyone. My name is Erin Zapcic and I am a member of the organizing team at Medieval Times Performers United Buena Park. We organized back in November and we have currently been on strike now for 53 days. We walked out of a Saturday shift right after our first show of the day. We walked out ahead of our second show of the day on February 11th, and we have been on strike now for 53 days.
This is my cat. She’s very excited that I just got home because I have been away all day at the bargaining table with the company. Why is that significant? Well, these are not emergency sessions that have been called. These are part of our ongoing negotiations. I say that because Medieval Times has not made any attempt to try and end the strike. These are not, again, as I said, emergency sessions. These are part of our ongoing negotiations as we introduce a collective bargaining agreement to try to get our first contract.
What does that mean? It means that in 53 days, the company has not expressed any interest in trying to end the strike. They are very much carrying on business as usual. They had scabs flown in from other castles by day two of the strike, and they have continued to put on shows.
We have had some significant wins in the time that we’ve been on strike. We were able to get their Canadian scabs turned away at the border. They tried to fly in replacement workers from Toronto without the proper work documentation. We got them flagged at the border and turned away before they could come into the country. We also just found out that our brothers and sisters in the sound and lighting Department have just filed their petition for election to organize with IATSE. They just got their election date that’s scheduled for the end of this month so we’re very, very excited for them.
And we also, this is not good news necessarily, but since we’ve been on strike, we have come into possession of some photo and video evidence of something that we have witnessed with our own eyes for a long time and have raised a lot of concerns to management about and have repeatedly been ignored, which is the subject of animal cruelty and animal mistreatment happening at the Buena Park castle. Some very brave individuals shared some photo and video evidence taken inside the castle since we have been out on strike. And we did take that evidence public.
And so the reason I’m sharing all of this with you is that because an abused animal is a dangerous animal, and these are animals that we work with day in and day out. And the performers that are in there right now, even though we don’t agree with what they’re doing, they are also working with these animals and putting their lives at risk by performing alongside abused and mistreated animals.
How can you help? First and foremost, awareness is the biggest thing. We still have a lot of people who don’t know what’s going on, who are still coming to the show. The Buena Park Castle is in a very high tourist area so there are a lot of people who feel like if they don’t live in Southern California that this is not something that applies to them or involves them at all. But the more people that know about this, hopefully the fewer people will cross the picket line.
Secondly, we have a GoFundMe for our strike fund. It looks like there’s a lot of money in there right now, and folks have been very generous. But the bottom line is that we have been out on strike for 53 days. Even though it says we have $34,000 in our strike fund, we have been continuously dispensing those funds to the members of our bargaining unit who really need it. And we have also been really good about being working on the honor system. Anyone who does not need it has not taken any money. The money that goes to the strike fund, 100% goes to the people in our bargaining unit who need it the most. We do have someone who has been living out of his car since before we went on strike, and obviously he is still living out of his car. Please just spread the message as much as you can. Do not cross the picket line.
The sooner we can start making a real financial impact on the company, the sooner we can all go back to work and address these real issues that need addressing so we can go back to doing what we love. And if you are able, please make a small contribution to our strike funds. No contribution is too small, we promise. We really, truly do appreciate it because the more money that’s in the strike fund, the longer we can stay out as needed.
Thank you so much to the Real News Network for giving us the opportunity to share our story. And please follow us on social media @mtunitedca everywhere, accepts TikTok and follow along with us. And we cannot wait to be back at work performing and doing the show that we love for all of you. Thank you again.
Hell yeah. Well, thank you so much, Erin, and we are sending you nothing but love and solidarity from here in Baltimore and I know everyone watching, everyone on this panel is doing the same. Huge shout out to Erin, to everyone at Medieval Times Performers United Buena Park. Huge, huge shout out to Erin’s cat.
And yeah, please, I just wanted to underline what Erin said. Financial support is really, really crucial. We have included a link to the Medieval Times Buena Park Strike Fund in the show notes, the YouTube description for this video. Actually, I should point down. If you click on the description for this video, you will find links to the petitions and the strike funds and the websites pertaining to the different strikes and struggles that we are covering on the stream today. If you want to support Erin and her coworkers, you can find that GoFundMe link in the YouTube description down there. Please don’t forget about them. Please do not cross the picket line. Please keep doing everything you can to raise awareness about their vital struggle.
All right, so with all of that upfront, I’m honored to bring on our incredible panel of guests today to learn more about them and the struggles that they are involved in, and most importantly, what we can all do to show solidarity with them.
I wanted to start by just quickly going around the table with short introductions. Folks have heard enough from me already, so why don’t we start Yeager with you and if you could just give us a quick intro of who you are, where you are, and just a little tidbit about the struggle that you’re involved in. And then we’ll go back around the table and give you all a little more time to give viewers and listeners the deeper context on those struggles. Let’s start with Yeager.
Yeah. Hey, thanks. I am SN Yeager. I go by Yeager and I use they/them pronouns and I’m with the Graduate employees organization at the University of Michigan. I am a fourth year PhD candidate in classical studies, which basically just means I am doing a lot of research to write a really long paper while teaching students.
At my union, I’ve had a couple officer positions in the past, but I’m currently one of the co-chairs of the Queer Trans Caucus and one of the lead organizers of one of our strike committees, strike headquarters. We do logistics and materials. And as of now, we have been on strike for over a week and we have been bargaining with the university since November. And so help me and us all, we will be striking until we get a fair and just contract.
Hell yeah, solidarity with everyone out there at the University of Michigan and GEO. And just full disclosure, as I said on the latest episode of my show, Working People, where I interviewed Alejo Stark, also a member of the GEO there in Ann Arbor. I was a grad student at the University of Michigan. This is my old union, so I’m not going to pretend to be objective here. I’m going to try to make sure we get you all the info that you need.
But I have a very personal stake in this. And this is the second strike that GEO has weighed in three years. I have seen how this administration works, I know how they work, I know how they treat their workers, and I think this is really, really important. But I did, just for the sake of transparency, just want to let everyone know that. So take what I say for whatever it’s worth, but please listen to everything that Yeager has to say.
Karen, how about you? Can you introduce yourself to the great Real News viewers and listeners?
I sure can. Thanks for having me on Maximillian. My name is Karen Carlin. I’m a longtime employee of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’ve been a copy editor there for more than 25 years. And I’m also a proud member of the newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents the newsroom employees at the PT.
This month, the Guild and four other Post Gazette unions who represent the typographers who handle advertising, the press operators, the mailers, the drivers, we are all marking six months being on strike. But our labor issues with the company that owns the Post Gazette blocked communications, go back much further than that. On March 31st, we marked six years since the expiration of our last negotiated collective bargaining agreement. It’s been six years since we’ve had a contract and we’ve been on strike for six months.
After our contract expired in 2017, we kept going back to the table, we were negotiating, and then unfortunately the pandemic hit. And then July of 2020 at the height of the shutdown, the company imposed new work rules, obviously not agreed to or negotiated, and they did that based on illegally declaring an impasse.
Back in October, our production unions walked out when the company refused to pay $19 per week, an increase in healthcare premiums. And then on October 18th, the guild also went on strike on an unfair labor practice. There we are, unfortunately a strike veteran looks like in this group. And we’re still hard at work trying to stay at it, tell people about our cause and how people can support us, and we’re just still trying to fight the good fight.
Hell yeah. And so why don’t we keep going around the table. We’ll go to Grace, then Zach, then Reagan.
Grace Bichanga Larson:
Hi everyone. My name is Grace Larson. I use she/her pronouns. And until last Tuesday, March 28th, I was a float support staff in the state of Minnesota. Float nurse in the state of Minnesota for Planned Parenthood North Central States, which means I service the Twin Cities as well as greater Minnesota.
I am also part of PPNCS’s first union bargaining team. Last spring, we overwhelmingly voted to form our union with over 90% support, and we have over a hundred job classes within our union. We began negotiations in October and they have been contentious, to say the least. There’s been lots of union busting tactics. The entire bargaining team has already been under investigation as well as received severe punishment and I was terminated last week. I will share more about my story on that next pass around, but thanks for having me here tonight. I appreciate it.
Thank you for being here. Grace and may I just say for all of us here at the Real News, boo. Boo, hiss, hiss. I hope everyone in the live chat is booing. That’s bullshit. Okay, Zach, then Reagan.
Massive boo, massive boo for all the union busting we put up with. My name is Zach, I’m with the Hearst Union Bargaining Committee. We’re organized with the Writer’s Guild of America East. We represent about 500 members at 28 different magazine brands such as Cosmo, Oprah, Esquire, Seventeen, the list, the list goes on and on.
We first announced back in 2019 our intent to unionize and Hurst wanted us to go to a vote so we went to a vote. There was a very long union busing campaign, lots of the classics, know your rights kind of emails and meetings on the 43rd floor where we were told we didn’t need a third party and if we don’t like working here, we can get out, that kind of stuff.
But we persevered. We won our election in July, 2020 and started bargaining in January, 2021. And it’s April, 2023 and we’re still bargaining. It’s been a long couple of years, but we’re getting closer to the end of it.
Hurst has been union busting for over a hundred years, so they’re a pretty strong enemy on that front. They have a tendency to reject every proposal we have, be it just like providing masks in the pandemic or gender neutral bathrooms. They’ll redline everything and call it, “Well, we can’t say yes to that, this isn’t company policy,” forgetting what bargaining is, which is negotiating over how to change company policy for the better of the worker.
But we’re reminding them of that pretty well. We had a walkout last week or two weeks ago, I’m sorry, where we had hundreds of our employees walk off the office floor in New York, Alabama, Easton, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. We’ve had Slack actions where we’ve scheduled messages to every channel.
… actions where we’ve scheduled messages to every channel every hour on the hour saying, “Fair contract now.” And we’re getting pretty close. We almost finished our contract last Tuesday. We were up until 4:00 AM bargaining, and then her lawyers said that there’s too much work to do and they had to go home. One of the bigger things was they don’t have a roster of who works for them and what their job titles are and what salaries we make. And so without that, we can’t negotiate over salaried minimums, which is very important to our unit. We have people making 40,000, 45,000, which is very low in terms of digital media shops. We don’t really have any guaranteed salary increases, so we have a lot of stagnant wage folks that would like to be able to pay rent. Working for a legacy brand is nice, but we got to feed ourselves and we got to pay rent. So we’re still bargaining and we’re hoping to wrap this up and get back to work.
Hell yeah. Reagan, why don’t you round us out and then we’ll go back around the table and we’ll get deeper in on these different struggles.
Hi, my name is Reagan. I am representing the Stripper Strike Noho. I’m really happy to be on the show again. The last time I was on the show I think was almost a year ago. It’s been a year into our labor struggle. We are the dancers at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in Los Angeles. We wrote a petition and delivered it to the management at the bar over safety concerns. That’s what our campaign was built on, that we didn’t feel safe, we didn’t feel supported by the managers and we didn’t feel supported by the security guards either. The petition went unheard, and so there was a walkout and then a strike. And then we were fortunate enough to get a lot of public attention and media on our campaign and surprisingly very kind and favorable media coverage, which is surprising. It’s something that we didn’t necessarily expect.
And so, actually, this is a good story so far. No terrible endings yet, although it is still unresolved. We are now post strike, we are in a legal battle with the club, which is extremely union busting. They’re trying to do everything possible to avoid being held accountable for all of the safety concerns. As well as the other thing that we are fighting very hard for is an end to racist hiring practices in the club because they to date have never hired a single black dancer at this club. So that’s also something that we are fighting against. Right now, the club is in bankruptcy court. I think that they thought that that was a really boss move, was to try to call our our bluff by filing for bankruptcy. We in turn pivoted by announcing a fundraiser to buy the club from them out of bankruptcy. So now they’re trying to get out of bankruptcy.
Tomorrow is actually a hearing where we find out if they’re able to do that. So cross your fingers that they can’t get out of bankruptcy court. We will find out tomorrow, so more on that soon. Another pertinent note is that we are organizing with the Actors Union, the Actors Equity Association, they represent theater actors and stage managers. We have a really wonderful support system with that incredible 100-year-old union. Yeah, it’s been a very exciting time. It’s been over a year now, so we’re definitely hoping for some resolution soon. The big hearing coming up with us with the NLRB is on May 15th. That’s when some exciting things are going to be happening and we’ll be able to finally move forward with our election results for our union as well as all of the ULPs. There are six ULPs that we filed. So in the thick of it right now, but it’s going well, question mark, but happy to be here.
We’re so happy to have you back on. I know you’ve been running around juggling eight million things, so I’m grateful to you for making time for this, Reagan. It is genuinely really, really good to see you again. If folks want some more context on this important struggle in North Hollywood, you can go back on our YouTube channel and check out that interview that Reagan and I did about a year ago.
I just wanted to remind everyone before we go back around the table that, again, we learned this from the first Worker Solidarity livestream that we did, to put the important links that are going to be mentioned on the livestream in the YouTube description for the livestream itself. So again, if you want to find the Linktree for the Stripper Strike in Noho, including links to where you can buy merchandise to support their strike, links to supporting their fund to buy the Star Garden Bar from the current managers, or follow them on social media, that link is in the YouTube description along with a petition that has been started to get Planned Parenthood to rehire Grace, Strike Funds for Medieval Times, and different links for how you can support our fellow workers at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Hurst Union, so on and so forth. I just wanted to remind everyone of that before we go back around the table, but if you’re looking for those links, they are in the YouTube description.
Also, please follow these unions, these different accounts on social media. As Erin Zapcic said in her video update, keeping the awareness up is really important. Every boss I’ve ever known and reported on banks on all of us just forgetting about these struggles. They count on it. They know that there’s going to be maybe an initial rush of support on social media, but they expect, like everything else, that our attention spans are going to wane, that people are going to stop showing up to picket lines, they’re going to stop donating to strike funds, they’re going to stop sharing posts on social media. That is when they turn on the screws. And so again, just to reiterate what I said in the opening, we all have a part to play here in keeping these struggles going and supporting our fellow workers and making sure that they win.
Now, let’s go back around the table and give viewers and listeners some deeper context here on these respective struggles. Obviously, we’re talking about a mix of things here, an unjust firing, an effort to unionize and to even buy a bar in North Hollywood, but also ongoing strikes in academia and in the journalism industry. I want to leave things open for you all and ask if you could take about five minutes each to give viewers and listeners a deeper sense of what led us to this point, how we got to where we are with some of y’all out on strike, some of y’all fighting to get your jobs back, so on and so forth, what the response from management has been, what the key issues that y’all are fighting for really are. I guess if you could give yours and listeners more of a sense of how it’s been for you and your coworkers while you’ve been on strike or since you walked out to protest unsafe working conditions. So Yeager, why don’t we start back around with you.
All right. That’s a lot to get to in five minutes, but I can do it. We’ll get to some basics and we’re going to get to the juicy stuff. I think I said before that we’ve been bargaining since November. That bargaining is in air quote because for the first, I want to say, two months, HR was really interested in how many people were in the room and who was going to pay for the rooms and who got to be on the bargaining team. It was all logistics, all like just table, how are we going to do this bargaining stuff? And it wasn’t until February where we got our compensation counter passed. It was abysmal, to be nice maybe. We’ve been bargaining, but on paper it doesn’t look like it because HR has been dragging its feet for so long.
Now, in terms of our demands, we have a pretty diverse platform because, of course, we have a diverse union, a lot of graduate students here at the university. We are a fighting for bread and roses, we’re not limiting ourselves here. So in a couple bullet points, we’re fighting for a living wage of $38,500 for all graduate students every year. Currently we make 24, which is below the living wage for Ann Arbor. And in fact, if we continue at the raises that HR is suggesting, we will be below with the poverty line and will be eligible for SNAP benefits, which I guess are not that important to them. We’re also looking for transitional funding for survivors of harassment and abuse, affordable and accessible child care for graduate students who are parents, equitable and just healthcare for all graduate workers, especially trans and disabled grad students, an unarmed non-police emergency response on campus, protections and financial support for international grad students, and basic COVID protections.
When I said diverse, I mean, we know that all of these things affect our workplace and are relevant to our contract and our ability to do our jobs. It’s been really cool to see all of the new members or new graduate students in my department realize what is possible through a union and realizing how much goes into our work. Now, I said juicy stuff, and I’m going to see if I can get through all of it because, y’all, I got so many interesting little stories for y’all. In terms of the good things with our strike for a week, we have organized a strike kitchen. So a few times a week, thanks to donated space and generous donations of food from our community, we feed ourselves. We do a vegan meal. We did chana masala the other day, we did chili the other day. And it’s just all grad members and volunteers who are putting this together, and it’s a great way to build community during the strike.
On the first day of our strike, we had a walkout from our offices, from our departments at 10:24 to start the strike, and thousands of people showed up in the rain. We’ve also been looking for ways to evolve how we strike. So in addition to not working, we usually do the picketing and the rallies, but also tomorrow we’re trying a knit-in instead of a sit-in as a way for people to still do visibility for our union without having to walk in circles for three hours and without all of the sensory overload that comes from picketing. Sometimes you need a break from all the loud noises.
In terms of the bad for our strike, it’s been raining and snowing on us a lot, but we got Geo Pancho, so we’re doing great. Now, the ugly is where it can get scary, but it also gives us moments of real community and power. The university has tried a couple forms of retaliation. In particular, I’ve got a couple stories on a picket line the other day. One of the departments in a building that actually I work in, one of the departments threatened to call cops on picketers, especially because they were using a bucket drum. Apparently they didn’t know that it’s our right to picket and protest. Another department is currently trying to disband its own diversity, equity, and inclusion committee because that committee was looking for ways to support graduate students. The university is now committed to attestation forms and, well, maybe more like snitching forms, for people to inform on striking workers so that those workers will not get paid.
In addition, the big retaliation is we are facing an injunction. This was basically the university suing us. Ironically, this week is Graduate Student Appreciation Week, so in appreciation, they sued us, that’s really considerate of them. The firm that they’re suing us through is the same firm at Butte Long that blocked investigations into the Flint water crisis. So the university is really showing whose side it is on right now. I have a little bit of good news to end off on, at least right now. We had a hearing yesterday. We marched en masse with allies and even our students and our professors to the courthouse in Washtenaw County in advance of the injunction and the temporary restraining order that would’ve forced us off strike and back into our classrooms while we were still bargaining was denied. So we are still on strike and we have an evidentiary hearing on Monday. So we are going strong despite the rain, despite the retaliation, and despite the injunction.
Hell. Yeah. I think you did that with a minute to spare. That was expertly done. And so I’m going to just say I’m going to pass this off to Karen and then I’m going to shut up. So then, Grace hop in after Karen, Zach after Grace, so on and so forth. But I just wanted to say, again, as an alum of the University of Michigan, as a former GEO member, as a former graduate student, I’m not paying shit to that university until the administration does right by the workers who make that university run, the workers through whom the mission of the university actually lives, the people teaching the students, grading the papers, doing the research, doing a shit ton of bureaucratic administrative essential work that keeps the university going. These are the people who make the University of Michigan run, and the university administration needs to recognize that instead of running to the courts every time that workers are demanding safe COVID polity policies or, Jesus Christ, a living wage in a cost of living crisis. Instead of paying graduate workers a living wage so they can actually pay rent and put food on the table, the fact that the university administration is doing what it did during the strike in 2020, running to the courts, filing an injunction, suing the union, and trying to break the strike instead of coming to the bargaining table with serious proposals.
As an alumni, I’m frankly disgusted with the University of Michigan’s actions, and I call upon other alumni and anyone who supports this struggle to make those feelings known to the university administration. Okay, I told you, guys, you can take my comments for what they’re worth. Now, Karen, please, yeah, give us some more context on the struggle over there in Pittsburgh. I know that, as you said, has been a long drawn-out process that’s been building for a long time and y’all have been facing some really vicious union busting yourselves.
I have to say, yeah, it’s been a hell of a slog. Boy, Yeager, I can really relate when you put bargaining sessions in quotes. I think we’ve had four since the strike began, and it’s very frustrating because I remember there’s so many of my colleagues that we would be sitting there at the bargaining table and we’re not bargaining. We’re coming forth with proposals, “How can we do this? How can we change that?” And all the company can seem to say is “No, no, no.” “We stand firm on what we wanted do at 2020.” “Well, that’s not what we wanted in 2020. That was something that you imposed on us that we didn’t agree to.” So that’s been frustrating.
In fact, we had two bargaining sessions scheduled last week. One was with the production unions and one was with the guild, and the company didn’t show up to those even though they had agreed to those dates beforehand because now they’ve decided they do not want to participate with federal mediators, which was also something that they had agreed to earlier, as we had. Frustrating is just the word I’m going to keep repeating, and I’m sorry about that, but it seems to be the most apt way to describe all that.
Meanwhile, while all that is going on, the company is just pouring money into things such as having the paper printed at another facility, people who have crossed the picket line and who are still working at the paper getting raises, getting bonuses, money being paid to increase security because, I mean, I don’t know what’s scarier than a mob full of journalists. I can understand that, I guess. But it astounds me as to the amount of money that the company is willing to pour out when with that same amount they probably could have settled the strike three at least three, four times over. People tell me at least six times over that they could have just settled this. We could have gone back to our jobs, the jobs that we love, informing the community, letting them know what’s going on. Local journalism is so important.
Like I said, it’s just incredibly frustrating because this is keeping us from our jobs. We want to make the paper an attractive place to work. We’re not just doing this for ourselves, but we’re doing this for the future of other people who will come. We want to make the paper an attractive place to work. I mean, nobody gets into journalism for the money, that’s what we all say. But we at least want to have a job where our wages, where we can raise families, we can stay in this great town of Pittsburgh, because it is a great town, it is a union town. These are the things that we would like to see.
I would like to mention, one good thing that has happened is at the end of January the NLRB agreed with us that the actions of the company have been particularly egregious, and an administrative law judge ruled in our favor, unfair labor practice, that the company did violate federal labor law. They’ve ordered the company to bargain in good faith with guild and restore the terms of the contract that expired in 2017 and rescind the imposed working conditions from 2020. That law judge also said that the company must make its employees whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits that resulted from its unlawful, unilateral changes, again, from the working conditions that they illegally and unilaterally imposed on us in 2020.
Well, of course the company disagreed with that and they’ve appealed to the NLRB in DC. If the NRLB rules in our favor, which we expected it will, the company will take it to the Court of Appeals. So again, more money paid to lawyers. Who knows what kind of fines or anything they’re going to have to pay out. Again, it just shows how much the company is willing to just spend money on the wrong thing. It just keeps bringing to a point that then the whole point of this is that they’re trying to bust the union. I mean, why else would they go to this expense, this much trouble this much with the lawyers, with the printing elsewhere, with everything else? I mean, they want to bust the union. They figure if they can drag it out, then hopefully people will leave, they will get other jobs, and there won’t be that many left of us. That’s just a frustrating thing to watch them try to do this and just break us down and rub us down to a nub.
But we’re not willing to let that happen. We’re strong. We’re committed. We know what we’re doing is right and that we’re on the right side of this fight. We’ve had some really incredible support from our community when we have rallies, the people that turn out, the Starbucks workers. The steel workers have been wonderful supporters of us. There are so many other unions that have come to our events, that they have given donations to our strikers’ fund, which anyone can donate by going to the unionprogress.com/donate. Speaking of Union Progress, it’s one of the things that we have been doing is our award-winning journalists, photographers, designers, editors, we’re all working on a strike public strike publication called The Union Progress. People can go to unionprogress.com in order to keep up with our strike and also find out some of the activities that we’ve been doing and learn how to participate and support us.
Grace Bichanga Larson:
Awesome. Yeah, so I’m Grace Larson, she/her pronouns. Like I said, until last Tuesday, March 28th, I was a nurse working for Planned Parenthood of the North Central States. That is a five state affiliate, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. We historically unionized our five state affiliate, including 100 different job classes, so we’ve got support staff, we have admin staff, we have front desk clinicians. Basically everyone who is not supervisory is included in our union. So that’s been really awesome just in and of itself. In the beginning of this fight, we were really excited because although they did make us go to a vote instead of just acknowledging us after we went public, they did… they being Planned Parenthood of the North Central State… said that they were going to support the union and the voice of their 400-plus employees.
And then so 14 of my colleagues, including myself, were elected by our constituents to represent our union. We began bargaining in October, and out of the gates, things started pretty hot and contentious. Our lead negotiator from SEIU wanted to start things a little differently because we were doing this progressive unionization and like, “Let’s start things off a little different. So let’s come to the table and talk about the ideas and the thoughts of what we want out of this contract.” We spent eight hours collectively making this beautiful vision and values statement for what we thought was going to go in the contract. There was a lot of intense words exchanged across the table from our 14 passionate representatives to our very white executive team that was sitting across from us. There is one person of color sitting across the table from us, but the rest are all lawyers by education. So that’s interesting that those are the people they selected to choose to represent Planned Parenthood.
And then the next time we met at the table, they told us, “Just kidding. That was a cute joke that we just wanted to appease you with. Your hard work and your words and what you want for this contract is not going to go into this. So that was just a fun joke.” Rightfully so, we started really upset, but we did know that we had a lot of support from our larger group in the union. So we started handing out swag, t-shirts, lanyards, buttons, all the things, and wouldn’t you know, as soon as people start showing up to work in their union t-shirts, our dress code that has never been enforced is suddenly enforced. If you show up outside of the one day a week that you are allowed to wear a t-shirt, you will get written up if you do not choose to change out of that. We have had some comrades fight the good fight and be like, “Write me up. It’s a t-shirt. I have worn other t-shirts before that have never been an issue, whether they’ve been-
T-shirts before that have never been an issue, whether they’ve been reproductive justice or not, so that’s kind of had administration kind of boiling and upset. And then in January, there was an incident between two bargaining members. Ultimately, we did ask a bargaining team member to step down, and shortly after, the remaining bargaining team was placed under an investigation. Our investigation was led by someone sitting across the table from us, although we do have an entire compliance department that could have led this investigation, and would not have been a conflict of interest, being that she was investigating the entire bargaining team. Ultimately, one person was terminated. She actually was not placed under investigation, so, I’m sorry, one person was terminated, one person was asked to step down, 12 were put under investigation.
All 12 of us ended with a final written warning, which I would like to say no one in the affiliate had heard of until it was placed in our file. That final written warning states that any violation moving forward, whether it pertains to the alleged initial violation or not … just any violation of any conduct … can and will lead to our immediate termination; that discipline had no end date; and, as I stated, management and people who have been in the organization for over 12, 15 years have been like, “We’ve never heard of that.” Typically, a discipline has a start and an end date, and then you move on.
So, that investigation ended March 3rd, the same day that a group of us made some really powerful statements on why it is imperative that we codify language to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our contract. We have not heard back on a response from the employer since November, and that didn’t sit well with a lot of us, especially since we did survey our larger group and everyone, that was a big concern, especially being that we are in Planned Parenthood. We say that we show up for DEI, and we wanted that language codified, so we made some really strong speeches.
Five days later, I was placed under investigation. This time it was just me, and it was in regards to a whistleblower email that I sent to a third-party organization on my own time, from my personal email address, in regards to a concern that I had about an employee that worked for that third-party organization, as well as within my organization; because this person was in charge of educating youth on safe and healthy practices, I wanted them to be aware of information that I had about an alleged assault. And I never heard back from that organization, but within two days, Planned Parenthood had me under investigation.
So, I pressed them as to how my personal time can be brought into my workspace. I did not get answers about that. I told them that I am a mandated reporter by law; forget Planned Parenthood. I already gave them my report. They had done nothing with it, so I went to the next step, and they said, “We will let you know in writing how this pertains to your employment.” Immediately, I took a 12-day leave of absence for my mental health because it has significantly deteriorated since the beginning of January. I have started taking medication. I’ve began experiencing suicidal ideation. It’s been intense.
So, I took a 12-day leave of absence, came back to work March 28th. Was not ready to come back to work. Had a very massive panic attack that day, left, and was subsequently terminated on a six-minute Zoom call by the same person who was the conflict of interest in the initial investigation.
So, since then, as we’ve stated, there is a petition going around to have my job reinstated. I am currently still working with my union to get my job back. There have been a few, a multipart unfair labor practice charge filed against Planned Parenthood, in addition to prior unfair labor practice charges that had been filed throughout this short stint of bargaining, and we did a little rally yesterday, we’ve got a big rally on the University of Minnesota campus next week for a public action, and right now we just want people to sign the petition so I can get back to providing abortion care and family planning to the people who need me, especially my Black and brown patients, and put some pressure on Planned Parenthood, because we’re progressive and shouldn’t be union busting; but it is absolutely union busting. So, thanks.
Grace, I have signed the petition while you were talking. I hope everyone else watching does as well. That’s truly horrible that, on the face of it, such a progressive brand is just the bottom of the barrel kind of boss behavior that we’ve all experienced. I’m so sorry that’s happening to you.
Over at Hearst, we’ve also been experiencing … it feels like a broken record, but also a lot of union busting as well. It’s a broken labor system right now, so it’s going to be the same kind of stories.
From the beginning of our announcing our union efforts, we were hauled up into these intimidating meetings on the 43rd floor. That was an issue enough, but the other problem, I think, with organizing digital media shops is there are a lot of frills. There’s a free table of books you can take home, there’s seltzer in the fridge. And so … I mean, I had this as well when I was first approached of, “Do you want to sign the union card?” I was like, “Well, this is the coziest kind of job I’d have. I’m indoors, no one’s attacking me physically; I feel like this is … We’re okay here.”
And then you think about it more, and you realize no amount of free seltzers can make up for the bullying that people have been … put up with, or the stagnant wages like we’ve mentioned, or the incredibly long hours. I know someone who worked 26 hours to get an assignment done, and then was told he could show up an hour or two late; like, no, that’s almost a full week. He should not work that hours. And we’re not saving lives, we’re making magazine articles. It should not be this insane.
Another big hurdle I think that we’re experiencing with bargaining is, like I said earlier, Hearst management is constantly saying no to proposals or policies that, on the surface, you’re like, “I don’t know why we have to explain why this is necessary, or why it’s important to our unit.” One of our proposals they are flat-out refusing to go along with is, we would like union members to bring a union rep with them to HR when they’re reporting sexual harassment or bullying. This is obviously a very important issue everywhere, but it feels extra important at Hearst.
In recent years … I think around the summer of 2020 … the president of our company, Troy Young, there was a number of articles about him in the New York Times and the New York Magazine about horrific sexual harassment comments. It’s really gross stuff I won’t repeat here, but you can look it up. The New York Magazine has a great picture of him in a garbage can that I quite enjoy. And it’s because of that kind of behavior he was allowed to rise to the top of this corporation, even though everyone kind of knew what he was doing, and who he was, it’s because of that that our members have identified like, “Yeah, we want a union rep in the meeting,” and the company has refused; and it’s hard to try to explain humanity to a place where that doesn’t exist.
We also have a number of ULPs, unfair labor practice charges. We have about three currently still under investigation. We’ve had more. One is for, they laid off part of our fashion hub, and then refused to negotiate severance. Another is they had regressive bargaining, where they took back their proposal on giving us an annual salary increase for the first year. And the last one happened at my brand, Delish. There was a recording of a union meeting where we were talking about a supervisor who was bullying our union members, and that recording was passed to HR and a few other editors-in-chiefs, and a number of our members were retaliated against; were questioned about the meeting, were told their tone was inappropriate … And we’re talking about trying to have each other’s backs, and the things that we’re being criticized for is our tone.
Eventually, our original bargaining committee member and organizer, June Zee, she was terminated, and we believe it was because of her advocacy for the union, so that’s still outstanding. You can read about that in Business Insider.
So, we’ve had a lot going against us, but what we have going for us is each other. I never really talked to many of the people, both at my brand, or especially at other brands, and now they’re the people I talk to the most, because of organizing calls and things like that. We just had an action where we handed out leaflets in the Hearst executive neighborhoods that said, “Have you seen this union buster?” and it was pictures of the Hearst executives, in their neighborhoods. And we had a bunch of people from the Financial Times Specialist who volunteered to join us, and they’re not even in our union. And they showed up for us, and we’re going to show up for them.
So, I truly think that kind of action, while it has been a very hard road for us, we’re going to get there, we’re going to get the better rights and the better pay for each other, because we’re all in this together. It’s not just about what I’m going to get out of a contract, it’s about what I could do for those who have less than me, and it’s about building a place that we can agree is a better place to work.
Wow. I just want to say, hearing all of these stories from everyone on the panel is really inspiring, and I’m just so proud to be a part of this community, and happy to be supporting you all, and I will be signing all the petitions and amplifying all of these struggles.
So, I just wanted to talk about some of the highs and lows of our struggle with the Stripper Strike Noho. I wanted to say that I feel very lucky to have such a strong solidarity bond with the dancers who have been involved, who have walked out, who have been striking for a year, and are now embroiled in this whole labyrinthine legal battle. I talk more about this in the interview that I had about a year ago, just sort of the conditions that allowed for this strike to even happen, which is kind of, I think, unique; but not unique in the way that it couldn’t be repeated, but special, a special set of circumstances, kind of like the correct ingredients in the Petri dish for a set of dancers to really have each other’s back, and to be willing to put their selves on the line, and to also be lucky enough to be able to put themselves on the line, if that makes sense.
And another high of the campaign has been the picket lines, which we’re no longer doing at the moment. We are not on the picket line anymore, but we were picketing for seven or eight months, and we’re sort of known for re-imagining the picket line. So, for us, that meant having a different theme for every night. We needed to make the picket line something that was fun, something that people wanted to go to and wanted to be a part of, and so we kind of re-imagined it as a party; so, different themes, costumes, putting on different skits, like street theater style, and then also making a bunch of content creation, really using social media to our advantage to get the word out. And it made our strikes pretty popular, and then that led to another high of the campaign pretty early on.
Last June, we were invited to represent ourselves at the labor conference, Labor Notes, that was held in Chicago, and I was one of the dancers representing our movement, and also presenting. We were invited to speak on a number of panels, and one of them was about our picket line, and about using social media and stuff.
And so, for me, that was a turning point in the campaign, and also in my life, because I was introduced, I think, for the first time … in a real way … physically being in a space with thousands of workers who just had my back. I just had never … I had never felt that before, and the sort of outpouring of support and comradery, solidarity, and acceptance from the labor movement was truly eye-opening, life-changing, and really very significant to our campaign, because we were welcomed into the labor movement, no questions asked. It wasn’t, “Do we deserve to be here? Do we belong here?” Everyone just made us feel so welcome, and that we did belong, and that we were a part of this, so that was a really, really inspiring part of the campaign.
And then, we also had an opportunity to go to speak at the Department of Labor in front of OSHA, which was … We had a mixed experience. That was an honor, but it was also definitely a mixed experience of highs and lows, kind of emulating the whole rollercoaster of this whole campaign, but basically being treated with respect sometimes, and then dealing with some really inappropriate comments from people at OSHA, and trying … Yeah, there was a representative from OSHA who tried to convince us to be saved by Jesus, and that was right after we had given our testimony in a room full of workers, like healthcare workers and construction workers, and then someone literally approaching you to sort of sermonize was very bizarre, and kind of … well, extremely off-putting.
So, it was definitely a mixed experience, but getting to travel to DC and be, I think the first out dancers at a strip club, giving testimony to a government agency was a huge step forward. That’s never been done before, so that was definitely a high, even though it was a mixed bag.
And then, I also just wanted to say, we also got the opportunity to stump for a politician who had actually showed up on our picket line. He was running for city council, and he was … He’s a member of UNITE HERE Loca 11, very pro-union, and he ended up winning, and so just … And that isn’t the only time that we’ve sort of been building relationships with politicians; something that I thought that that would never happen, you know? Since when are the strippers and the politicians working together, out in the open? So, I think that that was really cool.
And then also, we have the opportunity … What we’re doing right now is we’re working with the LA Coop Lab, and that is a great organization that is helping us to form a co-op. It’s called the Stripper Co-Op. It’s something that we have been incubating and working on, doing pop-up shows over the past year-and-a-half, and we are now looking to … That was a project that many of us were sort of already working on, and now it’s a part of our strike, our plans for how our campaign is moving forward, because now we’re trying to buy the club out of bankruptcy … Hopefully good news about that, hopefully, hopefully coming soon …
But, basically, we are following in the footsteps of the first and only, up until this point, unionized co-op strip club, which was The Lusty Lady that was formed in the 1990s. It ran successfully for, I think 13 years before it closed due to gentrification in San Francisco, but we are in contact with those lusty ladies, and they are a part of our strategy and our building of our co-op, and so they’re sort of our mentors, and we are looking to follow in their footsteps to open the only current … and only since The Lusty Lady … the only unionized stripper co-op. So, that’s what we’re doing now.
And then, the only other thing … A downer that I wanted to mention is dealing with discrimination, and not just things that people say or what people think, but trying to do all of this above the board, trying to do all of this legally, trying to do all of this legitimately is difficult, because there is so much discrimination from organizations of power, like banks. Just something that we’re dealing with just this week is, we opened a bank account for this co-op, with a business model and an operating agreement. We’re doing everything legitimately, and we were just informed that the bank is closing our account. We can’t apparently appeal that or anything. And it’s simply for having the word ‘stripper’ in the title. And we were in the process of changing the name because we just got an LLC that does not have the word ‘stripper’ in it, to try to avoid this in the future, but we also had our Venmo and PayPal permanently banned for the same reason.
So, there’s just … Trying to operate legitimately when you have a perfectly legal business, but that is just not conventional, is a real problem, and something that strippers and sex workers, and other marginalized people, face more often than you might hear about, because it’s not talked about, and that’s why a lot of these businesses don’t operate on the aboveboard way. And we’re trying to change that, so, just one step at a time, these are just some of the struggles that we are facing in this uphill battle.
Man. I mean, I’m so, so grateful to all of you for laying all of that out, and just like in previous worker solidarity livestreams that we’ve done here … and like I said, we’ve talked to so many different folks working in journalism, higher education, lunch ladies in Minnesota, and all of you folks, folks working on the railroads, in coal mines, folks on strike at the University of California, and the new school, so on and so forth, and I guess I’m constantly just floored by the diversity of our struggle, our collective struggle, the different kind of nuances to those struggles, and how the kind of different circumstances of those struggles shape the kind of union busting that people face, the kind of demands that they’re making, the ways, the strategies that they’re developing for achieving their goals, wherever they happen to be.
And I think what comes out of these stories … I’m sure everyone else was hearing it … is just for as diverse as your struggles are, there’s so much that connects these struggles. There’s so much that I’m hearing echoed in your different testimonies, and the different crap that you all are dealing with, from bosses to banks to moralizing, sermonizing shitheads at OSHA. I mean, there really is, I think, some common threads there, and I wanted to kind of pick up on that, because we don’t have a whole lot of time left, and I do want to go back around the table. I was looking at the livechat, and I really appreciate everyone in there sharing their thoughts, and I’m seeing tons of people expressing support and solidarity with y’all.
Folks, again, if you want to find the links to the strike funds, to the hardship funds, to the petitions, and so on and so forth, we have included those links in the YouTube description for this livestream, which you can access at any time.
And we won’t really have time to kind of go into viewer questions, but what I’ve been seeing in the chat is really … I think the main question that we always try to end these livestreams with, and that I try to end every interview with, which is, what can people do to stand in solidarity with y’all, and to show support for you all, and to help you in these struggles, and to … What can we all learn from each other, right?
I mean, even in your different testimonies, I feel like y’all have been talking about some incredible examples of real robust, tangible solidarity, from lecturers and even tenured faculty showing up, and students showing up to picket lines to support their graduate student workers at the University of Michigan. I’ve seen pictures of folks from Reagan’s club, and The Medieval Times that we mentioned in Buena Park, on each other’s picket lines, supporting each other.
That is incredible. That is what the bosses fear. They try to isolate us, they try to convince us that our struggles have nothing to do with each other, that our interests are unique, particular, and not something that working people elsewhere can sympathize with or understand, but I hope … to anyone who watches this livestream or any of our previous livestreams … it becomes apparent, just by listening to our fellow workers, how much we do have in common, and how much stake we all have in these struggles, because–
… and how much stake we all have in these struggles because ultimately, what we’re talking about is the struggle for human dignity. We are all working people. Or as the great speech in the movie Matewan says, “There are two kinds of people in this world. There are people who work and people who don’t.” You work. They don’t. The bosses don’t, right? The ruling class doesn’t. Wall Street, they don’t work. They don’t produce shit. We produce everything. As Matthieu Bolle-Reddat, the train driver I mentioned at the beginning who’s on strike in France right now, says more beautifully and more Frenchly than I ever could, “It is we, the working class, who make the world run.” As he said to me, “We are the only useful class. We are the only class that produces anything and without us, society stops.”
That is true of everyone on this panel. It’s true of all of you watching. It’s true of the workers that we speak to week in, week out, here on The Real News Network. And yet, I think also, the bosses kind of showed their hand because they are invoking very similar union busting, strike-breaking, worker disciplining tactics to crush us back into subservience. You can hear echoes, like they’re learning from each other. The bosses are all watching each other. This is what I would say on previous live streams when people would get into those debates of like, “Oh, well the Starbucks workers, they’re not real workers, so we’re not going to support them, but we should go support these coal miners in Alabama who are on strike.” Then we get Starbucks workers and coal miners saying like, “Well, fuck that. We should all be supporting one another.” It’s not that hard. We can support one another.
The thing is that whether or not you think Starbucks baristas are “real workers,” compared to coal miners or industrial manufacturers, I guarantee you every boss, from university administrators to strip club owners to everyone in between, they have been watching what Howard Schultz and Starbucks have been doing to try to crush the unionization wave happening across the country right now. They have been watching intently how the government has been responding or not been responding, how workers have been responding or not been responding, how the public has been responding or not been responding. The bosses are sharing notes on how to crush us back into subservience. We need to share notes on how to beat them.
That’s what I want to do with this final turn around the table is to just ask our amazing panel, if you could say a little more about the support that you’ve received and where we can all do better. All of us here on this call, everyone watching, the public at large, I guess, what can we learn from your respective struggles on how to better support one another and why we should be supporting one another? If you could put in a final plug for how folks watching can support you all and your fellow workers right here, right now, we’ll close out on that. So Yeager, kick us off again.
I have the wildest thing that’s going to tie together a bunch of things that was said, starting straight from it mattering that we learn from each other, and it matters that we all, from different industries and different states all over the place, learn from each other the way the bosses are learning from each other. I was at Labor Notes as well, and I went to the Labor Notes panel on picketing with [inaudible 01:21:45] and Reagan, and you know what we’re doing with our picket lines this year that we didn’t do in 2020? We’re dancing, and having parties and music. We didn’t do that. We didn’t know that was something we could do. Immediately, we learned from y’all. So I know you shared something horrible, but our strike is indebted to you, Reagan, and I am so excited that I got to share that.
Another immediate way that I think we underestimate our power is with social media. Listen, I am… The only reason I don’t consider myself Gen Z is that I teach Gen Z and I can’t keep up with them, but it matters how we present ourselves and how much we can clown on our employers on TikTok, and on Twitter, and on Facebook. As an extreme example, earlier this week, the graduate school at University of Michigan was having a webinar in honor of Cesar Chavez Day, and it was hosted by Christine Chavez, but Christine Chavez found out that we were on strike and she said, “Absolutely not. I’m not crossing a picket line. You need to bargain with your workers in good faith and get them a fair contract.” We are standing on shoulders of people who are giants in union history, and people who are in the same fights as us right now. Our university really wants to look good, and it wants to look so good that our new university President Santa Ono, canceled an event rather than have us get a picture of him crossing one of our picket lines. It actually matters when we are sharing stuff on social media because we see it and the broader community sees it.
We also learn from each other, not just strategy, but what we are able to do through a union. So in GEO, we have an abolition caucus and a housing caucus because we know that the community fights are the same thing as worker fights. In fact, something that I think GEO has done really well, and that’s not just because I’m a co-chair of the Queer/Trans Caucus, is that we are busting down doors to Trans Health. We have one of the best contracts for Trans Health across higher ed. 10 years ago, I don’t know. People didn’t think that trans people deserve to have rights in our contracts, but the reality is trans rights are our union fight because trans workers are workers. If you’re a worker, you deserve union rights. We can learn so much from each other and the fights that each other, all the other unions, are fighting. We inspire each other.
I’ll do a final plug. We can only be so inspiring when we can’t pay our rent, or can’t pay our childcare, or can’t pay our medical expenses so in addition to the social media and the learning from each other, the hardship fund really matters, too. Like someone else said, a little bit, a lot. That $5 might not be a lot to you, but it might be a lot to the person who can’t buy food otherwise. We’re all in it together. It’s not just your $5, it’s everyone else’s money that’s being put in. So our strike fund has a link that I’m sure is in the notes, but don’t… It’s long, off the top of my head. The amount of bitlys I’ve had to learn in the last week has been astronomical, so go to our website, geo3550.org. It is in a dancing floating button that you just simply can’t miss.
Well, I’m just going to basically echo what Yeager has said. I can’t, again, the same emphasizing how important our struggle fund is to help out our members who are having a lot of difficult financial times; making rent, car payments, buying food, paying other sorts of bills. I would encourage people to donate to that, follow us through the Pittsburgh Union Progress or Strike publication to find out what we’re doing, how people can be part of our rally, some of the campaigns that we’re doing. It’s been wonderful, really uplifting to see the support that we’re getting from the community. We’ve had solidarity pledges from groups and also from politicians who refused to talk to the Post Gazette and will only speak to us. So that’s been really helpful. We just recently had a bunch of yard signs that were printed up that people are picking up and putting in their yards, and we’ve already had to do a reorder of those. It’s just really, really been amazing. And again, follow us, follow the Guild, the Union Progress on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Grace Bichanga Larson:
I am also going to echo everything that Yeager so eloquently laid out, especially about social media. I personally am aware that our organization thing, there is always something happening because there’s things. There’s lots of issues. They are definitely counting on that two second goldfish attention span. If we just keep sharing articles that are coming out about Planned Parenthood, honestly, just putting out Tweets that Planned Parenthood is union busting because it’s Planned Parenthood, just kind of getting the word out that we are still in the fight for a fair contract, and let’s flood our pro-union CEO’s email with demands for my job back. Then just to keep up on the unionizing process, you can follow PPNCS United, which is a union led group. That’s our Planned Parenthood social media for the North Central States on Instagram and Twitter. Then you can also follow our SEIU Minnesota and Iowa on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, I believe. Thanks for everyone having me here tonight.
I want to hop in real quick before I toss it to you, Zach, because A, I wanted to just put in another plug for everyone. Please sign the petition. Let people know about Grace’s unjust firing, and let’s really raise hell about this. Secondly, Grace, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you, just because I know it’s probably a question on a lot of people’s minds, and I know that even some of my shithead colleagues in the media love to opine about the fact that abortion rights are under attack. No shit. We all know that. It’s getting very dark in the country. People’s rights are being stripped left and right. The right is not only attacking our right to privacy, and thus people’s rights to have abortion, but launching a full fledged fascist attack on queer and trans people, writ large. We know that we are in a very dark state.
Some people, even some so-called progressives are using that as an excuse to say, “Well, we shouldn’t deal with unionization right now. Let’s not unionize Planned Parenthood. That’s too much right now.” I was wondering if you just had any closing thoughts on why in fact, this is the time to ensure that workers like yourself at Planned Parenthood are unionized to protect the rights of all of us.
Grace Bichanga Larson:
It is even more imperative right now with all of these rights being under attack that the people able to provide care for these valuable humans are also protected. We can’t pour from an empty cup. People can’t be cutting meds in half. We need livable wages, workers’ rights, and abortion rights and trans rights, our human rights, and we’re all humans on this big earth. It’s not time to pit any movement against each other, but you cannot separate workers’ rights from the humanizing of all of these other issues.
We got to be able to take care of us at Planned Parenthood so that we can continue the mission because nobody wants to leave. Nobody works at Planned Parenthood just for a paycheck. We all work there because we are passionate about the work that we do and the communities that we serve. To be in this moment where abortion rights are under such attack and trans rights are devastatingly at risk, it is unfathomable that these are the fights that we are having to go back and forth with against our bosses, and have to unfortunately blow the whistle and publicly call them out because we had talks about calling them out December, but we were like, no. We don’t want negative press right now because we care about what we do, and we want people to continue supporting all of the work that we do because it is so important But, people are burning out left and right and it’s like we have to uplift what we’re doing so that we can continue doing the imperative work for the communities that we serve. Som thank you for that.
Hell, yeah. Thank you. I really appreciate that. All right, Zach, Reagan, take us home.
Yeah, massive echo of what everyone’s been saying. Personally, I don’t quite like the internet a lot these days. All comment sections are minefields of toxicity. But, I joined this call specifically because I’m such a huge fan of each of the unions on this call. I was on a Pittsburgh Post Gazette Union meeting a while ago, hearing about your strike line and what you’ve been going through. I say the thing that is definitely most helpful in these kinds of things is donating to everyone’s strike funds, following those accounts, keeping aware, retweeting, re-sharing, talking about it. These bosses, they at the core, hate to be embarrassed. They really hate to be embarrassed. They really don’t like everyone knowing exactly who they are, and we should show the world who everyone is because then maybe we’ll get some rights back.
So, you can sign for Hearst. You can sign a letter and send it to our bosses, telling them to get back to the bargaining table, grow up, and get this contract done. You can follow us on social media, Hearst Union, on Twitter and Instagram. I think in the end, my biggest thing that I’ve learned from union work and I love about union work is just it’s an opportunity to have each other’s backs. I think no matter what union you’re in, you should support other workers. We deserve better than what we’re getting because without us, without our work, it’s just a name on the wall. They have nothing but the name without us, and we deserve a fair share of the profits they’re making. Finally, listen to some union songs. It’s been a long process, and I love listening to union songs. It gets me through a lot of really bad bargaining sessions and a lot of frustrating conversations. So shout out to Art, shout out Matawan the movie, and shout out to shows like this for highlighting what we’re all going through. Solidarity to all workers.
Well said everyone. I’m so grateful to be going last because I can just piggyback on everything great that has already been said. I guess the only thing I wanted to add to all of that is when your cup is full, pour some out for someone else. To illustrate what I mean by that is when we started our strike and people were showing up from other unions, I didn’t get it at first. I was like, like, “Oh my God, thank you so much.” They would show up. They brought signs. I mean, we didn’t even have signs at first. We didn’t really know how to do it. We’re like, how do you strike? They showed up with pizza. They showed up with water. They showed up with a megaphone. All these different folks from different unions coming out to support our strike was so meaningful and touching, and we didn’t forget that.
Our cup was empty, and then our other union friends filled it. Now that we’re no longer on strike, we love hearing… I mean, we don’t love hearing that anyone is on strike, but we love being contacted for things that are happening in different communities, in the labor community, in the dancer community, it’s exciting. There’s a lot of dancers now who are starting to stand up for themselves. We were just contacted yesterday by a club that they walked out yesterday in Portland, and they were asking us to amplify them, and sign a petition, and post their strike fund. We’re so happy to be able to do that. For all the other workers in the other unions that just came out, not knowing who we were, not having any personal connection other than we’re in this fight together. They knew that before I knew that, and now that I get it, I’m so happy to support them. I’m so happy to go down and stand with the Medieval Times workers. I’m so happy to go to different strikes and events that unite Here is Holding because of the support that they’ve shown us. It just goes on and on so when your cup is full, try to give some back, especially if you can give it back to folks that filled up your cup in the first place.
The final thing is in the description there is a link to the Strippers Strike NoHo Link Tree, and so I encourage you to check it out. I think the first link on the Link Tree will be our fundraiser to buy the club. It is a slow and steady climb upwards to our massive goal, which the goal might even not be enough to buy the club, but it’s a starting point, and anything helps. This is a grassroots movement. We are hoping for some forthcoming or upcoming celebrity endorsements or something to get it moving a little faster, but everything helps.
Then also, you can buy… I think the next link or a little bit further down the Link Tree is a link to our merch. I’m wearing one of our shirts. It says union, with a Platform Stiletto. We have new shirts. We have updated merch on our merch site, and that goes to help us as well, in our fundraising efforts. So check it out and of course, follow us on Instagram because we are always posting updates. We’re always amplifying other folks in the struggle. That’s @StripperStrikeNoHo on Instagram. Yeah, so thank you everyone for… Oh, I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Oh, yeah. Well, I genuinely can’t thank… You all are incredible panelists enough, but I’m going to do it anyway. I really, really want to thank you, Yeager, Zach, Karen, Reagan, Grace. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us, to share these stories about your struggles, and for fighting the good fight. I want to also thank all of you watching for caring about this. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for donating to these strike funds. Thank you for buying the merch. Thank you for lifting up these and other vital struggles because as you heard from our incredible panelists, we need all of it. We can’t forget about one another. When it comes down to it, I think that’s what I hope these live streams accomplish, and I hope that’s what we leave y’all with, is that it really is that basic sometimes.
We got to show up for one another, and we got to keep showing up for one another and then we got to bring a friend with us and keep showing up for one another. We got to put the bosses on blast. We have to do whatever we can, especially when politicians and corporate media aren’t going to do it for us. We are all we’ve got, but that’s a hell of a lot. We are a hell of a lot, and together, we are one hell of a formidable force. We have way more power than they want us to believe. I think that you can feel that when we do these live streams. You can see that when you look at these different struggles and the ways that working, people are supporting one another, overcoming those divisions and really providing the support that we all need to keep fighting for what we all deserve. What we deserve is the world, because we make the world run.
Thank you all so much for watching. Thank you for caring. I also want to thank our incredible Real News production team who are working behind the scenes, and without whom we could not make this happen. Thank you to our Director of Production, Kayla Rivara, our Studio Director, David Hebden. Thank you to Cameron Granadino for getting me all set up here. Thank you to our Associate Editor, Mel Buer, for hitting it up in the live chat. Really, really love and appreciate all of y’all.
For the Real News Network, this is Maximilian Alvarez signing off. Before you go, please head on over to the realnews.com/support. Become a monthly sustainer of our work so we can keep bringing you important coverage and conversations just like this. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, solidarity forever.