YouTube video

In this special worker solidarity livestream from February 15, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez spoke with workers involved in the ongoing unionization struggles and strikes at Warrior Met Coal, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Medieval Times, Temple University, and Hastings Schools food service, including Haeden Wright, president of UMWA Auxiliary Locals 2368 and 2245; Bob Batz Jr., interim editor at Pittsburgh Union Progress; Erin Zapcic, union steward for Medieval Times Performers United Buena Park; Austin Martin with the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA); and Laurie Potthoff, a cook at Hastings High School in Minnesota.

2022 was a year of intense labor struggle, and that struggle has very much carried over into 2023. 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.

See below for links to strike/hardship funds:

Studio: Dwayne Gladden


The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible. as possible.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Welcome everyone to The Real News Network. My name is Maximillian Alvarez, I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News Network. It’s so great to have you all with us. Thank you so much for joining us on our second Workers’ Solidarity livestream here on The Real News Network YouTube channel. Many of you may have joined us for our previous livestream back in December when we had an incredible panel of folks from the strikes at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama; from the massive strike at the University of California, nontenured track faculty at the new school; and folks from the railroad struggle, Matt Parker from Railroad Workers United, and more.

We definitely want to make these livestreams a regular thing. We think it is important for y’all to hear from as many voices as you can from the front lines of folks who are struggling for a better life, a better workplace, and ultimately a better world, and for us to all know how to support them. That is really the goal of these livestreams. We want to give you access to the folks who are fighting those fights across the country, and beyond, to give updates on those vital struggles, and to let viewers and listeners know what they can do to support our fellow workers in those struggles, and to make sure that they win. And we are going to be doing these more regularly. We would love to hear from you with suggestions for folks that you want us to talk to; ways that we could potentially broaden out these livestreams to put, say, the labor movement in more direct conversation with the tenants’ rights movement, the climate justice movement, so on and so forth.

So we’ve got really big plans for utilizing The Real News Network YouTube channel and our podcast feed, our website this year. We’ve got a lot of great things in store and we’re so grateful to all of you for supporting that work. And before we get going I just wanted to put in a quick plug that The Real News is an independent nonprofit, viewer supported media network. We don’t do ads. We don’t take corporate cash, and we don’t put things behind paywalls, 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 that you care about most; so before you forget please head on over to and become a monthly supporter of our work. It really, really makes a difference.

We’ve got an incredible panel of folks to talk with tonight. I could not be more honored to be joined by this incredible cast of folks. We’re going to be hearing about the vital strikes and workers’ struggles going on at Medieval Times in California, at Temple University in Philadelphia, at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and at Warrior Met Coal, as well as the school system in Minnesota, so it’s a really diverse and great panel of folks.

We’re going to introduce you to all of them in a moment, but first before we get rolling in earnest I want to take a moment to honor our friend, our coworker, and our comrade Marshall “Eddie” Conway. We were devastated to hear the news that Eddie joined the ancestors earlier this week, on February 13th, surrounded by family and loved ones. After falling ill nearly a year ago, while still dealing with the immeasurable toll that 44 years of incarceration as a political prisoner took on his body. Eddie had been hospitalized and fighting valiantly to recover. That is who he is, who he was, and who he always will be. He was the definition of a fighter. He fought his whole life. He fought harder than most people would in 100 lifetimes and he would never, ever let the world break his beautiful spirit. After a lifetime of fighting though the time has come at last for our dear Eddie to rest and for all of us to carry on his fight.

Eddie would be, quite literally, the first person to say that regardless of the heartbreak we, and all those who knew and loved him, are feeling we must press on with our work. Eddie’s commitment to the struggle was genuinely unwavering and he instilled that commitment in everyone who was fortunate enough to know him. Even when his health declined, even when COINTELPRO infiltrated the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party, even when he was framed and wrongfully imprisoned for 44 years, even in the darkest of times, in the most hopeless of places Eddie never stopped organizing, never stopped doing the work to fight injustice and oppression, and to fight for liberation and on the side of the oppressed. He was truly a giant among us yet he walked always with the modest determined gate of a perennial worker bee.

As Eddie himself said, five years after he was finally released from prison in 2014, quote, “Do your little part. Do whatever you can to help change these conditions because we’re moving into a critical period of history, not just for poor and oppressed people, black people, but for humanity itself, so you need to engage. Do whatever little bit you can but you need to do something,” end quote.

Now there will be more announcements to come about memorial services and productions that we hear at The Real News will be putting on to honor Eddie’s live, and legacy. For now we just want to ask all of you to keep Eddie and his family in your prayers, and we are sending all of our love; and solidarity to Eddie’s wife and fellow freedom fighter Dominique, and to their family and friends. I am truly heartbroken, as I know that everyone at The Real News, past and present, is upon learning of Eddie’s passing but I am so damn grateful that I was lucky enough to know this amazing man, however briefly, while he was on this earth.

I, frankly, will never lose faith in what humanity can be and in the world that we can still make together because I knew Eddie Conway. And I just wanted to say, to Eddie, thank you. We love you, we miss you, and we’ll see you again. So please join me in a short moment of silence to send off our brother and comrade Eddie Conway.

Thank you all so much for joining us in that moment of silence and thank you so much to everyone who has reached out in the past 48 hours to share their thoughts, and stories, about Eddie. It’s truly helped all of us to see just what an incredible impact he’s had on the world and to feel that solidarity with everyone who knew him, and knew of him. And as Eddie would say, “Let’s get back to work.”

So with that we go to our incredible panel of folks who are fighting that good fight in their respective corners of the world, and all of the fights that they are engaged in are extremely important, and we should all do our best to support them and make sure that they win those fights.

So I want us to go around the table and have our amazing panelists introduce themselves to the good Real News viewers and listeners, and we’re going to start with our first panelist, who was actually on our previous panel back in December, the great Haeden Wright, president of 2 UMWA, that’s the United Mine Workers of America, auxiliaries down in Brookwood, Alabama. Haeden and her husband Braxton, who is working at Warrior Met Coal now is … While the strike is going on is working at Amazon down in Bessemer. We know about the high-stakes union election that happened there. Braxton unfortunately is working and Haeden is at a solidarity rally that the UMWA holds every Wednesday for the striking miners at Warrior Met Coal, who have been on strike since … For nearly two years, since April 1st, 2021.

So fortunately I was able to check in with Haeden earlier today and record a brief update from her about the state of that strike, and why workers are still holding strong, and what we can all do to support them. So, Dwayne, can we go ahead and play that video from Haeden?

Haeden Wright:

My name is Haeden Wright and I’m one of the UMWA auxiliary presidents on strike in Brookwood, Alabama against Warrior Met Coal. So today’s actually day 685 of the Warrior Met strike, so we’re approaching our two-year anniversary, which will be April 1st. So it’s been a difficult two years and it’s only through the support, and solidarity, and encouragements that we have experienced not just by our union but by all of our union brothers and sisters across the country, and all workers across the country, because many of the times we’ve seen support come from people who don’t have a union but they see the value and they see the importance of our fight here; because if we allow a company to continue to exploit workers the way Warrior Met has in Alabama, with a union presence, can you imagine what workers will have to deal with that don’t have any type of collective bargaining and don’t have anyone fighting for them? So this is our fight but it’s all of our fight as well.

So tonight I couldn’t join you because we actually have our biweekly union rally, so it’s actually scheduled at the same time and this is a time that we come together as a union to get updates on our strike but also just to have some fellowship with one another, to stay connected and involved, and have that sense of community because that really is what your union can provide you with. It provides you with a family that understands your experiences and if you haven’t been on a strike at all it’s hard to fathom what that means because for the first couple of weeks it’s like a vacation. After the first month reality sets in. After several months you start thinking, “What am I going to do to survive,” and that’s why mutual aid, in the form of things like strike pantries and auxiliaries, become so important and so central to those fights because you have to have that base community, you have to have that mutual aid to be able to keep fighting; and we’ve only been able to provide that thanks to all of you.

So I am so sorry I couldn’t be there in person tonight but I’m looking forward to hearing about all of your struggles, and all of your victories, and I just wanted to let you know I sit in solidarity with each one of you and solidarity forever.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Man I love Haeden, so that is the great Haeden Wright. I know that she really wanted to be here. Y’all can follow Haeden and Braxton on Twitter. I highly recommend that you do because that was just a small tidbit of the fire and working class solidarity that they live, and breathe, ever single day, so we are sending nothing but love and solidarity to them, and to everyone down on Brookwood, Alabama.

Just to quickly add to what Haeden said the importance of mutual aid and showing support is what enables workers on the picket line to stay out one day longer, one day stronger until they get the contract that they deserve, so even though they have been facing relentless bullshit tactics from Warrior Met Coal, from business-friendly courts like pushing injunctions limiting their ability to strike; from media and politicians that have completely abandoned them, there are things that you can do, that we can do, to support them and make sure that they can stay out on the line until they get the contract they deserve.

So if you are watching this on YouTube now we have included links to all the available strike funds for everyone on this call, including Haeden, so if you want to donate to the UMWA strike fund there is a link to that in the show notes for this episode; and we also included a link to the PayPal account where people can donate to the strike pantry that Haeden and the other UMWA auxiliary members run to provide striking miners with donated food stuffs, diapers for their babies, coats for cold weather, all that good stuff. So anything that you can do to help is seriously appreciated, and with that I will pass things onto our next great panelist, Erin.

Erin Zapcic:

Hi everyone, I am Erin Zapcic. I am a queen in the show cast at the Buena Park Medieval Times location. As of Saturday, which I just did the math on and realized was the day we went on strike was actually my 12-year anniversary working for Medieval Times. Did not plan it that way. I have … We started our union campaign back in July and we had our election in November. We did deal with some bureaucracy that held up our election and so we had a bit of a more prolonged union campaign than we had originally imagined, and since then we have been engaged in wage negotiations with Medieval Times over our annual raises.

We haven’t even gotten to the collective bargaining agreement yet, but we did make some very encouraging headway on our negotiating table today. This is why … I’m sorry, there’s like background noise. I’m literally joining y’all from the lobby of the hotel where we spent the day bargaining with Medieval Times, but we are currently on an unfair labor practice strike because the company filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against us back in October for using their name in our union and as a result they used that trademark lawsuit to get our social media accounts banned on TikTok, which was our most engaged and passionate audience. We had about 8,200 followers that were leaving comments and showing their support on Medieval Times social media, and shortly thereafter we got notifications that our accounts had been banned, so we realized that if the company is going to keep silencing us we had no choice but to speak louder.

So as of Saturday the 11th … Yes, the 11th we have been on strike, on an unfair labor practice strike. We had three performances scheduled that day and myself and my other teammates we we went in, we performed the first show of the day, and then we clocked out and we walked out, so today … Well we don’t have any shows today, so I don’t know if this counts as a strike day, but yesterday was day four and we’ll be back on the picket lines again tomorrow.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Hell yeah. I believe our amazing associate editor and intrepid labor reporter, Mel Buer, who is in California right now, was actually on the picket line yesterday.

Erin Zapcic:

Oh, was he?

Maximillian Alvarez:

Yeah, so shout out to Mel, The Real … We got Real News folks on picket lines all over the place.

Erin Zapcic:

That’s fantastic.

Maximillian Alvarez:

And I have like a personal attachment to that struggle because I grew up in Orange County and I had my 18th birthday at that location, so solidarities, my liege, and let’s toss things over to Austin.

Austin Martin:

Yeah, hi there. So it’s a good to reconnect with Maximillian, he and I go back to when I was a master’s student at the University of Michigan. We did a little bit of organizing back then and so it’s great to be in the same space again. And so I’m Austin Martin, I’m currently a PhD student at Temple University. I’m a PhD student in the Geography and Urban Studies Department. I focus on bees and pollinator ecology, and urbanizing landscapes, and currently I’m also in the middle of a strike. My union is called the Temple University Graduate Student Association, or TUGSA as you see in my tag under my name here. Our parent union is the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

Yeah, I mean, for the past year, roughly, we’ve been undergoing a pretty infuriating bargaining session with the Temple University administration and eventually, back in the fall, we got pretty fed up with the lack of progress that was happening, the lack of response to any of our proposals, and we voted 99% to authorize a strike; and at that point on we were deliberating whether to go on strike right then in the fall semester or wait a little bit. We did wind up waiting to this point now, we’re in the spring semester now and we started our strike on January 31st, and I believe I might have lost count but I … Maybe someone needs to do the math for me but I believe we just finished day 16 of our strike and so here we are. No real progress from their end yet. We’re hoping to see something soon, but now …

We started out as just kind of like a normal, smallish strike in higher ed. I mean, Temple University is sort of known as Philadelphia’s public university, so it’s a … It’s actually the largest university in Philadelphia. I can’t remember the exact number of students enrolled there but it’s somewhere in the 40,000 neighborhood, give or take, so pretty big school. Our union’s bargaining unit consists of 750 graduate workers and there’s … Of course the actual number of people able to strike is lower than that because of a few weird policies at Temple University, but all that to say is it’s a big university; but compared to other strikes in higher ed like we’ve seen recently, like with the University of California system in which multiple large campuses were on strike and there were tens of thousands of students striking, we’re relatively small. So at first we were kind of just like whatever, a smallish strike, but about a week into the strike Temple University took a move that we haven’t seen anywhere in the landscape of higher ed before.

What they did was they decided to rescind the tuition remission and healthcare coverage of strikers, and again it’s unheard of. I’ve heard of maybe administrations levying threats against striking graduate students. I believe that about week 10 or so, pretty late into the strike at a recent higher ed strike at Columbia University in New York City their administration made these threats but never actually did so, so this is an unprecedented low in labor relations that we’re seeing. So what that did is it transformed our strike into just … It’s a kind of medium, smallish strike in higher ed, just another strike, to suddenly the center of attention in the labor movement in higher ed.

I’ve been speaking with colleagues from my former union, GEO, at the University of Michigan that I was a member of when I was a master’s student over there and, I mean, they’ve reiterated … This is something I kind of knew but they reiterated this to me, that they’re all watching us with intense and great interest, and supporting us in every way possible; and this goes for many, many other academic unions across the country right now, just because the outcome of our strike is going to set a precedent that everybody else is going to have to deal with from here on out, so this is a very, very important … It suddenly became this inflection point for the labor movement in higher ed and, who knows, possibly beyond higher ed as well. I did not expect this to become part of this but here I am.

Now what we’re demanding is we’ve been surviving on $19,500 per year. As graduate workers we teach undergraduates, we are research assistants, teaching assistants. We also are sometimes just teaching entire courses of our own that we develop the syllabi for, and the course structure and lectures for, et cetera. We’re essentially performing a lot of the labor that tenured professors perform, except we’re treated much lower on the totem pole with much less job security and sort of beholden to the very hierarchical authoritative structure you have in universities.

And we’ve got … Our healthcare, as an individual … If you’re an individual with no dependents you may be fine but if you have children, which many of my colleagues … Many of my graduate worker colleagues do, have children, anyone as a dependent on your healthcare, a partner, spouse, et cetera, suddenly your healthcare costs are taking up anywhere from 30% to 80% of your paycheck. A colleague of mine had to send his daughter back home to his home country …

Austin Martin:

… and his daughter back home to his home country because he couldn’t afford to keep her here in the United States. And so this is, the situation is breaking up families. I’m a first generation student and I don’t have family wealth to rest on to sort of act as a fallback. Luckily, my parents live somewhat close. They live about an hour and a half away, so I’ve been able to spend some time living with my parents, reconnecting with my hometown in Lancaster County, and that’s been helpful and it’s been helping to lower my rent burden. But basically what I’ve had to do is kind of give up having my own personal space to be able to survive on these low wages.

What we’re asking for is $32,000 per year, better parental leave because right now we only have five days of parental leave, better bereavement leave, and of course better healthcare coverage for people that have dependents. And the university has been very obstinate and has been refusing to budge on any of that, despite paying the head coach over $2 million per year and despite the president earning over $1 million per year, and many of upper level administrators earning six figures and beyond. At least above the $500,000 per year threshold.

We only take up about 1% of the university’s operating budget as graduate workers. We’re asking for 2.5%. Temple University is a public university. It’s a nonprofit entity, but it’s making more than $200 million in profit every year. So we know for a fact that Temple University does have the means to pay for us, to give us a meaningful raise, to actually get us a little bit closer to what the MIT Living Wage Calculator says is Philadelphia’s floor for the bare minimum of what it takes to live in Philadelphia every year, which is about $38,000 per year. So that’s about the gist of what we’re dealing with. It’s a very intense situation and we’re right in the middle of it right now. I’m quite exhausted.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Yeah, man, I bet. I mean, I unfortunately didn’t get to reconnect with Austin in person, but I was there at Temple last week in Philly for a conference. I got to walk the picket line with fellow members of TUGSA, so really big shout-out to them. And also a shout-out to mine in Austin’s former union, GEO at the University of Michigan. Shout-out everyone there.

So we’re going to circle back in this second round when we go back around the table and we talk about the union busting, the vicious response from management. Because I feel like in every one of your struggles, including Haeden’s and the miners, there are these new shitty tactics that bosses are trying out to try to crush and dispirit and force workers back into subservience. So I want us to sort of talk about that as a group, because yeah, what Temple University is doing with this tuition remission is fucking bullshit. Pardon my language. I have a lot of thoughts about that. But before we get to that, I want to make sure that we get Laurie and Bob in here. So Laurie, why don’t you introduce yourself to the good Real News viewers and listeners and tell us a little bit about the struggle over there in Minnesota.

Laurie Potthoff:

Okay. Hi, I’m Laurie Potthoff. Thanks for letting me be a part of this broadcast. I really wanted to let you know I’m in Hastings Minnesota. I work at the high school for IDS 200. We are the workers for the food group, and we walked out on the seventh of this month. We put in our 10-day notice. When we went in to have our meetings, it didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. We kept giving and we felt they weren’t giving back. Our contract actually expired in July and we couldn’t get them to the table. Our union rep kept sending emails saying, hey, I’m open in August, I’m open in July, and nothing.

We finally came back to the table on in September and we did a few rounds of negotiating, which was trying as you all know. So when we ended up finding out what their contract was that they wanted us to take, we took it to the members and said, well, this is what they want to give us. They wanted to give us 2.1 and 2%, and all the members said, ah, I don’t think so. They decided that we should take the strike vote so we did, and I want to say out of the 35 people that we had there, we had 92% of them said, let’s go on a strike.

So we filed it and now here we go. We are on day six. And today at our rally that we were picketing, we actually went to one of the school areas where there was supposed to be a meeting with the superintendent and the school board. They were going to be discussing what they want to be done with the strike. Well, we got the word out and we made sure that we were going to have a good showing. Well, yesterday while we were picketing, we found out, guess what? We canceled the meeting. So we still showed up and we did a rally and we said, you’re not going to stop us. We are here for the long haul. They didn’t think all 35 would walk the walk, but we did. So I’m here asking for some support for us. We have a lot of support from the community. They’re upset. Our students are upset. But we were hoping that it’s not going to be a real long haul, but I got a feeling it might be. So that’s where we’re at here in Hastings, Minnesota.

Maximillian Alvarez:

And Laurie, I feel like when we checked in with you earlier today, you were standing on what looked like a very frigid picket line. How cold is it over there?

Laurie Potthoff:

Well, actually it was 30… No, it was 26 degrees and the winds were gusting up to 40. Yesterday we stood in the rain and we picketed in the rain all day. But rain or shine, we’re ready to fight the fight. We’re not giving in.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Hell yeah. Well, if you are in the area, please do go and lend that physical support. You have no idea how much it means for any group of workers who are on strike to see folks from the community come to support them. Even just bring them coffee or hand warmers. So obviously there’re only going to be a few folks watching this who are maybe in that area, but if you are or if you’re in Philadelphia, if you’re in Southern California, if you’re in Pittsburgh, that is one clear tangible way that you can help.

Also, I wanted to direct folks once again to the links in the YouTube description for this YouTube live stream where we have two links for SEIU Local 284. One is a petition that the union local is asking folks to sign and send to demand a fair contract for Laurie and her coworkers. The other is a strike fund, so you can donate to that as well. Okay, Bob, I’m sorry to keep you waiting for so long, but yeah, let’s get you in here. Please introduce yourself to the good livestream viewers and tell us a bit about what’s going on over there in Pittsburgh.

Bob Batz Jr.:

Thank you Maximilian, and thanks Erin and Austin and Laurie. It was interesting to hear what you guys are up against too. So my name’s Bob Batz Jr. I am a longtime journalist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’ve been on strike now for going just around 120 days now. Our four-month anniversary is Saturday. And I’m part of a complex strike because it’s not just our union, The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh. We’re the people that write stories and edit them, take photos, draw graphics, but we’re also on strike with all the production and transportation workers at the Post Gazette, our newspaper and our website.

Our sister unions went on strike October 6th because the company refused to pay what would amount to $19 a week for them to keep their healthcare, and we joined them on the 18th of October. Not just a sympathy strike, we went on strike, on our own unfair labor practice strike, because we have the exact same issue with our company that goes back to 2020 when they changed our healthcare unilaterally. We haven’t had a contract since 2017, and the company said that we were at impasse in 2020 imposed their own conditions, which we didn’t like. And so we have been fighting them at the NLRB level, and had just finished up an NLRB trial situation in Pittsburgh right before we went on strike. So there’s about 40 of us newsroom workers who are out, about 70 other workers who run the presses, drive the trucks, stuff the papers and sell advertising. So those are the four other unions that are out with us.

This has gone on longer I think than a lot of people thought, but we’re still not getting anywhere with negotiating. But earlier, late last month, we got a ruling in our NLRB case, which was a huge win for the News Guild Union that was leading that, where the NLRB said yes, the company didn’t bargain in good faith. They did illegally surveil us. They did illegally impose conditions on us. Unfortunately, we have to get that ruling enforced, and of course the company is says it’s going to appeal that. We’re fighting that in legal channels while we’re still trying to get these guys to bargain in good faith, which we returned to that last week. We have some sessions this week and next week. And so that’s where we’re at, 120 some days.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Man, that is a slog, and we’re going to talk about this in the next round, but things are getting ugly over there. And again, the underhanded union busting crap that Bob and his coworkers are facing is really intense, and it’s so important that we don’t forget about them, that we keep spreading the word about this. We’re going to end the livestream session, before we get to Q&A from the audience, we’re going to end with really sort of asking our panelists to tell y’all directly what you can do to support them, what would be the most effective in this moment.

But I just wanted to sort of link this back to the past livestream, right? Y’all remember that we had Kaley Johnson from the Fort Worth Star Telegram as well in December when they were on strike. I’m happy to report that they ended that strike and won a better, fairer contract. So shout-out to the News Guild down there. But Bob and his coworkers continue their struggle, and so we have to again, make sure that we keep showing up for one another. Because when workers win these fights, that inspires more of our fellow workers to take that step and fight a little bit harder for themselves and their coworkers. We all have a role to play in that. We can all do something to help our fellow workers win these vital struggles and to fight back against the union busting BS that they’re getting from management.

So on that note, let’s go to the ways that management has responded and the community has responded during these struggles that y’all introduced us to. Because again, I think there’s some really important kind of threads connecting the tactics that Temple University’s administration, the owners of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the owners and the shareholders of Warrior Met Coal. Their biggest shareholder is BlackRock, the investment company BlackRock in New York. So they’re all trying different strategies to break workers and push us back into subservience, and they’re learning from each other. They’re all watching these other strikes, and everyone’s watching what Starbucks is doing to try to squash that unionization effort, because if it’s successful, that’s going to be the playbook for every company that’s facing an insurgent unionization wave in its different franchises and so on and so forth.

I also want to just make a quick parenthetical, because I know some folks were asking about it in the live chat. Yes, of course, we had the great Matt Parker of Railroad Workers United on the December live stream. You guys know that myself and my colleague Mel Buer covered here at the Real News the crisis on the US freight rail system endlessly when mainstream media didn’t give a shit about it. We are going to continue to do that.

We do have a number of pieces in the works about the horrific and catastrophic derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. If you’re looking for coverage right now, I would say go check out the great piece that Mel Buer, our associate editor, just published today at The Nation. Stay tuned for my latest segment of The Art of Class War on the Breaking Points YouTube channel, where I interviewed longtime train dispatcher Jay about the derailment in East Palestine. We are also going to have more conversations here on The Real News. So that stuff is coming, but I wanted to point y’all to those other pieces that we’ve put out if you want to hear our take on it.

Okay. Let’s go back around the table, starting with Erin. Could you talk a little bit more about, I know the TikTok thing is the particularly egregious example, but tell us a bit more about the response that you’ve been getting from management to your and your coworkers’ demands, and also how y’all and the surrounding community have responded to them.

Erin Zapcic:

Sure. So since we are a relatively new union, and obviously we’re new on strike, I’ll talk a little bit about what we encountered in terms of union busting from Medieval Times from the outset. So Medieval Times, for those who aren’t familiar, we have 10 castles in the continental United States and Canada, and the first castle to unionize was my home castle, the Lyndhurst castle. And they announced their union election back in May, or I’m sorry, the end of June was when we first became aware of it.

And since a lot of my coworkers know that I’m originally from New Jersey, they all kind of looked at me and asked me, what do you know about this? So it became pretty clear to me from the outset that there was support for it within our performers at Medieval Times. So we actually moved very quickly. We collected cards in about five days and filed our notice of recognition about a week later. And so right when the company was about to hold their very first “here’s a meeting on collective bargaining” with us, about five minutes before that was when they received our notice of recognition. So that changed the color of that meeting pretty quickly.

And so we had been watching the way New Jersey’s campaign was going, and they spent a lot longer collecting cards, but once they filed for their election, there was no hearing. The election happened six weeks after they filed. Everything went pretty smoothly. So we had every reason to believe that our election process would happen in much the same way. One of the very first things that happened was the company contested our bargaining unit, which they did not do in New Jersey, which meant that we would have to go to a hearing.

And after the hearing because the NLRB is severely understaffed and underfunded, and also because we ended up in a pilot program where the hearing officer who heard our case was not the officer who would make the decision on our case, so this hearing really just kind of got buried in bureaucracy and sat on somebody’s desk for however long, we ended up with a period of about three months from the time we had our hearing to the time we had a decision on whether or not all of the departments would be included in the bargaining unit, and then of course set the election date.

So in that time, the company had lots of time to sow the seas of discord and turn us against each other. And so that was step one was contesting the bargaining unit, and sort of stalling everything. And then once we started getting into these weekly captive audience meetings, there was someone that they sent to us from the corporate HR department who was very likable, nice guy. And the rhetoric became very much like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, y’all move so quickly. Why don’t you just slow things down? Wait and see how things happen in New Jersey.” And they sort of floated this idea that if we wanted to withdraw our petition for election, we could withdraw and work with the company directly for six months, and if we weren’t satisfied in six months with how things were going, we could reorganize again in six months using the same cards. It’d be like putting the whole thing on pause.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have dealt with the actual organizing process, but you cannot just reuse the same cards. The cards are good for a year after they’re signed, but once you’ve submitted them to the NLRB, you can’t just resubmit a new petition with the same cards, because the NLRB is going to say, “Hey, you did this already.” And so it sort of opens the door for corrupt practices on the side of the union, if the union wanted to file this petition for election using the exact same cards that they used the time before. So despite everything that the company was telling us, the path to reinstating a petition for election is not as easy as they would make it seem.

But in the meantime, there were some people within the bargaining unit who kind of were of the opinion, well, if we can make some progress more quickly working directly with the company, maybe this is a good idea. And there were people who were frontline supervisors who were facilitating this petition for… And we have reason to believe that the company was making access to their attorneys available to our employees during this whole process. So that really created a whole lot of division within the bargaining units, and ultimately this list of signatures was sent to the union with a CC to our general manager, so now the company was in possession of a list of signatures who are potentially pro-company and not pro-union. So that caused a lot of tension towards the tail end of the union campaign.

And then not long after that was when the company filed the aforementioned trademark lawsuit against the union, and the local as well. So not only are they suing the union, but they’re also suing their own employees. So those were some of the really egregious things that happened in terms of union busting.

As I mentioned, we are very early on in our strike, so we haven’t seen too much in the way of really egregious retaliation from them with regards to the strike, but I will mention that as we headed into wage negotiations with the company towards the tail end of the year, these are wage negotiations that, it’s a discreet recurring annual event. We do not have a collective bargaining agreement yet, but since this is something that happens every year, we were offered the opportunity to bargain with the company directly for our raises. The non-union castles were offered… Were not offered, they were given raises upwards of 20%. And since we have been with the company, I will say as I mentioned before, we were in bargaining with them all day today, and we did have some encouraging forward momentum, but their initial proposal to us was in the range of 2% for some departments and 0% for other job titles, and they did not come prepared with wage information and promotions that we had requested weeks prior. So we knew we were sort of getting into the weeds right from the outset.

And this was during our entire union campaign, they told us that with or without the union, our raises this year would be significant. So they certainly made that true for the non-union castles, and for the union castles, both California and New Jersey, we’ve been in negotiations now for three months, and so we are now currently looking at no wage increases because we are still negotiating for these. So that was probably the worst, was knowing that these non-union castles received really significant raises, and we’re staring down the barrel of 2%.

I will mention that there have been organizers at other castles who have been fired. They fired our manager, my direct manager at the Buena Park Castle after 25 years. California is an at will state so there was no real reason given for his termination, but he was someone who was vocally supportive of the union and unfortunately not a member of the bargaining unit, so he did not have union protection. And since the actual strike has occurred, they have flown in replacement workers from other castles, replacement knights, replacement show cast, to fill our jobs and break our strike. So that’s what we’re dealing with right now. We are still in the early days. We still have a pretty high morale and our spirits have been great. The response from the guests and social media has been great, but that’s what we’re looking at right now.

Austin Martin:

All right. Yeah, I’d like to add, I mean, what I’m hearing there, I’m the union busting tactics I’m hearing in your sector Erin sound similar in some ways to the ones we’re dealing with at Temple University. I mean, for one, another important-

Austin Martin:

… dealing with at Temple University. I mean, for one, another important thing I didn’t mention in my initial recap was the scabs that are being hired to fill in for striking instructors. This is happening, especially in cases where graduate instructors have their own courses that they’ve been teaching and that are now on strike. In many cases, we’re seeing faculty being asked to stack on what they are already teaching to fill in for strikers. We’re also seeing just people from non-related disciplines and just under qualified people, and in some cases even realtors, being brought in to teach English courses and things like that. So this is not what the undergraduate students signed up for. And the university seems to have endless pockets when it comes to these union busting tactics. In some cases, we’re seeing instructors brought in and offered $23,000 or so just for this term. That’s more than a lot of us earned in a full year. And so it’s pretty insulting to a lot of us, it’s pretty gross.

So that that’s a union busting tactic we’re seeing that’s just being stacked on top of the tuition remission being revoked and the health insurance coverage being revoked. I guess just one more thing is that I’ve seen, for instance, just looking across at other sectors I’ve seen a couple years ago, John Deere was striking and one of their struggles was that they were dealing with different tiers of pay, and that’s one thing that we also have in higher ed. Especially at Temple, the STEM fields are the highest tier of pay. I mean, of course they’re not earning much, but it’s a little bit higher than what those of us in the middle, including the social sciences and humanities are getting. And then below that yet are the arts.

And so of course, that also is a way that, it hopefully won’t happen this time around, but I’ve seen in some cases management, administration, bosses, et cetera, using those different pay tiers to pit people against each other in the same way that what we’re facing right now is a case where graduate instructors who are workers are being pitted against faculty who are workers at Temple. And it’s just these union busting tactics that are pitting people against each other. And I’m curious to hear from some of the other panelists about how the union busting cases and their examples involve people getting pitted against each other.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Well, and just one thing, just to really drive home for folks who aren’t in higher ed or haven’t been on a campus in a while, the tuition remission thing is so egregious, for so many reasons, that we can’t go into all of it. But basically, if you’ve been a graduate student, you see it on your check, you see it every semester, every pay period, they’re like, “Oh, this is how much it costs for us to pay tuition for you to attend as a student, even though you’re also a worker who is doing work for the university.” But the thing is, it’s essentially the university paying itself. The university says, “Hey, we’re going to charge this much tuition for this graduate student, and we’re going to just pay it to ourselves.” So it’s literally just moving numbers on a spreadsheet from one column to the next and then back again. It really serves no real financial function.

But you see the power that they have in moments like these where Temple, the reason you may have heard about the temple strike this week and the reason why it’s caused such a national outrage, what Temple administrators have done, is they are now saying, “This tuition that you never had to pay before, that we never bugged you about, suddenly we’re going to say you have to pay over $10,000 out of your own pocket,” while these striking graduate student workers are already on strike for a living wage. So it is just straight blackmail. And Temple University should be fucking ashamed of themselves for what they are doing. Pardon my French. Again, I don’t want to put anyone in an awkward spot with all my swearing. So sorry about that. I just wanted to make sure that-

Austin Martin:

I’m cool with that.

Maximillian Alvarez:

… understood that.

Austin Martin:

Yeah, that’s a key point, Maximillian. Thank you for pointing that out. Yeah, and I mean, the average PhD program takes seven years. I think that’s about the latest of the numbers I’ve seen. So seven years, and then for just the first year or two that we are as graduate students are taking courses, again, we’re instructing and researching and laboring for the university that entire time. And it’s only the first year or two that we are taking courses. So the rest of that time, that tuition remission is meaningless. We’re not costing the university hardly anything, but they’re still imposing. They’re saying, “Oh, well look at this tuition remission you’re getting.” And now that people are striking, they’re essentially being imposed a fine to the tune of 10 or $20,000. So yeah, it’s very egregious. It’s something we haven’t seen yet in higher ed, and it’s something that we can’t let become the norm. That’s why there’s so much riding on this strike right now, and that’s why we need everybody’s support.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Hell yeah. So I’m going to shut up for the rest of this round. So Lori, why don’t you hop in and then Bob hop in after Lori.

Laurie Potthoff:

[inaudible 00:53:40] just back up a little, because when I discussed about going to negotiations with the district, we kept [inaudible 00:53:52] would come back with that 2% and with a one time buyout, they wanted to give us $600. And we also have a step system in our contract, so they wanted to drop step three, four, and five, and all the new hires and anybody hired after that or before six years would drop down to the six year level. So yeah, their raises would’ve been really good, more than the 2%. All of us longevity would’ve only got the 2%. So we kept telling them, “Don’t want one time money. [inaudible 00:54:34] the table, put it in our wages.” Well, what they did is they just changed it and said, “Okay, the ones that are going to get the higher raise on top, they won’t get that one time money. So we’ll just jog it around.”

And we said, “No, you’re not listening. We don’t want the one time money.” So now what they’re doing, well, I should say before we actually left to go on strike the Friday before, we actually ended up having a director come in and she was talking to some of the employees saying, “Hey, that was a really good raise you could have had. You guys should have took it.” And she goes, “No, I’m new here. I don’t think I should do that to my loyal workers.” Which we thanked her, but what they’re doing now is, like I said, they didn’t realize all of us would’ve walked. They were not prepared. Our poor kids are eating cold sandwiches.

We found out that after the strike that our district is actually sitting on 25 million dollars in the bank. But in November, I actually went to a school board with all my members with me, and I wanted to address the school board, and I had a letter, but they have it to where you have to have a closed session meeting with two of the board members. And after I read them what I wanted to say to the whole entire board and the community that was there, we were told to send emails, and it’s like, “An email? Okay.” So we sent the email, or I didn’t send it that night, I waited. So I went and got my group and we walked out of the auditorium where they had their meeting, and lo and behold, we find out after we got home that that night they decided to give the superintendent his contract. They voted on his contract seven months early, and we’re still out. We’re seven months late.

And he ended up with a awesome contract. We just found out when we went to the legislature, we went to the capitol and were asking for help. So every one of them that we met with, six senators, everyone was going to contact our superintendent. But we found out that day, our superintendent makes more than our governor. That shouldn’t be happening. So now they’re offering cold lunches, they’re getting sandwiches, our teachers that are required to do lunch staff where they direct the kids and make sure everything’s going good, they are the ones now that have to make sure that the kids are getting the sandwiches and everything else. And as far as we know, it’s not going good. They were giving out frozen food, which was good on our part. It’s like, “These poor kids, you’re going to get the parents riled,” which we do.

The support from our community has been really good. Like I said, we are supposed to have a board meeting today and meet with the board, and they canceled. But we’ve found that now our superintendent is intending to try to outsource the job for a couple of weeks. Who knows if he’s going to do it longer. We don’t know. So yeah, he’s definitely trying to break us. I told the girls, “This is a scare tactic. This is what he’s doing.” Because I am also from another union and I negotiated many contracts, but I’ve never had a contract come in an email. Now in negotiations, I can’t say everything that we are going for because it’s supposed to be kept quiet, but on the 6th, he had the audacity to email us a best final contract. And then when he sent it to us, he sent it to all of the parents of what they were offering us to make us look like, “Hey, they really don’t want their jobs.” But we do.

We’re the ones that feed the kids. We’re the ones that know the kids are not going to go home hungry. So, we’re going to hang in there. We’re not going to let him break us. So community has been great. They’re dropping food off constantly. We have some support from our teachers, our paras. The PTA actually showed up today and gave us some food, which I thought was really great. But what I want to really get out there, and maybe you can help us, is we’ve got a school board meeting that’s coming up on Wednesday the 22nd. We’d like to fill the room with a lot of parents and a lot of community members. We’re all going to be there. I know they’ll probably silence us, but we’re going to try getting our voices heard and saying, “Let’s get back to the contract and negotiate.”

Maximillian Alvarez:

All right, all our Minnesotans, you heard it there. Wednesday, the 27th-

Laurie Potthoff:


Maximillian Alvarez:

22nd. Sorry.

Laurie Potthoff:

[inaudible 01:00:38].

Maximillian Alvarez:

Say it again.

Laurie Potthoff:

Six o’clock.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Six o’clock. Yeah, we will share the info about that on social media and everything like that. But if you are in the area, get your ass to that board meeting. And Bob, let’s bring you back in here. And I feel like my jaw has just continued to drop, seeing the underhanded shit that y’all are facing. So I guess, could you tell folks a little bit more about the union busting and kind of vile tactics that you had been up against as well?

Bob Batz Jr.:

All right. I wanted to pick up on something that Lori said because when she said, “We want our jobs.” Isn’t it weird to be on strike and that gets lost with some people? We want our jobs so much that two days after the newsroom went on strike, we launched our own publication. We do our own daily online newspaper website. It’s called I’d love for you all to take a look at it when you have a chance. We’ve got reporters and photographers out in the field tonight covering some stuff. So yeah, we decided that if our company didn’t want our labor, then we still wanted, had to, do what we do. We think of our job as a calling, something that’s important to our community, something that’s important to democracy.

So we kept doing it. And that’s been part of the way that we’ve gotten through our strike, and it’s one of the things that we’re doing that’s a leg to get through this. Our strike would be really easy to end. Our demands from the beginning… I said that this started because there was a pay dispute over the other production and transportation union’s healthcare, their contractually bargained healthcare. It would’ve cost $19 a week to give all these workers their healthcare back, a matter of less than $70,000 for a year. One of our conditions for the strike, for us to end our strike, is to get that healthcare situation fixed, get back to bargaining with us in good faith, and in the meantime, go back to our last contract, which was from 2017. It would’ve cost the company relatively nothing compared to the millions that they’re spending on lawyers and fighting this.

We were talking about pitting people. Not all of the newsroom is on strike. About half of my colleagues are still working at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. And so we’re naturally pitted against each other that way. But it came out recently that some of the people that are still working are getting large bonuses and raises and lots of overtime while we’re on strike, effectively fighting for them as well. So that’s added some tension to all this. But yeah, our strike is much longer than 200 days because it goes back to our last contract expiring in 2017. The company does not deal with us in a legal or fair way, finally says that we’re at an impasse, which we were not, and just imposes conditions on us, effectively does whatever it wants, and ever since that time didn’t talk. We’ve had four bargaining sessions since we’ve gone on strike, five, where the best… They’ve made no movement, not a micron of movement from their 2020 imposed conditions.

And so we still think they’re not bargaining in good faith. The union busting tactic with the company like this is they have a lot of money and they’d rather spend it to break the unions than to give people healthcare and treat them with dignity and treat them right. So the National Labor Relations Board, takes a long time. Government takes a long time. We’ve been fighting for years, we don’t know how long we’re going to keep fighting, but some of the best… When you have a lot of money like that, you can really drag something like this out. And it’s tough. It’s tough. Again, I’m going back to Hayden being out for two years. I can’t even think about that. I can’t even fathom that. But the kind of strength and the resolve that they have. I mean, I can end on a positive note because our community has been amazing. And the bigger community, the other unions, other labor activists, people who just care about doing what’s right, we have amazing support.

We’ve asked people to not read the Post Gazette while we’re on strike, do not advertise in the Post Gazette while we’re on strike. You can read the Pittsburgh Union progress, our strike publication. You can advertise there, people are. I just got three new ads for the publication today. Everything from a pizza shop to the United States Steel Workers have advertised with us. And all that money goes into our Pittsburgh Strikers Fund, which people are using to survive as they get through this. But yeah, we couldn’t do it without that kind of support. And it’s amazing where it comes from, how strong it comes in. And it’s not hard to say who’s on the right side, I guess, in our struggle. I think a lot of us have never… We don’t want to be on strike, we do want our jobs, but we’ve never thought that we were wrong. And the NLRB ruling recently backed us up on that. So we’re right, we’re just still on strike. So we got some more work to do.

Maximillian Alvarez:

And speaking of that, wasn’t it there that the owners of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette put an ad out in another paper of your picket line saying like, “Oh, this union’s like… This is not the Pittsburgh we want.” Because you guys had a scabby the rat balloon.

Bob Batz Jr.:

Well, yeah. Scabby has been our friend and several times now our own paper, or the company that we’re on strike against, put a full page ad in with a picture of Scabby that we set up across from our publisher’s wedding celebration at a fancy club downtown. It was one of our best actions, I have to say. I was glad to be part of it. I was actually covering it for our strike publication, but we really made some noise at that thing. But they ran a photo from that and said that this kind of thing is unseemly. It’s not the kind of thing that is going to bring new tech companies into Pittsburgh. It’s not the look that we want. And to which some of my colleagues, some of my union leaders and just colleagues responded, “The new economy of Pittsburgh is going to be union, is going to be labor friendly.”

And you can look around at our University of Pittsburgh where they’re in the process of unionizing. You could look at the Starbucks workers, Pittsburgh’s at the forefront of that. And those folks have been very strong and welcome supporters to our cause. We try to support them back. But yeah, I think none of us want to be on strike right now, but like Maximillian said at the beginning, we’re at an important part of history right now where there’s a whole lot of this going around. Just in my news industry, you wouldn’t even have to be paying attention to hear about the one day strike at the New York Times, the recent one at NBC Digital, some of the Gannett papers went on one day strikes. Maximilian mentioned our colleagues in Fort Worth. There’s a whole bunch of this stuff happening just in the news industry.

And our international president made a really interesting point, Jon Schleuss of the News Guild, CWA, he thinks that it’s an interesting thing to have all these news organizations going through unionizing or striking or labor strife, because if nothing else, we are the storytellers and we are learning how this stuff works. We’re learning how it feels to be screwed over and to be on strike and to run out of money and all this other kind of stuff. And so, I don’t know, it might help our storytelling because we’re going to keep doing that whether we’re on strike or not.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Oh yeah. Well, and when we cover all these other strikes and unionization efforts, I’m thinking back a year or two ago when we were covering… Austin, you mentioned the John Deere strike. We were covering that. The Columbia University strike, the Kellogg’s strike, we covered that extensively. And folks who work at Kellogg’s, they’re unionized with the BCTGM, bakery, confectionary workers. I get the alphabet soup in my head with so many different great unions, but they slap that union label on the products they make because they’re proud of it. Because they say, “You see this union label in a store, you know it was made with care, you know it was made by people who know what they’re doing, who get the proper training,” so on and so forth.

I think the same certainly applies to journalism and frankly everything. Union journalism is better journalism. And we are proud here at the Real News to be partners, to really support and have our union be full partners in everything that we do, and it makes us better. And I hope that papers like the Pittsburgh Post Gazette realize that if they are in fact hurting the very thing that they’re purporting to do by treating Bob and his fellow workers so [inaudible 01:10:58] during all of this, that I really, really call upon them to change their ways and actually bargain in good faith, because it would be better for them, better for their workers, better for the city and broader public that they serve.

So we’re already kind of rolling into the Q&A here, and I wanted to encourage folks in the live chat if you have other specific questions that we haven’t addressed yet, please do put them in the live chat. We’ll try to get them in these remaining minutes before we have to let everyone go. Also wanted to just remind anyone who maybe didn’t hear it before in the livestream, if you’re watching this on YouTube, we do have links to the various strike funds, to petitions. Pardon me. We also have a link to a page where you can do different things to support Bob and workers at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, including links to the Pittsburgh Union Progress, which you can subscribe to and support, and other ways that you can support-

Maximillian Alvarez:

… subscribe to and support and other ways that you can support striking workers there. So if you’re looking for those links, they are in the description on YouTube to this live stream that you’re watching right now. So I wanted to just build that into the final question before we see if the live chat has any others to add. But really it is what can people do to help right now in the long term? What is the most impactful for you and your coworkers? Either folks who are in the area or folks who aren’t in the areas, what can we all do in our respective struggles to support each other? Because I think that’s another vital part of this conversation. As we’ve heard you all are going through very specific struggles, but so many of the things you were fighting for and fighting against are so connected.

And I know that so many people who are watching this can recognize in what you’re saying, they can hear echoes of their own workplaces. And I also just wanted to sort of add, I guess, zoom out a broader dimension here. How can we build that solidarity as wide as it can go and make it as robust as it can be? Because if things look bleak here in the United States, and they are, we should take heart in the fact that the United Kingdom is blowing up right now with folks on strike. You got postal workers on strike, you got nurses on strike, you got higher ed workers on strike. You’ve got the RMT members working on the rails, who we’ve inter interviewed here at The Real News, on Strike. France, those guys don’t around. I mean, we got French workers who are taken to the streets demanding that President Emmanuel Macron stop his neoliberal onslaught against the country’s beloved pension system.

We’ve been publishing great, on-the-ground reports for our workers of the World Series here on the Real News YouTube channel, where you can see people involved in these strikes in France, in the UK, in Germany. We have a great one with doctors in Spain coming up. Workers in Brazil take energy from those struggles as well, build the that common cause across national borders, across industries, across all the different things that the ruling class uses to divide us, even though that they’re all in cahoots with each other, they’re all cooperating with each other. So that is ultimately the question. To zero it in, what can folks do to support you all right now and in the long run? And what can we all do to support each other here in the US and even beyond? So Erin, I’ll throw it back to you. Everyone, please feel free to hop in.

Erin Zapcic:

Sure. Thanks. So I’m sure the link to our strike fund is in the YouTube video. We also have a petition to email Medieval Times management. It goes directly to their CEO, as well as our general manager at the Buena Park Castle to as Medieval Times to stop breaking a law and to stop replacing us with non-union workers. We also just were made aware today that anyone who demands a refund for the California castle because they do not want to cross the picket line, their refund request will be honored. That was something that I just was made aware of today. So if you have your tickets, you don’t want to cross the picket line, you can call Medieval Times and ask for a refund. And they have sort of made it very clear that the only way to end this is to hit them where it hurts, which is in the wallet.

So we’re sort of asking everyone to consider maybe celebrating your birthday somewhere else this year, if you come to Medieval Times every year. And the biggest thing also is just awareness and showing your support on social media. Even though we do not have access to our TikTok account, we are still active on Twitter, Instagram. Those have been really huge resources for us and is telling people to go to the Medieval Times Instagram account and leaving their comments there, showing their support on Medieval Times TikTok, all of that. So a lot of those comments are being deleted, but that just tells us that it’s working. So don’t get disheartened if your comments disappear.

And just the support, and as someone who is relatively new to unionizing myself, what comes with solidarity has just been so inspiring and encouraging. One of the things they tried to tell us during this process was that our union, the American Guild of Variety Artists is small and they’re not going to have the resources to help us and get us what we want. And just in the last four days, we’ve had dozens of people from other unions coming out and joining us on the picket line, buying us pizza so that we can stay out in the cold and everything. So for myself, I’m seeing what solidarity really looks like and it’s incredibly humbling and just really, really inspiring.

Austin Martin:

That solidarity is great. I’d like to say the first thing that I’ve seen in terms of other unions helping us at Temple University, one of my amazing fellow organizers was able to get the Teamsters Local 623 in Philadelphia, the UPS delivery people to halt all UPS deliveries to campus in solidarity with us and to not cross our picket line. Now of course, the university has been able to find scabs and ways around that, but it has added just another extra layer of complication on their end, and it’s been quite helpful. So that was amazing.

They also lent us their sort of Scabby the Rat extended universe character Concessions the Cat this giant fat inflatable cat that we have. And so that’s been good. So I want to put a call out there for other unions, no matter what industry or sector you’re in, to think creatively in that way, to think about how you might be connected to campus life and what you could do to not cross our picket line. I just want to give another thank you to the Teamsters local 623 in Philadelphia.

And beyond that, if you’re in a higher ed, especially in a union in higher ed, just put out solidarity statements. You can contact us and find ways. If you’re within driving or traveling distance, you can come to our picket line. The same goes to just any individual out there. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, come to our picket line. It’s very fun. This strike has been the most fun yet, also the most scary at the same time experience, of my professional career so far. And if you join us on the picket line, you’ll at least get to experience the fun part of that. It’s great. I bring my saxophone every day. I haven’t touched that thing since like 2018, but all that motor memory is still there and it’s been so fun. And we’ve got other instruments and there’s dancing. We’ve got chants. “Get up down. Philly is a union town.” I want to shout out to cross Pennsylvania Solidarity and Bob as well. Pittsburgh is a union town it sounds like too.

And you can donate to our Strength Fund. You can find that at And I’m sure that’ll get into the show notes. You can also go to There’s just a bulleted list of demands of things you can do right there. So again, join the picket line, donate to the strike fund. We have petitions there that you can sign, whether you’re an undergraduate or just anyone non temporal affiliated. And it asks you to email the Temple Administration and to spread the word. Those are all things that you can do, and I think I’m going to leave it there. And maybe if I think of anything else, pipe up about that.

But yeah, again, this is just a crucial, crucial strike. I did not expect it to become such a historical inflection point for striking for labor in higher ed. We need your help. So please spread the word about this and do what you can. This is not just for us, but for everybody. It’s for our students and it’s for the future of a more humane and worker friendly higher ed for everybody.

Laurie Potthoff:

… for members. Sorry. We’d like to have our community actually go to either SEIU 284’s website. There’s a QRC code they can hit to send a message to the school board, or if they know their numbers, give them a call and tell them, “Hey, get us back to work.”

Come to our picket line and see how joyful we all are. We do chant a lot. It’s cold. Bundle up. But just to have the community. And we even had some kids join us, which we thought was really good on the picket line. So we could use that. We could use monetary money because there’s a lot of them that can’t afford the COBRA insurance that they just sent out to us. But we’ve had a lot of support from different unions around with the teachers. Some of them have been supporting us, monetary.

We have a really good school system that they look out for each one of us. They’re making sure they’ll touch base and say, “How are you guys doing?” But we need them to also contact the school board. I guess that’s the main message I want to get out there. And then again, I will say we do have a school board meeting on the 22nd at six o’clock at night. Please show up to that

Bob Batz Jr.:

Pittsburgh Striker Fund, we have a solidarity pledge. We have this online publication,, that we would love for people to read. And we’ll take all your solidarity and support and social media love that we can get.

It hits me. You guys are relatively new to striking, compared to some of us here in Pittsburgh as we hit our 200th day. But I’ll have to circle back to you. I found it interesting that a lot of people, maybe especially people who aren’t in unions and don’t really know what strikes are about, they don’t really want to talk about it. It’s like you have some rare disease that it’d be better not to bring up and they look away and they don’t even ask you about it. It’s been very, very interesting. But I think that’s because we have another mission that we can do while we’re worrying about our own strikes and our own actions is just to try to raise general awareness, like I think Maximilian was going with.

What is a labor union? How does this stuff work? What is a strike trying to get done? People need to just know how this stuff works and it would help everybody’s cause. People need to know why you don’t ever cross a picket line. Some of those things we’ve kind of lost, I think, in recent years, and this new wave of energy is bringing some of that back. But the general public has a lot to learn about all this kind of stuff.

And we’re not in a union or we’re not on strike because we want to be on strike. We want healthcare and we want good wages, and we want a building that doesn’t leak water on our heads at our desks. That’s what this is really about. And again, I go back to what Laurie said, we want our jobs. This is how we are trying to get back to them and protect them and keep them as jobs worth wanting to get back to.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Hell, yeah. Well, I thought that was beautifully put, and I’ve been checking the live chat while you all been talking. I think that we’ve hit a lot of the questions that folks had. And I just wanted to share that what I’m also seeing more than anything are just expressions of love and solidarity with you all. Folks from all over the country and beyond who are watching this right now, they are with you.

And thank you all so much for watching. Thank you for caring. Thank you for engaging in the live chat. Like I said, we want to make this a regular thing here at The Real News. We want to be a space where we can have these kinds of conversations, where we can strategize, where we can learn how to better support one another and better educate the public on these struggles and why they need to support our fellow workers who are fighting them.

And so thank you all so much for being a part of that. And just to sort of recap, again, before we break, we do have links in the description for the YouTube video that you’re watching right now. So if you want to find the links that were mentioned by Erin, Bob, Austin, and Laurie, the petitions, the strike funds, the information about how you can support striking journalists in Pittsburgh, those are all there. We will also make sure that they are hyperlinked when we post this to the Real News website and the Real News podcast feed.

What you all can do, just as a first thing after this, is you can share this live stream. If folks weren’t able to watch it, please make sure that they know that it exists. Get the word out. This conversation was really important and really incredible, and I’m so thankful to all of you for it. So let’s get the word out there and let people know what they can do right now to support Erin, Bob, Austin, Laurie, their fellow workers, and also keep spreading the word about what’s going on down in Brookwood, Alabama.

Again, Haeden and Braxton Wright from the UMWA, who have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal for almost two years. Now we’ve played Haeden’s message to the Real News viewers at the top of this video. They are still holding the line. You can donate to the Strike Pantry that they run. You can donate to the UMWA Strike Fund. You can also just keep raising awareness about other struggles, no matter how small. There’s a Starbucks store in Atlanta right now that workers just walked out on strike. Go support them, if you can. As we say all the time at The Real News, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

So even if it’s just sending a pizza to the picket line in Minnesota or showing up to that school board meeting next Wednesday, that is something that matters, right? Or reaching out to someone who’s in the area, getting them to do it, getting them to subscribe to the Pittsburgh Union progress. That matters. Every little bit helps. And that ground swell creates the energy and support and solidarity that we all need to keep going and keep fighting. Because as we’ve all acknowledged in the stories that we’ve talked about here, the strikes at Temple University, Medieval Times, so on and so forth. Last year, and in fact the past few years have been intense years of worker struggle. We’ve seen it. We’ve participated in it. We have been understandably and justifiably energized by it.

Because when working people stand up and say, I am worth more than this, we are worth more than this. And we are going to band together to improve our circumstances together, stand in solidarity and fight for what we deserve. We should all support that.

And when working people win those struggles, it gives them the strength, the encouragement, the courage to fight harder and fight more and fight for more of the things that we deserve, but do not get in this shit hole society. We have to fight for those things. We have to take them from a ruling class that does not want to give them up. And we have to do that by not falling into the pitfalls of division and seeing our fellow workers as the enemy somehow.

I thought it was really beautiful to hear how undergraduates are showing up to the Temple University picket line. That’s the kind of it takes. That’s what the bosses fear. That’s why they always try to isolate us as these ungrateful out groups, who like you as a consumer, you as a student, you as a parent, you should be against these workers, who are demanding a living wage and a better work-life balance, better treatment for management, better healthcare, so on and so forth.

But when we refuse to fall into that trap, when students show up to support their teachers and vice versa, when community members show up to school board meetings to support a school staff in situations like these, when fellow journalists, this is on us as well, show up for our colleagues who are on strike at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette or the folks at NBC News. If we show up for one another and we tell the bosses, “We are not going to let you divide us and break us. We stand with our brothers, our sisters, and our siblings, and you need to give them what they deserve and we’re going to stay out on the line until they get it.”

That is what puts fear into the heart of every boss. That is what is why they try so hard to divide us. That is why they use the media to try to divide us and pit us against one another. So anything you can do to fight against that, anything you can do to build that solidarity, to build those connections, and to be out there and actually support our fellow human beings fighting for better lives, better workplaces, and ultimately a better world is so greatly appreciated. We need all of it.

So with that, I just wanted to once again, thank our incredible panel, Erin, Bob, Laurie, Austin, everyone at Medieval Times, at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, at the Hastings School District, at Temple University, Haeden, Braxton, and everyone at Warrior Met Coal, or on strike at Warrior Met Coal down in Alabama. We love you. We are with you. We are sending nothing but solidarity from here in Baltimore, and I know the folks in the live chat are sending the same from wherever they are. So thank you all so much for joining us tonight. Please let us know what we can do to keep supporting you all until you win, and then we’re going to get back up and we’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to support our siblings elsewhere who need it.

And to all of you watching, thank you for caring about this. Thank you for sticking with us for the better part of an hour and a half. Again, we are going to do these live streams more. We want to hear your suggestions for folks that you want us to talk to, stories you want us to cover. We’re a small network, but we care and we do what we can to cover the stories that need to be covered.

So once again, before you go, please donate to any of the strike funds in the YouTube description. Share this live stream with as many folks as you can, and if you feel so inclined to support our work here at The Real News so we can keep bringing you important coverage and conversations, just like this, head on over to Become a supporter of our work. Thank you all so much. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other, solidarity forever.

Bob Batz Jr.:

Thanks. Good luck in your struggles, guys.

Austin Martin:

Same with everybody.

Erin Zapcic:

Right back at you.

Austin Martin:

Good luck everybody.

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Ten years ago, I was working 12-hour days as a warehouse temp in Southern California while my family, like millions of others, struggled to stay afloat in the wake of the Great Recession. Eventually, we lost everything, including the house I grew up in. It was in the years that followed, when hope seemed irrevocably lost and help from above seemed impossibly absent, that I realized the life-saving importance of everyday workers coming together, sharing our stories, showing our scars, and reminding one another that we are not alone. Since then, from starting the podcast Working People—where I interview workers about their lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles—to working as Associate Editor at the Chronicle Review and now as Editor-in-Chief at The Real News Network, I have dedicated my life to lifting up the voices and honoring the humanity of our fellow workers.
Follow: @maximillian_alv