UW Researcher Iván Cruz delivering union cards to the Public Employment Relations Commission.
UW Researcher Iván Cruz delivering union cards to the Public Employment Relations Commission. Courtesy of UW Researchers United

Hey, folks! Conor Kelley here to introduce a new weekly post: This Week in Worker Conquests.

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Here’s the deal: We’re living in the new Gilded Age. In the U.S., two wannabe astronauts own more wealth than the bottom 40%. It’s tough to visualize that kind of money, but here's one attempt.

In the face of all that, regular people are fighting back. In 2021, 40 million workers quit, 100,000+ went on strike, and 550+ new unions were formed. Organizing is working, and it’s giving more of us a shot at the American Dream — or at least the dream of not living paycheck to paycheck.

So I’m here to round up news on the Pacific Northwest labor movement. This column will serve as your weekly labor update moving forward, but this week we'll mostly catch you up on what happened over the holidays.

Breaking news in the Seattle art scene: An estimated 67 Visitor Service Officers at the Seattle Art Museum just turned in union cards, representing about 70% of the workers, according to VSO organizer Josh Davis. In a tweet announcing the vote, during the course of the pandemic these internal security guards claim they faced low wages, cuts to retirement benefits, and shifts working "crowded private events without sufficient COVID safety regulations." Over the phone, Davis said, "We are really excited to pursue greater benefits and protections for us and our co-workers."

The vibes are good in Portland: Yesterday, Comic Book Workers United won their union election, 7-2, making Image Comics the first unionized comic book publisher in the United States. As the third-largest comic book and graphic novel publisher in the U.S., this is a meaningful step forward for the publishing industry, which is known for paying low wages in major cities. "We want to stress how crucial it is for all workers to know they are worthy of respect, fair treatment, fair compensation, and recognition for their time and effort," the workers said in a statement. Well said. Even if the work is fun, that doesn't mean you have to suffer for it!

Good news out of higher ed: 1,500 workers across all three University of Washington campuses voted to join UAW Local 4121, and early last month The Stand reported that Cornish College of the Arts’ staff of 42 voted overwhelmingly to join OPEIU Local 8. Working in higher education is extremely challenging during our ongoing COVID nightmare, and it’s great to see these folks pulling together.

Missing the Mariners? Did I just type that? With the Seahawks’ disappointing season coming to a close this weekend, sports fans are hoping for an end to the MLB lockout. The MLB Players Association is negotiating for a fairer split of league revenue amid record gains for ownership. Baseball careers are short, average salaries are going down, and players still don’t even make minimum wage in the minor leagues. Unfortunately, commissioner Rob Manfred does not seem to be in a peaceful mood, as he just fired a star reporter for some mild criticism, according to The NY Post. Yikes.

Down in Tacoma: In December, staff at the troubled Wellfound Behavioral Health Hospital pulled together to unionize. The vote went 72-4, a landslide win for them. They will join SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. Here’s hoping this can improve conditions for everybody at Wellfound, which is doing important and often overlooked mental health work.

Over the pass we go: 250 workers at the Richland Fred Meyer in the Tri-Cities voted to join UFCW Local 1439 last month, as reported by The Stand. When workers asked for more consistent schedules and better working conditions to help destabilizing turnover, Fred Meyer’s parent company, Kroger, “responded by holding union-busting meetings on paid time, increasing management presence in the store with managers coming in from across the state, and surveilling workers who engaged in union activities.” I’m getting the feeling these folks aren’t our friends?? Congrats to the workers who stood up for themselves.

And if all that solidarity wasn’t enough: The state minimum wage just went up to $14.49.

Cheers to a restful weekend. Take care of yourself, and take care of each other. With all this solidarity in the air, things ain’t so bad.