Help Us Cover 1,400 UE Members Striking Over “Right-to-Strike” over Grievances

UE members won the "right-to-strike" in a 2-month long strike (UE)

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Last Thursday, over 1,400 UE members went on strike at Wabtec’s locomotive plant in Erie. The strike comes as workers push for the full renewal of the “right to strike” over grievances. 

(See our preview of the strike here)

During contract talks, Wabtec repeatedly threatened to cut 275 jobs from the Erie plant if UE went on strike over the right to renew “right to strike” over grievances fully. Undeterred by the threat, the UE decided to strike anyhow. 

“While the union is working hard to bring new work into the plant and new jobs to Erie through our Green Locomotive Project, the company is refusing to work with us on this project, and is instead holding the community of Erie hostage with the threat of moving work,” said UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson. “We will not give in to their blackmail.” 

Donations for the strike fund can be made here.

A key reason why workers are striking is to regain the right to strike mid-contract over the “right-to-strike” over grievances.

While most union contracts in the US only allow workers to strike when a contract expires, the contract at GE in Erie allowed the union to “strike over grievances.” If the company failed to follow the contract, rather than fight it out in arbitration and courts for years, the UE could walk out mid-contract, giving the union at the plant tremendous leverage that most unions lack. 

When Wabtec took over in 2019, they severely rolled back the right to “strike over grievances.” 

“So most unions in Wabtec do not have the right to strike at all; we have the right to strike over very specific topics like sub-contracting, temporary or transfer of work, timeliness of a grievance response,” says Miles. “But we do not have the right to strike over grievances again.” 

Many unions across the country increasingly face this problem, according to a new School of Labor and Employment Relations report at the University of Illinois-Champaign entitled “Labor’s Peace Paradox; The Impact of the Right to Strike over Grievance Procedures”. The report found that since 2019 that grievances are now more than twice as likely to be rejected by employers and taken to arbitration.

“Since 2019, the new precedent of frequent grievance denials runs the risk of encouraging cynical attitudes among the workforce toward the dispute resolution process,” wrote the report’s authors. “if it is viewed or used as a management tool more suited to stonewalling labor disputes than to solving them, the grievance process risks becoming a contributor to dysfunctional labor relations.” 

It’s a process that union members say is designed to force workers to lose faith in their union when they can’t enforce the terms of the contract. 

“When you go to step two of a grievance process, you talk to an HR manager, you get a response. You go to step three of the grievance process. It’s the same HR. It’s the same response,” says Miles. “They want you to take it to arbitration. The company doesn’t care about the grievance process. They don’t care about settling grievances, and that’s the frustration”. 

Donate to Help Us Cover this Crucial Strike over “Right-to-Strike” over Grievances

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]