A new interactive mapping tool created by researchers at the national labor coalition Bargaining for the Common Good tracks the expirations dates for roughly 5,500 union contacts covering 5 million US workers. The map provides crucial information for labor organizers and workers who want to coordinate mass strikes and campaigns to fight back against corporations during the Coronavirus crisis and to build a better post-Covid world.
The creators of the map have geo-tagged union contracts that expire between 2020 and 2023, creating a tool that allows organizers and workers to plan and coordinate across industries, cities, states, zip codes, unions and employers. The moment of a contract's expiry is the only time workers head to the bargaining table to formally negotiate over their wages, benefits, and working conditions. And for most unionized workers in the United States, it’s the only time they can legally strike.
The tool is premised on the idea that workers, once they've banded together across industries, have more power during this critical period. Employers tend to get nervous when tens of thousands workers strike and voice the same set of demands.
As most union contracts last between three to five years, information about when and where contracts are set to expire is critical for planning mass actions and campaigns related to issues impacting workers, such as structural racism and the housing crisis. (The union contract for reporters at VICE's Brooklyn-based editorial operations, for example, will expire at the end of 2021.)
Many unions plan years ahead for contracts across an employer’s worksites to expire at the same time. This tactic, known as “contract line-up,” is one of the few remaining methods for staging major private sector strikes in 2020. Organizers used this tactic in 2019 to coordinate a strike across 241 Stop & Shop grocery stores in New England.
A related strategy, known as “pattern bargaining,” plans for contracts across different employers in the same industry to expire at roughly the same time, giving workers more strength to set the highest standards for an industry. Labor unions used this strategy in the 2019 General Motors strike to set the bar for the rest of the auto industry.
Perhaps the greatest labor crisis of our lifetimes, the Covid-19 era, like the 2008 recession, is showing yet again that American society has failed its most vulnerable workers–tens of thousands who have died. It’s also shown that low-wage workers across industries, from slaughterhouses to grocery stores, share many of the same demands and concerns at work.
In order not to allow the mistakes of the 2008 recession, a crisis that corporations used to undercut worker power, workers and communities will need to organize and mobilize en masse. For union workers looking for comrades, this tool is a place to start.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.