After reading this booklet about your rights on the job, you are probably wondering what a union can do for you. Or perhaps you are thinking that, due to the temporary nature of your position, that a union would be unable to help you. Let us be the first to assure you that a union can help workers like you, and here are some examples to prove it.
In the early half of the 20th Century, migratory workers traveled all over the western USA and Canada, working on farms, in mills, as lumberjacks or as construction workers for only a short period of time before they hopped onboard a freight train in search of their next job in another area. These workers were called “bindlestiffs,” and the IWW had deep support among them. Because they were organized as an IWW union, the bindlestiffs were able to struggle for, and win, improved working conditions, better food, and clean bedding at many of their temporary job sites.
When workers at the South Charleston Stamping and Manufacturing plant decided they wanted the United Auto Workers to represent them, the union was able to help many temp workers become regular, permanent employees.
In 1998, temp workers at Microsoft offices in the state of Washington formed the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech). It now has members at over 70 Seattle-area companies and has been influential in the struggle for the rights of temp workers in the technology industry. WashTech has won improved benefit packages from employment agencies by exposing the exploitation of workers carried out by Microsoft and Amazon. WashTech has also initiated effective legislative struggles for government regulation and investigation of temp agency practices. They have also set up popular training programs for new workers in the high-tech software industry.
New York Local 294 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board, stating that Gourmet Award Foods had not treated its temporary warehouse workers in accordance with its union contract. In 2001, the NLRB ruled that temp workers must be covered by existing union contracts.
In 2007, the United Workers Association helped the temporary employees who clean Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore win a pay increase of over 60 percent, which brought the pay of these workers up to living-wage standards.
Temporary workers at the University of Washington are currently being represented by Local 925 of the Service Employees International Union.
Despite all of this, it has been hard for traditional unions to organize temp workers and day laborers. As a result, many day laborers have organized themselves into workers’ centers and advocacy organizations. For example, in the D.C. metro area, the Employment Justice Center gives free legal advice and assistance to temp workers and helps lead the legal battles for workers rights in the area. Since 2000, EJC has helped thousands of low-income workers gain over $5.5 million in backpay and damages. EJC helped pass the Accrued Sick & Safe Leave Act in 2008, a law that guarantees workers in the D.C. area a minimum amount of paid sick days. EJC is not a union, but it is aided by various unions, including the SEIU and those affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
The conditions faced by temp workers and day laborers can be improved, and have been in different places at different times. It is now up to you, our fellow workers, to decide how the IWW (the one big union) can fight for you.