Ellen: I’m speaking with Neil Rainford, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council, 32 staff representative about the contract settlement between the Badger Hawkeye region of the Red Cross and AFSCME Locals 1205 and 1558. Can you give us the highlights of the agreement?
Neil: The new agreement covers three years in the first year of the agreement, there’s a retroactive bonuses of $500 for part time employees and $13,150 for full time employees. There are also across the board wage increases of 6% in the second year of the agreement and 3% in the third year of the agreement. Included in the new contract as well is a new health insurance plan through the United Steel Workers Health and Welfare Fund that provides similar coverage to the plan that came before it.
Ellen: Does this settlement address the key issues brought up by the union?
Neil: The logjam in the negotiations just prior to our most recent discussions on Monday of this week revolved around the funding of the wage schedule that the employees progressed through during their first 13 to 20 years of employment and the problem was the employer was not proposing to fund that wage schedule making it that all the newer hired employees would not see any step increases and that they ultimately backed down on their refusal to fund that at the last minute. Brought that to members and ultimately ratified the agreement on that.
Ellen: When was the agreement ratified?
Neil: The agreement was ratified on Tuesday, December 13th of this week.
Ellen: What are some of the steps the Union took to get the membership to coalesce around a strike vote and notification to the employer?
Neil: A week before the final bargaining session, we met with all of the employees together and we explained the problems that we were having at the bargaining table and we asked the employees if they wanted to issue a strike notice to the employer for the big holiday drive on December 23rd. Ultimately, the employees came together to vote overwhelmingly to issue that strike notice. I think it’s very clear that the workers’ decision to come together and their commitment to make good on it. If we didn’t have an agreement it was the critical reason that the parties were able to reach a final agreement.
Ellen: Did the level of community support factor into their decision?
Neil: Community support did factor in the locals’ decision to strike on a day when there was a large drive happening in Madison with the understanding that we have a strong Labour community here and that we were likely to receive support from activists and other unions should a strike and a picket line occur. Once we issued the strike notice, there was a huge outpouring of support from activists in the community as well as other Unions and the local really appreciated that.
Ellen: Was the locals move towards direct action, helped by some of the other labor struggles and strikes that have been going around both here in Madison and around the country?
Neil: Direct action gets the goods, and I think that the courage of other employees in our community – here at Starbucks as well as nationally like the New York Times worker’s strike and many others that have occurred in recent months was a factor in local 1205 and 1558 taking a strike vote and making a decision to issue a strike notice. And there’s no doubt that the notice and the commitment to striking was an important factor in the union being able to reach an agreement.
Interviewee: Neil Rainford, AFSCME Council 32 staff representative. Report by Ellen La Luzerne. Photo Courtesy American Red Cross Wisconsin Region. Web production by Anyu Li.