IWW History: “Berkeley IWW Recycling Workers Unite in Solidarity to Win Better Contracts” – 2008

This is a post from the IWW’s Website describing Recycling Workers’ fights for a better contract in Berkeley California. It is reproduced here because their efforts show the strengths and weaknesses to contract bargaining and offer ample content for discussion on this front. The original authors are not members of the Industrial Unionist Caucus.

The contract negotiations between the Bay Area IU 670 Recycling Workers Union and the two Berkeley Recycling Companies has been a challenging struggle, but workers have stepped up to fight for tremendous improvements. The Bay Area IWW represents drivers at The Ecology Center who do residential curbside pickup, and workers at The Community Conversation Center yard who sort and process recycling materials. Both workers have been waging shopfloor struggles to resolve grievances and improve their working conditions. With both contracts coming up for negotiations, workers stepped up the fight.

The drivers met several times both at work and outside of work to draft an ambitious list of roughly 15 demands including an across the board wage hike, increase in pension payments by the company, and a change to the current accident penalties. The existing agreement resulted in termination of any driver who was involved in three accidents incurring more than $1400 worth of damage. With the narrow winding streets of Berkeley and the increasing costs of small accidents like broken rear-view mirrors, we have seen several workers purposefully dropping down to a loader after two incidents. This has resulted in wage decreases of up to $10 per hour!

Several months before negotiations began, workers were engaged in direct action to maintain control over job conditions. Management had attempted to add an additional route, and eliminate several “duo” routes – routes picked up by a team of one driver and one loader. After a week of headaches under these new route assignments, workers met with IWW organizers outside of work to plan how they would get back the old route system.

On September 10, all of the workers met with Daniel Maher, the operations manager and by a unanimous show of hands, demanded that the routes be reset. Maher refused to agree and left the office. One hour later he returned to find that that the workers hadn’t budged – neither physically nor on their demands. In what amounted to a seven-hour standoff, the entire workforce for the day refused to drive the trucks and occupied the company office for the entire time.

The crew from the buyback yard, who were holding a safety meeting at the time, were informed about the action and decided to march over to the Ecology Center office in solidarity. Daniel was still refusing to agree to the route change as the drivers discussed their situation to buyback workers.

With the office filled to capacity by recycling workers from both shops, Martin Borque, executive director of The Ecology Center was called in to put out the fire. He tried to argue that the changes the company had made would benefit the workers, but the union knew better. When it was obvious that the crew would not back down, management conceded to all demands. They then tried to get the drivers to agree to perform all assigned work for the day. Since that would have had the guys driving well into the night, they refused, promising only to work until 5:30 PM. Again, management had no choice but to agree.

At approximately 1:00 PM the trucks all rolled out, smiles on the workers’ faces and the stage was set for the coming negotiations, with workers in the driver’s seat.

The start of negotiations was heard loud and clear on November 8th at a rally in the Berkeley Recycling yard. The drivers took a break in the middle of their route to come back to the yard, and the workers from the Conservation Center walked off their posts to attend. Among piles of recycled waste the two groups of employees laid out their demands via bullhorn and several individuals spoke about conditions at their workplace and how workers had to come together to fight for a better life. The Rally finished with a 40-person strong march to the Ecology Center office where Fellow Workers Joyce Guzman outlined the demand list to Maher.

The buyback workers had also been compiling their demands via an employee survey which asked workers what most needed improvement at work. Bargaining teams of four employees and three IWW organizers were elected for each shop and the bargaining sessions began. At the Ecology Center the bosses were quick to give in to several demands including an unprecedented wage increase. No doubt this was due to the strength and solidarity workers had demonstrated just a few months prior.

But by the same token, management was scrambling to eliminate the basis for their employees’ power to stop production. They demanded several destructive changes to the contract language including a no-strike clause, a managements rights clause (both traditional clauses had been absent from the Ecology Center contracts with the IWW for almost two decades), and the elimination of the union solidarity clause which allowed the workers to honor picket lines during the life of the contract.

Workers were conflicted, wanting the economic package management had proposed but offended by the affront to their rights. After negotiations went back and forth some compromises were reached. On wages, Route Driver A will go from the current $24.87 to $26.50 and Driver B will go from 22.96 to 24.50 for this coming year, with a wage and benefits reopener for 2009. Most “loaders” (assistants) will go into a new category of “assistant driver” and their pay will go from the current $16.80 to $21 per hour. The few who will remain as loaders (because they can’t drive the trucks) will go to $19.00. Improvements were also made in health benefits and

On the negative side, workers accepted some changes to the contract that weren’t exactly positive. While they refused to accept the elimination of the union solidarity clause, and management backed down, there now exists a general “Managements Power” section, and while they would not accept a No-Strike clause, per se, the grievance procedure has been modified so that the union agrees to take no strike action until the grievance procedure has been exhausted.

Meanwhile at Buyback, a committee of 4 workers and three IWW organizers were attempting to hammer out a contract with management. The main demands were a wage hike, decreasing the health care costs, and increasing management’s contribution to the workers’ IRA. Management agreed to some of the union proposals, but dragged its heels on the wage demand. After two months of negotiations and an implicit threat of a strike by the workers, the bosses increased their offer for a new wage table. At the time of this writing, the workers are closing in on an agreement with management though some issues are still unresolved. Why do Buyback workers so badly need a raise? Fellow Worker Matt Wathen wrote the following article about the conditions workers have to deal with at the yard.

My name is Matthew Wathen and I have been an employee at Berkeley Recycling going on three years now. Over these three years I have seen and been exposed to some of the most vile substances and materials known to man. Working on the container line I’ve seen everything from dead rats covered in maggots to human feces to used syringes pass by. Having to grab the syringes and put them in a special biohazard waste basket we’re extra careful we don’t accidentally poke ourselves (God forbid). While sorting recyclables on the container line I’ve been attacked by mosquitoes, had different substances sprayed on my face and have had to go to the hospital to get stitches from grabbing glass bottles even though I was wearing glass protective gloves.

Down by the paper line it’s hard to take one step without stepping on a pile of rat droppings. I think Berkeley Recycling is home base for the entire population of rats in the city of Berkeley. Even though management has done a lot to rid our work site of rat infestation, they still roam around freely like they own the place. I say put ’em to work!

Another sanitary concern is the mess left by customers after they’re finished separating their materials. The customers are given a certain section in the facility to sort their materials, and by the end of the day that area is left knee-deep in garbage, which the employees are left to clean up. Some of the garbage left on the ground consists of everything from spilled food, half-empty drink containers, broken glass, dirty socks and all sorts of disgusting filth. Also since many of the customers are drug addicts and IV drug users, we constantly are finding drug paraphernalia and used syringes on the premises.

Now everything that I have mentioned so far, as you can imagine puts the employees at great risk, so being the end of the year, the time has come for union workers and management to negotiate a new contract. The starting pay here is only $11.05 per hour (keep in mind we have families to support). Because the cost to live in the Bay Area is so expensive and because of the risks of sanitary conditions, not to mention the risks of accidents caused by heavy machinery (which have happened), we have asked for an immediate increase of five dollars per hour.

Their counter offer is fifty cents.

By M.K. and other members of the Bay Area Utility Service Workers iu670 industrial organizing committee.


On the Revolutionary Union Movement Faction in the IWW

Recently, the Revolutionary Unionists have formalized their caucus in the I.W.W. While this is a welcome step toward understanding exactly what it is they’re after, we’re disappointed that their essays struggle to cite what we’ve written accurately and contain several baseless accusations. 

We were confounded at the prospect of responding to a lot of vague insinuations and frankly, things we’ve never said nor believe. So we decided to put what we did say right next to what some in the RUM claim we say. Following that is a brief response to their essay on “white workerism”.

RU Silliness 1.3RU Silliness 2.2RU Silliness 3.1

Continue reading “On the Revolutionary Union Movement Faction in the IWW”

A Wobbly Contract

In this essay, Luigi Rinaldi argues there is the possibility of using contracts in our organizing, if we use them to set a gold standard.


Contracts between unions and employers have been a controversial subject in the IWW since its founding. They have been described by some as a needless compromise in the class war. Others have said they provide necessary breathing room for our struggles. While I used to hold a hard anti-contract position I have since moderated on the question. This was brought about by practical concerns. How do we, a revolutionary union, consolidate our gains and form lasting institutions in industries? How do we supersede the General Membership Branch as the primary form of organization in the IWW? How do we build Industrial Unions?

Continue reading “A Wobbly Contract”

2017 IWW Convention Voting Guide

The 2017 Convention is fast approaching and now Branches of the IWW have voted or perhaps are just about to vote on the many resolutions proposed. Below is the voting guide our caucus has prepared.

Tampa GMB
Resolution #1:
If passed, IWW will join CIW’s campaign against Wendy’s. Specifically declare solidarity, participate in boycott, call on Wendy’s to sign Fair Food Agreement, and spread word of boycott. Vote yes.

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
Resolution #1:
If passed, Jimmi Del Duca will be expelled from union. While FW Del Duca has said things that we find uncouth and insulting, it would be a matter of proving FW Del Duca has violated the constitution via charges that should lead to an expulsion. In fact, it seems like a poor practice for convention to expel a member without charges being filed. Vote no.

Resolution #2:
If passed, IWOC will get $8,315 per year from the IWW general membership and IWOC members currently in prison will be exempt from paying dues. Vote yes.

Resolution #3:
If passed, the union will create a travel fund for IWOC’s ex-prisoner members, similar to the Sato Fund administered by the GEC. The Sato Fund has a proven track record in helping women and LGBT members of the union fully participate in the organization, and hopefully this fund would create similar opportunities for ex-prisoners in the union. Vote yes.

Resolution #4:
If passed, the union will print a polemic calling for the abolition of prisons. Vote yes.

Atlanta GMB
Resolution #1:
If passed, the general membership will make a pledge of allegiance to anti-fascism and agree that everyone can do whatever they want while maintaining the official backing of the union. It is one of two political resolutions aimed at a perceived faction, which the IWW should avoid putting forward to referendum. Vote no.

Resolution #2:
If passed, the entire GEB would be recalled and an interim board would be elected. However, despite the trials and tribulations this year the GEB has been able to carry out its usual business as scheduled, proving that the claim the GEB is not able to function false. Vote no.

Los Angeles GMB
Resolution #1:
If passed, language formerly present in the IWW Constitution regarding “job branches” will be re-added. This may help steer the union towards the industrial unionism model. Vote yes.

Baltimore GMB
Resolution #1:
If passed, the IWW constitution would be amended to ensure workers with criminal history will not be barred from membership or holding office. Vote Yes.

Nonviolence and sabotage resolution:
If passed, the IWW will add a special resolution to its constitution and bylaws reaffirming that the IWW does not advocate violence nor forfeit the right to self-defense. We believe this is what the IWW stands for and do not see the need to reaffirm a political resolution aimed at another perceived faction in the IWW at this time. Vote no.

Gender Equity Committee
Resolution #1 – 4:
If passed, the GEC will strike a Conflict Resolutions Committee on Measures of Gender, amend the Constitution and the Manual of Policies and Procedures to reflect that this body is an additional option for complaints in addition to the current charges process.
As written the process is in some ways vague, offers no process for determination of fact, and does nothing to add to the resources made available for terms of immediate relief. Where some necessary reforms of the current charges process could be made these amendments leave the current charges process untouched and provide only for means outside of charges to resolve disputes based in gendered social relations.
It does provide a straightforward means for conflict resolution. This implies that both parties acknowledge there is a conflict worth resolving; otherwise the resolution ought to make clear that when a member feels their constitutional rights have been violated by another member or officer, they should refer to the given, if flawed, charges process.
Vote yes.

Twin Cities GMB

TC 1: Creates an Education Department but subverts the efforts of those who have been building towards creating this already. Members of the chartered exploratory committee for an Ed Department have asked for the union to vote this down. They have provided compelling arguments that the proposal is underdeveloped and that they plan to create an Education Department in a similar way to other successful programs, such as the OTC, were created. Vote no.

Resolution #3: If passed, members of the Audit, Finance, Literature, Gender Equity, and Junior Wobblies Committees would be elected via referendum rather than by convention. This seems like more democratic reform that is not particular cumbersome to the organization, and could potentially increase the pool of candidates for these positions. Vote yes.

Resolution #2:
If passed, the GDC would be able to carry out any action as long as it was labelled as “community self-defense.” The area of work this covers should be well defined and approved by the IWW membership. Vote no.

Resolution #4:
If passed, the GDC will overturn the votes against two previously defeated attempts to get money from the general administration’s budget. These were voted down by the GEB because the GDC maintains its own treasury for this purpose. Vote no.

Resolution #5:
If passed, the so-called “pro-GDC” faction will blatantly oust democratically elected political opponents from the General Executive Board for no other reason than their opposition to their interests. Vote no.

Resolution #6:
If passed, the IWW will be re-structured into an ultra-decentralized organization, exacerbating the problems of branch autonomy, while also ballooning the size of the general administration with branch delegations. In all likeliness the rough state branches tend to be in means only well established branches will be able to truly participate in the process and will effectively run the union. Vote no.

Resolution #7: If passed, the charges process would be dramatically overhauled. While the process does need a change, the resolution seems to be geared towards the charges process becoming a catch-all mediation process rather than one used for when members violate the constitution. The IWW is not a court and cannot be expected to solve all the problems between its members. Vote no.

Resolution #8:
If passed, the 2017 will make a decision on whether or not the IWW will immediately affiliate with the new international of revolutionary unions led by the Spanish CNT. There has not been enough time for the membership to discuss this matter. Vote no.

Madison GMB

Resolution #1: This will be moot if TC#2 is voted down, which we is what we currently endorse.