Top Labor Notes Stories of 2023
This year workers have ramped up their organizing to win better wages, fight pay and benefit tiers, reclaim their weekends, and get a direct say in electing their top union leaders.
In the past year, we’ve told many of these stories in our monthly magazine and on the Labor Notes website. We’ve documented how workers are organizing reform caucuses after disappointing contract negotiations, sharing strategies like practice pickets, and building union power in the South.
Our coverage of the Auto Workers’ monumental Stand-Up Strike took our reporters to more than half a dozen states. The UAW’s rallies and big contract wins captured the militant current powering up the labor movement and the exciting possibilities to come.
These are 11 of our favorite Labor Notes stories of 2023:
Shawn Fain's victory in a runoff election for the president of the United Auto Workers put an end to nearly 80 years of one-party rule over the union. “We are ending give-back unionism and company control in the UAW,” Fain said. With reformers at the helm, the union began charting a course toward its strike at the Big 3 in the fall.
As the generative AI frenzy captured headlines this year, some companies wasted no time using chatbots against unions. The nonprofit National Eating Disorders Association told its helpline workers—who had just unionized—that their expertise and skills were no longer needed. Instead, a “wellness chatbot” would be taking over.
Human workers and volunteers actually have the training and real-life experience to field callers with serious eating disorders and related emergencies, one of the helpline workers wrote. Their union, the Helpline Associates United, filed unfair labor practice charges.
Some 1,400 bus manufacturing workers at Blue Bird organized against unsafe working conditions, inadequate pay, and stringent discipline. They prevailed after a three-year fight in one of the biggest union wins at a Southern manufacturing plant in years.
Many were rightly troubled by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Glacier Northwest v. Teamsters Local 174. But Labor Notes Editor Alexandra Bradbury writes that overestimating the decision “could do more damage to the right to strike than the ruling itself does, by making workers scared to exercise it.”
When Canadian wildfires turned the skies orange this summer, auto workers and UPS drivers in cities like Detroit and New York City were directly exposed to the hazardous air quality on the job. But some workers fought back.
Hotels around Los Angeles have been using the temporary staffing app Instawork to hire scabs to cross picket lines. UNITE HERE members have struck for better pay so they can afford to live near the hotels where they put in long shifts.
Fresh off the big contract win by Teamsters at UPS, a package car driver and member of Teamsters Local 135 spoke directly to UAW members in the midst of their own contract fight, explaining how to run an effective practice picket to put pressure on the boss. Many UAW members at the Big 3 later mounted their own practice pickets in preparation for their big strike.
Labor Notes’ reporters captured stories and images of UAW workers around the country on day one of their Stand-Up Strike.
The UAW’s strike at the Big 3 was the result of years of organizing by often isolated reformers who shared a vision for democratizing a union beset by corruption and demoralized by years of concessions. “It’s worthwhile to keep the spark of reform alive even when it’s tiny,” wrote retired Labor Notes editor Jane Slaughter.
A round-up of the UAW’s contract victories at the Big 3. “The gains are a testament to the UAW’s bold, aggressive strategy under its new leadership, which ramped up the strikes, at first slowly and then faster until the companies caved one by one. It was a master class in worker power.”
The Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) reform caucus, whose members met at the 2022 Labor Notes conference, has been organizing toward a strong contract campaign, and for “one member, one vote” elections of union leaders.
Sindhu Sundar is the Communications Organizer at Labor Notes.