800 Workers in Massachusetts Get Hefty Raises With Union

Some 800 warehouse workers in Worcester and Fall River, Massachusetts recently voted for a new contract that will boost their wages, benefits, and working conditions. They are members of the UNITE HERE union and they work for TJX Corporation. Their victory could be a model for workers in the Valley to follow.

“The workers’ first languages include Vietnamese, Albanian, Spanish, and Chinese,” said organizer Dana Simon. “The company tried to exploit those differences. They failed and the workers won."

TJX paid its CEO some $8 million last year; it had profits of more than $1 billion in 2009. There are 3,200 TJX workers who are members of UNITE HERE in New England.

The workers work at breakneck speed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week in warehouses that are the size of several football fields and are several stories tall.

The workers held many rallies. One outdoor rally in February drew more than 500 workers despite the 15 degree temperature outside.

On one occasion, about 150 workers showed up unannounced at the TJX human resources office to demand justice.

On December 31, the contract for another 800 TJX workers in Massachusetts who are members of UNITE HERE will expire.

Union workers in the U.S. make more money than nonunion workers, 29 percent more. That’s $9,300 a year extra for the average worker who joins a union. For Latino workers, the union advantage is 50 percent; for black workers, 31 percent.

So it’s easy to see why some 15 million workers in the U.S. belong to unions, despite employers’ frequent attempts to get them to abandon their unions. Unions aren’t just about money; having a union means companies must have "just cause" for firing a worker. Companies don’t have to give a reason for firing a nonunion worker.

Under the recently approved TJX contract:

Wages will go up at least 50 cents per hour for all workers; some workers got 90 cent raises.

Under dental insurance, TJX agreed to add a new orthodontics coverage plan.

Workers are entitled to carry over up two weeks vacation into 2010. Any worker whose vacation was not carried over by the company into 2010 will be given the choice of being paid in full for that time or will be allowed to take that paid time off within the next six months.

Under insurance for eyeglasses, the employer pays 100 percent of the workers’ premiums.

There will be no so-called “no fault” attendance policy. Management wanted a “no fault” attendance policy, which is disliked by many workers at TJX.

In the past, requests for days off weren’t approved or rejected until the day before. With the new rules, the employer will give a yes or no one week in advance.

While overtime will still be offered as it has been in the past, no worker can be ordered to work overtime when they do not want to.

All workers received $100 as a signing bonus after the contract was signed.

Management will notify employees of weekday overtime by noon of the day that overtime is offered and by Thursday before the weekend to be worked.

The contract now outlines a fair procedure designed to allow more people the opportunity to transfer into new departments and onto a new shift using their seniority.

“This was a big victory,” Dana Simon said. In the near future, MassLaborNews.com will publish interviews with TJX workers speaking about their new contract.


This article first appeared at www.MassLaborNews.com


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