On the eve of a historic vote to authorize a strike, workers in the City of Camden won two landmark contracts last Tuesday, December 10, 2019. The Collective Bargaining Agreements cover 230 non-supervisory and supervisory workers in Camden, NJ. The contracts provide 2.5% salary increases every year of the four-year deal, and in a stunning gain, the contracts bring back four of the seven steps that were taken away from new employees in 2012.
All of the workers will see significant salary increases, particularly newer, lower-paid employees who were hired in the last seven years and who have not been eligible for step increases. The Union made no concessions whatsoever.
After a year of negotiating in 2018, CWA members protested and disrupted a Chamber of Commerce event on 2/6/19. The action was well timed. New Jersey was on the cusp of delving into the largest political power struggle in the State involving a staggering corporate welfare scheme that has enriched corporations and powerful Democratic party bosses.
City Managers were not eager to face a sustained protest movement of City workers aligned with a deep coalition of social services workers, City teachers, militant community organizations, civil rights organizations, and leaders of faith. After the rally at the Chamber of Commerce’s event, management quickly acquiesced to terms for a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).
But the MOA remained unsigned by the City administration for months due to red tape entanglements with the State’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA). State aide constitutes the majority of the City’s budget, so the DCA has veto power on any City allocation of resources, a situation that is exacerbated by corporations extracting massive tax breaks.
After eight months of no movement on signing the MOAs, the Local started a systematic campaign of face-to-face organizing conversations with every member to build support for a strike-authorization vote. A press conference and rally were scheduled to announce the intention of conducting a strike vote.
Large strikes by public-sector workers are rare in New Jersey. The legal right to strike is not enshrined in New Jersey public sector labor law. But strikes do happen because, as striking teachers in West Virginia declared, “there is no illegal strike, just an unsuccessful one.” Teachers in Jersey City struck in 2018 and teachers in Franklin Lakes School District in Essex County struck in June of 2019.
When it was clear the City workers were going to authorize a strike by huge margins, the DCA finally signed off on the contracts and the City managers signed the MOA. (After settling the contract, the DCA official in Camden assigned to this contract was forced to resign when he was caught sending of racist tweets.)
“Solidarity and workers’ willingness to threaten a work stoppage got this deal done,” said Garren Steiner, the newly elected President of CWA Local 1014.
“The City works because we do,” said Al Dansbury, a Local 1014 Steward working in the Department of Planning and Development for the City of Camden.
CWA Local 1014 members protesting with signs reading “Thieves” and “Camden Workers Rising” outside a Chamber of Commerce event in Camden, NJ, on February 6, 2018.