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Sunday, March 03, 2024
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Wisconsin 'Forward' Statue stands in front of the entrance to the Wisconsin State Capitol. 

Madison area unions rally for fair contracts, workplace rights

Union and community members rallied for fair labor contracts that guarantee workers rights at the Wisconsin State Capitol Saturday.

Workers from several local labor unions rallied in support for fair labor contracts and workers’ rights Saturday at the Wisconsin State Capitol. 

The rally, led by the South Central Federation of Labor (SCFL), included union members from Starbucks, UW Nurses United, Madison Gas and Electric, Madison Sourdough and insurance company TruStage. SCFL stated their event was a chance to come together in solidarity to fight for fair contracts and workers' rights.

The gathering followed a rally hosted by TruStage workers in July to protest the company's contract negotiations. Months later, TruStage still has not offered the union a contract that meets member demands, according to Will Roberts, a member of OPEIU Local 39’s TruStage Union.

Roberts told The Daily Cardinal that TruStage workers are willing to fight for as long as it takes for change to be made. 

“This is the only way to get to a satisfying conclusion,” Roberts said. 

Although there is no real timeline for when the union’s demands will be fully met, Roberts said members are staying union-strong. 

“The union is as resolute as ever,” he said. “Hopefully, today’s rally shows that in a physical way as well.”

Workers from the Starbucks on State Street, who formed a union in June, joined the rally to support other Madison unions. 

Starbucks barista Maeve Perkins said it's a double-edged sword to have so many unions fighting for the same basic workplace rights.  

“We are honored to be in such good company [but] sad that there’s so much of the company,” she said. 

As a national brand, each unionized Starbucks branch has a network of other Starbucks locations to support. Branches also must address labor issues in their local communities, Perkins said. 

“[We’re rallying] to draw attention to the fact that we’re in the same struggle as a lot of other people. This is a national struggle for us, but it’s also a really local struggle,” Perkins said. 

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Perkins also worried about the state of unionization on a local level. 

“There's actually a surprising number of unions that don’t have contracts yet in Madison, and we’re glad to be in solidarity with them,” Perkins said.

Prolonged negotiations come at the same time as Wisconsin union member rates continue to decline. Only 187,000 Wisconsin workers were members of a union in 2022, a 13% drop since 2021, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite this, Wisconsin union members are determined to unite together in order to keep numbers on their side. Bill Frankes, chair of the Labor & Industry Committee for NAACP, said Saturday’s union rally works to that goal through solidarity.

“You have to show solidarity to working people because working people need solidarity to fight for equality and respect in the workplace,” Frankes said. “Without that, we get nowhere.”

People attending the Dane County Farmers Market stopped to watch ralliers march around Capitol Square led by the Forward! Marching Band. The band’s performance featured a variety of pro-union songs, including a rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" that sang instead: ‘when they pay a living wage.’

As the band reached the Capitol steps, spokespeople from each organization began to recap their union’s progress and led the crowd in chants.

Spencer Schlenker, a union member at Madison Sourdough, told the crowd about their unionization in April along with their struggles to negotiate labor contracts since then. UW Nurses United union member Collin Gillis stressed progress on the negotiations and said changes were being made to the discipline process and wages.

Throughout the speech, Gillis offered a chant: “When we fight, we win.”

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