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Workers 'fed up,' Denver union leader says, as strikes continue nationwide

Sign from John Deere strike
Posted at 5:29 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-15 21:27:41-04

DENVER — Workers are striking nationwide for better wages and benefits as the economy begins to recover from the pandemic, and experts warn the strikes will continue.

"I have never seen workers this fed up," SEIU Local 105 President Ron Ruggiero said Friday. "You have workers that have been called heroes and essential by politicians, by business leaders, and they're not seeing anything in their real life to reflect that talk."

His union represents thousands of healthcare, janitorial, security and airport workers in Colorado and beyond. The demands his members are seeking are to help them thrive, not just survive.

"A raise a year or two ago [that] would have been fine for everybody is no longer the case," Ruggiero said.

Alan Britain, chairperson for UAW Local 186, is among those picketing and protesting nationwide for a better agreement with John Deere. The company has a distribution center in Denver.

"Our contract [was] due Oct. 1, and they did not meet our demand," he said Thursday. "[We want] improved health care, improved post retirement health care, and a better way of life."

Frustration among the workforce has been building over the years because of stagnant wages and an increasing cost of living.

And thanks in part to an overall worker shortage, there's never been a better time to flex union muscle on private and public employers.

"Workers are in a situation where they should - and they deserve - higher wages," Dr. Kishore Kulkarni, an economics professor at MSU Denver, said. "I think employers should recognize that they deserve higher wages now and should avoid the strikes."

He says vaccine requirements, testing and other COVID-19 restrictions should be reason enough to pay workers more. But, he warns, those wage increases could come with a cost.

"Higher wages make employers and businesses cut down on their employment, and/or suffer the higher cost of production, which they pass on to the consumers. So the prices go up again," Dr. Kulkarni said.

Workers may continue to have the upper hand well into the new year if labor shortages don't ease, Ruggiero says, and many employers will find themselves with no other choice but to meet their demands.

"We're at this moment where wages and expectations and the hope for workers can be reset in our society across the country in a very positive way," he said. "They just want to have hope for a brighter future."