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'Working full time should be enough and it's not': Colorado union workers offer perspective on Labor Day

Workers in various industries are striking or threatening to strike amid contentious contract negotiations
The surge of labor strikes as workers demand fairness and change
Posted at 6:16 PM, Sep 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-05 09:06:50-04

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — As the nation marks Labor Day, workers in Colorado and beyond are demanding better pay and conditions.

Workers in several industries, including healthcare employees, television and film writers, actors, flight attendants, and pilots, are either striking or threatening to strike amid labor agreement negotiations.

“I think the working class has been under a significant strain for a really long time,” said Conor Hall, with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7.

Denver7 sat down with Colorado union workers and leaders from the Boulder Area Labor Council on Labor Day to get their perspective on the flurry of union activity taking place in Colorado and nationwide.

“I think it's a lot of people (that) are under a lot of strain right now just trying to make ends meet,” said Alejandra Beatty, the vice president of the Boulder Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Working full time should be enough, and it’s not.”

About 3,000 Colorado healthcare workers could strike in a matter of weeks.

On Friday, their union, SEIU Local 105, voted to authorize a strike if a new labor agreement is not reached with Kaiser Permanente by Sept. 30, which is when the current contract expires. Other healthcare unions around the country are also voting to authorize a strike.

Kaiser Permanente said negotiations were ongoing and it’s confident a new agreement will be reached before the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the Colorado chapter of SAG-AFTRA continues to stand in solidarity with ongoing strikes that halted TV and movie productions, including in Colorado, which is home to about 600 members.

In addition, United Auto Workers are inching closer to a national strike, as are flight attendants with American Airlines and pilots with Southwest.

All of them said they are pushing for better pay and working conditions.

Local union leaders said Monday no matter the industry, workers are simply fed up.

“People realize that they're not getting wages up, they're not being heard by their bosses, and they're not being respected by their boss,” said Geof Cahoon, president of the Boulder Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “I think especially after, frankly, the COVID epidemic.”

Hall said he knows what it’s like to work for a company that doesn’t care for its workers, as he had a bad experience working for a well-known grocery chain.

“They came down hard. They fired people. They intimidated people,” Hall said.

He said having a union behind him and his co-workers makes a big difference.

[It’s] more secure. Not only more secure, but I would say that it’s the most respected I’ve ever been by my employer,” said Hall.

Cahoon encourages workers who have not unionized to consider it.

“To the workers, open your eyes and gain power," said Cahoon. “The path is clear. The unions are very helpful to organize in almost any industry at this point. And we have enough different types of unions that almost anybody can find a corner and a home in a union.”

A new poll from the ALF-CIO shows most Americans support labor unions, including 91% of Democrats, 69% of Independents, and 52% of Republicans.

Cahoon said unions don’t have as much power as they did decades ago, but he’s optimistic given the support unions appear to be seeing in the current environment.

Beatty said it’s also important for people to realize that everyone gains when workers do. She believes major corporations will come to see that too.

“I think some of them are going to fight it, but I think as more and more people see the benefits that come with it, it’s going to be hard for them to continue to fight,” said Beatty. “Just go and work with your union, instead of spending millions and millions of dollars fighting it.”

Colorado union workers offer perspective on Labor Day

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