March Newsletter: Worker-led organizing on the rise

From auto workers at Volkswagen to student workers at the University of Oregon and beyond, worker-led organizing is on the rise! Worker-led organizing starts with the premise that any organizing effort is more powerful when it’s driven forward by a broad network of worker leaders. That power comes through in a number of overlapping ways: increasing worker ownership over every level of the campaign; enabling rapid, confrontational, mass collective action; facilitating democratic decision-making; establishing a resilient structure to overcome anti-union tactics from management; and more.

And this approach isn’t new, it’s a tested approach that workers in Region 6 have demonstrated really works: in just the past year, worker-led campaigns in Region 6 have resulted in more than 5000 workers winning union recognition, and more than 6000 winning historic first contracts after waging strikes or strike threats. The resurgence of this model more broadly is an important sign of what’s possible for the labor movement. Namely, with a worker-led approach, we’re not only setting ourselves up to win important instrumental milestones – we’re investing in the kind of organizing that can take on the status quo at scale and win a real say for working people and the workplace and beyond. 

None of this happens on its own – any effective worker-led campaign depends on a foundation of ongoing mass education, skill-building, and mentorship to equip every worker with the tools they need to be effective, to draw out lessons from each other’s campaigns, and to continually evolve our collective strategic thinking. You can plug into these kinds of opportunities at Region 6 Summer School and other upcoming training programs, and keep reading to learn more about how workers across Region 6 are actively putting this approach into practice.

New Organizing 

Group of about 40 people standing with fists raised and holding a banner reading “Stand up for our communities against corporate greed”

  1. Over 4000 Student Workers at University of Oregon voted 97% to affiliate with UAW. Student Workers won their union election last year, and are now on to winning a strong first contract. Welcome to the Region 6 family! 
  2. In addition, members of the California Association of Professional Scientists (CAPS) are voting this month on whether to affiliate with UAW. 
  3. More than 4000 autoworkers at Volkswagen (Tennessee) are having a union election! Theirs will be the first election in the wave of autoworker organizing following the historic Stand Up strike. Follow along on their Instagram, @standupvw. Solidarity! 

Contract Campaigns and Enforcement 

  • At University of Alaska, management continues taking a hard line in bargaining over Grad Workers’ first contract, including insisting that Grad Workers should remain “at will” employees. Grad Workers are escalating to win a fair contract, and are taking a strike authorization vote that ends TODAY. 
  • Academic Student Employees of Local 4121 at University of Washington continue bargaining for a new contract. With just one month left until contract expiration, members are holding a mass rally TODAY to demand real movement from management. 
  • Educational Student Employees at Western Washington University continue their fight for a first contract. This month, they joined with members of all five unions on Western Washington University’s campus at a “Pi Day” rally to demand more state funding for higher education so that all WWU workers can be paid a living wage.
  • Academic Student Employees of Local 4811 are launching their next contract campaign, with organizing plans ramping up to bargaining next year. Eyes on 2025! 

Large group of workers standing outside at a rally, many wearing black UAW beanies

Member Profile: Jackie Johnson, Local 872

Member Spotlight is a segment of the Region 6 Newsletter that profiles members from different Region 6 Locals and organizing campaigns each month. Get to know your fellow UAW members from across many industries and states!

Hello Region 6! My name is Jackie Johnson, and I am a Graduate Student Worker at Local 872 where there are around 3,000 grad workers. We successfully negotiated a fantastic first contract at the end of 2023, and are soon to be joined by other units across the University of Southern California, including the adjunct faculty in the School of Cinematic Arts. 

I started working as a Teaching Assistant at USC in the fall of 2020. Teaching dozens of students online in the midst of a global pandemic made it abundantly clear that USC was taking our labor for granted. Throughout the tumultuous school year, workers across campus had to navigate constantly changing and difficult circumstances with little guidance or support. Later, as a member of the bargaining team, I spoke with countless grad workers who had been forced to work unpaid hours in their lab or who were unable to see their families over the holidays, workers facing discrimination without real recourse, and working parents unable to keep up with the rising costs of childcare. Together with fellow organizers across USC, we have built a strong union over the past 3 years, and have gone toe to toe with USC administration over all these issues and more. Through the power of our organizing we pushed the USC administration to give us a fair contract – a historic first for academic workers on USC’s campus. 

Being an involved member of our union has connected me with my coworkers and forged lasting relationships. Region 6 has been fertile ground for unionization campaigns across industries, and I am so invigorated by the conviction and fire of my union siblings! Though I am graduating in a few short months, the lessons I have learned will come with me to every workplace after USC. 

Reflecting on the Caltech Grad & Postdoc Election Wins

Beating the Anti-Union Campaign with a Strong Network of Worker Leaders

By Aditi Narayanan, CGPU

Hundreds of Caltech grad workers and postdocs gathered outside for a rally, many wearing blue CGPU tshirts and holding union signs

Caltech graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are officially unionized! A historic 72% of  graduate students and 52% of postdocs came out to vote on January 31st and February 1st,  with 76% and 83% voting yes respectively (not including challenge ballots). This is the first time  in academic labor history that grads and postdocs have unionized at the same time. Caltech is  somewhat unique in having significantly more grads and postdocs than undergraduate students, and unionization was driven more by the insufficient worker protections for research rather than teaching roles.  

Our unionization campaign was not without its hurdles. Caltech prides itself on its lack of  bureaucracy (while this allows a degree of flexibility in the workplace, it also makes it nearly  impossible to access basic administrative functions). The administration’s anti-union campaign  leaned heavily on the idea that a union would destroy the flexibility that makes Caltech special.  Caltech also hired the well-known anti-labor law firm Proskauer Rose LLP to develop their anti-union messaging, which included misleading statements about the union’s effect on  researcher/advisor relationships and an attempt to cast the unionization effort as a fringe  movement led by an outside force. The administration carefully constructed a façade of  neutrality, highlighting their Proskauer-Rose-approved anti-unionization website as a place from  which to get the “complete” picture of unionization’s effects. This “complete” picture was usually  pushed to students and postdocs by their own advisors; Caltech leveraged the power imbalance between researchers and faculty to turn entire labs against unionization. If negativity and false  neutrality were the stick, conveniently timed wage increases and open office hours with the dean were the uninspired carrot. But workers who want bread and roses will not accept wilting root vegetables.  

Graduate students and postdocs share many of the same material problems with their working  conditions, and campaigning together allowed us to spread resources more evenly, capitalize  on each other’s momentum, and build a stronger community. We credit our success to a tireless  group of nearly a hundred organizers who had thousands of face-to-face conversations with  their peers. The power of one-to-one organizing in this campaign cannot be overstated; by  developing department- and building-specific networks and regularly walking through  workspaces to talk to people, almost every voter had a familiar face to whom they could direct  questions.  

These networks needed to be built from the ground-up by people who knew the territory;  Caltech has six academic divisions, and we set up a committee for each one to identify areas  that needed more coverage, plan divisional events, and schedule walkthroughs. These  committees, as well as our central organizing committee, met weekly and were open to any  student or postdoc. Our central committee meetings were around fifteen to twenty organizers  strong, while divisional meetings were usually between three to seven people. Postdocs also  had a separate committee to ensure that their needs would be met on a student-dominated  campus. Our goal was to either recruit one organizer per research group or identify an organizer who could take responsibility for more hesitant groups in their building. These “area leaders”  were responsible for keeping their colleagues informed and mobilizing them for town halls,  rallies, and the election; many also became regular attendees at organizing meetings. We made a point of reaching out personally to enthusiastic people we met on walkthroughs to encourage  them to get involved. 

Ultimately, we brought on over 110 new organizers over the course of the campaign who covered about 90% of campus buildings. New organizers met with a more experienced peer to familiarize themselves with the campaign before jumping in. People of all experience levels were welcome and had the freedom to set the hours per week they could  commit to the campaign. We believe that making organizing accessible to everyone created a  strong community that could not only weather an extraordinary amount of anti-union rhetoric but do so while achieving historic voter turnout.  

Despite the administration’s best attempts, Caltech grads and postdocs are ready to bargain for  higher wages, better healthcare, childcare assistance, protections against abuse and  harassment, and financial support for international scholars. We gratefully acknowledge the UC  and USC locals for their contemporaneous strike and contract campaigns, which were perfect  examples of the change that collective action could bring. CGPU-UAW represents over 2000 people who want to do their jobs without worrying about rent or putting food on the table.  Currently, we are expanding our organizing structure, surveying our peers to solidify bargaining  priorities, and electing bargaining teams. We are excited to join the larger UAW family and  proud to be a part of the resurgent labor movement in the United States. 

Political & Community Action

A group of about 30 people posed for a photo holding signs reading "EVery auto job a good job"

  1. On March 27, UAW members traveled to Sacramento and Los Angeles and gave public comment at the California Workforce Development Board Meeting to demand that every dollar of public money be used to create good union jobs! At the meeting, state agencies presented their SB 150 recommendations to the board– this bill is meant to develop training and workforce standards in all California investments funded by the federal Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act. California is receiving $13 billion in federal funding for green jobs with NO workforce standards attached to them– from semiconductors and batteries to electric vehicles, we must make sure companies commit to working with unions and the community to center workers in the green energy transition.
  2. On March 17-18, Region 6 members attended the California Labor Federation’s Joint Legislative Conference. Members talked to state legislators and pushed for legislation that would protect workers’ right not to cross other unions’ picket lines (AB 2404), ensure EV manufacturing subsidies go to companies with High Road work policies in place (SB 322), and secure adequate funding for higher education.
  3. On March 21, members of Local 230 joined union members from across California to successfully pressure the state Occupational Health & Safety Board to approve Cal/OSHA Indoor Heat Illness Prevention Standard. This is a huge step forward for climate justice for workers in California - all thanks to the collective action of union members across the state. Now it’s time for Governor Newsom to ensure these necessary protections are fully implemented.
  4. Members of Local 4121 and 4591 joined the campaign launch for Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, alongside hundreds of other Washington union members. 

Message from Region 6 Director Mike Miller

President Shawn Fain, Director Mike Miller, and UAW 4811 members walking outside and smiling

This month, Student Workers at University of Oregon voted to affiliate with UAW – welcome! UO Student Workers have already been doing incredible worker-led organizing, including successfully winning their union election last year. Additionally, members of California Association of Professional Scientists (CAPS) are voting this month to affiliate with UAW. UAW members across Region 6 are ready to support your fights for strong contracts! 

I was excited to welcome UAW International President Shawn Fain to California this month. President Fain met with members doing climate/EV research at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, as well as with other members at UC Berkeley to discuss upcoming campaigns. Earlier in the week, I and other UAW representatives participated in a conference put on by the California Energy Commission to discuss manufacturing EV batteries and other parts of the EV supply chain in California in a unionized environment that accelerates the decarbonization of the economy. I was also honored to participate in a meeting with labor leaders from independent unions in Mexico, alongside other members of the UAW International Executive Board. Together, we strategized ways to build organizing & worker power in the auto industry. Wealthy corporations want to keep us divided, but we know we’re stronger together. 

Members met this month to continue ongoing conversations and coordination to move the Biden administration to call for a permanent ceasefire in Palestine. These critical efforts are ongoing, and you’re encouraged to join future Political Action meetings to build even stronger action going forward. 

Finally, I look forward to meeting with you at upcoming Region 6 conferences – An Injury to One Is an Injury to All (May 11-12 in Oakland) and Region 6 Summer School (June 13-17 in Los Angeles). As always, if you have questions or feedback, please shoot me an email.


UAW Job Openings

Interested in finding a job working for your union? A number of positions are open in various departments and levels of the UAW, and UAW members are especially encouraged to apply. Find open positions and information about how to apply at the UAW Indeed site

Upcoming events

  1. Region 6 Gender Justice & Civil Human Rights Committee meeting: April 8 at 6pm via Zoom
  2. Region 6 Climate Justice Committee meeting: April 30 from 6-7pm via zoom
  3. Region 6 Education & Communications Committee meeting: April 19 from 12-1pm via zoom
  4. Region 6 Political Action (CAP/PAC) meeting: Saturday, April 20 at 10am via zoom
  5. The UAW Local Union Communication Association (LUCA) Conference is April 28-May 3 at the UAW Family Education Center in Onaway, Michigan.  Contact your Local for more information.
  6. The Region 6 An Injury to One Is an Injury to All Conference is May 11-12 in Oakland, CA – more info here! Contact your Local if you’re interested in attending.  
  7. Save the date for Region 6 Summer School, June 13-17 in Los Angeles. The call letter with more details and registration will be sent in the next few weeks. 
  8. The UAW Health & Safety Conference is May 5-10 at the UAW Family Education Center in Onaway, Michigan. Contact your Local for more information. 
  9. The 53rd International Convention of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) will be held May 21-27 in Houston, Texas. Contact your Local for more information. 

Stay Connected & Share Your Updates

The Region 6 Newsletter is produced by the Region 6 Education & Communications Committee (ECC). If you have updates or stories from your Local/Organizing Campaign to share in a future newsletter, email [email protected]. All Locals & Organizing Campaigns in Region 6 are strongly encouraged to send members to participate in the ECC on an ongoing basis. For regular updates and information, you can also check out Region 6 on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and our website

In addition, all Locals are encouraged to participate in the UAW Local Union Communication Association (LUCA). Through LUCA, members can share information about issues and events, exchange communication ideas and tips, and learn from their peers. Members are also  encouraged to join the upcoming LUCA conference this spring. Contact your Local if you’re interested in participating, and email [email protected] with any questions.