PHILADELPHIA – The Jobs with Justice chapter here has been busy during the past year. It actively supported the security guards at the prestigious Philadelphia Museum of Art in their protracted struggle to win union recognition, a fight the guards won this past spring. It mobilized support for the Employee Free Choice Act, organized for the big jobs rally called by the AFL-CIO in March and supported the nurses and technical staff during their four-week strike at Temple University Hospital. So it was appropriate for JwJ to want to celebrate after a tough year.
On May 26 a standing-room-only crowd of over 200 people packed the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square for JwJ’s annual Solidarity Reception. The list of honorees was headed by Wendell Young III, president emeritus of 20,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 and a legend in the city’s labor movement.
In introducing Young, UFCW staffer John Meyerson emphasized that, while Young’s numerous achievements include holding leadership positions in the labor movement, participation at national Democratic Party conventions, service on panels sponsored by the International Labor Organization and teaching college courses, Young has also been a consistent voice for world peace, going all the way back to the Vietnam War.
The spirited gathering also heard lively remarks from the other honorees. Gary Kapanowski, former longtime president of AFSCME Local 1723; Kati Sipp, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare PA; and the Rev. Jesse Brown, community activist and a founder of Casino-Free Philadelphia.
The event also honored four organizations whose struggles had inspired labor and community support during the past year.
The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) succeeded in turning back an intense anti-union campaign by the Temple University Hospital Administration during their strike this past April.
Transport Workers Union Local 234 did the same in their week-long strike against the Southeastern PA Transportation Authority (SEPTA) last fall.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) managed to win a surprisingly good contract without a strike after months of negotiations as school districts across the nation wrestle with budget cuts. Patricia Eakin, PASNAP president, and Jerry Jordan, PFT president, attended to receive the awards on behalf of their members.
And one of the biggest stories in the labor movement here was the Philadelphia Museum of Art security guards. They have been without a union since being privatized by the city in 1993, but this spring, after a two-year campaign with the active support of Jobs with Justice and the Student Labor Action Project, the 140 members of the Philadelphia Security Officers Union, won a National Labor Relations Board election and got their union. Their effort showed the complex forces confronting workers in today’s environment. They work for Allied Barton Security, a firm which employs some 15,000 guards in the city and contracts with the museum for its services.
Photo: UFCW Local 1776 President Emeritus Wendell Young III receives a Jobs with Justice award from the local’s political action director, John Meyerson. (Photo by the Rev. Jesse Brown)