Early last August, over 150 workers at Piedmont Gardens, an assisted living home in North Oakland, went on strike for 5 days over a number of contract issues, including both wages and pensions. American Baptist Homes of the West (ABHW), the company that runs the facility, immediately and illegally fired 38 of the strikers, almost all of whom are active organizers and many of whom were shop stewards and bargaining team members in their union, SEIU-UHW West. After a protracted struggle with management lasting more than 6 months, about 18 of the Piedmont 38 were rehired, but ABHW refused to pay back wages. As of today, about 20 of them remained out of work. Many of them had worked for Piedmont Gardens for over a decade, and some for over 30 years. Their income over the past few months has come entirely from union strike pay and unemployment insurance; not a dime from ABHW.
Today that all changed. Organic union militants organized a picket in front of the facility this afternoon and were joined by nearly 20 supporters, including students, workers, and even Piedmont Gardens residents. Almost as soon as it began, SEIU organizer and former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown received word that the NLRB ruled in the Piedmont 38’s favor. Their termination was indeed illegal, and ABHW management owed these workers back pay since August.
This was a victory indeed. These largely rank-and-file militants had learned quite a bit in the process of struggle, and we hope to see them share their tactics and organizing methods with their counterparts at other care facilities throughout the Bay Area. With pensions on the chopping block now more than ever, revitalizing union militancy — not top-down organization but a vigorous rank-and-file power — is essential if they are to win concessions. After working with the Piedmont 38 we know this is possible; let’s work to make it a reality!
All power to the workers! Unite and rise up against management!