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Podcast: The Columbus, OH Teachers Strike

Plus teachers going out in Niles, OH, and a road trip to NYC to cover #hotlaborsummer

Words from John


This is a clip from the Just Buy Less Coffee podcast that I was on recently (Listen here, or wherever you get your pods). It’s hosted by my good TikTok friends Troy Matthews (@keeptroyblue), Cathy Cannon (@cannonsfodder), and Irene Poulton (@poullution).

I came on to talk labor movement things, and there’s no shortage of those. We walked through my coverage of the Columbus, Ohio teachers strike, the upcoming Niles, OH teachers strike (that’s happening tomorrow, Thursday, September 1st… stay tuned), and probably the most exciting news….

The Holler is hitting the road to NYC this Labor Day to cover the Amazon Labor Union and Starbucks Workers United march for recognition!

Folks. This is big cookies (a phrase I’m trying to make happen for no reason).

The Amazon Labor Union and Starbucks Workers United will be taking to the streets to put pressure on each company to recognize their respective unions. And we’ll be there to lift up what the workers have to say as it all unfolds.

Trips to NYC take money, however. A very special shout out to The Holler sustaining members who make these kinds of trips possible. Please become a sustaining member today to keep us on the case for only $60/yr ($5/mo).

OR! Make a one-time donation at the link below.

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On to the interview transcript. A word of caution — this is a rough transcript intended to help navigate through the long video clip. I know it’s full of grammatical errors, but I’m a one-man band churning out content and it’ll have to do for now.

Rough Interview Transcript

@keeptroyblue  0:00  

Welcome back. Joining us now on the program is the man himself, @heyjohnrussell, our reporter in the field. John, we haven't seen you in a while. It's so good to see you. How you been man? 

@heyjohnrussell  0:09  

I've been so good. Thanks for having me back on the just buy less coffee podcast. Been up the good things most recently the teacher strike in Columbus, Ohio.

@keeptroyblue  0:17  

Yeah. Okay, so you weren't there last week, we talked about it because we were talking about Cathy's union stuff. And the fact that the teachers in Florida are basically neutered because they don't have constitutional prohibitions on their strike ability. But you went to cover some teachers that were on strike. So tell us about their strike what they're fighting for. And, you know, tell us a little bit about what you learned on it.

@heyjohnrussell  0:40  

Yeah, this was a quick one. And actually, it came to a resolution just yesterday, but to sketch the outline here, I know this, this is a special one for Cathy being a teacher in Florida. But this strike was in Columbus, Ohio. 4,500 members of Columbus Education Association (CEA) went out on strike. And this was not typical in a lot of ways. The teachers won a pay raise in their contract. But they went out on strike, kind of for the public benefit. This was over building conditions. This was over not having heating, air conditioning ventilation, in, you know, this massive sprawling network of Columbus buildings, some of which were, you know, 100 years old. So, building improvements to have what teachers and students need to learn. They went out over class sizes, also having PE and art represented in all their buildings because the current situation was having one teacher spread over multiple buildings. So unlike a typical wages and benefits strike, this was more of a public benefit strike. To increase the quality of our schools, they went out and it was resolved.

@keeptroyblue  2:00  

And yeah, climate control in their buildings, so Cathy's super, super jealous about that.

@Cannonsfodder  2:05  

Well, they fix their air conditioning, oddly enough, the day after I contacted the union. So that's funny. I was gonna say exactly, it's an odd coincidence. 

@keeptroyblue  2:16  

So your AC is working now? 

@Cannonsfodder  2:18  

Yeah, well, you know, as well as AC in Florida can work with 30 kids in a room, but yeah, it's fine. 

@keeptroyblue  2:23  

At least they're not trying to smoke you out of the building. Yeah, it was so gross. So I'm gonna play this. This video that John did during the strike, and then we will talk about it afterward.


@keeptroyblue  4:22  

All right, good stuff, man. That was that seemed like it was really intense. So that was there was a one-day strike. Is that right?

@heyjohnrussell 4:28  

Well, it's gonna go on as long as it needed to but that show of force for 4,500 teachers, I mean, the video that you just saw there from the picket line, there's 1,500 people there being rowdy. Right and, you know, at every, every school in the district, very strong picket line outside of there. That particular picket line was outside of a school board meeting about what to do about this. And you know, they're so concerned about the show, of force with the teachers they hired security to keep everybody out of the parking lot. But it just shows, you know, this is kind of an echo of the West Virginia teacher, the red state teacher strikes. And that kicked off all activity that we're seeing right now. And, you know, because it was so strong, there was a conceptual agreement that was reached, and then ratified just yesterday, by 71% of the members of CEA and everything they were asking for it in there. They won. Because they stuck together had really strong picket lines, and won community support. So yeah, lower class sizes, PE, for every building, HVAC agreements that are going to be massive capital improvements, in addition to a paid leave program. So that's what's possible with solidarity.

@heyjohnrussell  4:31  

That's amazing. And so like, yeah, they were out, they were out for one day, but then they they got everything they want, just from that, from that move. Right?

Out for a couple of days. 

@keeptroyblue  6:03  

Okay. Yeah. But still, I mean, you know, that's, that's really impressive. You know, I used to be a school board member I can I know that the school board was shaking in their boots, because I just remember, like, when we would have like, teacher protests and stuff, I would definitely like, park my car, a good distance away, because then you would cause and but yeah, it's amazing what solidarity can accomplish. And it's just really depressing that like, it takes this for people to like care about the, you know, the HVAC conditions and the, you know, the physical deterioration of the schools and these learning environments that we're forcing our children to learn in these public schools.

@heyjohnrussell 6:40  

And I think an interesting follow-up to this, it's going to be on the closer where I am in Bridgeport, Ohio Wheeling, West Virginia area. We're about, you know, an hour and 20 minutes south of Youngstown. And on Thursday, teachers in the Niles, school district will be going on strike. They're the second lowest paid teachers in Trumbull County, which is kind of in the orbit of Youngstown. So we'll be going up there to cover more teacher strikes and see if that kind of touches off things in Ohio and I've been getting some knowing glances from Cathy down there, our resident school teacher. 

@Cannonsfodder  7:19  

I was writing stuff down and one of the things I wrote was teacher strikes work so well, that Florida made them illegal.

@heyjohnrussell  7:26  

That's true, you can always tell how powerful something is by who's trying to make it illegal.

@Cannonsfodder  7:30  

Yeah, especially how illegal it is like we would lose our licenses forever. And we can be financially held accountable for any losses that the state suffers as a consequence of our strike. So basically, if they have to, like bring in the picket line crossers that come out of the salary, I can no longer earn because I no longer have a teaching certificate to earn it.

@heyjohnrussell 7:49  

That's what we like to call the worst. 

@Cannonsfodder  7:51  

And guess when that happened? Like like you can just tell it was in 1968 that the Florida legislature made this happen so they put it in our constitution. So that's a fun coincidence to right? Right at the movement of civil rights and all of this stuff. "Oh let's make striking illegal in Florida."

@keeptroyblue  8:06  

I mean, how Okay, so one I have no idea how they get away with that. But yeah...

@Cannonsfodder  8:11  

They elected a Republican for the first time since Reconstruction and immediately outlawed striking.

@keeptroyblue  8:15  

Yeah, that's a coincidence. But what do you what? You know, what, what recourse do you guys feel like you have in Florida? I mean, you know, striking is an extreme, extreme tactic. But there is what else you just mentioned, you got your AC turned back on when you emailed, your union rep. Do you guys feel like you have any power in that in that scenario? Or do you? I mean, are the teachers just completely defenseless in these negotiations?

@Cannonsfodder  8:40  

Yes to both. Does that make sense? Right, like, does the union have any power? No. Does it help to have a union? Yes. Right. So why did they take us seriously as soon as we contact the union because they can make a headache for them, they can cause enough bureaucratic bullshit, they can put enough paperwork on somebody's desk that somebody gets annoyed that they have to deal with it and like, that's about as much as we can do. But the way we protest in Florida is we work our contract and it's hard to convince people to do it because as a teacher, it's sometimes hard to just work your contract and that just means like your contract hours like you get there when you're supposed to when you leave when you're supposed to and you don't bring work home to grade and that is the only way we can protest like so only do the job we're paid for. That's it. 

@heyjohnrussell  9:29  

Isn't this a trend now with the youths? "Quiet Quitting?" 

@Cannonsfodder  9:35  

I read that article and I went I'm like oh, so it's a work the contracts strike. And here's the thing that's funny about it though, even though we can only get like half the teachers who only work their contract it still works when we do it.

@heyjohnrussell  9:47  

I also heard the term "act your wage", which I really love.

@Cannonsfodder  9:51  

then I'm just gonna go take a nap!

@heyjohnrussell 9:54  

Yeah, yeah.

@keeptroyblue  9:56  

Yeah, that's the "utes" are definitely embracing that quiet quitting. You know, whoever thought that only doing your job would be some sort of protest? But yeah. I mean, there's a there's definitely a growing labor movement in the United States right now. Yeah, I mean workers are realizing that they you know, they have more power together in solidarity. And we're seeing a lot of the, you know, the backlash come through on the other side, you know, with these corporations and their union-busting, we're seeing Starbucks, firing, union organizers, giving massive pay raise on a massive but giving pay raises to nonunionized employees, putting managers on the floor to watch sort of supervise any kind of union talk that's happening among the employees. And you know, and then in just having these sort of this sort of language, that they always spin out when they're doing anti-union activities, which is just that they're telling their employees that the union is going to come between them and the company. Right, so you have to speak to the company through your union rep. And so that's somehow going to drive like bad, you know, bad relationships between the employees and the company, and they really try to play on the sympathies of the employees, you know, talking about the divisions that are going to happen among the staff. I know because I was part of it. I know. I mean, I've been on a management team and a hospital, and we, you know, our nurses were unionizing. And they brought in specialists to teach us how to do this and the language that they wanted us to talk to our nurses about. It's all bullshit. But yeah, these companies are using these aggressive tactics to try and keep their employees from unionizing. For good reason, we talked about it all the time on this show, you know, unionized workers are a major, major threat to the status quo as it is, we need to have more of these workers organizing, we need to drive up wages, we need to drive up working conditions, and we need to take the power back for labor in this country because it's been robbed for from us for so long.

@Cannonsfodder  11:54  

We need Teddy Roosevelt. That's what we need, we need to... half the imperialism, twice the trust-busting, that is what we need, right? Gilded Age 2.0. Where's Teddy?

@heyjohnrussell  11:54  

And I mean, you know, the input for our system is poor and desperate workers, and the more desperate they can make the workforce, the larger the bottom line, the bigger the returns for shareholders, the more inequality that we have. And, you know, just back to your point, Cathy, the harder that the people in power fight this, the more effective you know, that action is. And there's just no more effective action than unionizing in your workplace and fighting the boss. It's probably why I can't find traditional employment, I have big fight the boss energy and bring that into the workplace.

@Cannonsfodder  12:38  

And that's fine. It's like right now with the student loans stuff going on. Like, I just want to scream, like, boomers are like when I paid off my debt. I didn't have any debt. And like, because you weren't unions and a decent wage motherfuckers. Like, it's, it's just I think I saw like Robert Reich tweeted or something that if the minimum wage had kept pace with Wall Street profits, it would be like $60 An hour right now, which would mean that the minimum wage in this country would be $120,000 a year. And I'm like, maybe inflation is not the problem. Maybe it's not inflation. It's deflated wages. 

@keeptroyblue  13:12  

$120K, which is a decent amount of money in most of the country. 

@poullution  13:21  

So I've worked at Starbucks for about five years. And I'm still very connected to a lot of things that are happening currently with the union. My old store, one of the ones that opened when I first went to the corporate side of Starbucks, was the store that had the incident where a new manager came in on the first day of that new manager. They had unanimously voted to unionize at the store previously, and so they all sat down to have that conversation and were like, Okay, this is what our demands are this, what we're expecting for this. And they said, Okay, well, we're going to charge you with kidnapping and aggravated assault. 

And so they charge them literally with kidnapping and aggravated assault for every employee that was present when it happened. And then they all are now not allowed on the premise of any Starbucks in the entire United States. And it's considered a crime if they show up anywhere. And the whole unit experience in that store has been really fascinating, because I'm most I know, most people who are there. I know people who work a lot of neighboring stores. And so I've heard both sides of the conversation. 

And Starbucks was brilliant in the fact that they truly did give people raises if they didn't unionize, and they gave more raises that were above the minimum wage to the extent that Starbucks has been promising for years. They're like, okay, like, we're gonna have this new raise for all of you. And so because they're finally making a living wage, they're telling them okay, well, you have a living wage now. So why would you go against this? Why would you fight us if we're going to bring you back down, literally, almost $10 an hour for a lot of these employees? And then we're also going to put you at risk of losing your benefits. So that's the other thing that they did, is that if you started to unionize, they would reduce your hours so you're no longer eligible for the benefits of Starbucks had to offer and they have this great statement on their website where they break down unionizing. And they're like, let's talk about the partner experience and how we have partnerships with you and how we listen to your decisions. And what happens if you're going to Union involved is the very benefits that make Starbucks so unique and the kind of place that you want to work are going to go away, which of course, most of the benefits being if you only work 20 hours, you get health care. And that's really important to have health insurance in this area. 

So that's been a fascinating conversation to see on both sides. Because if they are on strike, it's not like the stores close, they call in employees from all the Starbucks in the region, because there are so many nationwide and they just replace your staff. And all those kids are then eligible for overtime, which when you're overtime first finally making a living wage for the first time in your life, then that feels incredible. And so they're incentivizing people that you know, if you want to have the wage that you deserve, then all you have to do is just not unionize and do not participate. And your active duty. And the only reason we're finally giving you this raise is that people started to unionize. And so we're incentivizing you not to.

@Cannonsfodder  15:40  

Yeah, I wonder if you've seen the irony that they got the higher wages because they threatened to do the thing that would get them to higher wages.

@heyjohnrussell  15:47  

I mean, we've been here before too. And that story, Irene, just reminds me of the quote that, you know, there was one at the height of the Gilded Age tycoon who bragged about being able to hire one half of the working class to kill the other half of the working class. And you know, we're back, we're back there again, today with a lot of the same problems. The last thing I wanted to contribute to this, too, it's a little bit off-topic. But back to the healthcare point. You know, this employer-based health care system is something they hold over our heads constantly. And it just speaks to how much power would be transferred to the working people if we had national health care, and we didn't have to rely on our workplace.

@Cannonsfodder  16:24  

Bam. Thank you, John,

@keeptroyblue  16:26  

Can you imagine healthcare and UBI? And then like, wow, you'd have so much power.

@poullution  16:30  

There's also a divide when it comes to like food service work, where there are people who work in those industries because they see it as a way to like, just have spending money in college and then people who see it as a career and those who do not see Starbucks as something that should be a career are very quick to stigmatize those who are unionizing. And that's another the tension that you're seeing the stories there, the kids are saying, Well, I'm just working here until I get my degree that I'm never going to work here again like food service is a way out. It's a gateway into another career. It shouldn't be your actual career. 

But you shouldn't have to have a college degree to make a living wage. Everyone's able to make a living wage and thinking that you should have to have this advanced degree to do that is an awful stigma that shouldn't exist in the first place. So that's another divide that you're seeing as food service employees specifically are starting to move towards unions is that people don't think that that should ever be considered a career in the first place. Because they have such a low view of people that do the jobs that they deem necessary, especially Starbucks, people spend hundreds of dollars a week on Starbucks, and then we'll say that those employees should not have rights.

@Cannonsfodder  17:25  

But oddly enough, that's the same argument they used against like just, you know, run-of-the-mill factory workers way, way back in the day. They're like, how hard is it to like, especially assembly line workers, so they were kind of like belittle what they were doing is this isn't this is low skilled labor. Why do you deserve all these benefits for low-skilled labor? So like, today's food service workers, the Gilded Age, just factory workers, and they use the same freakin arguments? And I what, where's Teddy Roosevelt?

@keeptroyblue  17:51  

Yeah, it's you know, that partnership thing is 100%. And, you know, they'll completely ignore you and underpay you and treat you like garbage. And then the second you talk about unionizing, they're gonna try and play and like, you know, play on your emotions and be like, but that'll drive a wedge in our relationship. And it's, you know, they're trying to try to make you feel like you're part of the company when you're absolutely not. These people have absolutely no loyalty to their employees at all. Their loyalty is to their shareholders. But they will play on that they will use that messaging, that you are somehow special, and they will take care of you, and they really won't. And the biggest thing is just the, you know, the increases for nonunionized staff is just a play on that, because unionized staff gets to negotiate their wages, whereas non-unionized staff, it would be, you know, a unilateral decision to raise their management pay. So they use that as a tactic to try and scare people out of the Union. But it's really kind of, it's really kind of disgusting, go ahead. 

@poullution  18:52  

And one of the harder parts to is that with Starbucks, specifically, each drink is so expensive, and someone wanted, I saw someone on Tiktok actually made this example. And it was brilliant. So I remember working there, and it's like, you will end up having one person place a single order, every minute, that is more money than what you're making in an hour, because of how expensive those drinks are like, especially with taxes in most states, like you're making about $7 an hour maybe. And each drink on average is over $7. And so it's disgusting to see just how much a store can produce in an hour, I've seen upwards of $500 be made an hour at a Starbucks once. And $500 an hour is more than the wages of that entire store for the entire day. And that is disgusting to think about that inequality. And then they expect you to think that this is enough money until you think about it a little bit more. And you think about how much more you could be getting if you're just organizing. But there's such a fear part of it too. Because if you are in a position where you need health insurance specifically, and you go to unionize, and then you do end up losing your job. It's like that and that security blanket is not there of having your basic needs be met in so many cases.

@heyjohnrussell  19:52  

Also, can we just stop pretending like.... We run on coffee. Could you imagine if everybody just decided... Could you imagine if everybody just stopped pouring coffee? We'd fall apart. We'd die. 

@Cannonsfodder  20:07  

No, my kids would learn nothing because cannon runs on Dunkin, right? Like

@heyjohnrussell  20:11  

The amazing power held by our baristas. Yeah.

@keeptroyblue  20:15  

A coffee strike would be, it'd be absolutely devastating. But yeah,

Yes, yeah. Yeah. I mean, listen, right now. They have all the power. So I mean, it's really just kind of a sad situation. But slowly turning, we're seeing solidarity among all workers. The Starbucks stuff is incredible. I never thought I'd see that, John. Thank you. Where's? Oh, go ahead.

@Cannonsfodder  20:44  

Yeah, I was gonna say I think what's actually starting to happen here really, is that the reason they've been able to defeat unions so much for so long is that they've been able to brand them as like that socialist communist kind of thing. Yeah. But the reason I think that we're actually seeing a real labor movement start to bubble now is twofold. One, like the cynicism and anti-authoritarian nature of, you know, these young guns over here. But couple that with the idea of they didn't grow up drowning in Cold War propaganda, right? So it's not as deeply embedded in them. So a collective mindset is already there. And oddly enough, I think No Child Left Behind is the reason that we're moving toward a Democratic socialist society. So thanks, George W for teaching the kids how to work together.

@keeptroyblue  21:33  

Scared of the commies? Absolutely. And I think people the historical significance of that the fact that the AFL CIO was basically like the compromise Union. The AFL CIO was a union that the Americans got when the rest of the world got the IWW, which was, you know, they were a little bit more intense.

John, what's next up for you? Are there more strikes coming and more organizations coming in that you're seeing on the horizon? How's this thing shaping up?

@heyjohnrussell  22:05  

Yeah, we're gonna stay on the thread of teachers fighting in Ohio. We're headed up to Niles, Ohio, right outside of Youngstown to cover a strike. That'll be happening on Thursday. Amazon Labor Union and also Starbucks Workers United are going to hold a Labor Day action, a march for recognition for both of those unions in New York City. Amazon labor union is going to be in Times Square causing a bunch of good trouble. And what I really love about that action is it's going to kick off at the home of Howard Schultz. Any listeners in New York City, September 5, 12 pm. Head on down to Howard Schultz's house. Bring your coffee. Let him know what you think. 

@Cannonsfodder  22:53  

Yeah, bring your dunks to Howard Schultz.

@heyjohnrussell  22:57  

And the last thing I'd say from my little labor segment here is to unionize your workplace. Google it. And the rub here is if you get 50% plus one of your co-workers to say yes, you get a union. It's much harder than that, but it's worth looking up.

@Cannonsfodder  23:11  

Yeah. And then your boss has to deal with your ass.

@heyjohnrussell  23:14  

Exactly. Take the power people.

@keeptroyblue  23:17  

John, thank you so much, brother. It's so good to see you. Just continually impressed with the work that you do out there. It's so good to see you and come on anytime. Thanks, everybody for listening and we will see you next time on Just Buy Less Coffee.

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