Municipal Government

Julie Kushner Leads UAW Region 9A to Organizing Victories

June 21, 2016 
By Silver Krieger

New York, NY – Julie Kushner, Director of UAW Region 9A, has put her long history of organizing to good use. Region 9A encompasses eastern New York, including the New York City metropolitan area, the Hudson Valley and the Capital District area, Connecticut,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Puerto Rico.

It represents an extremely diverse group of workers that includes child care workers, graduate employees and human service workers. Members also work as designers, draftsmen, technical writers, automotive technicians and professional workers.

Kushner began as a union organizer with the 35,000 strong District 65 in New York, then an independent union, in the late 1970’s, where she worked with office workers. It affiliated with the UAW in 1980. Working with “a significant number of women” in the workforce made this
position stand out for Kushner, and the experience set the stage for her becoming more deeply involved in “women’s issues” in what she describes as her “first big campaign,” at Columbia University, in 1980.

At the time, the University fought very hard against any effort to organize workers. The UAW filed a petition and, after a long fight of five years, achieved victory. “For me personally,” says Kushner, “this was an opportunity to work in organizing and understand issues and leadership.”
The workers, she says, “were a lot like me – female and idealistic. Issues such as pay equity, pensions, and health care came to the fore. Women workers were paid less than males doing the same work, and not only that, people of color were paid less than white workers.”

At the time, the University fought very hard against any effort to organize workers. The UAW filed a petition and, after a long fight of five years, achieved victory. “For me personally,” says Kushner, “this was an opportunity to work in organizing and understand issues and leadership.”
The workers, she says, “were a lot like me – female and idealistic. Issues such as pay equity, pensions, and health care came to the fore. Women workers were paid less than males doing the same work, and not only that, people of color were paid less than white workers.”

Under pressure from the union, previously private University information was made public. Columbia tried to justify its policies — particularly with racial inequities — by claiming that the pay differences were based on education differences among workers. But the argument didn’t
hold, and only served to further unify the workers. “Building a union’s power makes people see that it’s better when they stick together. It was a pretty great beginning,” says Kushner.

She continued as an organizer and also began negotiating contracts, in 1993 becoming an organizer at the International Union of the UAW, then in 1994 being appointed Education Representative, covering all of the New England states as well as Puerto Rico. She was responsible for training and strategic planning for the region, while still continuing to organize.

She continued as an organizer and also began negotiating contracts, in 1993 becoming an organizer at the International Union of the UAW, then in 1994 being appointed Education Representative, covering all of the New England states as well as Puerto Rico. She was
responsible for training and strategic planning for the region, while still continuing to organize.

In 1998, Kushner became Sub-Regional Director in New York, where she headed up the UAW office for all locals, working on bargaining, organizing and political action. “We grew substantially, organizing 1300 teaching and research workers at NYU, then adjuncts at NYU and
the New School,” she says.

In 2006, she was appointed Assistant Director of UAW Region 9A. A stand-out win during that era was getting a contract for the dealers at Foxwoods Casino, organized under tribal law. In 2010 she was elected Director for Region 9A.

The union is looking for a favorable ruling this summer from the National Labor Relations Board regarding Columbia University and the New School. The union has petitioned the NLRB to assert jurisdiction and force the schools to have elections, which would obligate collective
bargaining. They are hoping that a decision dating from the Bush years — which says that graduate student workers’ primary relationship with the universities are as students, as such, they do not have any rights or protections afforded other university workers — will be reversed.

Kushner is also closely watching the upcoming election. “If Trump is elected, we will be in a defensive mode,” she cautions. “It’s a very dangerous moment – relying on hate and division.” The UAW has endorsed Hillary Clinton and Kushner will be going to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia as a Clinton delegate.

“Building a union is as important as winning material gains such as health benefits, good wages, retirement and fairness,” she says. “Empowering workers is helping them to understand that working together we can work toward a better society. A union is a vital part of this, as it’s a permanent structure, a constant, and gives a voice to the people, in work and the political sphere as well.”

June 20, 2016

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