Not even a torrential downpour could dampen the spirits of dozens of workers on strike against Juno Lighting Group in Des Plaines, Ill., outside Chicago, as they rallied before a press conference on September 5.
And the next day, they had something to celebrate--management contacted the union with an offer that workers ratified by an overwhelming margin, closing out their five-day strike with a victory.
The strike began on Tuesday, September 2, with participation from more than 90 percent of the 400 members of Service Employees International Union Local 2565, of the Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United. The union's contract with Juno expired on August 31.
During several months of negotiation, Juno--which was bought out in 2005 by Schneider Electric, a French multinational, which took in $4.9 billion in the U.S. in 2013--refused to accept the proposal for reasonable wage increases put forward by the union, and offered only a meager increase to an already underpaid workforce, with some of the lowest wages in the area for comparable jobs.
The average wage for union workers at Juno is $11.90 an hour. That's not a living wage in many parts of the Chicago area, and the situation is even worse for individual workers on the bottom end of the wage scale. For example, Sheyla, an employee of three years, said she made only $8.45 an hour. Kim, who has worked at the facility for almost 20 years, makes just $12.30 an hour.
The company was also demanding an increase in individual contributions to health care coverage.
The strikers enjoyed local and international solidarity. The day after the strike started, IndustriALL, a global union with 50 million members in 140 countries, sent a letter supporting the Des Plaines strikers to the CEO of Schneider Electric in France. IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina stated, "It is imperative that Schneider Electric guarantee decent working conditions and fair remuneration to the workers at its U.S. subsidiary Juno Lighting, in full compliance with national labor law and international core labor standards."
In Des Plaines, the union organized a rally and press conference on September 5, with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky as a main speaker.
Union officials said that Juno management contacted them late that night to make another offer.
The proposal was for a three-year contract without the concessions that Juno had demanded. Wage increases were for 45 cents an hour for each of the first two years, and 50 cents in the third year--an increase over what management had originally offered. The offer also had lower costs for family health care coverage.
Members discussed the contract offer on Saturday afternoon and voted to ratify it by a 212-15 margin.