Canvass workers at Sisters Camelot, a non-profit mobile food shelf and soup kitchen, have gone on strike today after the organization’s managing collective refused to negotiate with the canvass union. The workers went public as members of the Industrial Workers of the World on Monday, and met to negotiate with the collective this morning. This unionization comes after months of organizing among the workers in response to changes in the workplace, resulting in a decline in conditions and mismanagement of the worker’s time and the organization’s resources.
The strike began this afternoon at 12:30PM when the managing collective announced that they were unwilling to negotiate on any demands. The workers are now prepared to continue the strike by refusing to canvass door-to-door or conduct fundraising efforts until the collective comes back to the table ready to meet the workers’ demands.
“It’s deeply disappointing that the collective isn’t willing to take the demands of its workers seriously,” said Maria Wesserle, a canvass worker, “The last thing we wanted in this situation was to be pushed to the point of a strike.”
Canvassers at Sisters Camelot are employed as independent contractors. Workers began organizing with the IWW after a restructuring of the organization’s door-to-door fundraising operation left workers with increased work stress and less control over conditions. They are demanding that management positions in the canvass program be replaced with coordinators elected by the workers, and that hiring and firing be conducted by a worker committee. In addition, workers are asking for better conditions such as sick pay and medical coverage of job injuries, as well as common sense items such as more frequent training and regular repair of work vehicles.
“We care deeply about the mission of Sisters’ Camelot,” said Shuge Mississippi, an IWW member and canvasser who has worked for the organization for over 13 years, “We care deeply about its principles–if we didn’t, we wouldn’t work so hard in order to provide 95% of the funding for their programs. In refusing to negotiate, they are failing those very values they claim to stand for. In effect, they are acting like any other employer would.”
In addition to the workers, Bobby Becker, one of two canvass directors and a member of the managing collective has gone on strike in support of the workers. “This isn’t personal. It isn’t about the organization, which we all care about. What’s happening is an unwillingness to change or to give up any control to their workers.”
The campaign at Sisters Camelot represents a new step for Food and Retail Workers United, an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.