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Answering Adversity

Michael Conti, Team Rochester
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American Union

Cutting through the midnight silence in Williamson, NY is Michael Bailey; racing along 104 on his bicycle, megaphone in hand. His lean frame rests against the handlebars, as a co-worker grins saying, “Go get ‘em Mike!”

The former machine operator made his living filling jars of different Mott’s products, but after over 100 days on strike with the RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union) Local 220, Bailey has taken on the role of comedian, companion and leader.

“Thanks for bringing back slavery,” says Bailey. With the flip of a switch, Bailey launches into a stream of invective against a scab, a worker who has broken the strike lines and has returned to the job.

At 28 years, Mike Bailey is the face of young labor in America. He eats, drinks, and sleeps the strike; even going as far as to squat on the picket line, pitching a tent directly across from the same building that he used to work in.

“They’re just using the weak economy as an excuse,” says Bailey. The Texas-owned parent company, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, implemented a new contract that would have eliminated life insurance after retirement, reduced 401K matching, reduced medical coverage, and would have cut wages by $1.50 an hour. Prior to the strike, workers were complaining of the increased practice of requiring them to do tasks not in their job description.

His fervent devotion to this “defense of the middle class” is rooted in what he sees as protecting his family; his friends and co-workers.

In Bailey’s tattered tent, the wind and rain are close company. He sleeps briefly, but the morning light only seems to give him more energy. As many on the strike line like to quote, “One day longer, one day stronger.”

© Michael Conti
All images in this article © Michael Conti

© Michael Conti

© Michael Conti