Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Labor board says graduate students can unionize

August 24th, 2016 | Laura Clawson

LauraClawson

According to the George W. Bush-era National Labor Relations Board, graduate students at private universities didn’t count as employees of those universities, no matter how much employment-type work they did. That means those students couldn’t unionize. Now, the NLRB has reversed that, saying graduate students can unionize:

First, the board rejected argument that graduate students cannot be employees because their relationship to their employer remains “primarily educational.” This interpretation, the board wrote, cannot actually be found in the “statutory text” of federal labor law, and cannot be derived from its “fundamental policy.” Instead, the board asked whether colleges and students had a “common-law employment relationship,” with the school exerting control over its student employees and compensating them for their labor. Because such a relationship obviously exists, students may be considered “employees” of the universities for which they work.

 As for the earlier ruling’s other concerns, the NLRB noted that almost all of them are “purely theoretical.” There is no empirical evidence that collective bargaining would somehow destroy the relationship between working graduate students and their employers by disrupting “traditional goals of higher education.” There is no proof that collective bargaining might restrict freedom of expression in the university setting. Indeed, graduate students at public universities have been unionizing for years without imperiling their school’s academic mission. And recent research has found “no support” for the assertion that graduate student unionization “would harm the faculty-student relationship” or “would diminish academic freedom.”

Students are now free to organize to change situations like this:

In the most recent academic year, Laura Hung, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at American University, earned $19,200 as a teaching and research assistant. The money was barely enough to cover her $1,000 rent and certainly not enough to pay for the health insurance offered by the university, she said. Hung is on Medicaid and said she is just $200 a year shy of qualifying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a form of welfare.

“Being a teaching and research assistant is important; it’s given me valuable classroom experience. What we do has an educational benefit, but the fact of the matter is we’re not paid fair wages,” said Hung, 31, who is finishing up her dissertation. “We work well over the hours we’re supposed to and as a result wind up being paid minimum wage or less. That’s not enough to live in D.C. Trying to make ends meet every month is virtually impossible.”

Organizing is easier said than done, of course, with some universities having shown themselves as willing to fight unionization as any major corporation. But at least now the government won’t throw up an added barrier.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on August 23, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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Postal Workers To Rally Against TPP Tuesday

August 24th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

The 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is holding its biennial convention in Orlando this week. As part of that convention, there will be a rally to publicize opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The rally will take place Tuesday, August 23 at 3:30 pm beginning in the Hemisphere Ballroom of Orlando’s Dolphin Hotel.

APWU President Mark Dimondstein made the following statement when announcing the rally:

“Postal workers are a proud part of a global grass-roots movement in opposing this devious, corporate-backed deal which would hurt workers and the environment in 12 different countries — if allowed to go forward. Like NAFTA and other hard-sold multinational deals, the TPP was negotiated in secret and has very little to do with trade between nations. It’s about increasing the power of multinational corporations to dictate our future, and it’s about taking away the rights of citizens and workers to advocate for a better quality of life.”

“The TPP is an attack on working people – including U.S. postal workers. We’re rallying in Orlando to make sure politicians from both parties hear us loud and clear and we’re going to head back to every zip code from Orlando with a message that the TPP needs to be blocked. Republicans and Democrats must listen to grass-roots activists across the political spectrum, vote down the TPP and get to work on an economic and environmental agenda that is fair to workers in all countries.”

Background

TPP is an agreement between 12 Pacific-region nations, but other nations like China will be able to join later. TPP is called a “trade” agreement, even though most of the sections of the agreement are about things like allowing investors to sue governments for laws and regulations that infringe on their profits, granting monopolies to giant pharmaceutical companies, and “intellectual property” rights.

The agreement was negotiated and written in secrecy, largely by past, present and future representatives of corporations. It places corporate “rights” above governments, as well as above the “rights” of working people and the environment. For example, corporate investors can sue governments for what they consider to be violations of the agreement that hurt their profits, and the suits are judged by corporate attorneys. There is no appeal and the sovereign, established court systems of the counties in the agreement are prohibited from interfering.But labor, environmental, consumer or any other “stakeholder” group have no such recourse if they feel their rights are being violated.

OurFuture’s June 2015 post, “Will TPP Kill The Post Office?”, noted that then then-secret TPP could be a problem for the US Postal Service in particular. From that post:

As if we needed yet another reason for the public to see the text of TPP before Congress preapproves it with fast track, here is a question: Does the TPP contain provisions that corporations can use to force us to privatize “public” things like our Post Office, public schools, public roads etc., so they can replace them with profit-making enterprises that provide a return only to the wealthy few?

We need to see the provisions of TPP that are designed to regulate “state-owned enterprises” (SOEs) and see them now.

Now We Know

TPP is no longer secret. Now the peasants are at last begrudgingly allowed to know what is in the “agreement.” Now we know that TPP has rules preventing governments (We the People) from “competing” with private corporations. This means that private corporations receive the return from the economy, while We the People are prohibited from just doing things for ourselves.

While continuation of the US Postal Service as presently constituted is written into TPP, the “trade” agreement could prohibit We the People from deciding we want it to do things like postal banking,  and other things we might want to do to benefit ourselves.

As the June, 2015 post noted:

Today corporations and investors consider our highways to be “commercial activity” and are competing to turn such roads into private business. There is a corporate movement battling to privatize our public schools and turn those into corporate profit centers. Private companies are trying to get (and many have gotten) the right to deliver our water instead of publicly owned municipal systems. Many municipalities have already turned over garbage collection to private companies, thereby impoverishing the workforce. Would it be a surprise to find that the corporations have inserted provisions into TPP demanding privatization of the Postal Service, schools, roads and anything else the public currently runs?

Ask any conservative and they will likely tell you that anything a government does to make people’s lives better only interferes with “the market.” They will tell you our public, “government” schools should be privatized. They will tell you that the Post Office needs to go away. They hate Amtrak, public broadcasting, the Export-Import Bank and, public transit. They certainly hate public health care. Many will even say that we shouldn’t have public parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. They have even privatized prisons.

TPP Coming Up For A Rigged Vote Unless We Stop It

Back when We the People were still not allowed to know what was in TPP, a provision called “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was passed by Congress. Fast track TPA rigged the rules of Congress to grease the skids for TPP when it comes up for a vote, which looks like it will be in the “lame duck” session of Congress after the November elections and before the new Congress is sworn in.

It is possible to stop TPP if we can convince enough members of the House of Representatives to go on record now as opposing it. To help with this, see last week’s post,“These Are Your 28 TPP House Democrat Targets”:

President Obama is trying to get a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the “lame duck” session of Congress that will take place after the election. We can help stop this by getting enough Democrats on the record as opposing the TPP.

In particular, we need to get the 28 Democrats who – in spite of opposition from most Democrats and hundreds of labor, consumer, LGBT, health, human rights, faith, democracy and other civil organizations – voted for the “fast-track” trade promotion authority (TPA) bill that “greased the skids” for the TPP by setting up rigged rules that will help TPP pass.

Now, along with all of those voters and organizations, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the rest of us need to start working on getting those 28 Democrats to oppose a vote after the election.

Call your Representative and say, “No to TPP!”

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on August 22, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

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The Federal Reserve and Black Unemployment

August 23rd, 2016 | William Spriggs

The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) that determines U.S. monetary policy met in July.  Its job is to weigh the state of the American economy, both the labor market and inflationary pressures to set policy.  In an interesting note, its discussion of the labor market explicitly noted the condition of the African American and Hispanic unemployment rates.  More than just an aside, reflecting on the status of June’s labor market the minutes of the meeting show the following note:

“The unemployment rates for African Americans and for Hispanics stayed above the rate for whites, al­though the differentials in jobless rates across the different groups were similar to those before the most recent recession.”

While it is good the FOMC notes the damage its policies may be doing to the African American community, it unfortunately appears too simplistic in understanding the dynamics of the market and how the growth in labor demand affects the African American community.  It is simplistic because it appears to say that nothing has changed; that while the African American unemployment rate of 8.6% was on par with its pre-recession level of 8.4% in March 2007, when the white unemployment rate was 3.8%, little different than June’s 4.3%.  This suggests, the relative position of African Americans is fixed, immutable by macro-economic dynamics, so this lamentable gap corresponds to the best level of African American unemployment that can be reached.  In short, we must be near full employment.

Here is what the June report showed in detail.  The unemployment rate for adult African Americans (older than 25) with Associates Degrees was 3.0%, well below the unemployment rate for white high school graduates 4.2% rate.  This was a first since the recession began, for better educated African Americans to have unemployment rates lower than less educated whites.  In July 2015, African Americans with Associate Degrees had a 4.8% unemployment rate compared to white high school graduates lower 4.4% rate.

Further unnoticed, is that at the depths of the labor market downturn, the employment-to-population ratio for African Americans (the share of people with jobs) fell to 51.0% in July 2011, but had grown by June to 56.1%, a five percentage point gain, but a 10% increase.  For whites, on the other hand, the EPOP had grown only from 59.3% to 60.2%, less than one percentage point.

So, the change in unemployment rates is deceptive.  The African American unemployment rate is improving on a strong growth in employment and in the relative improvement resulting from less discrimination in hiring.  That success has further encouraged the rise in labor force participation for African Americans; which has the perverse effect of fighting against a lower unemployment rate, because it increases the number looking unsuccessfully.

The problem for African Americans is that they face much higher probabilities of enduring long spells of unemployment.  African Americans, of the same educational attainment and with the same cognitive skill levels (the so-called test score gap often mistakenly attributed as a measure of inferior schooling) as whites, face a fifty percent greater chance of being thrown into a long spell of unemployment.  And, once having fallen into that labor market quicksand, face about a third less chance of escaping.  The result is that massive levels of unemployment, like the Great Recession spawned, result in a very long queue of unemployed African Americans.  That long line can only clear by a similarly long and sustained recovery to pluck the unemployed back among the employed.

Put it simply, the unemployment rate is a snapshot composed of the probability of becoming unemployed plus the inability to escape unemployment; so it is a much more complex picture when large numbers of people are unemployed for long periods, as they are more likely to be captured by the snapshot.  When unemployment spells are very short, people move out of the frame before the snapshot can be taken.

The unemployment gap is not one of skill, it is the very real and present discrimination prevalent in a labor market where demand for workers is low and the power and caprice of employers is high.  The relative size of the gap can change, if policies push beyond conventional measures of unemployment and underutilization of workers; it is possible to see another answer is possible.

So, it is good that the FOMC at least is aware that macro-economic policies can have a good or bad effect on African Americans.  The next step is for the FOMC to further understand how much a difference it can make.

This is not just important for African Americans.  It is important for the health of the national economy.  First, everyone benefits if we push the labor market to its true and full level of maximum employment; it means more jobs and opportunities for everyone.

Second, because the African American community has such little wealth, when the economy expands, it is a community very sensitive to the interest rate movements and credit availability to catch-up on purchases like cars and making home improvements.  These purchases are fueled by rising employment opportunities and the easing of credit when the FOMC acts to lower interest rates and stimulate economic growth.  But, in such a leveraged position, it means that a slowing economy and the loss of jobs quickly turns auto loans and home borrowing into severe household balance sheet nightmares.  Those bad effects spill over to the broader the economy.

Since African American employment is more sensitive to a slowing economy, it means the FOMC has to get it right about understanding when African Americans have reached full employment.  So far, they have consistently guessed at a number that is too high, ending labor market recoveries too soon—and economic expansions too soon for everyone.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on August 22, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

William E. Spriggs serves as Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO, and is a professor in, and former Chair of, the Department of Economics at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

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Domestic Workers in Ill. Win Bill of Rights: “Years of Organizing Have Finally Paid Off”

August 22nd, 2016 | Parker Asmann

Domestic workers in Illinois are celebrating a new bill of rights.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law last week, capping a 5-year campaign and making Illinois the 7th state to adopt such a protection.

Sponsored by Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-8th District) in the Senate and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th District) in the House, the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights gives nannies, housecleaners, homecare workers and other domestic workers a minimum wage, protection from discrimination and sexual harassment and one day of rest every seven days for workers employed by one employer for at least 20 hours a week.

The law amends four other Illinois state laws—the Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the One Day Rest in Seven Act and the Wages of Women and Minors Act—to include domestic workers.

Over the past five years, the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition has campaigned to demand that domestic workers be provided with the same workplace protections that others have had for decades. Members gathered Tuesday at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago to celebrate.

“Finally, some of the hardest working people in the state of Illinois will receive the dignity and respect they deserve from their work environment,” said Rep. Hernandez.

Magdalena Zylinska, a domestic worker and board member of Arise Chicago, spoke about how demanding domestic work is.

“I have struggled to get by from low wages, wage theft and disrespect on the job,” Zylinska said. “But today I am here to celebrate that our years of organizing have finally paid off.”

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. While domestic workers have achieved victory in those states, the fight continues for a national bill of rights for domestic workers.

Worldwide, 90 percent of domestic workers—the vast majority of whom are women—do not have access to any kind of social security coverage, according to the International Labour Organization. In the United States, an estimated 95 percent of domestic workers are female, foreign born and/ or persons of color. They frequently lack protections and face near constant adversity.

“Women are an essential pillar of our society and our families, as you all have seen. The House listened to us. The Senate listened to us, and now the governor has listened to us,” said Maria Esther Bolaños, a domestic worker and leader from the Latino Union of Chicago.

She recalled days where she worked 12 hours and got paid just $12.00.

Grace Padao of AFIRE Chicago echoed Bolaños’ statements with struggles of her own, describing days of being isolated and alone in homes that were not her own, working seven days a week to provide for her family.

“From this day forward, domestic workers in Illinois will never have to face the conditions that I did,” Padao said.

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. (Parker Asmann)

This article was originally posted at Inthesetimes.com on August 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Parker Asmann is a Summer 2016 Editorial Intern at In These Times. He is an Editorial Board Member for the Chicago-based publication El BeiSMan as well as a regular contributor to The Yucatan Times located in Merida, Mexico. He graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with degrees in journalism and Spanish, as well as a minor in Latin American Studies.

 

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Investment Bank Allegedly Retaliated Against Employee After She Announced Her Pregnancy

August 19th, 2016 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertAfter working at the investment bank Jefferies Group for nearly 12 years, Shabari Nayak thought she was on track to become a managing director — especially after bringing her firm $3.75 million in revenue.

But then last year she got pregnant. In a lawsuit filedagainst the bank on Wednesday, she says everything changed after she announced that she would be having a baby.

Nayak “delayed announcing her pregnancy as late as possible because she feared her career would be derailed,” according to her lawyer Scott Grubin.

Her fears were quickly realized, she alleges. She claims that when she told her direct supervisor of the pregnancy in August of last year, he told her that her “priorities would be changing” after she had her child and offered to help her find a job that was “less demanding,” potentially in the human resources department. She declined, preferring to stay on track for a managing director position.

She got a nearly identical response, she says, when she told the global head of her division. “These two utterly insensitive and demeaning conversations made clear that in the minds of management, Ms. Nayak’s pregnancy had irreversibly changed — if not ended — her investment banking career at the bank,” according to the complaint.

Months later, her supervisors told her she had “taken her foot off the gas pedal,” she claims. Then she says she was denied her year-end bonus, which reduced her overall compensation by nearly 60 percent. Yet she had gotten the bonus the year before when she brought in nearly $1 million less in revenue, while a similar male coworker in her group who hadn’t generated any deal revenue got a “substantial” bonus, according to the complaint.

“What should have been a most joyous time in her life, as Ms. Nayak welcomed her first child into her family, has been transformed into a demeaning and anxious ordeal by the bank’s discriminatory and retaliatory actions against her that has effectively derailed her personal and professional aspirations,” the complaint says.

Nayak no longer works at the bank, claiming that she was forced to resign while on maternity leave after experiencing the discrimination and watching her complaints go unaddressed.

“No reasonable person should be or could be expected to work in the environment created and fostered at Jefferies,” she said.

Now that she’s gone, she says her group at the investment bank has 32 men and no women in senior vice president or managing director positions.

A Jefferies spokesman said the lawsuit is “entirely without merit,” saying she “voluntarily resigned,” and that it will defend against it.

Pregnancy discrimination is already prohibited by federal law, but it’s still incredibly common. Complaints of pregnancy discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose 65 percent between 1992 and 2007, outpacing the increase of women in the labor force, and there were more than 3,500 filed just last year.

A number of investment banks have been hit with discrimination lawsuits that depict a male-dominated and testosterone-fueled culture, and pregnancy discrimination comes up a lot. The finance industry was hit with 97 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2013. A lawsuit last year filed by Cynthia Terrana against investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald alleged that she was fired just 11 days after she told her manager she was pregnant.

Other lawsuits against Wall Street firms have alleged a “boys club” atmosphere of trips to strip clubs and sexual assaults against female employees that went ignored, the systemic undermining of women’s careersby denying them the most lucrative clients, and repeated sexual harassmentthat included female employees being pressured to sleep with executives.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on August 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

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Postal Workers Fend Off Attacks in New Contract

August 17th, 2016 | Alexandra Bradbury

Alexandra BradburyThis article was first posted at Labor Notes.

They didn’t end three-tier in a single blow. But in a new contract covering 200,000 members, the American Postal Workers Union made serious headway and fended off most concessionary demands, including the Postal Service’s effort to create yet another tier.
The union entered bargaining with little obvious leverage. It was up against a management that’s been openly collaborating with postal unions’ Congressional foes to push a frenzy of cuts—slashing delivery standards, shutting down mail plants,privatizing work, and selling off post offices to real estate sharks.

Postal workers can’t legally strike. If the union and management don’t reach a deal, an arbitrator writes the contract—which is what finally happened. Arbitrator Stephen Goldberg announced the results July 8.

He stopped short of eliminating the three-tier system, as the union had proposed. But the new contract shrinks the number of bottom-tier workers and improves their situation, while defending the traditional raises and no-layoff protection for the two upper tiers.

New York City mail processing clerk Carl Ross was riding the train to work when he read the results on his cell phone. “I think I screamed out loud,” he said. “It’s gone a long way towards making Postal Support Employees feel like they’re part of the U.S. Postal Service.”

The Postal underclass

Postal Support Employees (PSEs) are the worst-off members of the APWU, stuck in an indefinite temporary status. Since the last contract in 2010, all new hires have landed in this limbo.

They do the same jobs right alongside traditional career employees, but receive lower wages and minimal benefits. And their temporary status means PSEs always have to fear for their jobs—so management can squeeze more work and “flexibility” out of them. “You go wherever the management wind takes you,” Ross said.

He’s one of many union members who traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify to the arbitrator about working conditions. Six-day weeks and forced overtime every night are routine for PSEs in his facility, he said. Workweeks range from 50 to 70 hours.

“I come to work to provide a better life for my family,” Ross said, “not to forsake my family for the job.”

The old contract laid out a process to convert PSEs who were working full-time hours into career positions eventually, based on seniority. But management always dragged its heels, said Ross, a steward. It pushed each grievance to national arbitration, stalling results for months or more.

So the number of PSEs has hovered near the contractual limits—till now, up to 10 percent of all workers in motor vehicles and maintenance, and 20 percent of clerks. In negotiations, the Postal Service sought to add even more.

Steps forward

Instead, the new contract mandates that thousands will be converted to career positions by September 3. In the maintenance and motor vehicle crafts, with the conversion of all 3,500 PSEs, the category will vanish entirely. New hires in those crafts will go right into career status.

Not so in the union’s biggest craft, clerks, which includes workers at post office retail windows as well as those who process the mail in sorting plants. A thousand of the longest-serving clerks will be converted, leaving 27,000 PSEs.

These remaining temps will get a cumulative raise of 7 percent plus 50 cents an hour during the three-year agreement, plus access to Postal Service health benefits, six paid holidays (they had zero; career employees get 10), and for retail clerks, a uniform allowance.

The new holiday pay hit home for Ross. Last Christmas he was made to work a 12-hour shift, without it.

Other contract highlights include a one-year moratorium on further outsourcing of postal retail work (Staples, the target of a union boycott over its grab of APWU work, isn’t affected), a hold on plant closings at least through April 2017, and a bar on further subcontracting of motor vehicle work.

On the minus side, employees’ share of health insurance premiums will go up—the one major concession management got.

How they did it

What worked? One factor was a change in attitude at union headquarters. The last contract was settled without arbitration, when the previous officers agreed to the three-tier system.

Angry at the giveaways in that deal, members unseated their top officers in 2013, voting in a slate of activists who pledged to “stop the bleeding” by involving members and resisting concessions.

This time the Postal Workers held out against management’s demands through a year and a half of bargaining, mediation, and arbitration. “We could have settled for a new contract last year,” President Mark Dimondstein wrote in a message to members. “But it would not have been an agreement acceptable or fair to you, the member.”

On the job, workers built pressure by wearing union shirts and buttons every Thursday with the message “Good Postal Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract!” To bosses, even a simple disruption of routine can be unnerving. Managers in San Francisco soon showed their ruffled feathers—they distributed official T-shirts and told workers to wear those on Thursdays instead. Some workers refused; others gamely put on management’s shirts, but decked them out with union buttons and stickers.

As the contract expiration neared last year, the union organized a day of action, holding “I Stand with Postal Workers” rallies in 130 locations around the country. Members handed out leaflets, talked with customers about the union’s plan to defend and expand postal services, and gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures on support postcards mailed to the Postmaster General.

Once arbitration began, the union brought dozens of workers to D.C. to testify about their on-the-job concerns. Goldberg wrote that especially “the impassioned testimony of the PSEs” moved him to reject the Postal Service’s push to expand the temp category any further.

“For the first time, I felt included in my own future at the Postal Service,” Ross said. “That I had some contribution to making a better life for thousands of employees across the country—it’s actually quite humbling.”

A house divided

A half-million postal workers make up the nation’s biggest unionized workforce, split among four unions.

The biggest are the APWU and the Letter Carriers (NALC), whose members deliver letters and packages door to door in cities. Smaller unions represent Rural Carriers and Mail Handlers, the latter a division of the Laborers union.

After the APWU agreed to three tiers in its 2010 contract, the Postal Service went after the other three unions for the same concessions. The Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers fought it to arbitration. In the end arbitrators imposed tiers, although both unions got better deals for their middle tiers than the APWU did—lower starting pay than first-tier workers, but the same top pay.

And all the unions ended up funneling their new hires into third-tier perma-temp categories, similar to PSEs: City Carrier Assistant, Mail Handler Assistant, and Rural Carrier Associate.

The APWU contract results are sure to loom large in the bargaining now underway for the Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers. The Rural Carriers have already settled their contract, agreeing to continue the tiered system—a fact that arbitrator Goldberg cited in his decision to impose the same on the APWU.

The relationship among the four unions had been testy since the ’90s. Leaders officially buried the hatchet in 2014 with the proclamation of a Postal Union Alliance.

The division “allows management to play one union against the other,” Dimondstein wrote. “We would be much stronger in future negotiations if all postal workers were united in one big postal union.”

UPS-set

A factor Goldberg weighed heavily was the poor standards at the Postal Service’s most obvious competitors. The law instructs arbitrators that postal workers’ pay and benefits should be comparable to the private sector.

In its successful case to preserve the PSE tier for clerks, management leaned on evidence that at UPS and FedEx, retail and mail processing workers earn even lower wages.

It’s no wonder that FedEx workers and retail workers at UPS are low-paid, since they’re nonunion. But it’s a scandal that the part-time union members who sort packages for UPS, a wildly profitable shipper, make so little per hour that they’re driving down standards in the public postal service. UPS new-hire sorters and loaders make $10 an hour and are guaranteed only three and a half hours of work a day.

For that, we can thank another union administration that’s gone along with tiers—the Teamsters. Members angry over contract givebacks there are running a reform slate for the union’s top offices this fall. A major theme in their campaign is the demand to end “part-time poverty” at UPS.

The APWU and UPS-Teamsters contracts will both expire in 2018. If reformers were at the helm in both unions, could we hope for a coordinated campaign to fight tiered pay in the entire package delivery industry?

This article originally appeared at Labor Notes, and Inthesetimes.com on August 15, 2016. reprinted with permission.

Alexandra Bradbury is a staff writer with Labor Notes.

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This week in the war on workers: Teacher pay is falling behind

August 16th, 2016 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonOh, those overpaid teachers:

  • Average weekly wages (inflation adjusted) of public-sector teachers decreased $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, from $1,122 to $1,092 (in 2015 dollars). In contrast, weekly wages of all college graduates rose from $1,292 to $1,416 over this period.
  • For all public-sector teachers, the relative wage gap (regression adjusted for education, experience, and other factors) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s: It was ?1.8 percent in 1994 and grew to a record ?17.0 percent in 2015.

Pay is just one symptom of a broader problem in how teachers are valued, though. Increasingly—promoted by standardized testing-driven education and the corporate education policy movement—teachers aren’t respected as professionals, as experts on what goes on in their classrooms. That shows up in pay levels but it also shows up in anti-teacher rhetoric and in curricula that force them to paint by numbers rather than exercising independent judgment.

  • Richard Trumka has done a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson. There’s lots there, including this on how to see union density rise again:

We went from being totally embedded in the community to being isolated and hunkering down and trying to hold on to what we had. Now we’re back, embedded in the community. And when we’re embedded in the community, unionism starts to flourish and grow, and you can’t be assailed, because you can’t assail the entire community and still survive. Scott Walker, who gives Wisconsin’s surplus away to corporations, now has a deficit and says, “See these workers? It’s their fault.” He won’t be able to get away with that, because we’re so ingrained in the community.

Pablo worked in the fields of Virginia for 18 years. Then in 2009, he was sent to work in North Carolina, an experience he will never forget. “The grower was violent,” he recalls, “he screamed at us, and everyone was afraid of him.” It was common knowledge that the grower kept a gun in his truck, and while he never openly threatened anyone with it, the message was clear: do your work and don’t complain.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on August 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011. Laura at Daily Kos

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BREAKING—Fight for $15 Organizers Tell SEIU: We Need $15 and a Union

August 15th, 2016 | David Moberg

David MobergThe start to this weekend’s Fight for $15 convention didn’t go as planned.

As roughly 10,000 conference goers gathered in Richmond, Va., to talk about unions and low-wage work, organizers behind the nationwide campaign demanded a union of their own.

On Friday, Jodi Lynn Fennell, a child care worker organizer from Las Vegas, attempted to deliver a letter from a Fight for $15 organizers asking the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to acknowledge it was their employer and to give them the right to organize.

A small group of supporters accompanied Fennell as she approached the stage where SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was scheduled to deliver the keynote address. But security guards stopped them from delivering the letter and escorted them away from the stage. Later, according to the Union of Union Representatives (UUR), a supervisor told Fennell and four other organizers they had to fly back to Las Vegas early Saturday morning, at their own expense.

Roughly 75 SEIU organizers and other field staff outside of the union’s national headquarters belong to the UUR. But Fennell and UUR Vice President Nicholas Calderon say that SEIU has told the roughly 100 other Fight for $15 field organizers who might be eligible to join the staff union that it doesn’t employ them.

At first, Calderon says, SEIU maintained their employer was the payroll processing firm that handles their paychecks. Now, he says, the international insists they’re employed by the individual organizing committees that direct each city’s Fight for $15 campaign.

According to Calderon, nearly 99 percent of funding for Fight for $15 organizers, as well as vehicles and supplies, comes from SEIU.

SEIU did not respond by deadline to In These Times’ request for comment.

“As we have said from the beginning, we are strong believers in the Fight for $15 campaign organizers and workers planned yesterday’s action to try to minimize disruption while still having visibility,” Conor Hanlon, UUR president, wrote in a statement to In These Times on Saturday. “We have no interest in stopping the crucial work going on there but do think it important that workers and community allies are aware of how SEIU is treating the Fight for $15.”

“We are disappointed that SEIU chose to escalate and create divisions between workers and organizers rather than act on our shared principles and beliefs about the fair treatment workers deserve,” he continued. “Nonetheless, the Fight for $15 workers will not be silenced and UUR will continue to fight with them until they are recognized as SEIU employees and getting the treatment they deserve.”

Fight for $15 organizers have a long list of grievances against SEIU. They are worried about the instability of their jobs and a tendency of the union to ramp up staff for one campaign, then shift only some of the staff to the next project. Others argue that because of the long hours, their relatively modest salaries do not amount to $15 an hour by the time their pay is divided by work hours, often much more than 40 hours a week.

But the biggest grievance organizers express is that SEIU pays them to advocate for the right of every worker to join a union but denies that same right to its own organizers. Ultimately, some workers say, SEIU’s position may undermine public support and open up lines for employer attacks.

Hypocrisy scars an organization, says Fennell, and could weaken the union in its important fight.

“We don’t have the right to join a union that we’re fighting for other workers to have,” she told In These Times. “When we’re fighting for everyone to have $15 an hour, we should have it ourselves.”

The initial organizing of Fight for $15 focused on fast-food workers in New York but quickly spread to other occupations and across the country. It includes workers in child care and elder care, early childhood education, university research and teaching, manufacturing, fashion and other building services, many of whom may move frequently from low-wage job to low-wage job over their lives.

The campaign, almost entirely funded by SEIU, can claim credit for raising pay for about 17 million of the roughly 64 million workers less than $15 an hour, with 10 million on the path to $15.

Its progress has come mainly from winning stronger state and local laws—not from any dramatic uptick in low-wage workers forming unions. That is true even in the low-wage industries that, unlike fast food, were already often organized to varying degrees by SEIU and others.

Although the strategy for establishing unions is unclear, Fight for $15 appears committed to expanding the range of workers that SEIU is able to mobilize for direct action. Tactics include strikes at fast food outlets and legislative campaigns for higher minimum wages, whether across the board or piecemeal.

For the past couple of years, the campaign’s emphasis on politics has increased, as illustrated by the choice of Richmond, Virginia, for this weekend’s meeting—billed as the organization’s first convention.

The decision to meet in the capital of the Confederacy also reflected an intensification of efforts to link the problems of America’s low-wage economy to continued structural racism with its roots in slavery. Fight for $15 must fight for both racial and economic injustice, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told the opening session of the meeting.

“You can’t have one without the other,” she said.

Likewise, you can’t advocate effectively for unions, some Fight for 15 organizers say, without having the right to join one yourself.

It is true that over the labor movement’s long history, many unions have fought with their staff over whether staff could or should organize.

But a movement like the Fight for $15, which is founded on the right of every worker to join a union, is more likely to win broad support if it follows the old adage: Practice what you preach.

At a time when the labor movement is especially vulnerable, unions need to avoid any grounds that could cost them public support—especially in a campaign as promising and crucial as the Fight for $15.

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The Fiscal Myth That’s Killing The Economy, In 7 Steps

August 13th, 2016 | Richard Eskow

RichardEskowA new economic working paper reinforces an important reality: We need more government spending to repair the economy for millions of working Americans. Unfortunately, our political debate is being held back by an economic myth – one that has yet to be challenged in political debate, despite an ever-growing body of evidence against it.

The paper, by L. John Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute, is called “Why is recovery taking so long – and who’s to blame?

The myth is called “austerity,” and it can be roughly defined as “the persistent but false belief that government spending cuts are always a good idea.”

Here are seven things about austerity worth knowing:

1. Our current recovery is too slow, and isn’t reaching everybody it should.

As Bivens points out, employment took longer to reach its pre-recession levels this time around than it did in the previous three recovery periods. Perhaps even more significantly, the rate of job creation remained slower after the recession officially ended.

What’s more, the jobs created after the 2009 crisis were weighted heavily toward lower-income professions. Labor force participation for people of working age remains low, even though it has improved somewhat.

And, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research recently reported, the percentage of people who are involuntarily working part-time rather than full-time is 25 percent higher now than it was before the recession.

As CEPR’s Nick Buffie notes, “Over 6 million people are working part-time involuntarily, and on average they work 23 hours per week. Because full-time workers are typically employed 42–43 hours per week, this is effectively a wage cut of almost 50 percent for the affected workers.”

2. The weak recovery affects a lot of full-time workers.

It is not just the unemployed and underemployed who are affected by the weak recovery. Many full-time workers are earning less than they would be if the economy had rebounded at a faster pace, creating more and better jobs than it has.

The American middle class needs a raise. But millions of people won’t get their raises until the economy is stronger and the demand for workers goes up. And demand will remain low until there are more jobs to fill.

3. We know what to do about it.

Government has two tools at its disposal in situations like this: monetary policy and fiscal policy. Monetary policy was promptly deployed after the latest crisis, both to bail out Wall Street and to improve the overall economy. The Federal Reserve should have been more attentive to the Main Street economy, using some of the creativity it used to rescue the financial sector, but it did cut interest rates and that helped.

Unfortunately, fiscal policy, in the form of job-creating government spending initiatives, was used only sparingly at the federal level. Over the past seven years there have been spending cuts at the federal, state and local levels. That’s the opposite of what’s needed, especially in an economy like this one.

As Bivens points out, it’s necessary to increase demand under conditions like those we see today. A simplistic overview of the process: The government creates jobs, the people who get those jobs spend more, the economy’s “pump” is primed and growth follows.

We aren’t talking about radical, far-left ideas here. This approach has been mainstream economic thinking for many decades, and was successfully applied under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

4. We relied on the myth of austerity instead.

But recent years have seen the rise of different ideas – ideas that were tended and nurtured by right-wing institutions like the Peterson Foundation, and by conservative economic thinkers too numerous to mention. “Austerity economics” – the belief that governments can cut their way to growth – became conventional thinking in the halls of academe and the halls of power. It is obsessed with deficit spending, to the exclusion of other concerns that are often more pressing.

Austerity-driven cuts have hurt the U.S. economy. Austerity’s done even more damage in Europe. When the global financial crisis of 2008 struck, multilateral decision-makers (including the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, or IMF) imposed a harsh austerity regimen on Greece and other struggling European economies. The result, as we now know, was disastrous.

To its credit, the IMF conducted an internal review of its actions during this period. The report found that IMF officials ignored a number of warning signs and had a “strongly optimistic bias” about the effects of austerity. The report also agreed with an earlier investigation that found “a high degree of groupthink, intellectual capture … and incomplete analytical approaches.”

That’s pretty much what happened here, too.

The crisis of 2008, and the events that followed, disproved austerity economics and other hallmarks of conservative economic thought. But it remains popular in powerful circles – perhaps because, as Upton Sinclair said (in the gendered language of his time): “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

5. It’s mostly a Republican problem …

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, Republicans remain steadfast in their opposition to government spending – even for government jobs like teaching, firefighting, and emergency management.

As Bivens explains:

“We are enduring one of the slowest economic recoveries in recent history, and the pace can be entirely explained by the fiscal austerity, particularly with regard to spending, imposed by Republican policymakers, members of Congress primarily but also legislators and governors at the state level.”

The Republican Congress can even take much of the blame for state-level spending cuts, since transfers from the federal government account for more than 20 percent of state and local spending.

Bad economies aren’t an act of God. They are a result of human action – or inaction.

6. … but a lot of Democrats have bought into the myth, too.

A number of top Democrats echoed the rhetoric of austerity, too. That led to weaker political support for the spending we needed, and probably clouded the judgment of Democratic leaders when it came time to make the case for needed spending increases.

President Obama spent far too much time fighting for a “grand bargain” on spending with congressional Republicans that was rooted in austerity thinking, and too little time challenging that thinking. He also had the habit, especially in his first term, of echoing the false economic tropes of the austerity crowd by saying things like “just like every family in America … the Federal government has to live within its means …”

National budgets don’t work like family budgets at all – that is, unless the family in question issues its own sovereign currency.

There are strong hints of austerity-oriented thinking in Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric, too. That puts her at odds with enthusiastic backer Paul Krugman, who wielded a poison pen on her behalf during the Democratic primaries but is currently making the case for borrowing and spending.

Austerity thinking was highlighted at last month’s Democratic National Convention when Gene Sperling, a senior economic advisor to former presidents Clinton and Obama, was featured in a humor-oriented anti-Trump video produced by “Funny or Die.” Whether or not hilarity ensues must remain a matter of personal opinion, but the video clearly relies on austerity economics – specifically, an exaggerated fear of deficits – to scare viewers.

There has never been a better time for the federal government to borrow money and invest in the economy. It can obtain very low interest rates, the economy would respond very well to job creation, and we urgently need to spend money on repairing and expanding our national infrastructure. (The American Society of Civil Engineers says we need to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020.)

7. We need a national debate about austerity economics.

Hillary Clinton has proposed modest levels of infrastructure investment and other government spending – modest, but better than nothing. President Obama put forward similar spending proposals. But these proposals suffer from a fatal flaw that renders them useless in today’s climate: They’re too large to get past the Republicans in Congress and too small to change the political debate.

Democrats have not directly challenged Republicans on government’s proper role in the economy. Too often, they have tried to co-opt the rhetoric (and sometimes the policies) of austerity instead.

Republicans, on the other hand, offer a clearly articulated and internally coherent (if utterly fallacious) economic perspective. Democrats can also offer a coherent perspective, too – one with the added advantage of having been proven by experience. That perspective can make life better for millions of people.

This is the economic debate this country needs. But we won’t get it until someone challenges austerity economics and the conservative philosophy behind it – directly, unambiguously and fearlessly.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on August 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

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Fire Departments, Airports and Military Bases May Be More Toxic to Workers Than You Think

August 12th, 2016 | Elizabeth Grossman

elizabeth grossmanDrinking water supplies for at least six million Americans contain toxic industrial chemicals at levels that exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended safety limit. This number is likely an underestimate since the information available through the EPA does not include data for about one-third of Americans—those 100 million or more people who rely on private wells or the vast majority of public water systems that serve communities with populations of 10,000 or less. These are the conclusions of a new study whose authors include scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the University of California at Berkeley and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The study “is just showing us the tip of the iceberg,” says author Philippe Grandjean, Harvard T.H. Chan adjunct professor of environmental health and University of Southern Denmark professor of environmental medicine. What also remains largely undocumented is the extent of exposure to workers on the frontline of this chemical use.

While industrial sites were previously recognized as sources of these highly fluorinated, toxic and environmentally-persistent compounds, this is the first nationwide study to document that wastewater treatment plants, along with military bases and airports where these chemicals are used in fire-fighting foams, are also contributing significantly to drinking water contamination. The study reports groundwater and surface water near some of these bases and airports with concentrations of these chemicals 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the EPA’s health advisory level for drinking water.

While the EPA’s May 2016 fact sheet says, “Such contamination is typically localized and associated with a specific facility for example, an industrial facility where these chemicals were produced or used to manufacture other products or an airfield at which they were used for fire fighting,” the new study shows the contamination is much more widespread. The study’s findings suggest that not only are far more people potentially exposed through drinking water than previously thought, but that the military bases and airports where these fluorinated foams are used may be hotspots of exposure. This means that in addition to runoff from these sites, exposure to those working with these foams may be a health concern, as suggested by recent testing that showed firefighters to have elevated blood levels of fluorinated compounds.

What are PFAS?

These synthetic chemicals (they don’t occur naturally) known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are used in waterproofing, stain and grease-resistant and non-stick coatings. They’re used in clothing, furniture, carpets, paints and food packaging, among other products. They are also used in plastics and computer chip manufacturing, and in the fire-fighting foams used in military trainings and at airports. These compounds have been so widely used over the past 60 years that theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found these chemicals in the blood of more than 97 percent of the Americans tested. These chemicals have also been found in newborns’ umbilical cord blood, an indication of prenatal exposure.

Given the well-recognized potential environmental and health hazards of PFAS and widespread exposure, the EPA has recently lowered its drinking water health advisory limit for PFAS.  But this is a guideline, not an enforceable standard. The six PFAS compounds that the EPA is now monitoring in drinking water standards are part of the agency’s Unregulated Contaminated Monitoring Rule program. This requires participating public water systems to monitor for certain contaminants and report on their presence. But it doesn’t require public water systems to ensure that the health advisory levels aren’t exceeded.

“Most wastewater treatment plants don’t remove these compounds,” explains study author Cindy Hu, doctoral candidate in environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“We’re concerned about these chemicals because they’ve been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects. And drinking water can be an important source of exposure,” says Hu.

Various PFAS have been linked to certain cancers, elevated cholesterol, immune suppression, obesity, low birth weight, reproductive system problems and hormone disruption. Levels of PFAS found in the environment have also been linked tosuppressed immune systems in children.

“These compounds are incredibly stable, so they can leach into the groundwater over many years and they stay there,” says Grandjean.

“Their half life is on the order of several years,” explained study co-author Laurel Schaider, research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute. “If you stopped being exposed, it would take a couple of years to reduce levels in your body by half,” said Schaider.

For this reason, says Grandjean, “Even the small contributions”–or exposures–“are what we worry about.”

Even though the EPA recently lowered what it considers a safe limit in drinking water, Grandjean worries that this level is not sufficiently protective.

“Unfortunately, I have to say, the EPA water limits are way, way too high,” he says. The concern is the large “number of people that are exposed to levels that we can see are associated with adverse effects on the immune system and carry risks of miscarriage,” he explains. These are, he says, “levels that we’re not protecting people against.”

Workers on the frontline

The fact that so people are likely exposed to PFAS through drinking water at levels of concern to scientists raises additional concerns for people–like firefighters– regularly exposed on the job.

Existing studies examining firefighters for the presence of perfluorinated compounds in their blood have shown elevated exposure after responding to fires. A study of California firefighters found such levels to be three times higher than that of American men tested by the CDC. That these compounds persist in the body and can produce adverse effects at low levels makes cumulative exposures a concern. For female firefighters there’s the additional concern that these chemicals can be passed on to a fetus or infant.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, there are about 19,299 airports in the United States, a number that includes both military and civilian airports. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are an estimated 137,300 U.S. workers employed in aircraft maintenance. But, to date, beyond the studies looking at blood concentrations of PFAS in firefighters, the limited occupational exposure studies for PFAS have largely been of workers at plants that manufacture these chemicals. And most such studies have been conducted or commissioned by companies producing the chemicals. Some ofthese studies have linked exposure to high blood cholesterol. Others have found links between exposure and some increased risk of prostate cancer. But overall, the industry-commissioned studies say there is not yet sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between PFAS exposure and adverse human health effects.

Yet, says Schaider, the studies that might begin to link PFAS exposure to specific health outcomes in fire fighters and others using these foams haven’t been done. Some are now just getting underway, through the International Association of Fire Fighters, which is examining impacts of these fire-fighting foams on women fire fighters. But she says, “Unfortunately, I don’t think this has been addressed yet.”

And while there is ample documentation of “highly polluted water” at airports and military bases where PFAS are used, “epidemiological data on the military is hard to come by,” says study author Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute.

The solution? For one, says Blum, “The military needs to needs to investigate alternative fire-fighting foams that don’t contain any highly fluorinated compounds.”

“My key message,” says Grandjean, is that because these chemicals “are so persistent and we are discovering more and more effects at lower doses, we need to vigorously reduce these exposures.” And, he says, for people “who’ve been exposed over a long time, exposures should get as close to zero as possible.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on August 11, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American,Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

 

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