Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The West Virginia Teachers’ Strike Has Activists Asking: Should We Revive the Wildcat?

March 14th, 2018 | Shaun Richman

The stunning success of the recent statewide West Virginia teachers’ strike makes it one of the most inspiring worker protests of the Trump era.

The walkout over rising health insurance costs and stagnant pay began on Feb. 22 and appeared to be settled by Feb. 27 with promises from Gov. Jim Justice of a 5 percent pay raise for teachers. Union leaders initially accepted that deal in good faith, along with vague assurances that the state would work with them on a solution to escalating out-of-pocket costs for workers’ healthcare.

Dramatically, rank-and-file teachers refused to end the walkout. Every public school in the state remained closed for nine days due to the strike, until the West Virginia legislature voted to approve a 5 percent pay increase for all state workers as well as a formal labor-management committee to deal with the healthcare problem.

The entire experience leaves many labor activists asking variations of three questions: What is a wildcat strike? Was West Virginia a true wildcat? And should we have more wildcat strikes?

What is a wildcat strike?

Wildcat strikes are job actions led by rank-and-file members in defiance of official union leadership. Why would leaders try to stop a job action that members want to take? The answer, generally, is that the strike is either against the law or in violation of a contractual no-strike clause (and, often, the leaders are in some way legally compelled to discourage it). In either case, workers who strike could be fired with no legal recourse for the union to win them their jobs back. This is a peculiar feature of America’s post-World War II labor relations system.

Prior to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a strike was a strike. It was not uncommon to have multiple unions vying for workplace leadership and engaging in a kind of one-upmanship of job actions. While these actions occasionally produced small gains in pay or reductions in hours, they rarely ended with union recognition—much less signed contracts.

That’s because employers didn’t have to deal with unions. They might have begrudgingly made a unilateral concession to the workers’ wage or hour demands in order to resume operations, but bosses almost never formally sat down with elected union representatives.

The NLRA changed that status quo by compelling employers to “bargain in good faith” with any group of union members that demanded it. As Charles J. Morris documents in his 2004 book, The Blue Eagle at Work: Reclaiming Democratic Rights in the American Workplace, the NLRA did not include any provision for certification elections of exclusive union representatives. The framers of the NLRA wrote it for the labor movement that existed at the time: a collection of voluntary associations that made bargaining demands for their members only.

Compelled to bargain with unions, employers quickly developed a preference to deal with only one as an exclusive representative. That way, bosses could have contractual assurance that all outstanding disputes would be settled (or at least channeled through grievance and arbitration procedures) for the period of a contract that also guaranteed no strikes (or lockouts or other forms of industrial actions) would occur during the terms of labor peace.

Under that framework, the wildcat became a unique kind of worker protest. The etymology of the term “wildcat” can probably be traced to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and their unofficial symbol, the sabo cat.

Wildcat actions are not common and are rarely full-blown strikes. More often, they are temporary slowdowns or quick work stoppages in a smaller segment of a wider operation. They could be sparked, for example, over a sudden change in work rules or the belligerent actions of a supervisor. Usually, an official union representative rushes to the scene to attempt to settle the dispute with management and encourages the workers to return to their jobs.

Wildcats were more common in the early 1970s, during the last great strike wave in the United States. Those years saw a large number of strikes by teachers and other public-sector workers to win collective bargaining rights. Many of those strikes were technically illegal, but not wildcats as they were organized and led by official union leadership that had few alternatives in the absence of formal union rights under the NLRA.

However, in that climate of greater worker protest, many private-sector workers also went on strike. Many of those strikes were wildcats sparked by out-of-control inflation and intolerable speed-ups. In a sense, workers weren’t just striking in violation of their collective bargaining agreements but against their terms.

The most famous example was the 1972 rank-and-file rebellion at the General Motors factory in Lordstown, Ohio, which has fascinated generations of labor writers. In her 1975 book All the Livelong Day: The Meaning and Demeaning of Routine Work, Barbara Garson captured this illustrative conversation between workers:

“It pays good,” said one, “but it’s driving me crazy.”

“I don’t want more money,” said another. “None of us do.”

“I do,” said his friend, “so I can quit quicker.”

“The only money I want is my union dues back – if they don’t let us out on strike soon.”

In 1972, the factory was churning out Chevy Vegas at a pace that gave each worker 36 seconds to do a minute’s worth of work before the next car moved down the line in the blink of an eye. Workers had taken to acts of sabotage, like throwing a few loose screws in a gas tank, in hopes that the “error” would be caught by quality control and shut the line down for a few minutes of blessed relief.

While the United Autoworkers (UAW) leaders prioritized wages in bargaining—they won an impressive 13 percent increase for their members in the contract that was then in effect—the workers at Lordstown wanted to slow the pace of work. They went on a wildcat strike that lasted for 22 days, until management settled a slew of grievances and agreed to rehire a number of laid off positions in order to reduce the pace of work.

By the end of the decade, the competitive pressures of global trade put workers back on the defensive. The Lordstown plant is still in operation despite multiple threats to shutter it. In a 2010 profile, the New York Times called it one of GM’s “most productive and efficient plants,” and noted that 84 percent of the workers had recently voted to approve concessions during GM’s bankruptcy.

Those competitive pressures, combined with austerity budgets in the public sector, have severely reduced many workers’ living standards. The West Virginia strike may be a sign that these desperate times have turned many workplaces into powder kegs of simmering resentment and desperation.

Was West Virginia a true wildcat?

West Virginia schools have a peculiar framework: no contracts or formal collective bargaining, but a degree of official union recognition—including dues check-off—within a highly litigious tenure and grievance procedure with statewide pay and benefits subject to legislative lobbying. That environment appeared perfectly crafted to sap unions of their potential militancy, assuming the bosses understood they had to provide a minimally-decent standard of pay and benefits. Instead, teachers faced some of the lowest pay rates in the nation, along with rising healthcare costs, which helped lead to their decision to walk off the job.

Because the West Virginia strike happened outside the context of formal, contract-based unionism, Lois Weiner argues in New Politics that it is inaccurate to describe the statewide walkout as a wildcat. “Confusion on nomenclature reflects how remarkable this phenomenon is: we don’t know how to name a movement of workers that is self-organized, not confined by the strictures of collective bargaining,” she writes, continuing, “There is no legally prescribed procedure for ending the strike because the vast majority of people striking aren’t union members and strikes are not legal.”

Given the frontal assault on the entire legal framework of union representation—Janus vs. AFSCME being the massive tip of the gargantuan iceberg—what unionism looks like in the United States is bound to be radically altered in the coming years. Weiner does us a service by breaking the union framework down into its component parts. We need more writers doing this if we are going to have an informed debate about which parts are worth fighting to preserve, and which are overdue for replacement.

Respectfully, however, I would argue that the West Virginia strike was a wildcat. The political dynamics were essentially the same as in the ritualized contract bargaining of the post-war private sector. Union leaders were in the position of “bargaining” with the governor over a legislative fix to pay and healthcare. They took a deal that was reasonable enough in order to demonstrate their own reasonableness to the bosses.

When the rank-and-file rejected that settlement by continuing to stay off the job, the strike became a wildcat. Official union leaders continued to represent the interests of the striking workers and helped harness the continued strike into an even bigger win—all while presenting themselves to politicians as the reasonable negotiators who could help them get the teachers back to work.

That the strike happened in the first place is thanks to a good deal of self-organization among segments of the rank-and-file, aided in no small part by e-mail and social media. Because two unions—affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—vie for members across the state like pre-NLRA unions used to, this rank-and-file rebellion appears to have whipsawed the competing union leaderships into a one-upmanship over who could more effectively lead the strike and claim credit for the win.

This example does suggest one model for a new unionism, rooted in our recent past.

Should we have more wildcat strikes?

I recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post on the Janus vs. AFSCME case about how agency fees, which are directly challenged in this case, have historically been traded for the no-strike clause. I’ve been making variations of the same point at In These Times for over two years, but this time it’s created a bit of a stir.

Some commentators are beginning to recognize that an anti-union decision in Janus could spark constitutional and workplace chaos that could make messy protests like the West Virginia teachers’ strike a more regular occurrence.

If deprived of agency fees, it is probable that some unions will cede exclusive representation in order to kick out the scabs, or “free riders.” And one wonders how much longer private sector unions in right-to-work states will continue to slog through unfair NLRB elections in order to “win” the obligation to represent free-riders, instead of embracing Charles J. Morris’ theory that the original 1935 process for card check recognition of minority unions is still operational and demanding “members-only” bargaining.

That trend would inevitably lead to new worker organizations rushing to poach the unrepresented workers left behind. Some would likely compete by offering cheaper dues or by cozying up to management. Others would vie for members and shopfloor leadership by railing against disappointing deals. This will be messy. As in the pre-NLRA era, workplace competition between unions may not produce lasting union contracts.

But it will also make a guaranteed period of labor peace impossible—and that could lead to more strikes like the West Virginia wildcat. Through Janus, right-to-work and the renewed open-shop offensive, the bosses have made clear that they’re not interested in labor peace. Let’s give them what they want.

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 13, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Shaun Richman is a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.


Legislation from DeLauro and Clark Would Strengthen Protections for Tipped Workers

March 13th, 2018 | AFL-CIO Now

As we reported in January, President Donald Trump’s Department of Labor is proposing a rule change that would mean restaurant servers and bartenders could lose a large portion of their earnings. The rule would overturn one put in place by the Barack Obama administration, which prevents workers in tipped industries from having their tips taken by their employers. Under the new rule, business owners could pay their waitstaff and bartenders as little as $7.25 per hour and keep all tips above that amount without having to tell customers what happened.

An independent analysis estimates this rule would steal $5.8 billion from the pockets of workers each year. A whopping $4.6 billion of that would come out of the pockets of working women. This is bigger than simply the well-deserved tips of restaurant workers. This is another example of extreme legislators, greedy CEOs and corporate lobbyists uniting in opposition to working people. They want to further rig the economic playing field against workers, people of color and women.

Last week, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) offered up legislation that will strengthen protections for tipped workers and secure tips as the property of the workers who earn them. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta indicated that he will support Congress’ legislative efforts to stop companies from claiming ownership over tips instead of the workers who earn them.

Hundreds of thousands of you already have spoken out, sending comments of opposition to the rule straight to the Labor Department. It’s time for us to take the next step together. We can hold Trump’s Department of Labor accountable and make sure that Congress hears our opposition to this ridiculous and unfair change. Take action, and tell Acosta to support amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act that will secure tips as the property of workers and oppose Trump’s rule legalizing wage theft.


OSHA to Employers Who Violate the Recordkeeping Rule: No Problem!

March 12th, 2018 | Jordan Barab

Fewer than half of all employers required to send their injury and illness information into OSHA last year sent in the information. “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was expecting about 350,000 summaries to be submitted by Dec. 31, the agency numbers provided to Bloomberg Environment March 7 show. Instead, employers required to participate submitted 153,653 reports, OSHA said.”

The so-called electronic recordkeeping regulation, issued under the Obama administration, intended the information to be used by OSHA to help target the most dangerous establishments, and the information would be posted to help employers compare themselves with others in their industry, and to inform workers and the public about employers’ safety records.

Employers with 250 or more employees, as well as worksites with 20 or more employees in high hazard industries, were required to send in their annual summary report — the OSHA Form 300A — by December 15, 2017.

But despite this huge crime wave, and a warning from Tom Galassi, OSHA’s director of enforcement, that “Those employers that were required to submit records and failed to so do may be subject to citation,” it seems likely that most employers who failed to comply with the law will receive no more than a slap — or maybe a slight caress — on the wrist. According to a memo sent to the field, employers are only subject to enforcement if OSHA begins an inspection before June 15 — six months after the December 15 due date for the submissions. If an employer is found not to have submitted the information — but gives it to the inspectors when they arrive — the employer will receive an “other than serious” citation, but no penalty.

Given that employers are required to provide that information to OSHA inspectors at the beginning of every inspection anyway, it’s hard to see what the downside of not complying is. 

Given that employers are required to provide that information to OSHA inspectors at the beginning of every inspection anyway, it’s hard to see what the downside of not complying is.

The memo also states that if the employer did not submit the 2016 data, but has already submitted the 2017 data, again, no penalty. The only way an employer can earn a penalty is if they refuse to give the inspector any data. The maximum penalty is $12,934, although it is highly unlikely it would reach that level. If the employer can show that the information was not sent due to technical difficulties, no citation would be assessed.

Former OSHA head Dr. David Michaels who issued the original regulation, said in an interview with Bloomberg, “OSHA is making a serious mistake. By not making meaningful efforts to enforce this legal requirement, OSHA is encouraging law-breaking employers, most likely those with the highest injury rates, to ignore OSHA’s regulation.”

Indeed. One wonders why even have a regulation if there is no penalty for ignoring it. The Trump administration and its business overlords have expressed their displeasure with the regulation, especially OSHA’s original intention to post the information, and is considering rolling back the next phase which would require more detailed information to be sent to OSHA.

Industry attorneys speculate that the reason so many employers are not complying is because they’re confused about whether they’re covered, or they thought OSHA would postpone the requirement again (after several previous postponements), or that they feared sending in information would increase their chances of getting inspected (which it would, if they have a poor record.)

Or maybe they just thought that this law-and-order administration doesn’t really take enforcing the law seriously.

The 2017 data is due to OSHA by July 1, 2018.

But then again, who cares?

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on March 9, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).


Ready to fight sexual harassment? Call Tina Tchen.

March 9th, 2018 | Jessica Goldstein

The Grammys had a sexism problem.

Perhaps you’ve heard: That only one woman, Alessia Cara, won a televised award at this year’s ceremony; that the only female nominee for album of the year, Lorde, was not offered a solo performance slot, even though all her fellow male nominees were; that sexual harassment and violence were as inescapable in the music industry as an earworm from which even the biggest pop stars on the planet were not immune; that the numbers were in, and the numbers were damning, making self-evident the truth that had been lurking all this time by revealing that women comprise just 12 percent of the total music creator population.

At first, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said that women who want to win more Grammys — as if the golden trophies at the end of the misogyny rainbow were, alone, the issue at hand — could solve this problem all by themselves if they were just willing to “step up.” Amid calls for his resignation, Portnow slid back from his comments, and after his apologies were made, he announced the creation of an independent task force “to review every aspect of what we do as an organization and identify where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.”

And then he called Tina Tchen.

Because if you are really ready to reckon with the sexism in your industry — that is to say, you realize it’s not merely some minor inconvenience but rather a systemic, rampant, seemingly incontrovertible crisis — then that is what you do.

Tchen is who Hollywood turned to when, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations and its aftershocks, it was well past time to get organized and act. Tchen is a co-founder of Time’s Up, the formal Hollywood initiative to combat sexual harassment and assault within and outside the entertainment industry, which launched on New Year’s Day. She’s leading the legal defense fund, which provides subsidized legal and PR support to those who have experienced sexual harassment or violence in the workplace.

She is the attorney corporations employ when they are ready to do more than the perfunctory sexual harassment trainings, when they realize that sexism has crossed a line — namely, the bottom line, because a company that cannot attract and retain women is one that cannot complete in a global marketplace — and want to change.

Tchen was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and, before that, an assistant to President Barack Obama. (Tchen affectionately refers to the former FLOTUS as her “forever boss.” No offense, 44.) She spent a couple years as the director of the White House Office on Public Engagement, then worked with the president to create the White House Council on Women and Girls, on which she served as executive director. And all of that followed a 23-year legal career in which she rose through the ranks to become a partner in corporate litigation at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the firm she joined after she graduated from Northwestern Law School and went to undergrad at some school outside Boston.

What might appear at first glance to be a bug in a resume longer than a CVS receipt (zero experience in the music industry) is, according to Portnow, a feature: “The fact that she lacks business ties to the music industry ensures her objectivity as chair,” he said in a statement. “In this moment, the Recording Academy can do more than reflect what currently exists; we can help lead the industry into becoming the inclusive music community we want it to be -— a responsibility that the board and I take seriously. Tina Tchen is an accomplished advocate for women and an impact-oriented leader versed in convening disparate stakeholders for a common purpose.”

A week before the Recording Academy announced Tchen’s appointment, Tchen met with ThinkProgress to talk about her work with the Time’s Up legal defense fund and combatting institutionalized sexism, something she has been doing all her life. Literally, all her life: When she was born, her father, who immigrated to the United States from China with Tchen’s mother, was in denial that he didn’t get the son he’d hoped for and insisted Tchen was a boy for days. (He came around.)

We spoke at the Washington D.C. outpost of her new firm, Buckley Sandler, in the World Wildlife Fund building, a few floors above President Obama’s post-White House office. Arriving especially polished for an ordinary Tuesday afternoon — “I did a little CNN on Time’s Up earlier today,” she explained, laughing. “That’s why I have CNN hair and makeup.” — Tchen dug into how the Time’s Up legal defense fund will work, what tackling workplace sexual harassment at work really entails, and why, in spite of everything, she does not think the solution is to burn it all down. As she sees it, this very moment “is probably the best opportunity we’ve had in generations to make these changes.”

I want to start with the latest data, that you’ve heard from over 1000 people–


And you’ve raised over $20 million. I’d like to talk through that because it seems both incredible and like a logistical challenge.

Right. Logistical challenge! (laughs) We knew once we launched on January 1st that there would be calls. But I’m not sure we realized how big a volume and across how many industries. The amazing thing about the 1600 requests is they cover, like, 60 different industries. From construction to police officers to hotel workers to government employees. So it really does validate something many of us have thought for a long time: This is very pervasive, and unreported, and it doesn’t know any boundaries in terms of geography or age or even gender or industry. That’s proving to be the case.

“Sexual harassment is the symptom at the end of the road, and the road starts with: What do our workplaces really look like?”

So we’ve done several things, knowing there would be a lot of volume. The National Women’s Law Center, which is the home of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, is staffing up. So there will be dedicated staff. In the meantime, my law firm, Buckley Sanders, and several others, have been sending lawyers over there to help answer the phones and help do the screenings, so that we have the capacity. Because we knew we wanted to answer the requests as they were coming in. So of the 1600 requests, over 1,000 have already got information about lawyers they can call, and they’re in the process of getting representation.

So you’re essentially the field office and ultimately their cases are handled locally?

It’s more than that. We’re really a clearinghouse. We’re a place centrally that people can call if they need help. We’re a place centrally where attorneys can volunteer to take cases, either at a pro bono or reduced fee. And we serve as the clearinghouse as somebody calls for help, figuring out, who are the three or four lawyers in that geography who we can give that client that information?

One of our base principles is, we want the clients to always be able to make their own decisions and be empowered to do that. So the client and the lawyer make their own decision, at the end of the day, of whether they’re going to actually work together to pursue the case, or sometimes people just need advice as to whether they even have a claim or not. Sadly, for a lot of people because of statutes of limitations which are so short, they might not actually have a claim, but they need to have someone walk them through that so they can figure out what their rights are.

How do you determine — is there some kind of hierarchy of who gets the resources that you have and the money that you have? Because there’s a lot of it, but it’s not this bottomless well.

No, and anyone who knows about legal bills, even $21 million isn’t going to go far when you’ve got thousands of cases out there. So one thing is, we’re continuing to fundraise. $21 million is not the cap by any means. The GoFundMe page is still going strong.

“There are still lots of ways to mentor, to be friendly — I mean, I’m a hugger in the office and I still hug lots of people! — without abusing the relationship that you have as the person who controls their career, and their job, and their work environment.”

We’re developing criteria for funding. Of all of the cases that have come in so far have been accepted and linked with lawyers, not all of those cases will necessarily get funded, because we don’t have enough funding for every case. So the NWLC has been working on criteria for how to prioritize cases — how to divide up the money. How much is fair to give per case. This really hasn’t been done before at this scale, so it’s not like we had a lot of examples to work on. But they’re doing a very thoughtful process of developing those criteria.

The closest thing that I can think of is when, after a natural disaster, the Red Cross gets all this money and they have to decide how to divvy it up among people. Do you feel like you then end up in the business of quantifying how bad someone’s experience was?

No, I suppose for a hurricane you might! But here, it will be more around, probably, kinds of activities. We’ll set an amount for, if you’re investigating a case you can get up to this amount. [All the lawyers] are going to have to do it for a reduced fee. We need a very, very discounted fee in order to make sure there’s enough money to go around. And this is a charitable enterprise; no one is in this to make money.

So it’ll probably be by different activity stages of cases: For investigation, a cap up to this amount, for pre-trial discovery. It probably breaks up more like that. It’s not really up to us to decide the specific severity of the cases, and in fact, we can’t really get in that business because a lot of the information to evaluate cases should be privileged. The Legal Defense Fund is not the lawyer for these clients. We’re helping link them up with a lawyer. But how they decide to prosecute the case, and how weak or strong the case is, is really up to the client and his or her lawyer.

Obviously you came to this with so much knowledge already about the scale of sexual harassment and violence in this country. I’m curious what, if anything, has been surprising to you about the emails or calls you’ve been receiving, the responses you’ve been getting?

I think we’ve all been — we’re all still surprised by the breadth. We intellectually knew: We think it’s everywhere. But the idea that we have over 60 different industries among the 1600 folks who’ve called in the first month and a half, that surprised us.

I am not an employment lawyer so I don’t do this every day, so I was surprised, knowing what I do know — which is that we have Title VII, and happily we’ve had Title VII protections under employment law for going on three decades, and it provides for recovery of attorney’s fees when you win the case — so I actually, foolishly thought a lot of these cases already had lawyers, but that people who were speaking out and were getting sued for defamation didn’t have lawyers. I thought we’d have more of those cases.

And we do have a lot of those cases, where people who are speaking out — even though their cases were a long time ago — against people who are rich and powerful who have the resources to sue them, they’re on the defense side, and those cases don’t generate any fees.

“It’s a little bit like bringing your work home: Bringing the outside gladiator that you have to be into the workplace when you’re actually people’s bosses, not their opponent.”

But I am surprised at the number of cases, for example, of low-income women who have been unable to find a lawyer, even though there is the potential for recovery of attorney’s fees at the end, because they don’t make enough and therefore, the recovery’s not very big, so it would be spending a lot of time for not a lot of money. I was surprised at how many people who are out there, who have sexual harassment claims, who still can’t find a lawyer. And of course, we always knew that Title VII doesn’t cover small employers. There are lots of categories of kinds of workers who aren’t covered by those kinds of protections.

One of the things that’s been frustrating to see unfold in the reactions to movements like Time’s Up is this, “Well, I guess you can’t date at the office anymore! I guess you can’t flirt with your waitress anymore!” How do you react to that and respond to that? 

We are all worried also, by the backlash. It’s “don’t flirt with your waitress” and it’s “don’t take a female associate on a business trip.”

Right: Don’t mentor young women, Mike Pence rules at dinner.

And what I say is, that’s completely, obviously, the wrong reaction to this. The issues here aren’t about mentoring folks or relationships. Some of this is kind of easy! This is workplaces and how you should behave in a workplace, and the way you behave in a workplace is different from how you behave in a social setting. And that, when you’re the boss, you are always the boss. And you have a power relationship with the people who work for you, and you have to treat them appropriately and with respect.

There are still lots of ways to mentor, to be friendly — I mean, I’m a hugger in the office and I still hug lots of people! — without abusing the relationship that you have as the person who controls their career, and their job, and their work environment. So I think the lines are not that hard to find. But we do have to talk about it more. I think the problem that we’ve had is we don’t talk about it enough to make sure people understand the distinction, and we haven’t allowed people to also voice when they’re uncomfortable so that people can understand. Most people, if you say you’re uncomfortable, they’ll respect that. But we haven’t had a culture where it’s been okay to say, “Well, that doesn’t make me comfortable.”

It also seems that in some of these industries, especially creative industries — I think about somebody like Harvey Weinstein. There’s this pairing of, you get to be a jerk if you’re effective, if you’re a creative genius. Or that those two things are linked in some way: That the kind of outlandish, violent behavior is somehow connected to being an effective boss. You of course have worked for the Obamas. I can’t imagine that working for first lady Michelle Obama involved her belittling her employees in any way.

Right, right.

Why do you think that myth persists?

I did 23 years at a big law firm. I’ve had clients who were some of the biggest companies in the country. And I do think — not the Harvey Weinstein, the most egregious sexual assaults that are involved there, but I do think when you talk about things like verbal abuse and bullying that happens in the workplace, that’s not uncommon. And it’s often tied to, “That’s what you have to do to succeed in the workplace externally.”

If you’re in a pretty competitive industry — you’re a salesperson having to sell a lot against competitors — there are a lot of professions, like my profession, I have to go fight it out in court with people for my clients. That’s what my clients expect. That’s what I know I should be doing to be successful for my clients. But, in a lot of times, I think what happens — and again, we haven’t talked about it enough — is that toughness that you have to succeed at external, to your own workplace, gets translated to how you’re behaving in your office.

It’s a little bit like bringing your work home: Bringing the outside gladiator that you have to be into the workplace when you’re actually people’s bosses, not their opponent. And a lot of times we don’t train people well enough to be bosses, and how to manage people, and a good manager doesn’t manage the folks who are working for them in the same way I would approach an opposing counsel in a case. So we need to learn some of that behavior: How to manage differently, how to mentor differently, and how to be successful in very tough, competitive situations, in a way that doesn’t bring that tough competitiveness back to your own workplace.

I hesitate to give President Trump any credit for this moment that we’re experiencing right now. But it does feel like, as a culture, there are enough people who are angry enough that something like Time’s Up is even happening at all, and that we’re still talking about something that was sparked by a news story that broke in October in what might be the most headline-competitive environment we’ve ever had. I’m curious what you think is fueling that continued attention and passion on the part of the general public.

Here’s who I think we have to credit for a lot of that, and that, quite frankly, is the really brave individuals who are coming forward. And they’re still coming forward at some personal risk, and I think what we’ve not seen in past circumstances when this happened is that volume of outpouring of people feeling empowered to also talk about what happened to them. Those stories, and the proliferation of them, and the wide diversity of stories and the wide diversity of workplace situations, has, I think, kept it going. Because there’s a different industry and work situation with every news cycle. A lot of credit has to go to those folks.

“Nobody knew who Anita Hill was before she started testifying, and many people still, to this day, don’t know who she is. Millions of people know who these women in Hollywood are.”

And I do think the fact that it started with the women in Hollywood, who are very familiar people. In the past, people who would speak out, people didn’t really know or recognize or relate to. Nobody knew who Anita Hill was before she started testifying, and many people still, to this day, don’t know who she is. Millions of people know who these women in Hollywood are. I give them a lot of credit for being willing to use their celebrity, and to continue to use their celebrity, with each passing moment as they continue to speak out, to keep this issue in the forefront. I think that has been contributing a lot. Because people see them on their televisions at night, and see them in the movie theater. They relate to them — they feel like they have a relationship with some of these actresses. And that, I think, has really made people tune into this issue in a way that they haven’t tuned in before when the people making the allegations, which were also horrific, were not people that they knew or thought they knew.

It does feel, too, like people — in ways good and bad — are just closer to the edge than we were two years ago.

Here’s the other thing: Social media, we forget that it’s become such a fabric of our lives. We forget what it was like to spread news around or tell personal stories in a way that got the attention of folks. Before social media, there wasn’t really a vehicle for it. When Anita Hill was testifying 26 years ago, even if somebody had wanted to do Me Too then, there was no platform in which the average person who did identify with her could give voice to that in a meaningful way. (Editor’s note: Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement in 1997.

We’re in an age right now, also, where that ability for people to see something that affects them personally, and also join in and speak out publicly about it, to have that seen by thousands of people very quickly, it gives a great power to all of these social change movements.

As much as you’re seeing that the volume of this conversation is so huge, as you say, and more people are participating in it than ever before, is there anything that you think is not being talked about in this arena that should be? Or is there anything you think is being misunderstood?

I want to always make sure that, when we talk about sexual harassment, we can’t just focus on sexual harassment itself. Sexual harassment is the symptom at the end of the road, and the road starts with: What do our workplaces really look like? To really combat sexual harassment, it’s not just: Fix our policies, do some training, and discipline some folks. It is really: Build workplaces that are more truly diverse and where everyone is treated with respect and feels safe. And that is all about addressing core structural issues around how we organize work.

That’s something I’ve been talking about since I was in the White House, with our Summit on Working Families. (Disclosure: The White House Summit on Working Families was co-hosted by the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at the Center for American Progress.) It’s something I’m building a practice here at Buckley Sandler around, which is helping companies build workplace cultures that are more supportive.

Because that’s really how you’re going to solve the problem of sexual harassment, is if you have true diversity in the workforce with women and people of color in leadership as well as in other levels within the company, that you have a workplace culture and a set of conduct that is acceptable that you set by the tone at the top, by the corporation’s heads, that say: This is the kind of company we want to be, this is the kind of workplace we want to have.

Taking those steps will not only, I think, reduce incidences of sexual harassment or, when they occur, we’ll have systems in place that respond to them appropriately. It also will benefit companies. We’ve seen plenty of the data that shows that companies that are more diverse have better returns on investment, they make better decisions, they have lower costs of turnover from their staff. And we now also see — what the current news stories are showing us — the risks to the entire enterprise if you don’t address these issues appropriately. Because you will have the problems that we’re seeing now and they can lead to real damage to your business model and to your company.

What I do hope we can get to is talking about these broader workplace issues as well, and not just the sexual harassment part. Because it doesn’t happen in isolation.

I have a feeling, given your work, that your answer to this question will be no. But because I sometimes feel this way, I want to know if you do, too: When you look at the scope of this problem and you think, okay, to deal with gender discrimination at work, we’re going to have to deal with gender discrimination all over, because we can’t suddenly expect people to skip into their cubicle and be better there than we are everywhere else — do you ever just feel like, we have to burn it all down?

Well, no. (laughs) Maybe it’s our age difference! But no. No, because I’ve seen how things can change. I know so many companies that have gotten better, that have set real different tones, that are in the process of seeing real diversity come through in their senior levels.

“Women are now 50 percent of the workforce. They graduate at a rate that’s 20 percent higher than men, in the United States. So if you want the most talented workers, you need to have a workplace that’s going to attract women as workers.”

I also really believe that the world economic system, and the global economy, and competitiveness, and the demography of workers, is all working in our favor. Meaning that women are now 50 percent of the workforce. They graduate at a rate that’s 20 percent higher than men, in the United States. So if you want the most talented workers, you need to have a workplace that’s going to attract women as workers. And globally, if we want to compete — the U.S. economy — we’re going to have to get better than being one of only two countries in the world without a paid family leave policy, because companies will move off-shore. They’ll get competition from overseas, if we don’t make sure that our workplaces are fully meeting the needs of 21st-century workers.

So all of the external forces driving the population and driving the economy are working in our favor, meaning, the companies that respond on these issues well will be able to respond to the environment that is changing. So it’s a great opportunity. It’s probably the best opportunity we’ve had in generations to make these changes.

You’ve been a part of an administration that sees these issues the way that you do. How does it feel now to be doing this work at a moment when it’s really the opposite messaging coming out of the White House?

Well, one of the things that we’ve known, even when we were in office in the White House, we didn’t have Congress for much of our administration. Therefore, some of the big federal policy changes, like passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, dealing with some of these workplace issues that have to be dealt with statutorily, we’ve confronted for now, several years, the fact that we would not be able to change federal paid leave policy, for example. So for a long time now, I have thought that the best way to change is for companies, employers, workplaces of all sectors, to voluntarily start instituting these changes.

We also have employers that are stepping up and making changes. That’s another part of Time’s Up as well: We’re all about trying to make sustainable change. I think you’ll see more and more companies who are voluntarily providing paid leave, that are changing the composition of their boards to make them more diverse and get more women on them, promoting more women into C-suite. All of those are things that we are starting to see movement on and that we’ll continue to see progress on by the end of the year.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about this all happening organically because I am very curious about: What is the meeting like? Are you just in this room with Oprah, and Shonda Rhimes, and Gwyneth Paltrow? It’s the Illuminati meetings, but just the women!

You know, there’s a great energy. There’s a great support. I’ve been in a lot of meetings with women — because that’s what I do, I’ve worked on women’s issues my entire adult life. So I’m used to the wonderful energy that you get when you’re sitting around a table with the shared experience women have, and trying to make some positive change. For a lot of the actresses, and some of them have said this publicly in interviews, they didn’t really know each other. Their experience is more like being the only woman on set. We, I think on the outside, think: Oh, it’s the Hollywood community!

Right, that they all hang out.

That they all hang out together on a Saturday night. Apparently, not so much! So these meetings have been a wonderful opportunity for them to have that experience that I have had elsewhere, and that’s great for them. They have found a whole new support network for themselves, which is terrific.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 7, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor of ThinkProgress.


Women Deserve a Raise

March 8th, 2018 | Sheva Diagne

Today is International Women’s Day, and there is no better time to lift up the role unions play in achieving economic equality for women. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently released a brief, titled The Union Advantage for Women, which quantifies the benefits of union membership for working women, and the numbers don’t lie!

 IWPR estimates that the typical union woman makes a whopping 30% more per week than her nonunion sister. The benefits of unions are greatest for women of color, who otherwise face stronger economic barriers than their white counterparts. Latina union members make an estimated 47% more than Latinas who are not union members, and the union wage premium for black women is about 28%. For comparison, the union difference for men overall is not as large; union men make about 20% more than nonunion men.

So what’s behind the union advantage? When working women come together (and with our male allies), we are able to bargain for the wages we deserve, robust benefits, and respect and dignity on the job. Outside of the workplace, unions fight for state and local policies such as paid sick leave, family and medical leave insurance, fair schedules, and raising the minimum wage—all which disproportionately benefit women and their families.

Ladies, we deserve a raise! And it starts with a voice and power on the job.


The Lesson From West Virginia Teachers? If You Want to Win, Go on Strike.

March 7th, 2018 | Miles Kampf-Lassin

For many years now, observers have been ringing the death knell for the U.S. labor movement. West Virginia teachers haven’t just pumped life back into that movement—they’ve reaffirmed the fundamental principle that the key to building power and winning is for workers to withhold their labor.

On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill passed by the state legislature that will provide a 5 percent raise for teachers and school personnel. The deal reportedly also includes a 5 percent raise for all state employees, though that will have to be finalized through an upcoming budget bill. The state has also agreed to set up a task force to address the increasing costs in teachers’ healthcare plans—a key issue for striking teachers.

While the details on how the pay hike would be funded were not immediately clear, what is certain is that the prolonged strike has forced that state’s hand—and teachers have won major concessions that will directly improve the lives of workers across the state.

A remarkable strike

The strike in West Virginia has been astonishing from the outset. Since Feb. 22, more than 20,000 teachers in all 55 counties took part in what became the longest statewide strike in West Virginia’s history. The mass action was led not by union leadership but by rank-and-file members who refused to accept a compromise proposal last week and continued to rally at the capitol in Charleston every day, demanding an increase in pay and healthcare protections. They were joined by other public-sector workers standing in solidarity with striking teachers. And teachers benefitted from goodwill and support from the public, which helped make their protest all the more effective.

All of this has taken place in a state that does not officially recognize collective bargaining or the right to strike. Teachers in West Virginia have proven that even under hostile conditions for labor, winning is possible when workers are willing to take risks and stage dramatic and militant actions. This is a lesson that will become all the more important following the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could defund public-sector unions across the country.

The strike sent political shockwaves throughout West Virginia, halting other business at the capitol and catapulting the struggle for labor rights into the public eye. Workers draped in red—a callback to the state’s history of mineworker activism—stood on picket lines and held mass rallies across the largely rural state for nine days. The potential effects of the strike on other workers around the country are already beginning to come into focus.

Starting to spread?

Just days after the West Virginia strike began, teachers across the state of Oklahoma announced their intention to walk off the job in order to win higher pay. As is the case in West Virginia, Oklahoma teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation and are similarly prohibited from striking by state law. Yet following West Virginia’s lead, 41,000 Oklahoma teachers could be on the picket lines within weeks, and some teachers are already contemplating a wildcat strike without the official consent of union leadership. Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, tells Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson that while some teachers may have previously been reticent to engage in a walk-out, the West Virginia strike “has given them an emboldened sense of purpose and a sense of power.”

On Feb. 26, graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign launched an ongoing strike to protect tuition waivers and make the university accessible to low-income students. On that same day, teachers in Jersey City, N.J. voted to authorize a strike over increasing healthcare costs.

And the militancy is not limited to educators: On March 4, 1,400 Frontier Communications workers in West Virginia and Virginia walked off the job to demand a fair contract including increased job security.

Labor’s onslaught

The spirit of defiance and disruption fueling these worker-led actions is a welcome development for a U.S. labor movement that is increasingly under attack. In addition to the threat of an unfavorable ruling in Janus, the Trump administration’s labor department has been hard at work rolling back workers’ rights, including allowing bosses to pocket their workers’ tips, opening the door to the spread of unpaid internships, making it easierfor employers to pay women and minority workers less, and refusing to defend an Obama-era rule that would have provided overtime protections.

Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board, now stacked with Trump appointees, has repealed a slew of rulings that had previously buoyed union organizing. As Mark Joseph Stern reported for Slate, “Taken together, this spate of decisions will hinder millions of employees’ abilities to unionize and bargain collectively.”

This onslaught comes on top of state-level efforts to curtail the power of labor unions. Twenty-eight states already have “right to work” laws on the books, and the Janus case could, in effect, spread these laws to the public sector in the remaining 22. These laws, allowing union members to “opt out” of paying dues, have been shown to weaken the power of labor unions while undermining their ability to protect and bargain for their members. They also lead to lower wages: Research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that wages are 3.1 percent lower in “right to work” states for both union and non-union workers alike.

The push by many states to privatize public services and starve public budgets of funding through austerity measures has put public-sector workers at greater risk of seeing their jobs disappear—and left them fighting over scraps when it comes to pay and benefits.

Walk off to win

The teachers’ strike in West Virginia is a prime example of how workers can organize and win in the midst of such an anti-labor climate. Rather than agreeing to accept a meager 2 percent pay increase previously signed by the governor, teachers channeled their anger and frustration into collective action. By banding together and refusing to work, the teachers exerted monumental pressure on the state government and won a pay increase more than double what had been on offer a mere two weeks before.

This is the kind of victory that proves why strikes work. Teachers and all workers who are considering walking off the job to win demands can look to West Virginia and say, “it worked for them, so why not for us?”

Winning a 5 percent pay raise is already a triumph, but if West Virginia teachers help spark more militant worker action across the country, the impact of their victory could be transformative—and just what an imperiled labor movement needs.

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is the Community Editor at In These Times. He is a Chicago based writer. miles@inthesetimes.com @MilesKLassin


New study reveals just how little Uber drivers make

March 6th, 2018 | ThinkProgress Staff

2017 was a rough year for Uber. The ride-sharing giant was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandalIts CEO resigned. It admitted to underpaying its drivers in New York City, was fined $20 million for making false promises to its drivers, and was banned from one of its biggest overseas markets.

In response, the company has found itself in nearly full-time damage control mode and scrambling to win some positive publicity. Its latest community-orientated offering is the promising Uber Health, which allows medical facilities to book Uber rides for patients who don’t have access to reliable transportation. The program does not require the patient to have access to the Uber app or even a smartphone, according to TechCrunch.


Acosta to Defend DOL/OSHA Budget Tomorrow

March 5th, 2018 | Jordan Barab

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing tomorrow morning at 10:00 am on the FY 2019 Department of Labor Budget. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta will testify.

Ticked Off About Tipping

This should be a rather lively hearing for Acosta. Among the top issues he will be grilled on is the Department’s failure to publish an economic analysis of its tipping rule when it was proposed earlier this year. You may recall that DOL’s Wage and Hour Division apparently hid an economic analysis from that was intended to back up their reversal of an Obama era regulation that would have allowed restaurant workers to keep their tips.  Not publishing an economic analysis is a no-no when trying to change or eliminate a regulation — especially when you’re doing it just because you don’t like what the analysis says.

Members of Congress were not amused. Senator Elizabeth Warren has sent a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta saying she is “alarmed and angry” about at the report that DOL hid the results of their economic analysis and requested copies of all final and interim economic analyses, a list of DOL, OMB and White House officials who received copies of the analyses, and all e-mails related to the analyses within the Department of Labor, and between DOL and the White House.

OSHA Issues

There are a number of workplace safety and health issues that members can be expected to discuss with Acosta.

Beryllium Standard Delay: OSHA announced earlier this week that it was delaying enforcement of the beryllium standard by two months for all workers, and that it was putting into effect its weakening of protections for construction and maritime workers even before issuing a final standard that would have put the rollback into law.

Elimination of the Susan Harwood Training Grants: This is, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again.  Trump proposed to eliminate this highly successful program last year and the House agreed. The Senate, however, refused — on a bipartisan basis — to eliminate the grants, and although we still don’t have a final FY 2018 budget, it looks like the program will survive another year.

Last year Acosta testified that the elimination of the $11 million Harwood grants was being made up for with a $4 million increase in the federal Compliance Assistance budget.  This year they’re only proposing to add $3 million to the Compliance Assistance Budget. Despite Acosta’s failure in basic arithmetic, Harwood grants do different things than hiring more Compliance Assistance Specialists or expanding VPP, as I explained last year.

The Susan Harwood Grants, on the other hand, provide money to non-profit organizations — colleges, labor unions, business associations, community groups — to provide direct, hands-on training to workers about the workplace hazards they face and their rights under the law.  The organizations that receive Harwood money often focus on “vulnerable” workers — like day laborers, immigrants and others who work in high hazard occupations and who are difficult to reach by OSHA. This is a very different audience than the CAS’s talk to and the programs perform a very different function. In addition, Harwood grantees are required to conduct sophisticated evaluations to ensure that their training programs are effective. Grantees also produce worker-oriented training materials that are publicly available. Some of the program’s success stories can be found here.

Expansion of VPP: The FY 2019 budget proposes adding $3 million to add Compliance Assistance Specialists, who had been cut in previous years due to budget limitations, and an addition of eight staff to work exclusively on the Voluntary Protection Programs.  The agency “anticipates approving 155 new VPP sites and re-approving 395 sites in FY 2019.”  And, as we’ve explained before, although VPP has always been a favorite program of Republican administrations, the program has faced significant integrity and funding issues over the past several years. Congresspersons may want to ask about the outcome of the two stakeholder meetings that OSHA held last year to discuss problems with the program.

They may also want to ask why the President would want to add more of OSHA’s scarce resource to a program that helps the best companies get better, instead of investing that money in enforcing the law against the bottom-feeding employers who cut corners and endanger workers.

Regulatory Agenda: There are a number of important standards on OSHA’s regulatory agenda that seem to be Missing in Action. Two of them address serious hazards faced by our front-line health care workers: infectious diseases and workplace violence.  The next step for infectious diseases is a proposal. Although a Request for Information was issued last year for workplace violence, the agency hasn’t even announced a date for the small business (SBREFA) panel yet — the first major step in the regulatory process.  Aside from a final standard weakening the beryllium standard for construction and maritime workers (see above), and weakening of the Obama administration’s electronic recordkeeping regulation  the only step on a major standard in the budget proposal is a SBREFA panel on a cell tower worker standard.

And, of course, the Representatives may want to ask Secretary Acosta if OSHA has figured out which two worker protections the agency will take away in order to comply with Trump’s “1 in/2-out” Executive Order if they go forward with the cell tower standard or any of the others.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on March 5, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).


West Virginia Teachers Are Now Out on a Wildcat Strike. The Labor Movement Should Follow Their Lead.

March 2nd, 2018 | Kate Aronoff

In a bright spot among an otherwise bleak landscape for labor, over 15,000 teachers and school support employees in all 55 West Virginia counties have been out on strike for seven days, as they and supporters from around the state continue to flood the capitol in Charleston, W.V., demanding higher pay and affordable healthcare.

Bucking a deal struck between the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) and the state government, school workers have defied both union leadership and state law, which affords them no right to strike and does not recognize their right to collectively bargain. These restrictions haven’t stopped West Virginia educators from leading what may be one of the most important labor actions in years.

With “right-to-work” laws spreading across the country, and a Janus Supreme Court decision that could decimate public-sector unions on the horizon, striking teachers are offering a blueprint for how to win when the odds are stacked against labor: Strike, win and then keep striking to win more—no matter what union leaders say.

The walkout in West Virginia has now become what’s known as a wildcat strike: A mass work action carried out by the rank-and-file and without the express consent of union leadership. On Tuesday, after agreeing to a five percent raise for teachers and three percent raise for other public-sector workers, WVEA leaders declared victory. But the rank-and-file weren’t having it, breaking out into chants of “We are the union bosses!” and “Back to the table!”

As union members pointed out following the announced “deal,” the pay raise would not protect teachers from the rising costs of the state employee health plan, administered by the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA). Plans have become increasingly expensive over the last several years, all while teacher pay has remained low, currently ranked 48th in the country.

Media outlets announced that classes statewide would be back in session by Thursday, but dissatisfied union teachers decided to stay out on strike. As of Friday, schools in all 55 counties in West Virginia remain closed, and the strike carries on.

In some ways, it makes sense that Appalachian workers may be showing the way forward to fight the boss in the era of Trump and Janus. While this is the first statewide action for teachers and school support workers, West Virginia has a long history of rank and file militancy—under conditions far tougher than those facing workers today.

In the early 20th century, miners in Appalachia faced some of the most dangerous workplace hazards in any industry. While many miners around the country were unionized, largely by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), West Virginia miners attempted to organize a union for years, only to be met with violence and blacklisting. By 1919, conditions at mines around the country had reached a breaking point, and the UMWA declared a national strike. The fact that West Virginia coal mines were nonunion limited the action’s impact nationwide, leading the UMWA to commit to making serious inroads into the state.

Over the course of two years, the conflict between miners and mine operators in West Virginia escalated into what can only be described as a war. Some of the workers involved were fresh off of fighting in World War I, and applied their military training to form armed militias in order to ward off hired company security and industry-friendly local law enforcement. This period saw the Battle of Blair Mountain, a bloody conflict between coal miners, law enforcement and strikebreakers that became the largest labor uprising in U.S. history. The battle only subsided when federal troops were sent in, forcing both sides to lay down their arms.

On February 25, State Senator Richard Ojeda III—a vocal supporter of the teachers’ strike now running for a House seat in West Virginia’s 3rd District, which includes the state’s southern coalfields—wrote a long thread on Twitter connecting recent events back to West Virginia’s history as a site of labor struggle. Ojeda writes that the strike (known as #55strong, referring to the number of counties in the state) has become “a fight for the soul and spirit of West Virginia that started hundreds of years ago,” when “investors came to West Virginia and purchased most of the land for all but nothing.”

He notes the slave-like treatment that faced African Americans and immigrants who were brought in to work the mines, as well as the elaborate systems of debt peonage engineered by mine operators to keep workers dependent on their bosses. “So our miners decided they wanted to unionize,” Ojeda writes, “And they fought and died for that right in one of the largest labor uprisings in the United States.”

The same areas that were at the center of the mining wars—Mingo, Logan and Wyoming counties—are also some of the poorest in the state, and, as Cathy Kunkel writes at Jacobin, in early February they were among the first to stage one-day teacher walk-outs.

Throughout U.S. history, militant unionism and mass strikes have opened up the space for unions to make demands that reach far beyond the scope of the workplace. In the lead-up to the Battle of Blair Mountain, for instance, UMWA members talked excitedly about the prospect of shortening the workweek and nationalizing the mines. And it was the strength of organized labor—indeed, the threat of open revolt—that managed to put labor protections on the national agenda and get redistributive, worker-friendly programs enacted during the New Deal era and beyond.

While a slew of left-leaning candidates are running for office this year, it’s unlikely that progressive politicians alone will cleave open the space for transformative changes in the economy, or follow through on promises made on the campaign trail, without consistent outside pressure.

Teachers and nurses are two of the country’s most heavily unionized professions. They also stand to be hardest hit when right-wing politicians attack the public sphere. But even if the Supreme Court rules against labor in Janus, which could kneecap public-sector union budgets, strikes like the one being carried out by rank-and-file teachers in West Virginia can set a tone of militancy against austerity.

Such actions also have the potential to spur workers to lay out their own vision for a society that truly values working people, to which they can then hold politicians accountable. And they can help push union leadership to keep fighting, marshaling resources toward genuinely progressive ends rather than grasping onto whatever demands they can eek out of hostile state governments.

It’s not uncommon to hear union organizers say the most successful campaigns happen in the places where the fight is the hardest: where the bosses are jerks and the pay sucks. Under Trump and, likely soon, Janus, that may well soon describe the whole country. West Virginia workers past and present have offered one hell of a roadmap to navigate such a future.

 This article was originally published at In These Times on March 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kate Aronoff is a writing fellow at In These Times covering the politics of climate change, the White House transition and the resistance to Trump’s agenda. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff


Trump appointee's conflict of interest forces labor board to toss anti-worker ruling

March 1st, 2018 | Laura Clawson

A Trump appointee’s conflict of interest has bitten the Trump administration’s anti-worker agenda in the ass. The National Labor Relations Board has vacated its Hy-Branddecision after the agency’s inspector general said that board member William Emanuel should not have voted due to his conflict of interest.

Hy-Brand reversed an Obama-era decision which expanded rights for workers directly employed by staffing agencies or franchise owners—under Browning-Ferris, companies couldn’t escape responsibility for the workers in their factories or warehouses or restaurants just by making sure someone else signed the paychecks. If a company determined the terms and conditions of employment, it could be treated as a joint employer. That had major implications for the huge temp worker industry and for the heavily franchised fast food industry, too.

Emanuel voted on Hy-Brand despite his former law firm having been involved in the earlier case, and that vote and that conflict of interest proved a problem:

In a report issued Feb. 9, NLRB Inspector General David Berry said Emanuel should not have cast a vote overturning Browning-Ferris. While Hy-Brand involved different companies, Berry wrote that the way the NLRB handled it amounted to a “do over” in which the new case was “merely the vehicle” to reconsider the old one—which at the time was still pending in federal court. Berry said the issue revealed “a serious and flagrant problem and/or deficiency” in the NLRB’s handling of conflict-of-interest issues.

The order vacating Hy-Brand was issued by a 3-0 vote in which Emanuel didn’t participate, according to a statement Monday from the agency, which said the move was made “in light of the determination by the board’s designated agency ethics official that member Emanuel is, and should have been, disqualified from participating in this proceeding.”

“This is, so far as I’m aware, unprecedented,” said former NLRB chair William Gould IV, a professor emeritus at Stanford’s law school. “There is no decision on a matter of such high import that has been vacated based upon a breach of conflict-of-interest rules.”

Don’t doubt the determination of Trump appointees and the Trump administration generally to find ways to hurt workers—they’re likely to look for another chance at a do-over and the House has already passed a bill overturning Browning-Ferris—but it’s nice to see rampant corruption and conflicts of interest get in Team Trump’s way for a change.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on February 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.


Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog