Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The Next Big Grocery Strike Is Knocking on Safeway and Giant’s Door

February 20th, 2020 | Hamilton Nolan

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Last April, more than 30,000 Stop & Shop grocery workers across the Northeast won a raucous 11-day strike against the company, beating back health care and pension cuts. Now, another major grocery strike has become a serious possibility, this time in and around the nation’s capital.

On Wednesday, UFCW Local 400 announced that it will be holding a strike vote early next month for more than 25,000 workers at hundreds of Giant Foods and Safeway stores across DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The union has separate contracts with Giant and Safeway, but both of those contracts have been expired since last October. Negotiations in the ensuing months proved fruitless, and now the union is preparing for what could become the first large strike of 2020.

Giant is owned by Ahold Delhaize, the same European conglomerate that owns Stop & Shop. Safeway is owned by Albertsons, the national grocery holding company controlled by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. As is common in private equity deals, Cerberus is reportedly eyeing an IPO for Albertsons—placing great pressure on the company to spiff up its balance sheet, including labor and pension costs. Not coincidentally, those issues are now fueling the contract dispute that has brought these UFCW members to the point of a strike vote. In addition to pension cuts, the union says that the companies are pursuing cuts to health care funding, tight restrictions on benefit access for part time employees, and a plan to keep many new hires locked in a minimum wage salary for years.

Both Giant and Safeway workers are part of the same multi-employer pension, funded by the respective companies, meaning that they all have a direct financial interest in strong contracts at both stores. Albertsons and the UFCW are locked in a dispute over the size of the company’s pension obligations. Media representatives from the companies did not respond to requests for comment.

Michelle Lee, a cashier at Safeway in Alexandria, Virginia, has worked for the company for three decades, and now earns $21 an hour—which, she says, is “nowhere near where it needs to be, since I been there 32 years.” Despite her own seniority, Lee says that it’s important to her that the union contract look out for all employees, no matter how long they’ve been there. “Not just the old people, but we want to make sure new hires get the benefits and the hours they need to pay their bills and buy groceries,” she says. “A lot of workers are concerned… they’re not sure if they’re gonna get a pension. they’re scared their health care is gonna get cut.”

The same fears are present at Giant as well. Jeff Reid, a 12-year veteran in the Giant meat department in Silver Spring, Maryland who makes $16.75 an hour, says that pension security is the most important issue for him. “People work 20, 30 years for the company, you want to have something when you retire,” he says. “You don’t want to be choosing between prescriptions and food.” Lee says that his coworkers are aware of the Shop & Stop strike–and the success it had–but that he is “absolutely, unequivocally” ready for a strike himself.

Still, any strike would be a hardship on workers earning grocery store wages. The UFCW has spent recent weeks urging Giant and Safeway workers to prepare for the possibility by getting in as many work hours as they can and taking care of medical and dental needs now. Should next month’s strike vote succeed and a strike actually happen, it would become an attractive magnet for political support from prominent Democrats. Steven Feinberg, the billionaire cofounder of Cerberus, is close to the Trump White House, and was tapped by the president to lead his intelligence advisory board. Such a grand imperial position would provide a convenient contrast between the company’s owner and the thousands of workers on the picket line, many of whom would be fighting for the right merely to earn more than minimum wage.

“Most of the people I talk to are angry with the company. They make the company billions of dollars,” says Safeway’s Michelle Lee. “We gotta do what we gotta do. If we have to go on strike to have a better life in the long run, then that’s what we need to do.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

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Labor's civil war over 'Medicare for All' threatens its 2020 clout

February 19th, 2020 | Ian Kullgren

Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Alice Ollstein“Medicare for All” is roiling labor unions across the country, threatening to divide a critical part of the Democratic base ahead of several major presidential primaries.

In union-heavy primary states like California, New York, and Michigan, the fight over single-payer health care is fracturing organized labor, sometimes pitting unions against Democratic candidates that vie for their support.

“It’s a discussion at every single bargaining table, in every single union shop, every single time it’s open enrollment and people see their costs going up,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, a vocal single-payer advocate and one of a number of union officials who spoke to the divide.

The rift surfaced last week, when the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union declined to endorse any Democrat in this week’s Nevada caucuses after slamming Bernie Sanders’ health plan as a threat to the hard-won private health plans that they negotiated at the bargaining table. But the conflict extends well beyond Nevada.

On one side of the divide are more liberal unions like the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union, which argue that leaving health benefits to the government could free unions to refocus collective bargaining on wages and working conditions. On the other side are more conservative unions like the International Association of Fire Fighters and New York’s Building & Construction Trades Council, which don’t trust the government to create a health plan as good as what their members enjoy now.

“It’s an extremely divisive issue within the labor movement,” said Steve Rosenthal, a former political director for the AFL-CIO. “Nobody’s opinions will be changed during the presidential nominating fight, and unions may well be divided over Democratic candidates until the end.”

In New York, the New York State Nurses Association and Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union pressed hard in 2018 for a state single-payer system. But other unions, including the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, joined forces with private health insurers to kill the bill, funding polling to show opposition to the tax increases needed to implement it and writing op-eds calling the plan a “folly” that would “send jobs and people fleeing” the state.

Now some of those same New York labor leaders are saying much the same about Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sanders’ Medicare for All plans. Gregory Floyd, president of the Teamsters Local 237, called the policy a “disaster” and predicted that few of his 24,000 members will vote for a candidate who supports it. Floyd declined POLITICO’s request for an interview, but said his opposition to Medicare for All is “based on what is best for our members.”

In California, the aggressively pro-Sanders California Nurses Association has long pressed for state-level single-payer, to the point of circulating in 2017 an image of the state mascot, the California grizzly bear, with a knife in its back after the state Assembly leader shelved a single-payer proposal.

The union’s parent organization, National Nurses United, is deeply involved in the 2020 race — endorsing Sanders, criticizing any candidate who doesn’t embrace Medicare for All, and sending armies of members and supporters to phone banks and doorsteps in all 50 states to press for a House vote on single-payer. Earlier this month, National Nurses United announced a new campaign to pressure presidential and congressional candidates to refuse donations from a health industry lobby group that’s spending heavily to kill any possibility of single-payer — a pledge most moderate candidates are likely unwilling to take in an election marked by record fundraising and spending.

Medicare for All is notably unpopular with swing voters in the battleground states of Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to a December poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Cook Political Report.

In Michigan, where 28 percent of the electorate belongs to a union, and where Sanders stunned Hillary Clinton with an upset in 2016, unions have stayed largely silent on the issue. “There is very clearly a split between union leadership and the union rank and file,” said Eli Rubin, president of Michigan for Single Payer Healthcare.

According to a poll released in July by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, a 58 percent majority of “strong Democrats” favored Medicare for All but only a 48 percent plurality of Democratic-leaning voters. Among all voters, 52 percent opposed Medicare for All. Elderly voters (who turn up at the polls disproportionate to their numbers) were especially resistant, with 59 percent opposing single-payer plans.

Reflecting the divide is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a centrist Democrat who opposed single-payer during her 2018 campaign but has since vaguely said she supports the idea “in concept.”

Compounding this ambivalence inside the state is labor’s ties to health care. Leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Michigan Education Association, the United Auto Workers, and Teamsters serve on the board of Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurance company. Whitmer’s own father, Richard Whitmer, was the longtime president of Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the company was among the top donors to her gubernatorial campaign.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, the war over Medicare for All is in full swing in Nevada ahead of the Feb. 22 caucuses. Sensing an opening after Culinary 226’s public rebuke of Sanders, many of his Democratic primary rivals swiftly and loudly sided with the union, with some (Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg) emphasizing that they would give labor a choice of whether to keep the health plan they bargained for or switch over to a government-run public option, and with Warren promising that unions will be at the table when the details of overhauling the U.S. health system are hammered out.

But supporters of Medicare for All have successfully persuaded some unions to back the policy, or at least remain neutral. When Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) rolled out revamped versions of their single-payer bills in 2018, they did so with the official backing of the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, National Nurses United, the American Federation of Government Employees and others.

In an interview, Jayapal said her main argument to unions is this: Even if they fear the unknown, the current system is unsustainable.

“Look, I respect where they’re coming from,” Jayapal, the lead author of the House Medicare for All bill and the health policy chair of Sanders’ campaign. “They bargained hard and gave up wages for these health care benefits and they’re worried. But health care costs continuing to rise is a certainty. And when that happens, wages are going to decline.”

Local unions, which tend to be more outspoken than their national counterparts, are playing an outsize role in the 2020 race. That’s because so many national unions have thus far held back or pledged to remain neutral in the primary. It’s a backlash from 2016, when several big unions endorsed Hillary Clinton early on, only to witness a revolt from their rank-and-file members who supported Sanders.

With locals’ growing influence is a tendency for organized labor to balkanize its support. For example, the independent group Labor for Bernie said Tuesday that more than 1,200 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have signed a petition calling on the national union to retract its endorsement for Biden.

“I don’t know where these people are coming from,” said Rand Wilson, a co-founder of the independent group Labor for Bernie and an organizer for SEIU Local 888 in Massachusetts. “Do they go to the negotiating table? Because they’re on a different planet than me.”

But Nelson, who represents more than 50,000 flight attendants across the country, says Medicare for All supporters are only hurting their own cause when they criticize labor groups that aren’t yet on board.

“If you are not approaching this as an organizer and building a supermajority for this change, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “You have to open your arms wide and give space for everyone to share their concerns and ask questions, and you provide information and find common ground. You don’t shut down conversations.”

Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by Politico on February 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

About the Author: Alice Ollstein is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering the Capitol Hill beat. Prior to joining POLITICO, she covered federal policy and politics for Talking Points Memo.

Alice graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in D.C. ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2017, she was named one of the New Media Alliance’s “Rising Stars” under 30.

Alice grew up in sunny Santa Monica, California and began freelancing for local newspapers in her early teens. When not working on a story, she can be found riding her bicycle around the region, attempting to grow vegetables in her backyard, and playing with her nephews.

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Facing Retirement With Fear

February 19th, 2020 | Tom Conway

Glen Heck spent 28 years sweating in a Campti, La., paper mill that he likes to say was “hotter than nine kinds of hell.”

But now, Heck’s sacrifice may have been for nothing because his multiemployer pension plan is one of about 150 nationwide set to go broke. If that happens, the 78-year-old Heck will have to find a cheaper, lower-quality health plan and keep the beef herd he’s itching to sell.

The Democratic-controlled House passed—with bipartisan support—a commonsense plan to save Heck’s pension and those of another 1.3 million workers, retirees and widows. But Republican leaders in the Senate refuse to consider it.

In the meantime, the futures of workers and retirees like Heck hang in the balance. Many face retirement with fear instead of anticipation.

Multiemployer pension plans like Heck’s include workers from two or more companies in industries such as transportation, entertainment, construction and paper. Employers make contributions for workers as part of their compensation. Heck and others often give up wage increases or other benefits to fund those plans.

Many of the 1,400 plans nationwide are still healthy. But through no fault of workers or retirees, about 150 are struggling.

Recessions in 2001 and 2008 cut the plans’ investment earnings, and some corporations used bankruptcies to evade pension obligations. Deregulation forced less-competitive companies out of business, straining the plans’ resources.

Now, they owe more money to beneficiaries than they have coming in, and they’re at risk of collapsing. The PACE Industry Union-Management Pension Fund (PIUMPF)—Heck’s plan—is one of them. According to recent projections, the fund will be insolvent in as few as 10 years.

Under the bill passed by the House, the Butch Lewis Act, the Treasury Department would loan money to troubled plans. The plans would use the money to meet their obligations to retirees, and they would repay the loans over 30 years.

The federal government already has an agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), to pay benefits to retirees when multiemployer plans crumble. But it’s no substitute for the Butch Lewis Act.

PBGC provides only a fraction of the benefits beneficiaries earned. Also, so many plans are imperiled that the PBGC’s insurance program itself is at risk of collapse.

If plans fail, workers and retirees will lose as much as 98 percent of their benefits. The Butch Lewis Act would ensure that they receive the money they earned, not pennies on the dollar.

Heck, a former officer with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-1331 in Campti, knows widows of paper workers—one with a small child—who’d be financially devastated without their late husbands’ pensions. He knows a retiree with major health problems who’d have no way of paying medical bills without his pension checks.

“He’s just worried to death about it,” said Heck, who worked at the paper mill under a handful of operators, including current owner International Paper.

Cedric McClinton, president of Local 13-1331 and a technician at the paper mill, said pensions are the main source of retirement income for many workers and retirees. If those benefits get cut, there’s no easy way to make up the difference.

“You’re either looking at working longer—and who wants to work until you’ve got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel—or you’re looking at making concessions after you’ve worked all that time,” McClinton said.

Workers worry about downsizing their homes, giving up travel plans and going on government assistance programs.

“We talk about these things all the time,” McClinton said. “It’s real.”

Instead of passing the Butch Lewis Act to fix the pension crisis, Senate Republicans introduced legislation that would make the problem worse.

Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee want to increase the premiums that retirement plans pay PBGC—something that would push currently healthy plans into financial ruin and put more workers’ retirements in jeopardy. The added costs also would propel some employers into bankruptcy, costing workers their jobs.

Grassley and Alexander also want to increase taxes on pensions, taking a bigger slice of the benefits workers earned and imposing a greater burden on retirees unable to afford it.

Workers and retirees didn’t create the pension crisis. But Grassley and Alexander want them to pay for it.

“That’s mind-boggling,” fumed Travis Birchfield, who’s lobbied for the Butch Lewis Act on behalf of Evergreen Packaging workers represented by USW Local 507 in Canton, N.C. “We’ve done bailouts and tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and then working people can’t get a damn loan?”

Uncertainty gnaws at Birchfield’s co-workers. Some in their 60s are thinking about retirement, but hesitate because of the pension crisis.

“They’ll ask us, ‘what do you think is going to happen?’ We can’t answer those questions,” Birchfield said.

McClinton and Birchfield pounded the halls of the Capitol to share members’ stories and concerns. But Senate Republicans fail to get the message.

Pensions aren’t perks or “extras.” Workers earned these benefits, and they rely on that money being there during their golden years, just as members of Congress count on receiving taxpayer-subsidized pensions when they leave office.

Failing to pass the Butch Lewis Act means consigning 1.3 million Americans to meager retirements. Some will fall into poverty after supporting themselves all of their lives. Many already see their dreams slipping away.

These hard-working men and women deserve immediate Senate passage of a responsible bill that safeguards their futures.

“Nobody’s trying to get rich here,” Birchfield stressed. “We’re just trying to get our retirements.”

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on February 14, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

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2018 and 2019 hit a 35-year high for major strikes, this week in the war on workers

February 19th, 2020 | Laura Clawson

Large work stoppages, aka large strikes, had been on the decline for years. That turned around in 2018—going from 25,300 workers involved in major strikes in 2017 to 485,200 in 2018—and stayed relatively high in 2019, the Economic Policy Institute reports.

“Through 2017, the general trend was downward, but there was a substantial upsurge in workers involved in major work stoppages in 2018,” Heidi Shierholz and Margaret Poydock write. “On average, in 2018 and 2019, 455,400 workers annually were involved in major work stoppages—the largest two-year pooled annual average in 35 yearssince 1983 and 1984.” A significant number of them—10 in 2019—were really large strikes, involving at least 20,000 workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on February 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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The Oreo Workers Trump Betrayed

February 19th, 2020 | Stephen Franklin

Some labor struggles can feel like long, dramatic sagas: unexpected twists, broken hopes, valiant attempts to overcome unyielding giants. Michael Smith knows this tale well as a member of the small, beleaguered Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, BCTGM.

Smith lost his delivery job of 15 years in the massive 2008 DHL Express layoff, then fell into debt, lost his house, and skimped by on unemployment checks and any work he could find. He finally landed a $25-an-hour job on Chicago’s South Side in 2010, with pension and healthcare benefits, on a factory line at snack-foods company Mondel?z International (known at the time as Kraft Foods). The job was a union one, with BCTGM.

But Smith again found himself in the crosshairs of a massive layoff six years later, as Mondel?z announced it was shifting 600 jobs to a new factory, with far lower wages, in Mexico. At 58, Smith had four children, bills for prostate cancer treatments, and slim prospects for finding another decent factory job in Chicago. So when BCTGM launched a public campaign to pressure Mondel?z into bringing the jobs back, Smith agreed to become a spokesperson, and the union offered him a modest stipend. Smith could have signed up for federally funded job training instead, but he wanted to fight the union fight.

Smith and BCTGM have now been battling the $26 billion global behemoth for nearly four years. Back in 2016, presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both briefly took up the cause. Meanwhile, Mondel?z has sent hundreds of union bakery jobs to Mexico and dealt a blow to the union’s remaining 2,000 members by ending their guaranteed pension plan.

As a union, BCTGM has suffered. Automation, non-union shops, plant closures and offshoring in the bakery and confectionery industries have shrunk the union’s ranks from 115,000 members in 2002 to 66,000 in 2018.

Mondel?z, for its part, has been doing just fine. Most consumers know the company for its Nabisco products: Oreos, Ritz, Triscuits and more. After the snack giant spun off from Kraft Foods in 2012, it turned steady profits, returning $2.9 billion to its shareholders in 2014 as then-CEO Irene Rosenfeld took a 50% pay increase, to $21 million. To meet shareholder demand for continuing profits, Rosenfeld then embarked on an “aggressive cost-cutting plan.” Since 2015, the company has been shuttering plants and trimming labor costs.

In May 2015, BCTGM received a jolting offer from the company: Mondel?z would consider $130 million in equipment upgrades at the 62-year-old Chicago plant if the union accepted $46 million in annual wage and benefit cuts—a 60% cut in pay and benefits, the union calculated. If the union refused, the investment and jobs would go to a new multi-million-dollar plant in Mexico.

The union refused, hoping to deal with the issue when company-wide contract talks began in February 2016. Then, Mondel?z “stonewalled” on providing “cost comparisons” and information about the Mexico plant, says BCTGM International Strategic Campaign Coordinator Ron Baker. “There was no negotiation,” Baker recalls. (Mondel?z spokesperson Laurie Guzzinati says that all “valid requests for information” received a response “within a reasonable timeframe.”)

Mondel?z began layoffs in March 2016, saying the union hadn’t offered a proposal.

A veteran of United Mine Workers of America’s long battles with coal behemoths, Baker doubted that negotiations could convince Mondel?z to stay in Chicago—but he believed public pressure could draw sympathy over the loss suffered by workers at a plant that makes the Oreo, a truly iconic American snack.

Indeed, Trump had repeatedly brought up the Oreo saga as part of his campaign rhetoric about offshoring jobs. “I’m not eating Oreos anymore,” Trump said in New Hampshire in September 2015. “Nabisco is closing their plant, a big plant in Chicago, and they’re moving it to Mexico.” The plant remains open (it had never planned to close), but about half of its jobs were moved.

When Mondel?z began its first round of 277 layoffs in March 2016, BCTGM stepped up its boycott campaign against Mexican-made Mondel?z products, begun months earlier, and opened a makeshift office across from the factory. The union was counting on publicity from the 2016 presidential campaigns.

Clinton visited the union’s campaign office that March, meeting with Michael Smith and other workers, then with Rosenfeld, reportedly to urge a halt to the move. Nothing changed.

The union sent Smith and others across the United States to meetings, public rallies and media interviews to talk about the harm done by prosperous companies seeking cheaper labor overseas. At a June 2016 Democratic Party platform committee meeting in Washington, D.C., Smith appealed: “I am not a number, nor [is] my family, nor my neighbors, nor my coworkers … We are, however, victims of [the] global snatch-and-grab that has gutted our community.”

In visits to 25 college campuses, BCTGM reps urged students to boycott Mexican-made Mondel?z products and have their schools do the same (though the union is not sure whether any schools did). More than 280 U.S. religious leaders signed a letter asking Mondel?z to stop shipping jobs outside the United States. The boycott made headlines and the rounds on social media, though some critics pointed to the limited success of such efforts and the xenophobic potential of “buy American” rhetoric.

After Trump became president, the union was optimistic he would take up the fight from the White House. In 2017, BCTGM reached out to Trump directly but received no reply, not even a tweet. Ron Baker says Trump has done nothing to help the union since 2016.

The 2016 job loss landed like a hammer. By summer, 600 Mondel?z workers had been laid off—half the plant—though the company did begin callbacks to fill openings created by retirements, per the union contract, and kept the process in place after the contract expired, according to a company spokesperson.

According to the union, the majority of workers at the plant were over 40, and many came from families that had worked for generations at the massive Southwest Side Chicago factory, which was built in the 1950s and employed up to 4,000 workers in its heyday. In job-hungry Chicago neighborhoods, the union plant, with an average $27 wage, had been an oasis. Manufacturing, once a driver of Chicago’s economy, accounted for about 18% of the city’s jobs in 1994 and only 10% in 2017. Chicago’s Black communities were hit especially hard: The percentage of workers in factory jobs dropped from almost 30% in 1960 to 6.5% in 2017, while unemployment more than doubled, to 20%. Two-thirds of the laid-off Mondel?z workers were people of color.

Lisa Peatry landed a job at Mondel?z in 2013, after four different layoffs and closings, including the Kool-Aid plant that sent some work to Mexico in 2002. She was 50, living on her own after raising three children. She liked her job on the production lines because they were fast and she appreciated her coworkers. “There was a diversity of races and everyone got along,” she says. Peatry was laid off in March 2016. Unable to keep up with rent, she lost her home and has been staying with a relative.

Eventually, Peatry found a factory job at $14 an hour—a job that often left her crying nightly from its difficulty and the treatment she received from bosses—and then a better job at $18. She still wanted to return to her $25.43-an-hour job at Mondel?z, but the company stopped its recalls, stranding Peatry and about 100 others on the recall list.

After being laid off, former Mondel?z worker Salvador Ortiz, 49, signed up for English classes and hoped to do better than friends, who were finding $11-an-hour jobs. Talking about his future one day in May 2016, in the living room of a comfortable bungalow not far from the plant, his wife cried, saying their middle-class dream was over. Ortiz feared losing his house and car. More than a year later, Ortiz was recalled back to the plant, but had suffered financially, getting by on unemployment checks and $14-an-hour jobs.

When Michael Smith was called back to Mondel?z in March 2018, he found the working conditions had changed for the worse. Smith was on mandatory overtime almost daily, sometimes working a double shift, getting only four or five hours of sleep and never knowing when he could make a doctor’s appointment. Smith felt the company was in disarray. He was now running an oven, a new job for him that was uncomfortable because of the high temperatures. “It’s 120 degrees and it’s like I’m sitting in the oven,” he tells In These Times. (Guzzinati says mandatory overtime may be required more than once weekly, to accommodate workload.)

In May 2018, just over two years after the union contract expired, Mondel?z imposed part of its benefits cuts, switching Smith and his coworkers’ retirement benefits from a guaranteed pension to a 401(k) account. Mondel?z honored existing pensions but pulled its 2,000 remaining union bakery workers out of BCTGM’s multiemployer pension fund, committing to instead pay an early withdrawal fee of $560 million over 20 years. Mondel?z told workers it was thinking about their future: The multiemployer plan could collapse by 2030, the company warned.

But the union sees it as just another blow to one of the most troubled multiemployer pension plans, which has suffered since the 2008 recession. When Hostess Brands, once the fund’s largest contributor, closed and filed bankruptcy in 2012, the company left a $2 billion pension liability. By 2018, the fund had $7.9 billion in liabilities and only $4.1 billion in assets.

In 2018, Mondel?z CEO Dirk Van de Put earned $15 million. The median Mondel?z worker worldwide, meanwhile, is a part-time hourly employee earning $30,639, an income ratio of 489 to 1.

Preventing U.S. firms from outsourcing jobs was a drumbeat for the 2016 Trump campaign. “These companies aren’t going to be leaving anymore,” Trump declared in December 2016 in Indianapolis. “They’re not going to be taking people’s hearts out. They’re not going to be announcing, like they did at Carrier, that they’re closing up and they’re moving to Mexico.”

But Rosemary Coates, head of the Reshoring Institute, a California-based nonprofit, says that, rather than bringing jobs back to the United States, companies are increasingly looking for new places to send production. The latest reshoring survey by consulting company A.T. Kearney shows that imports of manufactured items to the United States from 14 low-cost countries have steadily grown for the past five years, indicating that offshoring continues.

The Trump administration has lauded tariffs and trade wars as a way to pressure companies into keeping jobs in the United States. Yet, as Tobita Chow, director of the Justice Is Global project at the People’s Action Institute (and member of In These Times’ board of directors), explains, this strategy has backfired. “Trump’s trade wars have raised costs, reduced demand, killed jobs in the United States and worsened working conditions across much of the Global South,” Chow says.

In Mexico, factory workers earn 40% less than those in China. Mondel?z’s new plant opened in Salinas Victoria, Mexico, in late 2014 and now has 1,800 workers, according to the company. But workers in Mexico have been pinned under a mountain of problems.

Most Mexican unions serve companies under “protection contracts,” in which the company actually picks the union and dictates contract terms, defanging worker movements before they begin. Protection contracts are often signed by unions when a factory has very few workers to actually negotiate. In October 2014, with just 20 workers at the new plant, Mondel?z signed a union contract that capped the top day rate at 200 pesos, about $14.90 per day. BCTGM eventually obtained a copy of the contract, which it called proof that the Mexican workers were victims of a protection contract.

According to an August 2017 ruling from the National Labor Relations Board, a Mondel?z official told an administrative law judge that its Mexican workers earned $7 an hour in wages and benefits. As for the union there, a Mondel?z official told In These Times that the 2014 contract was no longer in effect and disputed the “protection union” moniker.

Meanwhile, BCTGM continued pressuring Mondel?z to reshore its jobs. In May 2017, 17 Democrats in the U.S. Senate called on Mondel?z to hire back workers let go at its plants in Chicago and at its operations in Fairlawn, N.J., Richmond, Va., Portland, Ore., and Atlanta—but nothing happened.

In November 2017, BCTGM partnered with religious and union leaders to arrange a visit with Mexican union activists from different groups in Monterrey, Mexico. The union has since reached out to the independent Mexican Los Mineros union, which separates itself from Mexico’s more corrupt or compromised unions. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pushed through stronger worker protections, but implementing them will be a challenge as longstanding protection unions fear losing control.

Importantly, the new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada—passed in December 2019 with support from U.S. labor unions—is a blow to the protection contracts signed by corrupt unions, calling for union monitoring and access to bi-national panels for inspections triggered by worker complaints.

Mondelez and BCTGM remain in a stalemate over lost jobs and a lost pension plan. They have not talked in a year, each claiming the other has quit negotiations. Mondel?z’s stock is up more than 30% since May 2015.

BCTGM Strategic Campaign Coordinator Nate Zeff, who picked up the torch when Baker retired in 2018, says a new campaign will launch early this year and will involve mobilizing Mondel?z workers in Mexico.

“We are almost four years into this fight,” Zeff says. “Eventually, we are going to win.”

“The real solution to offshoring is not trade wars—it’s to raise standards for workers across borders,” says Justice Is Global’s Chow. “We can get there through international worker solidarity, not by pitting workers against each other across borders as Trump has done.”

Michael Smith, who now works at the Chicago plant, has his own strategy. Ever an optimist, he is writing to Trump to ask for his help saving pension plans like his.

“It’s an opportunity for him to own up to saying he would never eat Oreos again,” Smith says. “It’s only a hope. He is still my president.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on  February 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Stephen Franklin, former labor and workplace reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was until recently the ethnic media project director with Public Narrative in Chicago. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans (2002), and has reported throughout the United States and the Middle East.

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More Than 1,200 IBEW Members Call on Union Leadership to Retract Biden Endorsement

February 19th, 2020 | Hamilton Nolan

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On February 5, the 775,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers announced that it was endorsing Joe Biden for president. It was Biden’s biggest union endorsement campaign so far in his presidential campaign. This week, nearly 1,300 IBEW members who support Bernie Sanders sent a letter to union membership asking them to retract that decision.

The letter, from “IBEW Members For Bernie,” blasts the union’s leadership for endorsing Biden without a vote of members. “The leadership of the union had previously provided reassurance to the membership that they would trust the judgement of rank-and-file leaders and members to  represent their own interest in the 2020 presidential primary, and we are disappointed that the International has instead thrown their weight behind the Biden campaign without member consultation,” it reads. The letter says that those who sign it support Sanders’ “transformative vision for expanding the labor movement, as well as the democracy and the solidarity that his campaign embodies.” It concludes, “We are calling on the International Officers to immediately retract their endorsement and call for the rank-and-file to participate in a democratic endorsement process by participating in an in person vote at their March local union meeting.”

It is signed by more than 1,200 IBEW members from across the country, including dozens who identify themselves as officers or members of the executive boards of their locals. Signatures were still being added as of Monday night.

The existence of the letter is a result of the work of Sanders supporters within the IBEW, who began circulating it online and within local chapters shortly after the endorsement was announced. Mark Gardner, an engineer in Manchester, Connecticut and member of IBEW Local 457 who helped to organize the letter, said that it came in response to not just a disagreement over candidates, but also over the union’s undemocratic process. “I have been frustrated with the trend of union leadership’s endorsing the establishment candidates while rank and file votes generally go for Senator Sanders,” Gardner said. “We do not want IBEW leadership to switch their endorsement to Bernie, but to open the choice up to the rank-and-file and hold a vote during the local unions’ March meeting.”

Another Sanders supporter, Joe Ellerbroek, a member of IBEW Local 347 in Des Moines, Iowa, echoed those sentiments. “I was outraged when I learned what the international had done. I felt there was too much at stake to just ignore it and hope for the best, especially when we have this rare opportunity to transform the whole dynamic of the labor struggle. Turns out I wasn’t the only one,” he said.

For Biden, whose campaign is flagging after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, union endorsements are a key firewall against charges that the platform of “Middle Class Joe” is not the most attractive for the working class. Biden has been endorsed by the firefighters union, the Iron Workers, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, but the 775,00-member IBEW is his biggest prize. The union did not endorse a candidate this early in the past two Democratic primaries. “It’s not typical for the IBEW to endorse this early in the primary process,” the union said in its endorsement, “but this year there’s an urgency we haven’t seen in a very long time. Energy policies made today will reverberate for decades, and it’s paramount that we have a candidate for president who supports IBEW jobs and IBEW values.” The IBEW has been publicly skeptical of the Green New Deal, the ambitious climate change plan that Sanders, but not Biden, has backed.

Neither the IBEW nor the Biden campaign responded to a request for comment on the letter.

In organized labor, as in society at large, the 2020 Democratic primary is exposing the deep, latent divide between the left and the establishment. The IBEW is not even the first union in the past week to experience an intra-union uproar pitting progressives against moderates—members of Unite Here who back Bernie Sanders circulated a similar internal letter for signatures last week after the Culinary Workers union in Las Vegas warned its members in ominous terms that Bernie Sanders wanted to “end” their health care plan. Already, both national and local unions are choosing sides in what amounts to a proxy war for the soul of the Democratic party. The ability of factions like the IBEW Members for Bernie to successfully exercise power against much more conservative union leadership will determine the posture of the entire labor movement long after the 2020 election is over.

Read the full letter here.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

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“I Would Love Medicare for All”: A Nevada Culinary Union Member on Why She Supports Bernie Sanders

February 19th, 2020 | Rebecca Burns

Bernie Sanders is leading in the Nevada polls, but he faces a major obstacle: One of the most powerful actors in state politics has come out swinging against his signature proposal—Medicare for All.

The 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union announced last Thursday that it will remain neutral in the Democratic primary this year. But in the past week, the union has sent out a series of communications to members warning, both directly and indirectly, that Sanders’ plan threatens its hard-won healthcare benefits.

One flyer circulated by the union read, “Some politicians promise … ‘You will get more money for wages from the company if you give up Culinary Health Insurance.’ These politicians have never sat at our bargaining table … We will not hand over our healthcare for promises.”

Sanders’ opponents have seized on the opening to double down on arguments for preserving private health insurance—a position the union shares.

“There are 14 million union workers in America who have fought hard for strong, employer-provided health benefits,” tweeted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “Medicare for All Who Want It protects their plans and union members’ freedom to choose the coverage that’s best for them.”

Billionaire Tom Steyer, meanwhile, has started airing an ad in Nevada telling voters that “unions don’t like” Sanders’ healthcare plan.

Known nationally as a standard-bearer for militant workplace organizing, the Culinary Union hasn’t just won healthcare benefits—it runs its own 24-hour healthcare center and pharmacy, exclusively for members.

But some members are disillusioned that the union is flexing its muscle against a healthcare policy they believe could deliver a windfall to unions by freeing them to focus on other issues at the bargaining table.

In These Times spoke to Marcie Wells, a shop steward with Culinary Workers 226 who has worked at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville inside the Flamingo Hotel and Casino for 16 years. Wells discussed Medicare for All, the union’s endorsement decision and her support for Bernie Sanders.

There was a lot of speculation as to whether the union might still endorse Joe Biden. What was your reaction to the decision not to endorse anyone in the primary? 

[Union leaders] said early on that they were not sure if they were going to endorse. When they called this press conference, everyone expected that they were going to go ahead and endorse Biden, because they already said they weren’t endorsing. So why would you put together all that just to repeat yourself?

The literature they put out the night before was not so subtle. It had the words “one, two, three,” and three candidates in order [Editor’s note: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are listed first on the flyer]. Everyone knows in the caucus, you rank your top three choices. But they’re not officially endorsing.

I think it sends mixed signals, and it’s disappointing that they’re not being straightforward.

Did the union poll members about the endorsement?

No, they didn’t. Typically, I get called for those types of things, because I’m a shop steward.

Talking one-on-one, a lot of members want Bernie. But when we’re in the setting of citywide meetings or things that are exclusive to shop stewards, there’s a clear message that, “the person who wants Medicare for All wants to take away our hard work.”

It’s disappointing as a progressive.

At a town hall the union held with Sanders in December, some members heckled over the issue of healthcare. Can you describe what you saw happen?

At this type of event, all the questions are planned. When Bernie started talking about healthcare, almost on cue, a group started chanting, “Union healthcare! Union healthcare!”

When a speaker said, “I don’t want to give up my insurance,” I yelled back, “I do!”

But aside from what felt like a staged protest, Bernie got a great reception, people were cheering. I mean, he’s the frickin’ union guy.

The culinary union has the reputation of having some of the best healthcare in Las Vegas. How well does it work for you?

Relatively speaking, it is some of the best. But it doesn’t work well for me, because I have chronic illness. I have ankylosing spondylitis and bilateral uveitis that’s recurring. I’ve had this condition since high school, and I’ve been misdiagnosed, delayed diagnosed, not believed as a Black woman, told that I was exaggerating my symptoms.

Most recently, my eyes were so inflamed that my eye doctor called a rheumatologist in the Culinary network, and she wasn’t going to be able to see me for 7 months. I had to do a GoFundMe to pay for a doctor outside of my network so I could not go blind.

I don’t think the private insurance market is good for people with chronic illnesses, and I think it’s pretty ableist to pretend that it is. If I’m waiting 8 months to see a specialist but I’m having symptoms throughout that time, nine times out of 10 I’m going to get fired for missing work. And to even start getting that insurance in the first place, you have to work 360 hours within a certain time frame.

There’s also a copay every time I go to a specialist. More likely than not, I’ll skip something most months. I would love Medicare for All right about now.

Why do you think the union has come out so strongly against Medicare for All?

I think there’s a conflict of interest there. We have a labor union, and a political lobby with a PAC, and a healthcare business, all wrapped up in one.

They built the Culinary Health Center, so that’s theirs. Word on the street is they’ve already paid for the parcel of land to build the next one. So they’re in the business now—they’re the establishment to an extent. So I think capitalism is the reason that they’re coming out against Medicare for All, and it’s just really troubling.

Nevada’s uninsured rate is 14%, and there are big racial disparities in who doesn’t have insurance—in Nevada it’s indigenous people, Black people, Latino people. Medicare for All is a racial justice issue. For the union to have an 80% demographic of [people of color] and be pulling this, it’s just unbelievable. I’m disgusted.

Do you think the messaging against Medicare for All will impact how members vote in the primary?

That’s what’s shitty about this whole thing. Some of these people are going to vote against their best interest because they trusted the Culinary Union.

But a lot of members do want Bernie. The younger members, the members whose young kids are getting them involved. I think I flipped a dishwasher the other day. So we’re all doing our best, but it’s just disheartening that we’re fighting against both the GOP and the union.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Burns is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The Baffler, the Chicago Reader, The Intercept and other outlets. She is a contributing editor at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.

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The Longest Strike in America Needs a Political Savior

February 13th, 2020 | Hamilton Nolan

Image result for Hamilton NolanThe longest ongoing strike in America today is happening in the media capital of the world. It involves the people who install and repair the cables that bring the news to many of the most influential people in America. But after three long years, the Spectrum workers of New York City are beginning to feel as though everyone has forgotten about them. For those who soldier on, the fight has become much bigger than a contract dispute. It is a fight that can only be won with a wholesale reimagining of public control over corporate power.

From the very beginning, the strike has been a battle of attrition far more than it has been a negotiation. By the time Charter acquired Time Warner Cable in 2016 and rebranded it as Spectrum, the company’s 1,800 unionized cable technicians, members of IBEW Local 3, could sense trouble. “Leading up to that time, we saw changes happening in the company, where they went away from customer service,” says Troy Walcott, a 20-year Spectrum veteran and a union shop steward. “They were doing things for increasing stock prices, as opposed to customer service.”

The new owners struck a hostile pose towards the union. They showed little interest in meaningful contract negotiations. Workers say that Charter also began imposing stricter disciplinary rules, and making changes in the metrics used to evaluate employees and in internal training programs, making it harder to advance within the company. They also seemed to show less interest in long-established union-negotiated procedures. “Their attitude was: Do what I say, and you can grieve it later,” says Chris Fasulo, a Spectrum technician since 2010. “If we said, ‘I can’t drive this truck, it has a broken windshield,’ they’d say, ‘Do it, and you can file a grievance.’”

In March of 2017, at odds over retirement and health benefits, the union went on strike. The company proceeded to hire outside contractors to do the work of the technicians, and the two sides remained doggedly opposed. After a year, the company launched a bid to decertify the union, using a former supervisor who the union says dropped into the role of a technician in order to file a challenge, trying to convince workers to give up on union representation entirely. That decertification attempt, marked by claims of coercion and unfair labor practices, remains mired in the bureaucratic morass of the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, the strike drags on.

It is hard to be on strike for a week. It is hard to be on strike for a month. To be on strike for three years is superhuman. As the calendar has turned, Spectrum workers have exhausted strike funds, exhausted their savings, and become desperate. Some have crossed the picket lines and returned to their old jobs. Estimates among workers vary, but they say that close to half of the original strikers are still out. Those who hold the line do whatever they can to survive. Troy Walcott, who does not have any kids to support, drives Uber. But as a shop steward, he hears all of the stories of suffering. “You see people losing their homes, losing their cars, losing their jobs, losing their relationships with their wives, breaking down constantly… the longer it stretches out, the harder it gets for people,” he says. “When I get those calls, it affects me like it was me.”

This is the reality for workers striking against a company that wants to break the union. The choices are grim: Cross the picket line, pursue part time hustles in hopes of a resolution, or get a new full time job—starting over from square one, even if you’ve had decades of experience as a Spectrum employee. Every option is painful. Chris Fasulo loved his job. “When you go out and get some old lady’s phone working, it puts a smile on your face,” he says. This month, for the first time, he came close to being unable to pay his mortgage. The memory of the good times helps him carry on. “Sometimes you feel  a little lonely, but you’ve got to have faith. I put everything into this strike.”

It is clear that the Spectrum strike will not be won with a little more time, or a few more picket signs. Shaking the company’s intransigence will require political power. The workers are putting their hopes in two plans: First, they hope to torpedo the franchise agreement that New York City grants Spectrum to operate in the city, which is up for renewal this summer. While there is ample political reason to kick Spectrum out of a city that famously bills itself as “a union town,” such a move would certainly spark a legal fight, since franchise agreements are supposed to be renewed on the basis of the company’s ability to provide adequate service, rather than serving as political referendums on cable companies, all of which are more or less despised by the public. Laura Feyer, a deputy press secretary in the New York Mayor’s office, says that “this Administration strongly supports the striking workers,” but adds, “Like all cable franchise agreements, Spectrum’s is governed by federal law, which has strict guidelines regarding when a franchise can and cannot be renewed.” (A Spectrum spokesman noted that “hundreds of former strikers” have returned to work, and said “we are in compliance with our New York City franchise.”)

It is not like the company has a sterling record and high popularity among its cable customers. In fact, the New York attorney general’s office in 2018 reached a $174 million settlement with Charter for misleading customers about internet speeds. Those charges, though, could not be used as a basis for not renewing Spectrum’s cable franchise. It will be difficult to convince the City of New York to kick out Spectrum when there are few other attractive options for providing cable service to the city’s millions of customers.

And that is where the union’s other idea comes in. The striking Spectrum workers are proposing a “public option” for cable service—a publicly owned internet service provider in New York City, run by the Spectrum workers but owned by a million New Yorkers, who would collectively provide the capital for the new venture. The Spectrum workers envision rebuilding the city’s infrastructure and running the company as a co-op, under the auspices of Bill de Blasio’s much-touted “Internet Master Plan,” which aims to make broadband service universal. It is an idea with undeniable appeal, considering how universally despised cable companies are by consumers. But the same could be said about socialized medicine. It’s making it a reality that’s the hard part. The mayor’s office calls it, rather noncommittally, “an interesting idea that the Administration will look into.” Until there is a realistic line on billions of dollars of investment capital, it is hard to see the public option as a near-term solution to the daily pain of the Spectrum strike.

A group of several hundred cable workers, gutted by three long years of financial and personal sacrifice, cannot have a fair fight with a roughly $111 billion telecom company. The Spectrum strikers are a case study in how stark the differences are between traditional local union power and the power of a modern mega-corporation. In December, they held a rally on the steps of New York City Hall, marking 1,000 days on strike. They were joined by a host of local and state politicians vowing to support them. But talk is cheap. Unless the Charter/Spectrum franchise in New York is actually rejected, or a serious financing campaign is mounted for the costly “public option,” the outlook for those who have stuck with the strike is bleak. It is a gut check for the power of the modern labor movement. How much political and economic pressure can working people really bring to bear?

“What do you do when the corporation says F you?” asks Troy Walcott. “They’re tearing us down little by little. If we don’t start to revamp and change the way we’re fighting back against them, we’re gonna lose.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

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Labor Unions Were Crucial in Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire Victory

February 13th, 2020 | Jeff Schuhrke

Sen. Bernie Sanders has emerged victorious following the nation’s first Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday. The win further solidifies Sanders’ position as the frontrunner in the race to take on President Trump in November’s general election.

Sanders was propelled to victory in the Granite State with help from a broad coalition of grassroots activist networks and community organizations, including Rights & Democracy New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Youth Movement and the Sunrise Movement. Campaign volunteers knocked on 150,000 doors across the state this past Saturday alone.

Another crucial player in Sanders’ New Hampshire coalition: organized labor. One of the state’s largest unions—the over 10,000-member State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire/SEIU Local 1984—endorsed the Vermont senator last month. Since then, the union’s members have been door-knocking and phone-banking for Sanders, and the local’s union hall in Concord has been used as a staging area for canvassers.

“Senator Sanders not only talks the talk about building a fair economy but has been walking the walk his whole career,” SEA/SEIU Local 1984 president Rich Gulla tells In These Times. “He’s somebody you can trust. He hasn’t just said, ‘ok, I’m running for president and this is what I think people want to hear.’ He believes in what he’s doing.”

Gulla explains that last September, Sanders joined a rally of nursing home workers in Brentwood, New Hampshire who were trying to unionize with SEA/SEIU Local 1984.

“What impressed me about him, he didn’t once talk about his run for president,” Gulla says. “He engaged the employees there and got them talking about why they wanted to unionize. Before he left, he pulled folks aside and kind of gave them a pep talk. He was speaking from the heart.”

A few days later, the nursing home workers successfully voted to join the union.

Another major New Hampshire union endorsement for Sanders came in December from the statewide organization of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), as well as APWU Local 230 in Manchester.

“What I appreciate about Bernie more than anything is that he gets the interconnectivity between problems,” says Janice Kelble, legislative director of New Hampshire APWU. “He’s been a huge advocate of postal banking, which is a win-win. It helps people in communities that don’t have banking available and helps strengthen the Postal Service. It solves a number of problems at once and he seems really good at doing that with a lot of issues.”

Kelble says APWU members were canvassing and phone-banking across the state, as well as attending campaign rallies, debates and town halls to show their support for Sanders.

Nationally, Sanders has been endorsed by the United Electrical Workers, National Nurses United, the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the national APWU. He also has the backing of the Clark County Education Association—the largest teachers’ union in Nevada—along with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which went on strike last January with Sanders’s support.

Over the past year, Sanders has repeatedly used his platform to draw attention to union battles large and small across the country. Using its expansive contact lists, his campaign has called on supporters to join workers on picket lines and at rallies. Through his Workplace Democracy Plan, which would remove the many legal barriers to unionization, Sanders aims to double union membership if elected president.

Meanwhile, ahead of the February 22 Nevada caucus, the leadership of the influential Culinary Workers Union of Las Vegas Local 226, has begun flooding its membership with a flyer attacking Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. The union, which runs its own health insurance program, is warning members that Medicare for All would “end” their healthcare—parroting talking points that moderates such as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have employed in the Democratic race.

Labor leaders like Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, have come to the defense of Medicare for All, noting that by guaranteeing healthcare to everyone and removing it as a subject of contract negotiations, unions would be in a more advantageous position when bargaining over other issues like wages, paid leave and workplace safety.

“Bernie’s behind the labor movement. Not just when it’s popular. He’s marched on our picket lines, he’s helped us organize, he’s championed our legislation in Congress. He’s got a 30- or 40-year track record,” Rand Wilson, an organizer with SEIU Local 888, tells In These Times. “To ignore that and support other candidates that just mouth the words is almost disrespectful to a person who’s been that much of a friend to labor and who’s got that much to offer.”

Wilson is an activist with Labor for Bernie, a network of Sanders supporters in the labor movement. Started in 2015 during the senator’s last run for the presidency, Labor for Bernie’s mission is to educate workers about why Sanders is the best candidate—and to help rank-and-file union members encourage their unions to endorse him.

“He’s best positioned to energize a movement, particularly of millennials and the youth who are going to be key for the ground game, key for the door-knocking and phone-banking and texting and rallies that will shape this election,” Wilson explains, adding that Sanders is also “the only candidate to actually take votes away from Trump’s base.”

Kelble says she thinks a lot of people voted for Trump in 2016 “because they were looking for somebody who wasn’t going to do business as usual” and “decided to take a chance with somebody who was talking about how much he cared about their issues.”

“Well, they were dead wrong about Trump and we’ve suffered a lot of disasters because of it,” she continues. “Hopefully this time voters will have the opportunity to select somebody who’s really going to be there for us. I can’t remember ever having the opportunity to elect an advocate for working people like we do today.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

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The Trump Budget: The Other Shoe Drops

February 13th, 2020 | AFL-CIO Now

When Congress passed a nearly $2 trillion tax cut for corporations and the wealthy in 2017, we warned that the obscene cost of this tax cut bill would be used as a pretext to cut programs that benefit working people.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) said at the time that the 2017 tax bill was:

Nothing but a con game, and working people are the ones they’re trying to con. Here we go again. First comes the promise that tax giveaways for the wealthy and big corporations will trickle down to the rest of us. Then comes the promise that tax cuts will pay for themselves. Then comes the promise that they want to stop offshoring. And finally, we find out that none of these things is true, and the people responsible for wasting trillions of dollars on tax giveaways to the rich tell us we have no choice but to cut Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education and infrastructure. There always seems to be plenty of money for millionaires and big corporations but never enough money to do anything for working people.

Now those predictions are coming true, as President Trump has released his new budget plan for the coming year.

The president proposes to cut $2 trillion from safety net programs, which is about the same amount as the cost of the 2017 tax bill. His budget plan would cut $1 trillion from Medicaid and subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. The Labor Department gets whacked by $1.3 billion. Adjustment assistance for people who lose their jobs to imports is slashed by nearly $400 million, and a program to help U.S. manufacturing companies create jobs is eliminated. The budget plan also eliminates subsidized student loans and the public service student loan forgiveness program.

While supporters of the 2017 tax bill promised it would benefit working people, almost all of its benefits have gone to corporations and the wealthy, and very little has trickled down to working people. Paychecks are still flat, and too many working people still have to work more than one job just to make ends meet. Wages grew by only 0% in September, -0.1% in October, -0.1% in November and -0.1% in December, when adjusted for inflation.

To make things worse, the president’s budget proposes another tax cut that goes disproportionately to the wealthy?—extending the tax cuts from the 2017 tax bill for another 10 years at a cost of $1.4 trillion over the next decade. Two-thirds of these tax cuts would go to the richest 20% of all taxpayers. Here we go again.

They keep running the same play because it keeps working. Since 2001, the wealthiest 1% of all taxpayers have gotten $2 trillion in tax cuts, and federal tax revenues have been reduced by $5.1 trillion. This is money that should have been used to make life better for working people?—for example, by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, funding quality public education for every child and guaranteeing retirement security for our seniors?—rather than building up the fortunes of the 1%.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on February 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

 

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