Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for April, 2019

The Stop & Shop Strike Is Showing There’s Still Power in a Union

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Roughly 31,000 employees of the northeastern grocery chain Stop & Shop have been on strike for nearly a week across more than 240 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The workers, represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), walked out on April 11 after voting to authorize the strike in March. During what is reportedly the largest private sector strike in three years, talks continued Tuesday, with neither side able to make an agreement.

Stop & Shop is owned by Ahold Delhaize, a retail company based in The Netherlands. Ahold Delhaize is a $44 billion company, and it’s saved millions thank to the corporate tax breaks implemented by the Trump administration. Workers say that, despite these numbers, Stop & Shop is attempting to cut employee pensions, raise the cost of healthcare and roll back overtime pay. They’re also concerned about the company’s rising use of automation, which many believe will lead to inevitable layoffs.

The workers have received vast support throughout the community, while the stores have been forced to scrape by with temporary staff in many areas. An employee named Temika who works at a store in Providence uploaded a Facebook video detailing what the current state of the store. “I had a family member go in today and just take a look around,” she said, continuing, “It looked terrible. The prepared foods, the deli, the seafood department, the bakery—everything was shut down. The tables looked exactly the way they looked the day [everybody went on strike], which means they haven’t been rotating anything.”

The current state of Stop & Shop should be a legitimate concern for the company. The Southern California grocery strike of 2003 to 2004 led to the establishment of new grocery chains and customers shifting their allegiances after they began shopping at different stores. The same trend could very well impact New England. Customer Gail Zulla told a local news station that she used to shop at a Providence location of Stop & Shop but had been picking up her groceries at the local rival Shaw’s. “It’s the busiest I’ve ever seen a Shaw’s in my life,” she said, “It’s like it’s a snow storm. There’s no bread, there’s nothing.” She said she’ll take her business elsewhere while the strike is underway, adding, “maybe I’ll stay at Shaw’s.”

When In These Times spoke with UFCW Local 1445 political director Jim Carvalho last month, he said that the union was hoping other workers would be inspired by the actions of the Stop & Shop employees. This appears to have born out. The striking workers have received solidarity from faith groups, other unions and local lawmakers. Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen of Beth El-Keser Israel in New Haven told The New Haven Register, “Any food purchased by crossing a picket line or from scab workers is not kosher for Passover.” The Teamsters Council 10 has stopped picking up trash for the company, and Massachusetts Democratic Senator (and presidential candidate) Elizabeth Warren showed up at a picket line with coffee and donuts for the employees. “These giant companies think they can knock unions back,” Warren told the Somerville crowd on April 12. “Unions are here to stay because when you’re fighting for your family, you stay in the fight until you win.”

After a video of Boston Bruins legend Ray Bourque leaving a Stop & Shop was posted on social media, the former hockey player felt compelled to release a statement via Twitter. “Being a union hockey player for 22 years I respect Unions and the work that they do.” Bourque tweeted. “I have a medical condition that I was preparing for this morning and mistakenly crossed the picket line at Stop & Shop. On my way out I apologized immediately. I support the employees of Stop & Shop and once my medical condition is resolved I plan on returning to stand in solidarity and will walk the picket line alongside the members of the union.”

While unionization is declining throughout the country, Massachusetts—where most Stop & Shop stores are located—has actually experienced a sizable uptick. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the amount of workers who consider themselves part of a union went up by 16% from 2017 to 2018.

However, Stop & Shop remains one of the only remaining unionized stores in the industry, as big-box retailers like Walmart have put others out of business in recent years. As grocery industry analyst Burt Flickinger recently told The Boston Globe,“Stop & Shop is the last, best, and final hope for the great Roman empires of unionized food retail chains.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.

31,000 New England grocery workers strike

Monday, April 15th, 2019

More than 30,000 grocery store workers are on strike in New England after negotiations stalled between the workers, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers, and Stop & Shop, the region’s biggest grocery chain.

“Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, saw over $2 billion in profit last year and got a US tax cut of $225 million in 2017,” the union said in a statement. “While Stop & Shop continues to propose drastically cutting worker benefits, Ahold shareholders voted on April 10 to give themselves an 11.1 percent raise in dividends over last year. The expected payout will be on April 25 for around $880 million.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined workers at a picket line on Friday, bringing donuts and telling them, “You fight for the dignity of working people.” Sens. Kamala HarrisKirsten GillibrandCory Booker, and Bernie Sanders also tweeted their support, as did fellow Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro and numerous Democratic members of Congress.

What you can do: DON’T cross the picket line. DO contact your local store to let them know you support the workers and want management to offer a fair deal. DO express support for workers on social media and, if you pass a picket line, in person. DO keep shopping at union stores if there’s one near you—see that list for options.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.
This article was originally printed at Daily Kos on April 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

Letter details ‘severe’ sexual harassment at AccuWeather under Trump’s pick to lead NOAA

Friday, April 12th, 2019

President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ran a family company in which employees were subjected to “widespread” and “pervasive” sexual harassment, according to an investigation by the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

The investigation concluded that AccuWeather, the company then run by Trump nominee Barry Lee Myers, had a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination that included unwanted touching and kissing by a male executive, according to a letter obtained by ThinkProgress via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Women who engaged in sexual relationships with senior male managers were rewarded with “job-related perks,” the OFCCP letter concludes. Many women resigned rather than submitting to the harassment, while others feared being “blacklisted” if they filed complaints, the January 2018 letter states.

Although they were aware of the issue, AccuWeather officials “did not take reasonable action to prevent and remedy harassing conduct,” the letter says.

At the time the alleged incidents occurred, Myers was the chief executive officer of AccuWeather, which he ran alongside his two brothers.

In January of this year, Trump nominated Myers — for the third time — to lead NOAA. The revelations about the investigation into AccuWeather raise concerns about the nomination, particularly in light of NOAA’s history of sexual harassment issues.

“AccuWeather clearly denied the allegations and claims raised after the audit, and we continue to deny the allegations and claims,” Rhonda Seaton, director of marketing communications at AccuWeather, told ThinkProgress on Saturday. Seaton added that AccuWeather cooperated fully with the OFCCP workplace audit, and listed several workplace initiatives she says it has put in place to ensure a “welcoming, inclusive, empowering” culture.

The OFCCP letter to AccuWeather is known as a Notification of Results of Investigation. It details the findings of the department’s investigation into a 2016 complaint regarding a hostile work environment at the company.

AccuWeather, a government contractor subject to the federal Civil Rights Act, settled with the department, agreeing in June 2018 to pay $290,000 in claims to more than 35 women, as the Center Daily Times revealed in February.

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The OFCCP investigation was prompted by a complaint alleging that AccuWeather violated its obligations under the nondiscrimination and affirmative action provisions of its federal contracts by “creating and enabling a hostile work environment by subjecting employees to unlawful harassment based on their sex and sexual orientation,” according to the letter.

The complainant also alleged she was terminated “because of her sex and sexual orientation.”

The letter details specific allegations of “[h]arassment perpetrated by a male executive and another male manager by ostracizing [redacted] from her work’s group; excluding her from meetings and emails, and making day-to-day activities extremely difficult, including the use of profane and sexually explicit name-calling by an executive when referring to [redacted] and obscene references to [redacted] sexual orientation in communication with other employees.”

This sort of treatment, however, was not exclusive to one employee, the letter states. Over the course of its investigation, the OFCCP found “widespread sexual harassment” at AccuWeather.

More than two dozen witnesses “spanning many different departments and in positions ranging from administrative support to senior management described unlawful sexual harassment that occurred at the company,” the OFCCP wrote.

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“This sexual harassment was so severe and pervasive, that some female employees resigned,” the letter states. The investigation also confirmed that “AccuWeather was aware of the sexual harassment but took no action to correct the unlawful activity.”

AccuWeather said it was “unaware of any harassing activity,” according to the letter. It also pushed back against findings that it had a widespread, hostile work environment toward women, “arguing these allegations were outside the scope of OFCCP’s investigation.”

Neither the White House nor Myers responded to requests for comment.

At the time the investigation took place, AccuWeather’s 18-person executive team was all men except for the vice president of human resources. The company was led by three brothers: Joel Myers, founder and president; Evan Myers, chief operating officer; and Barry Myers, chief executive officer.

According to OFCCP, AccuWeather’s policy manual directed employees who wished to lodge a complaint regarding sexual discrimination to file an informal complaint with the company’s Ombudsman Committee. “At the time of the investigation, however,” the OFCCP letter states, “the Ombudsman Committee did not exist and had not been active for over two years.”

Trump again nominated Myers in January 2018, but the Senate did not vote on his nomination in time. He has now been nominated to the position for a third time.

Between his second and third nomination, Myers resigned from AccuWeather and sold his shares in the company. It was also during this time that the company settled its sexual harassment claims.

Although it is unclear how much Myers was involved in or aware of the sexual harassment incidences described by the Labor Department, he was head of the company during the time the incidents allegedly occurred and at the time the company agreed to pay the hefty settlement. As part of the settlement agreement, AccuWeather pledged it would create a workplace culture that did not tolerate harassment or discrimination.

Earlier this month, Myers’ nomination was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee; it is now up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to call a floor vote.

The full Senate typically does not question nominees once committees have approved them.

If Myers is confirmed, he will head a government agency that — like AccuWeather — has faced allegations of sexual harassment and, after years of inaction, took concrete steps to improve the work environment.

In September 2015, a NOAA oceanographer complained that she had been repeatedly harassed aboard government scientific research vessels.

“Try operating a half-million-dollar shipboard gyrocompass and multibeam sonar system while the captain of the boat shoves a meter stick between your legs, asking, ‘Are you moody because it’s that time of the month?’” Julia O’Hern described in a Washington Post op-ed.

But even though O’Hern reported some of the incidents to her superiors, she says NOAA ignored the allegations.

Instead of addressing the harassment, O’Hern wrote, a NOAA official suggested “that I should have just walked off the boat and refused to work. Of course, their employee had already threatened to fire me if I refused to work or spoke to anyone, and the whole point was that I wanted to do my job, not quit.

“It was soul-crushing to realize that I was expected to endure sexual harassment at sea as though it was no different than rough waters or long hours,” O’Hern wrote.

By the end of that year, both the House and Senate unanimously passed the “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Act,” which then-President Barack Obama signed. The law required NOAA develop a policy to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment.

This article was originally printed at ThinkProgress on April 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kyla Mandel is the deputy editor for the climate team. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mother Jones, and Vice. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, specializing in science, health, and environment reporting.

McDonald’s Retreat on Fighting Wage Increases Shows the Tide Is Turning

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

In March, the McDonald’s Corporation announced that it would no longer actively lobby against local, state and federal efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The move comes as Democrats in the U.S. House have thrown their weight behind a bill to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2024.

The decision by McDonald’s was made public in a recent letter sent from Genna Gent, vice president of U.S. government relations for McDonald’s, to the National Restaurant Association,  an industry group that represents more than 500,000 restaurant businesses across the country.

According to the corporate watchdog group, SourceWatch, the National Restaurant Association is a key lobbying group that has fought hard in recent years to block worker-friendly issues such as paid sick days and increases in the minimum wage. As Politico reporter Rebecca Rainey explained, losing McDonald’s as an ally in the fight against wage hikes serves as a “serious blow to the trade group.”

Despite the decision, however, the National Restaurant Association has stood by McDonald’s and recently called the company a “valued member” of its organization.

While initially seen as an upstart movement funded by labor union activists, the fight for a higher minimum wage appears to have moved squarely into the mainstream political landscape and is likely to remain a key campaign issue throughout the 2020 election.

Writing in the trade publication Restaurant Business in January, Peter Romeo declared that the “$15 minimum wage is already a presidential campaign issue.” Romeo noted that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a current contender for the nation’s highest office, has “already set the so-called living wage as an issue he’ll keep front and center.” In so doing, Sanders’ support, which he has expressed since at least 2015, could “prove a test for fellow senators who hope to land the Democratic nomination by winning the support of unions and blue-collar voters.”

Most of the major Democratic presidential candidates, from Kamala Harris to Elizabeth Warren, already support raising the minimum wage to $15. Recent polls also show a majority of American voters support increasing the minimum wage.

One of the groups that has been calling attention to labor and wage issues in the restaurant industry is the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROCU). Anthony Advincula, the public affairs officer for ROCU, tells In These Timesthat he feels hopeful after McDonald’s decision to stop lobbying against a minimum wage increase.

“We applaud McDonald’s efforts to not block the move to raise wages,” Advincula says, before expressing a note of caution. McDonald’s decision is a “good sign,” he insists, but not cause for celebration just yet. “We are not going to stop. The workers as well as the unions will never step backwards,” Advincula added, indicating that the fight now for groups such as his is to help ensure that the federal minimum wage bill becomes more than just a campaign talking point.

The Democrats in the House are largely in support of such a wage raise, but many in the Republican-controlled Senate have voiced their opposition to the proposed increase, meaning the Raise the Wage bill—the current legislation lifting the minimum wage to $15—could soon hit a dead end.

Regardless of these roadblocks, many observers see undeniable momentum on this issue. Companies such as Amazon, Target, Bank of America and Costco have independently committed to raising workers’ wages, perhaps in part to avoid the increasingly negative attention some have received over their employees’ inability to make ends meet while company profits soar.

Yet while the McDonald’s Corporation has stated that it actively fight wage increases, it still has not agreed to raise its own minimum wage. In her letter to the National Restaurant Association, Gent argued that the “average starting wage at its corporate-owned stores already exceeds $10 per hour,” according to a Politico report. That figure is higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Gent also noted that individual franchise owners set the pay rate for their own locations.

The lack of commitment to an overall minimum wage increase from McDonald’s has led some to dismiss the company’s recent announcement as little more than a publicity stunt. Still, in an op-ed published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, stated that McDonald’s decision to stop participating in the campaign against minimum wage increases is a sign that such opposition is “untenable in today’s America.”

“There’s no doubt the company’s decision is a direct response to the thousands and thousands of McDonald’s workers who’ve taken to the streets, gone on strike and even gotten arrested to further their fight for $15 an hour and a union,” Owens wrote. She then tapped into the growing political and popular support for wage increases, noting that the company’s “move comes at a time when McDonald’s opposition to minimum wage increases has clearly become out of step with both the politics around wages and the actions of companies across the country.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English Instructor. She is a 2015 Progressive magazine Education Fellow and blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.

Economy Gains 196,000 Jobs in March; Unemployment Unchanged at 3.8%

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

The U.S. economy gained 196,000 jobs in March, and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.8%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Continued lower levels of job growth provide good reason for the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee to express caution in considering any interest rate hikes.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in health care (49,000), professional and technical services (34,000), food services and drinking places (27,000), and construction (16,000). Manufacturing employment declined in March (-6,000 jobs). Employment in other major industries, including mining, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates fell for teenagers (12.8%) and blacks (6.7%). The jobless rate increased for Hispanics (4.7%). The jobless rate for adult men (3.6%), adult women (3.3%), whites (3.4%) and Asians (3.1%) showed little change in March.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose in March and accounted for 21.1% of the unemployed.

This article was originally published by the AFL-CIO on April 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

 

Trump has a habit of hiring people with histories of sexual misconduct. Herman Cain is the latest.

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

President Donald Trump has recommended another man who has been accused of touching women without their consent for a major government position.

Trump announced last week that he has settled on Herman Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza executive, for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board. Cain ended his 2012 presidential bid after four women came forward with sexual harassment allegations against him.

One of the women, Sharon Bialek, said Cain asked her for sex when she sought his help finding a job in 1990s. According to Bialek, he said, “You want a job, right?” as he ran his hand up her skirt. Karen Kraushaar, another woman who publicly spoke out, said Cain groped her in the 1990s.

Cain, who hasn’t yet been officially nominated by Trump, has denied these allegations. On Friday, he said in a since-deleted video on Facebook that he would “be able to explain [the allegations] this time, where they wouldn’t let me explain it the last time. They were too busy believing the accusers,” according to Marketwatch.

Cain’s nomination fits into a disturbing pattern for Trump. He has repeatedly nominated men who have been accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and intimate partner abuse to top positions in his administration. Others have enabled sexual violence and harassment even if they did not personally commit it themselves.

During the Obama administration, significant negative media reports and criminal accusations about cabinet nominees “would be flagged for further scrutiny,” and sexual assault allegations “would be a serious red flag,” a former Obama staffer who vetted appointees told ProPublica in 2017. But this White House has nominated and hired so many people accused of sexual violence and abuse to top positions that it’s not clear the Trump administration is taking the same approach.

The failure to take sexual assault and intimate partner abuse seriously is also evident in the administration’s policy decisions. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has taken steps to loosen accountability for accused rapists on college and high school campuses, for example, and the administration’s current immigration policies make victims of intimate partner too scared of deportation to come forward.

Brett Kavanaugh

Despite at least three accusations of sexual misconduct, Brett Kavanaugh was nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court last year.

After Trump tapped Kavanaugh to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Kennedy, Christine Blasey Ford canme forward to accuse Kavanaugh of forcing her into a bedroom, along with his friend Mark Judge, at a small gathering in the 1980s. She told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh pinned her down to the bed while he tried to remove her bathing suit and other clothing and that when she tried to scream, he covered her mouth with his hand. After Judge jumped on them, Blasey Ford said she managed to escape the room.

Other women then came forward with similarly troubling stories. Deborah Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh thrust his penis in her face at a party when the two attended Yale University. Julia Swetnick said in a sworn declaration that when Kavanaugh was in high school, he participated in “abusive and physically aggressive behavior toward girls” such as grinding against girls without their consent, trying to remove or shift girls’ clothing to expose private body parts, and making crude sexual comments.

Swetnick also said Kavanaugh was among the boys lined up to participate in gang rapes at house parties. She said she was once the victim of a gang rape; she said Kavanaugh was present when she was assaulted, but did not say he participated in it.

Though he was confirmed by one of the slimmest margins in history, Kavanaugh is now sitting on the nation’s highest court, where he can shape laws that affect victims of sexual assault.

Rob Porter

White House aide Rob Porter resigned last year after the media reported on his alleged spousal abuse.

Porter struggled to obtain a security clearance to work at the White House because of allegations of domestic violence, according to CNN. Two of Porter’s ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, told CNN they experienced abuse at his hands.

Holderness, who married Porter in 2003, said the physical abuse began during their honeymoon. She said he would later being to choke her and punch in her the face, and she pointed to a 2005 photo of her bruised face as proof.

Willoughby, who married Porter in 2009, said he yelled at her and was emotionally abusive. A year after they first got married, she said he pulled her out of the shower by her shoulders so he could yell at her.

A third woman, who contacted Holderness and Willoughby in 2016 claiming to be a girlfriend of Porter’s, said he also abused her.

Porter publicly re-emerged in March when he wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal praising Trump’s trade policies. The Wall Street Journal did not acknowledge why Porter left the administration. In response, Willoughby wrote in The Washington Post that although she supports rehabilitation for men who commit intimate partner abuse, “Rob has yet to publicly show regret or contrition for his actions. Giving him a voice before he has done that critical work elevates his opinions above my and Colbie’s dignity.”

Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon, who led Trump’s presidential campaign and served as White House Chief Strategist for the first seven months of Trump’s term, faced charges of domestic violence in 1996.

According to police department documents published by Politico shortly before the 2016 election, while Bannon was seated in the driver’s seat of his car, he grabbed his wife’s wrist and “pulled her down, as if he was trying to pull her into the car over the door.” He then “grabbed her neck, also pulling her into the car.” When she escaped and went inside the house to call 911, Bannon allegedly took the phone from her and threw it across the room, which she said later found in pieces. The police officer who responded to the incident wrote that “she complained of soreness to her neck” and “I saw red marks on her left wrist and the right side of her neck.”

Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and dissuading a witness. The case was later dismissed. His ex-wife said in a divorce filing that Bannon persuaded her to leave town and told her that if she went to court, he and his lawyer would “make sure that I would be the one who was guilty.”

Bannon left the administration in 2017, but many of the policies he pushed for are still in place.

Andrew Puzder

Trump nominated Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor, but Puzder dropped out after a video resurfaced of his ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, appearing on a 1990 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show called “High Class Battered Women.”

“Most men who are in positions like that don’t leave marks,” Fierstein said on the show.
“The damage that I’ve sustained, you can’t see. It’s permanent, permanent damage. But there’s no mark. And there never was. They never hit you in the face. They’re too smart. They don’t hit you in front of everyone.The judicial system would say that. Were there any witnesses? No, come on. They know better.”

After Politico reported the story, Fierstein sent a letter to members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in February. She said she regretted leveling abuse charges against Puzder and going on television.

“What we should have handled in a mature and private way became a contentious and ugly public divorce,” Fierstein said. The attorney who represented her at the time, Dan Sokol, said that Fierstein described an “ongoing pattern with several episodes of physical violence.”

Although Politico reported in 2018 that Puzder would possibly be offered a new White House role, there have been no new reports that he is under consideration for joining the Trump administration.

Steven Muñoz

The Trump administration hired Steven Muñoz for a State Department job as assistant chief of visits, which he began in January 2017. Muñoz was tasked with organizing visits for foreign heads of state, and sometimes their meetings with Trump himself.

According to a ProPublica story published in 2017, five men who attended The Citadel military college said Muñoz sexually assaulted them. One student said he woke up to Muñoz on top of him and said Muñoz kissed him and grabbed his genitals. More than a year after he graduated, Muñoz was banned from campus.

In 2012, BuzzFeed News and Huffington Post also reported on the allegations against Muñoz.

Muñoz, who previously worked for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum’s presidential campaigns, still lists himself as assistant chief of protocol for visits on his LinkedIn page.

President Trump

Trump has been accused of multiple incidences of sexual predation stretching back to the 1970s — many of which line up with the behavior toward women that Trump himself has described engaging in.

“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump said in a 2005 tape for Access Hollywood that was published just a few weeks before the 2016 election. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

At least 23 women have come forward with allegations of Trump’s sexual misconduct, many of whom decided to publicly come forward during his presidential campaign. They include a woman who says Trump touched her vagina through her underwear at a nightclub, a woman who says Trump forcibly kissed her during a brunch at Mar-a-Lago, and many other women who say Trump groped and kissed them without their consent.

Trump picks who perpetuate systems of violence and abuse

There are many other Trump nominees and hires who have not personally been accused of sexual harassment, sexual violence, or intimate partner abuse, but who have nonetheless enabled a culture that condones it.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta — Trump’s second pick after Puzder — signed a secret plea agreement with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as U.S. attorney for southern Florida. In February, District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that Acosta’s decision to not make Epstein’s accusers aware of the plea deal was unconstitutional. A House appropriations panel grilled him about the deal in April, but Acosta continues to lead the department.

In 2018, the White House hired Bill Shine, a former Fox news executive, as the president’s top communications aide. Shine landed in the Trump administration after leaving Fox News amid a sexual harassment scandal at the network. He was accusedof trying to cover up a culture of harassment at Fox and mishandling allegations.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, whom Trump chose as his national security adviser in 2017, was also accused of mishandling a sexual assault case. After the Army investigated the incident, McMaster received a rebuke in 2015 for his oversight of the situation.

Barry Myers, whom Trump nominated in 2017 to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was the chief executive of a family weather company called AccuWeather. An investigation into AccuWeather conducted by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs found that the company subjected women to sexual harassment, and the company paid $290,000 as part of a settlement. Myers’ initial nomination to head NOAA expired after the Senate failed to confirm him last year, but he’s now up for the same position again.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 9, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan covers policy issues related to gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The Atlantic, and In These Times. They studied economic reporting, political reporting, and investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where they graduated with an M.A. in business journalism.

It’s time for ending NCAA amateurism to become a 2020 campaign issue

Monday, April 8th, 2019

As the 2020 presidential campaign kicks off, a slew of issues have already come to the forefront, including immigration, income inequality, the future of health care, reparations, and climate change. But, as another March Madness wraps up, it’s time for the crowded field of candidates to add another issue to their platforms: Ending NCAA amateurism.

During this year’s men’s basketball tournament, the NCAA earned almost $800 million from television rights alone. Coaches, schools, and conferences received millions of additional dollars worth of bonuses. And the athletes that actually played in those games earned absolutely no money. This might sound like a niche problem that only impacts a handful of the most talented student-athletes in the world — student-athletes that one would assume have better-than-even chance of turning pro, and raking in the millions. But this is not the case.

Every year, there are more than 460,000 student-athletes competing in 24 NCAA-sanctioned sports. Thirty-six percent of all student-athletes are people-of-color, and in the major revenue-generating sports, the student-athletes are disproportionately black: football is 48 percent black, men’s basketball is 56 percent black, and women’s basketball is 47 percent black. As their predominately white and male coaches and administrators continue to get richer, these athletes are cut out from earning a fair share.

It is an issue of inequity, and at this point, political pressure is the only thing that is going to fix it.

One candidate is already out in front on this issue. Andrew Yang — yes, the candidate who is running on a platform of universal basic income — lists “NCAA should pay athletes” as one of the tenets of his platform.

“We should create a new type of college athlete—’Performer athlete’—who is entitled to market-based compensation,” Yang says on his website. “This would not affect the status of any other student-athletes nor the tax-exempt status of the university. However, each university with a ‘Performer athlete’ would be required to start an affiliated taxable for-profit entity through which both corporate sponsorships and Performer-athlete salaries would flow.”

But this isn’t just a fringe issue parroted by a long-shot presidential candidate. Currently, there is a bipartisan push in Congress to address this issue. Three weeks ago, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) introduced the Student-Athlete Equity Act, a bill that aims to modify the tax code to remove the current rule that prevents student-athletes from using or being compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness.

“A lot of these student-athletes come from impoverished communities, and there is a lot of money made on the backs of these young men and women. And these students, they can fight in the war, but they can’t have any access to their image or likeness,” Walker told ThinkProgress.

“I say, if you see injustice and you don’t do something about it, I think, shame on you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other battles to fight.”

A couple of weeks after Walker unveiled his bill in the House, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) released a report, which highlighted, among other things, the fact that in the last 15 years, the revenue for college athletics has more than tripled to a $14.1 billion high.

“Under the current system, students in big-time athletic programs are shortchanged on their education as the college sports machine demands more of their time and more pressure to win,” Murphy said. “Meanwhile, coaches, universities, broadcasters, and even shoe companies are raking in the cash and sending a relatively small percentage of the money to students in the form of scholarships. The NCAA needs to come up with a way to compensate student-athletes, at least in the sports that demand the most time and make the most money. It’s an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of civil rights.”

Murphy has not yet proposed his own bill, but he says he will continue to release reports that dig into the impact of amateurism, and will keep loudly calling for the NCAA to pay its athletes.

“Is there an easy solution? No. But the NCAA has created a complicated system of sponsorship and broadcast rights by which lots of adults get rich,” Murphy said. “They can figure out a way to get a percentage of that money to the students who are kept poor by a system that is designed to make lots of people rich except for the kids.”

Even as the end of amateurism gains momentum on the federal level, states have begun to take up this issue as well. In California, for example, state Senate majority whip Nancy Skinner (D) has put forth Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow student-athletes in California to earn money through corporate sponsorships, in a fashion similar to the amateur athletes who compete in the Olympic Games.

The truth is, ending amateurism isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s an increasingly popular position as well. It turns out, despite the NCAA claiming that if players were getting paid, nobody would want to watch college sports, this — shockingly! — is not the case. As SUNY Buffalo history professor Patrick F. McDevitt pointed out in HuffPost this time last year, the logic doesn’t track: “Surely, if people were put off by the idea of paying college athletes, then Division III schools (which do not offer scholarships, let alone give their players stipends) would have the largest fan bases and Division I schools caught funneling money to their star players would lose fans in the wake of pay-for-play scandals.”

Nothing’s changed in a year’s time. Last year, a big FBI investigation unveiled Adidas executives and agents helping facilitate payments to athletes if they agreed to go to certain Adidas-sponsored schools. This year, during March Madness, lawyer Michael Avenatti tried to make a big splash by claiming he had evidence that Nike paid families of top college basketball recruits. The news barely caused a ripple. And, despite all of this being public knowledge, ratings for March Madness have been just fine.

The public is ready for amateurism to end. The players are deserving of their due. The fans will cheer, no matter what. But unless the NCAA’s hand is forced, nothing about the current system is ever going to change. That’s why it’s crucial for the people who are running for the most powerful role in our nation to speak up and propose solutions to change the status quo.

Is this the most pressing problem facing society? Of course not. But, it is an injustice. And it can be fixed with just a little leadership.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.

Why the NCAA Should Pay Student-Athletes—And Let Them Unionize

Friday, April 5th, 2019

When Zion Williamson’s foot broke through the sole of his Nike shoe on Feb. 20, the sporting world stood still.

The consensus number-one player in college basketball was playing in the biggest game of the season—North Carolina versus Duke—and suffered his startling injury in the opening minute. Williamson’s sprained knee cost Nike $1.1 billion in stock market valuation the next day.?

The injury came on the doorstep of March Madness, the NCAA’s most profitable event of the year—to the tune of $900 million in revenue.

Despite the billions riding on his performance, the NCAA insists that athletes like Williamson are “amateurs”—student-athletes there only for the love of the game. It forbids them to make money off their performance even as they support an industry worth billions. Duke alone makes $31 million off its basketball program.

Williamson has been a force of nature this season, captivating audiences and NBA scouts alike. Enticing those NBA scouts is the only way this 18-year-old can build his own future career—and any sort of injury imperils that future.

High-level “student-athletes,” after all, don’t get to spend much time being students.

They’re supposed to spend only 20 hours a week on sports-related activities. In reality, they spend around 40 hours on practice alone. Schoolwork falls by the wayside, so many schools have outside tutors do the players’ schoolwork and create classes-in-name-only where the only requirement is to turn in a paper.

A few years ago, some former athletes at the University of North Carolina sued the school and the NCAA, claiming they’d been denied a meaningful education. It’s hard to argue with that.

The athletes, in exchange for scholarships, give these schools their lives and put their health at risk. Concussions of football players have sparked lawsuits, and an injury like Williamson’s could cost a player millions in the professional leagues. If they can’t go pro—and their education didn’t do them any favors—what option do they have?

That risk is where the travesty lies. These thousands of athletes who play in the NCAA are often not allowed to enjoy the benefits of the schools they attend (and enrich). If they’re not able to make use of their education, they should be paid for the work they put in.

When college sports revenues are as high as they’ve ever been, the failure to pay the athletes is absurd—but not surprising.

Inequality of all kinds is on the rise, and the gap between the top and bottom of the pay scale is the highest since the Gilded Age of the early 1900s. The NCAA not allowing athletes to be paid—or even sign autographs for money!—is an extension of an economy where unions are busted and people have to work three jobs to make ends meet.

It needs to change. College basketball players are on average worth $212,080 to their program, much more than the cost of their scholarships.

Schools should pay these athletes a share of the revenue their sport brings in. And the NCAA needs, at the very least, to allow for these people to make money selling autographs or appearing at sports camps.

Just as importantly, athletes should be allowed to unionize their teams and fight for their own rights.

Billions of dollars are going to be spent on betting on March Madness games. CBS and Turner paid around $19 billion for the television rights to the tournament. And over $1 billion in advertising is spent on the tournament.

This event is all about the money. We should spread it around to the people who make it worthwhile.

This article was published at In These Times on April 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Brian Wakamo is a researcher on the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Fighting Against Racism—And For a Better Paycheck—On the Docks

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

“Dockworkers have power.” With that simple statement, Western Illinois University professor and In These Times contributor Peter Cole kicks off his compelling new historyDockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area (University of Illinois Press).

The story of the west coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), its legendary founder Harry Bridges, and the 1934 San Francisco general strike he led is broadly familiar to Americans who enjoy romantic stories of derring do from the labor movement’s past. Less familiar may be the union’s struggle for anti-racist hiring and layoff policies on the docks, and its crucial allyship in various civil rights struggles.

Cole pairs their history with that of black South African docker organizing that presaged the struggle against apartheid by decades, and created an early and durable institutional stronghold of black power in South Africa.

The similarities between the two unions don’t end with the struggle for their black members’ civil rights. Half a world away, the unions also struggled to maintain job control in a system of casual employment, grappled with job-killing containerization and flexed their power at the choke points of the global economy to extend solidarity to workers’ freedom struggles around the world.

Although rarely in direct communication with each other, especially during the Apartheid era, the unions had remarkably similar approaches to the issues that vexed them. Cole’s book is a valuable contribution to the relatively thin field of global union comparisons.

Workers of the world (trade)

By the nature of their work, dockworkers of all countries have long been more cosmopolitan than many comrades in their respective national labor movements. They are exposed to new ideas and far-away struggles. Cole’s book stresses how these two regional workers’ movements melded their organizing for a better paycheck with the struggle against racism in their broader societies and how—keenly aware of their leverage in the fast-moving global economy—they went on to exercise transnational solidarity at these ports of trade.

One of the substantial victories of the 1934 Bay Area strike was the replacement of the shape-up system­—the informal hustle for day labor work—with a union-operated hiring hall that worked to racially integrate the workforce. African-Americans from southern states joined the ranks en masse during World War II and were welcomed into union membership.

But the end of the war brought a serious reduction in work on the docks. Union leadership recognized that if membership ranks within the hiring hall were reduced on a “last in, first out” basis, the newer black longshoremen would disproportionately feel the effects of the layoffs—an action that would leave scars within the port workforce for generations. In an act of racial solidarity that stands out in the pre-civil-rights era, the Bay Area locals of the ILWU decided instead to share the lack of work. All existing members stayed in the union, and worked fewer shifts until business picked back up.

As a racially integrated union with a large black membership, the ILWU naturally played a leading role in connecting the labor and civil rights movements. The Bay Area locals were key organizers of a local 1963 civil rights demonstration, in addition to organizing one of the farthest-traveling contingents to that year’s famous March on Washington. They formed the membership backbone of the local chapters of the NAACP and Urban League. They pressed successfully for fair employment and housing laws in Oakland, and the union used its pension fund to build racially-integrated cooperative housing in the rapidly gentrifying Fillmore neighborhood in San Francisco.

As Cole notes, the exceptional role of the ILWU in many left-wing struggles is often glancingly mentioned in historical accounts of the postwar labor movement. This book is the first time all of these examples and more have been brought together in a comprehensive narrative.

Durban dockers have enjoyed far less attention from American scholars. Their history of labor militancy dates back to the 1950s, although the apartheid state did not extend formal union recognition to industries that employed black workers until the 1980s. The union they formed—today called the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU)—made substantial gains in pensions, health and safety—and won for workers a guaranteed minimum wage regardless of the availability of work. It also affiliated with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a junior partner with the African National Congress (ANC) in both the successful final drive to end white minority rule and in the post-Apartheid government since 1994.

Interestingly, the ILWU’s commitment to civil rights extended to international solidarity. As early as 1962, Bay Area longshoremen occasionally refused to unload South African cargo in protest of Apartheid. In 1984, union members refused to unload South African cargo off of an older non-containerized ship, the Nedlloyd Kimberly, which sat docked at San Francisco’s Pier 80 for 11 days. The protest attracted the attention of community activists who joined daily rallies outside the port and eventually brought the ongoing work anti-apartheid boycotts to Bay Area colleges and community groups.

In more recent years, Bay Area longshoremen have refused to unload ships carrying Israeli cargo in 2010 and again in 2014, during periods of active military attacks against Palestinians.

Durban dockers, too, have notably refused to unload ships under contract with Israeli corporations in protest of what they call—and they have some license to say this—“an apartheid regime.” And their solidarity activism doesn’t end there. In 2008, they prevented a bloodbath by turning away a Chinese shipment of armaments that the embattled president of neighboring Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, had ordered in a last-ditch effort to prop up his regime.

Maintaining worker power in the face of economic change

Both dock workforces began their nonunion eras essentially as on-call temps. In addition to racially integrating the docks, the ILWU-operated hiring hall also freed workers from bribery and the blacklist and allowed them to keep the best part of casual employment—only showing up for work when they felt like it and needed the paycheck.

The non-employee status of Durban dockers, on the other hand, was a source of union power and legal protection, and made de-casualization the employers’ strategy to reign in the power of the unions. The Apartheid system of labor relations basically exempted industries that employed black workers from statutory collective bargaining, while making strikes illegal. But if workers finish their shift with no promise or guarantee of more work the next day and—collectively and entirely coincidentally—don’t bother showing up in the morning to see if there’s more work available until the wages get better, is that legally-speaking an “illegal” strike?

By defying white boss power in work stoppages, the Durban dockers became pioneers in the African freedom struggle. A 1954 Durban docker strike resulted in wage concessions, but also the termination and blacklisting of strike leaders. Other strikes followed, but the workers were careful to not elect any formal leadership. Cole argues that the dockers sparked a strike wave in other industries in the port city in 1973. Those Durban strikes are widely acknowledged as a turning point in the struggle against Apartheid.

White authorities retaliated by making the dockers regular hourly employees, which stabilized the workers’ incomes but legally restricted their ability to strike. (The Apartheid state did move to formally recognize unions of black workers by the end of the decade, and the post-Apartheid constitution protects the right to strike.)

Another economic change that all the world’s dock workers had to contend with was containerization. The standardized containers—40 or 20 feet long—that transition neatly from train to truck to boat (and back again) have revolutionized world trade. Filled with anything from diapers to televisions to just about any cheap plastic thing slapped with a “Made in (fill in the blank)” label, they rocket products around the world in the global logistics supply chain.

Amazon’s two-day shipping program would be largely impossible without them. Entire fleets of boats have been replaced to accommodate the containers. Harbors have been dredged, ports relocated and shorelines reshaped.

Of course, they’re job killers. Machines do much of the heavy lifting that used to require full crews of workers.

Containerization was imposed on Durban dockers in 1977, years before they gained formal collective bargaining rights. In the decade before container ships first appeared at the Durban docks, the workforce peaked at 3,500 workers. By the time automation was fully implemented in the mid-1980s only 1,200 workers remained.

In the Bay Area, Harry Bridges had the unique combination of street cred, shop-floor power and battle fatigue to make an accommodation with the shipping magnates. Rather than engage in dubious battle to preserve back-breaking jobs that were rapidly becoming unnecessary, Bridges struck deals in 1960 and 1966 that guaranteed all existing longshoremen wages even if there was no work. The slimmer crews who would work with the machines to remote control the giant steel boxes on and off the boats were promised a greater share of the profits.

When rank-and-filers felt that those financial gains did not make up for the loss of job control they had previously enjoyed, they went on strike over Bridges’ objections during the winter of 1971 to 1972. Stung, the old Communist militant lent no personal support to the strike.

Still, the organized workers who remained employed in the Bay Area and at the world’s ports enjoy a position of tremendous leverage within globalized capitalism.

Strangling the chokepoints of global capital

There is an understandable tendency among those of us who care deeply about restoring the power of unions to grasp for breakthrough strategies and inspiring flare-ups of worker militancy like the recent teachers strikes and digital newsroom organizing wins. In contrast, trade unionists who instead focus on port workers and truck drivers can seem hopelessly quaint and backwards-looking. Meanwhile, global capitalism is still at its root about making and selling products in the global marketplace. Workers who have a hand in how quickly those products move—if they move at all—retain the capacity for tremendous power.

Another book that takes stock of the potential power of workers at strategic locations in the global supply chain is Choke Points (Pluto), a new collection of essays edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Immanuel Ness. Peter Cole is here as well documenting the Durban dock workers’ solidarity actions on behalf of other African struggles for freedom from colonialism.

Elsewhere, Peter Olney, former organizing director of the ILWU, makes a characteristically masterful contribution on the evolving nature of the global economy and the west coast longshoremen’s role in it. He writes, “the future for powerful dockworkers lies in conceptualizing themselves as logistics workers.” By this he means extending longshore organizing and solidarity further inland to the warehouses and trucking companies that combine to form the central nervous system of so-called free trade. The threat of waging strikes that can roll from boat to truck to warehouse would be an obvious point of leverage.

Sheheryar Kaoosji contributes a vital and educational post-mortem assessment of one such effort, the comprehensive campaign to organize the warehouse workers and truck drivers a decade ago in the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Despite being “resourced with strategic researchers and experienced organizers, and supported by motivated community partners,” this signature effort of Change-to-Win faltered with the changing political winds in Washington and the rival labor federations and the inability to get workers in different parts of the logistics chain to see their own common cause.

Although the strategic location and potential power of the people who work at these choke points is obvious to outside agitators, the tendency of workers to focus on the boss who gets in their face and the name that signs their paycheck instead is a perennial obstacle to the untapped power of solidarity. Looking at labor battles in Turkey, contributors Ça?atay Edgücan ?ahin and Pekin Bengisu Tepe describe the problem as a “nineteenth-century working class” going up against the “Age of Industry 4.0’s capital.”

Some of the other essays in the volume are thick with academic jargon that make them less accessible to the layman. It’s regrettable, because if you can parse the language Choke Points is a blueprint for revolution.

The best contribution both of these books could make is to help focus the new generation of young socialists who are eager to help rebuild the labor movement as rank-and-file organizers on where our power really lies. I mean no disrespect to the crucial work of journalists and teachers, but global capitalism can grind to a halt when the ships don’t sail on time.

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Shaun Richman is an In These Times contributing writer and the Program Director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.

It's Equal Pay Day, and men's responses to a new poll show why the problem isn't going away

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Women make an average of 80 to 81 cents for every dollar a man makes, which makes April 2 Equal Pay Day—the day women have made as much since January 1, 2018, as men made in 2018 alone. But that’s not the only number showing how far the U.S. has to go on pay equality.

First, that 80 cents an hour is an average. White women, black women, Native American women, and Latinas all make less, with just Asian women outstripping the average, at 85 cents. (That’s in comparison to white, non-Hispanic men.) That means women make an average of $406,760 less over a 40-year career than men do, but for Latinas, that lifetime cap is more than $1.1 million, and for both black and Native American women it’s nearly $1 million.

Pay isn’t the only inequality, though. One way women respond to discrimination is to go into business for themselves—but women get smaller loans than men, by about 31 percent. The list goes on: “women continue to face workplace hardships such as fewer promotionsless support and implicit bias. They experience pregnancy discrimination, exclusion from the so-called ‘boy’s club’ and sexual harassment.”

And the insult on top of the injury? According to a new poll, 46 percent of men agree that the pay gap “is made up to serve a political purpose.” Just 48 percent of men agree that it’s very unfair for women to make less than men for similar work, while 58 percent say that obstacles to women getting ahead are “largely gone.” Men haven’t met themselves, apparently.

This article was originally published at DailyKos on April 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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