Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for July, 2019

Angry About Low Pay and Sweltering Heat, These Amazon Warehouse Workers Are Organizing

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Thousands of Amazon workers struck on “Prime Day” this week in what was perhaps the largest multinational action to date against the online behemoth. European Amazon employees have been waging coordinated strikes against the company since 2013, but this time they were joined by U.S. counterparts at a Shakopee, Minnesota fulfillment center, where workers staged a first-of-its-kind six-hour work stoppage. To date, Amazon has successfully fended off all attempts at unionization in the United States since the company’s founding in 1994.

Meanwhile, at another U.S. Amazon facility in Chicago, a new organizing effort is underway. Early Tuesday morning, a group of 30 workers at the company’s DCH1 delivery station on the city’s South Side staged a “walk-in” to the facility’s management during a 2:30 a.m. break on the overnight shift.

The group delivered a list of demands to site management that included a pay bump, health insurance and functioning air conditioning in the facility, where workers say they are laboring in sweltering heat.

The DCH1 delivery station is the last place that Amazon parcels arrive before reaching the doorsteps of Chicago-area customers. Workers scan and sort at a grueling pace inside a building with a metal roof and walls, and towers of packages often block ventilation from overhead fans. The workforce includes seniors and people with medical conditions such as diabetes, and dehydration and heat stroke are frequent problems, according to four employees at the facility who spoke to In These Times on condition of anonymity.

Last month, when a small fire broke out in the facility, managers told workers not to leave their stations, according to one of the employees. No one was injured, but the incident stoked anger.

DCH1 Amazonians United, which has launched a public Facebook page, says workers decided to take action on Prime Day in part after hearing about Minnesota workers’ plans to strike. At present, the workers are not affiliated with any union or community organization.

They’re also building off a successful action this spring, when about 140 employees—roughly a quarter of the workforce—signed a petition demanding adequate access to drinking water at the facility. Managers had stopped providing workers with water bottles, and five-gallon water jugs weren’t being replaced throughout the day, says Terry Miller (a pseudonym), who has worked at the facility for four and a half months.

During his second week on the job, he remembers, a coworker passed out from dehydration.

But as soon as workers delivered the petition in May, a manager went out and bought water bottles, says Miller. Shortly after that, water stations were installed.

“Ever since then, people saw that if we move, if we demand our rights, we can win,” says Fred Brown (a pseudonym), another Amazon employee who began working at the facility in 2017.

After circulating a survey to determine which issues fellow employees cared most about, workers decided to stage another action for Amazon’s highly publicized July Prime day. Apparently short-handed during this peak week, the facility has been offering employees a pay bump to come in an hour before their regular shift is scheduled to start—they receive $18, rather than the usual $15, but only for the extra hour.

DCH1 Amazonians United is demanding “prime pay for Prime days,” or $18 an hour throughout “blackout periods” when workers aren’t permitted to schedule time off and are handling a high volume of packages as a result of the company’s promotions.

Employees received a pay bump as part of a much-touted decision by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to raise the starting wage to $15 an hour. The announcement came after years of criticism from labor, as well the “Stop Bezos Act” introduced by Bernie Sanders that would have penalized large employers that pay low wages.

But employees at the DCH1 facility typically have their hours capped at 28 a week, and many still struggle to pay their bills, says J.R. (a pseudonym). After working a homecare job during the week, on the weekends he pulls three overnight shifts at the Amazon facility and then reports for a childcare job with just a few hours of sleep in between.

“Jeff Bezos’ net worth is about $160 billion,” he says. “Thank you for the $15, but you can’t expect us to stay there forever. The way I see it, $15 is the new minimum wage.”

In a statement e-mailed to In These Times, an Amazon spokesperson said that the company is “proud to offer great employment opportunities with excellent pay, benefits, and a safe workplace for our people.”

The spokesperson did not respond to In These Times’ questions about the facility.

Employees who spoke with In These Times say that in addition to low pay, workers are dissatisfied with the lack of health benefits. According to the workers, they receive some vision and dental benefits, but in lieu of health insurance they are encouraged to call a health hotline number.

In the past year, Amazon has more than doubled the rate at which workers are expected to scan packages at the facility, say the employees, who also complain of seemingly arbitrary write-ups and firings. One of the workers says he was written up after a manager accused him of scanning a package incorrectly two months after the fact.

An investigation by the Verge this spring revealed that Amazon automatically tracks its employees’ productivity and may fire as much as 10 percent of its workforce annually for failing to meet internal targets.

After presenting their list of demands on Tuesday, the DCH1 workers say they were promised a meeting with the site manager that has yet to occur. They are circulating a public petition to demand the meeting.

In the meantime, Brown says that news of Tuesday’s action is reaching more coworkers. “You can feel the shift in power,” he says.

Amazon opened the DCH1 facility in Chicago in 2015. “I always say, they came to the wrong city,” says J.R. “Chicago is known for unions, so you can only get away with it for so long.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 19, 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.

As temperatures rise, the poor suffer most

Monday, July 22nd, 2019
As a heat wave bakes large pockets of the United States this weekend, it is society’s most vulnerable who suffer most.

Take the unnamed 32-year-old Ace Air Conditioning of Louisiana worker who died while installing duct work on July 20, 2017. The man began to show signs of heat exhaustion while working in the attic of a modest home in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Less than an hour later, he collapsed and died.

The company was fined a few thousand dollars because it did not “furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards.”

Or take the watermelon picker in Five Points, California, who collapsed on the way to his vehicle after a six-hour shift in temperatures above 100 Fahrenheit. No one on the team got a break that day, according to a colleague, despite state labor laws. When the man was pronounced dead at he hospital, his body temperature was 109 Fahrenheit. The company was fined $25,750.

These are just two examples of what outdoor workers face when temperatures rise.

The heat wave gripping much of the country has already been blamed for six deaths. As global temperatures continue to rise and heat waves become more common and extreme, it is the poor, the elderly, laborers, and people with medical conditions who will be at the greatest risk.

People over 65 are among those with the greatest risk of heat-related deaths, followed by men who work in outdoor occupations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Any person can suffer from heat stress, regardless of age, sex, or health status,” the agency wrote in a 2016 report on heat-related illness. “Older adults and children, however, have a higher-than-average risk of becoming ill due to exposure to extreme heat. People working outdoors, the socially isolated and economically disadvantaged, those with chronic illnesses, and some communities of color are also especially vulnerable to heat.”

When a massive heat wave struck Chicago in July 1995, the city was ill prepared to deal with the crisis. That lack of preparation had deadly consequences: 739 people died, including Valerie Brown’s grandmother, Alberta.

“They put my grandma’s body in a refrigerated truck,” Brown told NBC News. “There is no death certificate. They just took her body away and put her in a mass grave.”

It wasn’t just the elderly who were hit hardest by the 1995 heat wave in Chicago, according to Judith Helfand, who directed a new documentary about the heat wave, Cooked: Survival by Zip Code.

“The people who died in 1995 were poor, and disproportionately black,” Helfand told NBC News.

“Racism kills people,” she added.

Research has shown that climate change and the resulting heat waves will hit large urban areas particularly hard, in part because the concrete, brick, steel, and glass these cities are built from creates “heat islands” that trap heat during the day then slowly release it overnight, preventing the city from cooling down once the sun sets.

That creates a dangerous situation for people like construction workers, the elderly, the poor, minorities, and the homeless, who tend to be concentrated in cities and may not have the resources to stay in air-conditioned buildings when temperatures soar.

Just three states have regulations in place to protect outdoor workers in extreme heat. The advocacy group Public Citizen launched a campaign last year to get the Occupational Safety and  Health Administration to put tighter rules in place to protect workers during heat waves.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia — son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a lifelong opponent of labor regulations — to head the Department of Labor, which oversees OSHA.

This article was originally published at Think Progress on July 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Joshua Eaton is an investigative reporter. His work has also appeared at The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, PRI’s The World, and Teen Vogue. Before joining ThinkProgress, Joshua was a digital producer at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (now The Eye) and WGBH News.

Contact Joshua at jeaton@thinkprogress.org or via Signal at 202-684-1030.

Citing discrimination, HUD denies L.A. $80M

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Katy O'Donnell, Pro-- Staff mugshots photographed Feb. 23, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)The Department of Housing and Urban Development is denying Los Angeles $80 million in federal funding on the grounds that the city is violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against people with disabilities, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO.

The city’s plan for the disbursement of Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership funds has been rejected, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a letter to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti Friday evening.

“As you have been notified time and again, the city is unlawfully discriminating against individuals with disabilities in its affordable housing program under federal accessibility laws, including the Fair Housing Act, and has refused to take the steps necessary to remedy this discrimination,” Carson wrote.

Garcetti told POLITICO he was “disappointed” in HUD’s decision, adding that he was “looking forward to meeting with Secretary Carson next week, so that I can speak directly to HUD’s concerns and bring this matter to a resolution that will not displace already vulnerable Angelenos.”

The city, Garcetti said in an email, had been “negotiating in good faith to resolve HUD’s concerns, most recently signing off on an offer to create 4,000 accessible housing units over the next ten years, and implementing a rigorous monitoring and compliance regime.”

HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in April notified Garcetti that an agency review of Los Angeles’s affordable housing program had determined that the city was not complying with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements — a “widespread failure” HUD said it had first raised with L.A. in a January 2012 letter.

L.A. had recently “made a variety of representations that it had begun to achieve compliance,” FHEO Enforcement Director Lynn Grosso said in the April 1 letter to Garcetti.

“Based in part on these representations, HUD undertook additional investigation to determine whether these representations were accurate,” Grosso wrote. “HUD’s on-site compliance review of housing recently constructed or altered using funds received from HUD confirmed that they were not.”

L.A. will have 60 days to comment and to revise or resubmit its plan, according to Carson’s letter today.

“The city may also obtain approval of its Annual Action Plan once the city has entered a Voluntary Compliance Agreement that remedies its violations of federal accessibility requirements to HUD’s satisfaction,” Carson added.

This article was originally published at Politico on July 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Katy O’Donnell is a reporter for POLITICO.

Dem campaigns bulk up with hiring spree

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Daniel StraussSen. Elizabeth Warren has the largest staff in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. Sen. Bernie Sanders is close behind. And others trying to go big are weighing the dangers of the most expensive piece of the “invisible primary”: the people running the campaigns.

Warren had 303 people on her campaign payroll during the second quarter of the year, according to a POLITICO analysis of Federal Election Commission records. It’s a reflection of her campaign’s belief in the importance of early organizing, which is shared by Sanders’ campaign and its 282 people on salary and echoes the successful approach of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

The early size of the 2020 campaigns roughly illustrates the current tiers in the Democratic primary, with the top five candidates in polling and fundraising and several underdogs hoping to lay groundwork for a future leap among the leaders. No 2020 Democrat has yet matched the size of Obama’s early campaign operation, which employed a whopping 432 staffers at this point in 2007 as he and Hillary Clinton (339 staffers) prepared for their primary. A large team can create positive feedback loops for campaigns, Democratic operatives said — organizing and gathering more supporters, which leads to higher fundraising and momentum and can be reinvested in more staff to keep the cycle going.

But staff buildups are also fraught with danger, reliant on unpredictable future fundraising projections to sustain them and prevent financial ruin.

“Every staff decision in terms of scale is a calculated risk,” said Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, the Democratic outside group focused on the 2020 presidential race. “Because you’re making some assumptions about whether or not you can sustain it over time.”

Warren and Sanders’ campaign staffs are well ahead of the next-biggest campaign — former Vice President Joe Biden’s — and the four others who have staffs numbering over 100: Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

And Warren won an early gamble on staff by turning in a massive second-quarter fundraising total, $19.1 million, after a much slower start to the year, meaning she can sustain the big campaign she’s building — which cost her nearly $4.2 million in salary, payroll taxes and insurance in the last three months. Warren has managed to fundraise competitively with her top 2020 rivals despite eschewing traditional campaign fundraisers and focusing on online contributions instead.

“Ultimately, the risk paid off,” Cecil said. “I think it’s especially important when you think about how quickly the primary calendar moves.”

Booker and O’Rourke don’t generally poll near the front of the pack, and both have struggled to fundraise at the same level as the top candidates in the primary. But the large number of staffers on their payrolls underscores that their respective campaigns are betting an early heavy investment in bodies will pay off later in the primary.

“A couple of these campaigns jumped out early and hired a bunch of staff and really put those folks off the table,” said Brandon Davis, a veteran Democratic strategist. “There was an opportunity, which I think was a strategic play for hiring this staff — and both having a good operation and taking some folks off the table [for other campaigns].”

But some campaigns still have to prove they can survive the costs imposed by their size. Past presidential elections are littered with examples of large campaigns flaming out, like Scott Walker’s short-lived White House bid in 2015, or massively downsizing to try to survive until the voting starts, like John McCain’s in 2007.

There are already signs of the financial stress imposed by hiring a big staff in 2019.

Just over half of Booker’s $5.3 million in total second-quarter expenses were on personnel (including salary, payroll taxes and insurance), and Booker spent $740,000 more than he raised from April through June. Personnel accounted for nearly one-fifth of O’Rourke’s outlays in the second quarter, when he raised $3.6 million but spent a whopping $5.3 million.

Even on the smaller end, staff can still squeeze an upstart presidential campaign budget. Staff costs helped put Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (66 people on salary) and Amy Klobuchar (79) in the red for the second quarter, though both, like Booker, have some cash leftover from their Senate campaign accounts to help handle the expense.

It’s clear why the campaigns want to build up in size, though, and spending breakdowns show how much campaigns value their manpower. Booker is the only candidate whose personnel spending accounted for the majority of overall spending in the second quarter, but Warren’s salaries, payroll taxes and insurance accounted for 39 percent of total expenses, while Sanders and Harris came in at 32 percent.

Steve Elmendorf, a deputy campaign manager on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, said that a large staff can be part of a feedback loop generating attention, fundraising and more staff hiring in a virtuous circle.

“It’s all self-reinforcing,” Elmendorf said. “They’re increasing their seriousness and get you paying more attention to them therefore they raise more money therefore they’re on the debate stage.”

That means a set of steps for the rest of the field, especially candidates who have been lagging in fundraising and polling.

“Everybody else has to figure out how they get in the game financially and get in the game in terms of the narrative out there,” Elmendorf said of the rest of the field. “I assume it’s go to the next debate and do what Kamala did which is try and create some conflict. Then they get noted then they can raise more money then they can hire more people.”

This article was originally published at Politico on July 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author:Daniel Strauss is a politics reporter. He previously covered campaigns and elections for Talking Points Memo and before that was a breaking news reporter for The Hill newspaper. Daniel grew up in Chicago and graduated from the University of Michigan where he majored in history.

6 years after fast food workers walked off the job, House passes $15 federal minimum wage

Friday, July 19th, 2019

The federal minimum wage would rise to $15 an hour under historic legislation passed Thursday by the House of Representatives.

Three Republicans jumped the aisle to support the Democratic-led measure. Six Democrats defected to vote no. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Donald Trump can now give tens of millions of working people a raise any time they want.

The bill would double the national pay floor in a plan that would roll out gradually, ticking up from the current $7.25 over a six-year period. The measure also permanently pegs the minimum wage to inflation, automating future increases to break a vicious political and economic cycle that’s become the norm over the past half-century.

Congress has not raised the wage floor in a decade. That hike, too, followed a decade of stagnation. So did its predecessor legislation in the 1990s. The government has slipped into a pattern of ignoring wage policy for long stretches as costs of living rise and erode the earning power of the lowest-paid workers in the country.

That cycle has helped fuel the massive economic inequality that’s ravaged the country for decades, through recessions and economic expansions alike. Today’s $7.25 is worth less than the minimum wage of the 1970s in inflation-adjusted terms.

The $15 wage floor wouldn’t just catch workers up for all that lost time and buying power the way past wage hikes have, though: It seeks to establish a higher standard of living for low-wage workers than the previous record high, set in the 1960s. Nearly 20 million workers would see their pay increased by the measure, and an estimated 1.3 million people would be lifted out of poverty.

The sheer magnitude of the hike — more than doubling the pay floor nationwide — has dismayed even some economists who are typically supportive of minimum wage raises in general. Supporters shrug off those worries, noting that the current wage system is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, who are left to make up the difference between corporate poverty wages and what it costs to keep a family alive in the 21st century.

“There’s always been this attempt for some to hold onto this gross inequality and these scare tactics,” Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign told reporters on a call before the vote. “We have had an economy that goes up on Wall Street but it’s fueled by low-wage jobs on back streets and back roads and city streets. That is what we have to end. We cannot really be a full-fledged democracy when you have 140 million people poor and low-wealth, and 62 million people working… for less than a minimum wage.”

If conservatives are distressed here, they have only themselves to blame: Republicans had a chance to cut a reasonable deal almost a decade ago, years before the fast-food walkouts were even underway. Progressives had only wanted a $10.10 federal floor as recently as 2012, arguing that would bring minimum-wage buying power back to its 1970s levels.

The Fight for $15 movement is also an indirect byproduct of longer-running policy failures. After Wall Street wrecked the real economy at the close of the Bush presidency, the wealthy bounced back almost immediately. Taxpayers bailed out bankers first, the government declined to extract ownership stakes in their firms, and the modern American economy returned relatively quickly to business as usual: Income inequality grew steadily.

The anger that set of policy choices instilled in the U.S. electorate and working class has helped foster the political conditions that followed. If the idea of a $15 minimum wage scares anyone who watched the House’s vote Thursday, odds are they should direct their anger towards the people who opted to hang working-class people out to dry for the past decade.

This article was originally published at Think Progress on July 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Alan Pyke  covers poverty and the social safety net. Alan is also a film and music critic for fun. Send him tips at: apyke@thinkprogress.org or

A Quiet Trump Administration Rule Change Could Allow a Federal Union-Busting Spree

Friday, July 19th, 2019

Image result for Heather GiesThe Trump administration has proposed a change in rules governing union membership for federal government workers that could embolden federal agencies to discourage staff from joining or remaining in their union.

The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on Friday, would enable federal workers to drop union membership—and opt out of paying membership dues—at any point after their first year of membership. A rolling opt-out rule would mark a break from current practice, in which workers can revoke their membership at yearly intervals upon their anniversary of joining.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, senior lecturer and director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, tells In These Times that beyond a mere administrative tweak allowing workers to opt out of membership whenever they please, the policy opens the door for employers to bully workers out of staying in their union, or joining in the first place. She said the issue of dues deduction could be a pressure point for employers to “intimidate and coerce workers” out of union activity.

Employers, in this context, are the Trump appointees heading dozens of federal agencies that together employ millions of workers, including 1.1 million employeesrepresented by unions. These agencies include the Departments of Veteran’s Affairs, Defense, and Agriculture, the Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many more.

“Under the current administration, we’ve seen very intense anti-union activity,” Bronfenbrenner says. “This is not a law for employees. This is a law to allow employers to push workers out of the union.”

Nicole Cantello, president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 704 representing 1,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota, tells In These Times such rules interfere in the union-worker relationship by eliminating the opportunity for meaningful conversations about why a member might consider leaving the union, or what she calls a “cooling off period.”

“We’re already struggling under a similar rule,” Cantello said, referring to directives in a contract the EPA “imposed” on nearly 9,000 EPA employees. “We feel it is equivalent to union busting.”

The latest salvo in an ongoing attack

J. David Cox, national president of AFGE representing 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers, said in a statement that the Trump administration’s rule change request represents “part of an all-out assault on federal employees’ collective bargaining rights.”

“They are throwing out our contracts, enforcing illegal executive orders, and now trying to make it harder for workers to join and stay in the union,” Cox said. “Their ultimate goal is to destroy federal sector unions, and we will do everything in our ability to prevent that from happening.”

The proposed change comes amid a series of moves aimed at hollowing out federal unions. Those efforts received a boost this week when the U.S. Court of Appeals gave the green light to Trump’s executive orders limiting collective bargaining and the amount of time federal workers can spend on union activities. The National Labor Relations Board also just made it easier for employers in both the public and private sector to eliminate unions.

The proposed membership withdrawal change also follows on the heels of Janus v. AFSCME, a 2018 Supreme Court decision that barred public sector unions from collecting “fair share dues” from workers who are represented by the union, but who opt out of full membership. Janus, the result of a suit bankrolled by right-wing think tanks, brought the rest of the public sector in line with the status quo for federal workers’ unions, where union membership and dues payment was already voluntary. By invoking Janus, which argued that fair share dues infringe on workers’ free speech rights, the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) new membership revocation proposal lays bare its anti-union sentiment.

“Consistent with Janus,” the proposed rule states, “upon receiving an employee’s request to revoke a previously authorized union dues assignment, an agency should process the request as soon as administratively feasible, if at least one year has passed since the employee initially authorized union-dues assignment from the employee’s pay.”

Borrowing Corporate America’s playbook

The drive to wipe out federal unions isn’t new. “They have wanted to get rid of AFGE and other federal unions for a long time,” Bronfenbrenner said, pointing to the history of Reagan era union-busting and privatization under both Bush administrations. Now,  increased organizing in federal unions in recent years—including a historic 2011 AFGE win securing a bargaining unit of 44,000 Transportation Security Officers as well as support among federal workers for the $15 minimum wage campaign—could further unsettle the anti-union bosses at the helm under Trump.

“This administration is tied with Corporate America,” Bronfenbrenner adds. “They are going to act in the federal sector the way they’ve acted in the private sector.”

In research published in a 2009 briefing paper, Bronfenbrenner found that “the overwhelming majority” of private sector employers in the United States “are willing to use a broad arsenal of legal and illegal tactics to interfere with the rights of workers,” including a “combination of threats, interrogation, surveillance, and harassment” to undermine union election processes.

Bronfenbrenner tells In These Times that anti-union maneuvers, from Janus to the rule change on federal union membership revocation, introduce a similar playbook to the public sector. Together, she believes these actions are about “giving employers more power to bust unions.”

Conservative groups such as the State Policy Network, which helped fund Janus, already have aggressively targeted public sector workers urging them to opt out of their unions, but those campaigns have proved far less effective at ushering in a fatal blow to unions than many anticipated.

The OPM, the federal agency that manages the government workforce and human resources matters, submitted the proposed rule to the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which will accept public comments on the policy change until August 12.

Bronfenbrenner says the new guidelines would ultimately enable employers to “interfere with the day-to-day ability of workers to engage with the union without fear of intimidation, coercion, and threats.”

“The way the law has worked, once you are part of the union, it has been an unfair labor practice [and] a violation of labor law for the employer to oppose your participation in the union,” she said. “But with Janus, and now this, the employer has the ability to interfere with your membership in the union, and that goes against the way the law has been interpreted for years.”

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

About the Author: Heather Gies is a freelance journalist who has written on human rights, social movements and environmental issues for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, In These Times and National Geographic. Follow her on twitter @HeatherGies.

Sorry to Bother You: Worker Wins

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with big victories for working people in the Minnesota legislature and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.

Minnesota Legislative Session Yields Victories for Working People: As the legislature finished up its work for the current session, several bills that will benefit working people were passed. Among the bills pursued as part of Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Legislative Agenda of Dignity, Justice & Freedom for Working Minnesotans that passed are making wage theft a criminal felony offense, eliminating the sunset provision on the health care provider tax that funds care for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans and expanding the Working Families Tax Credit for unreimbursed work expenses. About the legislation, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy (UNITE HERE) said: “Despite being one of only two states with divided government, the 2019 legislative session yielded big wins for working Minnesotans, including the strongest law in the nation to combat wage theft. We applaud Governor Walz and the House majority for putting working people at the center of their legislative priorities this year.”

Inspired by Rapper and Filmmaker Boots Riley, Salt Lake Film Society Staff Unionize: Front-of-house staff at the Salt Lake Film Society were inspired by Boots Riley’s film “Sorry to Bother You” to reach out to the Utah AFL-CIO who connected them with an organizer from IATSE. After doing the hard work to organize the new unit, the staffers got more than 80% to sign cards in favor of unionizing. The drive got a boost from Riley himself when he sent the organizers a video message. Riley said: “So much of what you do is getting stories to people. And the thing about what happens when people come together and fight, especially when they do that on the job, is it starts to tell a story to other people…it’s about the story that is being told to millions of other people that will be finding out about what you are doing….What you’re doing is very important, and I’m inspired by you.”

Vox Media Staffers Secure First Collective Bargaining Agreement: After 14 months of negotiations and a one-day walkout, staffers at Vox Media have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. The bargaining committee tweeted: “We are thrilled to announce we have reached a tentative agreement with Vox Media for our first-ever collective bargaining agreement. Our unit still needs to ratify our contract, but we are proud of what we have won in this agreement and can’t wait to share the details.”

Nevada Governor Signs Bill Extending Collective Bargaining Rights to 20,000 Working People: Gov. Steve Sisolak recently signed S.B. 135 into law. The legislation expands collective bargaining rights to more than 20,000 Nevada state employees. About the legislation, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said: “This bill is about respect for state employees who make their communities stronger every day. By signing this bill, Governor Sisolak demonstrates his understanding of the importance of giving working people a seat at the table and the voice on the job they deserve. Americans are looking for an answer to a rigged economy that favors the wealthy, and it’s clear that they are turning to unions in growing numbers. It is time to make it easier all across the country for working people to join in strong unions.”

Fiesto Rancho Casino Workers Vote to Join Culinary Union: After 85% of the nearly 150 workers who voted said they were in favor of unionizing, the Fiesta Rancho Hotel & Casino becomes the sixth Station Casinos property in Las Vegas to unionize since 2016. Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Union, said: “Workers are standing up and fighting! Two Station Casinos’ properties have voted to unionize by a majority this week. We call on Station Casinos to immediately negotiate and settle a fair contract for the workers at Fiesta Rancho, Sunset Station, Palms, Green Valley Ranch, Palace Station and Boulder Station.”

Radio Station Employees at Santa Monica’s KCRW Join SAG-AFTRA: More than 90 public media professionals at radio station KCRW voted to be represented by SAG-AFTRA. The workers delivered a petition signed by more than 75% of staffers with a request to form a union. SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said: “On behalf of SAG-AFTRA members, I am thrilled to welcome KCRW to our union family. KCRW is a one-of-a-kind radio station that produces some of Los Angeles’ most dynamic and diverse programming, and we’re excited to make sure everyone’s voice is heard through the collective bargaining process.”

Stagehands Ratify Collective Bargaining Event with DNC Venue: Stagehands working at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee have ratified a contract with the venue, which will host the Democratic National Convention in 2020. IATSE Vice President Craig Carlson said: “This agreement illustrates that both parties believe in the dignity of hard work, the honor it instills and the respect it commands. Our agreement rewards all workers with safe working conditions, fair wages and meaningful benefits. I commend Fiserv Forum’s Management and [IATSE] Local 18 for putting together an agreement which will lead to the future success of both workers and management. We look forward to a wonderful relationship.”

Working People at Ikea Distribution Centers in Illinois Vote to Join IAM: Nearly 200 distribution center workers employed at Ikea have voted to be represented by the Machinists (IAM). The organizing campaign is part of a larger IAM campaign to unionize workers at Ikea distribution and fulfillment centers throughout the world. Dennis Mendenhall, who led IAM’s campaign in Illinois, said: “These hardworking men and women are proud to work at Ikea and do tremendous work for this company. Yes, joining the IAM gives them the opportunity to negotiate on wages, benefits and work rules. But this campaign was mostly about fairness and a voice on the job, as well as ensuring that the profits they create also benefit their families and communities.”

AT&T Workers in the Midwest Reach Tentative Agreement on Contract: Technicians and Installers who work for AT&T and are represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), reached two tentative agreements with the telecom giant. Some 8,000 employees are covered by the agreements, which have to be approved by the union’s membership. CWA District 4 Vice President Linda L. Hinton said: “I am incredibly proud of our AT&T Midwest bargaining teams and our members. We did not back down and our agreement reflects the priorities we brought to the bargaining table on jobs, health care and employment security.”

Guggenheim Museum Staffers Join Local 30 of the Operating Engineers: Art handlers and facilities staff at the Guggenheim Museum in New York have voted to join the Operating Engineers (IUOE). The union will represent about 90 workers at the museum. An anonymous art handler, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s incredibly exciting. Workers were able to unite behind a movement despite extensive attempts to exploit divisions by Guggenheim management. It signals a future ability to create a strong contract that benefits all of us equally.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on July 18, 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.

House to vote on $15 minimum wage, but Republicans are determined to slip in a poison pill

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 for the longest time it’s gone without an increase since 1938, the Democratic House is preparing to vote on the Raise the Wage Act on Thursday. The bill would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024—not exactly blazing speed, but a major improvement over more years of $7.25.

Donald Trump has pledged to veto the bill, which was a recreational promise anyway, since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans won’t let it through. Because Republicans hate working people and think the minimum wage should be a poverty wage, if they even think a minimum wage should exist at all. Republicans have been emboldened in their opposition by a Congressional Budget Office analysis that treats outdated studies the same as the best research on the issue, using those outdated and often garbage studies to weigh against the reams of research showing that raising the minimum wage does not cost jobs. Other research shows widespread and often unexpected benefits from increasing the minimum wage, including lower suicide rates and lower recidivism among people released from prison.

Nonetheless, despite the best research—which draws on many, many cases where the minimum wage has gone up, allowing for real-world studies of what happens—Republicans will not only oppose the raise but will try to lay traps for squishy Democrats, using a motion to recommit to undermine the entire bill. Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-chairs Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan have warned that if wobbly Democrats fall into the motion to recommit trap, the CPC will vote against the bill itself, saying in a statement, “We have no doubt that Congressional Republicans will try to divide the Democratic Caucus with a disingenuous Motion to Recommit. It’s up to all of us to stand unified and reject their bad faith effort to undermine this bill,” and, “After consulting with our Members this week, we are confident that any bill that includes a poison pill Republican Motion to Recommit will lack the votes to pass on the House Floor.”

It’s time for this bill to pass, without poison pills. A vote for a $15 minimum wage is a vote for gender and racial equity, since it would disproportionately benefit women and people of color. A vote for a $15 minimum wage is a vote to give 1.3 million veterans a raise. And it’s a vote for the general proposition that work should pay a wage that someone, somewhere in this country can actually live on.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

 

Activists urge pro-LGBTQ companies stop to funding anti-LGBTQ lawmakers

Thursday, July 18th, 2019
By almost all measures, AT&T has been a stalwart supporter of LGBTQ equality for a long time. It has protected workers from sexual orientation discrimination since 1975. It sponsors the Trevor Project to help LGBTQ youth in crisis. It received a perfect 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in its annual equality index, ranking among the nation’s most inclusive places to work.By any measure, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is among the nation’s most anti-LGBTQ bigots. He defended bans on same-sex marriage as “sound public policy” and spearheaded the effort to block the elected government in Washington, D.C., from enacting marriage equality. He boasted of receiving a “True Blue Award” from the Family Research Council, a Souther Poverty Law Center (SPLC)-designated anti-LGBT hate group. He consistently earns a 0 score on HRC’s congressional scorecard, ranking among the lawmakers most virulently opposing equality.

Yet, AT&T’s corporate political action committee has given tens of thousands of dollars to Jordan’s campaigns since 2010, helping bankroll the re-elections of a man who HRC once inducted into its anti-equality “Hall of Shame” for “proactively [working] to undermine existing legal protections and promote anti-LGBT discrimination.” And AT&T’s PAC has given more than $400,000 to other firmly anti-LGBTQ members of Congress in recent years.

AT&T did not respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment about its support for Jordan and other opponents of equality. But it is hardly alone in its seemingly contradictory political giving.

A new activist pressure group called Zero for Zeros aims to change that. In recent days, it has released a list of more than two dozen major companies with 100 HRC scores, urging them to stop their donations to Jordan and other lawmakers with zero HRC ratings.

Lane Hudson, a longtime LGBTQ-rights activist, is campaign manger of the effort. He explained in an interview with ThinkProgress that “to really glean out the worst of the worst, the ones who take extra actions to work against our community, the ones that really fight against equality,” the group filtered the people with zero ratings even further. After picking 10 U.S. representatives and 19 senators with the worst ratings, the group found 49 had used their corporate PACs to support the worst.

Hudson explained that he understands that companies make PAC contributions based on more than just LGBTQ issues. “[I]t doesn’t surprise me,” he said, that the companies’ corporate PACs are “supporting politicians that are connected to those other issues.” But, he added, it is important that these companies hold lawmakers to a higher standard.

“What we’re asking those companies to do is to apply their corporate values to their political giving,” he said. “They create safe and welcoming workspaces for their LGBT employees. They market to LGBT customers. They support their LGBT employee resource groups. They march in full force at [Pride events] around America and sometimes abroad … These are companies that have been with us for a long time and helped us win a lot of the progress that we made and their political contributions to these people threaten to undermine everything we’ve done, and undermine their own efforts.”

On Tuesday, Zero for Zeros released a list of 14 technology and lifestyle companies with otherwise stellar pro-equality records, but also a history of PAC contributions to anti-LGBTQ extremists. On Wednesday, it released an additional list of 13 financial services giants in the same category.

ThinkProgress reached out to each of the 27 companies for comment. Four responded with statements. Two declined comment.

Those responding included:

American Airlines

American Airlines has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign for nearly two decades as a leader among U.S. companies when it comes to workplace policies and practices for LGBTQ team members. American participates in the political and public policy process in a number of ways, including by making contributions from our political action committee. With respect to the contributions that we make, we don’t agree on every issue with the lawmakers to whom we make contributions, but we fundamentally believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect — and equally under the law. We are proud to stand with the LGBTQ community, and our commitment to equality for all of our team members and customers is unwavering.

Capital One Financial Corp

Capital One’s longstanding support for the LGBTQ+ community reflects our core values and our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality. Our efforts to ensure non-discrimination and equal opportunity in the workplace include the early adoption of policies, benefits and other practices that apply equally to our LGBTQ+ associates. We work with and support legislators and policymakers who are relevant to our business, our associates, our customers and our communities. We support candidates on a bipartisan basis. Our support for any candidate should not suggest that we agree with their positions on every issue.

Intel

Intel does not support discrimination in any form. The Intel PAC continuously evaluates its contributions to candidates.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance

[T]hank you for recognizing MassMutual’s stellar pro-LGBTQ record and 100% HRC rating year over year. At MassMutual, we help all customers secure their future and protect the ones they love, regardless of race, gender, age, abilities, place of birth, religion or who they love. We actively advocate for inclusion, fairness and equality, value people for who they are, and celebrate all diversity. From our people policies to our involvement in pro-LBGTQ amicus briefs to lending our voice to specific ballot initiatives, we have an established record of active and engaged support for the LGBTQ community.

Citigroup and Wells Fargo each said that they had no comment.

Amazon, AT&T, Cigna Corp, Cisco Systems, Compass Bank, Dell Inc., Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Facebook, Google, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Mastercard, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, PNC Financial Services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sap America, T-Mobile, and Visa did not respond as of publication time.

HRC national press secretary Sarah McBride told ThinkProgress in a statement that while the corporate equality index “captures LGBTQ-inclusive policies, practices and benefits, there isn’t a one size fits all way to consistently score companies on the scope and impact of their political donations.”

“We do monitor employers’ contributions to anti-LGBTQ ballot measures and organizations whose primary mission includes anti-LGBTQ advocacy,” she added. “It is important for reporting like this that asks tough questions of corporations and brings these donations into the public discussion. The Corporate Equality Index is a critical tool for advancing LGBTQ equality in the workplace, but it is not the only tool.”

Hudson said he and his team are talking with the companies and are hopeful that they will take anti-LGBTQ extremism into account more in their future PAC giving.

“This effort is meant to not be an attack on these companies, because we view them as our allies. They have invested in their employees and customers and been with us in these court battles,” Hudson said. “We sent letters to their CEOs and I also reached out to the government affairs staff and asking them for a conversation about this, so we can talk about why it’s important not only to the LGBTQ community but to their employees and their customers and to the overall movement in general and how it can be beneficial to their business.”

Fiscal collapse of coal towns all but certain, new research shows

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

New research shows that communities in coal country are at an increased risk of fiscal collapse. The data is the latest blow to President Donald Trump’s ongoing but faltering efforts to rescue the industry and its workers.

Local governments dependent on coal are failing to account for the financial implications of the industry’s demise, according to new findings from Columbia University and the Brookings Institution. That trend is likely to worsen should the federal government take action to curb carbon emissions, which would be likely if a Democrat were to triumph in 2020.

Released Monday, the new report looks at 26 counties in 10 states, all in Appalachia or the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming. Those areas are all classified as “coal-mining dependent,” meaning that the industry is a major employer there, with some 53,000 workers noted by the study.

Coal also serves as a major contributor to local governments in those places. Despite that dependency, however, the report finds that those areas, already hard-hit by coal’s decline, are not prepared for the implications of potential climate policies.

“If the United States undertakes actions to address the risks of climate change, the use of coal in the power sector will decline rapidly,” the report observes, while going on to note that coal-dependent governments “have yet to grapple with the implications of climate policies for their financial conditions.”

With the backdrop of the plummeting coal industry, the study broadly examines the fiscal risk posed to communities heavily reliant on that sector. Between 2007 and 2017, coal production fell by a third, a decline that is set to continue even under current policies with a pro-coal federal government. But even a “moderately stringent climate policy,” the researchers note, could lead the industry to plummet by around 75% into the 2020s.

That would likely be disastrous for unprepared communities. School districts and other systems in these areas rely on coal-dependent revenue and local economies are heavily intertwined with the industry. Historically, the study argues, “the rapid decline of a dominant industry” has led to the fiscal collapse of local governments, threatening their long-term well-being.

And despite the risk that coal’s decline poses to reliant communities, government filings fail to capture this. “[M]unicipalities are at best uneven and at worst misleading (by omission) in their characterizations of climate-related risks,” the report notes.

Those findings come at a grim time for the industry. Coal has been declining for years, a trend due largely to market factors. Renewables and cheaper fossil fuels, like natural gas, have dethroned coal in recent decades. But Trump has made rescuing the industry a key mission of his presidency, going so far as to float bailing out coal, along with the also-struggling nuclear power sector.

Trump’s efforts to save coal have been primarily concentrated in regulatory rollbacks and rule-weakening. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP), which used the federal government to target the emissions produced by coal-fired power plants.

By contrast, the ACE rule largely turns that authority over to the states, in a move experts have argued would not save the coal industry but would likely drive up emissions.

New data similarly indicates that the administration’s efforts aren’t shifting coal’s trajectory, even short-term. S&P Global reported Monday that despite the ACE rule, several coal plant operators are still going ahead with scheduled retirements.

Those operators argue that even despite the rule change, the “dynamics” within the industry will not shift, such as the rising popularity of renewables and natural gas. Notably, more coal plants shuttered during Trump’s first two years in office than during the entire first term of the Obama administration.

Even as coal collapses, however, experts argue that more can be done to help impacted communities. Proposals like the Green New Deal, a blueprint for rapidly decarbonizing the economy, include calls for a “just transition” — a clause that would ensure protections for coal miners and other impacted fossil fuel workers. Many Democratic 2020 contenders have endorsed the Green New Deal along with calling for a just transition for frontline communities hit hard by efforts towards net-zero emissions.

But some unions have aligned against the Green New Deal, expressing concern over the impact of decarbonization on those workers, even as other unions — including Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — have backed the proposal.

As Monday’s study emphasizes, advance planning is needed as coal communities head towards collapse; this could include potentially a carbon pricing system that would see funds redistributed to those impacted.

“A new source of government revenue may be required to push a serious economic development program across the finish line,” the report says, underscoring that a “logical source of these funds would be a federal carbon price.”

Even that may be a hard sell in many communities. Trump has expressed no interest in a carbon tax and local efforts have struggled. Washington state failed last November to enshrine a carbon pricing effort after a record-breaking financial opposition effort from out-of-state oil companies. And last month, Oregon Republicans left the state in order to kill a similar effort.

Still, the coal industry is keeping close ties to the administration. Bob Murray, CEO of coal mining corporation Murray Energy, is hosting a private fundraising event for Trump’s re-election campaign later this month, according to Documented. The fundraiser will be held in West Virginia, one of the most coal-reliant communities.

This article was originally published at Think Progress on July 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: E.A. (Ev) Crunden covers climate policy and environmental issues at ThinkProgress. Originally from Texas, Ev has reported from many parts of the country and previously covered world issues for Muftah Magazine, with an emphasis on South Asia and Eastern Europe. Reach them at: ecrunden@thinkprogress.org.

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