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Archive for October, 2019

Will GM Workers Stay Out On Strike In Hopes of a Better Deal?

Monday, October 21st, 2019

“They always say it will take multiple agreements to reach equality—we can’t win it all in one go,” said Sean Crawford, a second-tier worker at Flint Truck Assembly in Michigan.

For Crawford, the GM strike, the longest at a Big 3 company in 50 years, was the best chance the union had to put an end to the many tiers that have fractured the workforce.

“This is the third contract since the 2009 bankruptcy—that is a third of a career,” Crawford said. “If we don’t get this now, when GM is more profitable than they have ever been, when will we ever get it? So no, I don’t support the contract.”

GM’s profits were $35 billion over the last three years.

After nearly six weeks on the picket lines, auto workers will make a sobering choice: accept the agreement proposed or vote no and stay out in the hopes of getting something better. In 2015 Chrysler workers rejected their tentative agreement 2-1 and sent bargainers back for more. GM workers, voting later, approved their pact by just 58 percent for production workers; skilled trades voted it down.

UAW leaders decided that workers will remain on strike during the ratification vote. Voting will end Friday, October 25 by 4:00 p.m.

Tiers maintained

The contract makes some gains. Workers will receive 3 percent raises in the first and third years of the contract and lump-sums equal to 4 percent of annual wages in the second and fourth years. Second-tier workers, who until now were on an eight-year track to get within a few dollars of first-tier workers’ pay, will now top out at equal pay—$32.32—at the end of the contract, a shorter four-year track. The cap on profit sharing has been lifted and a pathway has been created for thousands of temporary workers to become permanent once they’ve been temps for three years.

“In January, they will convert 850 temporary workers and will continue converting each month after that as people get their time, so they will convert up to 2,000 in 2020,” said Tim Stannard, president of UAW Local 1853 in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

John, a 35-year worker at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, said on the picket line today, “What we’re getting is what we’re going to get. It’s not a bad-looking contract.” Was the strike worth it? “Yes. The temps got moved up. There’s decent raises. Health care stayed the same.”

Even with these gains, though, GM has maintained all the tiers that it had before. Second-tier workers—those permanent employees hired after 2007—will still receive a 401(k) for retirement rather than a defined pension. They are not eligible for retiree health care, and their Supplemental Unemployment Benefits when laid off will last half as long as first-tier workers’.

GM workers at warehouses and at four “components” plants will continue to make far less than assembly workers, with an eight-year grow-in.

And temporary workers will continue at pay barely more than half that of Tier 1 workers. GM can continue to use them as probationary employees–with a very long probation.

“I know the language says that temps will be in progression to be hired in as employees after so many years, but they are still using temps,” said Beth Baryo, a materials handler at a parts warehouse near Flint.

Under the new agreement, temps hired after January 1, 2021 who maintain two years of continuous employment must be hired on as permanent. Temps can be laid off for up to 30 days and still maintain continuous service.

“As sure as god wears sandals, you know that GM will lay people off for 31 days,” said Baryo. “I don’t trust anything they will say.”

What they didn’t win

The biggest sting of all was the shuttering of Lordstown (Ohio) Assembly, Warren (Michigan) Powertrain, and Baltimore Powertrain, which GM announced last Thanksgiving. Every contract cycle, GM closes more plants and every contract cycle the UAW claims to have stronger language to protect jobs.

The steady procession of concessions was also sold as a job-saving measure and yet the number of union auto workers employed by GM has dropped from 470,000 in 1979, when concessions began to the Big 3, to less than 50,000 today.

Many of the concessions made in 2007 and 2009 are still in effect, showcasing just how challenging it is for the union to get out of the hole it is in. Those include a cost of living allowance and overtime pay after eight hours (many plants now work regular 10-hour days without overtime pay). Tier 2 workers got nothing for retirement. Future Tier 1 retirees got one $1,000 lump sum.

How will they vote?

As often happens in a strike, many people unhappy with the agreement predicted that other people would vote yes. “People are going to say yes because of the money,” said Adriana Jaime, a 21-year worker at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, at the picket line today. “But for the weeks we’ve been walking here, it’s not enough.”

One man said the offer was basically the same as what GM offered before the strike, except for the signing bonus (which increased from $8,000 to $11,000). “I’m not impressed,” he said. “But a lot of people want to get back to work.”

Jack Jackson, with 50 years, will vote no. “I’m mad as hell,” he said. “This contract was probably decided before we even went out and this was a show and tell, a little pony show.

“I hope it’s good for the young folks. It should be 90 days and you’re at full pay. This contract is really not for me. Give the retirees some money—our pension benefit has been the same for 12 or 15 years. You dedicate half your life to GM and they treat the retirees like an old horse they take out in the field and shoot him. We didn’t get the retiree issues—and the people coming behind me are going to retire someday too.”

Carla Duckett, with 37 years, says she’s “on the fence. I’m going to retire—I want to see what this leaves for those who have to stay.”

“The leadership is going to try and make the case that this is the best they can get,” Crawford said, “but if you look at the 2015 agreement, after Chrysler people voted that down, they came back with something significantly better.”

Aramark janitors also have an agreement.

The 850 Aramark janitors and skilled trades workers at five Ohio and Michigan GM plants who struck alongside GM workers were told yesterday that they also have a tentative agreement. They do work formerly done by GM workers, but at far less pay.

“Everyone makes $15. If you’ve been there 10 years you still make $15.” said Karen Cool, from GM’s Tech Center near Detroit. GM hired replacement janitors during the strike who, with police support, crossed picket lines there daily.

The southern problem

Economic constraints placed on the Big Three by the influx of foreign-owned, non-union automakers in the U.S. South are one of the forces outside the control of striking GM workers.

Even though GM has gone from bankrupt to profitable, the company is still losing market share to these non-union competitors like Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Honda, and Volkswagen. All use high proportions of temporaries and contract workers at will. The UAW has engaged in three high-profile organizing drives at Nissan and Volkswagen over the past five years, losing all of them.

Until the whole auto industry is organized, non-union employers will pay their workers less, give fewer benefits, hire more temps, and outsource more work, to gain a competitive advantage over their union rivals.

 

 

This article was originally republished from Labor Notes at In These Times on October 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Chris Brooks is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.

About the Author: Jane Slaughter is the author of Concessions and How To Beat Them and co-author, with Mike Parker, of Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept and Working Smart: A Union Guide to Participation Programs and Reengineering. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Monthly Review, among others. Jane Slaughter  works for Labor Notes in Detroit.

Elizabeth Warren's education plan tackles privatization, segregation, and high-stakes testing

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released a K-12 education plan and, like so many of her other policy plans, it fully earns the headline term “sweeping.” Also “bold” and even potentially “inspiring.” In recent weeks Warren has taken some shots from the left for her past education stances, and in response to this plan we’re now going to see who was seriously concerned about education policy and who was just trying to drag her down to benefit their candidate. There’s so much good stuff here—increased funding, fighting privatization, fighting segregation, breaking up the school-to-prison pipeline, civil rights enforcement, supporting teachers, eliminating high-stakes testing—with Warren’s characteristic understanding of the links between racial justice and economic justice and government enforcement and transparency and the influence of money in our institutions.

As with so many of her other plans, Warren takes a racial and economic justice approach to education, writing that “The data show that more school funding significantly improves student achievement, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds. Yet our current approach to school funding at the federal, state, and local level underfunds our schools and results in many students from low-income backgrounds receiving less funding than other students on a per-student basis” and highlighting the racial disparities that result from this system. She calls for quadrupling federal Title I funding to schools with high proportions of students from low-income families, while requiring states to invest in education in order to get that funding, and changing funding formulas to better reach low-income students. Warren would also boost federal funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, create “Excellence Grants” for public schools “to invest in programs and resources that they believe are most important to their students,” promote community schools, and invest in school buildings, which are all too often crumbling.

But while funding is a key part of promoting equality in education, it’s not the only thing, and Warren adds a strong set of civil rights proposals. Funding is important in fighting rising school and residential segregation, the plan notes: “Modern residential segregation is driven at least in part by income inequality and parents seeking out the best possible school districts for their children. By investing more money in our public schools – and helping ensure that every public school is a great one – my plan will address one of the key drivers of residential segregation.” Warren would also strengthen civil rights enforcement in education, including applying it to the recent trend of “breakaway” districts, in which the wealthier, whiter areas of a town break away to form their own school district, leaving lower-income and less white populations in underfunded schools. Warren commits to civil rights enforcement not just for students of color but for students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, and English Language Learners and other kids from immigrant families. She’d address some of the key policies making schools punitive and stressful for students, pushing back on zero-tolerance discipline policies that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, canceling school lunch debt and calling for free school breakfasts and lunches, and eliminating high-stakes testing, which has so damaged the educational experience: “Schools have eliminated critical courses that are not subject to federally mandated testing, like social studies and the arts. They can exclude students who don’t perform well on tests. Teachers feel pressured to teach to the test, rather than ensuring that students have a rich learning experience.”

In that call to eliminate high-stakes testing, which is also so much about allowing teachers to make judgments as professionals, and in the final two broad areas of Warren’s plan, she clearly take cues from the teachers’ uprising of recent years. Warren calls for higher pay for teachers, points out that her earlier plan to eliminate student debt would teaching a more sustainable profession, and supports unions as a path to strength for teachers. She also has a slate of plans to diversify the teaching workforce and to expand professional development for teachers—and she would make the government pay for those classroom supplies that teachers all too often pay for out of their own pockets.

Finally, “To keep our traditional public school systems strong, we must resist efforts to divert public funds out of traditional public schools.” She’s not kidding around there. Warren calls for a ban on for-profit charter schools, including ones that are theoretically non-profit but outsource operations to for-profit companies, and to end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools—a key Betsy DeVos priority. Beyond that, she would subject existing charter schools to the same oversight and transparency requirements as public schools, and crack down on rampant fraud. She’d apply lobbying restrictions and disclosure requirements to companies lobbying school systems that get federal money, “Ban the sharing, storing, and sale of student data,” and require high-stakes testing companies that currently sell prior versions of their tests to students who can afford them to release those materials to everyone.

In short, Warren once again does have a plan for that.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

Chicago teachers strike for smaller classes, affordable housing, and racial justice

Friday, October 18th, 2019

Chicago public school teachers, along with school staff represented by SEIU, are on strike as of Thursday morning. The teachers, who a poll shows have public support, are striking not just or even mostly for better pay—though, as a video you can watch below shows, many are struggling to get by—but for nurses and counselors and librarians in every school, for smaller class sizes and more bilingual teachers and more special education teachers and for “real sanctuary schools.” The city has tried to derail the strike by offering—and making a big public deal about—substantial raises, but the teachers are making clear that it’s bigger than that.

The teachers are also fighting for affordable housing for students, at least 16,450 of whom are homeless, with homelessness disproportionately affecting black students, and for lower-paid school staff who are required to live within city limits but struggle to afford city housing costs.

The Chicago Teachers Union is pointing directly at racism as a factor in the state of Chicago schools. ”Here’s what I have learned from the systems in place. They’re governed by white supremacy,” union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told HuffPost. “We have a school district that is 90% children of color, we have immigrant children in our system?why on earth would it be difficult to enshrine class size protections and make sure there’s a nurse in every school?”

There are around 25,000 teachers on strike, along with 7,500 support staff, affecting the nearly 300,000 in the city’s schools. A former student who came out to support the teachers told CNN that “I see that many schools do not have complete sets of books for each kid. Some schools do not have the help for bilingual students, someone to help them in their native language. Some schools do not have a special education teacher, the kids are falling behind. Some buildings are falling apart, making it unsafe for kids.”

Chicago teachers last went on strike in 2012, but Jane McAlevey traces out how the CTU’s activism helped set the conditions for the more recent wave of teacher strikes from West Virginia to Los Angeles. Now Chicago teachers are again the ones on strike, but in a seriously different environment around the fight for public education than they saw (and began to reshape) in 2012.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has been strongly supportive of the teachers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

Why Are Chicago Teachers Striking Against Mayor Lori Lightfoot? They’ve Been “Lied To” Before.

Friday, October 18th, 2019

kari-lydersen

As a pink sunrise painted the sky on Thursday morning, horns blared seemingly nonstop from semi trucks, commuters’ cars, a concrete mixer and countless other vehicles. They were all supporting members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and SEIU Local 73, which represents school support staff, on the picket line before dawn outside John A. Walsh Elementary School in Chicago’s heavily immigrant Pilsen neighborhood.

At schools across the city, teachers and staff waved signs, blew whistles, chanted and cheered to a cacophony of supportive honking from morning traffic. Teachers said they’re disappointed that the administration of Mayor Lori Lightfoot has not yet followed through on campaign promises to increase school staffing, shrink class sizes, create an elected school board and otherwise bolster public education. But with the support of the public—and a whopping 94% of membership voting to strike—they are hopeful.

“People in the schools every day can’t bear to see what’s happening,” said Walsh counselor Kristy Brooks. “Kids in Chicago have tough lives, they’re dealing with poverty, immigration fears, violence, and we’re asking them to put all that aside when they come here. That’s a lot to ask. That’s why we need these support systems.”

Brooks, who has been in the school system for 14 years, previously worked at a school on the West Side that was closed during former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s shuttering of almost 50 schools. She said students, families and teachers still haven’t recovered from the impacts of those school closings, not to mention the gentrification, violence and other trauma that causes students to need far more access to counselors, nurses and social workers than is currently available. Most schools have a nurse on site only once a week, and CPS’s ratios of students to nurses and social workers are about four and five times higher than recommended by those professions’ national associations, according to the union.

Earlier this summer, Lightfoot announced the hiring of hundreds of nurses and social workers, and said in a statement last week that her administration is committing $400,000 to “developing a pipeline of nurses, counselors and case managers.” But the union wants specific benchmarks written into their contract—a demand the administration has resisted.

On Thursday morning, counselor Mary Jane Nykiel picketed outside Richard T. Crane Medical Prep High School on the Near West Side, a neighborhood with a large African-American population.

“Because of the lack of other clinicians, counselors are spread very thin and asked to do other duties that aren’t counselor duties,” Nykiel said. “We’re pulled in many directions.”

She said that the school, which was considered for closure by Emanuel’s administration, “has a beautiful library but hasn’t had a librarian in 15 years.” Nykiel serves 450 students, and the school has a nurse twice a week and a social worker once a week, she said, which isn’t near enough “especially on the West Side where there’s so much inequity and poverty and trauma.”

Nykiel noted that even after the teachers garnered important contract gains and massive public support during the 2012 strike, the administration still carried out among the largest mass school closings in U.S. history soon after.

To Daniel Washco, a ninth-grade English teacher at Richard T. Crane Medical Prep High School on the city’s West Side, those closings underscored that promises from the administration—like Lightfoot’s pledges to hire more nurses and social workers—are not enough. “Now put it in writing,” he said.

Washco was excited and hopeful when Lightfoot was elected, and still feels “her heart is in the right place.” The outcome of the strike will be telling, he said: “This is where the rubber meets the road.”

At Walsh, Brooks serves 302 students, a smaller number than counselors at many schools, though still above the American School Counselor Association’s recommended level of 250 students per counselor. And her relatively light load is in part because of gentrification in the neighborhood. The school has lost about 50% of its student body in the six years Brooks has been there, she said, with immigrant families displaced as the neighborhood becomes more expensive. Across the street from the school, newly built, still-unoccupied condos cover an entire city block.

The impacts of gentrification and lack of affordable housing on students, teachers and especially school paraprofessionals like clerks are among the reasons CTU has demanded the administration agree to endorse rent control and specific affordable housing provisions. Nearly a quarter of paraprofessionals make less than $32,000 a year, according to the union. One picket sign said, “My bar job paid for this sign.”

“It’s incredibly difficult for parents and teachers to be able to live near their schools and be part of their community” because of rising housing prices, said Washco.

In a statement, Lightfoot said CTU wanted to “set the city’s affordable housing policy through their collective bargaining agreement,” which would sideline other stakeholders. She said she “appointed the city’s first housing commissioner in a decade,” while also announcing a plan for low-income housing tax credits.

Esther Valenciano raised her kids in Pilsen and they graduated from Walsh, just around the corner from their home. Valenciano has worked at Walsh as a preschool teaching assistant for 23 years, but when she decided to buy a home, she couldn’t afford to stay in Pilsen. Now her son and daughter also work in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as teaching assistants, and are studying to become teachers.

Valenciano and the teacher she assists are often in charge of more than 40 preschoolers, including some with special needs. “They’re little kids, so we have to be fast,” she said.  “Especially in gym, it becomes a safety issue. It should not be that way.”

Valenciano finds herself, teachers, parents and grandparents all working together “as our own social workers” to try to help kids with problems when no case managers are available. “We do what we can do together,” she said.

Meanwhile, counselors say they’re often doing the jobs of social workers, plus helping in the classroom, lunchroom or recess, along with their primary responsibility of advising students about academics, college and careers.

Outside Nixon Elementary on the city’s largely Hispanic, working-class Northwest Side, librarian and union delegate Leslie Westerberg picketed with her shelter rescue dog, Milo, wearing a homemade union dog jacket. A CPS school Westerberg previously worked at closed its library and dismantled the bookshelves to turn it into a classroom, she said. She doesn’t know what happened to all the books she fundraised to buy.

At Nixon, Westerberg said she’s lucky to have a principal who prioritizes the library, but she notes many schools can’t do that as the system’s student-based budgeting formula means principals have to make tough choices when allocating scarce resources.

“We want students to know how to research and be ready for college, and we want them to excel at reading and have a love of reading, but how can we do that without libraries and librarians?” she asked. She said the union understands that higher staffing levels of librarians, counselors, social workers and nurses may need to be phased in over time, but she still wants the positions mandated in the contract and funded through the central office so that candidates can be hired when they are found.

“It’s unfair to our students that we have to beg for this,” she said. “It’s concerning that [Lightfoot] is offering things but not putting them in writing, so we could potentially be lied to, and CPS has lied to us so many times. They still need to earn our trust.”

Across the street from Westerberg, fifth-grade math teacher Samantha Gill and special education assistant Diana Morales wore unicorn and tiger onesies as they danced Zumba and Gill waved a glittery microphone.

“City officials don’t understand the relationships we have with kids, that we are literally doing all of this for them,” said Morales, an SEIU Local 73 member. “It’s not fair to kids not to have nurses, librarians, counselors. We owe them the best, and this isn’t the best.”

Gill said kindergarteners have told her that it’s hard for them to be successful with more than 40 kids in a class. “The kids understand it,” she said. “Why can’t the politicians understand it?”

This blog originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on October 17, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist and instructor who currently works at Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99 Percent. She is also the co-author of Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gunand the author of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis.Look for an updated reissue of Revolt on Goose Island in 2014. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work.

 

Trump Is Waging a War On Labor Unions, But You Wouldn’t Know It from CNN’s Dem Debate

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Last night, CNN and the New York Times co-hosted a Democratic debate in Westerville, Ohio—and even by the standards of the mainstream media, the omissions were glaring. There were no questions about police violence, affordable housing, Israel, or the climate crisis. However, there was a softball question about friendship inspired by the bond between Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush.

Key labor battles were notably missing from the discussion. While a few of the candidates mentioned unions, the moderators didn’t meaningfully press any of them about the many work stoppages currently taking place throughout the country, except for a question about the General Motors (GM) strike, which mostly focused on the death of the auto industry and how we might be jobs back. The moderators failed to inquire about plans to strengthen worker power, or ask any questions about labor law, giving the impression that unions—and the entire working class—are tangential to the 2020 presidential race.

Surprisingly, there actually was one question about the GM Strike, which has left 50,000 workers without a paycheck for over a month, with the membership poised to vote on a tentative contract, according to breaking news this morning. But the question was framed in the context of a beleaguered industry that could potentially be saved via economic nationalism. The candidates were simply asked about the declining power of U.S. car companies and whether or not they had a plan to bring back jobs from Mexico. There was no mention of the fact that the current strike is directly connected to the restructuring of the company and the concessions that were forced upon workers by the Obama administration as part of the 2009 bailout, despite the fact that a leading Democratic candidate was Obama’s vice president.

That question was fielded by Senator Cory Booker and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who both referenced the importance of unions. Booker even said that he’d establish sectoral bargaining rights for workers. That promise might have come as a surprise to the Newark Teachers Union, whose president once declared that the goal of Booker’s state education plan was to “defang public teachers unions.”

No other current strike or worker battle was asked about or referenced in any of the CNN questions. Nothing about the 20,000 Chicago teachers who just voted to authorize a strike, and nothing about the 2,000 striking miners in Arizona or the sanitation workers in Massachusetts who have been on the picket line for a month. There was nothing about the many newsrooms that continue to organize, social workers fighting for a new contract in California, Harvard student workers casting ballots in a strike authorization vote, or the American Federation of Musicians agitating to receive residuals from streaming programs.

There was also nothing asked about the Trump administration’s war on labor unions. Nothing about Trump’s NLRB pushing a corporate agenda for the last two years, its rollback of Obama-era employee protections, its new anti-worker Secretary of Labor, its inadequate new overtime rules, or its dangerous decision to speed up the production lines of slaughterhouses. There was nothing about the state of unions in the wake of Janus Supreme Court decision, and nothing about how to strengthen them despite current legal restrictions.

There were references to the “middle class,” a term that has always possessed a nebulous definition and been used to flatten class divisions and erode working-class solidarity. The only reference to the “working class” was made by Senator Bernie Sanders.

After Warren spoke eloquently about breaking up tech companies, she faced a centrist onslaught of onstage opposition. O’Rourke even compared the plan to the policies of Donald Trump. “We will be unafraid to break up big businesses if we have to do that — but I don’t think it is the role of a president or a candidate for the presidency to specifically call out which companies will be broken up,” he said. “That’s something that Donald Trump has done in part because he sees enemies in the press and wants to diminish their power. It’s not something that we should do.”

Nearly every question posed to the candidates not named Sanders or Warren seemed to be punctuated with an explicit instruction: Tell us why the policies being pushed by a Democratic Socialist and a New Deal Liberal can’t work and why they can’t beat Trump.

However, while the fix might have been in for centrism, it still failed to win the evening. Warren was attacked as if she were the frontrunner and Joe Biden did nothing to suggest the other candidates had picked the wrong target. Despite his recent heart attack and polls that suggest he’s underperforming his 2016 showing, Sanders was strong and concise. While some pundits admitted that the debate might have been his, it was announced Tuesday night that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is endorsing the Senator. Shortly after that bombshell, sources revealed that Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) would also endorse. Bernie has now locked up 75% of The Squad.

Mainstream election coverage may largely omit the subject of labor organizing, but its importance can currently be felt in the labor battles being waged throughout the country. It’s a key component of defeating Trumpism, via the ballot box and beyond. The worker protections that have been eroded must be reinstituted. The labor power that’s been diminished must be built back up. The Democratic candidate must be pushed hard on these issues, whoever it ends up being.

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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

How to Resolve the Chicago Teachers Strike? Tax the Rich.

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

The past year of bold worker action in Chicago—which included the nation’s first charter school strikes—is now headed towards a crescendo as teachers and support staff prepare to walk off the job on Thursday.

Despite the city’s attempt to box negotiations into being just about salary, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is bringing a holistic approach to bargaining to benefit both their members and students. This means bringing common good demands such as affordable housing and sanctuary schools into the contract negotiations, because CTU knows that the crises outside of the classroom directly affect student learning.

This approach also means making demands about how the schools our students deserve can be paid for, which is why community organizations, labor unions such as CTU and elected officials have worked together to put forward the #ReimagineChicago budget proposal. Our plan does not rely on increasing fines, fees, sales taxes, and property taxes on the working poor and middle class—as has so often been the norm in Chicago. Instead, we have laid out a package of progressive revenue solutions to counter decades of disinvestment in Black and Brown communities, and ensure that the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.

This proposal amounts to a sharp break from how Chicago finances have long been handled—and a fundamental shift in who is prioritized in the budget. Nowhere is this clearer than in our fight for the reinstatement of the corporate head tax.

A head tax is a city tax on corporations that scales to the size of the company. Chicago previously had a head tax in place from 1973 to 2014, but it was eliminated by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, making clear his economic priorities. Partly to help make up for the lost revenue from eliminating the head tax, Emanuel closed half of the city’s public mental health clinics, devastating thousands of patients, among other cuts to vital city services. Our improved version of the head tax would generate more than enough money to reopen all of the public clinics, while helping expand affordable housing and creating jobs on the South and West sides.

As we wait to hear what Mayor Lori Lightfoot puts forward in her first budget, we know that the mayor and city council have the power to act on our proposals right now—which could generate $771 million in new revenue. Other progressive taxation proposals would require coordination with the state government, but they could bring in up to $3.9 billion, totaling $4.6 billion in new revenue. These solutions include a Real Estate Transfer Tax which would raise $150 million, a Luxury Goods and Services Tax which would raise $300 million, and a city income tax on incomes over $100,000, which would bring in a whopping $1.4 billion. This funding could address Chicago’s growing housing crisis, enable a full-time nurse in every school and create racially equitable conditions that would allow all Chicagoans to thrive.

The “bargaining for the common good” approach being taken up by CTU represents a two-fisted strategy to win the schools and neighborhoods that Chicago working families deserve. On one hand, Chicago teachers are forcing the city and the school system to codify commitments to improve Chicago schools by writing them into their contract. On the other, unions are working with community groups to win the money to pay for those improvements through progressive revenue solutions that make the wealthy pay their fair share, instead of regressive taxes and fines on working families.

Mayor Lightfoot has resisted on both fronts, claiming CTU should only bargain over salary and that the union’s demands to create equity in the school system would drain city resources. She’s also resisted committing to raising the revenue needed through our proposals. Yet her newly appointed school board passed a spending increase that nearly doubled the amount of money spent on Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers in the public schools, and for the first time put into writing a contract between the school system and CPD that mandates more police access to our schools without detailing where this new spending would come from.

Candidate Lightfoot ran on a progressive platform, especially around education, but as mayor, she’s acting in opposition to that agenda on a number of issues. Creating task forces instead of putting affordable housing commitments in writing is not enough. Taking the side of wealthy developers like Sterling Bay, and fighting organizations like ours—Grassroots Collaborative—that are organizing to win radical changes to the city’s broken Tax Increment Finance system flies in the face of her progressive commitments.

Taking on entrenched wealthy elites requires progressives in Chicago to fight on multiple fronts. This teachers strike is about more than just a contract—it’s about reimagining what is possible for our city if we tax the wealthy and put those resources into the hands of working people instead of the politically connected. As Chicago teachers and support staff take bold worker action to win a just city for all, we should rise to the moment and join them in the fight for a more just future.

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Amisha Patel is the Executive Director of the Grassroots Collaborative and Grassroots Illinois Action.

About the Author: Nathan Ryan is Communications Director at Grassroots Collaborative.

UAW and GM reach a tentative deal to end monthlong strike

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

The monthlong strike by nearly 50,000 workers against General Motors may soon come to an end after GM and the UAW, the workers’ union, reached a tentative deal.

Under the deal, workers will reportedly get $1,000 in profit sharing for every $1 billion in profit the company makes, with no cap, as well as a contract ratification bonus of more than $8,000. The workers’ share of their health coverage costs will remain low, an important point in a physically grueling industry.

But the biggest things the workers were fighting for were good jobs beyond longtime union members. They wanted temp workers to have a path to permanent employment, permanent workers on a lower-tier pay scale to be moved up, and investment in jobs in the U.S. Details remain unclear, but the workers appear to have won some substantial improvements on these fronts.

The deal must be ratified by the striking workers, who will get a vote after it is first reviewed by the UAW’s National Council on Thursday morning.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

The Supreme Court Case Testing the Limits of Gorsuch’s Textualism

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Image result for richard primusIn three cases argued last week—Bostock v. Clayton CountyAltitude Express v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC—the Supreme Court confronted this question: Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination “because of [an] individual’s … sex” forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity?

Several lower courts and most academic commentators have said that the answer is yes. The logic is pretty simple. If a male employee is fired because he has sexual relationships with men, but female employees in the same workplace can have sexual relationships with men without getting fired, then the male employee was fired “because of [his] sex,” inasmuch as he would not have been fired had his sex been different. The same is true of a woman assigned female at birth who is fired because she lives as a man. If you’re tempted by the thought that firing a person for having a same-sex partner doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sex because the employer would fire people of any sex who have same-sex partners, ask yourself whether a law prohibiting people of any race to marry outside their racial groups, or to ride in a railroad car designated for people of a different race, discriminates on the basis of race. (It does.)

To be sure, nobody thinks that Congress in 1964 intended to ban workplace discrimination against LGBTQ persons when it prohibited discrimination “because of … sex.” But the words of the law turn out to do so, regardless of what Congress had in mind. The question before the Supreme Court, therefore, is what prevails when the text of a statute does something that the legislature that passed the statute did not have in mind—and would not have endorsed.

The justice to whom that question is posed most sharply, and who may well cast the deciding vote in these cases, is Justice Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch may find himself pulled in different directions by two of his strong jurisprudential commitments. On one hand, he generally thinks that courts should not be engines of social change, including by expanding the reach of antidiscrimination laws. Those sorts of changes, he believes, should come from legislatures. But on the other hand, Gorsuch is a proud and articulate textualist. In his oft-repeated view, a court applying a law passed by a legislature should be governed by what the words of the statute actually say, regardless of whether the court thinks the words of the statute embody good public policy. Nor should courts let the meaning of statutory text be overcome by considerations about the general purposes of the law or what members of the legislature said or thought during the lawmaking process. What matters is the text of the statute. And the text that Congress adopted, read literally, covers LGBTQ scenarios.

To be sure, all nine justices would probably describe themselves as textualists of one sort of another in cases of statutory interpretation. None of them thinks that courts can ignore what statutes say. But most are more open to considering other factors as well, including the legislature’s purpose. (The leading alternatives to textualist approaches to statutory interpretation are usually called “purposivist,” because they advocate taking into account what Congress meant to accomplish, not just what the law literally says.) Gorsuch’s textualism is the most uncompromising, and being a principled textualist is a big part—perhaps the biggest part—of Gorsuch’s public identity as a jurist.

So if Gorsuch were to write that employers are able to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation—whether because of a concern about precipitating social change or otherwise—critics will surely charge that his textualism is more rhetorical than real. They will say that he pretends to have a consistent interpretive theory, but he’s willing to jettison that theory when he doesn’t like the result it would lead to. That criticism might sting. But in the end, the charge of playing fast and loose with his principles is not the most significant problem Gorsuch would have to face if he ruled for the employers. He would also risk exposing one of the key premises of textualism as flawed.

At oral argument, Gorsuch recognized the strength of the textualist argument in favor of the LGBTQ plaintiffs. But Gorsuch also suggested that this point might not decide the case, because of a competing concern about the appropriate role of courts within the legal system. To decide that existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, Gorsuch mused, might cause significant social disruption. Perhaps, he said, American society is not ready for, or does not want, a legal rule protecting LGBTQ persons against workplace discrimination. And like most conservative-leaning federal judges—indeed, like most federal judges regardless of politics—Gorsuch takes the view that major social change should not come from court rulings but rather from democratically elected legislatures. Indeed, a big part of the point of textualism for someone like Gorsuch is that it prevents courts from substituting their own policy intuitions for those of legislatures.

How much social disruption would actually result from a ruling for the plaintiffs is of course a matter of guesswork: Counsel for the plaintiffs argued that it might not be so disruptive. But to a strict textualist, the degree of potential social disruption shouldn’t matter. If courts shouldn’t be in the business of making judgments about social policy, and instead should just apply statutes as written, then societal outcomes should be no reason to hesitate to do what the text of the statute says. It might feel like a ruling for the plaintiffs would constitute judge-ordered social change, but from a textualist viewpoint, ruling for the plaintiffs wouldn’t expand antidiscrimination law. It would just enforce the law that already exists.

That’s not to say that social disruption—were it to occur—wouldn’t be a problem. But a key tenet of statutory textualism is the idea that if statutes are problematic, the solution is not for courts to tinker with them. Courts must enforce laws as they are, warts and all, and leave any needed repair work to Congress. In the present case, that means that if Congress doesn’t think that Title VII should prevent discrimination against LGBTQ persons, Congress could add clarifying language to the statute. A textualist with faith in this process should have no problem enforcing the statute as written and leaving the rest up to Congress.

Like most justices, though, Gorsuch is a sophisticated observer of congressional behavior. He knows that in reality the legislative process is full of veto opportunities even when it isn’t completely gridlocked. Getting anything through Congress is difficult, and imagining that Congress will respond to every statutory interpretation it doesn’t like by passing appropriate statutory amendments is more than a little naïve. In this case, Gorsuch knows that Congress is unlikely to respond to a literal construction of Title VII by affirmatively authorizing discrimination against LGBTQ persons. There probably isn’t a sufficient majority in Congress today to pass legislation specifically prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ persons, but there probably isn’t a sufficient majority for passing a law specifically denying that protection, either. So whichever way the Supreme Court decides is likely to be how the law remains for some period of time.

That’s why the possibility of social disruption concerns Gorsuch: If he believed a legislative fix were a realistic possibility, he could just follow the text of the statute and let Congress do whatever cleanup work it thought was needed. But Gorsuch is entirely correct to doubt that any legislative fix would be forthcoming.

If Gorsuch writes an opinion in this case that suggests (even implicitly) that he does not trust the possibility of a legislative fix, he will have done more than give his critics grounds to say that he abandoned his textualist principles when he didn’t like the results. He will also be suggesting that, when push comes to shove, he knows that one of the premises of hard-core statutory textualism—that fixing statutes is the job of the legislature—is not in practice workable. That is not a signal that a Supreme Court justice who aspires to be his generation’s leading hard-edged textualist ought to want to send. The simplest way to avoid sending that signal, of course, is to apply the statute literally—that is, to rule that Title VII covers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That would look like evidence that Gorsuch is seriously committed to his textualist approach, regardless of his views about the policy wisdom to which it leads in any given case.

This article was originally published at Politico on October 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Richard Primus is the Theodore J. St. Antoine Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Follow him on Twitter @Richard_Primus.

National Hispanic Heritage Month Pathway to Progress: The San Antonio Pecan Strike

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

History has long been portrayed as a series of “great men” taking great action to shape the world we live in. In recent decades, however, social historians have focused more on looking at history “from the bottom up,” studying the vital role that working people played in our heritage. Working people built, and continue to build, the United States. In our new series, Pathway to Progress, we’ll take a look at various people, places and events where working people played a key role in the progress our country has made, including those who are making history right now. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, today’s topic is the San Antonio pecan shellers strike.

In the 1930s, pecans grown in Texas accounted for half of all of the nation’s production. San Antonio was the center of the industry in Texas, as half the state’s commercial crop grew within 250 miles of the city. The dominant company was the Southern Pecan Shelling Co., which produced as much as one-third of the nation’s entire crop, depending on the year.

Working people in the industry faced low wages (averaging between $2 to $3 a week) and terrible working conditions. Shelling factories suffered from inadequate ventilation, poor illumination and a lack of indoor running water or toilets. The pecans produced a fine brown dust that contributed to diseases like tuberculosis. San Antonio had one of the highest rates of TB in the country as a result.

Owners had little or no regard for workers. One owner said: “The Mexicans don’t want much money. Compared to those shanties they live in, the pecan shelleries are fine. They are glad to have a warm place to sit in the winter. They can be warm while they’re shelling pecans, they can talk to their friends while they’re working…. If they get hungry they can eat pecans.”

Pecan shellers soon joined the International Pecan Shellers Union No. 172, a chapter of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America, which belonged to the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). On Jan. 31, 1938, the workforce of shellers, mostly Hispanic women, walked off the job. The 12,000 workers engaged in a three-month strike. The strike began after the Southern Pecan demanded pay cuts for the workers. Shellers, who had previously earned 6 or 7 cents a pound, saw their wages cut to 5 or 6 cents a pound. Crackers went from 50 cents per 100 pounds to 40 cents.

The strike was originally led by Emma Tenayuca, who was active in various efforts to combat discrimination against Mexican Americans. She joined the women’s auxiliary of the League of United Latin American Citizens in high school and was first arrested for protesting when she was 16. After high school, she worked several jobs, but her true calling was organizing. She began to organize with the Workers Alliance before later helping the pecan shellers.

Local officials were not happy about the strike. Police Chief Owen Kilday believed that the strike was part of a Communist plot to gain control of the west side of San Antonio. Tenayuca was arrested as soon as the strike started. Kilday said of her: “The Tenayuca woman is a paid agitator sent here to stir up trouble among the ignorant Mexican workers.” She was neither, her family had deep roots in San Antonio and her strike efforts were unpaid.

Other leaders feared that Mexican American laborers would become aware of their own power and would become more active. Protesters picketed over 400 local factories, but Kilday cracked down, eventually making more than 700 arrests. Gov. James Allred urged the Texas Industrial Commission to investigate the strike and the industry’s reaction and found that police interference with lawful assembly was unjustified.

In the end, both sides agreed to arbitration and the initial settlement was for a 7- to 8-cent wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed soon after that would establish a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. The CIO was afraid that the big jump in wages would lead to massive layoffs, and they joined with employers to lobby Congress to give the pecan industry an exemption.The exemption was denied, however, and over the next three years, 10,000 shellers were replaced by machines. While the pecan strikers ultimately failed to sustain the industry, their efforts were pivotal in expanding both labor rights and justice for Hispanic working people, in Texas and beyond.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on October 15, 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.

Chicago Teachers Won Public Support for Their Strike. Here’s How.

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

As 35,000 Chicago teachers, school support staff, and park district workers are set to begin a major strike on October 17, they boast the backing of students, parents, community organizations, and local unions who see the potential work stoppage as a crucial battle in the fight for a more just and equitable city. Thanks to the solidarity efforts of community and labor groups, more Chicagoans support the possible strike than oppose it, according to a recent poll by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and SEIU Local 73 are calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot—who was elected this year on a progressive platform—to put in writing her campaign promises to improve the learning conditions of the city’s majority Black and Brown public school students. Among other things, the unions are fighting to have a full-time nurse, librarian and social worker in every school, caps on class sizes, affordable housing for students and their families, an end to outside contracting of school services, and better pay and benefits.

For their part, Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have urged the CTU to give up demands for better resourced schools and accept a 5-year contract that primarily includes wage increases. The editorial boards for the city’s two major daily newspapers have lined up behind the mayor, telling teachers to “take the deal,” though a whopping 94% of CTU members voted to authorize a strike.

“It’s so vital we not allow CPS or the mayor to divide the critical people in this equation—which are students and parents—from the unions, which they would like to do,” said Elizabeth Lalasz, co-chair of the Chicago Teachers and Staff Solidarity Campaign (CTSSC)’s labor committee.

“If CPS and the mayor are able to create a wedge between the union and the community, it’s going to be a far less successful strike, so it’s about bringing those forces together,” continued Lalasz, who is also a steward with National Nurses United.

To bolster support for the CTU and SEIU Local 73, the CTSSC has held multiple events to bring teachers and community members together by having discussions about the conditions in the schools and the importance of the unions’ demands. One such event was an October 10 town hall featuring speakers from over a dozen community organizations and local unions.

One of the speakers was Catherine Henchek, member of the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers. She explained that when her son enrolled in CPS as a kindergartner 12 years ago, she was told that he wouldn’t be able to get his medication every day because the school only had a nurse once per week.

“Twelve years later, we’re still fighting for this,” Henchek said. “So many schools do not have a nurse, or they have agency nurses that are coming in, a different nurse every day. That’s not helpful for kids with complex medical needs. They need someone who knows them.”

At an October 14 rally of union members and supporters, high school senior Miracle Boyd talked about why union demands for improved wraparound services matter to students like her. “We as CPS students have to deal with the trauma of losing a loved one to gun violence every day,” said Boyd. “We need trauma-informed schools, social workers, and therapists.”

Boyd is an organizer with GoodKids MadCity, a youth-led anti-violence, restorative justice group. “I have friends who miss school on the daily because… no one can help them with the hurt and pain of losing a classmate,” she said. “The resources students don’t have won’t allow them the opportunity to heal from past or continuous trauma.”

The CTSSC has existed since CTU’s historic 2012 strike, when it mobilized community turnout at rallies and pickets, coordinated the union’s strike headquarters, and served as an information hub. Since then, and increasingly over the past 20 months, a wave of massive teacher strikes has rocked the country—offering innovative examples of community solidarity that are now being replicated in Chicago.

One such example is Bread for Ed, a fundraising and solidarity project to provide meals to students and teachers for the duration of the strike. This program would provide a critical service, as over 400,000 Chicago students depend on school meal programs for breakfast and lunch.

Pioneered by the East Bay, California chapter of Democratic Socialists of America during the 7-day Oakland teacher strike this February, the Bread for Ed model has been adopted by Chicago DSA and Chicago Jobs with Justice. The two groups recently set up a Bread for Ed GoFundMe page, surpassing the original fundraising target of $10,000 in only three days. If a strike happens, food will be prepared and served at neighborhood organizations, aldermanic offices, churches, and local restaurants, as well as on picket lines.

“So far the response [to Bread for Ed] has been overwhelmingly positive. Tons of people are reaching out wanting to get involved,” Abby Agriesti, co-chair of the Chicago DSA Labor Working Group, told In These Times. “We want to make sure that the media and city can’t use the lack of food for students as a cudgel against the teachers and staff, blaming them.”

Community supporters also worked with the unions to hold an Art Build from October 4 to 6—another model borrowed from this year’s Oakland teacher strike. Held at CTU headquarters, the Art Build brought rank-and-file union members together with parents, students, allies, and artists to put their creativity to work by making picket signs, banners (including parachute banners), and posters to be used at strike pickets and rallies.

The CTSSC has organized weekly call-ins to the mayor’s office and drafted an online solidarity statement for individual union members around the country to sign onto, which garnered nearly 500 signatures within a week. The solidarity campaign is also circulating a statement of support pledging to join CTU and SEIU members on the picket lines, which has been signed by over 60 community and labor organizations across the city.

Meanwhile, members of Chicago DSA’s Labor Working Group have canvassed at CTA stops to talk with commuters about the importance of the unions’ demands and to inoculate them against anti-union talking points.

“The unions aren’t just bargaining for better wages or pensions; they’re bargaining for vital things that we need in our communities.” Agriesti explained. “We see this as hand-in-hand with our mission as socialists to build a better world.”

Efforts to build community support appear to be working, as indicated by the Sun-Times poll. The poll found that 49% of Chicagoans were likely to back the strike, while 38% would be opposed. A quarter of those polled are CPS parents, who overwhelmingly support the unions and would blame Mayor Lightfoot if there is a walkout.

If the work stoppage happens, the CTSSC plans to mobilize turnout on the picket lines through its email and text message list, as well as its social media accounts, which reach thousands of people. For parents, the coalition Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education has created a webpage with information on what families can do during the strike, including how to support the unions.

“Most parents don’t want a strike, we want our children to be in school, to be learning,” Henchek said. “But we know that if we’re going to have the wraparound services, the class sizes, the social justice that our children deserve, then there may need to be a strike.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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

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