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Archive for the ‘labor’ Category

Greater Boston Labor Council Makes History with Latest Election

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Kalina Newman

The Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC), AFL-CIO, made history last week with the election of the first woman of color to its top office. Darlene Lombos takes over as executive secretary-treasurer, replacing Richard Rogers, who officially retired after leading the GBLC for the past 16 years.

Lombos brings more than 20 years of community and youth organizing experience in the labor movement to the position. She served as vice president of the GBLC and has been the executive director of Community Labor United since 2011. A vital asset to the greater Boston community, her work continues to protect and promote the interests of working-class families and communities of color in greater Boston and throughout the commonwealth.

“I am honored to lead such an amazing group of dedicated workers in the Boston area,” said Lombos. “Rich was a true mentor and I look forward to continuing his legacy of empowering working families for years to come.”

Rogers, a member of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 391, leaves behind an impressive legacy in the labor movement. Prior to leading the GBLC, Rogers served on the staff of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO for 21 years, 12 of those as the state federation’s political director. He was the chief organizer for several influential political campaigns, including Ted Kennedy’s 1994 U.S. Senate race and the elections of Jim McGovern and John Tierney to the U.S. House of Representatives. He played an integral role during his four terms as GBLC executive secretary-treasurer in growing and strengthening the Boston-area labor movement.

In recognition of his lifetime of hard work and dedication to the movement, The Labor Guild awarded the prestigious Cushing-Gavin Award to Rogers in December 2019.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on January 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kalina Newman is an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. Previously, she covered metro news for the Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in ARLnow, DCist, and the Washington City Paper. Kalina graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a degree in journalism.

House Democrats plan push to pass PRO Act strengthening workers' organizing rights

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

House Democrats are getting ready to pass another pro-worker bill in the coming weeks, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Friday, tweeting that “House Democrats are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with working men and women across the country. I look forward to bringing the PRO Act to the House Floor for a vote prior to the President’s Day district work period to protect the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

The PRO Act would strengthen the right to organize in several ways. It would create real penalties for employers that fire workers for exercising their National Labor Relations Act right to organize, and get those workers their jobs back much more quickly than in the current system. It would streamline the union representation election process, preventing employers from holding captive-audience meetings at which they try to intimidate workers away from union support, forcing companies to disclose the money they spend on anti-union consultants, and “If the employer breaks the law or interferes with a fair election, the PRO Act empowers the NLRB to require the employer to bargain with the union if it had the support of a majority of workers prior to the election,” the Economic Policy Institute explains.

Once workers have a union, employers often drag out and delay the process of negotiating a first contract. The PRO Act cracks down on that, pushing employers into mediation and even binding arbitration if they won’t bargain in good faith. On top of that, it “overrides so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws by establishing that employers and unions in all 50 states may agree upon a “fair share” clause requiring all workers who are covered by—and benefit from—the collective bargaining agreement to contribute a fair share fee towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.” It protects the jobs of striking workers and lifts the prohibition on secondary boycotts. And it cracks down on misclassification of workers as either independent contractors or supervisors to make them ineligible for union representation.

Rep. Mark Pocan and Kenneth Rigmaiden, the president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, offered an example of workers the PRO Act could help. “[D]uring a construction project in Nashville, Tenn., 120 misclassified drywall finishers were never compensated for overtime work and two weeks of work at the end of the project,” they wrote in The Hill. “The Painters Union and other labor groups are fighting back to win these workers their fair pay. The PRO Act would ensure that employers could no longer dodge wage and hour standards by misclassifying workers.”

As usual, House Democrats will do something good for working people and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will send it to his legislative graveyard. But when Republicans claim that Democrats are too busy with impeachment to do things for the American people, remember this and so many other bills. Democrats are getting shit done. It’s just that Republicans are determined to keep working people down.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

Michigan steel mill closure announced two days after Trump told Michigan crowd 'steel is back'

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

Donald Trump, Wednesday in Michigan: “Look what I’ve done for steel. I mean, the steel is back. We taxed all the dumb steel coming in from China and other places, and US steel mills are doing great — they’re expanding all over the country, and they were gonna be out of business within two years the way they were going.”

Friday, CNN reported that US Steel is closing its Great Lakes Works mill near Detroit, with a loss of 1,500 jobs. The company will shift steel production to a mill in Gary, Indiana, and will also continue making sheets of steel outside of Pittsburgh and in Arkansas.

Trump’s steel tariffs did briefly give the industry a boost, but obviously things are not going so well recently, and 1,500 workers are getting some terrible news for the holidays, though the facility won’t close until spring.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 20, 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.

DNC expresses hope that labor dispute will be defused ahead of this week's debate

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

Caitlin Oprysko

The Democratic National Committee said Monday that it expects parties involved in a labor dispute threatening to upend this week’s Democratic primary debate to “promptly” return to the negotiating table.

Xochitl Hinojosa, the committee’s communications director, cited Chairman Tom Perez’s experience as Labor secretary under former President Barack Obama, writing that he’d handled “several labor disputes” in that role and “understands how much of a priority it is to get people back at the table.”

She added: “We expect it to happen promptly. Stay tuned.”

Throughout the day Friday, all seven White House hopefuls who’d qualified for Thursday’s PBS NewsHour/POLITICO debate threatened to skip the event, pledging they would not cross the picket line of campus workers locked in a labor dispute.

UNITE HERE Local 11, a union representing 150 cashiers, cooks, dishwashers and servers at Loyola Marymount University, where the debate is scheduled to be held, said last week that it had not yet reached a collective bargaining agreement with Sodexo, a global services company that employs the workers and is subcontracted by the university to handle food service operations.

The union began talks with Sodexo this spring, but said the company recently canceled scheduled contract negotiations after workers and students began picketing on campus in November.

In a statement Friday, the DNC said both the committee and Loyola Marymount had only found out about the dispute that day, and would work to find a solution to allow the debate to go forward. Perez said then that he “would absolutely not cross a picket line and would never expect our candidates to either.”

On Sunday, union co-President Susan Minato said that the group hoped to resume negotiations on Tuesday “or sooner” in hopes of reaching a resolution by Thursday, and expressed gratitude for the Democratic candidates who’d offered their support.

The planned protests and candidates’ ultimatums represent the second time a campus labor fight has scrambled plans for the December debate, which will be the last such event of 2019. After announcing the University of California, Los Angeles, as the debate’s initial venue in late October, the DNC later announced the university would not host the event.

This article was originally published on Politico on December 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Caitlin is a breaking news reporter for POLITICO. She joined POLITICO Pro in 2016 as a web producer before moving into the senior web producer role, where she edited and produced Pro content daily in addition to authoring the Afternoon Energy newsletter and contributing to the Prescription Pulse newsletter. During a stint on POLITICO’s Legislative Compass team, she covered an omnibus spending bill, the farm bill and several appropriations bills from their introduction to the president’s desk.Before coming to POLITICO, Caitlin worked on the social desk for ABC News’ D.C. Bureau, where she used social media to monitor coverage areas, curated images and videos for broadcasts, pitched and reported out stories and collaborated on breaking news. Caitlin is a graduate of the University of Georgia, where she covered state and local news and worked for the student-run newscast Grady Newsource.

Trump appointees hand McDonald's a win in labor case, this week in the war on workers

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

Donald Trump’s conflict-of-interest-plagued National Labor Relations Board handed McDonald’s a big win in the fight over whether the company shares responsibility for workers and working conditions in most of its restaurants. The board allowed a $170,000 settlement between McDonald’s franchisees and workers, overruling an administrative law judge who had said the settlement was inadequate.

The lone Democrat on the NLRB dissented, saying that the judge “reasonably exercised her discretion to reject settlements that fail to resolve the joint-employer status of McDonald’s, and instead serve to advance the policy view of the current General Counsel, who has attacked the Board’s current joint-employer standard at every opportunity as he litigated this case brought by his predecessor.”

Under Trump, the NLRB has moved to let companies like McDonald’s off the hook as a joint employer of workers who work in their facilities but on paper are employed by franchisees, temp services, or other third parties. McDonald’s notoriously exerts tight control over every detail in its restaurants, including details about workers, yet claims not to be their employer when it comes to labor law violations and other problems. And the Trump NLRB agrees.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 14, 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.

Newsom has an organized labor problem

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Angela HartMackenzie MaysJeremy B. WhiteSome of California’s most powerful unions are openly denouncing Gov. Gavin Newsom less than a year into his tenure, exposing early fractures in the Democratic governor’s base after he spurned proposals they considered a bellwether of his support for labor.

Simmering tensions erupted last month when Newsom vetoed three bills backed by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. The governor has also come under fire from the California Nurses Association for backtracking on single-payer health care.

Unions suggest that losing their support will have long-term consequences if Newsom, widely known to have national ambitions, does run for president. For now, Newsom insists he’s focused on his governorship.

“National politics provides us a cautionary tale of what happens when the working class is forgotten by candidates who are steeped in the ambitions of unrequited presidential aspirations,” said Robbie Hunter, president of the trades organization that represents 400,000 people.

Newsom coasted into office last year on a wave of support from organized labor, earning key endorsements from unions that underpinned his early lead in the Democratic primary as the clear frontrunner, allowing him to amass a war chest that carried him unscathed through the general election. He defeated his toughest rival, Democratic challenger Antonio Villaraigosa, by more than 20 points in the 2018 primary.

While in office, however, Newsom has taken some moderate positions that unions fear may signal how he intends to govern for as many as seven more years. The governor has pointed to fears of an economic downturn to reject state spending. He also has blamed President Donald Trump for his meandering single-payer stance, a change that has frustrated the California Nurses Association.

The nurses group recently called Newsom’s veto of a hospital closure notification bill “shameful” and believes he has not been forthright on the single-payer issue. CNA was among Newsom’s earliest backers.

“I think what true reformers of this health care system want to see is transparency, honesty, action and cooperation,” head CNA lobbyist Stephanie Roberson told POLITICO. “Just because we support you, that doesn’t mean that buys our silence on calling you out when you are wrong or don’t keep your promise.”

The construction workers’ union backed Newsom during his gubernatorial run, but he angered the group by vetoing proposals that would have increased funding for affordable housing construction, boosted union pay on taxpayer-subsidized public works projects and required higher wages for workers building charter schools.

“This governor has added his voice into the chorus of politicians that disrespect the contribution of blue-collar workers,” Hunter said.

Following that rare public rebuke, the trades council came after Newsom again, paying for social media posts slamming him for dithering on an Occupational Safety and Health Administration board appointment and not doing enough to protect worker safety.

The widening dispute followed Newsom’s earlier removal of Hunter from a coveted committee charged with examining broad shifts in California’s workplace demands. Not having a trades voice on the panel is “highly concerning to all of us,” the group’s chief lobbyist, Cesar Diaz, told POLITICO.

The California Teachers Association has likewise grown restless, though it has not blasted Newsom the same way as CNA and the building trades council. Three major teachers unions in California this year went on strike, reflecting the growing anger that members have over pay, benefits and working conditions while California state government has a record surplus.

The group was instrumental last year in helping Newsom win the primary after battle lines were drawn between teachers and charter schools, which gave Villaraigosa more than $20 million. Given that dynamic, teachers unions were hopeful that the governor would block new charter schools and crack down on existing ones.

CTA was satisfied that Newsom signed charter school restrictions previously rejected by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who founded two Oakland charters. Rick Wathen, a CTA political director, said the union got further with Newsom than it did in eight previous years under Brown.

But members were hoping for more. CTA leaders believed the governor drove changes that watered down the charter bill to reach compromise with the California Charter Schools Association.

The governor also signed a bill mandating later school start times for middle and high school students in response to research showing that adolescents need more morning sleep. That rankled CTA, whose members believe start times should be negotiated with unions at the local level.

And the California Federation of Teachers was upset that Newsom vetoed legislation expanding paid maternity leave for teachers. The governor said he was concerned about additional costs.

“I don’t think he is prioritizing education as much as he should be,” said Ever Flores, president of the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association, a CTA affiliate. “CTA — we did a lot for Gavin Newsom, making sure he would get elected.”

To those outside the state, Newsom may seem a California liberal figurehead. He made national headlines in 2004 when he performed same-sex marriages as a new San Francisco mayor well before it became politically popular. He broke through the national noise as governor this year when he approved Medi-Cal benefits for undocumented immigrants through age 25, raising the hackles of Trump and conservatives across the country.

But within California, the governor has not always been considered a liberal through and through. In San Francisco, he was elected as a fiscal conservative and business-minded Democrat who founded a local wine store that has grown into a network of wineries and resorts under the brand PlumpJack. Those business roots may still run deep as he confronts the risks of leading California at the end of lengthy economic expansion.

Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist and publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, suggested that Newsom is experiencing the normal transition from Democratic candidate to chief executive.

“I think there’s the sense that the governor made a lot of commitments when he ran for office, and predictably he’s tempering his agenda after assessing what the reality is,” Sragow said.

The governor appears to be playing a cautious hand not just because of recession fears, but also because a potential run for president may require moderation.

“This early, I think [labor unions] need him more than he needs them, but ultimately it could create vulnerabilities for Newsom,” said Republican strategist Rob Stutzman. “He’s exerting a certain amount of independence from labor that is not unusual for Democratic governors … it becomes impossible from an executive position to grant labor their every wish and be able to effectively govern.

“But labor will still be a constituency he’s going to want to court for national aspirations,” he said.

For all the outcry, it’s not as if Newsom has turned his back on unions. California’s umbrella labor group lauded Newsom for protecting gig worker rights and ending arrangements that shield employers from lawsuits in cases of alleged wrongdoing.

“Those were tremendous victories for us,” said Steve Smith, a spokesperson for the California Labor Federation. “He has three more years in his first term and we’re going to be looking at him to see how we can address some of the state’s thorniest problems like inequality and housing.”

Labor leaders also lauded a bill he signed allowing child care workers to unionize for the first time. At a celebratory Los Angeles rally last month, he stood alongside top labor officials to promote what will be the country’s largest union organizing campaign.

“Thank you to organized labor,” Newsom said to an adoring crowd. “Just know that this is the beginning. The best is yet to come.”

The governor also agreed this summer to significant salary increases for correctional officers, which drew a scathing report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office questioning if Newsom was actually doing too much for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Newsom spokesperson Vicky Waters said the governor and lawmakers “achieved historic and long-sought victories for working families this year.” As evidence, she pointed to the charter school restrictions, gig worker protections and child care organizing bill, as well as an increase in the earned-income tax credit and paid family leave expansion.

“Organized labor and our vibrant workforce are part of what makes our state great, and Gov. Newsom looks forward to continued partnership with organized labor in the months and years ahead,” she said.

Still, the governor has to worry about his left flank, given how loud some of his allies are. The California Nurses Association has long been a thorn in the side of California governors, even the ones they appear to like best.

Newsom didn’t push through a single-payer health care bill this year after voicing strong support as a gubernatorial candidate for a 2017 bill that stalled in the Assembly. “I’m tired of politicians saying they support single-payer but that it’s too soon, too expensive or someone else’s problem,” Newsom said during the campaign.

CNA’s relationship with Newsom has soured since the election as he’s soft-pedaled the issue. Newsom now insists it’s impossible to accomplish single-payer as long as Trump is in office.

“He made it clear to us that he was with us on single-payer,” Roberson said of his campaign promises. “We didn’t need an interpreter to find out what he meant. But if you compare his actions with what he told us in December, I would say it’s not congruent.”

Nurses are still hoping its members will win appointments on Newsom’s single-payer health care commission, but the governor is already more than two months behind schedule on naming his picks.

The nurses union told POLITICO its relationship with Newsom is “shaky” also because he vetoed legislation that would have expanded public notification periods for hospital closures. Nurses called Newsom’s veto “shameful” on Twitter, and the union this month wrote an op-ed with the headline, “Newsom said he was a health care champion. But this action says otherwise.”

Teachers are preparing to do battle next year as well. In a sign of their unrest, CTA board members this summer ousted longtime Executive Director Joe Nuñez and will confront the business community next year with a November ballot initiative that would raise commercial property taxes to generate more school and government funding.

Union members say that how Newsom handles the 2020 “split-roll” ballot initiative — including a possible Capitol deal that averts a campaign fight — will make or break his relationship with CTA, especially after the charter bill was watered down. And Wathen said CTA will be back in the Capitol seeking a moratorium on new charters and cap on charters in particular districts.

Elsewhere, no issue will more directly test Newsom’s relationship with formidable unions than how he handles negotiations over newly enacted CA AB5 (19R), which enshrines in law a California Supreme Court ruling dictating that more workers — including gig laborers — should be treated as employees, not independent contractors.

Labor unions are anxious because Newsom has long sought a deal that could mollify unions and tech companies that rely on contract labor. The governor’s desire to find compromise, as with the charter school legislation, has frustrated union members who believe he is willing to give too much away. And tech companies are trying to leverage a deal by floating a ballot initiative that’s weaker than their legislative proposal to let gig workers unionize if they remain contractors — a sweetener that’s intended to entice unions but could split labor.

Union leaders say they are counting on Newsom as they push for more in his second year.

“I really have high expectations for this governor,” said Service Employees International Union California President Bob Schoonover. “I think we’re going to accomplish a lot with him.”

This article was originally published by Politico on November 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Angela Hart covers health care for California Pro, focusing on political and policy developments in Sacramento. She is also part of the team covering the transition of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. Prior to joining Politico, she covered California politics and Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign for The Sacramento Bee and previously was the county government and politics reporter at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in Sonoma County, Calif.

She is a Wisconsin native, military veteran and holds a master’s degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

About the Author: Mackenzie Mays covers education in California. Prior to joining POLITICO in 2019, she was the investigative reporter at the Fresno Bee, where her watchdog reporting of Rep. Devin Nunes and other politicians — and the fierce push back it provoked — made national headlines, including being the subject of a feature in GQ. She is well-versed in California education policy, having started at the Bee as the education reporter, where she covered Fresno Unified, the state’s fourth-largest school district. She was a national finalist for the Education Writers Association’s reporting award in 2018.

About the Author: Jeremy B. White co-writes the California Playbook and covers politics in the Golden State. He previously covered the California Legislature for the Sacramento Bee, where he reported on campaigns, myriad nationally significant policy clashes and multiple FBI investigations of sitting lawmakers.

He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts University and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. A native of Bethesda, Maryland, one of his life dreams is to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game — although he would settle for winning a playoff series. He lives in Oakland with his partner and his cat, Ziggy Pawdust.

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 Bernie Sanders would give power to workers in their companies

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Image result for Holly Otterbein

Bernie Sanders unveiled a multi-pronged plan Monday aimed at giving more power to workers in their companies, ending corporate greed, breaking up monopolies and increasing taxes on big businesses.

“For more than 40 years, the largest and most profitable corporations in America have rigged the tax code and our economy to redistribute wealth and income to the richest and most powerful people in this country,” the Vermont senator said in a statement. “The American people are saying enough is enough.”

Sanders put out the proposal as he was off the campaign trail recovering from a heart attack. He participated in a union-sponsored candidate forum Sunday via video, and said he will attend Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

What would the plan do?

Sanders wants to provide workers with an ownership stake in their businesses: Under his proposal, employees at large companies would be given 20 percent of the shares. They would also have control of 45 percent of the seats on the board of directors at corporations.

Sanders’ agenda would also raise the corporate tax from 21 percent to 35 percent, which was the rate before the Republicans passed the 2017 tax cut. He vows to review the mergers approved by President Donald Trump’s administration and undo any that were “improper,” lays out a proposal to combat offshore tax havens, and promises to treat large stock buybacks “like stock manipulation” as well.

Sanders’ aides estimated that Amazon would have paid as much as $3.8 billion in taxes last year if his policies had been in effect.

How would it work?

Companies that meet Sanders’ guidelines — ones that are publicly traded or bring in $100 million or more in annual revenue — would be required to give at least 2 percent of their stock to their employees every year, until they reach 20 percent.

Those businesses would also need to put aside 45 percent of their corporate board seats to be elected by the company’s employees.

Sanders would also create a $500 million “U.S. Employee Ownership Bank” that would give loans to workers who want to buy their businesses.

Who opposes it?

Conservatives say that raising the corporate tax would eliminate jobs, reduce wages and hurt the economy.

How does it compare?

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Warren released a plan to require that 40 percent of seats on corporate boards be elected by workers. As Warren has risen in the polls, Sanders and his aides have begun to draw contrasts between the two candidates.

Sanders’ worker ownership proposal is the latest example. His wealth tax also goes beyond what Warren called for, and he has said that his agenda to fight climate change is the “most comprehensive” ever.

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

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.

Brazilian and U.S. Workers Confronting Common Threat Build Solidarity in the Global Labor Movement

Friday, October 11th, 2019

This week, the AFL-CIO joins much of the global labor movement in Brazil to participate in the 13th Congress of Brazil’s largest labor organization, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT). Fred Redmond, AFL-CIO vice president and United Steelworkers vice president for human affairs, is leading the AFL-CIO delegation.Image result for brian finnegan afl-cio

Addressing the entire congress, Redmond pointed out the many challenges workers face in both Brazil and the United States, calling for unity and solidarity to move forward. In particular, he denounced the anti-worker laws and policies being driven by right-wing presidents in Brazil and the United States to weaken unions and collective bargaining.

Redmond also lamented that the current presidents in both countries have risen to power and exercise it by increasing fear and hatred, especially racial prejudice, rather than by leading.

Finally, he rallied the hundreds of delegates to the global labor movement’s call for the immediate release of Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, unjustly imprisoned for the last year and a half. Redmond closed by announcing to the crowd the upcoming visit of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) to present the 2019 George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to Lula in prison. The decision to give the award to Lula was announced in March.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 11, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

Brian Finnegan is a Global Worker Rights coordinator for the AFL-CIO

The Powerful New Idea in Elizabeth Warren’s Labor Platform

Friday, October 4th, 2019

Image result for Shaun Richman

On Thursday, Elizabeth Warren released her long-awaited labor platform, titled “Empowering American Workers and Raising Wages.” The plan provides unions with a long wish list of badly needed reforms and new powers. It also makes a solid case that, like Bernie Sanders, she would be the labor movement’s biggest booster in the White House in generations.

Several other candidates, including Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar, have also recently put out lengthy labor plans, which provide examples of how (and how not) to stand out from the pack when the baseline position of most Democrats in repealing the Taft-Hartley Act.

The biggest innovation in Warren’s platform is a private right of action in the federal courts against employers who violate the National Labor Relations Act.

Currently, only employers are able to take their complaints directly to the federal courts, against a union picket line, boycott action or other alleged violation of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. Warren would enable a union or an affected employee to sue an employer who commits an unfair labor practice (say, cutting a union activists’ hours, making threats or spying on secret union meetings) and seek injunctive relief—and even compensatory damages. Such a change would even the playing field in a significant way.

Warren is also proposing some activist anti-trust strategies to empower workers who are deemed to be independent contractors to better organize—and to shut down corporate mergers that will harm employees’ pay and work rules.

In the platform, Warren also reiterates her proposal for employee representation in corporate governance. A Warren administration would aim to make billion-dollar corporations set aside 40% of their executive board seats for employee representatives. While not new to her platform, it is a surprisingly radical idea that hasn’t received enough attention.

Like Sanders, Warren calls for a new federal framework for sectoral bargaining. The goal is to give unions the tools to equalize wages and benefits across multiple firms in an industry. Since individual employer-based collective bargaining is a huge part of the self-image of members and leaders alike of what unions do, both candidates are intentionally vague about the specifics of their proposals, and they are equally clear that unions will have a strong role in shaping the final legislation.

Still, the labor proposals from Warren and Sanders each signal their preferred approach.

I read Sanders platform as an embrace of wage boards, a throwback to an early New Deal model in which tripartite industrial boards voted on wage and working standards, and imposed them on all employers across an industry. As I’ve written previously, this is a framework that could put a union in every workplace in America, but, to be clear, it is not collective bargaining as we know it.

Warren’s proposal seems to be adding an overlapping representational structure to the NLRB process. Workers at individual workplaces might still vote for union representation at their firm only and negotiate collective bargaining agreements as we currently do. Meanwhile, certified unions could utilize some new process to certify a sectoral bargaining unit that would force employers to negotiate together over a specified scope of bargaining. This change would enhance union power (and unions may prefer it), but—even with card check and beefed-up NLRB enforcement—it would remain difficult for unions to dramatically expand their reach into many new workplaces.

The biggest disappointment of Warren’s labor plan is her studious avoidance of a just cause right to your job, as Sanders has proposed. A just cause law would put the onus on an employer to justify a termination. Just cause would give workers the power to say no to requests that fall outside the bounds of their duties or propriety, and it would give unions new tools in organizing and new modes of representation.

Instead, she proposes to amend the law in at least nine sections to outlaw non-compete and forced arbitration clauses and some of the most egregious forms of gender and wage discrimination. The fact that her platform contains a ridiculously long list of categories of workers whose protections against workplace discrimination belie the notion that universal protections are not essential.

Moreover, if a Warren administration successfully passes anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ and pregnant workers, the law would still put the onus on the worker who suffered the discrimination to prove that their termination was for discriminatory reasons and not one of the many other excuses an employer will offer in defense.

In essence, this is the difference between the two most pro-labor candidates in the Democratic field. Elizabeth Warren approaches the issue of rights at work as a problem solver, and wants to enhance the institutional role of worker representation to restore a degree of macroeconomic balance. Bernie Sanders aims to radically alter the balance of power in the workplace.

Both platforms are excellent, and largely overlap on the remainder of reforms to the NLRA and other federal agencies that are supposed to protect workers from corporate exploitation, and both candidates can clearly be relied upon to prioritize workers’ rights issues once in office.

As for Castro, O’Rourke and Klobuchar, they also agree on an emerging consensus around fighting employee misclassification and overtime protection, raising the minimum wage and passing  the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would essentially overturn the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, add card check under some circumstances and impose meaningful financial penalties for employers who violate their employees’ rights

Castro makes a major issue out of granting union rights for farm and domestic workers—racist exclusions from the NLRA that cast a pall over the New Deal. Granted, almost every other candidate also supports this, but Castro stands out in terms of emphasis.

Klobuchar, on the other hand, is demonstrably going through the motions on workers’ rights. She endorses a long list of other people’s bills with no emphasis and nothing original. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from a politician who apparently thinks it’s funny to treat her own employees poorly. For readers who are worried that the candidates are just paying lip service to unions during the primaries but won’t follow through, Amy Klobuchar is what a Democrat who really doesn’t care about workers looks like. Compare and contrast with the others.

The biggest surprise is O’Rourke, who has one of the best labor platforms in the field. Like Pete Buttigieg, O’Rourke has clearly been taking advice from some of the smartest thinkers on how to restore union power, but unlike that other centrist from central casting Buttigieg, O’Rourke embraced some of the boldest solutions. Most interestingly, on the choice between wage boards and certified sectoral bargaining, O’Rourke’s team asks, “Why choose?” Under his formula, the wage boards would address big-ticket items across entire industries and take them out of competition, while the sectoral bargaining would empower unions to negotiate over the detailed minutia that workers also want to address in a contract.  O’Rourke’s plan would give unions multiple strategies to end the corporate race to the bottom over pay and working conditions.

The “Yes and…” Labor Platform

Warren’s proposal for a private right of action in ULP cases is the biggest new addition, and should remain on unions’ reform agenda no matter who wins the nomination. But it is not without controversy. The federal courts have historically been where the most damage to workers’ rights have been inflicted, and many union attorneys will be apprehensive about losing control of strategy over marginal cases that could produce bad case law. I would argue that we’ve been fighting this anyway (and not exactly producing a stellar track record of wins), so why not cut to the chase and fight for our rights in the courts? Why let a Republican NLRB add layers of obstruction?

Beto O’Rourke’s “yes and” approach to sectoral and industry-wide worker representation should also inspire us to think about the opportunities of a new president and Congress differently. Labor activists have tended to approach previous opportunities for reform as a narrow window to win one thing, and the arguments over which ‘one thing’ will save us have been paralyzing.

But the crisis of economic inequality and its corrosive effects on our democracy require a host of reforms, and even centrist Democrats get that. We need overlapping systems of worker power, union representation and employee protections. The labor movement has now been presented with a rich collection of reform proposals. We should say yes to all of them.

This article was originally published at In These times on October 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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

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