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West Coast Truckers Poised to Strike, Say They’re Owed Nearly $1 Billion in Stolen Wages

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Mario VasquezLess than two months after participating in a strike against trucking companies allegedly committing wage theft at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a supermajority of drivers at Intermodal Bridge Transport (IBT) are poised to strike in order to pressure IBT into correcting their alleged misclassification as independent contractors.

IBT, which moves merchandise for Sony, Toyota, General Electric, Target and JC Penney, among others, is a subsidiary of the Chinese Government-owned COSCO Logistics Americas network and employes 88 drivers, according to the union supporting driver efforts, Teamsters Local 848.

The drivers contest that their status as independent contractors is wrong and creates wage theft that amounts to almost $1 billion yearly in California alone, according to estimates by local allies.

Although IBT provides the vehicle that truckers drive (which is standard in an employer-employee relationship), IBT has a leasing arrangement with the drivers to pass along the costs of business on to them. “They deduct reparations, they deduct diesel fuel, they deduct anything they see convenient from the paycheck,” explains Humberto Canales of a fellow trucking company, XPO Logistics.

Their alleged misclassification as independent contractors makes the truckers ineligible for not only the much-publicized recent $15 minimum wage ordinance in Los Angeles, but also for unionization.

On June 5, IBT truckers delivered a petition signed by 59 drivers to executives at IBT, COSCO and their Fortune 500 clients at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, in order to inform management that they had chosen Teamsters Local 848 as their collective bargaining representative. The drivers hope that the letter will stimulate movement on re-classification, and are threatening to strike if the outcome is not in their favor.

“We will fight for as long as it takes and are even ready to go on strike again. But all of that disruption and expense can be avoided if the company simply chooses to do the right thing and recognize our rights as employees and right to become members of the Union,” says IBT driver Hector Flores.

Barb Maynard, an official at Teamsters Local 848, points to April’s trucker strike as a catalyst for the pro-union mood that culminated with the June 5 letter, saying that while only 8 drivers went on strike on the first day, by week’s end that number grew to 57. “They went out on strike, and the strike grew—their numbers kept growing. … They were organizing themselves in the middle of the strike. It was really incredible,” Maynard tells In These Times.

Teamsters Local 848 says that IBT drivers were particularly emboldened by the unionization of truckers at Shippers Transport Express, whose previous legal challenges had successfully compelled the trucking company into reclassification of their workers. COSCO and SSA Marine, the respective parent companies of IBT and Shippers, together own and operate Pacific Container Terminals, a 256-acre marine terminal at the Port of Long Beach. Drivers at both companies were close enough to observe the benefits of full employment status and collective bargaining, workers say.

“Drivers at Shippers Transport Express, who were converted to employees in January and soon thereafter became Teamsters, had to fight through the courts to get their rights. We are hoping to avoid that long and expensive legal process because we know that we are misclassified at IBT—just as they were at Shippers,” Flores says.

IBT truckers are also currently involved in class action and individual lawsuits alleging wage theft and misclassification. The union expects this litigation to be ruled in favor of the truckers.

“[All driver-trucking company litigation] is the same. The working circumstances are all the same—exactly how these companies set up their leases…what deductions they make,” Maynard says. “There’s no reason to believe that, if these drivers do have to take their cases all the way through the court system, which takes years, that the outcome would be any different than what it’s been at Shippers or at any place else.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has recently spoken out against misclassification and related wage theft. “The misclassification of port truck drivers is not the gripe of a few drivers but a battle cry of a systemic problem that must be addressed,” Garcetti said at a May press conference, while celebrating the creation of a new 100%-employee-driver trucking company called Eco Flow.

The $15 minimum wage ordinance in Los Angeles also includes funding for a new Wage Enforcement Division that would have five investigators to crack down on wage theft locally. According to a March 2015 study published by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, San Francisco has the same number of investigators in its own wage enforcement team, but because the city has a lower concentration of low-wage workers than Los Angeles, investigators there cover 20,000 low wage workers each. The study says that Los Angeles’s Wage Enforcement Division would require 25 investigators to reach such an average of 20,000 per investigator.

As progressives across the country celebrate the passage of yet another successful $15 minimum wage campaign, and conservatives damn the unions who wish to collectively bargaining for low-wage earners, IBT truckers will eye a possible strike in order to simply qualify for a minimum wage at all.

According to Maynard, IBT truckers “are not going to sit around and wait for either mayor to take action. … [Drivers] are going to continue to fight back. Every day that they are misclassified is another day that their wages are being stolen,” she says.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on June 12, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Mario Vasquez. Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at [email protected]

Inside the Case That Could Hold McDonald’s Responsible for Union-busting

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Andrew ElrodThe National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) complaint for unfair labor practices against the McDonald’s corporation inched forward in a Manhattan courtroom last month.

Lawyers representing the company, its franchisees, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the government met to discuss the future of a case that could lay the groundwork for union representation and collective bargaining at the country’s largest fast food brand.

McDonald’s “entire business model is put at risk” by the litigation, Jones Day’s Willis Goldsmith told Administrative Law Judge Lauren Esposito during the three-hour hearing. If Esposito finds that the company’s oversight and workforce management policies make it a “joint employer,” as the charging parties contend, it could be held responsible for the working conditions in its franchised stores. Nation-wide, 90 percent of McDonald’s stores are owned by franchises.

During the hearing Esposito required McDonald’s to deliver over 700 documents relating to the structure of the corporation to the government and the union.

“The evidence will show that McDonald’s directed or helped direct how to deal with employees at the franchised facilities in response to protected activities,” said Jamie Rucker, General Counsel for the NLRB.

If the judge found coordination that established joint-employer status, the Board would be able to hold McDonald’s liable for illegally retaliating against workers who engaged in activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act in the Fight for 15 protests and organizing campaign, and eventually to be named as a party in collective bargaining for those stores.

But before that can happen, the board must prove that both McDonald’s and the owners of its franchised stores “share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment” or “meaningfully affect” employment issues such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision and direction of work. The Board believes it can prove joint employer status with information from the shift scheduling software the company provides to its stores, as well as communications between company and individual locations. Evidence and testimonials are to be presented beginning May 26.

“McDonald’s is a complicated company”

While forcing McDonald’s to produce information about the management of its franchised stores, Judge Esposito did revoke subpoenas for information about a corporate-owned restaurant in Illinois. The Board and SEIU had sought the information to compare with management practices at franchised stores, where the company says corporate directives are considered “optional.” If management at both the franchised and non-franchised stores were sufficiently similar, Rucker argued, the “optional” suggestions from McDonald’s could be shown to establish joint-employer status.

Asked about the exact relationship between McDonalds Illinois, the subpoenaed store, and McDonalds USA, the national company, Goldsmith explained that “McDonald’s is a complicated company.”

The Board and the unions also requested details about McDonald’s USA’s corporate structure. But Jonathan Linas, also of Jones Day, explained that finding that information would not be so easy. “There’s no one organizational chart,” Linas said.

“The entire organizational structure of McDonald’s USA will not be produced,” he said. “I don’t know [if] it exists. We’ve been looking a long time and we don’t have one.”

Credible Allegation

The stakes of the proceedings are high and McDonald’s has hired the law firm Jones Day, which oversaw the bankruptcy and restructuring General Motors and the City of Detroit, to lead its defense.

McDonald’s business model in part rests on its exemptions from liability for the working conditions at its franchised stores. But even if these exemptions were to change, it is unclear what the implications for the rest of the fast food industry would be.

First, a finding of joint-employer status would have to survive in federal court, an institution notoriously unfriendly to workers’ collective action. And then it would only apply to the specific locations and conditions named in the complaint.

“As soon as there is some kind of a determination that an employer is a joint employer, the company just restructures the relationship,” says Michael Duff, a law professor at the University of Wyoming who worked at the NLRB for nine years. “And then you get another round of litigation.”

Because the joint-employer status would only apply to franchises named in the consolidated case, Duff explained, organizing campaigns through the NLRB could only occur at those stores. However, he added, an expanded joint employment standard could facilitate organizing at other similar franchises in the future.

“Once you have a broader way of thinking about the employment relationship, it opens up more kinds of workplaces to the credible allegation that this is a joint-employer relationship,” said Duff.

The charging parties are skeptical that McDonald’s workforce management systems can be restructured. Citing an April 2014 statement by then-CEO Dan Thompson, they allege the company has responded to falling profits with a “reset” plan that requires the company to take greater control of staffing and scheduling to maximize in-store revenues.

Guarded Campaigns

In its defense, the McDonald’s is arguing that any coordinated response at its franchised stores against protected activity was lawful-employer free speech, protected under the NLRA.

Under the 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the Act, Goldsmith explained, McDonald’s has “the absolute unfettered right to engage in non-coercive free speech in response to attacks on the brand.” Coordination on these grounds, he argued, does not constitute joint-employer status.

To establish its case, McDonald’s subpoenaed information on the internal workings of SEIU’s campaign, including internal documents from the union, the public relations firm Berlin Rosen and two investigative firms.

“We are entitled to find out who they talked to and what they spoke about,” Goldsmith said, referring to one of the investigative firms hired by the SEIU which may have spoken to workers. The union countered that revealing the insides of its campaign would have a “chilling effect” on organizing, as the fast food corporation could threaten those revealed with retaliation.  On Thursday, April 10, Esposito revoked the subpoenas against SEIU and the third parties.

Open-ended future

The pace of the proceedings since workers began protesting in 2012 also gives some sense of the scope of the campaign drive being led by SEIU.

Since November 2012, at least 310 charges of illegal retaliation against workers engaging in protected activity have been filed by workers and their representatives. Over 100 of these charges have been found to have merit, and as of February 13, the Board had filed 19 complaints across 14 administrative regions across the country—offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Manhattan. As the protests have continued, so have the unfair labor practice charges filed by the union.

If McDonald’s is found to have coordinated a national response to protesting workers, as the Board is arguing, that could prove that the company exercises more control over the workers in its stores than it claims.

Such a finding would be initially limited and establish a legal basis for collective bargaining at just a handful of stores. However, the finding could facilitate traditional NLRB organizing across the heavily franchised service sector, forcing the company to bargain with workers who opt for union representation.

SEIU has made a considerable investment (“over $18 million at least,” said Goldsmith) in an open-ended campaign with little promise of immediate returns. The current case in front of the NLRB shows that the union is far from guaranteed from obtaining new dues-paying members any time soon, making the union’s investment an incredibly risky gamble—something most unions would be loathe to even consider.

The campaign has sparked a nation-wide movement that has already won minimum wage increases and raised entry-level pay for workers across the retail and fast food industries. Whether that momentum will translate into joint-employer status or fast food worker union membership may depend on the ruling handed down in Judge Esposito’s courtroom.

This blog originally appeared in In These Times on April 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The Author’s name is Andrew Elrod. Andrew Elrod is a writer living in New York. He is a contributor and former intern at Dissent, and his work has also appeared in Labor Notes. He is from Texas. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewelrod or reach him at [email protected]

A Legacy Remembered

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Gebre

Every February, people across the country celebrate Black History Month. We honor the  heritage and struggle of African Americans in the United States while looking with hope  toward the future. This year, I am honored to look back at organizers and activists who  inspire me daily in my work as a leader in the labor movement. The history of the  modern labor movement, which is positioned to speak, fight and win on behalf of all  workers, is filled with strong black figures who fought for civil and economic justice  during a time when justice was not guaranteed for all.

When I arrived in the United States at the age of 15 as a refugee of war-torn Ethiopia, I  struggled to take care of myself financially while also trying to focus on my academics.  When I started college at Cal Poly Pomona on an athletic scholarship, I also got a job as a night shift loader for UPS as a member of Teamsters Local 396. UPS was my first union job, and it opened my eyes to the world of labor and all of the trailblazing African American organizers who had come before me.

People like Bayard Rustin, who persevered in the face of threats and violence in his efforts to organize workers on behalf of the trade unionists. Despite enduring multiple arrests and beatings, Rustin continued in his work and went on to help organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom alongside A. Philip Randolph, another great African American labor leader. The March on Washington was the largest demonstration the United States had ever seen, bringing together hundreds of people in the struggle for better jobs and better lives.

Thanks to the work of activists like Rustin and Randolph, all African Americans have moved closer to achieving the goals of justice and equality set forth by the civil rights movement. Rustin and Randolph are important examples of the positive role unions and collective action play in the African American struggle for economic justice. Today, African American union members earn 28% more than our nonunion peers and are far more likely to have good benefits that help us raise families. But there is still work to be done.

Now more than ever, the struggle for civil rights must include good jobs that raise wages and an economy that works for all. Without good jobs, there is no real freedom. While African American union members are weathering the economic downturn with the aid of collective bargaining, our nonunion brothers and sisters are suffering. Today African Americans have a 10.4% rate of unemployment in the United States, compared to a 4.8% rate for white Americans.

It’s time for the next generation of leaders to take up the torch and work on behalf of all workers. I am grateful for the inspiration that past African American leaders have left behind for me. This proud legacy continues to motivate fellow activists who are fighting for justice today. Let’s get to work and make them proud.

This article originally appeared at  The Huffington Post on February 9, 2015. Reprinted with permission from AFL-CIO Now.

About the author: Tefere Gebre is the Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO.

Chicago Movers Stage Groundbreaking Strike

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

kari-lydersenEvery morning, workers at Golan’s Moving & Storage in the Chicago suburb of Skokie are ordered to arrive at work by 6 a.m. to prepare trucks for the day. If they are late, they can be suspended for several days or otherwise disciplined. Yet they typically don’t even start getting paid until about 8 a.m.—when they board a truck bound for their assignment.

This situation is among the many injustices that spurred Golan’s workers to organize with the faith-based workers rights group Arise Chicago last year before unionizing with Teamsters Local 705. Since December 2013, the first contract negotiations have dragged on, with management canceling planned sessions 12 times in six months, according to the Teamsters.

So on July 28, about four-fifths of Golan’s workers walked out on strike. Negotiations are theoretically continuing, but Teamsters Local 705 business agent Richard De Vries says that the company officials walked out of their most recent session, on August 14, after just 41 minutes.

The union has filed various Unfair Labor Practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and a federal mediator was brought in to oversee the negotiations.Still, De Vries tells In These Times that these measures have so far not prevented Golan’s from essentially refusing to bargain. He thinks that the company is trying to delay signing a contract until December, at which point under labor law they can call for an election to decertify the union—because a year will have passed with no contract signed.

“This is our remedy: going on strike,” says De Vries. He reports that more than 80 workers out of a total of about 100 are on strike, including members of the company’s two separate sections, which do local and long-distance moves.

On Saturday, August 16, more than 100 supporters, including Teamsters members from other companies, joined the workers on the picket line. Leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths spoke to the crowd and asked the owners—Israelis who reportedly named the company for the region Israel captured from Syria during the Six-Day War—to recognize the concepts of workers’ rights and human dignity enshrined in all three world religions.

Onesimo Peña was one of the workers who contacted Arise last summer, frustrated with what he told In These Times was “so many abuses” suffered by his co-workers. He also notes that in more than a decade working for the company, his wages have only risen from $12 to $12.50 an hour, even though he has often been called on in emergencies or for important jobs.

“We’ve tried too many times to get the owners to listen to us but they wouldn’t,” says Peña. “So we went to Arise Chicago.”

In turn, Arise connected the workers with Teamsters Local 705. And marshaling support for unionizing was easy, Peña remembers.

“Everyone was tired of this situation,” he says.

Shortly after the workers voted to unionize, Peña says his wages increased to $14 an hour. The company also started paying overtime and made a few other concessions, including with regard to safety. De Vries says he can only speculate as to why, though Golan’s may have been trying to dissuade workers from going on strike or trying to weaken the union in bargaining.

Golan’s workers don’t have insurance, paid sick days or vacation days or any other benefits. According to organizers, such as Arise Chicago’s Jorge Mujica, “There is wage theft all over the place,” including the aforementioned unpaid preparation work time, and logged hours that go missing from paychecks until workers complain.

Plus, workers’ wages are often further reduced by fines for a wide range of infractions. Jose Reyes, a Golan’s employee for 10 years, says he was once fined $700 because one of the other movers in the crew he oversaw had a small tear in his pants. Reyes tells In These Times that workers could also be charged for forgetting to leave the keys to their personal car with management before they head off to a job, or for failing to call the customer to say they are running late.

“There’s no warning, you get back from the job and they are waiting for you with a fine,” he says.

He and Peña also say managers have offered them incentives for reporting other workers for violations.

“They approached me and said, ‘If you turn people in, you will have your job forever, you can have a raise,’” says Reyes, who is on the union negotiating committee. “They were trying to buy me off.”

Worker Miguel Flores tells In These Times that under the terms worked by long-distance drivers who move customers to other states, he has earned only $40 for spending 10 hours unloading boxes at a home. (Mujica explains that this is likely technically legal under labor provisions for interstate commerce.)

Movers in the long-distance unit are particularly upset that they are not compensated for waiting time of up to a day or more if customers are not ready when they arrive. These employees are paid based on factors such as miles driven and the volume of the move. So when a customer isn’t ready, they’re forced to spend time on the road unpaid, sleeping and waiting in their truck when they otherwise could be earning money.

De Vries says payment for such “detention time” is a major demand in negotiations. So far, though, management has offered only token concessions during the negotiation sessions that have occurred. “They have agreed to pay for showers at a truck stop,” which cost a few dollars, he says. And in response to union demands for paid days off, Golan’s offered a total of $10 a day for up to 10 vacation days, De Vries continues.

Golan’s also employs workers under the J-1 visa “work and study-based exchange” program, drawing students from around the world for 90-day stays in the United States. Silviu Radu joined the program while studying for his Masters in business administration at a university in his home country of Romania. After starting work at Golan’s in June and got to know many of his co-workers. He hadn’t been present for many of the complications surrounding organizing and negotiating, so the strike came as a bit of a surprise to him.

“I rode my bike to work and everyone was outside,” he tells In These Times. “I was like ‘Hey guys, what’s going on?’”

Once he learned about the walkout, though, he promptly joined it, as did several other J-1 workers, according to Radu and De Vries. The visa does not allow companies involved in walkouts to staff J-1 employees, so Radu is looking for another job while spending time on the picket lines.

“You get to bond with your colleagues,” Radu says. “These are good people, hard-working people who help each other.”

The J-1 visa—which has drawn controversy in the past over its reported abuse by employers including Hershey’s—cost Radu about $2,000, he says, including other fees connected to the program. Even so, he notes, laughing, that he “was making $10.50 an hour on the truck.”

For its part, Golan’s has largely responded to the actions with denial. Two large green signs outside the company, dated August 12 and addressed to workers from company secretary Yehuda Bitton, read: “The many reckless and dishonest statements about Golan’s and me are fabrications by the union and its representatives. Those of you who have worked for Golan’s for many years know these statements are not true.”

A Golan’s official inside the company during the rally declined to talk, and the spokesperson he referred In These Times to did not return a call for comment.

The company has also attempted to play on the fears on many of its workers regarding deportation. The signs, which are written in English and Spanish, go on to read that the union has threatened to call immigration authorities. De Vries says the U.S. State Department found out about the strike through the J-1 students, likely spurring the company to make that statement. The union has not contacted immigration authorities and would not do so, he argues.

Various workers tell In These Times they are confident the strike will force the company into meaningful negotiations for a contract with significant improvements. They say they’ve heard customers have canceled jobs because of the strike, and that little or no work has been happening at Golan’s. During the Saturday rally a moving truck entered the facility, but because it was manned by only one employee, De Vries said it was likely just a “show.” “You can’t move furniture with one person,” he says.

“We’ve seen trucks leaving and then find them parked 20 blocks away; they’re not working,” Mujica adds.

De Vries says that very few moving companies are organized, and most non-unionized workplaces do not offer their largely immigrant workforce insurance or benefits. Hence, the Golan’s workers’ unionization and strike could be seen as a precedent-setting development for the industry.

Both Reyes and Peña says they take pride in their work and want to continue at Golan’s, only under better conditions. Still, Reyes says he tells his three kids, only half joking, “When you see a Golan’s truck, run and hide, so you don’t end up like me.”

This blog originally appeared in In These Times on August 19, 2014.  Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17100/chicago_movers_stage_groundbreaking_strike

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 Gun and 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.

 

Labor Unions Champion More than Union Members

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

berry craigLabor haters love to claim that unions only care about their own members.

The claims are baloney of course. Unions advocate for more than just men and women who pack union cards.

Unions champion the whole working class. No one understood that better than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said:

“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”

On March 5, 1964, Dr. King, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and Jackie Robinson, the first African American Major League baseball player, helped lead more than 10,000 people – including several union members — in a march to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort. The march was in support of a bill introduced by State Rep. Norbert Blume of Louisville, a union-card carrying Democrat, that would outlaw racial discrimination in public places such as stores, restaurants, movie theatres and hotels.

Blume had been president of Teamsters Local 783 in the Falls City. Some of the union members who joined the procession were Sam Ezelle, secretary-treasurer of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO; Jimmy Stewart, business manager of Louisville Laborers Local 576; and union and civil rights activist W.C. Young of Paducah.

Blume’s bill didn’t pass, but the Louisville lawmaker didn’t give up. Too, the march helped provide important momentum for passage of the Blume-backed Civil Rights Act of 1966, the first such measure approved by a Southern state.
Union members, including Bill Londrigan, state AFL-CIO president, are expected to help swell the ranks of a 50th Anniversary Civil Rights March on the capitol on March 5. The special commemoration is sponsored by the Kentucky Human Rights Commission and the Allied Organizations for Civil Rights, a coalition that includes the state AFL-CIO, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

“The historic March on Washington for Jobs and Civil Rights where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic ‘I have a Dream’ speech included the input and close participation of trade unionists such as A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Walter Reuther,” Londrigan said. “The participation and support of organized labor was also evident fifty years ago during the March on Frankfort when trade unionists such as Norbert Blume, W.C. Young, Sam Ezelle and Jimmy Stewart had significant roles in the march as well as strong support for passage of Kentucky’s historic Civil Rights Act of 1966.”

He added, “The upcoming March 5th march and rally in Frankfort represents another significant event when organized labor will again rise to the occasion to support and participate in this fifty-year commemoration of the 1964 March on Frankfort.  On March 5th, organized labor will again demonstrate our long and deep commitment to civil and workers’ rights, because organized labor knows that civil rights and workers’ rights cannot be separated and Kentucky’s labor movement is proud to stand for and struggle for both.”

I don’t know if union marchers in 1964 included Bill Sanders, Young’s good friend and union brother. Sanders headed the West Kentucky Building and Construction Trades Council in Paducah for many years.

Dubbed “Mr. Western Kentucky Labor,” Sanders once told me a story that’s another good example of how unions change “misery and despair into hope and progress.”

He recalled a Detroit woman, a stranger almost penniless and down on her luck, who got drunk in Paducah and ended up in jail. She had hurt her knee and needed medical attention.

Sanders’ office was close to the lockup. He remembered:

“The jailer came over to me and told me about her. He said, ‘Bill, you’ve got a union meeting this morning. Will you see what you can do?’ I said I would, and I asked him how much money she would need. The jailer said ‘$500 for her hospital bill and she’ll have to have some traveling money, too.’

“Well, we made up all that money. So I went down to the hospital and gave this money to that lady, and she said, ‘Mr. Sanders, when I get better, I’m going back to Detroit and go back to my husband and try to work things out.’ When she got well, she went back to Detroit, joined the church and got back with her husband. That’s the kind of things unions do that never get in the paper.”

Author: Berry Craig, AFT Local 1360

Maryland Unions Hit Jobs Jackpot with New Casinos

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Bruce VailLabor unions in the Washington, D.C. area got an early Christmas present December 20, when Maryland state officials announced their approval of a plan to build a massive MGM Resorts International casino complex just a few miles from the nation’s Capitol building.

The news comes as a welcome sign of organized labor’s vitality in Maryland, which has seen falling union membership during the last decade. As of 2012, unions represented just 12.3 percent of Maryland jobholders—a decrease of 23,000 workers from the previous year.

One of Maryland labor’s responses to this challenge has been to lobby on behalf of expanded gambling long before casino construction ever takes place, usually in return for a mutually beneficial “labor peace agreement.” In the case of MGM Resorts, the gambling powerhouse received its approval from the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission with the help of an ad-hoc coalition of local labor unions, says John Boardman, an officer of D.C.-based Unite Here Local 25. He estimates that the $925 million project will generate about 2,000 temporary construction jobs and 4,000 permanent ones.

“We have a labor peace agreement with MGM, so I expect we will be moving pretty quickly to organize wall-to-wall,” Boardman tells Working In These Times. About 2,000 of the permanent casino workers are likely to be represented by Local 25, he says, with the remainder spread out among Teamsters Local 639, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 99 and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 22. Similarly, the 2,000 temporary construction jobs are expected to be filled by union members linked to the Washington, D.C. Building Trades Council (AFL-CIO), a regional alliance of 15 union locals of electricians, ironworkers, painters, plumbers and others.

As the sixth major gambling site in the state, MGM’s construction signifies the emergence of casinos in Maryland as “a billion-dollar industry,” notes James Karmel, a historian, author and gambling industry analyst. This growth has been aided in large part by the lobbying efforts of local labor, particularly where casino-friendly legislation is concerned. Unions supported a 2008 state constitutional referendum that legalized slot machine parlors; its passage prompted the opening of four such establishments throughout Maryland. And after another 2012 statewide referendum—also strongly supported by unions—granted slot machine operators the right to expand into other types of gambling and to commence 24-hour operation, an expanded Caesars Entertainment Horseshoe site began construction in Baltimore.

All this has added up to a regional gambling boom, Karmel says, with the creation of more than 9,000 permanent jobs in addition to thousands of temporary construction ones. But allying with labor is nothing new for casino companies, who have successfully negotiated deals with labor unions in other locations around the country.

“It’s logical that the big casino companies like MGM and Caesars would bring unions with them when they expand into Maryland,” because these same companies are also heavily unionized in Las Vegas and elsewhere, says Karmel. “They are used to having unions … there is a long tradition of unionization in gambling.”

Indeed, in April 2013, Working In These Times reported that Caesars had struck a deal to unionize most of its estimated 1,700 permanent casino jobs in Baltimore, paralleling its existing agreements in other cities. And Boardman expects the yet-to-be-negotiated labor contracts at MGM’s Maryland location to mirror the “middle class wages and benefits” established by the company’s labor pacts with Unite Here locals at its branches in Las Vegas. He says many MGM entry-level jobs will likely pay about $17 an hour and come with fully paid health benefits.

The opportunity for organizing is so great, in fact, that it may be causing dissension among various unions when it comes to employee coverage. For example, the November 2013 issue of The Seafarers Log, the official publication of the Seafarers International Union (SIU), reported that a joint effort between the SIU-affiliated Seafarers Entertainment and Allied Trades Union (SEATU) and United Food & Commercial Workers Local 27 had succeeded in signing up about 2,500 new union members working at the expanded slot parlors. Sources indicate that some local unions regard SEATU as an intruder into their own jurisdictions. (Representatives from SIU and UFCW declined to comment for this story.)

For the most part, however, with labor peace agreements now in place for Maryland’s two large new casinos, leaders are counting the boom as a success. Fred Mason, President of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, says the growth is a good example of the kind of gains that can be made when unions engage politicians and the public in job-creation initiatives.

“It’s creating jobs and pumping money into the economy generally,” he says. “And, of course, it is important that these are good-paying union jobs.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on January 8, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Cheer on Your Union Brothers and Sisters at the 2014 Golden Globes

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Jackie TortoraThis Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, union talent will be on full display at the 2014 Golden Globes Awards, hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Union members involved in making, creating and starring in the movies and TV shows include SAG-AFTRA, the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA).

Best of luck to everyone up for awards, and thanks for keeping us entertained year round.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on January 10, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Honeywell Workers Get Rare Good News for Christmas

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Mike ElkFor the past several Christmases, workers at Honeywell’s uranium plant in Metropolis, Ill., have had little to celebrate. Most of the workers at the plant have spent the best part of four years in a series of labor struggles with the company: first a tense 13-month lockout ending in 2011, then post-lockout disputes in which the union alleged that the company failed to abide by the new contract, and then, in July of 2012, a yearlong shuttering of the plant that led to temporary layoffs of almost the entire union workforce.

This holiday season, however, the workers are finally getting something to cheer about—all of their jobs back, two days before Christmas.

Earlier this month, Honeywell’s new plant manager Jim Pritchett recalled the final 11 of the nearly 200 laid-off union workers—including the union local president, Stephen Lech. The last of the workers restarted their jobs on Monday, December 23. The union, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-699, is hoping that the recalls may be a sign of improved relations with Honeywell.

That relationship grew even more strained this summer, after Honeywell reopened the renovated plant in May. While the company began bringing back laid-off union workers in an order determined by lists negotiated with the union, it stopped with 21 workers still left on the list. Local 7-699 alleges that this was an attempt to avoid rehiring Lech, who was next in line.

Out of solidarity with the laid-off workers, some union workers refused to work overtime, saying the plant was understaffed and that Honeywell was using overtime to avoid filling the needed positions. In turn, Pritchett (then the plant’s operating manager), sent a memo in July canceling summer vacations for all workers because not enough overtime shifts were being filled.

On October 25, Local 7-699 filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, saying that Honeywell had “unlawfully, disparately, and discriminatorily failed and refused to reinstate from layoff, union president, Stephen Lech, because he engaged in protected, and concerted, and union activities.”

The NLRB was getting ready to hear the case when Honeywell settled. If the board had ruled in favor of the local and found that the refusal to reinstate was in retaliation for union action, Honeywell would have been legally liable for the back pay for the 21 workers who were not recalled during that six-month period. Lech estimates that the payment could have totaled more than a half a million dollars.

Some union activists say that the threat of legal action over the layoffs propelled Honeywell to finally readmit the last 21 workers to the plant. Honeywell did not return Working In These Times’ request for comment.

While Honeywell’s motives are unclear, what is clear is that this Christmas Eve, a lot of Honeywell workers in Metropolis, Ill., have reason to smile. The news of a victory gives union workers a much-needed morale boost as they head into what are expected to be contentious negotiations over their contract, which is set to expire this June.

“I’m excited about it,” says Lech of the rehirings. “We’ve fought hard against Honeywell for the last four years, and this is a huge victory for us.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on December 23, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.

Strike in Colombia Highlights Free Trade Failure

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Dave JohnsonThere is a big strike in Colombia, and you probably don’t know about it. Farmers and others are protesting over a variety of grievances including the devastating effect of free-trade agreements, privatization and inequality-driven poverty. Corporate-owned American media is not covering it. These trade agreements make the really rich really richer while outsourcing jobs to places where people can’t object to the low pay and working conditions. This undercuts wages here. The end result is a race to the bottom.

The Strike

The BBC is reporting that 200,000 Colombian farmers are on strike in 11 of Colombia’s 32 provinces. They are blocking roads, cutting off the central province. The Economist reports that “Colombian miners, truckers, coffee growers, milk producers, public health-care workers, students and others” took to the streets on August 19.

Almost the only American outlet covering this strike is the Miami Herald. Last week the paper reported,

The agrarian strike, as it’s known, is broad-based and far-flung. Coffee, cacao, potato and rice farmers have joined ranks with cargo truckers, gold miners and others. Teachers and labor unions are also joining in. Their demands are equally ample, calling for reduced fuel and fertilizer prices, the cancellation of free trade agreements, increased subsidies and the end of a crackdown on informal mining operations, among others.

Reasons For Strike

Stone throwers clash with riot police as Colombian farmers demanding government subsidies and greater access to land block the road in La Calera, Cundinamarca department, on August 23. (EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

According to the Herald report free-trade agreements are part of the reason for the strike. “Javier Correa Velez, the head of a coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera,” … “High fuel prices, expensive agrichemicals, government neglect of rural areas and free trade agreements — without adequate safeguards — have made it impossible for farmers to compete, he said.”

Miami Herald report the next day also says that the strikers are demanding an end to free-trade agreements.

Common Dreams has more, in Colombia Nationwide Strike Against ‘Free Trade,’ Privatization, Poverty. Common Dreams reports, (click through for links)

“[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies,” declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country’s largest union, in a statement.

[. . .] Meanwhile, the Colombian government is handing out sweetheart deals to international mining companies while creating bans and roadblocks for Colombian miners. Likewise, the government is giving multinational food corporations access to land earmarked for poor Colombians. Healthcare workers are fighting a broad range of reforms aimed at gutting and privatizing Colombia’s healthcare system. Truckers are demanding an end to low wages and high gas prices.

Labor Murders In Colombia

Labor “strife” is not new to Colombia. In February, 2012 AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter asking President Obama to delay the implementation of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, because of continuing murders of labor activists.

The letter states that through January, one union member was killed by Colombian troops, a second was shot to death along with his wife, a third worker was “brutally murdered” and a fourth union member employed by the National Industry of Sodas (Coca-Cola) was “murdered by gunfire.”

Over 2,900 union members have been murdered in Colombia over the last 25 years…

The Common Dreams report drives this home,

Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists, according to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, and 37 activists were murdered in Colombia in the 1st half of 2013 alone, leading news weekly Semana reports.

Effect Of US-Colombia Agreement

The US-Colombia Trade Agreement went into effect May, 2012. A year later The Nation carried the story, The Horrific Costs of the US-Colombia Trade Agreement describing the consequences on Colombia’s poor and farmers. The new agreement forces Colombian farmers “to compete against heavily subsidized US products” and an Oxfam report estimates “that the average income of 1.8 million grossly under-protected small farmers will fall by 16 percent.” “The study concludes that 400,000 farmers who now live below the minimum wage will see their incomes drop by up to 70 percent and will thus be forced out of their livelihoods.”

And the threats and murders continue. According to a May Public Citizen report on the effects of the recent Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements,

In the year after the launch of the Labor Action Plan, union members in Colombia received 471 death threats – exactly the same number as the average annual level of death threats in the two years before the Plan. At least 20 Colombian unionists were assassinated in 2012 according to the data relied upon under the Labor Action Plan, while the International Trade Union Confederation reported the assassination of 35 unionists. … In addition, violent mass displacements of Colombians increased 83 percent in 2012 relative to 2011, when the U.S. Congress passed the FTA, adding to the five million Colombians who have been displaced in the world’s largest internal displacement crisis.

The Colombian trade agreement is hurting Colombia’s small farmers and they are reacting. They are pitted against America’s giant, industrialized, government-subsidized farms and losing the battle. And in America these giant, corporate farms largely only enrich the 1%, providing low wages for the rest and forcing smaller American farmers out of business as well.

Korea Free-Trade Agreement Already Costs 40,000 American Jobs

Our free-trade agreement with Colombia is not the only recent agreement that is not going so well for 99% of the people involved. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported in July that the US-Korea free trade agreement has already costs the US 40,000 jobs and increased our trade deficit by $5.8 billion. Already.

The tendency to distort trade model results was evident in the Obama administration’s insistence that increasing exports under KORUS would support 70,000 U.S. jobs. The administration neglected to consider jobs lost from the increasing imports and a growing bilateral trade deficit. In the year after KORUS took effect, the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea increased by $5.8 billion, costing more than 40,000 U.S. jobs. Most of the 40,000 jobs lost were good jobs in manufacturing.

NAFTA Wiped Out Small Mexican Farmers, Sending Them North

This is similar to the after-effect of the NAFTA agreement that allowed US-subsidized corn into Mexican markets, wiping out many small farmers and sending them north desperately looking for work. NAFTA forced at least 4,000 pig farms under, losing 120,000 jobs. (China being the beneficiary, now buying American pork-producer Smithfield.) It helped increase rural poverty from 35% to 55%. Tobacco and coffee farmers also went under.

A Wilson Center report says NAFTA “Subsidized Inequality,” displacing “many hundreds of thousands of small-scale corn producers.” A McClatchy report estimates the number of Mexican corn-farming jobs lost at 2 million, worsening illegal migration.

Then U.S. corn imports crested like a rain-swollen river, increasing from 7 percent of Mexican consumption to around 34 percent, mostly for animal feed and for industrial uses as cornstarch.

Meanwhile NAFTA didn’t turn out so well for American workers, either. Estimates are that NAFTA has cost 700,000 American jobs, and a quick look at 1989?s Roger & Me shows what it did to cities and regions. Many of Detroit’s auto jobs have moved to Mexico, for example.

China Trade

The Alliance for American Manufacturing has a state-by-state map of jobs lost to China (don’t forget the more than 50,000 factories), with the introduction, “The growth of the U.S. trade deficit with China since that country entered the World Trade Organization in 2001 has had a devastating effect on U.S. workers and the domestic economy. Between 2001 and 2011, 2.7 million U.S. jobs were lost or displaced.”

Our trade deficit with China drained $26.9 billion from our economy just in the month of June. And that was actually down from 27.9 billion the month before.

No Jobs From Trade Deals

In No Jobs from Trade Pacts EPI’s Robert Scott explains that the appeal of these job-killing trade deals is the job killing nature of the deals,

FTAs and other trade agreements make it enormously profitable to outsource production to countries such as South Korea and China that use currency manipulation, dumping, and other unfair trade practices to undercut production and wages in the United States. U.S. MNCs, including Apple, Boeing, Dell, Ford, GE, GM, and Intel have also profited enormously from outsourcing to Mexico, China, and other low-wage trade partners under the protection of FTAs and the WTO. The end result is a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions for most members of these agreements.

These trade agreements make the really rich really richer. They outsource jobs to places where people can’t object to the low pay and working conditions. This undercuts wages here. The end result is a race to the bottom, while the 1% get richer and richer.

Promises, Promises

Free-trade proponents always promise jobs and prosperity, then later we get the bill. The promises sound great but the record is that only a wealthy few benefit at the expense of the rest of us.

The Korean and NAFTA free-trade deals and China’s entry into the WTO led to terrible job losses (and millions of Mexicans pressured to migrate north), our trade deficit accelerated, factories were closed and entire regions of our country were devastated. Just look at Detroit, Flint, and similar cities.

But the promises … In 2011 the Koch brothers’ Cato Institute promised, in Trade Agreement Would Promote U.S. Exports and Colombian Civil Society,

[T]he U.S.-Colombia trade agreement would eliminate barriers to billions of dollars of U.S. exports. Colombia is home to 45 million consumers and is one of the largest economies in Latin America, and a major market for U.S. exports in the Western Hemisphere. …

Anytime trade barriers can be lowered anywhere, at home or abroad, Americans benefit from greater competition and specialization. …

The Colombia trade agreement would extend investor protections and guarantees of equal treatment to service providers in a broad range of sectors. …

Gains in market access would be especially strong for the U.S. financial sector. …

Cato offered promises for Colombia as well,

The FTA with the United States would boost the Colombian economy and complement other important market reforms carried out in that country in the last decade. …

After a decade of substantial improvements in the areas of security and the economy, Colombia stands to benefit from a free-trade agreement with its most important partner. By approving this FTA, the United States would contribute significantly to Colombia’s economic development at a crucial point in the country’s history.

And so on. This is typical of the promises we hear every time a new free-trade deal is brought before the Congress for approval.

Last year the Heritage Foundation looked at our trade relationship with China (which has cost millions of jobs and drained trillions from the economy). Heritage explained why the loss of jobs and massive trade deficit are good for us, because this means prices are low, and the owners of American (and Duth and Korean) corporations make out like bandits, we go further into debt with them, and then they buy our companies and land,

Every day we buy things made in China, though they may be made there by American or Dutch or Korean corporations. China buys a lot of our government’s debt and lately it has been buying small pieces of American companies and land.

Heritage goes on to say that if our government did something about it, that would make us “less free” and “would pick winners and losers” and that “comparative advantage” means China should do this work. Because their “comparitive advantage” is that no democracy, no unions, no environmental protections means they can make things for less so giant corporations have higher profits.

This, by the way, is a different way of saying what I wrote above, “These trade agreements make the really rich really richer. They outsource jobs to places where people can’t object to the low pay and working conditions. This undercuts wages here. The end result is a race to the bottom, while the 1% get richer and richer.”

Beware

Yes, free-trade agreements can increase exports. Corn to Mexico, for example. Raw materials to China. But if they increase imports even more, it is still a net loss for jobs and the economy. (No, by “imports” I do not mean the mass migration north of desperate Mexican agricultural workers wiped out by giant, government-subsidized US agricultural corporations.)

huge new trade deal is coming up soon. This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), called by some the “mother of all free-trade deals” and by others the “Corporate Deathstar.” It is a job-loss runaway train that is coming straght at us. The corporate lobbyists are asking Congress to give up their Constitutional duty to scrutinize and amend this agreement by passing “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority. Call your Senators and Representative today and tell them you oppose “Fast Track” — and tell everyone you know to do the same.

This article originally appeared OurFuture.org on August 26, 2013.   It can also be found on AFL-CIO NOW blog.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dave Johnson is Dave Johnson  is a Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy.

T-Mobile US Workers Unite for Respect

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Image: Mike HallWith a new website—TMobileWorkersUnited.org—workers at T-Mobile US are connecting with each other to build strength in their drive for workplace justice and respect.

Working with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), T-Mobile Workers United (TU) is an alliance of hundreds of call center representatives, retail associates and technicians who are standing up to discuss the issues and challenges they face at the new T-Mobile US, a merger of T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS.

For the past several years, T-Mobile workers say they have faced an extensive anti-union campaign by the company that last year closed seven call centers in the United States and shipped more than 3,300 jobs overseas.

Before the merger, MetroPCS shared T-Mobile’s U.S. job-killing record. The company “outsourced all of its customer contact center services to maintain low operating expenses” through a partnership with Telvista, a call center outsourcer. Good American jobs are now going to Mexico, Antigua, Panama and the Philippines, according to MetroPCS’s 10-K filing.

Ronald Ellis, a T-Mobile US call center worker in Nashville, Tenn., writes on the new website:

With the recent acquisition of MetroPCS (9 million no-contract customers, and no customer service based in the USA), the winds of change are blowing. T-Mobile USA stopped employees’ raises and stopped the phone incentive for employees. We feel if we don’t unite soon, more call centers may soon be on the chopping blocks for downsizing.

The workers say they want this new company to succeed, and they believe that justice and respect in the workplace are essential for that success.

In 2011, CWA, ver.di, the German union that represents workers at T-Mobile’s parent company Deutsche Telekom, and a coalition of community and labor groups around the world, partnered on an international campaign to win workers a voice and respect at T-Mobile. Read more about the global campaign here and here.

This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 19th, 2013.  Reposted with permission. 

About the Author:  Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety

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