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AFL-CIO Backs Dakota Access Pipeline and the “Family Supporting Jobs” It Provides

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

o3ytsjwl_400x400The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) came out this week in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the construction of which was delayed last week by an order from the Obama administration—a decision that itself stemmed from months of protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux.

In a statement, Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, said, “We believe that community involvement in decisions about constructing and locating pipelines is important and necessary, particularly in sensitive situations like those involving places of significance to Native Americas.”

This week has shown a stark divide between parts of American labor and today’s social movements. Progressive unions face an uphill battle on many issues, within and outside of organized labor. (Peg Hunter/ Flickr)

This week has shown a stark divide between parts of American labor and today’s social movements. Progressive unions face an uphill battle on many issues, within and outside of organized labor. (Peg Hunter/ Flickr)

But it “is fundamentally unfair,” he added, “to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay. The Dakota Access Pipeline is providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs.

“(Trying) to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved. The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama Administration to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”

It’s an open secret in labor that North America’s Building Trades Unions—including many that represent pipeline workers—have an at-times dominating presence within the federation’s 56-union membership. Pipeline jobs are well-paying union construction gigs, and workers on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) can make some $37 an hour plus benefits. As one DAPL worker and Laborers International Union member told The Des Moines Register, “You’ve got to make that money when you can make it.”

But an old blue-green mantra says, “there are no jobs on a dead planet.” The parts of organized labor that have taken that phrase to heart are far from unified around Trumka’s DAPL backing—even within the AFL-CIO. National Nurses United (NNU) has had members on the ground at Standing Rock protests and others around the country have participated in a national day of action.

“Nurses understand the need for quality jobs while also taking strong action to address the climate crisis and respecting the sovereign rights of First Nation people,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, NNU’s executive director and a national vice president of the AFL-CIO.

In response to the federation’s endorsement, DeMoro cited the work of economist Robert Pollin, who found that spending on renewable energy creates approximately three times as many jobs as the same spending on maintaining the fossil fuel sector.

NNU isn’t alone. As protests swelled this month, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) released a statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, stating that “CWA stands with all working people as they struggle for dignity, respect and justice in the workplace and in their communities.”

Unions like the Amalgamated Transit Union and the United Electrical Workers have each issued similar statements supporting protests against the pipeline, and calling on the Obama administration to step in and block the project permanently.

For those who follow labor and the environment, however, the above unions might be familiar names. Many were vocal advocates for a stronger climate deal in Paris, and sent members to COP21 at the end of last year. They were also those most vehemently opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, and all supported Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. While friendly to progressives, these unions have tended to have a relatively limited impact on bigger unions, like the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

According to Sean Sweeney, though, this small group of unions might now be gaining strength. “Progressive unions are becoming a more coherent force,” he told In These Times.

Sweeney helped found a project called Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, which works with unions around the world on climate change and the transition away from fossil fuels, including the National Education Association and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ in the United States. He also runs the International Program for Labor, Climate and the Environment at City University of New York’s Murphy Institute.

“It could be said that it’s just the same old gang making the same old noise, but for health unions and transport unions to go up against the building trades and their powerful message and equally powerful determination to win … that was a bit of a cultural shift in the labor movement,” he said, referencing the fights against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. “That suggests that it’s going to continue.”

Sweeney mentioned, too, that it wasn’t until much later in the fight around Keystone XL that even progressive unions came out against it. “A lot of these unions,” he added, “know a lot more about energy and pollution and climate change than they did before.”

Between Trumka’s DAPL endorsement and the Fraternal Order of Police’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president, this week has shown a stark divide between parts of American labor and today’s social movements. Progressive unions face an uphill battle on many issues, within and outside of organized labor. The question now—on the Dakota Access Pipeline—is whether today’s “Keystone moment” can break new ground in the jobs versus environment debate.

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on September, 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kate Aronoff is a writing fellow at In These Times covering the 2016 election and the politics of climate change. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff

Working People Give a Bold Union Yes in Las Vegas

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

fullsizerender-385x1024If you were lamenting that Labor Day’s current day association with leisure has obfuscated the true meaning of the holiday—don’t despair because the working people of Boulder Station Hotel & Casino got together over the Labor Day weekend and after a long battle said, “Union Yes!”

More than 570 Boulder Station workers will now enjoy and exercise their right to come together and make things better at their workplace with the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165. Boulder Station is the first of Station Casinos’ properties in Nevada to vote yes for unionization.

“It is very simple: We voted for the union because we want to have a union at Boulder Station,” said Rodrigo Solano, a cook at the casino, which opened in 1994. “After all these years of fighting to make our jobs better, it is time for management to listen to us: We want to have fair wages and good health benefits like tens of thousands of other casino workers in Las Vegas.”

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 At the large casino-hotels owned and operated by Station Casinos in Las Vegas, including the soon-to-be-acquired Palms Casino Resort, workers have been publicly demanding a fair process to exercise their right to choose whether to form a union. Station Casinos responded with a vicious anti-union campaign.Despite the attacks, the working people of Boulder Station came together.

“Our company has enjoyed great success because of the hard work we put in every day to provide great service and hospitality,” said Maria Portillo, a food runner at Boulder Station. “We deserve to have a union contract that gives us job security, fair wages, good health care and a pension so that we can have the opportunity to provide for our families through our hard work.”

In the recent environment of heightened anti-immigrant sentiment spewing from those vying for the highest offices, while also embroiled in concurrent battles with unions of working people, it’s great to see workers stand up and join forces with the Culinary Workers Union. The Culinary Workers Union is Nevada’s largest immigrant organization with more than 57,000 members—a diverse membership that represents just over 50% Latino workers, as well as a membership of about 50% women. Members—who work as guest room attendants, bartenders, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and kitchen workers—come from 167 countries and speak more than 40 different languages.

“We know about the Culinary Workers Union and Bartenders Union, and the union standard that workers have fought to have for more than 80 years, and we made our decision based on those facts,” said Jeri Allert, a cocktail server at Boulder Station. “I look forward to negotiating a good union contract that protects my co-workers and our families.”

The hardest fought battles can yield the sweetest victories—a bolder #UnionYes and the power of a union to keep fighting for what you deserve.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on September 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sonia Huq is the Organizing Field Communications Assistant at the AFL-CIO.  She grew up in a Bangladeshi-American family in Boca Raton, Florida where she first learned a model of service based on serving a connected immigrant cultural community. After graduating from the University of Florida, Sonia served in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and later worked for Manavi, the first South Asian women’s rights organization in the United States. She then earned her Master’s in Public Policy from the George Washington University and was awarded a Women’s Policy Inc. fellowship for women in public policy to work as a legislative fellow in the office of Representative Debbie Wasserman (FL-23). Sonia is passionate about working towards a more just society and hopes to highlight social justice issues and movements through her writing.

It’s Game On for Grad Students After NLRB Rules They Can Unionize

Monday, September 12th, 2016

rebeccanathanson

December 5 fell on a Friday in 2014; in New York City, the air was crisp. At Columbia University, about 200 graduate student-workers pulled on hats and scarves to gather on the imposing steps of Low Library, which houses the university president’s office. While most stood in a block formation, holding signs declaring their department names, a small delegation went inside to deliver a letter to the president. It asked that he voluntarily recognize their union, the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2110), which a majority of graduate employees supported.

When the administration declined to reply, GWC and the United Auto Workers (UAW), with which it is affiliated, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to certify their union. A complicated legal process ensued.

For more than a decade, the NLRB considered graduate employees to be students, not workers. As such, they did not have the same legal rights of most employees, including the right to organize. All that changed two weeks ago when the NLRB decision on the Columbia case finally came back, siding with the student-workers and their right to collective bargaining.

“Obviously, it’s a huge push for us and it’s caused a lot of excitement and enthusiasm,” says Ian Bradley-Perrin, a PhD student in sociomedical sciences and history, who has worked as both a teaching and research assistant.

After months of approaching people with hypotheticals, he says that he and his fellow organizers can now speak in concrete terms: “We’re going to have an election. We are now recognized as workers. So it’s just been talking to people about what a union actually means, how the union is organized democratically, how people’s interests will be represented in the union.”

Graduate teaching and research assistants at a handful of private universities have been working towards unionization for years. Their administrations have largely been able to ignore their actions, citing the NLRB’s designation of them as students. Now, however, their efforts can finally move forward. They have the legal right to hold union elections and then negotiate contracts, providing them a collective voice in the terms of their employment. Already, the NLRB’s ruling is invigorating existing campaigns and inspiring new ones.

Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. (Rebecca Nathanson)

Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. (Rebecca Nathanson)

Path to recognition

Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. In 2001, graduate employees at New York University (NYU) became the country’s first to form a union and negotiate a contract at a private university, providing teaching assistants with wage increases and improved working conditions.

Three years later, graduate employees at Brown University attempted to do the same, but the NLRB, which had then shifted to a Republican majority, ruled that graduate employees were primarily students, not workers. In 2005, the NYU union’s contract expired and, using the 2004 Brown decision as precedent, the administration refused to negotiate a new one.

NYU’s administration kept firm to that stance until fall 2013, when it offered to voluntarily recognize the union. More than 98 percent of graduate employees voted in favor of the union, making it, once again, the only graduate employee union at a private university.

Organizers across the country were anxious to follow in their footsteps. Last month’s NLRB ruling gives them a shot in the arm.

At Harvard University, graduate student organizer Abigail Weil is particularly excited by the expansive way in which the NLRB defined a graduate employee in its ruling: “It’s broader and more inclusive than even we had hoped for. That’s just that many more people that we can talk to and fold into the bargaining unit as we create it.”

In its decision, the NLRB writes, “It is appropriate to extend statutory coverage to students working for universities covered by the (National Labor Relations) Act unless there are strong reasons not to do so.” It continues, “We will apply that standard to student assistants, including assistants engaged in research funded by external grants.” Not only does this include research assistants in addition to teaching assistants, but, Weil posits, it could also be interpreted as including working Masters students—and possibly even working undergraduates.

According to Weil, the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU-UAW) plans to file a petition for an election. She can already see a change in campus support.

“We’re thrilled at how many people were following the NLRB story,” she says. “Since that decision has come out, probably two-thirds of the people that we talk to now bring (it) up without us having to bring that up or explain it.”

Organizers at The New School, in New York City, are experiencing a similar phenomenon.

Like at Columbia, graduate employees at The New School asked their administration to voluntarily recognize their union. When that didn’t work, they too petitioned the NLRB for certification, only to hit the wall created a decade earlier by the Brown decision.

“We had our first meeting of the year on Monday and we had probably three times as many people show up,” says Eli Nadeau, a Masters student in the politics department at The New School. “We’re planning for an election because Columbia’s ruling covers us.”

Graduate workers at Cornell University took a slightly different approach to winning collective bargaining rights. While biding their time until the NLRB ruled on the Columbia case, they negotiated and signed a code of conduct with their administration in May. The document outlines the mechanisms by which a union election would take place and the behavior expected of both sides.

“Our next steps are really just working on the union. We are building outreach and finding out what our members’ concerns are,” explains Ben Norton, a PhD student in the music department and the communications and outreach chair of Cornell Graduate Students United, the university’s graduate employee union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

“We wasted no time”

Campaigns on numerous campuses have been galvanized by the Columbia decision, but graduate employees at Yale University took perhaps the swiftest action in its wake. Less than a week after the ruling, they filed a petition to hold an election to certify their union with the NLRB.

“We wasted no time. It was really exciting for the path to victory to open up and for us to really take advantage of it,” says Aaron Greenberg, a PhD student in the political science department and chair of Local 33-UNITE HERE, which represents Yale’s graduate teaching and research assistants.

In filing their petition, UNITE HERE and organizers at Yale are creating yet another variation on a graduate employee union. Rather than file as an entire unit of employees across the university, they did so department-by-department, starting with 10 departments.

“We really want a process that reflects how our work is organized. How much you get paid, what kind of work you do, what kind of hours you do really depend on the department,” explains Greenberg. Plus, he adds, “We’re hoping that by filing each department separately and starting with departments where the desire to unionize is overwhelmingly clear, we can avoid wasteful legal gamesmanship, unnecessary delays, and that the university will respect the democratic will of the members of these departments, who have made clear, time and time again, that they want a union.”

One of the next steps for graduate employees at many of the private universities hoping to take advantage of the recent NLRB decision will be working out the exact parameters of the bargaining unit: who it covers and who it excludes is not yet completely clear. But in the meantime, they will, for the first time in more than a decade, be able to move closer towards unionization without legal barriers—barriers which, organizers believe, were knocked down by the force of the organizing that took place in those intervening years.

“Labor law follows organizing, not the other way around,” says Weil. “We have been organizing to the full extent of our abilities, not the full extent of our legal rights. We’re happy to have those rights restored.”

This article was originally posted at InTheseTimes.com on September 9, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Rebecca Nathanson is a freelance writer in New York City. She has written for Al Jazeera America, n+1, The Nation, NewYorker.com,The Progressive, RollingStone.com, and more.

Labor board says graduate students can unionize

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

LauraClawson

According to the George W. Bush-era National Labor Relations Board, graduate students at private universities didn’t count as employees of those universities, no matter how much employment-type work they did. That means those students couldn’t unionize. Now, the NLRB has reversed that, saying graduate students can unionize:

First, the board rejected argument that graduate students cannot be employees because their relationship to their employer remains “primarily educational.” This interpretation, the board wrote, cannot actually be found in the “statutory text” of federal labor law, and cannot be derived from its “fundamental policy.” Instead, the board asked whether colleges and students had a “common-law employment relationship,” with the school exerting control over its student employees and compensating them for their labor. Because such a relationship obviously exists, students may be considered “employees” of the universities for which they work.

 As for the earlier ruling’s other concerns, the NLRB noted that almost all of them are “purely theoretical.” There is no empirical evidence that collective bargaining would somehow destroy the relationship between working graduate students and their employers by disrupting “traditional goals of higher education.” There is no proof that collective bargaining might restrict freedom of expression in the university setting. Indeed, graduate students at public universities have been unionizing for years without imperiling their school’s academic mission. And recent research has found “no support” for the assertion that graduate student unionization “would harm the faculty-student relationship” or “would diminish academic freedom.”

Students are now free to organize to change situations like this:

In the most recent academic year, Laura Hung, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at American University, earned $19,200 as a teaching and research assistant. The money was barely enough to cover her $1,000 rent and certainly not enough to pay for the health insurance offered by the university, she said. Hung is on Medicaid and said she is just $200 a year shy of qualifying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a form of welfare.

“Being a teaching and research assistant is important; it’s given me valuable classroom experience. What we do has an educational benefit, but the fact of the matter is we’re not paid fair wages,” said Hung, 31, who is finishing up her dissertation. “We work well over the hours we’re supposed to and as a result wind up being paid minimum wage or less. That’s not enough to live in D.C. Trying to make ends meet every month is virtually impossible.”

Organizing is easier said than done, of course, with some universities having shown themselves as willing to fight unionization as any major corporation. But at least now the government won’t throw up an added barrier.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on August 23, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Postal Workers Fend Off Attacks in New Contract

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Alexandra BradburyThis article was first posted at Labor Notes.

They didn’t end three-tier in a single blow. But in a new contract covering 200,000 members, the American Postal Workers Union made serious headway and fended off most concessionary demands, including the Postal Service’s effort to create yet another tier.
The union entered bargaining with little obvious leverage. It was up against a management that’s been openly collaborating with postal unions’ Congressional foes to push a frenzy of cuts—slashing delivery standards, shutting down mail plants,privatizing work, and selling off post offices to real estate sharks.

Postal workers can’t legally strike. If the union and management don’t reach a deal, an arbitrator writes the contract—which is what finally happened. Arbitrator Stephen Goldberg announced the results July 8.

He stopped short of eliminating the three-tier system, as the union had proposed. But the new contract shrinks the number of bottom-tier workers and improves their situation, while defending the traditional raises and no-layoff protection for the two upper tiers.

New York City mail processing clerk Carl Ross was riding the train to work when he read the results on his cell phone. “I think I screamed out loud,” he said. “It’s gone a long way towards making Postal Support Employees feel like they’re part of the U.S. Postal Service.”

The Postal underclass

Postal Support Employees (PSEs) are the worst-off members of the APWU, stuck in an indefinite temporary status. Since the last contract in 2010, all new hires have landed in this limbo.

They do the same jobs right alongside traditional career employees, but receive lower wages and minimal benefits. And their temporary status means PSEs always have to fear for their jobs—so management can squeeze more work and “flexibility” out of them. “You go wherever the management wind takes you,” Ross said.

He’s one of many union members who traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify to the arbitrator about working conditions. Six-day weeks and forced overtime every night are routine for PSEs in his facility, he said. Workweeks range from 50 to 70 hours.

“I come to work to provide a better life for my family,” Ross said, “not to forsake my family for the job.”

The old contract laid out a process to convert PSEs who were working full-time hours into career positions eventually, based on seniority. But management always dragged its heels, said Ross, a steward. It pushed each grievance to national arbitration, stalling results for months or more.

So the number of PSEs has hovered near the contractual limits—till now, up to 10 percent of all workers in motor vehicles and maintenance, and 20 percent of clerks. In negotiations, the Postal Service sought to add even more.

Steps forward

Instead, the new contract mandates that thousands will be converted to career positions by September 3. In the maintenance and motor vehicle crafts, with the conversion of all 3,500 PSEs, the category will vanish entirely. New hires in those crafts will go right into career status.

Not so in the union’s biggest craft, clerks, which includes workers at post office retail windows as well as those who process the mail in sorting plants. A thousand of the longest-serving clerks will be converted, leaving 27,000 PSEs.

These remaining temps will get a cumulative raise of 7 percent plus 50 cents an hour during the three-year agreement, plus access to Postal Service health benefits, six paid holidays (they had zero; career employees get 10), and for retail clerks, a uniform allowance.

The new holiday pay hit home for Ross. Last Christmas he was made to work a 12-hour shift, without it.

Other contract highlights include a one-year moratorium on further outsourcing of postal retail work (Staples, the target of a union boycott over its grab of APWU work, isn’t affected), a hold on plant closings at least through April 2017, and a bar on further subcontracting of motor vehicle work.

On the minus side, employees’ share of health insurance premiums will go up—the one major concession management got.

How they did it

What worked? One factor was a change in attitude at union headquarters. The last contract was settled without arbitration, when the previous officers agreed to the three-tier system.

Angry at the giveaways in that deal, members unseated their top officers in 2013, voting in a slate of activists who pledged to “stop the bleeding” by involving members and resisting concessions.

This time the Postal Workers held out against management’s demands through a year and a half of bargaining, mediation, and arbitration. “We could have settled for a new contract last year,” President Mark Dimondstein wrote in a message to members. “But it would not have been an agreement acceptable or fair to you, the member.”

On the job, workers built pressure by wearing union shirts and buttons every Thursday with the message “Good Postal Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract!” To bosses, even a simple disruption of routine can be unnerving. Managers in San Francisco soon showed their ruffled feathers—they distributed official T-shirts and told workers to wear those on Thursdays instead. Some workers refused; others gamely put on management’s shirts, but decked them out with union buttons and stickers.

As the contract expiration neared last year, the union organized a day of action, holding “I Stand with Postal Workers” rallies in 130 locations around the country. Members handed out leaflets, talked with customers about the union’s plan to defend and expand postal services, and gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures on support postcards mailed to the Postmaster General.

Once arbitration began, the union brought dozens of workers to D.C. to testify about their on-the-job concerns. Goldberg wrote that especially “the impassioned testimony of the PSEs” moved him to reject the Postal Service’s push to expand the temp category any further.

“For the first time, I felt included in my own future at the Postal Service,” Ross said. “That I had some contribution to making a better life for thousands of employees across the country—it’s actually quite humbling.”

A house divided

A half-million postal workers make up the nation’s biggest unionized workforce, split among four unions.

The biggest are the APWU and the Letter Carriers (NALC), whose members deliver letters and packages door to door in cities. Smaller unions represent Rural Carriers and Mail Handlers, the latter a division of the Laborers union.

After the APWU agreed to three tiers in its 2010 contract, the Postal Service went after the other three unions for the same concessions. The Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers fought it to arbitration. In the end arbitrators imposed tiers, although both unions got better deals for their middle tiers than the APWU did—lower starting pay than first-tier workers, but the same top pay.

And all the unions ended up funneling their new hires into third-tier perma-temp categories, similar to PSEs: City Carrier Assistant, Mail Handler Assistant, and Rural Carrier Associate.

The APWU contract results are sure to loom large in the bargaining now underway for the Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers. The Rural Carriers have already settled their contract, agreeing to continue the tiered system—a fact that arbitrator Goldberg cited in his decision to impose the same on the APWU.

The relationship among the four unions had been testy since the ’90s. Leaders officially buried the hatchet in 2014 with the proclamation of a Postal Union Alliance.

The division “allows management to play one union against the other,” Dimondstein wrote. “We would be much stronger in future negotiations if all postal workers were united in one big postal union.”

UPS-set

A factor Goldberg weighed heavily was the poor standards at the Postal Service’s most obvious competitors. The law instructs arbitrators that postal workers’ pay and benefits should be comparable to the private sector.

In its successful case to preserve the PSE tier for clerks, management leaned on evidence that at UPS and FedEx, retail and mail processing workers earn even lower wages.

It’s no wonder that FedEx workers and retail workers at UPS are low-paid, since they’re nonunion. But it’s a scandal that the part-time union members who sort packages for UPS, a wildly profitable shipper, make so little per hour that they’re driving down standards in the public postal service. UPS new-hire sorters and loaders make $10 an hour and are guaranteed only three and a half hours of work a day.

For that, we can thank another union administration that’s gone along with tiers—the Teamsters. Members angry over contract givebacks there are running a reform slate for the union’s top offices this fall. A major theme in their campaign is the demand to end “part-time poverty” at UPS.

The APWU and UPS-Teamsters contracts will both expire in 2018. If reformers were at the helm in both unions, could we hope for a coordinated campaign to fight tiered pay in the entire package delivery industry?

This article originally appeared at Labor Notes, and Inthesetimes.com on August 15, 2016. reprinted with permission.

Alexandra Bradbury is a staff writer with Labor Notes.

This week in the war on workers: Teacher pay is falling behind

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Laura ClawsonOh, those overpaid teachers:

  • Average weekly wages (inflation adjusted) of public-sector teachers decreased $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, from $1,122 to $1,092 (in 2015 dollars). In contrast, weekly wages of all college graduates rose from $1,292 to $1,416 over this period.
  • For all public-sector teachers, the relative wage gap (regression adjusted for education, experience, and other factors) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s: It was ?1.8 percent in 1994 and grew to a record ?17.0 percent in 2015.

Pay is just one symptom of a broader problem in how teachers are valued, though. Increasingly—promoted by standardized testing-driven education and the corporate education policy movement—teachers aren’t respected as professionals, as experts on what goes on in their classrooms. That shows up in pay levels but it also shows up in anti-teacher rhetoric and in curricula that force them to paint by numbers rather than exercising independent judgment.

  • Richard Trumka has done a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson. There’s lots there, including this on how to see union density rise again:

We went from being totally embedded in the community to being isolated and hunkering down and trying to hold on to what we had. Now we’re back, embedded in the community. And when we’re embedded in the community, unionism starts to flourish and grow, and you can’t be assailed, because you can’t assail the entire community and still survive. Scott Walker, who gives Wisconsin’s surplus away to corporations, now has a deficit and says, “See these workers? It’s their fault.” He won’t be able to get away with that, because we’re so ingrained in the community.

Pablo worked in the fields of Virginia for 18 years. Then in 2009, he was sent to work in North Carolina, an experience he will never forget. “The grower was violent,” he recalls, “he screamed at us, and everyone was afraid of him.” It was common knowledge that the grower kept a gun in his truck, and while he never openly threatened anyone with it, the message was clear: do your work and don’t complain.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on August 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011. Laura at Daily Kos

BREAKING—Fight for $15 Organizers Tell SEIU: We Need $15 and a Union

Monday, August 15th, 2016

David MobergThe start to this weekend’s Fight for $15 convention didn’t go as planned.

As roughly 10,000 conference goers gathered in Richmond, Va., to talk about unions and low-wage work, organizers behind the nationwide campaign demanded a union of their own.

On Friday, Jodi Lynn Fennell, a child care worker organizer from Las Vegas, attempted to deliver a letter from a Fight for $15 organizers asking the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to acknowledge it was their employer and to give them the right to organize.

A small group of supporters accompanied Fennell as she approached the stage where SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was scheduled to deliver the keynote address. But security guards stopped them from delivering the letter and escorted them away from the stage. Later, according to the Union of Union Representatives (UUR), a supervisor told Fennell and four other organizers they had to fly back to Las Vegas early Saturday morning, at their own expense.

Roughly 75 SEIU organizers and other field staff outside of the union’s national headquarters belong to the UUR. But Fennell and UUR Vice President Nicholas Calderon say that SEIU has told the roughly 100 other Fight for $15 field organizers who might be eligible to join the staff union that it doesn’t employ them.

At first, Calderon says, SEIU maintained their employer was the payroll processing firm that handles their paychecks. Now, he says, the international insists they’re employed by the individual organizing committees that direct each city’s Fight for $15 campaign.

According to Calderon, nearly 99 percent of funding for Fight for $15 organizers, as well as vehicles and supplies, comes from SEIU.

SEIU did not respond by deadline to In These Times’ request for comment.

“As we have said from the beginning, we are strong believers in the Fight for $15 campaign organizers and workers planned yesterday’s action to try to minimize disruption while still having visibility,” Conor Hanlon, UUR president, wrote in a statement to In These Times on Saturday. “We have no interest in stopping the crucial work going on there but do think it important that workers and community allies are aware of how SEIU is treating the Fight for $15.”

“We are disappointed that SEIU chose to escalate and create divisions between workers and organizers rather than act on our shared principles and beliefs about the fair treatment workers deserve,” he continued. “Nonetheless, the Fight for $15 workers will not be silenced and UUR will continue to fight with them until they are recognized as SEIU employees and getting the treatment they deserve.”

Fight for $15 organizers have a long list of grievances against SEIU. They are worried about the instability of their jobs and a tendency of the union to ramp up staff for one campaign, then shift only some of the staff to the next project. Others argue that because of the long hours, their relatively modest salaries do not amount to $15 an hour by the time their pay is divided by work hours, often much more than 40 hours a week.

But the biggest grievance organizers express is that SEIU pays them to advocate for the right of every worker to join a union but denies that same right to its own organizers. Ultimately, some workers say, SEIU’s position may undermine public support and open up lines for employer attacks.

Hypocrisy scars an organization, says Fennell, and could weaken the union in its important fight.

“We don’t have the right to join a union that we’re fighting for other workers to have,” she told In These Times. “When we’re fighting for everyone to have $15 an hour, we should have it ourselves.”

The initial organizing of Fight for $15 focused on fast-food workers in New York but quickly spread to other occupations and across the country. It includes workers in child care and elder care, early childhood education, university research and teaching, manufacturing, fashion and other building services, many of whom may move frequently from low-wage job to low-wage job over their lives.

The campaign, almost entirely funded by SEIU, can claim credit for raising pay for about 17 million of the roughly 64 million workers less than $15 an hour, with 10 million on the path to $15.

Its progress has come mainly from winning stronger state and local laws—not from any dramatic uptick in low-wage workers forming unions. That is true even in the low-wage industries that, unlike fast food, were already often organized to varying degrees by SEIU and others.

Although the strategy for establishing unions is unclear, Fight for $15 appears committed to expanding the range of workers that SEIU is able to mobilize for direct action. Tactics include strikes at fast food outlets and legislative campaigns for higher minimum wages, whether across the board or piecemeal.

For the past couple of years, the campaign’s emphasis on politics has increased, as illustrated by the choice of Richmond, Virginia, for this weekend’s meeting—billed as the organization’s first convention.

The decision to meet in the capital of the Confederacy also reflected an intensification of efforts to link the problems of America’s low-wage economy to continued structural racism with its roots in slavery. Fight for $15 must fight for both racial and economic injustice, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told the opening session of the meeting.

“You can’t have one without the other,” she said.

Likewise, you can’t advocate effectively for unions, some Fight for 15 organizers say, without having the right to join one yourself.

It is true that over the labor movement’s long history, many unions have fought with their staff over whether staff could or should organize.

But a movement like the Fight for $15, which is founded on the right of every worker to join a union, is more likely to win broad support if it follows the old adage: Practice what you preach.

At a time when the labor movement is especially vulnerable, unions need to avoid any grounds that could cost them public support—especially in a campaign as promising and crucial as the Fight for $15.

CUNY Workers Overwhelmingly Approve New Contract With 94% Voting Yes

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

RobertSchwartzAfter six years without a contract, City University of New York professors and staff will finally get a raise.

Members of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which represents more than 25,000 professors and staff at CUNY, voted overwhelmingly—94 percent—in favor of a new contract.

The deal is retroactive. It covers workers from October 2010 through November of next year. CUNY employees will receive a compounded salary raise of 10.41 percent, along with other benefits that include retroactive pay and health insurance for adjuncts.

“I am grateful for the members’ strong support for ratification of the contract and eager to begin work on what remains to be done. If we stay organized and remain in solidarity, a better university is within our power—and our power will continue to grow,” PSC President Barbara Bowen said after the results were announced this week.

Voting began on July 11 and ended Wednesday. The contract deal had already passed the union’s delegate assembly on June 23; CUNY’s board of trustees approved the deal on June 27.

Mike Fabricant, the PSC’s first vice president, told In These Times that the “extraordinary” result will help to validate the agreement.

“(With) 94 percent of your membership voting yes, that speaks to a consensus that you’re going to get,” he said.

Fabricant cited benefits, such as a three-year appointment for adjunct professors, as reasons why members favored the contract. More than 86 percent of adjunct faculty who took part in the vote supported the deal.

Still, some were against it. They stressed the lack of pay parity and adequate salaries for adjunct professors.

Andy Battle, an adjunct professor at Hunter College, told In These Times that he voted against the contract. For him, it widened the gap between full-time faculty and part-time professors.

“Our union has to be an organization that resists this at every junction. It dismays me the leadership makes us accept this,” he said.

Part-time professors make an average of $3,000 per course, with few benefits. Full-time faculty, on the other hand, tend to make much more.

“It shows we have a lot of work to do to reach not just activists, but also the broader rank-and-file (workers),” Battle said about the contract vote.

Fabricant said that achieving pay parity for adjuncts would require more than a contract. Rather, investment is needed from the state. For example, since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011, per-student funding to senior colleges hasdeclined by three percent.

“If you are disappointed in one part of a contract, join us to make it better,” Fabricant said.

Battle agreed on organizing against state-imposed austerity, but questioned the methods taken by the union, such as lobbying.

Over the past year, the union campaigned hard for a contract. In November, some 50 members were arrested at CUNY’s central office while demonstrating for a contract. In May, 92 percent of members voted to authorize a strike.

“We need to be broad, and we need to be militant. The PSC will tell you they will reverse austerity, but the current leadership has been trying to do this for 16 years, and it hasn’t had much of an effect,” Battle said. “The only thing that politicians listen to is people in the streets.”

Fabricant said the union will begin talks with the administration about a new contract before the current one expires next year. But for now, the union is relieved this six-year chapter is over.

“We recognize there is more to do, (but) we need to celebrate victories,” said Fabricant.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on August 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist living in Queens, New York. He has written for publications such as The Nation, Shadowproof, Truthout and City Limits. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJ_R.

A Message for CUNY Members: Don’t Take the Money

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

RobertSchwartzI recently attended a memorial service for James Haughton, an alumnus of the City University of New York (CUNY). As founder of a group called Harlem Fight Back, Haughton was a central figure in the fight against racist hiring in the construction industry. One of the eulogists spoke about the first time he joined a Harlem Fight Back “shaping” crew, walking onto a job site to demand work for people of color from the community. The contractor claimed not to be hiring and quickly offered the delegation a payoff of $35,000, in cash, to go away. Shaken, crew members went asking for guidance from Haughton, who said simply, “Don’t. Take. The Money.”

The 27,000 members of CUNY’s faculty and staff union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), should consider Haughton’s advice before voting to ratify our first contract in years. (Voting opened last month and is set to end Wednesday.)

We have been working under an expired contract, even as management hiked tuition in five of the last six years. Between 2009—2014, the cost of living in New York City rose 23 percent. As part of this year’s contract campaign, the PSC lobbied and organized protests and civil disobedience, coordinating with students and community groups. An escalation of public actions culminated in a strike authorization vote in May.

Weeks later, the PSC bargaining team accepted a contract offer from management, with retroactive raises adding up to a little more than 10 percent and a tray of one-time “signing bonuses.”

When the agents of the ruling class smile and offer you “X” amount of cash and promises, it’s easy to believe that this is a sign that you’ve won. It’s not. I’ll tell you what it is a sign of though. It’s a sign of how much they want you to go away. It’s a sign of how much they stand to rake in, monetarily, from their ability to make you go away. I guarantee they want nothing more than for us to take the money.

The union bargaining team says they fought hard, and that this contract is the best they could do. Like many of my brothers and sisters, I take their word at face value, without second-guessing. But do you want to know what else I take at face value? The “yes” vote to authorize a strike.

The vote happened despite the Taylor Law, which covers municipal workers and would criminalize us the moment an actual strike began. Every union member would be docked two days of pay for every day or part thereof that he or she takes part in a collective job action, with union leaders imprisoned and the union itself losing its right to collect “fair share” fees. In the face of this law, 92 percent of voting PSC members still opted to authorize a strike.

Given that law, not to mention the two-tiered system of our full-time and adjunct members, the vote was a remarkable statement of courage and unity. It was also a measure of the immense anger at management, some of which could redirect to the union if we are perceived as too eager to settle.

Am I saying I want to go on strike? Not exactly. But the other side wants that to happen less than we do. Much less.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo cashed a campaign donation from libertarians Charles and David Koch. Given the Kochs’ neoliberal, technocratic, pro-privatization agenda, CUNY workers must not ignore the implications of the state’s attack on public higher education. But neither should we underestimate the power we have built to fight back.

It’s the right time for the national labor movement to try a new thing (or ten!) and a strike by us would inspire others. Think of the Chicago Teachers Union, which went on a one-day strike on April 1; the Verizon workers, who faced down a telecommunications giant; the Transport Workers Union, which a decade after taking on the Taylor Law, stood up and endorsed Bernie Sanders on the eve of the big New York primary. For that matter, think of the PSC who pulled off a 92 percent “yes” vote on strike authorization.

We’ve had other victories too. In the last two years of our contract campaign, the state and the university administration have threatened to cut $485 million from our budget, merge us with the State University of New York, raise tuition again and limit peaceful protests by students and staff alike. At the LaGuardia campus where I work, the administration even tried to intimidate students for uniting with faculty. Every single one of these threats was withdrawn in the face of our organizing.

At a meeting with PSC delegates, our president Barbara Bowen assured us that although she recommended passage, if members voted the contract down, she was ready to work on an alternative. I have no doubt that Bowen and the leadership would answer such a call. Despite our flaws and contradictions, there is no other municipal union in NYC I trust more to be able to mount a serious challenge to the Taylor Law by organizing an effective strike.

Do Cuomo and CUNY Chancellor James Milliken really care if we strike? Of course they do! Can we really get more? Of course we can, people!

The trouble is that time is not on our side. Every moment that our 92 percent vote is not being turned into actual strike preparation, the power and solidarity we have built fades.  Like bright Arctic ice melting to dark water that absorbs more sunlight instead of reflecting it, when power and solidarity melt away, cynicism floods in.

After seven years without contractual raises, many hope to ratify this contract and resume the larger struggle another day in another way. Others point out that the settlement’s uniform, across-the-board raises would widen the pay gap between full-time and adjunct faculty, enabling the administration to further expand the pool of vulnerable cheap labor on which the exploitation of all workers and the erosion of academic freedom depend. A settlement would also cut short one of the most militant contract campaign our union has ever waged, leaving students isolated and more vulnerable to another tuition hike.

On March 24, I joined a group of CUNY students and staff at the governor’s office. Demanding a fair contract for the PSC, we lay down on the sidewalk and were promptly arrested. Sitting in jail, I was haunted by the story of CUNY student Kalief Browder, who waited on Rikers Island for three years with no trial and later took his own life. Like he was, my students are being charged some five times the tuition I paid at Queens College in 1989. Like he did, they sit in overcrowded classrooms, with overworked faculty and staff. If we vote this contract down, and prepare to strike in the fall, CUNY will think twice before trying to raise tuition again. So, why take the money and run now?

Let’s keep standing by our students and keep fighting for a contract that, like this university itself, is a product of a historic and unfinished struggle. By voting no on this contract ratification, let’s begin to honor our 92 percent vote of “yes.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on August 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sigmund Shen is an alumnus of Queens College, associate professor of English at LaGuardia Community College and current chair of the LaGuardia chapter of the Professional Staff Congress.

Senate Dining Room Workers Win $1 Million in Back Wages

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Bruce VailThe Department of Labor [last] week confirmed persistent charges of labor abuses at the U.S. Senate dining room on Capitol Hill, ruling that workers there are owed more than a $1 million in back wages.

An investigation found that 674 workers are owed back wages of $1,008,302, and that the employers—food service contractor Restaurant Associates and labor subcontractor Personnel Plus—violated the Service Contract Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“Workers in the restaurant industry are among the lowest paid workers in our economy. Most struggle to afford life’s basic expenses and pay their bills: they shouldn’t have to deal with paychecks that don’t accurately reflect the hard work and the wages to which they are legally entitled,” says David Weil, administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

The ruling is a victory for a union organizing campaign taking place among the cooks, waiters and other food service workers. They are seeking a minimum wage of $15 an hour and representation by the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ.

In the campaign assisted by union advocacy group Good Jobs Nation, the workers have been charging Restaurant Associates with an array of labor abuses, including job misclassification, failure to pay legally required overtime rates and unfair efforts to block union organizing.

Labor law violations “are happening all the time right under the noses of the lawmakers,” says Good Jobs Nation spokesman Paco Fabian. “If it’s happening here, it’s likely happening at other sites,” where the federal government employs non-union contractors to do food service work and other essential tasks, Fabian says.

Restaurant Associates Senior Vice President Sam Souccar provided the following statement regarding the Labor Department decision:

“Restaurant Associates understands that our Associates are the heart of our business and we value and respect them. We conduct business in a professional, safe, ethical and responsible manner. Since January we have worked diligently with the Department of Labor in regard to our contract … We discovered as a result of the DOL’s review that some of our Associates were not properly classified in appropriate job categories under the Service Contract Act (SCA). The misclassifications were largely attributable to administrative technicalities related to our Associates’ evolving day-to-day work responsibilities, which in some cases crossed multiple job categories. Restaurant Associates has corrected the classifications and is working closely with the DOL to ensure payments are made as soon as possible to all impacted Associates. We are 100 percent committed to ensuring classifications are accurate going forward, and have implemented enhanced monitoring and training at the US Senate and in all accounts where the SCA applies.”

Dione Tellez, 57, a food service worker and cook at Senate dining facilities, tells In These Times that she has been classified as a food service worker even though she often labors as a grill cook, which is a better-paid position. A nine-year veteran on the job, she is earning $14.21 an hour, she says, and lives with her adult son because she cannot afford to rent an apartment in the pricey Washington, D.C., area.

Speaking in Spanish (translated by Fabian), Tellez says, “I want to be paid for the job that I do. It’s about respect. I am entitled to get what I have earned … I am sick and tired of being treated unfairly.”

Restaurant Associates is a subsidiary of U.K.-based multinational Compass Group, which claims to have about 500,000 employees in 50 separate countries. In Washington D.C., the company also has a contract to operate cafeterias and dining facilities at the Smithsonian Institutions, where workers are represented by the UNITE HERE Local 23.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on July 28, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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.

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