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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.

Judge’s Ruling Re-Opens a Major Loophole that Allows Union Busters To Remain in the Shadows

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

photo_321703[1]Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) passed the “persuader rule” that closed a major loophole, which has for decades allowed employers to hire attorneys and consultants to secretly assist them in what is politely referred to in the industry as “union avoidance.” The goal of this activity is to persuade and prevent workers from organizing unions.

The new rule did not try to make the consultants’ and attorneys’ practices illegal, or regulate the types of activities that employers and consultants could engage in; it was simply intended to provide transparency to workers who are the subject of a coordinated anti-union campaign. But last week, a Texas federal district court judge issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the DOL from implementing the rule.

The persuader rule reinterpreted the “advice” exemption in Section 203(c) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), which had only required disclosure when employers hired outside consultants who directly communicated with employees. Under the previous interpretation of the exemption, the vast majority of employers who hire labor consultants—sometimes referred to as “union busters”—and the consultants they hire have been able to evade their filing requirements and remain in the shadows by having these consultants work behind the scenes.

As a result, the workers are never privy to who is coordinating the anti-union campaign or how much their employers are spending on it. It is estimated that employers in 71-87 percent of organizing drives hire one or more consultants, yet because of the massive loophole in the law, only 387 agreements were filed by employers and consultants.

The LMRDA was passed to deal with the persistent problem of employers’ interference with workers’ rights to organize. A 1980 Congressional Sub-Committee Report described the long history of employers using

outside assistance to combat union organizing efforts since well before federal legislation to regulate labor-management conflict was enacted. Private detectives and ”professional goons” were hired by employers, who were also assisted by law enforcement personnel. Anti-union tactics included spying, blacklisting, firing, physical intimidation, violence, and jailings.

Twenty years earlier, in the Final Report preceding the passage of the LMRDA, Congress that the outside “spy” and “professional goons” had morphed, and “a new and more sophisticated outsider had appeared: the ‘labor relations consultant.’ ” As a result, the 1959 Act required employers and any consultants they hired to file a report if they made any arrangements or spent any money “to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.”

The new persuader rule, which covers all agreements and payments after July 1, was intended to close this loophole. The rule requires employers who hire anti-union consultants (and those consultants hired) to disclose to the DOL the agreement and the amounts paid. It would not require disclosure of what the consultants said or any legal advice sought. It is akin to a requirement that political campaign ads disclose who is paying for the ad so that people know who is behind the message they are receiving.

But now, under last week’s injunction, all of that is in jeopardy.

“This was one of the most one-sided orders I have ever seen,” explains Seattle University School of Law Professor Charlotte Garden. “The court found every one of the theories brought by the plaintiffs likely to succeed.”

The suit was brought by the National Federation of Independent Business, the Texas Association of Business, the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Home Builders, the Texas Association of Builders, and a group of GOP-controlled states. Some of these organizations were concerned that their current activities of providing anti-union seminars and materials would require them to file reports identifying themselves as labor relations consultants.

Perhaps the most surprising group to take a side in this case was the American Bar Association (ABA), whose mission is “To serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.” The ABA cited attorneys’ ethical rules for their opposition to the DOL Rule, and said, “by imposing these unfair reporting burdens on both the lawyers and the employer clients they represent, the proposed Rule could very well discourage many employers from seeking the expert legal representation they need, thereby effectively denying them their fundamental right to counsel.”

This coalition of business and attorney groups and states brought forward a number of arguments, from the DOL lacking authority to pass the rule to the rule exceeding the DOL’s estimated compliance costs by $59.99 billion over 10 years. (The DOL estimated the rule would cost all employers and consultants a total of approximately $826,000 per year; the plaintiffs estimated it at $60 billion over 10 years.) Additionally, in line with the growing use of the First Amendment against government regulation of business, the plaintiffs argued that the rule violated the employers’, lawyers’, and consultants’ free speech, expression and association rights. The Judge concluded that some union busters may not offer their services as freely, and some attorneys may leave the field, if their identities and the terms of their arrangements were disclosed.

There is a great dissonance to the judge’s extreme sensitivities to the rights of lawyers, union busters and employers to have their anti-union activities shrouded in complete secrecy, when the new rule was intended to protect workers’ rights. Not mentioned anywhere in the judge’s 86-page order is any discussion of workers’ rights to know who is really speaking to them when they are forced to sit in on an anti-union captive audience meeting. Further, there is no discussion of the value to workers of being able to test the employer’s claim that it does not have money to provide extra pay or benefits, when it might be spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on anti-union consultants.

What was intended to be a rule protecting workers’ rights has been stopped from taking effect by a judge’s order that was solely focused on the rights of union-busters.

This article originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on July5, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Moshe Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book “Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.”

Union Summer Hits the Doors After Learning Lessons in Solidarity and the Spirit of the South

Monday, July 4th, 2016

FullSizeRenderUnion Summer, the cadre of young activists that is training to be the future leaders and union organizers of the labor movement, are hitting the doors hard. After a couple of weeks on the ground, Summeristas have spoken with 300 people one-on-one and engaged 100 of them to commit to forming a union.

Forty students from 25 different colleges and universities are organizing across five major cities in the South, including Atlanta; Anniston, Ala.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.; and Houston. They are working with AFSCME, IUE-CWA, MASE-CWA, RWDSU, Texas AFT, and UAW.

During their orientation in Jackson, Miss., Summeristas learned how to engage working people on what matters most to them, as well as encourage them to come together to collectively make changes in the workplace.

Michael Gordon says the field training with local working people in hospitality was his favorite part, “I got my first card signed and what really connected me to the worker was when we switched gears from talking about the job to talking about his family.”

This year Union Summer is taking over the South.

As corporations keep coming to the South to exploit cheap labor, Union Summer takes on the South to help build solidarity!

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, who has been one of the biggest advocates of organizing the South, shared with the interns, “Activism is when we take action of any kind to change a situation that is unjust or unfair… and solidarity is when a whole lot of us take action together. Nothing is more powerful.”

That’s why the Union Summer program is building capacity and leadership by directly recruiting and training young activists from the region, as well as placing them on important strategic campaigns.

While Summeristas learned about how to help build unions of working people and solidarity in the workplace, they also grappled with tragedy and committed to solidarity across borders and across movements.

Union Summer in Solidarity with Orlando

In the first week of Union Summer, 50 lives were tragically cut short in a shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando. Jeremy Wells from Pride at Work took the time to help interns process their emotions.

Wells also noted how three of the most stigmatized groups were intermingled in this terrible tragedy. LGBTQ lives lost during Pride. Latino lives lost amidst racist rhetoric on immigration. Muslim people living in fear of violence as millions fasted around the world for Ramadan.

Annette Hall says she found herself right at home in this diverse cohort of young people with different backgrounds yet with the same passion for activism and championing causes of marginalized groups. “The Orlando nightclub shooting on Latin night struck a chord with all the interns on some level. However, I have never been prouder as a queer woman of color as I stood in solidarity with my fellow interns behind the banner we made for Orlando.”

Eryn Scott had concerns about traveling to a not-so-LGBTQ-friendly Mississippi. “As a queer woman of color who often experiences intersectional oppression, I cannot begin to express how important this safe space is to me. I am grateful to work with so many fiery young minds who truly want to contribute to the movement.”

Megan Jordan was also moved. “I lost a friend [who worked on a military base] to gun violence at the hands of someone found to be mentally ill. It’s important that at Union Summer we are talking about real topics that matter right now. I was also really impacted by Harvest of an Empire on Latin America and how the U.S. government affected labor and deaths, the racism, and the terrible working conditions.”

Gordon agrees, “Now I understand what the phrase means ‘We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.’ It opens your eyes on why unions are important around the world.”

Learn more about Union Summer or like us on Facebook!

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 30, 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.

Appeals court upholds workers' right to a union vote without delays and stalling tactics

Monday, June 20th, 2016

LauraClawsonA federal appeals court has upheld a National Labor Relations Board move modernizing and streamlining union representation elections. The rule, which business lobby groups like the American Builders and Contractors and the National Federation of Independent Business have tried to brand as “ambush elections,” cuts down the time employers have to fire and intimidate union supporters, and reduces the endless litigation employers would use to prevent workers’ voices from being heard. The case went before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, but the bosses still didn’t win:

In delivering the opinion of the court, Judge Edith Brown Clement said the “board acted rationally and in furtherance of its congressional mandate in adopting the rule.”

“Here, the board identified evidence that elections were being unnecessarily delayed by litigation and that certain rules had become outdated as a result of changes in technology,” she wrote.

“It conducted an exhaustive and lengthy review of the issues, evidence and testimony, responded to contrary arguments, and offered factual and legal support for its final conclusions.”

A previous lawsuit by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some of its allies had been dismissed. Congressional Republicans also tried to block the rule from going into effect, but President Obama vetoed that attempt.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on June13, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

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

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