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Archive for the ‘worker’s rights’ Category

The Food Stamp Work Requirement Is a Scheme to Punish Hungry Americans

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Growing up in Boonville, California in the 1990s, a friend of mine would sometimes jokingly use the phrase “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” If people are feeling bad, what better incentive to change their mood than getting repeatedly whacked with a stick?

The recent proposal by Congress to add work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) reminded me of that phrase. In the 2018 Farm Bill currently under consideration in the House, Republicans have proposed new conditions for SNAP that would block many people from receiving food assistance if they are unemployed. While at first glance this may appear like a policy to encourage greater employment, it would actually make it harder for people to find a job, while taking away crucial support from more than one million hungry Americans.

While setting more unemployed Americans on a path to employment and economic self-sufficiency is a positive goal, the threat of withholding food is a highly ineffective way to encourage workforce participation. Some of the most common barriers to employment are insufficient education or skills, mental health issues, hiring biases and a lack of job opportunities. Fear of not having enough to eat does nothing to overcome those obstacles.

When people are hungry, they’re frequently unable to focus, which makes it harder for them to get a job, not easier. Instead of boosting employment, this proposal would act as a barrier rather than an incentive.

The actual impact of this policy change would be to punish hungry Americans. In many regions of the country, people are struggling to find full-time work, but can’t. While the overall unemployment rate sits at a low 3.8 percent, the rate of involuntary underemployment is more than twice that, and exceeds 10 percent in many states and counties. This proposal would leave those who are unable to find a job with neither income nor food assistance.

Instead of adding poorly-designed restrictions to SNAP, we should be pursuing evidence-based policy changes to increase the effectiveness of our social programs. As someone who works on universal basic income policy, I’ve spent years studying the effects of unconditional benefits, i.e. what happens when you offer people support without any requirements on their behavior. Every analysis has arrived at the same conclusion: When you give people benefits without strings attached, they use them for productive purposes. The vast majority of people want to do well in life, and they’ll make the most of any support they receive.

When we layer on restrictions and bureaucratic hoops that recipients must jump through, not only does this not improve people’s behavior, it actually blocks many people from receiving much-needed support. Even without the new work requirements, SNAP already has many barriers to access that make it difficult to enroll. In California, the latest estimates finds that only 70 percent of eligible residents receive SNAP benefits—due in large part to the challenging enrollment process.

SNAP has a profound positive impact on hungry families. Beyond just providing food security, recent research has found the program reduces healthcare costs and increases economic self-sufficiency for women who received benefits as children. We should be striving to boost participation by removing onerous participation requirements, with the goal of ensuring that every hungry American has access to the program.

Our social safety net is far from perfect—there are many needed changes that can help lift more people out of poverty and set them on a path for long-term success. But if we want to do better, we should aim to remove barriers to access, not punish struggling Americans by taking food assistance away from those who can’t find work.

This piece was originally published at In These Times on June 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.David Moberg has worked with In These Times since its inception in 1976.  During that time, he has established himself as one of the country’s leading journalists covering the labor movement.

As a senior editor for In These Times, Moberg has written about new battlefronts for labor, examined the past and present strategy of the labor movement and profiled many labor fights before they were covered in the mainstream media. Additionally, his areas of expertise encompass globalization and trade, economic policy, national politics, urban affairs, the environment and energy.

Moberg has been awarded numerous accolades for his journalism efforts, including the Max Steinbock Award from the International Labor Communications Association, (2003); Forbes MediaGuide 500: A review of the Nation’s Most Important Journalists (1993, 1994), and a Project Censored Award in 1995. He has also received fellowships from organizations such as The Nation Institute (1999-2001) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (1995-1997).

Moberg has also written for The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, Salon, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, the Chicago ReaderChicago, The New Republic, Dissent, L.A. Weekly, World Policy Journal, Newsday, the Boston Globe, Utne Reader, Mother Jones, and others.

Moberg has also contributed to a series of books including: Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times (Seven Stories, 2002); The Next Agenda (Westview Press, 2001); Which Direction for Organized Labor? (Wayne State University Press, 1999); Not Your Father’s Union Movement (WW Norton & Company Inc., 1998); Can We Put an End to Sweatshops? (Beacon Press, 2001); Making Work Pay: America After Welfare (WW Norton & Company Inc., 2002); The New Chicago (to be released); Encyclopedia of Chicago History (2004), and others.

In addition to his work at In These Times, Moberg has taught sociology and anthropology at DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Loyola University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northeastern Illinois University.

Are we thinking about work-life balance the wrong way?

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

It’s one of the great struggles of modern life: finding a precise, perfect balance between work and life. And, according to Amy Howe, our obsession with finding that elusive equilibrium is part of the problem.This interview was originally published by Politico on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

“I don’t even love the term [‘work-life balance’] because it implies that on any given day or week, that you have to have perfect balance,” Howe said in an interview for POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast. “What I’ve come to realize over time is it’s a long game. There are times in your life that you’re not going to have balance, and that’s okay. I’ve made some very conscious choices not to.”

Howe, the president and COO of Ticketmaster North America, joined the company in 2015 after more than 14 years working as a business consultant at McKinsey. When she started at McKinsey, roughly 10 percent of the partners were women — and Howe was determined to join and expand their ranks.

“When I first joined McKinsey, I wasn’t married, and so those were the years to just kind of buckle down and invest, and I’m really glad I did.” said Howe. “I made partner when I found out I was pregnant with my first child — and those are two points in your life that if you think you can control either of those, you’re kidding yourself.”

Over time, Howe and her husband — himself a successful CFO at a large company — had three children. And as their family grew, the calculus changed about what a fulfilling work life looked like.

“I had made partner and had all three of our children while I was at McKinsey, and juggled it really well for a while,” said Howe. “And then, after a certain period of time, for me, my barometer was, ‘Is this working for me, right, am I still having fun, am I still developing and learning, and how is that impacting my family life?’”

Howe thought candidly about what she wanted to do next, and what the right fit for her might be.

“At some point, if you’re going to do anything other than consulting, you’ve got to move over,” said Howe. “I had a feeling that I was going to love being in an operating role. … The old adage that when you’re in consulting, you tell people what to do, but you don’t really get a chance to implement your own recommendations is true.” At Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company and a former consulting client of Howe’s, she would get the chance to do exactly that.

Finding the right professional fit — including a satisfying work-life balance — is a “very personal and individual” decision, says Howe. Which may be why the unending public discourse about a perfect work-life balance is so difficult: It often treats the question as though there’s a one-size-fits-all answer.

“There’s no one right answer,” said Howe. “I have lots of friends who are incredibly talented from business school who have made very different choices, and they were right for them. For me, this has been absolutely the right decision.”

To hear more from Amy Howe, listen to the full podcast here. Women Rule takes listeners backstage with female bosses for real talk on how they made it and what advice they have for women looking to lead.

This interview was originally published at Politico on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Amy L Howe. Until September 2016, Amy served as the editor and reporter for SCOTUSblog, a blog devoted to coverage of the Supreme Court of the United States; she continues to serve as an independent contractor and reporter for SCOTUSblog. Before turning to full-time blogging, she served as counsel in over two dozen merits cases at the Supreme Court and argued two cases there. From 2004 until 2011, she co-taught Supreme Court litigation at Stanford Law School; from 2005 until 2013, she co-taught a similar class at Harvard Law School. She has also served as an adjunct professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and Vanderbilt Law School. Amy is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds a master’s degree in Arab Studies and a law degree from Georgetown University.

Warren proposes sweeping plan for 'empowering American workers and raising wages'

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released her plan for empowering American workers and raising wages, and, like Sen. Bernie Sanders’ workplace democracy plan, there is a lot here—and the sheer scope of the changes Warren proposes again reminds us of how effective the corporate and Republican war on workers has been over the past few decades. In a country that treated workers right, there wouldn’t be this many big changes to propose.

Warren identifies five broad goals, under which she organizes dozens of specific proposals:

  • Extending labor rights to all workers
  • Strengthening organizing, collective bargaining, and the right to strike
  • Raising wages and protecting pensions
  • Increasing worker choice and control
  • Expanding worker protections, combating discrimination, and improving enforcement

Extending labor rights to all workers includes passing legislation to protect farm workers and domestic workers, who are left out of key current labor laws (because they were predominantly black workforces at the time those laws were passed); ending misclassification of workers as independent contractors, as California recently passed a law to do; defining companies like McDonald’s as joint employers of the workers in their franchise restaurants and in other ways broadening the joint employer standard; allowing graduate students and some people currently defined as supervisors to unionize; cracking down on exploitation of undocumented workers; and more.

Warren’s proposals for strengthening organizing, collective bargaining, and the right to strike include prohibiting state-level “right to work” laws; passing majority sign-up for union organizing and passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act; cracking down on intimidation and interference by employers and by state and local officials; using antitrust laws to expand rights for gig economy workers; and expanding the National Labor Relations Board’s enforcement power. She’d protect workers’ right to strike by banning permanent replacement of strikers, protecting the right to engage in repeated short strikes (like the one-day strikes favored by Fight for $15), doing away with secondary boycott restrictions, and more.

Warren would also promote sectoral bargaining, in which workers in an industry can bargain across multiple employers. “Each individual firm may have a strong incentive to resist collective bargaining if it believes it will raise costs and put the firm in a worse position relative to its competitors,” her plan says. “But if every firm is bound by the same bargaining outcome, their relative standing remains. That creates conditions for a more successful bargaining process.”

A $15 minimum wage, including for tipped workers and workers with disabilities, is a big part of Warren’s plan to raise wages and protect pensions. But that’s not all. She would also reinstate the Obama administration plan to raise the threshold for overtime pay eligibility—the Trump administration rolled that plan back significantly while still claiming credit for having raised the overtime threshold above Bush-era levels—and, just as she pledges to use antitrust law to protect gig economy workers, she’d use federal authority to “reject mergers if they create labor market consolidation that will drive down wages.” She’d support apprenticeships and project labor agreements, key policies for the building trades, and she’d strengthen pensions. Warren also addresses a question that skeptics of Medicare for All often raise, noting that health care is often a sticking point in union contract negotiations—a sticking point that could be eliminated by Medicare for All—but pledging, “In both the transition to Medicare for All and its implementation, my administration will work closely with unions and multiemployer health insurance funds to protect the gains they have made and to draw on their experience providing quality health care to working people.”

But wait, that’s not all. In the name of increasing worker choice and control, Warren would require that “American companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenue must let employees elect no less than 40% of the company’s Board members.” She’d enable workers to move more freely between jobs by banning noncompete agreements and no-poaching clauses. She’d do away with forced arbitration and class action waivers. In the name of expanding workplace protections and combating discrimination, Warren would promote fair scheduling laws and stronger safety protections, push to knock down anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, prohibit policies that are technically race-neutral but really discriminatory, such as allowing employers to ban workers from having dreadlocks, and press for protections for disabled and pregnant workers. But all the good policies in the world don’t help workers if they’re not enforced, so Warren would also strengthen enforcement.

Like I said, it’s a lot. Much of what Warren proposes, of course, would need to be passed through Congress, which is yet another reason we need Democrats to retake the Senate. But significant chunks of it could also be done through executive action and using the federal contracting process to move some major employers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

The lessons of Trump's 'purely reactionary' labor board, this week in the war on workers

Monday, September 9th, 2019

The National Labor Relations Board recently gave businesses the go-ahead to misclassify employees as independent contractors. In the wake of that and other horrible decisions, former board member and current AFL-CIO general counsel Craig Becker writes that the NLRB is “the administrative state, remade in Trump’s image.” So how does that look?

Trump’s NLRB is “purely reactionary. It has no vision of how the law should promote healthy and productive labor relations, but seeks only to erase the recent past.” Literally, weeks after starting his job, the agency’s general counsel asked for the files on every major decision of the Obama era so that they might all be overturned. Next, Becker writes, “while Trump claims to speak for American workers, he has staffed the NLRB with longtime frontmen for their corporate employers.” And they’re refusing to recuse themselves from cases in which their former law firms represented employers.

Third, according to Becker, “despite the president’s rhetoric, his NLRB is not deregulating but, rather, selectively regulating—that is, regulating unions but not employers.” Trump’s political appointee is overturning huge numbers of decisions made by career attorneys … when they decide against prosecuting unions. And fourth, “Trump’s NLRB has contempt for procedural norms and fairness.” That means reversing precedent without giving public notice to hear from people who might be affected.

Overall, what this spells out for the NLRB, and for the Trump administration more generally, is that “laws are being used to silence and oppress the very people they were intended to protect—workers, borrowers, consumers.“

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on September 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

A Worker’s Place Is in the Museum

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

Not many museums have mounted a collection of photographs and ephemera that chronicle the history of worker organizing and the labor movement. That’s not surprising. Museums and their special exhibits are underwritten by foundations, corporations and the very rich—funders that, by and large, are not known for their concern for those who toil for a living and seek to better their lives through union representation.

The annual Met Gala, the high-society benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, has revolved around couturiers like Coco Chanel and Alexander McQueen or sartorial themes from camp to Catholicism. Television viewers have yet, however, to see celebrities like Lady Gaga done up in a McDonald’s uniform or other industrial-designed attire walk the red carpet across David H. Koch Plaza—the $65 million gift to the Met from David H. Koch.

All of which makes City of Workers, City of Struggle: How Labor Movements Changed New York a rare and radical gem of a show.

One enters this special exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York through a montage of photographs of demonstrators holding placards that read: “Abolish Slavery,” “We Want Respect for Workers,” “Put Black Men to Work or Stop Construction,” “Mt. Sinai Workers Can’t Live on $32 a Week—On Strike” and “Carwasheros al Poder” (Power to the Carwashers).

The exhibit begins with the enslaved people of New York (40% of New York households owned one or more workers in colonial days) and continues through today’s movement of minimum-wage slaves and the Fight for $15.

If the overarching theme of City of Workersis collective action—how New Yorkers formed unions and gained better working conditions and better pay—the subtext is that cooperation among black, brown and white workers made those advances possible. In the age of Trump, that message bears repeating.

In the book that accompanies the exhibit, labor historian Joshua B. Freeman writes, “The city of New York would not exist in anything like its current form without the struggles of working people over the past three centuries.” Similar stories could be told of any number of cities across the country—cities where labor history exhibits could be mounted, if not for want of museum space, cities where the struggle of workers continues to this day.

City of Workers, sponsored by the union-friendly Puffin Foundation of Teaneck, N.J., is on exhibit through Jan. 5, 2020, at the Museum of the City of New York, just one mile north of the Met and across from Central Park. While you are there, check out Activist New York, a permanent exhibit on the city’s history of political agitation in the Puffin Foundation Gallery.

All images courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

 


(A few of the New York shirtwaist workers, most of whom were Jewish women, went on strike in 1909 for better pay, working conditions and shorter hours. The strike, known as the Uprising of the 20,000, targeted more than 600 garment shops and factories.)

 


(Frank J. Ferrell, a black delegate of the New York City chapter of the Knights of Labor addresses the group at their 1886 convention in Richmond, Va. When Ferrell was denied a room at a local hotel where he and his New York colleagues had a reservation, they decamped en masse for less racist accommodations.)

 


(This poster advertises a 1912 Milwaukee talk by Rose Schneidermann, a socialist feminist who had worked in the garment industry. Rose is best known for her speechthat same year to middle-class suffragettes in Cleveland: “What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist … The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.”)

(In 1882, members of the Knights of Labor and the Central Labor Union gathered in New York’s Union Square for the first-ever Labor Day parade.)

 

(In 1965, in front of Macy’s, members of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union picket Judy Bond, a “runaway plant” that had moved to the South. The union’s multi-year campaign included shopping bags that read, “Judy Bond Inc., On Strike, Don’t Buy Judy Bond Blouses.” According to the union, strikers handed out more than 3 million bags in 1963.)

 

(“Filthy Tenement House Cigar Factories” postcard, circa 1885.)

 

Amalgamated Dwellings is the oldest limited-equity housing cooperative in the U.S. Founded in 1927 in the Bronx by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the co-op was established to provide affordable housing for workers. Today, Amalgamated is home to more than 1,400 families.

 

(In 1936, in the Poconos, members of New York’s Communist-led Dressmakers’ Union (Local 22) relax at Unity House. Local 22 and Local 25 purchased the 750-acre retreat, which had formerly been a tony resort for German Jews, in 1919.)

This blog was originally published at In These Times on August 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.Bleifuss has worked at In These Times for 24 years, including as managing editor and senior editor. He tackles the state of national and international events with a blend of critical insight and humor, and over the years has developed a niche for investigative reporting.

His reporting on environmental health issues, national security scandals and the Iran Contra affair has landed in newspapers and magazines around the country, including the New York Times, the Utne Reader, the Capital Eye and many others.

He is the co-author of the book “Was The 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?,” with Steven F. Freeman.

Before joining In These Times, Bleifuss was director of the Peace Studies Program for the University of Missouri, a features writer for the Fulton Sun in Fulton, Missouri, and a freelance journalist in Spain.

Bleifuss currently serves on the advisory board of The Public Square, a program of the Illinois Humanities Council.

Stand Up and Be Recognized: Worker Wins

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with actors and actresses winning new contracts and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.

SAG-AFTRA Signs New Agreement with Ad Agency BBH After 10-Month Strike: After a strike that lasted 10 months, SAG-AFTRA has negotiated a new contract with advertising agency BBH. The deal means BBH will provide union wages, pension and health contributions to all actors. David White, national executive director for SAG-AFTRA, said: “We are pleased to welcome BBH back to the SAG-AFTRA family. The tremendous solidarity of our entire membership is to thank for in helping bring BBH back to the table. Our members look forward to once again collaborating with BBH and providing their professional talent to create innovative, memorable and award-winning commercials.”

Netflix and SAG-AFTRA Reach Deal with Significant Improvements for Actors: Netflix and SAG-AFTRA have reached a new three-year contract that includes several major improvements for actors that appear in the streaming service’s movies and shows. The new agreement treats voice-over and motion capture the same as other actors. The contract also includes better residuals from theatrical releases, creates new protections against harassment, sets new overtime rules for stunt performers and other gains.

Workers at Spot Coffee in Buffalo Become Among the First Baristas to Unionize: Baristas at Spott Coffee in Buffalo have voted to form a union, making them among the first baristas in the country to seek to organize a union. Jaz Brisack, the lead organizer for Workers United, which helped organize the campaign, said: “It’s really a relatively new thing to organize baristas, so this is a very groundbreaking campaign and it’s really significant. ‘I think that it will empower people to realize what’s possible. Other places will say, ‘If the Spot workers can do it, why can’t we?'”

San Diego Unified School District Employees Join AFSA: Principals, vice principals, school police supervisors, operations managers, education, food and transportation supervisors voted to join the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA). AFSA President Ernest Logan said: “This is a new day for the San Diego Unified School District. The [Administration Association of San Diego City Schools] affiliation is a milestone for the union that will give a stronger voice—locally, statewide and nationally—to school leaders in San Diego Unified. This new power will enhance their ability to deliver a better education to the children of this community.”

NLRB Finds Firings of Five IAM Members at Boeing in South Carolina Unjust: A group of flight line inspectors and technicians voted overwhelmingly to be represented by the Machinists (IAM) in 2018, but the company has fought back against the organizing campaign. A National Labor Relations Board regional director found that the firings of five employees at the 787 Dreamliner facility in North Charleston were unlawful acts of retaliation against union supporters. IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. said: “This ruling is a landmark first step to victory for workers at Boeing South Carolina. Boeing has continuously and systematically ignored the law and trampled on the rights of its own employees in South Carolina. We call on Boeing to immediately reinstate our members, sit down now to negotiate a contract with its Flight Line employees, end its scorched-earth anti-union campaign and get back to the business of working with the IAM and our members to build aircraft. Now is not the time for Boeing to be abusing its safety rules to harass and fire experienced and skilled workers who are critical to the safety of Boeing airplanes.”

Machinists Reach Deal with General Electric to Avoid Strike: More than 1,250 IAM members in Ohio and Wisconsin will not be going on strike after a new contract with General Electric was agreed to. President Martinez said: “Our negotiating committee worked tirelessly to secure a tentative agreement that reflects the importance of our members’ role in making GE the company it is today. The voices of our membership have been heard in every step of this process.”

Martha’s Vineyard Bus Drivers Win First Contract After Strike: Bus drivers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) won their first-ever contract after a monthlong strike during tourist season. The drivers are contracted with Transit Connection to work for the Vineyard Transit Authority. The new contract provides pay increases and seniority protections. Driver Richard Townes said: “This is a historical day for VTA drivers and a great day for the island. We can now better provide for our families, our jobs are more secure, and we can get back to safely transporting our riders, friends and allies, whose support on the picket lines and year-round was critical in achieving this fair contract.”

ACLU of Maryland Staff Join OPEIU: Staffers at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland voted for representation by Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 2. Justin Nalley, an education policy analyst, said: “We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to negotiate a workplace that is fair and equitable for all staff. The staff of the ACLU of Maryland take exercising our rights as employees as seriously as the work we produce on behalf of our clients, Maryland residents and the broader ACLU of Maryland family. We hope the ACLU of Maryland will hold itself to the same values we use to fight for our civil liberties every day and apply those values to our internal workplace reform. While it is unfortunate the unionization process was met with increased distrust on the management side and has taken nearly half a year after asking for voluntary recognition, we expect the contract negotiation to be more efficient and collaborative as we all share the same goals.”

BuzzFeed Voluntarily Recognizes Employee Union After Walkout: After months of negotiations and a walkout, BuzzFeed has finally agreed to voluntarily recognize the union employees have fought for. The employees walked off the job in order to gain union recognition and improvements to management, pay inequality and job security. In a release, the union said: “We’re excited to share that we have reached a voluntary recognition agreement with BuzzFeed. On Tuesday, a third party will conduct a card-check. Once that’s completed, our union will be certified. And we can’t wait to celebrate our victory once it’s official!”

Committee to Protect Journalists Staff Join Writers Guild of America, East: After more than 90% of the staff signed union authorization cards, the staff at the Committee to Protect Journalists have joined the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). Natalie Southwick, who works as the program coordinator for Central and South America for CPJ, said: “We’ve grown a lot as an organization over the last four to five years, and that means that practices that were in place when our organization was half this big are no longer necessarily the ones that make sense for our current size and goals. CPJ’s growth has also made it more difficult to maintain consistency across the organization in terms of opportunities, policies and accountability. We wanted to make sure we were taking proactive steps to ensure this is a positive workplace for everyone as we continue to grow.”

California Grocery Store Workers Secure Contract: United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 8-Golden State has negotiated a new contract with Safeway and Vons. About the deal, UFCW 8-Golden State President Jacques Loveall said: “At the bargaining table we were able to build on the key achievements of decades of union solidarity. This contract is one of our best ever, a big ‘win’ for union members.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on August 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Inside the Bitter Battle to Defend Workers and Patients at a Low-Income Clinic

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

Image result for nan levinsonWhen Whittier Street Health Center unveiled its glass-sheathed, six-story, environmentally-advanced, state-of-the-art, new facility in 2012, it was seen by its Boston community as a commitment to the neighborhood and the people it serves. With brightly painted walls and expansive views across the city, it sits at the heart of Roxbury, extending an invitation of convenience and care to a population that is mostly Black or Latinx and among the poorest and least healthy in the city.

Of Whittier’s patients, 91 percent live in poverty; 50 percent deal with food insecurity; two-thirds have been diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, cancer, asthma or obesity; 35 percent of adults are without health insurance; and life expectancy for the area served is 58.9 years. Everyone agrees that this is a vulnerable population in need of highly trained, consistent and committed healthcare. Not everyone agrees that this population is getting it.

The reasons are a mix of difficulties shared by many community health centers, including political maneuvering, funding constraints and societal disregard for the poor. But some problems are distinct to Whittier: Staff and patients have complained that ill-advised, high-handed and destabilizing management practices interfere with and disrupt clinical care.

The dominant feelings among the many employees who have left or were pushed out seem to be anger and disappointment, much of that aimed at Frederica Williams, the president and CEO of Whittier since 2002. Last summer, increasingly sour management-clinician relations led to the formation of the first labor union of professional staff at a community health clinic in Massachusetts. The union became necessary, its supporters say, to protect their patients, their jobs and even the health center itself.

Through her then-P.R. consultant, Williams cited restrictions on what she can say about patients under HIPAA or the unionization effort under the Wagner Act. She responded to some questions in writing last October, but declined repeated requests to comment further, instead referring In These Times to the health center’s published reports and her public statements and letters to patients and staff. That left medical providers who have moved on, been fired or forced to leave—and unhappy patients—to largely tell the story. That story is one of alleged intimidation and union-busting by Williams and her administration, which has roiled the health center and highlights the challenges to providing good patient care to an underserved community. It also points out the limitations of current labor laws to protect workers at any level.

Last month, a year since the union became a reality, the antagonism between its supporters and Whittier management reached a climax, as a trial, an advanced step in the National Labor Relations Board’s unfair labor practice determination, got underway in Boston.

Organizing drive

The union came from the organizing efforts of John Jewett, a doctor; Bill Dain, a clinical social worker; and Caitrin MacDonald, a nurse practitioner. Dain, who had been at Whittier for 14 years, had experience with another union, so he was all in when Jewett and MacDonald said, “Let’s do it.” In March 2018, the trio began getting signatures on cards authorizing a union election under the guidance of 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents some 56,000 healthcare workers in Massachusetts. In mid-May, they filed notice with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to begin a union campaign among Whittier’s professional clinical staff. The goal was to foster a working partnership with management, which would involve the entire staff, then numbering about 300, in the organizational decisions that controlled their work environment and the healthcare they provided. But as a practical decision, Jewett says, they started with this smaller, collegial group, several of whom had had issues with management and felt particularly frustrated by the responses they got. When the union began, it had more than 60 members; as of this May, it had 50. (The decrease reflects cutbacks in Whittier staffing

Jewett, age 62, has a degree in medicine with a focus on public health. He came to Whittier because he was fed up with the paperwork in private care and liked the one-to-one interaction in community health. Dain, 77, who loved the intense relationship of individual therapy and the chance to use his fluency in Spanish, also fell into this older category. Younger providers, including MacDonald and Sherar Andalcio—a doctor who was active in the union organizing from a different community health center, having been fired from Whittier the year before—were no less committed.

MacDonald, 40, came to Whittier in 2016, and said, “My dream work is community health…serving patients who represent all of Boston, not privileged people like me.” For Andalcio, 36, who grew up nearby, “My dream job was to come back and give back to the community.” These are highly-trained professionals who could opt for easier, more remunerative positions, but chose to work under the demanding and difficult conditions of community health care, where burnout is common.

Asked last November about the dissatisfaction among the clinicians, Williams answered in an email to In These Times,“Whittier Street is far from alone among Massachusetts health centers in experiencing financial challenges and employee turnover. … We have been enhancing our recruitment efforts to ensure that we are hiring staff who truly understand and are committed to fulfilling our mission of providing quality care to the vulnerable populations we serve.” But the dispute, which resulted in the organizing drive, seemed less about mission buy-in on the part of providers than about how that mission would be carried out day-to-day. The providers charged that problems arose when they made suggestions, challenged abrupt and unexplained changes in policies, asked for greater involvement in decisions affecting their work and their patients, or held management to the terms of their contracts.

Williams’ description of the difficult context in which Whittier exists is accurate. Since it began as a well-baby clinic in 1933 and even in the late 1960s when Boston led the nation in neighborhood health centers, funding has been a challenge. Today, it relies heavily on grants and federal funding. Still, Williams could point then with well-earned pride to her accomplishments: running a health center with a $25 million budget, over 30,000 patients a year, some 40 programs, and a perfect score on its most recent federal audit measuring statutory and regulatory compliance; and building the new facility, which no one had managed to do before. “She’s really brilliant at building programs and getting money for them,” said Jewett. “She’s great on the language of poverty and economic disparity,” noted Andalcio. MacDonald added that when she interviewed for her job, Williams “seemed like an engaging and compelling human being.”

Williams was born in 1958 in Sierra Leone and studied management in England and Massachusetts. As one of the city’s few women of color in top management positions, she is a highly visible, much-awarded champion of women in leadership. She sits on corporate boards, appears on notable-leader lists, and cultivates friendships with local politicians and powerbrokers. She even appeared in Mitt Romney’s infamous “binders full of women.” It cannot be easy to be a powerful black woman in a Boston still reckoning with racism and sexism, but her detractors charge that having to deal with these obstacles doesn’t excuse what they see as her demoralizing management style and actions; they claim these undermined their work at Whittier. Andalcio, who is also black, summed up this sentiment by saying, “If a man was doing what Frederica is doing, it would still be 110 percent wrong.”

Mass firings

A typical response to feeling that you’re losing control is to try for more control. In June 2018, less than a week before the union vote was scheduled, Williams abruptly fired Jewett, Dain, MacDonald and 11 others whom Jewett knew to be union supporters. They say they were hustled out of the building as their patients waited for appointments. Williams maintained that the firings were necessitated by a budget shortfall, and cited the loss of two anticipated grants, which she declined to name, equaling over $600,000. By the end of that fiscal year, the deficit would reach $1.35 million, Whittier’s first operating loss in 18 years.

The next day, Friday, Whittier staff, patients, supporters and local politicians demonstrated resolutely outside the building, demanding that the staff members be rehired immediately. It was hard to miss the swarm of purple SEIU T-shirts, and the media soon arrived to cover the protest. In response to the outcry and bad optics, Boston’s mayor, Martin J. Walsh, stepped in to craft a settlement, which Williams described in a letter to the WSHC community as “a pathway forward that will put Whittier on a stable financial footing for now.” The employees were told on Sunday that they had been reinstated, though it is unclear by whom, as became clear in the  testimony and cross-questioning of Ragan McNeely, a behavioral therapist, at the NLRB trial, and Williams announced publicly that she would take a voluntary pay cut. According to a report on WBUR, a local NPR station, her salary before the cut outstripped those of CEOs at community health centers in similar Boston neighborhoods, although they served more patients.

The drama continued on Monday, when several of the supposedly rehired staff tried to inquire about their status and, as McNeely testified, were not allowed to enter the building past the security desk. The employees were finally permitted to return to work on Wednesday, when the vote took place as planned. It was 50 to 9 in favor of unionizing. Less than three weeks later, in a remarkably tone-deaf move, the board of directors voted to honor Williams by naming the building after her.

Like most stories with differing perceptions of what’s fair, right or necessary, trying to pin down who did what to whom is a study in yes-buts. Williams emailed, “The primary reason for this deficit was the failure of specific staffers to reach industry-standard productivity levels.” Data compiled by Jewett for the pro-union website, “Whittier staff, union and community news,” show WSHC’s expected productivity levels for 2017 to 2018 to be higher than Massachusetts and national levels. Jewett worked with data from a 2017 report by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). However, both the Health Center Program at HRSA and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, where Whittier is a member and Williams was on a board, said in separate emails that they have no productivity standards for providers.

And while there had been a decline in clinic visits from 2016 to 2017, they rose slightly to 115,448 in 2018. Jewett calculated that Whittier doctors generate significantly more revenue than they cost, so he argues that cutting their number is counterproductive to attracting and retaining patients.

In the summer of 2018, Williams eliminated the center’s urgent care clinic and the orthodontics program that fall, cut some clinical and administrative positions and instituted a hiring freeze, defending her decisions, for instance, in a December 2018 letter to staff, as necessary cost-cutting measures. She announced then that Whittier was on a “break-even budget,” and some vacancies have since been filled, though the current WSHC website shows a stripped-down clinical staff.

The targeted employees, however, read those moves as the kind of retaliatory measures that had been going on for a long time and added up to what MacDonald described as a toxic workplace. When Andalcio, the doctor who had come on staff with high expectations, felt underprepared to treat his HIV-positive patients and requested more training, he contended that his request was denied. When Jewett suggested ways to engage management productively—for example, instituting set meeting times for staff to exchange ideas and discuss problems—he was criticized for not going through channels and asking questions out of turn, a claim he reiterated in his affidavit for the NLRB. And MacDonald reported that after a goodbye party for Andalcio, a doctor and another staff member were sent a photograph taken there of the staff in attendance, with a black arrow and a question mark pointed at her head. Given the tensions at Whittier, it looked to her like a threat.

Perhaps most telling was the unusually high rate of turnover among clinicians. By Andalcio’s count, 20 doctors, nurses and physician assistants in primary care and obstetrics left between October 2016 and October 2018. Of the 22 who had worked there in 2016, only three are still at Whittier less than three years later. Because new hires are less productive than experienced providers, Jewett estimated that the cost of turnover in primary care in that time was at least $1.4 millionOther, unquantifiable losses included institutional memory and shared knowledge of how things work, but a bigger problem was the damage to patients, who were shuffled from provider to provider, with missed follow-ups and tracking of cases.

Patients impacted

Whittier touts its high scores on patient satisfaction surveys, but some patients have been skeptical of their validity. They lauded their providers, but complained about the culture. Shondell Davis came to Whittier in 2013 after a difficult search for responsive care. Her son had been killed and she was close to a breakdown when she found Ragan McNeely, the behavioral health therapist. He was a godsend. Over the next several years, Davis said, he provided “a comfort zone every Tuesday.” Just looking at his phone number between appointments made her feel better. McNeely was fired last October, which Davis said she learned only when she came for her appointment. “No calls, no follow-up, no warning,” she said a couple of months later. “To me it was unethical. I don’t have a therapist now. I don’t want to start over again. I just know from my experience, I really felt hurt. I don’t think I will ever trust there again.”

Marlon Wallen, a multiracial, HIV-positive activist from Trinidad, who lived nearby, became a patient at Whittier in 2016. Wallen reported that he was asked to be an outreach worker and appointed to the Patient Advisory Board. But when he objected that it was a conflict of interest for the chair of Whittier’s board of directors to also sit on the patient board, in addition to raising other grievances, he said he was “fired”—from the board and as a patient—and banned from the building. With HIV patients, especially, he maintained, the constant shifting of doctors undermines trust and treatment. He suggested grimly that Whittier’s patients put up with it because, “Where they come from, they’re used to this stuff.”

At a “patient rights hearing” organized by the labor-friendly coalition, Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, this past March, Davis and Wallen were among the some 60 people who testified about their experiences at Whittier. Nearly all talked of feeling betrayed and abandoned and reiterated complaints about valued clinicians disappearing without warning or explanation; difficulty getting someone to answer the phone, let alone getting an appointment; and undue burdens caused by closing urgent care and the orthodontics department. Some managers attended, but Williams did not.

Local politicians had rallied in support of the fired clinicians the summer before and met with union activists afterwards, but of several who were asked to speak to the issues in the following months, the only one who agreed to talk with In These Times was the doyen of Boston politics, Mel King, a former legislator and respected community activist. In a phone interview last October, he summarized the Whittier situation simply: “It’s an incredibly important institution in the community. To have an issue like this continue is unconscionable. People’s health is at stake.”

Contract fight

Forming a union is one thing; successfully negotiating a contract is another.

Unlike many union fights, salaries are not a central concern here. Last fall, Filaine Deronnette, vice president of Health Systems at 1199SEIU, said in a phone interview, “The issues are dignity and respect.” She emphasized that they were aiming for respectful lines of communication between management and staff. “The goal is to utilize the union to make it a better place for patients and staff.” In the early days, management met with the union and its members as scheduled. Then, according to Marlishia Aho, regional communications manager for 1199SEIU, the union stopped talking publicly, management started challenging who could be on the union’s negotiating committee, and one-by-one, union activists were pushed out. Dain and McNeely were fired; Jewett was placed on administrative leave, then laid off and also banned from the building; and MacDonald, needing stable employment, left for another job, albeit sooner than she wanted. By late October 2018, Jewett counted only a handful of the union supporters who had been fired and rehired that previous June still at Whittier.

Last fall, the union filed a series of complaints about unfair labor practices at Whittier with the National Labor Relations Board, charging that three members—Jewett, Dain and McNeely—had been laid off in retaliation for their union activities. The NLRB eventually determined that 30 of the 32 complaints about how Whittier responded to the unionization effort, an unusually long list, were substantiated enough to be brought to trial. While not a finding of guilt, this was a significant step, since the vast majority of complaints the board receives are dismissed, withdrawn or settled out of court.

As the trial began on June 17, both sides had dug in: Jewett described intense negotiations between the union and management the week before as progressing from very far apart to merely far apart, and at the trial, Jim Lee, Whittier Vice President, CFO and part of the management team representing the health center, declined to comment on the proceedings or a desired outcome.

For three intense days, the fired clinicians testified and were cross-examined by Whittier’s legal team. Then, on the morning of the fourth day of testimony, the judge, Paul Bogas, put the trial on hold to allow for further negotiations. According to Laura Sacks, a regional attorney of the NLRB, administrative judges can have many reasons for temporarily disrupting a trial for settlement discussions, but it may be because they expect it to be extremely long and complicated with risk for both sides. Sacks outlined the many potential steps to a final decision, which include appeals, briefs, and an open-ended timeline for a judge to issue an opinion. “I can only agree that it’s a lengthy process,” she concluded.

Most everyone else involved seems to have underestimated how lengthy this particular process would be. Originally calculated in months, it is now talking several years. In a difficult conversation, Jewett, McNeely and Dain considered their options. What made it so hard was that all three had to agree to the same response and, until recently, they had held out hope of returning to their jobs, their patients and their colleagues. Ultimately, they bowed to reality and forged a settlement: They would not return to Whittier and Whittier would pay each 15 months’ salary. When those pay-outs are added to Whittier’s legal fees for the case, resisting a union will have been an expensive battle to pursue.

On the rest of the NLRB charges, Whittier must post at the health center a short list of employee rights and a long list of “we will nots.” A few provisions are ameliorative, while most are pledges that Whittier will not do in the future what the NLRB alleged they had done in the past to discourage the union and punish its supporters. It is not clear what would happen if the health center did not live up to these promises. Williams, through her former P.R. consultant, again respectfully declined to comment.

Last winter, Jewett said he would go back to Whittier in a heartbeat. “I feel like I started something,” he explained. “It’s an opportunity to build something I could be proud of, if it gets done.” He fluctuated then between hope that pressure from the NLRB and the union would result in providers having a greater say in how care is delivered at Whittier and worry that Williams would just wait out the union until no supporters were left working there. He recalled “shooting the bull with [Williams] in the hall,” when he claimed she said, “John, I will never negotiate with the union.”

These days, contract negotiations are progressing, and one of the most postive outcomes of the settlement is that Whittier agreed to meet for bargaining sessions more than twice as often as before. But with so many of the original members gone and a significantly smaller staff, it’s an open question how committed to the union new hires or those who have stayed will be.

“You can’t just assume that if you vote for a [union] election it’s going to work out,” Jewett said, ruefully, a few days after agreeing to the settlement. “One sobering realization is that the NLRB legal system is not really set up to protect workers. It was fairly amazing to me to learn that that safety net isn’t there.”

Jewett’s partners in the labor complaint aren’t exactly singing a rousing chorus of “Union Maid” either. McNeely—who likes to quote Dain’s saying about the drawn-out NLRB process, “Slow justice is no justice”—is ready to move on. “There’s nothing to go back to,” he said. He and Dain count only four people remaining of the 18 who were in their Behavioral Health department when they formed the union. “I’m fearful for what’s left,” he concluded.

Dain, has a slightly more optimistic take on the outcome. Although their agreement allows Whittier to avoid culpability for the way they were fired, he believes they are vindicated because it points up the contradiction in Whittier’s public statements. “Their claim was that they needed to cut back on staff, unrelated to union activity,” he said. “Then why would you pay us off not to come back when you have all these job openings?”

As for the other problems the dispute highlighted—the high rate of clinician turnover, fraught management-staff relations, inconsistent patient care—it appears to be a matter of solving the legal issues while leaving the human ones raw. Yet, when asked if their fight was worth it, all three men give a qualified yes. For McNeely, because it can encourage “professional and knowledge worker groups” to organize, which he thinks is the future for unions. For Dain, “You keep up the struggle, even if you lose a particular battle.”

And for Jewett, who had staked so much on the success of the union? “Yes, it was worth it,” he agreed. “But it was much harder than I ever imagined.”

This blog was originally published at In These Times on July 30, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Nan Levinson is a journalist in Boston. Her latest book is War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built.

“Bezos, Our Backs Are Tired”: Amazon Workers Strike on Prime Day

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

On Monday afternoon, in the blistering heat of a 95-degree day, approximately 50 Amazon workers and community supporters rallied outside of a suburban Minnesota Amazon warehouse chanting, “We work, We sweat, Amazon workers need a rest!” That chant was followed by, “Hey Jeff Bezos! Our backs are tired and our funds are low!”

The crowd was picketing to support workers at the Shakopee, Minnesota warehouse (or “fulfillment center”) who timed their strike to coincide with “Prime Day,” one of the company’s key online sales events. Prime Day is being promoted on Amazon’s website as a “two-day parade of epic deals,” when monthly subscribers to the company’s Prime service can shop for discounted items and expect fast home delivery.

Workers say these deals are taking a toll on those tasked with fulfilling customer orders at a breakneck pace. From 2:00 p.m. to at least 8:00 p.m. on July 15, approximately 100 warehouse employees at the Amazon facility in Minnesota are expected to walk off the job in hopes of calling attention to what they say are unfair working conditions, as well as the company’s reliance on temporary employees.

They are joined by workers at Amazon facilities across Europe who are also be walking off the job, according to Mike Murphy of Quartz, to call attention to labor issues such as stagnant pay and unrealistic work quotas.

The majority of workers at the warehouse are East African immigrants, according to an event announcement for the July 15 strike. There are more than 100 such centers in the United States, but this is the only known facility participating in the walkout. These workers are being assisted by a Minneapolis-based labor rights group called the Awood Center, whose stated mission is to “build economic and political power amongst workers in the East African community of Minnesota.”

Meg Brady has worked at the Shakopee fulfillment center for nearly 18 months, although she says she is currently off the job due to a workplace injury. She joined coworkers and local labor activists on the picket line outside the Amazon facility. As a hot, blustery wind took hold, Brady described the stress fracture in her foot that is keeping her from her work as a “rebinner,” or someone tasked with grabbing items off a conveyor belt and putting them in a cubbyhole.

“I group items for orders,” she said, noting that she has to pull 600 products off the conveyor belt per hour. A big screen mounted in front of her keeps tabs of her work speed. There is pressure to keep up, Brady insisted, as she has seen fellow warehouse workers get written up and sometimes fired for being unable to meet Amazon’s requirements. All of this has led to a repetitive stress injury—one she says she had to fight to get recognized as job-related.

She joined the walkout in solidarity, hoping the workers’ actions will lead to reduced work rates, as well as an investment from Amazon in ergonomics. “Right now, we have poorly designed workstations,” Brady said.

Bryan Menegus of Gizmodo notes that workers at this “infamous” Amazon facility have spent the past year engaging in walk-outs and other actions on behalf of religious freedom and other labor concerns. Thus far, workers have won some concessions, including the right, in 2018, to honor the Muslim holiday of Ramadan during that year’s Prime Day event.

William Stolz also works in the Shakopee fulfillment center and helped organize the strike. In a July 9 interview with National Public Radio, Stolz described his work as a “picker”—someone who works in tandem with robots to put customer orders together, at a rapid pace dictated by Amazon.

Workers want to be treated like “human beings, not machines,” Stolz told NPR, before citing other labor concerns—such as Amazon’s use of temporary workers—as reasons for the planned walk-out. Currently, around 1,500 employees work at the Shakopee facility.

As the strike got underway at 2:00 p.m., a small but growing group of workers and labor activists began to hold picket signs demanding workplace concessions from Amazon, including reduced work rates and allowing more temporary employees to become permanent workers with access to benefits. In response to news of the planned action, Amazon has insisted that it provides competitive wages and benefits in Minnesota.

Still, the July 15 strike comes amid a year of increasing pressure on Amazon to alter its business practices and put labor, climate and human rights first. In 2018, thousands of Amazon workers in Europe mounted their own Prime Day strike, citing such concerns as unfair labor practices and union-busting. Similarly, the company backed off plans for a proposed second headquarters in New York City, thanks in part to union-led pressure.

Amazon began doing business in 1994 and has grown to become a global company with billions in annual earnings. In 2018, the company raked in over $232 billion in revenue and paid zero dollars in federal income taxes, according to sources such as CNBC. First-quarter earnings for 2019 have come in at close to $60 billion, putting Amazon on track to surpass last year’s revenue totals.

One of the company’s central income-boosting strategies has been increasing speed of its product-delivery rate, especially through its fee-based Prime service. The company recently announced plans to pour $800 million into making one-day delivery the standard for Prime members, who pay a monthly fee in exchange for free shipping on millions of products.

Amazon has said that its quick order-turnaround system is accomplished not just by human labor but also by technological advances, including its own Amazon Robotics design.

While Amazon’s earnings continue to grow, however, workers charged with filling orders at faster speeds are working under “endlessly brutal and punishing conditions,” as reporter Ravie Lakshmanan put itThe Guardianhas described warehouse workers being injured on the job and then denied benefits or help. In another case, a former Amazon employee said he was fired for supporting unionization efforts.

These conditions led Amazon workers across Europe to go on strike on Prime Day in 2018. This year, Amazon workers at the Shakopee fulfillment center will take up the mantle and engage in a six-hour work stoppage.

So far, this is the only known action planned by Amazon employees in the United States. The striking Minnesota workers were joined, however, by a handful of engineers from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, who  reportedly flew to Minnesota to join the protest and pressure the retail behemoth to take a more active role in addressing climate justice concerns.

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

About the Author: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English Instructor. She is a 2015 Progressive magazine Education Fellow and blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.

Minnesota Amazon workers plan Prime Day strike, this week in the war on workers

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Consider there to be a digital picket line around Amazon’s upcoming Prime Day. Workers in a Shakopee, Minnesota, warehouse are staging a walkout for six hours of Prime Day to protest harsh working conditions.

Amazon’s answer to the workers’ protest is that it raised wages to a $15 minimum. Which is good. But it’s not what they’re talking about here. The workers are talking about the strict quotas they have to meet to keep their jobs, quotas that lead to physically punishing work. They’re talking about warehouse temperatures and broken sprinkler systems. And they want to push Amazon to turn more temp jobs into permanent jobs.

This will be the first U.S. work stoppage for Amazon, though the company’s European warehouse workers have held strikes. Minnesota Amazon warehouses, though, have been the site of successful organizing by Muslim workers seeking accommodations during Ramadan, when they’re fasting. Pilots who fly for Amazon—and have their own issues with the company—are sending a representative to the strike and said in a statement that “We hope that Amazon takes seriously these striking workers’ calls for change.

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

 

American Workers Are Not Happy

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Americans are not happy. And for good reason. They continue to suffer financial stress caused by decades of flat income. And every time they make the slightest peep of complaint about a system rigged against them, the rich and powerful tell them to shut up because it is all their fault.

One percenters instruct them to work harder, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop bellyaching. Just get a second college degree, a second skill, a second job. Just send the spouse to work, downsize, take a staycation instead of a real vacation. Or don’t take one at all, just work harder and longer and better.

The barrage of blaming has persuaded; workers believe they deserve censure. And that’s a big part of the reason they’re unhappy. If only, they think, they could work harder and longer and better, they would get ahead. They bear the shame. They don’t blame the system: the Supreme Court, the Congress, the President. And yet, it is the system, the American system, that has conspired to crush them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, unemployment is low and the stock market is high. But skyrocketing stocks benefit only the top 10 percent of wealthy Americans who own 84 percent of stocks. And while more people are employed than during the Great Recession, the vast majority of Americans haven’t had a real raise since 1979.

It’s bad out there for American workers. Last month, their ranking dropped for the third year running in the World Happiness Report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a U.N. initiative.

These sad statistics reinforce those in a report released two years ago by two university professors. Reviewing data from the General Social Survey, administered routinely nationally, the professors found Americans’ assessment of their own happiness and family finances has, unambiguously, declined in recent years.

But if Americans would just work harder, everything would be dandy, right?

No. Not right. Americans work really, really hard. A third of Americans work a side hustle, driving an Uber or selling crafts on Etsy. American workers take fewer vacation days. They get 14, but typically take only 10. The highest number of workers in five years report they don’t expect to take a vacation at all this year. And Americans work longer hours than their counterparts in other countries.

Americans labor 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more than Brits, and 499 more than the French, according to the International Labor Organization.

And the longer hours aren’t because American workers are laggards on the job. They’re very productive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the average American worker’s productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950.

If pay had kept pace with productivity, as it did in the three decades after the end of World War II, American workers would be making 400 percent more. But they’re not. Their wages have flat lined for four decades, adjusting for inflation.

That means stress. Forty percent of workers say they don’t have $400 for an unexpected expense. Twenty percent can’t pay all of their monthly bills. More than a quarter of adults skipped needed medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it. A quarter of adults have no retirement savings.

If only Americans would work harder. And longer. And better.

Much as right-wingers have pounded that into Americans’ heads, it’s not the solution. Americans clearly are working harder and longer and better. The solution is to change the system, which is stacked against workers.

Workers are bearing on their backs tax breaks that benefited only the rich and corporations. They’re bearing overtime pay rules and minimum wage rates that haven’t been updated in more than a decade. They’re weighted down by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hobbled unionization efforts and kneecapped workers’ rights to file class-action lawsuits. They’re struggling under U.S. Department of Labor rules defining them as independent contractors instead of staff members. They live in fear as corporations threaten to offshore their jobs – with the assistance of federal tax breaks.

Last year, the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court handed a win to corporatists trying to obliterate workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and conditions. The court ruled that public sector workers who choose not to join unions don’t have to pay a small fee to cover the cost of services that federal law requires the unions provide to them. This bankrupts labor unions. And there’s no doubt that right-wingers are gunning for private sector unions next.

This kind of relentless attack on labor unions since 1945 has withered membership. As it shrank, wages for both union and nonunion workers did too.

Also last year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can deny workers access to class-action arbitration. This compels workers, who corporations forced to sign agreements to arbitrate rather than litigate, into individual arbitration cases, for which each worker must hire his or her own lawyer. Then, just last week, the right-wing majority on the court further curtailed workers’ rights to class-action suits.

In a minority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the court in recent years has routinely deployed the law to deny to employees and consumers “effective relief against powerful economic entities.”

No matter how hard Americans work, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court has hobbled them in an already lopsided contest with gigantic corporations.

The administrative branch is no better.  The Trump Labor Department just issued an advisory that workers for a gig-economy company are independent contractors, not employees. As a result, the workers, who clean homes after getting assignments on an app, will not qualify for federal minimum wage (low as it is) or overtime pay. Also, the corporation will not have to pay Social Security taxes for them. Though the decision was specific to one company, experts say it will affect the designation for other gig workers, such as drivers for Uber and Lyft.

Also, the Labor Department has proposed a stingy increase in the overtime pay threshold, that is, the salary amount under which corporations must pay workers time and a half for overtime. The current threshold of $23,660 has not been raised since 2004. The Obama administration had proposed doubling it to $47,476. But now, the Trump Labor Department has cut that back to $35,308. That means 8.2 million workers who would have benefited from the larger salary cap now will not be eligible for mandatory overtime pay.

It doesn’t matter how hard they work, they aren’t going to get the time-and-a-half pay they deserve.

Just like the administration and the Supreme Court, right-wingers in Congress grovel before corporations and the rich. Look at the tax break they gave one percenters in 2017. Corporations got the biggest cut in history, their rate sledgehammered down from 35 percent to 21 percent. The rich reap by far the largest benefit from those tax cuts through 2027, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. And by then, 53 percent of Americans – that is workers not rich people – will pay more than they did in 2017 because tax breaks for workers expire.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers predicted the corporate tax cut would put an extra $4,000 in every worker’s pocket. They swore that corporations would use some of their tax cut money to hand out raises and bonuses to workers. That never happened. Workers got a measly 6 percent of corporations’ tax savings. In the first quarter after the tax cut took effect, workers on average received a big fat extra $6.21 in their paychecks, for an annual total of a whopping $233. Corporations spent their tax breaks on stock buybacks, a record $1 trillion worth, raising stock prices, which put more money in the pockets of rich CEOs and shareholders.

That’s continuing this year. Workers are never going to see that $4,000.

No wonder they’re unhappy. The system is working against them.

This article was originally published at Our Future on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard, is the International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) union and is the second Canadian to head the union. He is also a vice president of the AFL-CIO. Gerard is co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.

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