Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Avoiding NAFTA’s Job-Killing Mistakes

March 31st, 2014 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike HallThe North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) turns 20 this year. Some 700,000 jobs have been lost, income inequality, the U.S. trade deficit and environmental and other problems have grown because of NAFTA in the past two decades. On Thursday, a panel of trade experts will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on NAFTA’s failed trade model and how to avoid the mistakes of the past in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The 11 a.m. meeting in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Room 201, is open to congressional staffers. If you wish to attend but don’t have a congressional ID, you may RSVP to Andrew.linhardt@sierraclub.org.

The briefing is sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the Institute for Policy Studies, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and the Sierra Club.

Read “NAFTA at 20” here.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on March 31, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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GOP Pitch to Women: Forget Equal Pay, Let's Talk About Repealing Obamacare

March 31st, 2014 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonHeading into the 2014 elections, the Republican position on women’s votes and women’s issues is nothing so much as incoherent. They’re defensive about their poor record, so they want to rebut it, but they mostly seem to do so by dismissing every specific issue as a distraction from the real issues. When you get right down to it, the Republican position appears to be ”we’re not worried about no stinkin’ women’s issues because OBAMACARE. And we really do care about women’s issues … like OBAMACARE. And besides, we’re not really running as women, but you may want to vote for some of us because we are women.”

For instance, Joni Ernst, a Senate candidate in Iowa, leads her bio with “Mother. Soldier. Conservative for U.S. Senate.” The word “mother” is all over her website. But she says she’s not running on gender:

“It would be historical, but it’s not part of my pitch,” she said of potentially becoming Iowa’s first female senator. “I don’t believe we should vote for somebody based on gender, we vote for the right person and I’m the right person to go to Washington, D.C.”“Of course I’m always very diplomatic in the way that I attack any issue and I think that’s appealing to women. Be straight-forward about [issues], but be compassionate, show them that this is something that really matters to Iowans, not just female but also males,” she said.

It would make history, but I’m not running as a woman, and I’m super diplomatic like a woman, but I’m not running as a woman, and I’m compassionate like a woman, but I’m not running as a woman, and did I mention I’m a mother, but I’m definitely not running as a woman.

So what about equal pay, an issue that women care about? Forget that, Republicans say, because Obamacare:

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said reminding both genders of the problems with the Affordable Care Act would trump Democratic attacks on the equal pay issue.“Republicans recognize that this is also the Democratic party’s latest attempt to cry ‘squirrel!’ so women in this country, who control two out of every three health care dollars that are spent and are disproportionately health care consumers and providers… divert their attention from the unspooling of Obamacare,” Conway said.

Ah, yes, the unspooling of more than six million private insurance enrollments, plus themillions covered by Medicaid expansion, plus young people who’ve been able to stay on their parents’ insurance. I think unspooling is what Republican arguments against the law have done. And how’s this as an argument for ignoring equal pay concerns? “Listen, ladies, we know you don’t want to be distracted by a little thing like equal pay. Let us explain how we’d like to take away your affordable health care.”

In the end, this may be one of the greatest (and admittedly one of the few) examples of Republican commitment to equal opportunity. For women, just as for men, their answer to everything is “repeal Obamacare.”

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on March 31, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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For Women, Being in a Union Pays

March 31st, 2014 | SEIU

seiu-org-logoThis Women’s History Month is a perfect time to celebrate the capacity for upward mobility women have gained in the workforce–especially when it comes to labor unions.

Women have a great deal to gain from joining a union, with union victories working to pave the way for workers to bargain for affordable family healthcare, fair wages, improved working conditions, and a better life for their families.

Share this graphic on Facebook to tell the world why a woman’s place is in her union.

There are so many reasons women benefit so much from the union advantage:

Being in a union is good for a woman’s health.
When it comes to both fiscal and physical health, being in a union is the way to go. Unionization dramatically raises the probability of a woman having a pension (53.4 percent) and an employer-provided health insurance plan (36.8 percent).

Unions have been a powerful force for women’s equality.
Collective bargaining cuts down on employer favoritism, which helps women–and importantly, women of color–get a fair chance at work. Unionized women of color, for example, earn almost 35 percent more than nonunion women of color.

Unionization results in significantly higher wages for women of all education levels.
Being a member of a union raises women’s wages by 12.9 percent compared to their nonunion peers. That’s a pay increase of $222 a week–which adds up to $11,544 a year.

Unions protect workers’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender. 
In a country where it’s still legal for an employer to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34, having a union can make all the difference.

Unions help close the wage gap.
Despite the fact the gender wage gap overall hasn’t made any progress in the last five years, it’s been shrinking among workers who belong to a union, declining 2.6 percent between 2013 and 2012. The gender gap between what unionized male workers make and what unionized female workers make is just 9.4 percent, compared to 18.7 percent among nonunion workers.

Considering the great boost to equality, pay and benefits that unions bring, it’s important that anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers also care about unions.

So spread the word. While we can’t change the world in a day, speaking out about this important issue is a good start.

Celebrate being union strong this Women’s History Month. Share this graphic with your family and friends on Facebook:

20140314-Final-WomensHisotryFBgraphic.png

And never forget why a woman’s place is in her union.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on March 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

This Women’s History Month is a perfect time to celebrate the capacity for upward mobility women have gained in the workforce–especially when it comes to labor unions.

Women have a great deal to gain from joining a union, with union victories working to pave the way for workers to bargain for affordable family healthcare, fair wages, improved working conditions, and a better life for their families.

Share this graphic on Facebook to tell the world why a woman’s place is in her union.

There are so many reasons women benefit so much from the union advantage:

Being in a union is good for a woman’s health.
When it comes to both fiscal and physical health, being in a union is the way to go. Unionization dramatically raises the probability of a woman having a pension (53.4 percent) and an employer-provided health insurance plan (36.8 percent).

Unions have been a powerful force for women’s equality.
Collective bargaining cuts down on employer favoritism, which helps women–and importantly, women of color–get a fair chance at work. Unionized women of color, for example, earn almost 35 percent more than nonunion women of color.

Unionization results in significantly higher wages for women of all education levels.
Being a member of a union raises women’s wages by 12.9 percent compared to their nonunion peers. That’s a pay increase of $222 a week–which adds up to $11,544 a year.

Unions protect workers’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender. 
In a country where it’s still legal for an employer to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34, having a union can make all the difference.

Unions help close the wage gap.
Despite the fact the gender wage gap overall hasn’t made any progress in the last five years, it’s been shrinking among workers who belong to a union, declining 2.6 percent between 2013 and 2012. The gender gap between what unionized male workers make and what unionized female workers make is just 9.4 percent, compared to 18.7 percent among nonunion workers.

Considering the great boost to equality, pay and benefits that unions bring, it’s important that anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers also care about unions.

So spread the word. While we can’t change the world in a day, speaking out about this important issue is a good start.

Celebrate being union strong this Women’s History Month. Share this graphic with your family and friends on Facebook:

20140314-Final-WomensHisotryFBgraphic.png

And never forget why a woman’s place is in her union.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on March 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: SEIU President Mary Kay Henry

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Is Perelman Jewish Day School the Hobby Lobby of Union-Busting?

March 31st, 2014 | Bruce Vail

Bruce VailA small group of teachers in Philadelphia are finding their union rights under attack on questionable religious grounds, much the same way that women across America found their right to healthcare assaulted this week in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case.

Some 55 teachers at the Perelman Jewish Day School, which has two K-5 campuses in the Philadelphia suburbs with some 300 total students, were stunned March 24 to be notified that the school’s board had decided to cease recognizing their union. The teachers were told that the current union contract will be allowed to expire and they will be required to negotiate individual one-year contracts with school administrators. Normally, revoking union recognition would be considered a blatant violation of collective bargaining law. But board vice president Aaron Freiwald says the action is justified by a Supreme Court decision. The case he’s likely referring to is the obscure 1979 NLRB v. Catholic Bishops of Chicago, in which the Supreme Court found that religious schools are exempt from certain provisions of the National Labor Relations Act.

The teachers, some of whom are observant Jews themselves, are not going to meekly allow their union to be dissolved, says Barbara Goodman, the communications director for the AFT Pennsylvania, the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the union with which the Perelman Jewish Day School Faculty Association Local 3578 is affiliated.

Members held an emergency meeting March 27, Goodman says, and unanimously passed a resolution to fight for their union. It read:

We categorically reject the terms and conditions in the materials that were handed to us, and we authorize all of our local, state and national officers to pursue all legal means to have this action reversed and to return to the bargaining table, where we can negotiate in good faith a contract that is good for the students and the teachers.

Equally offended by the board action is Jesse Bacon, whose daughter is a student at the exclusive private school, where tuitioncan be as high as $20,000 a year. Bacon tells In These Times that he’s firmly on the side of the teachers and regards any claim to religious legitimacy for the board’s high-handed action as bogus and offensive. “This is just rank hypocrisy. … It makes my blood boil,” he says.

Hypocritical or not, the teachers just may have a real legal fight on their hands, says Dan Kovalik, who is on the legal staff at the Pittsburgh headquarters of the United Steelworkers (USW). The little-known Catholic Bishops decision does allow religious schools to claim exemption from the NLRA, he says, although it is not clear that it would apply to the Perelman school. The USW is fighting a Catholic Bishops case right now, he adds, as the union attempts to organize the part-time faculty at the Duquesne University, a Catholic school in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. And there are a number of other cases where religious schools have successfully used the Catholic Bishops defense to fend of unionization of the faculty, he says. Indeed, labor lawyers are closely watching a National Labor Relations Board decision right now in a case involving Pacific Lutheran University, which may clarify the law.

The claim of religious exemption doesn’t mean much to the AFT’S Goodman. “Perelman School has been unionized for 38 years. I’m Jewish myself and I can tell you for sure that nothing about Judaism has changed in the last week to justify” attacking the teachers union, she says.

Nor does it hold much water with Bacon. He tells In These Times that his great-grandmother became a member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union while a seamstress in New York City a century ago. There is a proud tradition in his family of progressive Jewish unionism —some were lifetime members of the socialist-leaning organization Workman’s Circle—and any attempt to justify union-busting with Judaism is offensive, he says. He also notes that the board at the Perelman school chose to move against the union on the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the tragedy that helped catalyze the unionization of Jewish workers in New York’s garment district.

Pennsylvania AFT President Ted Kirsch said the full resources of the union are being marshaled to defend the teachers. “You wouldn’t believe the calls I’ve gotten from around the country. This is just so against the Jewish tradition that people can’t believe Perelman is trying to get away this this,” he says.

Freiwald, a Philadelphia lawyer, turned down requests from In These Times for a phone interview but invited queries by email. He declined to answer most of the e-mailed questions, but did however identify himself as the chairman of a special board task force that recommended the vote against the union and stated that the vote was unanimous. He provided a press release and aprepared FAQ sheet [PDF] as the school’s only public comment.

This matter exploded the same week that the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, in which an employer argued that his religious convictions against birth control trumped the healthcare rights of his workers. Bacon sees a clear parallel between the two: “That seems like phony religion to me. So does this.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on March 28, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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Minimum Wage Victory Celebrated on the New Jersey Senate Floor

March 31st, 2014 | Jackie Tortora

Jackie TortoraThe New Jersey State AFL-CIO this week celebrated a milestone in its campaign to raise the state minimum wage by joining partners and advocates from across the Garden State in a recognition ceremony held in the Senate.

At the opening of the Senate session, Senate President Stephen Sweeney presented the New Jersey State AFL-CIO coalition partners of Working Families United for New Jersey Inc. (WFUNJ) with a resolution in recognition of the work that went into passing the state constitutional amendment by a landslide margin.

Charles Wowkanech, New Jersey federation president, and state federation Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan said in a message to campaign supporters:

The minimum wage campaign proved that when all our communities come together on the right side of an issue, we win.

Despite being outspent by our opponents, we showed that grassroots strength and community engagement and involvement will achieve tremendous success at the ballot box. WFUNJ turned people who thought raising the minimum wage was the right thing to do into voters who said it loud and clear in the voting booth.

All of us who are proud to be part of this coalition are deeply honored by this recognition today.

Read more about the New Jersey State AFL-CIO’s minimum wage victory.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on March 28, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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The End of Jobs?

March 24th, 2014 | Sarah Jaffe

sarah jaffeIn a major victory for a long-running campaign,  port truck drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation in California have won the right to be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and to form a union.

That ruling, by Region 21 of the National Labor Relations Board, that the truckers had been misclassified as “independent contractors”   comes after months of sustained actions, including strikes, by port truckers.  It comes in an industry where union jobs were the standard until deregulation turned all workers into “free agents.” Free agency, they quickly found, didn’t come with much freedom, as they still had their hours and working conditions dictated by the company for whom they worked–but it came with a price tag. The cost of gas, truck maintenance and licenses landed on their shoulders instead of their employers’.

It’s in this context that I’m thinking about the “end of jobs as we know them.”

This Wednesday I attended a conference with that provocative title at the Open Society Foundation, and I’ve long been mulling the idea.

In 2011, I wrote at AlterNet that a future beyond jobs, where we all work less, used to be a major goal of the U.S. labor movement. More freedom, less production for its own sake, would actually create a more sustainable world. (Alyssa Battistoni compellingly made this argument recently at Jacobin.) Lowering the amount of hours worked by each person would help distribute jobs better among the people who still don’t have them, as economist Dean Baker has repeatedly argued.

But I noted that moving beyond jobs would necessitate tackling issues of inequality and concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy. At the moment, the “end of jobs” has meant sustained high unemployment and low wages, not more freedom. The disappearance of jobs in America has as much to do with the power of global capital to move where and when it wants and the ability, post-crisis, of businesses to squeeze more and more productivity out of the few workers they keep, as it does with technology making certain professions obsolete. And the rise of the “free agent” worker has at least as much to do with the desire of businesses to have an easy-hire, easy-fire, just-in-time workforce (as I wrote about in some detail recently) that absorbs—as the port truckers do—most of the labor costs, as it does with workers who simply enjoy the freedom of not having a boss. Power is as big or bigger a force as technology in shaping the labor landscape today.

Fast forward to 2014. The economy has improved only slightly. Unemployment remains high, and the jobs that do exist are often low-wage and part-time. Since 2011, we’ve seen not only Occupy but the rise of a movement of Walmart and fast-food workers demanding better wages and, often, more hours, so they can take home a full-time paycheck. A shorter hours movement has not materialized, nor has a meaningful jobs program, despite the promises of a bipartisan clutch of politicians. The minimum wage has risen in some states and cities, but workers are still struggling, and the long-term unemployed have seen their benefits cut off by a Congress that continues to squabble about whether or not they deserve to be able to pay bills.

Jobs have not yet ended or become obsolete. Yet, without question, they are changing. Research from Kelly Services (which, being a temporary agency, certainly has a vested interest in the subject) finds that 44 percent of workers in the U.S. classify themselves as “free agents.” According to the Freelancers Union, 42 million people are freelancers. The full-time job itself is only a fairly recent development in human history, spanning a couple hundred years or so, and the attendant expectation that a job be “good,” paying a living wage and providing healthcare and retirement benefits, with a union and some security, is a peculiar historical development of the New Deal era in the United States—an era that is almost without question over.

Power created that era—the power of organized workers in unions demanding better conditions. But the bosses, it’s worth noting, never stopped trying to dismantle the deal. Since the Taft-Hartley Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, conservatives have been pushing to limit the power workers were granted by the NLRA in 1935, and the conversion of decent jobs into no-security temp gigs should rightly be seen in that context. The port truck drivers at Pacific 9 and elsewhere realize that despite the promises of freedom and liberation, they have more power when their relationship with the boss is explicit and when they can come together as a union.

We should carefully consider what comes next, whether that be high-end freelancers hopping from gig to gig, disdaining a full-time job, or more likely, the further fragmentation into piecework that we see happening in digital spaces like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and the conversion of formerly full-time union jobs such as port trucking or auto manufacturing into low-security independent contracting or temp labor. Moshe Marvit wrote at The Nation of Amazon’s human “crowdworkers” who perform the tiny tasks that are “helping to power the parts of the Internet that most of us take for granted” and who are paid a pittance for their work.

Technology is often blamed for displacing workers and eliminating jobs. Those doing the blaming are sometimes correct, as when supermarkets move to automatic checkout or ports move to automated cargo hauling. And yet the story of the Mechanical Turkers is a good cautionary tale for those who assume that all jobs are disappearing into the mechanical ether. One doesn’t have to be a Luddite to point out that many jobs—including ones, like those done by Turkers, that we think are fully automated—are still being done by people, either because we don’t have the technology to do them yet, or because those people remain cheaper than machines. Whether jobs are disappearing for good reasons—because they simply aren’t socially necessary anymore—or because they are being fragmented, made temporary or shifted to freelancers, these are not processes that are happening outside of human control, but rather because of it.

Carl Benedikt Frey of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology was a keynote speaker at Wednesday’s event. His recent study, with Michael Osborne, found that nearly half of U.S. jobs are “at risk of computerization.” These include positions in a wide variety of sectors, from transportation to the service industry.

The positions that are least likely to be automated, this study found, were those that relied on “creative and social intelligence”—for example, preschool teaching. It concludes, “For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.”

What is social intelligence but another word for what sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild called “emotional labor”? And that emotional labor has been devalued and indeed not considered a skill at all, largely because it has been done by women. One study found that “interactive service jobs,” which include care work and service work, get paid less even if you control for education levels, rate of unionization, cognitive and physical skill, and the amount of women doing the job.

If those social-skilled jobs are the only ones that will be left to us, will we learn to value them more? Or will this just be another excuse to pay workers less? The question, like the question of what is a skill in the first place, is one of power.

The end of jobs doesn’t have to be a dystopian nightmare. There is some truth to the rosy picture painted by Kelly Services about the “free agent” workforce. I once left a full-time job to be a freelancer, and I enjoyed the experience: writing for a variety of outlets, learning from new editors, sharpening different styles, working when I wanted. The pleasure came to a grinding halt, though, when a client who owed me what amounted to more than two months of my rent didn’t pay for several months, and I had few other financial options. I needed a way to pay the bills if the work didn’t come through, and our current so-called social safety net didn’t offer one. It remains designed, as Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers’ Union points out, for a workforce that has full-time jobs with benefits. And that was never everyone, to begin with.

Women, black workers and immigrants were mostly left out of that design in the first place; what’s happened is that the conditions in the sectors where they typically work (temporary work, no labor protections, informal workplaces) have caught up with the rest of us. This means instead of clinging to a safety net that was designed for white male breadwinners in manufacturing jobs, we need a system designed for workers who are doing less work, doing it from home or the neighborhood coffee shop, and where the human resource in demand is care as much as it is cognitive skill or brute strength.

The subject of a universal basic income is coming up a lot these days; former Labor Secretary Robert Reich endorsed it last week in a talk at San Francisco State University, calling it “almost inevitable” in the face of technologically-induced job loss. A basic income would serve as something more than a safety net in troubled times—it would be a firm line below which no one, employed or unemployed, skilled or unskilled, could fall. Perhaps most importantly, it would help workers who do retain jobs (or gigs) increase their bargaining power by giving them the option of leaving rather than clinging to a job out of desperation.

That’s a large redistribution of income, of course, and it will take a lot of political power to make such a thing a reality. Political power for working people has come in the past and will come in the future through worker organizing—particularly, as has been the case with the port truckers, organizing outside of the old NLRB framework. It took workers coming together to challenge their bosses’ idea of “freedom” to win fair pay at the ports, and it will take workers coming together on a massive scale to really get workers some freedom.

Along with that idea of freedom, it’s time to consider a call for shorter working hours—a redistribution of work and leisure to go along with the redistribution of wealth. There will always to be some work that cannot be automated away, and much of that work, as Frey and Osborne found, will likely rely on social skills that have been presumed to be women’s domain. If we don’t want a world where women do most or all of the work for little pay, we’ll have to start valuing those social skills more, and ensuring that the jobs that requires them are done by all.

But most importantly, we should be working to ensure that a future without jobs is a future where we all get to enjoy the benefits of free time.

This article was originally printed on Working in These Times on March 21, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media, and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet, and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television.

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Town Hall Unites Adjunct Faculty, Launches Network

March 24th, 2014 | SEIU

seiu-org-logoAdjunct faculty joined SEIU president Mary Kay Henry and House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) to launch the Adjunct Action Network and talk about the future of adjunct faculty organizing at a town hall at Georgetown University today.

“Imagine if brick-by-brick adjuncts work to build a new model,” Henry said as she led a discussion about how the growing adjunct organizing victories from Los Angeles to Boston can be leveraged into even larger movement both online and offline.

smaller group shot.jpg
Though adjunct faculty often lack physical meeting space on the campuses where they work, adjuncts have formed a virtual network that crosses cities and campuses. The Adjunct Action Network’s toolset, which gives users the ability to create petitions, host events, build email lists and create online discussion groups, is designed to elevate those connections to concerted action. Click here to sign up to the network and watch a recorded version of the town hall.

Adjunct faculty in attendance described how collective action by contingent faculty has given them a larger voice in the fight to roll back the corporatization of higher education and refocus it on education and students. “I think we can really rumble and quake the higher education ground,” said Tiffany Kraft, an adjunct from Clark College who spoke on the panel at the town hall. “We are not passive victims in our marginalization,” she added.

“There’s plenty of money in higher education. It’s just not being directed at front-line teaching,” Henry noted.

Rep. Miller said the growing influence of adjunct faculty is altering the power calculus in politics and higher education back towards students and instruction, and urged adjuncts to continue to organize and engage. “Bring your lunch,” and stay for the fight, he said to applause.

The town hall comes as adjuncts continue to organize across the country. In late February, adjunct faculty at Lesley University in Boston voted overwhelmingly to form a union. In the last few months adjuncts at Seattle University in Washington state, Howard University in DC, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Northeastern University in Boston have filed election petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to hold union elections.
Tufts University part-time faculty voted to join SEIU in September 2013 and are currently bargaining their first contract, and in December, adjunct faculty at Whittier College in Los Angeles voted to form a union.

For a compilation of live reaction to the town hall, follow #AdjunctNetwork.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on March 24, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: Mariah Quinn

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Jobless Aid to Get Yet Another Senate Vote as House Continues to Balk

March 24th, 2014 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonThis is the week! Again! This is the week, that is, that the Senate will once again attempt to pass an emergency unemployment aid extension that House Republicans will refuse to even bring up for a vote. The bipartisan unemployment deal the Senate will be considering has some problems, mostly ones created in the effort to win the final Republican vote needed to break a filibuster, and of course House Speaker John Boehner’s response is to use the problems as an excuse to kill an unemployment extension altogether rather than to look for a fix. A fix should be possible:

Labor Secretary Tom Perez sent a letter to Senate leaders on Friday saying he is “confident that there are workable solutions for all of the concerns raised by [the National Association of State Workforce Agencies]” and that “any challenges pale in comparison to those to the need that the long-term unemployed have for these benefits.”

The Nevada head of unemployment insurance operations said he was ready to implement the bill regardless: “We would stand ready and do it. … We’ll get through it, just like we have in the past.”

Meanwhile, even some Republicans are starting to get openly frustrated with obstruction from their party:

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the main Republican working on the deal, said it was “extremely disappointing that, no matter what solution is reached, there is some excuse to deny these much-needed benefits.”

This should not exactly come as a surprise to Heller. There’s always an excuse.

House Democrats are circulating a discharge petition to force a vote on unemployment aid, but so far no Republicans have signed it. Getting a House vote on this vital bill, whether through a successful discharge petition or action by Boehner, will require the kind of public pressure even House Republicans can’t ignore.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on March, 24, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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Proposed Silica Standard Needs to Be Strengthened

March 24th, 2014 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike HallWhile the AFL-CIO “strongly supports” a proposed new rule that would limit workers’ exposure to silica dust, AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario outlined several areas that should be strengthened to provide better worker protection from deadly silicosis and other diseases caused by silica exposure.

Testifying before an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hearing, Seminario noted that changes to the current exposure standard—now more than 40 years old—were first proposed in 1997 and that when the proposed new standard was sent for review to the Office of Management and Budget in 1991, it lingered there for two-and-a-half years.

Every day that a final standard is delayed, workers will continue to be at increased risk of disease and death.

Every year some 2 million workers are exposed to silica dust and, according to public health experts, more than 7,000 workers develop silicosis and 200 die each year as a result of this disabling lung disease. Silicosis literally suffocates workers to death. Silica is also linked to deaths from lung cancer, pulmonary and kidney diseases.

Seminario said that permissible exposure limit in the proposed standard while set at half the current level is still too high. She urged that a stricter standard be included in the final and said that other provisions in the standard should be strengthened, including:

  • Establishing regulated work areas to limit the number of workers on the job who are exposed to silica dust;
  • Requiring that the primary method to control silica dust is through engineering and work practice controls rather than through respiratory control—i.e., masks;
  • Requiring employers create a written compliance/exposure control plan; and
  • A stronger standard to trigger medical surveillance of workers exposed to silica.

Other areas she addressed included protecting the confidentiality of workers’ medical records, preventing employer retaliation against workers who seek medical care for exposure to silica and better training and information for workers.

The hearings continue next week and workplace safety and health experts from other unions, along with workers who have developed silica-related illnesses, will appear during the course of the hearings. But a number of employer groups in such industries as sand and gravel, brick, fracking where silica dust is prevalent, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate groups have or will testify against the proposed rule during the 14 days of hearings in Washington, D.C.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO  on March 21, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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Academic Labor Unrest Spreads to Maryland Colleges

March 24th, 2014 | Bruce Vail

Bruce VailBALTIMORE – Part-time professors at the historic Maryland Institute College of Art are joining a growing movement of academic workers around the country who want a union to help them with fundamental issues of fair pay and decent job conditions.

A committee of part-time faculty—also known as adjuncts—filed a petition on March 7 with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an election to establish Gaithersburg, Md.-based Service Employees International Union Local 500 as its collective bargaining agent. Joshua Smith, one of the committee’s leaders, tells In These Times that the adjuncts hope to move to an election within just a few weeks.

And instructors at other institutions in the region see the move to unionize as highly necessary. “This is an exciting development. Adjuncts really need a union to protect them from the abuses of a system they are unable to change. At the moment, they have no voice … There can be no sense of community, scholarly or academic, when adjunct faculty are not included in decision-making as to curriculum or policy,” says Peggy Beauvois, a part-time instructor in the College of Education at the nearby Loyola University Maryland, which does not employ unionized faculty.

“We simply can not meet the needs of students when we must have two—and sometimes three—adjunct positions to even begin to support ourselves. I’ve heard stories about adjuncts who can’t afford an apartment and are living out of the back seat of their cars,” she adds.

Smith estimates there are about 200 adjuncts at MICA, who teach about 45 percent of the school’s courses; overall, he says, the campus environment is a positive one. “We do enjoy working at MICA and it’s a great place to teach,” he says.

But that’s not enough to outweigh the worries about survival and consistent employment that being an adjunct entails, he points out. “Of course compensation and benefits are big issues, but job security is probably the biggest concern,” he says. “You can have been an adjunct for ten years, but you still don’t know whether you will have a class to teach next semester.”

The big question awaiting the adjuncts at MICA is whether the school’s administrators will actively oppose unionization, Smith says. A best-case scenario would see the college bosses adopt a neutral position, as they did at Georgetown University, where Local 500 ran a successful part-time faculty organizing campaign in 2013. Alternatively, higher-ups could take a more antagonistic approach similar to those of Boston’s Northeastern University, where administrators hired the notorious union-busting firm Jackson Lewis last year to stifle organizing. For the moment, though, MICA public relations director Jessica Weglein Goldstein says the school has “no comment” on its position of adjunct unionization.

Smith, however, remains optimistic. The part-time professor, who has taught art history in Baltimore for four years, believes the union will prevail easily in an election. The organizing committee has been active on MICA’s campus since 2011, he says, and has worked to gather support both within the adjunct population and outside of it. For example, members of the committee formally asked full-time professors to remain neutral in an election campaign—a presentation Smith deemed to be effective.

In general, the unionization of adjuncts “is long overdue,” says Michelle Tokarczyk, Vice President of the Maryland Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). There is very little unionization of college staff in the state thus far, she says, but the movement has a broad base of approval from many in the higher education community.

Though MICA is a private institution, labor allies in Maryland hope that its faculty’s efforts will work in conjunction with another campaign focused on community colleges throughout the state. A coalition of unions comprised of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), SEIU Local 500 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is currently working to push legislation through the state house in Annapolis that would ease organizing at community colleges. Given the lack of labor laws specifically covering community college employees, the coalition is advocating for a bill that would provide a statewide legal framework for those workers when they unionize in the future.

Prospects for passage of the bill are good, reports Sean Johnson, an MSEA official, although it does not appear that state legislature is inclined to act quickly. Organizers have garnered support from key state representatives, however, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has pledged to sign the bill if it passes. Right now, a number of community college presidents are opposing the bill, but labor lobbyists in Annapolis believe that opposition can be overcome, Johnson says.

If the bill is passed, the three unions hope to organize some 19,000 employees at 16 community college campuses: MSEA would seek to unionize the regular full-time faculty, Local 500 would agitate among the adjuncts and AFSCME is interested in the other college staff. “Our coalition has been successful in the past,” Johnson says, in reference to unionization of more than 1,000 academic workers at suburban Washington, D.C. Montgomery College in 2008, “and we think it will be successful again.”

The urgency of organizing academic workers—especially part-time ones—is starting to be recognized on a national scale, says Local 500 organizer Kevin Pietrick. Indeed, on the same day the Baltimore art college instructors filed for an election, so did adjuncts at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University. Similar organizing efforts are underway in several other states, he says.

And in Baltimore, a successful campaign at MICA may potentially pave the way for other colleges in the area.

Beauvois wishes the MICA adjuncts well and hopes that union movement picks up steam in the academic community. “As it is now, [working as an adjunct] is not a living wage,” she says. “It’s a hobby, or volunteer work, but you can’t make a living.”

UPDATE: Maryland Institute College of Art confirmed on March 24 that it had agreed to a National Labor Relations Board-supervised election for the part-time instructors seeking union representation. The election, to be conducted with mail-in ballots, will commence April 10, and will conclude with the counting of completed ballots April 29.

The bargaining unit will include about 350 employees.

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on March 20, 2o14.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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