Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

What Do Roger Ailes & Charlie Sheen Have in Common? Both Wanted to Hide Alleged Abuse of Women

July 15th, 2016 | Paul Bland

paulblandLast week, longtime Fox News anchor and host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, alleging that he sexually harassed her in the workplace. Within a day, Ailes and his lawyers asked a court to force the case into arbitration, under a special gag order that would block anyone from publicly disclosing any of the evidence in the case or the outcome of the arbitration.

The lawsuit alleges that Ailes sabotaged Carlson’s career after she “refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.” Her complaint, which can be found here, alleges that her time at Fox News was riddled with Ailes’s inappropriate references to his own sexual history and marital issues and juxtaposed with a vocal interest in Carlson as a sexual partner. Ms. Carlson further alleges that Ailes used his power against her when she denied his advances, taking several steps that culminated in her being dismissed.

According to Fox News and Ailes, none of this is true. But instead of welcoming the chance to vindicate themselves in court, they want to move the case to a secret arbitrator.

Just Like Charlie?  Just after the news came out that Charlie Sheen was HIV positive, and he publicly admitted having unprotected sex with at least a couple of partners after his diagnosis, another revelation was widely reported: he’d been requiring visitors to his home to sign arbitration clauses with confidentiality provisions. And Sheen admitted on TV that he had paid “millions” to settle claims relating to his HIV status. These revelations created a very serious possibility:  that the secrecy of his arbitration clause made it possible for him to engage in risky behavior, then pay off injured women in secret proceedings, and then repeat the whole thing. When you look at the contracts guests to his home were required to sign it’s sort of bizarre, but the upshot of the arbitration ploy was pretty much the same as it is in the Roger Ailes case: it’s a way for a powerful man to impose a shroud of secrecy over allegations of serious mistreatment of women.

And these are not the only two cases involving this kind of allegation. Today’s New York Times reports how Ailes’ effort to force Ms. Carlson into arbitration is reminiscent of the actions of the infamous former head of American Apparel, Dov Charney, who was able to force a number of cases involving allegations of sexual harassment into secret arbitration.

Secrecy as the Driving Force. From the perspective of an employee, there’s a lot not to like about being forced to sign an arbitration clause as a condition of keeping your job, or applying for a job. For one thing, as the Washington Post reported, a substantial scholarly study of many thousands of arbitration cases (and a comparable pool of court cases) discovered that workers are less likely to win cases in arbitration than they would be in court, and that when workers do recover some kind of award in arbitration, that their recoveries tend to be pretty dramatically lower than they would have been in court.

But in the Ailes case, there’s something else afoot as well. While arbitration is always far more shadowy than the public court system (it’s generally incredibly hard for a journalist or member of the public to get copies of pleadings or evidence put before an arbitrator, for example, unless one of the parties to the case send the materials to them; arbitrators often don’t issue public opinions; etc.), the Fox News arbitration clause has a specific and broadly written gag order that goes far beyond the typical arbitration clause. And in Ailes’ pleadings in a New Jersey federal court, trying to force the case into arbitration, he and his lawyers specifically complain that Ms. Carlson’s allegations have become a matter of widespread public discussion. The conclusion of Mr. Ailes’ brief stresses that arbitration is necessary to make sure that the case cannot “sully his reputation in public,” apparently without respect to whether the actual facts would justify harm to his reputation. The point is not a search for the truth and exoneration; it’s to shut Ms. Carlson up.

Hypocrisy About Transparency:  As a news organization, Fox has repeatedly called for transparency with respect to all sorts of allegations against important public figures.  For example, Fox is very jacked up to try to break up an alleged “cover up” with respect to Secretary Clinton’s emails. And Fox was extremely interested in trying to make sure that every fact came out about allegations of problems at the World Bank.

But when it comes to allegations that relate to their own chairman, they seem to be awfully keen on making sure that the evidence of the case – in moving it to arbitration – be kept secret from the public.  If the case proceeded in the public court system, by contrast, then the actual truth – whether it’s good for Ailes and Fox or not – would come out.

So What Happens Now? It turns out, as the New York Times explained in some detail, that there’s a good chance that Ailes’ strategy won’t work.  Ms. Carlson has a number of good arguments against the enforcement of the arbitration clause, perhaps most notably that Mr. Ailes is not a party to the arbitration clause or named in it.

But if Ailes does succeed, then not only is Ms. Carlson less likely to win her case, but the American public and women in the workplace will be the losers. Because once again, a powerful man accused of mistreating women in the workplace will have been able to sweep all of the facts about the dispute under the big rug of forced arbitration. It’s easy to see why every significant civil rights organization or group that advocates for workers strongly opposes the use of forced arbitration in the work place, and they all keep urging the Congress to ban these clauses.

This piece was co-written with Kenda Tucker, Communications Intern at Public Justice.

This blog originally appeared on dailykos.com on July 14, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy. Follow him on Twitter: .

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Trumka: Passage of Strong Trade Amendment Marks Major Milestone

July 14th, 2016 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallAFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement in reaction to the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee’s passage of a trade amendment during its Orlando, Florida, meeting:

Today marks a major milestone for everyone who believes in the high standard that trade should raise wages and create good jobs in America.

The Democratic Party’s adoption of strong, pro-worker trade positions is historic but didn’t happen by itself. The voices of working people put the brakes on TPP and forced a real, vibrant debate about ending corporate trade. Secretary Hillary Clinton has made clear that she opposes the TPP before or after the election and believes in a whole new approach to trade that shares our values. Now, the Democratic Party has listened to working families and responded in a powerful, positive way.

We don’t, however, have any illusions that the fight is over. The Democratic Party has taken a strong position, but the threat of unfair agreements, including TPP, remains. We will continue to point out TPP’s fundamental flaws and mobilize to defeat it and any trade deals that don’t work for working people.

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on July 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.

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San Francisco Looks To Tax Tax-Dodging Tech Companies

July 13th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonAll of us suffer consequences when corporations cheat. Silicon Valley’s tech companies make a lot of money, but many of them dodge paying taxes. San Francisco is going to try to do something about it. Three supervisors are proposing that the city tax tech companies to help pay the costs these companies impose on the city.

Silicon Valley housing costs have skyrocketed thanks to the high salaries and stock options tech companies pay to attract skilled workers. In San Francisco and much of the area, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $3,500. The median home sells for over $1 million. This has pushed many long-term residents to the edge of or even into, homelessness.

San Francisco is a mecca for young, affluent tech workers. In some areas of San Francisco the streets are lines with sidewalk restaurants, brewpubs, great shops, all the things that make an urban environment a fun place to be. In other parts of the city the streets are literally lined with homeless people, many pushed out by the lack of housing that people making only double or triple the national median income can afford.

The Tax

Three supervisors have proposed a ballot proposal to approve a 1.5 percent payroll tax on “tech companies” with more than one million dollars in gross revenue. This would raise around $115 million annually for the city, which would go to homelessness programs and affordable housing projects. Also in the proposal as many as 75,000 small businesses would have their business registration fee cut in half.

Thomas Fuller Reports in The New York Times, in “San Francisco Considers Tax on Tech Companies to Pay for Boom’s Downside“:

Eric Mar, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, announced the proposal last week for a 1.5 percent payroll tax that would serve as a form of indemnification for what he described as the downside of the technology boom.

Tech companies have been “a tremendous benefit to the city in many ways,” Mr. Mar said. “But I don’t think they’ve been paying their fair share.”

The proposal for what has become known as the tech tax comes as officials struggle to fill growing gaps in the city budget. Money from the tech tax would go toward paying for programs for the homeless and the housing “affordability crisis,” Mr. Mar said.

Opponents say it is hard to define what a “tech company” is. But according to SFGate’s Emily Green:

The measure identifies tech companies by the type of tax code they use under the Internal Revenue Service’s North American Industry Classification System. Companies classify themselves. They may face penalties if a government audit finds they are misidentifying themselves.

Community Groups Back Tax

The community groups backing the tax include:

Causa Justa/Just Cause, “a multiracial, grassroots organization building community leadership to achieve justice for low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents. … [W]e are a force for justice and unity among Black and Brown communities. … We provide tenant rights advocacy and information to tenants through our Housing Committee/Tenants’ Rights Clinic. We build our membership through recruitment in the tenants’ rights clinics and through neighborhood door knocking and outreach. We fight grassroots campaigns to win immigrant rights and housing rights and work toward building a larger movement for social transformation.

San Francisco Rising, which organizes “in African-American, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander communities in San Francisco. … [T]he members of SFR seek to build a new, community-based political infrastructure and to make lasting change on a broad set of issues impacting their communities.”

Jobs with Justice, which “believes that all workers should have collective bargaining rights, employment security and a decent standard of living within an economy that works for everyone. We bring together labor, community, student, and faith voices at the national and local levels to win improvements in people’s lives and shape the public discourse on workers’ rights and the economy.”

The Coalition on Homelessness “brings together homeless folks, front-line service providers, and their allies to build a San Francisco that everyone can call home. We are working every day to expand access to housing in one of the richest cities in the country, protect the rights of the poorest people on our streets, and to address the root causes of homelessness and poverty.”

Tax-Dodging And Extortion

Many of the giant tech companies use various schemes to dodge paying their taxes. Apple, for example, pretends that an Irish subsidiary owns the “intellectual property” behind the company’s products, and this subsidiary charges high fees, so Apple’s profits are in Ireland. This enables Apple to dodge paying U.S. taxes. Apple also pretends that it is based in a mailbox in Nevada to avoid paying corporate taxes in California. Google, for example, notoriously makes billions of dollars of profits in low-population Bermuda.

On top of tax dodging, tech (and other) companies often extort local tax breaks. Twitter, for example, extorted millions in tax breaks from San Francisco by threatening to leave the city. SFGate explains Twitter’s tax break, in “Companies avoid $34M in city taxes thanks to ‘Twitter tax break’,”

Businesses in San Francisco’s Mid-Market district skirted nearly $34 million in city payroll taxes last year thanks to a controversial incentive program known as the “Twitter tax break” intended to keep tech firms from fleeing for Silicon Valley.

That sum, published in a report released Monday by the San Francisco Controller’s Office, increased by about $30 million from 2013 and is five times greater than the amount of taxes companies avoided in the two previous years combined.

The aforementioned New York Times report explained what Twitter did to get this: “Twitter received the tax breaks after threatening to leave the city, creating resentment among tech companies in other parts of the city that did not get such incentives.”

Opponents are also using extortion to fight the proposed “tech tax,” calling it a “job-killer.” They say the small payroll tax will cause companies to pack up and leave the city so the city has to give in (a.k.a extortion). But the reality is these companies are desperate to bring in tech-skilled employees. So tech companies offer many perks to attract tech-trained employees. Aside from very high pay, employees get free lunches, snacks and beverages. At many companies even dinner is free. They get child care. They get stock options and generous benefit packages. Some even offer backrubs and yoga classes.

One of the biggest perks a tech company can offer is being located in San Francisco itself, instead of having to use their private bus network to bring employees from San Francisco.

Private bus networks? What? The February 2015 post, “Tax Scams, Google Buses Mean Silicon Valley Is #StuckInTraffic” explained:

The traffic in Silicon Valley is absolutely terrible. We the People sit in traffic, with few alternatives. The Caltrain line that runs between San Jose and San Francisco is standing room only during the hours people are trying to get to work. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system doesn’t go where it needs to go, and its parking lots are full where there are stations further north. Light rail is limited. The bus system is a few buses on a few of the main roads.

… But companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and others have built their own private bus lines. These are mostly shiny, white luxury buses that bring employees to work and take them home. Locally, we call them all “Google Buses.” There have even been protests because these buses bring affluent tech employees up to San Francisco neighborhoods, causing rents to soar.

There’s a relationship between those “Google Buses” and the rest of us sitting still, stuck in traffic.

Why can’t we afford to maintain our 1970s-level public transportation system? (Never mind bringing it into the 21st century.) Where did the money go? You’ve heard about companies like Apple using schemes and scams like the “Double-Irish With a Dutch Sandwich” to dodge paying taxes. Remember when an Apple executive said to The New York Times that these tax scams are just fine, because giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

Commuters sit in traffic jams because tax-dodging corporations are not helping pay for transportation options. Meanwhile those companies use their tax-dodger money for beautiful, modern private transportation “Google bus” systems for themselves. They extort tax breaks. They externalize problems onto communities and offer little help – because giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

Warning Shot

This proposal needs six of the eleven members of the Board of Supervisors to get on the November ballot, which is unlikely. The measure singles out “tech” companies and not others, and only those based in San Francisco. Giant companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and others are not based in San Francisco, but they deliver their high-paid employees to San Francisco’s housing market in their private bus networks.

This modest, local tax is not likely to pass, but should serve as a warning shot to giant companies – whether defined as tech companies or not – that people and communities are more than fed up with their tax dodging and their ducking responsibility for their practices.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on July 11, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

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Three Huge Wins for Labor Show the Power of the Rank-and-File

July 12th, 2016 | Jane Slaughter

This post originally appeared at Labor Notes

Three big wins for workers in the last nine months arrived where you might least expect them: in the old, blue-collar economy. That’s the economy where unions are down to 6.7 percent, where wins are rare and workers are supposed to be on their way out.

Yet at Chrysler, Verizon, and a huge Teamster pension fund, thousands of union members mobilized to put a stick in management’s eye. Hundreds of thousands will see the benefit.

Victory #1: Last September 40,000 Chrysler workers turned down a two-tier contract by a vote of nearly 2 to 1. Despite earlier promises to bring a big chunk of Tier 2 workers up to Tier 1 wages, United Auto Workers bargainers had agreed to let the hated two-tier system continue indefinitely.

By that time Tier 2 represented 45 percent of the workforce, and UAW President Dennis Williams told local union officials, “Ending two-tier is bullshit.” But the vote forced union bargainers to return to the table and negotiate a path to standard wages for all Tier 2 members.

Victory #2: In May, retired Teamsters in 25 states saw the fruits of two years of organizing when the federal governmentrejected the Central States Pension Fund’s plan to slash benefits for current retirees by 50 to 60 percent. More than 400,000 Teamsters, retirees, and their families were granted a reprieve.

And Victory #3: On June 1, 39,000 Verizon workers ended a 45-day strike that forced the predatory company to back downfrom outsourcing call center jobs, forcing transfers to other states, and harassing and micromanaging technicians. The company raised wages and pensions and its execs were left scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong with their overreach.

What did go wrong with corporate plans to extract even more concessions? What enabled our side to kick some ass this year?

The three cases share one common characteristic: grassroots action by tens of thousands of rank-and-file members. Not clever PR campaigns, not pounding the bargaining table or lobbying, not photo ops, but getting in someone’s face, in numbers.

In each case, the wins were partial. The Chrysler contract includes ugly pitfalls, including more use of temps. The Teamster pension fund’s shortfalls are still there and need a federal bailout—a tall order. Verizon workers gave up a lot on health care costs.

Still, these workers can be proud of what they blocked and what they won—in two cases against the wishes of their national unions.

HOW’D THEY DO IT?

Let’s look at the factors that go into winning a labor fight:

  • the union’s leverage
  • its opponent’s ability and willingness to fight
  • management’s ability to meet the union’s demands
  • tactics and strategies
  • public support
  • unity within the union
  • degree of mobilization

These factors varied. At Chrysler and Verizon, the companies were making money and did not need concessions—a fact that certainly helped union bargainers. The Central States Pension Fund, on the other hand, is in serious financial trouble, owing to the 2008 economic crisis and the union’s decision to let giant UPS leave the fund.

What about union unity? In the UAW and the Teamsters, the rank and filers and retirees were defying their national unions. Teamster brass initially supported the pension cuts. They were dragged kicking and screaming to weigh in rhetorically on the workers’ side.

At Verizon, in contrast, the fight was organized by union leaders, including several Communications Workers (CWA) locals led by reformers. Clearly, the unions’ resources, from staff time to strike pay, made an enormous difference in rank and filers’ ability to wage a fight.

BIG MISMATCH

As to leverage: Teamster retirees had no leverage with their companies, since they had no labor to withhold. Their only sway over union officials was to make them look bad to active members who could still vote. (Top Teamster officers are elected by the rank and file.) They had to make their case to a single appointed government official, who had the power to push the cuts forward or turn them down.

Chrysler workers would have had leverage galore if leaders had been willing to strike—the company was pumping out vehicles and profits—but leaders were not willing. Workers had only the right to an informed vote, which had been established in previous rounds of negotiations by legions of other protesters.

Verizon workers had power against their immensely profitable employer and used it well. The company was not able to keep up the work with untrained scabs.

What the three fights had in common was a big mismatch between what workers had been promised—a secure pension, a decent wage, a lifelong career with survivable working conditions—and what they were now told was all they could get. Righteous indignation was a potent motivator—plus, for the Teamsters, fear of abject poverty.

At Verizon, where virtually all strikers had 15 years’ seniority and up, workers resented the company’s greed and its push to get rid of an experienced workforce. One Manhattan field tech said, “They’re saying, ‘You’re not worth what you were worth last contract.’”

POWER IN NUMBERS

Workers in all three fights turned out big numbers for whatever they did.

At Chrysler, that meant mobilizing quickly for a “no” vote. Fired-up rank and filers, many of them new to organizing, generated tactics, confidence, and excitement through Facebook discussion groups.

Members showed up at contract information meetings and badgered the officials sent to sell the deal. They made “No More Tiers” T-shirts and wore them into the plants. A few dozen workers who happen to work near the UAW’s International headquarters even held a vote-no rally there.

Workers studied the 456-page proposal and found concessions not mentioned in the union’s cheery “highlights” brochure. They publicized those to win big “no” votes among those destined for a new Tier 3.

Meanwhile, Teamster retirees formed local committees that met monthly and steadily grew. Alex Adams of Cleveland describes “a very depressing day” in Washington in 2013, listening to high-paid Pension Fund officials testify to Congress on the need for cuts.

When he and his four friends got home, he said, “we formed our committee, put the word out, went to the retiree clubs, and we had another meeting that was over 150 people—and it just started building from there.”

GREW AND GREW

“Committees to Protect Pensions” grew in 20 cities, along with 60 Facebook pages. Retirees found meeting space at diners, union halls, the local American Legion. They held letter-writing drives, visited congressional representatives—even picketed a newspaper to get a reporter’s attention.

Mass meetings of 300, 500, 800, 1,200 were held from Milwaukee to Kansas City. At some, the government’s “Special Master” got an earful about what the cuts would mean. Helping the work were Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the Pension Rights Center.

In April 2,000 from 20 states rallied in Washington. A Houston local sent a busload of retirees and their spouses 1,400 miles to attend. “There were people there with walkers, with canes, with oxygen bottles,” said North Carolina retiree Brad Colesworthy. “You have never seen such emotion, such brotherhood and togetherness.”

Verizon workers, too, turned out in big numbers: 500 and 800 greeted the CEO and CFO, respectively, when they appeared at conferences. The “Good Morning America” show hosted 250 strikers in their red T-shirts. Others were greeted as heroes at a Bernie Sanders rally.

STOP THE WORK

But the strikers also did the traditional thing a strike is supposed to do—stop work from getting done. Hurt profits.

Many strikes these days are “publicity strikes”—one day on the picket line. But the phone workers put up roving pickets: they harassed scabs and managers to make it hard or impossible for them to install and repair (which they were no good at in any case).

When Verizon boarded scabs at hotels that it used as dispatch centers, strikers organized wee-hours “wake-up calls” outside. To build solidarity and publicity, locals recruited other unions and community groups to adopt Verizon retail stores to picket.

Meanwhile CWA members, though not their fellow strikers in the Electrical Workers (IBEW), had a strike fund behind them, with benefits of $200-$300 a week and a promise to pay medical bills once the company cut off insurance.

As the strike wore on, analysts predicted hundreds of millions of dollars in lost profits. Verizon caved.

RIGHTEOUS ANGER

Most of the publicity unions get these days says existing members are dinosaurs, concessions are inevitable, and the labor movement is on its way out. Some say our best hope is to focus on those who barely have anything yet—fast-food workers and Uber drivers—though it’s not clear why they’d want to hop onto a sinking ship.

But these three battles show the raw material is still there for big fights led by labor’s traditional members. Too often, union leaders squander it. Or ignore it.

Still, the righteous indignation flares up when the bosses come after what took generations to win—the anger and the willingness to act on your own behalf.

Unions should use this power. That’s how you build the kind of movement that can inspire more workers to join.

Alexandra Bradbury and Dan DiMaggio contributed reporting to this article.

The Communications Workers of America are a sponsor of In These Times, and our editorial staff are represented by them. Fiscal sponsors play no role in editorial content.

This article originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on July 11, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jane Slaughter is the author of Concessions and How To Beat Them and co-author, with Mike Parker, of Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept and Working Smart: A Union Guide to Participation Programs and Reengineering. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Monthly Review, among others.

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As Temperatures Climb Across the Country, Workers Will Suffer

July 11th, 2016 | Elizabeth Grossman

elizabeth grossmanThe summer of 2016 is barely two weeks old, but this year is already on track to break high temperature records in the United States. On June 20, cities across the Southwest and into Nevada reached all-time triple-digit highs. Meanwhile, every single state experienced spring temperatures above average, with some in the Northwest reaching record highs. These temperatures have already proved deadly, killing five hikers in Arizona earlier this month. Triple-digit heat earlier that same week is also being blamed for the deaths of two construction workers, 49-year old Dale Heitman in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 15 and 55-year old Thomas F. “Tommy” Barnes on June 14 at the Monsanto campus in nearby Chesterfield, Missouri.

“I’ve been around since 1973 and we’ve never seen anything like this,” David Zimmermann, president and business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, told the St. Louis-Southern Illinois Labor Tribune. “With these new buildings, once they close them in, with the guys working in there, it’s like working in a big oven.”

While 100-degree heat in June may be unusual, serious illness and deaths caused by extreme heat at U.S. job sites is not. Last year, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received more than 200 reports of workers hospitalized because of heat-related illness and at least eight deaths associated with heat exposure. According to OSHA, since 2003, heat has killed—on average—more than 30 workers a year. In 2014, 2,630 U.S. workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died on the job from heat stroke and related causes.

Of these deaths, nine occurred in the workers’ first three days on the job, four of them on the worker’s first day—and at workplaces where employers had no way of allowing new workers to acclimatize to the heat. These numbers have been even worse in the past. In 2011, heat killed 61 U.S. workers and sickened 4,420. OSHA has already begun investigating several heat-related on-the-job fatalities this year, including the two in Missouri.

“Heat can kill. And it is especially tragic when someone dies of heat exposure because they’re simply doing their job. We see cases like this every year and every one of them is preventable,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, David Michaels on a June 27 call with reporters. “We also know that in this current heat wave workers are concerned about their safety. In fact we’ve received a record number of emails, comments and questions regarding heat and worker rights in recent weeks.”

Michaels spoke with reporters as part of OSHA’s launch of this year’s “water-rest-shade campaign,” the agency’s ongoing effort to prevent work-related heat illness.

As part of its campaign, OSHA is upping its efforts to educate employers and workers on the danger of heat. OSHA’s Atlanta region that covers eight southern states planned a one-hour safety “stand down” at construction sites and other workplaces. OSHA has also updated its “heat app” for smartphones and tablets. This uses National Weather Service data to calculate the heat index at worksites and advise when the risk level is high. The app, which is available in English and Spanish, also includes information about identifying and preventing heat illness. According to OSHA the app has already been downloaded more than 250,000 times.

No federal heat standards

California has a “heat illness prevention regulation” that applies to all outdoor workplaces. The state also requires employers in agriculture, construction, landscaping, transportation and oil and gas extraction to take special measures when temperatures hit 95ºF or higher. Washington state also has an “outdoor heat exposure rule” that includes specific temperatures that trigger protective action.

But there are no specific federal extreme heat standards—in other words, no set temperatures at which employers are required to pull workers off the job. But under federal law, and OSHA’s general workplace safety standards, employers are required to protect workers from excessive heat and heat illness at whatever temperature that might occur. And if workers are going to be exposed to high temperatures, their employer is supposed to have a heat illness prevention program. This includes providing workers with water, rest and shade. It should also allow workers to acclimatize to the heat, and train workers to monitor for and prevent extreme heat exposure and illness.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seven of the ten warmest years on record for the 48 contiguous U.S. states have occurred since 1998, with 2012 the warmest in the U.S.—and 2014, the hottest worldwide—thus far. So extreme heat and unseasonably high temperatures are far from new. But workers continue to succumb.

A search of OSHA’s workplace inspections and safety violations database shows 70 investigations related to heat stress since 2006. These include at least 20 fatalities. Of these 70 investigations, more than 20—including at least five fatalities—occurred in a construction-related industry. Nine involved delivery service workers, among them two U.S. Postal Service workers who died of heat exposure. Eight incidents involved landscaping workers, eight of whom died. Farm work has proved similarly dangerous for heat exposure, with all four incidents investigated involving fatalities. But workers also fell to heat doing work in the energy extraction industry, doing warehouse work, handling waste and recycling, and performing vehicle repair work. But the OSHA record of heat stress violations also includes restaurant and nursing home work.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, most of these incidents occurred in the hot and humid South and Southeast, including Texas and Louisiana. The accounts, where they are available, are heartbreaking for the utter ordinariness of the workdays they describe:

  • A worker in West Virginia who’d been dragging tree limbs to a chipper truck for three hours on a late August day was sent to sit in a truck when he said he didn’t feel well. After a little while he left the job site to walk home, a distance of four blocks. Two hours later, an emergency service worker found him unconscious by the side of the street, his body temperature at 107.4º. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead of heatstroke.
  • A man pulling weeds in a fruit tree nursery on a July day dies of hyperthermia.
  • Men found slumped over their construction work, pronounced dead of heat exhaustion.
  • A migrant farm worker who’d completed three months in a tomato packing warehouse who volunteered to stay on after the harvest ended to remove stakes and strings from 300 to 400 acres of tomato fields. After his fourth day cutting and removing strings he went to a shaded area to take a break. He was found there, some time later by coworkers, unconscious. After a local hospital recorded his 108º body temperature he was airlifted to a major hospital where he died the following day.
Ongoing low OSHA penalties

As Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) policy analyst Katie Tracy notes, under current rules, OSHA is limited in what it can fine employers for violations of any kind—including those that keep workers on the job in dangerous heat. “The median penalty for a fatality is a little over $5,000,” says Tracy. And under OSHA’s process for working with employers on fixing hazards, employers can—and regularly do—negotiate lower penalty fees than OSHA initially assessed. In fact, during the time that a company is contesting these penalties the company isn’t legally required to correct the violations for which the employers was cited. In a new report examining this practice, CPR found that the median penalty employers have paid for a fatality during the Obama Administration is $5,800. This amount, says CPR, is “less than the cost of an average funeral.”

A look at the fines companies paid in the past 10 years when workers died on the job from heat exposure reflects what CPR found. While some fines were much higher, when a number of construction workers suffered heat-related deaths, many of their employers paid fines of $7,000. When farm and landscaping workers died, those fines were often lower, in two cases: $2,000 and $2,500. OSHA is now poised to increase its penalties for the first time since 1990.

But when it comes to heat, “We want this message to get out as widely as possible,” said Michael. That includes publicizing what some employers are doing to keep workers safely cool on the job—with easy access to shade, cool drinks, wet cloths and opportunity for rest breaks. It also means making sure everyone is aware of the dangers of heat and knows what the symptoms are so they can stop before it’s too late.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on July 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones,Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

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Jobs Report: Change Still Needed

July 8th, 2016 | Robert Borosage

The June jobs report – a cheery 287,000 new jobs, with unemployment ticking up to 4.9 percent – is cause for both relief and concern.

The relief is that jobs creation picked up after the slowdown of April (revised upward to 144,000) and May (revised downward to 11,000). Even subtracting the 35,000 jobs “created” by striking Verizon workers returning to work, the June report suggests an economy that is continuing to grow and generate jobs.

The continuing concern is the pace of that growth. Jobs creation is slowing, down from a monthly average of 229,000 last year, to 196,000 in the first quarter, and now to 147,000 in the second quarter. Yet over 15 million people are still in need of full-time work. The percentage of Americans of working age who are employed or looking for work is at 62.7 percent, still below pre-Great Recession levels. Average hourly wages ticked up by 2 cents in June, and wage growth remains slow – 2.6 percent over the past year – far below the levels associated with previous recoveries.

This is the last jobs report before the political conventions formally kick off the presidential campaign (which already feels like a recurring and unending nightmare). For Clinton and Democrats, the report provides some relief that the economy isn’t slowing dramatically. For Donald Trump and the Republicans, it provides continued evidence that the economy isn’t soaring. Working families are likely to continue to wonder when they will begin to share in the recovery.

For Democrat Hillary Clinton, these conditions pose particular perils. President Obama will want Democrats to tout his success – record months of private sector jobs growth, over 14 million jobs created since 2010, seven years of economic growth, unemployment down by more than half since the Great Recession he inherited, the strongest economy in the industrial world.

But most Americans aren’t sharing in the rewards. Median family incomes haven’t recovered to pre-recession levels. The wealthiest 1 percent captured a staggering 52 percent of the rewards of growth from 2009 to 2015. And now a weaker Europe post-Brexit and a stronger dollar suggest that our trade deficits will worsen, putting more pressure on jobs and wages.

Americans are looking for change, not for more of the same. Trump will be spouting that message, with a mix of bluster and preposterous policy to support it (build the wall, slash trillions in taxes, renegotiate the debt, and so on). Clinton and Democrats need to make a clear case on how they will change this economy to work for the many – generating more good jobs, higher wages, and a better deal for working people. More of the same offers no way out.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on July 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Robert Borosage is a board member of both the Blue Green Alliance and Working America.  He earned a BA in political science from Michigan State University in 1966, a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1968, and a JD from Yale Law School in 1971. Borosage then practiced law until 1974, at which time he founded the Center for National Security Studies.

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

July 7th, 2016 | Moshe Marvit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Inequality’s Getting Worse. How Do We End This?

July 6th, 2016 | Richard Eskow

On July 1, at the start of the Independence Day weekend, we learned that income inequality in this country became even worse last year.

Economic inequality produces scars that last a lifetime – and even longer. That’s one reason why President Obama said in 2013 that “increasing inequality … challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.”

Well, that challenge just became even greater. Economist Emanuel Saez’s groundbreaking studies of inequality have helped reshape the political debate. In a July 1 publication, Saez found that the wealth gap between the top 1 percent and the remaining 99 percent became even worse in 2015. Earnings for the top 1 percent reached a “new high” that year. The 1 percent’s income increase of 7.7 percent was nearly twice everyone else’s.

Saez revisited several years of data and found that:

“(I)ncomes (adjusted for inflation) of the top 1 percent of families grew from $990,000 in 2009 to $1,360,000 in 2015, a growth of 37 percent … (while) the incomes of the bottom 99 percent of families grew only by 7.6 percent–from $45,300 in 2009 to $48,800 in 2015.”

Saez adds, “As a result, the top 1 percent of families captured 52 percent of total real income growth per family from 2009 to 2015.” He concludes:

“This uneven recovery is unfortunately on par with a long-term widening of inequality since 1980, when the top 1 percent of families began to capture a disproportionate share of economic growth.”

1980 was the year Ronald Reagan first took office, heralding a new era of economic conservatism in the United States. The message of these numbers couldn’t be clearer: it’s time for that era to end. Our 35-year experiment with conservative economics has failed.

Saez’ figures included a slight consolation prize for the 99 percent: Its average income rose by 3.9 percent last year, the biggest increase in 17 years. That’s an improvement, of course, but it’s not nearly enough. The 99 percent has endured decades of wage stagnation, and its income was essentially frozen in place between the 2008 financial crisis and 2013.

A society with such extreme and growing inequality can’t sustain itself forever. Inequality interferes with economic growth, robs people of opportunity (and with it, hope), dooms millions to poverty or near-impoverished conditions, and offends that part of the human spirit that constantly searches for fairness and equality. An overly unequal society like ours is inherently unstable, especially when its political system gives extremely wealthy individuals and corporations excessive control over the government – thereby perpetuating and amplifying their own wealth and power.

It will take years of work to repair the economic damage caused by these levels of inequality. And it’s important to remember that, while we measure many of our economic statistics on a quarterly or yearly basis, the human damage often lasts much longer than that.

Workers who suffer a period of unemployment or a drop in pay typically see their earnings decline for the rest of their working lives. This effect is particularly pronounced among recent college graduates, many of whom graduated into one of the worst job markets in history. Their income is likely to suffer through their entire careers as a result – while, at the same time, they have been saddled with the greatest student debt burden in human history.

Lower incomes are tied to higher infant mortality, shorter life spans, and poorer mental and physical health for parents and children alike.

Economic damage is often carried down the generations, through the children. Poverty can inflict lifelong damage on a child’s health and ability to earn. Economic mobility is very low in this country; parental income has an enormous influence on the earning power of children, and studies have consistently shown that Americans enjoy much less upward mobility that residents of Canada and most Western European nations.

What can we do to reduce inequality and heal some of its deep, long-lasting wounds? Here’s a partial list: We can increase funds for antipoverty programs that provide food, shelter, and other services directly to the poor. We can improve our educational system and provide tuition-free public college to all qualified students. We can address the systemic racial injustice that deprives communities of color of economic resources. We can raise the minimum wage, which has fallen far behind inflation (and even farther behind productivity) since 1968. ($15 an hour is a good number.)

We also need to strengthen the labor movement. A recent study by the International Monetary Fund found that a “decline in union density has been strongly associated with the rise of top income inequality” and that “unionization matters for income distribution.” We must provide health insurance for all, and ensure that all working Americans have access to the paid leave programs and other benefits found in other developed countries. We must expand initiatives for worker-owned businesses.

What’s more, we need to do these things quickly, before income inequality – and the loss of democracy that accompanies it – grows so great that it becomes irreversible.

The Fourth of July has come and gone. But the scars of inequality are still here, depriving millions of us of the freedom to choose, to grow, and even to live. Our work has just begun.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on July 6, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

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A Sad And Shameful Day For Puerto Rico

July 5th, 2016 | Isaiah J. Poole

Isaiah J. Poole“You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel infamously said when he was President Obama’s White House chief of staff. So it is with the legislation that President Obama signs into law Thursday that offers Puerto Rico a process for managing its crushing debt.

This bill is behing heralded as a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation to solve a serious crisis, in this case the default by Puerto Rico on more than $1 billion of general obligation bonds on July 1. The island’s government has already missed payment deadlines on other bonds.

But for Julio López Varona, a leader at Make the Road Connecticut and a member of Hedge Clippers, a coalition of grass roots organizations dedicated to exposing the damage to working people interests done by hedge funds, the legislation solidifies what he calls an “experiment in extreme capitalism” – one that is already having extreme consequences on the people who live on the island.

The legislation – which has the acronym PROMESA, Spanish for “promise” – imposes on the island’s approximately 3.5 million residents a financial control board that will determine how the government spends its money and how businesses on the island are regulated. That control board would have the power to slash government spending in order to ensure that Wall Street investors who purchased Puerto Rico bonds would be paid.

It also allows the federal minimum wage on the island to be lowered to $4.25 an hour for workers 24 and under. Plus, businesses in Puerto Rico would not have to comply with regulations that would increase the number of workers eligible for overtime pay that will go into effect December 1. That means workers earning as little as $24,000 a year could be asked to work 50, 60, 70 hours or more a week without earning an extra dime in pay.

The legislation sends an unmistakable message: If you are a financially struggling Puerto Rican – and that is most of the island’s residents – you will be expected to sacrifice more: fewer government services, lower wages and higher taxes. For the wealthy, it says, in so many words, “We got your back.”

López Varona has seen the toll that Puerto Rico’s financial troubles have had first hand. His family lives on the island, and he was just there a few weeks ago.

One of the first things López Varona noticed in San Juan, he said, is that “there’s not a lot of traffic.” Usually, San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, is a highly congested mix of island residents, government workers and tourists. But, he said, “there has been such a huge migration of people that you literally have space on the street to drive. That’s a little thing, but it shows how bad things are.”

But a lack of traffic is the least of the island’s problems. This past school year 100 schools have had to close, special needs teachers have gone without pay for months and hospitals have run out of electricity, López Varona said. The government has stopped funding pensions for government employees. The unemployment rate on the island is above 11 percent. “There is a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico,” he said.

But at the same time as middle class residents with the ability to move out of the island are doing so, CNN Money reported last year that millionaires are moving in – 250 people with a net worth of $1 million or more have moved into the island since 2012, according to CNN Money. “Puerto Rico is trying to lure wealth from the mainland U.S. with generous tax exemptions or cuts on corporate taxes, personal income, capital gains and other sources of profit,” the site says, adding that “some say the tax exemptions could make Puerto Rico the next Singapore – an extremely wealthy tax haven.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton supported this legislation, calling it “imperfect” but nonetheless joining a number of House and Senate Democrats who felt pressured by the July 1 default deadline to agree to many of the demands of conservative Republicans and Wall Street lobbyists.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, was among the Democrats who voted against the bill, calling it on the Senate floor “legislation smacking of the worst form of colonialism, in the sense that it takes away all of the important democratic rights of the American citizens of Puerto Rico.”

The legislation also fits into a long and foul pattern of conservative and Wall Street interests locking arms in disregard of the needs and interests of citizens of municipalities that got into financial trouble often because of the conditions created by the conservatives who now use those conditions to strip people of their self-determination. The residents of the District of Columbia experienced this in the 1990s; the residents of Flint, Michigan saw this more recently with disastrous results. Few people believe it is coincidence that this happens most often, and with the most ferocity, to communities of color.

Puerto Rico would be in different financial shape if there was real, holistic economic development on the island. Instead, there was a conservative game of top-end tax breaks to lure businesses – in the early 2000s, it was notably pharmaceutical companies – who stayed a few years for the tax breaks and then left when they found an even better tax deal elsewhere. Add an obsession with giving tax breaks to the wealthy with the addictive drug of tax-free Wall Street debt, mix in the mysterious change that stripped from Puerto Rico the ability to declare a Chapter 9 bankruptcy, and you get the shame we see today – working-class American citizens stripped of economic opportunity, democratic rights and basic dignity, and told they have to bear with the “imperfect” while the fat cats finish their feasting. At least for them, this crisis has not been a waste at all.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on June 30, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.

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

July 4th, 2016 | Sonia Huq

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

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

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

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

This year Union Summer is taking over the South.

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

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

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

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

Union Summer in Solidarity with Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Union Summer or like us on Facebook!

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 30, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

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