Posts Tagged ‘collective bargaining’
Friday, February 17th, 2017
DES MOINES, Iowa – Lawmakers in Iowa have voted to dismantle the state’s 40-year-old collective bargaining law, dramatically weakening the power of public sector labor unions and leaving some 185,000 public workers unable to bargain over benefits, healthcare, vacations, retirement, and nearly all workplace issues outside of wages.
Iowa is a right-to-work state, and the new law would prevent voluntary union dues from being deducted from a public employee’s paycheck. It would also require regular recertification votes. Police officers, firefighters and transit workers are exempt from most of the bill’s provisions.
Republican lawmakers introduced their union-busting bill on February 7 and fast-tracked it through the legislative process. Both the House and Senate, which are controlled by the GOP, approved the bill Thursday, passing the most sweeping and impactful changes to Iowa law in decades. Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign the bill soon.
During the 10-day stretch before lawmakers voted, Iowa saw its largest labor mobilization in years, with thousands of union members standing up, speaking out and taking action. The weekend before Valentine’s Day, workers and their families packed legislative forums and town hall meetings in districts across the state. Teachers and their allies rallied and marched at the state Capitol.
A union rally and public hearing Monday drew scores of demonstrators so dense that the Iowa Capitol was packed shoulder-to-shoulder on every floor. Firefighters wore their iconic helmets. Nurses showed up after their shifts in scrubs. Workers continued to pour into the Capitol for hours after the event started, with lines of people spilling out of the statehouse entrances. More than 4,600 people went through the Capitol security checkpoints, Radio Iowa reported. Thousands more Iowans flooded statehouse switchboards and lawmakers’ emails.
Minority Democrats in both chambers managed to briefly slow down the bill’s passage, extending debate over three days of marathon sessions and raising important questions about outside influence by corporate interests like the Koch Brothers, ALEC and Americans for Prosperity.
“We’re talking about people’s lives, their kids, and their homes,” said Candace Acord, an AFSCME member and community-based corrections officer from Iowa City. “I don’t understand what the problem is here when we just want health insurance for our families.”
“My main concern is insurance may now become so unattainable due to the cost that I may not be able to afford healthcare for me and my family,” said Lynette Halsted, an SEIU member and emergency room nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “Staffing ratios are no longer permissible subjects of bargaining, but evidence-based practice shows that the more patients a nurse has the worse the outcome can be for patients.”
The nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project weighed in with a report on the impacts of the new law, stating it will:
“exacerbate existing trends—low and stagnating wages, growing uncertainty about access to affordable health care, and increasing income inequality—that are already accelerating downward mobility for many Iowa households. And these effects are likely to disproportionately harm rural communities, low-income workers, and to threaten the quality of the health care, public safety, and public education systems upon which all Iowans depend.”
Thousands of people also submitted written comments opposing the union-busting bill.
Carrie Dodd, a junior high English teacher from rural Madrid, wrote: “My husband and I both work in school districts and we will be financially devastated if we lose our insurance, receive lower pay, and have to work more for less.”
T.J. Foley, a senior at Valley High School in Des Moines, wrote: “Union power is key to effective teachers, and effective teachers mean Iowa’s students are successful and our future as a state is secure.”
The recent demonstrations highlighted the power, however diminished, that labor still has to educate, organize, and mobilize workers and their families, and the critical role unions play in bringing every day, regular people into social justice movements.
But the future of organized labor is now more uncertain than ever, and the path forward is unclear. Many workers at the demonstrations said they believe the next step is to re-elect Democrats into the majority in 2018. That task will be even more difficult now that Iowa’s public sector unions have been severely weakened, arguably the real purpose of the new law.
There is also no guarantee a Democratic majority would restore collective bargaining rights. Democrats controlled the Iowa Senate in 2013, and collaborated with a Republican governor and House Republicans to pass the largest corporate property tax cuts in state history, cuts which caused a budget shortfall that Republicans are now using to justify their attacks on labor. Unions were unable to expand their collective bargaining rights even when Democrats held a trifecta of political power in 2008.
But workers aren’t giving up.
“We will resist and persist in the face of these neoliberal attacks,” said Naoki Izvmo, a teaching assistant and UE-COGS member at the University of Iowa. “Workers are the true source of power in society, not the law.”
This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 16, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
David Goodner is a writer, organizer and Catholic Worker from Iowa City. Follow him on twitter .
Friday, January 27th, 2017
There are millions of working people who want and need a union but who are being prevented from forming one by their employer. And instead of penalizing bad actors, our outdated labor laws have made union avoidance nothing more than the cost of doing business. This must change.
“The truth is, collective action in America is stronger than ever,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “We’ve seen the source of our power in defeating the TPP, even when most people told us we couldn’t. We’ve seen it in successfully raising wages at the state and local levels against great political odds.”
We see this desire for collective action every day from coast to coast, in industries far and wide. Below, we have detailed just a sampling of amazing organizing wins and what happens when people come together to make changes on the job:
Working people at Verizon who went on strike last year made huge gains, including getting a raise and adding 1,300 new call center jobs on the East Coast.
In August, members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA at United Airlines voted to ratify a new contract, which provides immediate economic gains, sets a new industry standard and ensures flight attendants can achieve the benefits of a fully integrated airline. The five-year agreement includes double-digit pay increases, enhances job security provisions, maintains and improves health care, protects retirement and increases flexibility.
Also in the month of August, working people at eight Zara locations in New York chose to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW. Zara is owned by Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer, and the company did not oppose the union drive. More than 1,000 employees now will be represented by RWDSU/UFCW Local 1102. RWDSU/UFCW represents workers at such retail stores as Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, and supermarkets, drugstores and car washes.
Hotel workers in Las Vegas took on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and won a fair contract with their union Culinary Workers Union Local 226 after a high-profile fight in 2016. Watch the video to hear Celia Vargas’ story about what it was like to work at the Trump hotel without a contract.
Also in Las Vegas, working people at the Boulder Station Hotel & Casino voted “union yes!” “It is very simple: We voted for the union because we want to have a union at Boulder Station,” said Rodrigo Solano, a cook at the casino, which opened in 1994. “After all these years of fighting to make our jobs better, it is time for management to listen to us: We want to have fair wages and good health benefits like tens of thousands of other casino workers in Las Vegas.”
In Cleveland, teachers won a historic union charter school organizing victory when educators and support staff at the University of Cleveland Preparatory School joined the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the AFT to address high turnover and improve education for their students.
Working people who are members of AFSCME saw a net gain of 12,000 new members added to their ranks. AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement:
“AFSCME has made a commitment to getting back to organizing basics, building power at the grassroots level and hearing the unique concerns of every public service worker in one-on-one conversations…. So even in the face of an anti-labor onslaught, despite efforts to manipulate laws against working people, it’s clear that organizing works.”
In Baltimore, more than 1,400 working people at BG&E gained a union voice with IBEW. And in Memphis, Tennessee, a “right to work” state, hundreds of working people at Electrolux voted to join IBEW.
By a nearly 3-to-1 margin, Columbia graduate student employees voted yes for their union—the UAW—in an NLRB election. Many of the 3,500 student workers who will be represented say they chose the union to bargain on their behalf for better health care, benefits for dependents, payment procedures, housing opportunities and grievance procedures. Students who work as teaching and research assistants won the right to join a union after an August ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. Columbia University is challenging the election results, and critics have called the appeal baseless.
In California, after four years of instability and threats of hospital closures or major cuts in patient services, registered nurses voted to approve a new contract covering nearly 1,500 RNs at four former Daughters of Charity hospitals in Los Angeles and the Bay area.
And in the growing digital media field, more than 90% of 70 digital journalists at Fusion Media Group voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East. WGAE also represents several hundred digital journalists at Salon Media, The Huffington Post and ThinkProgress.
Trumka said in a statement today:
“Even though collective action remains strong, we recognize that the labor movement has challenges. The biggest challenges have been put in place by corporations and their hired politicians who have been at the throats of workers for years. The ugly truth is, because of these attacks, we live in a country where working people are constantly denied our right – our constitutional right – to join a union in the first place. With the way the deck is currently stacked, it’s a miracle that brave workers continue to find new ways to organize and that today’s numbers aren’t even worse. But we also recognize our own challenges. We must be a better movement for a changing workforce. We must adapt our structures to fit the needs of today’s workers. We must not be afraid to challenge ourselves to better serve working families. And we know we will succeed because we are committed to doing just that, inspired by the spirit we see in working people every day from coast to coast, in industries far and wide.”
This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on January 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at AFL-CIO.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2017
The Supreme Court gave unions an unexpected victory last year when it issued a decision in a case that had threatened to take away the right of public sector unions to collect dues from workers they represent. That win may be short-lived.
Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was meant to be the capstone in decades of cases that sought to have the courts determine that fair-share fees for public sector workers are unconstitutional. Fair-share fees, or agency fees, require workers represented by a union to pay the portion of fees that covers collective bargaining. They seek to balance the worker’s right to dissent from the union by relinquishing membership and not paying for activities that aren’t related to collective bargaining, with the union’s right to avoid free riders and not be forced to represent a worker who contributes nothing.
The Supreme Court, largely through decisions written by Justice Samuel Alito, had indicated that its 1977 case that allowed for fair-share fees in the public sector was ripe for a rare overturning by the Court. It all but invited a challenge. Several cases were in the pipeline, but Friedrichs took the unusual approach of conceding before each lower court that it should be dismissed so that it could move quickly to the Supreme Court. Friedrichs faced a hostile oral argument before a conservative majority; unions braced for the worst. Then, as the Court was drafting its opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia died, and with him, so did Friedrichs. The Supreme Court issued a tied 4-4 decision affirming the lower court in March.
However, there is another case in the pipeline that was stayed pending the outcome of Friedrichs. That case, which began as Rauner v. AFSCME, was originally brought by the ultra-wealthy Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who—shortly after taking office—issued an executive order placing all fair-share fees in an escrow account, rather than turning them over to unions. But Rauner screwed up a basic part of the case because he didn’t have standing to bring the case.
A federal judge wrote that Rauner “has no personal interest at stake. He is not subject to the fair share fees requirement. Instead, he essentially claims to have a duty to protect the First Amendment rights of all public employees in the state … In effect, he seeks to represent the non-member employees subject to the fair share provisions of the collective bargaining agreements. He has no standing to do so. They must do it on their own.”
To fix the problem, employees filed as intervenors (“undoubtedly with the Governor’s blessing,” as the judge noted), with the backing of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center.
Janus v. AFSCME, named after one of the workers, is pursuing the same strategy as Friedrichs in trying to get to the Supreme Court quickly. The Janus plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint in July, stating that the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, which permitted fair-share fees, remains good law, and all but invited the District Court in the Northern District of Illinois to dismiss their complaint. The District Court did so, and in their appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the plaintiffs similarly state that their case must be dismissed. The goal, of course, is to get the case in front of the Supreme Court just as a Donald Trump appointee to the Court is seated.
Seattle University School of Law professor Charlotte Garden explains that this strategy also “allows the case to go up without a factual record. This means that there is no record that the unions can point the justices to in order to show the importance of agency fees.”
In Friedrichs, Justices Ruth Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer tried to give the union’s attorney the opportunity to state what he would have put in the record if he had had the opportunity to do so. But, as Garden explains, “being asked to make a proffer before the Supreme Court is tricky without the ability to engage in discovery.”
The Janus case is almost identical to the Friedrichs case in that both are premised on the idea that there is no line in the public sector between political and non-political activity. Conservatives justices have firmly embraced this rational, as was evident during the Friedrichs oral argument when Chief Justice John Roberts challenged California’s attorney to give his “best example of something that is negotiated over in a collective bargaining agreement with a public employer that does not present a public policy question.” The attorney responded that mileage reimbursement rates were such an example. Roberts shot back, “That’s money. That’s how much money is going to have to be paid to the teachers. If you give more mileage expenses, that costs more money.”
If everything that a public sector union does is political, then it is a much shorter line to find that a worker should not have to pay any part of the costs of collective bargaining. This would be a very worrisome conclusion for unions, which must do what they can now to stop such an outcome from happening.
As Democrats and the labor movement prepare for a possible fight over Trump’s imminent appointment to the Supreme Court, they should recognize that several major labor cases, brought by some of labor’s most persistent enemies, are waiting in the wings. Senators should question nominees about their view of Abood and other Supreme Court precedents that protect public employees’ labor rights. And if labor has any sway within the Democratic Party, it should make it clear that these issues should be disqualifying for any new appointment to the Court.
This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on January 4, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Moshe Z. 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.
Wednesday, November 9th, 2016
On Monday, transit workers in TWU Local 234 reached a tentative agreement with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and ended a weeklong transit strike in Philadelphia. Nearly 5,000 employees are returning to work, and the deal now goes to the local’s membership for a vote, which is set for Nov. 18.
Willie Brown, president of Transport Workers (TWU) Local 234, lauded the agreement:
“This is a contract with many important gains, especially on pension benefits and a host of non-economic issues effecting the working conditions and job security of our members. As everyone with experience in collective bargaining knows, we didn’t get everything we wanted—but we came a long way from where we were prior to the strike. We made gains in pensions and wages and minimized out-of-pocket health care expenses at a time when health care costs are soaring, while maintaining excellent medical coverage for our members and their families.
“We worked day and night at the bargaining table in an attempt to finalize a new contract over the past week. We settled just hours before facing the possibility of a back-to-work court-ordered injunction. We ultimately prevailed because our members were determined and united from beginning to end. We also benefited from the assistance of city leaders such as Congressman Bob Brady and Democratic congressional candidate Dwight Evans, who worked to help us settle this dispute with a SEPTA Board controlled by Republicans.
“Our members will keep Philadelphia moving, and we will continue to fight for our members’ economic well-being and their rights on the job.”
Said TWU President Harry Lombardo:
“TWU’s members in Philadelphia are some of the hardest working people on the job. We’re pleased they’ll have a contract that recognizes that.”
Details of the agreement will be made public after the vote.
This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on November 7, 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.
Monday, October 3rd, 2016
“Gig economy” corporations depend on a low-wage economy in which lots of people are looking for ways to get by. Their business model requires disposable people willing to take low-wage jobs with long hours and no benefits so they can pay the rent, doing things for people who need to save as much as they can, so they can pay the rent.
For example, if you’re driving for “ride share” companies like Uber or Lyft, those companies are making serious money. Meanwhile you’re probably working a lot of hours just to make rent. You drive for them, you obviously are an employee, but they say are a “contractor.” Contractors are basically employees who don’t get benefits, have to pay much more into Social Security, have to withhold their own taxes and pay them quarterly, can’t claim unemployment, don’t get Workers Compensation if injured on the job and many other disadvantages. There isn’t even a limit on the hours they work and they can’t get overtime.
The drivers (and other “contractors” around the country) say they are employees and deserve the rights and benefits of employees. Uber and other big corporations that exploit their workers as a business model claim their employees are “contractors” with no rights. Various courts, agencies, departments, etc are working to determine if they will be classified as employees or contractors.
Uber and Lyft Drivers Fighting To Unionize
Uber and Lyft drivers are fighting to do something about this and the best way to do something when you are being exploited on the job is to join a union so you are not fighting alone. In New York, for example, 14,000 Uber and Lyft drivers have signed up to say they want to join the local Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) branch.
ATU’s website says,
“Founded in 1892, the ATU today is comprised of over 190,000 members, including: metropolitan, interstate, and school bus drivers; paratransit, light rail, subway, streetcar, and ferry boat operators; mechanics and other maintenance workers; clerks, baggage handlers, municipal employees, and others.”
Buzzfeed has the Uber/Lyft/ATU story, in Nearly 14,000 Uber And Lyft Drivers Sign Union Cards In New York
Nearly 14,000 Uber and Lyft drivers in New York have signed up to join the local branch of the Amalgamated Transit Union, according to a union spokesperson. The group plans to rally at the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) headquarters next week to demand a formal vote on unionizing.
The 14,000 sign-ups exceed the 30 percent threshold that federal regulators say must trigger an official vote, the union says. The cards signed by drivers indicate that they seek ATU membership and authorize the union to act as their collective bargaining agent.
The ATU’s Local 1181 is asking the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TCL) to force Uber and Lyft to allow a union vote. Crain’s New York Business explains why, in Union seeks to organize rideshare drivers in NYC,
In a letter to the commissioner that was delivered on Tuesday, Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello asked the TLC to “schedule and conduct a free and fair election for the drivers of these corporations to determine whether they choose to be represented” by the union.
“We make this demand in conformance with the stated mission of the TLC,” he wrote, citing its status as “the agency responsible for licensing and regulating” the city’s taxis and car services.
In an interview, Cordiello added that Tuesday’s rally was only the first step in the union’s strategy.
“There are a lot of other ways we can accomplish this, such as legislation,” he said in a reference to the ordinance passed in December in Seattle that entitled Uber and Lyft drivers to union representation. “We are unfolding what we believe will be a new direction for labor and for the technology work force.”
Drivers and the ATU Local held a rally Tuesday at the TLC office in Long Island City. Vice News covered that, in NYC Uber and Lyft drivers are protesting for union rights,
Drivers for the ride-hailing service Uber turned out in the streets of Queens on Tuesday morning, demanding their right to unionize outside the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in Long Island City.
“We demand living wage fares, no pool fares, protection from exploitation, union representation,” read one big green sign held up by one Uber driver, a middle-aged black man with a tan jacket and blue pork pie hat.
The ride-share workers — categorized as “independent contractors” rather than employees by tech companies like Uber and Lyft — had joined up with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, which represents city bus drivers. Copies of over 14,000 signed union cards sat in a fat bundle on the table in the center of the demonstration, 10,000 cards thicker since May.
The rally had the flavor of a protest,
It was an old-fashioned rally. The ride-share workers, joined by bus drivers, marched in front of the Taxi Commission barking out chants from a bullhorn. Cop cars flanked either side of the street as people who worked inside the Commission building slowed down to check out the protest.
A few passing Uber and Lyft drivers liked what they heard and waded into the demonstration to sign union cards.
“I support this,” said Jaydip Ray, 36, a skinny guy with a blue hoodie, moments after walking away from joining up, as another young man took his place. “We need benefits. Without benefits, we don’t have any future.”
The “gig economy” means that big corporations make billionaires, while their workers are called “contractors” who have no rights and don’t make squat. It’s one more way the system has been rigged.
This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on September 30, 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.
Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
Workers employed by candy manufacturer, Just Born Quality Confections, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, are on strike over the company’s pension plan proposal. The strike, workers allege, hits the company—which makes Peeps, as well as Mike and Ike and Hot Tamales candies—just as next year’s Easter orders are meant to be made.
“This is my livelihood,” says Alex Fattore, a mechanic who has been at Just Born since 1980. “We make Easter happen. I want to go back in there and make Easter happen.”
Roughly 400 workers walked off the job September 7, drawing a hard line against the company’s attempt to switch new hires to a 401(k), instead of the multiemployer pension plan that workers are presently a part of. They are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Union Local 6.
The company claims that it’s concerned about the pension plan’s long-term viability. The plan reported assets of $5 billion and liabilities of $8 billion, and projected insolvency within 14 years, according to the company. The union, however, counters that the company is not allowed to put pension details on the negotiating table, per pension fund rules. The company is pushing its plan as a part of collective bargaining negotiations for an agreement that expired in June.
“The company is growing,” says chief shop steward Keith Turner, a machinist with 21 years of Just Born experience, alluding to its claims of double-digit growth. “It’s kind of ironic that they would turn around now and tell us that they can’t afford anything.”
Workers additionally claim that if the move to a 401(k) plan for new hires were to go into effect, it would only further weaken the multiemployer pension fund, forcing the fund’s trustees to reduce retiree benefits.
Just Born did not respond to a request to comment, but it released a statement that read, in part: “Our proposal—to have existing associates remain in the current pension plan and to have future hires participate in a 401(k) plan—provides a respectful path that honors our current associates’ existing benefits, and provides a sustainable retirement benefit for our future hires.”
“It’s the equivalent of—let’s say you signed a 30-year mortgage, and after 20 years you decide, you know I don’t want to pay this part of it anymore so I’m just not going to—and you just can’t do that,” Turner tells In These Times.
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has called for a boycott of Just Born products.
While this is the first strike at a Just Born facility in decades, this is not the first time the company has attempted to impose a change in pension plans, according to union officials. Last year, the company implemented a final contract including the same 401(k) plan proposed at the Bethlehem plant, after declaring an impasse in its contract negotiations with the roughly 35 workers at its Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews factory in Philadelphia. BCTGM challenged the change with the National Labor Relations Board but was denied, leading the union to take the matter to federal court in a case that is still pending, a year and a half later.
“We’ll say, a few years from now, if we didn’t stand up and stand our ground—that we had the opportunity to stand our ground with this company and say we aren’t going to take this,” Fattore tells In These Times. “We’re going to stand our ground and we’re going to fight (for) what’s right.”
Since workers voted to strike, they have tried to keep up morale. An unfair labor practice charge was filed by Local 6 after allegedly discovering that an individual affiliated with Just Born contacted striking workers, posing as a union official, telling them to return to work. The complaint, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, is pending.
Another, more public, company action that is causing substantial worry among striking Just Born workers is the hiring of replacement workers at the facility, with about 175 reportedly attending a job fair and another 600 applying for jobs online. As of press time, both sides have agreed to come back to the bargaining table alongside a federal mediator this week.
“We pretty well know from people inside, and from what we can see on the outside, that they haven’t made a Peep yet,” says Turner. “The longer that this goes on, the more squeezed that they are for their Peep production. We’re hoping that a little bit of hunger from us, and a little bit of hunger from them, makes something happen.”
This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on September 27, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Mario Vasquez is a writer from southern California. He is a regular contributor to Working In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @mario_vsqz or email him email@example.com.
Monday, September 12th, 2016
December 5 fell on a Friday in 2014; in New York City, the air was crisp. At Columbia University, about 200 graduate student-workers pulled on hats and scarves to gather on the imposing steps of Low Library, which houses the university president’s office. While most stood in a block formation, holding signs declaring their department names, a small delegation went inside to deliver a letter to the president. It asked that he voluntarily recognize their union, the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2110), which a majority of graduate employees supported.
When the administration declined to reply, GWC and the United Auto Workers (UAW), with which it is affiliated, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to certify their union. A complicated legal process ensued.
For more than a decade, the NLRB considered graduate employees to be students, not workers. As such, they did not have the same legal rights of most employees, including the right to organize. All that changed two weeks ago when the NLRB decision on the Columbia case finally came back, siding with the student-workers and their right to collective bargaining.
“Obviously, it’s a huge push for us and it’s caused a lot of excitement and enthusiasm,” says Ian Bradley-Perrin, a PhD student in sociomedical sciences and history, who has worked as both a teaching and research assistant.
After months of approaching people with hypotheticals, he says that he and his fellow organizers can now speak in concrete terms: “We’re going to have an election. We are now recognized as workers. So it’s just been talking to people about what a union actually means, how the union is organized democratically, how people’s interests will be represented in the union.”
Graduate teaching and research assistants at a handful of private universities have been working towards unionization for years. Their administrations have largely been able to ignore their actions, citing the NLRB’s designation of them as students. Now, however, their efforts can finally move forward. They have the legal right to hold union elections and then negotiate contracts, providing them a collective voice in the terms of their employment. Already, the NLRB’s ruling is invigorating existing campaigns and inspiring new ones.
Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. (Rebecca Nathanson)
Path to recognition
Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. In 2001, graduate employees at New York University (NYU) became the country’s first to form a union and negotiate a contract at a private university, providing teaching assistants with wage increases and improved working conditions.
Three years later, graduate employees at Brown University attempted to do the same, but the NLRB, which had then shifted to a Republican majority, ruled that graduate employees were primarily students, not workers. In 2005, the NYU union’s contract expired and, using the 2004 Brown decision as precedent, the administration refused to negotiate a new one.
NYU’s administration kept firm to that stance until fall 2013, when it offered to voluntarily recognize the union. More than 98 percent of graduate employees voted in favor of the union, making it, once again, the only graduate employee union at a private university.
Organizers across the country were anxious to follow in their footsteps. Last month’s NLRB ruling gives them a shot in the arm.
At Harvard University, graduate student organizer Abigail Weil is particularly excited by the expansive way in which the NLRB defined a graduate employee in its ruling: “It’s broader and more inclusive than even we had hoped for. That’s just that many more people that we can talk to and fold into the bargaining unit as we create it.”
In its decision, the NLRB writes, “It is appropriate to extend statutory coverage to students working for universities covered by the (National Labor Relations) Act unless there are strong reasons not to do so.” It continues, “We will apply that standard to student assistants, including assistants engaged in research funded by external grants.” Not only does this include research assistants in addition to teaching assistants, but, Weil posits, it could also be interpreted as including working Masters students—and possibly even working undergraduates.
According to Weil, the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU-UAW) plans to file a petition for an election. She can already see a change in campus support.
“We’re thrilled at how many people were following the NLRB story,” she says. “Since that decision has come out, probably two-thirds of the people that we talk to now bring (it) up without us having to bring that up or explain it.”
Organizers at The New School, in New York City, are experiencing a similar phenomenon.
Like at Columbia, graduate employees at The New School asked their administration to voluntarily recognize their union. When that didn’t work, they too petitioned the NLRB for certification, only to hit the wall created a decade earlier by the Brown decision.
“We had our first meeting of the year on Monday and we had probably three times as many people show up,” says Eli Nadeau, a Masters student in the politics department at The New School. “We’re planning for an election because Columbia’s ruling covers us.”
Graduate workers at Cornell University took a slightly different approach to winning collective bargaining rights. While biding their time until the NLRB ruled on the Columbia case, they negotiated and signed a code of conduct with their administration in May. The document outlines the mechanisms by which a union election would take place and the behavior expected of both sides.
“Our next steps are really just working on the union. We are building outreach and finding out what our members’ concerns are,” explains Ben Norton, a PhD student in the music department and the communications and outreach chair of Cornell Graduate Students United, the university’s graduate employee union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
“We wasted no time”
Campaigns on numerous campuses have been galvanized by the Columbia decision, but graduate employees at Yale University took perhaps the swiftest action in its wake. Less than a week after the ruling, they filed a petition to hold an election to certify their union with the NLRB.
“We wasted no time. It was really exciting for the path to victory to open up and for us to really take advantage of it,” says Aaron Greenberg, a PhD student in the political science department and chair of Local 33-UNITE HERE, which represents Yale’s graduate teaching and research assistants.
In filing their petition, UNITE HERE and organizers at Yale are creating yet another variation on a graduate employee union. Rather than file as an entire unit of employees across the university, they did so department-by-department, starting with 10 departments.
“We really want a process that reflects how our work is organized. How much you get paid, what kind of work you do, what kind of hours you do really depend on the department,” explains Greenberg. Plus, he adds, “We’re hoping that by filing each department separately and starting with departments where the desire to unionize is overwhelmingly clear, we can avoid wasteful legal gamesmanship, unnecessary delays, and that the university will respect the democratic will of the members of these departments, who have made clear, time and time again, that they want a union.”
One of the next steps for graduate employees at many of the private universities hoping to take advantage of the recent NLRB decision will be working out the exact parameters of the bargaining unit: who it covers and who it excludes is not yet completely clear. But in the meantime, they will, for the first time in more than a decade, be able to move closer towards unionization without legal barriers—barriers which, organizers believe, were knocked down by the force of the organizing that took place in those intervening years.
“Labor law follows organizing, not the other way around,” says Weil. “We have been organizing to the full extent of our abilities, not the full extent of our legal rights. We’re happy to have those rights restored.”
This article was originally posted at InTheseTimes.com on September 9, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Rebecca Nathanson is a freelance writer in New York City. She has written for Al Jazeera America, n+1, The Nation, NewYorker.com,The Progressive, RollingStone.com, and more.
Friday, August 22nd, 2014
While it certainly seems that far-right extremists are waging an all-out war on working families and their rights, workers aren’t just defending themselves; they are fighting to expand their rights and achieving some significant gains. Here are 12 recent victories we should celebrate while continuing to push for even more wins.
1. AFSCME Sets Organizing Goal, Almost Doubles It: AFSCME President Lee Saunders announced that the union has organized more than 90,000 workers this year, nearly doubling its 2014 goal of 50,000.
2. Tennessee Auto Workers to Create New Local Union at VW Plant: Auto workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that will give workers an increased voice in the operation of the German carmaker’s U.S. facility. UAW organizers continue to gain momentum, as the union has the support of nearly half of the plant’s 1,500 workers, which would make the union the facility’s exclusive collective bargaining agent.
3. California Casino Workers Organize: Workers at the new Graton Resort & Casino voted to join UNITE HERE Local 2850 of Oakland, providing job security for 600 gambling, maintenance, and food and beverage workers.
4. Virgin America Flight Attendants Vote to Join TWU: Flight attendants at Virgin America voted to join the Transport Workers, citing the success of TWU in bargaining fair contracts for Southwest Airlines flight attendants.
5. Maryland Cab Drivers Join National Taxi Workers Alliance: Cab drivers in Montgomery County, Md., announced their affiliation with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, citing low wages and unethical behavior by employers among their reasons to affiliate with the national union.
6. Retail and Restaurant Workers Win Big, Organize Small: Small groups of workers made big strides as over a dozen employees at a Subway restaurant in Bloomsbury, N.J., voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, cosmetics and fragrance workers at a Macy’s store in Massachusetts won an NLRB ruling that will allow them to vote on forming a union.
7. Minnesota Home Care Workers Take Key Step to Organize: Home health care workers in Minnesota presented a petition to state officials that would allow a vote on forming a union for more than 26,000 eligible workers.
8. New York Television Writers-Producers Join Writers Guild: Writers and producers from Original Media, a New York City-based production company, voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, citing low wages, long work schedules and no health care.
9. Fast-Food Workers Win in New NLRB Ruling: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with its franchisees for labor violations and wage disputes. The NLRB ruling makes it easier for workers to organize individual McDonald’s locations, and could result in better pay and conditions for workers.
10. Workers Increasingly Have Access to Paid Sick Leave: Cities such as San Diego and Eugene, Ore., have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, providing workers with needed flexibility and making workplaces safer for all.
11. Student-Athletes See Success, Improved Conditions: College athletic programs are strengthening financial security measures for student-athletes in the wake of organizing efforts by Northwestern University football players. In addition, the future is bright as the majority of incoming college football players support forming a union.
12. San Diego Approves Minimum Wage Hike; Portland, Maine, Starts Process: Even as Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage, municipalities across the country have taken action. San Diego will raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, and the Portland, Maine, Minimum Wage Advisory Committee will consider an increase that would take effect in 2015.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO America’s Unions on August 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell. He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. 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. His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.
Tuesday, April 8th, 2014
Not content to only go after collective bargaining rights, pensions andvoting rights, the extremists in Ohio are targeting a new group of their state’s residents, attempting to pre-empt any attempt by college athletes to organize and express their rights. After the National Labor Relations Board ruled that players at Northwestern University were employees of the school, and could thus form a union, Ohio’s right-wingers took action to tryto stop athletes at Ohio colleges and universities from following suit, proposing a bill that would specify that college athletes aren’t employees in Ohio.
There haven’t been any reported discussions of athletes in Ohio attempting to follow in the Northwestern players’ footsteps and the bill has a way to go before it could become law, but maybe the audacity of these people will inspire college athletes at schools like Ohio State to stand up for their rights before the legislature and Gov. John Kasich (R) can take them away.
In a press release, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said:
Once again, Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives are spending time trying to engineer punitive proposals instead of working to move Ohio forward, create jobs and improve our struggling economy. This time they are attempting to pre-empt athletes at public colleges and universities from being declared employees. Is this really what Ohioans are worried about? This a labor law matter, which may or may not become an issue, and should it become one there will be plenty of public debate. If Republicans in the House feel compelled to address this matter, they should try to engage in a productive way by dealing with the real concerns of fairness and safety where the players and university leaders have expressed common themes for change. A good place to start a public discussion would be to allow athletes who get injured in their sport to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under the law.
Mike Gillis, a spokesperson for the state federation, added:
There’s millions being made off the work and also blood, sweat and tears that these athletes endure. They should be offered every protection that employees enjoy, if not more, especially because they are not paid.
Meanwhile, the Colorlines points out Shabazz Napier, a senior on the University of Connecticut men’s basketball national championship team, often goes to bed “hungry.” Read more from the Colorlines.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 8, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.
Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
With a new website—TMobileWorkersUnited.org—workers at T-Mobile US are connecting with each other to build strength in their drive for workplace justice and respect.
Working with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), T-Mobile Workers United (TU) is an alliance of hundreds of call center representatives, retail associates and technicians who are standing up to discuss the issues and challenges they face at the new T-Mobile US, a merger of T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS.
For the past several years, T-Mobile workers say they have faced an extensive anti-union campaign by the company that last year closed seven call centers in the United States and shipped more than 3,300 jobs overseas.
Before the merger, MetroPCS shared T-Mobile’s U.S. job-killing record. The company “outsourced all of its customer contact center services to maintain low operating expenses” through a partnership with Telvista, a call center outsourcer. Good American jobs are now going to Mexico, Antigua, Panama and the Philippines, according to MetroPCS’s 10-K filing.
Ronald Ellis, a T-Mobile US call center worker in Nashville, Tenn., writes on the new website:
With the recent acquisition of MetroPCS (9 million no-contract customers, and no customer service based in the USA), the winds of change are blowing. T-Mobile USA stopped employees’ raises and stopped the phone incentive for employees. We feel if we don’t unite soon, more call centers may soon be on the chopping blocks for downsizing.
The workers say they want this new company to succeed, and they believe that justice and respect in the workplace are essential for that success.
In 2011, CWA, ver.di, the German union that represents workers at T-Mobile’s parent company Deutsche Telekom, and a coalition of community and labor groups around the world, partnered on an international campaign to win workers a voice and respect at T-Mobile. Read more about the global campaign here and here.
This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 19th, 2013. Reposted 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