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The Soul of a Union Man

Friday, July 12th, 2019

Leo Gerard, a longtime contributor to OurFuture, retires Monday after 54 years as a union man and 18 as the International President of United Steelworkers (USW). We thank Leo for his leadership and tireless efforts for working people around the world. 

I was raised in a company house, in a company town, where the miners had to buy their own oilers – that is, rubber coveralls – drill bits, and other tools at the company store.

That company, Inco Limited, the world’s leading producer of nickel for most of the 20thcentury, controlled the town of Sudbury, Ontario, but never succeeded in owning the souls of the men and women who lived and worked there.

That’s because these were union men and women: self-possessed, a little rowdy, and well aware that puny pleas from individual workers fall on deaf corporate ears.

As I prepare to retire in a couple of days, 54 years after starting work as a copper puncher at the Inco smelter, the relationship between massive, multinational corporations and workers is different.

Unions represent a much smaller percentage of workers now, so few that some don’t even know what a labor organization is – or what organized labor can accomplish. That is the result of deliberate, decades-long attacks on unions by corporations and the rich. They intend to own not only workers’ time and production but their very souls.

I’d like to tell you the story of Inco because it illustrates the arc of labor union ascendance and attenuation over the past 72 years since I was born in Sudbury.

When I was a boy, the Inco workers, about 19,000 of them, were represented by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. The union was gathering strength. My dad, Wilfred Gerard, was among the rabble rousers. We lived just a few miles from the mine, and workers would gather at the house. Someone would bring a case of beer, and my mom would make egg salad or baloney sandwiches.

Conditions in the mine were terrible, and these workers were organizing to achieve change. I recall them talking about a work stoppage over safety glasses. I was amazed that they would have to take action like that to get essential work equipment. The company, I thought, should voluntarily take this simple step to ensure workers were not unnecessarily injured on the job.

I learned two important lessons from sitting on the steps and listening to those meetings. One was that the company would do nothing for the workers unless forced by collective action. The other was that labor unions were instruments of both economic and social justice.

I started work in the smelter at age 18, after graduating high school. My mother told my girlfriend, Susan, my future wife, not to let me get involved in the union – because if I did, I would be gone all of the time.

For a few years, I resisted union activism. Still, I carried a copy of the labor contract in my pocket, pulled out just high enough so the boss could see it. I knew what it said, and I wanted him to know I knew.

In 1967, when I was 20, the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers merged with the United Steelworkers (USW), and I became a USW member.

It didn’t take long for the guys at the smelter to see that I had a big mouth. And in 1969, they petitioned for me to become a shop steward.  That was the beginning. My mom was right. It did mean I was gone much of the time.

I got myself demoted so I could work day shift and attend college at night. On day shift, I noticed the company was using a bunch of contractors. Many were performing work that was supposed to done by union members. Other contractors sat in their trucks parked behind the warehouse doing nothing. So I got about six guys to help me track and record the violations every day.

Then we would file grievances against the company. We could not win because the contract language was weak at that point, but we took it through all the stages of grieving, and it cost Inco money. That made the bosses furious.

So they took it out on me. You have to be prepared for that if you are going to be an activist. They made me rake rocks that had fallen off the mine trucks onto the road. They made me pick up trash in the parking lot. They tried to humiliate me. But I always found a way to comply without bowing to them.

The advantage we had in those days was that they thought they were smarter than us. They didn’t understand that we were a team and we stuck together, so there was no way they were going to own us.

That was the 1960s, a different time. Union membership in the United States rose through 1965, when nearly one in three workers belonged. In Canada, the rise continued through 1985, when the rate was 38 percent. The drop off in the United States was fairly slow until 1980, when it plummeted to 23.2 percent. It has now fallen to 10.5 percent. In Canada, the decline was steady, but much slower. The rate there remains 30.1 percent, close to the all-time high in the United States.

The difference is that in the United States, corporations and conservatives engaged in a successful campaign, beginning in 1971, to seize power from workers and propagandize for what they euphemistically called free enterprise. Really, it’s cut-throat capitalism. The upshot is that U.S workers have more difficulty forming unions than Canadians, and U.S. corporations can more easily lock workers out of their jobs and hire strikebreakers. The intent is to enable corporations to own their workers, lock, stock and soul.

Lewis Powell, the late U.S. Supreme Court justice, launched this drive to crush labor, the left and environmentalists in the United States with a memo he wrote in 1971 for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and distributed to corporate leaders.

Powell told the Chamber that it had to organize businesses into a political force because, he claimed, corporations and the free market system were “under broad attack,” and in “deep trouble.” He inveighed against regulations sought by car safety activist Ralph Nader, by environmentalists petitioning for clean air and water and by unions demanding less deadly mines and manufacturing. He castigated those on the left pursuing a fairer, safer and more humane society.

Businesses must cultivate political power, and wield it, Powell said, to secure “free market” advantages, such as tax breaks and loopholes specifically for corporations and the rich.

Powell also told the Chamber: “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”

That is exactly what the Chamber achieved. It catalyzed a business movement, funded by wealthy conservative family and corporate foundations, including those of Coors, Olin, Scaife and Koch, to name a few. The foundations sponsored conservative professors at universities and right-wing “non-profits” such as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which provides junkets for right-wing lawmakers at which it encourages them to champion anti-union and anti-worker legislation. These groups bankrolled conservative candidates and secured appointment of conservative judges.

Between the end of World War II and 1970, during the rise of unions, workers’ incomes rose with productivity. Income inequality declined, and North America became home to the largest middle class in history. After 1970 and the Chamber effort to implement the Powell manifesto, unions declined and workers’ wages stagnated. Virtually all new income and profits went to CEOs, stockholders and the already rich. The middle class dwindled as income inequality rose to Gilded Age levels.

This occurred at the same time that corporations expanded, becoming massive multinationals, with facilities sprawled across the world and without allegiance to any country. This happened to Inco. Vale do Rio Doce, a Brazilian corporation, bought it in 2006, and now Vale is a true multinational with facilities worldwide.

Multinationals spurned their obligation to serve workers, consumers, communities and shareholders. Instead, they focused only on shareholders, the rest be damned. They closed factories in the United States and Canada and moved them to places like Mexico and China, with low wages and lax environmental laws. They exploited foreign workers and destroyed North American workers’ lives and communities.

As far back as the 1970s, the USW, the AFL-CIO, as well as the textile, shoe, steel and other industry leaders, warned Congress about what this trend, combined with increasing imports, meant for American workers and their neighborhoods. In 1973, after the United States experienced its first two years of trade deficits in a century, I.W. Abel, then president of the USW, urged Congress “to slow the massive flood of imports that are sweeping away jobs and industries in wholesale lots.”

Congress’ failure to heed this alarm resulted in the collapse of the U.S. textile and shoe industries and many others. It very nearly killed the steel industry, which has suffered tsunami after tsunami of bankruptcies, gunpoint mergers and mill closures. Tens of thousands of family-supporting jobs were lost and communities across both the United States and Canada hollowed out.

In 1971 and 1972, the trade deficit totaled $8.4 billion. Last year it was $621 billion. Every imported toy, shoe, bolt of cloth and ingot of steel means fewer U.S. factories and jobs and more struggling towns.

The USW presidents who followed Abel – Lloyd McBride and Lynn R Williams – escalated the battle against offshored factories and unfairly traded imports. The USW even filed suit to try to stop the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because Williams, like independent Presidential candidate Ross Perot, saw that it would suck Canadian and U.S. factories and jobs south of the Mexican border.

The late USW President George Becker and I agitated for change, confronting and cajoling presidents and prime ministers and members of Congress and Parliament. The USW marshalled all of its forces, including activists in its Women of Steel and NextGen programs, the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, and its Rapid Response coordinators. Tens of thousands of workers rallied, camped out in Washington, D.C., harangued lawmakers and sent postcards.

Working with allies in the community, such as environmental and human rights groups, faith and food safety organizations, together we have won some short-term relief measures. These include  the tariffs on imported steel and aluminum imposed last year and the defeat of the proposed new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would have extended NAFTA problems across Pacific Rim countries.

In the decades that the USW battled bad trade, I moved through the ranks, from staff representative, to District Director to Canadian National Director to USW Secretary-Treasurer. Among my goals was to forge international workers’ alliances to combat the corporate cabals that always got seats at the table to write the trade deals that worked against workers. When I was elected USW president in 2001, one of my top priorities was expanding the union’s coalitions.

Now the USW participates in three global unions, which together represent more than 82 million workers in more than 150 countries worldwide. The USW and partner unions also created more than two dozen global councils of workers, including those for workers at ArcelorMittal, BASF, Bridgestone, DowDuPont and Gerdau. These employers quickly learned that taking on workers at one factory meant taking on workers at all of their workplaces internationally.

In 2005, the USW and the Mexican miners’ union known as Los Mineros formed a strategic alliance. And the USW gave Los Mineros General Secretary Napoleon Gomez sanctuary in Canada when he was unjustly accused of wrongdoing by a Mexican government intent on shutting him up after a mine disaster.

In 2008, the USW joined with Unite the Union, the second largest union in the U.K and Ireland, forming Workers Uniting to fight exploitation and injustice globally. And the USW formed alliances with union federations in Australia and Brazil, where the organization is known as the CUT.

This international brotherhood and sisterhood stood with Canadian mine and smelter workers for a year beginning in July, 2009.

During its first negotiations with the USW, Vale, the Brazilian corporation that bought Inco, demanded harsh concessions from its thousands of Canadian workers. Though Vale was highly profitable, it said it wouldn’t even bargain with the USW unless the workers first accepted the cuts. That forced them out on strike.

I started talking regularly with the head of the CUT in Brazil to strategize and plan joint actions. Brazilian workers and community groups wholeheartedly supported their Canadian brothers and sisters. They demonstrated in front of the Vale headquarters and threw red paint – symbolizing blood – on the building. They shut down traffic with all sorts of street actions. They protested at the Vale shareholders meeting, inside and out.

They also traveled to Canada, in force with flags, for a rally in Sudbury in March of 2010, when the strike was eight months old and banks were repossessing some workers’ cars and foreclosing on homes. By then, Vale had 100,000 workers in mines and smelters across the world. Supporters from many of those communities – in Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia – joined thousands of Canadians who marched through the streets that cold day.

Vale could see that its Canadian workers, in Sudbury, Port Colborne, and Voisey’s Bay, were not alone. They had allies from around the world willing to stand up to the giant multinational.

The strike ended 12 long months after it started. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we certainly didn’t accept Vale’s concessionary demands. Vale failed to accomplish its mission, which was to spread to all of its operations worldwide the authoritarian, top-down, nasty management practices that it had honed in Brazil. The proof of that is the next round of negotiations with Vale went fairly well, and we got an honorable settlement.

Now, for labor to secure gains, in the United States or Canada or anywhere, workers must mobilize. We have to bring everyone together, women, men, poor people, people of color, gay people – all working people.  None of us is big enough or developed enough to win this fight alone.

If we fight together, I can’t guarantee we will win. But if we don’t fight for justice, I can guarantee we will lose.

Since none of us is willing to owe our souls to the company store, we’re going to have to find ways to continue building coalitions robust enough to confront capital and win the battle for economic and social justice.

This article was originally published at Our Future on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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

American Airlines Mechanics Are Threatening the “Bloodiest, Ugliest Battle” in Labor History

Friday, May 31st, 2019

Mechanics at American Airlines are threatening to strike if a new contract isn’t negotiated, and the union president has declared that employees are prepared for the dispute to erupt into “the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement ever saw.” The statement comes just one day after the airline sued its union workers, claiming that they had engaged in an illegal work slowdown to strengthen their hand at the bargaining table.

American Airlines merged with US Airways in 2013 to become the largest airline in the world. The 31,000 mechanics who fixed planes for both airlines had existing contracts, but the merger didn’t produce a joint contract. American Airlines mechanics had contracts with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and US Airways mechanics had contracts with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). American Airlines has been trying to update the collective bargaining agreement with the TWU-IAM Association (a partnership between the two unions that developed as a result of the merger), through contract talks since December 2015, with the National Mediations Board serving as a federal mediator between the two sides. But talks were suspended in April after reaching an impasse. In addition to issues of pay and benefits, the union is concerned that the company is potentially looking to outsource thousands of jobs.

Timothy KIlima is an Airline Coordinator for the IAM who has been personally involved with the negotiations. “The employees represented by the TWU-IAM Association want to preserve the work they do, the healthcare they have and to reach parity in benefits between the two pre-merger workgroups,” he told In These Times via email. “American Airlines demands to reduce the amount of work performed by their employees and a corresponding headcount reduction; to eliminate the better healthcare choices the employees already have; and refuses to improve the profit sharing formula that is one of the worst among their peers. In short, the employees desire to grow with a healthy American Airlines but at least want to keep what they have coming into the merger.”

On May 20, American Airlines filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas federal court claiming that mechanics have purposely slowed down their work in an effort to hinder the company’s day-to-day operations. According to the lawsuit, the mechanics’ actions have resulted in 650 flight cancellations and over 1,500 maintenance delays since February.

The union denies that there was ever a purposeful slowdown. “American Airlines should focus its time and effort to reach contractual agreements with its employees instead of falsely accusing them of trumped-up job action charges,” said Klima. “Collective bargaining agreements cannot be reached in courtrooms, in the media or by lobbying politicians. The TWU-IAM Association is eager to return to the bargaining table, which is the only arena where our contract disputes can be resolved.”

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also criticized the legal action, tweeting on May 21, “Instead of recognizing and addressing the concerns of workers, American Airlines has moved to sue @MachinistsUnion. Machinists keep passengers safe and on time. My message to American Airlines is simple: Stop the intimidation and bullying!”

On May 21, during one of the airline’s regular town hall meetings with employees at LaGuardia Airport, TWU president John Samuelsen confronted American Airlines president Robert Isom and told him that the union was prepared to strike. “I stand here to tell you—in front of this whole room, in front of everybody, anybody who’s listening—that you’re not going to get what you want,” said Samuelsen. “If this erupts into the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement ever saw, that’s what’s going to happen. You’re already profitable enough.”

Samuelsen also told Isom that workers are desperately trying to avoid what’s called a “self-help” situation under the Railway Labor Act. That means the company would be able to force employees into a contract without union approval if the government condones it. “If we ever get to a point where there’s self-help, we are going to engage in an absolutely vicious strike action against American Airlines to the likes of which you’ve never seen,” said Samuelsen. “Not organized by airline people, but organized by a guy that came out of the New York City subway system that’s well inclined to strike power, and who understands that the only way to challenge power is to aggressively take it to them. … We’re going to shut this place down.”

Isom replied, “I will tell you this, that anybody that seeks to destroy American Airlines, that is not going to be productive. It just won’t. We have to be able to work together to see the views of both sides. And I, believe me, I will send people back to the table.”

The airline industry has seen its share of labor unrest over the last few years, and workers have been able to celebrate a number of organizing victories. The American Airlines battle mirrors the recent fight between Southwest Airlines and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA). In March, Southwest sued the AMFA and alleged that workers had participated in an illegal slowdown, but employees were ultimately able to win an agreement that established pay raises, new bonuses and an end to the legal dispute. Last year, JetBlue flight attendants voted to unionize, and in February the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) helped end Trump’s government shutdown by threatening to strike.

Organizing efforts have been met with extreme resistance from the airlines beyond the aforementioned lawsuits. In February, The Guardian revealed that JetBlue president Joanna Geraghty sent employees an email warning that the company would cease to be successful if workers unionized. “So if anyone asks you to sign a card, I’m asking you to decline,” the email eads. This month, details of Delta’s union-busting campaign emerged, which included breakroom literature encouraging workers to spend their money on video games and alcohol rather union dues.

According to The International Air Transport Association, the airline industry is expected to generate net profits of $35.5 billion in 2019, better than the $32.3 billion netted in 2018. American Airlines is the world’s largest airline. Its parent organization, American Airlines Group, reported a fourth-quarter 2018 pre-tax profit of $387 million. “We expect our total revenue per available seat mile to grow faster than our network competitors, and to deliver strong pre-tax earnings growth in 2019,” the group said in a statement.

Last week, the TWU-IAM Association sent a letter to the National Mediation Board calling on the agency to compel further negotiations between the two sides, as the company has refused to engage in talks without a mediator. “These negotiations have reached the critical end stage with the largest scope and economic issues yet to be resolved,” reads the letter.

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

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.

This MLB power couple is fighting to save 200 union jobs

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

It all started so innocently.

On Sunday night, Eireann Dolan — the wife of Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle — was in the car with her husband doing some research on official MLB hats, because her friend was interested in buying one for his son.

But when she searched for New Era — the official manufacturer of baseball caps for Major League Baseball for nearly 60 years — articles immediately popped up about the company closing its unionized shop in Derby, New York, and moving to a non-union shop in Florida. More than 200 workers are scheduled to lose their jobs as a result.

“It’s basically union busting, plain and simple,” Dolan told ThinkProgress in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon. “The only people wearing [the New Era caps made in Derby] are the players, and these are the players in the union, so we want to make sure they’re wearing caps that are made by people earning a union wage.”

MLB has an exclusive contract with New Era for its caps. Most of the caps New Era makes for the MLB — the ones that fans buy — are made overseas. But the contract stipulates that hats worn by players during games must be made in America.

Dolan — who is in the midst of her thesis project at the Fordham Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education — considers research her forte. So when she came across the New Era story, it only took a few miles of driving before she and Doolitle were so immersed in the subject they had to pull the car to the side of the road. It was the day before Spring Training began for Doolittle and the Nationals in West Palm Beach, Florida, and everyone in the MLB Players Association was busy dealing with free agency drama and responding to commissioner Rob Manfred’s press conference. Despite all of that, within 24 hours, Dolan and Doolittle launched the #NewEraHatsOff campaign on Twitter, with the approval of his union.

Taking a principled stand is nothing new for Dolan and Doolittle. They have helped spearhead LGBTQ initiatives in baseball, hosted Syrian refugees for Thanksgiving dinner, and openly called for better mental health services for veterans. This latest issue hit home because Doolittle grew up in Buffalo, not far from Derby, and even has family friends who work at the facility and will lose their jobs if the deal goes through.

But ultimately, they were drawn to this fight because they feel passionately about protecting the rights of union workers.

“As players who continue to stand together it’s important that we also continue to stand in solidarity with the union labor that has helped make our game what it is today,” Doolittle tweeted. “From the garment workers who make our uniforms to the stadium workers, vendors & security staff at our ballparks to the transportation workers who people rely on to get to games — their work makes our game possible. Baseball could not have grown into a [$10 billion] industry without them.”

Unfortunately, Dolan and Doolittle didn’t become aware of this issue until very late in the game. New Era has already reached a deal on severance with the Communication Workers of America (CWA), the union that represents Derby workers. That deal will be voted on come March 15. Still, there’s a chance.

“There is a glimmer of hope here,” Dolan said. “Companies change their mind. It’s not over until it’s over.

It helps that there’s recent precedent here. In 2017, MLB officials — including Commissioner Rob Manfred — stepped in to help save the jobs of 600 union workers of Majestic in Palmer Township, Pennsylvania, the plant that produces MLB uniforms.

“Our fans and our players have a unique bond with the uniforms that they wear,” Manfred told the Majestic employees at the time. “And, in fact, our uniforms stir emotions among people. Because you cater to that emotion with the quality work you do each and every day, you are, and shall remain, a part of the baseball family.”

Ultimately, they hope the increased attention and awareness to the cause — with some outside public pressure mixed in — will force New Era to change course. At the very least, they want to send a message to other MLB partners that union busting will not be tolerated.

“Those caps [at the Baseball Hall of Fame] in Cooperstown? They were made in Derby. It’s an iconic symbol,” Dolan said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs is a sports reporter at ThinkProgress.

But ultimately, they were drawn to this fight because they feel passionately about protecting the rights of union workers.

“As players who continue to stand together it’s important that we also continue to stand in solidarity with the union labor that has helped make our game what it is today,” Doolittle tweeted. “From the garment workers who make our uniforms to the stadium workers, vendors & security staff at our ballparks to the transportation workers who people rely on to get to games — their work makes our game possible. Baseball could not have grown into a [$10 billion] industry without them.”

Unfortunately, Dolan and Doolittle didn’t become aware of this issue until very late in the game. New Era has already reached a deal on severance with the Communication Workers of America (CWA), the union that represents Derby workers. That deal will be voted on come March 15. Still, there’s a chance.

“There is a glimmer of hope here,” Dolan said. “Companies change their mind. It’s not over until it’s over.

It helps that there’s recent precedent here. In 2017, MLB officials — including Commissioner Rob Manfred — stepped in to help save the jobs of 600 union workers of Majestic in Palmer Township, Pennsylvania, the plant that produces MLB uniforms.

“Our fans and our players have a unique bond with the uniforms that they wear,” Manfred told the Majestic employees at the time. “And, in fact, our uniforms stir emotions among people. Because you cater to that emotion with the quality work you do each and every day, you are, and shall remain, a part of the baseball family.”

Disney is using 'tax cut bonus' to try to force union workers to accept low pay

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Disney got some positive press for saying it would give its workers a $1,000 tax cut bonus—but it’s using the bonus to try to force some of its lower-paid workers to accept a bad deal at the bargaining table. The entertainment giant carefully specified that the bonuses would go to union workers “currently working under existing union contracts”—and that doesn’t apply to everyone.

They say rank-and-file workers in December voted 93% against Disney’s most recent offer of a 50-cent-an-hour raise over the next two years, coupled with a $200 signing bonus. Most unionized Disney World employees make less than $11 an hour, according to the union.

Only 3,000 make more than $15 an hour. The union says the average hourly wage for its members is $10.71.

Eric Clinton, president of the Unite Here local at the theme park, said Disney is forcing the union to accept that same rejected offer for its members to receive the $1,000 bonus due to other Disney employees. […]

He said the union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint alleging that the demand amounts to punishing members for engaging in legally protected contract negotiations.

This maneuver by Disney shows what a load of bull these “tax cut bonuses” are to begin with—Republicans cut the corporate tax forever, but Disney isn’t offering its workers a raise that will be with them next year and the year after. It’s offering a one-time bonus while trying to low-ball on wages. Not just while trying to low-ball on wages—to use the bonus as bait to get workers to accept low pay. We see you, Disney.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on February 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

Labor Day 2017: Working People Take Fewer Vacation Days and Work More

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Working people are taking fewer vacation days and working more. That’s the top finding in a new national survey, conducted by polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the AFL-CIO in collaboration with the Economic Policy Institute and the Labor Project for Working Families. In the survey, the majority of America’s working people credit labor unions for many of the benefits they receive.

In response to the poll, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

Union workers empowered by the freedom to negotiate with employers do better on every single economic benchmark. Union workers earn substantially more money, union contracts help achieve equal pay and protection from discrimination, union workplaces are safer, and union workers have better access to health care and a pension.

Here are the other key findings of the survey:

1. Union membership is a key factor in whether a worker has paid time off. While 78% of working people have Labor Day off, that number is 85% for union members. If you have to work on Labor Day, 66% of union members get overtime pay (compared to 38% of nonunion workers). And 75% of union members have access to paid sick leave (compared to only 64% of nonunion workers). Joining together in union helps working people care and provide for their families.

2. Working people go to work and make the rest of their lives possible. We work to spend time with our families, pursue our dreams and come together to build strong communities. For too many Americans, that investment doesn’t pay off. More than half of Americans work more holidays and weekends than ever before. More than 40% bring home work at least one night a week. Women, younger workers and shift workers report even less access to time off.

3. Labor Day is a time for crucial unpaid work caring for our families. Our families rely on that work, and those who don’t have the day off and have less time off from work can’t fulfill those responsibilities. A quarter of workers with Labor Day off report they will spend the holiday caring for children, running errands or doing household chores.

4. Women are less likely than men to get paid time off or to get paid overtime for working on Labor Day. Women are often the primary caregivers in their households, making this lack of access to time off or overtime more damaging to families. Younger women and those without a college education are even less likely to get time off or overtime for working on Labor Day.

5. Most private-sector workers do not have access to paid family leave through their employer. Only 14% of private-sector workers have paid family leave through their job. The rest have less time to take care of a family member’s long-term illness, recover from a medical condition or care for a new child. As a result, nearly a quarter of employed women who have a baby return to work within two weeks.

6. Over the past 10 years, 40 million working people have won the freedom to take time off from work. Labor unions have been at the center of these wins.

Recently, the AFL-CIO played a lead role in fights to expand access to paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave in in New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. Individual unions have been at the forefront of new and ongoing fights in Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington.

7. An overwhelming majority of Americans think unions help people enter the middle class and are responsible for working people getting Labor Day and other paid holidays off from work. More than 70% of Americans agree. A plurality of Americans think weaker unions would have a negative impact on whether or not they have adequate paid time off from work. The majority of Americans would vote to join a union if given the opportunity. A recent Gallup poll showed that 61% of Americans approve of unions, the highest percentage since 2003.

Read the full AFL-CIO Labor Day report.

This article was originally published at AFLCIO.org on August 30, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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

Nestlé’s Makes the Very Best? Georgia Workers Vote To Unionize

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Your Nesquik may now be shipped by union workers, thanks to a powder-thin union election at a distribution center just south of Atlanta.

Workers at Nestlé’s facility in McDonough, Georgia, voted 49-46 Wednesday in favor of representation by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), said labor organizer Greg Scandrett. The campaign was tough, so the victory is sweet.

“They [Nestlé] fought this from Day 1. They brought in people from HR from all around the country,” Scandrett said.

He expects negotiations around a first contract will be difficult.

The workers at Nestlé’s distribution center are at one of the choke points of a global logistics chain that produces billions in profits for the Swiss company. Nestlé spokeswoman Liz Caselli-Mechael tells In These Times that the company has more than 400 factories in 86 different countries. It employs 330,000 people globally, she says, with about 51,000 of those workers in the United States.

Caselli-Mechael did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the union election.

The distribution center in McDonough handles many different Nestlé products. Nesquik, the wildly popular chocolate milk powder, and candy are the most famous, but baby formula is also handled there, Scandrett said. The work site is at a key railroad intersection with Interstate 85, so much of Nestlé’s profits from the southeastern United States flow through the facility, he said.

According to Scandrett, management-labor relations on the shop floor are not good. Many workers feel disrespected by the managers. Favoritism in assignments and promotions is a huge complaint, he says. And racial tensions, with the vast majority of black workers pitted against the overwhelmingly white managers, are high, Scandrett says.

Hourly pay is not a big issue, according to Scandrett. Pay starts out at around $17 an hour, but there is little room for growth, with pay topping out at around $19 an hour, he says.

Labor relations at Nestlé’s operating units have been a perennial source of dismay at the IUF, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations. IUF’s special Nestlé organizing center reports on problems with the company in countries like Turkey, South Korea and Finland.

“It’s not really about the pay. It’s about how you are treated. Nobody should have to stand for being disrespected all the time,” Scandrett said.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on April 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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

Union workers, not Donald Trump, pushed Fiat Chrysler into creating 2,000 jobs

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Great news: Fiat Chrysler has announced a $1 billion, 2,000-job investment in plants in Michigan and Ohio. Donald Trump didn’t quite claim credit in his predictable tweet about the news, but Reuters, for instance, reported the story with the headline “Fiat Chrysler ups the ante as automakers respond to Trump.”

Except that’s not what happened at all. In 2015 contract negotiations, the UAW pushed Fiat Chrysler to invest in American manufacturing, and got promises on that front. That led to what we’re seeing now, the Detroit News reports:

The announcement is the final phase of an industrialization plan announced in January 2016, which was a significant part of the automaker’s contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers in 2015. The plan called for the realignment of the company’s U.S. manufacturing operations to move away from cars to more-profitable Jeep and Ram products. […]

[CEO Sergio] Marchionne appeared to try and distance the announced moves from having anything to do with President-elect Donald Trump, saying they “have been under discussion with Dennis Williams and the rest of the UAW leadership for some time.”

Working people fought for this. Don’t let Donald Trump get the credit that goes to those union workers.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 9, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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

This Labor Day, Thank Unions For Boosting Wages

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Bryce CovertLabor Day is now seen as the official end of summer and a day off (at least for those who actually get paid holiday leave) to grill or go to the beach one last time. But when it was originally conceived as a federal holiday, it was as a concession to the labor movement after bloody union unrest that left 30 striking workers dead. It was meant as a day to celebrate the efforts and sacrifices of unionized workers.

A shrinking share of Americans are union members today. But the benefits brought about by the union movement are still just as strong, particularly when it comes to workers’ pay.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith

Being in a union is particularly helpful for marginalized groups that tend to be paid less than white men. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that black union workers earn wages that are, on average, 16.4 percent higher than black workers who aren’t in a union. The same is true for women: a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women in a union earn 30.9 percent more than women who aren’t unionized.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

Unionization also yields salary benefits for white men, who get a 20.1 percent boost for being in a union. But the wage-boosting power of unions has been hampered as the share of workers who belong to one has declined. In 1983, the earliest year the Bureau of Labor Statistics has data for, 20.1 percent of the workforce belonged to a union. Today that share has been cut nearly in half, down to 11.1 percent.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

That’s hurt everyone’s wages, not just unionized workers. The wage-boosting power of unions usually spills out into other workplaces because they set standards that everyone ends up adopting. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute found that for men working in the private sector who aren’t in a union, their weekly wages would be about 5 percent higher if union membership had stayed at the same rate as it was in 1979. That would mean an extra $2,704 per year on average. Non-union women would also benefit, but the impact would be smaller- a 2 to 3 percent increase in wages- because women have historically been a much smaller share of union workers.1-7CCL6l2MCZiQP3S-rXrB4Q

The drop in union membership, and the subsequent erosion of the wage benefits for all workers, has played a role in widening wage inequality, holding down pay at the bottom of the scale but less so at the top. In fact, other researchers have found a strong correlation between the fall of union power and the rise of income inequality.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on September 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

 

 

Stop Freaking Out: The Union-Backed Minimum Wage Exemption Isn’t About Paying Union Workers Less

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Mario VasquezOn June 13, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the city’s landmark $15 minimum wage into law. Although the city’s workers won’t be seeing that full figure until 2020, the new law will bring billions of dollars into the pockets of at least 36% of the workforce, and should be seen as the culmination of grassroots action supported by a coalition of labor groups such as Raise the Wage and Fight for $15.

But in the aftermath of its initial approval a few weeks ago, right-wing pundits, with help from mainstream news outlets, succeeded in pitting minimum-wage activists up against labor leaders, drumming up charges that the unions were acting to actually undermine the minimum-wage-increase movement. Rusty Hicks, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, had to save face after he led a failed last-minute push to include a clause into the city’s minimum wage ordinance that would allow employees the option of having their collective bargaining agreement supercede the local minimum wage policy.

Opponents have argued that the provision potentially allows for unions to negotiate contracts that include wages below the minimum, and that unions would use the wage carve-out to offer a kind of carrot to employers in exchange for allowing the union to gain new members—assumedly leaving new union members earning, in total, less than the minimum wage.

Mostly due to the inability of Hicks or anyone else in the city’s labor movement to offer a strong and convincing rebuttal to these charges, this talking point has largely taken hold. With labor at the front of Fight for $15 battles in Los Angeles and across the country (Hicks himself has been a leader in Los Angeles’s Raise the Wage coalition), pundits on Fox News have spread the idea that “big labor” could be trying to get around the minimum wage that “they tried to impose on others.”

“They want to make unions basically the cheapest labor and have more money for themselves—that’s what this is all about,” libertarian journalist Michelle Fields told host Eric Bolling on the conservative network on May 30.

It’s an easy talking point to run with, and admittedly the optics of it are pretty bad. But those trashing the union’s attempt to insert the provision have failed to realize the nuances of the situation. Glancing at the data of union workers’ compensation in cities that already have such wage exemption provisions on the books, as well as applying a bit of logic in thinking about why a worker would vote to join or choose to stay in a union, show that such provisions haven’t and won’t result in unionized workers earning below the minimum wage, and in fact can serve to protect minimum wage increases from legal challenges from business interests.

Why do workers organize?

To explain why this is the case, let’s examine some of the arguments against the provision. The U.S Chamber of Commerce, often labor’s foe, outlined a modern history of minimum wage policy and the union carve-out in a study they published last year. The study suggested that what the Chamber calls the “union escape clause” is nothing more than a ruse to gain “new members, new dues revenue, increased political clout, and, most likely, increased payments into its pension fund.”

The Chamber’s study points to hotel worker union UNITE HERE’s explosive growth in San Francisco (where minimum wage ordinances have typically included “union escape” provisions) as an example of a “real-world correlation” between the provision and labor’s supposed self-interest:

UNITE-HERE Local 11, which represents hotel workers in Los Angeles, California, saw its membership and revenues jump after the city included a union escape clause in a minimum wage hike on hotels. Local 11’s membership increased from 13,626 in 2007 to 20,896 in 2013, while its revenue increased from approximately $7.5 million per year to nearly $12.7 million. … When San Francisco, California, passed a citywide minimum wage ordinance with a union exemption in late 2003, membership in UNITE-HERE Local 2 rose from 8,000 in 2004 to more than 14,000 in 2013. Notably, these increases occurred as union density nationally declined from 12.9% of the workforce in 2003 to 11.3% in 2013.

Reading the Chamber’s study, you would think that the principal reason UNITE HERE membership in LA and San Francisco grew during this time was the wage carve-out. But that’s absurd, and doesn’t reflect the way workers join unions or how union membership grows in general.

In case the Chamber has forgotten, workers are the ones who choose to join unions, either through a secret-ballot vote or through a “card check” process. And if they don’t like their union, they can vote to decertify it. If workers joined a union and paid dues to it every month but continued earning a wage below the minimum after they joined, why wouldn’t they vote to leave the union? They would have no financial incentive to stay, and assumedly UNITE HERE’s membership would be tanking rather than growing as workers realized they were getting a raw deal and voted to leave the union.

But of course, rather than seeing their compensation tank, hotel workers are seeing their wages and benefits increase as union members. UNITE HERE says that its members in San Francisco—remember, a city with the minimum wage carve-out for union workers—earn, on average, an hourly wage of $20.94. The deal also gets sweeter for those members when quality-of-life benefits like secure hours and compensation packages are included.

In Los Angeles, where the union’s members are also allowed to have their collective bargaining agreement supercede local wage ordinances, union workers earn slightly less, $16.47 plus benefits. Still, union workers’ wages alone are higher than the $15.37 wage floor enacted for hotel workers last year; when you include the benefits those workers typically receive through their collective bargaining agreements that most minimum wage earners do not have a right to, the total compensation becomes even higher.

Beyond hotel workers, the numbers make it clear that union workers earn on average considerably more than the minimum wage, even in cities that have these carve-out provisions. A 2014 study by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA reports that, when adjusted for cost of living, hourly earnings for union workers in Los Angeles stand at $20.35, whereas their nonunion counterparts earn $16.13. Clearly, few union members in the city earn less than minimum wage.

Hicks remarked at a recent press conference, “Unfortunately, too many in today’s society do not have the benefit of being a part of a collective bargaining opportunity or experience, so it can be confusing.” The confusion might have been cleared up, however, with a few concrete facts showing how collective bargaining helps put money in workers’ pockets—far more money than any minimum wage.

Safety in Supersession  

Hicks had a lot of material to work with to beat back the anti-union rhetoric that he didn’t use. But his press conference did mention what is apparently the foundation for collective bargaining supersession clauses that have been included in other minimum wage laws of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Chicago, among others: The provision is actually intended to provide a safeguard for union workers against potential legal challenges to minimum wage laws.

Herb Wesson, Los Angeles’ City Council President, has admitted as much, with his spokesperson telling KPCC, a local NPR affiliate, that Wesson “continues to have questions about the policy as it relates to exposing the city to legal liability.” The concern, KPCC reported, is that “federal labor laws could be interpreted as preventing cities from interfering with contracts between employers and unions.”

James Elmendorf, deputy director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a progressive policy group affiliated with the city’s labor movement, told the Los Angeles Business Journal last year upon the passing of the hotel wage ordinance that “in a previous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recommended that local and state laws and regulations of private businesses contain such exemptions.”

The provision actually ensures that collective bargaining will trump any local statutes. If any wage increase ordinance is challenged in court (as they frequently are by industry groups), local collective bargaining agreements that were formed while new “imposed” wage floors were in place would be protected from legal challenges through the supersession clause.

When combined with the fact that employees will earn higher wages and benefits when unionized, it easy to see why this provision makes business interests and their allies jump at the chance to turn the tide in a war of sound bites.

While the $15 minimum wage ordinance became official on June 13 without the “collective bargaining supersession clause,” the ordinance may be expanded by the time it takes effect next July. The expansion could include the supersession clause, as well as two other provisions that the union fought for during the legislative process: 12 days of paid sick leave and banning restaurants from keeping bogus “service charges” rather than considering them workers’ tips.

The boost in the minimum wage will undoubtedly help improve the quality of life and economic situation for masses of non-union workers in the city. But rather than undermining those gains, Hicks’s provision would have helped protect against potentially damaging legal challenges to the real benefits and increased wages that come with unionization.

For now, one can only hope that LA’s labor leaders will speak out for the provision and get organized labor past an embarrassing and largely untrue spate of headlines to convince low-wage workers that unions are not the villains Fox News and the Chamber of Commerce are attempting to portray them as.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on June 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Mario Vasquez. Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at mario.vasquez.espinoza@gmail.com.

Striking Workers Shame Prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital Over Low Pay

Thursday, April 24th, 2014
Bruce VailSome 2,000 union workers went out on strike Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in a protest aimed primarily at exposing low wages at Baltimore’s second biggest employer and one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals.
Members of 1199SEIU United Health Workers East hit the picket lines at 6:00 a.m. April 9 for a three-day strike provoked by a stalemate in negotiations for a new contract to cover the union workers. The previous contract expired March 31, and renewal talks earlier this week stalled on the key issue of raising wages, according to 1199SEIU spokesperson Jim McNeill.
Hospital executives had received a ten-day warning of the strike, says 1199SEIU Vice President Vanessa Johnson, so there was ample time to ensure that patient care would not be adversely affected. Union members are primarily in maintenance and food service, with some technical workers such as surgical techs. Operations at the enormous Hopkins medical complex are reported to be near-normalwith non-union nurses, administrators and temporaries filling in for the unionized strikers. Hopkins spokesperson Kim Hoppe would not respond to repeated inquiries for additional information from Working In These Times.
Labor trouble at Hopkins has been brewing for some time. A year ago, the union signed an unusual one-year contract with the hospital as a stop gap as negotiators wrestled with difficult wage and healthcare issues.
More broadly, the 1199SEIU-Hopkins conflict reflects Baltimore’s yawning racial divide, with the predominantly African-American union members receiving few of the benefits, as Hopkins’ well-paid physicians and administrators prosper. That economic divide was thrown into sharp relief Wednesday with low-paid 1199SEIU picketers demonstrating at the entrance to the hospital’s huge new medical building, which cost the hospital some $1.1 billion to construct.
“Hopkins says they don’t have the money [to lift union wages] but they own most of the community,” charged union member Michelle Horton at an April 9 solidarity meeting of strikers and local supporters. Horton’s comment touched on another raw spot in Hopkins’ relationship with Baltimore’s African-American community: The hospital and related institutions are currently engaged in a long-term effort to re-develop and gentrify the low-income residential neighborhoods that surround the hospital, prompting charges of racial discrimination and unfair dislocation.
Those issues notwithstanding, the focus of the solidarity meeting at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church on Wednesday night was squarely on the issue of higher wages. 1199SEIU Vice President Johnson said that nearly 1,400 of the 2,000 union members currently earn less than $14.92 an hour, the level at which a single parent with one child will qualify for food stamps.
“Johns Hopkins and [hospital President] Ron Peterson should be ashamed of themselves,” because some Hopkins workers require public assistance like food stamps or Medicaid, emphasizes veteran hospital worker Yvonne Brown. According to a 2010 report in the Baltimore Sun, Peterson earns about $1.9 million a year.
The union initially asked a minimum wage of $15 an hour, consistent with the demands of other SEIU campaigns such as Chicago’s Fight for 15 initiative, Johnson says. Currently, negotiators are discussing a five-year contract, and the union is pushing to get a minimum of $14 for all workers by the final year, and a minimum of $15 at that point for  workers with 15 years or more of experience . The expired contract had the lowest-paid workers starting at $10.71 an hour, with the best-paid earning as much as $27.88.
Hopkins can easily afford the $15 minimum, Johnson says. The union estimates the raise would cost Hopkins less than $3 million in annual payroll expenses, while the non-profit hospital reported a $145 million surplus last year.
Dr. Benjamin Oldfield, a resident physician at Hopkins who led a group of non-union Hopkins doctors, medical students and nursing students to the Wednesday solidarity meeting, agrees with Johnson. “[As medical professionals], we know that financial insecurity leads to bad health outcomes,” he told the group at the St. Wenceslaus hall.. “For a place like Hopkins, which has plenty of money, I’m surprised that they haven’t gotten this one right yet.”
Hopkins, however, is adamant in negotiations that the $15 minimum wage is not affordable, according to Johnson, who says the offers put on the table thus far have been paltry. The most recent would see the minimum rise to only $12.25 in the fifth year of the contract, an offer that prompted the strike action this week, according to Johnson.
That’s just not good enough, adds Wiley Rhymer, a member of the union’s negotiating team. “We’re trying to get our members out of poverty, not keep them in it,” he tells Working In These Times.
This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on April 20, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’sDaily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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