Posts Tagged ‘union’
Tuesday, January 12th, 2016
Editor’s note: In These Times has covered the Friedrichs case since the beginning. For more pieces on the case and its potential impact, see this roundup.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard extended arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case is ostensibly a First Amendment case about whether public employees who do not want to join a union can withhold all fees—the same as “right to work”—or whether unions can charge those employees fees—“agency” or “fair share” fees—to cover activities germane to collective bargaining. The plaintiffs, 10 objecting teachers and a Christian education association, were asking the Supreme Court to overturn the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that declared that agency fees were the proper compromise between workers’ constitutional rights and the government’s interest in promoting labor peace.
However, despite a fairly clear issue before the Court, the arguments proceeded bizarrely, jumping repeatedly between disparate issues. This seemed to be largely the result of two fairly unique circumstances surrounding this case.
First, the Supreme Court had almost no record that could be used to address basic questions. Usually, cases that end up in front of the Supreme Court take a slow path in front of lower courts, where evidence is introduced and a conversation of sorts develops between the parties and the judges. By design, the conservative Center for Individual Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, pushed this case through the system in record time.
At each lower court, the plaintiffs’ position was that the case should be dismissed on the basis of longstanding Supreme Court precedent. As a result, the plaintiffs were able to get the case in front of the Supreme Court in less than two years. But they did so without much evidence from which either side could draw from.
This led to arguments that were, at best, abstract political positions talking past each other. At one point, the attorney for the California Teachers Association tried to explain to Justice Scalia about the history of public sector agency fees and public services, arguing that in New York City the use of such fees helped the city deliver better transit services. When pressed by Scalia on how the fair share fees led to this result, the union attorney basically had to throw up his hands and state that without a factual record, he has little to rely on other than what was raised in the various amicus briefs.
However, it was not just the lack of a record in this case that made it so peculiar—it was also the broad assumption among the Justices and the attorneys that money is speech. Being required to pay a fee for a benefit is now considered compelled speech, and any expenses negotiated between a union and a government employer constitute political speech. In one telling moment of the argument, when the attorney for the State of California tried to argue that mileage reimbursement rates are among the prosaic matters that public sector unions negotiate, Chief Justice Roberts shot back, saying, “It’s all money. That’s money.”
Chief Justice Roberts further articulated this position when, in one of his classic simplifications (recall his 2007 affirmative action formula: “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race”) he stated, “If your employees have shown overwhelmingly that they want collective bargaining, then it seems to me the free-rider concern that’s been raise is really insignificant.” Completely missing from Justice Roberts’ statement was any awareness of how people act in the real world, or half a century of social science research on collective action and the free rider problem. Instead, it’s as simple as: if they approve, then they will pay; if they don’t pay, they don’t approve.
According to the Court’s current First Amendment jurisprudence, money appears to be not only speech, but also the type of speech that deserves the highest form of protection. The problem with this view is that even if one assumes that money does represent some form of speech, it would represent among the most imprecise and inscrutable type of speech.
When someone buys a banana from Walmart, does that purchase signal that the buyer believes in Chiquita’s use of paramilitary organizations in Colombia, or affirms Walmart’s use of union-busters, or buys into the myriad of conservative causes supported by the Walmart and Walton Family Foundations? Or does it mean that the person craved a banana and found herself near a Walmart? It is impossible to know without engaging in actual speech with the individual.
In the yesterday’s arguments, Justice Breyer tried fruitlessly to point out that we have to beware in ascribing too much meaning to money. “You will go out this door and you will buy hundreds of things, if not thousands, where money will go from your pocket into the hands of people, including many government people, who will spend it on things you disagree with.” But with a quick out-of-context quote by James Madison, the attorney brushed aside Justice Breyer’s concerns.
In this case, which was purportedly all about the First Amendment, it was shocking how little speech or the political positions of the unions were discussed in the oral arguments. Indeed, though several of the Justices repeatedly cast teacher pay and merit pay as highly political issues over which teachers could disagree, it appears that Rebecca Friedrichs (the lead plaintiff in the case) actually agrees with the union on these issues.
This leads to the natural question of what happens when conservatives have completed the project of going after union money and actually go after union speech. Contrary to the picture painted by many of these conservative organizations, unions are not simply massive war chests secretly funding the Democratic Party. They are organizations that represent millions of workers each and every day in grievances, contract negotiations, the press, the legal system, the political sphere and in a variety of other domains. Unions engage in an enormous amount of “speech” on behalf of their memberships—is each and every part of that speech open to First Amendment attack?
Judging by the briefs submitted in this case and the oral arguments, there is good reason to be concerned about future attacks. After union dues and fees, the likely next attack will be about exclusive representation. If the Supreme Court here determines that the requirement to pay fees for representation violates public sector workers’ First Amendment rights, it is hard to see how they won’t also soon determine that public sector unions’ representation of workers does not also violate their First Amendment rights. While some union advocates have argued for the elimination of exclusive representation (especially in response to “right to work”), one has to recognize that American labor law was established with a careful balance in mind. Without required fees and without exclusive representation, the horizon will change greatly.
Though it’s impossible to divine from oral arguments which way the ultimate decision will go, yesterday’s argument showed a lack of understanding on the part of some of the justices of how unions function, an antipathy towards their activities on behalf of their membership and a view of them as being at odds with the Constitution. None of that bodes well for the outcome unions are hoping for in this case.
This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on January 12, 2016. 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, October 28th, 2015
Yesterday I joined my brothers and sisters around the world at Ronald Reagan national airport in the demand for higher wages, better trainings and working conditions for airport workers. I got involved with the union and Fight for 15 because I saw the imbalance of power that is hurting people.
As a cabin cleaner at San Francisco International Airport, I am proud to say that because we have a union, we have some of the highest working standards in the country, but I know there are many more who don’t and need our support. Folks like Ababuti Ogalla, a wheelchair assistant at Boston Logan Airport. Like many, he is an immigrant who came to America to build a decent life for his family.
“I started working at Boston Logan in 2011, but I quickly realized that with two kids and a wife to support, my pay doesn’t even cover my rent and bills. That’s not the America I believed in. Now I work two jobs, barely have any time to spend with my family, and still struggle to make ends meet.”
Ababuti is right. That’s not the America any of us believe in. We continue to fight because we know we can raise the minimum wage and support the ones we love with dignity and respect.
Too many airport workers are paid minimum wage or less and that’s not right. We take pride in our jobs and play a key role in helping more than 393 million passengers yearly enjoy a safe and secure travel experience. But without health insurance or sick days, we risk losing our jobs every time we are sick or have a family emergency. It doesn’t make sense; America spends billions annually on airport security, yet the very people charged with implementing security measures are paid poverty wages.
The rally at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was just one of a series of events this week. We hosted our first ever National Airport Worker Convention, where we developed a national strategy to win $15 and union rights for all airport workers. We then took to Congress to urge our representatives to seek a federal solution to the problems faced by contracted out workers at our nation’s airports. Many pledged their support to our fight, knowing that both, $15 and union rights, will ensure better standards for workers and passengers.
By marching, protesting, and striking at airports across the U.S., already 45,000 airport workers have won wage increases and critical improvements including healthcare and paid sick leave. But there is still so much more to do. And despite all of us coming from different parts of the country and world — the United States, Europe and Australia – we all left the convention committed to one fight and one collective voice.
I am excited to see the positive changes we’re going to bring to airport workers.
This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Friday, October 16th, 2015
In a landmark decision called Lincoln Lutheran, the National Labor Relations Board has overruled 53 years of pro-employer precedent. By a 3-2 vote, the Board said that like most other contract terms, dues checkoff must be continued after contract expiration unless the parties agree on a new contract or the employer declares impasse and implements its last best offer.
Dues checkoff must be maintained even if workers are conducting an aggressive inside campaign.
The NLRB ruled in favor of dues checkoff in 2012, but the Supreme Court invalidated the decision, along with many others, when it declared that two Board members had been illegally appointed by President Obama. The matter had to be heard again once new members were properly appointed.
Lincoln Lutheran removes a major impediment to working-without-a-contract campaigns, where the union uses on-the-job actions to pressure an employer for a contract, while avoiding the risks of permanent replacement and decertification associated with a strike.
Under the old rules, an employer could cease transmitting union dues as soon as the contract expired and the union called its first demonstration or informational picket line. The prospect of losing all its income was a strong disincentive for many unions.
The working-without-a-contract strategy is being pursued right now by the Communications Workers and Electrical Workers (IBEW) in their contract fight with Verizon, and by the CWA in its battle with AT&T in the Southeast (see page 12). The Steelworkers are also working without a contract at Arcelor Mittal and U.S. Steel.
With a no-strike clause no longer around its neck, a union that stays on the job after the contract expires can call short-term warning or grievance strikes to throw the employer and its customers off balance. And the union can time a protracted strike for the moment it will be most damaging.
Moreover, no longer constrained by a management-rights clause, the union can demand bargaining on day-to-day decision making, and can file streams of unfair labor practice charges.
As the Republican dissenters in Lincoln Lutheran ruefully warned, employers are not likely to take this decision lying down. They can be expected to come to future negotiations with artfully designed language insuring that dues checkoff will die with the contract. Sticking to their position, they will include the demand in their final offer, to be implemented after declaring impasse.
Unions will have to find ways to overcome these stratagems—for example, stretching out meetings and filing multiple information requests to prevent the employer from lawfully declaring impasse. Time will tell who will prevail in the long run.
But for now, unions involved in inside campaigns can relish the discomfort employers will undoubtedly experience when sending in their weekly dues checks.
This blog originally appeared on Public Justice on October 14, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Authors: Robert Schwartz is a union-side labor lawyer and author.
Saturday, September 26th, 2015
Last night, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in cities all over the world to stand in solidarity around global goals to alleviate poverty, economic inequality and climate change. Even though people were in separate continents, countries and cities, from Australia to South Korea to the United States, they all gathered “Under One Sky”
to come together for these common aspirations.
Lorraine Barcant, a member of AFSCME Local 375, AFL-CIO Next Up and the Young Worker Advisory Council, made the following speech at the Under One Sky rally in New York City last night:
Fifteen years ago, when the U.N. Global Development goals were made, a lot of us were just kids. As we grew up, the inequality around us deepened, dividing us, holding us back. We can’t wait another 15 years to fix the inequality and racial injustice that’s ripping this country apart. What will we tell our kids then? That we didn’t organize, that we didn’t demand action from our leaders? That we’ve only made a little bit of progress?
That’s not enough. It’s not enough to have opportunities, if those opportunities belong to only a few. It’s not enough to have jobs, if those jobs don’t provide security or dignity. It’s not enough to have freedom of speech, if your voice can be drowned out by money.
And that’s why the labor movement is here: To bring people together in solidarity, and demand change. The labor movement says loudly that a little bit of progress is not enough, not here in New York, not anywhere in the world.
Tonight, young workers across the globe demand a future where no one is left behind. We can’t wait, we won’t wait, and starting tonight, things are going to change. Thank you.
This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.
Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
Franchise operators at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches in Baltimore are proving true to the national chain’s anti-union reputation with an aggressive counter-attack against local labor organizing, including a decision in late January to fire an outspoken union supporter, say advocates for the Jimmy John’s Workers Union, an affiliate of the radical union Industrial Workers of the World.
Delivery driver Brennan Leister says he was fired Jan. 23 at the Jimmy John’s location in downtown Baltimore’s tourist district. The reason cited by the manager was an infraction of the rules governing clocking out for breaks. But the “real reason,” Leister charges, is that he is an active and vocal union supporter. He says he is likely to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over the firing, but that he intends to continue to agitate for the union whether he is re-hired or not.
Leister’s dismissal is of a piece with the franchisee’s larger effort to push back against the union campaign, sometimes using tactics that appear to violate labor law, says Issac Dalto, also a Jimmy John’s delivery driver and union supporter. Since going public with their organizing effort last year, Dalto says, the local franchise owners fired another prominent union supporter, distributed anti-union materials in worker paychecks and hired a local anti-union law firm to contest separate unfair labor practice charges filed at the NLRB by the union last August.
Those charges are now tied up in NLRB delays as the franchisees challenge the Board’s subpoena of company employment records, Dalto reports. Appearing on NLRB documents as the representative of Jimmy John’s franchisees Daniel Dorch and Michael Gilette is Kevin McCormick, a lawyer with the firm Whiteford Taylor Preston. The firm’s own website states it handles “union organizational avoidance” for businesses of all kinds.
Three telephone calls to McCormick seeking comment were not returned. Similar e-mail requests were ignored.
The dismissal of Leister prompted a street demonstration on his behalf by union supporters January 31. Held in front of the Jimmy John’s downtown Baltimore location (near to the entrance of the Camden Yards baseball stadium), the demonstration saw about 25 union backers march on an informational picket line as thousands of sports fans streamed by on their way to a “FanFest” celebration for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. Fans also packed the Jimmy John’s restaurant, as members of the local police department kept a close eye on the demonstrators.
Demanding that Leister be re-hired, the demonstrators also protested the low wages at the sandwich shop. Leister emphasized the point by telling In These Times that he had been hired at a wage $7.25 an hour in June 2013 and had not received an increase until this year, when state minimum wage law mandated an increase. He estimates that income from tips upped his hourly income to about $10 an hour, but that the cost of maintenance and repair of his personal bicycle cancelled most of the additional tip income. Drivers were provided with company-owned bikes when he started at Jimmy John’s in 2013, he says, but the vehicles were taken away and drivers required to supply their own bikes thereafter.
These kinds of wages are typical at the more than 2,000 Jimmy John’s restaurants around the country, Dalto adds, and spurred a highly publicized effort establish a union at for the company’s workers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in 2010. The effort was defeated, Dalto says, using the same tactics now being employed by the Baltimore franchisees.
The IWW campaign in Baltimore emerged into public view last year just as the fast food strikes began grabbing national headlines. Although there is no formal connection between the Baltimore organizers and the IWW’s national campaign to organize low-wage service sector workers—which also include a long-running Starbucks organizing campaign—and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-led Fight for 15 campaign, both groups have stressed the need to boost the chronic low pay of fast-food workers and to introduce other workplace improvements.
Leister says that his dismissal was an attempt to intimidate other workers who may consider supporting the union: “They want to create a climate of fear. The fast-food industry depends on working mothers and other income workers who can’t afford to lose a paycheck. They want you to fear the management, to fear the boss.”
This article originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on February 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
Wednesday, December 17th, 2014
In the wake of Rolling Stone‘s statement that it could not stand by the veracity of its bombshell piece detailing an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, anti-sexual assault activists around the country performed a collective facepalm. By failing to properly fact-check the anonymous victim’s account and then walking back the story, the magazine practically invited the slimiest corners of the Right to engage in victim-blaming, slut-shaming and all-around vicious misogyny.
It’s a moment when feminist allies need to speak out on behalf of women’s rights and loudly insist that sexual violence is an epidemic that has to be taken seriously. In the past, however, unions often have not been willing to speak out about sexual assault—even among those that have attempted to carry out a broad progressive agenda, or those with large female memberships.
So it was a welcome surprise to see American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten strongly weighing in on the issue Jezebel yesterday, explaining little-covered efforts by her union to fight sexual assault on college campuses—and detailing her own experience with sexual assault:
“It was just after my junior year in college. I had an internship in labor relations at an automobile plant in Warren, Ohio. A New Yorker from birth, I was out of my element. I tried to find community to anchor my summer in Warren. I did what was familiar: I went to shul. One family invited me over for Shabbat dinner. Dutifully and hopefully, I went. They also invited a young man. He was nice enough. So, when this “nice Jewish guy” invited me for dinner, I said, “Sure.”
“A few days later, I went to his apartment. And that’s where it happened. He tried to rape me. I managed to get out after a struggle, but the emotional scarring was deep.”
She goes on to recall how the assault stayed with her for decades, and why she never spoke about it publicly:
“I didn’t report it. I thought it was my fault. I thought I should have known better. I should have been smarter.”
“I carried it with me for years and years. The shame and the fear faded but never erased completely as I graduated from college and law school, then became a lawyer, a teacher and a union leader.”
Weingarten also gives an example of what a labor movement committed to fighting sexual assault can accomplish, saying her union was central to pushing for a strong sexual assault policies at the State University of New York—what one administrator called “the most comprehensive, victim-centered set of sexual assault policies at any college campus or system of higher education in the country.” And today, the AFT launched a petition calling for a national campus sexual assault bill.
In recent years, the AFT has often been a strongly progressive union on social issues, and backing a national sexual assault bill seems to fit in with the AFL-CIO’s recent commitments to be a part of a broader progressive movement that includes the feminist movement. But rarely do such commitments come with public declarations of such deeply personal stories as Weingarten’s. If more union leaders like her can take her lead to speak up about the epidemic of sexual assault around the country, and can commit to pushing for those commitments at the rank-and-file level, it could be greatly strengthen the movement against sexual assault while expanding the purview of the American labor movement.
This blog original appeared in Inthesetimes.com on December 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17463/aft_randi_weingarten_sexual_assault_story
About the author: Micah Uetricht is the web editor of In These Times. He is a contributing editor at Jacobin and the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. He has written for The Nation, Al Jazeera America, Dissent, and the Chicago Reader.
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.
Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
Every morning, workers at Golan’s Moving & Storage in the Chicago suburb of Skokie are ordered to arrive at work by 6 a.m. to prepare trucks for the day. If they are late, they can be suspended for several days or otherwise disciplined. Yet they typically don’t even start getting paid until about 8 a.m.—when they board a truck bound for their assignment.
This situation is among the many injustices that spurred Golan’s workers to organize with the faith-based workers rights group Arise Chicago last year before unionizing with Teamsters Local 705. Since December 2013, the first contract negotiations have dragged on, with management canceling planned sessions 12 times in six months, according to the Teamsters.
So on July 28, about four-fifths of Golan’s workers walked out on strike. Negotiations are theoretically continuing, but Teamsters Local 705 business agent Richard De Vries says that the company officials walked out of their most recent session, on August 14, after just 41 minutes.
The union has filed various Unfair Labor Practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and a federal mediator was brought in to oversee the negotiations.Still, De Vries tells In These Times that these measures have so far not prevented Golan’s from essentially refusing to bargain. He thinks that the company is trying to delay signing a contract until December, at which point under labor law they can call for an election to decertify the union—because a year will have passed with no contract signed.
“This is our remedy: going on strike,” says De Vries. He reports that more than 80 workers out of a total of about 100 are on strike, including members of the company’s two separate sections, which do local and long-distance moves.
On Saturday, August 16, more than 100 supporters, including Teamsters members from other companies, joined the workers on the picket line. Leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths spoke to the crowd and asked the owners—Israelis who reportedly named the company for the region Israel captured from Syria during the Six-Day War—to recognize the concepts of workers’ rights and human dignity enshrined in all three world religions.
Onesimo Peña was one of the workers who contacted Arise last summer, frustrated with what he told In These Times was “so many abuses” suffered by his co-workers. He also notes that in more than a decade working for the company, his wages have only risen from $12 to $12.50 an hour, even though he has often been called on in emergencies or for important jobs.
“We’ve tried too many times to get the owners to listen to us but they wouldn’t,” says Peña. “So we went to Arise Chicago.”
In turn, Arise connected the workers with Teamsters Local 705. And marshaling support for unionizing was easy, Peña remembers.
“Everyone was tired of this situation,” he says.
Shortly after the workers voted to unionize, Peña says his wages increased to $14 an hour. The company also started paying overtime and made a few other concessions, including with regard to safety. De Vries says he can only speculate as to why, though Golan’s may have been trying to dissuade workers from going on strike or trying to weaken the union in bargaining.
Golan’s workers don’t have insurance, paid sick days or vacation days or any other benefits. According to organizers, such as Arise Chicago’s Jorge Mujica, “There is wage theft all over the place,” including the aforementioned unpaid preparation work time, and logged hours that go missing from paychecks until workers complain.
Plus, workers’ wages are often further reduced by fines for a wide range of infractions. Jose Reyes, a Golan’s employee for 10 years, says he was once fined $700 because one of the other movers in the crew he oversaw had a small tear in his pants. Reyes tells In These Times that workers could also be charged for forgetting to leave the keys to their personal car with management before they head off to a job, or for failing to call the customer to say they are running late.
“There’s no warning, you get back from the job and they are waiting for you with a fine,” he says.
He and Peña also say managers have offered them incentives for reporting other workers for violations.
“They approached me and said, ‘If you turn people in, you will have your job forever, you can have a raise,’” says Reyes, who is on the union negotiating committee. “They were trying to buy me off.”
Worker Miguel Flores tells In These Times that under the terms worked by long-distance drivers who move customers to other states, he has earned only $40 for spending 10 hours unloading boxes at a home. (Mujica explains that this is likely technically legal under labor provisions for interstate commerce.)
Movers in the long-distance unit are particularly upset that they are not compensated for waiting time of up to a day or more if customers are not ready when they arrive. These employees are paid based on factors such as miles driven and the volume of the move. So when a customer isn’t ready, they’re forced to spend time on the road unpaid, sleeping and waiting in their truck when they otherwise could be earning money.
De Vries says payment for such “detention time” is a major demand in negotiations. So far, though, management has offered only token concessions during the negotiation sessions that have occurred. “They have agreed to pay for showers at a truck stop,” which cost a few dollars, he says. And in response to union demands for paid days off, Golan’s offered a total of $10 a day for up to 10 vacation days, De Vries continues.
Golan’s also employs workers under the J-1 visa “work and study-based exchange” program, drawing students from around the world for 90-day stays in the United States. Silviu Radu joined the program while studying for his Masters in business administration at a university in his home country of Romania. After starting work at Golan’s in June and got to know many of his co-workers. He hadn’t been present for many of the complications surrounding organizing and negotiating, so the strike came as a bit of a surprise to him.
“I rode my bike to work and everyone was outside,” he tells In These Times. “I was like ‘Hey guys, what’s going on?’”
Once he learned about the walkout, though, he promptly joined it, as did several other J-1 workers, according to Radu and De Vries. The visa does not allow companies involved in walkouts to staff J-1 employees, so Radu is looking for another job while spending time on the picket lines.
“You get to bond with your colleagues,” Radu says. “These are good people, hard-working people who help each other.”
The J-1 visa—which has drawn controversy in the past over its reported abuse by employers including Hershey’s—cost Radu about $2,000, he says, including other fees connected to the program. Even so, he notes, laughing, that he “was making $10.50 an hour on the truck.”
For its part, Golan’s has largely responded to the actions with denial. Two large green signs outside the company, dated August 12 and addressed to workers from company secretary Yehuda Bitton, read: “The many reckless and dishonest statements about Golan’s and me are fabrications by the union and its representatives. Those of you who have worked for Golan’s for many years know these statements are not true.”
A Golan’s official inside the company during the rally declined to talk, and the spokesperson he referred In These Times to did not return a call for comment.
The company has also attempted to play on the fears on many of its workers regarding deportation. The signs, which are written in English and Spanish, go on to read that the union has threatened to call immigration authorities. De Vries says the U.S. State Department found out about the strike through the J-1 students, likely spurring the company to make that statement. The union has not contacted immigration authorities and would not do so, he argues.
Various workers tell In These Times they are confident the strike will force the company into meaningful negotiations for a contract with significant improvements. They say they’ve heard customers have canceled jobs because of the strike, and that little or no work has been happening at Golan’s. During the Saturday rally a moving truck entered the facility, but because it was manned by only one employee, De Vries said it was likely just a “show.” “You can’t move furniture with one person,” he says.
“We’ve seen trucks leaving and then find them parked 20 blocks away; they’re not working,” Mujica adds.
De Vries says that very few moving companies are organized, and most non-unionized workplaces do not offer their largely immigrant workforce insurance or benefits. Hence, the Golan’s workers’ unionization and strike could be seen as a precedent-setting development for the industry.
Both Reyes and Peña says they take pride in their work and want to continue at Golan’s, only under better conditions. Still, Reyes says he tells his three kids, only half joking, “When you see a Golan’s truck, run and hide, so you don’t end up like me.”
This blog originally appeared in In These Times on August 19, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17100/chicago_movers_stage_groundbreaking_strike
About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist and instructor who currently works at Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99 Percent. She is also the co-author of Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun and the author of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis. Look for an updated reissue of Revolt on Goose Island in 2014. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work.
Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
Information about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) working in secret to push state-level policy to more extreme levels is coming to light more and more and America’s working families are starting to stand up to the group’s corporate-driven agenda. While ALEC’s agenda is all over the policy map, the organization has a particular focus on pushing new laws that attack working families and undercut the rights of workers, both in the workplace and in retirement. Here are eight of the most dangerous and most widespread ways that ALEC is targeting workers and their right to a voice on the job.
8. Voter ID Act: Laws directly based on or similar to ALEC’s Voter ID Act have been introduced in recent years in nearly every state, with more than a dozen states passing or strengthening such laws in the past three years. These laws disproportionately affect working families, senior citizens, people of color and residents of rural areas and help elect legislators who vote against the rights and needs of workers.
7. Paycheck Protection Bills: ALEC has at least four different versions of this legislation, each one more extreme than the last, that were introduced 20 times in various states in 2013. These bills range from requiring that each employee sign an annual form authorizing that their union dues be allowed to be used for political purposes to preventing payroll deductions from being used for union dues. These bills provide no additional rights to workers and do nothing more than weaken the ability of workers to collectively bargain by depriving unions of the funds they need to fight on behalf of their members.
6. Direct Union Assaults: Through model legislation such as the Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act and the De-certification Elections Act, introduced in Idaho and Arizona, respectively, ALEC is seeking to make public employees vote over and over again to retain their union status, giving ALEC and other groups the opportunity to flood workers with anti-union propaganda.
5. Public Employees’ Portable Retirement Option Act: Through this and similar bills, 10 states have attempted to weaken or eliminate defined-benefit pension plans and replace them with defined-contribution plans, which make retirees depend on the market for how much money they have for retirement and health care.
4. Council on Efficient Government Act: As Orwellian a name as any in the ALEC arsenal, this legislation does nothing but use government money to create a commission to figure out ways to privatize government services. In other words, yet another example of ALEC attempting to get taxpayer money into the hands of private corporations without any accountability or taxpayer recourse.
3. “Right to Work” Act: This incredibly misleadingly titled legislation gives no one any new rights and does nothing but prevent employees from paying for the benefits that unions earn on their behalf. So-called “right to work” for less states end up paying their workers a lot less than states that don’t have such laws. In 2013, 15 states introduced this legislation.
2. Parent Trigger Act: These laws give parents the option, once a majority of parents sign a petition, to change a public school into a charter school, give students vouchers or close the school. Seven states have passed parent trigger laws similar to the ALEC bill. Parent Trigger laws force parents to make a bad choice—either stick with a poorly performing school, or take drastic actions that are likely to make things worse, do little to help students and are a boon for corporate groups that run private schools. Meanwhile one of the best tools for helping working families reach the middle class—public education—gets less and less funding.
1. Wage Protections: In 14 states, ALEC model legislation attacking wage protections were introduced. The bills sought to weaken or eliminate laws that require prevailing wages, living wages or minimum wages. Big corporations heavily support these efforts, which would only serve to lower wages for workers.
On Thursday, Aug. 8, working families and other opponents of the ALEC agenda will be rallying at the conservative group’s convention in Chicago. Those who are in the area can RSVP online.
This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 7, 2013. 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.
Tuesday, March 26th, 2013
If Michigan Republicans are campaigning to be named worst Republicans in a state that voted for Barack Obama twice and has two Democratic senators, they can probably relax. Because wow. A Toledo Blade editorial explains that both Wayne State University and the University of Michigan adopted eight-year contracts with their faculty and staff before the lame-duck-passed anti-union freeloader law could go into effect. Because the contracts were passed before the law went into effect, it won’t affect faculty and staff at the universities until the contracts expire. That means that, while no one will have to join the union, people who don’t join will have to pay a fee covering the costs of their representation.
But majority Republicans on the state House’s higher education subcommittee were furious at what they perceived as an attempt to get around the new right-to-work law.So they voted to slash both schools’ state aid by 15 percent. That could mean a cut of $47 million for U of M and $27.5 million for Wayne State. One GOP lawmaker boasted that “we‘ve sent a serious message here,” and accused the universities of trying to violate state law.
It’s not clear how either school could have broken a law that is not yet in effect. And Wayne State president Allan Gilmour, a tough negotiator who was Ford Motor Co.’s longtime chief financial officer, told lawmakers that the long contract actually saves taxpayers money.
The “serious message” Michigan Republicans are sending here, of course, is “we’re unrepentant assholes.” And if passed into law, this particular piece of unrepentant assholery will hit not just faculty and staff at the two universities but students as well, since you don’t cut university funding by 15 percent without leading to increased tuition, cuts that affect the quality of education offered, or—most likely—both.
This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on March 25, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.