Posts Tagged ‘union’
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.
Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Since 2010, right-wing governors and legislators have attacked workers’ rights across the Midwest. These attacks have come in different forms: from stripping public workers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin to an all-out ban on fair share contracts in Michigan and Indiana.
In Missouri, extremist legislators and their corporate backers are taking a different tactic. They are pushing paycheck deception bills, which limit how union workers can make their voices heard in the political process.
Proponents of paycheck deception are counting on the public to be uninformed (or misinformed) about what these bills actually do. So here are 10 things you should know about paycheck deception:
Paycheck deception laws create unfair regulations. These laws require labor organizations to go through burdensome bureaucratic hoops in order to deduct dues from members’ paychecks and to use that money for political advocacy. No other corporation, CEO or other organization has similar restrictions. The sole intent is to force the union to spend more resources collecting dues so that they have less ability to advocate for workers at workplaces and in politics.
Paycheck deception laws limit free speech. These laws apply rules to union members that don’t apply to any other organization. A business that belongs to a Chamber of Commerce, for instance, can’t opt-out of paying annual dues and still belong to the Chamber. Similarly, a shareholder in a corporation has absolutely no say in how that corporation spends money in politics. Essentially, paycheck deception laws say that the government has more say in how union workers spend their money than the workers themselves.
Paycheck deception laws have, and have always had, one purpose: attack unions. California school voucher activists who wanted to weaken the local teachers’ union first used paycheck deception as a tactic in 1998. These laws have always been about weakening unions and those who speak up for workers. They have never been about protecting workers or giving workers a “choice.”
Proponents call them “paycheck protection” laws. The people who push these laws want you to think these laws protect workers, when in fact they just protect the CEOs and special interests that don’t want any opposition from organized labor. The “protection” they are implying already exists, as union members already collectively decide how their money is spent. “Their transparent motive is not to protect workers, but to silence them by diminishing their collective voice,” wrote Joshua Rosencranz of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Paycheck protection laws are not “campaign finance reform.” Supporters of these laws often try to sell them as campaign finance reform. If anything, by forcing unions to follow one set of rules while ignoring corporations, these laws tilt the political playing field further toward corporate interests.
Union members already have a choice. No worker in the United States can be forced to join a union. Period. Furthermore, unions already have a process by which members can opt-out of having their dues used for political activity. As democratic organizations, union members already collectively decide how their dues money is spent—and like our elections, majority rules.
Union members are not calling for these laws. While arguing for paycheck deception in Missouri, legislators claimed they had talked to union workers who felt coerced by the current deduction process but failed to produce them. No union workers testified in favor of the Missouri bill. In fact, a recent Hart Research poll found that 75 percent of union members want their deductions to be used to advocate for the middle class in the political arena.
Paycheck deception laws hurt donations to nonprofits. By firing a broadside attack at unions, paycheck deception laws restrict all kinds of paycheck deductions: direct deposit, 401(k) and charitable deductions. Many union members voluntarily donate to organizations like the United Way through paycheck deductions—these laws would make that process more difficult.
Paycheck deception laws are often found unconstitutional. In Alabama, Arizona and Washington, paycheck deception laws were ruled unconstitutional by state Supreme Courts.The laws frequently violate the First Amendment—since union workers already have the choice to opt-out of their unions’ political activity. If Missouri passes this law, they will have to waste more taxpayer money defending it at court—they’ll probably lose.
Politicians admit that paycheck deception laws are a stepping stone to further union restrictions. Missouri Speaker Tim Jones admitted that while “there are other ways to skin a cat” to limit union workers’ political power, paycheck deception “a way to get to the ultimate goal of right to work.” Patrick Werner of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity also called paycheck deception a “first step” to making Missouri a “right to work” state.
So-called “right to work” laws ban fair share clauses in contracts, forcing unions to represent workers whether or not they pay dues—another tactic used to weaken unions.
Learn more at Progress Missouri, Building the Middle Class, The Brennan Center for Justice, Nonprofit Quarterly and Mother Jones.
This article was posted on the AFL-CIO on March 15, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Doug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
UPDATE: UFCW union leaders in New England announced a tentative settlement with Stop & Shop March on 4, following marathon negotiating sessions over the previous few day. Details of the settlement are being withheld pending formal presentation of the new contract to union members for a ratification vote. According to the union’s special Stop & Shop web site, the union will announce a date for the ratification vote in a matter of days.
Union leaders and grocery chain managers are back at the negotiating table in New England today in a bitter and messy attempt to adapt existing health insurance programs to the new realities of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare. The negotiators—from the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and the Stop & Shop grocery chain—face a March 3 deadline that could provoke a large scale strike or lockout affecting 40,000 workers.
Standing in the way of an agreement at this point are certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act set to go into effect in 2014, says Rick Charette, president of UFCW Local 1445, based in Dedham, Mass. Charette—who leads a coalition of five UFCW locals representing grocery workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire—says the problems appear intractable, and negotiators are desperate to find a solution.
“I’ve been around labor contract negotiations for 40 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Charette said in an interview this week with Working In These Times. “It’s a nightmare” that has been created not by corporate pressure to cut labor costs, but by the fumbling bureaucratic requirements of federal health law, he says.
Stop & Shop faces increased health insurance costs as high as $250 million over three years should all 40,000 UFCW workers continue receiving the same health care insurance benefits as under the current contract (which expired Feb. 17 but has been extended for two weeks), according to Charette. The increased costs are mostly created, he explains, when the Obamacare requirement that medical benefit caps be eliminated prompts insurance companies to raise rates to cover the greater costs.
“What is just crazy about this is that Stop & Shop is one of the few food retailers out there that has had good insurance for part-timers—most grocery companies don’t provide anything at all,” says Charette. “It punishes the companies that are trying [to do] the right thing.”
Stop & Shop’s proposed solution to the problem has been to eliminate coverage for thousands of part-time workers, but UFCW is not ready to agree to that, Charette says. “The theory is that part-timers are, by definition, low-income workers, and therefore they will qualify for government subsidies for individual health insurance under Obamacare. Well, that’s a nice theory, but what does that mean in practice for our members?” he asks. “Nobody seems to know.”
“When we backed Obamacare, we were told that if we had good health insurance and wanted to keep it, we could,” Charette adds. “What happened to that?”
The dilemma for the Stop & Shop worker is indeed a very real and vey difficult one, according to Ken Jacobs, chairman of the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center. The same pressures on the low-income, part-time workers in New England are being felt around the country, he says, and the issue will certainly rise in public prominence over the next year, as the 2014 deadline for elimination of caps approaches.
“This is sort a special problem that applies to part-timers who meet the government definition of low-income,” Jacobs says. “The unions that are going to feel it the most are UNITE HERE and UFCW, and some parts of SEIU,” he predicts. Since there is no Obamacare requirement that many part-timers be covered by employer-based insurance plans, many companies will take the path of least resistance and push these workers out into government-subsidized programs for the working poor.
“The issue of health coverage for workers in the food retailing industry has not been created by Obamacare—it has been at the very center of [grocery industry] labor relations for years,” he notes. The 2003 Southern California grocery strike—the largest of its kind in U.S. history—had its origins in health care insurance issues. “And look what happened there,” Jacobs says. “It was a huge strike and the workers lost a lot of their health care benefits.”
“At the end of the day, it may be better for everyone concerned” to eliminate employer-based coverage for most of these low-income grocery workers, says Jacobs. “If the cost is so onerous that the employer cannot compete, then subsidized individual insurance seems to be a logical alternative.”
Any resolution of the New England Stop & Shop insurance issue could set a national precedent in the grocery chain sector, adds Jacobs. Stop & Shop’s parent company is the Dutch-based international retailer Ahold, which owns hundreds of other stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Any settlement in New England could create a model for those other areas, he says, and a company-wide Ahold solution will, in turn, have a knock-on effect for other gigantic chains like Safeway, Kroger and Supervalu.
The potential national impact of the outcome of the negotiation has created intense pressure this week as the New England talks between UFCW and Stop & Shop enter a decisive phase.
Charette tells Working In These Times that the five union locals are planning on mass meetings across the region for this coming weekend. If a settlement is in hand, union leaders will ask for a ratification vote. Otherwise, they will ask for a strike authorization vote and prepare for a huge confrontation. The union leader confessed it was impossible to predict the outcome.
This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on March 1, 2013. 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.
Monday, February 4th, 2013
Just 12 short weeks ago, Mike Hummell found himself in the middle of one of the highest-profile union fights of 2012: the nationwide strike against Hostess Brands. As a member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), Hummell hit the picket lines in early November in support of the union’s desperate showdown with the company famous for making Wonder Bread and Twinkies. But for Hummell the strike would become more than an angry protest against Hostess’ assault on his livelihood. It would be the beginning of a journey through the electronic media in search of fairness for himself and his coworkers.
“It was incredible to see the strike portrayed in the media as the union forcing the company out of business,” says Hummell, a receiving clerk at the Hostess bakery in Lenexa, Kan. With 14 years on the job, Hummell was dismayed that media portrayals of the struggle showed little or no understanding of the workers’ viewpoint. Adding insult to injury, many news outlets blithely repeated Hostess’ assertions that the company would be destroyed by BCTGM’s refusal to make “reasonable” compromises, he says.
The facts, as Hummell knew from his years at the bakery, were quite different. Workers had already made broad concessions to help save the company, and the goal of the strike was to the hold the line against Hostess managers intent on busting the unions and dismembering the company. While some press accounts seemed biased or misinformed, equally troubling was that the main newspaper in the area, Kansas City Star, was ignoring the story. Hummel’s wife sent in a complaint and a reporter soon contacted him.
“I got into an argument with them. I have to admit I was a little surprised when the the story came out and it was pretty accurate. They even quoted me by name,” he recounts.
Hummell then decided to make his own leap into personal journalism. Long a reader of the Daily Kos blog, he composed his first-ever post for the site. On November 18, Hummell—using the screen name Bluebarnstormer—blasted Hostess in a lengthy post titled “Inside the Hostess Bankery.”
“Wow, it just took off,” Hummell says. The post went viral, logging 261,723 page views in the following days. Indeed, it was so popular that Hummell’s work finished in second place in Daily Kos’ 2012 annual calculation of the site’s most popular reader posts. It was instant fame, of sorts. He was contacted by a news reporter for CNNMoney, and his comments received wide distribution. Hummell then received a call from a producer of the CNBC television network, asking that he represent the workers on a cable program with national distribution. He made two appearances on CNBC, during which he ably fielded hostile questions from both hosts and guests.
“The funniest thing about CNBC was the second time I was on, it was like they felt they had to have a whole crew of so-called ‘experts’ to prove I was wrong,” Hummell says. “Well, none of them seemed to know anything about Hostess.” He says he received a lot of encouragement from his co-workers in his efforts to spread accurate information about the strike, as well as from officers of BCTGM Local 218, which represents Hostess workers in the Kansas City area.
His campaign was not successful, however, in deterring Hostess owners from their plan to close the company, dismiss all the workers, and sell off all the assets to the highest bidder. Currently, Hostess is seeking final approvals from a federal bankruptcy court for an auction of the company’s bakeries and other property.
But Hummel is not finished in his quest. He recently completed work on a 27-minute video, which he videotaped (with a help of a close friend) at a union meeting for fired workers. He hopes that a continued campaign to inform the public will aid Hostess workers in what he regards as a gross miscarriage of justice in Hostess’s bankruptcy proceedings.
“It is absolutely a crime what has happened,” Hummell charges. “The owners of Hostess have lied again and again, and there has been no accountability” from Judge Robert Drain, who oversees the court case.
Judge Drain, he says, has been complicit in the abuse of the bankruptcy court process and should be called to account. Hummell hopes that full public exposure of Hostess managers and of Judge Drain can insure that some of the cash generated by the sale of Hostess will flow to the workers.
As for his journey into the world of media, Hummell says he plans to go further. His public stand on behalf of the BCTGM members has led to an invitation to work with the International Longshoremen’s Association, he says. His experience over the last 12 weeks has convinced him that it is possible for rank-and-file workers to make a difference, he tells Working In These Times.
You can contact Mike at bluebarnstormer <at> yahoo <dot> com.
This article was written by Bruce Vail at Working In These Times on February 2, 2013. 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.
Friday, February 1st, 2013
It is the strangest contradiction: things have not been so bad for workers probably since the Great Depression, with wages declining, health care costs going up, pensions becoming a thing of the past. People are really angry and frustrated. Yet, at the same time, unions continue to decline in numbers and power.
It got worse:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the total number of union members fell by 400,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the nation’s overall employment rose by 2.4 million. The percentage of workers in unions fell to 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011, the bureau found in its annual report on union membership. That brought unionization to its lowest level since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent, according to a study by two Rutgers economists, Leo Troy and Neil Sheflin.
And, even worse:
The portion of private sector workers in unions fell to just 6.6 percent last year, from 6.9 percent in 2011, causing some labor specialists to question whether private sector unions were sinking toward irrelevance. Private sector union membership peaked at around 35 percent in the 1950s.
And it will likely get worse, if that’s possible.
Now, I am not one who believes it is over. BUT: there needs to be a serious debate about what needs to be done. I agree with all the outside obstacles: the billionaires who want to kill unions, the right-wing march to eviscerate public sector unions and the growing numbers of big manufacturers who are setting up non-union operations.
But, a more systematic, honest analysis of what is not working internally is warranted.
This post was originally posted on Working Life on January 23, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy. On June 11, 2009, he announced that he would challenge New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary for the 2010 U.S. Senate special election in New York. However, Tasini later decided to run instead for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.
Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
The NLRB in the past few weeks made public a number of significant decisions, most reached in the final days of the term of Member Brian Hayes, which ended on December 16. The Board continues with three members, Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce and Members Richard F. Griffin, Jr. and Sharon Block.
The decisions touch on a variety of issues including social media postings, charter school jurisdiction, backpay awards, the chargeability of certain union lobbying expenses, and an employer’s responsibility to continue dues collection after the expiration of a contract.
Hispanics United of Buffalo
The Board found that the employer unlawfully fired five employees because of their Facebook posts and comments about a coworker who intended to complain to management about their work performance. In its analysis, the Board majority applied settled Board law to the new world of social media, finding that the Facebook conversation was concerted activity and was protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Member Hayes dissented.
Alan Ritchey, Inc.
In a unanimous decision that resolved the last of the two-member cases returned following the 2010 Supreme Court decision in New Process Steel, the Board found that where there is no collectively-bargained grievance-arbitration system in place, employers generally must give the union notice and an opportunity to bargain before imposing discipline such as a discharge or suspension on employees. Member Hayes was recused.
In a decision that will affect most cases in which backpay is awarded, the Board decided to require respondents to compensate employees for any extra taxes they have to pay as a result of receiving the backpay in a lump sum. The Board will also require an employer ordered to pay back wages to file with the Social Security Administration a report allocating the back wages to the years in which they were or would have been earned. The Board requested briefs in this case in July 2012. Member Hayes did not participate in the case.
Chicago Mathematics & Science Academy
Rejecting the position of a teachers’ union, the Board found that it had jurisdiction over an Illinois non-profit corporation that operates a public charter school in Chicago. The non-profit was not the sort of government entity exempt from the National Labor Relations Act, the Board majority concluded, and there was no reason for the Board to decline jurisdiction. Member Hayes dissented in part.
United Nurses & Allied Professionals (Kent Hospital)
The Board, with Member Hayes dissenting, addressed several issues involving the rights of nonmember dues objectors under the Supreme Court’s Beck decision. On the main issue, the majority held that, like all other union expenses, lobbying expenses are chargeable to objectors, to the extent that they are germane to collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment. The Board invited further briefing from interested parties on the how it should define and apply the germaneness standard in the context of lobbying activities.
WKYC-TV, Gannet Co.
Applying the general rule against unilateral employer changes in terms and conditions of employment, the Board found that an employer’s obligation to collect union dues under a check-off agreement will continue after the contract expires and before a bargaining impasse occurs or a new contract is reached. Member Hayes dissented.
This post was originally posted on LawMemo on December 21, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Ross Runkel is the President and Editor of Law Memo. Ross Runkel spoke at the Washington State Bar CLE on Alternative Dispute Resolution on Arbitration: 9th Circuit and Supreme Court Update and Commentary, on September 26, 2008. He was also the lead-off speaker at the Texas District & County Attorneys Association Civil Law Seminar on Recent Trends in National Employment Law, May 16, 2007. Finally, Ross Runkel spoke at the State Bar of Texas Labor & Employment Law Section Annual Update & Skills Conference, on October 7, 2006.