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Dockworkers Show Us How Unions Can Be a Powerful Force Against Racism

Friday, May 24th, 2019
This article is adapted from Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press. Copyright © 2018 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. It has been modified for this article, with the introductions and conclusions reworked.
From its inception in the 1930s, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and particularly its San Francisco Bay Area chapter, Local 10, have preached and practiced racial equality. First, the union committed itself to equality by desegregating work gangs and openings its ranks to African Americans, whose numbers drastically increased during the World War II-induced Great Migration. In addition to working towards racial equality inside the ILWU, longshoremen and their leaders, in Local 10 and at the international level, participated in myriad intersectional social movements from the 1940s to the present. Thanks to this organizing, longshore workers and their union greatly contributed to the growth and success of social movements in a pivotal time in Bay Area, U.S. and world history.

An early, poignant example of the union’s commitment to ethnic and racial equality came in its principled yet highly controversial opposition to the persecution of Japanese Americans during World War II. In 1942 the ILWU condemned the interment of 125,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt shortly after the surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i. Hostility towards Japanese immigrants (by law, never allowed to become U.S. citizens) and Japanese Americans quickly reached fever pitch, and almost no Americans came to their defense though, more recently, most acknowledge the trampling of their Constitutional rights. Yet in sworn testimony before Congress in February 1942, only three months after Pearl Harbor, ILWU leader Lou Goldblatt sagely predicted, “this entire episode of hysteria and mob chant against the native-born Japanese will form a dark page of American history. It may well appear as one of the victories one by the Axis powers.” Similarly, in May 1945, the month Germany surrendered and three months before Japan did, ILWU International President Harry Bridges pushed to have a few Japanese Americans, interned for most of the war, admitted to the Stockton division of Local 6 (Bay Area warehouse) in conjunction with the government’s War Relocation Authority. When the white majority division refused to allow them into the union, Bridges and Goldblatt pulled the charter until the 700 members accepted this Japanese American into the local. The union’s commitment to equality for Japanese Americans was rare, to say the least, and remains largely unknown.

The ILWU has also been committed to and fought for racial equality since its birth in the 1930s. This sort of activism, still all-too-rare, is called civil rights unionism or social movement unionism. Examples of how the ILWU worked in solidarity with the largely Southern-based black freedom struggle are too numerous to recount, but the union’s commitment was real and long-standing. Bridges regularly wrote in favor of racial equality in his column “On the Beam” that appeared in the union’s newspaper, Dispatcher. In 1954 after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic ruling against Jim Crow segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, Bridges lauded it as “a victory for all decent and progressive Americans—whether Negro, white or any other color,” because the Jim Crow “system has been a cancer on America.”

In 1963, the ILWU began selling units in the housing cooperative that its progressive leaders conceived of and financed as a response to “urban redevelopment” and a lack of affordable housing. Though not the first of its kind (several clothing worker unions in New York City constructed thousands of such units), the St. Francis Square Housing Cooperative was the Bay Area’s first. Beginning in 1960, the ILWU invested some of its pension funds into property that had been part of a 45-block area cleared, notoriously, by city and federal housing agencies in a move criticized by the legendary African American writer and activist, James Baldwin: “urban renewal which means moving Negroes out; it means Negro removal.” The “redevelopment” of the Fillmore (also called the Western Addition) and the city’s largest black neighborhood, began in the 1950s and continued into the early 1970s, razed about 2,500 Victorian structures and displaced more than 10,000 people—overwhelmingly African Americans including hundreds of ILWU Local 6 and 10 members. ILWU Secretary-Treasurer Lou Goldblatt explained why he developed this project in 1979: “what they were not doing was replacing the slums with anything that any of the people who had lived there could have any chance under the sun of coming back to.” St. Francis’ 300-units were open to every ethnicity and race, the first integrated housing development in SF, and its first manager was Revels Cayton, a black left-wing activist and ILWU member. ILWU members who lived in the Fillmore continued resisting further clearings, albeit with limited success. Ultimately, the character of the Fillmore changed forever with far fewer blacks. The co-op, though, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Also in 1963, the ILWU and Local 10 helped organize a huge civil rights demonstration in San Francisco and supported another, the legendary March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Early that year, the nation’s eyes focused upon Birmingham, Alabama, nicknamed “America’s Johannesburg” for being the most segregated big city in the South. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Martin Luther King, Jr., collaborated with local activists for several months of nonviolent civil disobedience to highlight the persistence of racial segregation, nearly ten years after Brown v. Board. Chester, utilizing his many contacts helped create the Church-Labor Conference that, on May 26th, brought together 20,000 people to march with a giant banner reading “We March in Unity for Freedom in Birmingham and Equality in San Francisco.” An additional 10,000 joined at the march’s end to rally, and was the largest civil rights demonstration in the region’s history. Three months later, the ILWU donated money and sent a delegation to the nation’s capital for what proved to be the largest political gathering in U.S. History, up to that time. One quarter of a million Americans, mostly black but with many whites, participated in the March on Washington to pressure the Congress and President to pass a comprehensive civil rights bill outlawing racial discrimination, once and for all. Tragically, the response of some unreconstructed segregationists was the blowing up of a black church, in Birmingham, closely associated with the movement that killed four black girls. When word reached San Francisco, Local 10 members quickly shut down the port for a “stop work meeting” in front of the U.S. Federal Building to protest this terrorist attack.

Due to the union’s many efforts to fight racism, in 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Local 10 where he became an honorary member, like Paul Robeson before him. King, best known for his “I Have A Dream” speech, long had been interested in and supportive of unions but proved increasingly so in his final years. He repeatedly encouraged black workers to join and form unions, famously calling them “the first anti-poverty program.” King regularly supported and spoke to racially inclusive unions, so it not surprising that he visited Local 10’s hiring hall. Addressing a large gathering of dockworkers, King declared, “I don’t feel like a stranger here in the midst of the ILWU. We have been strengthened and energized by the support you have given to our struggles…We’ve learned from labor the meaning of power.” More than forty years later, Local 10 member Cleophas Williams remember the speech: “He talked about the economics of discrimination” insightfully pointing out, “What he said, is what Bridges had been saying all along” about all workers benefiting by attacking racism and forming interracial unions…The day after his stunning murder, April 9, 1968, the Bay Area was quiet when more than 150 cities and towns erupted into flames. Longshoremen shut down the ports of San Francisco and Oakland for their newest (honorary) member, as they always do when one of their own dies on the job. Nine ILWU members attended King’s funeral, in Atlanta, including Bridges, Chester, and Williams, elected the local’s first black president the year prior.

Similarly, it is neither incidental nor coincidental that ILWU members in the Bay Area gave timely and significant support to Californians seeking to form the United Farm Workers (UFW). It is widely known that migratory farm workers were heavily non-white (particularly Mexican and Filipino Americans) and immigrant (Mexican but also smatterings of other peoples including Arabs). When Filipino American farm workers struck large table and wine grape growers in and around Delano, California in 1965, they quickly joined forces with Cesar Chavez’s fledgling union, mostly Mexican Americans. Thus began a five-year saga that—like the predominantly African American sanitation workers with their “I Am A Man” campaign—combined elements of labor and civil rights activism. On November 17, 1965 a few of these strikers stood at the foot of SF Pier 50, hoping to convince longshoremen not to load Delano grapes aboard the President Wilson, headed for Asia. One key activist, Gilbert Padilla, described what happened next:

We went there as the grapes were being loaded onto ships to Japan…and I’m standing out there with a little cardboard, with a picket [sign], ‘Don’t eat grapes.’ then some of the longshoremen asked, ‘Is this a labor dispute?’ And I [was nervous and didn’t know whether we were legally allowed to use the term, so I] said, ‘No, no, no labor dispute.’ So they would walk in. Jimmy Herman came over and asked me, ‘What the hell you doing?’ And I told him we were striking. He knew about the strike but wanted to know, ‘what are you asking for?’ And I was telling him, and then he says, ‘Come with me.’ He took me to his office; he was president of the clerks (a Longshoremen’s Union local). He took me to his office and he got on his hands and knees, Jimmy Herman, and he made picket signs. And he told me, ‘You go back there and don’t tell nobody about who gave you this. But you just stand there. [You] don’t [have to] say a goddamned thing.’ The sign said, ‘Farm Workers on Strike.’ And everybody walked out of that fucking place, man! That’s the first time I felt like I was 10 feet tall, man! Everybody walked out. So then they asked what’s happening and we were telling them, and Jesus Christ, man, I never seen anything like it. There were trucks all the way up to the bridge, man!

That Bay Area longshoremen and clerks actively supported this movement comes as little surprise, especially as the ILWU organized farm workers, overwhelmingly Asian Americans, in Hawai’i in the 1950s.

Local 10 also played an integral, if hidden, role in the historic Pan-Indian occupation of Alcatraz, one of the most incredible chapters in Bay Area social movement history. Beginning in 1969, American Indians, including many students at San Francisco State, planned and occupied the legendary Alcatraz Island, a former federal penitentiary. They did so to raise awareness of the desperate plight of American Indians and promote cultural and political changes among both Indians and the nation at large. Long forgotten or never known is that a Local 10 longshoreman, “Indian Joe” Morris, born and raised on the Blackfoot reservation in Montana, helped make the eighteen-month occupation possible. The twelve-acre “Rock” was lifeless so literally everything needed to sustain the occupiers’ lives, including water, had to come from the mainland (a main reason the federal government stopped using it as a prison). Morris secured the unused SF Pier 40 from which the transfer of all people and supplies occurred between the island and city. In his unpublished memoir, he writes, “When the Indians occupied Alcatraz Island I was the Alcatraz troubleshooter and mainland coordinator.” Morris also raised thousands of dollars from the ILWU and other unions in support and even took collections at the Ferry Building (now named after Harry Bridges). Without Morris’ unsung action, the occupation—simply put—could not have continued very long. Morris might have been the only American Indian in Local 10, but there was tremendous sympathy among others for the occupation; for example, the ILWU Executive Board praised the Indians occupying Alcatraz “as a haven and a symbol of the genocide they have suffered.” Morris helped arrange for a delegation of Local 10 and other ILWU members to visit Alcatraz, where Lou Goldblatt proclaimed, “You folks are just like a labor union on strike. You have to last one day longer than the other guy.” Winding down in 1971, the Dispatcher featured a photograph of Morris holding a painting—his first ever—commemorating the occupation though few know this intersectional history.

In 1969, the legendary African American activist Bayard Rustin wrote, “the Negro can never be socially and politically free until he is economically secure.” Rustin could have been describing the civil rights unionism of ILWU Local 10. Or, as William “Bill” Chester, an African American and long-time civil rights activist in the ILWU, recalled, “We found that, in a sense, the union is the community.” Bay Area longshore workers did not stop with racial equality, though. They also provided mighty assistance to many other social movements across the Bay Area, nation and world.

This article appeared at In These Times on May 23, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Peter Cole is a Professor of History at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive Era Philadelphia and is currently at work on a book entitled Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a Research Associate in the Society, Work and Development Program (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has published extensively on labor history and politics. He tweets from @ProfPeterCole.

Bernie Sanders will present proposal on behalf of Walmart workers at annual shareholders meeting

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

Every year, Walmart stages a massive, multi-day meeting in Arkansas for the company’s shareholders, not far from the corporate headquarters of the world’s largest retail store. The company’s top executives deliver speeches, its board of directors hears various proposals regarding corporate behavior and governance, and special guests make surprise appearances to keep the masses entertained.

The shareholders’ meeting is also when the company’s 1.5 million U.S. workers — many of whom work for poverty-level wages with few benefits and employment safeguards — are given a chance to directly confront the billionaires whose fortunes they helped build.

This year, they’re bringing a megaphone with them to amplify their message: Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I).

For years, workers have appeared at the shareholders’ meeting to propose new corporate policies designed to help lift the retailer’s army of hourly workers out of poverty and provide them with greater protections on the job. Every single proposal they have put forward has been voted down and ignored by the Walton family, which controls the majority of votes on the board.

Sanders will appear on the workers’ behalf this year to present their latest proposal: give hourly workers one seat on the company’s board.

For years, Sanders has fought on behalf of the country’s 80 million hourly workers, pushing for increases to the minimum wage, strengthening unions, and capping executive salaries which have skyrocketed in the last 25 years. Walmart, by virtue of employing more of these hourly workers than any other company in the country by a wide margin, has been a specific target for Sanders.

Last year, he introduced the subtly-named “Stop Walmart Act” designed to pressure the company to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The bill would prohibit large corporations from buying back their own stock — a popular mechanism for boosting share prices — unless they introduce a series of benefits for hourly workers first, in addition to the wage hike.

For their part, Walmart executives appear less than thrilled that Sanders will be in attendance to directly criticize their corporate practices on the biggest day of the year.

“If Senator Sanders attends, we hope he will approach his visit not as a campaign stop, but as a constructive opportunity to learn about the many ways we’re working to provide increased economic opportunity, mobility and benefits to our associates — as well as our widely recognized leadership on environmental sustainability,” the company said in a statement.

The proposal Sanders will be introducing isn’t the only one shareholders are expected to vote on next month. Another one calls for the company to strengthen protections against workplace sexual harassment.

The company is advising shareholders to vote no.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Adam Peck is a deputy editor at ThinkProgress who works with politics reporters.

Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Union contract negotiations include mandatory and permissive subjects of bargaining. Employers are required by law to negotiate over mandatory subjects—wages, benefits and working conditions. Permissive subjects, such as decisions about which public services will be provided and how, have historically been the purview of management. We only negotiate over how managerial decisions affect members’ jobs. Employers may voluntarily agree to negotiate permissive subjects, but unions can’t legally strike over them.

In recent years, some unions have embraced “bargaining for the common good,” which use the union campaign to win broad, righteous public benefits. The best current example of this is the Los Angeles teachers’ strike, which opposed the underfunding, privatization and overcrowding of schools—all of which hurt students. Common good goals often bump against the constraints of what is legally bargainable. For instance, does a demand from teachers’ unions that school districts use district-owned property to fund and build affordable housing for teachers affect working conditions? While shortages of affordable housing affect teachers very directly, how school districts use their land and invest their money is normally considered a managerial prerogative.

But last fall’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a game-changer. It concludes that humanity has 12 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—and avoid civilization-threatening consequences of climate change. There is a lot of space between projected best- and worst-case future scenarios. It’s the difference between bad and apocalyptic. That space represents hundreds of millions of people dying. Avoiding worst-case scenarios, in strictly scientific terms, requires everyone to do everything, immediately.

The looming timeline of the IPCC report means unions must have a right to bargain over climate change, especially in the public sector. What good is it to negotiate the assignment of overtime when the sky is on fire? Does a public employer really want to claim that its direct complicity in the potential collapse of civilization has no bearing on working conditions? Can government claim that abandoning its workforce to die or flee their homes doesn’t affect working conditions? If employers don’t accept that every choice made today affects the near future, they’re denying science. Local and state governments in Democratic strongholds may find it politically challenging to posture about resisting Republicanism nationally while denying the local implications of that stance.

Thanks to the Sunrise Movement and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Green New Deal provides a framework for us to declare our part in everyone doing everything immediately. The Green New Deal calls for a government-funded jobs program to carry out a just transition to a carbon-free economy at the rates called for by the IPCC report. This is a perfect common good framework for unions to respond to the most urgent challenge of our time, while simultaneously promoting a high-functioning public sector as antidote to neoliberalism’s degradation of public services.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, the union where I work, supported the campaign to divest the San Francisco pension plan from fossil fuels and to stop a new coal shipping terminal at the Port of Oakland. In my union, we advance our goals on parallel tracks via collective bargaining and public policy, using each to reinforce the other. The nexus between the functions of local government, climate change and jobs goes even further. San Francisco has already made significant commitments on many of these initiatives, and plans to do more. A local government Green New Deal collective bargaining platform would include climate mitigation strategies to reduce emissions:

  • Divest pensions from the fossil fuel industry.
  • Convert to 100 percent renewables for utilities.
  • Retrofit public buildings for energy efficiency and disaster resilience.
  • Immediately transition to renewable energy vehicles for public buses, transit and car fleets, which could achieve that critical 1.5 degrees Celsius target.
  • Plant trees and expand parks and bike infrastructure.
  • Fund and expand public transit.
  • Reduce carbon emissions in food procurement by public agencies by encouraging local, real food, and reducing meat.

It would also include climate adaptation strategies to prepare vulnerable communities to survive coming floods, fires, droughts and diseases:

  • Mandate inclusion of climate change in land use and planning.
  • Build climate-adaptive infrastructure.
  • Develop procedures and train personnel on emergency response, especially to care for our unhoused neighbors.

Perhaps the best climate policy is transit-oriented, high-density affordable housing. It reduces commute times, and helps public workers and the people who depend on their services. In San Francisco, public services suffer from housing costs as workers move away and commute further distances. Housing drives teacher turnover, makes buses late because the Municipal Transportation Authority can’t hire drivers, and compromises emergency response when many first responders live far away.

For unions dealing with State governments, a Green New Deal platform might also include:

  • Funds for wildfire response and prevention, including forestry, strengthening oversight of utility regulators, and firefighters, all of which are carried out by public workers. Since wildfires are both the consequences of climate change and the cause of more accelerating carbon emissions, state government needs greater investments in rapid response.
  • Funds to support indigenous people to do forest management.
  • The transformation of private utilities into public agencies.
  • Funds for climate research at public universities.
  • The promotion of unionization in green jobs like electric car manufacturing and solar.

One obstacle to bargaining the Green New Deal is buy-in from members. Union members, like a lot of us, worry about climate change but are demoralized that it is too vast for them to do anything about. They’ve taken it on the chin from neoliberalism for a long time, so have urgent goals about fighting to protect public services from privatization and their jobs from being dragged yet further down in a race to the bottom. Tackling the Green New Deal can understandably feel like one more burden added to an already stuffed agenda.

Unions have long been waging defensive fights to maintain basic workplace protections in an era of austerity, but we’re changing. Where common good strategies succeed, most recently showcased with the Los Angeles teacher strikes, the membership’s readiness to strike for the community resulted from lengthy deep internal education, organizing and coalition-building. Union leadership would need to see the Green New Deal as a tool against austerity politics. We’d need to educate members about their collective power to make a difference on the most fundamental crises of our time—and raise expectations of what an expanded public sector could do.

The Green New Deal is basically the reverse of Naomi Klein’s concept of the “shock doctrine,” which refers to the process whereby capitalists take advantage of crises to reorder policies in their interests. Civilization is menaced by the Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse: climate change and inequality. Inequality is so bad that the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the poorest 60 percent. The percentage of young people who will earn more than their parents is plunging. Public workers and their unions belong at the center of the solution to both. The policies of a Green New Deal require a robust and well-funded public sector with good union jobs. Because of the nature of public sector work, an expanded public sector as part of a Green New Deal disproportionately benefitswomen and people of color.

On Friday, the AFL-CIO issued a letter criticizing the Green New Deal, apparently on behalf of building trades unions who work in the fossil fuel business. Those unions are inexplicably concerned that the Green New Deal’s expressed goals of meeting the challenge of climate change with a job guarantee to protect affected workers doesn’t include them. Contrary to labor skeptics who think the labor movement is hopeless, labor critics of the Green New Deal are optimists, believing that there are in fact jobs on a dead planet.

Any seasoned union campaigner worth her salt loves a contract fight because it has a hard deadline that focuses everyone’s attention—expiration and a strike threat. We already know that the ruling class’ answer to climate change is doomsday bunkers for billionaires, while the vast majority become climate refugees. For the rest of us, every labor victory in recent years has involved worker militancy and broad demands that link workers with their communities. Similarly, throughout history, every significant social movement has found an expression in labor struggles. The climate crisis will be no different. Climate science gives us a new deadline and an opportunity to show that we’re up to the task. We have 12 years.

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Nato Green is a standup comedian, writer, and Campaign Coordinator for SEIU Local 1021 in San Francisco.

After Janus, Cities and Towns Are Poised to Become the New Battleground Over “Right to Work”

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

In December 2015, Lincolnshire, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a population of a little over 7,000, passed a right-to-work (RTW) ordinance. While a slim majority of states have enacted RTW laws over the past several decades, RTW measures at the county or municipal level are rare in comparison. A group of unions quickly sued to strike down the ordinance, and after nearly three years of litigation, the next stop for the legal battle might be the Supreme Court.

The unions have been successful so far in their fight against the ordinance, winning first in the U.S. District Court and then again after Lincolnshire appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. But on February 14, Lincolnshire filed a petitionwith the Supreme Court, which will now decide whether it will hear the village’s appeal. Lincolnshire is being represented in the lawsuit by the Liberty Justice Center, one of the groups that represented plaintiff Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME, the case that abolished public-sector fair-share fees nationwide.

The legal arguments in the case, which is named Village of Lincolnshire v. IUOE Local 399, are not particularly complicated. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) clearly allows employers and unions to enter into union security agreements, which require workers to pay union dues (or reduced “fair-share fees” for non-members). However, a provision in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act allows states to pass RTW laws, which permit workers to refuse to pay union dues while still enjoying all of the benefits of union representation. The unions argue that the Taft-Hartley provision means what it says—that states can pass RTW laws, not counties or cities. Lincolnshire argues that the law’s reference to “states” actually includes states and their subordinate political bodies.

Allowing local RTW ordinances could lead to what the unions described in their Seventh Circuit brief as a “crazy-quilt” of overlapping and inconsistent regulations. Illinois alone could be home to more than 300 different RTW ordinances among counties and municipalities with home rule authority. And numerous different laws could apply to the same collective bargaining agreement, as agreements commonly cover multiple facilities or job sites.

There is reason to suspect that the Supreme Court will decide to hear Lincolnshire’s appeal. The Seventh Circuit’s decision in favor of the unions conflicted with a 2016 decision of the Sixth Circuit, UAW Local 3047 v. Hardin County, which held that counties and municipalities have the legal authority to enact RTW measures. The Supreme Court will often hear an appeal to resolve this kind of conflict, which is called a circuit split. Troublingly, the Supreme Court refused to hear the UAW’s appeal of the Sixth Circuit decision, leaving that decision as law of the land in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and potentially tipping the justices’ hands on the issue.

In Janus, the right-wing majority of the Supreme Court overturned more than 40 years of precedent to make the country’s entire public sector RTW. There is no reason to expect Justice Kavanaugh to be any more sympathetic to labor rights than now-retired Justice Kennedy. If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it may well be the next step in the steady erosion of labor rights that has occurred under the Roberts Court.

Meanwhile, local RTW laws have started to spread elsewhere. Lobbying efforts by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity have made quick progress in New Mexico, with 10 of the state’s 33 counties and one village passing RTW ordinances since January 2018. The group previously used the same county-by-county approach in Kentucky, where over a dozen counties passed RTW ordinances before statewide RTW legislation passed in 2017.

In Delaware, attacks on unions at the local level have been less successful. In late 2017 and early 2018, two local governments in the state were considering RTW measures. While a proposal in Sussex County eventually stalled following union protests and warnings from the Delaware Attorney General and the county’s own attorney that the county lacked the legal authority to enact the proposal, the town of Seaford quietly enacted a RTW ordinance without holding any public hearings. The Seaford ordinance was quickly quashed in June 2018 when Governor John Carney signed legislation permitting private union security agreements statewide.

Local RTW laws have been slow to spread in part because local governments like Sussex County fear that they violate the NLRA. But with union busters running out of states in which they could realistically seek to pass RTW laws, they have looked to local RTW laws as a way to make inroads into non-RTW states. If the Supreme Court gives local RTW laws their blessing, the significant legal risks will be removed and right-wing groups will begin pushing them on counties and towns throughout the country.

What can the labor movement do in the meantime? One strategy is legislative. In states where Democrats hold the governorship and the majority in both state legislatures, we can push politicians to follow the Delaware approach and enact laws guaranteeing the right to enter into union security agreements. But even after significant Democratic gains in the midterm elections, there are only 13 of these states other than Delaware.

Another strategy is for private-sector unions to conduct vigorous internal organizing campaigns as public sector unions did in preparation for Friedrichs v. CTA and then Janus. Unlike public-sector unions, private-sector unions do not have onerous restrictions on the subjects over which they can collectively bargain, which many public sector unions have been forced to deal with in recent years. These campaigns to increase worker participation in existing unions and to sign up fair-share-fee payers as full members will prepare unions to contend with local RTW laws in unexpected locations, while also building stronger unions if we are fortunate enough to avoid another attack from the Supreme Court.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Nick Johnson is a union lawyer in New York.

As shutdown becomes longest in U.S. history, federal employees sue over working for no pay

Monday, January 14th, 2019

The government shutdown dragged on for a 22nd day on Saturday, making it the longest in American history. On Friday, 800,000 federal employees went without their paychecks. And though President Trump insists “the buck stops with everybody,”  51 percent of Americans are placing blame for the shutdown him and him alone, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

On Friday, federal employee unions filed a lawsuit accusing the government of violating federal labor laws by forcing “essential” employees to continue to work through the shutdown, even though they aren’t being paid. These unions — the National Federation of Federal Employees, the National Association of Government Employees, the National Weather Service Employees Organization — have sued in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. They allege that by not paying workers minimum wage and overtime, the federal government is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In a statement, NFFE National President Randy Erwin said:

“In this country, when a worker performs a day’s work, he or she is entitled to a day’s worth of compensation. That is how working people provide for their families. Because of the chaos this wasteful government shutdown is causing, the government is trying to pay people in I.O.U.s. With this lawsuit we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t pay workers with I.O.U.s. That will not work for us.’”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association also sued the federal government Friday, as its workers, too, work sans pay throughout the shutdown. Their lawsuit argues that the administration is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as the Fifth Amendment, asserting that it “unlawfully deprived NATCA members of their earned wages without due process,” as the group wrote in a press release. According to The Hill, NATCA is asking for a hearing on its motion for a temporary restraining order against the government.

Politico reports that the Office of Management and Budget is working on “a special mid-cycle pay disbursement for impacted agencies” so that employees can be paid swiftly — that is, once the shutdown ends.

One thing that would not end the shutdown, according to the White House, is the declaration of a national emergency, a move Trump is said to be giving serious consideration.

Sources told Politico that White House officials have urged congressional Republicans to manage their expectations about the shutdown coming to a speedy conclusion in the event that Trump declares a national emergency at the border.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress.

After nearly 2 months on strike, Hawaii workers secure better contract

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Hawaii hotel workers, who went on strike in early October, finally reached a deal on their contract. After 51 days of striking, workers have won higher wages as well as more funding for health care and pensions.

The contract will provide for $6 per-hour increases in wages and benefits over four years, which is the most the union has negotiated, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. For many weeks, workers at Marriott-operated and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts-owned hotels lived off union stipends that were hundreds of dollars less than what they would make in a week.

Paola Rodelas, spokeswoman for the union, Unite Here Local 5, told Travel Weekly when the strike first began that the wage was insufficient for hotel workers living in a state with such a high cost of living. A worker in the state would need to make $36.13 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Rodelas added that job security and adequate staffing and safety procedures were important to the union, saying that “Housekeeping is back-breaking work.”

Non-tipped hotel workers secured a $1.50 per hour wage increase and tipped employees received a $0.75 hour wage increase. Workers have an additional 20 cents and 13 cents per hour for health care and for pensions. The union agreed to set aside 10 cents an hour to provide for childcare, Honolulu Civil Beat reported.

Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts, the company that owns the hotels, has agreed that housekeepers can clean fewer rooms each day and pregnant women in particular will clean fewer rooms. Hotel workers were also concerned about their jobs being affected by automation. The hotel said it will let the union know in advance if it will be getting automating and thus wiping out people’s jobs.

Gina Aczon, a hotel employee who takes care of reservations, told Hawaii News Now that the 51-day strike was difficult on families, particularly around the holidays.

Aczon said, “I’m really happy that this is already done so that we can enjoy the holidays.”

An overwhelming majority, 99.6 percent of workers, approved the deal.

Vacationers and business travelers definitely felt the absence of workers. According to Hawaii News Now, visitors at the striking hotels said pools and food and bar services were closed, bathrooms went uncleaned, and they didn’t have enough clean towels. One couple actually filed a class action lawsuit against Marriott International and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts after they found the hotel stay they planned for their honeymoon did not have housekeeping and had very few services and amenities. Some guests also complained about the noise of workers striking outside hotels.

The Hawaii hotel workers join Marriott workers in Boston, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose, and Detroit who secured new contracts after going on strike in October. Those strikes lasted for weeks but alended earlier this month, with those workers securing higher wages, better health benefits and working conditions, and ending unsafe workloads. The only hotel workers who are still on strike are workers in San Francisco, who ate Thanksgiving dinner on the picket line. Negotiations will resume this weekend. In total, about 7,700 hotel workers went on strike in October.

As part of the Unite Here strike effort, hotel workers held signs that read, “One job should be enough.” Union members said one job’s pay should keep up with the cost of living and support families and that workers should be able to “retire with dignity.”

Many Americans still have multiple jobs despite lower unemployment rates, mostly due to slow increases in pay and employers not increasing hours and benefits.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 28, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

When Janus Backfires: A Test Case In Labor Solidarity After Fair Share

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

In the aftermath of this summer’s Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision attacking public-sector unions, the University of Illinois at Chicago is rapidly becoming a bellwether for how those unions might sink or swim in a world without fair share.

UIC prides itself on being one of the most diverse college campuses in the country and one of the most welcoming to working-class students. The city’s only public research university and home to a vast hospital system, UIC employs a cross section of public-sector workers including nurses, teachers, clerical workers, and maintenance workers, nearly all of whom are unionized.

In recent years, university officials have rightly issued public statements critical of government actions that harm members of the campus community, including Trump’s Muslim ban, the Illinois state budget impasse, and the House GOP’s failed attempt to tax graduate student tuition waivers. But since the Supreme Court issued its anti-union decision in the Janus case this June—threatening the collective bargaining rights of thousands of university employees—the administration has been silent. Instead, through their actions, administrators have indicated a willingness to use Janus to engage in union busting.

In the first month after the ruling came down, the university payroll office failed to deduct dues from hundreds of card-signed union members from several unions on campus, including UIC United Faculty (UICUF), the Illinois Nurses Association (INA)SEIU Local 73, and my own union, the UIC Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). In the case of GEO, this cost our relatively small local of graduate student workers a whopping $10,000.

UIC’s failure to deduct member dues in July was not only illegal, but it also effectively silenced workers who actually want to pay dues because they enjoy having workplace rights. The administration openly admitted they hadn’t deducted dues, but said they weren’t going to do anything to remedy this obvious legal violation. Instead, they’ve forced the unions into a protracted grievance and arbitration dispute, apparently hoping they can simply tire us out or outspend us in legal fees.

Further, the administration is claiming the right to unilaterally process membership revocations without notifying the unions, which goes against university HR’s own policy. They also refuse to provide us with timely information about which employees are in our respective bargaining units, which is especially harmful for GEO since our bargaining unit changes dramatically every semester. Not knowing exactly who we represent at all times makes it difficult to sign up new members and impossible to ensure UIC is deducting dues correctly.

In August, GEO discovered that the university had mistakenly deducted dues from sixty nonmembers, individuals we had never claimed were union members in the first place. Mistakes like this put the union at legal risk, since the erroneously deducted money goes into our local’s bank account and makes the local liable for “taking” it. We alerted the administration immediately and they quickly corrected the error. What we still haven’t been able to figure out is why a handful of grad workers, overwhelmed with our normal teaching and research responsibilities and representing our union as volunteers, have to tell well-paid administrators at a multibillion-dollar institution like UIC how to do their jobs.

All of this comes as our unions are in the middle of contract negotiations. Even before Janus, UIC was already prone to bullying campus workers at the bargaining table and pushing us into going on strike. In 2014, faculty with UICUF had to strike to win their first contract. Last fall, the INA-represented staff nurses and administrative nurses at the UI Hospital came within a hair’s breadth of walking off the job before an eleventh-hour agreement was reached. This past spring, grad workers at the Urbana-Champaign campus had to strike for nearly two weeks in order to safeguard tuition waivers.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the administration has tried to exploit the post-Janus confusion around dues deductions to gain an advantage in bargaining, presumably to pressure us into making concessions on issues that matter to our members in exchange for the continued existence of our unions. When GEO first questioned why the administration had not deducted July member dues, they said they would only discuss it with us in contract negotiations—never mind that abiding by existing contract language and existing law is non-negotiable.

UIC grad workers—whose baseline pay is only $18,000 and who are forced to pay up to $2,000 in fees every year—are fighting for living wages and fee waivers. UIC’s tenured and nontenured faculty are fighting for increased job security, shared governance, and raises. That should be the focus of negotiations, not bureaucratic procedures around dues deductions.

The administration is waging its most vicious attack on the underpaid Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) with INA at the UI Hospital, who have also been in bargaining since Janus came down. Shortly after the ruling was issued, the university decided to bring in a new lead negotiator, who proceeded to tear up previously agreed-upon articles and introduce extremely regressive proposals in their place. Among other things, UIC is demanding LPNs surrender their right to engage in virtually any kind of concerted activity at the workplace, while demanding INA publicly disavow any kind of protest carried out by its members and threatening to single out union leaders for discipline.

UIC administrators seem to have assumed that Janus would leave our unions weakened and afraid, allowing them to ride roughshod over us and impose terrible contracts. But they miscalculated.

Thanks to the administration’s handling of Janus, the campus unions are working together closely. In late July, members of INA, UICUF, SEIU Local 73, and GEO held a joint march on the boss, showing up unexpectedly at the office of the head of university Labor Relations to demand accountability around the failure to deduct dues. Clearly rattled by this, the administration has since been far more careful around processing deductions and correcting errors when we point them out.

Meanwhile, all of our unions have filed or plan to file both grievances and Unfair Labor Practice charges. GEO and UICUF are ramping up our respective contract campaigns, both building towards possible strikes next spring which might easily coincide. This week, the LPNs will be going out on an indefinite ULP strike, and members from all four of our unions will hold a unified protest and rally as the UIC Board of Trustees gathers on campus for a meeting.

The budding coalition of UIC unions should be on every labor activist’s radar, as it’s emblematic of what a post-Janus world can look like for public-sector unions: a huge uptick in hostility from the boss met with more solidarity, more organizing, more direct action, more strikes, and a deeper determination to fight for our rights as public sector workers to ensure our students get the education they deserve, and our patients get the care they deserve.

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 14, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.

New Koch Brothers-Funded Super PAC Looks to Capitalize on Janus Decision Ahead of the Election

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

On the cusp of the midterm elections, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a right-wing political advocacy organization founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has endorsed eight GOP House incumbents in the hopes of weakening labor groups’ influence in Washington and ensuring that the AFP’s political agendas remain a priority in Congress.

AFP is a Koch-funded organization whose agenda is in line with other groups—such as Concerned Veterans for America, which is also funded by the Koch brothers—that work against progressive initiatives and protections for labor unions, healthcare reform and any effort to combat climate change, says David Armiak, a researcher for the Center for Media and Democracy, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit watchdog group.

On August 31, AFP endorsed eight GOP House incumbents as its “policy champions”: Peter Roskam (R-Ill. 6th), Dave Brat (R-Va. 7th), Ted Budd (R-N.C. 13th), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio 1st), Will Hurd (R-Texas 23rd), Erik Paulsen (R-Minn. 3rd), Rod Blum (R-Iowa 1st) and David Young (R-Iowa 3rd).

“AFP will fully activate its grassroots infrastructure through phone banks and neighborhood canvassing, as well as deploy targeted digital, mail, and radio advertising” to support these candidates in their upcoming elections, the organization writes in a statement.

While it’s hard to know the specific reason that the AFP singled out these eight GOP incumbents as its “policy champions,” the AFP has “correctly recognized that these are candidates who are vulnerable,” says Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a political scientist and public affairs professor at Columbia University. According to the nonpartisan election analyst the Cook Political Report, many of them are in toss-up races. In three of the elections, Ill.-06, Iowa-01 and Minn.-03, polls currently lean Democrat.

Armiak says AFP’s newly formed super PAC, Americans for Prosperity Action (AFPA), allows all Koch brother-funded groups to consolidate their spending power into a single political ad-buying powerhouse. This makes it more challenging for an experienced researcher, such as Armiak, to track the money funneling through the Koch brothers’ political network.

“[The groups] are reorganizing their spending filing to make it more complicated,” Armiak says. “It’s a sophisticated network and difficult to figure out and will take a while to study to truly understand how it operates.”

This can be worrisome to progressive interest groups that AFP and Koch brother affiliates typically work against—such as those pushing for healthcare reform and environmental advocacy—because it allows AFP to spend more money against such interest groups with little disclosure of where their funds come from.

Organized labor groups especially may be negatively impacted after the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision this June. “[AFP wasn’t] directly involved in the Janus decision but heavily supported it,” Hertel-Fernandez says. The decision means right-to-work laws, which prohibit unions from charging non-members fees regarding union services like collective bargaining, now apply to the public sector. This could benefit AFP and its endorsed candidates because it could lessen the financial strength of unions, which will inevitably hurt their lobbying abilities in Washington, according to Hertel-Fernandez.

It’s likely AFP and the Koch brothers are eyeing the Janus decision as an opportunity to use it as justification to support federal right-to-work laws in the private sector, too, Hertel-Fernandez says. AFPA is a new weapon that allows the AFP to spend exorbitant amounts of money to support candidates who will push for private sector right-to-work laws, which are currently applied in 27 states.

As a super PAC, AFPA is not restricted to any donation or spending limits. While it is illegal for a super PAC to coordinate with political candidates, it can spend unlimited amounts to support any candidate it chooses with methods such as advertising and canvassing. Donors to AFPA know that if they want their agendas advanced, they have to keep financially supporting congressmen that have proven to be a strong return on investment by voting on legislation that suits their interests, says Hertel-Fernandez. The eight GOP incumbents AFP has endorsed have historically been aligned with the Koch brothers’ libertarian ideology and political interests.

“To Charles and David Koch, politicians are just actors who are just a means to an end. They are looking for people who will just do what they ask them to,” Hertel-Fernandez says. “They are willing to work with anyone to pursue [their] agenda.”

The Koch brothers and their political network are clearly focused on maintaining influence in Congress. But as we head into the polls today, political analysts and pundits are predicting a blue wave that might just thwart the Koch brothers’ attempt to keep control of the House.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eric Bradach is an editorial intern for In These Times.

Equal Pay for All

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

Today is Latina Equal Pay Day, the day in the year when Latina pay catches up to that of white, non-Hispanic men. That means Latinas work nearly 23 months to make what white, non-Hispanic men earn in one year.

More than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women still get paid less for the same work. But women of color—Latinas especially—experience the widest wage gap for the same jobs.

While it’s shameful that women are still fighting for equal pay, there are steps we can take to close the gap. The best way is to join a union. Through union contracts, women have closed the wage gap and received higher pay and better benefits. In fact, union women earn $231 more a week than women who don’t have a union voice.

When women are represented by unions and negotiate together, they have the power to create a better life.

Check out some facts below about Latina Equal Pay Day, and learn more from AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler here.

  • Latinas get paid only 53 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes—the largest gap in the nation.
  • Latinas must work 23 months to earn what a white man does in 12 months.
  • The average weekly earnings for Latinas is $621, compared to the $815 that white, non-Hispanic women bring home every week.
  • Latinas in unions earn 48% more.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on November 1, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

Ohio Democratic campaign staffers fight the state party for a fair contract

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

Democratic field organizers in Ohio working roughly 60-84 hours hours a week are fighting their own state party as they attempt to negotiate a fair union contract.

More than a month ago, the Ohio Democratic Party, with 90 percent support, recognized a union of coordinated campaign staff that collectively bargained with the help of the Campaign Workers Guild. Now, however, staffers say the party isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

“After several day-long bargaining sessions, the ODP has made it clear to us that they are not serious about negotiating a fair contract that lives up to our Democratic values,” union leaders wrote last week in a letter to Ohio county party chairs across the state.

“We were so excited to see our party stand for working people by ultimately recognizing our union,” they continued. “Unfortunately, this excitement has not held at the bargaining table, where we’ve been continually disappointed and angered as the ODP has refused to present proposals that ensure us the union protections and provide us the working conditions we need and deserve.”

While the negotiations are still ongoing and a bit rough at the moment, it is still extremely early in the negotiation process. The party only recognized the union five weeks ago and most contract negotiations take months.

In a statement emailed to ThinkProgress, Ohio Democratic Party leaders are generally optimistic that the state will become the first to unionize a political party.

“Consistent with our long record of fighting for workers’ rights, the Ohio Democratic Party is proud to be the first state party in the nation to recognize the Campaign Workers Guild representing our campaign field organizers.

We believe their representation is an important step nationally. Because this is the first contract of its type in the nation, there are many details to work through. But in only four weeks, negotiations over the contract itself have led to agreement on half the points of negotiation, and we’ve made progress on many others.

The good news is that while negotiations are ongoing, we and our growing team of organizers are out knocking on the doors and making the phone calls that will elect our strong ticket of candidates up and down the ballot.”

Members of the union, however, claim that instead of meeting with the union face-to-face, as is customary in any contract negotiation, party officials hired lawyers from a law firm that specializes in “union-avoidance” to represent management in the negotiation process. The lawyers work at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, a firm named in part by the Taft-Hartley Act, a federal law that significantly diminished the power of unions.

According to ODP party officials, however, the Ohio Democratic Party Operations Director has been in attendance and at every negotiation session, and ODP Executive Director Greg Beswick attended the full first session of negotiations.

Among the union’s requests are basic items, such as guaranteed water and stationary supplies in the office. They’ve also requested bigger-picture things, like a living wage.

According to the party, they have agreed to half of the union’s demands, including smaller requests like water, rest and meal periods, paid leave, and even health insurance for field organizers, the ODP has refused to meet the union’s expectations when it comes to issues like compensation and mileage reimbursement.

That last point is critical for McClelland, who over the course of the campaign has put in some 10,000 miles on his car, driving around the state for work. Currently, organizers get a $150 gas card to help offset the cost, but McClelland says that is nowhere near enough.

“Over the course of the campaign…I’ve used about $500 dollars worth of gas cards. If I got a true reimbursement, that number would be more like $5,000, which would help immensely with things like the three oil changes I had to pay for or new tires and brake lines,” he said.

When the union raised this issue to management in a survey, the ODP dismissed it, according to organizers.

“We showed them the survey about cars and everything and their response was ‘yes we got your survey and we weren’t moved by it,’” they said.

ODP instead countered with a $125 car stipend, which is lower than what staffers currently receive with the gas card.

As far as compensation goes, the union requested a salary floor of $4,000/month for field organizers and $4,500/month for regional field directors, which is what the union claims staffers at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) are paid. Ohio DCCC field organizers, however, only make roughly $2,700/month, according to party leaders.

Instead, according to the union, the state party has offered a salary schedule of $12.25 per hour, less than the $15 minimum wage on which most Democrats, including Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, have campaigned for.

The Ohio Democratic Party currently provides their workers with a salary floor of $3,000 including benefits, which is what the Campaign Workers Guild has negotiated at other campaigns.

“Right now, half of our money money goes towards bills and the other half goes to gas or eating fast food because we cant afford anything else,” McClelland said. “We’re not asking for the world here. We’re asking to be treated fairly as workers and to not have to pay to work.”

Some staffers are concerned that some of Ohio’s most ardent pro-labor Democrats including Brown and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Richard Cordray, haven’t involved themselves personally in the issue.

“The candidates are nonexistent,” McClelland told ThinkProgress. “We as workers feel they are complicit in this […]. Our candidates are supposed to be labor-friendly.”

When reached for comment, Sen. Brown voiced his support for the campaign workers and their efforts to unionize, urging the party to resolve negotiations soon.

“All workers have the right to organize and bargain for their wages and benefits. I admire these young staffers for unionizing and speaking up, and I hope the negotiations are resolved soon,” Brown told ThinkProgress.

Several Democratic campaigns across the nation have decided to unionize since December 2017, when the workers for Randy Bryce, the Democrat vying for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) open seat, became the first bargaining unit to join the Campaign Workers Guild. Since then, workers from 22 campaigns have unionized.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 11, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

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