Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘worker’s rights’

The Decade That Put Capitalism On Trial

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

Image result for astra taylorI can’t say I’m convinced this decade has really just ended, especially since it didn’t start Jan. 1, 2010. As far as I can tell, it actually began in 2007, with Wall Street’s historic financial crisis.

That calamity has defined the last 13 odd years—call them the long teens—and transformed American politics by showing the center, indeed, could not hold. In the immediate aftermath of the mortgage debacle, the Tea Party rose to prominence, foreshadowing the racist, rightwing populism that continues to gain ground at home with Trump and around the world. But over time, the U.S. Left learned its own lessons: that capitalism can fail and that the government can spend huge sums of money to intervene in the economy. These revelations, in turn, have shaped the emerging generation’s sense of what is possible, spurring a democratic socialist revival and opening space for teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg to credibly insist in 2019, “If we can save the banks we can save the world.” United behind the proposal for an economically and ecologically transformative Green New Deal, young people understand it isn’t some pie-in-the-sky fantasy but a pragmatic and urgent necessity.

Greta’s comments echo the now famous refrain, which I first heard on Sep. 17, 2011 when a few hundred of us gathered at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan for Occupy Wall Street: “The banks got bailed out; We got sold out.” As a result of the financial crash, around 7.8 million U.S. homes were foreclosed. Black households lost half their collective wealth. Back then I didn’t have a home or savings to lose, yet my personal finances were in meltdown nonetheless. Around the same time Lehman Brothers collapsed, I got a call telling me my student loans were in default. I remember trying to grasp the logic: “I don’t have money, so you are increasingly my principal by 19%?” My balance ballooned, as did my monthly payments, which meant I was even more broke than before.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as I became more deeply involved in Occupy, I found myself gravitating to work focused on the problem of debt. It made sense, since most people drawn to the encampments were in the red as a result of being forced to debt-finance basic goods such as housing, healthcare and education, often with disastrous results.

Soon enough, I was collaborating with people I met through the movement and devising new creative ways to organize to transform indebtedness into a source of power and leverage. We co-founded the Debt Collective, a union for debtors, and in 2015 we launched the country’s first student debt strike, eventually winning over $1 billion in loan relief and crucial changes to federal law. Early on our position was mocked by mainstream media, but through organizing and public education we have shifted public opinion, helping lay the groundwork for the decommodification of higher education. We never would have predicted that in 2020 two leading presidential candidates would make our twin demands of mass student debt cancellation and free public college central planks of their campaigns.

Occupy marked a decisive break with the aughts, a difficult decade for social movements. In the wake of 9/11, New York City protests were often massively overpoliced, making demonstrating a grim and dispiriting affair, with the protesters who did show up to an action typically quarantined in “free speech pens” or arrested after being trapped by the awful orange netting cops would use to catch demonstrators like fish. Fortunately, most of the young people who had answered the call to “Occupy Wall Street” were new to activism—their sense of possibility hadn’t been constrained by the previous decade’s crackdown on dissent. Emboldened by recent uprisings including the Arab Spring, the Spanish and Greek indignados, and the occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol, the people gathered in Zuccotti Park were determined to hold their ground for the night, and they succeeded.

This has been one of the astonishing motifs of this decade: wave after wave of new people engaging in social movements for the first time, be it Occupy, Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL, the Women’s Marches, #MeToo, Indivisible, Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Movement, the Schools Strikes for Climate, and more. Since 2016, there has also been a remarkable insurgency of bold, unabashedly leftwing candidates for public office, many inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressivism. If you had told me in 2010 that socialists would be winning office from Houston, Texas, to Fulton, Georgia, and serving as judges, city councilors and Congresswomen, I never would have believed you.

If this decade has been anything, it has been a decade of crisis: the financial crisis, the post-Trump political crisis and the climate crisis. I spent much of this period writing a book and making a film about democracy and one thing I learned is that the word for crisis, like the word democracy, comes from the ancient Greek, krisis. It means the turning point in an illness—death or recovery, two stark alternatives. It’s fitting, then, that two divergent possibilities lay ahead: on one side, the path to a more egalitarian society, underpinned by a wholesale transformation of our economic and energy systems; on the other, a nostalgic, ethno-nationalist rightwing backlash combining plutocracy with other forms of minority rule. No one knows what the next decade will bring, but given the high stakes we have no choice but to pick a side and try to be part of the cure.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on January 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Astra Taylor is the director of the film What Is Democracy? and the author of Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone.

A Future That Works for Workers

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the AFL-CIO is partnering with SAG-AFTRA to host the second annual Labor Innovation & Technology Summit. The summit, led by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz ShulerSAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor, brings together union, technology, entertainment and media leaders to explore how these industries intersect and the potential impact for America’s workers and for the country’s creative culture.

As the voice of working Americans, unions play a critical role in ensuring that rapidly evolving technology, which will bring so many great things to humanity, doesn’t roll over humans in the process. Recognizing that this can only be accomplished by partnering with the tech industry, the second annual Labor Innovation & Technology Summit brings together diverse voices for a frank conversation about where we are, where we’re going and the critical milestones along the way.

About the AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions

For the better part of four decades, workers have been more productive than ever, creating massive amounts of wealth—but rigged economic rules, unmitigated corporate greed and unrelenting political attacks have weakened our voices, stifled our wages and eroded our economic security. Yet, as we write this report, a wave of collective action is sweeping the nation. Working people across industries and demographics are joining together for a better life. This uprising comes at a critical moment, as the astounding technologies of the digital revolution have the potential to improve workers’ lives but also threaten to degrade or eliminate millions of jobs.

The AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions, formed by a unanimous vote of the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention, is putting working people where we belong—at the center of shaping the economy, work, unions and the AFL-CIO.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on January 6, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

Work then, work now, and organizing to win: Five books about labor in the United States

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

As the Trump administration redoubles decades of Republican efforts to beat U.S. workers and their unions into fearful submission, it’s worth thinking about where we’ve come from, how workers fought for some of the rights we now take for granted—and some of those we’re in danger of losing—as well as where we’re going, and how to make it a better place than Trump has in mind. Here are some books to help do exactly that, looking at the history of work and worker organizing in the U.S., at what it’s like to be a low-wage worker in the U.S. today, and at how to organize for a better future.

Erik Loomis’ A History of America in Ten Strikes is just that—and it’s innovative and exciting in how it fulfills its title. Some of the strikes you may have heard of, like the Lowell mill girls or the Flint sit-down strikes. Some you may not have thought of as strikes, like the ways enslaved people fought back, withheld their labor, and ultimately fled to the Union army. But, Loomis writes, “We cannot fight against pro-capitalist mythology in American society if we do not know our shared history of class struggle. This book reconsiders American history from the perspective of class struggle not by erasing the other critical parts of our history—the politics, the social change, and the struggles around race and gender—but rather by demonstrating how the history of worker uprisings shines a light on these other issues.” In line with that promise, each chapter considers not only a particular strike, but also the context in which it happened.

Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age is the examination of the labor movement in recent years/critique of the broader progressive movement/analysis of power structures/organizing handbook you may not have known you needed, but you do. McAlevey uses a series of post-2000 case studies, from the Chicago Teachers Union to “the world’s largest pork production facility,” to argue that “for movements to build maximum power—the power required in the hardest campaigns—there is no substitute for a real, bottom-up organizing model.” Organizing, she writes, “places the agency for success with a continually expanding base of ordinary people, a mass of people never previously involved, who don’t consider themselves activists at all—that’s the point of organizing.” And it’s with organizing, McAlevey makes the case, rather than with advocacy or mobilization, that big change can be made.

Steven Greenhouse’s Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor is a good overview of the arc of the labor movement, from Triangle Shirtwaist to Walter Reuther and the UAW to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to the teacher uprising of the past couple of years. This is a good book to give a relative or friend who needs an intro text, someone who’s sympathetic to workers and open to the appeal of unions but isn’t all-in for organizing. What’s particularly striking about this book is the contrast it presents with the author’s earlier The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, of which I wrote in 2008, “Having clearly shown that it is corporations that most need to change their practices to improve the lot of American workers, Greenhouse is unwilling to suggest that they be confronted in any meaningful way.” Where that book shied away from acknowledging the reality that its detailed reporting laid bare, that corporations are making war on workers, Beaten Down, Worked Up is more willing to confront the political implications of corporate power, while retaining Greenhouse’s stellar reporting skills that make the stories he tells so compelling.

Emily Guendelsberger’s On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane is a book in the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. After being laid off from a reporting job, Guendelsberger spent time working three different low-wage jobs. She worked in an Amazon warehouse, a call center, and a McDonald’s. Much of the book, of course, is about the routine indignities of these jobs and the financial struggle of making ends meet while working them (though Guendelsberger is clear throughout that “I get to leave”). But what sets it apart is the focus on how technology is used to monitor and control workers, extracting every last possible drop of labor from them—from being timed down to the second at every task to force them to work at top speed through entire shifts to sophisticated scheduling software that ensures that there’s always a line at McDonald’s because there are never quite enough workers. For anyone who thinks that their experience in fast food or retail 15 or 20 years ago means that they know what those jobs are like now, this book is an important corrective.

Joe Burns’ Strike Back: Rediscovering Militant Tactics to Fight the Attacks on Public Employee Unions is an update of a 2014 book—and yes, this is a topic that needed updating between 2014 and 2019. Burns notes that in 2014 “the attacks on public employee unionism were already well underway” in Wisconsin and elsewhere. But those attacks have continued, reaching the Supreme Court with its Janus decision and, of course, reaching the White House with Donald Trump. In response, though, workers—especially teachers—are fighting back. This book offers some of the history behind public employee unions, a history of specific challenges that are being raised again, and a history of militance that is likewise once again relevant.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

In Wisconsin, the Teamsters Faced a Revolt from Below

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Every day, Nikki Sampson drives from her home in Portage to Madison, where she works as a dispatcher for the city’s bus service. To get there, she drives along a 40-mile stretch of highway, which crosses the Wisconsin River twice and then slices south through farms and municipalities. That road lies at the heart of the region represented by Sampson’s 4,256-strong union—Teamsters Local 695.

Sampson has worked for Metro transit for over 20 years, and says that as a younger employee there, she counted on the union to fight for workers in contract negotiations and file grievances on their behalf when things went wrong. But over the last two decades, Sampson says, the union has developed a reputation as weaker, and unable—even unwilling—to push back against managerial wrongdoing.

“We on the floor are our own union representation. We assist each other with filing a grievance,” says Sampson. “We go to fellow coworkers and we get together and we look over our union contract.” Sampson says that she has regularly looked into grievances on behalf of her coworkers—rather than stewards, the workers who represent the union on the shop floor.

So Sampson and her colleagues ran a campaign to elect a new slate of officials to head the Teamsters local. The slate, which called itself Rebuild 695 and was comprised mostly of Madison Metro Transit employees, came 96 votes short of unseating the incumbent leadership of the local on Friday, October 25.

Given that the slate had only a 100-day notice for the election, it is notable that it came this close to winning.

The reform push in the Wisconsin local has grown out of a broader push to reform Teamsters by electing members to leadership locally and nationally. In the last two years, Teamsters members in Washington D.C.,Texas and, most recently, North Carolina, have successfully installed reformers in office at their locals.

The recent reform campaign by members of Teamsters Local 71 in North Carolina yielded an overwhelming win for the reform slate, with 757 votes cast for reform candidates and 286 for the incumbent. Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a coalition of Teamsters members that has fought corruption in the union and won members the right to elect the union’s leadership, hailed the North Carolina reform effort a “grassroots victory” and wrote in a blog post about the election that leadership had “paid the price for being out-of-touch with the rank-and-file.”

Formed in 1976, TDU has pushed for more equitable pay structures within the union and backed reform campaigns nationally. In 2016, TDU-backed Fred Zuckerman nearly unseated Teamsters president James P. Hoffa, who has held office since 1999 and has faced corruption investigations.

For reform-minded union activists like those at Madison’s Metro Transit, TDU offers guidance for running a local campaign. According to Jake Puls, who ran for president of the Rebuild 695 slate, the reformers consulted TDU materials in preparation for its campaign.

The Local 695 reform candidates pointed to declining membership and increasing salaries for leadership of the local as evidence of a disconnect between workers and their representatives: Membership fell by about 40% between 2000 and 2018, and the top three union officials earned approximately $130,000 as of last year. The reform campaign attributes member attrition to disenchantment with the union, while current leadership at 695 argues that the closure of businesses explains most of the decline in membership since 2000. The union has lost 223 members to decertification, which accounts for about 16% of membership loss since 2011.

Local 695 officials defend their salaries, arguing that officer salaries are on par with other union leaders in the country and that “it is a good paying job, but so are other jobs that require years of experience and no time off.”

Members also identified aspects of the local’s current bylaws as undemocratic. The bylaws include, for example,  a rule that stewards “shall be selected and removed in such a manner as the local union executive board or the principal executive officer may direct.” This wording indicates that whether stewards are elected or appointed is up to the executive board, which can override the results of an election with its own appointee.

Sampson, who has spoken about racism in her workplace since as early as 2014, says that she has found little support from stewards at her local in challenging discriminatory hiring and disciplinary practices by management. And when she ran for the position of steward, Sampson says she was met with resistance from the union.

“I was voted in as a union steward, and they did not like that at all,” said Sampson. Two weeks after she took the position, Sampson says, she was removed and replaced by a steward that the union appointed.

The Rebuild platform promised to adjust salaries for union leadership and campaigned on a platform to expand communication between union officials and membership by “[building] a website for our local, send[ing] emails & text messages and start[ing] newsletters so that Teamster members know what is happening in the local and know how to get involved.”

Instead of union leadership reserving the right to appoint shop stewards, the Rebuild slate said that it would work with members to institute regular elections for the steward position, arguing that elections will “make sure union stewards are doing what the members want.”

Sampson said that she hoped the Rebuild candidates would push hard against contract violations by management. “[Management] understands that we have such a weak union at this point,” says Sampson. In 2014, Sampson and three other Metro Transit workers went to local press to protest what they identified as racist hiring and promotional practices, which were prohibited by the union contract. Sampson is emphatic that the union did not help and has not been friendly to her and her coworkers’ complaints of racial discrimination.

“I want to go back to the union that I was introduced to 24 years ago. A strong, solid, united front,” said Sampson. “A union that represents you and understands what a union is about, to fight for the rights of the file and the represented, not the management.” Once, she said, while driving to work, she was greeted by honks of approval—a fellow Teamster, seeing the Rebuild 695 stickers on her car, rolled town the window to cheer her along.

Puls said that the campaign was predicated on the goal of establishing direct channels of communication between members and the local, and avenues for members to fight for better work conditions.

“The more you get people to feel like they matter and that they have a voice, the more they stick together and the stronger the union becomes,” says Puls.

The Rebuild slate and its supporters also say that union members at shops around the state perceive stewards as reluctant to file grievances and slow to meet with workers to talk about issues at work.

“We always went to our stewards. And our stewards would just blow it off. You have no idea how many times we were told by stewards, ‘Oh no, you shouldn’t file a grievance, oh no, you can’t file a grievance,’” says Sampson. She says that  while campaigning, the reform slate met with members at other shops complained that stewards were “best friends with management” and unwilling to help file a grievance.

Representatives of local 695 responded to the allegation that members around the state did not have knowledge of union operations and personnel such as business agents (who are the primary point of contact between shops and the local headquarters), calling the claim “just silly.” Union leaders also dismissed claims that they had not maintained communication with members in a campaign blog post: “Members can attend our General Meetings that are held on the third Tuesday of every month…Be active in the Union, run for steward!”

Still, Soncerethia (Sonci) Stone, who currently works as a bus driver for Metro Transit and ran for vice president of 695, emphasized the need for transparency between the leadership and its members during contract negotiations in her local.

“The city of Madison is getting a whole lot off our backs. And nothing is returned. In some cases our work conditions are absolutely horrible, and they look at us like, ‘Oh yeah, be glad you got a job,’” says Stone, citing 16-hour work days and long periods without a bathroom break.

“Our plan going forward first off is to be totally transparent about what’s going on, about what management is trying to do, what we can try to fix and how we can fix it, whether or not management is working with us or against us,” Stone continues. “The employees need to know every detail of what’s going on, especially as far as contract negotiation goes.”

Workers at Madison’s Metro Transit account for approximately 11% of the labor force in Teamsters 695, which represents union members in transportation, construction and other occupations across Southwest Wisconsin. To reach workers across the Wisconsin local, candidates on the Rebuild 695 slate traveled across the state, waiting near shops to intercept workers before and after shifts.

Candidates campaigning for the Rebuild slate were joined by fellow union members at Metro transit in Madiso— some of whom say that they put in up to 20 hours a week off-the-clock on the campaign.

Cody Hanna, a mechanic at Metro transit, says that his familiarity with president-hopeful Puls, plus a sense of disillusionment with current union leadership, pushed him to not only support but actively campaign on behalf of the Rebuild team. Hanna says that he traveled to Janesville—about an hour drive from Madison—to speak with Teamsters members at shops there.

“You get a lot of people who are saying our contracts are so weak and our negotiation teams just kinda go with it and they don’t fight it,” Hanna says.

The election on October 25 was the first challenge the current leadership of local 695 has faced since 1998. Most top officials at the local have served for over 15  years; the incumbent officials—calling themselves the Wayne Schultz slate, in a nod to the current secretary treasurer—have run a campaign whose focal point was the relative experience of each set of candidates.

A flyer circulated by the incumbent campaign states, “It takes years of knowledge and training to keep the local running smoothly, and we know they don’t have it.”

Puls says the reform push in Wisconsin is far from over: “We have three years to plan for the next time … We’re not done, we’re not giving up. And they know we’re paying attention as members. hopefully we’ve woken them up.”

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on December 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alice Herman is a writer based in Madison, Wisconsin, where she works at a restaurant. She contributes regularly to Isthmus, Madison’s alt-weekly, and The Progressive magazine.

The Strike at McDonald’s Is About More Than Fighting Abuse—It’s About Workplace Democracy

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Image result for Eli Day"On Tuesday, over 1,000 people gathered for a strike action at a McDonald’s locations on Detroit’s East Side. The workers, who were fighting for basic workplace dignity, a fair wage and a union, showed that they’re ready to raise hell in the face of injustice by standing together.

That’s how Patricia Moseley, who has worked for McDonald’s for 34 years, describes her experience of solidarity during the strike. “We always get each other’s backs,” Moseley says. “When I see people out here, doing the same thing I’m doing, it makes me feel like ‘Hey, everybody can do this.’ Come and join us. You ain’t gotta be scared.”

Ignited by the hideously common experience of workplace sexual harassment, the strike was a powerful display of working-class force in an industry where women and people of color make up the overwhelming majority of non-managerial workers.

“This is huge,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who attended the strike, said in a statement to In These Times. “Fast food workers…stood up against corporate greed to demand human dignity in the workplace. These corporations cannot operate without the workers, who deserve to make a living that allows them to provide for themselves and their family. They deserve workplaces free of sexual harassment and violence.”

According to a new class-action lawsuit, McDonald’s is drenched in a “culture of sexual harassment.” And as NPR reports, “more than 50 claims and charges of harassment of female employees are pending against McDonald’s.” But the issue stretches far beyond the golden arches: The industry as a whole is awash with harassment and abuse. A 2016 poll found that “40 percent of women in the fast food industry have experienced unwanted sexual behaviors on the job.”

The poll also found that workers who dare to speak out often face the bosses’ wrath as a result. “A lot of women are scared to come out and speak,” Moseley says, “because they don’t know if they’re going to lose their job.” Moseley easily spots what’s wrong with this picture, and, just as importantly, what’s missing. “If I don’t have a union, I can’t say nothing,” Moseley adds. “That’s what a union is there for. To back you up.”

The issues facing Moseley and her coworkers come down to an imbalance of power. Because workers have no real power in the workplace, this puts them in the impossible position of either being frightened into silence or, if they decide to stick up for themselves, risk being fired and plunged into economic uncertainty.

But when workers took the dramatic action of walking off the job on Tuesday, they weren’t alone. Loved ones, friends and supporters from the neighborhood hit the streets alongside them. And fellow workers from different industries—janitors, nurses, housekeepers, lab technicians and more—also stood with the strikers, embodying the old maxim that workers’ fates are tied together.

After all, their adversaries are unmistakably common: a corporate hierarchy that strips workers of power while harassing, mistreating and barking orders at them, all while paying them the lowest wages possible. In order to win against these shared injustices, McDonald’s workers are showing how to band together to demand a better world.

“That’s what we’re fighting for, right there,” says Romell Frazier, a 31-year-old organizer with the Michigan Workers Organizing Committee who has worked in fast-food for roughly seven years. “Power in the workplace. Respect in the workplace.”

That demand for more worker power ties together the many fights for greater workplace democracy roiling the country. Whether it’s teachers walking out in Chicago or GM workers who went on a massive strike at plants nationwide, working people are demanding more of a say in how they spend their lives on the job.

“We just want to bring that to the forefront,” Frazier says of the need for more democracy at McDonald’s. While the company makes “billions and billions…the workers are in here making slave wages and still being harassed. They feel like the workers don’t have a voice in the workplace. So that’s why [predatory managers or coworkers] think they can get away with [abuse].”

Rep. Tlaib points to a clear solution: Ensuring “workers have more power in the workplace” will help bring “equity and justice in the workplace. Workers deserve to have a say in decisions that are being made, they deserve to be treated fairly, and they deserve adequate pay and benefits.”

“That’s what we’re fighting for,” Moseley says. “Fifteen dollars an hour. A union.” And by standing together, she explains, “we won’t have to struggle no more. We can fight this thing.”

 

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on November 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eli Day is an investigative fellow with In These Times’ Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. He is a writer and relentless Detroiter, where he writes about politics and policy. His work has appeared in the Detroit NewsCity MetricHuffington PostThe RootTruthout, and Very Smart Brothas, among others.

Are we thinking about work-life balance the wrong way?

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

It’s one of the great struggles of modern life: finding a precise, perfect balance between work and life. And, according to Amy Howe, our obsession with finding that elusive equilibrium is part of the problem.This interview was originally published by Politico on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

“I don’t even love the term [‘work-life balance’] because it implies that on any given day or week, that you have to have perfect balance,” Howe said in an interview for POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast. “What I’ve come to realize over time is it’s a long game. There are times in your life that you’re not going to have balance, and that’s okay. I’ve made some very conscious choices not to.”

Howe, the president and COO of Ticketmaster North America, joined the company in 2015 after more than 14 years working as a business consultant at McKinsey. When she started at McKinsey, roughly 10 percent of the partners were women — and Howe was determined to join and expand their ranks.

“When I first joined McKinsey, I wasn’t married, and so those were the years to just kind of buckle down and invest, and I’m really glad I did.” said Howe. “I made partner when I found out I was pregnant with my first child — and those are two points in your life that if you think you can control either of those, you’re kidding yourself.”

Over time, Howe and her husband — himself a successful CFO at a large company — had three children. And as their family grew, the calculus changed about what a fulfilling work life looked like.

“I had made partner and had all three of our children while I was at McKinsey, and juggled it really well for a while,” said Howe. “And then, after a certain period of time, for me, my barometer was, ‘Is this working for me, right, am I still having fun, am I still developing and learning, and how is that impacting my family life?’”

Howe thought candidly about what she wanted to do next, and what the right fit for her might be.

“At some point, if you’re going to do anything other than consulting, you’ve got to move over,” said Howe. “I had a feeling that I was going to love being in an operating role. … The old adage that when you’re in consulting, you tell people what to do, but you don’t really get a chance to implement your own recommendations is true.” At Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster’s parent company and a former consulting client of Howe’s, she would get the chance to do exactly that.

Finding the right professional fit — including a satisfying work-life balance — is a “very personal and individual” decision, says Howe. Which may be why the unending public discourse about a perfect work-life balance is so difficult: It often treats the question as though there’s a one-size-fits-all answer.

“There’s no one right answer,” said Howe. “I have lots of friends who are incredibly talented from business school who have made very different choices, and they were right for them. For me, this has been absolutely the right decision.”

To hear more from Amy Howe, listen to the full podcast here. Women Rule takes listeners backstage with female bosses for real talk on how they made it and what advice they have for women looking to lead.

This interview was originally published at Politico on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Amy L Howe. Until September 2016, Amy served as the editor and reporter for SCOTUSblog, a blog devoted to coverage of the Supreme Court of the United States; she continues to serve as an independent contractor and reporter for SCOTUSblog. Before turning to full-time blogging, she served as counsel in over two dozen merits cases at the Supreme Court and argued two cases there. From 2004 until 2011, she co-taught Supreme Court litigation at Stanford Law School; from 2005 until 2013, she co-taught a similar class at Harvard Law School. She has also served as an adjunct professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and Vanderbilt Law School. Amy is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds a master’s degree in Arab Studies and a law degree from Georgetown University.

Over the Last Week, At Least 85,000 Workers Were Out on 13 Different Strikes

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 485,000 U.S. workers were involved in strikes and lockouts during 2018. That’s the highest number since 1986. The data for 2019 won’t be released until 2020, but there’s a good chance that number will be exceeded, a point driven home by the fact that, over the last week, at least 85,000 workers participated in 13 different strikes across the United States.

The crest of the strike wave has primarily been ridden by school workers. About 26,000 Chicago teachers have now been on strike for 12 days, demanding that Mayor Lori Lightfoot be held accountable for her campaign promise to bolster support staff and decrease class size. The work stoppage has now lasted longer than the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) 2012 strike, which ended up sparking its own strike wave.

“Hundreds of CTU members showed up for the Wisconsin uprising of 2010,” Chicago activist and striking teacher Kenzo Shibata told In These Times. “We learned what was possible and we continued organizing for our 2012 strike. Educators in West Virginia, Los Angeles, Oklahoma and Arizona cited us as inspiration for their strikes. The Solidarity is contagious. They’ve passed back that inspiration and we’re here as a boost of momentum to this teacher strike wave.”

On October 17, about 8,000 CPS staff workers in the city also went on strike, represented by SEIU Local 73, with union leaders reaching a tentative agreement with the city on October 27, which members still have to vote on. Workers are not back at school, however, as CPS remains shut down by the CTU strike.

In a show of solidarity, the local Teamsters union is refusing to cross the picket lines to make deliveries. “We stand behind the teachers union 100% and believe they should fight for every form of benefits and relief for the children they are seeking,” Teamsters Local 705 official Juan Campos told the Chicago Tribune.

In Mendota, Illinois, about 2 hours away from Chicago, 76 elementary school teachers went on strike October 16, looking for wages that are comparable to their neighboring districts. Classes resumed October 28 after members of the Mendota Education Association ratified an agreement.

In Dedham, Massachusetts, hundreds of teachers dealt the state its first teachers’ strike in 12 years, voting on October 24 to approve a walkout by a vote of 258-2. Teachers walked out the next day in defiance of a state order, as it’s actually illegal for public employees to strike in Massachusetts. The teachers had been working without a contract for over a year—and had attempted to negotiate one for almost two. They were looking for stronger health insurance and a contract that addresses sexual harassment.

“Right now there is a movement of workers across the country who are taking back their power at a scale we have not seen in recent memory,” tweeted Independent Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on October 25. “I stand with educators in Dedham, Massachusetts. This takes courage.”

On October 27, it was announced that a tentative deal had been reached, and school resumed the next day. Details of the new agreement have not yet been released.

The teachers’ strike wave is also hitting the West Coast. On October 21, dozens of teachers called out sick in Berkeley, California—some of them doing so as part of wildcat strike that was unauthorized by their union, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. The teachers have been working on an expired contract since the summer. “It was good old-fashioned organizing. It happened through the whisper network,” history teacher Alice Bynum told a local paper. They’re back at work now.

The current strike wave is certainly not limited to teachers. About two dozen sanitation workers for Republic Services in Marshfield, Massachusetts, have been on strike since August 29. They’re demanding affordable health care and a living wage. Teamsters 25, the union that represents the employees, cites Economic Policy Institute data which shows that the workers with one child are making 40% less than the state’s living wage. Republic Services’ biggest single shareholder is billionaire Bill Gates, who makes $100 million annually off dividends from his shares. Last month, two dozen of the striking workers protested outside of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gala in New York City, holding signs that read, “Bill Gates treats kids like trash.” Striking employee Bernard Egan-Mulligan told New York Daily News, “We’re here because Bill Gates is a 32% stockholder in our company. We figure our shareholders would like to know what’s going on.”

The workers have now extended the strike into Indiana, as more than 70 Republic workers in Evansville have joined the picket line.

At least 50 bus drivers in northern Virginia, represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, are on strike in response to their garage being privatized as some of their services are now being contracted out. They’ve been fighting for a new collective bargaining agreement for months.

Around 1,700 ASARCO copper workers are on strike in Arizona, angry about pension freezes, health insurance costs, and a lack of raises. “For the past nine years, these workers haven’t seen a pay raise,” Teamsters Local 104 secretary-treasurer Karla Schumann told NPR. “They’re working in some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions out there, and it’s just unfathomable and untenable to do that to these guys.”

Roughly 75 workers at the luxury Battery Wharf Hotel in Boston are also on strike. UNITE HERE Local 26, who represents the workers, says its members are looking for higher wages, better pensions, protection for immigrant employees, and sexual harassment prevention. Earlier this month, the English singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg headlined a rally in support of the workers. “The strike at the Battery Wharf Hotel goes to the very heart of the problems in our society,” Bragg told Boston Magazine. “Working people feel they no longer have any agency over their lives.”

About 700 Service workers in Santa Clara County, California have been on strike since October 2. SEIU 521 filed more than 15 complaints of unfair labor practices leading up to the strike. In addition to complaints about poor working conditions, employees are upset with the decision to move the San Jose Family Resource Center, as well as an allegedly unsafe environment for children at the Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center.

On October 27, more than 50 fast food workers at Oregon’s Burgerville chain ended a 4-day strike after the company agreed to continue negotiations with the employees. The workers have been agitating for a living wage for the last 18 months.

The longest auto workers strike in 50 year just ended with 49,000 United Auto Workers (UAW) members returning to General Motors on October 26. The employees were able to secure small raises, partially phase out a “two-tier” wage structure, and win a better process for temporary workers to become permanent, but potential fallout and further unrest looms as the agreement includes plans to close down three factories.

Tim O’Hara is President of UAW Local 1112, where the Lordstown, Ohio plant is set to close. He told the local news that he felt betrayed by the vote. “We just wanted them to remember that what happened to us can happen to them ’cause there’s nothing in this contract that stops GM from showing up unannounced at their plant the Monday after Thanksgiving—for example, like they did to us—and telling them they’re done,” he said.

The new General Motors contract was announced just a day after over 3,600 UAW-represented workers at Mack Trucks ended a two-week strike as a result of a tentative agreement being reached.

More work stoppages could be on the horizon. Teaching assistants in Decatur, Illinois are set to strike for a new contract. About 4,000 mental health clinicians across 100 Kaiser Permanente facilities could go on strike in November over staffing shortages, and the Little Rock Educators Association has set up a fund in the event of a “collective job action.” At a recent meeting, Little Rock Education Association President Teresa Knapp Gordon said teachers didn’t want to strike, but they were prepared for anything if their current contract is allowed to expire. That’s the last thing we want to do,” she said, “But you can bet your bottom dollar that if that is what it takes to make sure our children are protected, then that’s what we will do.”

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

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

How Bernie Sanders would give power to workers in their companies

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Image result for Holly Otterbein

Bernie Sanders unveiled a multi-pronged plan Monday aimed at giving more power to workers in their companies, ending corporate greed, breaking up monopolies and increasing taxes on big businesses.

“For more than 40 years, the largest and most profitable corporations in America have rigged the tax code and our economy to redistribute wealth and income to the richest and most powerful people in this country,” the Vermont senator said in a statement. “The American people are saying enough is enough.”

Sanders put out the proposal as he was off the campaign trail recovering from a heart attack. He participated in a union-sponsored candidate forum Sunday via video, and said he will attend Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

What would the plan do?

Sanders wants to provide workers with an ownership stake in their businesses: Under his proposal, employees at large companies would be given 20 percent of the shares. They would also have control of 45 percent of the seats on the board of directors at corporations.

Sanders’ agenda would also raise the corporate tax from 21 percent to 35 percent, which was the rate before the Republicans passed the 2017 tax cut. He vows to review the mergers approved by President Donald Trump’s administration and undo any that were “improper,” lays out a proposal to combat offshore tax havens, and promises to treat large stock buybacks “like stock manipulation” as well.

Sanders’ aides estimated that Amazon would have paid as much as $3.8 billion in taxes last year if his policies had been in effect.

How would it work?

Companies that meet Sanders’ guidelines — ones that are publicly traded or bring in $100 million or more in annual revenue — would be required to give at least 2 percent of their stock to their employees every year, until they reach 20 percent.

Those businesses would also need to put aside 45 percent of their corporate board seats to be elected by the company’s employees.

Sanders would also create a $500 million “U.S. Employee Ownership Bank” that would give loans to workers who want to buy their businesses.

Who opposes it?

Conservatives say that raising the corporate tax would eliminate jobs, reduce wages and hurt the economy.

How does it compare?

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Warren released a plan to require that 40 percent of seats on corporate boards be elected by workers. As Warren has risen in the polls, Sanders and his aides have begun to draw contrasts between the two candidates.

Sanders’ worker ownership proposal is the latest example. His wealth tax also goes beyond what Warren called for, and he has said that his agenda to fight climate change is the “most comprehensive” ever.

This article was originally published by Politico on October 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.

California Flexes its Muscles to Remind Fitness Studio Owners that Fitness Trainers are Employees, not Independent Contractors

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

Fitness Studios in California, including those that provide training in yoga, strength conditioning and stationary bike classes, have for years flourished in California by using workers classified as independent contractors.  In fact, fitness instructors working for studio owners should almost always be classified as employees.  By misclassifying workers as independent contractors, many studio owners have either knowingly or inadvertently failed to provide fitness instructors basic employment rights guaranteed in California.  As a result, these companies have saved millions of dollars in business costs.

What is the State of the Law on Worker Classification?

With respect to claims for underpaid wages, missed meal and rest periods and record keeping violations, California law is clear.  Last year’s California Supreme Court decision Dynamex v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, establishes that a worker is an employee in the eyes of the law unless an employing party establishes that, (A) the hired person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, (B) the hired person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and (C) the hired person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.  This is the “ABC Test” for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee in California.  Very few fitness salons can satisfy Part B of the ABC Test. Providing instruction to salon clients is squarely inside “the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.”

In September 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 into law.  AB 5 codifies the Dynamex decision and the ABC Test for most workers.  In other words, the California Legislature and Governor Newsom believe so strongly in the correctness of the Dynamex decision, that they passed AB 5 into law, which makes the ABC Test the standard of evaluating whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.  Read together, AB 5 and Dynamex establish that nearly all fitness instructors in California working for fitness studios are employees and not independent contractors.  Not only now, but in the past as well.  Though the Supreme Court did not state that the ABC Test must be applied retroactively, courts across California have determined that it is, and now in AB 5 the Legislature has clearly stated that the ABC Test must be used in all applicable cases brought before the courts of California, past, present and future.

What are the Consequences of Worker Misclassification?

The adverse consequences of worker misclassification in the fitness industry in California have been significant.  One of the most widespread and detrimental effects of worker misclassification is that many studio owners have avoided their duty to pay the price of conducting business in California that is required of other businesses that do not rely on misclassified workers.  Non-compliant studios have operated and continue to operate as if they were exempt from California’s strict employment laws.  They are not.

Here are just a few of the economic costs fitness studio owners have avoided:

  • Workers Compensation Insurance: By failing to provide workers compensation insurance to instructors, studio owners have avoided the cost of insurance premiums paid by compliant businesses.
  • Off-the-Clock Work: By paying misclassified instructors on a flat rate basis only for the time they are running classes, studio owners have avoided paying their instructors for the time they spend on class planning activities.  By failing to pay for prep time, fitness studio owners routinely retained money that was due their employees.
  • Rest Breaks and Nonproductive Time: “Flat rate” wages are classified as piece rate wages under California law. Piece rate employees in California are entitled to be paid separately for rest breaks (every 3.5 hours) at their regular rate of pay (20 minutes during an eight-hour day), and they are entitled to be paid for nonproductive time before and after teaching classes, for team meetings and for the time spent in advanced training programs required by the studio owners at least at minimum wage.  By failing to pay for these additional work hours, fitness studio owners in California have pocketed millions of dollars that should have gone to their instructors.
  • California and Local Sick Leave Laws: Studio owners have avoided the cost of providing paid sick leave to their workers.
  • Uniforms: To the extent salon owners have required instructors to buy and wear studio-specific attire, especially apparel with studio logos, salon owners have violated California law relating to the purchase and maintenance of work uniforms.
  • Record Keeping: By misclassifying workers, studio owners have avoided the cost of buying payroll systems that are needed to track worker time, including the nonproductive time of their piece rate workers.
  • Payroll Taxes: Studio owners have avoided paying the employers’ share of payroll withholding, including the cost of paying into the unemployment insurance system in California.  This often leaves workers unable to obtain unemployment benefits when their work for a fitness studio ends.
  • Discrimination and Harassment: By running their operations with misclassified workers, studio owners have failed to provide mandatory sexual harassment training to their staff, and they have failed to give workers the protections mandated under Title VII of the United States Code (barring discrimination in the workplace) and under the Fair Employment and Housing Act in California.
  • Wrongful Termination: California employees are protected from termination on grounds that violate California public policy.  To the extent salon owners have terminated workers based on workers’ good faith complaints about how they are paid and about their worker rights, studio owners have sought to shield themselves against several California laws designed to protect employees from unfair termination practices.
  • Waiting Time Penalties: Under Labor Code § 203, an employee who has not been paid all wages due at termination, is entitled to up to 30 days of additional pay.  Labor Code § 203 provides that an employer who willfully fails to pay an employee all wages due at termination must pay the employee waiting time penalties.  Given the relatively high turnover in fitness studios, millions of dollars in waiting time penalties have been avoided by studio owners who have operated their business with misclassified independent contractors.
  • Unreimbursed Expenses: Employers are required to reimburse employees costs they incur performing their job.  For example, in the fitness studio world, instructors often are required to pay for the cost of advanced training studio owners require.  Some studios have required instructors to bring in their own music and sound systems for classes.  All of these kinds of costs are recoverable for employees under Labor Code § 2802.  Reimbursement of these costs is not required with independent contractors, however.  By misclassifying fitness trainers as independent contractors, fitness studio owners have foisted these costs onto their workers.

These are the most obvious cost savings fitness studio owners have enjoyed by misclassifying their workforce.  In the preamble to Assembly Bill 5, the California Legislature was even clearer about the impact of worker misclassification on the economic health and wellbeing of California workers:

The misclassification of workers as independent contractors has been a significant factor in the erosion of the middle class and the rise in income inequality.

It is also the intent of the Legislature in enacting this act to ensure workers who are currently exploited by being misclassified as independent contractors instead of recognized as employees have the basic rights and protections they deserve under the law, including a minimum wage, workers’ compensation if they are injured on the job, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, and paid family leave. By codifying the California Supreme Court’s landmark, unanimous Dynamex decision, this act restores these important protections to potentially several million workers who have been denied these basic workplace rights that all employees are entitled to under the law.

What is Kitchin Legal Doing to Help Fitness Workers?

On September 26, 2019, Kitchin Legal filed an employment class action against Wheel House in San Francisco.  We also filed with the State of California a request to be appointed as a private attorney general on behalf of California to obtain penalties for the State and our client’s similarly misclassified co-workers.

Our client, a former spin instructor at Wheel House, was misclassified as an independent contractor by the company.  Though Wheel House paid her a flat fee for teaching spin classes, it failed to pay her any wages for the trainings the company required her to undergo.  In the lawsuit, out client alleges Wheel House failed to pay her for the many hours she spent preparing for each class, which Wheel House expressly called “home work.”  By misclassifying its workforce as independent contractors, she alleges, Wheel House failed to provide workers compensation coverage for her and other instructors, failed to provide paid medical leave, failed to institute mandatory sexual harassment training and protections, and failed to maintain employment records required under California law.  The complaint can be viewed on the San Francisco Superior Court website’s online site:  https://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org/online-services [Enter Case Number CGC-19-579541.]

In the coming year, I expect to see dozens of lawsuits filed against fitness studio owners in California.  Given the clarity of the law today, this seems inevitable. As studio owners across California begin to reclassify their fitness instructors as employees, I believe we will begin to see some of the benefits promised to fitness instructors and many others by both the California Legislature and the California Supreme Court.  Fitness workers will begin to receive “the basic rights and protections they deserve under the law.”

 

About the Author: Patrick Kitchin is the founder of Kitchin Legal APC, a San Francisco, California employment law firm. He has represented thousands of employees in both individual and class action cases involving violations of California and federal labor laws since founding his firm in 1999. According to retail experts and the media, his wage and hour class actions against Polo Ralph Lauren, Gap, Banana Republic, and Chico’s led to substantial changes in the retail industry’s labor practices in California. Patrick is a 1992 graduate of The University of Michigan Law School and is personally and professionally committed to the protection of workers’ rights everywhere.

The Powerful New Idea in Elizabeth Warren’s Labor Platform

Friday, October 4th, 2019

Image result for Shaun Richman

On Thursday, Elizabeth Warren released her long-awaited labor platform, titled “Empowering American Workers and Raising Wages.” The plan provides unions with a long wish list of badly needed reforms and new powers. It also makes a solid case that, like Bernie Sanders, she would be the labor movement’s biggest booster in the White House in generations.

Several other candidates, including Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar, have also recently put out lengthy labor plans, which provide examples of how (and how not) to stand out from the pack when the baseline position of most Democrats in repealing the Taft-Hartley Act.

The biggest innovation in Warren’s platform is a private right of action in the federal courts against employers who violate the National Labor Relations Act.

Currently, only employers are able to take their complaints directly to the federal courts, against a union picket line, boycott action or other alleged violation of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. Warren would enable a union or an affected employee to sue an employer who commits an unfair labor practice (say, cutting a union activists’ hours, making threats or spying on secret union meetings) and seek injunctive relief—and even compensatory damages. Such a change would even the playing field in a significant way.

Warren is also proposing some activist anti-trust strategies to empower workers who are deemed to be independent contractors to better organize—and to shut down corporate mergers that will harm employees’ pay and work rules.

In the platform, Warren also reiterates her proposal for employee representation in corporate governance. A Warren administration would aim to make billion-dollar corporations set aside 40% of their executive board seats for employee representatives. While not new to her platform, it is a surprisingly radical idea that hasn’t received enough attention.

Like Sanders, Warren calls for a new federal framework for sectoral bargaining. The goal is to give unions the tools to equalize wages and benefits across multiple firms in an industry. Since individual employer-based collective bargaining is a huge part of the self-image of members and leaders alike of what unions do, both candidates are intentionally vague about the specifics of their proposals, and they are equally clear that unions will have a strong role in shaping the final legislation.

Still, the labor proposals from Warren and Sanders each signal their preferred approach.

I read Sanders platform as an embrace of wage boards, a throwback to an early New Deal model in which tripartite industrial boards voted on wage and working standards, and imposed them on all employers across an industry. As I’ve written previously, this is a framework that could put a union in every workplace in America, but, to be clear, it is not collective bargaining as we know it.

Warren’s proposal seems to be adding an overlapping representational structure to the NLRB process. Workers at individual workplaces might still vote for union representation at their firm only and negotiate collective bargaining agreements as we currently do. Meanwhile, certified unions could utilize some new process to certify a sectoral bargaining unit that would force employers to negotiate together over a specified scope of bargaining. This change would enhance union power (and unions may prefer it), but—even with card check and beefed-up NLRB enforcement—it would remain difficult for unions to dramatically expand their reach into many new workplaces.

The biggest disappointment of Warren’s labor plan is her studious avoidance of a just cause right to your job, as Sanders has proposed. A just cause law would put the onus on an employer to justify a termination. Just cause would give workers the power to say no to requests that fall outside the bounds of their duties or propriety, and it would give unions new tools in organizing and new modes of representation.

Instead, she proposes to amend the law in at least nine sections to outlaw non-compete and forced arbitration clauses and some of the most egregious forms of gender and wage discrimination. The fact that her platform contains a ridiculously long list of categories of workers whose protections against workplace discrimination belie the notion that universal protections are not essential.

Moreover, if a Warren administration successfully passes anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ and pregnant workers, the law would still put the onus on the worker who suffered the discrimination to prove that their termination was for discriminatory reasons and not one of the many other excuses an employer will offer in defense.

In essence, this is the difference between the two most pro-labor candidates in the Democratic field. Elizabeth Warren approaches the issue of rights at work as a problem solver, and wants to enhance the institutional role of worker representation to restore a degree of macroeconomic balance. Bernie Sanders aims to radically alter the balance of power in the workplace.

Both platforms are excellent, and largely overlap on the remainder of reforms to the NLRA and other federal agencies that are supposed to protect workers from corporate exploitation, and both candidates can clearly be relied upon to prioritize workers’ rights issues once in office.

As for Castro, O’Rourke and Klobuchar, they also agree on an emerging consensus around fighting employee misclassification and overtime protection, raising the minimum wage and passing  the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would essentially overturn the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, add card check under some circumstances and impose meaningful financial penalties for employers who violate their employees’ rights

Castro makes a major issue out of granting union rights for farm and domestic workers—racist exclusions from the NLRA that cast a pall over the New Deal. Granted, almost every other candidate also supports this, but Castro stands out in terms of emphasis.

Klobuchar, on the other hand, is demonstrably going through the motions on workers’ rights. She endorses a long list of other people’s bills with no emphasis and nothing original. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from a politician who apparently thinks it’s funny to treat her own employees poorly. For readers who are worried that the candidates are just paying lip service to unions during the primaries but won’t follow through, Amy Klobuchar is what a Democrat who really doesn’t care about workers looks like. Compare and contrast with the others.

The biggest surprise is O’Rourke, who has one of the best labor platforms in the field. Like Pete Buttigieg, O’Rourke has clearly been taking advice from some of the smartest thinkers on how to restore union power, but unlike that other centrist from central casting Buttigieg, O’Rourke embraced some of the boldest solutions. Most interestingly, on the choice between wage boards and certified sectoral bargaining, O’Rourke’s team asks, “Why choose?” Under his formula, the wage boards would address big-ticket items across entire industries and take them out of competition, while the sectoral bargaining would empower unions to negotiate over the detailed minutia that workers also want to address in a contract.  O’Rourke’s plan would give unions multiple strategies to end the corporate race to the bottom over pay and working conditions.

The “Yes and…” Labor Platform

Warren’s proposal for a private right of action in ULP cases is the biggest new addition, and should remain on unions’ reform agenda no matter who wins the nomination. But it is not without controversy. The federal courts have historically been where the most damage to workers’ rights have been inflicted, and many union attorneys will be apprehensive about losing control of strategy over marginal cases that could produce bad case law. I would argue that we’ve been fighting this anyway (and not exactly producing a stellar track record of wins), so why not cut to the chase and fight for our rights in the courts? Why let a Republican NLRB add layers of obstruction?

Beto O’Rourke’s “yes and” approach to sectoral and industry-wide worker representation should also inspire us to think about the opportunities of a new president and Congress differently. Labor activists have tended to approach previous opportunities for reform as a narrow window to win one thing, and the arguments over which ‘one thing’ will save us have been paralyzing.

But the crisis of economic inequality and its corrosive effects on our democracy require a host of reforms, and even centrist Democrats get that. We need overlapping systems of worker power, union representation and employee protections. The labor movement has now been presented with a rich collection of reform proposals. We should say yes to all of them.

This article was originally published at In These times on October 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Shaun Richman is an In These Times contributing writer and the Program Director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog