Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘worker’s rights’

U.N. Special Report: U.S. Workers Restricted in Exercising Basic Union Rights

Friday, October 21st, 2016

12189524_10154256555228098_5790056854214410429_nA new report finds that the United States fails to uphold the most basic rights of workers, particularly in the South, where some states “support or collude with employers to infringe upon workers’ rights to peaceful assembly and association.” The report cited examples such as Tennessee officials’ opposition to unionization at a Volkswagen plant and the “government of Mississippi [which] touts the lack of unionization as a great benefit when courting potential employers.”

Maina Kiai, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and author of the report, stated that while governments are “obligated under international law to respect, protect and fulfill workers’ rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association,” many fail to enable, protect or enforce these fundamental rights, “disenfranchising millions of workers.”

u-n-special-report-u-s-workers-restricted-in-exercising-basic-union-rights_blog_post_fullwidthKiai, a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist, spent more than two weeks in several U.S. cities researching workers’ rights. He met with Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi; United Steelworkers (USW) members at Novelis in New York, and Asarco in Arizona; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)-member carwash workers in New York City; UNITE HERE hotel workers in New York and Arizona; and AFT-member teachers in Louisiana.

Kiai experienced firsthand the many obstacles our nation’s workers need to overcome to organize and bargain for a better life. He made clear that the United States needs to do more, both domestically and in the global supply chains of our companies, “where some of the worst abuses of freedoms of association and peaceful assembly are found—and where migrant workers are often concentrated.”

As the report found: “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are…key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.” Unfortunately, the United States is a long way from meeting this standard.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on October 21, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Aaron Chappell writes for AFL-CIO about the right to unionize and collective bargaining.

Domestic Workers in Ill. Win Bill of Rights: “Years of Organizing Have Finally Paid Off”

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Domestic workers in Illinois are celebrating a new bill of rights.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law last week, capping a 5-year campaign and making Illinois the 7th state to adopt such a protection.

Sponsored by Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-8th District) in the Senate and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th District) in the House, the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights gives nannies, housecleaners, homecare workers and other domestic workers a minimum wage, protection from discrimination and sexual harassment and one day of rest every seven days for workers employed by one employer for at least 20 hours a week.

The law amends four other Illinois state laws—the Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the One Day Rest in Seven Act and the Wages of Women and Minors Act—to include domestic workers.

Over the past five years, the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition has campaigned to demand that domestic workers be provided with the same workplace protections that others have had for decades. Members gathered Tuesday at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago to celebrate.

“Finally, some of the hardest working people in the state of Illinois will receive the dignity and respect they deserve from their work environment,” said Rep. Hernandez.

Magdalena Zylinska, a domestic worker and board member of Arise Chicago, spoke about how demanding domestic work is.

“I have struggled to get by from low wages, wage theft and disrespect on the job,” Zylinska said. “But today I am here to celebrate that our years of organizing have finally paid off.”

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. While domestic workers have achieved victory in those states, the fight continues for a national bill of rights for domestic workers.

Worldwide, 90 percent of domestic workers—the vast majority of whom are women—do not have access to any kind of social security coverage, according to the International Labour Organization. In the United States, an estimated 95 percent of domestic workers are female, foreign born and/ or persons of color. They frequently lack protections and face near constant adversity.

“Women are an essential pillar of our society and our families, as you all have seen. The House listened to us. The Senate listened to us, and now the governor has listened to us,” said Maria Esther Bolaños, a domestic worker and leader from the Latino Union of Chicago.

She recalled days where she worked 12 hours and got paid just $12.00.

Grace Padao of AFIRE Chicago echoed Bolaños’ statements with struggles of her own, describing days of being isolated and alone in homes that were not her own, working seven days a week to provide for her family.

“From this day forward, domestic workers in Illinois will never have to face the conditions that I did,” Padao said.

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. (Parker Asmann)

This article was originally posted at Inthesetimes.com on August 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Parker Asmann is a Summer 2016 Editorial Intern at In These Times. He is an Editorial Board Member for the Chicago-based publication El BeiSMan as well as a regular contributor to The Yucatan Times located in Merida, Mexico. He graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with degrees in journalism and Spanish, as well as a minor in Latin American Studies.


The Verizon Strike Is Not Just About Wages. It Is About Power and Domination Over Workers.

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Gourevitch, AlexanderThis piece first appeared at Jacobin.

Bruce* has worked construction for Verizon for nearly thirty years and he is on strike. Walking a picket outside a Verizon Wireless store, he explains why: “I love this job. It’s outdoors, you get dirty, you get to do things. You see that island over there, I can tell you where each of the manholes are. I’ve been in every one of these buildings here,” he says, pointing to a café, then some office buildings, a travel agency, and a few restaurants. “I don’t like not working, just standing around here. But we gotta do this. I mean, I love this job but I don’t want it for my children.”

Only a few Verizon workers are picketing this Massachusetts location, standing calmly in the signature red shirts of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) holding placards emblazoned “On Strike!”

Their orderly protest stands in contrast to other East Coast Verizon picket lines. In Maryland a Verizon attorney struck a worker with his Porsche. In Westborough, Massachusetts a scab driving drunk hit a picketer, hospitalizing him. Verizon has suspended the health care of all strikers, so that hospital stay was not covered by his normal insurance.

Then there was the altercation outside the City View Inn, on the border between Queens and Brooklyn in New York City. Verizon has been using various hotels as makeshift office-garages, directly dispatching scabs to work sites from their temporary housing.

In response, picketers have been arriving at these hotels at three, four, or five o’clock in the morning, ringing bells, blowing horns and singing loud chants. The strikers have caused such disruption that some hotels refuse to house the scabs any longer.

Verizon has begun to successfully restrict this activity through court injunctions. It has also been getting help from the NYPD. At City View the NYPD once used police vans and contractor trucks to drive scabs to work.

By law police are supposed to remain neutral, which should mean not driving scabs through a picket line. Picketers got upset and a policeman driving one truck panicked, driving the vehicle into one of the striking workers before racing off.

These incidents have special meaning to Verizon workers. The CWA wears red to commemorate Gerry Horgan, who died during the 1989 strike when a Verizon manager drove into the picket line.

Meanwhile, Verizon customers suffer incompetent work by poorly trained replacement managers and scabs. Problems range from the mundane, and sometimes comic—damaged telephone poles duct-taped together, botched wiring procedures, failed phone and FiOS fixes—to the more serious: in Middletown, Pennsylvania, scabs dumped large amounts of polluted water into a roadside ravine, for which Verizon will likely be fined.

Walking the picket with Bruce, I asked him why he wouldn’t want his children working this job. He responded,

Look, if Verizon has its way, it will break the union and turn this into a twenty-dollar-per-hour job with no retirement and little or no health care . . . We’re not asking for some huge raise here we just don’t want to keep giving everything away. They want to reduce our retirement, raise our health care costs, or make this job so miserable that the well-paid people leave. We just want to keep our decent jobs but I don’t know if we’ll be able to. We are trying to stop the bleeding but I don’t know if this job has a future for my children in twenty years. I don’t know if they can live in a decent way.

That workers are simply trying to keep what they already have is a point rarely highlighted in the mainstream strike coverage. In fact, the relatively decent living standards of these unionized employees is what makes this strike so important.

The CWA is one of the few private-sector unions that has been able to win and defend reasonable wages and benefits. In an economy where real incomes for most people have remained stagnant or declined and where the top 1 percent have enjoyed around 90 percent of the Obama recovery’s gains this is significant feat. An effective union like the CWA is one of the few centers stoking resistance to increasing inequality.

The 39,000 Verizon strikers have already shown that they’re not just defending their own interests. One of their main demands has been to protect the jobs of call-center workers, who are not members of the union, and whose livelihoods are threatened by Verizon’s plan to send five thousand jobs offshore.

The CWA even sent representatives to the Philippines, to support call center workers who decided to protest in support of US strikers.

As Fortune reported, they were met with violence from private Verizon security forces and then a “SWAT team of heavily armed Philippine police officers.” This episode highlighted how the strike is challenging a major player in the global production of oppression and economic injustice.

Javier, a technician from New York who now works as a shop steward, says the problem isn’t just about work rules and contract givebacks. It’s about how the Verizon business model is designed to generate massive inequality:

It’s not fair that a CEO can make $18 million [in] salary and the average worker caps out at $86K for field techs. And take federal, state, city out of that, plus what we pay for medical and 401ks.

At Verizon, the CEO to employee pay ratio is 208:1. This isn’t far from the average CEO to employee pay ratio in the United States: 300:1, an increase of more than 1,000 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since 1978.

Yet Verizon’s top management is unsatisfied. It wants more concessions on benefits, more control over its employees, and an even more intensely exploited workforce.

That’s nothing new these days. More unusual, though, is that workers are fighting back. Their fight to keep their benefits has become inseparable from a struggle for power.

Though this is a society that prides itself on its “economic freedom,” the Verizon strike brings to the fore all the indignities, injustices, and outright oppression that saturate the American workplace.


The strike has been brewing since last August, when the CWA’s contract with Verizon expired. Despite a $5.4 billion profit that quarter and roughly $39 billion in the past three years, Verizon refused a new contract on existing terms.

Instead it demanded concessions like higher health care costs, reduced retirement benefits, outsourcing five thousand jobs, and a right to send workers out of state.

The company’s August refusal is part of a decades-long attempt to strip down contracts and weaken the union, perhaps with the hope of breaking the union altogether and then selling off the landline portion of Verizon’s business.

“The first shot to break the union was in the post–2000 contract,” says Javier. That contract created a two-tier system in which new hires were denied protection from layoffs.

In the years since, the company has managed to win further changes in contract language, gaining more control over workers with respect to schedules, work locations, and hiring and firing.

For instance, the new contract stipulates that workers from Buffalo can be called away from their families to work in Boston. Or, in the contract that expired in August, Verizon has the right to force workers to take some other day than Saturday as an “N-day,” or non-assigned day.

And, to make matters worse, that contract says that Verizon can require up to ten hours a week of overtime in non-summer months, and fifteen hours a week in summer months. This means that Verizon can make Tuesday, rather than Saturday, the N-day, and then force a technician to work a ten-hour overtime shift that day.

“So now they have me in six days a week,” says Javier. “If I had tried to schedule a doctor appointment on Tuesday, my N-day, I have to cancel it [or] they can take disciplinary action. If you miss enough overtime assignments then they can suspend you.”

“The company claims it needs to be able to do all this for workplace flexibility, but it’s just a play by the company to make it difficult for the workers so they leave,” says Javier. That strategy has worked; five thousand union workers have left Verizon since the last time the CWA called a strike in 2011.

Verizon’s new demand is to be able to send workers out of state, away from their families, for up to two months at a time. For instance, Verizon has recently announced a plan to build FiOS in Boston.

Normally, it would have to hire Boston-area technicians, but with Verizon’s new plan they could send technicians from Virginia or New Jersey to Boston, under pain of suspension or firing, to do the engineering, construction, and wiring.

As the out-of-state work issue illustrates, this strike isn’t just about wages and benefits, it is about power and domination. Verizon wants workers that move around like frictionless little atoms, ready to mold themselves to the needs of the company.

Verizon workers, however, insist they are human beings. Resisting schedule manipulation is just the start.


Workers are also fighting something Verizon calls theQuality Assurance Program (QAR). The company says it was introduced to keep better time records. But its greater use lies in helping bosses micromanage workers’ time.

Gavin*, who has worked installation and maintenance for more than sixteen years, has experienced the worst effects of QAR.

Recently, after finishing an eight-hour shift, he was commended by a manager for his conscientious work. Yet the very next day he was called in for one of these QAR disciplinary proceedings. Subjected to a barrage of questions, without even knowing what the infraction was, he was then suspended for six weeks without pay.

The infraction turned out to be an error on management’s side. The union fought for Gavin and he was eventually reinstated, though he still lost a week’s pay and retained a mark on his record. Gavin emailed me about his experience:

My union reps fought for me and I was given back everything, but one week of pay, and a sullied record at Verizon . . . When they were asked to produce the proof there was none to be produced, yet I was standing with texts, phone records, and customer testimony as my defense to no avail. Do we operate in a democratic society, or is Verizon and its current regime of rulers somehow an exception to what this country stands for?

Based on my discussions with other Verizon workers, Gavin’s experience is typical. Arbitrary procedures, rulings, and minute control over work are standard fare at Verizon.

For instance, Gavin is allowed a half-hour lunch break, including time traveled from and back to the work site. Anything more can result in serious discipline; a thirty-five-minute lunch can cost a worker six weeks of pay.

“According to Verizon, we are not allowed to take a bathroom break without management approval,” says Javier. “That is an outright disgrace to human dignity.” His manager even demands that workers call him if they wanted to pee:

Unfortunately, when we call him, it goes to voicemail then we can’t leave a message because his box is full. We complained, so now he lets us text him. But a text is not complete, according to him, until he responds. So what am I supposed to wait? . . . If there is no management approval, then if I go then I’m “off the job.” That is a loophole they exploit to suspend us.

In Javier’s view, which I heard many Verizon workers repeat, lower-level managers appear to be under pressure to suspend a certain number of workers or run a given amount of disciplinary proceedings. “The QAR is directly targeted at the lowest 6 percent of the productive technicians,” says Javier, “and we all know there will always be a bottom 6 percent.”

On top of that, the composition of lower-level management has changed. “In the past managers were folks who actually came from the field, and therefore understood what they were managing and could more efficiently address any actual on-the-job concerns,” says Gavin. Now, most lower-level managers are not former engineers or technicians but individuals hired to implement this new disciplinary regime.

“Some of these new managers come straight out of the military, from a tour of service,” says Bruce, shaking his head. “And they’re afraid for their jobs.” Many of these lower-level managers are being forced, under threat of being fired, to scab.

The change in managerial culture, the creation of new disciplinary proceedings, the intensification of work rules, and the increasing enforcement of minor infractions is a regular feature of contemporary American labor relations.

As labor reporter Steven Greenhouse has described, American companies large and small have turned lower-level management into discipline machines, “setting ever-tougher goals for its managers, using sophisticated computer systems to monitor their every move, ousting those who fall short of expectations, allowing managers to use foul language and savage criticism to bully subordinates.”

They are often given impossible quotas or benchmarks, which can be achieved only by making inhuman demands on workers, doing unpaid work themselves, or outright wage theft/time-stealing.

Managers unwilling to do any of those things just get fired and replaced with those mean or desperate enough to do it. Verizon fits right into this pattern, except that its workers have a union with the collective power to push back, as it did in Gavin’s case.

“I think the company has one end in mind to all of this . . . to break the union,” says Javier. “And if they couldn’t break the union per se and have to offer a contract, even if they do it to get smaller and smaller contracts and try to push people out of the company. If they make the conditions so deplorable people will leave.”

Every Verizon worker I talked to agreed, including many who were worried enough that they were unwilling to be quoted even under a pseudonym.


The most successful tactic during this strike has been holding pickets outside hotels housing scabs. That’s why Verizon has sought injunctions against this, and other practices, and in a couple states has had its way.

On May 9, Verizon won a temporary injunction against these pickets in New York City and this injunction was then extended until June 9.

In Philadelphia, Verizon won an injunction permitting no more than six picketers and forcing them to stay at least fifteen yards from Verizon’s retail stores and authorized retailers.

These injunctions occur against the background of already extraordinarily punitive labor law. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act says that workers have a right to strike, but this has been interpreted in the narrowest possible terms, and limited by subsequent legislation.

The subsequent 1947 Taft-Hartley Act banned sympathy strikes, political strikes, and secondary strikes and boycotts, which placed huge legal obstacles to the solidaristic worker action that used to be a regular feature of American labor politics.

Judges have taken what remains of the right to strike and whittled it down even further. One important Supreme Court precedent says that workers may not be fired for going on strike, but in most cases employers are free to hire permanent replacement workers.

You can’t be fired but you can be permanently replaced. Or the employer can threaten to move the entire workplace. You can’t fire any specific individual who threatens to strike, but you can in effect fire them all.

This legal situation has led one commentator to observe, “The ‘right to strike’ upon risk of permanent job loss is a ‘right’ the nature of which is appreciated only by lawyers.” Primarily corporate attorneys and those specializing in union-busting, one suspects.

Striking workers face any number of further restraints, depending on state law and the mood of a judge—all of which puts potential or existing strikers in a bind. Either they exercise their right to strike within the bounds of the law, with little hope of winning and high likelihood of being replaced, or they confront the law itself.

In this environment, only relatively skilled workers, who are hard to replace en masse, can go on strike with some hope of stopping or slowing production. This means workers in sectors like fast food, retail, and agriculture—with the worst pay, fewest benefits, and least amount of workplace control—have the least freedom to defend their interests legally.

That is a problem for all workers who want to exercise their power collectively. It is no surprise that an AFL-CIO president once claimed he would prefer “the law of the jungle” to American labor law. And it is hard to imagine any serious revival of a robust class politics without potentially massive acts of civil disobedience.


The Verizon strike is in its fifth week and whatever happens it is not just a strike about Verizon. It is about organized workers facing a punitive company, repressive labor law, and a dwindling membership trying to preserve their power and resist further attacks on their benefits, dignity, and time and personal freedom.

As Javier says, if they are successful, they can be a standard for others to rally around:

If we can set a bar for everyone else . . . then other people, who aren’t in a union, can aspire to raise themselves up to our level. Right now the company wants to push everyone down to the poverty level. If we are able to go on strike and have the right to strike then we can fight not just for ourselves but for other people. We can be something for everyone.

In an unequal, capitalist society like ours, there is no substitute for militant workers, organized on the widest possible basis, who can use the best weapon they have: the refusal to work.

It’s easy to imagine radical alternatives to the status quo. It is far more difficult to generate the social power and political muscle to make any of those visions a reality. But Verizon workers are helping show the way.

*Names have been changed.

This blog originally appear at inthesetimes.com on May 20, 2016. Reprinted with Permission

Alex Gourevitch is an assistant professor of political science at Brown University and the author of From Slavery To the Cooperative Commonwealth: Labor and Republican Liberty in the Nineteenth Century.

After Contract Talks Break Down, Nearly 40,000 Verizon Workers Set To Strike Tomorrow

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Leaders of the unions representing nearly 40,000 Verizon telecommunications workers in big cities and small towns from Maine to Virginia announced today that their members would be going on strike at 6 a.m. Wednesday without “a major change in direction” in contract talks now underway, according to Communications Workers of America (CWA) president Chris Shelton.

The unions—CWA and IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)—are fighting to keep high-quality working class jobs in the United States.

Jobs in the two major categories of work pay relatively well—about $60,000 a year for call center workers and about $85,000 to $90,000 a year for technicians who install and service the telecom network, according to Bob Master, assistant to the CWA New York area vice-president Dennis Trainor.

Verizon is flush financially. It earned $18 billion in profits last year and about $1.8 billion a month so far this year. Last year it spent about $13 billion in buying back its stock, a dubious strategy to enrich stockholders. Now it is trying to buy Yahoo!, a long-shot target for a $35 billion speculative bet.

With the salaries that their union contract provides and the skills they learn, Verizon workers can provide their communities and families stable and supportive leadership. It will be harder to play that role with the lower wages, lesser benefits and less stable work routines that Verizon’s proposals would provide.

For example, Dan Hilton, a cable splicer from Roanoake, Va., who has been with Verizon for 20 years, often is sent out to provide cable service for an entire community or to restore service after disasters. The company has become addicted to such flexibility, but it means that its employees can not be at home when their family needs them.

“My wife had back surgery last year and needed my help, and I want to enjoy time with my grandkids,” he says. “We want to do a good job, go home and spend time with our spouses. … We’re just ordinary working people, doing our job, hoping for our company to succeed. That’s what life’s all about.”

But his job—and the company’s success—also involves serving people like himself in his community. He wants Verizon to expand FiOS, the company’s bundled Internet access, telephone and television service, in his home area, something he is not available to do when he is dispatched far away for long times. But he and CWA vice-president Ed Mooney see the company’s failure to build out fiber optic networks or to explain why they are adopting such a policy as representing Verizon’s disinterest in caring for needs of long-term customers.

Workers like Hilton and union leaders think that Verizon is narrowly focused on profit maximization, not the long-term well being of the company, the community or its employees. In the current negotiations over a contract that expired last June, Verizon wants lower health care costs regardless of the consequences. For their part, union negotiators have offered some changes to save some money, such as encouraging more use of preferred providers. But the unions are resisting pension cutbacks that Verizon demands.

The telecom industry has undergone decades of tumultuous change. Now even Verizon, a traditional land line telephone service provider, is ditching as much as it can of the land line business as possible and emphasizing cell phone service. It is no coincidence that Verizon has also been most intensively fighting recognition of unions in its cell phone operations.

“Our major issues involve contracting out of work,” says Trainor. That practice accounts for much of the 40 percent loss of jobs over the past decade, according to Master. The technicians, for example, not only feel pressure to work away from home for long periods but also the threat that if they do not, Verizon will turn to non-union subcontractors to do their work. On the other hand, call centers workers face the prospect of Verizon closing more of their centers and moving the work to Mexico or the Philippines.

Telephone strikes can be tough battles, with managers trying to handle much of the immediate service and repair work in central facilities as they can. But Verizon workers have some experience preparing for strikes and for ways to make their case to customers that the workers and the union are on their side, even more than Verizon itself.

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on April 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com

T-Mobile’s Dirty Secrets Exposed: Unfair Firings, Deceiving Customers and More

Thursday, March 10th, 2016


Last week, award-winning labor and business reporter Steven Greenhousepublished a comprehensive article on T-Mobile’s disgraceful labor and consumer practices.

T-Mobile is currently the golden child of the telecom industry, with a media-friendly CEO and high profits. But, as Greenhouse writes, the company faces allegations of the law in nearly every part of its operation:

On top of all of this, T-Mobile continues to be one of the most aggressively anti-union companies in the industry.

Joshua Coleman was one of the top performers at the T-Mobile call center in Wichita, Kansas—the company even awarded him a free vacation to Puerto Rico. But when they discovered Coleman was a union supporter, they not only canceled his vacation, but fired him. When the NLRB dinged them for unlawful dismissal, T-Mobile settled for $40,000 without admitting wrongdoing.

And if workers at any company need a union, it’s T-Mobile. In contrast to the company’s laid-back, “un-carrier” image, employees in T-Mobile call centers are subject to high-stakes metrics that take into account everything from number of seconds on a call to when they go to the bathroom. Severe anxiety and panic attacks are common.

Greenhouse interviewed former customer service rep Julia Crouse, who reported vomiting from stress before work and that her manager “often ordered employees who had the worst sales numbers or longest average call times to wear a dunce cap.”

Help might soon be on the way. The organization T-Mobile Workers United has brought together employees from all over the country to support each other and push to change T-Mobile’s policies. This week,TU became an organizing local with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), with none other than fired worker Joshua Coleman as one of its leaders.

This article originally appeared on aflcio.org on March 10, 2016.  Reprinted with permission

Doug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

Organizing Institute Apprentices Gear Up with Autoworkers to Ask for a Little Respect

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

FullSizeRenderOrganizing Institute apprentices have hit the ground running to help autoworkers build a union at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi—a fight that has been brewing over the past decade. This is the largest class of OI apprentices to be part of any one campaign. It’s important because this is a historic campaign to show that union organizing is a civil right and to show that #BlackLivesMatter.

It’s not always about wages. That’s what OI apprentices found out fast when talking to autoworkers about what troubles they face in the workplace. Though autoworkers in the South are paid meager wages compared to their counterparts in other regions and sometimes other countries, what workers really want in Canton is respect on the job.

The autoworkers at Nissan told OI apprentice Keith Crawford that they feel like they are treated like animals on the job. Hearing their stories has been challenging, but Crawford is emphatic, “You need to commit to help people’s suffering.” Crawford is from Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died after marching with sanitation workers on strike against deplorable labor conditions. Crawford is as aspirational about the campaign with autoworkers, hoping they make history by winning here.

LaQuinta Alexander is another social justice advocate and OI apprentice with roots in student activism. When Trayvon Martin’s controversial death and the acquittal of the man who killed him sparked a sit-in at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, that garnered national attention—she was there with the most committed student activists of Dream Defenders for the full 30 days and nights. The experience emboldened her, though the measure failed to change the state’s stand-your-ground laws.

“I love it; I love my people. I love the new challenges and how every day is different. I love every bit of it.” Alexander learned to recognize the power of collective action to stir the national, and sometimes, global conscience, such as the beautiful solidarity between Brazil’s autoworkers for those in Canton. “Your story has meaning: it has power.”

She wanted to be a teacher, but Beatriz Guerrero found another calling after she says the Union Summer internship changed her life. She worked on the Community Labor Environment Action Network’s carwash campaign in Los Angeles, an eye-opening experience of the daily abuse workers face, “You hear about the worker who gets run over by a car, see that he looks like your father and then feel the injustice when he’s fired and treated as expendable.” She also remembers how her own father was fired for organizing in the 1980s, and it inspires her to work harder to make sure workers’ spirits aren’t crushed with the challenges confronting them.

Another former Union Summer intern and current apprentice, Alex Rodie, was born and raised in Indiana. He was deeply affected by the personal and professional accounts he heard about the power of unions. Rodie remembers his grandfather’s words about how he could not have supported a family without his union’s support. And like Guerrero, Rodie’s father also had tried to organize his workplace, and even more significantly to organize with the UAW.

OI apprentice Stacy Gray was a part of an exodus from the North in the elusive pursuit of a decent job. She learned about the union difference when Michigan became a right-to-work state. She knows what it’s like to scrap together a living as a bus driver, saving on child care costs by driving her own kids’ route. Now, Gray is committed to move working people to action. “I’ve always been a mini-revolution person, but as soon as it got too hot in the kitchen I found myself standing alone. This apprenticeship will teach me to develop the support system and bring people in.”

Workers at Nissan plants around the globe—in Brazil, South Africa and Japan—have a voice on the job, but while corporations have been getting millions of dollars in tax incentives to set up shop down South, too many see it as grounds for exploiting cheap labor. That’s why autoworkers in Canton want to be able to come together in a union to voice their concerns and to work collectively to make Nissan better. Let’s help build up the union movement and #OrganizeTheSouth!

Learn more about the Nissan campaign.

This year’s full cohort of OI-UAW apprentices:

  •  LaQuinta Alexander (Oviedo, Florida)
  • Ronald Allen (Atlanta)
  • Keith Crawford (Memphis, Tennessee)
  • Rannie Fore (Atlanta)
  • Stacy Gray (Atlanta)
  • Tori Griffin (Knoxville, Tennessee)
  • Beatriz Guerrero (Los Angeles)
  • Danielle Holmes (Jackson, Mississippi)
  • Jacklyn Izsraael (Atlanta)
  • Ojeda Jarrett (Atlanta)
  • Brandon Marlow (Atlanta)
  • Cory McIntosh (Atlanta)
  • Alexander Rodie (Terre Haute, Indiana)
  • Susan Tewolde (Fredericksburg, Virginia)

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on March 9, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sonia Huq is the Organizing Field Communications Assistant at the AFL-CIO.  She grew up in a Bangladeshi-American family in Boca Raton, Florida where she first learned a model of service based on serving a connected immigrant cultural community. After graduating from the University of Florida, Sonia served in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and later worked for Manavi, the first South Asian women’s rights organization in the United States. She then earned her Master’s in Public Policy from the George Washington University and was awarded a Women’s Policy Inc. fellowship for women in public policy to work as a legislative fellow in the office of Representative Debbie Wasserman (FL-23). Sonia is passionate about working towards a more just society and hopes to highlight social justice issues and movements through her writing.

Trump Las Vegas hotel is not letting up on its fight against its own workers

Friday, February 26th, 2016

Workers at the Donald Trump co-owned Trump International Hotel Las Vegas voted to unionize. When hotel management challenged the union vote, the National Labor Relations Board rejected the challenge. But the Trump Organization fights on—to deny its workers their right to organize. The claim, of course, is that the big bad union intimidated the workers into voting to unionize:

“We will continue our fight to ensure a fair election for our valued associates, many of whom vigorously oppose union representation,” said Jill Martin, an attorney for The Trump Organization, in a statement to reporters. “The hearing officer’s recommendations erroneously disregarded the severe misconduct undertaken by Union agents, which clearly impacted an incredibly close election.” Trump management has until next week to formally challenge the NLRB recommendation, and then the Board’s regional chapter will determine whether or not to certify the union. Even if the local board backs the workers, Trump can further delay by appealing their ruling to the federal board in Washington, D.C.

That intimidation claim is what the NLRB’s local hearing officer already rejected. There is good reason, though, to believe that the vote was fraught with intimidation and retaliation … coming from management:

For some workers, like Donato, that wait is especially painful. After three years working at the hotel, Donato was suspended and then fired shortly after the union election, which he thinks was retaliation for his open support for the union. He is desperately hoping to win his job back as part of the bargaining process, and says he is mostly worried for his elderly mother and siblings in the Philippines, who depend on the money he sends them.

That wasn’t the first time the Trump hotel management went after a worker for exercising their legal right to organize. But even if all of management’s claims that the union harassed workers into voting yes are thrown out in the end, they can delay the final recognition of the union and delay a contract for months, at least, inflicting pain on the workers who’ve already risked so much to fight for a better workplace.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 24, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.



Paid sick leave coming to a fifth state: Vermont

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Vermont is about to become the fifth state in the U.S. with a paid sick leave law. The state House, which had previously passed a sick leave bill, this week passed the state Senate’s version of the bill, described as “somewhat more business-friendly.” That usually means “somewhat less worker-friendly,” but it’s still a major advance:

The measure calls for employers to provide workers three paid sick days a year for the first two years that the law would be in effect and five thereafter.

It does not cover employees working fewer than 18 hours a week or 21 weeks a year.

The bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin, who supports it. Vermont will join Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon as states with paid sick leave laws. A number of other American cities and towns—many of them in New Jersey—have similar laws. And, of course, most other countries in the world have this basic, common-sense policy.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 18, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.



This week in the war on workers: More whining about Obama's plan to expand overtime

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016


A bunch of congressional Republicans (and two Democrats who should be ashamed of themselves) are very upset that the Obama administration plans to expand overtime pay eligibility. The lawmakers have written a letter to Labor Secretary Tom Perez expressing concern about changes that aren’t even being made, but mostly about the fact that they don’t want people to get overtime pay:

What is in the rule, which the members of Congress who signed the letter don’t like, is a long overdue increase in the salary an employee must be paid if an employer wants to avoid paying overtime. The current rule sets that exemption threshold at $23,660 a year—below the poverty line for a family of four. The proposed rule, as the representatives note, “would raise the salary threshold and require employers to pay overtime for all employees who make $50,440 or less per year.” The signers don’t like that, but the reasons they give don’t hold water.

The letter says the increase in the threshold would suddenly make 5 million employees eligible for overtime pay. That’s true, and it’s a good thing. Making employers pay their employees extra when they work more than 40 hours in a week is the purpose of the Fair Labor Standards Act. It’s good for those employees and their families, whether they get paid more or are simply allowed to spend more time with their families. And because it applies to all employers equally, it will not create competitive burdens.

The representatives claim the proposed salary threshold somehow fails to take into account the fact that “the purchasing power of a dollar is drastically different in various parts of our country.” But the claim is ridiculous. The point of the salary threshold is that workers paid less than this amount—even if they are classified by their employers as managers or executives—are automatically entitled to overtime protections. Essentially, this threshold separates workers with genuine managerial and professional responsibility, who have substantial autonomy over their work schedule and have real bargaining clout with their employers, from those workers who are simply labeled “managers” (often by employers precisely looking to avoid the obligation to pay overtime) but who nevertheless can be compelled to work long hours.

A fair day’s wage

? Workers in Las Vegas’s Culinary Union were denied a permit to protest outside the Palace Station Hotel & Casino, so they were like “fine, we’ll commit nonviolent civil disobedience … “

? A Kentucky judge ruled against a county-level anti-union law.

Wage theft, sexual assault, and no sick leave: The horrible conditions facing poultry workers.


? This is vile behavior to see from a teacher, let alone a teacher whose school has elevated her as a model for others. And before dismissing it as a one-time occurrence, consider that the video was recorded by an assistant teacher who was sick of watching that sort of thing. And that at Success Academy charter schools:

Jessica Reid Sliwerski, 34, worked at Success Academy Harlem 1 and Success Academy Harlem 2 from 2008 to 2011, first as a teacher and then as an assistant principal. She said that, starting in third grade, when children begin taking the state exams, embarrassing or belittling children for work seen as slipshod was a regular occurrence, and in some cases encouraged by network leaders.

A war on teachers in Virginia.

? John Kasich is riding high in the Republican presidential primary, at least temporarily, so let’s take a look at Kasich’s education record.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

State of the Union: Don’t Let the TPP Sink Our Wages

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

CD speaking at UCSD FairTrade RallyThe president will give his final State of the Union address tonight. Traditionally, this annual speech reviews the accomplishments of years past and sets out a “to-do” list for the year ahead. Although the White House has indicated that this year’s speech will be “nontraditional,” it has made clear the economy will be a major focus.

I hope the president will talk about the importance of the proposed overtime rule, which could raise wages for some 15 million of America’s working people. I also hope he talks about how the auto manufacturing industry has soared back to life since the so-called bailout, which saved 1.5 million jobs in its first year alone.

While the economy isn’t perfect, and most of us are still feeling the pinch of student loans, too-smallpaychecks, threats to retirement security and not enough voice in our workplaces, there are a lot of successes the president can look back on with pride in his speech.

On the other hand, there is also a new trade and economic deal on the horizon—the Trans-Pacific Partnership—that could poke a hole in the progress our economy has made since the president came in to office in 2009.

The thing that’s dangerous about the TPP, and the reason we should worry about it shrinking our paychecks, is not the idea of trade. Trade is good—but we shouldn’t confuse “trade” with so-called “trade agreements,” which set down rules not just for “trade,” but for food safety, Wall Street regulations, prescription medicines and investor rights. These are the kind of rules that should be made in public, in democratic fashion, not in a secretly negotiated agreement that can’t be amended. The TPP’s corporate giveaways are dangerous.

Existing trade rules (including those in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.–Korea trade deal) already cost the average U.S. worker $1,800 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and preliminary studies on the TPP by Center for Economic and Policy Research and Tufts indicate that we can expect that figure to get worse.

Working people are deeply disappointed that the opportunities to put workers’ interests first and eliminate corporate entitlements in the TPP were largely ignored.  And more importantly, working people are disappointed because we know that all of these things mean fewer good jobs in our communities and fewer opportunities for our children.

The TPP is the latest example of the failed U.S. approach to trade that started with NAFTA, which drives down wages and creates special rights for corporations.  The TPP could have been different, but instead it is a collection of minor tweaks designed to get congressional votes rather than ensure workers’ wages rise.

The AFL-CIO wants trade agreements that grow our economy, create good jobs in America and give working people in all countries the chance to succeed when they work hard. Instead, passage of the TPP will mean lost jobs and lower wages.

Compared to eight years ago, the U.S. economy is afloat and heading toward improvement. The TPP will undermine that progress and give us rocky sailing ahead. There is simply no good argument for trading away our right to control our economy in exchange for more corporate power.

I hope the TPP doesn’t come up at all in the State of the Union speech. We’d be better off without it. But if it does—let’s be clear about what it really means for America’s working families.

Let’s raise our voices against this corporate giveaway and make it clear the TPP must go down to defeat!

This blog appeared on aflico.org on January 12, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Celeste Drake is a Trade & Globalization Policy Specialist at AFL-CIO.  Her experience with the labor movement was as a UFCW member while bagging groceries during college.  She also served as the Legislative Director for Representative Linda Sanches (D-CA).

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