Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘worker’s rights’

California Senate passes landmark bill cracking down on gig economy abuses

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

This is huge. The California state Senate passed Assembly Bill 5, which will rein in gig economy abuses, in a 29 to 11 vote. App-based companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash tried to negotiate an exemption for themselves, but legislators held firm and the bill—which needs to be re-passed by the state Assembly and then signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom—includes those key players in the gig economy.

AB5 puts into law a 2018 California Supreme Court decision imposing stricter tests on whether a worker can be counted as an independent contractor. Under that decision and under AB5, companies can’t call workers independent contractors if the work they do is central to the company’s mission or if the company substantially directs their work. That applies not just Uber drivers and food delivery workers but to port truck drivers, janitors, manicurists, strippers, and some tech workers.

Once it becomes law, AB5 is expected to affect more than a million California workers, and could set a model for other states. AB5 “finally asserts one set of standards for determining employee status for all workers, putting an end to the chaos of poverty and despair gig bosses created in their pursuit of profits at any cost,” said New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai. “Now all workers—from nail salon workers, to delivery workers, to app drivers—will have employee protections if their work is part of the core services of the company that employs them.” She went on to call for “the same clarity for employee status here in New York State.”

”Today the so-called gig companies present themselves as the innovative future of tomorrow, a future where companies don’t pay Social Security or Medicare,” said state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a longtime labor leader turned elected official. “Let’s be clear: there is nothing innovative about underpaying someone for their labor.”

”Misclassification is an attempt to weaken the power of workers, including the thousands of truck drivers in California who deserve a living wage and full rights as employees. With this vote, the California Senate has taken a strong stand with workers who should earn a living wage and have the protections to which they are entitled,” Teamsters president Jim Hoffa said in a statement.

The California Assembly and Newsom are expected to put AB5 into law without drama. But Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash are vowing to add drama by pouring nearly $100 million into a ballot initiative trying to get themselves exempted from the law.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on September 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

The lessons of Trump's 'purely reactionary' labor board, this week in the war on workers

Monday, September 9th, 2019

The National Labor Relations Board recently gave businesses the go-ahead to misclassify employees as independent contractors. In the wake of that and other horrible decisions, former board member and current AFL-CIO general counsel Craig Becker writes that the NLRB is “the administrative state, remade in Trump’s image.” So how does that look?

Trump’s NLRB is “purely reactionary. It has no vision of how the law should promote healthy and productive labor relations, but seeks only to erase the recent past.” Literally, weeks after starting his job, the agency’s general counsel asked for the files on every major decision of the Obama era so that they might all be overturned. Next, Becker writes, “while Trump claims to speak for American workers, he has staffed the NLRB with longtime frontmen for their corporate employers.” And they’re refusing to recuse themselves from cases in which their former law firms represented employers.

Third, according to Becker, “despite the president’s rhetoric, his NLRB is not deregulating but, rather, selectively regulating—that is, regulating unions but not employers.” Trump’s political appointee is overturning huge numbers of decisions made by career attorneys … when they decide against prosecuting unions. And fourth, “Trump’s NLRB has contempt for procedural norms and fairness.” That means reversing precedent without giving public notice to hear from people who might be affected.

Overall, what this spells out for the NLRB, and for the Trump administration more generally, is that “laws are being used to silence and oppress the very people they were intended to protect—workers, borrowers, consumers.“

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on September 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

A Worker’s Place Is in the Museum

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

Not many museums have mounted a collection of photographs and ephemera that chronicle the history of worker organizing and the labor movement. That’s not surprising. Museums and their special exhibits are underwritten by foundations, corporations and the very rich—funders that, by and large, are not known for their concern for those who toil for a living and seek to better their lives through union representation.

The annual Met Gala, the high-society benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, has revolved around couturiers like Coco Chanel and Alexander McQueen or sartorial themes from camp to Catholicism. Television viewers have yet, however, to see celebrities like Lady Gaga done up in a McDonald’s uniform or other industrial-designed attire walk the red carpet across David H. Koch Plaza—the $65 million gift to the Met from David H. Koch.

All of which makes City of Workers, City of Struggle: How Labor Movements Changed New York a rare and radical gem of a show.

One enters this special exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York through a montage of photographs of demonstrators holding placards that read: “Abolish Slavery,” “We Want Respect for Workers,” “Put Black Men to Work or Stop Construction,” “Mt. Sinai Workers Can’t Live on $32 a Week—On Strike” and “Carwasheros al Poder” (Power to the Carwashers).

The exhibit begins with the enslaved people of New York (40% of New York households owned one or more workers in colonial days) and continues through today’s movement of minimum-wage slaves and the Fight for $15.

If the overarching theme of City of Workersis collective action—how New Yorkers formed unions and gained better working conditions and better pay—the subtext is that cooperation among black, brown and white workers made those advances possible. In the age of Trump, that message bears repeating.

In the book that accompanies the exhibit, labor historian Joshua B. Freeman writes, “The city of New York would not exist in anything like its current form without the struggles of working people over the past three centuries.” Similar stories could be told of any number of cities across the country—cities where labor history exhibits could be mounted, if not for want of museum space, cities where the struggle of workers continues to this day.

City of Workers, sponsored by the union-friendly Puffin Foundation of Teaneck, N.J., is on exhibit through Jan. 5, 2020, at the Museum of the City of New York, just one mile north of the Met and across from Central Park. While you are there, check out Activist New York, a permanent exhibit on the city’s history of political agitation in the Puffin Foundation Gallery.

All images courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

 


(A few of the New York shirtwaist workers, most of whom were Jewish women, went on strike in 1909 for better pay, working conditions and shorter hours. The strike, known as the Uprising of the 20,000, targeted more than 600 garment shops and factories.)

 


(Frank J. Ferrell, a black delegate of the New York City chapter of the Knights of Labor addresses the group at their 1886 convention in Richmond, Va. When Ferrell was denied a room at a local hotel where he and his New York colleagues had a reservation, they decamped en masse for less racist accommodations.)

 


(This poster advertises a 1912 Milwaukee talk by Rose Schneidermann, a socialist feminist who had worked in the garment industry. Rose is best known for her speechthat same year to middle-class suffragettes in Cleveland: “What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist … The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.”)

(In 1882, members of the Knights of Labor and the Central Labor Union gathered in New York’s Union Square for the first-ever Labor Day parade.)

 

(In 1965, in front of Macy’s, members of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union picket Judy Bond, a “runaway plant” that had moved to the South. The union’s multi-year campaign included shopping bags that read, “Judy Bond Inc., On Strike, Don’t Buy Judy Bond Blouses.” According to the union, strikers handed out more than 3 million bags in 1963.)

 

(“Filthy Tenement House Cigar Factories” postcard, circa 1885.)

 

Amalgamated Dwellings is the oldest limited-equity housing cooperative in the U.S. Founded in 1927 in the Bronx by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the co-op was established to provide affordable housing for workers. Today, Amalgamated is home to more than 1,400 families.

 

(In 1936, in the Poconos, members of New York’s Communist-led Dressmakers’ Union (Local 22) relax at Unity House. Local 22 and Local 25 purchased the 750-acre retreat, which had formerly been a tony resort for German Jews, in 1919.)

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

About the Author: Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.Bleifuss has worked at In These Times for 24 years, including as managing editor and senior editor. He tackles the state of national and international events with a blend of critical insight and humor, and over the years has developed a niche for investigative reporting.

His reporting on environmental health issues, national security scandals and the Iran Contra affair has landed in newspapers and magazines around the country, including the New York Times, the Utne Reader, the Capital Eye and many others.

He is the co-author of the book “Was The 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?,” with Steven F. Freeman.

Before joining In These Times, Bleifuss was director of the Peace Studies Program for the University of Missouri, a features writer for the Fulton Sun in Fulton, Missouri, and a freelance journalist in Spain.

Bleifuss currently serves on the advisory board of The Public Square, a program of the Illinois Humanities Council.

Stand Up and Be Recognized: Worker Wins

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with actors and actresses winning new contracts and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.

SAG-AFTRA Signs New Agreement with Ad Agency BBH After 10-Month Strike: After a strike that lasted 10 months, SAG-AFTRA has negotiated a new contract with advertising agency BBH. The deal means BBH will provide union wages, pension and health contributions to all actors. David White, national executive director for SAG-AFTRA, said: “We are pleased to welcome BBH back to the SAG-AFTRA family. The tremendous solidarity of our entire membership is to thank for in helping bring BBH back to the table. Our members look forward to once again collaborating with BBH and providing their professional talent to create innovative, memorable and award-winning commercials.”

Netflix and SAG-AFTRA Reach Deal with Significant Improvements for Actors: Netflix and SAG-AFTRA have reached a new three-year contract that includes several major improvements for actors that appear in the streaming service’s movies and shows. The new agreement treats voice-over and motion capture the same as other actors. The contract also includes better residuals from theatrical releases, creates new protections against harassment, sets new overtime rules for stunt performers and other gains.

Workers at Spot Coffee in Buffalo Become Among the First Baristas to Unionize: Baristas at Spott Coffee in Buffalo have voted to form a union, making them among the first baristas in the country to seek to organize a union. Jaz Brisack, the lead organizer for Workers United, which helped organize the campaign, said: “It’s really a relatively new thing to organize baristas, so this is a very groundbreaking campaign and it’s really significant. ‘I think that it will empower people to realize what’s possible. Other places will say, ‘If the Spot workers can do it, why can’t we?'”

San Diego Unified School District Employees Join AFSA: Principals, vice principals, school police supervisors, operations managers, education, food and transportation supervisors voted to join the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA). AFSA President Ernest Logan said: “This is a new day for the San Diego Unified School District. The [Administration Association of San Diego City Schools] affiliation is a milestone for the union that will give a stronger voice—locally, statewide and nationally—to school leaders in San Diego Unified. This new power will enhance their ability to deliver a better education to the children of this community.”

NLRB Finds Firings of Five IAM Members at Boeing in South Carolina Unjust: A group of flight line inspectors and technicians voted overwhelmingly to be represented by the Machinists (IAM) in 2018, but the company has fought back against the organizing campaign. A National Labor Relations Board regional director found that the firings of five employees at the 787 Dreamliner facility in North Charleston were unlawful acts of retaliation against union supporters. IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. said: “This ruling is a landmark first step to victory for workers at Boeing South Carolina. Boeing has continuously and systematically ignored the law and trampled on the rights of its own employees in South Carolina. We call on Boeing to immediately reinstate our members, sit down now to negotiate a contract with its Flight Line employees, end its scorched-earth anti-union campaign and get back to the business of working with the IAM and our members to build aircraft. Now is not the time for Boeing to be abusing its safety rules to harass and fire experienced and skilled workers who are critical to the safety of Boeing airplanes.”

Machinists Reach Deal with General Electric to Avoid Strike: More than 1,250 IAM members in Ohio and Wisconsin will not be going on strike after a new contract with General Electric was agreed to. President Martinez said: “Our negotiating committee worked tirelessly to secure a tentative agreement that reflects the importance of our members’ role in making GE the company it is today. The voices of our membership have been heard in every step of this process.”

Martha’s Vineyard Bus Drivers Win First Contract After Strike: Bus drivers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) won their first-ever contract after a monthlong strike during tourist season. The drivers are contracted with Transit Connection to work for the Vineyard Transit Authority. The new contract provides pay increases and seniority protections. Driver Richard Townes said: “This is a historical day for VTA drivers and a great day for the island. We can now better provide for our families, our jobs are more secure, and we can get back to safely transporting our riders, friends and allies, whose support on the picket lines and year-round was critical in achieving this fair contract.”

ACLU of Maryland Staff Join OPEIU: Staffers at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland voted for representation by Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 2. Justin Nalley, an education policy analyst, said: “We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to negotiate a workplace that is fair and equitable for all staff. The staff of the ACLU of Maryland take exercising our rights as employees as seriously as the work we produce on behalf of our clients, Maryland residents and the broader ACLU of Maryland family. We hope the ACLU of Maryland will hold itself to the same values we use to fight for our civil liberties every day and apply those values to our internal workplace reform. While it is unfortunate the unionization process was met with increased distrust on the management side and has taken nearly half a year after asking for voluntary recognition, we expect the contract negotiation to be more efficient and collaborative as we all share the same goals.”

BuzzFeed Voluntarily Recognizes Employee Union After Walkout: After months of negotiations and a walkout, BuzzFeed has finally agreed to voluntarily recognize the union employees have fought for. The employees walked off the job in order to gain union recognition and improvements to management, pay inequality and job security. In a release, the union said: “We’re excited to share that we have reached a voluntary recognition agreement with BuzzFeed. On Tuesday, a third party will conduct a card-check. Once that’s completed, our union will be certified. And we can’t wait to celebrate our victory once it’s official!”

Committee to Protect Journalists Staff Join Writers Guild of America, East: After more than 90% of the staff signed union authorization cards, the staff at the Committee to Protect Journalists have joined the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). Natalie Southwick, who works as the program coordinator for Central and South America for CPJ, said: “We’ve grown a lot as an organization over the last four to five years, and that means that practices that were in place when our organization was half this big are no longer necessarily the ones that make sense for our current size and goals. CPJ’s growth has also made it more difficult to maintain consistency across the organization in terms of opportunities, policies and accountability. We wanted to make sure we were taking proactive steps to ensure this is a positive workplace for everyone as we continue to grow.”

California Grocery Store Workers Secure Contract: United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 8-Golden State has negotiated a new contract with Safeway and Vons. About the deal, UFCW 8-Golden State President Jacques Loveall said: “At the bargaining table we were able to build on the key achievements of decades of union solidarity. This contract is one of our best ever, a big ‘win’ for union members.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on August 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Bernie Sanders’ Labor Plan Could Put a Union in Every Workplace in America

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Image result for Shaun Richman

Bernie Sanders released his Workplace Democracy Plan on Wednesday. His campaign’s labor platform makes the strongest case of any of the candidates so farthat he would be unions’ best ally in the White House in generations.

At a time when the Democrats’ official labor law reform proposal, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, would essentially overturn the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, the race to the left for labor’s support in the primaries demands bolder policies. Bernie Sanders does not disappoint.

The stand-out measures

Where Sanders’ labor platform is most exciting is its proposal for new workers’ rights and forms of union representation that transcend the National Labor Relations Board framework of enterprise-based contract bargaining.

One is a “just cause” legal standard of employment, which would mean that non-managerial workers—whether they are represented by a union or not—could only be fired only for a legitimate, serious, work-performance reason. This has been a causethat In These Times has long championed, and as Moshe Marvit and I explained elsewhere, “would open up new pathways to organizing.” Bernie Sanders is the third candidate (so far) to embrace the reform, after Bill de Blasio and Jay Inslee, but he’s the first leading contender for the nomination to do so. (And in a promising sign of wage boards’ momentum, Beto O’Rourke included them in a plan released just after Sanders’ .)

But the best proposal in Sanders’ platform is what he refers to as “sectoral collective bargaining” but others in the academic and think tank world have been calling “wage boards.” Basically, he proposes to work with trade unions to construct new industrial standards boards—with representatives for the employers, workers and possibly that nebulous concept, “the public”—that can set minimum standards for wages, benefits and hours across entire sectors of the economy thereby taking those issues out of competition. This is essentially the framework of the First New Deal legislation, which the Lochner-era Court overturned, and which the National Labor Relations Act was initially meant to operate alongside of.

Sanders’ wage board proposal was clearly influenced by the Center for American Progress’ David Madland’s and University of Michigan’s Kate Andrias’ dogged research and advocacy for reviving the wage board model. It’s also not insignificant that a revived wage board is how Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 32BJ won a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers in New York state, and that SEIU is rather bullish on expanding and exporting the model.

This is possibly the most important labor law reform that a Democratic president (with a Democratic Senate willing to nuke the filibuster) could achieve. It’s that one that could put a union in every workplace in America on day one. Because if unions had the legal reach to improve wages and working conditions across an entire industry, workers would join and support the unions that were fighting for them—particularly if we made it easy for them to make voluntary paycheck contributions—even before they win a collective bargaining election at their specific workplace.

The man with the plan

Sanders also offers a laundry list of good and overdue reforms. His proposed amendments to the outdated and ineffective National Labor Relations Act—like most of the candidates’ plans—improve upon the PRO Act in several ways. It adds card check recognition and the right to a first contract for new unions, which were provisions of the failed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that did not get carried over into the current Democratic bill.

Sanders also proposes to fully restore workers’ right to strike and to engage in solidarity activism. In the case of the latter, that means wiping out more provisions of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act; in the former, it means overturning an obscure 1938 Supreme Court decision, NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., that allows employers to permanently replace workers who go on strike over economic demands. Employers increasingly took advantage of this decision during the Reagan administration.

Banning permanent replacements was the labor movement’s top legislative priority in the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency. The Cesar Chavez Workplace Fairness Act of 1993was the EFCA of its era, and similarly died of a filibuster in the Senate. Now it is increasingly becoming a consensus position among Democratic candidates.

There are also some policies and procedures of the NLRB that Sanders would change. These may be done through legislative change, or Sanders may be considering executive orders and strict directions to his future Board appointees. One is to protect existing collective bargaining agreements when a unionized employer is merged into a new company. Current NLRB rules on successorship allow an employer to tear up the contract and then bargain a union to impasse over concessions. Sanders used his campaign infrastructure to support workersrepresented by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America at a locomotive plant in Pennsylvania this past February.

Sanders also wants to ban “management’s most important weapon” in anti-union campaigns, mandatory captive audience meetings. The courts have ruled that employers have a First Amendment right to express their anti-union views, and employers use the power of the paycheck to force employees to listen to them. Bernie Sanders says that workers should have the right to walk out on a presentation.

One very attention-grabbing plan responds directly to Joe Biden’s bad-faith argumentsthat a Medicare-for-All system would be unfair to unions who have historically traded higher wages for employer-sponsored health insurance. Sanders’ NLRB would support unions reopening their collective bargaining agreements in order to recoup as much of an employers’ cost savings from taxpayer-funded health care as possible as new wage gains. His platform implies that a unionized employer that does not share financial data and agree to sharing its cost savings would be charged with committing an unfair labor practice.

Finally, like many of the candidates in the crowded Democratic field, Sanders proposes to fix an original sin of the NLRA—its racist exclusion of domestic and farm workers from the protections of the Act.

Sanders also prioritizes legislation that would accelerate and codify badly needed regulatory reforms that got bogged down by right-wing judicial activism and corporate opposition during Obama’s second term. These include the Browning-Ferris joint-employer standard, which curtail corporations’ ability to hide behind franchise relationships to avoid bargaining over working conditions that they dictate in reality. He also calls for an expanded “persuader rule,” which would force employers to disclose the names of their hired gun union-busters and give union organizers equal access to workers during an organizing campaign. A proposal to end the practice of misclassifying workers as “supervisors” and “independent contractors” in order to avoid paying benefits and overtime is lacking somewhat in detail, but let’s just assume that Bernie co-signs whatever Elizabeth Warren proposes.

In the public sector, Sanders’ platform also calls for expanding the union rights of federal workers—including the right to strike and to bargain over wages. Ronald Reagan’s infamous termination of striking air traffic controllers in 1981 was a signal event in corporate America’s assault on unions. Ironically, that strike was sparked by the federal government’s refusal to bargain over wages. The right to bargain and strike—long denied to federal labor unions—would likely make strikes over routine collective bargaining matters less likely. But they would, as Sanders was quick to point out, empower federal workers to use their labor power to put an end to routine government shutdowns.

He also pledges to sign the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which was introduced by Representative Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Senator Maize Hirono (DHawaii) in June and which would extend union rights to all state and local government employees as well.

Never waste a crisis

The turf of U.S. politics shifts beneath our feet like quicksand. This is a moment of great possibilities and existential threats. One of our biggest challenges as a labor movement is that too many of us—leaders, rank-and-filers and leftist critics alike—view things as static, as stuck in a moment in time, whether that be 2009, 1993 or 1978; That real change won’t happen without a crisis.

But we are already in a crisis.

The crisis right now is the threat of fascism, domestic terrorism and ethnic nationalism. These are all problems that have been made possible by the systemic corporate attack on union rights and a yawning gulf of economic inequality. Centrist politicians and shapers of public opinion who have hardly been friends to the working class are slowly waking up to the role that unions play in political education and voter turnout.

So even if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination—if it’s Elizabeth Warren or Kirsten Gillibrand or even Kamala Harris—we still probably have a candidate and a growing portion of the Democratic establishment who recognize that they have to deliver real wins for working families if they don’t want to get turned out of office all over again in 2022 by a racist and demagogic death cult.

As a labor movement, now is the time to demand more. Much more. Let’s take the issue of “just cause,” which is a basic human right enjoyed in much of the world and the lack of it is one of the foundational problems that keeps most workers from pushing back on employers’ unreasonable commands.

Elizabeth Warren hasn’t even put out her full labor platform yet. I fully expect it to be full of robust proposals to restore the legal rights and power of workers with some delightfully wonky detail. If she joins Sanders in endorsing just cause, the issue—which wasn’t on any union’s agenda—could be on the fast track to the Democratic party’s 2020 platform (as long as the candidate isn’t someone who promises that “nothing would fundamentally change”).

Good ideas that are put on any primary candidate’s agenda should remain on labor’sagenda in the years to come. When it comes to ideas for restoring the legal powers of workers, our approach should be “yes, and!” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry has the right approach for these times. The union released its own list of labor law demands on the same day as Sanders, and challenged every candidate to release a detailed labor plan “explaining how they will make it possible for all working people to join unions.” The political moment, says Henry, “is no time for minor tweaks to our broken system.”

Let the primary of ideas continue!

This article was originally published at In These times on August 22, 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.

House Democrats oppose extreme anti-worker Labor nominee, this week in the war on workers

Monday, August 12th, 2019

Nearly 30 House Democrats sent Donald Trump a letter “to express our strong concerns” about the nomination of Eugene Scalia as labor secretary. “We believe Mr. Scalia’s consistent record of opposing workers’ rights disqualifies him from heading the Department designed to protect American workers,” the letter, led by Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, reads. “We urge instead that you put forward a nominee who will improve working conditions across the United States, defend workers’ rights, and raise the standard of living for working people.”

The members of Congress offer a number of examples of the work that has disqualified Scalia from ever claiming to have the welfare of workers in mind. Among them:

  • Mr. Scalia fiercely opposed a Clinton administration regulation to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries and issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, arguing “that ergonomic regulation will force companies to give more rest periods, slow the pace of work and then hire more workers (read: dues-paying members) to maintain current levels of production.” […]
  • Mr. Scalia represented SeaWorld after a killer whale killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined “SeaWorld either knew or should have known that the whale posed a threat to humans and should have taken steps to protect trainers,” Scalia and his colleagues claimed “SeaWorld already had adequate safety measures in place, and that the trainers had accepted the risks inherent in their jobs and that it was their responsibility to manage these risks.”

Perfect Trump nominee, in other words.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on August 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Inside the Bitter Battle to Defend Workers and Patients at a Low-Income Clinic

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

Image result for nan levinsonWhen Whittier Street Health Center unveiled its glass-sheathed, six-story, environmentally-advanced, state-of-the-art, new facility in 2012, it was seen by its Boston community as a commitment to the neighborhood and the people it serves. With brightly painted walls and expansive views across the city, it sits at the heart of Roxbury, extending an invitation of convenience and care to a population that is mostly Black or Latinx and among the poorest and least healthy in the city.

Of Whittier’s patients, 91 percent live in poverty; 50 percent deal with food insecurity; two-thirds have been diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, cancer, asthma or obesity; 35 percent of adults are without health insurance; and life expectancy for the area served is 58.9 years. Everyone agrees that this is a vulnerable population in need of highly trained, consistent and committed healthcare. Not everyone agrees that this population is getting it.

The reasons are a mix of difficulties shared by many community health centers, including political maneuvering, funding constraints and societal disregard for the poor. But some problems are distinct to Whittier: Staff and patients have complained that ill-advised, high-handed and destabilizing management practices interfere with and disrupt clinical care.

The dominant feelings among the many employees who have left or were pushed out seem to be anger and disappointment, much of that aimed at Frederica Williams, the president and CEO of Whittier since 2002. Last summer, increasingly sour management-clinician relations led to the formation of the first labor union of professional staff at a community health clinic in Massachusetts. The union became necessary, its supporters say, to protect their patients, their jobs and even the health center itself.

Through her then-P.R. consultant, Williams cited restrictions on what she can say about patients under HIPAA or the unionization effort under the Wagner Act. She responded to some questions in writing last October, but declined repeated requests to comment further, instead referring In These Times to the health center’s published reports and her public statements and letters to patients and staff. That left medical providers who have moved on, been fired or forced to leave—and unhappy patients—to largely tell the story. That story is one of alleged intimidation and union-busting by Williams and her administration, which has roiled the health center and highlights the challenges to providing good patient care to an underserved community. It also points out the limitations of current labor laws to protect workers at any level.

Last month, a year since the union became a reality, the antagonism between its supporters and Whittier management reached a climax, as a trial, an advanced step in the National Labor Relations Board’s unfair labor practice determination, got underway in Boston.

Organizing drive

The union came from the organizing efforts of John Jewett, a doctor; Bill Dain, a clinical social worker; and Caitrin MacDonald, a nurse practitioner. Dain, who had been at Whittier for 14 years, had experience with another union, so he was all in when Jewett and MacDonald said, “Let’s do it.” In March 2018, the trio began getting signatures on cards authorizing a union election under the guidance of 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents some 56,000 healthcare workers in Massachusetts. In mid-May, they filed notice with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to begin a union campaign among Whittier’s professional clinical staff. The goal was to foster a working partnership with management, which would involve the entire staff, then numbering about 300, in the organizational decisions that controlled their work environment and the healthcare they provided. But as a practical decision, Jewett says, they started with this smaller, collegial group, several of whom had had issues with management and felt particularly frustrated by the responses they got. When the union began, it had more than 60 members; as of this May, it had 50. (The decrease reflects cutbacks in Whittier staffing

Jewett, age 62, has a degree in medicine with a focus on public health. He came to Whittier because he was fed up with the paperwork in private care and liked the one-to-one interaction in community health. Dain, 77, who loved the intense relationship of individual therapy and the chance to use his fluency in Spanish, also fell into this older category. Younger providers, including MacDonald and Sherar Andalcio—a doctor who was active in the union organizing from a different community health center, having been fired from Whittier the year before—were no less committed.

MacDonald, 40, came to Whittier in 2016, and said, “My dream work is community health…serving patients who represent all of Boston, not privileged people like me.” For Andalcio, 36, who grew up nearby, “My dream job was to come back and give back to the community.” These are highly-trained professionals who could opt for easier, more remunerative positions, but chose to work under the demanding and difficult conditions of community health care, where burnout is common.

Asked last November about the dissatisfaction among the clinicians, Williams answered in an email to In These Times,“Whittier Street is far from alone among Massachusetts health centers in experiencing financial challenges and employee turnover. … We have been enhancing our recruitment efforts to ensure that we are hiring staff who truly understand and are committed to fulfilling our mission of providing quality care to the vulnerable populations we serve.” But the dispute, which resulted in the organizing drive, seemed less about mission buy-in on the part of providers than about how that mission would be carried out day-to-day. The providers charged that problems arose when they made suggestions, challenged abrupt and unexplained changes in policies, asked for greater involvement in decisions affecting their work and their patients, or held management to the terms of their contracts.

Williams’ description of the difficult context in which Whittier exists is accurate. Since it began as a well-baby clinic in 1933 and even in the late 1960s when Boston led the nation in neighborhood health centers, funding has been a challenge. Today, it relies heavily on grants and federal funding. Still, Williams could point then with well-earned pride to her accomplishments: running a health center with a $25 million budget, over 30,000 patients a year, some 40 programs, and a perfect score on its most recent federal audit measuring statutory and regulatory compliance; and building the new facility, which no one had managed to do before. “She’s really brilliant at building programs and getting money for them,” said Jewett. “She’s great on the language of poverty and economic disparity,” noted Andalcio. MacDonald added that when she interviewed for her job, Williams “seemed like an engaging and compelling human being.”

Williams was born in 1958 in Sierra Leone and studied management in England and Massachusetts. As one of the city’s few women of color in top management positions, she is a highly visible, much-awarded champion of women in leadership. She sits on corporate boards, appears on notable-leader lists, and cultivates friendships with local politicians and powerbrokers. She even appeared in Mitt Romney’s infamous “binders full of women.” It cannot be easy to be a powerful black woman in a Boston still reckoning with racism and sexism, but her detractors charge that having to deal with these obstacles doesn’t excuse what they see as her demoralizing management style and actions; they claim these undermined their work at Whittier. Andalcio, who is also black, summed up this sentiment by saying, “If a man was doing what Frederica is doing, it would still be 110 percent wrong.”

Mass firings

A typical response to feeling that you’re losing control is to try for more control. In June 2018, less than a week before the union vote was scheduled, Williams abruptly fired Jewett, Dain, MacDonald and 11 others whom Jewett knew to be union supporters. They say they were hustled out of the building as their patients waited for appointments. Williams maintained that the firings were necessitated by a budget shortfall, and cited the loss of two anticipated grants, which she declined to name, equaling over $600,000. By the end of that fiscal year, the deficit would reach $1.35 million, Whittier’s first operating loss in 18 years.

The next day, Friday, Whittier staff, patients, supporters and local politicians demonstrated resolutely outside the building, demanding that the staff members be rehired immediately. It was hard to miss the swarm of purple SEIU T-shirts, and the media soon arrived to cover the protest. In response to the outcry and bad optics, Boston’s mayor, Martin J. Walsh, stepped in to craft a settlement, which Williams described in a letter to the WSHC community as “a pathway forward that will put Whittier on a stable financial footing for now.” The employees were told on Sunday that they had been reinstated, though it is unclear by whom, as became clear in the  testimony and cross-questioning of Ragan McNeely, a behavioral therapist, at the NLRB trial, and Williams announced publicly that she would take a voluntary pay cut. According to a report on WBUR, a local NPR station, her salary before the cut outstripped those of CEOs at community health centers in similar Boston neighborhoods, although they served more patients.

The drama continued on Monday, when several of the supposedly rehired staff tried to inquire about their status and, as McNeely testified, were not allowed to enter the building past the security desk. The employees were finally permitted to return to work on Wednesday, when the vote took place as planned. It was 50 to 9 in favor of unionizing. Less than three weeks later, in a remarkably tone-deaf move, the board of directors voted to honor Williams by naming the building after her.

Like most stories with differing perceptions of what’s fair, right or necessary, trying to pin down who did what to whom is a study in yes-buts. Williams emailed, “The primary reason for this deficit was the failure of specific staffers to reach industry-standard productivity levels.” Data compiled by Jewett for the pro-union website, “Whittier staff, union and community news,” show WSHC’s expected productivity levels for 2017 to 2018 to be higher than Massachusetts and national levels. Jewett worked with data from a 2017 report by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). However, both the Health Center Program at HRSA and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, where Whittier is a member and Williams was on a board, said in separate emails that they have no productivity standards for providers.

And while there had been a decline in clinic visits from 2016 to 2017, they rose slightly to 115,448 in 2018. Jewett calculated that Whittier doctors generate significantly more revenue than they cost, so he argues that cutting their number is counterproductive to attracting and retaining patients.

In the summer of 2018, Williams eliminated the center’s urgent care clinic and the orthodontics program that fall, cut some clinical and administrative positions and instituted a hiring freeze, defending her decisions, for instance, in a December 2018 letter to staff, as necessary cost-cutting measures. She announced then that Whittier was on a “break-even budget,” and some vacancies have since been filled, though the current WSHC website shows a stripped-down clinical staff.

The targeted employees, however, read those moves as the kind of retaliatory measures that had been going on for a long time and added up to what MacDonald described as a toxic workplace. When Andalcio, the doctor who had come on staff with high expectations, felt underprepared to treat his HIV-positive patients and requested more training, he contended that his request was denied. When Jewett suggested ways to engage management productively—for example, instituting set meeting times for staff to exchange ideas and discuss problems—he was criticized for not going through channels and asking questions out of turn, a claim he reiterated in his affidavit for the NLRB. And MacDonald reported that after a goodbye party for Andalcio, a doctor and another staff member were sent a photograph taken there of the staff in attendance, with a black arrow and a question mark pointed at her head. Given the tensions at Whittier, it looked to her like a threat.

Perhaps most telling was the unusually high rate of turnover among clinicians. By Andalcio’s count, 20 doctors, nurses and physician assistants in primary care and obstetrics left between October 2016 and October 2018. Of the 22 who had worked there in 2016, only three are still at Whittier less than three years later. Because new hires are less productive than experienced providers, Jewett estimated that the cost of turnover in primary care in that time was at least $1.4 millionOther, unquantifiable losses included institutional memory and shared knowledge of how things work, but a bigger problem was the damage to patients, who were shuffled from provider to provider, with missed follow-ups and tracking of cases.

Patients impacted

Whittier touts its high scores on patient satisfaction surveys, but some patients have been skeptical of their validity. They lauded their providers, but complained about the culture. Shondell Davis came to Whittier in 2013 after a difficult search for responsive care. Her son had been killed and she was close to a breakdown when she found Ragan McNeely, the behavioral health therapist. He was a godsend. Over the next several years, Davis said, he provided “a comfort zone every Tuesday.” Just looking at his phone number between appointments made her feel better. McNeely was fired last October, which Davis said she learned only when she came for her appointment. “No calls, no follow-up, no warning,” she said a couple of months later. “To me it was unethical. I don’t have a therapist now. I don’t want to start over again. I just know from my experience, I really felt hurt. I don’t think I will ever trust there again.”

Marlon Wallen, a multiracial, HIV-positive activist from Trinidad, who lived nearby, became a patient at Whittier in 2016. Wallen reported that he was asked to be an outreach worker and appointed to the Patient Advisory Board. But when he objected that it was a conflict of interest for the chair of Whittier’s board of directors to also sit on the patient board, in addition to raising other grievances, he said he was “fired”—from the board and as a patient—and banned from the building. With HIV patients, especially, he maintained, the constant shifting of doctors undermines trust and treatment. He suggested grimly that Whittier’s patients put up with it because, “Where they come from, they’re used to this stuff.”

At a “patient rights hearing” organized by the labor-friendly coalition, Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, this past March, Davis and Wallen were among the some 60 people who testified about their experiences at Whittier. Nearly all talked of feeling betrayed and abandoned and reiterated complaints about valued clinicians disappearing without warning or explanation; difficulty getting someone to answer the phone, let alone getting an appointment; and undue burdens caused by closing urgent care and the orthodontics department. Some managers attended, but Williams did not.

Local politicians had rallied in support of the fired clinicians the summer before and met with union activists afterwards, but of several who were asked to speak to the issues in the following months, the only one who agreed to talk with In These Times was the doyen of Boston politics, Mel King, a former legislator and respected community activist. In a phone interview last October, he summarized the Whittier situation simply: “It’s an incredibly important institution in the community. To have an issue like this continue is unconscionable. People’s health is at stake.”

Contract fight

Forming a union is one thing; successfully negotiating a contract is another.

Unlike many union fights, salaries are not a central concern here. Last fall, Filaine Deronnette, vice president of Health Systems at 1199SEIU, said in a phone interview, “The issues are dignity and respect.” She emphasized that they were aiming for respectful lines of communication between management and staff. “The goal is to utilize the union to make it a better place for patients and staff.” In the early days, management met with the union and its members as scheduled. Then, according to Marlishia Aho, regional communications manager for 1199SEIU, the union stopped talking publicly, management started challenging who could be on the union’s negotiating committee, and one-by-one, union activists were pushed out. Dain and McNeely were fired; Jewett was placed on administrative leave, then laid off and also banned from the building; and MacDonald, needing stable employment, left for another job, albeit sooner than she wanted. By late October 2018, Jewett counted only a handful of the union supporters who had been fired and rehired that previous June still at Whittier.

Last fall, the union filed a series of complaints about unfair labor practices at Whittier with the National Labor Relations Board, charging that three members—Jewett, Dain and McNeely—had been laid off in retaliation for their union activities. The NLRB eventually determined that 30 of the 32 complaints about how Whittier responded to the unionization effort, an unusually long list, were substantiated enough to be brought to trial. While not a finding of guilt, this was a significant step, since the vast majority of complaints the board receives are dismissed, withdrawn or settled out of court.

As the trial began on June 17, both sides had dug in: Jewett described intense negotiations between the union and management the week before as progressing from very far apart to merely far apart, and at the trial, Jim Lee, Whittier Vice President, CFO and part of the management team representing the health center, declined to comment on the proceedings or a desired outcome.

For three intense days, the fired clinicians testified and were cross-examined by Whittier’s legal team. Then, on the morning of the fourth day of testimony, the judge, Paul Bogas, put the trial on hold to allow for further negotiations. According to Laura Sacks, a regional attorney of the NLRB, administrative judges can have many reasons for temporarily disrupting a trial for settlement discussions, but it may be because they expect it to be extremely long and complicated with risk for both sides. Sacks outlined the many potential steps to a final decision, which include appeals, briefs, and an open-ended timeline for a judge to issue an opinion. “I can only agree that it’s a lengthy process,” she concluded.

Most everyone else involved seems to have underestimated how lengthy this particular process would be. Originally calculated in months, it is now talking several years. In a difficult conversation, Jewett, McNeely and Dain considered their options. What made it so hard was that all three had to agree to the same response and, until recently, they had held out hope of returning to their jobs, their patients and their colleagues. Ultimately, they bowed to reality and forged a settlement: They would not return to Whittier and Whittier would pay each 15 months’ salary. When those pay-outs are added to Whittier’s legal fees for the case, resisting a union will have been an expensive battle to pursue.

On the rest of the NLRB charges, Whittier must post at the health center a short list of employee rights and a long list of “we will nots.” A few provisions are ameliorative, while most are pledges that Whittier will not do in the future what the NLRB alleged they had done in the past to discourage the union and punish its supporters. It is not clear what would happen if the health center did not live up to these promises. Williams, through her former P.R. consultant, again respectfully declined to comment.

Last winter, Jewett said he would go back to Whittier in a heartbeat. “I feel like I started something,” he explained. “It’s an opportunity to build something I could be proud of, if it gets done.” He fluctuated then between hope that pressure from the NLRB and the union would result in providers having a greater say in how care is delivered at Whittier and worry that Williams would just wait out the union until no supporters were left working there. He recalled “shooting the bull with [Williams] in the hall,” when he claimed she said, “John, I will never negotiate with the union.”

These days, contract negotiations are progressing, and one of the most postive outcomes of the settlement is that Whittier agreed to meet for bargaining sessions more than twice as often as before. But with so many of the original members gone and a significantly smaller staff, it’s an open question how committed to the union new hires or those who have stayed will be.

“You can’t just assume that if you vote for a [union] election it’s going to work out,” Jewett said, ruefully, a few days after agreeing to the settlement. “One sobering realization is that the NLRB legal system is not really set up to protect workers. It was fairly amazing to me to learn that that safety net isn’t there.”

Jewett’s partners in the labor complaint aren’t exactly singing a rousing chorus of “Union Maid” either. McNeely—who likes to quote Dain’s saying about the drawn-out NLRB process, “Slow justice is no justice”—is ready to move on. “There’s nothing to go back to,” he said. He and Dain count only four people remaining of the 18 who were in their Behavioral Health department when they formed the union. “I’m fearful for what’s left,” he concluded.

Dain, has a slightly more optimistic take on the outcome. Although their agreement allows Whittier to avoid culpability for the way they were fired, he believes they are vindicated because it points up the contradiction in Whittier’s public statements. “Their claim was that they needed to cut back on staff, unrelated to union activity,” he said. “Then why would you pay us off not to come back when you have all these job openings?”

As for the other problems the dispute highlighted—the high rate of clinician turnover, fraught management-staff relations, inconsistent patient care—it appears to be a matter of solving the legal issues while leaving the human ones raw. Yet, when asked if their fight was worth it, all three men give a qualified yes. For McNeely, because it can encourage “professional and knowledge worker groups” to organize, which he thinks is the future for unions. For Dain, “You keep up the struggle, even if you lose a particular battle.”

And for Jewett, who had staked so much on the success of the union? “Yes, it was worth it,” he agreed. “But it was much harder than I ever imagined.”

This blog was originally published at In These Times on July 30, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Nan Levinson is a journalist in Boston. Her latest book is War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built.

New Collective Bargaining Law Paves the Way to Worker Justice at Delaware DMV

Friday, July 26th, 2019

Kenneth-Quinnell_small

After Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill to expand collective bargaining rights for public employees in June, workers have begun organizing at state agencies. Employees of the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles voted last week to join Laborers (LIUNA) Local 1029, establishing a union there for the first time.

Gurvis Miner, business manager for Local 1029, said the organizing win was hard earned and well worth it.

“Employees at the DMV now have a voice on the job, and I commend the state Legislature and Gov. Carney for changing the law to expand our rights and making this all possible,” he said.

The new bargaining unit includes 340 workers at the DMV.

SB 8, the bill that provided these employees their new collective bargaining rights, was made possible through the diligent advocacy efforts of the Delaware State AFL-CIO and others. The law expanded collective bargaining rights for about 2,000 workers across the state.

“We congratulate LIUNA Local 1029 and all of the DMV workers, and we welcome these brothers and sisters to our growing labor movement in Delaware,” said Delaware State AFL-CIO President Jim Maravelias (LIUNA).

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on July 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Gillis is a writer at AFL-CIO.

 

Trump nominates mini-Scalia as labor secretary, this week in the war on workers

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

It’s important to uphold the principle that someone who lets a sexual predator—who preys on children, no less—off easy because he’s rich and connected and has good lawyers should not be in charge of a large chunk of the federal government, so Alexander Acosta had to go. That said, many, many workers will be much worse off as a result of his departure. Acosta was a conservative Republican who could be counted on to put the interests of the wealthy over the interests of workers, but he wasn’t in a big rush and he wasn’t ready to burn down the entire system of government to screw workers a little more quickly. Now, Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court justice, to replace Acosta.

Scalia has represented Walmart against corporate whistleblowers. He’s represented Wynn casinos against table game dealers who objected to tip pooling rules that gave some of their tips to managers. The list goes on and on.

Of course we knew Trump was going to nominate someone terrible. And that’s just what he did, because Trump and his entire party are all about putting a boot on the neck of workers.

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Breaking Up Amazon Doesn’t Go Far Enough—We Must Put It Under Public Control

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

What should be done with Amazon? While some parts of the company should indeed be broken up, its sprawling scale is not its only problem. Much of what Amazon does is harmful for reasons inherent to the logic of private ownership, and would remain so at any scale. While the public probably does not need to own, say, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, much of Amazon can and should be nationalized and put to use to build a democratic economy.

David and others suggest that breaking up Amazon would restore some semblance of market fairness and that regulatory action could keep the power of its remnants in check. But historically, breakups of monopolies have been relatively inefficient. The Bell System, led by AT&T, was broken apart in 1984 and is today on track to be even larger, as the AT&T-Time Warner merger proceeds. Antitrust mechanisms can temporarily roll back monopolies, but the preference to dominate, rather than compete, survives.

Even should antitrust action succeed, it’s not clear that restoring competition would be better for society at large in the case of Amazon’s primary application—connecting buyers with sellers. Online platforms attain a natural monopoly when a certain level of market share is achieved and competition becomes next to impossible. What little competition among platforms remains doesn’t produce better outcomes, but instead creates a race-to-the-bottom to cut costs. Take Amazon’s new promise of one-day delivery; Walmart quickly followed suit. While it might appear convenient, neither entity has to account for the intensifying extraction from workers and the environment; both can continue to externalize these costs. Profit-driven private ownership of the Amazon marketplace will continue to create “innovation” at the expense of public good.

While David does suggest that the Amazon marketplace could operate under public ownership, he doesn’t seem to see the significance of such a “nationalized digital mall.” Amazon’s ownership of this digital mall is what allows its success, using its primacy to extort and manipulate the market in its own interests. It is Amazon’s profit imperative, not an inevitable function of a marketplace platform, that drives it to pressure third-party sellers, squeeze workers, and recommend products that fail consumers. By becoming the market, Amazon has effectively become the market’s regulator. Such powers should belong to the public.

Democratic public ownership of the marketplace platform could retool this infrastructure for public good. The People’s Amazon—call it Ourmazon—could guarantee access to the marketplace for smaller producers rather than driving down the cost of their goods and services. As a public distribution network, Ourmazon could stabilize prices at a point that ensures viability and competitiveness for small businesses at a cost that benefits consumers.

Critics of nationalization contend that the government would be forced to adopt Amazon’s extractive practices to operate at an enterprise scale. But if those practices are indeed necessary for efficiency, why would new regulations produce different outcomes? A nationalized platform could shift the definition of efficiency to include metrics beyond shareholder value.

One of Amazon’s key (and controversial, due to real privacy concerns) features is the massive amount of data it harvests and leverages to maximize its profits. In its current position, Amazon picks winners and losers for its own ends, with algorithms that impact prices, order search results and collate recommendations. That data could instead be optimized for a wide array of economic priorities, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to hobbling products with labor abuses in their supply chains. A nationalized entity, managed along democratic priorities, could advantage small businesses, unionized businesses, or worker-owned businesses.

There are still more clear benefits to the public ownership of Amazon’s distribution and logistics infrastructure. The promise of one-day shipping, unchecked, poses a logistics nightmare, creating precarious work conditionsand significant environmental impact. Democratic public ownership could ensure that the flow of goods meets labor and environmental standards. Amazon’s HQ2 fiasco epitomizes race-to-the-bottom urban planning, while democratically decided plans could incorporate considerations like resiliency to natural disasters or areas needing an economic revival.

Amazon is dominating its way to becoming the backbone of the U.S. economy. A nationalized company could play the backbone of a more equitable system. As Amazon expands into activities like providing easier-to-access credit cards, it is creating new markets out of sectors that would be better served with social provisions. Similarly, look at Amazon’s move into online pharmacy. We can imagine how powerful a publicly owned pharmacy could be, expanding access to affordable medication, driven by care rather than profit.

The flaw of antitrust is that the problem of power is reduced to a matter of scale, when power should be rooted in democratic control and ownership. Who owns the data? Who programs the algorithm? Who governs the platform? Breaking up Amazon may be necessary, but some of its pieces would inevitably become natural monopolies that would be better served as publicly owned platforms operated for public benefit. Public ownership of Amazon would enable a redesign to maximize public benefit over profit.

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Katie Parker is a Washington, D.C.-based researcher focused on regional planning and community economic development. Adam Simpson is a Washington, D.C.-based researcher and writer as well as a co-host of the podcast Future Left.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog