Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘workers’

A worker upsurge? This week in the war on workers

Monday, November 4th, 2019

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

That’s Chicago teachers, but also teachers in the comparatively tiny Dedham, Massachusetts—but both are part of a nationwide pattern, one that shows signs of continuing.

And it’s not the only way workers are asserting power. Deadspin writers resigned en masse after interim editor in chief Barry Petchesky was fired for refusing to stick to sports. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke out against the private equity firm that now owns Deadspin.

But these signs of workers asserting themselves remain small against the backdrop of how thoroughly corporations have crushed workers during the past several decades.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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

California moves one step closer to reining in the gig economy and expanding worker protections

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

A million California workers are denied key workplace protections—including the minimum wage—because their employers falsely label them as independent contractors. But that came one step closer to changing on Friday when the state Senate’s appropriations committee passed Assembly Bill 5, a plan to crack down on that misclassification of workers.

AB5 is based on a 2018 decision by the California Supreme Court that imposed a stricter test for whether a worker could be considered an independent contractor. 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, the court ruled. The legislation will make enforcement significantly easier, but it also includes a lot of exemptions for professions such as doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, accountants, insurance agents, hairstylists, and more.

The trucking industry and app-based companies like Uber and Lyft have been screaming for exemptions but so far, their efforts are in vain. “Trucking has some of the worst violators,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s author. “We are not going to strip out employee protections.” Uber, Lyft, and others are threatening to pour $90 million into a campaign for a ballot measure exempting them, which could become a massive fight in 2020.

Other workers who will be covered by AB5 include janitors, construction workers, manicurists, strippers, and some in the tech industry. Being an employee means protections including the minimum wage, overtime, workers comp, sick leave, family leave, and more, in addition to employer payments for Social Security and Medicare. Companies also don’t pay payroll taxes on independent contractors, shorting the state of California by an estimated $7 billion a year on misclassified workers.

The bill, which passed the state Assembly, heads to the full Senate for a vote that’s expected to succeed. According to a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, “The governor is supportive of addressing the misclassification of workers, which for decades has been a driver of income inequality.”

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on September 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

From Victories to Union Militancy, 5 Reasons for Workers to Celebrate This Labor Day

Friday, August 30th, 2019

Labor Day often gets short shrift as a worker’s holiday. Marked primarily by sales on patio furniture and mattresses, the day also has a more muddled history than May Day, which stands for internationalism and solidarity among the working class. Labor Day, by contrast, was declared a federal holiday in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland, fresh off his administration’s violent suppression of the Pullman railroad strike.

But Labor Day was first celebrated twelve years earlier, when a coalition of socialists and labor activists organized a mass march in New York City calling for shorter hours, safer working conditions, increased pay and a labor holiday. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 people took to the streets of New York instead.

That history, plus the simple fact that workers deserve more than one holiday, makes Labor Day worth celebrating. And this year, there are more reasons than usual for working people to rejoice.

The teacher strike wave rolls on

The wave of teacher strikes that began in red states last year has continued apace in some of the biggest U.S. cities. Earlier this year, Los Angeles teachers wrung a hard-won deal from their school district through a week-long strike.

A first-ever charter strike in Chicago last year kicked off a domino effect—more than 700 Chicago charter teachers at 22 different campuses have walked off the job in the past year, and they’re winning things previously unthinkable in the traditionally union-free charter industry.

An impending teacher strike in Las Vegas is drawing some creative solidarity from students, and the Chicago Teachers Union—whose 2012 walkout arguably laid the groundwork for renewed teacher militancy—could be on the verge of another massive strike.

Workers are winning strikes in the private sector, too

There’s an important caveat to statistics showing that the number of striking workers is at a two-decade high: Most of this strike activity is still limited to the public sector.

In the private sector, there is not yet an equivalent strike wave. There are, however, some encouraging signs. A rare, coordinated strike by workers at nearly 30 hotels in Chicago ended largely in victory (workers at one hotel are still holding out). This spring, locomotive plant workers in Erie, Pennsylvania staged a nine-day strike against the company that purchased their facility and attempted to impose significantly lower wages for new hires. Negotiations continued into the summer, and the deal the union eventually accepted included some concessions. But the strike against a two-tier wage system—long-ago conceded by most manufacturing unions—was an important sign of life in the once-militant sector.

Labor support for Green New Deal is on the rise

To hear the mainstream media tell it, blue-collar workers are united in their opposition to climate action. In June, Politico published an article citing local labor leaders who leveled a dire warning at Democrats: the Green New Deal is pushing members into the Republican camp.

In fact, a survey released this year from the think tank Data for Progress found that 62 percent of current union members back the GND. That figure suggests that while climate activists certainly can’t take labor’s backing as a given, there’s substantial support from workers—and the biggest factor in growing this support is organizing with labor to ensure that the Green New Deal benefits workers, and that they’re at the core of the fight to pass it.

This year, the Green New Deal picked up major endorsements from the Service Employees International Union and the Association of Flight Attendants led by president Sara Nelson. In May, Nelson spoke to In These Times about how Green New Deal advocates can engage labor:

Make labor central to the discussion, including labor rights, labor protections and labor expertise. We must recognize that labor unions were among the first to fight for the environment because it was our workspaces that had pollutants, our communities that industry polluted. Let’s not dismiss the labor movement. Let’s recognize and engage the infrastructure and experience of the labor movement to make this work.

Rank-and-file reformers are gaining traction

Speaking of Sara Nelson, her star has been rising since she called for a general strike to end the government shutdown in January, and she could potentially end up succeeding Richard Trumka as the next president of the AFL-CIO.

While they’re still few in number, it’s a breath of fresh air to see national labor leaders who come out of the rank-and-file use their positions to encourage, rather than stifle, independent action by workers, happily break bread with socialists and readily draw connections between labor issues and those of climate change and immigration.

Labor could actually make gains through the 2020 elections

Let’s be honest: Presidential elections have long been a dead-end for unions. Awarding early endorsements without member input and spending millions of dollars on behalf of candidates who won’t even talk about workers’ rights is not a winning strategy.

This year could be different.

With Democratic candidates scrambling to tack to the left, the primaries are also putting important labor policy ideas back on the table. As Jeremy Gantz reported in July, 2020 candidates are rushing to embrace worker-friendly policies in order to win labor’s support.

Bernie Sanders’ Workplace Democracy Plan, in particular, includes ideas that should get a full hearing—ending “at-will” employment, expanding workers’ rights to strike and permitting collective bargaining at the sectoral level.

Sanders is also using his campaign infrastructure to turn supporters out for strikes and labor actions, another welcome development for labor when it comes to presidential campaign season.

The U.S. labor movement may still be under siege, thanks to powerful anti-union forces, including the Trump administration. But with approval of unions at a 15-year high, and a wave of labor militancy on the rise, working people have plenty to celebrate this Labor Day.

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 29, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Burns is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The Baffler, the Chicago Reader, The Intercept and other outlets. She is a contributing editor at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.

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.

Three Things I Learned from NOT Getting My Dream Job

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

I was in a hotel room in Atlanta when I got the news that I didn’t get my dream job. It was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The executive director of the faith-based organization where I work was retiring after 40 years. For the first time in many years, the top job was open.

I had worked at Faith in Action for over 20 years, working my way up from community organizer to national chief of staff. I knew how to lead. I knew every aspect of our work. I took the advice I’d given to the hundreds of young women and people of color I had mentored over the years: I believed in myself and I applied for the job.

When I got the news that I was being passed over, my husband Julio wrapped his arms around me in a big bear hug. Later that night, I had a good cry with my best friend. If you had asked me that night, I would have told you it was the lowest point of my career. I felt it all: sadness, disappointment, maybe even a little bitterness. All those years you put into a job – the late nights, the travel, the time away from family — and this is what you get back.

But today, I will tell you NOT getting my dream job is the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s helped me come alive. I learned three life-changing lessons by applying for my dream job and not getting it.

FIRST, I learned that “getting the job done is not enough.” I am a national leader in the fight for racial and economic justice. I’ve led successful campaigns for better wages, housing, schools, and homes people can afford to own. In 2016, I organized the country’s largest volunteer-led, non-partisan voting program. We spoke to nearly one million voters – black and brown voters who are usually ignored.

Even so, I learned that if I wanted the top job, I needed to use my voice in more powerful and positive ways. I joined Toastmasters which teaches leaders to be better listeners and speakers, and I have invested more time in writing and getting my ideas out into the world.

SECOND, I learned that I need to show up as my best self every day if I want to lead an organization. Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of work, I hadn’t responded in the best ways to challenging people or situations. Research by Zenger and Folkman has found that “if you are a leader who is ranked low on likability, you ONLY have a one in 2,000 chance of succeeding.” Those are some tough odds. And research has also shown that women in powerful positions usually have to choose between being liked OR being respected. I think I can be both. I’ve made a commitment to being consistently loving and supportive with the people around me.

THIRD, and most important, I learned to focus on what I really want next and be open to new opportunities. Samuel Morse who invented the Morse code was originally a painter. His first telegraph was made using a repurposed painting canvas. If he hadn’t been open to new opportunities, you may not have had an iPhone today.

Regarding new opportunities, Howard Thurman, the great theologian and civil rights leader, said this:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. 

Ask yourself what makes you come alive. 

Then go do that. 

The world needs people who have come alive.”

That night in Atlanta, I tasted defeat. But I also felt the kindness and support of my loved ones. I made myself more open to feedback and I also opened myself up to continuous improvement. Today, I get inspiration to be better and do better from everyone I meet. I have a friend named Brian who is becoming an artist and following his dream. I have another friend named Jessica who is finding her purpose in honoring her late father’s legacy. And at Toastmasters, my friend Frank is overcoming his fear of public speaking.

Together, we are trying to do big things, finding the loves of our lives, and doing the work that makes us come alive. Leadership isn’t about a job or a title. It’s about how you live your life and how you inspire others to be their best selves, too.

About the Author: Denise Collazo is a U.S. social justice leader, a mentor to powerful women of color and a family work integration innovator. She serves as the Chief of Staff of Faith in Action, the nation’s largest faith-based community organizing network.

GM poured billions into stock buybacks then closed plants

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Donald Trump is blaming the UAW for General Motors’ Lordstown, Ohio, plant closing. A Republican blaming a union for a massive company’s actions is not so surprising, but Trump is claiming that union dues are responsible, which is both strange and ignorant. Union dues are paid by workers to their union; they don’t come from the company. But a new report from Hedge Clippers and the American Federation of Teachers offers a better idea of who to blame for the Lordstown plant closing.

And guess what! GM, the company that decided to close the plant, says it needs to make $4.5 billion in cuts—through layoffs and plant closings—to survive. But “GM has given over five times as much money—$25 billion—to Wall Street hedge funds and other investors in the past four years, including over $10 billion in controversial stock buybacks.”

So, yeah. GM has money for stock buybacks, but not to keep its plants open and its workers employed.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on March 23, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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

Anchor brewery workers unionize

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

There are plenty of reasons the professional-managerial class should be interested in unions—it’s always been the plan that the bosses will come for you guys next, after they crush the working class—but over the past decade or so it’s struck me that culture is one of the things creating the gap between highly educated professional workers and unions. And I don’t mean culture in the hackneyed sense of “union workers drink six-packs and professionals drink fine wines.” I mean that the products made by union workers are all too often themselves seen as inferior—mass-produced, not interesting, not cool.

There are lots of great union-made products out there, but because of the patterns of unionization in recent U.S. history, it tends to be the case that the newer a product is, the less likely it is to be made by union workers. Budweiser yes, craft beer no.

Which is why it feels really significant that to see Anchor brewery workers unionize this week, with a 31 to 16 vote, and with workers at the affiliated Anchor Public Taps still to vote separately. Worker pay at Anchor not only hasn’t kept up with inflation, but was cut at one point, among other cuts including to health care, paid lunch breaks, sick leave, and 401Ks.

Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of great ways to get your union-made drink on, and you can pair that with Boar’s Head, the best of all the deli meats. Want your sandwich grilled? Do it in an All-Clad pan and serve it up on some retro-cook Fiestaware. But nonetheless, it is good to see unions making headway in the craft beer world, and may other bastions of semi-hipness follow.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on March 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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

Now That Government Is Funded, Here Is What Workers Want to See

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Last year, in communities all across the country, millions of Americans mobilized and called for an economy that works for all of us. From state houses and governors mansions to Capitol Hill, we elected advocates who committed themselves to advancing that cause. That election was defined by a movement of hard working people who stood together to reject the meager crumbs we are being handed and reclaim what is rightfully ours.

In electing more than 900 union members to office, we secured a great opportunity to right the structural wrongs of our economy. Our mission was not simply to rack up victories on election night last November. We changed the rulemakers. Now it is time for them to change the rules. As legislators move past the manufactured crisis that defined the first weeks of the 116th Congress, working people are ready to fight for that change.

Above all, that means affirming our ability to have a real voice on the job. A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that half of all nonunion workers, or more than 60 million Americans, would choose to join a union if they were given the chance, yet aspiring union members continue to face countless obstacles. The power of working people must be unleashed. Whether we work for private companies or public employers, in an office or a mine or a factory, all of us have the right to freely negotiate higher wages and better working conditions.

Congress should modernize the badly outdated National Labor Relations Act to truly protect our freedom to organize and mobilize together. Top lawmakers have put forth promising proposals that would ensure workers can organize a union without facing scorched earth tactics and hostile campaigns from corporations. If workers sign up for a union, they deserve to know their decision is protected by law. It is not the job of executives, governors or right wing operatives to make those decisions for them.

However, our fight will not end with one piece of legislation. An agenda for working families means building a fairer economy and a more just society for everyone in our country, whether you are in a union or not. That means achieving full employment where every American is able to access a good job, passing a $15 federal minimum wage, and refusing to approve any trade agreement that lacks enforceable labor protections.

It means providing a secure and prosperous future for all our families by expanding Social Security, strengthening our pensions, and making a serious federal investment in our infrastructure. It means defending the health and lives of working people by shoring up the Affordable Care Act, removing onerous taxes on health insurance plans negotiated by workers, expanding Medicare coverage to more people, and lowering prescription drug costs. It means passing laws that ensure paid sick and family leave.

All of these guarantees are long overdue for working people, but there is arguably no task so vital as defending our right to safety and dignity on the job. Congress should also extend comprehensive federal protections, including the Equality Act, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status, to LGBTQ and immigrant workers, whose livelihoods and families too often rest on the whims of their employers.

As one of a handful of men in my family to survive the scourge of black lung in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, I cannot overstate the dire need for broadly strengthened safety regulations, including the expansion of Occupational Safety and Health Administration coverage to all workers, toughened federal enforcement, and ironclad whistleblower protections.

Corporations and right wing interests continue to try their best to deny working people our fair share of the enormous wealth that we produce every day. In November, we stood up to change that twisted status quo. We made our voices heard at the ballot box, and we intend to hold the people we elected accountable to an economic agenda that will raise wages, move our country forward, and lead to better lives for all of us.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka is president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO.

Longest government shutdown in history causes record number of TSA workers to stay home

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ticks on, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is slowly starting to crumble.

The absence rate for TSA employees this weekend increased to a record-breaking eight percent, compared to 7.5 percent last week and just three percent this time last year, according to the Washington Post. The absences particularly impacted large hubs in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Miami. Baltimore Washington International Airport also suffered some sever staff shortages this weekend. On Sunday, the absences topped ten percent, as many TSA workers were unable to afford to continue working without pay.

In order to keep lines moving at airports, TSA has dipped into its National Deployment Force (NDF) pool, which is normally used to help out with major events such as the Superbowl.

TSA is also doing its utmost to ensure that the public does not know the true extent of how the shutdown is affecting the agency’s ability to perform its job. In an email sent Friday obtained by CNN, the agency’s deputy assistant administrator for public affairs Jim Gregory laid out a series of talking points on how to handle inquiries about the scale of the shutdown.

“Do not offer specific call out data at your airport,” the email reads. “You can say you have experienced higher numbers of call outs but in partnership with the airport and airlines you are able to manage people and resources to ensure effective security is always maintained.”

While TSA offers national data, it does not offer details for specific airports owing to “security concerns.” This means that there could be significant variation at airports that push some higher than the eight percent absence rate recorded nationwide.

The absences have, however, trickled down to travelers, who have been forced to wait in line for much longer than normal to get through security. TSA has consistently maintained that it is screening the vast majority of passengers in 30 minutes or less, but the ebbs and flows of airports during the shutdown has meant that some have been in scenarios where they’ve been severely understaffed.

Last week, for instance, multiple security lanes at Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport were closed; wait times to pass through security lasted more than an hour and multiple flights were canceled. TSA is also expecting an influx of visitors into Atlanta for the Superbowl on February 3rd.

The continued lack of funding for TSA has also meant some workers have decided to simply quit outright, according to Hydrick Thomas, head of the American Federation of Government Employees’ TSA Council.

“Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown,” he said in a statement. “The loss of officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires.”

It’s not just TSA employees that have been struggling as the government shutdown enters its 30th day.

FBI field offices in Newark, Dallas, New Jersey and Washington are also establishing, or plan to establish, food banks for agents, who are also considered essential employees and must work through the shutdown. Because of security considerations FBI agents are usually prohibited from taking a second job, but according to CNN there has been a sharp surge in the number of agents and workers looking for additional employment.

Meanwhile, employees at federal prisons are also logging double shifts, and even in some cases using medical or maintenance employees to work as guards to help supplement low staffing numbers. According to the New York Times this led some inmates at New York’s Metropolitan Correction Center to go on hunger strike last week, as staffing shortages had forced the jail to cancel family visits for a second week.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luke Barnes is a reporter at ThinkProgress. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Narratively.

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