Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for June, 2019

12 Facts You Need to Know from the 2019 AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch Report

Friday, June 28th, 2019

The AFL-CIO this week released its annual Executive Paywatch report. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler discussed the federation’s findings during a call with reporters, highlighting the continuing pay inequity between workers and CEOs, discussing the impact of the Trump administration’s tax law on executive compensation and pointing out some of the worst offenders among major corporations.

About the report, Shuler said:

Here’s the key point: Even with that extra cash, wages are not keeping up with inflation. The average worker isn’t making enough to cover rent for a two-bedroom apartment in 15 of the largest cities across the country! Meanwhile, 40% of hourly workers have nothing saved up for an emergency, while 75% have less than $500.

We know this equality gap isn’t new. Over the past decade, the average S&P 500 CEO’s pay increased by more than $5 million, while the average worker only saw an increase of less than $800 a year. Not surprisingly, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio remains high: 287 to 1.

I’ll repeat that: 287 to 1. Meaning the average CEO earns 287 times what an average employee earns.

This disparity represents a fundamental problem with our economy: Productivity and corporate profits are through the roof, but wages for working people are flat—and staying flat.

Here are 12 key findings from the report that illustrate Shuler’s words:

  1. The average S&P 500 company CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 287 to 1.
  2. In 2018, CEOs of S&P 500 companies received, on average, $14.5 million in total compensation.
  3. This year marks the first where nearly all S&P 500 companies have disclosed the pay ratio between their CEO and median employee. This important disclosure did not come easy. Major corporations and industry groups lobbied long and hard to hide this valuable information from shareholders and the general public.
  4. The average S&P 500 CEO’s pay has increased by $5.2 million over the past 10 years, a CEO pay increase of more than half a million dollars annually.
  5. The average U.S. rank-and-file worker’s pay has increased only $7,858 over the past 10 years, a pay increase of less than $800 per year annually.
  6. Sixty of the largest U.S. companies paid $0 in income taxes in 2018 despite being profitable, including corporations like Amazon, Netflix, Delta and General Motors.
  7. Corporate income tax collections fell by $93 million in fiscal year 2018 after the passage of the 2017 Republican tax cut, a 31% drop.
  8. Stock buybacks by the top 15 U.S. companies with the largest holdings of cash abroad spiked dramatically after the 2017 corporate tax cut on overseas profits. Ten of the largest U.S. companies—Amgen, Apple, Bank of America, Cisco Systems, Citigroup, Facebook, JP Morgan, Microsoft, Oracle and Wells Fargo—combined to buy back more than a quarter-billion dollars of their own stocks in 2018. Not surprisingly, the average CEO pay for these companies increased dramatically as well.
  9. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was the highest paid CEO in 2018. His compensation package was estimated to be worth nearly $2.3 billion, although many doubt that he can achieve his performance targets. Tesla had the highest pay ratio out of all companies: 40,668 to 1.
  10. On the other hand, 14 companies paid their CEO one dollar or less in 2018.
  11. The highest pay ratio for S&P 500 companies was at clothing retailer Gap, where the pay ratio was 3,566 to 1 and the median employee earned $5,831 (a part-time sales associate).
  12. The lowest pay ratio in the S&P 500 was at Alphabet (parent of Google), where its co-founder and CEO Larry Page received just $1 compared to its median employee pay of $246,804.

In conclusion, Shuler said:

Bottom line: For too long, corporate greed and rigged economic rules have created a relentlessly growing pay gap between CEOs and the rest of us. It’s why everything from a college education to retirement security to gas prices are getting harder and harder for people to afford. We see it every day in communities across the country. And that must change.

Our economy works best when consumers have money to spend. That means raising wages for workers and reining in out-of-control executive pay. This year’s report is a stark reminder that working people must use our collective voice to form bigger, stronger unions and rewrite the economic rules once and for all.

This article appeared originally in Aflcio on June 27, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

Renewables are winning the economics battle against new coal and gas, stunning study shows

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

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A new study reveals just how stunningly rapid the clean energy transition is.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reported on Tuesday that renewables are now the cheapest form of new electricity generation across two thirds of the world — cheaper than both new coal and new natural gas power.

Yet just five years ago, renewables were the cheapest source of new power in only 1% of the world, explains BNEF in its New Energy Outlook 2019.

Equally remarkable, BNEF projects that by 2030, wind and solar will “undercut existing coal and gas almost everywhere.”

In other words, within a decade it will be cheaper to build and operate new renewable power plants than it will be to just keep operating existing fossil fuel plants — even in the United States.

The reason for this transformation is the remarkable drop in both solar and wind power prices this decade: Since 2010, wind power has dropped 49% in cost and solar plummeted 85%.

BNEF projects prices will continue to fall for the next decade and beyond, with the cost of solar panels and wind power dropping by another third by 2030. Overall, by 2050, the cost of solar electricity is expected to drop 63% compared to today, and the cost of wind will likely drop 48%.

Because of these ongoing price drops, the world is projected to invest a whopping $4.2 trillion in solar power generation in the next three decades. The result is that solar will jump from a mere 2% of global power generation today to a remarkable 22% in 2050.

Over the same three decades, global investment in wind power will likely hit $5.3 trillion, and wind is expected to rise from 5% of global electricity today to 26% in 2050.

The result is that we are shifting from a world today where two thirds of power generation is from fossil fuels to one three decades from now where two thirds is zero carbon. As BNEF puts it, we are “ending the era of fossil fuel dominance in the power sector.”

This article appeared originally in Think Progress on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Joe Romm is a Fellow at American Progress and is the founding editor of Climate Progress, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called “the indispensable blog” and Time magazine named one of the 25 “Best Blogs of 2010.” In 2009, Rolling Stone put Romm #88 on its list of 100 “people who are reinventing America.” Time named him a “Hero of the Environment? and “The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger.” Romm was acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997, where he oversaw $1 billion in R&D, demonstration, and deployment of low-carbon technology. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

 

International Labor Organization Fights Gender-Based Workplace Violence and Harassment

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Image result for cassandra waters afl cioEight years ago, women union leaders and activists began campaigning for the International Labor Organization to tackle gender-based violence and harassment at work. Last week, at the ILO’s 100thanniversary, workers, governments and employers votedoverwhelmingly to approve a binding Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

This victory is a testament to the power of trade unionists organizing around the globe. It’s also a reflection of the profound need for tools to address the harassment and violence too many workers, particularly women workers, face as a daily reality.

The ILO is a tripartite institution, meaning workers have a seat at the negotiating table. Led by our spokesperson Marie Clarke Walker from the Canadian Labour Congress, worker representatives from around the world spent the past two years negotiating strong, inclusive language that ensures all workers have meaningful protection from violence and harassment, particularly gender-based violence and harassment.

You can check out the full convention here, and a supplemental recommendation that further clarifies the obligations spelled out in the convention here. Some highlights include:

  • Establishing that everyone has a right to a world of work free from violence and harassment, and every country that ratifies the convention will “promote and realize” that right.

  • Protecting all workers, regardless of their contractual status, in both the formal and informal economy, as well as interns, apprentices, jobseekers, job applicants, volunteers, terminated workers and employers as individuals.

  • Ensuring protections not just in the physical worksite but in the broader world of work?—such as work-related trips and social events, places where workers are paid, rest or use sanitary and washing facilities, employer-provided accommodations and during the commute.

  • Addressing violence and harassment committed by or against third parties.

  • Requiring each national government that ratifies the convention to:

    • Adopt an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach for the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, which should be developed in consultation with workers and their unions.

    • Enact both preventative measures and access to remedy, including gender-responsive, safe and effective complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms, support, services and remedies.

    • Identify sectors, occupations and work arrangements that leave workers more vulnerable to violence and harassment.

    • Promote collective bargaining as an important tool to address violence and harassment.

    • Provide specific protections for women and other vulnerable groups.

    • Require employers to take steps to prevent violence and harassment, including developing a workplace policy, providing support and training and identifying and addressing workplace hazards in consultations with workers and unions.

The United States worker delegation included leaders from UNITE HERE Local 1 Chicago’s “Hands Off, Pants On” campaign. The Hands Off, Pants On campaign demonstrates the importance of many of the convention’s provisions. Hotel housekeepers primarily face violence and harassment from third parties. A survey found more than half of housekeepers in Chicago had a guest expose themselves, with many recounting harrowing stories of jumping over furniture or locking themselves in bathrooms to escape unwanted sexual advances. Local 1 successfully negotiated protections, including panic buttons, into collective agreements for unionized housekeepers and then campaigned for a citywide ordinance to provide the same protections for all housekeepers in Chicago. This is an excellent example of how unions can use their power to win meaningful protections for workers.

To read more about what unions can do to prevent sexual harassment specifically, check out our toolkit; and for excellent examples of how unions tackle violence and harassment around the world check out this report.

Winning the convention is an important victory, but in many ways it is just the beginning. Now, workers will turn to ensuring governments widely ratify and implement these important protections to end violence and harassment in the world of work.

This article was originally published at Aflcio on June 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Cassandra Waters is the global worker rights specialist at the AFL-CIO.

“Hardhats vs. Hippies”: How the Media Misrepresents the Debate Over the Green New Deal

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

A recent Politico article about the Green New Deal resolution put forward in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) features many grumblings from blue-collar union members about the potential economic disruption and the loss of jobs—even though the resolution calls for union rights and a federal jobs guarantee for workers. The article opens with Robbie Hunter, the president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents 450,000 construction workers and apprentices, who is leading a union-led advocacy campaign called #BlueCollarRevolution. A drastic shift away from oil industry jobs in California, Hunter contends, could “export our jobs, while doing nothing for the end game, which is the environmental.”

The Green New Deal resolution calls for an economy-wide mobilization to achieve a national transition to a zero-carbon future within a decade. The proposal has sparked a vibrant conversation in Congress and throughout the country, resonating with grassroots environmental groups and challenging lawmakers to start talking seriously about decarbonization. Yet despite massive public support, the resolution was predictably stymied in Congress, and has faced skepticism within the Democratic Party and labor movement. Nor has the resolution been greeted with universal praise by the Democratic Party or labor unions. But while some unions express reluctance to hop on the green bandwagon, there’s more to the story than “environmentalists versus blue-collar workers.” Organized labor does not speak with a single voice on climate policy, though the whole movement has deep stakes in the politics of decarbonization, as working-class people’s lives and livelihoods  are most vulnerable to climate change.

Jessica Levinson, a law professor who serves on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, warns in the Politico piece that the Green New Deal “really divides the Democrats on a fault line, which is more of the elites against the working class Democrats who are concerned about losing their jobs.” The article suggests that 2020 presidential hopefuls should be wary of alienating the working-class base—a segment that lost many voters to Trump in 2016, particularly white, working-class voters—by pushing too hard for the Green New Deal.

So a policy agenda intended to address an existential crisis for the world’s environment is framed within the familiar dichotomy between burly blue-collar construction men and tree-hugging liberal elites. It’s a classic American trope that hearkens back to the faux populism of Nixon’s “hardhat” marches against “hippies” during the Vietnam War. Nevermind the fact that the labor movement today is driven by workers in the service industries, women, people of color and immigrants. The media regularly flattens the labor movement into a one-dimensional depiction of a Fordist industrial laborer, frozen in time.

The supposed blue-collar backlash campaign comes in the wake of signs of internecine friction between national labor leaders and pro-green lawmakers. In March, Cecil Roberts, the international president of the United Mine Workers of America, and Lonnie Stephenson, the international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote to Congress on behalf of the energy committee of the AFL-CIO, arguing that the Green New Deal was “far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members,” and “ma[de] promises that are not achievable or realistic.” Around the same time, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka—who briefly sat on Trump’s “business advisory council”alongside multinational CEOs before resigning in embarrassment—told reporters that although he acknowledged the urgency of tackling the impending climate crisis, lawmakers should not “leave segments of the economy behind.”

The Politico article follows a number of reports of labor groups chafing at the sweeping goals of the federal Green New Deal resolution, as well as the “Green New Deal Los Angeles,” lamenting the lack of detail about how fossil-fuel dependent industries and workers will be affected. The friction over the resolution does speak to an understandable wariness of the plan’s soaring ambitions. The expansive targets, along with a lack of concrete plans on how to achieve its benchmarks, have stirred fears of unrealistic expectations, and workers have reasonable concerns about whether promises of green jobs will really materialize. With so much at stake, organized labor has a reasonable interest in safeguarding members from potential economic turbulence.

But contrary to Politico‘s depiction, skeptics hardly amount to massive working-class opposition to the Green New Deal. The media coverage centers on labor’s fear that workers won’t be provided a fair share of the deal’s achievements. The same question of social equity can be applied to any number of progressive policy proposals that the 2020 presidential candidates have touted, such as Medicare for All or a federal jobs guarantee.

More importantly, though building-trades workers may fit Trump’s image of working-class America, they are not representative of labor or the working class as a whole when it comes to green issues. The future of labor will be helmed by service workers, women, immigrants and people of color. Accordingly, the Green New Deal or other strong climate change policies have won endorsements from SEIULos Angeles County Federation of Labor and National Nurses United, along with various locals like New York State Nurses Association and American Federation of Teachers – Oregon. A survey released by Data for Progress this month found that “union membership is one of the factors most highly correlated with support for Green New Deal policies as well as the Green New Deal framework as a whole.”

Backing the Green New Deal is a way to extend union support for working people beyond wages and benefits, because the Green New Deal is a social contract to form the foundation of a sustainable economy. From a practical standpoint, as a dwindling labor movement strives to remain relevant to the working masses, there simply is no bigger bread-and-butter issue than our land, air, water and health. Globally, affluent countries with higher union representation tend to have lower greenhouse gas emissions than less unionized countries.

Working-class migrant communities and communities of color may have a first-hand understanding of how climate volatility affects their work—be they an immigrant nurse whose hometown in the Philippines is facing intensifying typhoons, or a Los Angeles teacher whose students miss school when dirty local air leaves them struggling to breathe. As part of a global proletariat, their struggles reflect the even longer-term challenge of climate justice: seeding a carbon-free future for the global economy. The struggle for climate justice extends beyond the Green New Deal resolution; the ultimate goal is to link the entire world in a compact to decarbonize and to refocus development and industry on sustainability and social equity, rather than profit.

It is shortsighted for the media to present labor’s skepticism toward the Green New Deal as akin to the far-right’s climate skepticism. Globally, a consensus is crystallizing on the left: There is no future in which workers are not on the frontline of climate-driven social transformation, either as survivors, or as agents of change.

Putting the concept of climate justice into practice requires braiding environmental and labor agendas into a unified “just transition”—a comprehensive set of social welfare protections for the workers and communities most impacted by climate policy. As Sara Nelson,  president of the Association of Flight Attendants, has pointed out, “Labor has never seen an actual ‘just transition.’” To engage labor with the Green New Deal, Nelson told In These Times last month, policymakers and activists must “make labor central to the discussion, including labor rights, labor protections and labor expertise. … Let’s recognize and engage the infrastructure and experience of the labor movement to make this work.”

By listening to workers, we’d perhaps discover that even the #BlueCollarRevolution might be surprisingly amenable to a climate justice agenda. Robbie Hunter himself wrote in March about a green project he could get behind: He urged the state to invest in building clean mass transit, pointing out that, “Having built most of California’s utility-scale solar and wind generation, we who work in the building and construction trades think it’s time to get real about our ambitious climate goals.”

Despite the media’s insistence that environmentalism remains the province of the privileged, blue collars and green priorities may overlap more than they know. All we need to do is treat Green New Deal like any other labor contract: get everyone around the table and start talking.

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a contributing writer at In These Times and The Nation, a contributing editor at Dissent and a co-producer of the “Belabored” podcast. She studies history at the CUNY Graduate Center. She tweets at @meeshellchen.

Americans are underestimating discrimination against LGBTQ people

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Many Americans think there has been a lot of progress on LGBTQ rights. But there is a long way to go.

An overwhelming majority of Americans think there has been progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, according to recent polls. But they are also underestimating the amount of discrimination LGBTQ people face.

Eighty-four percent of Americans think there has been a great deal or some progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, compared to only 14% who say there has not been much or none at all, found a new CBS News poll.

When it comes to discrimination against lesbians and gay men, 44% said there is a lot of discrimination, but 31% said there was only some and 22% said there was only a little or none. People were more likely to believe transgender people face a lot of discrimination if they know a transgender person. Fifty-six percent believed there is a lot of discrimination against transgender people, but 66% of those who know transgender people believe the same. The poll did not ask about discrimination against bisexual people.

Among those who were asked what changed their mind about marriage equality, 12% said they knew someone who is gay or lesbian, 22% said they knew more about the issue, and 26% said people should be able to make their own choices.

Perhaps so many Americans think there has been major progress on LGBTQ rights because a large share don’t understand that there aren’t many federal protections for LGBTQ people. Despite the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality across the country, LGBTQ people don’t have explicit national nondiscrimination protections in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and credit.

A Reuters poll released earlier this month found that 45% of all Americans believe that federal law currently protects queer people from discrimination. Only one in three Americans knew that transgender people were not protected from discrimination in federal law. Forty-three percent of Americans said LGBTQ people were treated “about the same” as cis and straight people when it comes to health care access, and just 17% said LGBTQ were treated worse. Others said they did not know the extent to which LGBTQ people were treated differently.

LGBTQ folks have successfully argued that they’re covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the past. But there is no national law with explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era rules and guidance protecting LGBTQ people and banned transgender people from the military.

On the state level, protections are uneven. Currently, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing and 20 states and D.C. prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Fourteen states have nondiscrimination laws covering credit discrimination.

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, federal programs, jury service, public accommodations, and credit and lending. The legislation would also update the law to include protections against discrimination in public spaces and services like retail stores, transportation services, banks, and legal services. It passed the House in May. Nearly all House Republicans, or 173 members, voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not plan to bring the bill to the floor, and a senior Trump administration official has said that President Donald Trump won’t support the Equality Act.

Although there have been signs of progress in LGBTQ acceptance in the long term, a 2019 national GLAAD survey found a decline in overall comfort and acceptance of LGBTQ people among people ages 18 to 34 in 2018. GLAAD said there has been a steady decline in comfort in personal situations among this age group since 2016. Thirty-six percent of cis and straight people said they were uncomfortable learning a family member is in the LGBTQ community, and a third said they would be uncomfortable with a child being placed with an instructor in the community in 2018, compared to 24% and 25% in 2016, respectively.

In addition to legal barriers and personal discomfort with LGBTQ people in family and education environments, LGBTQ people still face threats of violence. At least 10 trans black women have been murdered in 2019. In 2018, the FBI reported a 17% year-over-year rise in federal hate crimes in the United States, and threats of violence and assault against queer people continue.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan covers policy issues related to gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The Atlantic, and In These Times. They studied economic reporting, political reporting, and investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where they graduated with an M.A. in business journalism.

Below the Surface of ICE: The Corporations Profiting From Immigrant Detention

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

ABOUT 60 MEMBERS of ICE Out of LA faced off with a handful of Trump supporters outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters July 23. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) abolitionist group was there to confront County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, accused of transferring immigrants into federal custody. The Trump fans were there to troll.

“We tell McDonnell to stop siding with people who promote hate in our community,” one young Latino protester shouted through a bullhorn. “He can abolish ICE here.” It was everything you’d expect from a political demonstration focused squarely, if optimistically, on changing the mind of a single policymaker.

Two days later, 2,400 miles away, activists with Make the Road New York and other groups tried a different approach. They blocked Park Avenue underneath the Upper East Side roof-level penthouse of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, rather than outside a government building. Their speakers blared the now-infamous cries of detained migrant children for their parents.

JPMorgan Chase holds no direct contract with ICE and doesn’t handle financial services at ICE facilities, but it does enable and profit from the private-prison duopoly of Geo Group and CoreCivic, which operate most U.S. migrant detention centers. Since Donald Trump took office, JPMorgan has increased its stockholdings in Geo Group and CoreCivic 15,600 percent. The bank has also provided at least $167.5 million in debt financing to the two companies, which rely on borrowed money.

Going after ICE contractors’ cash flow indicates a new direction in activist organizing since the Trump administration began its controversial family separation policy. ICE relies on private contractors to carry out its detention operations, so one way to abolish ICE might be to make its association so toxic that it loses its collaborators.

Practically every entity that squeezes a dollar from the agency or helps it round up immigrants is being exposed, targeted and swarmed by protesters.

Traditional immigration activists are now being joined by anti-war, feminist and climate action groups, and others. The broad coordination is possible because the U.S. immigration system bleeds into so many areas of progressive ire, from police brutality and labor abuse to the ongoing wave of privatization and financialization. “We really prioritize building intersectional coalitions,” says Daniel Carrillo, executive director of ENLACE, a racial and economic justice group.

That intersectionality has become critical to left movements, with the shock of Trump’s immigration policies revealing the amoral spectacle of late capitalism. We’ve seen anti-corporate campaigns before in America, but few on this scale, bringing together so many disparate groups— even corporate employees—demanding that companies cease profiting from human misery. The backlash against ICE just might provide a model for a politics and economics that values dignity over the balance sheet.

SEVERAL AGENCIES PLAY A ROLE IN FAMILY SEPARATION.Customs and Border Protection handles undocumented border crossings. The Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters unaccompanied minors. But ICE, as the interior deportation force and the largest migrant jailer, has become the avatar for the system’s cruelties.

ICE was established during the golden age of Bush-era privatization in 2003. Though ICE tracks, captures and transports immigrants and imprisons an average daily population of over 41,000 (with plans to increase that to 52,000 in 2019), the part of the agency carrying out that work, Enforcement and Removal Operations, only has 6,000 employees. The vast majority of the immigration machine is left to private-sector contractors.

According to data from the Urban Justice Center’s Corrections Accountability Project, 72 percent of all migrants under ICE’s control sleep in privatized detention beds, mostly managed by private prison behemoths Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). In 2017, Geo Group and CoreCivic together earned $985 million from ICE contracts, more than a third of what ICE spends each year on custody operations. The corporations get paid whether the beds are full or not, arguably providing government an incentive to seek out prisoners so as not to “waste money.”

Geo Group and CoreCivic each run massive family detention centers in south Texas, nicknamed “baby jails” even before the current crisis. They also manage ICEdedicated facilities for adults and many of the federal prisons and local jails ICE sublets to lock up migrants. This practice is likely to expand: ICE posted a request in June for up to 15,000 more family beds at a cost of $1.7 billion annually. And if ICE pivots to electronic monitoring, Geo Group holds that contract, too.

Private prison companies don’t just operate facilities; they build them. As legal entities, both private prison companies claim status as real estate investment trusts. This tax shelter saved Geo Group $43.6 million in 2017 alone, and it boosts revenue as well. Owning and operating detention centers, according to CoreCivic estimates, earns six times more profit per prisoner than just managing operations. Immigrant detention accounted for about a quarter of each company’s revenue in 2017.

After the Justice Department announced the zero tolerance policy in April, thousands of children separated from their parents became “unaccompanied minors” under the control of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which also contracts out its custody operations. Shuttered Walmarts, hotels, temporary tents and even empty office buildings in Phoenix (where children bathe in sinks) have been converted into migrant child jails. Over a dozen private contractors manage facilities, from nonprofit Southwest Key, which has earned at least $955 million on contracts since 2015, to defense contractor MVM Inc. And when children rotate into foster care, for-profit companies like Cayuga Centers take them on. Sheltering unaccompanied minors is now a $1 billion business, with more contracts on the way.

Migrants must be fed and cared for while detained; none of that work is handled by ICE staff. Instead, kitchen, phone, medical, translation and financial services are contracted mostly to specialists that perform the same tasks in private prisons. ICE even contracts out its inspections; a recent inspector general report found that one private inspector, the Nakamoto Group, had waved through substandard facilities.

Other contractors transport migrants between facilities or deport them to home countries. When commercial airlines balked at transporting minorsripped from their families, defense contractors stepped in, including General Dynamics and MVM, which has earned $123 million since 2014 for transportation services. CSI Aviation has a contract to run “ICE Air” for charter deportation flights.

Far from shelters and shuttles, contractors supply logistical support for immigration agencies. Consulting firm Deloitte earned $18 million in 2017 for case management. Salesforce has a software contract with Customs and Border Protection. Microsoft handles ICE’s data processing. An obscure surveillance firm called Pen-Link provides ICE with “real-time tracking” through cell phone and geolocation data. Another logistics infrastructure contract with Palantir, a Silicon Valley data-mining firm owned by libertarian Trump supporter Peter Thiel, uses Amazon’s cloud computing storage.

ICE spent $1.7 billion on close to 5,000 contractors in 2017, the most money this decade. “The immigration system is used as a vehicle to extract wealth from communities, or at the very least as a vehicle to launder taxpayer money into the private sector,” says Bianca Tylek, director of the Corrections Accountability Project.

The motivation to maximize revenue by cutting corners contributes to a nightmarish experience for detainees. Under private contractors, allegations of inedible foodverbal and physical abuseinadequate medical attentionchildren covered in lice, and forced ingestion of psychotropic drugs are commonplace. Many migrants work in the facilities for just $1 a day under virtual slave conditions. Members of Congress have complained that detention phone operators charge parents separated from children up to $8 a minute to speak to them.

More than 1,200 allegations of sexual assault at both public and privately run adult detention facilities were filed between 2010 and 2017, and police reports indicate hundreds more incidents victimizing children. One HIV-positive worker at Southwest Key was charged in August with molesting at least eight minors; other Southwest Key cases involve children as young as 6. “If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” said one psychiatrist. Unconfirmed reports of suicides and deaths in custody cap off the grim scene.

These abuses have become a fact of life in private immigration detention, with billions of dollars paid in legal settlements over the allegations. But as national attention focused on the border, Americans couldn’t escape the shocking reality. “We are seeing the unveiling of how immigration enforcement treats humans like animals,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy.

Immigration agencies have no problem with private contractors absorbing the blame when abuse complaints arise. Outsourcing also shields facilities from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. While the Supreme Court confirmed in 2017 that the government must release details of its private prison contracts, the subcontractors that provide private prison companies with things like food and medical services don’t have to comply with FOIA requests. “Private prison companies are almost like a general contractor in a construction deal,” says Tylek. “They subcontract out the services, and those subcontracts can’t be FOIA’d because there’s no contract with the government.”

But because of the relentless privatization of the immigration system, activists have new pressure points: contractors who must answer to investors, financiers, workers and, in some cases, millions of consumers.

“If we actually do want to change policy, we need to know who has the power,” says Jeremy Mohler, communication specialist for In the Public Interest, an anti-privatization research group and one of many organizations that have pieced together the network of ICE enablers. “And a lot of the power is invested in these corporations.”

IN JUNE, PROGRESSIVE GROUPS FORMED the Families Belong Together coalition to express revulsion at the spectacle of children being ripped from their families. Following the model of the Women’s March and the March for Our Lives against gun violence, Families Belong Together planned mass demonstrations. The breadth of the coalition was exceptional, bringing together environmentalists at 350.org and Clean Water Action, progressive Jews at J Street and Bend the Arc, National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Center for Reproductive Rights, End Rape on Campus, the American Federation of Teachers, Rock the Vote, and hundreds more.

It didn’t take much for groups to justify their involvement. “Two-thirds of the people impacted by immigration policy are women and children; this is very much a woman’s issue,” says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, one of the coalition leaders. MomsRising was involved in immigration advocacy before the family separation policy sparked mass outrage, but the issue took on new resonance afterward. “None of us want to explain to future great-grandchildren what we did when history went in the wrong direction.”

The June 30 marches, with hundreds of thousands participating in nearly 750 cities across the country, revealed the movement’s popularity. One of the coalition’s first requests after the marches was to cut off funding to the private prison duopoly, not only by severing their ICE contracts but by going after their lenders. “If the banks stop financing [private prison companies], it creates a huge political and logistical challenge for the administration,” says Matt Nelson, executive director of Presente, a leading Families Belong Together partner.

In the Public Interest researched in 2016 how six banks— Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, BNP Paribas, SunTrust, U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo—provide revolving credit, term loans and corporate bond underwriting to CoreCivic and Geo Group. The banks fund the construction of new detention centers, acquisitions of smaller companies and general cashflow. According to an April report published by the Center for Popular Democracy, between 90 and 95 percent of CoreCivic and Geo Group’s cash on hand was borrowed in 2017. Interest payments on that debt equaled $217.5 million. As of March 2018, the two companies carried $3.1 billion in debt. These six banks, in addition to profiting from the private prison duopoly, are vital to its existence. And banks have to face consumers, making them an inviting target for activists.

Families Belong Together singled out JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, whose image has already been battered by a cascading series of scandals, for a petition drive. Numerous organizations joined in, collecting over 100,000 signatures from customers and concerned citizens. “Jamie Dimon put out a statement that his heart goes out to the families,” says Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “It is not possible to say you’re standing for an inclusive society while facilitating the growth of an industry caging humans.”

The goal of the protest at Dimon’s apartment was to embarrass him in his Upper East Side neighborhood. Protesters included undocumented immigrants and former detainees at CoreCivic facilities. “We wanted to send Dimon a clear message and have the people that live around him know what’s going on,” says Make the Road New York spokesperson Yatziri Tovar. It came one day after another demonstration in front of the New Jersey home of a Wells Fargo board member. Direct contractors have also faced protests in at least 16 cities. In July, two dozen activists chained themselves in the Centerville, Utah, office of Management & Training Corporation, which runs a handful of ICE jails. The Dream Defenders conducted a national day of action at Geo Group facilities August 7, which shook the company so much it issued a cease and desist accusing the group of “inciting a dangerous ‘disruption.’”

Win Without War, an anti-war group, demanded that military contractors General Dynamics and MVM drop their contracts. Demand Progress, which normally organizes around net neutrality and NSA spying, called on Salesforce to stop working with Customs and Border Protection. “We got involved because we saw the nexus between big, unaccountable tech companies and government oppression, especially surveillance,” says Robert Cruickshank, campaign director of Demand Progress. “These tech companies are making it easier for law enforcement to target and harass people, especially people of color and immigrants.”

The tech industry is now facing an awkward predicament: fending off worker-led organizing. The immigration-focused uprising grew organically from left-leaning Silicon Valley engineers and coders’ stance against collaboration with the Trump administration. They scored a major victory at Google in June when the company cancelled artificial intelligence work for the Defense Department. “Workers were learning how to wield power within their companies,” says Yana Calou, an organizer with Coworker.org, which has been assisting tech employees in these fights.

Weeks after the Google victory, workers circulated open letters at AmazonMicrosoft and Salesforce, asking CEOs to cancel their immigration contracts. Chief executives lamented the plight of migrants and insisted that none of their work involved separating families, which placated nobody. “Tech infrastructure is absolutely integral to all of [ICE’s] operations,” says Calou. “If they were really concerned about reuniting families, they would be building tech for the families.”

To blunt criticism, Salesforce tried to donate $250,000 to RAICES, an immigrant justice group raising money to post bonds for detainees. RAICES rejected the money, responding that “when it comes to supporting oppressive, inhumane, and illegal policies … the only right action is to stop.” Several business users of Salesforce’s software threatened to end their relationship with the firm if the immigration contract remained.

Outside groups amplified worker voices with petitions and rallies. More than 300,000 people signed a letter from the racial justice group Color of Change supporting employee demands at Microsoft and encouraging other tech workers to join.

The organizing has bled over into anti-discrimination rights on the job, more diversity in hiring policies, and an ethical framework for profiting from the tools they create. Organizations like the Tech Workers Coalition and Silicon Valley Rising promote this cross-pollination and pitch in on bargaining work with janitors and cafeteria workers on tech campuses. Calou views it as part of the same awakening.

“This is the first time we’ve seen this happen in tech companies: a group thinking of themselves as workers,” Calou notes. “The more they’re organized as workers, the better they can advocate for themselves and show solidarity.”

MOVIMIENTO COSECHA (THE HARVEST MOVEMENT),an immigrant justice organization, defines complicity with ICE as being involved in or facilitating deportations. The group targets even more casual connections, like when Customs and Border Protection agents boarded Greyhound busesasking for identification from Latinx passengers or when Motel 6 allegedly gave ICE information on Latinx guests.

“The more institutions stop working with ICE, the more people are forced to ask themselves, which side am I on?” says Arielle Clynes, an organizer with Cosecha.

Cosecha’s No Business with ICE campaign kicked off in early July at an Amazon bookstore in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. “We wanted to make a statement that if Amazon does business with ICE, we’re not going to let them do business at all,” Clynes says. Cosecha activists blocked the entrance with a rally and shut down the store for the day.

The pressure escalated during a July 31 day of action in 10 cities. In Boston, hundreds marched at Northeastern University, which holds a $7.8 milliontechnological research contract with ICE; twelve were arrested after lying down in the street in front of university President Joseph Aoun’s home. In Philadelphia, eight protesters were arrested after occupying the lobby of the Comcast Center for 90 minutes; Comcast provides internet access to ICE. In New York, Cosecha partnered with Science for the People on a march from Microsoft and Salesforce headquarters to an Amazon Books on 34th Street. In Palo Alto, the group targeted Palantir headquarters.

Other Cosecha protests focused on municipal officials. Local coordination with ICE has spiked in the Trump era, with DMVs, hospitals and even public schools sharing personal data on immigrant families. In liberal cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia, activists are demanding that public officials live up to their values, but even redder towns like Grand Rapids, Mich., and Williamson County, Texas, have seen protests.

The next wave of the campaign will target investors in the lucrative immigrant detention industry. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) released a report August 10 identifying 26 hedge funds holding over $4 billion in stock in Geo Group, CoreCivic and General Dynamics. The report urges public pensions serving AFT’s teachers, which carry over $3 trillion in assets under management, to dump those hedge funds from their portfolios. AFT President Randi Weingarten condemned the hedge funds for “abetting the administration’s policies of family separation and the permanent harm it has caused children.”

Beneficiaries of immigration-related investments include the burgeoning class of multi-millionaire politicians. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has money in a private equity fund that owns Correct Care Solutions, a healthcare provider that serves immigrant jails. Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) bought at least $100,000 in CoreCivic stock in January. SuperPACs for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is now running for U.S. Senate, took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Geo Group.

But the firms spread their cash around to both parties. Democrats in Congress have scrambled to clean up their campaign treasuries. Records showthe Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats, taking a direct $10,000 donation from Geo Group in November 2017, and over $380,000 throughout the 2018 election cycle bundled by lobbyists connected to private prison companies. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been criticizedfor taking money from landlords who rent out field offices to ICE.

The pressure put on anyone profiting from or enabling ICE complements the direct-action tactics of a growing movement known as Occupy ICE. Abolitionists have physically blocked entrances to ICE buildings in San FranciscoLouisville, and Tacoma, Wash., leading to confrontations with law enforcement. In Portland, Ore., ICE temporarily closed its facility; in Los Angeles, one entrance has been barricaded since late June. An Occupy ICE blockade in Denver drew a SWAT team and ICE employees had to drive across the lawn to leave the building. “As much as we can, we’d like to interrupt their ability to do their job,” says one of the protesters arrested in Denver, who requested anonymity while his case is pending.

THE MULTI-PRONGED CAMPAIGN AGAINST ICE AND ITS PRIVATE-SECTOR PARTNERS IS HAVING AN IMPACT. After media scrutiny, MVM canceled its lease on the Phoenix office building housing migrant children. Consulting firm McKinsey terminated its contractwith ICE, although its management consultant work for the agency had already been completed. New York state directed all its pension funds to divest from Geo Group and CoreCivic, following New York City and Philadelphia. At least 10 members of Congress have rejected Geo Group donations, along with state Democratic parties in California and Florida. Many politicians and parties have passed on donations to organizations protecting immigrants at the border.

But the movement is hoping for a signature victory. So far, no household names, like General Dynamics or Microsoft, have severed contracts with immigration authorities, and Amazon recently promised its “unwavering” commitment to work with law enforcement. ICE abolitionists plan to keep up the pressure. “We don’t see activism fatigue; we see people stepping up,” says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising.

Perhaps the most progress has been made in getting cities to cancel ICE contracts. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney revoked ICE’s access to a city law enforcement database, a huge win for local organizing groups. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms prevented city jails from accepting new ICE detainees. And at least six cities and countieshave canceled ICE contracts to use detention centers in their areas.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, recounts the organization’s victory in suburban Williamson County, Texas. The county voted in June to end its contract in January 2019 for the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, a CoreCivic-run women’s facility long accused of rampant abuse, though ICE could scramble to try and renegotiate. Grassroots Leadership used the testimony of 40 Hutto detainees separated from their families to sway county commissioners. “We had people going to the county every week to read letters of women detained there,” Libal says. “It was really the powerful experience that won.”

Some immigrant rights groups are wary of county closures because of the potential impact on current detainees. When Contra Costa County, Calif., Sheriff David Livingston revoked ICE’s contract to house migrants at the West County Detention Facility, the group Freedom for Immigrants feared detainees would be moved across state lines, far from their families and legal resources. “Canceling the contract shows that these protests are working,” says Liz Martinez, advocacy and communications director for Freedom for Immigrants. But the real goal, she says, is “to get people out of detention.”

Libal, whose Grassroots Leadership has been trying to close down the Hutto detention center since it opened in 2006, says it was critical for the movement to gain momentum. “You have to fight back somewhere, and one way to be effective is to win local battles,” he says.

Geo Group has lost at least one contract because of its association with family separation. Lancaster County, Penn., rejected a Geo Group attempt to take over prison re-entry services, even though the contract had nothing to do with immigration. “If they get painted as the family separator, that’s going to hurt them across the board,” says Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest.

Attacking the money alone will not fulfill the end goal; abolishing ICE will require legislation. But in the meantime, making ICE toxic can have powerful effects, preventing a return to the pre-Trump status quo of undocumented immigrants being treated abominably in virtual obscurity. It’s already shown up in polling data; in just a few short months, ICE is net unfavorable, even less popular than the IRS. When a concept bleeds into the culture, as Abolish ICE signs are being seen at sporting events and the Statue of Liberty, that signals the ground is shifting. “Even people who don’t want to abolish ICE really hate ICE,” says Sean McElwee, who popularized the Abolish ICE slogan. “It’s defined in an incredibly negative way, and that makes it hard to do its job.”

Combining street protests with research on who profits from the immigration system—a Gordian knot of opaque subcontracting and financing relationships that activists have been picking at for years—is critical to that effort. When every uniform, every catered meal, every transportation shuttle, everything ICE does is contested, it throws sand into the gears of its operation.

ICE’s extreme privatization was a catalyst to produce these pressure points, but it also speaks to a disconnect between capitalism and morality, and how family separation reveals those fissures. The ICE fight is about human rights but also labor rights—the rights of workers to exert democratic control over company contracts and reject immoral work. It’s about small towns with dried-up economies that have no choice but to become America’s migrant jailers. It’s about the influence of lobbyists, and also financiers. It’s about how the public gets a say in how public money should be spent. It’s about the over-criminalization that gets the undocumented on ICE’s radar. It’s even about our energy policy, with climate refugees soon to follow the current wave of asylum seekers fleeing violence.

“A lot of times in our politics, there’s a singular focus on who is elected and who might hold formal reins of power,” says Kevin Connor, co-founder of Little Sis, which has focused on ties between political and financial elites for years. “This is a moment where people are seeing a power structure above and beyond that. Research systems and organizing can lay the groundwork for this kind of moment where that power structure can be challenged more directly.”

This story was supported by the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.


Salesforce is contracted with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to use its cloud technology for information sharing. Protesters put the company on notice at the #WeWontBeComplicit march in New York City on July 31. (Photo by Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: David Dayen is an investigative fellow with In These Times‘ Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. His book Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud won the 2015 Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. He lives in Los Angeles, where prior to writing about politics he had a 19-year career as a television producer and editor.

125 Years After the Pullman Uprising, We Could Be on the Verge of Another Sympathy Strike Wave

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Roaming the sleepy streets of Pullman on Chicago’s Southeast Side, it’s difficult to imagine a time when it was the chaotic center of worker struggle in the United States.

Many of the handsome red brick homes in the center of Pullman—once a bustling company town and now a Chicago neighborhood—are occupied and well-maintained, but the shuttered luxury hotel hasn’t hosted a guest in decades, the skeletal factory buildings are locked behind a chain-link fence while the hands of the derelict clocktower that helped govern the working lives of thousands of men and women remain frozen in time.

But in the spring of 1894, a company-wide walkout at the site’s factories snowballed into a two-month long nationwide “sympathy strike” that, at its peak, galvanized as many as 250,000 men and women in 27 states and territories. A sympathy strike, or solidarity action, is when workers strike in support of others involved in a labor dispute in a different company, but often in the same or a related industry.

Later known as the Pullman Strike, the struggle became the largest-ever organized work stoppage and the most significant demonstration of union strength in American history, up until the Great Steel Strike of 1919.

In 2019, 125 years after the monumental strike at Pullman, the area’s physical infrastructure continues to crumble. But the revitalization of sympathy strikes and mass labor organizing all across the country in recent years—from teacher walkouts to the work stoppage threat by flight attendants that helped end the government shutdown—suggests that the legacy of the Great Pullman Strike remains very much alive today.

In a fiery speech to a group of labor leaders and visitors at the 125th-anniversary celebration of the Great Pullman Strike on May 11, Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson said, “Look at how unions banded together during the Pullman Strike. The president of the Chicago Federation of Labor said at the time. ‘We all feel that in fighting any battle against the Pullman Company, we’re aiming at the very head and front of monopoly and plutocracy.’”

“This is again a time when people have a growing consciousness of the ruling class and those with an insatiable need for more money, power and control,” she continued. “Working people are just now understanding the power they have when they stand together and claim our share of the profits we create.”

“Well-wishing feudalism”

The Great Pullman Strike was likely a shock to outside observers who had previously visited and mistakenly considered it a capitalist utopia.

“Here, indeed, seems to be the coming paradise of labor,” wrote one writer in an article from an 1882 edition of The Railway Age MonthlyThe London Times declared Pullman “the most perfect town in the world.”

George Pullman, the town’s mastermind, certainly saw it that way.

The industrialist had made his fortune in the mid-19th century by cornering the market on upscale train cars for the wealthy at a time when the railroad industry held a stranglehold over the economy.

In 1877, Pullman built a luxurious mansion on swanky Prairie Avenue adjacent to Chicago’s elite like department store magnate Marshall Field. Three years later, Pullman purchased 4,000 acres of swamp-covered land near Lake Calumet and invested an estimated $5 million to build a series of factories and hundreds of houses to be rented to up to 10,000 workers. He also approved the construction of school buildings, parks, a library, a theater and the Midwest’s first indoor shopping mall to accompany the new production facilities.

At the time, Pullman stood as a company town: a planned community by which an individual corporation owns all of the businesses and housing in the name of centralizing production.

Hundreds of company towns have existed in some form or another throughout American history from the poorly constructed shanty towns of the mining or lumber industries to Milton S. Hershey’s grandiose amusement park-like model town built for his chocolate factory workers in Pennsylvania.

Like Hershey, Pullman’s intended his village to serve as a shining alternative to the squalor of Chicago’s industrial slums. The streets were paved and outfitted with modern sewers, every house had indoor plumbing and thousands of trees and flowers were planted.

“I want the people who work at Pullman to have the advantages of seeing the best,” Pullman said. “I want no cheap, crude, inartistic work in any department. I have faith in the educational and refining influences of beauty and beautiful and harmonious surroundings, and hesitate at no reasonable expenditure to secure them.”

In other words, Pullman believed he could to increase his profits while also responding to the poor conditions of tenement housing that accompanied rapid industrialization. Protecting his workers from alcohol, disease and vice was good for them—and him.

“He genuinely had a vision for the future in which workers wouldn’t have to live in the slums of Chicago and they’d have this beautiful model town,” said Jack Kelly, the author of the recent book The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America. “His employees would have a better life and in turn would be more productive workers because they’d be sober, educated, and have shorter commutes. He saw it as a win-win.”

Many journalists agreed, especially after seeing it in person during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. “Future generations will bless his memory,” predicted the Chicago Times. Progressives also noted that African-Americans worked as porters on the company’s “Palace Cars” (bellhops serving passengers riding the company’s train cars) and Pullman became the largest employer of freed slaves in the country.

But while the press may have extolled Pullman’s virtues, critics claim that the amenities and bucolic surroundings of his company town served as window dressing for his paternalism and greed, and that his apparent race-blindness was self-serving: no African Americans were allowed to live in the boundaries of Pullman and he paid black workers lower wages than whites.

“The church he built was very telling,” noted Kelly. “He wanted to charge so much rent for it that no one could afford it and it just sat there empty, for decoration.”

Pullman also forced residents to follow a set of draconian rules. For instance, he reportedly required tenants to place decorative flowers in their windowsills and individuals were expected to wipe their feet on doormats before they entered their own apartments. Taverns—an important feature of working-class life at the time—were outlawed and the only bar in town (located in the hotel named for Pullman’s daughter Florence) was strictly for visitors.

No one could vote to change these rules because no democratic town government was put in place. To prevent anyone from unionizing the company, according to Kelly, company spies were planted across the town to report on any attempts to organize.

Not every outsider was taken in by Pullman’s vision. Writing for Harper’s in 1885, economist Richard Ely called Pullman’s system “benevolent, well-wishing feudalism, which desires the happiness of the people, but in such a way as shall please the authorities.”

“It went back to that idea that the Lord of the Manor knows best,” said Kelly. “And the problem is that Pullman’s strict rules built all sorts of resentments among the workers that only got worse over time.”

The Pullman Strike

These resentments were exacerbated by an economic crisis in 1893 that plunged the nation into a depression. Pullman responded to the company’s falling revenue by cutting his workers’ wages five times—including a single 30 percent cut—without reducing rents in his town while continuing to pay stockholders the same pre-depression dividends. By April of 1894, some families living in Pullman’s town were on the brink of starvation.

“There were guys who almost fainted on the job because they hadn’t eaten in days because they couldn’t afford it,” said Kelly. “One guy got a paycheck of two cents—he didn’t even cash it—he just had it framed. That really showed the contempt that Pullman had for working people.”

The workers had tried to negotiate. Forming a union was against the law, but some of them organized a 46-member grievance committee in secret in a nearby neighborhood outside of Pullman. The committee’s leaders met twice with company officials—including Pullman himself during the second meeting—to demand that he reverse the wage cuts and reduce the rents.

The company refused as Pullman argued that, “Arbitration always implies acquiescence in the decision of the arbitrator, whether favorable or adverse.” Six days later, on May 12, thousands of workers walked off the job. The two-month-long strike had begun. “We struck at Pullman,” the workers later testified, “because we were without hope.”

The strike may have been easily defeated or gone relatively unnoticed outside of Chicago if not for the American Railway Union (ARU), the powerful cross-trade railroad labor group founded the previous year and led by Eugene Debs. “Before you had these brotherhoods, these craft unions that bickered, competed and undercut each other,” said Kelly. “The ARU was different.”

In April 1894, the ARU successfully led Great Northern Railroad workers through a different dispute—just one month prior to the Pullman workers’ unrest. Voluntary arbitration had resolved the strike, and three-fourths of the Great Northern Railroad’s wage cut had been restored. In the following weeks, 35 percent of Pullman’s workers joined the ARU hoping that the new union could perhaps do the same for them.

“Pullman, both the man and the town, is an ulcer on the body politic,” the Pullman workers told the ARU in a statement at the union’s first-ever national convention in Chicago in June, 1894. “He owns the houses, the schoolhouses, and churches of God in the town he gave his once humble name. The revenue he derives from these, the wages he pays out with one hand—the Pullman Palace Car Company, he takes back with the other—the Pullman Land Association…And thus the merry war— the dance of skeletons bathed in human tears—goes on, and it will go on, brothers, forever, unless you, the American Railway Union, stop it; end it; crush it out.”

Debs’ response was ruthless in its criticism of George Pullman, calling him “the plutocrat with a soul so small that a million of them could dance on the little end of a hornet’s stinger.” He called for the ARU to support Pullman workers with a sympathy strike because it was not just a single fight but part of a greater movement for workers’ universal rights to higher wages, safer working conditions and other basic protections.

“The forces of labor must unite. The salvation of labor demands it,” Debs said at the convention on June 12. “The dividing lines must grow dimmer day by day until they become imperceptible, and then labor’s hosts, marshaled under one conquering banner, shall march together, vote together, and fight together until workingmen shall receive and enjoy all their fruits of their toil.”

It was an important moment in the history of sympathy strikes. “Eugene Debs knew we all needed to stick together,” said Joe Burns, the author of the book Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America, “It was the hope and future of labor unions—class wide solidarity.”

On June 22, 1894 the delegates of the ARU agreed voted to boycott Pullman cars until the strike was settled. Despite threats from railroad companies that any worker who refused to handle Pullman cars would be fired, the sympathy strike officially began on June 26.

Within a matter of days, railroads west of Detroit were frozen for more than a month as workers either refused to touch Pullman’s cars or unhitched them from trains. Suddenly passengers were stranded, the price of food ballooned, power plants and factories ran out of resources and mines and lumber mills were forced to close.

The reverberations of the sympathy strike were being felt all over the country—especially after the strike had stopped the delivery of U.S. mail. For Debs, an outright struggle between the upper and lower classes appeared imminent as the strike, “has developed into a contest between the producing classes and the money power of this country.”

U.S. Attorney General Richard Olney, also a railroad lawyer and friend of Pullman’s, declared that America had reached “the ragged edge of anarchy.” Olney asked the federal courts to ban the ARU boycotts and on July 2 he received an injunction to end the strike. President Grover Cleveland deployed federal troops from Fort Sheridan north of Chicago to Pullman to enforce the court’s ruling.

On July 4, a thousand troops arrived and set up camp, joining thousands of armed police and guardsmen to break the strike while masses of unarmed strikers crowded the railroad yards. Over the next three days, riots broke out and hundreds of railcars were burned. Violence broke out after a railroad agent shot one of the boycotters and 26 civilians were killed in the weeks-long mayhem that followed.

The soldiers and railroad workers got the trains moving again and in the following weeks, Debs and other agitators were jailed for “ordering, directing, aiding, assisting, or abetting” the rebellion. The strike was officially broken on August 2.

Pullman won the battle, but the industrial kingdom he built would soon fall. His reputation was ruined among government officials, his fellow tycoons and those like Jane Addams—the famous activist and social justice advocate who had tried to help arbitrate the strike.

“She considered Pullman to be like a King Lear figure,” said Kelly.

President Cleveland ordered a commission to discover the causes of the strike, and the final report blamed the boss. “The aesthetic features are admired by visitors, but have little money value to employees, especially when they lack bread,” the report stated.

In 1898, the Illinois State Supreme Court ordered that Pullman either divest itself of the company or the residential property. He chose his company. In 1889, Pullman was annexed by the city of Chicago.

By the time George Pullman died in 1897, he was so despised that his family buried him under thick layers of reinforced concrete so that no one could descrecrate his grave. “It is clear the family in their bereavement was making sure the son of a bitch wasn’t going to get up and come back,” noted journalist Ambrose Bierce at the time.

Meanwhile, Debs, who would later found the Socialist Party, became a populist hero while in jail. Six months after being locked away, he re-emerged in Chicago triumphant—with 100,000 supporters cheering him on. By 1912, when a million Americans voted for Debs as President, both the Republicans and Democrats began to embrace progressive reforms advocated by Debs and other socialists: anti-trust and child labor laws, women’s suffrage, minimum wages and the eight-hour work day.

The return of solidarity

One-hundred and twenty five years after Debs’ speech to the ARU, Sara Nelson sounded ready to continue where the great socialist labor leader left off.

Nelson told the crowd gathered in the Pullman visitor’s center the story of how she called for a general strike in January during the Trump administration’s month-long government shutdown over funding for his border wall. After some air traffic controllers in key facilities called in sick, Nelson warned that flight attendants were “mobilizing immediately” to strike. Hours later, Trump reached a deal to reopen the government.

“Our entire country’s economy was on the line, our safety and security were on the line. If we could just communicate that to the public, and say what we were willing to do—we could end this [shutdown],” said Nelson. “The wonderful news is that no one knew what a general strike was, but it scared the piss out of them. It worked.”

Over the last two years, mass work stoppages have spread across the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 25,000 workers were involved in major work stoppage in 2017 but that numbered skyrocketed to 485,000 in 2018. These actions range from the wildcat strikes of hundreds of thousands of teachers and education workers in four Republican-dominated states to tens of thousands of hospital workers striking in 2018. The first half of 2019 has also seen major work stoppages, including the recent strike of 31,000 employees of the grocery chain Stop & Shop across three northeastern states—one of the largest private sector strikes in years.

These large-scale strikes helped bring victories for both workers and the labor movement as a whole. But Nelson believes that general and sympathy strikes are the logical next step in securing more significant wins.

Today, most solidarity strikes are illegal due to legislation pieced together over the last several decades, says Burns, ranging from the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 to the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. That’s part of the reason why they’ve fallen out of fashion since the days of the Great Pullman Strike.

But the flight attendant union’s successful threat of a walkout—as well as the wildcat teachers’ strikes—are proof that the law can be beaten by mass solidarity, says Burns. “Labor law is set up for workers to lose and it’s going to change through the courts,” he said. “It will only change with workers coming together and fighting for the right to strike and free speech.”

For Nelson, sympathy strikes don’t have to represent the labor movement’s antiquated past. Today’s new Gilded Age is populated by a new generation of robber barons, and the Great Pullman Strike could help illuminate a path forward for American workers.

In what could be a hint of what’s to come, the United Mine Workers of America threatened a sympathy strike in support of West Virginia teachers in early June. The teachers are fighting state Republicans’ proposed retaliation to their 2018 walkout by creating new penalties for teachers who go on strike. Cecil Roberts, the international president of the United Mine Workers of America, said, “Let me make this very clear: If our state’s education workers believe they need to take to the streets once again, we will be there with them. And if someone comes to arrest them, they will have to go through us first.”

A large-scale general strike may not happen tomorrow but Nelson believes it may not be as far off as we think.

“We’re not quite there yet, but when I called for a general strike during the government shutdown, I absolutely expected people to say, ‘You’re crazy lady, you can’t do that!’ Instead what I got was, “What are we waiting for? Yeah, let’s go!’”

This blog was originally published at In These Times on June 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ryan Smith is a Chicago-based journalist. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Jacobin Magazine, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, Belt Magazine and other publications.

Postal Service plans to slash worker benefits, this week in the war on workers

Monday, June 24th, 2019

ongress has put strict limits on the U.S. Postal Service to prevent it from entering the 21st century or competing with private businesses, and now the Postal Service wants Congress to let it compete in the race to the bottom. HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson reported this week on internal documents proposing that Congress allow the Postal Service to save money by cutting worker benefits and expanding its temp workforce.

Postal workers would lose retirement security under the plan, with new workers shifted from a pension to a 401(k) model and existing workers’ pension contributions raised (money that would come out of their take-home pay). Retired workers’ health care would also see changes, and active workers would likely lose paid leave.

The addition of more people in the “non-career workforce,” AKA temps, would come on top of the fact that the agency “has already added 37,000 non-career employees since 2007, while shedding nearly 200,000 career employees through attrition, according to the document.”

And, of course, the Postal Service continues to look at cutting back on deliveries as another way to save money … while setting off a downward spiral as reduced services lead to reduced reliability and demand.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

 

Trump administration backs off from slashing Job Corps centers after bipartisan outcry from Congress

Friday, June 21st, 2019

The Trump administration’s move to slash federal jobs and job training for rural youth hasn’t gone according to plan. In fact, it’s not going to go at all after bipartisan outcry. The plan to shut down nine Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, with 16 more to be privatized or shifted to state control, was scrapped Wednesday.

More than 1,100 federal workers at centers that train disadvantaged youth and young adults were slated to be laid off under the plan, which would have hit some rural communities hard. Those rural communities are often represented by Republicans, who objected vociferously to the layoffs and closures. That’s why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the plan, which would have closed two centers in Kentucky, and why a letter from 51 members of the House and Senate was resoundingly bipartisan. (It more or less goes without saying that if the closures had targeted heavily Democratic areas, Republican lawmakers would have been all for it.)

“[In] 2017 1,200 students at CCCs participated in fire assessments, providing the equivalent of 450,000 hours of service during the height of the fire season,” the 51 lawmakers wrote. “Students at CCCs also provided 5,000 hours of support in response to Hurricane Harvey.”

And what do you know? The Trump administration decided it was easier to back down than to anger all those rural Republicans—the elected ones writing letters and, presumably, the average people who were going to lose out because of the closures. Funny how that works.

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

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

 

A Better Trade Deal: The Working People Weekly List

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

Strive for a Better Trade Deal: “The North American Free Trade Agreement has been nothing short of a disaster for working people. For a quarter-century, Michiganians have watched as corporations shuttered plants, raided pensions and steadily eroded communities that had come to embody the promise of the American Dream. NAFTA is a disaster. But it was no accident. Politicians and corporate executives saw trade as a way to further tilt the economy in their favor. They sold out jobs and livelihoods here at home and sacrificed workers’ rights abroad. Nothing was off limits so long as they could sniff out fatter profit margins.”

Passaic County Central Labor Council Encourages Education with Awards for High Schoolers: “Last night I was a part of something so truly amazing I am still having a hard time putting it into words. And for those of you that know me, words are usually my thing. There is so much that I am grateful for and want to share. It was an incredible night and to me, it was more than 100 years in the making.”

Save Our VA!: What Working People Are Doing This Week: “Welcome to our regular feature, a look at what the various AFL-CIO unions and other working family organizations are doing across the country and beyond. The labor movement is big and active—here’s a look at the broad range of activities we’re engaged in this week.”

‘State of the Unions’ Podcast: Union Proud: “On the latest episode of ‘State of the Unions,’ Julie and Tim talked with Pride At Work Executive Director Jerame Davis as the AFL-CIO constituency group celebrates its 25th anniversary. They discussed the progress made by LGBTQ working people over the past quarter-century and the work still left to be done.”

Governor Murphy Signs ‘Panic Button’ Bill to Protect Hotel Workers from Assaults, Harassment: “Hundreds of hotel workers, union leaders and elected officials gathered at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City today to witness the signing of a bill requiring hotels to equip certain employees with ‘panic buttons’ for their protection against inappropriate conduct by guests.”

Pride Month Profiles: Irene Soloway: “For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our first profile this year is Irene Soloway.”

Stop the War on Working People: In the States Roundup: “It’s time once again to take a look at the ways working people are making progress in the states.”

Get to Know the AFL-CIO’s Affiliates: “Throughout the year, we’ve been profiling each of our affiliates. Let’s take a look back at the profiles we’ve already published.”

Get to Know AFL-CIO’s Affiliates: Fire Fighters: “Next up in our series, which takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates, is the Fire Fighters.”

The TWU Celebrates Its 20th Organizing Victory!: “The TWU organizing machine is in full swing. Under this new leadership, the Transport Workers union has just won our 20th new worker organizing drive. We continue to grow and thrive across the entire transport sector. Since 2017, our membership has increased from 137,000 to 151,000.”

Economy Gains 75,000 Jobs in May; Unemployment Steady at 3.6%: “The U.S. economy gained 75,000 jobs in May, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.6%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage growth of 3.1% was lower than last month’s 3.4% and, a downward revision of 75,000 for the job numbers for March and April signals that the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee needs to inch down interest rates.”

AFL-CIO President Hosts NAFTA Town Halls in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania: “The president of the nation’s largest labor union announced Tuesday that he will hold a series of town halls about ‘union members’ struggles under NAFTA, and what working people want to see from the administration’s proposed USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement].’ The AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka will travel to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan over the course of three days in mid-June to speak with union members as the President Trump administration pushes Congress to ratify his replacement for the much-maligned North American Free Trade Agreement.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 18, 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.

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