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Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren blast Delta’s union-busting in letter to CEO

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

A shot across the nose cone from nine progressive senators could be just the beginning of Delta’s troubles.

Delta Airlines should immediately stop sabotaging efforts to unionize the ground crews that make their operations possible, a group of nine senators told Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a letter Wednesday.

The sharply worded note contrasts Bastian’s personal wealth to the “paycheck to paycheck” vulnerability his frontline workers experience. But beyond the surface text, the willingness of the senators to escalate critique of Delta hints at a wider political philosophy that could pose a far larger threat to major corporate profiteers across several industries.

“It has become clear that Delta’s management has a highly coordinated and strategic plan to suppress the efforts of over 40,000 workers,” the letter from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and other progressive stalwarts said. “Mr. Bastian, you earned almost $40 million in the last two years while paying workers who make Delta Air Lines arguably the most financially successful airline on the planet as little as $9 per hour.”

Delta’s rank-and-file workforce have been building support for a staff union for almost six years now. Some workers have been fired or faced other retaliation for working on the union drive, according to multiple reports, and almost all of them have been subjected to an unusually brazen anti-union campaign from their bosses. Delta has long defended its union-busting efforts by pointing to the company’s profit-sharing policy that generated $1.3 billion in worker bonuses last year.

But the airline’s campaign has hit the rocks this spring because a picture of one of the anti-union posters in a worker break room went viral. The sign mused that workers might prefer to spend the money that goes to union dues on video games instead — omitting the compensation hikes that a union would be able to extract in exchange.

Sanders — whose office said he’d led the letter-writing effort — and Warren are prominent candidates for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination for the White House. The men and women who joined them in writing to Bastian are heavyweights in their own right: Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also signed onto the letter.

“Your attempts to deny the right of Delta workers to form a union is corporate greed, plain and simple,” the nine senators wrote. “If Delta workers gain union representation they will finally have the right to collectively bargain with Delta for a living wage, decent benefits and safe working conditions.”

The missive adds to the backlash Delta has reaped since the video games poster hit the web a week ago and drew national attention to the firm’s “full-court anti-union press” of constant at-work messaging against unionization in concert with a D.C.-based consulting firm, as HuffPost documented. One major union — the National Education Association — has hinted at potential direct pressure tactics from outside by removing Delta from the list of airlines it recommends to members and uses to book its own travel. Many of the tens of thousands of tweets about the poster over the past week have included the hashtag #boycottdelta.

Though Delta earned this fire for trafficking in the type of flagrant hostility and deceitful internal lobbying against unionization that employers typically try to keep out of the papers, the spotlight that’s come for them could yet expand. The higher pay unionization extracts for members could prove to be a fairly small hit compared to what Delta and other airlines could face in the coming years.

Progressive economists and policymakers have coalesced in recent months around a particular suite of ideas that should worry not just Bastian and Delta, but everyone making millions from the current state of play in the airline business. This new line of thinking, dubbed “public-tizing” by some, is rooted in a longstanding critique of U.S. capitalism but calls for a much more aggressive response from government.

Like banking, telecommunications service, and many other consumer-facing industries, the airline business has become dangerously concentrated. A tiny list of firms control all or nearly all business done in these sectors — many of which are all but mandatory for U.S. workers and citizens to participate in as customers. Delta’s ability to squeeze those big executive pay packages and lavish shareholder payouts from its business relies, in turn, on squeezing both workers and customers. Delta and other airlines have been free to gouge passengers — in both the wallet and the knees, as anyone who’s ridden coach in a plane reconfigured to fit as many people as possible without regard to comfort can attest — because there isn’t a robust enough level of competition to curb such schemes organically.

That’s part of why the public-tizer crowd wants to see these consumer-harming cartels broken up. If government could actually use its long-rusted anti-trust powers — born from the country’s first Gilded Age, when intense and undemocratic disparities in wealth and economic power created a society that looked a lot like today’s only with worse technology — the Deltas of the world might not get away with this kind of stuff so readily.

The public-tizers note, though, that it will likely take some legislative action as well as a willing executive in the White House in order for antitrust law to retake its rightful place in American civics. The trust-buster toolkit has been weakened for decades in the courts courtesy of a willful and diligent campaign by conservative ideologues — or “Supreme Court decisions influenced by conservative economic theories,” as Marshall Steinbaum more gently summed the matter in a recent and detailed rundown of how the modern airline industry is able to thrive at your expense. It will take thoughtful and specific political labor to revive the laws thus gutted.

Two of the senators who signed onto the bully-pulpit letter to Delta’s well-heeled chieftain on Thursday intend to take these reforms up from the White House, of course. Warren and Sanders are each longstanding advocates for increased use of public power, distinct though Warren’s self-stated mission to save capitalism from itself may be from Sanders’ maximalist socialism.

The Delta story also offers one potentially useful lens for watching the evolution of the political movement each of them hopes to lead over the course of the 2020 primary and general elections. Consider the other names on the letter to Bastian, and the political history they’ve lived. Those progressive joiners came of age in a Democratic Party where support for labor rights and open hostility to union-busting efforts were defining pillars; signing onto a sharp-tongued letter damning a flagrant demonization of worker solidarity is a relatively easy political lift.

But where Warren and Sanders and the public-tizers hope to go, the political and policy challenges are likely to grow. A lot of people have made a lot of money for a long time from the concentration and privatization schemes that must be undone in order for major American consumer industries to begin responding to healthier incentives.

Big-dollar donors understand how Democrats and unions are wedded. But the more aggressive Teddy Roosevelt-style trust-busting that public-tizers are bucking for might not go down so easy.

 

This article was originally published at Think Progress on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Alan Pyke  covers poverty and the social safety net. Alan is also a film and music critic for fun. Send him tips at: apyke@thinkprogress.org or

 

Future of workers uncertain as third-biggest US coal company declares bankruptcy

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

Coal’s decline is hitting workers first and worst. The third-largest coal company in the United States has declared bankruptcy, leaving the future of its more than 1,000 workers uncertain. The announcement is also the latest indicator that the faltering coal industry is spinning further into decline despite the efforts of President Donald Trump to save it.

Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on Friday, a move that has been expected since at least the spring. The company has pointed to a weak market as a leading reason for its struggles, in addition to sluggish success in expanding exports. Officials said the company’s mines will continue to operate throughout the bankruptcy process; Cloud Peak operates two mines in Wyoming and one in Montana.

“While we undertake this process, Cloud Peak Energy remains a reliable source of high-quality coal for customers,” Cloud Peak President and CEO Colin Marshall said in a statement.

The company’s workers lack union protections. But even coal miners backed by unions are at risk — a ruling earlier this year allowed a coal company to abandon union contracts. And broader threats to federal funding for miner benefits are jeopardizing pensions for tens of thousands of workers.

Cloud Peak’s financial troubles reflect the broader realities of coal, which is being displaced by cheaper energy sources, including natural gas and renewables. Since 2015, major coal companies Alpha Natural Resources, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Mission Coal, and Westmoreland Coal have all declared bankruptcy amid falling profits and increasing concerns over long-term viability.

While that trend has continued through several presidential administrations, more coal plants closed during Trump’s first two years in office than during the entire first term of the Obama administration.

In total, at least 50 U.S. coal plants have shuttered under Trump as of this month, according to a Sierra Club report released last week. The uptick reflects market realities but it also comes despite the White House’s best efforts to revive coal.

Trump has strongly supported the coal industry since becoming president, going so far as to advocate for a controversial bailout of the struggling sector. While that plan has fallen by the wayside amid pushback, the administration’s larger backing has not. Documents obtained recently under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that the Interior Department has even altered federal endangered species protections in order to help the coal industry.

Meanwhile, workers on the ground are being severely impacted. In February, a judge ruled that bankrupt coal company Westmoreland could legally abandon its union contract obligations with United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). That decision has compromised the health care benefits and pensions once promised to hundreds of current and retired miners.

At the time of the ruling, a representative for UMWA told ThinkProgress that many of those impacted are sick and unable to work after years spent in coal mines, leaving them in need of health care.

Westmoreland’s workers are unionized, but that isn’t the case for Cloud Peak. Bill Corcoran, regional campaign director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal project, said Monday that the Wyoming company’s approximately 1,200 workers lack union protections and that their future is uncertain following the bankruptcy news. As Cloud Peak has edged towards bankruptcy, Corcoran told ThinkProgress, the company’s workers have already endured the brunt of the fallout.

“[Cloud Peak] has typically slashed or eliminated health care benefits for their workers,” he said, pointing to a larger trend of coal companies cutting worker benefits while bolstering the bonuses given to executives in order to incentivize them to stay.

The impact of coal company closures on their workers has long been a concern for unions and coal communities, but the issue has gained heightened prominence recently. As climate change becomes a leading issue for the U.S. public, lawmakers have faced a conundrum over how to protect those most impacted by a shift away from fossil fuels — namely, workers.

Under the Green New Deal resolution proposed in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), coal miners and other impacted workers would see a “just transition,” one that would theoretically protect their livelihoods.

It has been unclear exactly what such a shift would look like, but unions and labor rights organizations have said a plan like this will be crucial to secure their support. Some unions have been skeptical of the Green New Deal precisely because they have not yet seen legislation that would guarantee the protections of current fossil fuel workers.

Meanwhile, outside of union protections nearly 100,000 coal miners are at risk of losing their pensions by 2022 or sooner as coal companies continue to edge towards bankruptcy. The average benefit provided by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is only around $600 a month, but current and retired miners say that amount is critical to their well-being. The PBGC is heading towards insolvency, with bipartisan efforts in the Senate to rescue the fund currently stalled.

Corcoran emphasized that it is unclear what might happen to Cloud Peak’s current workers and that it is hard to say how the company might proceed. But he noted that the current downward trajectory of coal is at odds with worker security.

Efforts by Trump and lawmakers supportive of the coal industry are also failing to address that long-term problem, Corcoran said, noting that they have steered away from proposals to retrain workers in the renewables sector, for example.

“The real question,” he said, “is how are we helping workers transition?”

 

This article was originally published at Think Progress on May 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: E.A. (Ev) Crunden covers climate policy and environmental issues at ThinkProgress. Originally from Texas, Ev has reported from many parts of the country and previously covered world issues for Muftah Magazine, with an emphasis on South Asia and Eastern Europe. Reach them at: ecrunden@thinkprogress.org.

Bernie Sanders staffers approve first-ever union contract for presidential campaign workers

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

Sanders’ campaign will be the first in U.S. presidential election history with a unionized staff, though a handful of down-ballot races in 2018 featured successful union drives through the new Campaign Workers Guild.

The contract secures overtime pay for campaign team members paid by the hour and 20 paid vacation days per year for hourly and salaried staff alike – plus four monthly “blackout days” where staffers can’t be called in to work on their day off. The pact establishes transparency about pay within the campaign and sets a process for appeals should anyone feel they’re being underpaid for the work they’re doing. But the detailed attention to pay equity doesn’t stop with those sunlight provisions.

The contract also sets a cap on managers’ pay. As United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400’s Jonathan Williams explained to ThinkProgress, no executive on the team can be paid more than three times the compensation of the highest paid category of rank-and-file campaign staffers in the bargaining unit. If the campaign wants to bump an executive past that point, they’d have to make commensurate raises in pay for the unionized campaign workers.

“This is an effort for us to live up to the values of the campaign and address income equality,” Williams said in an interview. “They can’t grant lavish salaries to their top executives, as it were, without first ensuring they’ve raised the compensation for all the unionized workers.”

The pay transparency clause requires management to share outside consultants’ compensation with the union in addition to compensation within management, but large consultant payouts would not necessarily trigger the automatic staff pay hikes built into the manager pay cap, Williams said.

Interns like Reg Ledesma, who served on the union’s bargaining committee, will be paid no less than $20 an hour. In addition, full-time volunteers will get first crack at staff positions when the campaign hires to expand, and all staff will receive “broad coverage for mental health care services,” a union press release characterizing the deal said.

“You feel more at ease knowing you’re backed up by the strength of the union,” Ledesma said in the release.

That holistic support goes far beyond pay. For instance, the blackout days policy epitomizes the way this contract uniquely confronts the notoriously endless scutwork of professional electoral politics. Days off are rare in the campaign world, and staffers are almost always “on call” even when not actively working. But under this policy, managers are required to accommodate the staffers’ blackout days requests or provide an alternative blackout day within three calendar days of the request — provided the staffer gives 24 hours notice prior to the request.

Figuring out how to structure a policy to provide truly restorative time off on a flexible basis proved challenging, Williams said, but both sides wanted to balance campaign employees’ enthusiasm for their work with the campaign’s need to have someone on call at all hours – without succumbing to the sleep-when-it’s-over burnout common to campaign staffers.

“You have highly motivated employees who want to see a campaign win and are willing to put in long hours, but we don’t want them to be disincentivized to take time off when they need it,” he said.

Campaign manager Faiz Shakir concurred: “These aren’t machines, these are humans. On the management side it’s important for us to respect that people are going to need time off, an opportunity to recharge, and disconnect for a moment if they can.”

The contract is “an opportunity to find those moments,” Shakir said in an interview. “They’re hard to come by in a campaign. But I think we can find them.”

The May 2 ratification vote among bargaining unit members was not unanimous, Williams said, but the proposed contract was approved with a majority of the 100 currently covered employees. The contract, like all steps of the unionization process, was accomplished in brisk fashion. Williams attributed the efficient bargaining process to the Sanders management team’s own enthusiasm for seeing its workforce organize.

Williams described the Sanders managerial team more as allies than adversaries in the unit-defining process as well.

“Where a hostile employer might only meet with you once a week or once a month… so that negotiations drag on forever, we were meeting multiple days a week for long days, and we were given all the time we needed with the bargaining committee to formulate proposals and solicit feedback from staff and all that. It was productive, thorough, and quick.”

“They were amicable to [our proposed unit structure]. It wasn’t contentious,” the union staffer said. “It was a model campaign.”

Shakir says the management team was driven by a sense of higher purpose. “It’s an opportunity not just for ourselves but to show and teach others that the process can be peaceful and productive.”

The deal also reflects an ongoing shift within the broader community of progressive institutions, which have traditionally relied on young and ideologically motivated people to accept relatively light entry-level pay and intensive schedules, with the promise of moving to jobs with better pay and greater influence dangled as the payoff for paying one’s dues. Unionization drives at major progressive nonprofits have altered the landscape – and Sanders’ embrace of a unionized campaign staff may raise labor standards for everyone who plies their trade in political campaigns.

“We’re hopeful that the Sanders campaign and so many other new entities that are unionizing will be educational to a new generation,” said Shakir. “Hopefully they’ll think, hey, that’s something we can repeat over and over again.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Alan Pyke  covers poverty and the social safety net. Alan is also a film and music critic for fun. Send him tips at: apyke@thinkprogress.org or

 

Maine’s Green New Deal bill first in country to be backed by labor unions

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

The Maine American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which represents over 160 local labor unions across the state, announced its support Tuesday for the state’s recently introduced Green New Deal legislation.

This is the first Green New Deal-branded proposal to be backed by a state AFL affiliate.

“We face twin crises of skyrocketing inequality and increasing climate instability. Climate change and inequality pose dire threats to working people, to all that we love about Maine and to our democracy. The work of moving towards a renewable economy must be rooted in workers’ rights and economic and social justice,” Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said in a statement, emphasizing the need for workers and unions to “have a seat at the table in crafting bold climate protection policies.”

This endorsement comes after members of the national arm of AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee, the country’s largest union federation, criticized the federal Green New Deal resolution proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), calling it “not achievable or realistic.”

Millennial state Rep. Chloe Maxmin (D), who was endorsed by the youth-led Sunrise Movement during the 2018 midterm elections, first introduced the “Act to Establish a Green New Deal for Maine” in March.

The legislation would require Maine reach 80% renewable electricity by 2040, provide solar power to schools, set up a task force for job and economic growth, and guarantee a just transition in the shift towards a low-carbon economy.

“From the very first conversation that we had… labor was involved,” Maxmin said. For the past year, Maxmin has been speaking with constituents who voiced a “deep need for economic growth,” she said, noting that this bill is “very specific to Maine and rooted in rural and working communities.”

The goal, she said, was to “bring in voices that are traditionally not part of this conversation.”

In a statement to ThinkProgress, Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash celebrated labor unions’ support for the state initiative, calling the broader idea of a Green New Deal “America’s biggest union job creation program in a century.”

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Across the country, states and cities are seizing on the interest generated by the Green New Deal and introducing their own ambitious climate proposals. The federal version — currently a resolution, not a piece of legislation — calls for meeting 100% of the country’s power demand with renewable, emissions-free sources in around a decade, all while using the transition to create jobs and enshrine social justice principles, like equal access to education and universal health care.

Local level efforts vary in their focus and ambition. Often, initiatives are exclusive to the power sector; as of last month, at least 19 states are considering or have already set 100% clean or renewable electricity targets. But others are working to capture the full spirit of a Green New Deal — which means incorporating social justice tenets into the plan.

Last week, Minnesota introduced its own Green New Deal bill built on close collaboration between youth activists and state lawmakers. Officials and activists in New Mexico, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, as well as the city of Los Angeles, have all used Green New Deal language to frame and market their clean energy and climate initiatives.

A key component of any Green New Deal is its timeframe. As the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned last fall, without dramatic change to cut greenhouse gasses, global emissions are set to rise to a level that would usher in catastrophic consequences in just over a decade.

In Maine, global warming of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures means more flooding along the coasts and inland, as well as increased drought and extreme heat. Scientists have found that the Gulf of Maine is already warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, disrupting fishery patters and, in turn, the fishing industry.

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Next week, lawmakers will hold a public hearing for Maine’s Green New Deal bill. A few weeks later, it will be put up for committee vote. And Maxmin thinks there’s a good chance the bill will pass.

“It has a name that is drawing attention to it … [and it’s] really bringing people from so many backgrounds together,” she said. “I think it has a really good chance because it’s basically an economic and job growth strategy for Maine.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kyla Mandel is the deputy editor for the climate team. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mother Jones, and Vice. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, specializing in science, health, and environment reporting. 

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.

Your Favorite Podcast May Soon Be Union as Gimlet Media Becomes First in the Industry to Organize

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Last week, the 83-member production staff of audio media company Gimlet Media announced its unionization with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). The move marks the first instance of unionization at a podcasting company.

According to a statement from the Gimlet Union Organizing Committee, which shepherded the union drive, the union will consist of creative-staff members including “producers, engineers, hosts, editors, and reporters.” The union has asked Gimlet management, which will not be included in the union, to voluntarily recognize the Guild as its collective-bargaining representative.

Among other goals, the union will seek transparency in pay and advancement structures, improved protections for contracted workers, “concrete and ambitious” diversity initiatives, equitable intellectual-property policies and greater employee involvement in company decision-making processes.

“A lot of people had been asking management about [these issues] for a long time, bringing [them] up both privately and publicly at all-staff meetings,” Drew Nelles, a senior producer and union organizing committee member at Gimlet, told In These Times. “We just reached a point where we felt that in order to see the movement on those issues that we desired, it was time to start thinking about collective action.”

Known for a number of narrative podcasts, including StartUp, Reply All, and Crimetown, the venture-capital-funded Gimlet has seen exponential growth since its 2014 inception. The most recent reported figures show that, as of last summer, the company employed over 110 people.

Amidst this expansion, “it was just clear that things at the company were changing,” Nelles added. “There was a group of us who felt that having some kind of collective voice, having a seat at the table, would make the most sense for the production-side employees at the company.” Nelles said informal talks of unionization began last summer, and assembly of the committee followed in November.

In February, digital music-streaming giant Spotify acquired Gimlet, along with podcast-publishing platform Anchor. (Nelles said organizing efforts began before the committee was aware of acquisition plans.) The shift in ownership may pose a challenge for the future of the union, as other outlets such as Fast Company and Vulture have noted. The tech industry has a record of anti-union maneuvering, and recent collective-bargaining drives at such major tech firms as Tesla and Amazon have been met with hostility.

In response to the unionization announcement, Gimlet told In These Times: “We confirm we have received a formal notice from the WGAE union and plan to review. We have nothing further to report at this time.” Spotify has not responded to In These Times’ request for comment.

“We don’t know exactly what [the future] is going to look like because [the acquisition] wasn’t something that we knew about when we started this effort,” Nelles said. “But I would say we’re all pretty confident…I would say, right now, we don’t yet have any reason to be pessimistic about a heavy hand coming down from the head corporate office.”

Some of this confidence stems from the precedents of other trade unions, which provided guidance for the committee’s efforts to align with the WGAE. According to Nelles, the Gimlet staff is made up of veterans of public radio, film, television and other areas of media that have achieved widespread collective-bargaining representation, often with the Writers Guild.

Further bolstering the union’s prospects is a spate of digital-news organizations whose editorial offices have recently unionized. Since 2017, Vox Media, Gizmodo Media Group, the Huffington Post, Vice Media and other organizations have secured representation under the Writers Guild, while outlets including BuzzFeed, New York Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times have unionized with the NewsGuild. What’s more, Vox, the Huffington Post, and numerous other news outlets have significant podcast divisions, further bridging the gap between podcasts and written media when it comes to union representation. (In 2014, In These Times staff unionizedwith the NewsGuild.)

This may also bode well for editorial contractors, who are Gimlet-union-eligible. Contract workers were an active part of the organizing campaign from the beginning, Nelles said, with one contractor serving on the 10-person union organizing committee. According to BuzzFeed News, temporary workers began to negotiate for more benefits over the summer. Organizing committee members hope these efforts will improve the rights of contract workers—who are typically deprived of benefits like employer-subsidized healthcare and paid time off—in the digital-media realm.

Whether the union drive similarly influences Spotify workers has yet to be seen, but Nelles has seen “supportive chatter” on workplace message boards.

The union still awaits recognition from Gimlet management, and according to Nelles, the Writers Guild’s and Gimlet’s counsels are currently in discussions. With the union’s fate in limbo, Nelles’ and the organizing committee’s expectations remain high. “We’re all really excited, and it’s been in the works for several months, and it’s nice to now be able to be public about it,” Nelles said. “We’re definitely optimistic that we will get to recognition soon one way or another.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 
About the Author: Julianne Tveten writes about technology, labor, and culture, among other topics. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Capital & Main, KPFK Pacifica Radio, and elsewhere.

Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Union contract negotiations include mandatory and permissive subjects of bargaining. Employers are required by law to negotiate over mandatory subjects—wages, benefits and working conditions. Permissive subjects, such as decisions about which public services will be provided and how, have historically been the purview of management. We only negotiate over how managerial decisions affect members’ jobs. Employers may voluntarily agree to negotiate permissive subjects, but unions can’t legally strike over them.

In recent years, some unions have embraced “bargaining for the common good,” which use the union campaign to win broad, righteous public benefits. The best current example of this is the Los Angeles teachers’ strike, which opposed the underfunding, privatization and overcrowding of schools—all of which hurt students. Common good goals often bump against the constraints of what is legally bargainable. For instance, does a demand from teachers’ unions that school districts use district-owned property to fund and build affordable housing for teachers affect working conditions? While shortages of affordable housing affect teachers very directly, how school districts use their land and invest their money is normally considered a managerial prerogative.

But last fall’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a game-changer. It concludes that humanity has 12 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—and avoid civilization-threatening consequences of climate change. There is a lot of space between projected best- and worst-case future scenarios. It’s the difference between bad and apocalyptic. That space represents hundreds of millions of people dying. Avoiding worst-case scenarios, in strictly scientific terms, requires everyone to do everything, immediately.

The looming timeline of the IPCC report means unions must have a right to bargain over climate change, especially in the public sector. What good is it to negotiate the assignment of overtime when the sky is on fire? Does a public employer really want to claim that its direct complicity in the potential collapse of civilization has no bearing on working conditions? Can government claim that abandoning its workforce to die or flee their homes doesn’t affect working conditions? If employers don’t accept that every choice made today affects the near future, they’re denying science. Local and state governments in Democratic strongholds may find it politically challenging to posture about resisting Republicanism nationally while denying the local implications of that stance.

Thanks to the Sunrise Movement and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Green New Deal provides a framework for us to declare our part in everyone doing everything immediately. The Green New Deal calls for a government-funded jobs program to carry out a just transition to a carbon-free economy at the rates called for by the IPCC report. This is a perfect common good framework for unions to respond to the most urgent challenge of our time, while simultaneously promoting a high-functioning public sector as antidote to neoliberalism’s degradation of public services.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, the union where I work, supported the campaign to divest the San Francisco pension plan from fossil fuels and to stop a new coal shipping terminal at the Port of Oakland. In my union, we advance our goals on parallel tracks via collective bargaining and public policy, using each to reinforce the other. The nexus between the functions of local government, climate change and jobs goes even further. San Francisco has already made significant commitments on many of these initiatives, and plans to do more. A local government Green New Deal collective bargaining platform would include climate mitigation strategies to reduce emissions:

  • Divest pensions from the fossil fuel industry.
  • Convert to 100 percent renewables for utilities.
  • Retrofit public buildings for energy efficiency and disaster resilience.
  • Immediately transition to renewable energy vehicles for public buses, transit and car fleets, which could achieve that critical 1.5 degrees Celsius target.
  • Plant trees and expand parks and bike infrastructure.
  • Fund and expand public transit.
  • Reduce carbon emissions in food procurement by public agencies by encouraging local, real food, and reducing meat.

It would also include climate adaptation strategies to prepare vulnerable communities to survive coming floods, fires, droughts and diseases:

  • Mandate inclusion of climate change in land use and planning.
  • Build climate-adaptive infrastructure.
  • Develop procedures and train personnel on emergency response, especially to care for our unhoused neighbors.

Perhaps the best climate policy is transit-oriented, high-density affordable housing. It reduces commute times, and helps public workers and the people who depend on their services. In San Francisco, public services suffer from housing costs as workers move away and commute further distances. Housing drives teacher turnover, makes buses late because the Municipal Transportation Authority can’t hire drivers, and compromises emergency response when many first responders live far away.

For unions dealing with State governments, a Green New Deal platform might also include:

  • Funds for wildfire response and prevention, including forestry, strengthening oversight of utility regulators, and firefighters, all of which are carried out by public workers. Since wildfires are both the consequences of climate change and the cause of more accelerating carbon emissions, state government needs greater investments in rapid response.
  • Funds to support indigenous people to do forest management.
  • The transformation of private utilities into public agencies.
  • Funds for climate research at public universities.
  • The promotion of unionization in green jobs like electric car manufacturing and solar.

One obstacle to bargaining the Green New Deal is buy-in from members. Union members, like a lot of us, worry about climate change but are demoralized that it is too vast for them to do anything about. They’ve taken it on the chin from neoliberalism for a long time, so have urgent goals about fighting to protect public services from privatization and their jobs from being dragged yet further down in a race to the bottom. Tackling the Green New Deal can understandably feel like one more burden added to an already stuffed agenda.

Unions have long been waging defensive fights to maintain basic workplace protections in an era of austerity, but we’re changing. Where common good strategies succeed, most recently showcased with the Los Angeles teacher strikes, the membership’s readiness to strike for the community resulted from lengthy deep internal education, organizing and coalition-building. Union leadership would need to see the Green New Deal as a tool against austerity politics. We’d need to educate members about their collective power to make a difference on the most fundamental crises of our time—and raise expectations of what an expanded public sector could do.

The Green New Deal is basically the reverse of Naomi Klein’s concept of the “shock doctrine,” which refers to the process whereby capitalists take advantage of crises to reorder policies in their interests. Civilization is menaced by the Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse: climate change and inequality. Inequality is so bad that the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the poorest 60 percent. The percentage of young people who will earn more than their parents is plunging. Public workers and their unions belong at the center of the solution to both. The policies of a Green New Deal require a robust and well-funded public sector with good union jobs. Because of the nature of public sector work, an expanded public sector as part of a Green New Deal disproportionately benefitswomen and people of color.

On Friday, the AFL-CIO issued a letter criticizing the Green New Deal, apparently on behalf of building trades unions who work in the fossil fuel business. Those unions are inexplicably concerned that the Green New Deal’s expressed goals of meeting the challenge of climate change with a job guarantee to protect affected workers doesn’t include them. Contrary to labor skeptics who think the labor movement is hopeless, labor critics of the Green New Deal are optimists, believing that there are in fact jobs on a dead planet.

Any seasoned union campaigner worth her salt loves a contract fight because it has a hard deadline that focuses everyone’s attention—expiration and a strike threat. We already know that the ruling class’ answer to climate change is doomsday bunkers for billionaires, while the vast majority become climate refugees. For the rest of us, every labor victory in recent years has involved worker militancy and broad demands that link workers with their communities. Similarly, throughout history, every significant social movement has found an expression in labor struggles. The climate crisis will be no different. Climate science gives us a new deadline and an opportunity to show that we’re up to the task. We have 12 years.

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Nato Green is a standup comedian, writer, and Campaign Coordinator for SEIU Local 1021 in San Francisco.

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.

This MLB power couple is fighting to save 200 union jobs

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

It all started so innocently.

On Sunday night, Eireann Dolan — the wife of Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle — was in the car with her husband doing some research on official MLB hats, because her friend was interested in buying one for his son.

But when she searched for New Era — the official manufacturer of baseball caps for Major League Baseball for nearly 60 years — articles immediately popped up about the company closing its unionized shop in Derby, New York, and moving to a non-union shop in Florida. More than 200 workers are scheduled to lose their jobs as a result.

“It’s basically union busting, plain and simple,” Dolan told ThinkProgress in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon. “The only people wearing [the New Era caps made in Derby] are the players, and these are the players in the union, so we want to make sure they’re wearing caps that are made by people earning a union wage.”

MLB has an exclusive contract with New Era for its caps. Most of the caps New Era makes for the MLB — the ones that fans buy — are made overseas. But the contract stipulates that hats worn by players during games must be made in America.

Dolan — who is in the midst of her thesis project at the Fordham Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education — considers research her forte. So when she came across the New Era story, it only took a few miles of driving before she and Doolitle were so immersed in the subject they had to pull the car to the side of the road. It was the day before Spring Training began for Doolittle and the Nationals in West Palm Beach, Florida, and everyone in the MLB Players Association was busy dealing with free agency drama and responding to commissioner Rob Manfred’s press conference. Despite all of that, within 24 hours, Dolan and Doolittle launched the #NewEraHatsOff campaign on Twitter, with the approval of his union.

Taking a principled stand is nothing new for Dolan and Doolittle. They have helped spearhead LGBTQ initiatives in baseball, hosted Syrian refugees for Thanksgiving dinner, and openly called for better mental health services for veterans. This latest issue hit home because Doolittle grew up in Buffalo, not far from Derby, and even has family friends who work at the facility and will lose their jobs if the deal goes through.

But ultimately, they were drawn to this fight because they feel passionately about protecting the rights of union workers.

“As players who continue to stand together it’s important that we also continue to stand in solidarity with the union labor that has helped make our game what it is today,” Doolittle tweeted. “From the garment workers who make our uniforms to the stadium workers, vendors & security staff at our ballparks to the transportation workers who people rely on to get to games — their work makes our game possible. Baseball could not have grown into a [$10 billion] industry without them.”

Unfortunately, Dolan and Doolittle didn’t become aware of this issue until very late in the game. New Era has already reached a deal on severance with the Communication Workers of America (CWA), the union that represents Derby workers. That deal will be voted on come March 15. Still, there’s a chance.

“There is a glimmer of hope here,” Dolan said. “Companies change their mind. It’s not over until it’s over.

It helps that there’s recent precedent here. In 2017, MLB officials — including Commissioner Rob Manfred — stepped in to help save the jobs of 600 union workers of Majestic in Palmer Township, Pennsylvania, the plant that produces MLB uniforms.

“Our fans and our players have a unique bond with the uniforms that they wear,” Manfred told the Majestic employees at the time. “And, in fact, our uniforms stir emotions among people. Because you cater to that emotion with the quality work you do each and every day, you are, and shall remain, a part of the baseball family.”

Ultimately, they hope the increased attention and awareness to the cause — with some outside public pressure mixed in — will force New Era to change course. At the very least, they want to send a message to other MLB partners that union busting will not be tolerated.

“Those caps [at the Baseball Hall of Fame] in Cooperstown? They were made in Derby. It’s an iconic symbol,” Dolan said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs is a sports reporter at ThinkProgress.

But ultimately, they were drawn to this fight because they feel passionately about protecting the rights of union workers.

“As players who continue to stand together it’s important that we also continue to stand in solidarity with the union labor that has helped make our game what it is today,” Doolittle tweeted. “From the garment workers who make our uniforms to the stadium workers, vendors & security staff at our ballparks to the transportation workers who people rely on to get to games — their work makes our game possible. Baseball could not have grown into a [$10 billion] industry without them.”

Unfortunately, Dolan and Doolittle didn’t become aware of this issue until very late in the game. New Era has already reached a deal on severance with the Communication Workers of America (CWA), the union that represents Derby workers. That deal will be voted on come March 15. Still, there’s a chance.

“There is a glimmer of hope here,” Dolan said. “Companies change their mind. It’s not over until it’s over.

It helps that there’s recent precedent here. In 2017, MLB officials — including Commissioner Rob Manfred — stepped in to help save the jobs of 600 union workers of Majestic in Palmer Township, Pennsylvania, the plant that produces MLB uniforms.

“Our fans and our players have a unique bond with the uniforms that they wear,” Manfred told the Majestic employees at the time. “And, in fact, our uniforms stir emotions among people. Because you cater to that emotion with the quality work you do each and every day, you are, and shall remain, a part of the baseball family.”

When Janus Backfires: A Test Case In Labor Solidarity After Fair Share

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

In the aftermath of this summer’s Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision attacking public-sector unions, the University of Illinois at Chicago is rapidly becoming a bellwether for how those unions might sink or swim in a world without fair share.

UIC prides itself on being one of the most diverse college campuses in the country and one of the most welcoming to working-class students. The city’s only public research university and home to a vast hospital system, UIC employs a cross section of public-sector workers including nurses, teachers, clerical workers, and maintenance workers, nearly all of whom are unionized.

In recent years, university officials have rightly issued public statements critical of government actions that harm members of the campus community, including Trump’s Muslim ban, the Illinois state budget impasse, and the House GOP’s failed attempt to tax graduate student tuition waivers. But since the Supreme Court issued its anti-union decision in the Janus case this June—threatening the collective bargaining rights of thousands of university employees—the administration has been silent. Instead, through their actions, administrators have indicated a willingness to use Janus to engage in union busting.

In the first month after the ruling came down, the university payroll office failed to deduct dues from hundreds of card-signed union members from several unions on campus, including UIC United Faculty (UICUF), the Illinois Nurses Association (INA)SEIU Local 73, and my own union, the UIC Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). In the case of GEO, this cost our relatively small local of graduate student workers a whopping $10,000.

UIC’s failure to deduct member dues in July was not only illegal, but it also effectively silenced workers who actually want to pay dues because they enjoy having workplace rights. The administration openly admitted they hadn’t deducted dues, but said they weren’t going to do anything to remedy this obvious legal violation. Instead, they’ve forced the unions into a protracted grievance and arbitration dispute, apparently hoping they can simply tire us out or outspend us in legal fees.

Further, the administration is claiming the right to unilaterally process membership revocations without notifying the unions, which goes against university HR’s own policy. They also refuse to provide us with timely information about which employees are in our respective bargaining units, which is especially harmful for GEO since our bargaining unit changes dramatically every semester. Not knowing exactly who we represent at all times makes it difficult to sign up new members and impossible to ensure UIC is deducting dues correctly.

In August, GEO discovered that the university had mistakenly deducted dues from sixty nonmembers, individuals we had never claimed were union members in the first place. Mistakes like this put the union at legal risk, since the erroneously deducted money goes into our local’s bank account and makes the local liable for “taking” it. We alerted the administration immediately and they quickly corrected the error. What we still haven’t been able to figure out is why a handful of grad workers, overwhelmed with our normal teaching and research responsibilities and representing our union as volunteers, have to tell well-paid administrators at a multibillion-dollar institution like UIC how to do their jobs.

All of this comes as our unions are in the middle of contract negotiations. Even before Janus, UIC was already prone to bullying campus workers at the bargaining table and pushing us into going on strike. In 2014, faculty with UICUF had to strike to win their first contract. Last fall, the INA-represented staff nurses and administrative nurses at the UI Hospital came within a hair’s breadth of walking off the job before an eleventh-hour agreement was reached. This past spring, grad workers at the Urbana-Champaign campus had to strike for nearly two weeks in order to safeguard tuition waivers.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the administration has tried to exploit the post-Janus confusion around dues deductions to gain an advantage in bargaining, presumably to pressure us into making concessions on issues that matter to our members in exchange for the continued existence of our unions. When GEO first questioned why the administration had not deducted July member dues, they said they would only discuss it with us in contract negotiations—never mind that abiding by existing contract language and existing law is non-negotiable.

UIC grad workers—whose baseline pay is only $18,000 and who are forced to pay up to $2,000 in fees every year—are fighting for living wages and fee waivers. UIC’s tenured and nontenured faculty are fighting for increased job security, shared governance, and raises. That should be the focus of negotiations, not bureaucratic procedures around dues deductions.

The administration is waging its most vicious attack on the underpaid Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) with INA at the UI Hospital, who have also been in bargaining since Janus came down. Shortly after the ruling was issued, the university decided to bring in a new lead negotiator, who proceeded to tear up previously agreed-upon articles and introduce extremely regressive proposals in their place. Among other things, UIC is demanding LPNs surrender their right to engage in virtually any kind of concerted activity at the workplace, while demanding INA publicly disavow any kind of protest carried out by its members and threatening to single out union leaders for discipline.

UIC administrators seem to have assumed that Janus would leave our unions weakened and afraid, allowing them to ride roughshod over us and impose terrible contracts. But they miscalculated.

Thanks to the administration’s handling of Janus, the campus unions are working together closely. In late July, members of INA, UICUF, SEIU Local 73, and GEO held a joint march on the boss, showing up unexpectedly at the office of the head of university Labor Relations to demand accountability around the failure to deduct dues. Clearly rattled by this, the administration has since been far more careful around processing deductions and correcting errors when we point them out.

Meanwhile, all of our unions have filed or plan to file both grievances and Unfair Labor Practice charges. GEO and UICUF are ramping up our respective contract campaigns, both building towards possible strikes next spring which might easily coincide. This week, the LPNs will be going out on an indefinite ULP strike, and members from all four of our unions will hold a unified protest and rally as the UIC Board of Trustees gathers on campus for a meeting.

The budding coalition of UIC unions should be on every labor activist’s radar, as it’s emblematic of what a post-Janus world can look like for public-sector unions: a huge uptick in hostility from the boss met with more solidarity, more organizing, more direct action, more strikes, and a deeper determination to fight for our rights as public sector workers to ensure our students get the education they deserve, and our patients get the care they deserve.

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 14, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.

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