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Archive for the ‘unions’ Category

The Next Wave of Labor Unrest Could Be in Grocery Stores

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

On August 24, members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike for 20,000 grocery employees at Safeway, Albertsons, QFC and Fred Meyer locations in the Pacific Northwest. That move came roughly two months after members of the union voted to authorize a strike for about 46,000 grocery employees in southern and central California, and four months after the union declared victory in New England following a successful 11-day strike by Stop & Shop workers.

The workers in California have reportedly reached a tentative deal that could avert a strike, but whether or not union members vote to ratify the agreement won’t be known until later this week.

Grocery workers in the Pacific Northwest are demanding higher wages and an end to the gender pay gap that permeates their stores. They have established proof for the latter, commissioning a third-party group to produce a report on the issue. The research group Olympic Analyticslooked at the data on hourly wage, gender, age, years of Fred Meyer experience, and job title for 1,919 Fred Meyer workers employed in the area. It found that women are almost twice as likely to be given lead positions, but make about an average of $1.68 less than their male counterparts at those positions. In 2018, nearly 80% of the store’s bakery employees were women, while the higher-paying produce department was male-dominated. The gap between these two departments has barely shifted over the last 81 years: The pay gap between the two departments was 27.3% in 1937 and had only dropped to 21.5% by 2018.

Jane Thompson has been working at a Fred Meyer store in Bend, Oregon for 18 years, and has been in the Seafood Department for 12 of them. She hopes the strike authorization vote will lead to better pay for her and her co-workers. “The company keeps taking more and more away from us,” she told In These Times. According to the U.S. Census, the population of Bend increased by almost 30% between 2010 and 2018. While the boom has meant more customers, Thompson said it hasn’t meant additional hires or higher pay. “I’m doing the job of two people now,” said Thompson.

Ann Poff is a member of the union’s bargaining committee and has worked as a deli clerk at Safeway for nearly 22 years. She currently makes $1.85 above minimum wage, but the minimum wage is set to increase in Oregon over the next few years. This means that she’ll make just $1.45 above minimum wage for two years, before making just 75 cents above it in the year after that. “The minimum wage is going up, but our wages are going down,” she reasoned. According to Poff, when she once asked to be transferred to a different position, her request was denied despite having spent over 20 years on the job. A male co-worker with less than a year of experience was allowed to switch to the position instead, she said.

At the last bargaining meeting, the employers actually offered a proposal that inexplicably paid many departments less than minimum wage by the year 2022. When confronted about this fact, management offered a mere dime over the state’s minimum wage. “Fred Meyer/Kroger seem to be oddly comfortable being known as the grocer who profits off the devaluation of their workers…specifically women,” said the union in a statement.

Local 555’s president has indicated that there is a “high likelihood that we will see an economic action taken against stores in the near future” and has promised to release details before September 10. Meanwhile, California grocery workers at Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores have been working without a contract since March and have already voted to authorize a strike. On September 8, it was announced that the union and the employers had reached a tentative deal, but members have yet to vote on it and no details have been released.

This isn’t the first labor fight that has gripped the grocery industry this year. In April, roughly 31,000 employees at the New England grocery chain Stop & Shop went on strike at over 240 stores. The workers, who were also represented by the UFCW, were fighting against attacks on their pensions, rising healthcare costs, and the potential elimination of certain overtime pay. After striking for 11 days, the union agreed to a new contract and announced that the company had met their major demands. Ahold Delhaize, Stop & Shop’s parent company, says that the strike cost them $345 million.

That number might be frightening for the grocery employers currently facing potential strikes, but it’s also caught the eye of right-wing, anti-labor forces. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation aims to damage organized labor by fighting compulsory union membership in courts. Most notably, it was one of the groups that represented child support specialist Mark Janus, who ultimately achieved a massive victory for the political right at the Supreme Court. The group has filed two unfair labor practice charges against Stop & Shop for an employee named Matthew Coffey who opposed the strike.

Sam Hughes is a social media coordinator at UFCW and a former deli worker at Fred Meyer. Hughes, who prefers “they” pronouns, told In These Times that they had to work additional jobs because they often couldn’t get enough hours from the store. “I found myself being paid low wages on food stamps, cutting deals with my landlord just to afford below-market rent,” said Hughes. Hughes also said the strike authorization vote was a way to fight against the “dehumanization of workers,” and that related labor victories throughout the country underscored an important point: “There’s a lot more of us than there are of them.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 09, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.

The Future of U.S. Jobs Looks Bleak. Unions Are the Answer.

Friday, September 6th, 2019

Image result for heidi shierholzWe were just handed a wake-up call. Newly released numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics project that six of the ten occupations expected to have the most total job growth over the next decade pay less than $27,000 a year. Three of those six are low-paying jobs in the restaurant industry. Even more striking is the concentration of low-paid healthcare jobs at the top of the list, with personal care aides at number one and home health aides at number four. These jobs are disproportionately held by women and by people of color.

The low earnings in these fast-growing jobs provide a grim glimpse into what the future of work in the United States will look like if nothing changes. But this future is not ordained. These jobs pay poorly  because we allow it. Weak labor standards (such as a low federal minimum wage and weak overtime protections), weak enforcement of these standards, and labor law that does a poor job of protecting workers’ right to unionize, all mean employers have the power to suppress workers’ wages. This will continue to be the case unless we, as a society, make different choices—choices that empower workers and give them more power in their workplaces.

For those who might respond that these low-paid workers should just go to college to get a decent-paying job, the new BLS data has an answer for you. In 2028, only 27.2 percent of jobs will be in occupations where a college degree (or more) is typically required. In other words, even in nine years, a college degree won’t actually be required for a huge share of the jobs employers will need workers to do. If everyone gets a college degree, those non-college jobs will simply be filled by college grads. Put yet another way, college cannot solve this. Unless you’re willing to write off almost three-quarters of the labor market as undeserving of a decent job, we need another approach. We need to make sure even those 72.8 percent of jobs that don’t require a college degree are good jobs.

The good news is that we know how to do that. We must implement strong labor standards, strong enforcement of those standards, and reform labor law so that workers who want to join a union are able to do so. As we think about these different choices for our future, it’s worth noting that manufacturing jobs weren’t always good jobs—in fact, they were often terrible, and dangerous. Unionization changed that. Unionization could do that for the fast-growing jobs of the future, too.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Heidi Shierholz is Senior Economist and Director of Policy at the Economic Policy Institute. From 2014 to 2017, she served the Obama administration as chief economist at the Department of Labor.

In Praise Of Scabby The Rat

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Giant balloons apparently terrify Peter Robb, who is Donald Trump’s hand-picked general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Big balloons shaped like rats, cats, pigs and cockroaches so frighten Robb that he has used his office to take extraordinary steps to outlaw them.

He won’t criminalize the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. The massive SpongeBob SquarePants, Mickey Mouse and Angry Bird inflatables will survive his extermination. Only the somewhat smaller balloons floated by labor unions offend Robb. He wants the NLRB to trample labor unions’ First Amendment right to buoyant protests.

This petty attempt to deflate labor power symbolizes just how far the Trump administration will go to crush the very workers that Trump constantly pledged to protect during his campaign. In 2.5 years, his administration has refused to raise the 10-year-old minimum wage, significantly diminished the number of workers who will be eligible for overtime pay under new regulations, petitioned to decertify the immigration judges’ union, issued executive orders making it easier to fire federal workers and weakening their unions, and failed to secure for workers that $4,000 raise that Trump pledged his tax cuts for the rich would provide – to name a few betrayals.

But nowhere is the campaign to trample workers worse than it is at Trump’s rigged NLRB.

Just to be clear, the point of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, was to encourage unionization. This was during turbulent times. From 1933 through 1935, more than a million workers a year launched thousands of walkouts, sit-down strikes and picket lines. These actions significantly disrupted a depressed economy.

The law formalized a process under which workers could form unions and bargain for better pay and benefits. As a result, it virtually eliminated the need for one type of strike – those to demand that corporations recognize labor unions.

The NLRB, created by the National Labor Relations Act, is supposed to safeguard workers’ rights to organize.

In an 80th NLRB anniversary commemoration document, former board chairman Mark Gaston Pearce wrote:  “Enacted during the Great Depression, the Act was designed to restore prosperity – to put more money in the pockets of working Americans, by making it possible for them to organize labor unions and to engage in collective bargaining with their employers.

When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the law in 1935, he said that its goal was to achieve ‘an act of both common justice and economic advance.’ Since then, millions of American workers have freely chosen to join unions, and collective bargaining has helped Americans to build and keep a middle-class society, through good economic times and bad.”

Under the Trump administration, however, the NLRB is systematically thwarting workers’ attempts to organize. Trump appointed the three Republicans on the board, who dominate the four-member panel.

Trump’s appointees spent careers representing corporations against unions or serving the GOP. Robb falls into the same category. Also, he was instrumental in helping former President Ronald Reagan destroy the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, fire the 11,000 workers and replace them. Many labor historians believe this permanently changed U.S. labor relations, encouraging corporations to permanently replace strikers and break unions.

The anti-union labor board is defying a pro-union environment in this country. A 2018 survey found 62% of Americans approve of unions, a 15-year high. Another 2018 survey found that 48 percent of nonunion workers would join if given the opportunity. That is a sharp rise over the percent in two earlier surveys and suggests that 58 million American workers would sign up given the opportunity. That would quadruple the current number of union members.

Workers who want a union and those already in one had reason to believe Trump would support them.  Repeatedly on the campaign trail, Trump said, “The jobs, incomes, and security of the American worker will always be first priority.” Workers represented by labor unions earn more money, receive better benefits and labor in safer conditions than those who are not organized. If a president’s first priority is workers’ jobs, incomes and security, then his labor board would protect union rights, not upend them.

Trump’s NLRB, however, is reversing gains workers received under the Obama NLRB. In addition, the Trump NLRB is going the extra mile to undercut workers’ rights – including contending that protest balloons, such as the rat nicknamed Scabby, must be deemed illegal because the inflatable animals “coerce” employers to do unions’ bidding.

A good example is the Trump NLRB’s divergent positions on the speed of elections.

The NLRB believes delaying elections sought by unions is fine but those sought by employers must be sped up. This is significant because when workers want the NLRB to conduct an election to determine if more than half of employees want union representation, corporations often hire union-busting law firms to arm-twist workers to vote no. Corporations want extra time before a union election so they can pinpoint and fire union organizers and conduct forced-attendance meetings with workers during which they threaten to close or move the factory if workers vote for the union.

Labor organizers want the election held as soon as possible after they determine they have sufficient support. The Obama NLRB issued rules providing for quicker elections, but the Trump board has made it clear it intends to kill them.

When workers want more time before an election, however, the Trump NLRB plans to deny that. The board in August issued proposed regulations to make it easier for corporations to destroy unions, including refusing to delay a union decertification voteafter a labor organization files unfair labor practice charges. That way, union leaders will have less time to persuade wavering members that they should vote to retain representation, even when employers have violated labor law by threatening and haranguing workers.

In July, the NLRB decided that a corporation may withdraw its recognition of a union – even when the union is able to present evidence that a majority of workers, in fact, support the union. This new rule, created out of whole cloth, forces the union to seek an NLRB election to reinstate it as the bargaining representative and gives the company time to bully or bribe workers into voting no. In the specific case the NLRB reviewed, the company went with a bribe. It announced wage and benefit hikes immediately after it withdrew recognition of the union, in effect telling workers they didn’t need representation because the benevolent corporation would take care of them.

This is the kind of situation that union workers might protest with a Scabby the Rat balloon, or giant inflatable “pluto-cat” dressed as a CEO and clutching a worker by the neck. Or a floating cockroach or flying pig.

The NLRB and courts, most recently on June 19, have repeatedly upheld the legality of such protests. But Robb doesn’t care. He says they’re all wrong. Robb has instructed a regional office to file a complaint against a union for protesting with a “pluto-cat,” and to use the case to overturn three previous decisions allowing balloons. So Scabby’s days may be numbered.

That is, until a union appeals the NLRB decision to a court. There’s no doubt a judge will once again rule that unions have the right to fly protest balloons. It may take until Labor Day 2020 for that decision to arrive, though.

This blog was originally published by the Our Future on September 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

8 Unions Have a Plan for Climate Action—But It Doesn’t Mention Fighting the Fossil Fuel Industry

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

On June 24, the BlueGreen Alliance—a national coalition which includes eight large labor unions and six influential environmental groups—released an eight-page document laying out its vision to curb climate change and reduce inequality. The report, dubbed Solidarity for Climate Action, marks a significant development in the world of environmental politics. It argues the needs of working people must be front-and-center as the U.S. responds to climate change, and rejects the “false choice” between economic security and a healthy planet.

While the report’s focus on public investment, good jobs and justice shares much in common with the federal Green New Deal resolution introduced in February, it also stands in tension with environmentalists who demand the U.S. work to transition more quickly away from oil, coal and natural gas. “We’d really like them to be stronger and more concise about what it means to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewables,” said José Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance and speaking on behalf of the Climate Justice Alliance. Members of the BlueGreen Alliance say the ultimate goal should be to decarbonize the economy—to reduce CO2 emissions, but not necessarily end the fossil fuel industry itself, with its tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Other climate groups say that won’t be enough, and humanity cannot afford to preserve industries that have caused so much environmental harm. This difference in vision will stand as one of the most fundamental political questions facing progressives in the next decade.

The report spells out a series of principles, including limiting warming to 1.5°C, expanding union jobs, modernizing infrastructure, bolstering environmental protections and rebuilding the nation’s manufacturing sector with green technologies. It also elevates the issue of equity, calling to “inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.” The BlueGreen Alliance emphasizes the disproportionate impact low-income workers and communities of color will face, and says those affected by the energy transition must receive “a just and viable transition” to new, high-quality union jobs.

To make its platform a reality, the BlueGreen Alliance endorses a host of specific policies and timetables, like reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, while being “solidly on a path” to that goal by 2030. Among other things, the report calls for measures like restoring forests and wildlands, cracking down on empl­oyee misclassification, making it easier to unionize one’s workplace, winning universal access to high-speed Internet, and “massive” economic investing in deindustrialized areas, “including remediating any immediate loss of tax base or public services for communities.”

Labor groups in the coalition include the United Steelworkers, the Utility Workers Union of America, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the Communications Workers of America, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers. The environmental organizations include the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Environmental Defense Action Fund, and the League of Conservation Voters.

Following the 2016 election, the coalition organized listening sessions with workers in communities that voted for Donald Trump, like in Macomb County, Michigan, and the Iron Range in Wisconsin. After those discussions, leaders started investing in broader polling, message-testing and focus groups. While opponents of regulating greenhouse gas emissions relish exploiting tensions between environmentalists and labor unions, Mike Williams, the deputy director of the BlueGreen Alliance, said it became clear from the research “that working people do quite care about climate change, but they also believe they should not be forced to make a choice between that and having a good job.”

“We went through a lot of iterations and a lot of conversations,” said Sara Chieffo, the vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters. “There was real unanimity that we were solving the twin crises of inequality and climate change.”

Jeremy Brecher, the co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which supports organized labor in tackling climate change, tells In These Times that he sees the Solidarity for Climate Action report as “quite a significant stepping out” for the BlueGreen Alliance. “The BGA was basically [created in 2006] to advocate for the growth and quality of jobs in the clean economy,” he said. “It did not take positions on targets and timetables for carbon reduction, clean coal and the KXL pipeline. It was a green jobs organization, which is important in terms of understanding where the BGA was coming from.” Brecher says the BlueGreen Alliance’s new statement “about the pace of greenhouse gas emission reductions and the absolute centrality and necessity of it is an extremely positive development.”

Evan Weber, the political director and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, agrees. “I think the platform represents a really historic step forward for a number of the nation’s largest and most influential labor unions,” he said. “It leaves some questions about what needs to be done, and we’d like to see more ambition, but it is really meaningful that these groups and unions have come to the table and shown that they’re willing to move forward and not stay in the ways of the past.”

The Green New Deal resolution was introduced in Congress as the BlueGreen Alliance hashed out its own proposal. The leaders of some labor unions in the BlueGreen Alliance that represent workers in the fossil fuel industry—including the Steelworkers and the Utility Workers—have publicly voiced criticism of the Green New Deal, blasting it for a lack of specifics. The federal resolution “certainly took over a big portion of the national climate conversation, and a few of our partners were supportive, but there is also skepticism from the labor side,” said Williams. “As we were working we said we need to focus on our own process to see where we can forge alignment.”

Some hope the BlueGreen platform can serve as a policy blueprint for moving forward on the Green New Deal. SEIU, which represents 2 million workers, is both a BlueGreen coalition member and the first international union to back the federal Green New Deal resolution. “SEIU members know that we must take bold, immediate action on climate change, including holding corporations accountable for rampant pollution and ensuring good union jobs as we transition to a clean energy economy,” president Mary Kay Henry told In These Times. “That’s why we are proud to support both the Green New Deal, our North Star for what needs to be accomplished on climate change, and the BlueGreen Alliance’s platform, a roadmap for how we can get there.”

The League of Conservation Voters also endorsed the Green New Deal resolution back in February, and Chieffo told In These Timesthat her group sees the Solidarity for Climate Action report as “a really essential addition” to the conversation. “We are proud to endorse the Green New Deal and I think it’s incredibly valuable to have these eight powerful unions at the table laying out a proactive vision for how we tackle climate change.”

In These Times reached out to the original co-sponsors of the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey of (D-Mass.), for comment on the BlueGreen Alliance’s report.

Anika Legrand-Wittich, a spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez, said while she was unable to reach the Congresswoman for specific comment, she “confirmed with our staff that we have indeed worked with BlueGreen Alliance and share many of their goals.”

Giselle Barry, a spokesperson for Sen. Markey, pointed to a supportive tweet the senator posted following the report’s release. It signal boosted the BlueGreen Alliance platform, and reads, “Transforming our economy and combatting climate change will create millions of jobs, but it won’t be possible without our workers and their families. Great to see our allies in organized labor continuing to make climate action a top priority.”

New Consensus, a think tank working to develop policies for the Green New Deal, said in an email “We don’t have any comment on the BGA report at this time.”

Fossil fuels

Despite its generally positive reception, the Solidarity for Climate Action has not gone without critique — and some environmental groups and labor leaders have raised issues and questions about the platform.

“I don’t think it goes far enough in terms of moving us definitively off fossil fuels at the speed that is required,” said Weber of the Sunrise Movement.

Brecher, of the Labor Network for Sustainability, said while overall the report marks a “very big step forward” for unions, he thinks its language “can use a little tightening up” to prevent groups from having too much “wiggle room.” He specifically pointed to language that America should be “on a pathway” to reducing its emissions, and suggests that be more specific. “It is overall quite close to the Green New Deal resolution, which also has a little wiggle room,” he said. (For example, most action items in the Green New Deal come with the caveat of “as much as is technologically feasible.”)

Julian Brave NoiseCat, the director of Green New Deal strategy at Data for Progress, a progressive think tank, said his organization’s vision for climate action shares a lot of overlap with the BlueGreen Alliance platform. But he noted BlueGreen Alliance’s does not include a 100% clean energy commitment, nor explicit provisions to phase-out fossil fuels, and it does not include a 10-year mobilization, in line with the Green New Deal. He also said he wonders whether the BlueGreen Alliance would support a federal jobs guarantee, or some other federal work provision.

Erich Pica, the president of Friends of the Earth, a climate group, said while it’s significant to see the labor movement taking proactive steps on the environment, as well as seeing the report’s emphasis on justice and equity, he protested its lack of mention of fossil fuels, natural gas, oil or coal. “How do you have solidarity for climate action when you’re not proactively calling out the very fuel sources that we have to eliminate from the U.S. economy?” he asked. “It says a lot of great things about how we want the economy structured, but in many ways it papers over where some of the greatest disagreement is between parts of the labor movement and the environmental community.”

Pica also acknowledged that the Green New Deal resolution did not make any mention of fossil fuels. “We were critical of that, too,” he said.

Mike Williams, of the BlueGreen Alliance, said while he understands that critique, he also thinks “it’s a bit much” to expect this platform to call for banning fossil fuels. “Our goal is to get climate pollution out of our economy by a certain time to avoid as much warming as possible, so we established our platform with the methods we think will help get us to those goals,” he said. “The banning of fossil fuels — that’s pretty controversial to expect of the people who represent the human beings who work in that sector. This is tens of thousands of people who work in these industries, and for a union to step out and say we’re going to end your job and the promise of a new job is a wink and a nod and a handshake. Well America has never before followed through on any proper transition, save for maybe the New Deal for white dudes.”

From Williams’ perspective, demanding unions call for ending their own jobs, before any sort of real alternative agreement is in place, is simply unrealistic. “It’s so mind boggling to think that people who represent folks who work in those industries would jump so far out ahead of where their membership is, and without any real forthright and immediately implementable solution,” he said.

Pica, of Friends of the Earth, also critiqued the BlueGreen Alliance for making no gesture toward campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground. “It’s been the divestment fights, trying to get universities and cities to divest their money from fossil fuel companies, that has been the fuel of the climate movement over the last decade,” he said.

Williams said the absence of certain “buzzwords” doesn’t diminish from what the document accomplishes. “We’re on the same side, and I truly respect [the environmental critics] and I hear them, but this is about building a broader movement that can get bigger solutions across the line,” he said.

Carbon-capture technology

Perhaps the most polarizing policy endorsed by the Solidarity for Climate Action report is that of carbon-capture technology, a method backed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and supported by most of the labor movement. But among environmentalists it’s more divisive, as some argue it will prolong dependence on fossil fuels, be too costly, and make it harder to reduce emissions overall.

“The fact that it’s included in the BGA report I think is very unfortunate and something that realistically has no chance of making a significant contribution to climate protection,” Brecher said. “Some of the other environmental groups are more squishy.”

Pica called carbon-capture “an expensive detour to nowhere” that’s a “nonstarter and at worse feeds kind of feeds false hope.” In January more than 600 environmental groups sent a letter to Congress saying they will—among other things—“vigorously oppose” federal climate legislation that promotes “corporate schemes” like carbon-capture and storage. Brecher and Pica’s groups were among the signatories. While the Green New Deal resolution is ambiguous on carbon-capture, last week Sen. Bernie Sanders released his presidential climate plan, which includes opposition to the technology.

Phil Smith, a spokesperson for the United Mine Workers of America, a labor union not represented in the BlueGreen Alliance, tells In These Times that there are aspects of the report his union agrees with, “especially with respect to carbon-capture technology.” But he critiqued it as not specific enough when it comes to defining what a “just transition” means. The platform calls for “guaranteed pensions and a bridge of wage support, healthcare and retirement security” until an impacted worker finds a new job or retires.

“Coal miners want to know what the hell you mean when you say you want a ‘just transition,’” Smith says. “Training to drive a truck is not a just transition. Training a miner to earn half of what they’re making now is not a just transition. … Our concern is once laws get passed to phase out carbon dioxide in 10 years, if we’re going to have a ‘just transition’ then we needed to be working on that 15 years ago. It’s just meaningless words on paper right now, and we keep seeing it over and over.”

Moving forward, members of the BlueGreen Alliance plan to promote the policies outlined in their new platform through legislative advocacy and local community organizing. In late July, the coalition sent a letter to the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), and its ranking member, John Shimkus (R-Ill.), encouraging them to consider the Solidarity for Climate Action platform as they proceed in Congress.

“I think the next phase of work is educating elected officials on what’s in the platform,” said Chieffo. “And then really rolling up our sleeves to craft the legislation and hopefully future executive branch options needed to deliver it.”

This article was originally published by In These Times on August 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel M. Cohen is a journalist based in Washington D.C. Follow her on Twitter @rmc031

Teachers union urges Senate to avert the next school shooting by passing gun laws now

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

The American Federation of Teachers is calling on the Senate to pass gun legislation to help make schools and other public places safer. Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, addressed a letter to Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, urging them to hold a vote on an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and red flag legislation.

”Tragically, too many of our nation’s schools and communities are being terrorized by the effects of gun violence,” Weingarten writes, according to a report in The Hill. “We must work to pursue and implement commonsense solutions to reduce these acts of violence.”

Weingarten describes the laws proposed as having “been informed by members’ firsthand experiences in schools and communities touched by gun massacres.”

It’s significant that the teachers union is focusing this message on the Senate, since it’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who is standing in the way of gun safety legislation—along with so much else.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on August 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

Union Veterans Fight for Texas Catering Workers

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

On Tuesday morning, as union veteran Sam Tijerina drove from Pasadena, Texas, to Dallas, he had a lot on his mind. His thoughts wandered as he passed mile markers and towns—he thought about his young family at home and the life that having a union job has provided them. “A union card has allowed me to live with dignity,” he said.

Tijerina was traveling to one of the largest acts of civil disobedience that the Texas labor movement has waged in years. LSG Sky Chef workers, who are contracted by American Airlines, planned a rally with UNITE HERE to advocate for raising wages. “It was important to be part of the civil disobedience because my fellow veterans are affected by poor wages,” Tijerina said. “There are an estimated 1.3 million veteran workers who earn less than $15 an hour. It is disheartening to know my brothers and sisters have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. One job should be enough.”

More than 600 supporters showed up at the protest, including catering workers, union members from other airports and local supporters like Tijerina. He was one of 58 people who were arrested while blocking traffic during the protest.

Tijerina is an Elevator Constructor (IUEC) from Local 31 and a Marine veteran who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. The Marines taught him about selfless service and how to lead by example. “I know that it’s not just about me,” Tijerina said. “It’s about fighting for everyone, no matter what their situation is.” This is the same sentiment echoed by Union Veterans Council Executive Director Will Attig at a recent speech to the Texas AFL-CIO convention, shortly before announcing the creation of a Texas chapter of the Union Veterans Council. “Leaders lead from the front and motivate others to take action,” Attig added. “Texas union vets are ready to take action to support the working people of this state.”

Earlier this year, Attig was among a group of union leaders and activists who were arrested at the U.S. Capitol during the government shutdown, when a quarter of 1 million veteran workers faced no pay and job instability. Attig hopes this action will motivate fellow union veterans to get more involved. Attig wants Union Veterans Council members and the labor movement to know that union veterans are a force to be reckoned with.

The Union Veterans Council is working to unify our veterans by giving them the tools and platform to make their voices heard on a local and national level, along with inspiring union veterans to take an action-based role in the labor movement. Tijerina is just one of a growing movement of union veterans across the country who are using their voices to fight and advocate for fellow workers and the issues that matter to their community.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on August 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The Union Veterans Council brings working-class veterans together to speak out on the issues that impact us most, especially the need for good jobs and a strong, fully funded and staffed VA.

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

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Image result for Shaun Richman

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

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

The stand-out measures

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

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

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

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

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

The man with the plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never waste a crisis

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

But we are already in a crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

Let the primary of ideas continue!

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

About the Author: Shaun Richman is an In These Times contributing writer and the Program Director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.

Why Join a Labor Union? The Key Benefits Workers May Not Know About

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Unions are struggling in this country. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that the percent of U.S. wage and salary workers who were members of unions in the year 2018 was 10.5 percent, down from 20.1 percent in 1983. That low level of membership has not been seen since the 1930’s—just before the introduction of labor laws protecting workers’ rights to organize—a September 2018 PBS News Hour article observed. When only 1 in 10 U.S. workers is a member of a union, according to Bureau of Labor statistics, it would seem that many working Americans are missing out on the key benefits that union membership affords.

Biggest Reasons to Join a Union – How Unions Improve Workers’ Welfare

When I asked my friend Ray Greaves, who is General Chairman of New Jersey’s Amalgamated Transit Union, how he would sum up the benefits of joining a union, he said this: “Any worker who has the opportunity to join a union should, because when you join a union, you improve your safety at work, prioritize the health of both you and your family, protect your financial stability, invest in your retirement savings, and access a whole community of support in your job.”

Those benefits were worth unpacking further, with a closer look at how unions improve workers’ welfare— starting with these three key benefits:

  1. Better Wages and Job Benefits Via “Collective Bargaining” – Membership in a union means that you are part of an organized body of employees who can negotiate better, more favorable wages and other conditions of employment, such as health insurance benefits, retirement plans and fair work practice policies. As evidence, a study by the Economic Policy Institute found (among still other economic advantages to joining a union) that:
  • Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%.
  • Unionized workers receive more generous health benefits than non-unionized workers— and pay less for those more generous health benefits. In retirement, unionized workers are 24 percent more likely to be covered by health insurance paid for by their employer.
  • Unionized workers are more likely than their nonunionized counterparts to receive paid leave, are 18 to 28 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are 23 percent to 54 percent more likely to be in employer-provided pension plans.

In other words, there is strength in numbers. Whereas one person won’t convince HR and management that they need comprehensive health insurance coverage, a large body of unionized employees will be much more persuasive at making the same case.

  1. Better Job Security and Just Representation of Your Employee Rights – Unions have successfully championed legislation to protect employees from unfair work environments and labor practices. A case in point: the Weingarten Act, passed in 1974, which allows a union member to ask for union representation if they are called into a meeting that may change their job status or take disciplinary action.

Often, union representation can ensure the mitigation of disciplinary actions against you. Imagine, for example, a scenario in which you have a drug or alcohol problem and test positive for a drug screening or begin to exhibit problem behaviors at work. In addition to successfully advocating for protection of your job and milder punitive actions on the part of your employer, your union may help you find a low-cost treatment option that allows you to keep your job by seeking treatment for your condition. (In many cases, a union will have contracted with a specific provider for just these sorts of situations.) That access to low-cost addiction treatment and protection of your job while you are away are benefits that many non-unionized workers often don’t get.

  1. Safer Working Conditions – A 2016 study in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that labor unions promote healthier, safer workplaces by ensuring “higher wage and benefit standards, working hours limits, workplace hazards protections, and other factors.” The researchers further concluded that unions promote workers’ well-being by encouraging “democratic participation” and “a sense of community among workers.”

There are many benefits to union membership: This list is not exhaustive. Still, better wages and benefits, better job security and representation of your rights, and safer working conditions are three key reasons to join a union. Together, they make the case that more working Americans should be joining unions.

About the Author: Janet B. Gerhard is Director of Public Affairs for FHE Health, a nationally recognized addiction and mental health treatment provider. Janet is regularly invited to speak to workforce gatherings about addiction-related topics. Learn about FHE Health’s addiction treatment programs here. If you have questions about this issue or other treatment-related inquiries, feel free to contact Janet at 1-866-768-7021.

Construction workers prepare to battle former ally Trump

Friday, August 16th, 2019

Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

A powerful union group uneasy about a Labor Department apprenticeship proposal has “the potential to be a significant force in the 2020 election.”

One of the nation’s largest labor groups embraced Donald Trump at the start of his presidency, in hopes he would create construction jobs and retreat from proposals that might reduce workers’ wages.

But now the two sides are on the brink of war, endangering a key bloc of Trump’s support in Midwestern swing states in 2020.

At issue is a deal gone bad between Trump and North America’s Building Trades Unions over a Labor Department apprenticeship initiative, the politics of which have grown more complicated since last month’s ouster of Secretary Alexander Acosta. Leaders of the union federation worry that the final version will undermine their own job-training programs and create a supply of cheap labor for developers, undercutting high-skilled construction workers who rely on prevailing-wage jobs to make ends meet.

“It’s an existential threat to the Building Trades,” said a former administration official with knowledge of the discussions. And it has the powerful group — a union federation that represents millions of construction workers across the U.S. — seeing early signs of a member-driven revolt against Trump in 2020.

Such a turn could further weaken Trump’s already-declining support in the Midwestern states that won him the presidency in 2016, when many Building Trades members embraced his pledge to create working-class jobs and improve the nation’s infrastructure.

“The Building Trades have the potential to be a significant force in the 2020 election,” said Steve Rosenthal, a strategist and former political director for the AFL-CIO, “particularly in some of the key swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Iowa.

“The Building Trades know how to mobilize their members and move votes,” he added. “And their opposition to Trump can have a ripple effect beyond their members and their families to other voters in the communities where their members live and work.”

Trump sought to shore up support with the Building Trades this week at an appearance in Pennsylvania. Aninstruction sheet given to workers attending the event said the president hoped to “promote good will from the labor unions,” and he wasted no time doing so.

“I love the unions and I love the workers,” Trump said. “And, you know, when I built buildings in New York … I built them exclusively with unions. People don’t understand that. I was exclusive.” (Until recently, it was virtually impossible for anyone to build anything in New York City without union labor.)

Though its leadership endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign, NABTU has always been viewed as more conservative than other labor groups, and since Trump’s victory it has weathered criticism from the left for that reason. Trump — who won the majority of white male union members — made a point of meeting with the leaders of several construction unions on his third day in office, after which NABTU President Sean McGarvey exalted their “common bond with the president.”

“We come from the same industry,” McGarvey told The New York Times after the meeting. “He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

In April 2017, McGarvey praised Trump as “the very definition of an American success story” before an audience of members in Washington.

McGarvey’s group had a keen interest at the time in securing construction jobs from the Trump administration’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure program, which never came to fruition. McGarvey also had an interest in dissuading Trump from an early impulse to push repeal of the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, which requires the federal government to pay prevailing wage — typically union scale — on construction projects. Trump backed off the idea after floating it early in his presidency.

But the Building Trades and the administration are increasingly at odds over the apprenticeship initiative, a proposed rule that would create industry-supervised job training programs. The Labor Department’s proposal has received more than 160,000 comments, the vast majority of them from union members vouching for the strength of the unions’ existing training programs. Most of the comments implicitly rebuke officials in the White House who have sought to make the proposal less favorable to unions.

The two sides appeared more in agreement in June 2017, when Trump issued an executive order aimed at “easing the regulatory burden” on apprenticeships. In an effort to expand job training to new industries, the administration proposed to create a class of “industry-recognized” programs with fewer restrictions than existing government-sanctioned programs.

McGarvey agreed at the time to join Trump’s committee to help create the apprenticeship system — with the understanding that NABTU’s own government-supervised apprenticeships would be untouched, according to his chief of staff, Michael Monroe.

NABTU says it had a deal with the administration to exclude construction jobs from the new proposal, to protect the Building Trades’ existing programs for training pipe fitters, iron workers and roofers, among others. But that agreement was with Acosta. Now NABTU’s leaders fear that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and his deregulation hawks won’t honor the bargain.

Trust between the Building Trades and the White House began to unravel in May, when the White House forced out Acosta’s chief of staff, Nick Geale, after an inquiry raised questions about his treatment of subordinates. But there was perhaps a deeper source of tension: Mulvaney and some domestic policy advisers judged Acosta too cautious on deregulation and too accommodating to unions.

When he took over as acting chief of staff in January, Mulvaney had judged the situation so dire that he seized Acosta’s rulemaking authority, commanding final say on policy matters. Then came the Labor secretary’s resignation in July, days after Mulvaney urged Trump to fire him over a lenient 2008 plea deal that Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for southern Florida, had struck with wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Before he left, Acosta persuaded Ivanka Trump, who was involved in the apprenticeship rulemaking, to keep construction out of the new industry-led program, according to the former administration official. The Building Trades had told Acosta that letting developers pay industry-recognized apprentices less than prevailing wage would create price competition with NABTU’s program.

“It would lower standards, it would put workers at risk, it would put projects at risk, it would put communities at risk,” Monroe said. “All the features that make ours successful, to undermine that is to undermine the veracity of the system at large.”

Acosta’s decision was also driven by politics, according to the former official, who noted the Building Trades’ strong grassroots operation in the Midwest. Democrats on Capitol Hill were sounding alarms about the Labor Department’s new industry-led program, too, warning that it risked creating low-quality programs with lax oversight.

Acosta and three White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In the proposed rule published in June, the Labor Department said it would not “initially” accept industry-led apprenticeship applications for the construction sector, but didn’t rule out doing so later. That language stirred deep anxiety among Building Trades leaders, and prompted NABTU to direct a torrent of public comments to the Labor Department about the proposal.

NABTU leaders say they’ve observed a high volume of comments from the Midwest. An iron worker from Indiana, encapsulating the sentiment, told the Labor Department that his union apprenticeship provided a pathway to the middle class — and expressed concern that it would “disappear” under the administration’s proposal.

In April, meanwhile, McGarvey said the Building Trades might not endorse any candidate 2020. Hacked emails released by WikiLeaks showed internal dissent from some member unions, including the Teamsters and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, following the federation’s endorsement of Clinton — demonstrating how tenuous NABTU support was for any candidate.

Clinton performed poorly in 2016 among union households, winning only 51 percent — the narrowest margin of victory for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1984. In Ohio, Trump bested Clinton among union households by 9 percentage points. But the next Democratic nominee could poll more strongly with that group in 2020, Building Trades brass argue, if their voters feel betrayed by Trump.

“This is not necessarily what people supported or thought they would get out of this administration,” Monroe said. “The fact that they’re out there engaging on this is something I would think that people in more political circles than I am would probably take notice of.”

This article was originally published by Politico on August 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

The Fight for a Green New Deal Can Start with Your Union Contract

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

Image result for Jared OdesskyNews coverage of the Green New Deal portrays organized labor as a major obstacle to its enactment. But our new report for Data for Progress paints a different picture. In a poll conducted for the think tank by YouGov Blue, union members overwhelmingly favored the proposed reforms, with 62 percent in support and 22 percent against. In a memo for Data Progress, where I am a legal fellow, I show how union contracts can be an effective way to fight for a Green New Deal.

In step with the rank-and-file, some union leaders have already backed the ambitious plan. In a resolution adopted in June by its executive board, the Service Employees International Union called the Green New Deal “an unprecedented opportunity to unite the fights for environmental, racial and economic justice.” Los Angeles County Federation of Labor secretary-treasurer Rusty Hicks said in March the “framework is vital to fighting” inequality and climate change. Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson explained in April that it is “not the solutions to climate change that kills jobs,” but climate change itself. To be sure, a handful of union leaders, such as United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers president Lonnie Stephenson, have come out against the proposal. Yet even Roberts has said that he and Green New Deal supporters “agree on 75 percent.”

Even as union support for the measure continues to grow, the current political stalemate in Washington means that passage of the Green New Deal is unlikely in the near future. But labor leaders have an immediate way to translate member support for the Green New Deal into tangible wins: bargaining green union contracts.

American workplaces are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, even in industries without a direct connection to the production of fossil fuels. Individual workers are relatively powerless to change a company’s carbon culture on their own, but through unions, workers can join together and put real pressure on employers to agree to binding commitments to combat a warming world.

Efforts to build climate protection goals directly into collective bargaining agreements are already being undertaken by labor unions in countries like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Work in a Warming World (W3), a Canadian research project linking academics and community partners to recenter the role of work in the fight against global warming, has undertaken an extensive project to document green clauses in union contracts across the globe. Their research provides a roadmap for American unions seeking to create sustainable workplaces.

For one, unions can bargain for the establishment of workplace environment committees that give workers real power to set sustainability benchmarks and to play an active role in implementation. In an agreement with a leading Canadian metals and mining company, the United Steelworkers Local 408 won contract language establishing a committee for workers and management to jointly develop programs aimed at preventing pollution, minimizing environmental impact and protecting employee health. The clause included an enforceable requirement that management furnish the union with all relevant data about the company’s environmental impact. Union involvement in designing sustainability initiatives can be particularly critical to ensuring there is real bite behind green programs that can otherwise be empty public relations ploys. When several American hotel chains rolled out a program that rewarded guests who forwent housekeeping services, it was hotel staff who spoke out about the pervasive problem of guests who “cheat a bit” while reaping the program’s perks.

Unions can also demand that employers commit to specific environmental goals directly in their contracts. Some activists have sought to get employers to agree to annual carbon footprint reductions, or to purchase union-approved carbon offsets if reductions cannot be achieved. Othershave successfully bargained for building efficiency improvements and recycling programs. Seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by transportation, some unions have even won telework provisions that give employees more flexibility to work from home. Where in-person work is required, unions have obtained employer support for employee transit programs that promote the use of public transportation, bikes and carpooling.

Bargaining green contracts will surely be most difficult in fossil fuel-linked industries, where the work itself contributes to the degradation of the climate. But union contracts have an important role to play in ensuring a just transition to a green economy. Employees worried about a Washington-negotiated Green New Deal can take control of planning for our climate change future at their own workplaces. To ensure that workers can compete for the growing number of green jobs, unions can bargain for employer-sponsored training programs that give employees an opportunity to learn new skills. They can also negotiate for robust severance pay and layoff benefit plans and even early retirement to ensure workers and their families are not left behind as transition nears. And while the National Labor Relations Act does not require employers to bargain with workers over entrepreneurial decisions about the firm, unions can push management to pursue green projects themselves, so that workers can stay on as the company itself shifts missions.

Each of these goals will be far easier to achieve with government intervention, which is why passing the Green New Deal is paramount. But we have no time to wait. American workers may not have a seat at the table in Washington, but unions can take advantage of their seat at the bargaining table now. If they negotiate green new deals at work, we can promote good jobs while averting a climate disaster.

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

About the Author: Jared Odessky is a legal fellow at Data for Progress. He is also a law student at Harvard, a regular contributor to the blog OnLabor, and a former union organizer. His writing has been featured in The New York Times, Slate, and the Harvard Law and Policy Review.
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