Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘worker’s rights’ Category

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

Monday, September 9th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Worker’s Place Is in the Museum

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 


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

 


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stand Up and Be Recognized: Worker Wins

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organizing drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass firings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patients impacted

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

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

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

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

Contract fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bezos, Our Backs Are Tired”: Amazon Workers Strike on Prime Day

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

On Monday afternoon, in the blistering heat of a 95-degree day, approximately 50 Amazon workers and community supporters rallied outside of a suburban Minnesota Amazon warehouse chanting, “We work, We sweat, Amazon workers need a rest!” That chant was followed by, “Hey Jeff Bezos! Our backs are tired and our funds are low!”

The crowd was picketing to support workers at the Shakopee, Minnesota warehouse (or “fulfillment center”) who timed their strike to coincide with “Prime Day,” one of the company’s key online sales events. Prime Day is being promoted on Amazon’s website as a “two-day parade of epic deals,” when monthly subscribers to the company’s Prime service can shop for discounted items and expect fast home delivery.

Workers say these deals are taking a toll on those tasked with fulfilling customer orders at a breakneck pace. From 2:00 p.m. to at least 8:00 p.m. on July 15, approximately 100 warehouse employees at the Amazon facility in Minnesota are expected to walk off the job in hopes of calling attention to what they say are unfair working conditions, as well as the company’s reliance on temporary employees.

They are joined by workers at Amazon facilities across Europe who are also be walking off the job, according to Mike Murphy of Quartz, to call attention to labor issues such as stagnant pay and unrealistic work quotas.

The majority of workers at the warehouse are East African immigrants, according to an event announcement for the July 15 strike. There are more than 100 such centers in the United States, but this is the only known facility participating in the walkout. These workers are being assisted by a Minneapolis-based labor rights group called the Awood Center, whose stated mission is to “build economic and political power amongst workers in the East African community of Minnesota.”

Meg Brady has worked at the Shakopee fulfillment center for nearly 18 months, although she says she is currently off the job due to a workplace injury. She joined coworkers and local labor activists on the picket line outside the Amazon facility. As a hot, blustery wind took hold, Brady described the stress fracture in her foot that is keeping her from her work as a “rebinner,” or someone tasked with grabbing items off a conveyor belt and putting them in a cubbyhole.

“I group items for orders,” she said, noting that she has to pull 600 products off the conveyor belt per hour. A big screen mounted in front of her keeps tabs of her work speed. There is pressure to keep up, Brady insisted, as she has seen fellow warehouse workers get written up and sometimes fired for being unable to meet Amazon’s requirements. All of this has led to a repetitive stress injury—one she says she had to fight to get recognized as job-related.

She joined the walkout in solidarity, hoping the workers’ actions will lead to reduced work rates, as well as an investment from Amazon in ergonomics. “Right now, we have poorly designed workstations,” Brady said.

Bryan Menegus of Gizmodo notes that workers at this “infamous” Amazon facility have spent the past year engaging in walk-outs and other actions on behalf of religious freedom and other labor concerns. Thus far, workers have won some concessions, including the right, in 2018, to honor the Muslim holiday of Ramadan during that year’s Prime Day event.

William Stolz also works in the Shakopee fulfillment center and helped organize the strike. In a July 9 interview with National Public Radio, Stolz described his work as a “picker”—someone who works in tandem with robots to put customer orders together, at a rapid pace dictated by Amazon.

Workers want to be treated like “human beings, not machines,” Stolz told NPR, before citing other labor concerns—such as Amazon’s use of temporary workers—as reasons for the planned walk-out. Currently, around 1,500 employees work at the Shakopee facility.

As the strike got underway at 2:00 p.m., a small but growing group of workers and labor activists began to hold picket signs demanding workplace concessions from Amazon, including reduced work rates and allowing more temporary employees to become permanent workers with access to benefits. In response to news of the planned action, Amazon has insisted that it provides competitive wages and benefits in Minnesota.

Still, the July 15 strike comes amid a year of increasing pressure on Amazon to alter its business practices and put labor, climate and human rights first. In 2018, thousands of Amazon workers in Europe mounted their own Prime Day strike, citing such concerns as unfair labor practices and union-busting. Similarly, the company backed off plans for a proposed second headquarters in New York City, thanks in part to union-led pressure.

Amazon began doing business in 1994 and has grown to become a global company with billions in annual earnings. In 2018, the company raked in over $232 billion in revenue and paid zero dollars in federal income taxes, according to sources such as CNBC. First-quarter earnings for 2019 have come in at close to $60 billion, putting Amazon on track to surpass last year’s revenue totals.

One of the company’s central income-boosting strategies has been increasing speed of its product-delivery rate, especially through its fee-based Prime service. The company recently announced plans to pour $800 million into making one-day delivery the standard for Prime members, who pay a monthly fee in exchange for free shipping on millions of products.

Amazon has said that its quick order-turnaround system is accomplished not just by human labor but also by technological advances, including its own Amazon Robotics design.

While Amazon’s earnings continue to grow, however, workers charged with filling orders at faster speeds are working under “endlessly brutal and punishing conditions,” as reporter Ravie Lakshmanan put itThe Guardianhas described warehouse workers being injured on the job and then denied benefits or help. In another case, a former Amazon employee said he was fired for supporting unionization efforts.

These conditions led Amazon workers across Europe to go on strike on Prime Day in 2018. This year, Amazon workers at the Shakopee fulfillment center will take up the mantle and engage in a six-hour work stoppage.

So far, this is the only known action planned by Amazon employees in the United States. The striking Minnesota workers were joined, however, by a handful of engineers from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, who  reportedly flew to Minnesota to join the protest and pressure the retail behemoth to take a more active role in addressing climate justice concerns.

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English Instructor. She is a 2015 Progressive magazine Education Fellow and blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.

Minnesota Amazon workers plan Prime Day strike, this week in the war on workers

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Consider there to be a digital picket line around Amazon’s upcoming Prime Day. Workers in a Shakopee, Minnesota, warehouse are staging a walkout for six hours of Prime Day to protest harsh working conditions.

Amazon’s answer to the workers’ protest is that it raised wages to a $15 minimum. Which is good. But it’s not what they’re talking about here. The workers are talking about the strict quotas they have to meet to keep their jobs, quotas that lead to physically punishing work. They’re talking about warehouse temperatures and broken sprinkler systems. And they want to push Amazon to turn more temp jobs into permanent jobs.

This will be the first U.S. work stoppage for Amazon, though the company’s European warehouse workers have held strikes. Minnesota Amazon warehouses, though, have been the site of successful organizing by Muslim workers seeking accommodations during Ramadan, when they’re fasting. Pilots who fly for Amazon—and have their own issues with the company—are sending a representative to the strike and said in a statement that “We hope that Amazon takes seriously these striking workers’ calls for change.

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

 

American Workers Are Not Happy

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Americans are not happy. And for good reason. They continue to suffer financial stress caused by decades of flat income. And every time they make the slightest peep of complaint about a system rigged against them, the rich and powerful tell them to shut up because it is all their fault.

One percenters instruct them to work harder, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop bellyaching. Just get a second college degree, a second skill, a second job. Just send the spouse to work, downsize, take a staycation instead of a real vacation. Or don’t take one at all, just work harder and longer and better.

The barrage of blaming has persuaded; workers believe they deserve censure. And that’s a big part of the reason they’re unhappy. If only, they think, they could work harder and longer and better, they would get ahead. They bear the shame. They don’t blame the system: the Supreme Court, the Congress, the President. And yet, it is the system, the American system, that has conspired to crush them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, unemployment is low and the stock market is high. But skyrocketing stocks benefit only the top 10 percent of wealthy Americans who own 84 percent of stocks. And while more people are employed than during the Great Recession, the vast majority of Americans haven’t had a real raise since 1979.

It’s bad out there for American workers. Last month, their ranking dropped for the third year running in the World Happiness Report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a U.N. initiative.

These sad statistics reinforce those in a report released two years ago by two university professors. Reviewing data from the General Social Survey, administered routinely nationally, the professors found Americans’ assessment of their own happiness and family finances has, unambiguously, declined in recent years.

But if Americans would just work harder, everything would be dandy, right?

No. Not right. Americans work really, really hard. A third of Americans work a side hustle, driving an Uber or selling crafts on Etsy. American workers take fewer vacation days. They get 14, but typically take only 10. The highest number of workers in five years report they don’t expect to take a vacation at all this year. And Americans work longer hours than their counterparts in other countries.

Americans labor 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more than Brits, and 499 more than the French, according to the International Labor Organization.

And the longer hours aren’t because American workers are laggards on the job. They’re very productive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the average American worker’s productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950.

If pay had kept pace with productivity, as it did in the three decades after the end of World War II, American workers would be making 400 percent more. But they’re not. Their wages have flat lined for four decades, adjusting for inflation.

That means stress. Forty percent of workers say they don’t have $400 for an unexpected expense. Twenty percent can’t pay all of their monthly bills. More than a quarter of adults skipped needed medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it. A quarter of adults have no retirement savings.

If only Americans would work harder. And longer. And better.

Much as right-wingers have pounded that into Americans’ heads, it’s not the solution. Americans clearly are working harder and longer and better. The solution is to change the system, which is stacked against workers.

Workers are bearing on their backs tax breaks that benefited only the rich and corporations. They’re bearing overtime pay rules and minimum wage rates that haven’t been updated in more than a decade. They’re weighted down by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hobbled unionization efforts and kneecapped workers’ rights to file class-action lawsuits. They’re struggling under U.S. Department of Labor rules defining them as independent contractors instead of staff members. They live in fear as corporations threaten to offshore their jobs – with the assistance of federal tax breaks.

Last year, the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court handed a win to corporatists trying to obliterate workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and conditions. The court ruled that public sector workers who choose not to join unions don’t have to pay a small fee to cover the cost of services that federal law requires the unions provide to them. This bankrupts labor unions. And there’s no doubt that right-wingers are gunning for private sector unions next.

This kind of relentless attack on labor unions since 1945 has withered membership. As it shrank, wages for both union and nonunion workers did too.

Also last year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can deny workers access to class-action arbitration. This compels workers, who corporations forced to sign agreements to arbitrate rather than litigate, into individual arbitration cases, for which each worker must hire his or her own lawyer. Then, just last week, the right-wing majority on the court further curtailed workers’ rights to class-action suits.

In a minority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the court in recent years has routinely deployed the law to deny to employees and consumers “effective relief against powerful economic entities.”

No matter how hard Americans work, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court has hobbled them in an already lopsided contest with gigantic corporations.

The administrative branch is no better.  The Trump Labor Department just issued an advisory that workers for a gig-economy company are independent contractors, not employees. As a result, the workers, who clean homes after getting assignments on an app, will not qualify for federal minimum wage (low as it is) or overtime pay. Also, the corporation will not have to pay Social Security taxes for them. Though the decision was specific to one company, experts say it will affect the designation for other gig workers, such as drivers for Uber and Lyft.

Also, the Labor Department has proposed a stingy increase in the overtime pay threshold, that is, the salary amount under which corporations must pay workers time and a half for overtime. The current threshold of $23,660 has not been raised since 2004. The Obama administration had proposed doubling it to $47,476. But now, the Trump Labor Department has cut that back to $35,308. That means 8.2 million workers who would have benefited from the larger salary cap now will not be eligible for mandatory overtime pay.

It doesn’t matter how hard they work, they aren’t going to get the time-and-a-half pay they deserve.

Just like the administration and the Supreme Court, right-wingers in Congress grovel before corporations and the rich. Look at the tax break they gave one percenters in 2017. Corporations got the biggest cut in history, their rate sledgehammered down from 35 percent to 21 percent. The rich reap by far the largest benefit from those tax cuts through 2027, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. And by then, 53 percent of Americans – that is workers not rich people – will pay more than they did in 2017 because tax breaks for workers expire.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers predicted the corporate tax cut would put an extra $4,000 in every worker’s pocket. They swore that corporations would use some of their tax cut money to hand out raises and bonuses to workers. That never happened. Workers got a measly 6 percent of corporations’ tax savings. In the first quarter after the tax cut took effect, workers on average received a big fat extra $6.21 in their paychecks, for an annual total of a whopping $233. Corporations spent their tax breaks on stock buybacks, a record $1 trillion worth, raising stock prices, which put more money in the pockets of rich CEOs and shareholders.

That’s continuing this year. Workers are never going to see that $4,000.

No wonder they’re unhappy. The system is working against them.

This article was originally published at Our Future on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard, is the International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) union and is the second Canadian to head the union. He is also a vice president of the AFL-CIO. Gerard is co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.

Why May Day Continues to Capture the Hearts and Imaginations of Workers

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

May 1 has an energy that is palpable across the globe. On this day, every year for more than a century, workers across the world gather for International Workers Day, also known as May Day. These marches have inspired everyone from retired mechanics to immigrant fast food workers to high school students to take the streets in honor of labor—and in a show of respect for the power of a strike. Amid the Trump administration’s egregious assaults on the lives of workers and immigrants, showing up for a day that asserts the dignity of workers from all backgrounds is more important than ever.

“May Day serves as a reminder to all working people around the world that we are facing a common struggle, and that we are still the majority,” Joel Faypon, a member of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1008, tells In These Times. “And that we still have the power to drive world politics to a direction that would best serve us.”

The history of May Day

May Day was born in Chicago in 1886. During the late 19th century, workers, tired of 10- to 16-hour days and little pay, began to organize along socialist and anarchist principles. Whether in formal unions, political parties or cultural groups, working-class people in the United States were motivated by their dismal conditions and the hope they found in anti-capitalist ideas. With discussion about unfair working conditions spreading like a fever, the 1884 convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) concluded with a declaration that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” Both the FOTLU and the Knights of Labor would support strikes and demonstrations to achieve it.

In a history of the events leading up to the first May Day, Industrial Workers of the World member Eric Chase notes that between 1884 and 1886, “an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight-hour work day.”

When May 1 finally arrived, 40,000 workers went on strike in Chicago, and over 300,000 workers across the United States walked off their jobs. For two days, rallies and demonstrations ensued without violence, but on May 3, police attacked and killed picketing workers at the McCormick Reaper Works Plant. Labor leaders called for a public meeting to protest the deaths, set for the evening of May 4 in Haymarket Square. The events that ensued at Haymarket are fuzzy: A chaotic scene of protesters and police became the site of a bomb explosion (whose source has never been proven), followed by gunshots. When things were quiet, the scene left nearly a dozen dead (the exact numbers are disputed, but the Illinois Labor History Society states that seven policeman and four workers were killed).

Despite having no hard evidence on their side, the police placed blame on eight people they believed to be anarchists: Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg. These charges were rooted in not only anti-anarchist and communist sentiment of the time, but also deeply-entrenched xenophobia. Much of the labor force was made up of immigrants, and so anarchists, communists, immigrants and workers became easy scapegoats.

Six of the eight defendants were immigrants, and seven of the eight men were found guilty and sentenced to death. Two of the men’s sentences were changed to life in prison, one was exonerated and five remained to be hanged. Louis Lingg was found dead in his jail cell before the execution. And so, on November 11, 1887, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Albert Parsons and August Spies were hanged. May Day celebrations are meant to honor the lives of these people and the movements from which they emerged.

A Day of Action for immigrants, queers and workers

Armando Robles, the President of UE Local 1110 who was part of the historic Republic Windows and Doors occupation, centers this history as a reason to keep honoring May Day. “People sacrificed their lives fighting for eight hours,” he explains, “and in Chicago and around the world, this day means something important because of that.”

Just like in the late 1800s, Robles argues, “we have to fight a lot of battles all over the country with this administration’s policies against immigrants. So, we have to not only celebrate and march, but also hold workshops, meetings and tell the government we are not in favor of this treatment.”

In 2006, labor movement and immigrant justice leaders worked to center immigrant labor in that year’s May Day marches. In the face of the Sensenbrenner bill—a federal bill introduced in 2005 which would have criminalized assistance to undocumented immigrants who were seeking food, housing or medical services—May Day organizers proclaimed the march “A Day Without Immigrants.”  The bill passed in the House but failed in the Senate, thanks in part to mass resistance. Still, comprehensive immigration reform has yet to be upheld, and the connection between and overlap among immigrants and workers continues to be an integral theme of May Day rallies.

Today, with the Trump administration’s constant assault on immigrants, May Day’s commitment to uphold the value and dignity of immigrants is vital. Maximillian Alvarez is a graduate student at the University of Michigan, a member of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (American Federation of Teachers Local 3550), and the son of an immigrant worker from Mexico. He tells In These Times, “People understand that the easy way out is to blame immigrants—to punch down and find some other desperate group of people to kick off the life raft, without doing the harder task of understanding the mechanisms of global capitalism are ultimately the reason they will never achieve the sustainable happiness they were promised as hardworking people. And I think this speaks to the imperative of May Day, the spirit of international worker solidarity. It’s a spirit of solidarity that fundamentally understands that capital wins by dividing us, and by pitting us against each other.”

Similarly, queer workers—including queer, immigrant workers—are in a particularly precarious time in the United States, with right-wing policy makers working to roll back existing protections and to prevent new protections from being enacted. There are no explicit and consistent federal protections for LGBTQ workers, and existing protections provided through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and judicial interpretation are on their way to the Supreme Court, where they may be overturned by next summer. This makes union contracts an incredible asset to queer workers, who can fight for healthcare, job protection and partner benefits through contract negotiations.

Be Marston, a shop steward for UNITE HERE Local 8 in Portland, Oregon, says she shows up to May Day mobilizations to help remind people that queer and trans workers are fighting economic injustice alongside their fight against trans and homophobic treatment. “Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I want to show everyone we are in this fight,” Marston notes. “May Day is a day when we all pull out of our trenches and remind ourselves of the great power we have when we all come together.”

Kris Brown, a union worker with the Inlandboatman’s Union in San Francisco echoes that May Day is more than just a celebratory march. “Labor Day in the U.S. is a day of rest for those workers who are fortunate enough to have holidays off, and May Day is a day of action,” he says.

May Day organizers plan more than marches. The Worker Solidarity Networkhas proposed that May 1 should mark the start of global “solidarity days,” which would involve “actions in the streets, organizing at workplaces, and building assemblies of workers.” Similarly, the Boston May Day Coalition has meetings year-round and is active in organizing and supporting immigrant justice actions.

Around the globe, trade unions and other worker justice groups plan marches and other events in honor of the Haymarket martyrs, as well as various labor actions and strikes in their respective countries. The Yellow Vests, a complex economic justice movement that began in France in November of 2018, will spend its first May Day in the streets, re-asserting demands for fair wages and higher taxes on the rich. In Cuba, which is home to some of the largest May Day demonstrations in the world, workers and students take the streets in supportsocialism and against harsh U.S. blockades. South Africa has long celebrated International Workers Day, and in 1950, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) called for a May Day strike in support of workers and in opposition to the apartheid government. That strike ended in state-sanctioned violence, leaving 18 dead. Every May Day since has in part honored the lives lost in the struggle for worker justice and self-determination.

Reviving the strike

May Day is also a strike. Most marches ask us to walk off work, in honor of the 1886 history, and as a reminder of the necessity of keeping this labor tactic alive. Author and organizer Jane McAlevey explains in her book No Shortcuts that, particularly now, we can’t count on courts or politicians to protect workers. Instead, we must fight and build power in the “the economic arena” in order to transform society.

As Trump administration attacks on workers get worse, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in the number of strikes: teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, North Carolina and California; nurses in Vermont; Marriott Hotel workers in various locations; food service workers at Harvardand Tufts; and the recent 11-day Stop and Shop strike in New England. In all of these cases, the powerful act of ceasing work resulted in wins for workers that they hadn’t been able to obtain through other means. The strike reminds us all that it is workers who create wealth, who have the power, and who deserve fair contracts.

Jessica Salfia is a member of the West Virginia teachers union, and was a key player in the 2018 strike that resulted in a 5% pay increase. For her and her fellow teachers, the strike was a tool they knew they had to use for their and their student’s survival. Salfia explains that after years of workplace setbacks—slashed salaries, increased class sizes and the loss of classroom resources—the teachers knew they had to take serious action. “For me, it was death by a thousand cuts,” says Salfia. “And when they said we were gonna have to deal with bad health care and a pay cut, teacher’s said this time, ‘no, this is it, we’ve had enough.’”

Danielle Manning, a public school teacher and co-chair of United Teachers Los Angeles, says that history played an important role in her union’s ability to go on strike in January of 2019.  “A few of our teachers were on strike in the ‘89 strike. And knowing the history of striking—that it’s possible—is important.”

Joe Jarmie, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 371, also went on strike this year, walking off his job as a meat cutter at Stop and Shop where he’s been working for 33 years. Joe says the solidarity from other unions and the community helped keep their spirits up during the 11-day negotiations.

“We got overwhelming support from unions and the community. The first day we had boxes of 15 pizzas, 10 cases of water, 30 dozen donuts, 70 boxes of coffee,” he said, adding, “I kept track, I wanted to make sure who I should send thank you notes to. So if that’s not community support, I don’t know what is.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 1, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Raechel Anne Jolie is a writer, educator and media maker based in Minneapolis. She holds a PhD from the University of Minnesota, and has been published in numerous academic journals and popular press sites. She covers labor, prisons and LGBTQ justice, and her memoir Rust Belt Femme is forthcoming from Belt Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @reblgrrlraechel.

 

You Can Be Fired for Not Showing Up to Work During a Hurricane

Monday, September 17th, 2018

Ahead of a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence, politicians and safety officials tell the public to evacuate early and not wait until conditions get bad. We all know that you can lose your home and your belongings, but politicians never talk about the fact that during a disaster, many people can lose their jobs as well.

Even when there are mandatory evacuation orders, many businesses insist that employees still show up for work. Many more won’t pay employees for time missed ahead of, during and after a storm. This forces many to make an impossible choice between protecting their lives or protecting their jobs.

In September 2017, Hurricane Irma wrecked vast portions of Florida. In its wake, Irma left many Floridians without power, shelter or essential belongings. Worse, the impact of the storm meant many people did not know how they would earn their next paycheck. Some lost their jobs because they couldn’t make it into work during the storm, while others were left unemployed after businesses had to shut down for repairs. After hearing about employer threats against people who were evacuating instead of going to work during the hurricane, Central Florida Jobs With Justice conducted a survey to determine how widespread the practice of requiring employees to show up to work in the middle of a Category 4 hurricane really was.

What they found was striking. More than half of those who responded to the survey said they faced disciplinary action or termination if they failed to show up to work during the storm. Others didn’t have to show up to work, but weren’t paid if they couldn’t make it during the evacuation, putting similar pressures on them to show up even in the worst conditions.

To put it bluntly: Even in the middle of a hurricane, many businesses still put their own profits over the well-being of their employees.

But this isn’t the way things have to be. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who comply with evacuation orders during a state of emergency, and some employers are taking the initiative to put “climate leave” policies in writing. However, the number of communities and companies with such policies is small and likely will remain so until working people are able to band together to demand protection from the increasing threat of hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. And while federal programs already exist that provide assistance to people put out of work due to disasters, they need to be strengthened and expanded at the state and local levels.

As our climate changes, we can expect stronger hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. Recent hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, Maria and now Florence have impacted millions of people, disrupting lives, destroying communities and killing thousands. The struggles that individuals face before, during and after a major event like Irma or Florence are already great enough without adding the stress of losing your job or wondering when you’ll get your next paycheck.

Now is the time to write new rules to ensure working people can protect themselves and their livelihoods before, during and after big disasters. We know that the climate crisis is already hurting poor people more severely than the wealthy. There’s no need to exacerbate this inequality and force people to lose a paycheck or their job due to our man-made climate crisis.

This piece was originally published at Jobs with Justice and the AFL-CIO on September 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Joel Mendelson is a Communications Specialist at Jobs with Justice, where he is responsible for the development and execution of communications strategies, monitoring news and editorial coverage of core issues, and drafting content for campaigns, research publications, and other projects.

U.N. Special Report: U.S. Workers Restricted in Exercising Basic Union Rights

Friday, October 21st, 2016

12189524_10154256555228098_5790056854214410429_nA new report finds that the United States fails to uphold the most basic rights of workers, particularly in the South, where some states “support or collude with employers to infringe upon workers’ rights to peaceful assembly and association.” The report cited examples such as Tennessee officials’ opposition to unionization at a Volkswagen plant and the “government of Mississippi [which] touts the lack of unionization as a great benefit when courting potential employers.”

Maina Kiai, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and author of the report, stated that while governments are “obligated under international law to respect, protect and fulfill workers’ rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association,” many fail to enable, protect or enforce these fundamental rights, “disenfranchising millions of workers.”

u-n-special-report-u-s-workers-restricted-in-exercising-basic-union-rights_blog_post_fullwidthKiai, a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist, spent more than two weeks in several U.S. cities researching workers’ rights. He met with Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi; United Steelworkers (USW) members at Novelis in New York, and Asarco in Arizona; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)-member carwash workers in New York City; UNITE HERE hotel workers in New York and Arizona; and AFT-member teachers in Louisiana.

Kiai experienced firsthand the many obstacles our nation’s workers need to overcome to organize and bargain for a better life. He made clear that the United States needs to do more, both domestically and in the global supply chains of our companies, “where some of the worst abuses of freedoms of association and peaceful assembly are found—and where migrant workers are often concentrated.”

As the report found: “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are…key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.” Unfortunately, the United States is a long way from meeting this standard.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on October 21, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Aaron Chappell writes for AFL-CIO about the right to unionize and collective bargaining.

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