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Posts Tagged ‘employee unions’

When Unions Save Lives

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

Image result for Austyn Gaffney"It was a typical workday for Michael “Flip” Wilson when a splintered steel bit punctured his forehead an inch above his eye. He was operating the claw-like continuous miner, a machine that cuts coal from an underground seam. Back above ground, Wilson’s superintendent tweezed out the metal, slapped on a BandAid and sent him back under, Wilson says. It happened again two days later.

That was about five years ago, when Wilson was 60. Wilson left his final coal job at Parkway Mine in 2015. He insists he loved his 44-year career throughout Western Kentucky, though it was checkered with similar injuries: a broken finger, electrocution from a bad cable, and multiple incidents of being buried under rockfall.

“I’ve seen a guy with a broken back,” Wilson says. “I’ve carried out a guy with a leg or an arm cut off. I’ve seen guys burn up. I’ve seen 10 get killed down there at one time in an explosion.”

Kentucky has seen five coal mine fatalities this year, and while injuries from mine accidents are on the decline nationally—from more than 5,000 reported in 2005 to about 1,500 in 2018—the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) credits the decline in part to the overall decline in coal jobs, as well as tougher enforcement.

MSHA, created in 1977, inspects underground mines quarterly. When it finds a safety hazard, MSHA can fine the mine operators. However, $100 million of $1 billion levied in penalties between 2000 and 2017 remains unpaid. MSHA has no power to compel payment unless it files a lawsuit, and operators with unpaid fines can open new mine operations without consequences.

The Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General reported in August that MSHA’s collections program hasn’t led to safer mining operations, and no correlation exists between the amount or frequency of penalties and the safety of a mine. “Many companies see fines as the cost of doing business,” says Tony Oppegard, an attorney who specializes in mine safety cases.

There is, however, one way to prevent accidents: unions. According to a new Stanford University study of underground safety from 1993 to 2010, “Unionization is associated with a 13-30% drop in traumatic injuries and a 28- 83% drop in fatalities.”

“At a unionized mine, you have safety committeemen who are appointed by the union to look out for the safety of their fellow workers,” Oppegard says.

Almost 20% of mines were unionized in 1993, but by 2010, the proportion was below 10%. No unionized coal mines are left in Kentucky.

Wilson did not have the benefit of union protection, so he was at the mercy of the companies. “They can make it safer, but … they just want the coal,” Wilson says.

Oppegard thinks MSHA should be using more powerful enforcement tools at its disposal. For example, the agency can recommend the Secretary of Labor file an injunction to shut down dangerous mines. MSHA used this power for the first time in 2010 against a Massey Energy Company mine that had almost 2,000 citations in two years. (Massey is the same corporation responsible for the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that left 29 dead in West Virginia.)

In response, Massey simply closed the mine. Oppegard hopes legal action can reduce future safety and health violations. He has represented Wilson in safety complaints against Armstrong Coal Company, operator of Parkway Mine, where Wilson worked. Wilson claims the company violated MSHA regulations by running tests of coal dust levels for 4 to 5 hours instead of the required 8 to 10, cheating the results. Now, the federal government has filed a criminal complaint against former managers of Armstrong Coal (which went under in 2017) over the alleged test tampering. Lawyers for the defendants did not respond to a request for comment.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that 1 in 5 longtime coal miners in central Appalachia has black lung, a potentially fatal cluster of lung diseases, from inhaling unsafe amounts of coal dust. Since 1969, black lung has caused the death of at least 76,000 former coal miners.

Wilson has had black lung for at least 5 years. He is testifying in the federal case. But a successful suit won’t cure his condition.

“Hell, I can’t do anything,” Wilson says of his condition. “I’ve got three great-grandkids and I can’t play with them the way I want to. I run out of oxygen. And there ain’t no cure for it.”

This article was originally published by Politico on October 30, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Austyn Gaffney is a freelance writer from Kentucky who has written for HuffPost, onEarth, Sierra and Vice.

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.

Teamwork On and Off the Ice: Worker Wins

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with women’s hockey players forming a union and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.

Top Women’s Hockey Players Form Union in Pursuit of Pro League: More than 200 of the top women’s hockey players in the world have come together to form the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Among the goals the union is pursuing are a “single, viable women’s professional league in North America,” coordination of training needs and the development of sponsor support. Olympic gold medalist Coyne Schofield said: “We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had. It’s time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

New England Macy’s Workers Reach Tentative Agreement to Avoid Strike: Workers at several Macy’s stores throughout New England have agreed to a tentative deal that will avoid a strike. Nearly 1,000 workers, represented by UFCW Local 1445, agreed to a three-year deal that includes better wages and health care options, among other gains. The union said: “Thanks to the strength of the Macy’s members who with the support of the UFCW Local 1445 membership, allies, customers and other unions around the country won a tentative agreement security time and one half on Sundays, reduced cost of health insurance premiums and good wage increases and no give backs!”

Educators at D.C. Public Charter School Join AFT: Educators at Washington, D.C.’s Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School have voted to join the AFT. The teachers are currently bargaining on their first contract and chose the union because they want to make sure that the school is a place where kids will thrive, teachers want to work and parents want to send their kids. Kindergarten teacher Andrea Molina said: “While we teach our kids about social justice and equity, we do not always experience it ourselves. Our teachers and staff are a strong, dedicated team; they work around the clock to make our school an amazing place to teach and learn and to set an example for other schools in the district. Our victory tonight will ensure we are treated with the dignity and respect that reflects the commitment we each have made to our school.”

New York Tenement Museum Workers Join UAW: Workers at the Tenement Museum in New York voted to join UAW Local 2110. The workers are joining together to make sure they maintain the things about the job that are working and to improve things that aren’t. Nicole Daniels, a museum educator, explained: “A big part of it is we want to protect the things that are working and secure the things that are already keeping so many of us here….So a lot of it is about preserving the things that work already, but also standardizing systems….There’s a huge range of people across the departments, some of whom are part-time and others full-time, some of whom have benefits through the museum and others who don’t. Some of the ones who don’t have benefits through the museum get them from their parents or their partners. We want to serve the whole group, so we’re just going to have to see what’s needed.”

New Lear Manufacturing Facility Workers in Flint Join UAW: Nearly 600 employees at the new Lear manufacturing plant in Flint, Michigan, voted to join the UAW. The new plant makes automotive seats. UAW President Gary Jones said: “We are thrilled to bring Lear’s exceptional workers into the UAW family and are excited about the prospect of new jobs available in Flint. The UAW represents more than 400,000 members and has welcomed over 10,000 new members since August. We welcome these workers and the opportunity to be a part of Flint’s rebirth. We look forward to getting down to business, bargaining great contracts and helping our new members make a positive impact on the community.”

Stop & Shop Strike Leads to Victory for Working People: After an 11-day strike that followed more than three months of negotiations, more than 30,000 Stop & Shop Workers, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers, reached a tentative agreement with the supermarket chain. The employees work at more than 240 stores across Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In a statement, the union said: “The agreement preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members. Under this proposed contract, our members will be able to focus on continuing to help customers in our communities.” Stop & Shop workers have since ratified the contract.

Rutgers Faculty Avoids Strike with Tentative Deal: Faculty members at Rutgers were able to secure a new tentative contract in the proverbial last minute before they went on strike. The 4,800 full-time faculty and graduate workers represented by Rutgers AAUP-AFT will need to vote on the contract. Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Deep Kumar described the terms of the deal: “We made history today. For the first time in the union’s nearly 50-year history, we won equal pay for equal work for female faculty, faculty of color, and for faculty in the Newark and Camden campuses. We won significant pay raises for our lowest paid members, our graduate employees who will see their pay increase from $25,969 to $30,162 over the course of the contract. In other historic firsts, the union won $20 million for diversity hiring and a guarantee of a workplace free of harassment and stalking, enforced with binding arbitration. Academic freedom now applies to social media.”

Quartz Editorial Staff Vote to Join NewsGuild: Editorial staff at news outlet Quartz, which covers the economy, tech, geopolitics, work and culture, have voted to be represented by The NewsGuild of New York/CWA Local 31003. The union has asked Japanese media company Uzabase, which owns Quartz, to voluntarily recognize the union. The editorial staffers are looking to swiftly begin the bargaining process and are looking to strengthen existing benefits and improve pay equity, diversity and job security. “We love Quartz, and we love working here. For us, organizing is a way to double down on our commitment to the publication and the continued pursuit of its excellence. We are excited about the future of Quartz, and we want to make sure we are a part of it,” said Annalisa Merelli, Geopolitics reporter.

Researchers in University of California System Launch New Union: Researchers in the University of California system are in the final stages of forming the first union exclusively for researchers who are not faculty or graduate students. The new union, Academic Researchers United (ARU), is a unit within UAW Local 5810. ARU members are seeking better pay and benefits, job security, transparency in hiring and promotion, and other protections. “At this moment, academic researchers have no job security and are facing super uncertain career paths,” said Anke Schennink, president of Local 5810.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on May 24, 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.

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

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

As shutdown becomes longest in U.S. history, federal employees sue over working for no pay

Monday, January 14th, 2019

The government shutdown dragged on for a 22nd day on Saturday, making it the longest in American history. On Friday, 800,000 federal employees went without their paychecks. And though President Trump insists “the buck stops with everybody,”  51 percent of Americans are placing blame for the shutdown him and him alone, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

On Friday, federal employee unions filed a lawsuit accusing the government of violating federal labor laws by forcing “essential” employees to continue to work through the shutdown, even though they aren’t being paid. These unions — the National Federation of Federal Employees, the National Association of Government Employees, the National Weather Service Employees Organization — have sued in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. They allege that by not paying workers minimum wage and overtime, the federal government is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In a statement, NFFE National President Randy Erwin said:

“In this country, when a worker performs a day’s work, he or she is entitled to a day’s worth of compensation. That is how working people provide for their families. Because of the chaos this wasteful government shutdown is causing, the government is trying to pay people in I.O.U.s. With this lawsuit we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t pay workers with I.O.U.s. That will not work for us.’”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association also sued the federal government Friday, as its workers, too, work sans pay throughout the shutdown. Their lawsuit argues that the administration is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as the Fifth Amendment, asserting that it “unlawfully deprived NATCA members of their earned wages without due process,” as the group wrote in a press release. According to The Hill, NATCA is asking for a hearing on its motion for a temporary restraining order against the government.

Politico reports that the Office of Management and Budget is working on “a special mid-cycle pay disbursement for impacted agencies” so that employees can be paid swiftly — that is, once the shutdown ends.

One thing that would not end the shutdown, according to the White House, is the declaration of a national emergency, a move Trump is said to be giving serious consideration.

Sources told Politico that White House officials have urged congressional Republicans to manage their expectations about the shutdown coming to a speedy conclusion in the event that Trump declares a national emergency at the border.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress.

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