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Working In These TimesThe Strike Against General Motors Is One Front in a Much Larger Class War

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Nearly 50,000 General Motors (GM) auto workers left their posts and marched off the job en masse late Sunday night. Since then, it’s been all able bodies to the picket line. The strike is on.

With negotiations between GM and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) leadership hitting an impasse, the 2015 GM collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight on September 15. The UAW officially announced the strike after local union leaders from around the country convened on Sunday morning. The ensuing images of workers (including a coauthor of this article) hitting picket lines this week glow with an electric air of worker solidarity. From afar, one gets the sense of an undivided union showing its strength—united in the fight from top to bottom. But the view from the pavement tells a very different story.

Far from a unified front, the largest strike against GM in over a decade reveals something that everyone sitting at the bargaining table in Detroit knows and fears: The divide between the UAW leadership and the rank and file has never been wider. Much of this has to do with revelations from an FBI corruption probe implicating former and current union officials in alleged misdeeds, including rampantly misappropriating union funds and abusing the trust of their members. With news that even current UAW President Gary Jones is being investigated for corruption, anger and frustration among workers is palpable. And their feelings towards GM executives aren’t any rosier.

Workers have watched GM haul in major profits after having been bailed out by the public (to the tune of $11.2 billion) during the Great Recession—and kept afloat by the sacrifices its own employees agreed to make. Among those sacrifices was the introduction of a tiered wage system, which allowed GM to bring in more low-wage and temporary workers to do the same jobs for a lot less money. An ostensibly temporary fix that GM has more or less made permanent, this tiered system sows divisions on the shop floor, and UAW members want it gone.

Workers accepted these and other belt-tightening measures when the chips were down. But with GM generating a combined profit of $35 billion in North America over the past three years, it’s clear that the belt remains noose-locked around the rank and file while the engorged bellies and bank accounts of GM executives continue their unconstrained expansion. And after seeing these profits and their own sacrifices rewarded with plant closures and mass layoffs, workers are rightfully pissed.

Ask any long-term worker on the picket line and they will tell you just how vividly they remember what they had to give up to keep GM out of bankruptcy a decade ago—and how painfully aware they are of GM’s refusal to appreciate and adequately repay them for it. They haven’t forgotten, and they’re prepared for a long fight. Both GM and the UAW leadership have to know that they are sitting on top of a powder keg.

The rank and file tell the truth, and the truth is that this strike is decades in the making. The truth is that, like our fellow workers around the country and around the world, auto workers have had so much more taken from them over the past half century than they could ever hope to claw back in any collective bargaining agreement. And the truth is that what has been lost can only be taken back by the force of a democratic rank-and-file movement—a movement that refuses to be co-opted by the owning class the way the out-of-touch union hierarchies allowed themselves to be co-opted.

Day in, day out, we sweat and grind under the heavy sun of labor’s lost dreams: the dream of working to live, not living to work; the dream of workers having greater ownership over our workplaces, and having more of a say in what our economy produces and how; the dream of workers, not owners, actually being the ones who profit from our hard work; the dream of universal, guaranteed employment; the dream of necessities like healthcare being institutionalized as basic rights so that one’s employer could never have the grossly unjust power to take them away. A rank-and-file movement can and must re-ignite these dreams, and it must do so while recognizing and avoiding the pitfalls labor fell into before.

A strike against GM is one battle in a much larger class war waged against working people by the owners of society. To quote Walter Reuther, “There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.”

The bigger the bargaining unit, the more power we have. And the ravages multinational corporations like GM wreak upon our communities can only be fought with international worker solidarity.

In the past we were unified by geography. Companies like GM would envelope an entire city. With workers living so close to one another they could develop a culture of solidarity that bound them together. Now the workforce is global, split up over invisible lines in the dirt, caged within imagined national communities that are held together by guns, walls and bureaucracies. If our goal is to regain the power we once had, the power that gave birth to the labor movement in the first place, we need to broaden our vision, we need to see the global class struggle for what it is, and we need to act accordingly.

Unionism in one country is no match for capitalism in every country. We can’t just focus on one industry, one nation, or one job classification. We need to unify with our fellow workers across borders in a collective effort to win back what’s ours, the fruits of our labor.

This article originally appeared on Inthesetimes.com on September 19, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sean Crawford is a member of United Auto Workers and Democratic Socialists of America and a worker at the Flint Truck Assembly.</.P Maximillian Alvarez is a dual-PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. His writing has been featured in The Baffler, Boston Review, Current Affairs, Truthout, etc. He is the host of Working People, “a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.”

49,000 Striking Auto Workers Should Vote No on “Two-Tier.” Here’s Why.

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Image result for jane slaughter writerAuto workers on strike since midnight at General Motors are between a rock and a hard place—a hugely profitable company making outrageous demands for concessions and a union leadership that made no plan for winning a strike and has not even told members what they’re going out for. Picket signs say simply “UAW on Strike.”

Over the last decades many other unions have taught themselves how to do contract campaigns and strikes, with members on board from the get-go. But to look at the UAW’s confrontation with GM this week, you’d think none of that experience had ever happened.

Not a button was distributed in the plants. Members heard not a word from leaders about bargaining goals. There was no survey of the membership, no contract action teams, no bargaining bulletins to keep members in the loop. No “practice picketing,” no turn-down of overtime, no outreach to the public, no open bargaining.

As they have for decades, UAW officials played their cards close to the vest, with only management allowed a peek. Members knew only what they read in the media, explained materials handler Sean Crawford in Flint.

And yet 49,000 UAW members are angry enough with GM’s arrogance and downright oppression that they are ready to strike.

BIG CONCESSIONS DEMANDED

Local 598 in Flint broke the embargo when it reported that GM wants members to pay more for health insurance and is offering a less-than-inflation raise. Worse, it wants no movement on its odious tiered system that has flooded the plants with lower-paid outside contractors, a subsidiary called GM Subsystems, and temps—GM employees with no rights.

Beth Baryo, a former temp and now an “in progression” (second-tier) worker in Burton, Michigan, said that temps are allowed to miss only three days of work per year, unpaid, with advance approval, and can be forced to work seven-day weeks.

At the GM Tech Center where she works, outside Detroit, said Jessie Kelly, there are 1,300 workers employed by GM and 550 employed by Aramark, doing work that used to be GM workers’.

GM was bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of $50 billion in 2009. It made over $8 billion in profits last year, while paying no federal income taxes yet gifting CEO Mary Barra $22 million. For GM to demand concessions from its overworked employees now is a sign that it thinks the UAW is an easy foe.

After all, UAW President Gary Jones may be distracted. His house and that of former President Dennis Williams were both searched by the FBI August 28. Jones’ top lieutenant before he became president, Vance Pearson, was charged with using union funds for personal luxuries, and it’s widely believed that Jones and Williams will be next. Pearson was the sixth UAW official to be recently charged or convicted of graft.

Crawford said as the strike kicked off, “Yes, the UAW is corrupt. It’s disgusting beyond belief. But this is not about them. It’s about us. We can and will clean house. But we have a more immediate fight on our hands right now.”

Kelly too wanted to rally the troops against GM: “If somebody in the union abused their power, their future is already set out for them. Ours is not, ours is up in the air. All we can do is be there for each other because if we lose sight… GM will win because we were focusing on the wrong fight right now.”

Mitch Fox, now at Romulus Engine, his third GM plant after shutdowns and layoffs, is sickened by the corruption. He hopes leaders’ disrepute could be a motive for the strike: “With everything that’s going on, maybe they’ll try harder to gain our respect back; hopefully that’s the plan.”

But if past contracts are an indication, the pact Jones negotiates is sure to be weak.

YOU CAN VOTE NO

With top leaders discredited but refusing to step away, GM strikers have just one tool to use between their rock and their hard place: their right to vote no. They can do what Chrysler workers did in 2015: organize to turn down a contract that enshrined the two-tier system.

In 2015 rank-and-file Chrysler workers, with no union support, made leaflets and T-shirts, created Facebook groups to share their stories, and rallied outside informational meetings.

They did what no one thought possible in the UAW and voted Williams’s offer down 2-1, overcoming his defiant declaration that “ending two-tier is bullshit!” and winning a partial victory. The offer was improved, establishing a grow-in for second-tier workers to full pay (though still without pensions or the same health care plan).

Soon after the Chrysler vote, perhaps emboldened by the “no” vote at Chrysler, GM skilled trades workers rejected their pact as well, by almost 60 percent, winning some improvements. (Production workers voted yes by 58 percent.)

In 2015 what the automakers did with one hand they took away with another, though—a less-noticed provision also increased the use of temps.

“I’m voting no on any contract proposal that doesn’t give a pathway to equality for every GM/ UAW member,” said Crawford. “This is a sacred principle. It is the very meaning of the word union. This opportunity might not come again.”

This story first appeared at Labor Notes.

This article originally appeared on Inthesetimes.com on September 17, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

Jane Slaughter is the author of Concessions and How To Beat Them and co-author, with Mike Parker, of Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept and Working Smart: A Union Guide to Participation Programs and Reengineering. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Monthly Review, among others. Jane Slaughter  works for Labor Notes in Detroit.

Chicago hotel strike enters sixth day, as workers demand year-round health insurance

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Thousands of Chicago hotel workers continued their strike for the sixth day Wednesday, primarily to demand a year-round health insurance guarantee. The union said workers also want higher wages, more sick days, and more manageable workloads, the Associated Press reported. Their contracts, which covered 6,000 employees, expired on August 30.

The number of hotel workers involved in the strike has only increased since then. On Monday, workers at Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile joined the strike, which brought the count of hotels affected by the strike to 26. Before the strike, more than 3,000 UNITE HERE Local 1’s members voted on the issue and 97 percent voted to authorize it.

The union told the Chicago Tribune that it is the most widespread and coordinated hotel worker strike ever held in Chicago. It’s the first strike in the city to include all hotel workers, whether they’re dishwashers or housekeepers, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

As the Tribune reported, there are only four hotels that have expired contracts where hotel workers are not on strike: Hotel Raffaelo, Tremont Chicago at Magnificent Mile, Park Hyatt Chicago, and Fairmont Chicago.

Some fine dining restaurants, including the Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s fine-dining restaurant and Torali Italian-Steak, are closed or offering limited menus. Inside the Palmer House Hilton, long lines await check-in, dirty towels have been piling up, and beds have been left unmade, according to ABC7. One guest, Matt Lissack, told ABC7 that the line for check-in was “literally around the building.”

In the central business, there are 174 hotels, which means travelers could stay somewhere that is not dealing with contract negotiations, but the hotels in the midst of a strike are some of the biggest ones in Chicago, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Q. Rivers, who works at Palmer House Hilton, said in a statement on the union website, “Hotels may slow down in the wintertime, but I still need my diabetes medication when I’m laid off. Nobody should lose their health benefits just because it’s cold out. Full-time jobs should have year-round benefits.”

Each hotel or hotel brand does its own negotiation with the union, so management at some hotels and brands could make agreements with the union before others. Hotel groups say it’s too early in the negotiation process for workers to go on strike, and say they have not yet reached an impasse with the union.

Thousands of workers have disagreed. A spokesperson for Hyatt sent a statement to ABC7 saying, “In fact, Hyatt has not received the union’s complete proposals. Colleague benefits and wages remain unchanged as we negotiate a new agreement … Many colleagues are working …”

A Hilton spokesperson told the outlet “More and more of our union Team Members are choosing to return to work and we welcome them to do so,” adding that “It is still early in the negotiations process and Hilton is committed to negotiating in good faith with UNITE HERE Local 1.”

UNITE HERE Local 1 recently helped workers by advocating for a Chicago ordinance that made the city the second in the country to require that hotels have panic buttons. These panic buttons allow hotel workers to request help if a guest is harassing or sexually assaulting them. In 2016, the union put out a survey that showed 58 percent of those surveyed were sexually harassed by guests.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits

Don't Pass Huge Tax Cuts for the Wealthy on the Backs of Working People

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate have proposed a job-killing tax plan that favors the super-rich and wealthy corporations over working people. We cannot afford to let this bill become law.

Here’s why this plan is a bad idea:

  • Millions of working people would pay more. People making under $40,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2021; and people making under $75,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2027.
  • The super-rich and Wall Street would make out like bandits. The richest 0.1% would get an average tax cut of more than $208,000, and 62% of the benefits of the Senate bill would go to the richest 1%. Big banks, hedge funds and other Wall Street firms would be the biggest beneficiaries of key provisions of the bill.
  • Job-killing tax breaks for outsourcing. The Republican tax plan would lower the U.S. tax rate on offshore profits to zero, giving corporations more incentive to move American jobs offshore. 
  • Working people would lose health care. Thirteen million people would lose health insurance, and health care premiums would rise 10% in the non-group market. Meanwhile, Republicans want to cut Medicaid and Medicare by $1.5 trillion—the same price tag as their tax bill.
  • Job-killing cuts to infrastructure and education. Eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes would drastically reduce state and local investment in infrastructure and lead to $350 billion in education cuts, jeopardizing the jobs of 350,000 educators.

Republican tax and budget plans would make working people pay the price for wasteful tax giveaways by sending our jobs overseas; killing jobs in infrastructure and education; raising our taxes; increasing the number of uninsured; and cutting the essential public services we depend on.

Call your senator today at 844-899-9913.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kelly Ross is the deputy policy director at AFLCIO. 

Trump’s new rule allows employers to drop birth control coverage with no oversight

Friday, October 6th, 2017

New contraception rules outlined by the Trump administration will allow employers to stop covering birth control — with zero government oversight.

The administration announced on Friday that, effective immediately, it was rolling back federal requirements introduced under the Obama administration which require employers to include birth control in their health insurance plans. Under the new rules, employers can simply self-exempt, citing religious or moral objections, and tell their workers that their birth control is no longer part of their health-insurance coverage.

Those employers are not required to tell the government either, according to PBS NewsHour correspondent Lisa Desjardins. They need to notify the insurers, and can send an optional note to the government.

The new rules fulfill a key campaign promise the Trump administration made to social conservatives, who have continually voiced dissent with the Obama-era federal requirement and challenged it in court. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said it was a “landmark day for religious liberty” and would ensure that people “can freely live out their religious convictions and moral beliefs.”

But the rules are deeply damaging to women’s reproductive health, and reflect a wider trend of the Trump administration attempting to dismantle women’s access to health care by opposing abortion rights and cutting grants aimed at tackling teen pregnancy.

“They like to talk about these policies in isolation,” Adam Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute told ThinkProgress’ Amanda Gomez. “They are not just trying to undermine contraceptive coverage. They’ve tried to cut Title IX funding, Planned Parenthood funding… you have to see it as a coordinated campaign.”

The ACLU, along with the Center for Reproductive Rights, Americans United for Separation of Church, and the state of California, have all said they intend to sue the Trump administration for denying birth control to women.

Conservatives have long insisted that the birth control rollbacks are designed to protect the religious liberty of groups who believe providing contraceptives would violate their moral beliefs. However, data provided by the Center for American Progress to Vox in August showed that the majority of the companies that had applied for and received exceptions were for-profit corporations. They included companies that worked in human resources, industrial machinery, and wholesale trade. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within CAP.)

According to Jamila Taylor, a senior fellow at CAP, the rules suggested Trump’s rollbacks “will open up the floodgates for nearly anyone to force women to pay out of pocket or navigate hurdles to obtaining additional cost for contraception… and simply chalk it up to moral opposition.”

About the Author: Luke Barnes is a reporter at ThinkProgress. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel and Narratively.

Republicans Working Against Workers

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Ever-worsening is the chasm between the loaded, who luxuriate in gated communities, and the workers, who are hounded at their rickety gates by bill collectors.

Even though last week’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed unemployment at a low 4.4 percent, wages continue to flatline, killing both opportunity and the consumer economy. Meanwhile, corporations persist in showering CEOs and their cronies with ever-fatter pay packages and golden parachutes when they mess up.

This would all be sufferable if workers felt those in control in Washington, D.C. were striving to turn it all around. But the Republicans, who boast majorities in both houses of Congress, are just the opposite.

Their legislation shows they’re indentured to big business. Ever since they took power, they’ve labored tirelessly to destroy worker protections. They’ve swiped money from workers’ ragged pockets and handed it to 1 percenters on a silver platter – a plate bought with massive campaign contributions by the 1 percent.

The most blatant example is Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill. Both the House and Senate versions would strip health care from tens of millions of Americans while granting corporations and the nation’s richest tax cuts totaling $700 billion.

The Tax Policy Center determined that households with incomes above $875,000 a year would get 45 percent of those benefits. For the wealthiest, the annual tax cut would be nearly $52,000, a big fat break that is almost exactly the entire household income for the median American family.

In other words, Republicans want to hand millionaires a check that equals what a typical family earns by working an entire year.

Those massive tax breaks for the rich cost workers big time. Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill slashes Medicaid, so workers’ frail, elderly parents will lose the coverage they need to remain in nursing homes, babies born with cancer and crippling congenital diseases will be cut off care, and relatives who are victims of the opioid epidemic will be denied treatment. But, hey, the rich get richer!

Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing legislation in Congress to hobble labor unions and suppress wages. One House bill would delay union elections, giving corporations more time to bully and fire workers who consider joining. This proposed legislation would also stop workers from organizing small groups instead of the entire roster of employees.

Yet another GOP proposal would change the definition of democratic election. As it is now, a congressional candidate wins when he or she receives the highest number of votes cast. Candidates aren’t deemed losers if they receive votes from fewer than half of all potential voters.

Securing ballots from more than half of potential voters would be a very hard standard to meet because in many elections little more than a third of eligible voters go to the polls. In the 2016 Presidential election, 58 percent of potential voters exercised their franchise. That means neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have won under the more than 50 percent of eligible voters standard.

Even so, the bill under consideration in Congress would impose that standard on unions. When workers want to form a union, this legislation would require that they get positive votes from more than half of all eligible workers, not more than half of those who actually vote.

It is a standard no politician would want to be held to, but Republicans are willing to require it of workers to prevent them from organizing and bargaining jointly for better wages and working conditions.

At the bidding of corporations, Republicans are working against workers because labor organizations succeed through concerted action in wresting from fat cat CEOs a more fair share of the fruit of workers’ labor. Workers in labor unions receive higher wages, better health benefits and pensions and safer conditions.

When more workers were unionized, the space between rich and poor was more like a crack than the current chasm. In the 1950s, 33 percent of workers participated in labor organizations. Now it’s 10.7 percent. In the ’50s, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay was 20-to-1. That means for every dollar a worker made, the CEO got $20. Now the ratio is 347-to-1. For every dollar a worker earns, the top dog grabs $347. CEOs of S&P 500 corporations pulled down an average of $13.1 million in total annual compensation in 2016, while their typical worker received $37,632.

The high point of unionization in America, the 1950s, was the low point in income inequality. It is called the time of the great compression. And a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reaffirms that unionization produced better wages.

In a report titled “Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement,” scholars Brantly Callaway of Temple University and William E. Collins of Vanderbilt University analyzed new data and determined “the overall wage distribution was considerably narrower in 1950 than it would have been if union members had been paid like non-union members with similar characteristics.”

They go on to say, “Our historical interpretation is that in the wake of the Great Depression, workers sought and policymakers delivered institutional reforms to labor markets that promoted  unions, reduced inequality, and helped lock in a relatively narrow distribution of wages that lasted for a generation.”

That time is gone. Unions have been declining for decades, largely as a result of onerous requirements legislated by Republicans. As unions shrank, so did worker bargaining power. The result is that while workers’ productivity increased, their wages stagnated for the past three decades.

Still, Republicans are squashing unions even more by, for example, reversing a rule requiring corporations to report when they hire union busters to strong-arm workers into voting against organizing.

And Republicans are working hard on other measures to ensure workers make even less money. For example, Missouri Republicans reversed a minimum wage increase in St. Louis and prohibited the state’s cities from requiring union-level wages on public construction projects.

In addition, in Washington, the Republican administration refused to defend in court a new rule that would have made millions more workers automatically eligible to receive time-and-a-half pay when they work overtime.

If workers feel like the system is rigged against them, that’s because it is. Republicans working at the behest of CEOs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have created a government by corporations for corporations.

And none of the government welfare and benefits that corporations and one percenters got for themselves in this process ever trickled down to workers.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

“Just Cause”: Isn’t It Time For All Workers to Have Some Job Security?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
randwilsonDuring World War Two, employers were prohibited from raising wages because of wartime Wage and Price controls.  With labor in short supply, employers and union leaders sought ways around the government limits and agreed to new health insurance benefits as an alternative to increased compensation. Thus was born our odd system of employer-based health insurance.  
 
That seemed like a good idea at the time because union leaders could achieve through collective bargaining what had been elusive through government reform: health security for their members.
 
Over the next thirty years or so, health insurance benefits expanded.  As more and more workers were covered by private insurance plans provided through their employers, the urgency of winning broad political reforms diminished and labor backing to win universal coverage faded. Our failure to expand the health benefits achieved through collective bargaining to the entire working class eventually left union members in a vulnerable position. At a certain point, union health benefits for the relatively few union members were far more generous than what most workers had. Faced with out-of control health costs employers sought to make cuts and throughout the 90s and 2000s union members increasingly were not able to defend them.
 
The final result is the very mixed result of ObamaCare, a plan that is sadly not universal and now is actually being used by employers to attack so-called “Cadillac Plans.”
 
“The United States is alone among industrialized countries in allowing at-will employees to be terminated for arbitrary reasons.”
 
That lesson shouldn’t be lost as we face what I predict will be the next collective bargaining battleground: the job security provisions of union contracts, including the “just cause” clause.
 
Instead of waiting for such an attack, we should seize the opportunity to champion passage of “Just Cause” standards into state laws. It’s a labor law reform proposal that will appeal to all workers while putting employers on the defensive.
 
It’s long overdue. The United States is alone among industrialized countries in allowing at-will employees to be terminated for arbitrary reasons. Governments such as France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom require employers to have a “just cause” to dismiss non-probationary employees. Just cause appeals to basic fairness, just as due process does in court.
 
Just cause marks the dividing line between employees with job security and “at-will” employees. At-will employees have no job security: they can be fired for a mistake, an argument with a supervisor, a critical comment about the enterprise or management, taking a sick day, a complaint about working conditions or pay, or involvement in outside political campaigns* – all activities that just-cause covered workers can take part in without worry.
 
One state has passed a law.  The Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act was passed in 1987. Applicable to non-union non-probationary employees,
it prohibits discharges without good cause, allows workers to sue for up to four years of back pay, and provides a method for workers to recover attorneys’ fees. Despite fear-mongering by opponents, the Big Sky state’s robust economic growth has not been affected. Statutes in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands also prohibit termination without “good cause.”
 
Winning “just cause” legislation would certainly not be easy. But building a movement to win it offers union leaders and activists an opportunity to champion an issue that would benefit all workers and also help union growth. Short of state or federal legislation, local unions, CLCs (Central Labor Councils) and workers’ centers could seek to enforce a just cause standard through workers’ rights boards and / or community pressure.
 
A “just cause” campaign would potentially engage working people at many different levels. One can imagine communities declaring certain areas, “Just Cause Zones” and fighting to enforce it as a community standard with employers. Other supporters could be involved using the proposed legislation as a “litmus test” for labor support in electoral campaigns. Still others could be involved in holding hearings on the importance of achieving a “Just Cause” standard and lobbying for passage with city councils and state legislatures.
 
If “just cause” campaigns succeed, workers will have more security to participate in union campaigns. Union leaders and organizers will be able to make the point that they are experts at enforcing just cause protections and can provide representation at hearings etc.
 
Even if campaigns for just cause do not succeed, millions of non-union workers will learn about the concept (especially if campaigns are based on ballot referendums) and the increased security it could bring to their lives. By popularizing the “Just Cause” concept, more workers may respond by thinking, “If we can’t get this important protection through the legislature, let’s get it by forming a union!”
 
Meanwhile, if employers do seek to roll back the just cause articles in our contracts, union members won’t be in the same position we were with the attacks on health care. Instead, we will have laid important groundwork to win broad public support and the employers’ attack can be parried, perhaps even used to strengthen the broad campaign.
 
Imagine the labor movement leading a campaign to win Just Cause protections for all workers. The sooner we get started the better!
 
 
Readers interested in learning more about the Just Cause standard should read Robert Schwartz‘s new book, “Just Cause: A union guide to winning discipline cases.” The book lays out seven tests that are the guiding principles for discipline and discharge in most union workplaces. With reform, those same standards could apply to everyone. More info go to Work Rights Press.
 
 
This article was originally posted on Union Review on January 8, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for more than twenty five years and is  currently an organizer with SEIU Local 888 in Boston. Wilson was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.  Active in electoral politics, he ran for state Auditor in a campaign to win cross-endorsement (or fusion) voting reform and establish a Massachusetts Working Families Party.  He is President of the Center for Labor Education and Research, and is on the board of directors of the ICA Group, the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund and the Center for the Study of Public Policy. 

NFL Lockout Could Cost $160 Million, 115,000 Jobs

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Image: James ParksIf the National Football League owners lock out the players next season, not only will millions of fans not have games to watch on Sunday afternoon, but more than 115,000 jobs could be lost, according to a new study.

The 32 NFL teams employ on average 3,739 people each, including players, concession workers and office staff. If the lockout lasts a long time, layoffs are likely and many of those jobs would not come back, said Jesse David, senior vice president of the economic consulting firm Edgeworth Economics, who conducted a study of the impact of a lockout for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). Check out a summary of the study here.

Not only are the players affected, but the jobs of more than 25,000 concession workers at stadiums across the country are threatened by the lockout. (See video above.)

In a telephone press conference this morning, David and NFLPA official George Atallah said each NFL home game generates on average $20 million for the team and the community. A lockout could cost each of the 32 NFL cities. as much as $160 million, they said.

“A lockout would have an impact beyond the players,” Atallah said.

We want to raise public consciousness of the effect [on communities] if the owners lock out the players.

The NFLPA has joined with the other workers in the stadiums and the rest of the union movement to fight management’s greed. Last month, the NFLPA announced that its members will fully affiliate with all AFL-CIO state federations and the central labor councils where their NFL teams are based.

The owners terminated the collective bargaining agreement two years ago because, they say, it isn’t working for them. But they refuse to provide audited financial information to explain what is wrong in a business that generated $9 billion in 2009 during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The owners are demanding that the players give back $1 billion, although not one team has lost money. They also want players to pay for team travel and the cost of running practice facilities.

On top of that, the owners have threatened to make the players pay for their own health care in case of a lockout. As it is, management provides only five years of health care coverage after players retire. Players’ NFL careers average only 3.4 years and many retire with a range of serious health problems. Not many people would argue that facing a 325-pound lineman running at full speed over and over could be dangerous to your health

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris

Court Blocks Hikes Sought by Massachusetts Health Insurance Corps.

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

A Massachusetts court yesterday blocked premium increases—some as high as 40 percent—sought by six state health insurers. The action by the Suffolk Superior Court was the second time the insurance companies’ bid to boost rates was rejected. The state Division of Insurance rejected the rate hikes last month, calling them “excessive.”

The insurance companies then filed suit claiming the state has no authority to block the premium increases and sought an injunction to prevent the state from regulating premiums until the suit comes to trial. The judge rejected the request.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Gov. Deval Patrick (D) praised the court’s decision.

Unless insurers can give us a good reason, when everything else is flat, that they deserve 20 percent, 30 percent and in some cases 40 percent increases, they’re going to be denied.

The judge said the Massachusetts companies must exhaust all their administrative appeals within the Insurance Division before the suit over the state’s ability to regulate premium costs can go forward.

The case is drawing national attention because, in 2006, Massachusetts passed a health care reform law that has several similar provisions to the recently enacted national health care reform law, including regulating premium increases.

In February, when Anthem Blue Cross in California announced it was raising premiums by as much as 39 percent, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said, “Too many Americans are at the whim of private, for-profit insurance companies.”

Anthem Blue Cross’ parent company, WellPoint, posted $4.9 billion in profits in 2009. Sebelius said health insurance companies like WellPoint “are raking in billions in profits each year, while policyholders struggle to make ends meet in this tough economy.” In a letter to Anthem President Leslie Margolin, she demanded the company provide justification for the increases.

The extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation. Your company’s strong financial position makes these rate increases even more difficult to understand.

Following public outcry, the company agreed to postpone the rate hikes until May, pending a review by an outside actuary appointed by the state insurance commissioner.

*This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 13, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

How Online Activists Ended Insurance Company Discrimination Against Women

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Last year, we ran a story about Peggy Robertson of Colorado. Robertsons’ health insurer, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth, had required that she be sterilized to receive health insurance. Peggy later testified before a Senate HELP subcommittee on insurance company discrimination against women, and told her story to millions on ABC Nightly News and on YouTube.

The committee Chair, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, reacted strongly to Robertsons’ testimony, calling it a bone-chilling and morally repugnant story of insurance company abuse. Today, the New York Times caught up with Robertson and asked for her reaction to the health care bills’ passage into law:

In a telephone interview on Friday, Ms. Robertson said: Barbara Mikulski told me, she promised me, This will never happen again. She did it. Its wonderful.

But it wasnt just Sen. Mikulski. Activists first mobilized in September, after discovering that domestic violence could be legally deemed a pre-existing coverage in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Online activists reacted by flooding Congress with petitions and emails and it paid off. The original House and Senate bill included specific language banning this practice.

In the months that followed, tens of thousands of SEIU online activists rallied against insurance company discrimination, sending thousands of personal emails to Congress. And even more signed petitions to Congress asking that they include language in the final bill to ban practices like gender rating and classifying domestic violence as a pre-existing condition.

Thousands more publicized this issue across social networks, taking their ticket and stating “I am not a pre-existing condition” on Twitter and Facebook.

We also rigged our phone system to direct calls into male members of Congress to educate them on gender discrimination by insurers.

Supporters joined the “I am not a pre-existing condition” Facebook group and wore t-shirts to the gym and around their neighborhoods.

And finally, bloggers and partner organizations (esp. the National Women’s Law Center) wallpapered the web with original reporting, thoughtful analysis and calls to action on ending insurance company discrimination against women. Blogs like Feministing, RH Reality Check, and Feministe fiercely reported on these stories and directed their readers to actions.

Together, we made history. Because of your activism, in four years, United States law will ban insurers from discriminating against women with higher fees, denial of coverage, and failure to provide coverage of critical procedures and services, like maternity care and c-sections.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on March 30, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jessica Kutch is an online campaign manager for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where she directs the union’s new media campaign to win health insurance reform. She’s been organizing online since 2005, and has expertise in email advocacy, online advertising, social media and blogger relations.  Before joining SEIU, Jess managed online campaigns for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. She’s a graduate of Bennington College.

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