Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘unions’

Trump’s SEC Chairman Proposes to Disenfranchise Investors and Reduce Shareholder Democracy

Friday, November 8th, 2019

Image result for Brandon Rees"In a partisan 3-2 vote, the Trump administration’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed to curtail the rights of investors to file proposals for a vote at company annual meetings. If adopted, these changes will hinder shareholder proposals by union members and their pension plans to hold corporate management accountable.

“We strongly oppose the SEC’s shareholder proposal rule changes that will limit the ability of working people and their pension plans to have a voice in the companies that we invest in,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA). The proposed changes include dramatic increases in stock ownership requirements and vote resubmission requirements.

Corporate CEOs of the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce have long wished for these changes to the shareholder proposal rule. In a 2017 letter to the SEC, the AFL-CIO showed how these proposed rule changes will undermine efforts to increase corporate responsibility for environmental, social and governance issues.

“The right to petition corporate management by filing shareholder proposals is an integral part of shareholder democracy in the United States,” Trumka explained. “The SEC should protect the rights of working people as the real main street investors, not the interests of overpaid and unaccountable corporate CEOs.”

For more information about the efforts of SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, nominated by President Trump, to disenfranchise investors and reduce shareholder democracy by curtailing the shareholder proposal rule, please visit the Investor Rights Forum.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Brandon Rees is the Deputy Director of Corporations and Capital Markets for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The AFL-CIO is a federation of 55 national and international labor unions that represent 12.5 million working men and women.

Labor Needs To Embrace Social Justice Unionism

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Proponents of the “rank-and-file strategy” (RFS) emphasize the need to lay the foundations of a revitalized labor movement through rank-and-file workers—as opposed to union staff or leadership. As Laura Gabby notes, this idea has a long history: In the 1970s, for instance, thousands of leftists (myself included) of both working-class origin and otherwise entered the workforce to build a real working-class Left and rebuild organized labor.

Though this rank-and-file emphasis is more of an orientation than a full strategy, it is good in that it encourages people on the Left to engage as rank and filers—to enter into the working class as coworkers rather than staff. The idea is not, as Andrew Dobbyn argues, elitist; instead, it suggests fellow workers have something to teach, rather than simply being vessels for knowledge from leftists.

But the current discussion has certain important blind spots. First, the mostly white socialists discussing the RFS often fail to recognize that leftist formations composed mostly or entirely of people of color have historically been instrumental in developing and leading efforts to retool the labor movement. The direction and character of these formations has frequently differed from that of white-led formations.

Peter Shapiro presents one example in his Jacobin article, “On the Clock and Off,” drawing on his work with the League of Revolutionary Struggle. He writes about the Mexican immigrant women who emerged as rank-and-file leaders in the 1985–87 frozen food strike in Watsonville, Calif. They were not part of their union’s progressive reform caucus, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, nor would they have been considered part of any conventional “militant minority”—which is why, Shapiro writes, “some strike supporters on the Left viewed them skeptically.” But these women established their own informal infrastructure, bound together through the solidarity of not just working together but the shared experience of racial and gender oppression, and propelled the strike to victory.

More broadly, proponents of the rank-and-file strategy must look beyond the clear, identifiable base of organic leaders and leftists and assess the forces within any workplace, including conservatives and pragmatists. As Fernando Gapasin and I write in our book, Solidarity Divided, to defeat the conservative elements, the Left must pull the center along. Advocates of a “militant minority” can be skeptical of such alliances, but this is a mistake.

William Z. Foster, a brilliant trade unionist who led the Communist Party USA, advocated a militant minority strategy but later adjusted his approach to pursue a “Left-Center Alliance,” recognizing that, even in the militant 1930s, the Left was not sufficiently powerful to act alone. Workers will not necessarily agree with the total program of a leftist, so it is unlikely that leftists will be organizing workers around an exclusively left-wing program. To the extent to which we ignore the center we cede territory to conservative forces that will build their own alliances to crush the Left.

Leftists in the labor movement must also look beyond the narrow objectives of trade unionism as we know it, centered on making gains within the workplace. In fact, the Left needs an alternative framework, a “social justice unionism,” with objectives focused on the larger working class—which includes, for instance, what Stephen Lerner and others refer to as “bargaining for the common good.” Here, the union takes issues of the larger community to the bargaining table. Unions, too, might provide active support to or establish shared agendas with other worker or progressive community organizations.

Lastly, rebuilding the labor movement requires recognition that labor, as Andrew points out, is not only trade unions. The rise of so-called alt-labor, such as worker centers and domestic worker organizations, is part of this rebuilding. Leftists play a major role in this sector, which is disproportionately workers of color. Unions can and should provide direct material assistance to this organizing; the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, for instance, has worked to ally with informal economy workers.

A Left without a working class base is not a Left, but a collection of advocates for change. Our mission is to rebuild that base, transforming the Left and the labor movement together.

For alternate perspectives on the rank-and-file strategy, see Want To Build the Labor Movement? Get a Job at a Union Workplace.”and “90% of Workers Aren’t in a Union. Labor’s Future Depends on Them.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a talk show host, writer, activist, and trade unionist. He is the executive editor of The Global African Worker, a co-author (with Fernando Gapasin) of Solitary Divided, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us”–Twenty Other Myths about Unions. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at http://www.billfletcherjr.com.

90% of Workers Aren’t in a Union. Labor’s Future Depends on Them.

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

My comrade Laura Gabby says that “supermajorities are necessary to raise class consciousness, fight capital, strike and win,” and I agree. But we diverge on how to get there.

She and other rank-and-file strategy (RFS) supporters suggest realigning internal union politics from the inside out through a “militant minority.” As Kim Moody argues in his seminal pamphlet about RFS, unions have to “take a central role … by virtue of their size and their place at the heart of capitalist accumulation.”But, in practice, attempts at union realignment through RFS have mixed results, while most workers remain without a union. What’s needed, instead, is a broad “yes, and” approach with an emphasis on new organizing.

Many unionists were first exposed to RFS in August through a series of unfortunate articles in Politico and the New York Times, detailing activities from the Labor Branch of New York City’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. (Laura is a member.) These DSAers called for socialists to get union jobs in specific “strategic industries” to form a “militant minority” and change unions internally. This strategy was reiterated in the national RFS DSA resolution and in a pamphlet, put out by Young Democratic Socialists of America and Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, titled, “Why Socialists Should Become Teachers.”

While the news articles unfairly portray RFS as a devious plot, they highlight real failures in political strategy. NYC-DSA is, anecdotally, disproportionately white; the optics aren’t good for them to take over unions with membership that is mostly people of color.

Organic worker-leaders built our movement; if socialists want to lead, they must become organic leaders, not tack themselves on like some gaudy ideological accessory. Laura says organic leaders and socialists must work together, but the problem remains: The union realignment strategy treats union members as constituencies to be managed, rather than organic partners.

The strategy also leads to a militant minority divorced from the larger union, leaving the efforts of RFS reform caucuses decidedly mixed. While the rank-and-file caucus in the Chicago Teachers Union has seen success, New York’s Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) has seen less. MORE is a favorite of NYC-DSA Labor Branch members, yet its vote share in the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) presidential election dropped from roughly 10,000 in 2016 to less than 2,500 in 2019, and the incumbent UFT Unity Caucus captured all 102 seats on the executive board.

If leftists want to transform the labor movement, there’s a much easier route: Unionize the unorganized. Surveys show that at least 48% of workers would like a union, but 90% do not have one. Unions enjoy high levels of public support, and millennials are joining in disproportionately large numbers.There is no better time for the Left to organize new unions or add new bargaining units. Leftists should focus on developing organizing committees before a union steps in, ensuring unions will actually commit resources to finish the job and that the workers joining do so on their own terms.

A partnership between the progressive International Longshore and Warehouse Workers (ILWU) and DSA San Francisco shows how this organizing can be done. DSA members spent months with Anchor Brewing workers developing the organizing committee, researching unions and writing the campaign plan, and only then reached out to the ILWU, chosen because of its democratic practices and militant politics. Together, they won.

As Moody himself admits, the conservative craft unionism of the Teamsters, for example, only changed because leftists organized huge swathes of new workers. These leftists weren’t outsiders, but organized their neighbors and coworkers. As the Anchor group put it, “We can’t be outsiders helping the labor movement; we have to be organic partners.”

The nature of new organizing reveals why this works: Because workers must take huge risks to form unions, newly organized unionists are likely to be active, politically astute and militant. The bonds forged in this struggle, between leftists and their coworkers, build the relationships necessary to transform the labor movement.

If we want to change the labor movement, our goal shouldn’t be internal realignment, but new unions for the 90%.

For alternate perspectives on the rank-and-file strategy, see “Want To Build the Labor Movement? Get a Job at a Union Workplace.” and “Labor Needs To Embrace Social Justice Unionism.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Andrew Dobbyn is a rank-and-file elected leader in CWA Local 1104 and former co-chair of Suffolk County DSA.

Want To Build the Labor Movement? Get a Job at a Union Workplace.

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Only workers themselves have the power to transform society, and workers must organize themselves to do so. Union staff and elected leadership can play important and sometimes pivotal roles, but in the fight against capital to win substantive, lasting gains, workers must be in the driver’s seat.

When workers are sidelined, at best we get staff-driven mobilizing, which Jane McAlevey describes as “dedicated activists who show up over and over … but [lack] the full mass of their coworkers or community behind them.” With an organized rank-and-file base, by contrast, ordinary workers themselves are the change agents, deeply involved in developing an analysis of what’s wrong in the workplace and a strategy for how to fight the boss (and, ultimately, capitalism). Their power comes from building majorities large enough to leverage militant action. Wins are less likely to be rolled back when a majority puts its own sweat into the process and stands ready to defend its gains.

The widespread teachers’ strikes of 2018 and 2019 and the Chicago Teachers Union strike of 2012 illuminate the potential power of worker-led organizing, as they were primarily led and initiated by rank-and-file union members.

This deep organizing, however, does not yet exist in most industries. To build it, unionists and labor movement activists can look to the “rank-and-file strategy” (RFS). The phrase was coined by Kim Moody in 2000 but takes inspiration from 20th-century labor upheavals like those led by the Minnesota Teamsters in the 1930s and black workers at a Chrysler assembly plant in Detroit in the 1970s, when radical unionists and socialists were at the heart of big gains.

What socialist rank-and-file activists such as Moody identified was a gulf between the Left and the organized working class, developed under McCarthyism. The class character of this gulf—with leftists more often in the middle class and disconnected from the day-to-day struggles of the working class—has weakened the Left and the labor movement.

When class conflict and labor struggles arise, as they inevitably do under capitalism, they can expose underlying capitalist ideology—an opportunity for people in these struggles to actively raise working-class consciousness. RFS proponents have sought to close the Left-labor gulf by building a layer of workplace organizers—including socialists joining the labor movement and respected workplace leaders of all political persuasions—to heighten class conflict and develop this consciousness.

Part of the answer to overcoming the inertia that ails the labor movement may lie in a new, young and energetic Left—which already shows signs of being closer to the broader working class than other recent generations of leftists. However, this Left remains largely divorced from the organized working class, where RFS suggests young leftists would best be able to exercise real power alongside coworkers. (While young workers are fast joining unions, 2017 data shows only 7.7% of workers between the ages 16 and 34 were union members.)

Evidence suggests that young leftists are already playing key roles in labor struggles that produce wins and raise class consciousness. As Eric Blanc notes, “Though few in number, young socialists inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign played an outsized role [in the teachers’ strikes].”

But radical unionists acting by themselves aren’t enough to win.

At the core of any success are rank-and-file leaders, the ones coworkers respect and come to for advice. What’s necessary is a mix, working in coordination: organic, workplace leaders—able to move coworkers and fellow union members to action—and socialists, who can bring a broader analysis and organizing experience, and who are sometimes workplace leaders themselves. This layer of activists and rank-and-file leaders is sometimes called the “militant minority.”

The militant minority organizes and wins campaigns around workplace issues to grow its ranks and raise class consciousness through these practical struggles, and it fights for the demands of the broader working class by creating an ever-larger group of worker-organizers with a shared vision of class-struggle unionism.

The militant minority seeks to build supermajorities in the workplace. And supermajorities are necessary to raise class consciousness, fight capital, strike and win.

For alternate perspectives on the rank-and-file strategy, see “90% of Workers Aren’t in a Union. Labor’s Future Depends on Them.” and “Labor Needs To Embrace Social Justice Unionism.”

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Gabby is a carpenter in Local 157 and member of the Labor Branch of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America.

Newsom has an organized labor problem

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Angela HartMackenzie MaysJeremy B. WhiteSome of California’s most powerful unions are openly denouncing Gov. Gavin Newsom less than a year into his tenure, exposing early fractures in the Democratic governor’s base after he spurned proposals they considered a bellwether of his support for labor.

Simmering tensions erupted last month when Newsom vetoed three bills backed by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. The governor has also come under fire from the California Nurses Association for backtracking on single-payer health care.

Unions suggest that losing their support will have long-term consequences if Newsom, widely known to have national ambitions, does run for president. For now, Newsom insists he’s focused on his governorship.

“National politics provides us a cautionary tale of what happens when the working class is forgotten by candidates who are steeped in the ambitions of unrequited presidential aspirations,” said Robbie Hunter, president of the trades organization that represents 400,000 people.

Newsom coasted into office last year on a wave of support from organized labor, earning key endorsements from unions that underpinned his early lead in the Democratic primary as the clear frontrunner, allowing him to amass a war chest that carried him unscathed through the general election. He defeated his toughest rival, Democratic challenger Antonio Villaraigosa, by more than 20 points in the 2018 primary.

While in office, however, Newsom has taken some moderate positions that unions fear may signal how he intends to govern for as many as seven more years. The governor has pointed to fears of an economic downturn to reject state spending. He also has blamed President Donald Trump for his meandering single-payer stance, a change that has frustrated the California Nurses Association.

The nurses group recently called Newsom’s veto of a hospital closure notification bill “shameful” and believes he has not been forthright on the single-payer issue. CNA was among Newsom’s earliest backers.

“I think what true reformers of this health care system want to see is transparency, honesty, action and cooperation,” head CNA lobbyist Stephanie Roberson told POLITICO. “Just because we support you, that doesn’t mean that buys our silence on calling you out when you are wrong or don’t keep your promise.”

The construction workers’ union backed Newsom during his gubernatorial run, but he angered the group by vetoing proposals that would have increased funding for affordable housing construction, boosted union pay on taxpayer-subsidized public works projects and required higher wages for workers building charter schools.

“This governor has added his voice into the chorus of politicians that disrespect the contribution of blue-collar workers,” Hunter said.

Following that rare public rebuke, the trades council came after Newsom again, paying for social media posts slamming him for dithering on an Occupational Safety and Health Administration board appointment and not doing enough to protect worker safety.

The widening dispute followed Newsom’s earlier removal of Hunter from a coveted committee charged with examining broad shifts in California’s workplace demands. Not having a trades voice on the panel is “highly concerning to all of us,” the group’s chief lobbyist, Cesar Diaz, told POLITICO.

The California Teachers Association has likewise grown restless, though it has not blasted Newsom the same way as CNA and the building trades council. Three major teachers unions in California this year went on strike, reflecting the growing anger that members have over pay, benefits and working conditions while California state government has a record surplus.

The group was instrumental last year in helping Newsom win the primary after battle lines were drawn between teachers and charter schools, which gave Villaraigosa more than $20 million. Given that dynamic, teachers unions were hopeful that the governor would block new charter schools and crack down on existing ones.

CTA was satisfied that Newsom signed charter school restrictions previously rejected by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who founded two Oakland charters. Rick Wathen, a CTA political director, said the union got further with Newsom than it did in eight previous years under Brown.

But members were hoping for more. CTA leaders believed the governor drove changes that watered down the charter bill to reach compromise with the California Charter Schools Association.

The governor also signed a bill mandating later school start times for middle and high school students in response to research showing that adolescents need more morning sleep. That rankled CTA, whose members believe start times should be negotiated with unions at the local level.

And the California Federation of Teachers was upset that Newsom vetoed legislation expanding paid maternity leave for teachers. The governor said he was concerned about additional costs.

“I don’t think he is prioritizing education as much as he should be,” said Ever Flores, president of the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association, a CTA affiliate. “CTA — we did a lot for Gavin Newsom, making sure he would get elected.”

To those outside the state, Newsom may seem a California liberal figurehead. He made national headlines in 2004 when he performed same-sex marriages as a new San Francisco mayor well before it became politically popular. He broke through the national noise as governor this year when he approved Medi-Cal benefits for undocumented immigrants through age 25, raising the hackles of Trump and conservatives across the country.

But within California, the governor has not always been considered a liberal through and through. In San Francisco, he was elected as a fiscal conservative and business-minded Democrat who founded a local wine store that has grown into a network of wineries and resorts under the brand PlumpJack. Those business roots may still run deep as he confronts the risks of leading California at the end of lengthy economic expansion.

Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist and publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, suggested that Newsom is experiencing the normal transition from Democratic candidate to chief executive.

“I think there’s the sense that the governor made a lot of commitments when he ran for office, and predictably he’s tempering his agenda after assessing what the reality is,” Sragow said.

The governor appears to be playing a cautious hand not just because of recession fears, but also because a potential run for president may require moderation.

“This early, I think [labor unions] need him more than he needs them, but ultimately it could create vulnerabilities for Newsom,” said Republican strategist Rob Stutzman. “He’s exerting a certain amount of independence from labor that is not unusual for Democratic governors … it becomes impossible from an executive position to grant labor their every wish and be able to effectively govern.

“But labor will still be a constituency he’s going to want to court for national aspirations,” he said.

For all the outcry, it’s not as if Newsom has turned his back on unions. California’s umbrella labor group lauded Newsom for protecting gig worker rights and ending arrangements that shield employers from lawsuits in cases of alleged wrongdoing.

“Those were tremendous victories for us,” said Steve Smith, a spokesperson for the California Labor Federation. “He has three more years in his first term and we’re going to be looking at him to see how we can address some of the state’s thorniest problems like inequality and housing.”

Labor leaders also lauded a bill he signed allowing child care workers to unionize for the first time. At a celebratory Los Angeles rally last month, he stood alongside top labor officials to promote what will be the country’s largest union organizing campaign.

“Thank you to organized labor,” Newsom said to an adoring crowd. “Just know that this is the beginning. The best is yet to come.”

The governor also agreed this summer to significant salary increases for correctional officers, which drew a scathing report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office questioning if Newsom was actually doing too much for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Newsom spokesperson Vicky Waters said the governor and lawmakers “achieved historic and long-sought victories for working families this year.” As evidence, she pointed to the charter school restrictions, gig worker protections and child care organizing bill, as well as an increase in the earned-income tax credit and paid family leave expansion.

“Organized labor and our vibrant workforce are part of what makes our state great, and Gov. Newsom looks forward to continued partnership with organized labor in the months and years ahead,” she said.

Still, the governor has to worry about his left flank, given how loud some of his allies are. The California Nurses Association has long been a thorn in the side of California governors, even the ones they appear to like best.

Newsom didn’t push through a single-payer health care bill this year after voicing strong support as a gubernatorial candidate for a 2017 bill that stalled in the Assembly. “I’m tired of politicians saying they support single-payer but that it’s too soon, too expensive or someone else’s problem,” Newsom said during the campaign.

CNA’s relationship with Newsom has soured since the election as he’s soft-pedaled the issue. Newsom now insists it’s impossible to accomplish single-payer as long as Trump is in office.

“He made it clear to us that he was with us on single-payer,” Roberson said of his campaign promises. “We didn’t need an interpreter to find out what he meant. But if you compare his actions with what he told us in December, I would say it’s not congruent.”

Nurses are still hoping its members will win appointments on Newsom’s single-payer health care commission, but the governor is already more than two months behind schedule on naming his picks.

The nurses union told POLITICO its relationship with Newsom is “shaky” also because he vetoed legislation that would have expanded public notification periods for hospital closures. Nurses called Newsom’s veto “shameful” on Twitter, and the union this month wrote an op-ed with the headline, “Newsom said he was a health care champion. But this action says otherwise.”

Teachers are preparing to do battle next year as well. In a sign of their unrest, CTA board members this summer ousted longtime Executive Director Joe Nuñez and will confront the business community next year with a November ballot initiative that would raise commercial property taxes to generate more school and government funding.

Union members say that how Newsom handles the 2020 “split-roll” ballot initiative — including a possible Capitol deal that averts a campaign fight — will make or break his relationship with CTA, especially after the charter bill was watered down. And Wathen said CTA will be back in the Capitol seeking a moratorium on new charters and cap on charters in particular districts.

Elsewhere, no issue will more directly test Newsom’s relationship with formidable unions than how he handles negotiations over newly enacted CA AB5 (19R), which enshrines in law a California Supreme Court ruling dictating that more workers — including gig laborers — should be treated as employees, not independent contractors.

Labor unions are anxious because Newsom has long sought a deal that could mollify unions and tech companies that rely on contract labor. The governor’s desire to find compromise, as with the charter school legislation, has frustrated union members who believe he is willing to give too much away. And tech companies are trying to leverage a deal by floating a ballot initiative that’s weaker than their legislative proposal to let gig workers unionize if they remain contractors — a sweetener that’s intended to entice unions but could split labor.

Union leaders say they are counting on Newsom as they push for more in his second year.

“I really have high expectations for this governor,” said Service Employees International Union California President Bob Schoonover. “I think we’re going to accomplish a lot with him.”

This article was originally published by Politico on November 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Angela Hart covers health care for California Pro, focusing on political and policy developments in Sacramento. She is also part of the team covering the transition of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. Prior to joining Politico, she covered California politics and Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign for The Sacramento Bee and previously was the county government and politics reporter at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in Sonoma County, Calif.

She is a Wisconsin native, military veteran and holds a master’s degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

About the Author: Mackenzie Mays covers education in California. Prior to joining POLITICO in 2019, she was the investigative reporter at the Fresno Bee, where her watchdog reporting of Rep. Devin Nunes and other politicians — and the fierce push back it provoked — made national headlines, including being the subject of a feature in GQ. She is well-versed in California education policy, having started at the Bee as the education reporter, where she covered Fresno Unified, the state’s fourth-largest school district. She was a national finalist for the Education Writers Association’s reporting award in 2018.

About the Author: Jeremy B. White co-writes the California Playbook and covers politics in the Golden State. He previously covered the California Legislature for the Sacramento Bee, where he reported on campaigns, myriad nationally significant policy clashes and multiple FBI investigations of sitting lawmakers.

He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts University and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. A native of Bethesda, Maryland, one of his life dreams is to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game — although he would settle for winning a playoff series. He lives in Oakland with his partner and his cat, Ziggy Pawdust.

A worker upsurge? This week in the war on workers

Monday, November 4th, 2019

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 485,000 U.S. workers were involved in strikes and lockouts during 2018. That’s the highest number since 1986. The data for 2019 won’t be released until 2020, but there’s a good chance that number will be exceeded, a point driven home by the fact that, over the last week, at least 85,000 workers participated in 13 different strikes across the United States.

That’s Chicago teachers, but also teachers in the comparatively tiny Dedham, Massachusetts—but both are part of a nationwide pattern, one that shows signs of continuing.

And it’s not the only way workers are asserting power. Deadspin writers resigned en masse after interim editor in chief Barry Petchesky was fired for refusing to stick to sports. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke out against the private equity firm that now owns Deadspin.

But these signs of workers asserting themselves remain small against the backdrop of how thoroughly corporations have crushed workers during the past several decades.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

Chicago teachers reach tentative agreement but one key thing is missing to end strike

Friday, November 1st, 2019

The Chicago Teachers Union reported a tentative agreement with schools management Wednesday night, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot is holding up the end of the strike in a disagreement over make-up instructional days. In previous strikes, the schools have added make-up days to the end of the school year—but Lightfoot doesn’t want to do that.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey spoke highly of the tentative agreement, saying in a statement that “This deal will move us closer to ensuring that our most vulnerable students receive the instruction, resources and wraparound services they need to thrive. No educator wants to leave their classroom, but our 10-day struggle was the only option we had to enshrine, ensure and enforce real change for our students and school communities. This contract will put a nurse in every school, a social worker in every school and provide a real solution for thousands of homeless students in Chicago.” But, he said, “By not restoring days of instruction to our students lost during the strike, the mayor is making it clear that she is more concerned about politics than the well-being of students.”

Lightfoot objects to the make-up days because teachers would be paid for those days, saying “I’m not compensating them for days that they were out on strike.” Which is … not what would be happening since they would be working those days, but way to try to score a cheap political hit on your way out!

Lightfoot and schools management had supposedly been very concerned about instructional time (at the expense of the prep time teachers pressed for), but apparently that wasn’t really such a concern. The teachers also expressed frustration at Lightfoot’s admission that “There’s a lot of work that we could have done sooner, but we didn’t start to do really until the strike”—making her own lack of preparation in large part responsible for the length of the strike.

The teachers report that the agreement includes 209 additional social workers, 250 additional nurses, investments in staff education and recruitment, $35 million a year to reduce class size, and added funding for sports coaches and equipment.

The agreement has been accepted by the union’s House of Delegates, which would allow the strike to end if an agreement can be reached on make-up days. The CTU’s full membership would then vote on ratifying it. On Wednesday, school staffers in SEIU 73, who went out on strike with the teachers, voted to ratify their own contract.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 31, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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.

Will GM Workers Stay Out On Strike In Hopes of a Better Deal?

Monday, October 21st, 2019

“They always say it will take multiple agreements to reach equality—we can’t win it all in one go,” said Sean Crawford, a second-tier worker at Flint Truck Assembly in Michigan.

For Crawford, the GM strike, the longest at a Big 3 company in 50 years, was the best chance the union had to put an end to the many tiers that have fractured the workforce.

“This is the third contract since the 2009 bankruptcy—that is a third of a career,” Crawford said. “If we don’t get this now, when GM is more profitable than they have ever been, when will we ever get it? So no, I don’t support the contract.”

GM’s profits were $35 billion over the last three years.

After nearly six weeks on the picket lines, auto workers will make a sobering choice: accept the agreement proposed or vote no and stay out in the hopes of getting something better. In 2015 Chrysler workers rejected their tentative agreement 2-1 and sent bargainers back for more. GM workers, voting later, approved their pact by just 58 percent for production workers; skilled trades voted it down.

UAW leaders decided that workers will remain on strike during the ratification vote. Voting will end Friday, October 25 by 4:00 p.m.

Tiers maintained

The contract makes some gains. Workers will receive 3 percent raises in the first and third years of the contract and lump-sums equal to 4 percent of annual wages in the second and fourth years. Second-tier workers, who until now were on an eight-year track to get within a few dollars of first-tier workers’ pay, will now top out at equal pay—$32.32—at the end of the contract, a shorter four-year track. The cap on profit sharing has been lifted and a pathway has been created for thousands of temporary workers to become permanent once they’ve been temps for three years.

“In January, they will convert 850 temporary workers and will continue converting each month after that as people get their time, so they will convert up to 2,000 in 2020,” said Tim Stannard, president of UAW Local 1853 in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

John, a 35-year worker at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, said on the picket line today, “What we’re getting is what we’re going to get. It’s not a bad-looking contract.” Was the strike worth it? “Yes. The temps got moved up. There’s decent raises. Health care stayed the same.”

Even with these gains, though, GM has maintained all the tiers that it had before. Second-tier workers—those permanent employees hired after 2007—will still receive a 401(k) for retirement rather than a defined pension. They are not eligible for retiree health care, and their Supplemental Unemployment Benefits when laid off will last half as long as first-tier workers’.

GM workers at warehouses and at four “components” plants will continue to make far less than assembly workers, with an eight-year grow-in.

And temporary workers will continue at pay barely more than half that of Tier 1 workers. GM can continue to use them as probationary employees–with a very long probation.

“I know the language says that temps will be in progression to be hired in as employees after so many years, but they are still using temps,” said Beth Baryo, a materials handler at a parts warehouse near Flint.

Under the new agreement, temps hired after January 1, 2021 who maintain two years of continuous employment must be hired on as permanent. Temps can be laid off for up to 30 days and still maintain continuous service.

“As sure as god wears sandals, you know that GM will lay people off for 31 days,” said Baryo. “I don’t trust anything they will say.”

What they didn’t win

The biggest sting of all was the shuttering of Lordstown (Ohio) Assembly, Warren (Michigan) Powertrain, and Baltimore Powertrain, which GM announced last Thanksgiving. Every contract cycle, GM closes more plants and every contract cycle the UAW claims to have stronger language to protect jobs.

The steady procession of concessions was also sold as a job-saving measure and yet the number of union auto workers employed by GM has dropped from 470,000 in 1979, when concessions began to the Big 3, to less than 50,000 today.

Many of the concessions made in 2007 and 2009 are still in effect, showcasing just how challenging it is for the union to get out of the hole it is in. Those include a cost of living allowance and overtime pay after eight hours (many plants now work regular 10-hour days without overtime pay). Tier 2 workers got nothing for retirement. Future Tier 1 retirees got one $1,000 lump sum.

How will they vote?

As often happens in a strike, many people unhappy with the agreement predicted that other people would vote yes. “People are going to say yes because of the money,” said Adriana Jaime, a 21-year worker at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, at the picket line today. “But for the weeks we’ve been walking here, it’s not enough.”

One man said the offer was basically the same as what GM offered before the strike, except for the signing bonus (which increased from $8,000 to $11,000). “I’m not impressed,” he said. “But a lot of people want to get back to work.”

Jack Jackson, with 50 years, will vote no. “I’m mad as hell,” he said. “This contract was probably decided before we even went out and this was a show and tell, a little pony show.

“I hope it’s good for the young folks. It should be 90 days and you’re at full pay. This contract is really not for me. Give the retirees some money—our pension benefit has been the same for 12 or 15 years. You dedicate half your life to GM and they treat the retirees like an old horse they take out in the field and shoot him. We didn’t get the retiree issues—and the people coming behind me are going to retire someday too.”

Carla Duckett, with 37 years, says she’s “on the fence. I’m going to retire—I want to see what this leaves for those who have to stay.”

“The leadership is going to try and make the case that this is the best they can get,” Crawford said, “but if you look at the 2015 agreement, after Chrysler people voted that down, they came back with something significantly better.”

Aramark janitors also have an agreement.

The 850 Aramark janitors and skilled trades workers at five Ohio and Michigan GM plants who struck alongside GM workers were told yesterday that they also have a tentative agreement. They do work formerly done by GM workers, but at far less pay.

“Everyone makes $15. If you’ve been there 10 years you still make $15.” said Karen Cool, from GM’s Tech Center near Detroit. GM hired replacement janitors during the strike who, with police support, crossed picket lines there daily.

The southern problem

Economic constraints placed on the Big Three by the influx of foreign-owned, non-union automakers in the U.S. South are one of the forces outside the control of striking GM workers.

Even though GM has gone from bankrupt to profitable, the company is still losing market share to these non-union competitors like Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Honda, and Volkswagen. All use high proportions of temporaries and contract workers at will. The UAW has engaged in three high-profile organizing drives at Nissan and Volkswagen over the past five years, losing all of them.

Until the whole auto industry is organized, non-union employers will pay their workers less, give fewer benefits, hire more temps, and outsource more work, to gain a competitive advantage over their union rivals.

 

 

This article was originally republished from Labor Notes at In These Times on October 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Chris Brooks is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.

About the Author: 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.

Trump Is Waging a War On Labor Unions, But You Wouldn’t Know It from CNN’s Dem Debate

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Last night, CNN and the New York Times co-hosted a Democratic debate in Westerville, Ohio—and even by the standards of the mainstream media, the omissions were glaring. There were no questions about police violence, affordable housing, Israel, or the climate crisis. However, there was a softball question about friendship inspired by the bond between Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush.

Key labor battles were notably missing from the discussion. While a few of the candidates mentioned unions, the moderators didn’t meaningfully press any of them about the many work stoppages currently taking place throughout the country, except for a question about the General Motors (GM) strike, which mostly focused on the death of the auto industry and how we might be jobs back. The moderators failed to inquire about plans to strengthen worker power, or ask any questions about labor law, giving the impression that unions—and the entire working class—are tangential to the 2020 presidential race.

Surprisingly, there actually was one question about the GM Strike, which has left 50,000 workers without a paycheck for over a month, with the membership poised to vote on a tentative contract, according to breaking news this morning. But the question was framed in the context of a beleaguered industry that could potentially be saved via economic nationalism. The candidates were simply asked about the declining power of U.S. car companies and whether or not they had a plan to bring back jobs from Mexico. There was no mention of the fact that the current strike is directly connected to the restructuring of the company and the concessions that were forced upon workers by the Obama administration as part of the 2009 bailout, despite the fact that a leading Democratic candidate was Obama’s vice president.

That question was fielded by Senator Cory Booker and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who both referenced the importance of unions. Booker even said that he’d establish sectoral bargaining rights for workers. That promise might have come as a surprise to the Newark Teachers Union, whose president once declared that the goal of Booker’s state education plan was to “defang public teachers unions.”

No other current strike or worker battle was asked about or referenced in any of the CNN questions. Nothing about the 20,000 Chicago teachers who just voted to authorize a strike, and nothing about the 2,000 striking miners in Arizona or the sanitation workers in Massachusetts who have been on the picket line for a month. There was nothing about the many newsrooms that continue to organize, social workers fighting for a new contract in California, Harvard student workers casting ballots in a strike authorization vote, or the American Federation of Musicians agitating to receive residuals from streaming programs.

There was also nothing asked about the Trump administration’s war on labor unions. Nothing about Trump’s NLRB pushing a corporate agenda for the last two years, its rollback of Obama-era employee protections, its new anti-worker Secretary of Labor, its inadequate new overtime rules, or its dangerous decision to speed up the production lines of slaughterhouses. There was nothing about the state of unions in the wake of Janus Supreme Court decision, and nothing about how to strengthen them despite current legal restrictions.

There were references to the “middle class,” a term that has always possessed a nebulous definition and been used to flatten class divisions and erode working-class solidarity. The only reference to the “working class” was made by Senator Bernie Sanders.

After Warren spoke eloquently about breaking up tech companies, she faced a centrist onslaught of onstage opposition. O’Rourke even compared the plan to the policies of Donald Trump. “We will be unafraid to break up big businesses if we have to do that — but I don’t think it is the role of a president or a candidate for the presidency to specifically call out which companies will be broken up,” he said. “That’s something that Donald Trump has done in part because he sees enemies in the press and wants to diminish their power. It’s not something that we should do.”

Nearly every question posed to the candidates not named Sanders or Warren seemed to be punctuated with an explicit instruction: Tell us why the policies being pushed by a Democratic Socialist and a New Deal Liberal can’t work and why they can’t beat Trump.

However, while the fix might have been in for centrism, it still failed to win the evening. Warren was attacked as if she were the frontrunner and Joe Biden did nothing to suggest the other candidates had picked the wrong target. Despite his recent heart attack and polls that suggest he’s underperforming his 2016 showing, Sanders was strong and concise. While some pundits admitted that the debate might have been his, it was announced Tuesday night that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is endorsing the Senator. Shortly after that bombshell, sources revealed that Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) would also endorse. Bernie has now locked up 75% of The Squad.

Mainstream election coverage may largely omit the subject of labor organizing, but its importance can currently be felt in the labor battles being waged throughout the country. It’s a key component of defeating Trumpism, via the ballot box and beyond. The worker protections that have been eroded must be reinstituted. The labor power that’s been diminished must be built back up. The Democratic candidate must be pushed hard on these issues, whoever it ends up being.

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog