• print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Financial Literacy in the Workplace: Empowering Employees

Share this post

Financial literacy is a vital skill to have and understand, as it can dictate the way that you live your life.

If you’re stressed about your finances or are living paycheck to paycheck, it can be difficult to think about the possibility of saving money. Learning how to navigate your financial state and understanding how to manage your money can help you better your current financial situation, allowing you to work towards a more secure future. 

When people become educated about their finances, it can help to improve their overall quality of life, as well as give them more confidence in both their personal and professional lives. Follow along as we discuss the importance of empowering employees to become more educated on financial literacy.
The Importance of Financial Literacy

Financial literacy is the ability to understand and use different financial skills, such as knowing how to save and invest your money, as well as how to budget your money to create a more secure future for yourself. Financial literacy is an essential skill to have, and one that takes practice. Many people stress about their finances, and the root cause of that is due to a lack of understanding. 

Impact of Financial Resources for Employees 

Many companies have resources and educational tools available to their employees that they can use to learn more about money management and financial literacy. By encouraging employees to take steps towards utilizing the financial resources available to them, it can instill confidence in them as they will have the tools to understand their current financial situation, as well as how to work towards financial freedom.

Some resources that companies can implement include employee assistance programs (EAP) which can range from retirement planning guidance, debt counseling, and even providing access to financial planners. Retirement planning is essential to understand, as it allows employees to plan for their future and provide them with money to live off of after they retire. Understanding how to best invest into their retirement can put them on a better path, as they’ll learn how to invest and have more control over their investments as well. 

In addition to that, employers can offer debt counseling through online learning or through personal financial planners as a way to teach employees how to manage their money and decrease their debt. Learning about different types of loans to improve debt management can alleviate the overwhelming stress resulting from numerous expenses to be paid off.

Debt consolidation loans, in particular, offer a promising solution for employees grappling with multiple debts, as it combines all their outstanding balances into a single monthly payment, streamlining the repayment process and enhancing manageability.

Offering financial resources to employees to encourage them to learn about their financial health and work to improve it can help employees decrease the everyday stress they may feel, and help them feel more supported by their employer.

When employees feel supported, they are more likely to work harder and stay at the company longer than someone who doesn’t feel supported. When there is an effort to improve the life of employees coming from employers, it increases the overall retention a company has because that is seen as a company that cares about their employees.

How to Improve Money Management

A large part of understanding finances is knowing how to manage money. It’s important that when employees get their paycheck, that they break it down into needs, wants, and savings. Being able to create and stick to a budget can help to better improve money management, as well as create structure for them in their daily life.

Consider the 50/30/20 rule as a guideline for budgeting. This rule consists of setting 50% of monthly income into needs, 30% into wants, and 20% into savings. 

When it comes to needs, this can include expenses such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, and healthcare. These are essential expenses that should be expected to be spent each month. These expenses may fluctuate each month depending on the situation, but it’s important to write down all the essential bills so that when it comes time to pay, they’ll have the money to do so.

In addition to that, wants should also be factored into the budget. This can include anything that is nonessential, such as going out to eat, self-care, gym memberships, or even clothes shopping. 

When considering a budget for wants, make sure that the plan is realistic, so it’ll be easy to stick to it. Oftentimes people get strapped for money as a result of overspending on their wants without realizing it until it’s too late. In order to avoid that, it’s important to stay diligent about a budget and spending habits, and adjust those habits as needed to work for their lifestyle. The remainder of an employee’s paycheck, the 20% part of the budgeting rule, should be allocated to savings. 

Setting aside money strictly for savings can help pay off any debts, as well as serve as an emergency fund or can be put towards retirement planning. By establishing and following this budgeting guide, it can help employees to properly allocate their paycheck in order to ensure they’re not spending too much, and also are able to still have a liveable wage. 

It’s important to not only understand one’s finances, but also have the resources available to do so. Employers are now taking more measures to encourage employees to learn how to manage their money, how to invest their money, and how to reduce their debts through various educational resources.

As employees, it’s important to take advantage of any learning opportunities as it can improve the knowledge and skills one has, setting them up for a more secure future.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness on May 31, 2023. Published with permission.


Share this post

Leveraging Federal Funds for Employment

Share this post

Ever since the passage into law of the American Rescue Plan, Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, CHIPS Act and Inflation Reduction Act, here’s what I say to friends and family whenever they bring up a problem we all know needs to be fixed right now.

“Do you know there’s money to fix that problem?”

That’s because there is $4 trillion on tap for communities through these programs.

$4 Trillion. On the table. Right now.

That’s more than four times the size of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that led the country out of economic ruin in the 1930s. It’s also eight times the size of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, which fought racial inequities with jobs and education and offered universal healthcare to the poor and elderly in the 1960s.

Achieving goals on this scale won’t be easy, but at People’s Action, we believe it is worth it. Our Executive Director, Sulma Arias, recently shared why she feels this is one of the best times to be an organizer. I agree.

Unlike during the New Deal, when federal agencies such as WPA & the CCC would show up in towns ravaged by the Great Depression to create jobs, build bridges, and plant trees, it’s now up to communities to claim these opportunities and overcome roadblocks thrown up by Red-State legislatures.

This moment will only become our New Deal if we make it so. This moment needs organizers like us.

That’s where People’s Action comes in, through our Leveraging Federal Funds work. We are well-positioned to help member groups cut through red tape so they can identify and make the most of federal opportunities.

We want to elevate how each opportunity can lead to the next. Together, we advance towards our long-term goal of a democracy that works for all of us, with sustainable jobs in a clean economy.

These federal funds will only reach and make an actual difference in people’s lives if they are administered through local initiatives created by trusted and knowledgeable local organizers.

Fortunately, that’s exactly who People’s Action and our member groups are known for: building trust and laying the foundation for moments such as this one.

This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at Our Future on March 10, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Ann Pratt is the senior campaign strategist for leveraging federal funds at People’s Action.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions and collective action.


Share this post

Rutgers Strike Wins Big, But More is Needed to Change Higher Education

Share this post

After a five-day strike in April, members of the Rutgers faculty, graduate student, librarian, and clinician unions voted 93 percent to accept a new contract which included dramatic gains.

The strike was the first in Rutgers’ 253-year history, and remarkable in that all instructional workers walked out, including full-time faculty, grad workers, and adjuncts. Rutgers is the oldest large public university in New Jersey with 67,000 students.

The agreement includes big salary gains: 30 percent for the lowest-paid adjuncts in the first year, and 43 percent across the life of the contract, plus 33 percent raises for graduate teaching and research assistants. For adjuncts, it also includes multi-semester and multi-year appointments — a first — as well as professional development funding, binding arbitration for grievances, quicker and new paths to advancement, and a new title (we’re no longer “part-time” lecturers, but simply “Lecturers”).

The seeds of the decision to withhold our labor were sown several years ago. The executive board of the adjunct union was united in the belief that transformative contracts are only won through a massive organizing effort that credibly threatens a strike.

Bargaining: Open and United

While the university refused to recognize the merger (as we expected), the critical principle had been established: we saw ourselves as One Faculty, and demanded in the forthcoming contract campaign that management engage us that way.

That’s precisely what happened. We fought for open bargaining principles to shape negotiations, with considerable (if not complete) success. For example, management tried to limit our numbers at bargaining sessions. On one occasion, as our strike loomed, they refused to enter the room with 50 members observing our negotiations. We held firm, voted, and insisted that we’d only meet with our co-workers present. Ten minutes later, management entered the room to bargain with us.

We also negotiated across all job categories as if we were one bargaining unit: postdocs, grad workers, counselors, adjuncts, non-tenure track, and tenure track faculty. While management initially resisted this, eventually they acceded. Throughout the bargaining process, they seemed thrown off guard by our unity.

Another key element of maintaining unity was that the three faculty unions took our strike authorization votes at the same time. The energy for the strike was unprecedented: 80 percent participation among those eligible to vote, and 95 percent in favor. The effort to organize ourselves into a strike-ready workforce not only set the conditions for the gains we would make, but transformed our unions in the process.

Once the strike began, member participation on the picket lines and creative protests demonstrated our strength, and generated media attention and political pressure on the university. Student supporters of the union rewrote the 1961 Bruce Channel song “Hey Baby” to pressure university president Jonathan Holloway, singing, “Hey Holloway, I want to know, will you raise my wage?” It was very catchy, and went viral on social media. Our singing and dancing and vibrant picket lines garnered student and community support.

Debating the End

The day before the strike was called, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy offered to host negotiations if we postponed the strike for 48 hours. We welcomed the support from the governor, but we refused postponement. The strike was where our power lived, and we could not halt it on promises of a better deal.

Once negotiations shifted to Trenton, engagement with the governor’s office was tricky. While the state came up with additional funds to support our demands, the governor also wanted us to end the strike to approve a “framework” for the contract. The framework was reached after grueling, week-long negotiating sessions designed to pressure both sides to move toward an agreement.

Right Call?

The unions’ leadership bodies ultimately called for a suspension of the strike, while the bargaining teams continued to negotiate the remainder of the contract. At the same time, we made clear that we would be willing to return to the picket lines if necessary — the strike was “suspended, not ended.”

This was a controversial decision, and it merits a debate. A sizable minority within the union’s governing bodies believed the strike was suspended at a time when the unions retained power to press for greater gains. They called for a delay in signing the framework to further discuss the matter over the weekend. But the governor was threatening to remove tens of millions of dollars he had previously committed if the framework was not agreed to that evening and the strike suspended.

Though it was never overtly stated, it was also suggested that were the framework not accepted that night, Rutgers would seek (and likely receive) an injunction declaring the strike unlawful, something it had not done to that point due to the governor’s request. Under this scenario, if the strike continued, adjunct faculty and perhaps other striking workers could have faced firings.

Whether the unions made the right choice in a highly fraught moment should certainly be debated. What is clear, however, is that without the decision to withhold our labor, few of the enormous gains we made would have been realized. In short, we learned that if you are not preparing to strike, you are not preparing to win.

More remains to be won, but for now, we celebrate our gains, and our historic strike that made them possible.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at Labor Notes on May 11, 2023.

About the Authors: Bryan Sacks is the vice president of the Part-Time Lecturer Faculty Chapter AAUP-AFT Local 6324, the Rutgers adjuncts’ union. Michael Beyea Reagan is an adjunct at Rutgers University and a rank-and-file member of Local 6324.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions.


Share this post

Four Signs of a Toxic Workplace Culture

Share this post

James Ritter

The importance of culture in a workplace is often overlooked, but it can have a significant impact on employee performance. While a positive culture can foster collaboration and productivity, a toxic culture can do the exact opposite, leading to high turnover rates and low morale. In this article, we discuss four signs that could indicate you’re in a toxic workplace.

Micromanagement

Do you feel like your every move is being closely monitored and controlled? If so, you’re likely being micromanaged. When a manager controls every aspect of your work, it can create an environment of mistrust and anxiety, leading to decreased productivity and job satisfaction.

It’s natural for a manager to keep track of tasks to a certain extent, but scrutinising every aspect of someone’s work is when it becomes unhealthy. This style of management can actually stifle creativity and make employees reluctant to take any initiative in their roles.

Expectations that extend beyond working hours

In today’s culture, particularly in the realm of remote work where the lines between home and work are often blurred, many employees are expected to be available 24/7. This could include responding to emails, texts or phone calls outside of your scheduled working hours, creating an unhealthy work-life balance.

Imposing this kind of workplace environment makes it easy to feel burnt out, leading to decreased productivity and quality of work. It could also cause workers to feel unappreciated and start a job search elsewhere, contributing to high turnover rates.

Lack of opportunities

In any role, it’s important to feel that you have opportunities to grow and develop your skills. Without these opportunities, it can be difficult to stay motivated in a role. Not only does it make workers feel undervalued, but businesses that fail to provide training and career development often end up with a stagnant workforce. It’s important to have a certain element of change in order to bring new ideas to light, and as with anything in life, there’s always room for improvement.

Cliques and exclusion

If your workplace is bringing back memories of school cliques, it could be a sign that your employer has a toxic culture. No one should ever feel excluded or left out, especially at work where collaboration is key. In a workplace where groups stick together, anyone excluded from the group is likely to feel reluctant to participate in any team activities out of fear of workplace bullies.

It’s important that people are approachable, particularly managers or other high-ranking team members. Without this effective communication, employees may feel intimidated and disengaged which can have a significant impact on productivity.

Reach out

If you can relate to any of these four signs, it’s likely a sign that you’re part of a workplace with a toxic culture. Fortunately there are things that you can do to help, such as speaking to a human resources team member or raising any issues directly with your manager. However, if you feel that change is unlikely to happen, remember to put yourself first and find an environment that allows you to achieve your full potential.

This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.

About the Author: James Ritter is a freelance writer who holds a particular interest in employee welfare, and has created content for established companies based all around the world. He has a degree in
creative writing, and is always eager to expand his knowledge around different subjects.



Share this post

Opinion: “Police Unions are Spitting in the Face of Solidarity”

Share this post

Hamilton Nolan

This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into a law a bill aimed at making it much harder for public employee unions to exist and function. Watching a Republican governor with his eye on the White House aim a crude legislative club at public unions is a familiar sight.

Rather than dwelling on why DeSantis is an oily bum, let us use this opportunity to discuss another, unseen villain in this sickening process: police unions. 

Unions disagree on all types of things. They have different memberships. They have different priorities. Some are conservative and some are liberal. But the one thing that all unions should agree on is that every worker deserves a union. Every union should be willing to speak up when access to unions is under attack. And, in general, every union does.

Except police unions.

The bitterest irony of all is that major public unions like the American Federation of Teachers or AFSCME have always been unwilling to support measures cracking down on police unions, because they fear that any support for restraining public unions will be used against their own members. Okay. How’s that working out? 

Now the teachers in Florida are getting railroaded, and the cops are exempt, and the cops are just fine with it. That is unconscionable. There should be zero doubt in any honest labor leader’s mind that police unions would happily stand by while every other union in America was crushed — as long as they were okay themselves.

Kicking police unions out of the AFL-CIO would not deny cops the basic right to unionize. It would just prevent the police unions from drawing on the power that the solidarity of the entire labor movement gives them, and then spitting in the face of the rest of the labor movement when it is time to show some solidarity back to us.

For the past week, I have been walking picket lines with members of the Writers Guild who are on strike. The solidarity has been incredible.

The actors of SAG-AFTRA are out there every day. So are the TV and film workers in IATSE. The truck drivers in the Teamsters have routinely refused to cross our picket lines, shutting down a number of TV productions. I’ve seen teachers and musicians and laborers wearing their own union shirts and carrying picket signs next to us. They do so not for personal gain, but because they understand solidarity. It is an incredibly heartening experience.

Have I seen any police unions? Ha. Funny. Of course not. Never.

Yesterday, on a picket line in Brooklyn, one cop showed up in his official capacity, to keep an eye on things. I had been contemplating this column, so as I marched past him, I hollered out, “Where’s your union? Why aren’t you out here?” He smiled at me and gave a friendly laugh, as if I was kidding.

No, man. I was serious. But I can see why you wouldn’t think so. You’re in a police union. Worker solidarity is one big joke to you.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on May 10, 2023.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. 

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions.


Share this post

WGA Strike Battles for Diversity in Hollywood

Share this post

Jireh Deng

When Caroline Renard moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago, she had zero connections to Hollywood. But she was determined all the same to break into the industry and did all sorts of side gigs — from working at Veggie Grill to driving for DoorDash and Lyft to babysitting — all to pay the bills while she worked on her craft. 

And that hard work eventually paid off.

She moved up from production assistant on set to an executive assistant at Disney before becoming a writer’s and showrunner’s assistant until she became a staff writer on a show. But throughout that decade breaking into Hollywood, she oftentimes noticed she was one of the few or only Black women in the room. She credits mentors and great bosses for championing her work, but she frequently felt like it was a battle just to be heard as a creator of color. 

Today, Renard is a writer on Disney’s Secrets of Sulphur Springs and a union captain with the Writers Guild of America. But the golden era of streaming has officially burst — she was one of more than 11,500 writers and others who went on strike May 2 after their current contract expired and negotiations fell through with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which represents the nine largest Hollywood studios).

Among the WGA’s demands: Restricting the use of artificial intelligence in writing, establishing transparency in viewership-based royalties, paying writers their weekly minimums during post-production of shows, and preserving a minimum staff of six writers with guaranteed employment for 10 consecutive weeks on prospective shows. These demands were all flat-out rejected by the major studios. And now production in Hollywood has essentially come to a screeching halt.

As negotiations deadlocked, the AMPTP released a statement, according to Deadline, that they had offered “generous increases in compensation for writers as well as increases in streaming residuals” and are open to further improve the current offer, but that they’ve been unable to concede to the WGA’s demands around “mandatory staffing” and “duration of employment.”

But writers like Renard aren’t willing to back down on the entirety of their demands at a moment that feels existential for her profession — and hope the WGA won’t back down either.

“If we don’t change what’s broken now, writing won’t be a viable career,” says Renard. “There won’t be a middle class in this industry because writing has become a gig economy. It is not sustainable.”

Renard is referring specifically to the proliferation of mini rooms, smaller versions of full-scale writers rooms that have grown in popularity as streaming services like Netflix have flooded their platforms with high quantities of shows.

Now, it’s more common to see shorter seasons (maybe 10 to 14-episodes) instead of the former broadcast seasons that would be longer and carry on for maybe 24 episodes in a season. These conditions, the WGA says, have sucked writers into the orbit of freelance work.

“The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” the WGA stated in a public announcement about the strike. 

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on May 11, 2023.

About the Author: Jireh Deng (they/them) is a queer Asian American writer and filmmaker born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley. 


Share this post

Union “Salting” Tactics Need Revival

Share this post

Today’s revival of union “salting” could not be more welcome or more urgently needed.

A tactic as old as the labor movement itself, salting describes going to work in an unorganized workplace where there may be a chance to help initiate new union organizing.

It’s also a label for taking jobs at already unionized employers, hoping to play a positive role. But here I will deal with the former: taking jobs to help spur new organizing.

LABOR’S CRISIS

Whatever amount of salting is underway today — it’s impossible to precisely measure — it cannot come soon enough. The U.S. labor movement is mired in a crisis that threatens its very existence.

A bare fringe of the working class, 10 percent, belongs to a union. The rate of unionization has been cut in half in the past 40 years.

Virtually all employers are ferociously anti-union, and they’ve been able to construct enormous legal and illegal obstacles to unionization efforts.

The unorganized workplace is a de facto dictatorship of ever-lower wages and living standards, where blue collar, white collar, and even professional workers are held helpless in the employer’s grip.

With an army of unorganized workers arrayed against the dwindling union garrison, it is unlikely that any further forward progress for the existing unions or the working class as a whole will be possible without a revival of union organizing on a larger scale.

Widespread salting can and must be a component of these urgently needed organizing campaigns.

CRISIS BY THE NUMBERS

Union organizing efforts today are at best incidental and sporadic. Occasional large or name-brand campaigns achieve some media attention and provide an illusion of union vitality.

Several recent sizeable graduate student wins, the Starbucks movement, Amazon, and activity in the nonprofit sector are all welcome — but are still collectively too small to reverse the overall decline.

Organizing efforts in the public sector are largely stalled, with union recognition still banned in many states and localities. In the private sector, the number of National Labor Relations Board-supervised union authorization elections now hovers at historically low levels.

I joined the labor movement in 1979; that year 7,266 NLRB elections were held, with a union win rate of almost 45 percent.

In 2021, the number of union elections fell below 1,000, with a win rate not much more than 50 percent. The 2022 numbers show some improvement, but nothing approaching what’s needed.

The size of the units organizing today has also shrunk significantly, translating into far fewer workers organized.

While the U.S. union movement is the most financially wealthy union movement on planet Earth, allocations of resources to tackle the organizing crisis are minuscule and often short-lived. (See Chris Bohner’s â€śViewpoint: It’s Time to Tap into Labor’s Fortress of Finance.”

The 2022 AFL-CIO Convention’s much-publicized “transformational” organizing initiative remains invisible. Some individual unions have increased the resources they are dedicating to new organizing, but the sheer size of the task demands far more. Salting is one way that activists can dive in to initiate organizing and pull the institution along.

SALTING CONTROVERSIAL?

Employers decry salting as illegitimate. In fact, they routinely allege that workers who help lead any union organizing campaign in the workplace are “union plants.”

Bosses allege this even when it’s an absurdity — the sincerity and authenticity of everyone who challenges their total control must be discredited.

Anti-labor politicians occasionally team up with employers to denounce salting, in an attempt to somehow scandalize it. Bogus Congressional hearings have been held from time to time to denounce salting.

The current salting efforts at several name-brand corporations may catch the attention of these extremist anti-union elements in the current Congress. So be it. Their clumsy efforts in the past, given to shrill hyperbole and wild exaggeration, have always fallen flat.

The defense of labor’s salting projects must take an above-board, straight-on approach: Salting is often the required form of resistance to the employer’s workplace dictatorship.

When organizing is a de facto illegal act — when workers are fired and victimized by the tens of thousands for exercising their paper right to unionize — salting is the completely justified response.

It acts as a catalyst for the workers already on the job who are frequently supportive of unions but nearly purged of hope and terrified of organizing, for fear of retaliation. When the workplace has been reduced to this situation, those who confront it as salts are doing truly commendable work.

Ultimately, all of us are salts.

We have no means to earn a living other than finding a boss to hire us — and why shouldn’t we desire to start a union, or strengthen an existing union, while we’re there?

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on May 3, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Chris Townsend has been a union member, organizer, and staff member for 44 years, spending the bulk of his career as a staffer for the United Electrical Workers and the Amalgamated Transit Union. He can be contacted at cwtownsend52@gmail.com.

Visit this Workplace Fairness page to learn more about unions.


Share this post

The Memorial Day Massacre: A Lost Piece of History

Share this post

You might think that, having been raised a mile from where 10 workers were killed and 30 more were shot by police while picketing a steel plant, I would have heard of such a tragedy. More confounding, my great-uncle, Eddie Marasovic, was wounded by a police bullet in that violent affair that would become known as a massacre.

Yet I knew nothing of it. 

It happened in May, 1937, before I was born, on the prairie outside the Republic Steel plant on Chicago’s East Side. This spit of land, along Lake Michigan’s southern tip, linked the steel plants of southern Chicago to a long string of industry that reached through Indiana, giving rise to what labor economists called the largest steel producing region in the world. 

Why did I only learn about the killing of workers from a poster of the massacre that I found in a bookstore, in a city located two states away, nearly half a century after the event transpired?

The Memorial Day Massacre, as many refer to it, was largely repressed by many in the community where it occurred.

In the late 1990s when I began researching it, scholars had also neglected the tragedy for decades. Greg Mitchell’s new PBS film and book, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried, explore how vital evidence — a Paramount newsreel — helped union leaders and civil libertarians turn the tide against the extreme pro-police news coverage in the immediate aftermath of the killings.

A single newsreel cameraman, Orlando Lippert of Paramount News, captured the tragedy on film. Lippert’s footage, suppressed by Paramount until a congressional committee under progressive Sen. Robert M. La Follette Jr. (D-Wisc.) screened it, showed police firing at protesters, striking 40 of them, the vast majority in the back or on the side.

The newsreel provided vital proof of corporate and state violence against working Americans. 

How had events transpired as they did?

Tensions had been ratcheting up for months ahead of the tragedy. In 1935, the new Committee of Industrial Organizations (CIO), under the leadership of United Mine Workers’ John L. Lewis, organized industrial labor, unskilled workers flexed their muscle. And, in late 1936, workers set off the sit-down craze, initiating hundreds of strikes from late November 1936 through the spring of 1937.

Lewis’s CIO achieved an agreement with U.S. Steel, the largest producer in the country, but Thomas M. Girdler, the CEO of Republic Steel, and the heads of other smaller steel companies (known as Little Steel), vowed to keep unions out. When workers called a strike at these plants, unionists rallied at Republic Steel. But Chicago police refused to let strikers picket the plant and on May 28, 1937, they viciously beat strikers, including women. 

To build community support, workers organized a Memorial Day picnic for families and labor activists on the prairie several blocks from their plant. More than 1,000 people showed up, many in their Sunday best, and then set off on a peaceful march to form a picket line close to the Republic plant. 

Police halted them halfway there. Orlando Lippert’s newsreel of events shows men and women gesticulating to police. Seconds later, the film shows workers fleeing. Police run after them, many with guns drawn, and fire upon the crowd. Four workers died of their wounds immediately, and within three weeks, another six had lost their lives. Others were hospitalized due to severe beatings. One boy, age 11, was shot in the foot. 

My grandmother’s youngest brother, my great uncle Eddie, was one of those who had been shot. Ironically, though I learned of the massacre in 1983 at the Northern Sun bookstore in Minneapolis, I only discovered our personal connection at a family wedding several years later. My great uncle’s daughter shared the story of her father having been shot that Memorial Day.

In 1996, in the midst of my graduate studies, examining how news photography shaped labor conflict, I interviewed my aunts and uncles to see if I could find out more. They knew nothing of the Memorial Day Massacre. I became fascinated, not only about the events in Chicago, but about the ways in which it had been forgotten. 

Only from an oral history that my brother, Michael, conducted with our grandparents did I find out that my grandfather was working in the Republic plant for 17 days before and after the massacre. He was one of the “loyal workers” the company deployed to suggest the strikers did not represent most workers. He was, in effect, a scab. My uncle Eddie, in contrast, stood on the field that day, fighting for the right to a union.

I have few strands of information, hardly more than whispers, of Eddie’s life.

He continued his employment at Republic Steel for nearly four decades. But these are the lone facts I can dredge up. From family, there is little more. Others, notably urban sociologist William Kornblum in his 1975 book Blue Collar Community, have observed that Chicago’s East Siders did not want to discuss the events that so divided their community.

As documentarian George Stoney found in his exploration of Southern millworkers involved in the 1934 general textile strike, being subject to state violence can cause trauma or shame, making workers suspicious and willing to repress their own experiences.

Even the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) refused to honor the massacre’s victims — it took a decade for the union’s newspaper to print the infamous photographs of its members being beaten and shot at by police, even as other union papers and metropolitan dailies published such imagery. In 1937, SWOC was fighting for its right to exist — and it may have feared scaring off membership by highlighting the massacre.

The intransigence of Girdler and the other Little Steel executives soon stymied the union drive. Little Steel only accepted union representation after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1940 that workers deserved compensation for the companies’ illegal actions against them, and as President Franklin D. Roosevelt forced industry to negotiate with unions if they wanted federal defense contracts.

While workers did not obtain contracts immediately, efforts at curtailing labor spies, corporate mercenaries, and police overreaction to labor disputes mostly succeeded. A committee under Sen. La Follette probed the massacre and exposed the buried Paramount footage.

This spotlight upon extralegal violence helped curb it in the future. Documenting and publicizing the surveillance of workers — and the collusion between private “security” forces, police and the National Guard — lmited such practices. The stifling of violence, and federal support for unions along with workers’ ongoing mobilization, ultimately led a third of the nation’s industrial workforce to enjoy union representation by the early 1950s.

It was only in the mid-1990s that I began to deeply research the story of the massacre. By reading the La Follette transcripts, I was able to find traces of my great uncle.

I knew from a second cousin that her father, Eddie Marasovic, had been shot in his leg, and he carried the bullet in his body to the grave. Unexpectedly I encountered his name, in Exhibit #1463: A medical examiner’s sketch of a body, with dots strewn across the drawing, for all the bullets that more than two dozen activists had borne that day. My great-uncle’s name corresponds to the bullet that wounded his leg.

My family had been touched by history, recorded in history, and yet those marks had been lost to me. Repressed, censored or silenced — I am still trying to learn.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 4, 2023. It is an adapted excerpt from the foreword to he book, “Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried” by Greg Mitchell. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Carol Quirke is a professor of American Studies at SUNY Old Westbury and is the author of “Eyes on Labor.


Share this post

A Win for New Jersey Temp Workers

Share this post

Tens of thousands of New Jersey temporary help and staffing agency workers were essential but unprotected during the pandemic but will soon enjoy robust new rights and protections.

They triumphed over significant challenges, building power with support from Make the Road NJ and New Labor, to pass the “Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights” on February 2, 2023.

After a version of the bill passed both chambers in June 2022, a clerical error caused a series of delays, spurring intensified lobbying by the industry. The workers persevered, returning to Trenton repeatedly to make their voices heard, highlighting poverty wages and how taxpayers subsidize temp agencies by more than $20 million per year, and calling out agencies opposing the bill that were not even registered to operate in New Jersey.

As Reynalda Cruz, a New Labor leader and former temp worker, explained: the new law “has been a long time coming for us, after having passed the Assembly and Senate twice previously.”

“Temp workers need more protections and temp agencies need to be regulated! We’ve seen it through multiple votes, and when we fight we win!”

Nidia Rodrigues, a temp worker and member of Make the Road NJ echoed the excitement: “Finally, essential temp workers have the opportunity for just and dignified jobs, and a better future. This is a victory led by and for the hundreds of thousands of essential temp workers who have organized for years.”

Reflecting key worker priorities, the New Jersey law contains several provisions for transforming low-wage, precarious jobs into good jobs.

Workers assigned to designated occupations by temporary help and staffing agencies will enjoy equal pay for equal work, opportunities for permanent employment, transparency, and more.

Most of the provisions of this terrific victory will take effect on August 5, 2023, but the critical protections against retaliation and the Right-to-Know provisions take effect on May 7, 2023.

For the scores of temp workers routinely assigned to the covered occupations, passage of the law is only the beginning. Workers look forward to the improved conditions that implementation will bring and, ultimately, to ensuring all temp workers, regardless of assignment or state of residence, enjoy the same basic protections.

This is an abbreviated version of a blog that originally appeared at NELP on May 1, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: This blog was published by NELP (National Employment Law Project) staff.

Learn more about temporary workers here.


Share this post

Labor Movement Growth: Its Seeds are Spreading

Share this post

Hamilton Nolan


In 2015, a group of my colleagues and I decided to try to unionize our company, Gawker Media. This mostly involved an intense, weeks-long process of speaking to everyone we worked with to convince them why this would be a good idea.

As we did that, one thing became clear: Even in a newsroom populated overwhelmingly by outspoken left-wingers, most people didn’t know that much about unions.

How did they work? What were the rules? We encountered not hostility so much as people chewing over, for the first time, something they had never really considered.

There were two obvious reasons for this. First, there were not many unions in our particular industry at the time, so few people had ever been union members before. And second, only one in ten workers in the whole damn country were union members, meaning that, unlike in past generations, few people had grown up with a parent or friend or relative who was a union member.

A consequence of the long term dwindling of union density was that casual contact with unions had also dwindled. Fewer people had a mom who was a shop steward, an uncle who went on strike or a friend who could tell them about a great new contract at their job. Lower union membership meant more widespread ignorance about what unions were all about — which, in turn, meant that every new organizing drive was more of an uphill battle. The decline of unions in the past drove further decline in the present. 

But this dynamic also runs in reverse.

As more and more companies in our industry unionized, unions rapidly evolved from a novelty to a necessity. The people who won a union at one workplace told their friends at the next workplace. It spread. It became less mysterious. For non-union workers, every new union somewhere else was a reminder that they might be missing out on something. After four or five years, it started to be more noticeable when a newsroom wasn’t unionized. The idea, made real, sold itself. 

Here is some good news: This snowball effect that propels the labor movement forward is getting big now.

Big enough to pay attention to. Think about the implications of the fact that tens of thousands of people in higher ed — most of them grad and undergrad workers — have unionized in just the past two years. Tens of thousands more of them, already unionized, have gone on strike.

A characteristic of this particular group of workers is that the vast majority of them are not going to spend their entire careers on college campuses. They will go through these big union drives, contract fights, and strikes, and then they will go out into the world. All over the place. Credentialed in every field, they will go to white collar offices and blue collar jobs and, no doubt, into service and retail jobs.

Each one of them is a seed that can grow another union wherever they end up. Tens of thousands of young people, all former union members, experienced in labor battles, percolating into every crevice of the working world. Tens of thousands of young people who know what unions can do, who know how organizing is done, who are harder to trick with anti-union lies, filtering into countless non-union workplaces. Everywhere. 

This is how it spreads. This is what we need.

Every union is important for its own members, but what is even more important about the current wave of campus union activity is that it has big numbers of people involved, and those people are about to scatter like dandelion seeds blown in the wind. The most vital legacy of these higher ed unions will not be what they do on campus, but what they lead to everywhere else. 

There is another ingredient adding fuel to this fire: attention.

The past decade’s widespread unionization of media outlets did not produce a huge number of new union members, but it did produce a drastic increase in reporters who were interested in organized labor, which led to more coverage. That interest found a home, most notably, in the union drives at Starbucks and Amazon, lending both of those campaigns a national importance that exceeds their raw numbers. 

I spent the past year reporting and writing a book about the labor movement, and everywhere I went, people told me that they were inspired by Starbucks and Amazon.

The increased media focus on labor combined with these name brand campaigns has elevated the idea of unions into the national consciousness.

Every big strike that makes the news helps. If screenwriters go on strike on May 1, as looks possible, Hollywood will shut down, and labor power will grab center stage every time anyone turns on their TV. Even normies have heard of this stuff.

This may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t. It provides people with a reference point — a mental foundation to build on. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on April 20, 2023.


Share this post

Subscribe For Updates

Sign Up:

* indicates required

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.