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WHY IMMEDIATE AND LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYMENT REFORM IS A MATTER OF RACIAL AND GENDER JUSTICE

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The expanded pandemic unemployment programs have been a critical lifeline for tens of millions of workers during the pandemic, but their necessity and success highlight the gaping holes and longstanding inequities in an intentionally under-resourced unemployment insurance system.

Government has a responsibility to provide economic security for people, beyond times of crisis, and it has to listen and be accountable when people organize and advocate for needed reforms that grant this security. When the pandemic hit, the unemployment insurance system in the US was in dire need of immediate reforms that would address the needs of those most impacted. In March 2020, far too many jobless workers fell into a woefully neglected unemployment system that was ill-equipped to meet their needs. As a result, Congress passed temporary programs to address the biggest gaps in the program, including coverage for app-based and part-time workers and those with caregiving responsibilities, expanded benefit duration and increased weekly benefit amounts. And as a result of jobless workers organizing to hold their government accountable, Congress extended these crucial programs twice.

In 2021 alone, the unemployment insurance system has served as a vital lifeline for over 53 million workers and injected almost $800 billion into the economy. At the height of the pandemic, nearly 16 million workers simultaneously relied on these federal pandemic programs and would otherwise have been shut out of the unemployment program entirely. Now with these temporary programs ending on Labor Day, an estimated 7.5 million people will lose their unemployment benefits entirely.

The US labor market and unemployment insurance program were designed to prioritize white male workers. As a result, Black workers and other workers of color have faced racist hiring and firing practices, longer periods of unemployment, and over-representation among unemployment claimants.

Ending the temporary programs that addressed some of the gaps that kept Black unemployed workers and other jobless workers of color from acquiring unemployment insurance will have devastating impacts on these communities. Currently, Black workers experience 8.2 percent unemployment and Latinx workers experience 6.6 percent, compared to 4.8 percent unemployment for white workers.

Similarly, with the continued rise of the Delta variant as the federal programs end, people with generational caregiving responsibilities and school age children are left with impossible choices, and women who in particular do more care work, will be left with no support as they attempt to care for their families and return to work. Mothers across the country were forced from work to care for children and their ongoing caregiving responsibilities continue to stop them from being able to return to the labor force. The change in labor force participation is particularly dramatic for single mothers: by June 2021, the labor force participation rate of single mothers in their prime working years was still 5 percentage points lower than it had been in January 2020. The pandemic unemployment programs provided temporary support for these women, but with benefits expiring they again will be shut out of our outdated unemployment system that simply does not serve their needs.

Disabled and immunocompromised workers and their family members who are unable to return to work due to health and safety concerns will also face the same fate – being left with no support as delta surges. These workers faced some of the greatest challenges during this pandemic and our system should not shut them out, especially as emergency rooms and ICUs continue to be overwhelmed.

We cannot afford to continue to rely on temporary fixes that expire based on arbitrary dates rather than worker and economic needs. Rather, we must transform the unemployment insurance system to serve all workers at all times, whether the country is in a public health or economic crisis or not. As Congress enters the reconciliation process, we must continue to demand that elected leaders lay the groundwork for this transformation by enacting bold, structural UI reform including expanded coverage, increased minimum benefit duration and increased benefit amounts that are in line with basic living expenses. Without these measures, we cannot have an equitable recovery.

About the Author: Jenna Gerry, as a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, supports NELP’s efforts to end systemic racism in our social insurance system by providing legal and technical assistance to grassroots organizing groups and reformers to develop new worker informed and centered strategies to improve state and federal policies, build worker power, and improve jobless workers’ access to unemployment insurance Jenna is a proud member of the NELP Staff Association, NOLSW, UAW, LOCAL 2320.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on August 31, 2021. Reprinted with permission.


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How to Make the Building Trades Work for Women

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The building trades unions are some of the most powerful in the labor movement. Because their members are well-paid, their dues are often higher than in other unions, giving them more resources to influence change. They also hold a certain cultural cachet, exemplifying what many people (wrongly) think the working class looks like: white men in hard hats. But this cachet is also part of the problem: These unions have been under fire for how white and male-dominated they are. Only 6% of the construction workforce is Black and, as of 2018, only 3% of workers in the construction industry were women.

While building trades unions are working to address these issues, tradeswomen say that making construction unions more accessible?—?and comfortable?—?for women is going to be a long process. They say it will require material improvements, like widespread maternity leave protections, as well as cultural shifts, like working to end sexual harassment. 

Ash Fritzsche is in year four of an apprenticeship program with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 in Philadelphia. She was working at a restaurant when some of her regular customers encouraged her to begin an apprenticeship in the building trades so she could have more job security and higher pay than in the food industry. Apprenticeships are not easy programs to get into: Fritzsche told In These Times that in her year, more than 1,000 people applied, but only fewer than 100 were accepted into this five-year program. Workers who complete apprenticeship programs are taught their craft while they work, earning a living while they complete the educational requirements and gain experience as electricians. To be accepted, workers must take an aptitude test and have an interview, which Fritzsche described as ?“killer, with seven guys at a roundtable asking you questions, it was so intimidating.” She struggled with knowing how to dress as a woman trying to break into the construction industry, having perused Reddit articles geared only towards men.

Fritzsche says her local accepted 10 women her year, contrasting with around three in years prior. She believes that allowing in more women helped with retention: ?“It allowed us to develop community. In previous years, at least one woman wouldn’t make it, but so far all 10 of us are still in and thriving and totally ambitious.” 

At Local 98, apprentices start out making 30% of what journeymen make, which for her was $18 per hour. Raises are applied every 1,000 to 2,000 hours, and health insurance kicks in after a couple of months. Fritzsche is in the final year of her five-year apprenticeship and now makes $38 per hour, the most money she’s ever made. She told In These Times that she’ll get another raise in October, ?“and I know it. It’s not like if I show up early for work and I do this or that, I might get it. It’s an automatic, earned raise, which is the way it should be.” For women workers who may face gender discrimination (including lower pay, fewer benefits and fewer opportunities to advance) at work, unions can and do even the playing field. 

Local 98 is working to recruit more women, and recently hosted a ?“Women in Construction” camp to teach more than 30 high-school aged young women about what union electrical work is like. But there is still work to be done. Because the building trades are so male-dominated, their unions are tailored to their members, who are primarily men. While benefits for unionized building trades workers are generous and desirable, most lack any kind of paid family leave?—?in our society, parental caretaking still falls primarily on women. This means that women may not see the building trades as a suitable career for them if they want to have a family. 

But the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) is working hard to change this: In May, the union introduced a maternity leave program. According to Jessica Podhola, the director of communications and government affairs at District Council 3 at IUPAT in the Kansas City area, members have to belong to their local district council’s health and welfare fund, and to have worked 100 hours immediately before the benefit is applied to be eligible for it. The program includes wage replacement of 67% or $800 per week, and if members cannot work during pregnancy, they can receive up to six months of paid leave. For postpartum leave, workers receive either paid time off for six or eight weeks (if they had a C?section).

Podhola told In These Times that this maternity leave program is ?“a beginning, but it’s a strong beginning.” Others, meanwhile, are picking up the baton. According to Fritzsche, Local 98 is also working on this issue: She told In These Times that the local recently extended the cap on disability from $300 to $500 dollars a week, and it made an automatic disability clause for women in their 9th month of pregnancy and for the first six weeks postpartum (or eight weeks if they had a C?section). IBEW Local 48 in Oregon, meanwhile, introduced a new maternity leave program in January 2020, which offered workers 13 weeks of paid leave prior to birth and 13 weeks of paid leave after birth, which doubled the union’s previous benefit.

Podhola serves on IUPAT’s national women’s committee, which was built to develop policies to propel the union forward in protecting its women members. The committee has subcommittees on maternity leave, diversity and inclusion, recruitment, and marketing and retention. But along with the structural barriers for women in the trades, there’s also a cultural component that is difficult to fight: sexual harassment and other instances of sexism at work. Kelly Ireland, a plumber in Local 690 in Philadelphia, says ?“you walk through job sites and see graffiti about women. They say it’s a joke, but how many decades have we asked you to stop joking?” 

Unions are working on this, too. Ireland told In These Times that she knew of a man kicked off a job site for catcalling; the foreman fired him on the spot. And in addition to its new maternity leave policy, the IUPAT women’s committee is working on rolling out a sexual harassment training through their apprenticeship program. 

Podhola told In These Times that ?“changing the culture in construction is a long-term project. We are not going to be able to get it done overnight, but we can begin to create safer work spaces and frameworks for our sisters to address issues as they come up, and to begin laying the foundation for members regardless of gender about what is acceptable and what is not on a modern construction site.” 

Fritzsche’s experience has been similar during her apprenticeship. ?“You just watch some women burn out with the baloney they have to deal with. At the same time, the guys are incredible friends and mentors. I have so many male mentors. If you can work past issues around gender, you will have access to a wonderful world of friends, teachers, and mentors.”

According to Podhola, ?“Some of these guys have been doing this for 30 years and they’ve only worked with a woman a handful of times. It’s going to be a generational shift.” To make this shift happen, more women need to enter the trades. But it can be a vicious cycle: Women don’t see enough tradeswomen, so don’t see themselves as potential tradeswomen. 

Ireland, who grew up with a union plumber for a father, never even considered a future in the trades until she had her own family?—?mostly because she never saw women like her doing the work. ?“If I was young and saw women in the trades, I would have gone into ironwork, climb skyscrapers.” 

All of the tradeswomen who spoke to In These Times mentioned access as the largest barrier to bringing more women into the building trades: Women need to hear about these great jobs, understand that they’re just as welcome as men, and be given the confidence and tools both to apply and to stick it out when it gets difficult. Podhola says that ?“it’s on the onus of labor to market, recruit, and retain as many women as possible.” 

Workers say other solutions outside of marketing and recruitment could include more local women’s committees that prioritize and work directly on issues that affect women workers, putting more women on interview committees so women who apply for apprenticeships see themselves in their union and, of course, quotas and affirmative action for apprenticeships.

But ultimately, tradeswomen want other women to know that they belong in the trades. Fritzsche told In These Times that ?“women make great tradespeople. We are really good at this work and we deserve this work. A woman invented the circular saw. A woman invented the modern band saw. During World War II, we filled factories, we took over all the trades. We are tradespeople just as much as men are.”

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 30, 2021. Reprinted with permission.


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How Businesses Can Prevent Workplace Injuries

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There are over 7 million work injuries each year that result in millions of dollars of medical payments and missed work time. And that’s just the reported injuries — we all know workers who don’t report incidents due to embarrassment, fear of consequences or lack of knowledge around their rights.

Employees should be safe at work and encouraged to report injuries without repercussions. Fortunately, there’s many things businesses can do to prevent workplace injuries and keep workers safe.

Here are some steps you can take and advocate for today.

Safe Materials Handling

We all want to be safe when we’re doing our jobs but unfortunately, some companies aren’t entirely honest about the materials involved or how safe they are.

Asbestos was a known problem for years but businesses covered up the risks to maintain their operations and profitability. This callous approach to others’ lives is inexcusable. So how can you protect yourself?

Almost everyone has access to a wealth of information about safety and materials simply by using the internet. Educate yourself and your coworkers about the materials you work with and how to handle them safely. You can advocate for specific personal protective equipment (PPE) or even take action against your employer if they’re exposing you to toxic materials.

Reasonable Work Hours

Most people understand that in manufacturing and other industries, overtime is sometimes required. However, you should never be required to work until you’re exhausted. Employees who are overtired or burnt out can make unsafe decisions and injure themselves or others.

If you feel like you’re burned out, don’t be shy about seeing a doctor. You can get a diagnosis related to how you feel, and it can impact what you need to do at work.

Advocate for reasonable work hours and talk to managers about the safety implications of overwork. By standing up for yourself and your coworkers, you can help create a safer environment for all.

Appropriate Safety Equipment and Signage

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific rules for what kinds of safety equipment, notifications and signage workplaces must have. These apply to industries from healthcare to construction, agriculture, factories and even ships.

According to OSHA, the most common safety violations involve standards for:

  • Fall protection
  • Communication of hazards
  • Respiratory protection
  • Scaffolding requirements
  • Ladder requirements

Ensure that your workplace has appropriate safety equipment and training, and that you and your coworkers stick to them. When you do, you’ll be much safer. 

If you feel that your employer or workplace is violating a safety standard, let your boss or manager know immediately. If they don’t take action, you have the right to file a complaint with OSHA, which will begin an investigation.

You have the right to a safe and healthful workplace.

This post is printed with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.


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Minimum Wage: Is $15/Hour Enough?

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Minimum wage debates are never-ending and often polarizing. What I can say with certainty is that the stagnation of the minimum wage for the last 12 years is unfortunate when we see the quick uptick in inflation. In the latest report from June 2021, inflation jumped to 5.4% year-on-year, compared to last year’s rate of 0.6%. 

Minimum wages leave even the hardest of workers struggling to make ends meet. The simplest thing that we can do is to advocate for decent, livable wages for all to ensure the opportunity for economic security no matter who you are, where you work or where you live. 

That, however, begs the question: how do we set the new minimum wage? In reality, how can we settle on one number, such as $15/hour,  when each individual city has dramatically different costs of living and each state has a unique tax burden? 

Today’s Wages

Stuck at $7.25, the reality of the federal minimum wage is that in the largest U.S. cities, this kind of wage just won’t cut it. Even $15/hour isn’t enough in most areas.

Some might boast of a news release from the BLS declaring the increase in average hourly earnings rose 3.6% in June 2021, but this is likely not true for every worker and definitely does not keep up with inflation. 

It’s a complicated issue but there are many places in America where people aren’t making enough to buy necessities or even pay rent. They opt out of health insurance or simply going to the doctor for fear of what they may owe when all is said and done. 

Sure, many states and cities have mandated higher local minimum wages. Unfortunately, those increases often aren’t enough. 

For example, New York City’s minimum wage is set at $15-an-hour. According to this data study, factoring in local taxes, utilities, food, rental costs and transit as part of the core budget, a single New Yorker would be left with around $70 for hobbies, insurance, student loan payments, emergency expenses or simply to save. (Case in point: this homeless Amazon worker making $19.30 an hour.)

Inflation and City-Adjusted Wages

One minimum wage movement that has made the most waves across the nation is the Fight for $15. An estimated 26 million workers have been positively impacted by changes made in response to this demand for more livable wages. 

This movement was launched 12 years ago. If we used the current rates of inflation that would mean that this movement should now be pushing for $17.75 an hour.  

I’m no economist or financial expert, but it seems reasonable to me that taking inflation and each city’s cost-of-living into account, a minimum wage formula could be devised and additional wages could be adjusted according to some city-specific metrics such as the local price parity.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Kristen Klepac is a writer and content specialist who really misses music festivals. She currently resides in France where she often works on creating data-focused content that reveals unexpected trends on everything from crypto to city-based demographic reports. 


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Striking Alabama Coal Miners Want Their $1.1 Billion Back

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Luis Feliz Leon (@Lfelizleon) | Twitter

History repeated itself as hundreds of miners spilled out of buses in June and July to leaflet the Manhattan offices of asset manager BlackRock, the largest shareholder in the mining company Warrior Met Coal.

Some had traveled from the pine woods of Brookwood, Alabama, where 1,100 coal miners have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 1. Others came in solidarity from the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania and the hollows of West Virginia and Ohio.

Among them was 90-year-old retired Ohio miner Jay Kolenc, in a wheelchair at the picket line—retracing his own steps from five decades ago. It was 1974 when Kentucky miners and their supporters came to fight Wall Street in the strike behind the film Harlan County USA.

“Coal miners have always had to fight for everything they’ve ever had,” Kolenc said. “Since 1890, when we first started, nobody’s ever handed us anything. So we’re not about to lay our tools down now.”

The longest that miners ever went on strike was for 10 months in 1989 against the Pittston Coal Company in West Virginia, defending hard-won health care benefits and pension rights. Some 3,000 miners got arrested in that strike. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who passed away on August 5, was president of the Mine Workers (UMWA) at the time.

In Manhattan, mixed in the sea of camouflage T-shirts outside BlackRock was a smattering of red and blue shirts—retail, grocery, stage, and telecom workers. The miners and supporters circled the inner perimeter of four police barricades, chanting “Warrior Met Coal ain’t got no soul!” and whooping it up.

Postal and sanitation trucks honked in solidarity. “You’re in New York City,” Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts told the crowd. “When somebody comes by driving a trash truck, they’re in a union. Chances are, somebody comes along with a broom in their hand, they’re in a union.”

‘WHERE’S OUR MONEY?’

The strikers are fighting to reverse concessions that were foisted on them in 2016 when newly formed Warrior Met Coal bought two mines and one preparation plant from Jim Walter Resources during bankruptcy proceedings. BlackRock became one of the three majority shareholders in the new company.

Since then, the union calculates that workers have forked over $1.1 billion in pay, overtime, vacation, safety, health care, and other benefits to help the company regain solvency. Today 26 hedge funds have investments in Warrior Met stock, signaling their confidence in its profitability.

“We want everything back. And then some. That’s the message we’re trying to send to BlackRock,” said Michael Wright, a miner for 16 years.

Warrior Met produces coal used in steel production in Asia, Europe, and South America. In response to the strike it has scaled back production, left one mine idle, and stopped stock buybacks, Bloomberg reported. The strike has cost the company $17.9 million, according to its second-quarter earnings report.

Shortly after the miners walked out, management returned to the table with an offer that would have recouped just $1.50 of the $6 cut in wages from the 2016 contract and left intact punitive disciplinary policies and benefits concessions. The miners voted it down, 1,006 to 45.

“We come back to the table and they’re offering less what we were making originally,” said Brian Seabolt, another 16-year coal miner.

“We go underground to sacrifice our lives for our families,” said Wright. “They’re making billions of dollars. Where’s our money?”

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has burnished his public image as a benevolent capitalist concerned about climate change and social justice. The strikers hope to gain leverage by tarnishing that image.

BlackRock has a shield that makes that harder: two-thirds of its investments are in index funds, passively managed portfolios that bundle together investments regardless of social impact.

But it’s even harder to hit it hard enough in the pocketbook to have an impact: Warrior Met makes up just a tiny fraction of BlackRock’s portfolio. The asset manager had a record $9.5 trillion in assets under management at the end of June.

Nonetheless, to hurt profits, strikers were blocking scabs from entering the mines—until the company obtained an injunction to stop them. Despite that, the mines produced only 1.2 million tons of coal during the second quarter—a million less than the same period last year.

A GRUELING JOB

Another striker on the Manhattan picket line was Tammy Owens, a former steelworker. She switched to mining because it had better pay and benefits, though the job was grueling. “And then a few years later, I ended up with worse benefits than what I had at the steel plant,” she said.

Since the strike, she has picked up a side job to provide for her family. The union has also distributed $4.3 million to miners to cover health care.

Besides pay and benefits, the 2016 concessions included a punitive attendance policy that one miner’s wife described to journalist Kim Kelly as “four strikes and you’re out.”

“If I had a heart attack, they can give me a strike,” Owens said. “They don’t accept a doctor’s excuse. Even if I have something contagious that I can give to other people—pneumonia, the flu, strep throat, you name it—you have to come to work.”

Excessive overtime is another flashpoint (shades of Frito-Lay and Amazon). Miners have been forced into 12-hour shifts stretching into weekends—without the double pay on Saturday and triple pay on Sunday that they used to get.

And health care looms large. Costs shot up; the company now covers only 80 percent of the premium. “We need 100 percent,” said miner Dedrick Gardner. “Considering the work conditions in a coal mine, health care is vital. You’re dealing with silicosis, black lung, diesel, smoke.”

Black lung is caused by breathing in coal dust. The dust silts up the lungs, scarring and destroying them.

“Health insurance went from $12 for seeing any doctor in the world to $1,500 family deductible and co-pays up to $250,” said Local 2245 President Brian Michael Kelly.

TOXIC AND DANGEROUS

Safety is a perennial concern. “I work 2,200 feet underground in one of the most gaseous mines in the world,” Owens said. “If something goes wrong, it could blow the top off the ground.”

In 2001, 13 workers died at one of the mines now owned by Warrior Met after a slab of rock fell and set off a methane gas explosion, burning and pounding miners to death with chunks of rock.

Despite that tragedy, the 2016 contract eroded safety standards. And the situation is presumably even worse for the scabs inside now.

“Nonunion mines are continuously known for cutting corners and creating unsafe working environments in order to increase production,” said union spokesperson Erin E. Bates via email. “Warrior Met Coal is currently mining and processing coal with unskilled workers. We are concerned it is only a matter of time until someone gets seriously hurt.”

Without the union watchdog, apparently the company’s environmental practices slipped too. Shortly after the strike began, wastewater from one of the mines suddenly turned local creeks black with pollution.

This post originally appeared at Labor Notes on August 10, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


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NLRB Hearing Officer Recommends Rerun of Amazon Bessemer Election

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Luis Feliz Leon (@Lfelizleon) | Twitter

A National Labor Relations Board hearing officer has recommended a rerun of the union election that Alabama Amazon warehouse workers lost by more than 2 to 1 in April.

The hearing officer sided with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which argued that Amazon had interfered with a fair election by pushing the Postal Service to install an unmarked mailbox as a ballot-drop site, within view of company surveillance cameras. The mammoth warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, employs more than 5,000 workers.

In the hearing report, released today, NLRB field attorney Kerstin Meyers also agreed with RWDSU that Amazon had threatened employees, hired private police, and even changed the county traffic lights to impede the union’s access to voters.

“The question of whether or not to have a union is supposed to be the workers’ decision and not the employer’s,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum in a statement.

Meyers’ recommendation will most likely be upheld, but that decision rests with the Board’s regional director in Atlanta. This decision in turn could be appealed to the full board in Washington, D.C., explains labor lawyer Brandon Magner, but new Democratic appointments on the Board will tilt the balance in favor of a rerun election.

Magner concludes, “the union is probably getting a second election if it wants to wait for one”—meaning if the union doesn’t pull the petition and give up.

A do-over will likely stretch into next year. Given Amazon’s more than 150 percent turnover rate, it will likely involve an almost entirely new workforce.

Shortly after the April election defeat, Labor Notes spoke to Amazon worker Darryl Richardson, who described how Amazon had bolted him down in place, making it hard to organize on the job even after he emerged as a workplace leader.

“At Amazon, we were designated to a station,” Richardson said, comparing restrictions on mobility within the warehouse to his previous job at a unionized auto parts plant. “We couldn’t roam. We was tied down.” This made it difficult to talk to co-workers, he said. The pandemic-related social distancing measures only exacerbated these limitations.

Richardson’s freedom to roam was even more severely curtailed when he was assigned to exclusively pick items out of bins, whereas before he had toggled between roles. Previously he had worked in such roles as “water spider,” which, in Amazon lingo, is someone who goes into the trailers with pallet jacks, pulls pallets of packages, and stages them to be unloaded onto the conveyors.

“Receivers, packers, and sorters are the least mobile. They typically stand in one place and do the same tasks over and over again,” said a member of the collective Amazonians United, who asked to remain anonymous and has held numerous roles at Amazon facilities. Amazonians United is a network of rank-and-file worker committees stretching across the U.S. and Canada.

These roles are randomly assigned, so the company can’t be charged with retaliation, workers say. Meyers, the Board’s hearing officer, rejected claims by pro-union workers in Alabama that the company had isolated them, corroborating what workers told Labor Notes about being routinely reassigned. “Employees are regularly moved to areas where they are needed,” wrote Meyers in the 61-page recommendation.

But it’s an expression of the arbitrary and dictatorial power that Amazon exercises over its workers. Sometimes, according to Amazon workers, even when they bring doctor’s notes certifying that they have plantar fasciitis or stress fractures and need relief from the repetitive motions of picking, the company doesn’t accommodate these requests; it might just move someone to pick another floor.

While the Board has found that Amazon pressured its workers in Alabama to vote against joining RWDSU, many of the company’s practices—including captive-audience meetings where workers were forced to listen to management’s anti-union rants—were within the purview of the law. One exception was the anti-union “vote no” pins—featuring Amazon’s warehouse mascot, Peccy—and “vote no” tags for workers to hang from their cars’ rearview mirrors.

Meyers called the anti-union onslaught “propaganda.” The company festooned common areas with banners declaring “speak for yourself” and “vote no.” It also sent emails saying “Don’t Give Up Your Voice.”

Even if the Atlanta regional Board director calls for a rerun of the election, Amazon’s control over the workplace must be overcome in the worker’s courtroom: the shop floor.

“I thought the outcome was going to be totally different. In the facility, every day, everybody was complaining. Ain’t nobody got anything good to say. I’m just still overwhelmed about how the outcome came out,” Richardson told Labor Notes in April. “Due to Amazon’s anti-union tactics, they was confused, didn’t know what was going on. [Amazon] put pressure on ’em.

“They didn’t want to lose their jobs,” he said. “They didn’t want [Amazon] to take away their wages and benefits. They didn’t want [Amazon] to relocate.”

And now? “1 more round, I’m ready,” Richardson said on Twitter yesterday.

This post originally appeared at LaborNotes on August 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


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Fight for $15 Movement Has Won $150B in Wage Raises for 26M Workers in Less Than a Decade

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Home - National Employment Law Project

New York, NY—The worker-of-color-led Fight for $15 and a union movement has won $150 billion in raises for 26 million workers to date, according to a new report from National Employment Law Project (NELP).

Twelve million of the 26 million impacted workers (46 percent) are Black, Latinx, or Asian American; and of the $150 billion in total raises that workers have secured, $76 billion has gone to workers of color and $70 billion to women workers.

New York City fast-food workers first walked off their jobs in November 2012, demanding a $15 minimum wage and union rights. Since then, the movement for higher wages has become one of the most successful workers’ movements in recent memory, leading to higher wages in dozens of states, cities, and counties; putting pressure on some of the world’s largest corporations to raise their pay scales; and transforming public opinion.

“Since 2012, the Fight for $15 movement has brought together thousands of workers across the country, who organized and called for higher wages and union rights. Our report quantifies the impact of this movement in terms of the number of workers who have benefitted, and the higher earnings they have won,” says NELP Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst Yannet Lathrop, who co-authored the study along with San Jose State University Professor T. William Lester and University of North Carolina doctoral candidate Matthew Wilson.

Lathrop continues: “What’s most impressive is that workers have won these wage increases despite every imaginable obstacle­—from a system increasingly stacked against workers and labor unions, to interference from some of the most nefarious corporations, who deployed well-paid lobbyists to fight tooth and nail against higher minimum wages. But workers won in the end. That should tell us that when workers organize, they win.”

These massive wins—amounting to $5,700 in additional annual income per worker—have made a real material difference in the lives of the nation’s millions of underpaid workers and their families. The impact is particularly significant for workers of color—for example, the report finds that state minimum wage increases boosted the earnings of Black workers by $5,100 annually on average; and that local minimum wage increases raised their earnings by $7,300.

While the Fight for $15 movement has been successful, many members of Congress have refused to heed the demands of their constituents and raise the federal minimum wage. July 24 marks 12 years since the federal minimum wage last went up, leaving the millions of workers in the 20 states with wages at the federal minimum—or with no state minimum wage—with income that has not been livable for a very long time. This is structurally racist in design and effect, as most Black workers in the U.S. live in these states.

Congress must listen to the demands of the workers and communities of color leading the movement for higher wages and immediately pass the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, with One Fair Wage for tipped workers, workers with disabilities, and youth workers.

“The Black and brown workers leading the Fight for $15 and a union have heroically transformed public discourse on wages, worker power, and workplace democracy—while achieving major policy wins and taking on exploitive corporations,” says NELP Executive Director Rebecca Dixon. “Longstanding racist policy choices have created labor market inequities, segregating workers of color and women—most of all Black women—into jobs with low pay, stagnating those wages. Now Congress must deliver on the demands of this movement, which would advance racial and gender equity in the U.S. and improve the lives of all workers, their families, and communities.

Along with the campaign to pass the federal Raise the Wage Act, workers in the Fight for $15 are organizing to win just-cause employment protections across the country, protections from sexual harassment and violence on the job, living wages above $15, and crucially, the union rights that will help secure all of these demands.

Members of Congress must urgently follow workers’ lead as a matter of civil rights and racial and gender justice.

Read the full report here.

This post originally appeared at NELP on July 27, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers.


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Jobs Report: Despite Job Growth, as Benefit Cliff Approaches, Renewing and Reforming Unemployment Insurance Is an Urgent Racial Justice Matter

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Home - National Employment Law Project

This month’s jobs report released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, continues to tell the story of an uneven labor market recovery rife with longstanding inequities.  In this context, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) is dedicated to transforming the system and paving the way for a more just economy that meets the need of those most impacted today and historically: Black workers and in particular Black women, who through racist policies, have been segregated into systemically low-paying industries, making it difficult to build up savings over time and be economically stable.  

 According to today’s BLS report: 

  • The economy added 943,000 jobs in July, and the unemployment rate dipped 0.5 percentage point to 5.4 percent.  
  • The jobless rates for teenagers (9.6 percent) and Asians (5.3percent) showed little change over the month. 
  • The unemployment rates declined in July for adult men (5.4 percent), adult women (5.0 percent), and white people (4.8 percent).  
  • A marginal 1 percentage point unemployment rate decline for Black and .8 percent for Latinx workers, continues to show a stark disparity. The still-too-high numbers 8.2 percent for Black workers, and 6.6 percent for Latinx workers, point to high unemployment prior to the pandemic, and the beginning of yet another an unjust economic recovery cycle unless major racial equity interventions are made.  
  • More Black workers were driven out of the workforce this month. This drop can be attributed to longstanding systemic racism and the absence of systemic support in integrating Black job seekers back into the labor market, which can result in Black workers being considered by BLS to be disconnected from the labor force. (1)
  • Today’s job report reveals one of the largest job gains since last August, but we are still far below pre-pandemic levels with 8.7 million people still unemployed and the economy still down 5.7 million jobs.   

“An uneven recovery is not a just recovery because the UI system was grafted onto the structurally racist foundation that undergirded much of the New Deal programs. Our solutions on unemployment must be structural and transformative, intentionally bringing in underpaid Black and Latinx workers, permanently and not just on a temporary basis in times of crisis,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. 

Today’s job report continues to demonstrate that as NELP, workers, and our partners have pointed out, unemployment insurance programs have been a lifeline throughout this crisis in supporting people to meet basic needs while searching for work and in stimulating the nation’s economic recovery by supporting consumer spending.   

As vaccine rates lag, COVID-19 variants rise, and the job market steadily improves, the looming benefit shutoff on Labor Day, September 6th, leaves an estimated 7.5 million workers without support and leaves millions of others at the mercy of an uneven patchwork of state coverage. Notably, in July, 1.6 million workers were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic.  

With the looming expiration of successful pandemic unemployment programs and as Congress approaches the reconciliation process and infrastructure bill, Congressmembers must remember that investing in workers is a vital infrastructure investment. NELP, workers, and allies are calling on Congress to enact bold, structural UI reform beginning with expanded coverage, minimum benefit duration that aligns with the needs of every worker, and increased benefit amounts that are in line with basic living expenses.   

Workers need bold reform that will lay the groundwork for an equitable unemployment insurance system and labor market making it possible for all workers and communities to thrive.   

ENDNOTES

  1. According to Table A–2, the Black employment to population ratio declined by .1 percentage point to 55.8 and the labor force participation rate declined from 61.6 to 60.8. 

This post originally appeared at NELP on August 7, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers.


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Child care is a crisis screaming out for investment. Can Manchin and Sinema hear that?

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Interview with Laura Clawson, Daily Kos Contributing Editor | Smart  Bitches, Trashy Books

Affordable, available child care was a major problem for many U.S. families even before the coronavirus pandemic—and now it’s a crisis. President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats have plans to fix that if Senate Republicans will get out of the way, or Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will get on board with a budget reconciliation package that includes child care. But even if funding was passed into law tomorrow (which it won’t be), the child care crisis would persist, at least for a while. 

The U.S. child care system has so many problems that simply scaling it up would take time as well as money. Scaling up requires adding both facilities and workers, and both of those are challenging. In Portland, Oregon, for instance, child care providers told local news station KOIN about their difficulties setting up new facilities, from finding appropriate spaces to zoning and permitting to finding the funding to pay for renovations. 

“It gets costly to borrow, you know, and childcare—there’s a fine line in what you can charge and what makes you competitive in the marketplace for families who do need childcare and how much you can ultimately profit to pay off a loan,” said one provider who had already spent $200,000, with the help of grants, renovating a space to set up a new facility.

Then there are child care workers. This was already a high-turnover industry, thanks in part to low wages. A Biden administration fact sheet on the American Families Plan lays out the gruesome situation for these workers: “More investment is needed to support early childhood care providers and educators, more than nine in ten of whom are women and more than four in ten of whom are women of color. They are  among the most underpaid workers in the country and nearly half receive public income support programs. The typical child care worker earned $12.24 per hour in 2020—while receiving few, if any, benefits, leading to high turnover and lower quality of care.”

The Biden plan would pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour for child care workers, as well as supporting professional development and training. At the same time, subsidies to families would ensure that “families earning 1.5 times their state median income will pay no more than 7 percent of their income for all children under age five,” while care would be free for the lowest-income families. 

But, again, such a dramatic increase in capacity would take time to put into place, and we’ve been seeing how slowly funds can make their way to the people who need them: Emergency rental assistance, for example, has gone out at a glacial pace in many states, even with an eviction crisis looming.

”We estimate hundreds of thousands of new children will benefit … in the first year, and even more children will start to immediately benefit from increased quality and access,” a White House official told Politico, “by providing funds to states to build on their existing child care systems in a way that is tailored to the needs of communities in the state and provides parents with options to send children to the setting of their choice.”

Hundreds of thousands is good—but millions of children were without affordable, accessible child care prior to the pandemic, and the situation has only gotten worse.

The fact that Congress can’t just snap its fingers and create a whole new, wonderful U.S. child care infrastructure isn’t the reason to start working on it, though. It’s a reason to start working on it now, with major funding directed at the problem that’s become a crisis. The pandemic has showed us how critical child care is to the ability of parents to do their jobs. Too many women have dropped out of the paid workforce or scaled back their paid work to take care of their children, and if we want to reverse that rather than let women’s progress be set back by decades, this is a massively important intervention. Raising wages for workers—overwhelmingly women and very often women of color—doing an important job should also be a priority, and it’s one that would benefit children by reducing turnover of their caregivers. Funding child care is a key economic, educational, and moral intervention. Manchin and Sinema need to embrace it.

This post originally appeared at DailyKos on August 4, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.


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The Climate Crisis Is Coming for Undocumented Farmworkers First

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Maurizio Guerrero -

Facing deadly heat waves and few protections, undocumented agricultural workers are being pushed to their limit.

In July 2020, Claudia Durán felt compelled to complete her shift harvesting blueberries in the fields of Allegan County, Mich., before driving to the local hospital’s emergency room to be treated for dehydration, where she arrived dizzy, with an acute headache and chest pain. That same month, at least three of her coworkers also ended their shifts in emergency rooms to be treated for dehydration, she says. Durán and her coworkers get paid by the hour, 50 cents for every pound of fruit they pick, and they cannot afford to miss work time and lose income. That is why Durán, who is undocumented, rations her water intake throughout the day?—?to avoid going too often to the restroom, which is far removed from the harvesting fields.

“I have asked for medicines for the headache, and he [the supervisor] says, ?‘No, nothing is happening, nothing is wrong,’ and does not give you medicine,” said Durán, who in 2004 emigrated from poverty and violence in the state of Zacatecas in Mexico. For fear of retaliation, she declined to provide her employer’s name. ?“Until the workday is over, if you feel very unwell, then you go to the emergency room,” said Durán, who is 35 years old and has four children to support. 

During the last several years, Durán says she has been treated at the emergency room around twice a summer for dehydration, with July 2020 marking her last visit. Toiling under difficult heat conditions, she and her coworkers have been forced to gamble with their health: Chronic dehydration can cause kidney damage.

The effects of the climate crisis on the more than 1 million agricultural workers in the United States, already severe, have been worsened by profit-driven employers. The increasingly severe heat waves ravaging the country damage some crops, so to protect the market value of their produce, the agricultural industry is accelerating the harvesting season?—?and in many instances forcing longer shifts on workers. 

With no access to shade and for wages often below the poverty level line, agricultural laborers are being pressured to harvest at a higher pace than in previous years, according to workers and advocates who spoke to In These Times. This work is increasingly done in temperatures that soar above 100 degrees and, with growing frequency, in the midst of wildfire smoke. 

Undocumented immigrants, often too intimidated to denounce mistreatment for fear of losing their jobs or being placed in deportation proceedings, are generally the most seriously abused and exploited. Between 50% and 75% of all farmworkers in the United States are undocumented. Meanwhile, 99% of farmworkers do not belong to a union. Without the support of organized labor or federal regulations that protect agricultural workers from heat and smoke, undocumented laborers are left to the mercy of employers in the midst of the climate crisis. 

At the peak of the heat season, when the fruit is ripening, Durán’s employer implements longer shifts, she said. This season, she says, ?“we were already asked to work more than 12 hours a day.” She starts working at seven o’clock in the morning. ?“They want us working until eight at night, and Sundays too,” she added in a phone interview in Spanish at nine o’clock at night, just after she arrived from work. In the background, one of her small children could be heard asking questions in English and Spanish, eager for attention. 

“All those hours, you are under the sun because you don’t even have a shade to eat your lunch,” Durán explained. 

Dangerous heat

This kind of abuse can be fatal. On June 26, 38-year-old Sebastian Francisco Perez, a Guatemalan, died while working on a tree farm in St. Paul, Ore., at the height of the hottest June in U.S. recorded history. Scorching temperatures are bringing new dangers to a job that was already dangerous. According to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, from 1992 to 2006, 68 crop workers died from heat stroke, representing a rate nearly 20 times greater than for other U.S. civilian workers. Most of the deaths were of adults aged 20 to 54 years, a population not typically at high risk for heat illnesses. Those tallies, advocates agree, are gross underestimates: They exclude workers on small farms, and heat deaths wrongly recorded as heart attacks or strokes unrelated to the workplace. 

The impact of extreme heat on farmworkers’ health has also been downplayed, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Apart from kidney problem, heat stress has been linked to adverse mental health outcomes and increased risk for traumatic injuries for agricultural laborers, who mostly work without commonplace benefits like sick leave, paid vacation or health insurance. At least 33% of farmworkers’ families are not even paid a wage above the poverty line —the annual income for farmworkers’ families usually does not exceed $24,500, according to data from 2015?–?2016. This stark economic reality undoubtedly increases pressure on farmworkers to endure exploitive and dangerous heat conditions.

Whatever the current impact of the increased temperature on agricultural workers, the costs are expected to rise sharply in the coming years. According to a 2020 study led by the Stanford University professor Michelle Tigchelaar, the number of unsafe days in crop-growing U.S. counties will jump from 21 per season to 39 per season by 2055, and without mitigation would triple by the end of the century. 

While heat waves continue to break records across the country, resulting in dozens of deaths throughout the Pacific Northwest this year alone, many agricultural workers remain unprotected by regulations and reluctant to denounce abuse for fear of being deported. And unions face significant barriers to organizing this workforce. This past June, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a California law, in place for more than four decades, that allowed union organizers to enter farms to speak to workers during nonworking hours for a set number of days each year. By a 6?–?3 vote along ideological lines, the court ruled that the law amounted to an illegal taking of private property, setting a chilling precedent against union organizers.

“[Agricultural workers] are human buffers protecting the middle class and white-collar America from the effects of climate change,” said Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns of United Farm Workers, one of the largest unions for farmworkers in the country. Those most affected, she said, are the poorest and most vulnerable?—?undocumented immigrants who are often coming from Indigenous communities in Mexico and Guatemala. 

A 2018 study conducted by researchers at the CDC found that non?U.S. citizens had three times the risk of dying from heat related-illness compared to citizens, and that the risk was higher among those younger and of Latino ethnicity?—?the vast majority of the U.S. agricultural workforce. 

Protecting companies, not workers

Congress has been slow to act to protect farmworkers. Last March, progressive members of the House and the Senate introduced versions of the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2021, named for a worker who died in California in 2004. The day of his death, after harvesting grapes for 10 hours straight at 105 degrees, Valdivia fainted, and instead of calling an ambulance, his employer asked the worker’s son to drive his father home. 

The bills in Congress require employers to institute paid breaks for their workers in shaded areas and make water available. They also stipulate emergency response procedures and heat-stress training in a language that workers understand. It is not clear, though, when the bills will be scheduled for a vote. 

At the beginning of the year, California had laws similar to the Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act. Oregon approved earlier this summer its own emergency protections, while Washington updated its own rules. Minneapolis mandates employers to provide training for its workers to avoid heat stress. But overall, advocates say, more protections are needed on a nationwide level.

The agricultural industry has largely responded to the heat waves by protecting its business, not workers. Advocates have detected nocturnal harvests of cherries and blueberries in Oregon and Washington?—?done with headlamps and imposed by employers to minimize the damage to the fruits caused by the intense heat.

“Just in the past four days alone, I have talked to farmworkers in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Arizona who are working either very early or nocturnal harvests this summer as a result of the heat,” said Strater. Nocturnal harvests increase the number of children working in the fields because there is no child care available when shifts start at two o’clock in the morning, she said. ?“So we are seeing more 9, 10 and 11-year-olds working in these really dangerous workplaces.”

The increasingly hot summers also mean agricultural workers toil while breathing the smoke from the progressively intense wildfires spreading throughout the U.S. West Coast. Only California has protective regulations for smoke in place.

Despite the massive wildfires of the season?—?Bootleg, one of the largest in Oregon’s history, had razed more than 400,000 acres by early August?—?the Oregonian agricultural industry is resisting common-sense protection for workers against the dangerous particles caused by the ’ smoke, said Ira Cuello Martínez, climate policy associate of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste or PCUN, the largest Latino union in Oregon. 

Advocates are pushing for employers in Oregon to provide farmworkers with respirators once the Air Quality Index (AQI) hits 151 —a level considered ?“unhealthy” by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the state’s agricultural industry has voiced resistance to the required usage of respirators at levels below California’s, which mandates employers to provide respirators after the index reaches 500, even though at 301 the air quality is already ?“hazardous” by federal standards. At levels beyond 300, Cuello Martínez added, ?“I don’t think anyone should be outside.” 

However, even in an environment that could potentially cause long-term health problems to workers, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have the authority to suspend outside work. 

Under these circumstances, agricultural laborers, especially those who are undocumented, say they will continue to be pushed by the industry to ensure the country’s residents have food on their tables amid the climate crisis. 

“The supervisor does not regard workers as anything of importance,” Durán said. ?“He already told us that we have to work more hours, and every day.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 4, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Maurizio Guerrero is a journalist based in New York City. He covers migration, social justice movements and Latin America.


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