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The Return of the Construction Industry Has Brought a Surge of Immigrant Worker Deaths

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The rush to keep building through the pandemic has compounded the risks for construction workers.

The recov­ery of the con­struc­tion indus­try in the Unit­ed States after the lock­downs imposed by the pan­dem­ic has been remark­able. Activ­i­ty in the indus­try, based on data on work­ers’ hours, returned since May to pre-lock­down lev­els in 34 states, and con­struc­tion spend­ing for the first six months of 2020 was 5% high­er than the same peri­od last year.

Yet the rush to keep on build­ing despite the pan­dem­ic has com­pound­ed the risks for con­struc­tion work­ers, who account for one in five work­place deaths in the Unit­ed States. The dan­gers are even high­er for non-union­ized day labor­ers, the vast major­i­ty of whom are immi­grants from Latin America.

“Sad­ly, employ­ers see us as dis­pos­able objects,” says Guadalupe Jiménez, a 48-year-old con­struc­tion work­er who emi­grat­ed from Mex­i­co to New York City four years ago. Jiménez thinks that real estate devel­op­ers are now in a hurry.

“They want to get the job done soon and they don’t care if you have pro­tec­tive equip­ment,” she says. ?“What they want is pro­duc­tion, production.”

Con­struc­tion was allowed to resume in New York City on June 8. With­in six weeks, two day labor­ers were killed (Mario Salas and Wil­son Patri­cio López Flo­res, both from Latin Amer­i­ca) in sep­a­rate inci­dents, and three were injured.

“There are peo­ple from South Amer­i­ca who come here after pawn­ing their house deeds,” says Eduar­do Red­wood, a 60-year-old Ecuado­ri­an immi­grant who arrived in the Unit­ed States two decades ago. ?“But instead of com­ing here to work to make a liv­ing, they come here to die.”

Con­struc­tion work­ers’ deaths have spiked across the Unit­ed States. In 2018, the most recent year for which fig­ures are avail­able, 1,008 work­ers were killed nation­wide?—?the high­est fig­ure since at least 2008?—?com­pared to 971 in 2017. The New York Com­mit­tee for Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health, a non­prof­it that issues what advo­cates con­sid­er a reli­able and con­sol­i­dat­ed annu­al tal­ly of deaths in the con­struc­tion indus­try, report­ed that 22con­struc­tion work­ers died in the city in 2018, an increase of 10% com­pared to 2017.

NYCOSH also report­ed that 86% of work­ers who died on pri­vate work­sites in 2017 were non-union. If his­to­ry is any guide, many of those work­ers were pre­sum­ably undoc­u­ment­ed immigrants.

New York state sen­a­tor Jes­si­ca Ramos says that the vast major­i­ty of deaths at con­struc­tion sites in the state are of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants. Many of those deaths are not con­sol­i­dat­ed in a sin­gle state registry.

Salas, a 59-year-old Mex­i­can immi­grant, died in Man­hat­tan on July 16. He was killed by a sus­pend­ed plat­form in a build­ing being worked on by Edras Group, a com­pa­ny with 43 cita­tions for safe­ty code vio­la­tions in the pre­vi­ous 10 years. His death could go unac­count­ed by the New York City Depart­ment of Build­ings. The agency man­dates only that employ­ers report only work­place fatal­i­ties involv­ing vio­la­tions of the city’s con­struc­tion code on build­ing sites. Deaths that do not involve city code vio­la­tions are report­ed instead to the fed­er­al Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Admin­is­tra­tion (OSHA).

In 2018, employ­ers report­ed only one of the deaths in con­struc­tion sites in New York City to the Depart­ment of Build­ings. Ramos says that will prob­a­bly be Salas’ case. ?“Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, it’s as if he had nev­er existed.”

Real estate devel­op­ers and con­trac­tors?—?the mid­dle­men that direct­ly hire day labor­ers—have resist­ed efforts to count worker‘s fatal­i­ties accu­rate­ly. ?“It has been one of the ways in which undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers’ deaths have been kept clan­des­tine,” Ramos says. 

NYCOSH reg­is­tered 58 fatal­i­ties in New York state in 2018, down from 69 in 2017. 

Still, the real death toll num­ber is like­ly high­er due to coun­ty by coun­ty vari­ables, accord­ing to Ramos, who spon­sored a bill approved in July by the state leg­is­la­ture to estab­lish a reli­able count of con­struc­tion work­ers’ fatal­i­ties in the state.

Accord­ing to the bill sum­ma­ry, only 30 of the cas­es from 2017 tal­lied in the NYCOSH report were inves­ti­gat­ed by the Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Admin­is­tra­tion (OSHA).

Efforts to improve account­abil­i­ty have been resist­ed by devel­op­ers and con­trac­tors, says Nadia Marin-Moli­na, co-exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Nation­al Day Labor­er Orga­niz­ing Net­work, a grass­roots group found­ed in 2001.

Even though New York City man­dat­ed since 2019 that every con­struc­tion work­er receives a 30-hour train­ing from OSHA, com­pa­nies avoid pro­vid­ing it. Life-sav­ing train­ing for day labor­ers falls to non­prof­its, Marin-Moli­na says.

The sit­u­a­tion is ?“very sim­i­lar in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try,” Marin-Moli­na says. ?“In terms of dan­gers to the work­ers, it is very similar.”

A life worth $10,000

Immi­grants suf­fer recur­rent wage theft and are reg­u­lar­ly forced to work with­out train­ing or basic pro­tec­tive equip­ment such as har­ness­es and gloves, says Red­wood, speak­ing at a vig­il being held for Mario Salas in Manhattan.

If they com­plain, he says, the fore­men fire them on the spot. ?“They kick out work­ers as if they were dogs,” says Redwood.

If Edras Group is found crim­i­nal­ly respon­si­ble for Salas’ death, it will pay a fine to the state not exceed­ing $10,000—a con­struc­tion work­ers’ worth.

Pre­vi­ous cas­es sug­gest that would be a large amount. Accord­ing to New York state sen­a­tor James Sanders, of the more than 400,000 work­ers’ deaths reg­is­tered nation­wide by OSHA since 1970, few­er than 80 have been pros­e­cut­ed, and only about a dozen have led to con­vic­tions. That is rough­ly one con­vic­tion for every 33,000 fatal­i­ties, with a $1,000 penal­ty on average.

A bill spon­sored by Sanders, named after Car­los Mon­cayo, an immi­grant killed in Man­hat­tan in 2015, pro­pos­es fines of up to $50,000 for felonies in con­struc­tion sites. Ver­sions of ?“Car­los’ Law” have lan­guished in the Sen­ate ever since.

Sen­a­tor Ramos sug­gests the bill has not been approved because of the cor­rupt rela­tion­ship between state offi­cials and real estate com­pa­nies, which for a long time have been ?“mak­ing polit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions and buy­ing many of our col­leagues in government.”

Oth­er bills with tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for con­struc­tion labor­ers have also been blocked. The SWEAT bill (short for Secur­ing Wages Earned Against Theft) passed the state leg­is­la­ture in 2019. It would allow work­ers to freeze their employer’s assets if they are cheat­ed out of their pay. Demo­c­ra­t­ic Gov­er­nor Andrew Cuo­mo vetoed it in January.

What makes con­struc­tion labor­ers’ sit­u­a­tion worse is that ?“the real estate indus­try is such a cen­ter of wealth in New York,” Marin-Moli­na says. 

Three days after Salas’ vig­il, jour­nal­ist David Siro­ta revealed that 43 of New York’s 118 bil­lion­aire fam­i­lies had donat­ed mon­ey to Cuomo’s cam­paigns and the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty com­mit­tee. Those donors includ­ed at least two real estate moguls (Alexan­der Rovt and Stephen Ross), accord­ing to New York records.

Inés Aré­va­lo, a 42-year-old elec­tri­cian who emi­grat­ed from Ecuador four years ago, has wit­nessed first-hand the dis­mal job con­di­tions for work­ers erect­ing the lux­u­ry con­do­mini­ums in Manhattan.

“I’ve seen col­leagues [have] acci­dents [because they’re] not using pro­tec­tive equip­ment,” Aré­va­lo says. ?“If they com­plain or denounce we know that they would fire them or sim­ply tell them: ?‘you are not from here, you have no rights.’”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maurizio Guerrero is a journalist based in New York.


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Black Women’s Equal Pay Day highlights generations of inequality—and lack of progress today

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Black Women’s Equal Pay Day falls on August 13 this year. That’s the day when, starting on January 1, 2019, Black women have finally been paid what white men were paid in 2019 alone. Equal Pay Day, the day observing this marker for women overall in the U.S., fell on March 31 this year, while Latina Equal Pay Day won’t come until November.

It takes us this long to get to Black Women’s Equal Pay Day because Black women make just 62 cents for every dollar paid to white men, a gross disparity that will cost the average Black woman more than $20,000 a year and nearly $950,000 in her lifetime, and one that isn’t going away anytime soon. “Indeed, from 1967 to 2018, the most recent year for which data are available, the wage gap for Black women narrowed by just 19 cents,” the National Women’s Law Center’s Jasmine Tucker reports. The coronavirus crisis is not helping.

While Black women are disproportionately likely to hold essential jobs, “making up 11 percent of the front-line workforce despite only making up 6.3 percent of the workforce overall,” that doesn’t translate to equal pay. Black women within these essential occupations still make less than their white male counterparts (and white female counterparts, though the gap there is less). As always, education is no solution: “Black women doctors are paid 73% of the average hourly wage paid to non-Hispanic white male doctors (a difference of $16.82 per hour),” according to the Economic Policy Institute’s Valerie Wilson and Melat Kassa. 

Even as Black women are a disproportionate and underpaid part of the essential workforce, some experts say the pandemic is likely to worsen inequality for Black women workers in particular. That shouldn’t be the way of it, but the centuries of oppression and inequality embedded in the pay gap—and the way too many Black women’s lives have been treated as basically disposable in the face of the danger of COVID-19—tell us that’s a likely outcome.

”We owe Black women so much more. Especially right now in the middle of this pandemic, the wage gap has robbed them of their ability to weather this storm,” the NWLC’s Tucker told USA Today’s Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy. “They don’t have the financial cushion, they don’t have any savings because we haven’t been paying them what we owe them. And that’s just straight earnings that doesn’t even account for if they were able to put any money away, if they were able to buy a house, the equity, the wealth that they could have built for themselves over that time.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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The Largest Private-Sector Strike of the Year Is Headed for Union Victory

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After nearly seven weeks on the picket line, Machinists union members will soon vote on a contract that includes everything they’re fighting for.

BATH, MAINE — It’s no coin­ci­dence that the first strike in 20 years at Bath Iron Works (BIW) began months into the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic. While Maine has one of the low­est Covid trans­mis­sion rates in the coun­try, the spread of the dead­ly virus helped spark the strike that has large­ly shut down the ship­yard at BIW — one of Maine’s largest employers. 

In June, when around 4,300 Machin­ists Local S6 union mem­bers at BIW vot­ed over­whelm­ing­ly to strike, many had already soured on man­age­ment over its han­dling of the pandemic.

The walk­out?—?which rep­re­sents the largest pri­vate-sec­tor strike of the year?—?has last­ed for near­ly sev­en weeks. But late last week, both sides saw a break­through as a ten­ta­tive agree­ment was reached that appears to hand the union a vic­to­ry on its demands. 

BIW, a Gen­er­al Dynam­ics sub­sidiary that builds bat­tle­ships for the U.S. Navy, nev­er shut down the pro­duc­tion facil­i­ty because it was deemed an ?“essen­tial busi­ness” by the U.S. gov­ern­ment. After a BIW work­er test­ed pos­i­tive for the virus in late March, the com­pa­ny encour­aged employ­ees not to report to work. Many did stay home for weeks?—?but they had to use paid vaca­tion or sick time, or work unpaid. Union lead­ers called for a shut­down with pay while also push­ing state law­mak­ers to pres­sure the Navy to allow the ship­yard to close.

“They said we’re essen­tial work­ers because we build bat­tle­ships, but how essen­tial are you if you get sick? It’s scary for a lot of peo­ple,” said John Louis Cabral III, a ship­yard work­er and Local S6 member. 

Cabral, 34, couldn’t afford to stay home long: He was hired last year and had lit­tle accrued paid time off. With three kids to sup­port and no access to pan­dem­ic-relat­ed unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits since he wasn’t fur­loughed, he went back to the yard.

With employ­ee atten­dance way below nor­mal for weeks, BIW fell fur­ther behind on pro­duc­tion of Navy guid­ed-mis­sile destroy­ers. As part of nego­ti­a­tions with Local S6 for a new three-year con­tract, the com­pa­ny pro­posed changes allow­ing it to hire nonunion sub­con­trac­tors more quick­ly. That and oth­er pro­posed changes to senior­i­ty and work rules in the company’s ?“last, best, and final offer” on June 13 did not go over well with Local S6. 

“It’s a pow­er strug­gle in the yard right now, and that’s facts,” said Cabral, who helps man­age inven­to­ry at the shipyard. 

On June 22, 87% of Local S6 mem­bers vot­ed in favor of strik­ing, even though they’d lose com­pa­ny-paid health insur­ance dur­ing a pan­dem­ic. Fed­er­al medi­a­tors were brought in to restart nego­ti­a­tions in July, around the same time BIW laid off mem­bers of anoth­er union local and brought in sub­con­trac­tors from out of state to avoid falling fur­ther behind on production. 

“We’re all stand­ing as one because we don’t want sub­con­tract­ing in here,” Chad Bam­ford, a 25-year-old crane rig­ger who’s worked at BIW since 2017, said on the pick­et line Fri­day. ?“They’re try­ing to sub­con­tract out our work. We don’t want out­siders. Give us more over­time. We build the best ships in the world.” 

The com­pa­ny has said it nev­er want­ed to per­ma­nent­ly out­source work away from the union through sub­con­trac­tors. ?“We seek only effi­cient access to all avail­able resources to improve our abil­i­ty to deliv­er to the US Navy on time,” BIW Pres­i­dent Dirk Lesko wrote
in June. The ship­yard was six months behind sched­ule at the start of the strike.

Both Bam­ford and Cabral blame pro­duc­tion delays on both the pan­dem­ic and mis­man­age­ment. A BIW spokesper­son did not respond to a request for comment.

Union vic­to­ry in hand?

After weeks of meet­ings that yield­ed lit­tle, union and BIW nego­tia­tors broke through to an agree­ment Fri­day, and it looks like the union got every­thing it wanted. 

In a ten­ta­tive agree­ment announced Sat­ur­day, Local S6 lead­ers trum­pet­ed the reten­tion of sta­tus quo con­tract lan­guage on sub­con­trac­tors and senior­i­ty and work rules. The agree­ment also retains 3% annu­al rais­es for work­ers. A ?“tem­po­rary catchup phase” will allow expand­ed sub­con­tract­ing through the end of this year, and a joint union-com­pa­ny com­mit­tee will begin meet­ing week­ly to ensure sched­ule gains.

The deal, unan­i­mous­ly approved by the union nego­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee, ?“pre­serves our sub­con­tract­ing process, pro­tects senior­i­ty pro­vi­sions and calls for a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort to get back on sched­ule,” Local S6 leader Jay Wadleigh told the Asso­ci­at­ed Press Sat­ur­day. The agree­ment also includes health­care ben­e­fit gains.

“We are pleased to have reached agree­ment with our union part­ners and look for­ward to get­ting back to the job of build­ing ships for the U.S. Navy,” Phebe Novakovic, chair­man and CEO of Gen­er­al Dynam­ics, said in a state­ment the same day.

Local S6 mem­bers will vote to rat­i­fy the pro­posed con­tract online and via phone lat­er this month. If it’s approved?—?which both Cabral and Bam­ford believe is like­ly?—?the lack of con­ces­sions will stand in con­trast to the last con­tract. Back in 2015, work­ers nar­row­ly vot­ed to give up sched­uled rais­es in favor of one-time bonus­es to pro­tect jobs and help BIW win a new U.S. Coast Guard con­tract (though the com­pa­ny end­ed up los­ing that con­tract to a competitor). 

Gen­er­al Dynam­ics, one of the largest defense con­trac­tors in the coun­try, made $3.5 bil­lion in prof­its last year. In 2018, tax cuts backed by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion helped cut the For­tune 500 company’s effec­tive tax rate almost in half, accord­ing to Labor Notes. That same year, the Maine leg­is­la­ture hand­ed BIW a $45 mil­lion tax break.

Bam­ford said he knows some peo­ple don’t agree with unions?—?but the strike has only deep­ened his pride in Local S6 and what it can achieve. The ten­ta­tive agree­ment, he said, sounds like a ?“big win.” 

“Until you’ve been a part of a union and you have 4,300 peo­ple stand­ing with you as one for one cause, it’s a feel­ing you can’t describe,” Bam­ford said. ?“It makes you proud to be with it.”

Cabral agrees: ?“Sol­i­dar­i­ty is awe­some. The strike has built camaraderie.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeremy Gantz is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at the mag­a­zine. He is the edi­tor of The Age of Inequal­i­ty: Cor­po­rate America’s War on Work­ing Peo­ple (2017, Ver­so), and was the Web/?Associate Edi­tor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.


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‘Can’t possibly be serious’: Trump’s bid to shore up jobless aid falls short

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The president’s order depends on already cash-poor states being able to create and implement a new system and fund one-fourth of the aid.

Tens of millions of jobless Americans are unlikely to see their weekly unemployment checks grow anytime soon — despite President Donald Trump’s executive action promising an extra $400 a week.

The president’s order depends on already cash-poor states being able to create and implement a new system and fund one-fourth of the aid, which for many governors would be a difficult if not impossible task.

It also would draw from a limited pool of funding, meaning enhanced benefits might only last a few weeks once the program is up and running. And it imposes a minimum benefit requirement, which could render some low-wage and gig workers ineligible.

“I honestly think this can’t possibly be serious,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst with the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project. “The White House must have released this thinking that this is just a negotiating tactic because it really is an empty promise.”

How would it work?

The action uses presidential powers under what’s known as the Stafford Act to use disaster relief funding, in combination with state dollars, to send money to unemployed workers.

The Labor Department has so far said it will work with states, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to help provide the relief, but it has not provided more specifics. Some states, like Hawaii and Missouri, have issued notices saying they are awaiting further guidance from DOL on how to implement the program.

States have to apply for the federal funding, and if they choose not to opt in or say they do not have the funds available to supply their portion of the aid, then unemployed workers in their state will get no extra benefit.

The memo instructs states to distribute the payments through their regular unemployment systems. But many experts and Democrats say they are confused as to how already struggling state systems would be able to administer Trump’s plan. “That’s something that we just don’t understand how that would work,” a Senate Democratic aide told POLITICO. “You basically need to set up this whole new entity.”

Where would the money come from?

Trump’s memorandum says the federal government would cover 75 percent of the costs, while states would provide the remaining 25 percent — or $100 per worker per week. But the president’s messaging on who would be required to foot the bill for the program has shifted in recent days, as he suggested he could have the federal government cover all of the costs or more than 75 percent.

“We have a system where we can do 100 percent or we can do 75 percent. They’d pay 25. And it’ll depend on the state. And they’ll make an application, we’ll look at it, and we’ll make a decision,” Trump told reporters Monday in New Jersey. “So it may be they’ll pay nothing in some instances.”

But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared to knock down that idea during a Monday press briefing, noting that states are legally required to pay for a quarter of the aid. She added that states can use CARES Act funding “as a way to bring that hundred dollars forward.”

A White House spokesperson told POLITICO that “states could also apply their existing state unemployment benefits” as funds that meet the 25 percent share.

But some cash-strapped state governments have been holding on to a portion of that money, hoping that Congress will provide them with the flexibility to use it for budget gaps caused by declining tax revenues.

Can states afford it?

Governors are already making clear that it won’t be easy to come up with their required portion of the aid, nor to set up a new system in the middle of a pandemic that has already wreaked havoc on state budgets.

The nonpartisan National Governors Association, which for months has been calling for $500 billion for states from the federal government, said in a statement Monday it was “concerned” about “the significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states.” The group called instead for Congress and the Trump administration to work out a solution that would not place new administrative and fiscal burdens on states.

“States are going broke and millions of Americans are unemployed, yet the solution calls for the states to create a new program we can’t afford to begin with and don’t know how to administer,” New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said on Monday.

And Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said Sunday his state was still reviewing whether it could afford to fund its share of the new program. “The answer is, I don’t know yet,” DeWine said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

How quickly will workers get paid?

Requiring states to implement a new program could take weeks or months as they reprogram their antiquated systems to calculate who will be eligible. States will also have to find a way to separately fund administration of the new aid alongside regular unemployment benefits.

“It will definitely be months,” Evermore said. “And that’s in states that are able to pay it out at all.”

The White House acknowledged on Monday the uncertainty around standing up such a system. “I can’t pinpoint a timeline,” McEnany said during a press briefing.

Who is eligible for benefits?

The memo says workers must receive at least $100 in benefits a week in order to be eligible, a requirement that could leave out many gig-economy, low-wage and part-time workers.

State unemployment benefits, which vary by state, typically replace about 50 percent of a worker’s wages. Most states will pay a minimum benefit far lower than $100, suggesting that some part-time and low-wage workers could fall below the threshold to receive the federal help.

Will this help the economy?

Experts warn there is not enough money available to have a meaningful impact on the economy.

Since Trump doesn’t have authority to order the spending of new money, the most he can do is push existing programs to spend their existing funding in new ways, said Jack Smalligan, who previously worked as deputy associate director at the Office of Management and Budget.

There’s roughly $44 billion available in the Disaster Relief Fund, from which the government will draw the federal portion of the benefit. Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the progressive Century Foundation, calculated that would provide about six weeks of benefits if every state were to take up the extra unemployment insurance program — “not enough to endure the current Covid-19 surge and get to the point when jobless are able to go back to their jobs,” he said.

He also noted that the extra $400 per week for eligible jobless workers would still represent an average 22 percent pay cut for those who had through July been receiving an extra $600 weekly from the federal government.

And that in turn is likely to lead to a drop in consumer spending that has been supporting jobs. The Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, estimates that cutting the enhanced benefit by $200 per week would cost 1.7 million jobs.

“Compared to actually doing another installment of emergency unemployment insurance legislation,” Smalligan said, “what’s done in the executive order is really quite paltry.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro.


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Working Life Episode 194: Two Hollywood Tales—A Union Win in California, A Florida Progressive Aims to Fire Debbie Wasserman-Schulz

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Today the show is all about Hollywood. Hollywood, California and Hollywood, Florida. Hollywood, California is in a rumble. For most performers in the entertainment business, residuals are the foundation to making a living—either a solid middle class living or somewhat less than that. Over many decades, residuals have been tied to various things such as repeat showings of a movie in syndication or sales of DVDs. Now, it’s all about streaming.

For performers, this is a huge change and it’s really about a fight to make sure generations of performers, some not born today, will be able to earn a respectable living. How do performers get paid in a streaming world? The performers’ union, SAG-AFTRA, just scored a big streaming deal win for performers—as well as locking in a big #MeToo step forward to protect actors from harassment. I dig into all this with the union’s president Gabrielle Carteris, who has a long career in film as an actor in film, TV and stage (most prominently in Beverly Hills 90210) and as a producer, and Ray Rodriguez, SAG-AFTRA’s Chief Contracts Officer.

Florida’s 23rd Congressional district is a strongly Democratic district currently represented by the odious Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In a world of dishonest, morally corrupt, vain and narcissistic politicians, Wasserman Schultz stands out. That’s where Jen Perelman comes in. Jen is challenging Wasserman-Schultz in the Democratic primary which wraps up next week with Election Day after thousands of Floridians have already cast early-voting ballots. Jen’s website is jen2020.com. She joins me from the campaign trail as she was out talking to voters.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on August 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years


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The Federal Agency Designed to Protect Workers Is Trying to Destroy Unions and Weaken Labor Rights

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When Dan Hoskins tried to organize colleagues at an Oregon plant in 2019, vindictive managers marched him past as many workers as possible en route to a disciplinary meeting in the human resources office.

The company wanted to create a climate of fear, Hoskins recalled, not only by threatening his job but ensuring others saw “Mr. Leader Pants getting written up.”

From trumped-up disciplinary charges to threats of layoffs and other scare tactics, corporations wage ferocious wars of intimidation to sabotage organizing campaigns and torment union supporters.

“You’re in a war zone,” explained Hoskins, who willingly shouldered the mistreatment because he understands the benefits unions bring to a workplace. “The tension is thick, and you know it’s going to be that way for months.”

Sadly, abused workers can expect no help from the Trump administration, which is busy trying to exterminatelabor unions.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the urgent need for stronger workplace protections, Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ramped up a scorched-earth campaign aimed at annihilating organized labor and subjugating American workers.

The string of NLRB rulings amounts to death by a thousand cuts, each one chipping away at the long-established rights and practices enabling working people to join together to build better lives.

For example, the NLRB—run by Trump’s handpicked corporate cronies—imposed additional, unnecessary steps to the union election procedure solely to drag out the process and give employers more time to thwart organizing efforts.

And the agency went further, empowering employers to begin withholding email addresses and other information unions need merely to contact prospective voters.

The board also ruled that employers may discipline a worker just for mentioning a union drive to a colleague during work hours. In a decision rooted in spite, rather than logic, it concluded the mere reference to an organizing effort—even an offhand remark—constituted an illegal solicitation of a colleague’s vote.

The NLRB is ostensibly responsible for protecting workers’ rights. But under Trump, it’s stacking the deck in favor of greedy corporations desperate to silence workers’ voices and bust unions at any cost.

Hoskins said the several organizing efforts he helped to lead all fell short amid unfair rules that restricted his activities yet gave his employers free rein to viciously bully workers and paper the plant—even the cupboards and tables in the cafeteria—with anti-union propaganda.

He likened the uneven playing field facing unions to a political campaign in which only one candidate gets to use social media or a fight in which one person gets only one punch to an opponent’s 10.

“Then we’re supposed to win the boxing match?” asked Hoskins, who supports unions because they give workers a voice in the workplace and force corporations to share more of their profits with the people who actually create them.

The Trump administration continually seeks new ways to rig the system against working people.

In one of its biggest gifts to corporations yet, the NLRB went to court to overturn an Oregon law that affords workers a degree of protection from the pernicious anti-union meetings that employers across the country regularly hold to belittle union supporters, lie about labor and kill organizing campaigns.

In Oregon, employers may hold anti-union meetings. But they cannot force workers to attend them. The NLRB filed suit to change that, arguing the law violates employers’ free-speech rights.

That’s right. The Trump administration wants to further free employers to lie, bully and fearmonger during organizing drives, even as it empowers the same companies to discipline workers for so much as mentioning a union.

Hoskins attended anti-union meetings over the years where managers falsely claimed that a union could undercut a company’s competitiveness and force it to cut jobs.

“The number one emotion they manipulate is fear,” Hoskins said, noting one panicked co-worker threatened him for leading the union drive.

If the NLRB overturns Oregon’s law, employers will ramp up the coercion and launch anti-union campaigns every bit as brutal as the one Kumho Tire waged against workers in Macon, Georgia, in 2016-2017.

After workers began an organizing drive with the United Steelworkers (USW), Kumho forced them into daily anti-union meetings—each lasting up to 90 minutes—in which the company repeatedly threatened to close the plant, haul away the equipment and eliminate their jobs.

Kumho augmented that torture with shop-floor conversations in which supervisors continually bullied workers and demanded to know how they planned to vote. The pressure tactics began the moment workers began their shifts each day, creating an atmosphere of pure hell inside the plant.

Yet workers are persevering in their efforts to organize—just like a growing number of other Americans.

The NLRB’s assault on organized labor and workers’ rights comes as more workers—at companies ranging from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to FedEx and multi-billionaire Warren Buffett’s Cort Furniture—seek the protection of unions.

The pandemic further widened America’s rampant income inequality and underscored corporations’ indifference to workplace safety, as workers at Cort Furniture and Orlando International Airport discovered when their bosses herded them into anti-union meetings despite the need for social distancing.

These and other exploited workers realize that only by organizing can they win family-sustaining wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions.

However, building better lives for millions of ordinary Americans will require an NLRB committed to vigorously enforcing labor rights.

The president nominates NLRB members as well as the agency’s powerful general counsel, and the Senate confirms them. So only the election of federal officials committed to workers’ rights can truly put the agency back on course.

Trump and his Senate allies not only installed corporate lawyer Peter Robb as general counsel but put former GOP congressional staffer Marvin Kaplan and corporate lawyers John Ring and William Emanuel on the five-person board—appointments that deliberately set in motion the war on unions and workers.

In a recent letter, the USW urged senators to reject Trump’s renomination of Kaplan, whose term expires in August, because of the unprecedented damage he helped inflict on Americans like Hoskins, who only want fair treatment on the job. The Senate voted to confirm him for another term anyway.

Hoskins first grasped the value of collective bargaining years ago after seeing a corporate executive pocket millions of dollars in a single quarter, while some of his co-workers struggled to make ends meet.

Ever since, he willingly endured managers’ harassment during organizing campaigns because he understands the life-changing differences a union would deliver.

Hoskins doesn’t mind fighting for a union. He only wishes the NLRB would finally give him a fair shot.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


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In-person school won’t be safe, and it won’t be a return to the old normal, teachers say

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A new poll of teachers shows just how much of the burden is being pushed off on them. More than four out of five of the teachers said they were worried about in-person teaching, with 77% fearful for their own health. In that context, it’s kind of amazing that just two out of three said they thought schools should be primarily remote—some number of people afraid for their safety are still ready to go back to in-person teaching.

But the teachers’ responses to the NPR/Ipsos poll, and interviews they gave to accompany it, show how much more complicated the issue is for them. Large majorities of teachers were concerned about the education experience students would have in school, with 73% concerned about their ability to effectively teach and connect with students while wearing a mask and 84% saying it would be difficult to enforce social distancing. In other words, in-person learning would not be anything like a return to normal, in ways that worry these teachers.

To be sure, 55% of the teachers said they can’t teach effectively enough online, and 84% cited inequities associated with online learning. But one Philadelphia teacher pointed out that in-person teaching under these circumstances could also contribute to racial inequities.

“As a white teacher who works with predominantly Black students,” Charlie McGeehan wrote to NPR in an email, “I think a lot about the ways that I exert control in my classroom—and how that manifests white supremacy and racism. … [I’m] considering going back to a school environment where I’m asked to constantly police how far away students are from each other, whether or not they are wearing masks, where they’re allowed to go during the day, etc. If this is the type of classroom I’m going to have to facilitate, is in-person learning worth all the risks?”

Teachers in other areas will be coping with Trump’s politicization of mask-wearing as they try to get their students to comply.

The poll was conducted July 21-24, and since then there’s been plenty of news to confirm the teachers’ worries about the safety of in-person classes at this time. Some districts have moved recently to all-remote learning at least for the beginning of the school year, with teachers helping to push that in Chicago by threatening to strike over the issue. But in other areas, state and local education officials continue to push in-person learning despite the fact that not just teachers but a majority of parents are opposed.

And this didn’t need to happen.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 6, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What’s Stopping the AFL-CIO?

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The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO—all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, “We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, “We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, “We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

But with 80,000 members today, UMWA is more of a retirees’ organization than a fighting union—and at roughly 1.6 million members, the AFT is one of the largest unions in the country. Its endorsement is “the most high-profile labor endorsement of the Green New Deal since SEIU last summer,” according to Will Lawrence, director of strategic partnerships at the Sunrise Movement. The AFT’s support for the Green New Deal, coupled with the writing on the wall for the fossil fuel industry, could mean a crisis for the AFL-CIO. Trumka has so far straddled the line between the federation’s conservative and progressive members, giving a nod to the importance of climate change while also affirming the importance of fossil fuel jobs. But Trumka plans to step down at the AFL’s convention in 2021, and whoever wins the election to be his successor will determine whether the largest federation in the labor movement goes all-in on the fight against climate change, or maintains one foot in the door and one foot out, balancing between the new world and the old.

This fork in the road is complicated by the fact that both the labor movement and the entire country are in crisis, with millions unemployed and all eyes on the presidential election in November. Trumka favors Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL (and his second in command) as his successor. But Sara Nelson, president of AFA-CWA and one of the early endorsers of the Green New Deal, also has her eyes on the leadership position. Although neither have officially announced their candidacy, it’s been reported that both have been privately vying for support.

Nelson’s support for the Green New Deal may hurt her if she decides to run. Sean McGarvey, the president of the North America’s Building Trades Unions, the labor federation of the building trades unions and a member of the AFL, said, “She’s aligned herself with a plan that would eliminate half of the AFL-CIO’s jobs. That’s not going to work real well.” But Nelson told In These Times, “Climate change is directly in our workplace. Turbulence is on the rise. Our schedules, our work, our lives are totally disrupted every time there’s a major weather event. Some have tried to have us believe that this is an attack on jobs and on our way of life, but we know that if we don’t get out in front of something, the crisis will become so great and people will be desperate for a resolution, and that resolution won’t be one that works for working people.”

Nelson believes deeply in a just transition for workers whose industries would be shuttered in an attempt to bring carbon emissions down. The term “just transition” is often used in conversations about climate change as a way to secure workers’ livelihoods if and when their industry is phased out. And while this term is more often heard in the environmental movement now, the idea was developed in the labor movement by Tony Mazzocchi, a lifelong trade unionist and an elected leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW). In Mazzocchi’s words, a true just transition would give workers in extractive industries “a new start in life” by providing financial support and opportunities for education and re-training.

Many environmental groups like Sunrise Movement and Climate Justice Alliance have used the term in their literature and their campaign planning, but union workers have often expressed concern that their job security and livelihoods are not a true priority. After all, environmental groups often wage campaigns against pipelines or refineries without consulting the unions or their members first. While to environmentalists, union work has sometimes meant environmental destruction, to union members, environmentalism has meant financial destruction.

But according to David Hughes, treasurer of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and professor of Anthropology at Rutgers-New Brunswick, extractive industry workers’ standard of living is already threatened regardless of the proposed Green New Deal legislation. Hughes told In These Times that the country is already on the cusp of an energy transition away from fossil fuels. “We have an economic disaster and a complete collapse of the price of oil, coal has been collapsing, gas is not in good shape. So now solar and wind are competitive, even without subsidies. The economic case for fossil fuels has evaporated—those jobs are not going to be here for much longer.”

Although most union members have no interest in being re-trained for another career, fossil fuel workers and their unions are particularly protective of their jobs. Refinery workers can make up to six figures without a college degree, and there are very few jobs with comparable wages in non-extractive industries that these same workers could easily be hired for. Further, these workers have a right to be suspicious: Barack Obama campaigned on creating 5 million green jobs, but it’s unclear how many new green jobs were actually produced. There are some new green jobs, of course, but the vast majority are non-union, and the wages reflect that: Solar panel installers make between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.

Yet, numerous union members—workers in non-extractive industries—are serious about the Green New Deal, and AFT members who worked to pass the resolution are calling for more than tacit support: They intend for the endorsement to be a tool with which to organize their fellow members and to guide their work moving forward. This is precisely what the members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT have been trying to make happen. Hughes, who is also the chair of the Rutgers’ Climate Crisis Committee, raised the issue of supporting the Green New Deal at an AFT Executive Council meeting in 2019, before SEIU endorsed. No endorsement came out of it, but a committee, the Climate Task Force, was formed with the backing of the Executive Council. The task force has three main priorities: Form a relationship with Sunrise Movement and other environmental groups, create green schools campaigns, and organize with other unions to encourage them to support the Green New Deal. Hughes told In These Times, “What you do when you’re working in a sector that’s collapsing is you figure, what’s the strategic moment for my union to try to jump onto a ship that’s not sinking? If we get Biden elected, and we pass Green New Deal legislation, it will be the moment to jump. If we miss that moment, we’ve got nothing.”

But faculty like Hughes, along with teachers and nurses, already have green jobs—and will keep them, Green New Deal or not. While there have been hiring freezes at major universities, AFT members have been mostly unaffected by all of the job losses created by Covid-19. Construction workers, many of whom have just experienced a difficult few months without work, are understandably wary about potentially gambling with their jobs. But Keon Liberato, President of Local 3012 of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, is looking forward to the passage of the Green New Deal. He’s a trackman who works on railroads in the Philadelphia area, and he told In These Times that “even if you don’t care about climate change, even if you have a more narrow interest, there’s a ton of money in the Green New Deal for the building trades, for infrastructure.” 

The Green New Deal’s focus on investing in high-speed rail could mean significant potential work for electricians and rail workers like Liberato. The legislation also calls for “repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States,” which means fixing bridges and roads, retrofitting buildings, and updating sewage and water systems. And the AFT’s green school buildings campaign will need the support of building trades unions, like electricians, plumbers, roofers, and boilermakers. All of this infrastructure work means more union jobs—but only if the labor movement acknowledges the true magnitude of climate change and decides to play a leadership role in fighting it. John Braxton, Co-President Emeritus of AFT Local 2026, who contributed to AFT’s recent resolution, told In These Times that “unions don’t want to be told what to do, and they’d also like to believe it’s not going to be as big of a problem as it is. But we’ve got to make contingency plans that provide protections for every worker, and we need to do it now. Why would labor argue with that?”

Labor’s current focus is getting Joe Biden elected, who, according to his ads, has the “most ambitious” climate plan of any major party’s presidential nominee ever. His platform includes achieving net zero emissions no later than 2050, conserving 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030, and making a federal investment of $1.7 trillion in the fight against climate change. He promises to “fulfill our obligation to workers… who powered our industrial revolution and decades of economic growth” by securing coal miners’ pensions and benefits. And he also promises to “put people to work by enlisting them to help fight the pandemic, including through a Public Health Jobs Corps.” But unlike the Green New Deal legislation, his platform has no explicit promise of a job for all who want one. It also makes no mention of fracking or a drastic reduction in fossil fuels, perhaps because his climate advisors may support fracking. Braxton says, “What we need to do is pressure Biden into a Jobs for All program, and the green is not in the headline, but it’s incorporated into it. The environmentalists will read the fine print, and maybe labor can look at it and say, this is what we need.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO—all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, “We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, “We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, “We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

But with 80,000 members today, UMWA is more of a retirees’ organization than a fighting union—and at roughly 1.6 million members, the AFT is one of the largest unions in the country. Its endorsement is “the most high-profile labor endorsement of the Green New Deal since SEIU last summer,” according to Will Lawrence, director of strategic partnerships at the Sunrise Movement. The AFT’s support for the Green New Deal, coupled with the writing on the wall for the fossil fuel industry, could mean a crisis for the AFL-CIO. Trumka has so far straddled the line between the federation’s conservative and progressive members, giving a nod to the importance of climate change while also affirming the importance of fossil fuel jobs. But Trumka plans to step down at the AFL’s convention in 2021, and whoever wins the election to be his successor will determine whether the largest federation in the labor movement goes all-in on the fight against climate change, or maintains one foot in the door and one foot out, balancing between the new world and the old.

This fork in the road is complicated by the fact that both the labor movement and the entire country are in crisis, with millions unemployed and all eyes on the presidential election in November. Trumka favors Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL (and his second in command) as his successor. But Sara Nelson, president of AFA-CWA and one of the early endorsers of the Green New Deal, also has her eyes on the leadership position. Although neither have officially announced their candidacy, it’s been reported that both have been privately vying for support.

Nelson’s support for the Green New Deal may hurt her if she decides to run. Sean McGarvey, the president of the North America’s Building Trades Unions, the labor federation of the building trades unions and a member of the AFL, said, “She’s aligned herself with a plan that would eliminate half of the AFL-CIO’s jobs. That’s not going to work real well.” But Nelson told In These Times, “Climate change is directly in our workplace. Turbulence is on the rise. Our schedules, our work, our lives are totally disrupted every time there’s a major weather event. Some have tried to have us believe that this is an attack on jobs and on our way of life, but we know that if we don’t get out in front of something, the crisis will become so great and people will be desperate for a resolution, and that resolution won’t be one that works for working people.”

Nelson believes deeply in a just transition for workers whose industries would be shuttered in an attempt to bring carbon emissions down. The term “just transition” is often used in conversations about climate change as a way to secure workers’ livelihoods if and when their industry is phased out. And while this term is more often heard in the environmental movement now, the idea was developed in the labor movement by Tony Mazzocchi, a lifelong trade unionist and an elected leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW). In Mazzocchi’s words, a true just transition would give workers in extractive industries “a new start in life” by providing financial support and opportunities for education and re-training.

Many environmental groups like Sunrise Movement and Climate Justice Alliance have used the term in their literature and their campaign planning, but union workers have often expressed concern that their job security and livelihoods are not a true priority. After all, environmental groups often wage campaigns against pipelines or refineries without consulting the unions or their members first. While to environmentalists, union work has sometimes meant environmental destruction, to union members, environmentalism has meant financial destruction.

But according to David Hughes, treasurer of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and professor of Anthropology at Rutgers-New Brunswick, extractive industry workers’ standard of living is already threatened regardless of the proposed Green New Deal legislation. Hughes told In These Times that the country is already on the cusp of an energy transition away from fossil fuels. “We have an economic disaster and a complete collapse of the price of oil, coal has been collapsing, gas is not in good shape. So now solar and wind are competitive, even without subsidies. The economic case for fossil fuels has evaporated—those jobs are not going to be here for much longer.”

Although most union members have no interest in being re-trained for another career, fossil fuel workers and their unions are particularly protective of their jobs. Refinery workers can make up to six figures without a college degree, and there are very few jobs with comparable wages in non-extractive industries that these same workers could easily be hired for. Further, these workers have a right to be suspicious: Barack Obama campaigned on creating 5 million green jobs, but it’s unclear how many new green jobs were actually produced. There are some new green jobs, of course, but the vast majority are non-union, and the wages reflect that: Solar panel installers make between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.

Yet, numerous union members—workers in non-extractive industries—are serious about the Green New Deal, and AFT members who worked to pass the resolution are calling for more than tacit support: They intend for the endorsement to be a tool with which to organize their fellow members and to guide their work moving forward. This is precisely what the members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT have been trying to make happen. Hughes, who is also the chair of the Rutgers’ Climate Crisis Committee, raised the issue of supporting the Green New Deal at an AFT Executive Council meeting in 2019, before SEIU endorsed. No endorsement came out of it, but a committee, the Climate Task Force, was formed with the backing of the Executive Council. The task force has three main priorities: Form a relationship with Sunrise Movement and other environmental groups, create green schools campaigns, and organize with other unions to encourage them to support the Green New Deal. Hughes told In These Times, “What you do when you’re working in a sector that’s collapsing is you figure, what’s the strategic moment for my union to try to jump onto a ship that’s not sinking? If we get Biden elected, and we pass Green New Deal legislation, it will be the moment to jump. If we miss that moment, we’ve got nothing.”

But faculty like Hughes, along with teachers and nurses, already have green jobs—and will keep them, Green New Deal or not. While there have been hiring freezes at major universities, AFT members have been mostly unaffected by all of the job losses created by Covid-19. Construction workers, many of whom have just experienced a difficult few months without work, are understandably wary about potentially gambling with their jobs. But Keon Liberato, President of Local 3012 of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, is looking forward to the passage of the Green New Deal. He’s a trackman who works on railroads in the Philadelphia area, and he told In These Times that “even if you don’t care about climate change, even if you have a more narrow interest, there’s a ton of money in the Green New Deal for the building trades, for infrastructure.” 

The Green New Deal’s focus on investing in high-speed rail could mean significant potential work for electricians and rail workers like Liberato. The legislation also calls for “repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States,” which means fixing bridges and roads, retrofitting buildings, and updating sewage and water systems. And the AFT’s green school buildings campaign will need the support of building trades unions, like electricians, plumbers, roofers, and boilermakers. All of this infrastructure work means more union jobs—but only if the labor movement acknowledges the true magnitude of climate change and decides to play a leadership role in fighting it. John Braxton, Co-President Emeritus of AFT Local 2026, who contributed to AFT’s recent resolution, told In These Times that “unions don’t want to be told what to do, and they’d also like to believe it’s not going to be as big of a problem as it is. But we’ve got to make contingency plans that provide protections for every worker, and we need to do it now. Why would labor argue with that?”

Labor’s current focus is getting Joe Biden elected, who, according to his ads, has the “most ambitious” climate plan of any major party’s presidential nominee ever. His platform includes achieving net zero emissions no later than 2050, conserving 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030, and making a federal investment of $1.7 trillion in the fight against climate change. He promises to “fulfill our obligation to workers… who powered our industrial revolution and decades of economic growth” by securing coal miners’ pensions and benefits. And he also promises to “put people to work by enlisting them to help fight the pandemic, including through a Public Health Jobs Corps.” But unlike the Green New Deal legislation, his platform has no explicit promise of a job for all who want one. It also makes no mention of fracking or a drastic reduction in fossil fuels, perhaps because his climate advisors may support fracking. Braxton says, “What we need to do is pressure Biden into a Jobs for All program, and the green is not in the headline, but it’s incorporated into it. The environmentalists will read the fine print, and maybe labor can look at it and say, this is what we need.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO—all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, “We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, “We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, “We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

But with 80,000 members today, UMWA is more of a retirees’ organization than a fighting union—and at roughly 1.6 million members, the AFT is one of the largest unions in the country. Its endorsement is “the most high-profile labor endorsement of the Green New Deal since SEIU last summer,” according to Will Lawrence, director of strategic partnerships at the Sunrise Movement. The AFT’s support for the Green New Deal, coupled with the writing on the wall for the fossil fuel industry, could mean a crisis for the AFL-CIO. Trumka has so far straddled the line between the federation’s conservative and progressive members, giving a nod to the importance of climate change while also affirming the importance of fossil fuel jobs. But Trumka plans to step down at the AFL’s convention in 2021, and whoever wins the election to be his successor will determine whether the largest federation in the labor movement goes all-in on the fight against climate change, or maintains one foot in the door and one foot out, balancing between the new world and the old.

This fork in the road is complicated by the fact that both the labor movement and the entire country are in crisis, with millions unemployed and all eyes on the presidential election in November. Trumka favors Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL (and his second in command) as his successor. But Sara Nelson, president of AFA-CWA and one of the early endorsers of the Green New Deal, also has her eyes on the leadership position. Although neither have officially announced their candidacy, it’s been reported that both have been privately vying for support.

Nelson’s support for the Green New Deal may hurt her if she decides to run. Sean McGarvey, the president of the North America’s Building Trades Unions, the labor federation of the building trades unions and a member of the AFL, said, “She’s aligned herself with a plan that would eliminate half of the AFL-CIO’s jobs. That’s not going to work real well.” But Nelson told In These Times, “Climate change is directly in our workplace. Turbulence is on the rise. Our schedules, our work, our lives are totally disrupted every time there’s a major weather event. Some have tried to have us believe that this is an attack on jobs and on our way of life, but we know that if we don’t get out in front of something, the crisis will become so great and people will be desperate for a resolution, and that resolution won’t be one that works for working people.”

Nelson believes deeply in a just transition for workers whose industries would be shuttered in an attempt to bring carbon emissions down. The term “just transition” is often used in conversations about climate change as a way to secure workers’ livelihoods if and when their industry is phased out. And while this term is more often heard in the environmental movement now, the idea was developed in the labor movement by Tony Mazzocchi, a lifelong trade unionist and an elected leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW). In Mazzocchi’s words, a true just transition would give workers in extractive industries “a new start in life” by providing financial support and opportunities for education and re-training.

Many environmental groups like Sunrise Movement and Climate Justice Alliance have used the term in their literature and their campaign planning, but union workers have often expressed concern that their job security and livelihoods are not a true priority. After all, environmental groups often wage campaigns against pipelines or refineries without consulting the unions or their members first. While to environmentalists, union work has sometimes meant environmental destruction, to union members, environmentalism has meant financial destruction.

But according to David Hughes, treasurer of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and professor of Anthropology at Rutgers-New Brunswick, extractive industry workers’ standard of living is already threatened regardless of the proposed Green New Deal legislation. Hughes told In These Times that the country is already on the cusp of an energy transition away from fossil fuels. “We have an economic disaster and a complete collapse of the price of oil, coal has been collapsing, gas is not in good shape. So now solar and wind are competitive, even without subsidies. The economic case for fossil fuels has evaporated—those jobs are not going to be here for much longer.”

Although most union members have no interest in being re-trained for another career, fossil fuel workers and their unions are particularly protective of their jobs. Refinery workers can make up to six figures without a college degree, and there are very few jobs with comparable wages in non-extractive industries that these same workers could easily be hired for. Further, these workers have a right to be suspicious: Barack Obama campaigned on creating 5 million green jobs, but it’s unclear how many new green jobs were actually produced. There are some new green jobs, of course, but the vast majority are non-union, and the wages reflect that: Solar panel installers make between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.

Yet, numerous union members—workers in non-extractive industries—are serious about the Green New Deal, and AFT members who worked to pass the resolution are calling for more than tacit support: They intend for the endorsement to be a tool with which to organize their fellow members and to guide their work moving forward. This is precisely what the members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT have been trying to make happen. Hughes, who is also the chair of the Rutgers’ Climate Crisis Committee, raised the issue of supporting the Green New Deal at an AFT Executive Council meeting in 2019, before SEIU endorsed. No endorsement came out of it, but a committee, the Climate Task Force, was formed with the backing of the Executive Council. The task force has three main priorities: Form a relationship with Sunrise Movement and other environmental groups, create green schools campaigns, and organize with other unions to encourage them to support the Green New Deal. Hughes told In These Times, “What you do when you’re working in a sector that’s collapsing is you figure, what’s the strategic moment for my union to try to jump onto a ship that’s not sinking? If we get Biden elected, and we pass Green New Deal legislation, it will be the moment to jump. If we miss that moment, we’ve got nothing.”

But faculty like Hughes, along with teachers and nurses, already have green jobs—and will keep them, Green New Deal or not. While there have been hiring freezes at major universities, AFT members have been mostly unaffected by all of the job losses created by Covid-19. Construction workers, many of whom have just experienced a difficult few months without work, are understandably wary about potentially gambling with their jobs. But Keon Liberato, President of Local 3012 of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, is looking forward to the passage of the Green New Deal. He’s a trackman who works on railroads in the Philadelphia area, and he told In These Times that “even if you don’t care about climate change, even if you have a more narrow interest, there’s a ton of money in the Green New Deal for the building trades, for infrastructure.” 

The Green New Deal’s focus on investing in high-speed rail could mean significant potential work for electricians and rail workers like Liberato. The legislation also calls for “repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States,” which means fixing bridges and roads, retrofitting buildings, and updating sewage and water systems. And the AFT’s green school buildings campaign will need the support of building trades unions, like electricians, plumbers, roofers, and boilermakers. All of this infrastructure work means more union jobs—but only if the labor movement acknowledges the true magnitude of climate change and decides to play a leadership role in fighting it. John Braxton, Co-President Emeritus of AFT Local 2026, who contributed to AFT’s recent resolution, told In These Times that “unions don’t want to be told what to do, and they’d also like to believe it’s not going to be as big of a problem as it is. But we’ve got to make contingency plans that provide protections for every worker, and we need to do it now. Why would labor argue with that?”

Labor’s current focus is getting Joe Biden elected, who, according to his ads, has the “most ambitious” climate plan of any major party’s presidential nominee ever. His platform includes achieving net zero emissions no later than 2050, conserving 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030, and making a federal investment of $1.7 trillion in the fight against climate change. He promises to “fulfill our obligation to workers… who powered our industrial revolution and decades of economic growth” by securing coal miners’ pensions and benefits. And he also promises to “put people to work by enlisting them to help fight the pandemic, including through a Public Health Jobs Corps.” But unlike the Green New Deal legislation, his platform has no explicit promise of a job for all who want one. It also makes no mention of fracking or a drastic reduction in fossil fuels, perhaps because his climate advisors may support fracking. Braxton says, “What we need to do is pressure Biden into a Jobs for All program, and the green is not in the headline, but it’s incorporated into it. The environmentalists will read the fine print, and maybe labor can look at it and say, this is what we need.”

Because of our current political climate—a pandemic that has already killed over 160,000 people in the United States, millions out of work, and a president and Senate that seem to despise working people —unions may be less willing to lead in the fight against climate change. After all, the climate crisis may feel less urgent than the unemployment crisis, or even contract negotiations over wages and benefits. But for the faculty, teachers and paraprofessionals who make up the AFT, leading in the fight against climate change is paramount. And to get the rest of the labor movement on board, Nelson has some advice: “If you believe in something, you gotta be willing to fight for it.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia. She is a frequent contributor to Working In These Times.


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Economy Gains 1.8 Million Jobs in June; Unemployment Declines to 10.2%

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The U.S. economy gained 1.8 million jobs in July, and the unemployment rate declined to 10.2%, according to figures released Friday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The improvements reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that previously was curtailed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in leisure and hospitality (+592,000), government (301,000), retail trade (258,000), professional and business services (170,000), other services (149,000), health care (126,000), social assistance (66,000), transportation and warehousing (38,000), manufacturing (26,000), financial activities (21,000) and construction (20,000). Mining lost 7,000 jobs in July.

In July, the unemployment rates declined for teenagers (19.3%), Black Americans (14.6%), Hispanics (12.9%), Asians (12.0%), adult women (10.5%), adult men (9.4%) and White Americans (9.2%).

The number of long-term unemployed workers (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed in July.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on August 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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Black workers are hurt most as Congress doesn’t extend unemployment

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One mostly unintended—definitely on the Republican side—aspect of the $600 in added unemployment benefits is that it reduced racial disparities. But that means that one aspect of the $600 expiring is that those same racial disparities have come roaring back. Why? Because, for one thing “Black workers disproportionately live in states with the lowest benefit levels and the highest barriers to receiving them,” The New York Times reports. “Without the $60 federal payments, the most an unemployed worker in Florida or Alabama can receive is $275 a week.” Nearly 60% of Black workers live in the South, where state governments have spent decades ensuring workers would have the weakest protections and rights possible. So the additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits has dramatically equalized the situation between states with relatively few Black workers and relatively generous unemployment benefits and those with relatively many Black workers and appallingly weak unemployment insurance.

These disparities aren’t an accident. “Yesterday’s racist system becomes today’s incidental structural racism,” RAND Corporation economist Kathryn Edwards told The New York Times. The added federal benefit also reduced racial disparities by expanding the categories of workers covered by unemployment, since historically another way Black workers have been excluded from government assistance is by excluding the types of work Black workers do from being covered. And frankly, as Republicans resist renewing the additional $600 in unemployment that they allowed to expire, we have to consider the fact that it benefits Black people as one more reason Republicans oppose it.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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