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Management Rights: A Pitfall When Negotiating Your First Contract

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Over the past year, impressive numbers of workers, especially in the retail and service sectors, have begun the process of organizing a union. Workers at Starbucks, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Amazon, and other establishments have won union elections.

Many of these unions are now negotiating for their first contracts — always a difficult task. Employers can drag out the process for months or years. And employers may seek contract language that grievously weakens the union, now and for years to come.

Among the biggest pitfalls in first-contract negotiations are employer demands for language covering:

  • Management rights
  • Cardinal offenses
  • Past practices
  • No-strike agreements
  • Zipper clauses
  • Duration of benefits

This article focuses on management rights. Future articles will discuss other pitfalls.

First, a warning: Some members of the bargaining team may assume that if the union gives in to compromising language in the first contract, it will be able to revise the agreement the next time around.

But as veteran union leaders are painfully aware, once a union agrees to a contract provision that affords an employer expansive rights — for example, the exclusive right to enact work rules — getting it out is harder than Hades.

Management Rights Clauses

Management rights clauses have found their way into almost all union contracts. But for years, they often consisted of a single sentence.

For example, an SEIU agreement with Boston University says: “Except to the extent expressly abridged by a specific provision of this Agreement, the University reserves and retains, solely and exclusively, all of its rights to manage the University and its activities and operations.”

Another common provision reads: “The employer retains the responsibility and authority of managing the company’s business.”

Unions can safely agree to such clauses, sometimes as exchanges for language guaranteeing union security or dues checkoff.

In recent years, however, many employers have attempted to expand management rights clauses. Their goal is to take away two important — one might even say existentially importat — union rights.

First, employers want to take away the union’s statutory right to receive advance notice of any significant changes that might affect employees. Second, they want to take away the union’s legal right to bargain to agreement or impasse before the employer puts the change into effect.

This body of law is known as the rule against unilateral changes. It was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 in a decision called NLRB v. Katz, and is one of the strongest benefits of forming a union.

Following Katz, employers began to demand management rights clauses that waived the union’s right to bargain over a wide array of mid-contract changes. Many proposals detailed a long list of subjects — for example, subcontracting, assigning duties, and adopting work rules — that the employer could carry out without notice or bargaining.

It has now gotten to the point where a union that agrees to such a clause may actually be putting itself in a weaker position than if it refused to sign a contract at all. At least then, the employer would have to bargain to agreement or impasse before changing or adopting new terms or conditions of employment.

Management rights clauses became even more of a burden in 2019 when the Trump Labor Board issued its decision in MV TransportationMV says employers can make unilateral changes in all areas that fall under the “compass or scope” of a management rights proviso, ending the longtime union-friendly “clear and unmistakable” standard.

Responding to a Demand

One response to an employer demand for an expansive management rights clause is to refuse it unless the employer narrows it down to a simple acknowledgment that the employer manages the enterprise.

A union bargainer might say “Most of your language is totally unnecessary. Obviously, you have the right to manage the enterprise — and we are willing to will put that into the agreement. But we also have a right to have a properly functioning union.

“Your proposal takes away our voice on almost every possible change over the term of the agreement. If we agree to this, we will have fewer rights than we have now! The reason we formed this union is to have an input into the decisions that affect us.”

The union might also threaten to file a Labor Board charge asserting that the employer’s insistence on an expansive management rights clause is an unfair labor practice.

Support comes from the case Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, 334 NLRB 487 (2001) which held that insisting on proposals that grant an employer “unilateral control over virtually all significant terms and conditions of employment during the life of the contract” is evidence of bad faith bargaining.

Another union response might be a demand that a sentence such as the following be added to the management rights clause:

“Notwithstanding anything in the preceding clause, the employer agrees that it will give the union notice before adopting or changing any rule, policy, or practice having a significant impact upon one or more members of the bargaining unit. Moreover, if the union requests, the employer will bargain in good faith, to agreement or impasse, before carrying out the change.”

Whither the Board?

In 2019, when the Labor Board issued MV Transportation, the Board consisted of three Republican members and one Democrat.

That ratio was upended by President Biden. There are now three Democratic members and two Republicans. One of the Democrats, now-Chairperson Lauren McFerran, had dissented in 2019, warning that the new standard would “frustrate the bargaining process, inject uncertainty into labor management relationships and ultimately increase the prospect for labor unrest.”

The Biden majority has begun (haltingly) to overturn Trump-era rulings. MV Transportation is a likely candidate for reversal. In that event, many expansive management rights clauses that unions agreed to may lose their legal foundations.

As a consequence, however, employers may try to make management rights clauses even more comprehensive. In any event, management rights language is sure to be a hot bargaining topic for many years to come.

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

About the Author: Robert Schwartz is a labor attorney and the author of “No Contract, No Peace: A Legal Guide to Contract Campaigns, Strikes, and Lockouts.”


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How to Navigate Professional Connections as a Remote Worker

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Katie Brenneman

Hybrid and remote work environments have seen a huge rise in popularity over the last few years. While there are many benefits to a remote structure, it also comes with a few challenges.

Things like maintaining professional connections, team building, and networking effectively are essential for remote workers who want to feel a sense of connection with their business, and those who want to find continued growth in their careers.

If you work from home, building these connections via digital channels is important. Let’s take a closer look at why it can be challenging, as well as a few tips that can make it easier to communicate and network remotely.


The Challenge of Connection

Almost everyone in business knows the importance of networking. As the old saying goes, it’s “who you know” that can help you get ahead. Unfortunately, when you’re sitting at home behind a computer screen all day, it’s not always easy to meet the right people or even feel like you’re an active part of your team.

This lack of effective communication can lead to several issues within a workplace, including:

  • Employee burnout
  • Reduced productivity
  • Lack of focus
  • Slower workflow

It can also cause you to feel like you’re missing out on important opportunities or that you’re not able to connect with people who could advance your career. Even though we’re living in a digital world, it’s much easier to foster a connection with someone in person.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to boost your digital connection and feel more in tune with your team, and people who can help you achieve your goals.


Tips for Communicating


The reason remote work has become so popular is that we have the technology to make it easy for most people. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of that technology when it comes to communicating and connecting with your team and individuals who can help you get ahead.

If you want to stay connected with your colleagues, try things like weekly team meetings, making time for social chat, and using platforms like Slack to make sure you’re all on the same page with different projects and tasks. Interdepartmental communication is essential to success. It allows you to pick up on certain skills from other people in your business, and network within your company. It will also improve workflow and improve trust between teams, benefitting both you and the business you work for.

When it comes to virtual networking, don’t be afraid to go the extra mile and put yourself into the digital space to connect with the right people. Spruce up your LinkedIn profile and start contacting individuals in your industry. Attend online events. Boost your portfolio.

One of the best ways to connect with others in your industry is to join virtual groups and classes.

It’s especially effective for people with marginalized identities or those who might experience inequality in the workplace. For example, if you’re a woman in the business or tech industry, you might benefit from mentorship or empowerment groups that can help you break the glass ceiling and boost your confidence as you climb the ladder.

Communicating Appropriately

Many of us have grown up surrounded by technology, and future generations will be fully immersed in it. There are pros and cons to that. In the business world, one of the challenges of being so comfortable with virtual connections is that it can be difficult to change the way we interact.
Obviously, you’re not going to connect with your friends online the same way you would with a co-worker or other professional. However, it’s easier to “slip” than you might think. Make sure you’re communicating appropriately while working remotely by:

  • Using designated channels to connect
  • Using appropriate language
  • Acting appropriately
  • Recognizing communication breakdowns

Remote work is likely to continue to grow in popularity. Technology will continue to make it easier to stay connected with people across the globe. However, it will always be up to each worker to put in the time and effort to communicate effectively.

Keep these tips in mind as you remind yourself of some of those challenges — and how to overcome them — for a better, more successful work-from-home experience.

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

About the Author: Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and education When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.


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Strikes Are Stronger and More Stubborn Than Laws

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Hamilton Nolan

When people get frustrated and petulant, they lash out. So too do governments.

When labor unions are looking a little too powerful, governments often throw tantrums, like spoiled children momentarily denied their lollipops. The natural response of childish governments is to try to pass laws to deny workers the ability to strike, taking away their most powerful weapon.

It is important, in the midst of these threats, to keep in mind a simple fact: Strikes are stronger than laws.

As we speak, the UK is experiencing its most momentous strike wave since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister in the 1980s. Nurses, transit workers, postal workers, and a slew of other public employees have walked out of work in the past month, and the actions show no sign of letting up. These strikes make people yell at the government, which is the point.

Now the government is so mad! Argh! As a result, prime minister Rishi Sunak said that he plans to push for legislation that would outlaw such strikes in what he deems vital sectors — healthcare, schools, railways, border security and elsewhere. His bill would have workers fired and unions sued if they failed to maintain a “mnimum level of service,” which is another way of saying that strikes would be impossible. 

This sort of spasm of governmental overreach is not uncommon.

Strikes are an act of power totally outside the control of politicians, and therefore can make political officials go a little haywire.

Just a few months ago in Canada, the premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, made a similar proposal to criminalize strikes and impose a contract on strike teachers, only to back down in the face of credible threats of a general strike. U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision in November to force a contract on America’s railway workers, though not dependent on a new piece of legislation, was a similarly brazen act of government denial of the right of working people to decide whether or not a contract offer is good enough for them. 

It takes a lot of courage to go on strike even in the best of circumstances. To hear the most powerful elected officials in your country threaten to outlaw your strike and cause you to lose your job and see your union bankrupted can be intimidating.

But a proper understanding of the power dynamics at play in these circumstances should make workers feel better.

Think about the government’s position in these cases: They are scared of the disruption in services that happen as a result of strikes. They want to keep these public services up and running, because they know that it reflects badly on them if things aren’t functioning. Above all, they don’t want the public yelling at them because their stupid government isn’t providing the services that it’s supposed to provide.

Setting aside the underlying causes of these strikes — poor working conditions, which are the direct responsibility of the stupid government itself — the primary goal of panic-stricken governments during strike waves is just to get all the workers working again, as fast as possible.

Now, consider the method they employ to achieve this goal: They propose to make the strikes illegal. They propose terrifying penalties if the strikes continue.

Okay. Let’s play this out.

Suppose the striking workers reasonably say “f— off” to a government that tries to bully them back to work, rather than solving the actual problems that made the workers upset enough to strike in the first place. Suppose they defy these laws and carry on with illegal strikes. Suppose the government responds as promised, by firing all the striking workers.

Then what?

The government then finds itself less able to restore services than it was before. It will take even more time to hire and train thousands of new workers than it would have taken to settle the strike at the bargaining table. The public will be more outraged at the greater chaos and the government will get more unpopular as a result.

The very goal of passing laws against strikes, in other words, is unlikely to be achieved by passing laws against strikes. 

It doesn’t matter if strikes are illegal. The decision to strike should be made on the basis of what is necessary to achieve a job that doesn’t make you miserable and a life that is worth living. Strikes carry their own power — they don’t ask for permission to be powerful.

Organized labor should resolve to respond to attempts to take away the right to strike with bigger strikes. If you are a worker pulled into one of these strikes, have faith.

Politicians can try to outlaw rain if they want, but the clouds aren’t listening. 

This blog originally appeared in full at In These Times on January 9, 2023. Republished with permission.

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


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5 Employment Trends to Watch in 2023

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As we enter 2023, changing employment trends have emerged that are already impacting countless employees and job seekers.  

Here are 5 specific developments that Allison & Taylor Reference & Background Checking anticipates for 2023:

  1. Given a projected tight labor market, employees are in a strong position vis a vis their compensation, benefits, and workplace accommodations.  Those seeking new employment — particularly those with technical skills — are in high demand and likely to remain so for the near term.  Increased opportunities for college graduates in 2023 are projected as well.
  1. While many employers are fostering a “return-to-the-office” mandate, hybrid and remote work are highly valued by countless employees which will ensure their continued presence in the marketplace.  Also likely: the expanded presence of the four-day workweek, benefitting employers and employees alike with lower burnout, reduced absenteeism, and increased sales.
  1. The modern workforce will continue to trend towards freelancing.  The growth of freelancing in recent years has easily exceeded that of the traditional workforce, with approximately half of all working millennials working in some freelance capacity.  Despite the current efforts of some states – notably California – to regulate the “gig” economy, it is estimated that a majority of the U.S. workforce will freelance by 2027.  
  1. Employers are increasing their levels of employee surveillance.  The number of employees who are monitoring their employees’ activities is growing, a function of ever-increasing numbers of employees working remotely or hybrid (and using their computers for both professional and personal use), a concern with employees leaking sensitive company information, and decreasing corporate costs in monitoring technology.  Employers are also watching their workers to avoid sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits, in large part due to recent high-profile cases that resulted in the termination of well-known corporate executives.
  1. Workplace Abuse Will Continue As An Ongoing Fact of Life.  Previous surveys by the Workplace Bullying Institute (workplacebullying.org) identified approximately 27% of responders as having current or past direct experience with abusive conduct at work, with bosses constituted the majority of bullies. 

While the degree to which this might be mitigated as the result of remote/hybrid employment has yet to be determined, countless employers offer negative reference commentary regarding their former employees, adversely affecting their future employment prospects.  

Fortunately, third party reference checks conducted with former employers can often reveal information that can be utilized for remedial action, such as Cease & Desist letters, or more aggressive legal action.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness by Heidi Allison-Shane. Republished with permission.


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Workplace Safety Tips and Statistics

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Alana Redmond

Workplace injuries are a common occurrence.

American workers spend an average of 38.7 hours per week at work, and just about every job has some risk that comes along with it, especially jobs that include manual labor.

Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that in 2021, there were:

  • 2,607,900 total nonfatal injuries and illnesses
  • 5,190 total fatal injuries
  • 1,062,700 injuries that involved days away from work

What is a Workplace Injury and What Causes Them? 

OSHA defines a workplace injury as “an abnormal condition or disorder… including but not limited to, a cut, fracture, sprain, or amputation.” Workplace injuries can be caused by many things, especially if the job duties include inherently dangerous acts. However, workers at just about any job can be hurt at work. 

According to the CDC, the three leading causes of work-related injuries are 

  1. Contact with objects and equipment
  2. Bodily reaction and overexertion
  3. Falls, or slips and trips without a fall

So what can you do to effectively minimize the chance of sustaining an injury on the job? Here’s a list of five practices you can implement to help prevent workplace injuries.

  1. Attend Safety Protocol Meetings

Regularly attending safety protocol meetings can help you stay up to date on important safety information, such as best practices in operating equipment, or how to use a new tool or machinery. It also helps you to keep safety protocol fresh in your mind, so if you are ever in an emergency situation you can act quickly, safely, and efficiently.

  1. Report Safety Hazards to Management

If you notice something unsafe, say something.

Things like broken or malfunctioning equipment or water leaks can be dangerous and lead to several injuries, or even death. When you report unsafe circumstances to management, they should take it very seriously and rectify the situation quickly. You can be saving yourself and your fellow workers a headache by catching safety hazards before they create a problem. 

  1. Always Wear Your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE isn’t always just facemasks and gloves, while those are valuable pieces of protective equipment, especially for workers in the medical field, PPE can be any piece of equipment that a worker needs to safely execute their job.

Things like wearing non-slip shoes or steel toed boots, protective eyewear, or wearing a harness, are all forms of PPE meant to protect you from job associated risks. 

  1. Slow Down and Pay Attention to the Task at Hand

Slowing down can be difficult when you are used to rushing through tasks, especially if you are held to tight deadlines. However, rushing through tasks is more often linked to injuries. When you slow down and pay close attention to what you are doing, you are less likely to hurt yourself or others.

This may seem counter productive, because slowing down equal less output, right? But in the long run, it can actually be beneficial to output because there will be less injuries and you can consistently produce, and produce well, whatever you are working on. 

  1. Take Care of Yourself

This is the most important tip for minimizing your risk of workplace injury. Taking care of yourself means getting proper rest, making sure you fuel yourself with nutrient rich foods, and follow all the safety guidelines to the best of your knowledge and abilities. 

Workplace injuries may be a common occurrence, but you can mitigate your risk of workplace injury by being proactive. 

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

About the Author: Alana Redmond is a consumer safety writer for safer-america.com and advocate for workers rights and workplace fairness across the country. 


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NFL Response to Player’s Cardiac Arrest is a Labor Rights Issue

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Laura Clawson

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is now breathing on his own and talking as he recovers from his on-field cardiac arrest in a recent NFL game, but the issues his near-death and ongoing recovery raise are very much not over.

For one thing, there was the long delay before the game was officially postponed (it was later cancelled), when the call to postpone a game following an on-field near-death should be a pretty much immediate one. 

Reportedly the decision was only made after intervention by the players’ union.

But there’s something else. Hamlin is an early career player whose future is very uncertain.

He has not made a lot of money in a career that has left him hospitalized in critical condition, and the NFL does not guarantee his long-term financial security if he can’t get back on the field and risk his life again.

As I’ve watched the donation count rise on Hamlin’s charity GoFundMe, more than once I’ve thought that he might really be needing that money himself, depending how his recovery goes.

“He’s 24 years old. He got a contract for $160,000 — that’s his bonus — and he earns $825,000 this year. He’s been in the league two years. That means he’s not vested. That means that if he never plays another down in his life, he doesn’t get another check from the NFL,” Cleveland sports podcaster Garrett Bush said in a video below.

“You got to play 3-4 years before you even sniff a pension. So all these heartwarming prayers and condolences don’t do anything for that boy’s mom, who has to go home, look at her son, and he might need extensive care for the rest of his life.”

Bush also noted that the league’s disability pay is now only $4,000 a month, with very high rejection rates.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on January 7, 2023.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the assistant managing editor at Daily Kos.


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Elect Working People For Everything

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The 2022 midterms were full of surprises to many political pundits, analysts, and consultants. A popular narrative predicting a massive Republican wave election turned out to be wrong, with Democrats retaining the U.S. Senate and performing stronger than expected in many states despite serious inflation and low favorability ratings for national party leaders.

A major force behind these election results is an often overlooked list of scrappy, grassroots organizations focused on building working class power through political engagement, voter education, and better candidates. In my corner of rural America, that group is Down Home North Carolina.

“Our strategy is going places where no door knockers and no phone canvassers have gone before,” Down Home’s Dreama Caldwell told me when I asked her about the group’s 2022 election efforts. “80 of our state’s 100 counties are rural. We focus on rural people and rural places because there’s no path to victory in our state without a rural strategy. There tends to be less voter engagement in rural communities, and we’re flipping that script here in North Carolina.”

Wearing shirts that read “Elect Working People for Everything,” Down Home’s volunteers and staff knocked on more than 150,000 doors during the election cycle, leading to 36,712 in-person conversations with potential rural voters. The group’s phone canvass team made more than 155,000 phone calls and sent over 181,000 text messages. They also sent more than 500,000 pieces of rural mail.

The goal of this massive mobilization was to support Down Home’s slate of working class candidates for state legislative races, county officials, and multiple school board districts. Ultimately, Down Home’s election efforts helped to elect two new rural working class candidates to the state house and one to the state senate, preventing the Republicans from obtaining their sought-after supermajority.

Down Home member Lisa Hanami knocked on hundreds of doors in Cabarrus County. She was particularly proud to be getting out the vote for newly elected state representative Diamond Staton Williams, a Black nurse who won by just 425 votes.

“We knocked on doors and talked to people about the issues that matter to us. Issues like being able to put food on the table, being able to just pay your bills. Most people we talked to agreed that we need stronger candidates who are actually working class themselves, and Diamond, she’s one of us. She’s a nurse, a regular working class person,” Hanami said.

When she was growing up, Hanami was challenged by her grandparents to become politically active, to join the family tradition of activism and organizing for racial justice and economic equality. Her experience knocking doors in Carrabus County was her first major campaign.

“When you meet people in person, get to know them, you start to realize there are different problems than we hear about in the mainstream media. And that especially matters based on what media people are listening to or watching. I found out so many people had bad information, even misinformation. That’s a problem, and one way to solve it is more face-to-face interactions,” Hanami said.

Caldwell told me that Down Home is committed to deepening its voter engagement work in rural North Carolina in the years to come.

“What we’re trying to do is build a bigger ‘we.’ Our organizing in rural communities is a year-round commitment. And we’re finding that where we work the election results are a little less red each time. And we’re inspiring more working class people to get involved, to run for office themselves.”

I’m hoping that voter engagement efforts like this can spread throughout the countryside, growing in impact and influence here in rural North Carolina as well as other areas where working class issues are being neglected by mainstream politics. And selfishly, I’m hoping that Down Home can get the attention and funding they deserve to grow their organizing efforts to where I live in the mountains of Transylvania County.

Working class politics grows the map in rural America, and that’s a lesson we all need to remember come 2024.

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on December 7, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Oates is a freelance reporter and opinion writer covering rural issues, policy, and politics. He lives and works in Transylvania County, North Carolina.


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Miners for Democracy Encourage Unions

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In December 1972, coal miners rocked the American labor movement by electing three reformers as top officers of the Mine Workers (UMWA), a union which at the time boasted 200,000 members and a culture of workplace militancy without peer.

In national balloting supervised by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Arnold Miller, Mike Trbovich and Harry Patrick ousted an old guard slate headed by W.A. (“Tony”) Boyle, the benighted successor to John L. Lewis, who ran the UMWA in autocratic fashion for 40 years.

Boyle’s opponents, who campaigned under the banner of Miners for Democracy (MFD), had never served on the national union staff, executive board or any major bargaining committee.

Instead, 50 years ago they were propelled into office by wildcat strike activity and grassroots organizing around job safety and health issues, including demands for better compensation for black lung disease, which afflicted many underground miners.

Today, at a time when labor militants are again embracing a “rank-and-file strategy” to revitalize unions and change their leadership, the MFD’s unprecedented victory—and its turbulent aftermath—remains relevant and instructive.

In the United Auto Workers (UAW), for example, local union activists recently elected to national office—and fellow reformers still contesting for headquarters positions in a runoff that begins January 12—will face similar challenges overhauling an institution weakened by corruption, cronyism and labor-management cooperation schemes.

Some UAW members may doubt the need for maintaining the opposition caucus, Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), that helped reformers get elected, but the MFD experience shows that such political breakthroughs are just the first step in changing a dysfunctional national union.

Imagine what it was like for coal miners in the 1970s to challenge an even more corrupt and deeply entrenched union bureaucracy, with a history of violence and intimidation of dissidents.

When Joseph (“Jock”) Yablonski, a Boyle critic on the UMWA executive board, tried to mount a reform campaign for the UMWA presidency in 1969, the election was marked by systematic fraud later challenged at the DOL. Soon after losing, Yablonski was fatally shot by union gunmen, along with his wife and daughter, as Mark Bradley recounts in Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America.

Just three years later, MFD candidates were able to oust Boyle and his closest allies, but without winning control of the national union executive board. As inspiring as it was at the time, this election victory ended up demonstrating the limitations of reform campaigns for union office when they’re not accompanied by even more difficult efforts to build and sustain rank-and-file organization.

Of all the opposition movements influenced by the MFD, in the 1970s and afterwards, only Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) has achieved continuing success as a reform caucus, largely due to its focus on membership education, leadership development and collective action around workplace issues.

Contested Elections Are Rare

Then and now, contested elections in which local union leaders – not to mention working members — challenge national union officials are very rare. Rising through the ranks in organized labor generally means waiting your turn, and when you capture a leadership position, holding on to it for as long as you can.

Aspiring labor leaders most easily make the transition from local elected positions to appointed national union staff jobs if they conform politically.

Dissidents tend to be passed over for such positions or not even considered unless union patronage is being deployed by those at the top to co-opt actual or potential critics. As appointed staffers move up via the approved route, whether in the field or at union headquarters, they gain broader organizational experience by “working within the system” rather than bucking it.

If they become candidates for higher elective office later in their careers, they enjoy all the advantages of de facto incumbency (by virtue of their full-time positions, greater access to multiple locals and politically helpful headquarters patrons).

Only a few national unions—including the UMWA, Teamsters, the NewsGuild / CWA, and now, with inspiring results so far, the UAW–permit all members to vote directly on top officers and executive board members.

Different Route to the Top

On paper, coal miners long had a “one-member, one-vote” system. But, by the late 1960s, there had not been a real contest for the UMWA presidency in four decades. Lacking the stature of his legendary predecessor John L. Lewis, a founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, Tony Boyle had become a compliant tool of the coal industry, unwilling to fight for better contracts or safer working conditions.

Increasingly restive miners staged two huge wildcat work-stoppages protesting national agreements negotiated in secret by Boyle (with no membership ratification). In 1969, 45,000 UMWA members joined an unauthorized strike demanding passage of stronger federal mine safety legislation and a black lung benefits program for disabled miners in West Virginia.

Despite passage of the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act, which created a “bill of rights” for union members, Boyle was able to maintain internal control by putting disloyal local unions and entire UMWA districts under trusteeship, which deprived members of the right to vote on their leaders.

Jock Yablonski’s martyrdom set the stage for a rematch with Boyle. It took the form of a government-run election, ordered after a multi-year DOL investigation of violence, intimidation, vote-tampering and misuse of union funds by Boyle’s political machine.

The standard bearers for reform in 1972 were Yablonski supporters who created MFD as a formal opposition caucus a few months after his death. They also published a rank-and-file newspaper called The Miners Voice as an alternative to the Boyle-controlled UMW Journal.

At MFD’s first and only convention, 400 miners adopted a 34-point union reform platform and nominated Arnold Miller from Cabin Creek, West Virginia, as their presidential candidate. Miller was a disabled miner, leader of the Black Lung Association and former soldier whose face was permanently scarred by D-Day invasion injuries.

His running mates included another military veteran, 41-year-old Harry Patrick, a voice for younger miners, and Mike Trbovich, who helped coordinate Yablonski’s campaign in Pennsylvania.

Despite continuing threats, intimidation, and heavy red-baiting throughout the coalfields, the MFD slate ousted Boyle by a margin of 14,000 votes out of 126,700 cast in December 1972.

This partial blog appeared in full at Labor Notes on January 6, 2023 after it was originally published by In These Times. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Steve Early worked for 27 years as an organizer and international representative for the Communications Workers of America. He is the author of several books.


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Nurses Set To Strike Against New York City’s Healthcare Monopolies

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On New Year’s Eve, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) announced that nearly 17,000 nurses at eight major New York hospitals planned to begin a strike January 9 if management did not meet their demands for increased staffing, fair compensation and health and safety protections.

After the strike was authorized, hospitals began making substantial wage and staffing offers, leading to three bargaining units representing about 7,000 nurses settling contracts in the past week. But nurses at five hospitals, including Montefiore Medical Center, Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai Morningside, remain on the brink of what could become one of the largest nurses’ strikes in recent years. 

“Tripledemic”

The potential strike comes at a time when nurses are overwhelmed by a “tripledemic” of Covid, flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV), but the issues animating the struggle are older, rooted in the creation of mega healthcare systems over the past decade.

A 2018 New York Times report shows that the nation’s hospitals have been consolidating at an exponential rate, forming a monopolistic healthcare system. Mergers and acquisitions put market power firmly in the hands of large hospital systems, which hike up prices knowing that insurance companies will pay to keep those facilities in their networks.

Insurers then pass the financial burden onto patients.

The Times report found that prices for an average hospital stay have gone up between 11% and 54% because of healthcare consolidation. 

From 2015 to 2019, U.S. hospitals’ net patient revenue increased by $8.6 million per year on average. By 2022, the top 25 hospitals in New York alone averaged an annual net patient revenue of close to $2 billion. These mergers have turned independent community hospitals into “nonprofit” conglomerates — “nonprofit” in their tax status, but profit-centric in every decision that counts.

“My hospital, once a humanitarian institution, now behaves like a profit-driven corporate entity,” says Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a past president of NYSNA and an emergency room nurse in the Bronx with 40 years of experience. Sheridan-Gonzalez’s hospital has been aggressively acquiring smaller community hospitals for years.

“It cuts staff and services to the Bronx, the county with the worst health indices in the state, investing instead in real estate and lucrative endeavors.”

Nurses are currently overwhelmed by a “tripledemic” of Covid, flu and RSV, but the issues animating the struggle are older—rooted in the creation of mega healthcare systems over the past decade.

Cost-Cutting

Per a Crain’s New York analysis, “the consolidation strategy has given rise to increasingly flush megasystems of hospitals concentrated in whiter, wealthier areas of the city. During the past 25 years, 20 hospitals have closed across the city, amounting to a loss of about 5,800 beds.”

In addition to wholesale hospital closures in poor neighborhoods, hospital managers’ newfound emphasis on increasing profits has led to other cost-cutting measures such as hiring fewer staff nurses and not buying sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). Those decisions have created unsafe working conditions and extreme burnout. The pandemic exacerbated these issues, and even though many hospitals received Covid relief funding, this did not translate into sufficient PPE, better staffing or improved working conditions. 

Instead, the effects of a monopoly health system have continued: high executive salaries and segregated units where VIPs get concierge services and specialty care,while the majority of wards are understaffed.

Managers within the conglomerated health system also began to use rising profits to fuel more acquisitions, leading to a cycle of hospitals serving the rich at the expense of local communities which had relied on them.

Overflowing ERs

In New York hospitals, these profit-maximizing practices have left Intensive Care Units (ICUs) unequipped to handle the winter surge of patients, especially children, suffering from various repository illness at record levels.

In a statement put out by the NYSNA, Aretha Morgan, a pediatric emergency room nurse at New York-Presbyterian, said: “Our pediatric ER is overflowing and short-staffed on almost all shifts. It is unbearable to see children suffer because we don’t have enough staff to provide safe patient care.” 

Nurses have been fighting back. In 2021, the New York state legislature passed and the governor signed a NYSNA-initiated hospital staffing bill mandating a limit of two ICU patients per nurse and requiring hospital management to negotiate such limits with a committee of nurses for all units of the hospital.

The legislation, which was the result of decades of nurses’ organizing, represented a significant win for the NYSNA, but its implementation has been delayed thanks to successful lobbying by New York City’s hospital conglomerates.

The one-to-two ICU ratio was supposed to have been enforced by the state health department in January 2022, but a year after that deadline, staffing levels continue to be set by budget rather than by patient need — an issue which in part motivated the nurses’ strike vote.

Nurses routinely provide care to three and sometimes four critically ill patients in the ICU, when the standard is at most two. Given the severity of illness, it should often be one-to-one.

Strike for Better Standards

The impending strike is a challenge to the business model of hospital conglomeration. If they cannot undo the mergers, the nurses can at least re-establish community health and professional safety standards.

Jessica Montanaro, a nurse in Mount Sinai Morningside’s intensive care unit, told New York Focus that chronic understaffing was causing burnout among nursing staff, leading to many nurses leaving to pursue less stressful forms of nursing. She said those nurses have not been replaced, leading to a further staffing shortage.

“We’re kind of standing up as a profession and we’re saying, ‘Look, we’re not OK. We don’t have the support. We’re in these untenable ratios. It’s not safe for our mental or physical health or the patient’s safety,’ ” Montanaro said. “And yet it’s not being heeded for whatever reason.”

Decades of legislative activism and multiple rounds of contract bargaining have yet to create a safe hospital environment for nurses and patients, leaving NYSNA nurses with no alternative but to strike. In addition to safe staffing levels, nurses are demanding fair wages, no cuts to their health coverage, and health and safety protections in light of the tripledemic of Covid, RSV and flu. They also want community benefits, such as funding programs to recruit and train nurses from within the communities they serve.

Sheridan-Gonzalez summed up the process and the stakes, saying, “We testified about the brutal inequities that were exacerbated before, during and after the worst of the Covid pandemic … but no one listened. We now take the drastic step to go out on strike so that maybe, finally, someone will hear us.” 

Better Business Model

The NYSNA nurses’ impending strike is a challenge to the business model of hospital consolidations and to the elimination of community-based healthcare services. The need for nursing care is why patients go into a hospital. Nurses can use that power on behalf of communities abandoned and disregarded by the hospital monopolies.

If they cannot undo the mergers, the nurses can at least re-establish community health and professional safety standards.

To demand and win safe staffing and patient care practices is a vital community benefit. And as potential patients, we all have a stake in their struggle. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on January 6, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Michael Lighty is a Sanders Institute Fellow and DSA activist and a consultant for the National Union of Healthcare Workers.


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Team Building Activities That Improve Engagement for Remote Teams

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As of 2022, around 26% of Americans work remotely. This should come as no real surprise; remote work has a wealth of benefits, including boosting productivity and allowing employees to have a better work-life balance.

But it also has its disadvantages, including a lack of team interaction.

To tackle this, an increasing number of companies are putting more focus on team-building activities.

If you have a remote team, be it local or global, take a look at these top team games to bring your staff together and encourage successful collaboration.

Monthly Team Quizzes

Quizzes are always a crowd-pleaser and super easy to take part in remotely or in-house, so if you have a blend of office and work-from-home staff, it’s a great choice!

Those who are in the workplace can get together to create teams, heading onto the video chat as one. Remote workers can join the group video chat, but each team can be given a private online “room” to discuss answers in.

If you have remote teams, it might be a good idea to give everyone a list of questions to go through in their groups and a time limit. When the time is up, each team heads into the main group chat to share their answers and see who wins.

Organize Virtual Workouts

Over half of Americans admit to not living a healthy lifestyle, with many wanting to change their ways and become fitter. But when you have an important job that takes up most of your day, it can be tricky to prioritize health. That’s where your business comes in.

As an employer, you can help staff to get more exercise and forge lasting connections with virtual or in-person workout sessions.

Once a week, put aside time for a non-compulsory team workout. Hire a professional trainer to host the session, guiding your team through exercise classes to help them get healthier and happier. Set up a group chat for everyone involved and encourage conversations about fitness goals and workout motivation. 

Not only does this help your team get to know one another and collaborate better, but exercise is also a great way to boost engagement and productivity! With numerous workplace benefits, this activity is a no-brainer.

Challenge Staff to a Scavenger Hunt

Just because you have remote staff doesn’t mean that every activity has to take place in the digital world.

If your team works near the same city, for example, why not invite them to an in-person event? This is a great way to encourage your team to meet up and get to know each other, and also helps to build your company’s reputation as a positive employer.

A fun in-person activity that should get lots of RSVPs is a scavenger hunt. Encourage your team to work together to overcome challenges and solve clues, helping them get to know one another and become more comfortable solving problems as a group.

If you’re in New York, we highly recommend checking out The Secret City’s NYC Scavenger Hunt, which they describe as “Urban adventures bringing the secrets of New York City to life.” Sounds good to us!

Send Daily Lunch Snaps

Not every activity has to be overly complicated. Some of the simplest group activities can be the best, helping to generate better rapport between staff and build long-lasting connections. One such idea is sending daily pictures of lunches. It’s simple but effective! 

Start a group chat and add whoever wants to join. Every working day (or most days), participants send a snap of their lunch to the group, and conversations will start to flow naturally.

Discussions over who has the best lunch, which flavor chips people prefer, and what they should make the next day are just some of the ways that this activity will get people talking! It’s a particularly good idea for new teams, helping break the ice quickly and get everyone over those first-chat nerves.

A Workplace Trivia Game

This is another game that can be done in person or remotely. You could plan it for the last hour on Friday, for example, allowing everyone to finish work early and turn their attention to some workplace trivia. Create a range of workplace-themed questions, such as:

  • Who has a new puppy called Yorkie
  • Who is the company’s biggest competitor
  • Which employee has their birthday in May
  • Who’s getting married in December
  • How many employees does the company have

Not only is this a fun game that should lead to plenty of laughs, it also helps staff get to know each other and improve their team collaboration skills  – a win-win! 

Final Words

Team building for remote staff isn’t just about improving teamwork but also about helping staff get to know each other better. With better workplace relationships, you’ll see improvements in collaboration, problem-solving, and engagement.

Hopefully, these activities have given you the inspiration to start planning your own, bringing your team together no matter where they work.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness on January 4, 2023. Published with permission.

About the Author: Gemma Williams is a contributor to Workplace Fairness.


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