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What’s at Stake for the Labor Movement on Election Day? Everything.

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Amer¬≠i¬≠ca is in cri¬≠sis. There can be no doubt about that. All of our imme¬≠di¬≠ate crises‚ÄĒthe pan¬≠dem¬≠ic and the unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment and the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic col¬≠lapse and the death spi¬≠ral of var¬≠i¬≠ous pub¬≠lic insti¬≠tu¬≠tions‚ÄĒhave lent the upcom¬≠ing pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial elec¬≠tion an air of emer¬≠gency. For work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca, though, the emer¬≠gency is noth¬≠ing new at all. What is at stake for labor in this elec¬≠tion is every¬≠thing. Noth¬≠ing, there¬≠fore, has¬†changed.¬†

Don¬≠ald Trump and the coro¬≠n¬≠avirus, the two fac¬≠tors infus¬≠ing this elec¬≠tion with urgency, are of recent vin¬≠tage. But the cri¬≠sis for work¬≠ing Amer¬≠i¬≠cans has been grow¬≠ing worse for at least four decades. Since the Rea¬≠gan era, eco¬≠nom¬≠ic inequal¬≠i¬≠ty has been ris¬≠ing, union pow¬≠er has been declin¬≠ing, and glob¬≠al cap¬≠i¬≠tal¬≠ism has been widen¬≠ing the chasm between the rich and every¬≠one else. 

Orga¬≠nized labor has been fight¬≠ing a¬†los¬≠ing‚ÄĒand some¬≠times inept¬≠ly fought‚ÄĒbat¬≠tle against these trends in every elec¬≠tion since¬†1980. The once-in-a-cen¬≠tu¬≠ry cat¬≠a¬≠stro¬≠phe sur¬≠round¬≠ing the¬†2020¬†elec¬≠tion may be what it needs to final¬≠ly reverse two gen¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tions of dis¬≠re¬≠spect and¬†defeat.¬†

Labor unions, which rep¬≠re¬≠sent work¬≠ers in a¬†work¬≠place, have always includ¬≠ed peo¬≠ple of all polit¬≠i¬≠cal stripes. The labor¬†move¬≠ment‚ÄĒthe broad¬≠er uni¬≠verse of groups pur¬≠su¬≠ing the inter¬≠ests of work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple‚ÄĒwill con¬≠tin¬≠ue to lean left, in the direc¬≠tion that val¬≠ues labor over cap¬≠i¬≠tal. (See¬≠ing police unions endorse Trump, whose admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion is deter¬≠mined to crush labor rights, is an exam¬≠ple of the fact that indi¬≠vid¬≠ual unions and their mem¬≠bers can act in self-inter¬≠est¬≠ed ways that go against the labor move¬≠ment as a¬†whole.)¬†

For rough¬≠ly the past half cen¬≠tu¬≠ry, union house¬≠holds have tend¬≠ed to vote Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic by about a¬†60‚Äď40¬†mar¬≠gin, but that mar¬≠gin has fluc¬≠tu¬≠at¬≠ed. In¬†1980, Ronald Rea¬≠gan nar¬≠rowed the gap to only a¬†few points. Barack Oba¬≠ma took the union vote by¬†34¬†points in¬†2012, but in¬†2016, that gap shrank by half. Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial nom¬≠i¬≠nee Joe Biden, tout¬≠ing his Oba¬≠ma con¬≠nec¬≠tions and fac¬≠ing an out¬≠right incom¬≠pe¬≠tent racist, will like¬≠ly expand that mar¬≠gin¬†again.¬†

Since Con¬≠gress passed the Taft-Hart¬≠ley Act in¬†1947, unions have been oper¬≠at¬≠ing in the¬†frame¬≠work of a¬†set of labor laws¬†designed to rob them of pow¬≠er. The state of those laws today is abysmal. The right to strike is restrict¬≠ed, and com¬≠pa¬≠nies have been able to clas¬≠si¬≠fy large swaths of their work¬≠ers as¬†‚Äúinde¬≠pen¬≠dent con¬≠trac¬≠tors,‚ÄĚ who lack the right to union¬≠ize. More than half the states in the coun¬≠try have passed¬†‚Äúright to work‚ÄĚ laws, which give work¬≠ers the abil¬≠i¬≠ty to opt out of pay¬≠ing union dues, mak¬≠ing it extreme¬≠ly dif¬≠fi¬≠cult for unions to orga¬≠nize and main¬≠tain mem¬≠ber¬≠ship. The¬†2018¬†Supreme Court deci¬≠sion in the¬†Janus v. AFSCME¬†case¬†made the entire pub¬≠lic sec¬≠tor¬†‚Äúright to work‚Ä̬†as well, which is sure to eat into that last bas¬≠tion of strong union den¬≠si¬≠ty. The unful¬≠filled desire to achieve some sem¬≠blance of labor law reform has been the pri¬≠ma¬≠ry rea¬≠son that unions in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca have poured mon¬≠ey into the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty for decades, despite get¬≠ting decid¬≠ed¬≠ly mod¬≠est leg¬≠isla¬≠tive wins in¬†return.¬†
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs critical that in the new administration, labor doesn‚Äôt just get siloed: ‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs the thing we can do to make the unions happy‚Äô It‚Äôs got to be an approach to looking across everything, especially in light of the economic situation.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒSharon Block, former Labor Department official in the Obama administration

Ear¬≠li¬≠er this year, Sharon Block, a¬†for¬≠mer Labor Depart¬≠ment offi¬≠cial in the Oba¬≠ma admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion who now heads the Labor and Work¬≠life Pro¬≠gram at Har¬≠vard, and labor expert and Har¬≠vard pro¬≠fes¬≠sor Ben¬≠jamin Sachs spear¬≠head¬≠ed the assem¬≠bly of the¬†‚ÄúClean Slate for Work¬≠er Pow¬≠er‚ÄĚ agen¬≠da‚ÄĒsome¬≠thing of a¬†union-friend¬≠ly labor law plat¬≠form for Democ¬≠rats in exile dur¬≠ing the Trump years. That agen¬≠da is a¬†fair sum¬≠ma¬≠tion of the labor movement‚Äôs wish list. It calls for a¬†swath of reforms that make it eas¬≠i¬≠er for all work¬≠ers to orga¬≠nize and exer¬≠cise pow¬≠er. Its pil¬≠lars include sec¬≠toral bar¬≠gain¬≠ing, which would allow entire indus¬≠tries to nego¬≠ti¬≠ate con¬≠tracts at once; a¬†much broad¬≠er right to strike; work¬≠er rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives on cor¬≠po¬≠rate boards; stream¬≠lined union elec¬≠tions; more labor rights for inde¬≠pen¬≠dent con¬≠trac¬≠tors and oth¬≠er gig work¬≠ers; the end of statewide¬†‚Äúright to work‚ÄĚ laws; and stronger enforce¬≠ment of labor stan¬≠dards. Biden‚Äôs own labor plat¬≠form, while not quite as rad¬≠i¬≠cal‚ÄĒit con¬≠spic¬≠u¬≠ous¬≠ly does not include sec¬≠toral bar¬≠gain¬≠ing‚ÄĒdoes include the major¬≠i¬≠ty of the Clean Slate agen¬≠da. Biden‚Äôs plat¬≠form also says¬†there will be a¬†‚Äúcab¬≠i¬≠net-lev¬≠el work¬≠ing group‚Ä̬†of union rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives, which could pre¬≠sum¬≠ably push his plat¬≠form even fur¬≠ther left. Though Biden was among the most cen¬≠trist of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry can¬≠di¬≠dates, the party‚Äôs cen¬≠ter has moved so much in the past four years that he has the most left¬≠ist labor plat¬≠form of any nom¬≠i¬≠nee since the New¬†Deal.¬†

While Biden is regard¬≠ed by many as very pro-union, his¬≠to¬≠ry has taught the labor move¬≠ment that its great¬≠est chal¬≠lenge will be get¬≠ting him to actu¬≠al¬≠ly pri¬≠or¬≠i¬≠tize labor if he assumes pow¬≠er.¬†‚ÄúI had the priv¬≠i¬≠lege of see¬≠ing Joe Biden in action. When he walked into a¬†room where we were dis¬≠cussing pol¬≠i¬≠cy, we knew that the inter¬≠ests of work¬≠ers, their col¬≠lec¬≠tive pow¬≠er, and the labor move¬≠ment was going to be on the table,‚ÄĚ Block says. But, she warns,¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs crit¬≠i¬≠cal that in the new admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion, labor doesn‚Äôt just get siloed:¬†‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs the thing we can do to make the unions hap¬≠py‚Äô It‚Äôs got to be an approach to look¬≠ing across every¬≠thing, espe¬≠cial¬≠ly in light of the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic¬†situation.‚ÄĚ

In oth¬≠er words, the new admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion must treat orga¬≠nized labor not as a¬†spe¬≠cial inter¬≠est but as the key to chang¬≠ing our increas¬≠ing¬≠ly two-tiered econ¬≠o¬≠my. That point is key to under¬≠stand¬≠ing the divide between the part of the labor move¬≠ment that sup¬≠port¬≠ed left-wing can¬≠di¬≠dates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Eliz¬≠a¬≠beth War¬≠ren (D-Mass.), and those that sup¬≠port¬≠ed Biden. While Sanders‚Äô back¬≠ers will speak of his fanat¬≠i¬≠cal moral devo¬≠tion to pro-work¬≠ing class pol¬≠i¬≠cy, Biden‚Äôs allies will speak of the per¬≠son¬≠al rela¬≠tion¬≠ship they have with him. It is the divide between those who see unions more as part of a¬†greater effort to improve con¬≠di¬≠tions for all work¬≠ers, and those who see them more as a¬†prac¬≠ti¬≠cal tool for mem¬≠bers.¬†‚ÄúJoe Biden had an open door pol¬≠i¬≠cy. That was the biggest thing. That was the crux of the rela¬≠tion¬≠ship,‚ÄĚ says a¬†spokesper¬≠son for the Inter¬≠na¬≠tion¬≠al Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion of Fire Fight¬≠ers, the first big union to endorse Biden when he entered the¬†2020¬†race.¬†‚ÄúWith Joe Biden at the White House, our voice is heard. We get pri¬≠or¬≠i¬≠ty¬†access.‚ÄĚ

This trans¬≠ac¬≠tion¬≠al, loy¬≠al¬≠ty-cen¬≠tric approach is unsur¬≠pris¬≠ing for a¬†career politi¬≠cian like Biden, but it can leave out labor lead¬≠ers who don‚Äôt have such a¬†long his¬≠to¬≠ry of back¬≠ing him. Most major unions did not endorse in the¬†2020¬†Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry, pre¬≠fer¬≠ring to focus on back¬≠ing who¬≠ev¬≠er became the nom¬≠i¬≠nee to oppose Trump. And Biden‚ÄĒthough he has many union allies‚ÄĒis not a¬†cru¬≠sad¬≠er, but a¬†politi¬≠cian with decades of strong cor¬≠po¬≠rate back¬≠ing, lead¬≠ing many in labor to won¬≠der how much he real¬≠ly¬†means¬†what his plat¬≠form says. The Biden cam¬≠paign tried to mit¬≠i¬≠gate that wor¬≠ry by includ¬≠ing mul¬≠ti¬≠ple pro¬≠gres¬≠sive union lead¬≠ers in the Biden-Sanders¬†‚ÄúUni¬≠ty Task Force,‚ÄĚ which was explic¬≠it¬≠ly set up to uni¬≠fy the left and cen¬≠trist wings of the par¬≠ty, in part by get¬≠ting pro¬≠gres¬≠sive poli¬≠cies into the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic plat¬≠form. That task force prod¬≠ded Biden mod¬≠est¬≠ly to the left but not so far as to endorse core pro¬≠gres¬≠sive ideas like Medicare for All. The unions clos¬≠est to Biden, par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠ly the fire¬≠fight¬≠ers, are opposed to Medicare for All because they want to keep the health¬≠care plans they nego¬≠ti¬≠at¬≠ed for¬†themselves.

The biggest labor unions often have strong pro¬≠gres¬≠sive fac¬≠tions but most¬≠ly plant them¬≠selves firm¬≠ly in the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Party‚Äôs main¬≠stream. In fact, four major union lead¬≠ers who serve on the plat¬≠form com¬≠mit¬≠tee of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Nation¬≠al Com¬≠mit¬≠tee vot¬≠ed against includ¬≠ing Medicare for All in the party‚Äôs plat¬≠form. One was Ran¬≠di Wein¬≠garten, pres¬≠i¬≠dent of the Amer¬≠i¬≠can Fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Teach¬≠ers, who also served on the Biden-Sanders Uni¬≠ty Task Force. She says the DNC plat¬≠form vote was a result of a pri¬≠or agree¬≠ment among those on the Uni¬≠ty Task Force to vote for its rec¬≠om¬≠men¬≠da¬≠tions, in the way you might vote for a union con¬≠tract that was imper¬≠fect but the best you could get.

The wretched¬≠ness of the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion has pushed unions to view the elec¬≠tion as a¬†mat¬≠ter of sur¬≠vival.¬†‚ÄúWhat Trump has done with his abysmal han¬≠dling of Covid, and his even worse han¬≠dling of racism, is to have sobered up every¬≠one that this is an elec¬≠tion like no oth¬≠er,‚ÄĚ Wein¬≠garten says.¬†‚ÄúThat this elec¬≠tion needs to be won by Biden to make sure that our democ¬≠ra¬≠cy, as imper¬≠fect as it is, stays in place. ‚Ķ Yes, it‚Äôs aspi¬≠ra¬≠tional about how we need to do bet¬≠ter. But it‚Äôs also very pri¬≠mal, about what the stakes are right¬†now.‚Ä̬†

The bru¬≠tal real¬≠i¬≠ties of the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic mean that many unions are forced to focus on their imme¬≠di¬≠ate needs more than on long-term ide¬≠o¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal goals. In the Feb¬≠ru¬≠ary run-up to the Neva¬≠da cau¬≠cus, Joe Biden and the oth¬≠er Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry can¬≠di¬≠dates bat¬≠tled to win the endorse¬≠ment of the pow¬≠er¬≠ful Culi¬≠nary Union, which has orga¬≠nized the state‚Äôs casi¬≠no indus¬≠try. (The union ulti¬≠mate¬≠ly did not endorse, and Bernie Sanders won the cau¬≠cus.) Less than two months lat¬≠er, the unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment rate for the union‚Äôs mem¬≠bers was close to 100%. Geo¬≠con¬≠da Arg√ľel¬≠lo-Kline, the union‚Äôs sec¬≠re¬≠tary-trea¬≠sur¬≠er, says the pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial elec¬≠tion is now framed in relent¬≠less¬≠ly prac¬≠ti¬≠cal terms: The refusal of Repub¬≠li¬≠cans to deal with the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic and the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic cri¬≠sis show that only Biden can make the gov¬≠ern¬≠ment sup¬≠port work¬≠place safe¬≠ty leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion, pro¬≠tect health insur¬≠ance and pen¬≠sions, and fund ade¬≠quate unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment ben¬≠e¬≠fits until Las Vegas is back on its feet. 

‚ÄúThe gov¬≠ern¬≠ment real¬≠ly has to pro¬≠vide every¬≠thing that the work¬≠ers need dur¬≠ing this pan¬≠dem¬≠ic,‚ÄĚ Arg√ľel¬≠lo-Kline says. Her union is adapt¬≠ing its leg¬≠endary get-out-the-vote machine for a¬†social¬≠ly dis¬≠tanced era, rely¬≠ing on phone bank¬≠ing, text mes¬≠sag¬≠ing and dig¬≠i¬≠tal com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ca¬≠tion more than door-knock¬≠ing and ral¬≠lies. She‚Äôs con¬≠fi¬≠dent that Trump will not car¬≠ry Neva¬≠da.¬†‚ÄúEvery¬≠body in the coun¬≠try sees how he‚Äôs being oppres¬≠sive to minori¬≠ties over here. How he‚Äôs attack¬≠ing the Lati¬≠no com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ty. How he doesn‚Äôt want to have any¬≠body in this coun¬≠try who doesn‚Äôt look like him,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†‚ÄúWe know work¬≠ers nev¬≠er have an easy¬†road.‚Ä̬†

Across the coun¬≠try, unions that typ¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly would be spend¬≠ing the sum¬≠mer and fall months focused on elec¬≠tion¬≠eer¬≠ing are forced to bal¬≠ance that with the work of triag¬≠ing the needs of mem¬≠bers fac¬≠ing very real life-and-death sit¬≠u¬≠a¬≠tions. The Retail, Whole¬≠sale and Depart¬≠ment Store Union rep¬≠re¬≠sents front-line retail work¬≠ers who have been sub¬≠ject¬≠ed to wide¬≠spread lay¬≠offs that now appear to be per¬≠ma¬≠nent. It also rep¬≠re¬≠sents poul¬≠try plant work¬≠ers in the South who have con¬≠tin¬≠ued to work through¬≠out the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic with des¬≠per¬≠ate short¬≠ages of pro¬≠tec¬≠tive equip¬≠ment. It is hard to tell whether the work¬≠ing mem¬≠bers or the unem¬≠ployed mem¬≠bers of the union face more dan¬≠ger. Stu¬≠art Appel¬≠baum, the union‚Äôs pres¬≠i¬≠dent, has been a mem¬≠ber of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Nation¬≠al Com¬≠mit¬≠tee for decades, but he has nev¬≠er dealt with an elec¬≠tion year that com¬≠bines such dire cir¬≠cum¬≠stances for work¬≠ers with such logis¬≠ti¬≠cal chal¬≠lenges to mobi¬≠lize them to fight. 

If there is any sil¬≠ver lin¬≠ing, it is that the val¬≠ue of unions is clear¬≠er than ever before. Their pub¬≠lic pop¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠i¬≠ty is near a¬†50-year high. Trump‚Äôs car¬≠toon¬≠ish class war lent the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠maries a¬†strong pro-union fla¬≠vor, and the work¬≠place inequal¬≠i¬≠ty exposed by the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic has only sharp¬≠ened the recog¬≠ni¬≠tion of the need for work¬≠place pro¬≠tec¬≠tions.¬†‚ÄúWe heard more talk about unions and sup¬≠port of unions than we‚Äôve heard in any oth¬≠er cam¬≠paign that I¬†can remem¬≠ber,‚ÄĚ Appel¬≠baum says.¬†‚ÄúThere is more of a¬†recog¬≠ni¬≠tion in the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty now and in soci¬≠ety as a¬†whole as to the impor¬≠tance of work¬≠ers hav¬≠ing a¬†col¬≠lec¬≠tive voice. I¬†remem¬≠ber when Bill Clin¬≠ton was first elect¬≠ed, and I‚Äôd go to union meet¬≠ings where peo¬≠ple would say,¬†‚ÄėIs the pres¬≠i¬≠dent ever going to men¬≠tion the word union?‚Äô That‚Äôs not a¬†ques¬≠tion we have¬†now.‚Ä̬†

That, of course, is no guar¬≠an¬≠tee that things will work out in unions‚Äô favor. The right wing‚Äôs long attack on orga¬≠nized labor has sapped some of the basic abil¬≠i¬≠ty of unions to exer¬≠cise pow¬≠er. No employ¬≠ees have been more direct¬≠ly sub¬≠ject¬≠ed to that attack than the work¬≠ers of the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment itself. The Amer¬≠i¬≠can Fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Gov¬≠ern¬≠ment Employ¬≠ees has butted heads with the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion inces¬≠sant¬≠ly over issues such as the lack of pay¬≠checks dur¬≠ing the gov¬≠ern¬≠ment shut¬≠down, efforts to take away col¬≠lec¬≠tive bar¬≠gain¬≠ing rights from hun¬≠dreds of thou¬≠sands of employ¬≠ees at the Defense Depart¬≠ment, and work¬≠ers at fed¬≠er¬≠al agen¬≠cies being forced back into the office before the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic is under control. 

‚ÄúFor us, this elec¬≠tion isn‚Äôt about par¬≠ty affil¬≠i¬≠a¬≠tion. It‚Äôs not about the dai¬≠ly out¬≠rages from Twit¬≠ter. It‚Äôs about our very liveli¬≠hoods. It‚Äôs about our rights and our lives at work,‚ÄĚ says Everett Kel¬≠ley, pres¬≠i¬≠dent of the¬†700,000-member union.¬†‚ÄúThe issues that our mem¬≠bers are fac¬≠ing are real¬≠ly the same issues that face labor as a¬†whole‚ÄĒour mem¬≠bers just work in a¬†sec¬≠tor where the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion has the widest lat¬≠i¬≠tude to imple¬≠ment its anti-labor poli¬≠cies. But there‚Äôs no doubt that they want to export their union-bust¬≠ing play¬≠book from the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment to the broad¬≠er pub¬≠lic and pri¬≠vate¬†sectors.‚Ä̬†

All of the mon¬≠ey, email blasts and vir¬≠tu¬≠al get¬≠ting-out-the-vote that unions are engaged in on behalf of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty will, if suc¬≠cess¬≠ful, result in mil¬≠lions of mail-in bal¬≠lots. And all of it will be worth¬≠less if those bal¬≠lots are not deliv¬≠ered and count¬≠ed prop¬≠er¬≠ly. Sav¬≠ing the post office‚ÄĒand, who knows, per¬≠haps democ¬≠ra¬≠cy itself‚ÄĒis a¬†job that has fall¬≠en in the lap of the labor move¬≠ment. Unions have been key play¬≠ers in pub¬≠li¬≠ciz¬≠ing the threat to the postal ser¬≠vice. They have ral¬≠lied polit¬≠i¬≠cal sup¬≠port behind postal work¬≠ers and the pop¬≠u¬≠lar insti¬≠tu¬≠tion as a¬†whole. What may have been seen as just anoth¬≠er under¬≠fund¬≠ed gov¬≠ern¬≠ment agency a¬†few years ago is now an avatar of every¬≠thing wrong with¬†Trumpism.

The U.S. Postal Ser¬≠vice is, like many oth¬≠er insti¬≠tu¬≠tions, fac¬≠ing a pan¬≠dem¬≠ic-induced loss of rev¬≠enue. It is also the tar¬≠get of the Repub¬≠li¬≠can Party‚Äôs long-term desire to pri¬≠va¬≠tize mail deliv¬≠ery and allow cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions to take over its oper¬≠a¬≠tions. Add to that the president‚Äôs appar¬≠ent desire to sab¬≠o¬≠tage the postal ser¬≠vice before the elec¬≠tion to pre¬≠vent mail-in bal¬≠lots from being count¬≠ed, and sud¬≠den¬≠ly, the hum¬≠ble post office finds itself at the cen¬≠ter of a nation‚Äôs sense that the entire gov¬≠ern¬≠ment may be tee¬≠ter¬≠ing on the edge of irre¬≠triev¬≠able corruption. 

‚ÄúPri¬≠va¬≠ti¬≠za¬≠tion usu¬≠al¬≠ly means three things. It means high¬≠er prices for the con¬≠sumer, less ser¬≠vices, and low¬≠er wages and ben¬≠e¬≠fits for the work¬≠ers,‚ÄĚ says Mark Dimond¬≠stein, head of the¬†200,000-member Amer¬≠i¬≠can Postal Work¬≠ers Union.¬†‚ÄúThis is cer¬≠tain¬≠ly the fork in the road of whether we‚Äôre going to have a¬†pub¬≠lic insti¬≠tu¬≠tion that belongs to every¬≠body, serves every¬≠body and is the source of good, liv¬≠ing-wage union jobs‚ÄĒor a¬†pri¬≠va¬≠tized, bro¬≠ken-up gig econ¬≠o¬≠my postal¬†service.‚ÄĚ

With tens of mil¬≠lions of Amer¬≠i¬≠cans unem¬≠ployed, a¬†dead¬≠ly dis¬≠ease rag¬≠ing and an incum¬≠bent pres¬≠i¬≠dent who appears not to care very much about either cri¬≠sis, unions and their allies find them¬≠selves pushed into a¬†famil¬≠iar cor¬≠ner: Fight like hell for the less-than-ide¬≠al Demo¬≠c¬≠rat‚ÄĒmain¬≠ly because there is no alter¬≠na¬≠tive. Joe Biden is an imper¬≠fect ally. His record is busi¬≠ness-friend¬≠ly, and his labor plat¬≠form, though strong in the¬≠o¬≠ry, is not as aggres¬≠sive as those of some of his pri¬≠ma¬≠ry rivals. Labor move¬≠ment vet¬≠er¬≠ans remem¬≠ber¬†2008¬†well, when the Oba¬≠ma admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion swept in with promise but failed to deliv¬≠er on the Employ¬≠ee Free Choice Act, which would have enabled¬†‚Äúcard check‚ÄĚ orga¬≠niz¬≠ing (a method of form¬≠ing a¬†union with a¬†sim¬≠ple major¬≠i¬≠ty vote) and was labor‚Äôs main (rel¬≠a¬≠tive¬≠ly mod¬≠est) wish. Biden is sell¬≠ing him¬≠self as Obama‚Äôs suc¬≠ces¬≠sor. It is up to the labor move¬≠ment to ensure that a¬†Biden admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion does not take them for¬†granted.

‚ÄúWe have to look at a¬†Biden vic¬≠to¬≠ry not as an end to our work, but a¬†begin¬≠ning,‚ÄĚ Dimond¬≠stein says.¬†‚ÄúThe his¬≠to¬≠ry of this coun¬≠try is, it‚Äôs always been the peo¬≠ple and the move¬≠ment, includ¬≠ing the work¬≠ing class move¬≠ment, that have cre¬≠at¬≠ed change in Con¬≠gress. Not the oppo¬≠site¬†way.‚ÄĚ

That, in fact, is the task that the labor move¬≠ment‚ÄĒshrunk¬≠en, bat¬≠tered and divid¬≠ed though it is‚ÄĒshould be pour¬≠ing most of its ener¬≠gy into, even now. Union den¬≠si¬≠ty in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca has fall¬≠en by half since the ear¬≠ly¬†1980s. Bare¬≠ly one in¬†10¬†work¬≠ers are now union mem¬≠bers. That exis¬≠ten¬≠tial decline must be turned around, or labor will nev¬≠er have enough pow¬≠er to win the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic and polit¬≠i¬≠cal gains that work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple need. No new pres¬≠i¬≠dent can do this for the labor move¬≠ment‚ÄĒthey can only remove some bar¬≠ri¬≠ers to make it eas¬≠i¬≠er for the move¬≠ment to do it for¬†itself.

Biden¬†looks strong in the polls, but there is no cer¬≠tain¬≠ty about what lies ahead. Few union lead¬≠ers want to engage seri¬≠ous¬≠ly with the ques¬≠tion of what hap¬≠pens if Trump wins. The answer is always some vari¬≠a¬≠tion of¬†‚ÄúJust keep fight¬≠ing.‚ÄĚ But anoth¬≠er four years of Trump would be grim, and sur¬≠viv¬≠ing it would require a¬†fero¬≠cious turn toward rad¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ism. After¬†2016, some fac¬≠tions of the union world toyed with the the¬≠o¬≠ry that the way to meet the moment was to cater to the minor¬≠i¬≠ty of¬†‚Äúwhite work¬≠ing class‚ÄĚ union mem¬≠bers who felt left behind and embraced Trump. That approach was always flawed‚ÄĒTrump‚Äôs base is the upper, not low¬≠er class‚ÄĒand sub¬≠se¬≠quent events have ren¬≠dered it a¬†moot point. The labor move¬≠ment has loud¬≠ly allied itself with Black Lives Mat¬≠ter and pledged to join the fight for social jus¬≠tice. Liv¬≠ing up to that pledge means mak¬≠ing a¬†choice to oppose Trump. If he is reelect¬≠ed, orga¬≠nized labor should expect to be one of many tar¬≠gets of his¬†vindictiveness.

All of which points to the fact that nei¬≠ther elec¬≠tion out¬≠come will mean auto¬≠mat¬≠ic sal¬≠va¬≠tion for work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple. The past 40 years of his¬≠to¬≠ry demon¬≠strate that. Con¬≠trol of the White House has gone back and forth, but through it all, the rich have got¬≠ten rich¬≠er, the wages of work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple have stag¬≠nat¬≠ed, union den¬≠si¬≠ty has declined and labor law has remained bro¬≠ken. The worst-case sce¬≠nario for the labor move¬≠ment is to see more of the same.

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt real¬≠ly look to the Democ¬≠rats for lead¬≠er¬≠ship; I¬†look to the labor move¬≠ment,‚ÄĚ says Sara Nel¬≠son, the head of the Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion of Flight Atten¬≠dants and one of labor‚Äôs most promi¬≠nent pro¬≠gres¬≠sive voic¬≠es.¬†‚ÄúAnd we have the pow¬≠er to change this right now if we choose to do so. That pow¬≠er is not an appendage of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty. It‚Äôs our labor. It‚Äôs our sol¬≠i¬≠dar¬≠i¬≠ty,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†‚ÄúAs long as we out¬≠source our pow¬≠er to politi¬≠cians, we are nev¬≠er, ever going to get what work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple¬†need.‚ÄĚ

The views expressed above are the authors‚Äô own. As a 501¬©3 non¬≠prof¬≠it, In These Times does not sup¬≠port or oppose can¬≠di¬≠dates for polit¬≠i¬≠cal office.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.


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Corona-fied: Employers Spying on Remote Workers in Their Homes

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The future of work is here, ushered in by a global pandemic. But is it turning employment into a Worker’s Paradise of working at home? Or more of a Big Brother panopticon?

Disturbing increases in the use of digital surveillance technologies by employers to monitor their remote workers are raising alarm bells. With the number of remote workers surging as a result of the pandemic‚ÄĒ42 percent of U.S. workers are now doing their jobs from their kitchens, living rooms, and home offices‚ÄĒa number of employers have begun requiring their workers to download spying software to their laptops and smartphones. The goal is for businesses to monitor what their remote employees do all day, to track job performance and productivity, and to reduce so-called ‚Äúcyber-slacking.‚ÄĚ

Business software products from Hubstaff, which tracks a worker‚Äôs mouse movements, keyboard strokes, webpages visited, email, file transfers and applications used, are surging in sales. So are sales for TSheets, which workers download to their smartphones so that employers can track their location. Another product, called Time Doctor, ‚Äúdownloads videos of employees‚Äô screens‚ÄĚ and uses ‚Äúa computer‚Äôs webcam to take a picture of the employee every 10 minutes,‚ÄĚ NPR reports. One employee told NPR, ‚ÄúIf you‚Äôre idle for a few minutes, if you go to the bathroom or‚Ķ [to the kitchen], a pop-up will come up and it‚Äôll say, ‚ÄėYou have 60 seconds to start working again or we‚Äôre going to pause your time.‚Äô‚ÄĚ

Another system, InterGuard, can be secretly installed on workers‚Äô computers. The Washington Post reports that it ‚Äúcreates a minute-by-minute timeline of every app and website they view, categorizing each as ‚Äėproductive‚Äô or ‚Äėunproductive‚Äô and ranking workers by their ‚Äėproductivity score.‚Äô‚ÄĚ Other employers are using a lower-tech approach, requiring workers to stay logged in to a teleconference service like Zoom all day so they can be continually watched.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, one surveillance company, Awareness Technologies, says it has seen its sales triple. Executives at Hubstaff and Teramind also say demand for their companies‚Äô monitoring products has tripled. One website showing ‚ÄúEmployee Monitoring Software in the USA‚ÄĚ lists nearly 70 companies with products for sale.

Outdated Laws Keep It Legal

Despite this surge in online surveillance activity, currently, it is a legal practice in the United States. Individual state laws vary over whether companies must inform workers that they‚Äôre using tracking software, but in reality, ‚ÄúWhen you‚Äôre on your office computer, you have no privacy at all,‚ÄĚ says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute. ‚ÄúAnything and everything you do is probably monitored by your boss.‚ÄĚ

Current laws are vastly outdated, as they are based on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, when the primary form of electronic communication was the telephone. That was a distant time when desktop computers were first becoming popular, and smartphones were not yet a glint in Steve Jobs’ eye.

And now, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, companies such as Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Salesforce have developed intrusive applications that enable companies to continuously track the health status of their employees. Often they include a system for tracking contacts between employees within an office, and a mobile app for collecting information about their health status. A number of large U.S. employers, including AmazonWalmart, Home Depot and Starbucks, are taking the temperatures of their employees before they are allowed to work. Certainly, employers have a legitimate need to collect the necessary data to safeguard their workplaces, especially in response to a pandemic. But what is the appropriate level of ‚Äúhealth intrusion‚ÄĚ? How voluntary is the participation of workers, and who gets to decide?

The reality of this constant Big Brother digital spying in people‚Äôs homes is that dozens of remote workers are starting to complain that they feel burned out by this pressure. A recent Fishbowl survey of major companies‚Äô employees found that three-quarters of those polled were opposed to using ‚Äúan app or device that allows their company to trace their contacts with colleagues.‚ÄĚ Yet many fear they will be branded as a troublemaker or lose their job if they speak out. And since remote workers hardly see each other‚ÄĒand increasingly may not even know many of their coworkers‚ÄĒthese factors will make labor organizing and collective worker empowerment increasingly challenging.

U.S. labor unions have been slow to advocate for updating these outdated laws. One union, the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, has been working to blunt the worst of the abuses. Labor-friendly media have been missing this story as well. Not only should unions advocate to update the laws and limit digital spying, but why not also demand that home-based workers be compensated by employers for use of their house, utilities and the internet? And that the employer remains responsible to provide equipment and a safe workplace, even in the home?

Remote Workforce Growth‚ÄĒThe New Normal?

As the number of remote workers rises, concerns are growing among labor advocates that this is quickly becoming the ‚Äúnew normal.‚ÄĚ One survey by Gartner, Inc. found that 74 percent of companies intend to keep some proportion of their workforce on permanent remote status, with nearly a quarter of respondents saying they will move at least 20 percent of their on-site employees to permanent remote status. Google/Alphabet recently announced it will keep its 200,000 full-time and contract employees home until at least July 2021, and half of Facebook employees will work from home over the next decade. Hub International, a global insurance brokerage, has shifted 90 percent of its 12,000 employees to remote status. ‚ÄúTeleperformance, the world‚Äôs largest call-center company, estimates that around 150,000 of its employees [nearly half its global workforce] will not return to a physical worksite,‚ÄĚ according to Social Europe.

Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom says:

‚ÄúA recent separate survey of firms from the Survey of Business Uncertainty that I run with the Atlanta Federal Reserve and the University of Chicago indicated that the share of working days spent at home is expected to increase fourfold from pre-COVID levels, from 5 percent to 20 percent.

‚ÄúOf the dozens of firms I have talked to, the typical plan is that employees will work from home one to three days a week, and come into the office the rest of the time.‚ÄĚ

But not all at-home workers are created equal. Bloom continues:

‚ÄúTaken together, this is generating a time bomb for inequality. Our results show that more educated, higher-earning employees are far more likely to work from home‚ÄĒso they are continuing to get paid, develop their skills and advance their careers. At the same time, those unable to work from home‚ÄĒeither because of the nature of their jobs, or because they lack suitable space or internet connections‚ÄĒare being left behind. They face bleak prospects if their skills and work experience erode during an extended shutdown and beyond.‚ÄĚ

The future of work has become more uncertain than ever. In this ‚Äúbrave new world,‚ÄĚ labor unions and advocates must ensure that the pandemic is not misused by businesses as an excuse to worsen conditions for employees who work out of the office. It is easy to imagine how the lines between ‚Äėremote‚Äô work and ‚Äėplatform‚Äô work could blur, leading to more ‚ÄėUberization‚Äô as work devolves into ‚Äėindependent‚Äô contracts, bogus self-employment and ‚Äėpay-by-project‚Äô arrangements that can be easily outsourced to remote (and lower-cost) destinations.

Worker advocates must push for a strong and modern legal data protection framework. And that should include an effective enforcement system against privacy abuse that disincentivizes illegal spying behavior. Remote work should not become a downward slide toward a Big Brother panopticon that penetrates into society ever more deeply, including into our homes.

This blog originally appeared at Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute, on September 23, 2020.

About the Author: Steven Hill (www.Steven-Hill.com) is the author of Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers and Expand Social Security Now: How to Ensure Americans Get the Retirement They Deserve.


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National Hispanic Heritage Month Profile of Labor Leader Ernesto Galarza

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Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO will be profiling labor leaders and activists to spotlight the diverse contributions Hispanics and Latinos have contributed to our movement. Today’s profile features Ernesto Galarza.

Ernesto Galarza was born in Jalcocot√°n, Nayarit, Mexico, in 1905 and immigrated to California with his family after the Mexican Revolution began. As a youth, he assisted his family during harvest season, gathering his first experience as a farmworker. Because he had learned English in school, other Mexican migrant workers asked him to speak to management about polluted drinking water, providing him with his first experience in organizing and activism.

Galarza attended Occidental College on a scholarship and worked summers as a farm laborer and cannery worker. After graduation, he attended Stanford University and earned a master’s degree in history and political science. He continued his graduate studies while on a fellowship at Columbia University, where several of his research reports were published. 

Because of his experiences and education, he began to focus his efforts on improving the living conditions of working-class Latinos. This led to him being hired by the Pan American Union (later the Organization of American States) as a research associate. When the union created a Division of Labor and Social Information, Galarza was chosen to lead it. 

In the late 1940s, he was recruited by the National Farm Labor Union, which later became the United Farm Workers, to be director of research and education. Over the next several years, he helped direct numerous strikes and fought back against “right to work” laws. He became a leading figure in exposing abuse of Mexican American workers in government. 

In the ensuing years, Galarza became a leading writer on the plight of Mexican and Mexican American workers and the abuse of farmworkers. During his career, he wrote more than 100 publications and was a professor at the University of Notre Dame, San Jose State University, University of California, San Diego, and University of California, Santa Cruz. 

As an activist, scholar and organizer, it is hard to overstate the impact Galarza had on working-class Mexican American families and our broader culture.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 21, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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Working people’s advocates mourn Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not primarily known for her positions on labor issues, though of course many feminist issues are also workplace ones, and Ginsburg‚Äôs anti-discrimination work in the 1970s opened up new possibilities for women. In recent years, Ginsburg wrote powerful dissents to the courts‚Äô conservatives‚Äô support of forced arbitration, in which workers are required to sign away their right to a day in court as a condition of employment. She also got the chance to cast a vote for the rights of pregnant workers.

Advocates for workers stepped up to remember Ginsburg. 

From the AFL-CIO:

America has lost one of the greatest jurists in our nation’s history. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent her career defending the Constitution and the everyday working people who bring that document to life. She was a consistent, unshakable champion of civil and women’s rights and the freedom to form a union. The AFL-CIO, the labor movement and all those who aspire for dignity on the job are better off because of Justice Ginsburg’s service. Her passing leaves a hole in our collective hearts and a vacancy on the highest court in the land, and you can rest assured that America’s unions will honor Justice Ginsburg’s memory as we fight for our democracy in the days and weeks to come.

From the National Education Association:

Justice Ginsburg was a woman, teacher and tenacious fighter for equal rights for women and girls. She reminded us the only thing that keeps women from being on equal footing with men is to take ‚Äėtheir foot off our necks.‚Äô Truly the Notorious RBG, she showed us the power of dissent. In the landmark decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear, she boldly wrote that what many of us know far too well and personally: women can be victims of sex discrimination, and we are far from achieving equal pay for equal work. In the power of the written word, Justice Ginsburg urged Congress to take up the issue.

From Pride at Work:

With the passing of Justice Ginsburg, America lost a champion for LGBTQ people, workers, women, and the ideals of equality and justice. Justice Ginsburg’s legal brilliance and work ethic made her more than just a popular hero for so many nationwide, it made her a force to be reckoned with.

From the American Federation of Teachers:

Justice Ginsburg is an icon. She leaves behind a legacy as a brilliant, hardworking jurist and a trailblazing feminist; her loss is incalculable. Long before she became notorious, she broke barriers most never even dreamed to approach. Her unfailing sense of justice reminded us of its awesome power, and her unbending sense of duty reminded us to remain committed to protecting our democracy, our Constitution and the rule of law. But it was her personal courage and resilience, especially in the face of illness, that reminded us just how much strength one single person can have.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on September 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Trump hails ‚Äėmanufacturing miracle‚Äô as factories bleed jobs

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Eleanor Mueller

Trump’s anti-trade agenda and a pandemic-induced recession have combined to shutter factories and accelerate decades-old trends toward automation, eliminating hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, many for good, including in the¬†Rust Belt states he¬†needs to win in November.

The president’s path to the Oval Office was paved by his victory in this factory-intense region, where¬†a downturn in manufacturing¬†that began in 2015 opened the door for him to appeal to demoralized blue-collar voters.

But the White House’s trade wars kicked the sector into¬†another slump¬†in 2019, with Michigan,¬†Ohio,¬†Indiana,¬†Wisconsin,¬†Minnesota¬†and¬†Pennsylvania¬†facing declines or plateaus in manufacturing employment even back in February ‚ÄĒ well before Covid-19 forced layoffs at dozens of plants. As of July ‚ÄĒ the most recent month for which data is available ‚ÄĒ each state is down between 20,000 and 40,000 workers from prepandemic levels.

That record presents a particularly daunting challenge for Trump to replicate his stunning victory of 2016 as he struggles to overtake Democrat Joe Biden, who appeals more to Midwestern voters than Hillary Clinton did four years ago.

Yet the president is framing his policies as an unmitigated success.

“You better vote for me, I got you so many damn car plants,” Trump said during a Sept. 10 rally in Michigan. “And we‚Äôre going to bring you a lot more.”

‚ÄúTrump has been all in on this huge resurgence of manufacturing employment, and that has not materialized.‚ÄĚ

 Mark Muro, Brookings economist

But Michigan was down some 66,500 manufacturing workers in July 2020 from July 2019 ‚ÄĒ and the general trend, even before Covid-19, was down as well. There were 10,200 fewer manufacturing workers in the state in February 2020 than there were in February 2019.

He had a similar upbeat message for Ohio.

“Over the last six months, we‚Äôve witnessed one manufacturing miracle after another,” the president said on a visit last month to a Whirlpool factory. Ohio was down 48,000 manufacturing workers in July from last year. Pre-pandemic, it had lost 2,200 workers in February from last year.

The trend is mirrored nationwide. Manufacturing across the U.S. is still down 720,000 workers from February despite gaining 29,000 jobs in August, with the pandemic more than wiping out the overall modest gains of 500,000 from Trump’s first three years in office ‚ÄĒ about the same pace of growth as under President Barack Obama. It was not an improvement over prior years ‚ÄĒ nor did it manage to restore more than a fraction of the jobs lost in the previous decade, according to an August analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis released Sept. 1 said that even prepandemic, the sector was on track to lose nearly 450,000 workers by 2029, the most of any area of the economy. At the same time, output has made a notable recovery due to increased automation, with the industrial production index bouncing back to almost 98 in July ‚ÄĒ less than 10 points down from February.

That disparity means that many of the losses are likely permanent, economists say.

“Trump has been all in on this huge resurgence of manufacturing employment, and that has not materialized,” said Mark Muro, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “Productivity-enhancing technology, such as robotics, and then international competition: To me, that’s a recipe for continued downward pressure on employment. I don’t think mass employment is likely to return.”

Remember when Congress came to a bipartisan agreement on coronavirus relief ‚Ķ like a million years ago? Well, it doesn‚Äôt look like that‚Äôs gonna happen again anytime soon ‚ÄĒ despite the tens of millions of Americans struggling right now.

Manufacturing is hit hard by any recession, but Covid-19 presented unique issues. Few factory jobs can be performed from home, meaning that these workers were some of the first to be furloughed or laid off as the production lines shut down.

While economic downturns typically spur employers to turn away from physical labor and toward automation, the social distancing required by Covid-19 was an extra motivator. Combine that with advanced technology ‚ÄĒ along with historically low interest rates to make it cheaper to purchase it ‚ÄĒ and the move was a no-brainer for many manufacturers.

‚ÄúIn recessions of any kind, automation is accelerated because paying workers just becomes more expensive,‚ÄĚ Muro said. ‚ÄúMeanwhile, technology and automation has improved and gotten cheaper so it‚Äôs easily used.‚ÄĚ

More than half of U.S. companies report being more willing to invest in automation as a result of the pandemic, a July survey by Honeywell Intelligrated found. Tyson is shifting to robotic butchers; BMW is implementing artificial intelligence quality control. As of May, sourcing for automation equipment was up nearly 150 percent year-over-year, and up over 20 percent from last quarter.

Long before Trump took office, the U.S. was already well on its way to becoming more efficient at manufacturing with fewer workers. Over the past three decades, output has grown even as employment has declined.

‚ÄúThe fact which gets lost in some of the discussion is that in and of itself, that improvement in productivity ‚ÄĒ making more stuff per unit of labor input ‚ÄĒ is a good thing,‚ÄĚ said Jeffrey Miron, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute.

But it also leads to the displacement of workers, and when Trump moved to impose tariffs on Chinese steel, aluminum and other products, that only served to accelerate the effect, economists say. Higher prices for imports have decreased demand, which ‚ÄĒ when combined with a global economic slowdown ‚ÄĒ contributed to depress manufacturing employment. On top of that, American exporters are hurt by retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries.

‚ÄúA couple of things have played into the manufacturing job losses: One is trade,‚ÄĚ said Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University who studies manufacturing. ‚ÄúThe second, and the bigger effect, really, is the productivity growth of American manufacturing.‚ÄĚ

Trump’s reelection campaign maintains that he has bolstered the manufacturing sector during his time in office, pointing to the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs that were added prepandemic.

‚ÄúBack in 2016, people doubted President Trump could revive manufacturing in the United States, with then-President Obama saying he would need a ‚Äėmagic wand‚Äô to bring back manufacturing jobs ‚ÄĒ but President Trump‚Äôs policies delivered,‚ÄĚ campaign spokesperson Samantha Zager said. ‚ÄúPresident Trump is already rebuilding our economy, adding back manufacturing jobs, and continuing to promote policies that boost American manufacturers, no magic wand needed.‚ÄĚ

Trump ‚Äútalked a lot about manufacturing, but the policies he engaged in were predictably damaging to manufacturing,‚ÄĚ Hicks said. “As a result of the tariffs his administration imposed, ‚Äúpeople buy less [manufactured goods], and if they buy less of them, that causes lower demand for employment.‚ÄĚ

Whether Trump wins reelection come November ‚ÄĒ and is free to continue his trade wars ‚ÄĒ could have an outsize impact on the U.S. manufacturing workforce, particularly given the sector’s relatively modest job gains since February.

‚ÄúThe returns from layoffs are probably over,‚ÄĚ Hicks said. ‚ÄúAnd so if that‚Äôs the case, if we see a second term of the Trump presidency, I would expect manufacturing employment to not be able to crawl back to what it was at the end of the Obama administration.‚ÄĚ

When workers lose their jobs in manufacturing, they are most likely to be rehired in the service industry, economists say. It‚Äôs often lower-skilled workers who are the first to go, particularly when displaced by automation ‚ÄĒ and when they do, low levels of education and barriers to relocation mean that they typically end up working in restaurants.

‚ÄúFor 30 years, manufacturing workers have been continually dislocated by robotics and wind up working in service jobs, or moving into nonparticipation,‚ÄĚ Muro said. ‚ÄĚThe older they were at the time of dislocation, the less likely they have been to rejoin the workforce.‚ÄĚ

Between 2000 and February 2020, manufacturing lost about 5 million jobs. Over the same time period, the food services industry gained roughly the same amount, per Labor Department statistics.

‚ÄúAlmost person-for-person that we lost in manufacturing, we gained in restaurants,‚ÄĚ William Spriggs, AFL-CIO‚Äôs chief economist, said.

The associated drop in wages ‚ÄĒ manufacturing workers made an average of $28.78 an hour in July, while food service employees made an average of $15.50 ‚ÄĒ has served to exacerbate economic inequality, Spriggs said.

‚ÄúThe slide, if people leave that industry, seems to be that they don‚Äôt end up in some other high-wage industry,‚ÄĚ Spriggs said.

This blog was originally published at POLITICO on September 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors¬†Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Exceptions to travel restrictions: getting employees back to the U.S.

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Since President Trump declared that the COVID-19 outbreak constituted a national emergency in March, restricting immigration has been one of the administration‚Äôs preferred tools to address the outbreak.  One of the first steps President Trump took was to issue a series of Proclamations suspending entry of most foreign nationals traveling from certain countries with a high number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, including China, Iran, the entire Schengen Area, U.K., Ireland, and, later, Brazil.

In June, President Trump issued another Proclamation restricting travel, this time for economic reasons.  In support of the idea that certain foreign workers and their dependents posed a risk to the recovering U.S. labor market, Presidential Proclamation 10052 suspended the entry of a wide range of employees seeking to enter the U.S. Those with H-1B, H-2B, L-1, or J-1 status who were outside of the U.S. on June 24, 2020 and did not have a valid nonimmigrant visa were barred from re-entry, along with their families.

These two main restrictions laid out different criteria for denying entry to the U.S., although the two may overlap‚ÄĒfor example, for an individual currently located in Italy who needs a new H-1B visa to travel.

Both proclamations created an incredibly restrictive environment for human resource leaders and companies tasked with managing foreign nationals within the workforce.

However, an exception was provided that allowed travel by individuals whose entry would be ‚Äúin the national interest.‚ÄĚ  While that was too vague for companies to rely on, recent guidance issued by the Department of State has clarified who may qualify for these ‚Äúnational interest exceptions.‚ÄĚ

Although an approval is not guaranteed, our attorneys have had recent success pursuing these exceptions. Individuals with a strong argument that their travel falls within one of the enumerated categories for an exception have a good chance at approval: a request is well worth the time and effort involved.

Who is exempt from the proclamations?

Let‚Äôs start by outlining who is exempt from the bans‚ÄĒmeaning that the restrictions, on their face, do not apply.  U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and spouses, parents, siblings, or children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents are not subject to the restrictions, and do not need to go through the national interest exception process to travel to the U.S.  Further, for the labor market proclamation, individuals who were in the U.S. on the effective date of the proclamation (June 24), or who have a valid H-1B, H-2B, L-1, or J-1 visa or travel document are exempt from the travel ban.

Who may qualify for a national interest exception?

The Department of State (DOS) recently issued detailed guidance outlining categories of individuals whose travel to the U.S. would be in the national interest.  The guidance was issued particularly for the labor market proclamation, but is also helpful to show who may qualify for an exception from the geographic proclamation as well.  The following travelers may qualify for an exception:

  • H-1B, L-1A, or L-1B applicants seeking to resume ongoing employment in the U.S. in the same position with the same employer and visa classification.
  • H-1B applicants who are technical specialists, senior level managers, or other workers whose travel is necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the U.S. To fall into this category, at least two out of a list of five indicators must be present, including:
  • The employer has a continued need for the services of the H-1B applicant as demonstrated by an approved Labor Condition Application (LCA) during or after July 2020;
  • The applicant is a senior-level employee who will provide significant contributions to an employer meeting a critical infrastructure need, such as communications, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, healthcare, and information technology;
  • The wage rate paid to the H-1B applicant exceeds the prevailing wage rate by at least 15 percent;
  • The H-1B applicant has unusual expertise in the specialty occupation as demonstrated by the applicant‚Äôs education, training, and/or experience; or
  • Denial of the visa will cause financial hardship to the U.S. employer.
  • Certain L-1A senior level executives or managers filling a critical business need of an employer meeting a critical infrastructure need.
  • Certain L-1B applicants who are technical experts or specialists meeting a critical infrastructure need.

What about dependents?

The DOS guidance indicates that all H-4, L-2, and J-2 applicants who will accompany or follow to join a principal applicant will be granted a national interest exception or are otherwise exempt from the ban.

What is the process for applying for a national interest exception?

There are two avenues to secure an exception: either through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or a U.S. consulate or embassy.  Individuals in the Schengen area, the U.K., or Ireland who have valid visas, but whose travel is restricted by the geographic proclamation may be able to apply directly with CBP.  If CBP approves the request, the approval will be communicated to the airline, and the individual will be allowed to board the flight to the U.S.  Importantly, this approval is only valid for one entry‚ÄĒif the individual has to depart the U.S. again at later date, they would need to seek a new exception for all subsequent travel to the U.S.

Individuals subject to the labor market proclamation who do not yet have a valid visa will need to apply directly with the U.S. consulate or embassy.  These applications are made even more difficult by the fact that many consular posts across the world still have limited operations and may remain closed for routine visa processing.  If the national interest exception is approved by the consulate, the individual should receive the visa in their passport with a notation that the exception was approved.  The visa may also be valid for only 30 days from approval and for one entry to the U.S.

If you are a foreign national, or employ a foreign national, who may be eligible for one of these national interest exceptions, we encourage you to contact a Chin & Curtis attorney to discuss your individual case and any questions you may have.

About the Author: Phil Curtis has practiced immigration law for more than 30 years and is a founder of Chin & Curtis, LLP.  He has guided Chin & Curtis for the last seven years and now serves as Co- Managing Partner.  With more than 40 professionals dedicated to serving the immigration needs of the business community, Chin & Curtis is New England‚Äôs largest independent immigration law firm.


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Unite Here Is 85% Unemployed and Still Fighting Like Hell

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No union in Amer­i­ca has been posi­tioned more direct­ly in the bulls­eye of this pandemic’s eco­nom­ic dev­as­ta­tion than Unite Here, the 300,000-member union of hotel, food ser­vice and casi­no work­ers. In April, its mem­bers were suf­fer­ing a stag­ger­ing 98% unem­ploy­ment rate. Almost six months lat­er, the union is stuck at about 85% unem­ploy­ment. Despite that, it is also the only group deter­mined enough to wage a large-scale door knock­ing cam­paign for the Joe Biden tick­et, at a time when the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has com­plete­ly aban­doned its ground game. 

Even as Repub¬≠li¬≠cans push to reopen busi¬≠ness¬≠es and Wall Street con¬≠tin¬≠ues to boom, the sta¬≠tus of Unite Here?‚ÄĒ?known as an aggres¬≠sive and polit¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly active union that wields seri¬≠ous pow¬≠er with¬≠in entire indus¬≠tries?‚ÄĒ?paints a pic¬≠ture of a work¬≠ing class still mired in an exis¬≠ten¬≠tial cri¬≠sis of long term unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment. D. Tay¬≠lor, Unite Here‚Äôs gruff inter¬≠na¬≠tion¬≠al pres¬≠i¬≠dent, says that the col¬≠lapse of the trav¬≠el and tourism indus¬≠try that dec¬≠i¬≠mat¬≠ed the union‚Äôs jobs con¬≠tin¬≠ues to grind on. ?‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no busi¬≠ness trav¬≠el, there‚Äôs no con¬≠ven¬≠tions, there‚Äôs no for¬≠eign trav¬≠el. The hotel indus¬≠try has real¬≠ly nev¬≠er reopened from the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic,‚ÄĚ he says. Like¬≠wise, the shut¬≠down of major sport¬≠ing events and of many col¬≠lege and uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ty cam¬≠pus¬≠es has put many of the union‚Äôs indus¬≠tri¬≠al food ser¬≠vice work¬≠ers out of work. And the sched¬≠uled Octo¬≠ber 1 expi¬≠ra¬≠tion of the Con¬≠gres¬≠sion¬≠al air¬≠line res¬≠cue pack¬≠age in the CARES Act will almost cer¬≠tain¬≠ly mean lay¬≠offs for many of the union‚Äôs air¬≠port work¬≠ers as well. Even in Las Vegas, a rel¬≠a¬≠tive bright spot that has seen some resump¬≠tion in busi¬≠ness, more than half of Unite Here‚Äôs mem¬≠bers are still unem¬≠ployed, accord¬≠ing to Taylor. 

The loss of dues mon¬≠ey from all of those unem¬≠ployed mem¬≠bers has been a large blow to Unite Here‚Äôs own inter¬≠nal finances. But the union has not stopped work¬≠ing. Besides help¬≠ing mem¬≠bers win exten¬≠sions of health ben¬≠e¬≠fits and nav¬≠i¬≠gate bro¬≠ken state unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment sys¬≠tems (which Tay¬≠lor calls ?‚Äúa joke‚ÄĚ), most of the union‚Äôs bat¬≠tles are now polit¬≠i¬≠cal. One of their top issues in cities across the nation now is try¬≠ing to ensure that laid off mem¬≠bers retain long term ?‚Äúrecall rights‚ÄĚ to get their old jobs back when busi¬≠ness resumes, so that employ¬≠ers can‚Äôt use the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic shut¬≠down as an excuse to get rid of expe¬≠ri¬≠enced union work¬≠ers in favor of new, low¬≠er-priced replacements. 

On a nation¬≠al lev¬≠el, Tay¬≠lor says Con¬≠gress des¬≠per¬≠ate¬≠ly needs to pass anoth¬≠er stim¬≠u¬≠lus bill like the HEROES act to pre¬≠vent more peo¬≠ple from los¬≠ing health care cov¬≠er¬≠age dur¬≠ing this cri¬≠sis, and that there must be a coor¬≠di¬≠nat¬≠ed nation¬≠al strat¬≠e¬≠gy to keep Covid in check. He is not opti¬≠mistic about either. ?‚ÄúI kind of think we‚Äôre back to the ?‚ÄėOliv¬≠er Twist‚Äô days when you deal with this admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion and Sen¬≠ate Repub¬≠li¬≠cans,‚ÄĚ he says. 
Joe Biden marches with Unite Here members in Las Vegas in February of 2020.

Unite Here, like most unions out¬≠side of law enforce¬≠ment, is back¬≠ing the Biden-Har¬≠ris tick¬≠et. They held a vir¬≠tu¬≠al event with Kamala Har¬≠ris this week. (A UH spokesper¬≠son says the union is spend¬≠ing ?‚Äúsev¬≠er¬≠al mil¬≠lions‚ÄĚ on the elec¬≠tion, and is pulling in addi¬≠tion¬≠al fund¬≠ing from out¬≠side sources as well). At that event, Tay¬≠lor urged Har¬≠ris not to give up on old-fash¬≠ioned door knock¬≠ing?‚ÄĒ?some¬≠thing that Unite Here itself is pur¬≠su¬≠ing in the key swing states of Neva¬≠da, Ari¬≠zona, and Florida. 

In fact, the union‚Äôs com¬≠mit¬≠ment to knock¬≠ing on doors despite the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic makes it unique in the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty. Politi¬≠co report¬≠ed last month that the Trump cam¬≠paign is knock¬≠ing on a mil¬≠lion doors a week, and the Biden cam¬≠paign is knock¬≠ing on zero. Tay¬≠lor says that the union has a strict set of safe¬≠ty pro¬≠to¬≠cols, includ¬≠ing social dis¬≠tanc¬≠ing and masks for their vol¬≠un¬≠teers, who car¬≠ry extra masks to hand out to any¬≠one who answers the door with¬≠out one. Thus far, they have not had any cas¬≠es of Covid as a result of the pro¬≠gram. The union plans to knock on a half mil¬≠lion doors in Neva¬≠da, Ari¬≠zona, and Flori¬≠da by elec¬≠tion day. 

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think there‚Äôs any replace¬≠ment for it. I‚Äôve been try¬≠ing to urge every pro¬≠gres¬≠sive group‚ÄĚ to start door knock¬≠ing as well, Tay¬≠lor says. ?‚ÄúI think if they don‚Äôt, it‚Äôs at their own per¬≠il. Door knock¬≠ing has been a tra¬≠di¬≠tion for decades, and it works. You can‚Äôt talk to some¬≠body in a TV screen. There‚Äôs a safe way to do it.‚ÄĚ 

Despite Taylor‚Äôs urg¬≠ing, the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty itself seems to have made the deci¬≠sion to for¬≠sake door knock¬≠ing entire¬≠ly dur¬≠ing the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic. (Biden‚Äôs cam¬≠paign man¬≠ag¬≠er said ear¬≠li¬≠er this month that ?‚Äúthose met¬≠rics don‚Äôt have any impact on reach¬≠ing vot¬≠ers.) The Biden cam¬≠paign, there¬≠fore, finds itself in the odd posi¬≠tion of rely¬≠ing on a union made up almost entire¬≠ly of peo¬≠ple who are cur¬≠rent¬≠ly unem¬≠ployed to knock on doors in swing states for them, shrug¬≠ging off the union‚Äôs strate¬≠gic advice, even as the cam¬≠paign wel¬≠comes its mate¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al support. 

For D. Tay¬≠lor, defeat¬≠ing the ?‚Äúpatho¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal liar‚ÄĚ Don¬≠ald Trump is a neces¬≠si¬≠ty?‚ÄĒ?but get¬≠ting Biden elect¬≠ed is only the begin¬≠ning of orga¬≠nized labor‚Äôs work. He is adamant that unions must con¬≠tin¬≠ue to orga¬≠nize, despite the fact that many are just try¬≠ing to sur¬≠vive, in order to avoid the long term fate of ?‚Äútry¬≠ing to pro¬≠tect a small¬≠er and small¬≠er piece of the work force.‚ÄĚ He is equal¬≠ly adamant that unions need to lean hard on Biden in order to make him do what must be done for work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple. ?‚ÄúIf we don‚Äôt put pres¬≠sure on folks on an ongo¬≠ing basis, they rarely do the hard things that need to be done,‚ÄĚ Tay¬≠lor says. 

‚ÄúI think this [elec¬≠tion] is gonna be a¬†barn burn¬≠er. If any¬≠one assumes vic¬≠to¬≠ry, that‚Äôs a¬†guar¬≠an¬≠teed¬†defeat.‚ÄĚ

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.


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Postal workers complain of poor COVID-19 precautions, lack of contact tracing

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The 2,174 employees of the Los Angeles United States Postal Service (USPS) plant work everyday amid the Covid 19 pandemic on April 29, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. - The Los Angeles USPS plant is the biggest in the US. The plant served 155 Post Offices and 3, 162 delivery routes.In April they processed 14 million  packages vs 10 million last year. Everyday the United States Postal Service (USPS) employees work and deliver essential mail to customers. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Mismanagement at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) endangers more than just the timely delivery of ballots for November‚Äôs elections. It endangers the lives of Postal Service workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 10,000 postal workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 83 have died. But the agency isn‚Äôt screening workers for symptoms, testing them for the virus, or doing meaningful contact tracing. Social distancing and mask-wearing are not always enforced, according both to workers interviewed by ProPublica and to many of the more than 250 complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For instance: ‚ÄúThe station and the vehicles have not been cleaned and sanitized. Bleach spray bottles were provided at one time but the employees were not provided material to wipe down surfaces and the bottles have since broken,‚ÄĚ a June complaint from Houston reads. ‚ÄúEmployees in the vehicles do not have hand sanitizer or another method to cleanse hands while away from the station.‚ÄĚ

Or in Smithtown, New York: ‚Äúthe air conditioning has not been working properly for the last 3-4 weeks (blowing 81 degrees at the vent) which has made working in the building uncomfortable and may be contributing to employees not wanting to [wear] their masks.‚ÄĚ

Workers say they aren’t informed when people they’ve worked directly with test positive for COVID-19.

‚ÄúThey should‚Äôve told anybody who worked with him, ‚ÄėYou need to go home.‚Äô What is it going to take, somebody to die in the building before they take it seriously?‚ÄĚ a St. Paul, Minnesota, postal worker told ProPublica. 

‚ÄĚThey have the occupational nurse doing the contact tracing, but sometimes there‚Äôs no contact with the worker. And some managers don‚Äôt report [the case] to the tracking. Some managers tell people, ‚ÄėYou don‚Äôt sound sick, come to work,‚Äô‚ÄĚ the American Postal Workers Union‚Äôs Omar Gonzalez said.

The risk to workers becomes a risk to democracy as well if too many workers are sick or quarantined when ballots need to be delivered. More than 8% of postal workers have had to take time off related to the pandemic, and in some areas of the country, significant numbers of workers may be out at any given time, potentially compounding the damage being intentionally done by postmaster general and Trump toady Louis DeJoy.

It‚Äôs unconscionable to risk the lives of any workers, but when it‚Äôs partly happening because of a partisan war on the organization where they work‚ÄĒbecause the organization has been weakened, left without resources, forced to cope not just with the challenges of the pandemic but with its own leadership‚Äôs attacks on timely service‚ÄĒit‚Äôs especially disgusting.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on September 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Pregnancy discrimination bill is finally getting its chance in Congress

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The House is expected to take an important vote on Thursday, moving forward with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. This legislation has been around for years and 30 states and the District of Columbia now have protections for pregnant workers stronger than what you‚Äôll find in the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which dates to 1978.

That patchwork of state laws is one reason some big corporations are lining up in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act this time around. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is even supporting it. 

The National Women‚Äôs Law Center makes an extended case that accommodating pregnant workers is good for business, citing the need for a clear national standard that lets employers know what they should be doing for pregnant employees, but also highlighting employee recruiting and retention benefits, increased productivity, and more benefits that businesses get from having healthy employees who feel valued.

‚ÄúWhen employers are unsure whether they are obliged to provide accommodations, it can lead to the loss of valuable employees and lengthy legal disputes. While many large companies have their own policies around pregnancy accommodations that encourage employee retention, small and midsize businesses often lack the human resources departments and in-house counsel needed to traverse the complexities of these situations,‚ÄĚ the Greater Louisville Chamber of Commerce‚Äôs Iris Wilbur Glick wrote in the Courier-Journal. ‚ÄúThe Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will provide clarity to all parties, ensuring any disputes can be resolved quickly and fairly while helping businesses avoid costly litigation. The law clearly lays out the path for dialogue between employer and employee in which both are working towards the same goal: ensuring an employee can continue working safely during pregnancy.‚ÄĚ

Cutting down on pregnancy discrimination will hugely benefit women who too often have been fired on the thinnest excuses or given the choice between risking their health and paying their bills. Forcing women into that unacceptable choice is especially problematic given racial disparities in maternal mortality, preterm birth, and low birth weight. Too often the women who have jobs that won‚Äôt accommodate them are also Black women at elevated risk of all pregnancy complications.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act should pass the House on a bipartisan basis and sail through the Senate. As we know when Republicans‚ÄĒand especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‚ÄĒare in control of anything, though, ‚Äúshould‚ÄĚ doesn‚Äôt go very far.¬†

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on September 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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What Does a ‚ÄúSafe Return‚ÄĚ to School Look Like? Ask Teacher Unions.

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Powerful elites are willing to sacrifice the lives and futures of millions to feed their own profits. Teachers are fighting back.

Demands for stu¬≠dents and edu¬≠ca¬≠tors to return to in-per¬≠son school¬≠ing dur¬≠ing the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic are com¬≠ing from Democ¬≠rats and Repub¬≠li¬≠cans, both claim¬≠ing the return is nec¬≠es¬≠sary not just to pro¬≠vide high-qual¬≠i¬≠ty edu¬≠ca¬≠tion, but to save the econ¬≠o¬≠my and get par¬≠ents back to work. The nar¬≠ra¬≠tive con¬≠scious¬≠ly exploits the needs of par¬≠ents who may not have health¬≠care and who rely on pub¬≠lic schools to care for and edu¬≠cate their chil¬≠dren while they work. It pits par¬≠ents, stu¬≠dents, teach¬≠ers and com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ty mem¬≠bers against one anoth¬≠er, using (or ignor¬≠ing) sci¬≠en¬≠tif¬≠ic data to suit the polit¬≠i¬≠cal pur¬≠pose of mon¬≠eyed inter¬≠ests?‚ÄĒ?the bipar¬≠ti¬≠san project of destroy¬≠ing pub¬≠lic schools. 

When Edu¬≠ca¬≠tion Sec¬≠re¬≠tary Bet¬≠sy DeVos tweets that par¬≠ents ?‚Äúneed real options for edu¬≠ca¬≠tion this fall‚ÄĚ and #School¬≠ChoiceNow?‚ÄĒ?with¬≠out pro¬≠vid¬≠ing the equip¬≠ment, con¬≠di¬≠tions or funds need¬≠ed to make schools safe?‚ÄĒ?the real mes¬≠sage is clear. The Right is using the push to reopen as a way to inten¬≠si¬≠fy the pri¬≠va¬≠ti¬≠za¬≠tion and mar¬≠ke¬≠ti¬≠za¬≠tion of edu¬≠ca¬≠tion, boost prof¬≠its in the edu¬≠ca¬≠tion¬≠al tech¬≠nol¬≠o¬≠gy sec¬≠tor and erode trust in pub¬≠lic schools. 

In response, teach¬≠ers‚Äô labor activism?‚ÄĒ?wide¬≠spread and robust in recent years?‚ÄĒ?con¬≠tin¬≠ues to emerge. Teach¬≠ers orga¬≠niz¬≠ing on social media have cam¬≠paigned for var¬≠i¬≠ous sci¬≠en¬≠tif¬≠ic stan¬≠dards to trig¬≠ger reopen¬≠ing; #14DaysNoNewCases, for exam¬≠ple, demands that cam¬≠pus¬≠es only reopen after going two weeks with¬≠out Covid-19 infec¬≠tions. The Demand Safe Schools Coali¬≠tion wants class sizes lim¬≠it¬≠ed to 10 to 15 stu¬≠dents, ven¬≠ti¬≠la¬≠tion that meets guide¬≠lines from the Cen¬≠ters for Dis¬≠ease Con¬≠trol and Pre¬≠ven¬≠tion, clean and social¬≠ly dis¬≠tant school trans¬≠porta¬≠tion, sup¬≠plies of per¬≠son¬≠al pro¬≠tec¬≠tive equip¬≠ment and ample Covid-19 test¬≠ing. Activists in dozens of cities ral¬≠lied August 3 for these and oth¬≠er demands, resist¬≠ing hasty, under¬≠fund¬≠ed and unsafe reopen¬≠ings that impose harm, espe¬≠cial¬≠ly on low-income stu¬≠dents of col¬≠or. The cam¬≠paign #Only¬≠When¬≠ItsSafe advo¬≠cates reopen¬≠ing only if it is ?‚Äúequi¬≠table and healthy for every¬≠one,‚ÄĚ in the words of Boston Teach¬≠ers Union Pres¬≠i¬≠dent Jes¬≠si¬≠ca Tang. 

For many teach¬≠ers union activists advo¬≠cat¬≠ing for social jus¬≠tice, an ?‚Äúequi¬≠table‚ÄĚ school is one that can address the full range of human needs required to edu¬≠cate all chil¬≠dren well. Chil¬≠dren who are hun¬≠gry and on the verge of evic¬≠tion?‚ÄĒ?or liv¬≠ing in tem¬≠po¬≠rary shel¬≠ters?‚ÄĒ?can¬≠not be expect¬≠ed to suc¬≠ceed aca¬≠d¬≠e¬≠m¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly, whether remote¬≠ly or in per¬≠son. An equi¬≠table school, for exam¬≠ple, would sup¬≠port the Black Lives Mat¬≠ter move¬≠ment in its call to replace police with coun¬≠selors, nurs¬≠es, social work¬≠ers and restora¬≠tive jus¬≠tice per¬≠son¬≠nel. It would also sup¬≠port the can¬≠cel¬≠la¬≠tion of rents and mort¬≠gages, a mora¬≠to¬≠ri¬≠um on evic¬≠tions and fore¬≠clo¬≠sures, and direct cash assis¬≠tance for the unem¬≠ployed and those unable to work. The nation‚Äôs sec¬≠ond and third largest teach¬≠ers unions, in Chica¬≠go and Los Ange¬≠les, helped orga¬≠nize protests against finan¬≠cial tar¬≠gets like the Cham¬≠ber of Com¬≠merce, the Fed¬≠er¬≠al Reserve, the Board of Trade and big banks, call¬≠ing for inter¬≠est-free loans and high¬≠er tax¬≠es on the rich to fund safe school reopenings. 

The Amer¬≠i¬≠can Fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Teach¬≠ers (AFT) and the Nation¬≠al Edu¬≠ca¬≠tion Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion (NEA) have ver¬≠bal¬≠ly sup¬≠port¬≠ed some of the movement‚Äôs demands. For exam¬≠ple, AFT has endorsed a union local‚Äôs right to strike when nec¬≠es¬≠sary to pre¬≠vent reopen¬≠ings that endan¬≠ger lives. But both unions have also embraced the push from Wall Street and Sil¬≠i¬≠con Val¬≠ley for edu¬≠ca¬≠tion¬≠al tech¬≠nol¬≠o¬≠gy to con¬≠trol learn¬≠ing and prof¬≠it from stu¬≠dent data. The pan¬≠dem¬≠ic CARES Act, endorsed by both unions, encour¬≠ages fun¬≠nel¬≠ing lim¬≠it¬≠ed pub¬≠lic edu¬≠ca¬≠tion fund¬≠ing into soft¬≠ware for dis¬≠tance learn¬≠ing, con¬≠trolled by cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions. Ed tech cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions and lib¬≠er¬≠al think tanks are now push¬≠ing soft¬≠ware for ?‚Äúper¬≠son¬≠al¬≠ized learn¬≠ing‚ÄĚ and ?‚Äúsocial and emo¬≠tion¬≠al devel¬≠op¬≠ment‚ÄĚ that col¬≠lects data that can be used for prof¬≠it and sur¬≠veil¬≠lance‚ÄĒ while simul¬≠ta¬≠ne¬≠ous¬≠ly dis¬≠tort¬≠ing and appro¬≠pri¬≠at¬≠ing ideals about mak¬≠ing learn¬≠ing indi¬≠vid¬≠ual and car¬≠ing for children‚Äôs needs. Though some teach¬≠ers are start¬≠ing to use their local and state unions, like the Mass¬≠a¬≠chu¬≠setts Teach¬≠ers Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion, to push back against the NEA and AFT posi¬≠tions, the dan¬≠gers of ed tech in reopen¬≠ing plans and edu¬≠ca¬≠tion remain most¬≠ly unrecognized. 

Pow¬≠er¬≠ful elites are will¬≠ing to sac¬≠ri¬≠fice the lives and futures of mil¬≠lions of peo¬≠ple to feed their own prof¬≠its. Even beyond the life-and-death risk to their per¬≠son¬≠al health, teach¬≠ers‚Äô strug¬≠gles mark resis¬≠tance to the per¬≠pet¬≠u¬≠a¬≠tion of this unequal, unjust society.

For a¬†response to this piece, see¬†?‚ÄúAll the Options for School¬≠ing Are Bad?‚ÄĒ?But We Have to Choose Safe¬≠ty‚ÄĚ by Chan¬≠dra Thomas¬†Whitfield.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on September 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lois Weiner is a professor of education at New Jersey City University who is on the editorial board of New Politics. Her newest book is The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice.

About the Author: Jackson Potter is a Chica­go Teach­ers Union trustee, mem­ber of the Big Bar­gain­ing Team and a teacher at Back of The Yards Col­lege Prep.


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