Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.
The PRO Act Could Transform the Labor Landscape: “Joe Biden promised to be the most pro-union president in modern history. He has a chance to prove it by passing the PRO Act, a sweeping labor law reform bill. As Joe Biden enters the White House with slim majorities in the House and Senate, organized labor is making a concerted push for a major piece of legislation: the PRO Act. The bill is a wide-ranging labor law reform that would help workers fight back after decades of retreat in the face of aggressive employers. The AFL-CIO recently declared the PRO Act one of its top priorities. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) is leading the push for the PRO Act. The painters’ union organized its electoral work around the bill and has been holding public events on the legislation. Now, IUPAT is building up allies as it prepares to push the new presidential administration and Congress to pass the act.”
What Biden and Congress Can Do to Support Unions: “In the last Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression by creating a much fairer process for forming a union. It is called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. After an anti-worker majority blocked it in the Senate, reintroducing the PRO Act, passing it in both chambers of Congress and getting Biden’s signature is vital to our economic recovery. The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise their freedom to organize and bargain. It would make sure that workers can reach a first contract quickly after a union is recognized, end employers’ practice of hiring permanent replacements to punish striking workers and finally hold corporations accountable by strengthening the National Labor Relations Board and allowing it to impose penalties on employers who retaliate against collective bargaining. It would also repeal so-called ‘right to work’ laws, which make it harder for working people to form unions and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”
Activision Blizzard Says Interviewing Diverse Candidates for Every Opening ‘Unworkable’: “Activision Blizzard is looking to avoid a shareholder proposal that it interview at least one diverse candidate when it hires for a position, according to a Vice report. The proposal was made separately to both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts by the AFL-CIO labor federation, which owns shares in both publishers. The proposal was based on the NFL’s Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003 to require all of the football league’s teams to interview at least one diverse candidate for every head coaching vacancy. It was later expanded to include vacancies for general managers and similar front office positions. In its letters to the publishers, the AFL-CIO argued for the adoption of the rule, saying, ‘A diverse workforce at all levels of a company can enhance long-term company performance.'”
Local Union Halls Opening Up to Provide Space for Vaccinations: “Community organizations with space are stepping up to make room so more people in Lucas County can be vaccinated. Press conferences, job fairs and union organizing have all brought WTOL 11 to UAW Local 12’s hall, but now they’re preparing to administer 300 vaccines to eligible people in Lucas County on Tuesday.”
Health Care Unions Find a Voice in the Pandemic: “Health care workers say they have been bitterly disappointed by their employers’ and government agencies’ response to the pandemic. Dire staff shortages, inadequate and persistent supplies of protective equipment, limited testing for the virus and pressure to work even if they might be sick have left many workers turning to the unions as their only ally. The virus has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 health care workers nationwide, according to one count. ‘We wouldn’t be alive today if we didn’t have the union,’ said Elizabeth Lalasz, a Chicago public hospital nurse and steward for National Nurses United. The country’s largest union of registered nurses, representing more than 170,000 nationwide, National Nurses was among the first to criticize hospitals’ lack of preparation and call for more protective equipment, like N95 masks. Despite the decades-long decline in the labor movement and the small numbers of unionized nurses, labor officials have seized on the pandemic fallout to organize new chapters and pursue contract talks for better conditions and benefits. National Nurses organized seven new bargaining units last year, compared to four in 2019.”
Biden Toughens Buy American Rules: “‘The Trump administration used the right words but never put in place policies to affect meaningful change,’ Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. ‘This executive order will close loopholes that allow agencies to sidestep Buy American requirements… [and] is a good first step in revitalizing U.S. manufacturing.'”
The Unfinished Story of Women at Work: 9to5 Yesterday, Today the PRO Act: “If you’ve never had to make coffee for your boss, it’s thanks to women who organized in the 1970s. And while the electric typewriter is no more, how women of that era organized is relevant—to current battles like organizing Big Tech, building care infrastructure and winning labor reform by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—so women can form and join unions now without fear. A new documentary, ‘9to5: The Story of a Movement,’ captures the history of an organization started by a group of secretaries in the 1970s, and their sister union, SEIU District 925, and offers powerful insight for us today.”
Mask Fights and a ‘Mob Mentality’: What Flight Attendants Faced Over the Last Year: “Aviation safety officials have received dozens of confidential complaints in the past year from attendants trying to enforce mask safety rules. The reports, filed in the Aviation Safety Reporting System database, at times describe a chaotic, unhinged workplace where passengers regularly abuse airline employees. The tension is at a level flight attendants have not seen before, said Paul Hartshorn Jr., a veteran attendant and a spokesman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union. ‘I think we’re pretty well trained on how to handle a disruptive passenger,’ said Mr. Hartshorn, 46. ‘What we’re not trained to do and what we shouldn’t be dealing with is large groups of passengers inciting a riot with another group of passengers.'”
Biden’s ‘Buy American’ Manufacturing Order Called ‘Good First Step’ by Labor: “‘This executive order will close loopholes that allow agencies to sidestep Buy American requirements and increase the thresholds for domestic content,’ said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. ‘This order is a good first step in revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, which [President Donald] Trump’s policies failed to do over the past four years,’ Trumka said. The order will modify the rules for the Buy American program, reports the Associated Press, making it harder for contractors to qualify for a waiver and sell foreign-made goods to federal agencies. And it changes rules so that more of a manufactured product’s components must originate from U.S. factories.”
Amazon Union Drive Takes Hold in Unlikely Place: “The largest, most viable effort to unionize Amazon in many years began last summer not in a union stronghold like New York or Michigan, but at a Fairfield Inn outside of Birmingham, in the right-to-work state of Alabama. It was late in the summer and a group of employees from a nearby Amazon warehouse contacted an organizer in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were fed up, they said, with the way the online retailer tracked their productivity, and wanted to discuss unionizing. ‘The pandemic changed the way many people feel about their employers,’ said Stuart Appelbaum, the retail union’s president. ‘Many workers see the benefit of having a collective voice.’ ‘I am telling them they are part of a movement that is world wide,” said Michael Foster, a Black organizer in Bessemer, who works in a poultry plant ‘I want them to know that we are important and we do matter.'”
NFL Players Endorse Amazon Warehouse Workers Unionization: “Amazon warehouse workers at the facility in Bessemer, Alabama will begin voting on what could become the first union in the technology giant’s history on February 8. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the union that represents more than 2,000 NFL players in the United States, has endorsed a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers are scheduled to begin voting in a historic union election on February 8. On Sunday, the NFLPA released a video on Twitter, where current and former NFL players, discussed the importance of union representation in improving their own wages, benefits, and working conditions, and how a union could do the same for Amazon employees.”
Labor Groups Push Biden Administration on Union-Friendly Priorities: “‘Robb’s removal is the first step toward giving workers a fair shot again, and we look forward to building on this victory by securing a worker-friendly NLRB and passing the PRO Act so all working people have the freedom to form a union,’ Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement Wednesday.”
This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 29, 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.