Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Black workers, hammered by pandemic, now being left behind in recovery

Share this post

Black Americans, who were among the hardest hit by coronavirus layoffs, are now recovering at the slowest rate, a one-two punch that threatens to worsen the United States’ already stark wealth and income disparities long after the pandemic recedes.

While Hispanic workers initially saw the sharpest uptick in unemployment when business shutdowns began last spring, Black people have seen a slower return to work even as the economy is poised for a robust rebound, government data and economic analyses show. When the overall unemployment rate ticked down in February, Black workers were the only group that saw a rise in joblessness, a 0.7 percentage point increase.

The share of Black Americans holding jobs also dropped over the month while it continued to move up for all other races and ethnicities. Over the past year, white, Asian and Hispanic Americans have regained roughly two-thirds of their initial job losses in terms of what share of their population is working, a key measure of labor and unemployment known as the “employment-population ratio.” Black workers have only recovered slightly more than half.

The data has fueled fears that the nascent recovery will not be evenly shared, a dynamic that would exacerbate income and wealth inequality while prolonging the return to full employment. The trend is reminiscent of the Great Recession, when Black workers saw a worse downturn and slower rate of return to normal. And this time, it has caught the attention of top policymakers across the Biden administration and in Congress.

“We’re trying to make sure that it is not like so many other recoveries,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the most senior Black lawmaker in Congress and chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “Slow for everybody, and a snail’s pace for Black and brown communities.”

The headwinds that Black workers face are plenty, some unique to the coronavirus recession but others the result of structural inequities that have long contributed to high rates of unemployment — typically double that of white workers even in strong economies.

For one, many of the industries in which Black workers are heavily represented are not recovering as quickly as others as the economy reopens — or are even continuing to backslide. State and local governments have long been a major employer for African Americans. But while the labor market broadly improved last month, state and local governments shed another 83,000 jobs and remain down 1.4 million workers from a year ago.

“Those sectors in which the rebound is really not happening, or not happening in impactful ways, are really almost the same industries in which African Americans are overrepresented,” said Michelle Holder, a labor economist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. She cited transportation, a major employer for Black men, and health services, where Black women are heavily represented, as two other industries that have taken longer to come back, keeping the unemployment rate high.

The devastation of the child care sector amid the shutdowns has also heavily affected Black and Hispanic women, who are more likely to work at child care centers and to depend on them in order to be able to take jobs elsewhere.

And while employment in high-wage sectors has almost completely recovered, low-wage industries remain down 28 percent from a year ago, according to Harvard’s Opportunity Insights tracker — a disparity that disproportionately affects workers of color.

Structural inequities in the U.S. labor market that have affected Black and Hispanic workers’ ability to advance out of low-paying jobs, as well as discrimination in hiring practices, are also likely having an effect, some economists say.

When unemployment spiked in April, the gap between Black and white rates of joblessness narrowed significantly, indicating the losses were spread across the board. But it has steadily grown since then as white workers have returned to work faster — which William Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO, said he took as “proof” of the effect of discriminatory hiring practices.

Spriggs also said that for much of the past year, unemployment has been higher for all Black workers, including those with college degrees, than for those of all races with less than a high school education.

“This is not a matter of skills,” Spriggs said. “It’s a matter of the way discrimination takes place within the recovery.”

One way to address the slower recovery among workers of color is to ensure that federal support remains in place as long as Black and Hispanic unemployment remains elevated, advocates say, rather than cut it off once the levels return closer to normal. And given that these workers typically remain out of work the longest, President Joe Biden will need a prolonged economic recovery to ensure the labor market gets tight enough to pull them back in from the sidelines.

Clyburn’s focus is two-fold: tracking the Covid relief money as it goes out to ensure that it’s being spent equitably, and pushing the Biden administration to invest heavily in a second stimulus package focused on infrastructure, which would spark job creation across the country.

Clyburn said he has spoken about the need to address the uneven recovery with both Biden and Susan Rice, the president’s top domestic policy adviser, adding that Biden has made clear “he plans to do the right thing.”

There are signs the administration is focused on the disparities. The White House Council of Economic Advisers highlighted adjusted unemployment rates, which include those who have given up the search for work, broken down by race and gender after the latest jobs data was released for February. The report showed that the Black unemployment rate stood at nearly 15 percent — affecting nearly 1 in 6 workers — compared to an overall rate of 9.5 percent. The adjusted Hispanic unemployment rate is 12.4 percent.

At the Labor Department, chief economist Janelle Jones penned a blog post last month stressing the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on Black Americans, particularly women.

And Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says he is tracking the Black and Hispanic unemployment rates, among other statistics, because elevated joblessness there signals weakness in the broader labor market.

“This particular downturn, of course, was just a direct hit on a part of the economy that employs many minorities and lower paid workers… and it’s the slowest part of the economy to recover,” Powell said at a March 17 press conference. “We’d like to see those people continue to get support as the broader economy recovers, as it’s very much doing now.”

The longer the rate of recovery for Black workers continues to lag, the more likely it is to have a lasting impact. Workers who fall into long-term unemployment — defined as being out of a job for six months or more — take longer to return to work and are more likely to drop out of the labor market entirely.

Black workers are also far less likely to have had savings to lean on to weather an extended period of joblessness — the net worth of an average Black family is about one-tenth that of a white family — and therefore more vulnerable to falling into debt or losing their homes. And another prolonged economic recovery for Black Americans could worsen the already dramatic racial wealth gap, particularly as it drags on both personal savings and future earnings.

The key to addressing the inequities lies in promoting a strong economic recovery for everyone, while recognizing that some communities and workers will take longer to return to normal and require more help than others, economists say.

“People love the quote [from] John F. Kennedy, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’ It lifts all the boats that got solid bottoms,” Clyburn said. “If the bottoms got holes in them or if the boats have deteriorated, a rising tide ain’t gonna lift them.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 23, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


Share this post

Colectivo Could Soon Become the Largest Unionized Coffee Chain in the U.S.

Share this post

On March 8, Lauretta Archibald marked her three-year anniversary as a baker for Colectivo Coffee Roasters, an upscale Midwestern coffee chain based in Milwaukee and Chicago.

In her years at Colectivo, Archibald had been responsible for making artisan bread in bulk, sometimes baking 1,000 loaves a night. It was arduous work, and Archibald says that she did not always have the support?—?or even materials?—?that she needed: the bakery was understaffed for stretches of time, there weren’t enough cooling racks and one of the ovens leaked the smell of gas through the kitchen.

When workers at the coffee chain first announced their plan to unionize with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Archibald?—?who eventually became a strong supporter of the union?—?wasn’t sure how she felt about the idea. ?“I didn’t know enough about unions to really say one or the other.” Still, she says, ?“I knew that something had to change.”

Workers say that last-minute scheduling, chronically broken equipment, and rapid expansion of the company brand spurred the union drive?—?while issues around Colectivo’s handling of Covid-19 popularized the campaign. 

Now, Colectivo’s staff of about 375 workers faces an election that will decide the fate of a union drive nearly a year in the making, with ballots due on March 30 and counted in the first week of April. If the campaign is successful, the workers will make history: the industry is almost entirely unorganized, and Colectivo would become the largest unionized coffee chain in the country. But as bakers, warehouse workers and baristas mobilize support for the union, the company has responded with open hostility, hiring the Labor Relations Institute (LRI)?—?a well-known union buster?—?during the campaign. 

“There are paid staff meetings where they’re asking us, individually, to vote no,” says Caroline Fortin, a shift lead at a location in Chicago. ?“So they’re very explicit.”

In These Times has also obtained copies of anti-union emails, ?“vote no” stickers and anti-union flyers drafted by Colectivo. 

Management communications have invoked the anti-labor trope that unionization invites a harmful ?“third party” into the fold, and charge that the IBEW should not be representing the coffee workers. (In fact, most historic trade unions now represent a wide range of professions; many members of the United Auto Workers, for example, work in the nonprofit sector.) 

One email from management goes so far as to highlight the high rate of attrition from the company for pro-union workers. ?“Of the 18 original organizing committee members, 10 remain employed today,” reads the email. The email goes on to list union organizers by job title and work location, with red slashes through those who no longer work at Colectivo. 

Indeed, workers say that the anti-union campaign has gone beyond propaganda and disinformation.

When the union drive went public in August 2020, Zoe Muellner, a café worker, attached her signature to a letter notifying Colectivo of the plan to organize. She says that after the letter was released, upper management?—?with whom she interacted regularly as a barista trainer?—?stopped answering her emails and cut social ties. 

A career barista, Muellner had worked in the coffee industry for six years?—?and Colectivo, for two?—?when the company cut her position as a trainer in October 2020.

“I asked if that meant I was done with the company in general, or if I could essentially take a demotion as a café coworker until they needed me back on in my position. And they said there were no positions available for me … but go ahead and file for unemployment, kid.” 

Muellner and the union say the layoff amounts to retaliation. 

Also in October 2020, Robert Penner?—?a specialized machine operator in the Milwaukee warehouse?—?was abruptly let go. Penner had taken part in ?“union talk” since 2019, and like Muellner, had come out in public support of the campaign in early fall of 2020. 

Penner says that the company requested that he come back on board following a voluntary pandemic-related furlough in the summer?—?but before his first shift back, he was told that Colectivo no longer needed him. Since his departure, the company has resorted to filling Penner’s position with baristas. 

“They were pulling in café workers who weren’t trained to work in the warehouse,” says Kait Dessoffy, a shift lead at a Chicago café. 

Archibald says that she had a similar experience after speaking up at an anti-union meeting held by an LRI representative.

“Me and another coworker specifically, we challenged everything he said,” Archibald says. ?“After that night, that guy knew we were for the union.”

In the weeks following the anti-union meeting, she noticed changes at work. Archibald was required to quickly train her coworkers in braiding Challah bread?—?a job that was formerly one of her specialties. At the time, Archibald thought it was ?“weird” that managers had requested to inspect her coworkers’ practice loaves. ?“Normally, when we did practice stuff, it was really just practice,” she says. In retrospect, she believes management was getting things in line for her departure. 

About six weeks ago, Archibald was abruptly moved off of her usual duties and instead instructed to prepare English muffins, a job for which she says she was never properly trained. She adds that management rapidly increased the number of biscuits she was required to bake?—?400 one night, then 500, then 900. 

“It felt like they were setting me up, you know, hoping I fail,” she explains. 

Finally, on March 16, Archibald reports that she was fired for taking a smoke break. She left Colectivo just a week after her three-year anniversary with the company.

LRI, whose website brags that the firm ?“literally wrote the book in countering union organizing campaigns,” has been identified by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) as one of the largest union-busting firms in the United States. The company made a popular debut in the Oscar-winning 2019 documentary ?“American Factory,” which follows a union-busting campaign by a Fuyao Glass Company factory in Ohio. 

According to company disclosures to the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), Colectivo pays LRI $375 an hour for services retained. 

Even absent the involvement of a ?“labor consulting firm” like LRI, employer retaliation is endemic in union campaigns. In 41.5% of union elections in the United States, employers receive Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges— and surveys of labor organizations suggest that the number of instances of employer aggression during union campaigns is much higher. 

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which was passed by the House of Representatives on March 9, attempts to curb this kind of union busting by banning ?“captive audience” meetings and instating stricter penalties for retaliatory firings.

In total, Colectivo has received six ULP allegations alleging retaliation and coercion during the ongoing union drive.

Still, union-busting tactics are not always straightforward, and can be difficult to prove. One Colectivo barista says that she has faced a subtler form of retaliation for her involvement with the campaign.

“I’ve always been, like, an over apologizer-type of person,” says Hillary Laskonis, a barista at Colectivo, explaining why her leadership in the campaign came as a surprise to some. ?“I think the owners take the whole thing personally.” 

Laskonis says that managers have pulled her aside for multiple tense and vaguely disciplinary meetings. Recently, she says managers warned her that they had received multiple complaints about her attitude and performance. This took Laskonis, a Colectivo barista of three years, by surprise. 

“[The meeting] was framed all around my mental health, and ?‘what can we do to help you succeed, because you’re clearly struggling,’ and all this.” Coupled with the accusation that a coworker had been complaining about her, Laskonis says that the managers’ apparent concern for her mental wellbeing led her to question herself. 

“It wasn’t until I talked to the other [union] members on a group chat,” says Laskonis, ?“that I was able to realize that, like, I was so majorly gaslit at a corporate level.”

Colectivo management did not respond to multiple requests for comment about allegations of misconduct by workers, but instead said in a statement, ?“We and our and leadership team recognize the complexity of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and turned to professionals who specialize in the law to ensure the company and its co-workers are fully informed.”

Workers, meanwhile, say that solidarity among staff has remained strong during the campaign, allowing them to continue to organize despite the ongoing anti-union rhetoric and activity.

“I think perhaps what management doesn’t realize about these [anti-union] meetings, or maybe about their staff, is that we’re really smart?—?we’re together. We are more than capable of forming our own opinions about our working conditions,” says Dessoffy.

“We work in service,” they add, ?“We know when someone is gaslighting us.” 

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed the number of Colectivo employees as 500, based on figures from October, 2020. That number has been updated to reflect the current workforce. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 22, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alice Herman is a 2020?–?2021 Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting Fellow with In These Times.


Share this post

Unionize Goldman Sachs

Share this post

Unionize Goldman Sachs. I do not say this to be cheeky. I do not say this ironically, nor with a winking sneer. I do not say it as a fantastical absurdity. In fact, if the employees of Goldman Sachs were as smart as they think they are, they would have unionized a long time ago.

Last week, the beleaguered first-year analysts of the fancy investment bank made news when they circulated a slide deck and survey complaining of 100-hour work weeks and inhumane working conditions that are destroying their mental and physical health. Such stories crop up regularly, and reflect the fact that even the most prestigious Wall Street banks tend to operate exactly like the most prestigious college fraternities, complete with hazing rituals and fanatic demands for loyalty in exchange for the promise of being served by future generations of slavish recruits. This sort of built-in mistreatment makes perfect capitalist sense. It selects for the people willing to endure any outrage in order to get rich, and simultaneously inculcates in them a feeling that they have ?“earned” their riches because of what they endured. The way these pathetic young Ivy League try-hards are treated is indefensible on human rights grounds, but then again, if they cared very much about human rights, they wouldn’t be working on Wall Street in the first place. 

Yes, a union could mitigate these abusive working conditions. But that is only a secondary reason for these budding masters of the universe to organize. Goldman Sachs is the pinnacle of high finance, the place with the strongest reputation for controlling every nuance of the economic world. Yet, incredibly, in the past 150 years, none of its employees have realized the basic truth that bargaining collectively with your coworkers will always get you more, in aggregate, than bargaining alone. The bankers who work for Goldman have been leaving money on the table every single year because they do not have the leverage inherent with being able to negotiate together as a single group?—?the only leverage that allows the labor force of any employer, even a Wall Street bank, to extract the maximum possible share of the proceeds of a business. You would think that they would have learned this rudimentary fact during their early days at Harvard Business School, but apparently their ignorance is the price they pay for going to a school that considers labor only a cost to be controlled, rather than an identity that encompasses almost everyone. 

I do not need a red-faced banker in a fleece vest to condescendingly explain to me why Goldman Sachs has never unionized despite the overwhelming logical case for doing so. I’m quite sure I can recite their explanations already: ?“We’re paid a lot, unions aren’t for us.” ?“There are a thousand people who would love to have my job.” ?“I can make a ton of money by rising up through the current system.” ?“I plan to run this place one day.” All that I hear in these excuses is a business that benefits greatly from the fact that it has successfully indoctrinated its employees to believe that they are not labor. Congratulations, Wall Street! Over the past century the management and shareholder classes of Wall Street banks have reaped countless billions of dollars in profit for themselves that they would have had to distribute to their employees, had those employees had the power of collective bargaining. Instead, each of those employees were convinced that they were the superstars, and would eventually win this race to the top, and that joining with their coworkers would only hold them back. Mathematics tells us that for the vast majority of employees, this belief is untrue. And yet it persists, because believing otherwise would make you a traitor to capitalism (even though it would also make your salary higher). It’s sad, really. 

Goldman Sachs, and the entire class of well-paid, competitive white collar jobs like it, represents the purest distillation of the lie that American businesses have gotten millions of workers to swallow for decades: that solidarity is the enemy of success, and the key to winning is to compete with your fellow workers, and defeat them in a cutthroat battle for advancement. Suffer through these 100-hour weeks now, and live like a Senior VP one day in the future! Corporate America has pulled off this con by waving around the particulars of a job (Good salary! Free meals! Expense account!) to argue that it is not like regular jobs, while concealing the unavoidable structural reasons why it is, indeed, subject to the same basic dynamics as other jobs, in which the workers always benefit by being able to exercise collective power. 

Many in the labor movement will say: Fuck ?‘em. Who cares if Goldman Sachs people aren’t smart enough to organize? The reason why this matters is not that these bankers will starve without a union?—?it is that part of building a truly powerful labor movement is getting everyone into that movement. In the sort of coherent, well-functioning labor movement that America desperately needs, the dues money would flow not just from workers on the bottom, but from those on the top. It can then be directed towards the area of greatest need. You get the dues money from the bankers, and use it to organize the janitors. Everyone is in it together. Let the peons of Wall Street turn their allegiance away from the owners and towards their fellow working people. That’s how a strong labor movement should work. 

Brothers and sisters of Goldman Sachs: join us! You have nothing to lose except your goofy fleece vests, execrable work hours, and lack of a union wage premium. And we’ll even let you keep the vests. Union democracy is real. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 23, 2021. 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.


Share this post

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Support Staff Keep Our Students Learning

Share this post

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Schools are communities that include students, teachers, administrators, families and, of course, support staff who keep the schools running. In a video, the California School Employees Association (CSEA) celebrates the contributions of school support professionals who have stepped up to the plate during the pandemic. “We can connect—we can connect with these families. We can hear them when they express what they’re going through, and we can reach out and help them,” said Maria Castillo, a CSEA member and health clerk at a California middle school. “I believe that we make a difference and that’s what we’re here for, to make that difference.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on March 17, 2021. 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.


Share this post

How Employers Punish Workers for Forming Unions

Share this post

Workers at Solvay’s Pasadena, Texas, plant voted overwhelmingly to join the United Steelworkers (USW) in 2017 and looked forward to sitting down with the company to quickly negotiate a fair contract.

Solvay decided to play games instead.

Company representatives canceled some bargaining sessions at the last minute, took two-hour lunches on days they did show up, dithered for weeks over the union’s proposals and pulled every stunt imaginable to drag out the talks and frustrate the workers into giving up.

“They were angry that we actually had the audacity—in their mind—to challenge them with a union. This was their way of getting back at us,” said USW Local 13-227 President Steve “Tote” Toto, noting the spiteful antics cost him precious time with his wife, Mary, who was dying of pancreatic cancer about 1,500 miles away.

The U.S. House just passed bipartisan legislation to end shenanigans like this and help ensure that workers achieve the fair contracts they earned.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which faces an uphill battle in the Senate because of a lack of Republican support, would better protect workers from illegal bullying and retaliation during the organizing process.

And once workers vote to form a union, the PRO Act would set timelines for progress toward a contract and impose mediation and binding arbitration when employers stall and delay.

Although Toto and his coworkers achieved an agreement in January 2019—after more than a year of fighting—corporate foot-dragging on contract talks continues to worsen nationwide.

Right now, companies resort to stall tactics so often that about half of all workers who organize still lack a contract one year later. Worse, 37 percent of workers in newly formed private-sector unions have no agreement after two years. And some continue fighting for a first agreement long after that.

The PRO Act, which President Joe Biden hails as essential for leveling the playing field for workers and rebuilding the middle class, will spur employers to show up at the bargaining table and reach agreements as expeditiously as possible.

That’s exactly what would have helped Toto and his colleagues four years ago.

The workers at Solvay organized to obtain safer working conditions and a voice at the chemical plant, recalled Toto, who relocated to Pasadena after the company closed the Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, facility where he originally worked. His wife, already battling cancer, remained in the couple’s Philadelphia area home to be in comfortable surroundings and to stay close to her doctors.

Talks stretched out month after month as Solvay’s negotiators refused to schedule regular bargaining sessions, made onerous proposals solely intended to bog down the discussions and even balked at excusing workers for jury duty. But nothing infuriated union members as much as finding the company’s chief negotiator asleep one day in a room where he had ostensibly gone to study union proposals.

“It’s about discouraging you,” Toto said of the company’s ploys. “It’s about breaking you down. It was also frustrating for me because it was taking time away from the last year I had with my wife.”

Just like Toto and his colleagues, workers at the Bishop Noa Home in Escanaba, Michigan, made modest demands that they expected to speedily resolve at the bargaining table.

Yet more than three years after voting to join the USW, the 55 certified nursing assistants and dietary, environmental services and laundry workers continue fighting for a contract even as they put their lives on the line to care for the facility’s residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The home refuses to accept the workers’ choice to organize. It brought in a union-busting attorney who belittles workers at the bargaining table, makes unreasonable proposals, spurns efforts to bring the parties together and drags out talks to try to break the workers’ morale.

Marcia Hardy, a dietary worker who has dedicated 35 years to Bishop Noa, said she and other negotiating committee members repeatedly made good-faith compromises that they felt certain would speed talks along.

“That didn’t happen,” she said, noting the home not only rebuffed the workers’ goodwill but refused to budge from its own proposals.

“They don’t want to have to answer to anybody but themselves,” Hardy said of the facility’s efforts to silence workers. “They will not give that up for anything. It’s just so disheartening because you’ve put your heart and soul into the place.”

Throughout the pandemic, workers have been putting in extra hours, taking on additional responsibilities and serving as surrogate family members to residents cut off from loved ones, all so Bishop Noa can continue providing a top level of care. And although a contract would afford opportunities for building on that record of excellence, Hardy said, Bishop Noa prefers to wage war on workers instead.

She and her colleagues, who have widespread community support, will keep fighting for the agreement they earned. “If I give up,” Hardy said, “they win.”

Solvay, Bishop Noa and other employers that drag out negotiations squander resources that could be better used to provide safe working conditions, serve customers or otherwise improve operations.

Toto said workers want to put contract talks behind them and “live our lives.” And he predicted that the PRO Act would hold employers’ feet to the fire and finally force them to approach contract talks with the urgency the task requires.

“It puts accountability back at the bargaining table,” Toto said. “The job is to go in there and get it done in a timely fashion.”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

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


Share this post

Amazon touts high pay for warehouse workers, but $15 isn’t all that, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

As its workers in Bessemer, Alabama, seek to unionize, Amazon keeps touting its $15 an hour pay—more than double the federal minimum wage, which applies in Alabama. But it turns out that’s not such a great thing to brag about in that area.

“The most recent figure for the median wage in greater Birmingham, a metropolitan area of roughly one million people that includes Bessemer, was nearly $3 above Amazon’s pay there, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” The New York Times reports. Jennifer Bates, an Amazon worker who earned more in a previous job, pointed to Amazon’s support for a $15 federal minimum wage, saying: “It looks to me like Amazon is admitting it’s only paying a minimum wage, and this is not a minimum-wage job.”

But “high” pay isn’t the only way Amazon tries to keep unions out. The company has a history of surveilling, threatening, and retaliating against worker activists.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on March 20, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


Share this post

The Pandemic’s Impact on Workers and Looking Towards a Just Recovery

Share this post

NELP’s roadmap for a Just Recovery is based on our vision for bold structural change and on our fall 2020 survey of workers on the COVID frontlines, people who lost their jobs, and other community members seriously impacted by this disease and the failure of so many of our lawmakers and employers to properly address its dangers.

Our findings illustrated how structural racism created the pre-conditions for Black communities and other communities of color to suffer the most during the pandemic, from our health to our wallets.

It’s a disturbing picture, and one that public officials can only hope to address if they start listening to workers’ demands immediately.

Here were some of our major findings on the effects of the pandemic: 

  • 34% of Black workers had a claim for Unemployment Insurance, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation denied;
  • Covering rent, utility, credit card, student loan, medical, and living expenses got harder for a large share of U.S. households, particularly those of frontline workers and Black and Latinx workers;
  • A significant share of all workers, and a larger share of working Black and Indigenous people and other people of color, say that fear of employer retaliation would prevent them from refusing unsafe work;
  • Workers classified as independent contractors and workers employed by temporary help and staffing agencies were 2X as likely have lost income than other workers.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on March 18, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


Share this post

Comic Book Answers: Why Do Workers Need a New ‘Bill of Rights’?

Share this post

comic book developed by the North Carolina State AFL-CIO aims to answer the question of why we need a new “Bill of Rights” in this country to turn the tide of economic and societal forces back in favor of working people during the current pandemic and beyond.

The ‘Bill of Rights’ We Need Now More Than Ever

America’s labor movement continues to lead the response to the coronavirus pandemic and to fight for economic opportunity and social justice for all working people—including fighting for policies and principles that, had they been in place at the start of the current crisis, would have lessened the disruption to lives and livelihoods caused by COVID-19.

Back in 2017, at the national AFL-CIO convention in St. Louis, delegates passed Resolution 1: Workers’ Bill of Rights, which declares that all working people have the right to:

  • A good job with fair wages;
  • Quality health care;
  • A safe job;
  • Paid time off and flexible, predictable scheduling;
  • Freedom from discrimination;
  • To retire with dignity;
  • Education;
  • The freedom to join together; and
  • A voice in democracy.

With public approval of unions today near a 50-year high and with COVID-19 having exposed and even worsened preexisting and persistent structural racial and economic inequalities in the United States, now is the time for the labor movement to champion these essential rights and freedoms.

Introducing ‘The Workers’ Bill of Rights: A Comic Exploration’

In keeping with our commitment to promote the Workers’ Bill of Rights to a broad audience, we are thrilled to announce an exciting, new resource: The Workers’ Bill of Rights: A Comic Exploration, a comic book developed by the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

The comic book, available in Spanish and English, both in print and online, comprises nine captivating and beautifully illustrated individual stories that explore the nine key components of the Workers’ Bill of Rights.

We must educate our members and the public on the need for a comprehensive bill of rights for all working people—Black, Brown and White; urban and rural—because we deserve better.

One job should be enough to make ends meet. Getting an education should not require mortgaging your future. No one should have to sacrifice their health or life to earn a paycheck.

Join us in this fight for better jobs and better lives for all working people!

Visit the comic book website to read The Workers’ Bill of Rights: A Comic Exploration.

Get involved by texting comic to 235246 to get your own digital copy of this publication or by emailing info@aflcionc.org to request a printed copy.

This post originally appeared at the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

About the Author: North Carolina State AFL-CIO is the largest association of unions of working people in North Carolina, representing over a hundred thousand members, working together for good jobs, safe workplaces, workers’ rights, consumer protections, and quality public services on behalf of ALL working people.


Share this post

Working Life Episode 217: It’s All North Carolina – The Fight For 15 and the Campaign for a Progressive U.S. Senator

Share this post

It’s all about North Carolina today—the fight for better wages and the campaign to get a progressive person in the U.S. Senate, all of which is connected to my two guests today who represent the theme of the just-marked International Womens Day.

The sad outcome of the push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour tells us two things. First, there is a big house cleaning needed to make way for politicians who actually care about workers. Second, no matter what happens in elections, we need to keep up the street heat to mobilize millions of people to stop the immorality of people working full-time but getting paid poverty wages while billionaires get even richer.

First up, then, is Precious Cole. Precious lives in Durham, North Carolina and works at Wendy’s. She has been working minimum wage jobs for half her life and, like millions of other workers, has, year after year, not been able to meet her monthly bills earning what is a poverty wage. Which is one reason Precious has become a key activist and leader in North Carolina Raise Up, the state branch of the national Fight for 15 and a Union network. She chats with me about her life and her activism.

Then, you may remember state Senator Erica Smith—she was a progressive who jumped into the 2020 North Carolina race for the U.S. Senate to challenge incumbent Republican Thom Tillis. But, the D.C. insiders shoved her aside, handpicking the most uninspired, dumb-as-a-brick candidate Cal Cunningham who, with piles of corporate and party-directed money, won the primary—and, then, proceeded to crash and burn, handing Tillis his re-election.

The 2022 election is a barometer for whether lessons have been learned. As the results of the Florida minimum wage ballot initiative showed—it passed overwhelmingly even as Joe Biden was losing the state—people are saying pretty clearly: give me a policy that puts money in my pocket and isn’t about supporting the rich over regular people, and I’ll vote for it whether you call it “progressive” or “a loaf of bread.” Erica is back for another Senate race, competing for the party primary nod for the seat that is opening up in 2022 with the retirement of Richard Burr. I talk with her about her campaign and the mood in North Carolina.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on March 10, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


Share this post

The Teamsters Hint at a Combative National Project to Organize Amazon

Share this post

As the drive to unionize Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama draws international attention to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) that is leading the effort, other unions are planning their own strategies to organize parts of Amazon’s sprawling operations as well. The Teamsters, who see Amazon as a direct threat to their historic work organizing the trucking industry, are engaged in a concerted project targeting Amazon?—?and though they’re tight-lipped about the details, they appear committed to a long-term, nationwide effort that could make them one of the company’s most formidable union foes. 

The 1.4 million-member Teamsters are more than ten times bigger than the RWDSU. They see Amazon’s vast pool of non-union delivery employees as an existential threat to not only their own members, but to the ability of the trucking industry to provide living wage jobs. Randy Korgan, a goateed organizing veteran whose current title is Teamsters National Director for Amazon, frames the standoff with Jeff Bezos’ company as just the latest incarnation of a struggle that the union has been waging for more than a century. 

“We fought to regulate the industry because of the working conditions that were happening in the [19]20s, 30s, and 40s. We obviously find some similarities today,” Korgan says. Despite the popular view of the ?“roaring 20s” as a grand era, ?“history clearly shows that working people suffered greatly. And here we come back into the roaring 20s again. Is this a repeat of history? We’ve got to ask ourselves that.” 

Korgan is particularly angered by Amazon’s ongoing effort to portray itself as a good corporate citizen because it pays a $15 per hour minimum wage to its employees?—?a wage lower than what Korgan himself made as a union warehouse worker more than 30 years ago. Amazon itself is the primary driver of a process that is changing warehouse jobs that once paid a living wage into low-income, tenuous, temporary work. 

“At every level of the organization you see this high turnover rate, and then you see them introducing this rate of $15, $16 an hour and trying to claim that they need to be patted on the back,” says Korgan. ?“Aren’t they talking out of both sides of their mouth? Because what is the average wage of someone that works in a warehouse in this country, and is Amazon exploiting and capitalizing on that wage being reduced?”

Currently, the only Teamsters members with a direct connection to the company are workers at Atlas and ABX Air, two firms that do business with Amazon. But the union is eyeing a much larger pool of Amazon employees, particularly delivery drivers, many of whom work for subcontractors rather than for Amazon itself. Though this process serves to insulate Amazon, the Teamsters have in the past organized tens of thousands of workers at subcontractors throughout the trucking industry. Warehouses are also in the Teamsters traditional wheelhouse, and it was reported last month that the union has spent several months organizing hundreds of Amazon warehouse workers in Iowa, though the outcome of that campaign remains uncertain. 

The Teamsters have been chewing over the threat posed by Amazon for years. Various Teamster websites are rife with posts like ?“TEAMSTERS MUST TAKE NOTE OF THE DANGER ON THE HORIZON” and ?“TAKING ON AMAZON,” all of which note the direct threat the company poses to the stability of the entire transportation industry. But as the Alabama warehouse union campaign has drawn a tidal wave of press, the Teamsters are now loath to divulge too much of their strategy. Korgan is leading the union’s ?“Amazon Project,” and says he is engaged with workers across the country, and is ?“absolutely” working with other unions, as well. But he declines to discuss the project’s funding, timeline, or specific targets. He does, however, hint that the Teamsters may pursue a more radical and confrontational strategy when it comes time to seek union recognition from the famously intransigent company. 

The classic pathway of seeking an NLRB election to certify a union?—?the process that is currently underway for the Amazon workers in Alabama?—?has the benefits of being clearly defined by law, but it also enables companies to spend months bombarding workers with anti-union propaganda, and to throw money at legal challenges. Korgan implies that the Teamsters may seek other pathways to try to force voluntary recognition of unions. (In fact, a Teamsters organizer in Iowa said that the union would prefer to use strikes to pressure the company to recognize its union.) 

“There are many platforms to seek recognition, there are many platforms for workers to do concerted activities,” Korgan says. ?“Truth be told, that [NLRB] process is where corporate America wants organizing to be, and that’s how they want it to be defined. Because they clearly have more of an advantage there than they do in other spaces.”

The recognition that Amazon has become so powerful that allowing it to remain non-union is not a viable option seems to have finally become conventional wisdom within organized labor. It is safe to assume that the Teamsters are only one of several major unions planning ways to organize their own slice of the company. The union campaign in Alabama, where the votes will be counted at the end of this month, will likely be only the first step down a long and contentious road that will last for years. 

“No matter what happens in Bessemer,” Korgan says, ?“it doesn’t change the trajectory of anything that’s going on.” 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 17, 2021. 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.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.