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Dispersed but Undaunted, Chicago Amazon Workers Help Win Megacycle Pay Nationwide

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BREAKING: Draft Legislation in New York Would Put Gig Workers into  Toothless 'Unions' | Today's Workplace

Chicago Amazon warehouse workers were put in a tough spot, and made the best of it.

In January, the company hit workers in Chicago’s DCH1 delivery station with a devastating one-two punch. First, Amazon was shutting down their workplace, so they would have to transfer to other facilities across the city. Second, workers at delivery stations nationwide were going to be forced onto a new shift called the “Megacycle,” where they would work four times a week from 1:20 to 11:50 a.m.

Delivery stations facilitate the “last mile” of delivery, sorting and handing off packages to delivery drivers. The Megacycle is designed to speed up the delivery process, allowing customers to order even later and still get their packages within one to two days.

HOME BASE OF SHOP FLOOR ACTION

DCH1 had been the base of the Chicago chapter of Amazonians United—the first chapter in the country. This network of worker committees at Amazon warehouses now reaches across the U.S., with ties with similar groups in other countries.

The Chicago chapter held its first public action in 2019 to demand access to drinking water on the job. Members quickly made connections with workers in other facilities to organize around issues ranging from health and safety to the lack of paid time off.

Over the next two years, workers at DCH1 organized petition campaigns, built community through social events, marched on the boss, and struck.

Amazonians United groups are not immediately oriented toward forming officially-recognized unions through the National Labor Relations Board process, instead focusing on building lasting worker committees that can operate like unions on the job.

WALKOUT AT TRANSFER FACILITY

Faced with the closure of their facility and the forced switch to the Megacycle, Chicago’s Amazonians United group moved quickly to gather petition signatures from their co-workers backing several demands:

  • Accommodations for workers who couldn’t make the change to the new shift
  • An added $2-per-hour differential for the less-desirable shifts
  • Lyft rides to and from work—since most of Chicago’s subway service and many bus lines don’t run overnight, or run on reduced schedules
  • Full 20-minute breaks, which is the policy but managers were enforcing 15-minute breaks

AU’s core organizers hit the ground running on these demands in other facilities in the Chicago area, too. At DIL3, one of the Chicago-area delivery stations to which DCH1 workers were transferred, workers held a one-day walkout in April. Most of the 50 workers on schedule that day walked out, left early, or stayed home. Most who took part hadn’t already been involved in the organizing at DCH1.

Managers, HR, and security guards were left to fill the gaps alongside the 10 workers who remained.

“Some managers had to do real work for the first time, as evidenced by their slowness and clumsiness in moving carts, picking bags and packages, [and] staging for delivery,” wrote AU Chicagoland organizers in a collective response to Labor Notes about the walkout.

Some deliveries to the areas served by DIL3 were delayed by one to two days—confirmed by notifications Amazon sent out to customers telling them their orders would be late.

VICTORY ON MEGACYCLE PAY

Last month, AU claimed victory. On their May 19 paycheck, workers on the Megacycle shift across the country received a shift-differential pay increase of $1.50-$2 per hour, depending on the day of the week. The workers in Chicago are confident they had something to do with it.

This isn’t the first time workers in a relatively small number of facilities were able to push Amazon to make changes nationwide. In the months before the pandemic, workers organizing under the banner of Amazonians United pushed for paid time off with petitions and walkouts in Chicago, New York City, and Sacramento. Workers in the latter city walked off mid-shift on December 23, 2019, after delivering a petition with 4,015 signatures. Amazon relented, and workers started receiving paid time off.

Even though they’ve been dispersed from their original facility, AU activists in Chicago plan to keep doing what they’ve been doing: “uniting with our co-workers, identifying the issues that are most popular, and taking action to address them.”

Do you work at Amazon? “If you know like we do that we all deserve better, talk with your co-workers, figure out what issues y’all care about, discuss and make a plan, and join the fight,” say organizers with Amazonians United Chicago. “We all have a part to play and it’s never too late to stand up for respect and dignity.” Reach them at AUChicagoland@gmail.comfacebook.com/AUChicacoland, or on Twitter/Instagram @AUChicagoland.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on June 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Joe-DeManuelle Hall is a staff writer and organizer at Labor Notes.


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A Charter School Named For the Author of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” Is Union Busting

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Writers Guild of America Honors Hamilton Nolan for Digital Organizing -  Variety

At Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Massachusetts, teachers say a hostile administration is trying to crush their union.

In 1968, Paulo Freire, a famous Brazilian philosopher, authored the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a Marxist argument for using education to empower the downtrodden. In 2013, a charter school named in his honor was founded: the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School (PFSJCS), located in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Now, in a display of the universe’s sense of humor, teachers at PFSJCS say that the school’s leadership is engaging in union busting.

In March 2020, the school’s professional staff of about 26 people?—?mostly teachers, along with a few other employees such as guidance counselors?—?unionized with UAW Local 2322 in Massachusetts. Zack Novak, one of the teachers who helped lead the union drive, said that several years of experience working in unionized public schools had led him to expect certain standards of treatment that he didn’t see at PFSJCS. ?“At charter schools in general, the climate is much different. I noticed people being treated unfairly by the administration,” Novak said. ?“The only way to get ahead was if the powers that be liked you. That’s not an equitable environment for teaching staff.” 

Novak sent out an email notifying everyone at the school that the staff had unionized in March of last year. The same day, he says, he was pulled into a meeting with administrators, which he interpreted as an assertion of their power. At the end of the school year, he said, he was offered a new contract to come back?—?but that contract was rescinded before the next school year began, for no apparent reason. He believes that his involvement in organizing the union was the motivating factor. 

In July 2020, the school hired Gil Traverso as its new executive director, to replace a retiring predecessor. Since then, union members say, labor relations have been awful. According to Carol Huben, a PFSJCS teacher, the first ominous sign was ?“a really strong pattern of not responding to union communications.” Next, she said, teachers were warned or disciplined after posting innocuous pro-union messages in their Zoom backgrounds at bargaining meetings. 

Then, Huben said, came the most serious blow to the union: a dozen teachers whose contracts were up last year were ordered to reapply for their own jobs?—?and none of them were rehired. The union said in a press release that ?“no explanation was offered for their non renewal of contracts.” Huben also said that management is warning newly hired teachers to beware of the union. The union has filed complaints over more than 20 incidents since Traverso’s hiring, teachers said. 

Gil Traverso did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Such aggressive hostility towards the union is puzzling for Novak, who points out that such high turnover among the teaching staff is correlated with worse learning outcomes for students. But he sees the administration’s anti-union behavior as a basic expression of pure power politics on the job. ?“People want to organize, and the bosses don’t want them to,” Novak said. ?“They enjoy disproportionate power over the workplace.”

On June 23, PFSJCS union members are planning an ?“informational picket” outside of the school, and the union plans to drum up public support in the community. Though similarly absurd situations have arisen before?—?in 2017, for instance, there was a union busting campaign at a charter school named for Cesar Chavez—the hypocrisy of the pressure they’re facing is not lost on the teachers. 

“It certainly is quite ironic,” Huben said, ?“that the school that uses Paulo Freire’s name, who was a labor activist, is choosing to use his name to union bust.” 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 22, 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. 


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Juneteenth Jumble

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Politics, Policy, Political News - POLITICO

Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday last Thursday after Biden signed the legislation recognizing it — but what that actually meant for workers in the immediate aftermath has varied greatly.

Some nonessential government offices, federal courts and school districts shut down on Friday, NPR’s Camila Domonoske reports. And “a small number of businesses acted swiftly to observe the holiday — even with just a few hours’ notice.”Some employers had already voluntarily decided to recognize the holiday.

“Other companies say they’re recognizing Juneteenth without actually observing it,” she writes. “Google is not giving people the day off but is encouraging them to cancel meetings. AT&T held internal events recognizing the holiday but also encouraged people to use their existing leave to take Juneteenth off. … Many big banks say they’ll start observing the holiday next year, and in the meantime, they’re are offering employees a floating day off to use sometime this year. The stock exchanges remain[ed] open for this year, although they may reevaluate in the future.”

RELATED: Juneteenth Was Supposed to Be a Holiday for N.Y.C. Workers. Not Anymore,” from The New York Times

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 21, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Politico is a political journalism company based in Arlington, Virginia that covers politics and policy in the United States and internationally. It distributes content primarily through its website but also printed newspapers, radio, and podcasts. Its coverage in Washington, DC includes the U.S. Congress, lobbying, the media, and the presidency.


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council Rallies for Union Organizer/Teacher

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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.

The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council recently organized a rally in support of Jared Hutchins (CTA), a teacher and union organizer who was fired by High Tech High.

In late April, some 400 educators at the High Tech High charter school network filed for union recognition with the California Public Employment Relations Board as High Tech Education Collective (HTEC), becoming the newest members of the California Teachers Association family.

With 16 schools on four campuses and more than 6,000 K–12 students, High Tech High is the largest operator of charter schools in San Diego County.

A virtual rally on Zoom garnered nearly 50 supporters for Jared Hutchins. Hutchins said, “I fought and was fighting for teachers to have an equal voice at the table. It was because I was unapologetic about my purpose of bringing anti-racist practices into our schools.”

The California Teachers Association filed an unfair labor practice charge against the High Tech High charter school network for firing Hutchins, who has been helping to organize a union throughout the network.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on June 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnel is a senior writer at AFL-CIO.


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New York City Workers with Disabilities Fight for Inclusion in Pandemic Recovery, Mayoral Race

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Even before the pandemic, unemployment among disabled workers in New York City was at a crisis level—just 30 to 35 percent were employed. Over the past year, the situation has grown even worse.

Independent living centers, which help disabled residents find socio-economic stability, reported that more than 50 percent of their clients were let go from their jobs, the Center for an Urban Future found in a March 2021 report.

Now, leaders of these centers are preparing a policy platform and calling for greater resources from City Hall hopefuls. As talk of pandemic recovery intensifies and the June 22 primary for citywide and council races fast approaches, leaders see an opportunity to make inroads against growing inequities.

FIRST FIRED, LAST REHIRED

The United States Census estimated there were nearly 900,000 people with disabilities in New York City as of 2019; the Office of the New York State Comptroller put it even higher, closer to 930,000 in 2017.

That’s a population close to twice the size of the borough of Staten Island. It’s a broad group of people, cutting across class, racial, and gender identities, with disabilities such as visual, hearing, ambulatory, cognitive—the list goes on.

“We’re the nurse, the doctor, the police officer, the educator, the person who’s cleaning the sidewalk, the person stocking shelves in stores,” said Christina Curry, executive director of the Harlem Independent Living Center. “You don’t need to be born in this community. It can happen at any moment.”

Independent living centers like Curry’s offer job training, counseling, and educational programs. Organizer Ed Robert led efforts to develop the independent living movement in the 1970s in Berkeley, California, as a means of empowering disabled people to live fulfilling lives on their own terms.

But New Yorkers with disabilities face a longstanding employment crisis. “Poverty is a huge, huge issue,” said Susan Dooha of the Center for the Independence of the Disabled, a nonprofit that serves 40,000 New Yorkers annually.

Data compiled by the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability Statistics showed that about 26 percent of people with disabilities were living below the federal poverty level last year. The poverty level for a family of four in the United States in 2021 is an annual income of $26,500.

“We’re the last hired, first fired, and last rehired if things work the way they are now,” said Susan Scheer, founder of the city’s Access-A-Ride program (launched in 1990, the initiative offers a door-to-door transportation service to disabled New Yorkers) and CEO of the Institute for Career Development.

Often the main barriers to employment are “misinformation, fear, stigma,” Curry said. “Our common goal is to get the disabled community employed, to have access to the community, to remove those barriers.”

TRANSIT A HUGE OBSTACLE

With thousands out of work, transit reform will be crucial to bridging the gap.

Joe Rappaport of the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled points to a survey by the New York Independent Living Council. “Transportation is cited as the second-most prominent reason for people to have trouble getting employment,” said Rappaport. “Second to discrimination.”

Less than one-quarter of New York City’s subway stations are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which passed over 30 years ago. And that’s if none of the elevators are out of service.

Many advocates want to see the transit system overhauled to reflect the principle of universal design, in other words, the reconstruction of spaces so that they can be accessed and understood by the largest group of people, regardless of their background and ability. Many of the changes community members would like to see, such as accessible subway stations and taxi cabs, are already mandated by city, state, or federal laws like the ADA.

Rappaport and others are involved in a growing number of accessibility-related lawsuits against local and state government to force these reforms. While he couldn’t comment on any one case in particular, he said he sees a decades-spanning trend.

“Typically, the response of the city when a disparity or shortcoming is pointed out by members of the community or organizations is, the city just says, ‘We’re going to fight this with everything we’ve got.’” Rappaport said. “This isn’t the de Blasio administration, or Bloomberg, or Giuliani, or Koch or Dinkins—it’s every administration.

“It’s inexcusable and it costs money. We’re going to win. The city’s going to lose. But in the meantime, the city’s lack of action puts people at risk.”

EMPTY BOARD SEATS

While it’s true that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators in Albany have immense power over the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), New York City isn’t powerless when it comes to decisions on the system’s capital projects.

The new mayor, whoever that turns out to be, may have a rosier relationship with the governor’s office than current Mayor Bill de Blasio does. Rappaport suggested a new mayor should redouble efforts to appoint members to the MTA Board; there are two vacancies now, but Cuomo has made no concerted public effort to get de Blasio’s nominees confirmed by the state senate.

These individuals would have veto power over capital projects that don’t, for instance, include financing the construction of additional elevators in the city subway system.

“Other entities—the state senate and assembly for example—over the years, have influenced the direction of the MTA’s capital program by using the threat of veto power to get what they want,” Rappaport said. “It’s not an unheard-of idea.”

In April the MTA proposed “Zoning for Accessibility,” a series of zoning reforms to incentivize private developers with the promise of financial awards to build elevators in the city’s subway stations.

This proposal aligns with the transit system’s five-year plan released in 2019 to pump millions of dollars into accessibility-oriented upgrades at dozens of stations. This week several transit and accessibility advocacy groups rallied together to call on President Biden to include $20 billion for this capital plan in the proposed federal infrastructure bill (also known as the American Jobs Plan).

CITY MUST LEAD BY EXAMPLE

And yet, even if transit options were widely accessible, other barriers to employment abound—chief among them, discrimination by employers.

Brett Eisenberg has been battling it for decades; before his current role as executive director of the Bronx Independent Living Center, he was at the insurance company American International Group working to improve corporate hiring practices.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about hiring people with disabilities,” said Eisenberg. “A new administration should lead by example. If you’re not hiring people with disabilities, how can you expect anyone else to?”

Many advocates point to the federal hiring quota for people with disabilities as a standard that the city should adopt, since it currently does not have one. Under the Obama administration, the federal government required that people with disabilities comprise 7 percent of its workforce; it soon surpassed that figure, hitting 14 percent in 2016.

SHUT OUT OF ELECTIONS

In an open letter to candidates for municipal office this spring, a coalition of independent living center directors and advocates demanded that campaigns become more accessible to disabled voters.

“Federal and local laws require reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, including allowing full access to events, forums, and meetings,” they wrote. “But those laws often are ignored, and we end up shut out of the electoral process.”

The letter hasn’t gotten much response. “To be honest, we received a little inquiry, but not what we would want,” co-signer Eisenberg said. “In general when we talk about people with disabilities, the biggest problems we have are attitudinal.”

With primary day drawing near, a mix of co-signers of the April letter and others are working to release a formal platform to present to candidates on behalf of the disability community.

“It’s late in the game, but we think it will be useful for the next administration,” Rappaport said, “not just the next mayor but the next city council and other officials.”

‘NOT EVEN ON THE RADAR’

Only a few candidates had reached out to center leaders by the time of writing this article. Many advocates are concerned that services for the disabled are still largely left out of the political discourse.

“I have to be very careful, because politicians have very long memories,” Curry said. “We’re not even thought about to be forgotten when politicians and candidates start talking about what they want to do to help New Yorkers. We’re not even on the radar.

“We’re constantly re-educating them: we’re here. You want us to go vote? Well, it would be nice if you would help us in that fight to make sure the polling place is accessible.”

For Scheer, it comes down to political will. “Disability is a product of the environment, and the environment can be adapted,” she said. “I use a wheelchair, so stairs make me disabled when a ramp makes me abled.

“I don’t want to be having this conversation again with somebody in 20 years. This is our moment and we can really change the tide.”

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on June 10, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Emmet Teran is content manager of Unit, a digital platform launched to help U.S. workers form unions. He’s also a New Yorker with low vision and an Urban Policy & Leadership Master’s student at Hunter College.


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Black-owned distillery embraces its workers’ union, this week in the war on workers

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Interview with Laura Clawson, Daily Kos Contributing Editor | Smart  Bitches, Trashy Books

When workers at Du Nord Craft Spirits decided to form a union, joining UNITE HERE Local 17, the company voluntarily recognized them without any delay and in fact publicized the occasion itself. Du Nord bills itself as the first Black-owned distillery in the United States.

“The production staff of Du Nord Craft Spirits chose to form a union because we enjoy and appreciate working here,” the workers said in a statement to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. “We have showed up for the company by working through a pandemic, the closure of the cocktail room, an uprising, and committing to work as timelines and job duties fluctuated. The company showed up for us, most recently, by voluntarily recognizing our unionizing effort.”

“The workers knew that I would recognize a union,” owner Chris Montana told the Business Journal. Referring to organizing efforts at several other Twin Cities hospitality businesses, he said, “We hadn’t had a direct conversation about this unionization effort, but as previous places were unionizing I made very clear that if they decided that that’s something they wanted to do, I would recognize it.” Du Nord said he was ready to negotiate.

It’s not exactly going to turn around decades of declining union density in the U.S., but good news is nice to have every now and then, right?

This blog originally appeared at Dailykos on June 19, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Firefighters Are Worth More than $13.45/Hour

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Federal wildland firefighters are leaving the workforce because the risks of the job outweigh the poor pay. It couldn’t happen at a worse time.

“It’s like having gasoline out there,” said Brian Steinhardt, forest fire zone manager for Prescott and Coconino national forests in Arizona, in a recent AP story about the increasingly fire-prone West. 

Now something else is happening?—?and at the worst possible time. 

Federal firefighters are leaving the workforce and taking their training and experience with them. The inability of federal agencies to offer competitive pay and benefits is creating hundreds of wildland firefighting vacancies. 

Vacancies, of course, limit how much federal firefighters can do. If Western communities want to be protected, they need to ensure that their firefighters receive better pay and benefits.The pay doesn’t come close to matching the true demands or everyday dangers of the job.

In my 11 years of work as a wildland firefighter, I’ve managed aircraft, trained people and run fires myself, but I also did outreach and recruitment for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. I know how hard it is for hiring managers to make 2,000 hours of grueling work, crammed into six exhausting months, sound appealing when the pay is $13.45/hour. The pay doesn’t come close to matching the true demands or everyday dangers of the job.

Federal wildland firefighters, by necessity, are transient workers. During the fire season?—?now nearly year-round?—?they must be available to travel anywhere in the United States at any time. And to advance in their career, they have to move to other federal duty stations to gain more qualifications. 

Finding affordable housing has always been a problem for career firefighters on a federal salary. To make matters worse, federal agencies revoked the ?“Transfer of Station” stipend for career employees, which helped offset the cost of moving. Just recently, a national forest supervisor also revoked a ?“boot stipend.” It might sound minor, but it isn’t: When you’re in the firefighting business, boots tough enough to save your life can easily cost you $500.

Some states aren’t relying on the government to act quickly. ?“We aren’t just waiting for the next crisis to hit,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, in establishing an $80.74 million Emergency Fund that delivers an additional 1,256 seasonal firefighters to boost CAL FIRE’s ranks. This Emergency Fund is in addition to the governor’s $1 billion budget request for California’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan.

In Washington, state legislators unanimously passed a $125 million package that will enable the state’s Department of Natural Resources to hire 100 more firefighters. The legislation furthers the state’s efforts to restore forest health and creates a $25 million fund to ensure community preparedness around the state.

Utah’s House Bill 65, recently signed into law, appropriates money to help Utah’s communities offset the cost of wildfire suppression. Most importantly, it commissions a study to evaluate the current pay plan for firefighters within Utah’s Natural Resources Department. 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Casey Snider, was amazed to learn that frontline wildland firefighters make more money at McDonald’s: ?“These positions are critical,” he said. ?“They are the first ones on fires.” This year, Utah has already had five times the number of wildfires it normally experiences in a year.

And firefighters are organizing and speaking up. The Grassroots Wildland Firefighters is working to halt the exodus of firefighters from federal agencies by advocating for pay parity with state and local fire protection agencies. The group also supports initiatives to assist the physical and mental health of firefighters and their families. The statistics they highlight are shocking: Wildland firefighters have a suicide rate 30 times higher than the average. They also experience high incidences of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. 

There is talk on the federal level of creating a permanent, year-round firefighting workforce. I think this is a necessary step, but it won’t fix the workforce capacity issue unless increased pay and benefits are used to encourage the recruitment and retention of federal firefighters. 

We all know that today’s wildfires are longer, more damaging and more frequent than ever before. We also know that men and women are putting their lives on the line for less than they’d earn at a McDonald’s.

Our firefighters do all this to protect our lives, our forests and our communities. We owe them at least a living wage and a chance for a healthy life. I hope more states and legislators will start paying attention. This is a debt that needs to be paid.

Editor’s Note: This article was provided by Writers on the Range, writ?er?son?therange?.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 18, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Golden is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writ?er?son?therange?.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He left firefighting in 2019 to found a consulting company that focuses on conservation and national security


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Amazon is intentionally burning through warehouse workers, but it may not be sustainable forever

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Interview with Laura Clawson, Daily Kos Contributing Editor | Smart  Bitches, Trashy Books

Amazon defeated a union organizing drive in Alabama recently, but two major new articles on the company’s warehouses powerfully show why workers wanted to unionize—and why it’s going to be nearly impossible for such efforts to succeed.

The New York Times led off with a damning look at JFK8, an Amazon fulfillment center in New York City. The JFK8 story was a window into Amazon’s broader employment practices, though, starting with high turnover by design, because Amazon founder Jeff Bezos wants people gone quickly, calling long-term employment a “a march to mediocrity.” In the warehouses, that translates to Amazon not caring that it is churning through workers at a staggering rate, seeing turnover of 150% a year even before the coronavirus pandemic. Other analyses of Amazon’s turnover rate have put it somewhat lower, but still at least 100%.

Hourly warehouse employees also have few chances for advancement—again by design, a former human resources vice president for the company told the Times. The internal promotion rate for these workers is less than half that of Walmart, with Amazon preferring to hire “wicked smart” college graduates in management roles. And—surprise!—at JFK8 that and other policies translated to an hourly workforce that was 60% Black or Latino, while management was more than 70% white or Asian. Black workers were also almost 50% more likely to be fired than white workers.

Amazon really is treating people as disposable, bringing them in and burning them out. Partly that seems to come from Bezos’ contempt for workers. But HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson also highlights how this helps insulate Amazon from worker organizing efforts

High turnover is “definitely one way to avoid a union,” former JFK8 worker Chris Smalls, now launching an independent organizing effort at the facility, told Jamieson. That plays out in the development of solidarity between workers, the trust workers feel in each other that enable them to talk freely about things management wouldn’t want them talking about, the long-term investment workers feel in improving the workplace … and, very concretely, in the mechanics of getting a union representation election.

To get the National Labor Relations Board to set up an election, organizers have to have signed union cards for 30% of workers, but in reality, organizers need far more than that because some initial support may disappear in the face of an anti-union campaign by management.

“At an Amazon warehouse, high turnover means a union would be losing cards every day as workers leave and new employees unfamiliar with the campaign replace them,” Jamieson writes. “Even if the union manages to win an election, high turnover could hurt its position at the bargaining table if some of the most active organizers have quit or been fired. And churn could even help the employer purge the union from the facility by convincing newer workers to decertify it.”

Bezos is stepping down as Amazon’s chief executive soon, and on his way out he has made sounds about improving Amazon’s employment practices, vowing the company would become “Earth’s best employer.” That is … unlikely. But, the Times pointed out, Amazon’s turnover is so extreme that “multiple current and former Amazon executives fear there simply will not be enough workers. In the more remote towns where Amazon based its early U.S. operations, it burned through local labor pools and needed to bus people in.” Reforming its employment practices enough that the company can keep a workforce in place for the long run may be a necessity at some point. And that, in the most optimistic scenario, could also be an opening for organizers.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on June 4, 2021 Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor


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ILO and Its Role in Building an Inclusive and Just Future for All Workers

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Today, President Biden became the third sitting U.S. president to address the International Labor Conference in Geneva, the yearly global meeting that brings together unions, employers and governments to develop and adopt international labor standards. The mission of the International Labor Organization (ILO) is to promote social justice and internationally recognized labor and human rights, based on the founding principle that social justice is essential to universal and lasting peace. Biden’s speech underscores this administration’s commitment to a multilateral approach to building a global economic agenda shaped by workers and rooted in the protection of workers’ rights.

Biden’s speech comes at a time of deep global economic, social and environmental crises. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how the system exploits workers, whether we are front-line workers in grocery stores or health care centers or supply chain workers sewing clothing in factories. Before the pandemic, millions of workers worked for low pay, worked informally or were hired through nonstandard forms of employment. 

Economic, racial and gender inequality continue to grow and global unemployment is expected to grow to 205 million people in 2022, greatly surpassing the level of 187 million in 2019. Child labor increased for the first time in two decades to 161 million. Cases of reported gender-based violence and harassment increased during the pandemic. More than half of the world’s workers do not have a single social protection and millions of working families face growing insecurity as their communities face the impacts of climate change. 

The president’s participation at the conference reflects the administration’s commitment to addressing the many challenges facing the global community by building collective responses through multilateralism and policies that deliver decent work and protect rights for all workers. In the current global economic model, government and corporations continue to profit off of forced labor, egregious worker rights violations, weak health and safety protections, and environmental degradation. The ILO plays a critical role in the international community through challenging corporate-driven globalization and shaping the frameworks needed to rebuild a resilient global economy with high standards for all workers.

The speeches and policy commitments made at international fora like the International Labor Conference must be translated into real commitments by government and employers to build a new social contract for all workers that will guarantee decent work, worker rights and social protection. This new contract is critical to rebuilding workers’ trust in democracy. The pandemic underscores the need to recognize occupational health and safety as a fundamental right, along with freedom of association, collective bargaining, nondiscrimination, and protections against forced and child labor. The right to strike must be protected as a cornerstone of workers’ freedom of association. From delivery drivers to warehouse workers to garment workers, the right to strike is a powerful tool used before and during the pandemic that allows workers to protect ourselves from the virus and improve our working conditions.

Throughout its history, unions have worked with employers and governments to shape the agenda of the International Labor Conference to reflect the changing needs of the global workforce. In 2011, unions, domestic worker and allied organizations worked with employers and governments to pass the first global standards protecting domestic workers, and in 2019 the International Labor Conference approved the first international treaty to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace. Since the adoption of these conventions, dozens of countries have taken action to strengthen protections for domestic workers and eliminate gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace. These global ILO standards, when translated into national and local legislation, concretely improve the lives of workers around the world.

The yearly conference reminds the world that we must be ambitious and create and implement global standards that transform the lives of workers and empower us. Biden’s speech at this year’s International Labor Conference reminds the global community that to build a more just, democratic, global economy, the rights and needs of workers and our families must be central to policymaking. The ILO’s original vision to ensure shared prosperity for the global community is once again central to the challenge of guaranteeing dignity, rights and protections for all workers and our families.

This blog originally appeared at ALF-CIO on June 17, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Cathy Feingold is a leading advocate on global workers’ rights issues. As director of the AFL-CIO’s International Department, Feingold is a committed and passionate advocate, strategic campaigner and policy expert.


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The Roots of Today’s White Collar Union Wave Are Deeper Than You Think

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Writers Guild of America Honors Hamilton Nolan for Digital Organizing -  Variety

At UAW Local 2110, Maida Rosenstein has quietly organized the most prestigious group of cultural institutions on the East Coast.

Before the recent wave of organizing among media workers, adjunct professors and nonprofit workers set the world talking about the promise of white collar unions, there had already been decades of quiet organizing among the white collar creative underclass. A surprising amount of that organizing has been done by a single local union: UAW Local 2110 in New York City, which with little fanfare helped to pioneer the sort of unionizing that routinely draws headlines today. 

Beginning in the 1980s, the union organized workers at a list of cultural institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Village Voice and HarperCollins Publishers. More recently, Local 2110 has been organizing the museum and culture industry at a furious pace, at places like the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the New York City Tenement Museum and the Children’s Museum of the Arts. In just the past year, the union has added the Portland Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and Film at Lincoln Center, among others. (They also found time to help lead a strike against a pricey private school.)

Local 2110 is led by Maida Rosenstein, who joined after leading a campaign to unionize administrative staffers at Columbia University in the 1980s. She has spent more than three decades assembling what may be the most prestigious collection of cultural institutions in America in a single union local, all with a resolutely anti-elite organizing model of keeping the door open to everyone. In an interview, Rosenstein offered the long view on the white collar union trend that continues in earnest to this day. 

On the reason the UAW doesn’t just organize autoworkers: 

“UAW calls itself an industrial union, and they’ve long had a view of trying to organize companies broadly. There were always a certain amount of office workers, even in the Chrysler plant or whatever. When District 65 [the union she originally joined] affiliated with the UAW, they affiliated more on the ground of progressive politics than anything else. Walter Reuther took the UAW out of the AFL-CIO during the Vietnam War era. That was really where the affiliation came from. We in District 65 actually brought in a lot of the white collar organizing.” 

On the recent popularity of unions:

“I do think there’s a generational thing. The millennial generation is a lot more pro-union than my generation was. At least in the blue cities, it seems like there was a wave of people who after Bernie Sanders, and after Trump was elected, embraced the idea of organizing. People went from Occupy Wall Street, where everybody was doing their own thing, to saying ?‘We have to get organized politically.’ I feel like that did carry over?—?unions made [sense to] a lot of people when they thought about their disgruntlement at work. The millennial generation have been so much more open towards it.”

On unionizing the museum industry:

“In museums, there have been these big shifts, with the expansion of the number of employees, and a lot of money flowing in as they’re very involved in land expansion projects, etc. They have these very corporate boards and much more highly paid leadership, and then they bring in a ton of younger, educated people and pay them really low wages. Most of them are working there for idealistic reasons, and in large numbers.

“I thought the pandemic would put a stop to that, would kill our organizing. And it didn’t. In some ways it made it easier. Museums and all these institutions were shut down, and a lot of people were furloughed or laid off. Their institution betrayed them. A lot of people saw that and felt they had no recourse, and it was very disappointing. They wanted to do something about it. Also, we found a way of organizing virtually, too. There were certain things about it that made it more accessible. All these people got on these Zoom meetings, because really they had nothing to do. They were home, they were upset and they were isolated. This was something to really make a difference. And it really took hold.

“The pay issue is a really big one. Especially in larger institutions, they have these trustees who are just like dripping with money. Museum leadership is starting to be like university presidents, where it’s very obviously out of whack, and you have people who are paid really poorly. Museums are absolutely terrible at having large numbers of staff being very precarious, like the front line staff who do visitor services and the store. A lot of them are part time, some of them are seasonal. They get paid like minimum wage or a little above. In almost every museum it’s like that. Very few of them have full time jobs. And even the more skilled positions?—?art handlers, museum educators?—?those have been converted into per diem positions, on-call positions, intermittent work. They basically work the way a freelancer would work.

“Even the people who are in the full time professional positions are paid very low. You know this from journalism: You’re a writer, and now you’ve been busted down and people are making like $50,000 a year. And that’s what happened in museums: You’re a curator and you’re making $50,000 or $60,000 and living in Boston, New York or Portland. It’s not very much money.”

On why the publishing industry has been slower to unionize:

“You have corporations that are gobbling each other up. It’s like unbridled capitalism, and it’s very, very difficult. They can move, merge, subcontract, do all these things with no control. Nonprofits can do a lot?—?universities like Columbia are notoriously anti-union, and they do a lot of bad things?—?but museums and universities so far haven’t been able to move some place. They can’t really pick up and leave. We’re still doing better in the nonprofit sector than we are in the for-profit sectors.”

On the Village Voice, a media union pioneer:

“The union at the Voice was amazing when I first met people there. At that point the newsroom was like 175 people or 200 people. It was very, very vibrant. They really ran the paper, they had so much control.”

On craft unions vs. industrial unions:

“The arts unions, the craft unions, they have done a phenomenal job for their members, but they are very focused and deeply wedded to their occupations. I think administrative staff, for instance, have really been overlooked in a lot of these institutions. We were appealing to them in a lot of ways. In the museums they are [wall to wall unions that include everyone], but not all of them. We can’t always get wall to wall.

“No one is organizing museums in a [systematic] way?—?no one has targeted this and said, ?‘This is a strategic target, we’re doing all this research.’ We’re a local union. We have opportunities to organize, we’re taking it. We’re just trying to push the envelope forward where we’re able to.”

On the difference between the 1980s and today:

“When I was organizing, it was like, ?‘A union, in an office? What are you, kidding? That’s very blue collar.’ People said ?‘I don’t want to wear a uniform, I don’t want to punch a time clock.’ At Columbia, they did a full out anti-union campaign. They told us, ?‘With a union you’ll have to go to meetings downtown. The union will come between a secretary and her boss.’ It was really also sexist and elitist. It was hard. They ran an anti-union campaign, and we won our election at Columbia by eight votes out of 1,100 people. It was a total squeaker. People were terrified.

“One thing I’m noticing is that the anti-union campaigns [now] seem less effective. And there’s been more exposure. No one had ever heard of an anti-union campaign. It was like a secret that bosses did this. And now it’s out there. Everybody knows about Walmart, or Amazon or Delta. The fact that there was actual press on that stuff is amazing to me!”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 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.


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