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We Are Zoomers and We Want the PRO Act

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Gen Z and Millennials are facing a bleak economic future. The answer is to massively expand union membership and democratize workplaces.

Like so many other recent college graduates of Gen Z who are trying to enter the workforce, become financially independent and grow our families, we’re seeing the promised ?“American dream” drift further and further out of reach. 

The economy our generation enters today is defined by rising inequality and stagnant wages. Debilitating student debt and astronomically high costs of living in metropolitan areas have dwindled our chances of achieving the same economic prosperity as previous generations. Our parents worked jobs that didn’t require a college degree and allowed them to purchase homes at a fraction of today’s price. Now that dream feels more like a fantasy for our cohort of younger workers.

Today, Millennials and Gen Z collectively make up 40 percent of the U.S. workforce but own only 5.9 percent of household wealth, while Baby Boomers account for just 25 percent of the workforce but own 53 percent of household net worth. When Baby Boomers were Millennials’ age, they owned more than double the wealth of Millennials today. Our generations won’t have the same stability as our parents and grandparents unless systematic changes are made to reinvigorate a key tool in the workplace that helped generations before us enjoy more economic security: labor unions. 

Congress is currently devising a solution that makes it easier for workers to organize and collectively bargain through unions. In March, the House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a bill that would allow gig workers to unionize, legalize solidarity strikes and ban various union-busting tactics that keep workers underpaid and overworked. By expanding access to unionization, the PRO Act strengthens avenues for workers to improve their wages and working conditions. It’s a necessary long-term policy for Millennials and Gen Z to remedy endemic economic inequalities. 

Union membership used to be far more common in America, with unions helping workers bargain for fair wages and expansive benefits. But, as union membership declined from 27 percent in 1979 to 10.3 percent in 2019, income inequality soared with the top one percent increasing their income by 160 percent during this period, compared to just a 26 percent increase for the bottom 90 percent. While the average CEO salary has grown by 940 percent since 1978, worker pay has only increased 12 percent over the past 40 years. Our Boomer parents and grandparents aged into the workforce when unions had high levels of membership, giving them power to hold employers accountable for living wages, safer conditions and robust benefits. 

Today, meanwhile, Millennial and Zoomer integration into the workforce is characterized by low union membership and stagnant wages, making it significantly harder to afford an education, buy a home and start a family. Even as Millennials and Zoomers become America’s most educated generationsresearch shows that real wages for high school graduates are 5.5 percent lower than in 2000 and the wages of young college graduates are 2.5 percent lower. These trends raise the stakes of younger workers in the fight to pass the PRO Act. 

The PRO Act would help offset weak labor laws that have historically stifled labor organizing. A full 48 percent of non-union workers say they would join a union, but less than 11 percent of workers are unionized because many employers utilize aggressive tactics to squash any organizing efforts. Employers can legally bar union organizers from talking to workers in the workplace and during union elections, nearly 90 percent of employers require workers to attend captive audience meetings where they deliver anti-union messages. The PRO Act would prohibit such tactics, making it far easier for workers to organize.

But what difference would unions make? Examples of organized labor’s successes are all around us. Striking teachers’ unions in West Virginia won a 5 percent raise in 2018, and teachers in Los Angeles won a 6 percent raise in 2019. During the pandemic, when large corporate grocers reaped record profits while refusing to pay their workers hazard pay, UFCW locals led the fight across California to pass $5 hazard pay mandates for essential workers in cities like South San Francisco.

Now is the time for Millennials and Zoomers to demand that the Senate follow the lead of the House and pass the PRO Act. Make calls, send emails, and organize your community. No senator from either party can claim to care about young people or working Americans if they don’t support this bill. A version of the PRO Act is reportedly included in the $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package that Democrats plan to pass through budget reconciliation, meaning it could be closer than ever to becoming law. We can help make that a reality. 

The fight to pass the PRO Act is not just about democratizing the workplace, it’s our best shot at building a fair economy and reviving the American dream?—?for our generation and all those who follow. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 20, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: James Coleman is a 22-year-old City Councilmember for the City of South San Francisco, and graduate from Harvard University.


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Rent is out of reach for minimum-wage workers in every state. New study shows how far out of reach

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Wage theft is a huge problem that requires a creative solution, this week  in the war on workers | Today's Workplace

Opponents of raising the minimum wage to $15 like to say that sure, $15 might be a reasonable wage in New York City or Los Angeles, but it’s just too high in the heartland. Guess what, guys? There are more than 3,000 counties in the United States, but only 218 in which a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out of Reach report. There is not one city or state in which a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. And there’s only one state in which full-time work at $15 an hour is currently enough for a two-bedroom market rate rental home. It’s not enough in Alabama or Mississippi, Iowa or Nebraska. It’s for damn sure not Texas or Utah. Congratulations, Sen. Joe Manchin: It’s West Virginia, sliding in 17 cent an hour under $15. But West Virginia’s current minimum wage of $8.75 an hour doesn’t come close.

Nationally, on average, a full-time worker would need to be paid $24.90 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental without paying more than 30% of their income. By contrast, the average renter in the U.S. earns $18.78 per hour. Nearly 60% of all wage and salary workers earn less than the $24.90 needed to make the average two-bedroom rental affordable.

Today’s minimum wage? Ha. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Thirty states, the District of Columbia, and some counties and cities have higher minimum wages, but even so, “the average minimum wage worker must work nearly 97 hours per week (more than 2 full-time jobs) to afford a two bedroom rental home or 79 hours per week (almost 2 full-time jobs) to afford a one bedroom rental home at the fair market rent.”

In five states—Hawai’i, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland—the average renter’s wage falls more than $10 short of the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom rental.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought billions in federal rental assistance, though it’s being paid out too slowly, with the expiration of a federal eviction moratorium looming on July 31. But as the comparison between the cost of modest rental housing and the wages people are actually being paid shows—and as past years of this report show—even before the pandemic, housing was a crisis that demanded policy solutions. The National Low Income Housing Coalition is calling on Congress to expand rental assistance to every eligible household that needs it—current programs fall far short of the need—as well as to invest in affordable housing and bolster public housing. Another key policy would prevent landlords from refusing to rent to people with housing vouchers, since many people with vouchers struggle to find housing they can use the vouchers for.

Republicans will never, ever allow these policies—or a minimum wage increase—to pass if they have the power to block them. Democrats need to find a way to get Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on board with doing something, because the situation is dire.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on July 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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From Carl’s Jr. to a gay club, Oregon workers suffered in the heat, this week in the war on workers

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Wage theft is a huge problem that requires a creative solution, this week  in the war on workers | Today's Workplace

Workers suffered during recent heat waves around the country, and hitting the Pacific Northwest especially hard. We’ve talked about the need for heat protections for farmworkers, but they’re not the only ones.

HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson looks at the heat complaints to Oregon OSHA, finding that restaurant workers were hit particularly hard. According to a complaint from a Carl’s Jr., “The restaurant management is forcing employees to work without air-conditioning in dangerous heat. The temperature in the building is at least 100*F. Employees are covered in sweat, and are showing signs of heat exhaustion.” At a Burger King, “110+ Degrees in the kitchen over the past few days. The AC system is broken and the employer will not fix it. This is when it’s been 101+ outside. Employees are forced to work nonetheless, no matter the heat hazard.”

It wasn’t just farmworkers and restaurant workers, either. The complaints Jamieson reviewed included a carwash, a cannabis dispensary, a canvassing agency that sends people out to fundraise for nonprofits, and dancers at a gay club. Clearly as climate change makes extreme heat a more frequent occurrence, workplace safety regulations and enforcement are going to need to catch up.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on July 17, 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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How the Potency of Social Wages Can Beat Back Neoliberalism

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Jack Metzgar – LAWCHA

At the core of President Biden’s American Families Plan is an understanding that workers are paid too little in market wages and that government has a responsibility to change that.

If President Biden’s American Families Plan becomes law as he proposed it, my grand-niece Harri will finally have a ?“modest yet adequate” standard of living based on a new commitment from the federal government to provide social wages.

Harri is a 30-year-old single mother of two, one 3?year-old and one in school. As an assistant manager at Walmart, she makes about $47,000 a year, but about $8,000 of that goes for day care for her preschooler. She recently started getting $550 a month in a Child Tax Credit (CTC), but that’s just a temporary boost for the next year that was part of the Democrats’ March stimulus package. If the Families Plan?—?part of what Biden describes as ?“human infrastructure”?—?becomes law, she’ll get that CTC money for another five years and her preschooler will get free pre?K public education, freeing Harri from paying for day care.

Add it all up, and Harri’s income will be topped up by $6,600 and she’ll be saving $8,000 a year on day-care costs. She’ll go from having $47,000 a year in reported income to having $53,600, but with the absence of day-care costs, her real spending income will be enhanced by $14,600, a 37% increase. Where she lives, in central Pennsylvania, the Economic Policy Institute figures that with no child care costs, she would need about $49,000 to have a modest yet adequate standard of living. Harri will have a little more than that. Bringing in $53,600 will not provide her with a life of luxury, but the magnitude of that change should be transformative for Harri and her children. Harri will get more than parents with fewer kids or fewer pre-schoolers, but she’ll get less than parents with more kids or more than one preschooler. 

The point is that the combination of the CTC and public pre?K (plus an additional program where parents of one- and two-year-olds will pay no more than 7% of their income for day care) will make a dramatic difference in most parents’ and children’s lives. It is often said that the CTC by itself will cut child poverty in half. But the whole combination will do much more than that for many more families, including those who are not poor but struggle to get by.

Beyond its variety of impacts on different American families, Biden’s Families Plan is a breakthrough commitment to the concept of social wages, a concept that has even wider application. Along with other Biden initiatives, there appears to be a firm Democratic recognition that most workers are paid too little in market wages to get by and that the government has a responsibility to change that.

Social wages are different from the commonly (and loosely) used phrase ?“social safety net.” Safety-net programs, like unemployment compensation and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, are for people who have fallen on hard times for one reason or another. Like a net, they keep people from falling farther by providing temporary income until they can get back on their feet. 

Social wages, on the other hand, are more permanent, less means-tested, and available for much larger groups of people. They either subsidize essential workers by increasing their pay or reduce costs of common goods and services. Among Biden’s various plans, for example, are wage subsidies for home care and day care workers who now average $23,000 and $22,000 a year respectively. Obamacare subsidies and the Earned Income Tax Credit do this for a broader group of low-wage workers. Many cities with strong labor movements, like New York, have long had reduced transit fares and rent control to keep costs affordable for low- and moderate-wage workers, though better-paid workers benefit as well. In the postwar years, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union established cooperative housing and even a non-profit bank to reduce their members’ and other workers’ cost of living.

Increased income or reduced costs increase human freedom by providing a higher standard of living that gives people the chance to choose how to spend money, not just struggle to pay the bills. Harri should have nearly $4,000 in discretionary income if the Families Plan becomes law, something she has never had before. Disposable income is your income after taxes, and almost everybody has some. Discretionary income is the income you have left after all your ordinary expenses are met, the money you can actually choose how to spend. It’s anything over that modest yet adequate amount that the Economic Policy Institute has estimated for your family in the place you live.

Biden’s Families plan will affect my niece’s family and its prospects much more than it will for many other families. A family with one school-age child, for example, will get only $250 a month with the CTC and no savings for child care. Or, a single mother with two children, like Harri, will get the same amount in CTC and in child-care savings, but because she earns only $20,000, she’ll end up with a mere $26,600 and free day care?—?no longer in official poverty but still a long way from a modest but adequate income.

But the concept of social wages is just as important as the specific result of any particular program. It means that the federal government accepts its responsibility to make sure that ?“nobody who works full time should live in poverty.” It also represents the transfer of money from our super-wealthy to workers who make less than a modest but adequate living. Biden proposes to pay for his plans with increased taxes on corporations and on individuals who earn more than $400,000 a year?—?though it would be even fairer if the Walton family had to pay Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax on their $247 billion in wealth since Harri and her co-workers helped produce some of that.

I’m as surprised as anyone at how sweepingly progressive Biden’s initiatives are, but none of them came full-blown from the head of Biden. They are all programs that have been developed and advocated for by progressive activists and academics in opposition to a seemingly impregnable public commitment to neoliberalism?—?all that movement and electoral politics of the past several decades, all those Fight for $15 actions and the doors Berniecrats knocked on.

As an academic, I am especially inspired by the intellectual work that contributed to this process. Efforts to establish ?“modest but adequate” levels of family income, for example, had begun in the postwar period by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics?—?at a time when unions represented one of every three workers and that Henry Wallace aspirationally dubbed ?“the century of the common man.” That statistical series was ended in the early years of the Reagan administration, signifying that the federal government no longer gave a shit about what was adequate for common people. A decade or so later, a more sophisticated effort to establish adequate income levels was undertaken first by Wider Opportunities for Women and then by the Economic Policy Institute. The Reagan administration didn’t want us to be able to measure how inadequate most family incomes would become. But now we know, and we have one of our political parties at least rhetorically aspiring to adequacy.

The fate of Harri and her kids and millions like them will be determined in the next few weeks as the Democrats cajole, negotiate with, and debate each other about what will be in the final budget reconciliation bill. Let’s hope they do enough to decisively turn the page on four decades of neoliberal indifference to the people who do essential work we all depend upon.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Jack Metzgar is a professor emeritus of Humanities at Roosevelt University in Chicago. A former president of the Working-Class Studies Association, he is the author of a forthcoming book from Cornell University Press, Bridging the Divide: Working-Class Culture in a Middle-Class Society.


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At a Convention Like No Other, Teamster Challengers Turn a Corner

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Alexandra Bradbury | Labor Notes

This was a Teamsters convention like no other—and not just because it was held online, avoiding the usual Las Vegas spectacle where a few brave reformers run a gauntlet of booing red-vested delegates.

Even in person, the 2021 convention wouldn’t have gone down that way. The opposition slate didn’t just squeak past the 5 percent of delegates required to get on the ballot, as it often has before.

This time it pulled half the votes—reflecting a power shift in the union.

All 1.3 million Teamsters have the right to vote on their top officers. Now that the slates are nominated, members will be mailed a ballot on October 4; votes will be counted November 15.

At the convention, members of the durable reform movement Teamsters for a Democratic Union and their allies achieved constitutional amendments they’ve been seeking for decades.

For one, they won majority rule on contracts. Delegates voted to end the two-thirds loophole, which let leaders force a contract through unless a supermajority voted no; President James P. Hoffa sparked fury in 2018 when he imposed a UPS pact where members’ top concerns were ignored or worse.

About that out-of-touch contract: delegates also wrote into the constitution that every bargaining committee from now on has to include rank and filers.

And they voted to distribute strike benefits from day one, not day eight—reflecting a growing willingness to put the ultimate weapon on the table. The 320,000 UPS Teamsters are looking ahead to the 2023 contract.

“You always want that tool in your toolbox,” said Willie Ford, reform president of Local 71 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a candidate for trustee on the TDU-backed Teamsters United slate. “You may not have to use it, but it needs to be there.”

“The international union treats our members like they’re stupid, and they’re not,” said Fred Zuckerman, president of Louisville Local 89 and second on the Teamsters United ticket. “They’re very intelligent. They know what’s going on. We have found out that our members are willing to take on a fight, as long as leaders have their back.”

A few reform proposals went down to defeat. One would have protected the 5 percent nomination threshold. Raising it to 10 percent, something incumbents have threatened, would have kept the last four opposition slates off the ballot. Other proposals would have plugged a loophole on the officer salary cap and made rank-and-file experience a prerequisite for top office.

OLD ALLIANCES FRACTURE

“There’s definitely a thirst for change,” said Sean O’Brien, who leads the Teamsters United slate, “because there’s been 20 years of complacency. There’s been ineffective organizing. There’s been a lack of political action.” O’Brien heads Boston Local 25 and New England Joint Council 10.

If elected he plans to clean house in division leadership roles around the country, end the communication “brownout” in contract negotiations, and fight to reverse the UPS concessions.

“We’re going to ask for as much member participation as possible,” O’Brien said. “You’re going to see a more active, more militant union.”

In the delegate vote to nominate candidates, O’Brien beat out his rival on the Hoffa-backed Teamster Power slate, International Vice President and Rocky Mountain Joint Council 3 President Steve Vairma, 52-48 percent.

All the at-large Teamsters United candidates won about half the delegates. That’s a far cry from the single digits the opposition usually scores at the convention—even the 2016 slate, which nearly toppled Hoffa in the popular vote.

Typically the delegates are a tough crowd. Many are local union officers who have made their own bargains with the international leadership to get and keep power. So the even split this year shows that some local officers see which way the wind is blowing.

It also reflects a mood in the membership. Out campaigning, Ford said, he’s finding that the grassroots fight over the past six years to save Central States pensions has riled up freight Teamsters: “People lose faith in the leadership when something you’ve worked so hard for all your life seemed to be going down the drain.”

And at UPS, members are living the bad contract. Since the pandemic began, many delivery drivers are almost hitting the weekly legal maximum of 70 hours behind the wheel. “That is really taxing on their body,” Ford said. “Something has to be done.”

PAPER TIGERS

The online convention was a quirky spectacle. Speakers joined by phone while the video showed only the chair, Hoffa, who grimaced and walked off screen during one impassioned speech.

Many of the unseen convention delegates weren’t sitting at home in their bathrobes; they gathered regionally. Gabriella Killpack, a UPS driver and local trustee from Salt Lake City, got a taste of the traditional vitriol as one of just a handful of Teamsters United delegates in Denver—Vairma’s home turf.

The crowd there booed Killpack when she spoke on the virtual convention floor. A man followed her outside to call her a coward. Another person kept threatening her: “Some people here want to beat you the f— up.”

Killpack was shocked at the intense animosity. “It just blew my mind,” she said. “But it’s also kind of invigorating. They couldn’t even handle one person supporting the reform slate. The old guard of the Teamsters are paper tigers.”

Vairma and two other Teamster Power candidates did not respond to interview requests for this article.

EX-FOES TEAM UP

The campaign kicked off three years ago when Zuckerman and O’Brien announced they were teaming up, long before Hoffa announced his retirement and recruited Vairma as his successor.

TDU members ultimately voted to back the slate—some with enthusiasm, others with trepidation. O’Brien was an old foe who had run and won on Hoffa’s ticket before—a talking point the Vairma campaign is now making hay of.

But O’Brien took his job seriously as chief UPS negotiator in 2017. He reached out to opposition leaders to build the contract campaign; he insisted Zuckerman should be on the bargaining team. Hoffa then fired him as package division director.

TDU local leaders in the Northeast—the ones who had fought O’Brien most bitterly over the years—now call him their strong ally. Juan Campos, another powerhouse who leads a 15,000-member local in Chicago, joined the slate too.

The 2016 incarnation of Teamsters United fell just short of a win, with 49 percent of the vote. Now with an expanded coalition, it looks strong enough to go the distance.

SHOP FLOOR COMES FIRST

But for a reform movement, there’s an upside to the rank and file going into victory with a healthy skepticism of the leaders they elect. Members will recognize the need to keep mobilizing and pushing from below.

With the nomination secured, candidates and activists are hitting the road to talk with as many Teamsters as possible. Supporters are signing a pledge card that will be mailed back to them as a get-out-the-vote reminder.

In her local, Killpack is both campaigning for the slate and promoting collective action among overworked UPS drivers. By the end of the summer she aims to bring drivers together for parking lot meetings, then rallies with demands.

“Our primary objective is rank-and-file Teamsters organizing Teamsters over our issues,” she said. “A change in leadership only works if we also get members to step up and take on these fights. If the members aren’t activated and organized, then we have nothing.”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on July 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Alexandra Bradbury is the editor of Labor Notes


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We Have a Jobs Crisis and an Environmental Crisis. The Answer to Both Is a Civilian Climate Corps.

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free enterprise | Today's Workplace

From Bernie Sanders and AOC to the Sunrise Movement, progressives are working to establish an updated version of a New Deal program to meet the challenges of economic and climate upheaval. Its time has come.

The Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure deal embraced by President Joe Biden appears to be a dud. Instead of taxing the rich to modernize America’s roads, water systems and other infrastructure, it promotes various forms of privatization. A summary released in late June about how new construction will be financed includes so-called ?“public-private partnerships,” which are essentially high-interest loans to state and local governments that deliver massive returns for Wall Street banks, private equity investors and multinational financial firms. Also listed is a fringe policy idea called ?“asset recycling,” which would incentivize states and cities to outright sell off public assets. Back in 2009, Chicago leased out its parking meters to investors as far away as Abu Dhabi for at least $1 billion under value, which has forced residents to pick up the tab ever since. Asset recycling is that type of scheme on steroids. 

If Biden is committed to tackling both climate change and inequality?—?which he says he is—then encouraging privatization is counterproductive. Privatizing infrastructure makes adapting to a warming climate harder—because it gives decision making power to corporations and investors. It raises fees and rates for residents—because those corporations and investors need to make a profit. And it creates a race to the bottom on worker wages—because contracted out workers are less likely to be members of a union.

But all is not lost. Biden has a chance to deliver for working people and a healthy climate if he listens to progressives when it comes to a promising proposal that could potentially create millions of good-paying, green public jobs: The Civilian Climate Corps (CCC).

The CCC would be a government jobs program that puts people to work directly combatting the climate crisis. First envisioned by the youth-led Sunrise Movement, the program would aim to ?“conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”

Its impact could be considerable, especially if the final product echoes a proposal released in April by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D?N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D?Mass.). Their proposed CCC would create 1.5 million jobs that would pay at least $15 per hour, provide full healthcare coverage, and offer support beyond the workplace, like housing and educational grants.

The good news is that, even though Biden’s bipartisan deal doesn’t include money for the CCC, the president actually already established the program in a January executive order, and his original American Jobs Plan called for $10 billion in funding for it. The bad news is that the proposed funding was only a fraction of what’s needed. Biden’s proposal would only create up to 20,000 jobs a year—nowhere near the overall need.

That’s why progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.) and Ocasio-Cortez, alongside groups like Sunrise and the National Wildlife Federation, are pushing for a much bigger and broader infrastructure investment than the bipartisan deal, to include substantial funding for the CCC.

One avenue will be to pressure Biden to keep his word when it comes to public jobs. In late June, the president signed an executive order directing the the federal government to encourage diversity and inclusion among its workforce. If a CCC becomes a reality, it must avoid the mistakes made by its predecessor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which was established in 1933.

The first corps accomplished plenty. Over nine years, it employed some 3 million young men to fight forest fires, build more than 100,000 miles of roads and trails, construct 318,000 dams, connect telephone lines across mountain passes, plant 3 billion trees, and much more. But it suffered the same affliction as many New Deal-era programs by mostly shutting out Black Americans. 

While the bill authorizing the program stipulated that ?“no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, or creed,” Black workers were separated into different camps and often given more difficult, less prestigious work. They also experienced resistance when climbing the ranks within the Civilian Conservation Corps’ administrative hierarchy. Women weren’t allowed to join at all, instead offered opportunities with Eleanor Roosevelt’s ?“She-She-She” camps, which were widely scorned and only benefited some 8,500 people.

That’s why a new CCC must aim to target communities most harmed by the intersecting Covid-19, climate and unemployment crises. As In These Times’ editors wrote back in April, ?“The new Civilian Climate Corps must center Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous communities, which have been disproportionately affected by environmental injustice (and Covid-19).”

Public employment has long offered stable jobs to people of color, particularly after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Black Americans gained 28 percent of new federal government jobs in the 1960s, while only making up 10 percent of the U.S. population. By the 1980s and 1990s, Black public employees were twice as likely as their private sector counterparts to receive promotions into white collar managerial positions and technical jobs. For both men and women, the median wage earned by Black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.

For now, with the Senate still debating the paltry bipartisan infrastructure deal, it appears that funding for the CCC will have to find its way into a future budget reconciliation package, which wouldn’t require Republican votes to pass. ?“I want to enlist a new generation of climate conservation and resilience workers like FDR did with the American work plan for preserving our landscape with the Civilian Conservation Corps,” Biden said in a July 7 speech in Illinois. He made clear that the CCC, as well as other policies like two free years of community college, aren’t going to be in the bipartisan deal. ?“In Washington, they call it a reconciliation bill,” he said of the plan for enacting other major parts of his agenda.

Sanders is currently crafting language for such a bill, and plans to include increased funding for the CCC (reportedly $50 billion on top of Biden’s original proposal). Making such an investment a reality will likely require climate organizers and advocates to keep the pressure on lawmakers in Washington so they don’t renege on their promises on the environment. 

People need jobs. We need to modernize our infrastructure to combat climate change. The federal government is the only institution with enough coordination and resources to kill those two birds with one stone. A well-funded CCC is the clear path forward. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 13, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Jeremy Mohler is a Washington D.C.-based political writer with In the Public Interest and a meditation teacher.


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Volvo Workers Forced to Vote Again on Contract They Just Rejected

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Jane Slaughter, Author at LA Progressive

Auto Workers (UAW) officials are fed up with their striking members at Volvo Trucks in Virginia and are helping the company get them back to work under a contract members have rejected—three times.

The strike has been running on and off, through three ratification votes, since April 17. Each time, local and International officials have urged members to vote yes despite huge increases in health care costs and continuation of an onerous two-tiered wage.

The first two votes were 91 and 90 percent no; the latest, on July 9, was 60 percent no. As one worker, Carrie Davis, said on Facebook: “They know they only need to scare 11 percent to get it to pass.”

Volvo is using several scare tactics, and union officials are stolidly repeating the information (UAW Local 2069 President Matt Blondino: “That’s what we’re here for”):

  • Telling workers that if they vote yes on Wednesday, on the same agreement turned down last week, they will return to work with a $2,000 bonus ($1,000 for new hires). If they vote no, they’ll come back with no bonus.
  • Telling workers that the most recent rejected agreement is Volvo’s “last, best, and final offer” that will not change no matter what. “They said no matter how you vote, you’re going to work under this contract,” explained one worker who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.
  • Threatening not to carry through on planned investment and construction in the plant.

In one case, the UAW is not repeating Volvo’s line. Volvo asked workers to cross picket lines and return to work today. UAW officials have asked workers to stay out until the vote and said line-crossers will not be allowed to vote on ratification. It’s estimated that 20 to 25 have crossed.

Today, member Rhonda Sisk filed an unfair labor practice charge against Blondino with the National Labor Relations Board, for refusing to share with members a copy of the entire proposed agreement. Sisk says this secrecy indicates that there are hidden surprises. Blondino was on the picket line today, she said, urging a yes vote.

NO STRATEGY

Local and International union officials have offered no strategy or information about how to defeat Volvo’s tactics. Blondino indicated that an unfair labor practice against Volvo, for imposing the agreement, could be filed—but first, members have to vote on the agreement they just rejected.

The worker quoted above summed up members’ experience: “We have fought against the company and our own union for a fair contract. …The company is strong-arming us with the threat of that bonus.”

The UAW’s Heavy Trucks Department, of which the Volvo plant in Dublin, Virginia, is a part, was previously led by Ray Curry. He was involved in the earlier attempts to pass a concessionary contract in Dublin. On July 1, Curry was appointed international union president by the executive board.

You’d think a man who wants to continue as union president would not crush a strike of his members—but until now, UAW presidents have been well insulated from member opinion. They have been elected at controlled conventions where delegates obediently raise their hands for the status quo.

But UAW members now have the chance to switch to a one-member-one-vote system; they will vote in a referendum this fall whether to do so. It’s their chance to inject some accountability into their union.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on July 12, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.


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Nevada hospitality workers get ‘right to return,’ this week in the war on workers

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Wage theft is a huge problem that requires a creative solution, this week  in the war on workers | Today's Workplace

Nevada’s “right to return” law has gone into effect, requiring employers to rehire many hospitality workers laid off during the pandemic to their original jobs, or equivalents, as those jobs become available again. Workers will get 24 hours to decide whether to accept a job, and must be available to start within five days.

The non-union Station Casinos, however, are dodging the law for some positions, claiming that the law is just so complicated that they cannot figure out how to recall people to jobs in the right order, so as a result, Station won’t be filling some jobs at all. (The company has recalled 1,500 workers.) In case you were wondering about the motivation here, the company issued a statement about its decision attacking the Culinary Union.

Meanwhile, the workers who’ve long had good jobs in the Las Vegas hospitality industry just want their jobs back.

“I only want to work,” said one worker affected by Station’s decision. “I want all I lost in this time. I want to get it back.”

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on July 10, 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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A Wisconsin Hog Farm Would Produce 9.4 Million Gallons of Manure a Year. Nearby Residents Live in Fear.

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Crawford County is up against Roth Feeder Pig II, which would be the largest hog CAFO in the state and could permanently pollute local aquifers.

CRAWFORD COUNTY, WIS.?—?When a neighbor tells Carl Schlecht and Kat Tigerman about an industrial hog farm planning construction on the narrow ridge above their home, they think it’s a joke. The retired couple lives along the Kickapoo River in the heart of southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, one of the most rugged and ecologically sensitive regions in the state, and a massive industrial polluter moving in was too much to believe. 

Now, Schlecht says, ?“It feels like an existential threat.” 

For the past two and a half years, hundreds of residents, farmers and environmental advocates in rural Crawford County have fought to stop or regulate the proposed farm, Roth Feeder Pig II. It would house more than 8,000 hogs, doubling the size of its sister operation to become the largest concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) for hogs in Wisconsin, and generate 9.4 million gallons of manure annually to be spread on nearby fields. 

The Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP), a collective of environmental scientists and advocates, warns the waste would endanger local waters. According to the CSP, the region’s sloping topography and fractured bedrock, along with an inadequate spreading area exacerbated by increasing rainfall, makes the area highly susceptible to water contamination. 

“Our aquifers in the Driftless Area?—?once they’re polluted, they’re polluted forever,” says Kelvin Rodolfo, CSP volunteer and science professor at the University of Illinois Chicago. 

When the CAFO was proposed, the CSP rallied neighbors and took their concerns to the township and county boards. In December 2019, the county enacted a one-year moratorium on CAFO construction and tasked a special committee with researching potential impacts. The resulting 222-page report found that CAFO manure runoff could render groundwater undrinkable. 

The study points to Kewaunee County in northeast Wisconsin, a geologically similar region saturated with dairy CAFOs. There, 30% of private wells are unsafe to drink from because of high levels of nitrate and bacteria, such as E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). CSP, which runs a water monitoring program in Crawford, reports having already found MRSA in streams at Roth Feeder Pig I. 

Air pollution is another concern. In North Carolina, a state dominated by industrial hog farming, the National Academy of Sciences found air emissions from swine CAFOs are linked to roughly 89 premature deaths annually in Duplin County. Overall, the report found farm pollution causes more than 17,000 U.S. deaths per year, outnumbering deaths from coal plants.

The Crawford County report also notes stench, infrastructure damage, zoonotic disease and plummeting property values as potential impacts. “[CAFOs are] deadly, pretty much all around, ” says Janet Widder, a farmer serving on the report committee.

Wisconsin state law, like its 2004 livestock facility-siting law, has paved the way for easy CAFO expansion, and some Crawford County residents fear the new CAFO is inevitable. ?“There are people who right now are trying to sell their house and [move] out,” says Forest Jahnke, CSP program coordinator.

According to attorney Adam Voskuil at Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law center, “[The siting law] removed a significant amount of local control.” Instead, there is a ?“one-size fits all” standard for CAFOs, and local governments are limited in enforcing anything stricter.

Per the law center, the siting law ?“has been used by the livestock industry to accelerate the growth of factory farming.”

Howard Roth, would-be owner of the proposed CAFO and a fifth-generation hog farmer in Crawford County, served as president of the Wisconsin Pork Producers Association, which has lobbied for deregulation, including the siting law. When reached for comment, Roth claimed he has taken the required precautions to prevent soil pollution and is not worried about air and water pollution. When asked about CSP finding antibiotic-resistant bacteria in his groundwater, Roth claimed his farm is not the source?—?because ?“only 1%” of his animals receive antibiotics.

Despite ongoing opposition, Crawford County’s one-year CAFO moratorium expired in December 2020. The county— among the poorest in the state— argued it couldn’t afford the research required by the siting law to try to prove the farm would pose health risks. Furthermore, the county fears Roth would litigate any potential regulation, another financial burden.

Just months prior in Polk County, Wis., industry groups sent a threatening letter to the county board hours before a vote on a CAFO moratorium extension there. The letter alleged an extension would violate the siting law, for which board members could face felony charges. While the Midwest Environmental Advocates has since argued that wouldn’t be the case, the board ended the moratorium.

The letter had a chilling effect on the Crawford County board, too, which tabled regulation discussions and suspended public comment. Now, community hope rests on intervention from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Throughout June, hundreds asked the DNR to issue an environmental impact statement, which could allow the agency to impose stricter regulations on the farm (such as requiring the installation of groundwater monitoring wells, making it possible to hold the farm liable for pollution).

Since 2014, Tyler Dix, permit coordinator at the DNR, only recalls two of Wisconsin’s 318 CAFOs having an environmental impact statement. Neither moved forward with construction.

Regardless of the outcome, some residents say, the fight is not over.

“When I’m not crying about it, it’s just staggering to me that this is what we have to fight,” Kat Tigerman says. ?“We’re not giving up the fight. Because we can’t.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 8, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Hannah Faris is associate editor at The Wisconsin Idea, an independent reporting project of People’s Action Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and In These Times.


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Striking Alabama Miners Are Done Playing Nice

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Jacob Morrison | North Alabama Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Hundreds of UMWA miners remain on the picket line at the Warrior Met Coal mine.

BROOKWOOD, ALA.?—??“You ain’t working tonight!”

That was one of the picket line chants heard June 15 as several hundred members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and their allies attempted to block strikebreakers from entering the Warrior Met Coal mine.

With tank tops that read ?“scab bullies,” supporters stood shoulder to shoulder with the miners while police pleaded for protesters to move their trucks. No one would claim the vehicles.

“Who is in charge?” one of the officers asked.

“Everyone,” answered Haeden Wright, president of a local UMWA women’s auxiliary unit, a close-knit group of union members’ wives and supporters. ?“We are the UMWA.”

Police eventually towed the vehicles, but the standoff would last for hours. One miner offered a simple explanation: ?“This playing nice shit ain’t cutting it.”

The picket line had grown contentious before. In May, about two months after the strike began, Tuscaloosa police arrested 11 leaders of the UMWA and the Alabama AFL-CIO for blocking one of the mine’s 12 entrances. They all spent the night in jail and, according to the union, were given a warning: If they’re arrested again, they will be held until trial.

Along with threats from police, striking miners have faced other attacks?—?including three separate vehicular assaults in June, in which drivers plowed into UMWA picketers.

“Warrior Met personnel, either management or nonunion workers, have repeatedly struck our members, who were engaging in legal picket line activities, with their vehicles,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said in a June 7 statement. ?“We have members in casts, we have members in the hospital, we have members who are concerned about their families and potential of violence against them if they come to the picket line.”

The work stoppage, which follows the months-long campaign to unionize Amazon warehouse workers in nearby Bessemer, is one of the country’s most significant mining strikes in decades. On April 1, upward of 1,100 workers walked off the job as their contract with Warrior Met expired. The union reached a tentative agreement with management a week later, but rank-and-file members rejected it, claiming it failed to address demands for better hours and wages. The miners remained on strike.

When the UMWA signed its most recent contract in 2016, it agreed to significant concessions to save the jobs of workers laid off by the mine’s previous owners, Jim Walter Resources, with the understanding that new management would eventually reward workers for their sacrifice. Those concessions included an average wage cut of $6 (from $28 to $22), mandatory seven-day workweeks, loss of overtime pay and, perhaps most crucially, an end to full healthcare coverage.

“Our members are the reason Warrior Met even exists today,” Roberts said in a March 31 statement. ?“They made the sacrifices to bring this company out of the bankruptcy.”

While cheaper and greener alternatives threaten the coal industry, companies like Warrior Met, whose coal is used in the production of steel, enjoy a measure of security. Warrior Met reported a net loss of $21.4 million in the first quarter of 2021, but CEO Walter J. Scheller, III says the company is ?“strongly capitalized and well-positioned to restart our growth trajectory” after the pandemic and is negotiating in good faith.

Meanwhile, strikers are struggling. The UMWA has provided members with weekly payments of $350, but that’s a fraction of their lost salaries. Roberts estimates the strike costs the union more than $1 million per week. To supplement these payments, the UMWA created a strike fund that has directed hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from other unions and groups directly to the miners. (Full disclosure: the North Alabama Area Labor Council, of which the author is secretary-treasurer, has contributed to the fund.)

The women’s auxiliary pantry has collected tens of thousands of dollars more. Local markets have also allowed the unit to purchase bulk groceries at wholesale for miners and their families.

“Miners have always been their brother’s keeper,” says Braxton Wright, a long-time UMWA member and Haeden’s husband. ?“They’ve always stuck together as a group, even outside of work.”

Haeden sees the strike as part of a bigger struggle. ?“We know about Blair Mountain, we know about Mother Jones, we know Harlan, and we know what it takes to move a company,” she says. ?“That’s hard for people to understand if they have never been a part of [this].”

Fourteen miners clad in camo-print UMWA T?shirts took the fight to Wall Street on June 22 to protest three hedge funds with substantial stakes in Warrior Met?—?BlackRock Fund Advisors, State Street Global Advisors and Renaissance Technologies?—?that the union blames for stalled talks. Among others, labor leaders Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, and Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, marched alongside them.

Their battle cry remained the same: ?“No contract, no coal!”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 9, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Jacob Morrison is Secretary-Treasurer of the North Alabama Area Labor Council which represents thousands of union workers and co-hosts The Valley Labor Report, a union talk radio show on Saturday mornings from 9:30 to 11:00am on WVNNWGOL, and YouTube.


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