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Transforming the Labor Landscape: The Working People Weekly List

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Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

The PRO Act Could Transform the Labor Landscape: “Joe Biden promised to be the most pro-union president in modern history. He has a chance to prove it by passing the PRO Act, a sweeping labor law reform bill. As Joe Biden enters the White House with slim majorities in the House and Senate, organized labor is making a concerted push for a major piece of legislation: the PRO Act. The bill is a wide-ranging labor law reform that would help workers fight back after decades of retreat in the face of aggressive employers. The AFL-CIO recently declared the PRO Act one of its top priorities. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) is leading the push for the PRO Act. The painters’ union organized its electoral work around the bill and has been holding public events on the legislation. Now, IUPAT is building up allies as it prepares to push the new presidential administration and Congress to pass the act.”

What Biden and Congress Can Do to Support Unions: “In the last Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression by creating a much fairer process for forming a union. It is called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. After an anti-worker majority blocked it in the Senate, reintroducing the PRO Act, passing it in both chambers of Congress and getting Biden’s signature is vital to our economic recovery. The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise their freedom to organize and bargain. It would make sure that workers can reach a first contract quickly after a union is recognized, end employers’ practice of hiring permanent replacements to punish striking workers and finally hold corporations accountable by strengthening the National Labor Relations Board and allowing it to impose penalties on employers who retaliate against collective bargaining. It would also repeal so-called ‘right to work’ laws, which make it harder for working people to form unions and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

Activision Blizzard Says Interviewing Diverse Candidates for Every Opening ‘Unworkable’: “Activision Blizzard is looking to avoid a shareholder proposal that it interview at least one diverse candidate when it hires for a position, according to a Vice report. The proposal was made separately to both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts by the AFL-CIO labor federation, which owns shares in both publishers. The proposal was based on the NFL’s Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003 to require all of the football league’s teams to interview at least one diverse candidate for every head coaching vacancy. It was later expanded to include vacancies for general managers and similar front office positions. In its letters to the publishers, the AFL-CIO argued for the adoption of the rule, saying, ‘A diverse workforce at all levels of a company can enhance long-term company performance.'”

Local Union Halls Opening Up to Provide Space for Vaccinations: “Community organizations with space are stepping up to make room so more people in Lucas County can be vaccinated. Press conferences, job fairs and union organizing have all brought WTOL 11 to UAW Local 12’s hall, but now they’re preparing to administer 300 vaccines to eligible people in Lucas County on Tuesday.”

Health Care Unions Find a Voice in the Pandemic: “Health care workers say they have been bitterly disappointed by their employers’ and government agencies’ response to the pandemic. Dire staff shortages, inadequate and persistent supplies of protective equipment, limited testing for the virus and pressure to work even if they might be sick have left many workers turning to the unions as their only ally. The virus has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 health care workers nationwide, according to one count. ‘We wouldn’t be alive today if we didn’t have the union,’ said Elizabeth Lalasz, a Chicago public hospital nurse and steward for National Nurses United. The country’s largest union of registered nurses, representing more than 170,000 nationwide, National Nurses was among the first to criticize hospitals’ lack of preparation and call for more protective equipment, like N95 masks. Despite the decades-long decline in the labor movement and the small numbers of unionized nurses, labor officials have seized on the pandemic fallout to organize new chapters and pursue contract talks for better conditions and benefits. National Nurses organized seven new bargaining units last year, compared to four in 2019.”

Biden Toughens Buy American Rules: “‘The Trump administration used the right words but never put in place policies to affect meaningful change,’ Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. ‘This executive order will close loopholes that allow agencies to sidestep Buy American requirements… [and] is a good first step in revitalizing U.S. manufacturing.'”

The Unfinished Story of Women at Work: 9to5 Yesterday, Today the PRO Act: “If you’ve never had to make coffee for your boss, it’s thanks to women who organized in the 1970s. And while the electric typewriter is no more, how women of that era organized is relevant—to current battles like organizing Big Tech, building care infrastructure and winning labor reform by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—so women can form and join unions now without fear. A new documentary, ‘9to5: The Story of a Movement,’ captures the history of an organization started by a group of secretaries in the 1970s, and their sister union, SEIU District 925, and offers powerful insight for us today.”

Mask Fights and a ‘Mob Mentality’: What Flight Attendants Faced Over the Last Year: “Aviation safety officials have received dozens of confidential complaints in the past year from attendants trying to enforce mask safety rules. The reports, filed in the Aviation Safety Reporting System database, at times describe a chaotic, unhinged workplace where passengers regularly abuse airline employees. The tension is at a level flight attendants have not seen before, said Paul Hartshorn Jr., a veteran attendant and a spokesman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union. ‘I think we’re pretty well trained on how to handle a disruptive passenger,’ said Mr. Hartshorn, 46. ‘What we’re not trained to do and what we shouldn’t be dealing with is large groups of passengers inciting a riot with another group of passengers.'”

Biden’s ‘Buy American’ Manufacturing Order Called ‘Good First Step’ by Labor: “‘This executive order will close loopholes that allow agencies to sidestep Buy American requirements and increase the thresholds for domestic content,’ said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. ‘This order is a good first step in revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, which [President Donald] Trump’s policies failed to do over the past four years,’ Trumka said. The order will modify the rules for the Buy American program, reports the Associated Press, making it harder for contractors to qualify for a waiver and sell foreign-made goods to federal agencies. And it changes rules so that more of a manufactured product’s components must originate from U.S. factories.”

Amazon Union Drive Takes Hold in Unlikely Place: “The largest, most viable effort to unionize Amazon in many years began last summer not in a union stronghold like New York or Michigan, but at a Fairfield Inn outside of Birmingham, in the right-to-work state of Alabama. It was late in the summer and a group of employees from a nearby Amazon warehouse contacted an organizer in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were fed up, they said, with the way the online retailer tracked their productivity, and wanted to discuss unionizing. ‘The pandemic changed the way many people feel about their employers,’ said Stuart Appelbaum, the retail union’s president. ‘Many workers see the benefit of having a collective voice.’ ‘I am telling them they are part of a movement that is world wide,” said Michael Foster, a Black organizer in Bessemer, who works in a poultry plant ‘I want them to know that we are important and we do matter.'”

NFL Players Endorse Amazon Warehouse Workers Unionization: “Amazon warehouse workers at the facility in Bessemer, Alabama will begin voting on what could become the first union in the technology giant’s history on February 8. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the union that represents more than 2,000 NFL players in the United States, has endorsed a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers are scheduled to begin voting in a historic union election on February 8. On Sunday, the NFLPA released a video on Twitter, where current and former NFL players, discussed the importance of union representation in improving their own wages, benefits, and working conditions, and how a union could do the same for Amazon employees.”

Labor Groups Push Biden Administration on Union-Friendly Priorities: “‘Robb’s removal is the first step toward giving workers a fair shot again, and we look forward to building on this victory by securing a worker-friendly NLRB and passing the PRO Act so all working people have the freedom to form a union,’ Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement Wednesday.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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How Joe Biden Is Empowering America’s Workers

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Time and again over the past few years, as he fought to protect his coworkers at Bobcat’s North Dakota plant, William Wilkinson faced two obstacles.

One was the company. The other was a federal government that, instead of fulfilling its duty to safeguard workers, helped management exploit them.

Within hours of taking office on January 20, however, President Joe Biden began to level the playing field and harness the strength of working people to tackle the huge challenges confronting the country.

Biden understands that only with a healthy, empowered workforce can America end the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the economy.

So in one of his first official acts, Biden fired Peter Robb, the union-busting corporate lawyer who wormed his way into the general counsel’s job at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and then used his power to turn the agency against the people it was created to protect.

Robb, who directed agency field offices and set policy, thwarted organizing drives and advocated stripping workers of long-standing union protections. He determined that employers had no obligation to bargain with unions seeking COVID-19 protections and even sided with employers who fired workers for voicing coronavirus safety concerns.

“Board charges used to scare the company. Now, they mean nothing,” said Wilkinson, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 560, who sensed Robb’s anti-worker animus rigging the scales in numerous cases that he filed on behalf of his members.

“No matter what, your case is dead before you get there,” Wilkinson said, recalling one dispute in which the NLRB refused to make Bobcat turn over financial data the union needed to assess a health insurance hike. “It’s Bizarro World. They have no interest in wrongdoing or whatever problem brought you there.”

Righting the NLRB will involve not only selecting a new, capable general counsel but, in a change from the former administration, installing board members committed to upholding labor law.

Biden’s housecleaning will ensure the agency returns to its mission of protecting labor rights, such as ensuring that the growing number of Americans who want to join unions—including employees of AmazonGoogle and transportation services—can do so without harassment or retaliation.

A properly functioning NLRB will reset the scales and once again bar corporations from changing working conditions in the middle of a contract.

It will roll back recent, unfair rulings making it easier for corporations to oust unions, discipline workers without recourse to their union representatives and misclassify employees as contractors with fewer labor rights. In classifying SuperShuttle drivers as contractors, for example, the board denied many exploited workers the chance to form a union and build better lives.

An overhauled NLRB will have to reassure workers that they’ll get a fair hearing when they bring contract violations and other offenses to the board.

“We just want to be equal,” Wilkinson said. “I’m not asking for special treatment.”

When the coronavirus struck, Wilkinson and many other workers across the country had to fight their employers to implement commonsense safety measures like social distancing and sanitizer stations.

Some refused, exposing their communities to needless risks and fueling the virus’s spread. All the while, the previous administration callously refused to ramp up workplace protections or hold corporations accountable.

But in an executive order declaring worker health and safety to be a “national priority,” Biden quickly unshackled the agencies charged with protecting Americans on the job.

The order requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—an agency that Wilkinson described as having “gone completely corporate” like the NLRB in recent years—to update COVID-19 safety guidelines for workplaces.

Biden also directed OSHA, whose leadership allowed investigations to lag and inspector positions to go vacant before the pandemic, to scrutinize its enforcement program and train resources on COVID-19 hotspots.

And under Biden’s order, both OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration must quickly study the need for emergency, temporary infectious disease standards that would require employers to take certain steps to keep workers safe on the job.

The USW and other unions demanded these standards for nearly a year, realizing that many employers will act responsibly only when regulators hold their feet to the fire. Workers need these protections more than ever as America’s COVID-19 death toll eclipses 440,000, new variants of the virus begin hitting the nation and Biden accelerates the vaccine rollout that his predecessor botched.

To accomplish all of this vital work as quickly as possible, it’s essential to have battle-tested experts at the helm.

That’s why Biden tapped James S. Frederick, formerly the assistant director and principal investigator for the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Department, to serve as one of the top leaders at OSHA.

During his 25 years on the front lines of occupational safety, Frederick doggedly pursued answers to workplace tragedies and advocated for some of the most important safety regulations that OSHA is responsible for enforcing today.

But it isn’t just technical knowledge that prepared Frederick for his new role. His empathy for injured workers and bereft families will give a fresh urgency to OSHA’s work.

“What a super win to get a Steelworker in there,” said Wilkinson, who praised the USW’s health and safety programs. “He’ll do a good job for working people. He’ll do it right.”

Working people took so many hits the past four years that Wilkinson felt the country’s foundation crumbling.

But with Biden in their corner, he believes workers will have the support they need to steer through the pandemic and build a stronger America.

“What he’s done so far is totally a morale changer,” Wilkinson said. “If Biden holds to his promises, I see the middle class growing, along with unions. That’s more jobs and higher wages for all working people.”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

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


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Biden signs executive orders aimed at combating hunger, protecting workers

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President Joe Biden signed two executive orders on Friday aimed at fighting hunger, protecting American workers and providing economic relief to families whose jobs and livelihoods have been destroyed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures ask agencies across the government to expand, extend and at times re-examine guidelines to find ways to provide further aid for Americans while working within existing authority, including by strengthening worker protections and increasing food benefits.

While they are not meant as a stand-in for the nearly $2 trillion economic relief package Biden proposed last week, the orders reflect the White House’s efforts to shore up the economy while lawmakers debate whether to enact a new, massive aid package — a process that could take months.


“These actions are concrete and will provide immediate support to hard-hit families,” Brian Deese, the head of the White House’s National Economic Council, told reporters on a call Thursday evening. But, he added, “They are not enough. And much, much more is needed.”

Through one executive order, Biden asks the Department of Agriculture to consider increasing food assistance benefits and money to help families with schoolchildren buy groceries. He also asks the Treasury Department to consider taking action to ensure that more Americans who are eligible to receive economic relief checks are able to get them.

And he is calling on the Labor Department to clarify guidelines that until now had forced American workers who refused an offer to return to work to lose their unemployment benefits, even if heading back to the workplace would have put them or their families at heightened risk.

“This is the United States of America, and they are waiting to feed their kids,” Biden said. “These are not the values of our nation. We cannot, will not let people go hungry.”

The second order is focused on protecting federal workers and contractors, in part by restoring collective bargaining power and worker protections by revoking measures that President Donald Trump had signed. It also eliminates Schedule F, a class of worker that Trump had established that stripped many federal civil service employees of job protections.

It asks agencies to take a look at which federal employees are earning less than $15 per hour and come up with recommendations to get them above that wage.

The orders are the latest in a blitz of executive actions that Biden has taken since he took office on Wednesday. The more than two dozen measures he has signed have been aimed in part at turning around the pandemic, tackling climate change and reversing some of Trump’s policies, including the so-called Muslim ban on travelers from certain countries.


Deese called on Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan that Biden laid out last week, which proposed $1.9 trillion in additional federal funding to tackle the pandemic, provide another round of direct payments to working families and extend unemployment benefits, among other priorities. But Republicans have panned that proposal, saying it is too expensive and comes too soon after the $900 billion aid package that Congress passed last month.

During the signing ceremony for the executive orders Friday, Biden pushed back on those concerns: “While the Covid-19 package that passed in December was the first step, as I said at the time, it’s just a down payment. We need more action, and we need to move fast.”

“We’re in a national emergency,” he added. “We’ve got to act like we’re in a national emergency.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on January 22, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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

About the Author: Matthew Choi is a breaking news reporter.


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Biden has promised to be a champion for workers. Some early signs suggest he means to deliver

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President Joe Biden has long branded himself as a union guy, Joe from Scranton who represented the worker. The reality of his policies—especially as a senator from credit card company mecca Delaware—and his personnel decisions has been more mixed. But the early signs from his presidential administration have many labor advocates and progressive economists excited.

First off, Biden didn’t wait on a key union priority: getting rid of National Labor Relations Board general counsel Peter Robb. On Inauguration Day, Biden requested Robb’s resignation, and when Robb refused, Biden fired him. Robb had 10 months left in his term, but worker advocates felt—and Biden apparently agreed—that the extreme anti-worker agenda he was bringing to the role was such that 10 months was way too long.

Robb is a longtime union-busting lawyer who, as NLRB counsel, let McDonald’s off the hookfor any responsibility for labor conditions at franchisee-owned stores. “Since then, Robb has gone after so-called ‘neutrality’ agreements between unions and employers that make it easier for workers to organize,” Dave Jamieson reported. “And he has recently taken on Scabby the Rat, the labor-dispute protest icon beloved by unions and progressives. Robb apparently hates the rat and wants to ban its use as ‘unlawfully coercive.’” 

Robb had also sought to restructure the NLRB to remove power from civil servants and put them in the hands of political appointees like himself.

“There’s one measure that will signal that Biden is serious” about his claims to support unions, C.M. Lewis wrote at Strikewave the week before inauguration. “On day one, he needs to fire National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb.” Well, Biden has signaled that he’s serious.

But that’s not the only labor-related move that drew excitement from progressives on the evening of Biden’s inauguration. The announcement of Janelle Jones as chief economist, Angela Hanks as counselor to the secretary, and Raj Nayak as senior advisor drew a lot of excitement on Wednesday night. Jones and Hanks have both been affiliated with the Groundwork Collaborative, which “is dedicated to unifying progressives and activists in communities across the country to refine and advance a progressive economic worldview.” Hanks has also spent time at the Center for American Progress, the National Skills Coalition, and as a staffer for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. Jones has worked at the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and news of her hiring moved Rep. Ayanna Pressley to tweet “Personnel is policy. Janelle Jones = policy that meets the moment & the crises we face.” Nayak is an alumnus of the Obama Labor Department and has worked at the National Employment Law Project.

There was a LOT of excitement about these hires.

So the early signs on Biden and labor are looking decidedly better than expected. But that doesn’t mean the pressure can let up. American workers need the Biden administration to deliver big things. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on January 21, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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