Itâs never a bad idea to be suspicious of your boss, especially when they act like theyâre doing you a favor. For workers at FrontLine Service, a Cleveland non-profit that serves the unsheltered, distrust of our employer is one of the critical sentiments that binds us.
FrontLine workers, members of Service Employees Local 1199, provide crucial services to some of the most marginalized and neglected people in Northeast Ohio. Every day, we assist folks struggling with mental health crises, substance abuse, lack of housing, and other hardships.
The work is arduous and the pay is low, but we do what we can to serve the communities in which we live and work.
As the window for negotiations closed, it appeared that a strike was imminent. However, the minor contract gains we managed to achieve were enough to win the approval of a slim majority.
SUDDENLY THEY LIKE IT
Nearly all of our most ambitious demands were rejected. One such demand was for the implementation of a four-day workweek: 32 hours a week, an additional full day off, with benefits and wages reflecting whatever increases were won through bargaining.
As appealing as the idea of a shortened workweek was to us, none of us thought it had a snowballâs chance in hell of getting added to the contract. If anything, we thought that it could be a bargaining chip weâd give up in order to obtain something else.
So, we were surprised when a few months later management requested to meet with us to discuss how a four-day workweek pilot project could be implemented.
The first draft of managementâs proposal included stipulations that would lengthen the workday, cut worker benefits by 15 percent, reduce sick, personal, and vacation leave, and increase the daily productivity standard by an hour.
The proposed pilot would involve 25 out of a workforce of 300 people. This small sample for the pilot is, we believe, inadequate for measuring the four-day workweekâs effectiveness and, more importantly, could undermine solidarity and divide workers.
DID OUR HOMEWORK
In our counterproposal submitted to management March 23, we made it clear that we will not accept any modifications or reductions to hard-won gains in our contract.
Members of our bargaining committee conducted extensive research and we had several illuminating meetings with employers who successfully implemented a four-day workweek, both non-profits and for-profits.
All this suggested that FrontLineâs proposed pilot would be a failure. Cutting benefits, lengthening the workday to 9 hours (a 36-hour workweek), and increasing productivity requirements would diminish any advantages a four-day workweek could offer workers.
When we pushed back in our meetings, management offered some version of the same answer we received during negotiations last summer: âWe would if we could, but we canât.â FrontLineâs revenue, which exceeded $28 million in 2022, is mostly acquired through government grants and Medicaid billing.
When we asked if they had made any good faith efforts to obtain increased funding to raise wages, retain staff, and attract new workers, management declined to respond.
DISTRACTION FROM WAGES
As the concept of a four-day workweek becomes more mainstream, we would be wise to consider how employers and their consultants are responding to the ideaâs increased popularity.
In the case of FrontLine, it appears that managementâs proposal for a four-day workweek pilot is a Trojan Horse.
Once implemented, management could, through a clause in their proposal giving them âunilateral authorityâ during the duration of the pilot, refuse to negotiate terms and conditions with our union.
FrontLine Service is severely understaffed, so much so that in February they formally asked Cuyahoga County to search for other non-profits that could replace workers in at least one FrontLine building.
According to management, understaffing is why they want to pilot a four-day workweek. If they can retain staff and attract new workers, they figure they might be able to keep their lights on a little longer. It also would allow FrontLine to appear âprogressive,â while they continue to neglect our real concerns.
Managementâs proposal delivers a two-fold blow to workers: It allows them to manipulate our contract without negotiating with us, and it distracts from the question of higher wages.
Compared to other agencies offering similar services, FrontLineâs wages are deplorable, with some workers making as little as $15 an hour. Prior to the ratification of our most recent contract, the lowest-paid workers made $13 an hour.
During negotiations last summer, our committee repeatedly told management that if they want to retain and attract workers, they need to offer higher wages. âWe would if we could,â management told us, âBut we canât.â
We are waiting for managementâs response to our counterproposal. Whether the pilot will favor workers or management, or whether there will be a pilot at all, is yet to be determined.
This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on March 30, 2023. Republished with permission.
About the Author: Adam Barrington is a supportive housing case worker. He is a member of SEIU 1999 and the Industrial Workers of the World.
Though Ramadan is coming to a close this week, we wanted to take the time to discuss ways that employers can support Muslim workers now and in the future. Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam and a period of time during the calendar year for around 30 days. During this time Muslims do not eat or drink. This year, Ramadan takes place starting on March 22nd and ends April 20th. Ramadan is more than abstaining from eating or drinking â it is a time of immense spiritual practice and reflection.
Muslim employees can still do their jobs and they should not be excluded from tasks or assignments because of the assumption that they cannot due to fasting obligations. Some employers may not be aware of Ramadan or how to be supportive of employees during this time and in the future. Because of this, weâre sharing five ways to support Muslim employees during Ramadan:
Donât make assumptions on who is or isnât fasting or why they arenât fasting. There are many reasons why someone who identifies as Muslim may not be fasting.
Flexibility with meeting times. Many people may have more energy in different parts of the day. Employers should be empathetic and understanding of varying energy levels
Author Bio: Shafuq Naseem is a Workplace Fairness intern and soon to be graduate of George Mason University with a degree in Government and International Politics. Her personal, professional, and academic experience with labor and employment issues fuels her passion for workersâ rights.
From unions in the United States fighting to save our supply chain from the destruction wrought by corporate tycoons, Wall Street vampires, and bought-off politicians, to the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT) leading the fight against austerity politics and ruling-class union busting in the United Kingdom, to rail workers with the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in France joining their compatriots in the streets in aÂ general strike against President Emmanuel Macronâs neoliberal attack on the countryâs beloved pension system, rail workers around the world are fighting different battles in the same war: the classÂ war.Â
In this special international episode, we bring together a panel of rail workers from the US, UK, and France to talk about what they are up against, what the struggle looks like in their corners of the world, and what we can all do to connect those struggles and build international worker solidarity.
Panelists include: Ross Grooters of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and Railroad Workers United in the US; Cat Cray and Clayton Clive of the RMT in the UK; Matthieu Bolle-Reddat of the CGT Cheminots Versailles in France.
This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 3, 2023 alongside a podcast recording and transcript.
About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcastÂ Working People, available at In These Times. He is also the author ofÂ The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.
Last year, Mark Glyptis and dozens of other union leaders went into contract negotiations with the Cleveland-Cliffs mining company. They were determined not only to win wage and benefit enhancements for their coworkers, but also to protect thousands of family-sustaining steel mill jobs for years toÂ come.
The United Steelworkers (USW) negotiating team ultimately delivered aÂ historic contract requiring the company toÂ invest $4Â billionÂ inÂ 13Â union-represented facilities. This includes about $100Â million at the Weirton, West Virginia mill where Glyptis and his colleagues rely on ever more sophisticated equipment to make precision tinÂ plate.
Protecting Workers’ Sweat Equity
Unions fight for financial commitments like these to safeguard workersâ sweat equity.
The time and labor they invest in their workplaces for decades at aÂ stretch. Capital upgrades keep employers accountable and plants viable, preserving family-sustaining jobs while also laying the groundwork for futureÂ growth.
âSteel mills are being built across the world, and weâre definitely competing on aÂ worldwide basis,â observed Glyptis, president of USW LocalÂ 2911, noting the overseas facilities feature the “most modernÂ technology.â
âWeâre the best steelworkers in the world. We can compete. But we have to keep up with capital investments,â continued Glyptis, who helped to represent about 12,000 USW members from six states in the talks with Cleveland-Cliffs in 2022.
Glyptis and other LocalÂ 2911Â members fought for new equipment that they need to produce “perfectly flat and flawless “tin plate for foodÂ containers.
Members overwhelmingly ratified aÂ new, four-year contract last fall. The vote reflected their satisfaction with the $4Â billion in investments — to be allocated among theÂ 13Â worksites — as much as it did theÂ 20% raises and benefit enhancementsÂ the agreementÂ provides.
âYou can have the best health care in the country or in the world, but if you canât compete because of technological deficiencies, youâre going to be an also-ran,â Glyptis pointed out. “Maintaining aÂ competitive facility is just asÂ important.â
âIt all goes into aÂ decision about whether this is aÂ fair contract. It would be difficult to have aÂ contract passed if it didnât have aÂ commitment to capital investments attached,â he said. He added that the companyÂ continues hiringÂ many younger workers who see the upgrades as crucial to raising families and putting downÂ roots.
Unions also negotiate capital investments to protect workers from companies that might otherwise abandon plants on a whim or run them to failure while wringing out every last penny in profit.
âThey donât have to live with the long-term impact of what they do. We do. Union workers do,â declared Andrew Worby, president of USW LocalÂ 2-209. He was referring to “profit-takerâ CEOs who line their pockets on workersâ backs before moving on to their nextÂ jobs.
Once aÂ company commits resources to aÂ location, itâs more likely to stick around, said Worby. He recalled that he and his coworkers at the Harley-Davidson plant in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin upped their demands for capital investments after aÂ cavalier executiveÂ threatened to move the facilityÂ during aÂ contract dispute.
Most recently, a contract requires Harley-Davidson toÂ invest $65Â millionÂ in the Menomonee Falls powertrain manufacturing site over five years. The company also has to invest another $10Â million at aÂ Tomahawk, Wisconsin, plant where workers are represented by USW LocalÂ 460.
The impact is already evident. Workers in Wisconsin are “tooling up and readying to produceâ the powertrains for aÂ new line of electricÂ motorcycles, the company announced.
âThereâs aÂ much bigger and broader picture to the impact of aÂ union contract,â said Worby. “It doesnât just affect the union members. It affects the families. It affects the community. It affects the state weâreÂ in.â
The security provided by union-won investments means that “a new worker, instead of renting, is willing to buy aÂ house,â he explained. “Now heâs paying property taxes. Heâs going to send his kids to the school district. Heâs going to buy aÂ refrigerator from the local appliance guy. ItâsÂ huge.â
Preserving Jobs, Protecting Communities
When companies do threaten to close worksites, unions step up to preserve jobs and protectÂ communities.
The USW, for example, intervened when Domtar announced plans to close a Kingsport, Tennessee paper mill where union members made uncoated free sheet. Some workers, including USW Local 12943 President Keith Kiker, worked there for decades.
Union leaders knew Domtar wanted to enter the recycled containerboard market, so they successfully pushed the company to overhaul and reopen the Kingsport facility for that new product line.
âEverybody who wanted to come back got to come back,â said Kiker, noting company officials “knew what they hadâ in aÂ skilled and dedicated workforce committed to ensuring aÂ successful millÂ conversion.
âThis has been a good place to work. Itâs still the best insurance in the region,â he added, noting other companies in the Kingsport area must match USW-negotiated health benefits to retain their own workers.
Worby and his coworkers at Harley-Davidson see “a lot of new equipment coming inâ right now, giving them the sense of security that they sought in the last round of contract talks. But they realize that the fight for facility investments, like the battle for fair wages and benefits, neverÂ ends.
âYou want to keep the positive energy flowing,â Worby said.. “Longevity is very important toÂ us.â
There can be no doubt that we are starting to get better at facing up to uncomfortable or awkward issues in the workplace.
The rise of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have taken topics that were once taboo and pushed them into the mainstream. In doing so, they have shown us how necessary it is to be allies to others at work.
Promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workplace is a benefit not only to staff, but also the whole organization, as it can push forward new ideas and create a competitive edge for the company over competitors.
Ideas around this subject need to target everyone from the top level down the company, while understanding disability and the language of discrimination being key. Implementing diversity and inclusivity training can support everyone work at to be a better ally in the workplace.
Indeed, even if you feel like you are already doing a lot to be an ally, it is always a good idea to continue learning and re-learning these important lessons.
In this article, we examine how anyone can be a better ally to underrepresented communities in the workplace.
The most crucial step to being an ally in the workplace is actually educating yourself. Learning – and in some cases unlearning – behaviors and mindsets is a crucial starting point, and there are many ways to do this.
Itâs a great idea to start reading about ideas about systemic inequality, as well as finding ways to diversify the thoughts and ideas that you hear. It is too easy to go into the idea of being an ally with a fixed mentality – and actually, much of this way of thinking can be unhelpful, even if it comes from a good place.
Promote creative expression
We can sometimes get stuck in the mindset that being an ally is all about political or economic matters in the workplace. In fact, there is a huge range of different ways to be authentically an ally to others in the workplace, in ways that you might not have considered. For example, promoting a colleagueâs creative expression can be valuable.
“Creative support and encouragement is pivotal, especially from those who are in similar playing fields as you,â says Dondre Green, a photographer speaking to MPB. âThis could look like sharing opportunities, advice, and budget negotiation numbers. I’ve seen even more Black creatives come together over the last few years and be put in positions to hire artists for assignments, too, which is a plus. In terms of representation, it matters.”
Listen to and lean on colleagues
It is important to resist the temptation to make assumptions about what is best for your colleagues. Even though your intentions may be good, you can end up putting your own presumptions forward and this might not end up being the best possible outcome from those you are trying to be an ally to.
Remember that being an ally isnât about doing what you think is right for an individual or community – rather it is about listening to what they need and putting that into action. And crucially, you need to think of listening as an act not only of understanding but also of empathizing.
The challenges that minorities and underrepresented groups face is often not the fault of the actions of individuals but rather systemic problems that wonât go away until they are acknowledged and faced.
Use your privilege
Often misunderstood in the context of allyship, privilege is a key issue when it comes to providing support in the workplace. Some people take the concept of âprivilegeâ to be an insult or an attack on their personal character. This isnât the case at all.
No one is saying that being privileged means that you have never faced any hardship of your own, or that you havenât worked hard to get where you are.
Rather privilege should be seen as something that each of us generally has in one form or another.
Having a university education, for example, or facing no mental health issues, are forms of privilege that some people have. True allyship involves using the privileges that you have to defend or advocate for those who donât have those same privileges.
The first step in using privilege effectively is acknowledging it. From there it can be understood, and it can then be used to the advantage of those you are being an ally to.
Many people are reluctant to be an ally in the workplace because they are worried that they might âsay the wrong thingâ or act in a way that isnât actually helpful. Donât let this discourage you. Allyship exists in a sometimes awkward space and no one is expecting you to be perfect – it is all an opportunity for everyone to learn.
Being an ally in the workplace is something that you can do that will make a genuine difference to colleagues’ lives and livelihoods.
Whether it is anything from ensuring that you are inclusive when listening to opinions in meetings, to implementing a diversity policy for future hiring; these are things that will benefit you and your business in the long-term.
This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness on January 4, 2023. Published with permission.
About the Author: Dakota Murphey is a contributor to Workplace Fairness.
Itâs that time of year when entering most any department store or office waiting room means hearing the festive sounds of Mariah Carey pleading for her wish to come true.
Thatâs right, the holiday season has descended upon us, and with it all of the peculiar rituals that follow: Hams glazed with honey, toy elves mysteriously placed on shelves, inflated snowmen adorning front lawns and, of course, the tale of George Baileyâs class war against Mr. PotterÂ broadcastÂ across screens the nation over.
But while most of these customs range from vaguely problematic to politically benign to downright socialist, thereâs one that clearly has to go: the practice of workers buying holiday gifts for theirÂ boss.
This bizarre tradition has become all too common in U.S. workplaces, with aÂ full third of American employees nowÂ sayingÂ they regularly purchase aÂ present for their manager. And even those who arenât already planning to take part are being inundated with messages encouraging them to buy aÂ special something for the person who signs their checks.
The message from these enjoinders is clear: Itâs your responsibility to recycle your hard-earned cash back to the very individual who granted it to you in the firstÂ place.
And even if youâve tuned out these messages, thereâs aÂ high chance of feeling pressure from within your own workplace. Sites such as Reddit, Twitter and Ask aÂ Manager are brimming with stories from workers who have been either asked directly or otherwise pressed to chip in to lavish aÂ tribute on the boss.
Thereâs the part-time, low-wage worker who wasÂ called uponÂ to send money to help pay for the CEOâs family to go on aÂ ski trip. Or the hospital receptionist who wasÂ directedÂ to send cash for four doctors in her office, despite not receiving aÂ holiday bonus. And once the habit is formed, it can be difficult to stop — or even slow down.
One worker reported aÂ 10-year-long tradition that ballooned intoÂ pooling moneyÂ to send not just to their own boss, but also to their bossâs manager, as well as to that personâs assistant. Unless you have Bob Cratchit-levels of generosity, this type of servile expectation is enough to turn anyone into aÂ Scrooge.
The solution? Just stop buying holiday gifts for the boss. And if you arenât already doing so, donât start. Thereâs no reason to feel guilt over not participating. All wealth is created by labor, and the fruits of that labor should flow back to workers, not the other way around.
As Karl Marx wrote back inÂ 1867, “Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.â
The same principle holds true overÂ 150Â year later: Under capitalism, bosses are already sucking the living labor out of their workforces. Using the meager wages gained from that productive work to then heap more money onto owners in the form of gifts just increases employersâ effective profits while further impoverishing those responsible for generating the wealth in the first place.
Ultimately, itâs aÂ trap that enshrines an exploitative power relationship. Thatâs no way to spread holiday joy andÂ cheer.
Whatâs more, even those in the business of giving advice on such matters recommend workers avoid the practice.
Sherri Athay, author ofÂ Present Perfect: Unforgettable Gifts for Every Occasion, routinelyÂ tellsÂ employees not to get their bosses presents. And Alison Green, who runs the Ask aÂ Manager site,Â says, “Etiquette is actually quite clear on this point: Gifts in aÂ workplace should flow downward, not upward. In other words, itâs fine for your boss to give you aÂ gift but you shouldnât give gifts to your managers. “Certain workplaces, including some departments in the government and military, evenÂ banÂ outright such gift giving to superiors (good onÂ them).Â
After enduring aÂ nightmarish pandemic thatâs stretched on for nearly two years, U.S. workers are reporting aÂ staggering level of burnout and emotional anguish.
NearlyÂ 80%Â sayÂ theyâre worried about their mental health, withÂ 61% of women andÂ 52% of men feeling stressed on aÂ typical day, numbers that haveÂ increasedÂ since the Covid-19Â crisis engulfed the country. And while supply chain issues and resulting price increases are hitting workersâ bank accounts, corporate profits areÂ through the roof, reaching record rates thisÂ year.
Against this backdrop, the practice of giving gifts to the boss stands as woefully absurd. Sure, if you feel personally moved to get a present for someone up the ladder at your workplace, you have the freedom to do so (just so long as itâs not prohibited). But we should all remember that, on the whole, the act reinforces the very predatory dynamic at the heart of our economic system.
This year, take aÂ page out of the playbook of George Bailey and the working people of Bedford Falls by giving gifts and sharing your bounty with friends and family, but not those who alienate you from the products of your own labor. After all, it could help finally makeÂ Comrade Carey’s wish comeÂ true.
This blog originally appeared at In These Times on December 17, 2021; It was republished in December of 2022. Republished with permission.
About the Author: Miles Kampf-Lassin is aÂ graduate of New York Universityâs Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is aÂ Web Editor at In These Times.
As of early last week, over 11,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus that causes the disease, which many cities and towns have now declared a public health emergency, spreads through close personal contact. In certain cases it can reportedly also transmit through contact with surfaces infected people have touched.
While there are still many unanswered questions regarding monkeypox, some troubling dynamics are already coming into clear view: The recommended quarantine period for those infected is far longer than that of Covid-19 cases. This means those who contract the virus will either have to take substantial time off the job — often not a viable option for those without paid sick leave — or risk going to work while infected.
The virus has been found to disproportionately impact members of the LBGTQ community, who are also disproportionately likely to be poor or working-class. The muddled rollout of the monkeypox vaccine has already created logjams in access, and, as a result, it appears poorer Americans are more likely to be unvaccinated, increasing the hazards to their health.
âIf employers throughout the country were required, as a matter of law, to provide paid leave to every worker who contracts Covid, I believe we would have seen more of an emphasis on protecting workers by preventing transmission in the workplace,â Matthew Cortland, a senior fellow at Data for Progress, told In These Times.
In March 2020, Congress passed paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. However, it expired in December of that year, and was not universal. Many Democrats also advocated national paid leave in their campaigns, but have so far been unable to enact the policy. Congress could pass similar temporary leave legislation, or it could commit to investing in long-term paid leave — a policy originally included in the Build Back Better package but excluded from the Inflation Reduction Act which was signed by President Biden on Tuesday.
In response to these developments, some states have proactively developed their own paid leave programs. And unions have pushed for them in contract negotiations as well. ?âA workforce that is constantly being reinfected with coronavirus, because of a lack of workplace mitigation measures, including, importantly, paid leave, is an unpredictable and unreliable workforce,â said Cortland.
The Issue of At-Will Employment
But paid leave isnât the only problem. ?âThe background rule of employment-at-will means that, even where these protections exist, workers feel vulnerable,â said Kate E. Andrias, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Andrias is a coauthor of a 2021 report on just cause reform.
At-will employment, where workers can be fired for any reason so long as it doesnât break the law, drives extreme precarity, especially for low-wage workers. This is because the risks of requesting time off for illness, complaining about working conditions, or reporting employers for wage, hour and safety violations are much higher. And, while labor organizing is a protected activity, employers can still develop pretexts for firing workers. Recent examples include Starbucks closing stores that were in the process of unionizing over ?âsafety reasons,â and Amazon firing union organizer Chris Smalls after he spoke out about safety on the job.
Unionized workers, however, generally enjoy the protections of just cause in their collective bargaining agreements. Under just cause, employers must document and demonstrate reasons for employment termination, and workers have access to protections throughout the process, including a union representative in any disciplinary meetings. Just cause offers greater cover to workers who want to advocate in the workplace, while collective bargaining agreements offer other critical protections and benefits, often including paid leave.
The bubbling outbreak of monkeypox illustrates that both paid leave and just cause are public health issues for workers and the people they interact with. And, as with Covid-19, the risks are higher for some workers than others. ?âBeing immunocompromised and working in a public facing role that requires interaction with fomites, for example, in food service, is not sufficient to qualify for vaccination against monkeypox,â said Cortland.
Minorities’ Jobs and Health are at Risk
Disability and health status are not the sole risk factors. Members of the LGBTQ community, who are more likely overall to work in low-wage jobs, are at greater risk of contracting monkeypox — especially gay men, who have been prioritized for vaccines in some cities due to high numbers of cases in their communities. For those who cannot get vaccinated, though, going to work can become extremely stressful and potentially dangerous, even more so when employers donât provide paid leave.
Gay or straight, disabled or not, without just cause protections and paid leave, those workers may not feel comfortable speaking out — and may not be able to take time off if they get sick. Other workers could then contract the virus and take it home to vulnerable family members and communities.
In the short term, unions can help secure key protections for workers facing isolation after infection or exposure, including building just cause and paid leave into the bargaining process. And right now, economic conditions are ripe for more organizing. ?âLow unemployment rates give workers more bargaining power,â said Andrias. ?âThe best way for workers to increase their bargaining power is to organize with their coworkers and form unions.â
The high cost of Covid-19 to human health and society at large shows that all workers need protections including paid leave and just cause to ensure they are able to stay safe, just like their white-collar, desk-bound colleagues did for nearly two years.
As the federal government struggles to respond to monkeypox, Cortland said, ?âworkers have largely been abandoned. Even when infectious, many are forced to go into work, further degrading their health and imminently endangering others.â
This blog was originally posted to In These Times on August 16, 2022. Reposted with permission.
About the Author: S. E. Smith is an essayist, journalist, and activist is on social issues, with credits in publications like The Guardian, Nerve, and VICE.
Abortion: itâs a topic unions shy away from. The logic is, why go there? You might alienate conservative workers who otherwise share your workplace concerns. And itâs true, you might â though the issue is not as divisive as the GOP makes it out to be. A solid 61 percent of U.S. adults is pro-choice. Among those aged 18-29, itâs 74 percent.
Itâs good to see unions begin to overcome this fear andÂ take a stand â because, contrary to the narrative, abortionÂ isÂ a labor issue.
How so? For one thing, workers who get pregnant are penalized at work.
Pregnancy discrimination is very real. Many jobs make it tough to get light duty or accommodations. And parenthood brings the âmommy taxâ â a lifetime loss of income for women who have children, thanks to stingy parental leave and unaffordable childcare.
Missed opportunities, resume gaps, reduced work hours â all these impinge on womenâs equality at work, not to mention their union participation.
Labor must fight to change all that; even a wanted parenthood shouldnât carry such steep penalties. But the current reality is that forced pregnancy will absolutely harm workers at work.
Then there are membersâ needs beyond the workplace. As Stacy Davis GatesÂ reminded usÂ inÂ her talkÂ at this yearâs Labor Notes Conference, workers are notÂ justÂ workers â we are mothers, daughters, tenants, immigrants, and more.
Unions fight for our dignity and autonomy on the job, but those human needs donât end when we clock out. Members need abortions; their friends, family, and neighbors need them too. About 1 in 4 women eventually gets one.
Unions at their best are a uniquely powerful fighting force for the whole working class. Theyâre organized, they have budgets and knowhow, and they have the leverage that can win big â the power to strike, a power that can take down governments and transform society.
Our sisters and siblings (trans people also get pregnant!) need us in this fight, not just as individuals, but as organized labor.
The villains attacking our right to abortion care should look familiar to workplace activists, too. Theyâre the same ones pushing to lower our wages, weaken our unions, and speed up our work.
Even many of the corporations that leaped to announce new abortion travel benefits for employees were soon revealed as donors to the very groups that had pushedÂ Dobbs v. JacksonÂ to the Supreme Court. These were groups like the Republican Attorney Generals Association, the Federalist Society, and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Most employers arenât in it for the abortion restrictions; their goal is deregulation and union-busting. But the effect is the same.
The Right to Mom
Thereâs another side to the coin. Unions are also needed in the fight for the right to have children when we do want them.
A more expansive term than abortion rights is âreproductive justice.â The grassroots group SisterSong defines it as âthe human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.â
Unions can bargain for the things working parents need â like equitable wages, paid parental leave, and childcare benefits. The transit union in Portland, Oregon, just won a âlactation vanâ; when a bus driver needs to pump breastmilk, the van comes to meet her.
We can also fight for a stronger safety net that offers all parents and kids the resources they need â like Medicaid, welfare, food assistance, childcare, and affordable housing.
SisterSongâs vision evokes many labor demands past and present: the right to a living wage, to health and safety on the job, to gender-affirming health care benefits. At their core, the labor and reproductive rights movements are both fighting for the same thing: the right to control our own lives.
This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes. Posted with permission.
About the Author: Alexandra Bradbury is the editor of Labor Notes, and Sarah Hughes is a staff writer.
Steel production in the late 1800s used to require one crucial step: a 20-minute process called the âblowâ that removed impurities, strengthening the metal. It was not unheard of for union members to go to the supervisor at the start of the blow and demand that some important grievance be resolved.
According to old-timers, it was amazing what the company could accomplish in those 20 minutes. These workers had found their employerâs vulnerability — and they used it to make the workplace safer and more humane.
Think about where your employer is vulnerable. For some companies it might be their logo or their image, which they have spent millions of dollars cultivating. For others it might be a bottleneck in the production process, or a weakness in their just-in-time inventory system.
Whistle While You Work
At a Fortune 500 truck factory, supervisors were ruthless and degrading. Discipline was arbitrary and unjust. At the monthly union meeting one worker noted that they were all being ârailroaded.â
A few weeks later, 2,000 plastic whistles shaped like locomotives arrived at the local. The instructions were simple: whenever you can see a supervisor on the shop floor, blow your whistle.
At first, whistles were going off all over. But by the morning break the plant floor was quiet. Not a single supervisor dared to show his face.
The next day in contract bargaining, the employer refused to bargain until the whistles were removed. The bargaining team noted the companyâs statements on refusing to bargain, and asked for a break to go call the Labor Board.
Bargaining resumed immediately, with positive results.
Lunch to Rule
On a military base, aircraft maintenance workers would happily interrupt their lunch in order to deal with urgent problems. But in return they had an understanding that, once the problem was solved, they would go back to their sandwiches even though the lunch period had ended.
The situation was mutually acceptable for several years — until a new supervisor came along. We all know how that is. Had to prove himself. Show whoâs boss. Etc.
Steve Eames, an international rep for the Boilermakers union, explained that the new supervisor insisted that workers take their lunch between 12:00 and 12:30, period.
âSo the steward said, âOkay, weâll play by the rules,ââ Eames remembers. The maintenance workers had previously eaten at a lunch table in the work area. But now, when 12 oâclock came, they left and went to a fast-food restaurant on the base. For three or four days they all went as a group, leaving the shop unattended.
One day a plane came in during the half-hour lunch period. No one was there to help bring the plane in, or to check it out. The supervisor had to park the plane by himself.
âThe boss went and talked to the steward, and the steward said, âThatâs our time, weâre at lunch,ââ said Eames. ââYou got what you wanted.ââ
The workers went out for lunch for a couple more days, and then they ended what we might call âlunch to rule.â âThey didnât want to file a grievance,â says Eames, âbecause the company would have won on the basis of contract language.
âWithout anything in writing, it went back to the way it had been before. It empowered the guys. It told the supervisor, weâll be a little flexible if youâll be flexible.â
Keep the Boss Off Balance
Managers like routine. They like to know that what happened yesterday will happen today and that no one is thinking too hard about it. You can make them nervous simply by doing something different, even something normal that would be unthreatening to the non-managerial mind. When they have to keep guessing where the next shot is coming from, you have the upper hand.
âThe corporate culture is not a creative culture,â says Joe Fahey, a former Teamster leader, âand we need to look at that as an opportunity.
âI used to bargain with Smuckers,â Fahey recalls. âWe decided to do things that would freak them out. Factory life is very predictable. The workers decided to take their breaks at the railroad tracks, instead of at the same table and the same bench that they did every day. It was easy for the workers to do, but it was scary for management. They are more easily scared than we realize.â
Pennsylvania social workers figured out how to catch management off guard. During negotiations with the state, spokesman Ray Martinez said, âwe wanted an activity that would irritate the boss, educate the public, and at the same time get the members psyched up. We decided that we would all take our 15-minute breaks at the same time.â
The union used its phone trees to call members at home. âAt the agreed date and time,â Martinez says, âall of our members would get up and walk out of the office. This meant that clients in the office, phone calls, and so on would be placed on hold. In other words, all activity ceased.
âThis served a couple of purposes. First, management and clients would get a feel for what it would be like without our services if we were to go on strike. Secondly, we, the members, would be outside of the worksite having outdoor shop meetings and updating the workers on the latest on the negotiations.
âWhile this was going on, we had picket signs asking drivers to honk their horns to show us their support. The beauty of it all was that this was perfectly legal, so there was nothing management could do.â
At the end of the 15-minute break, everybody went back inside and went back to work.
The Supreme Courtâs decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Womenâs Health on June 24 overturned the Roe v. Wade precedent, erasing the constitutional right to an abortion.
Already for years, large parts of the U.S. have severely restricted abortionâespecially hurting those least likely to have resources to travel for care, including poor, Black, indigenous, undocumented, and disabled people.
The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any wealthy country, and Black women are three times more likely to die from childbirth-related causes than white women.
Many unions issued public statements condemning the Dobbs decision. A few turned out to protest. And we can expect many to emphasize voting for Democrats this fall.
What more can unions do?
There is a no clear pathway to winning national abortion and reproductive health access. It will surely be a long struggle, involving many organizations and strategies.
But there are specific interventions the labor movement can make, beyond turning out voters and joining rallies.
BARGAIN OVER BENEFITS
Hereâs an immediate one: workers can demand to bargain over changes in benefits, which might now include abortion access.
A committee at the NewsGuild of New York has developed a bargaining framework for the questions this raises, including ensuring that your health insurance covers abortion, bargaining for travel funds to cover an abortion out of state if it is prohibited where you live, protecting your personal information, guaranteeing additional leave for travel, and securing non-discrimination language on the basis of gender and pregnancy.
The NewsGuild committee suggests that members look at current contract language where unions could demand to bargain over impacts, based on changes to their health coverage.
If your plan used to cover health care that is now prohibited in your state, that is a substantial change in your insurance, and your employer should have to work with the union to find alternatives. Perhaps employers could cover the difference in cost for an out-of-network, out-of-state provider, provide additional time off, and pay for the travel and associated costs.
DEFEND MEMBERS IN COURT
Unions can use their legal departments or hire lawyers to defend members who get sued or prosecuted for allegedly performing, getting, or helping someone get an abortion.
In the course of their jobs, this could involve health care workers, including mental health providers; people who deliver abortion medications, like postal workers or UPS drivers; and others. Unions should defend them just as they would defend members in other work-related disciplinary proceedings.
Last year Texas criminalized abortion after six weeks of pregnancy (about when fetal cardiac activity can be detected). The law allows private citizens to sue anyone they believe was involved in an abortion, including anyone who reimbursed travel or medical costs. Oklahoma has followed suit, and a similar law is pending in Idaho.
These laws will likely be argued in courts for months or years to determine exactly where and for what the states have jurisdiction to prosecute.
Some union contracts provide legal services to support members in housing, family, and civil courts. If a member were accused outside of work of obtaining or aiding and abetting an abortion, the member legal services could be expanded to cover this as well.
And unions should support workers in defying the laws. Abortion access was originally won through sustained, public civil disobedience.
âMost of the physicians I know and have been talking to are not interested in holding back,â says Paul Prater, chair of the Illinois Nurses Association political action committee. âThey are going to provide the care people need and will deal with consequences after.â
DEFEND MEDICAL WORKERS
The risk is particularly dire for health care workers. While they can only be privately sued in the states mentioned above, in other states workers can be criminally prosecuted for providing abortion care.
In these states, if a pregnant person comes into a hospital for care and the appropriate treatment is to terminate the pregnancy, that is now a crime if there is still fetal cardiac activity or the personâs life is not immediately endangered.
Health care workers will be facing this dilemma routinely. For instance, about 2 percent of pregnancies are ectopic, where the fertilized egg has implanted somewhere outside the uterus, dooming the pregnancy and endangering the pregnant person; termination is the treatment.
In order to avoid potential legal problems, health care facilities are now avoiding or delaying these treatments, sometimes waiting on clearance from hospital lawyers. A 2022 study of two Texas hospitals found at least two dozen cases where a procedure was delayed longer than doctors wanted to, in one case until the patient required a hysterectomy.
In some states, if a health care provider suspects the pregnant person had an abortion, they are expected to report it to law enforcement. This reporting has already led to the prosecution of many people suspected of intentionally harming their fetuses, sometimes despite little evidence.
Women of color are more likely to be charged for suspected abortions. Union-led education on racial disparities could help workers not to stereotype their patients.
PROTECT MEDICAL JUDGMENT
All these laws will have a profound impact on health care workers. Not coincidentally, the states with such laws are also the states with the lowest union densityâthough there are exceptions, like union-dense Ohio, where abortion is illegal after six weeks, and Montana, with little union presence but no abortion restrictions.
The new risks could inspire more doctors and nurses to unionize.
What else should health care unions consider doing? They can demand to bargain, since the scope of work has changed for health care workersâthey could face liability for using their medical judgment. Unions could bargain for employers to provide liability coverage against civil litigation, if possible, and to defend accused workers.
Unions should also bargain for clear policies about the treatment of pregnant people and who determines what is medically necessary when.
The laws are largely untested and have huge amounts of gray area, and health care professionals get little say in their employersâ interpretation. One Missouri hospital administration denied patients the contraceptive âmorning-after pillâ after the Dobbs decision, then reversed its decision within a day.
Union legal teams can do their own legal research, to educate members on what is clear and what is still contested. For instance, what would be the process for determining that a pregnant personâs life is at risk if a termination is not performed? Who would make that call, on what grounds, and how can they be protected in that decision?
Health care unions have fought hard to protect nursesâ and physiciansâ judgment in patient care, and unions should bargain to push for the broadest possible reading of these policies.
EMBRACE ABORTION WORKERS
There has been a recent flood of unionizations in the âreproâ movement, including at Planned Parenthood North Central States region (the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota) and other states (SEIU); Preterm Clinic, the independent abortion provider in Ohio (SEIU); Feminist Majority Foundation (Nonprofit Professional Employees Union); and about two dozen others, according to Reprojobs.
Reprojobs, a website that began as a jobs posting site for repro workers, now features articles and networks to support repro workers unionizing, including a column called âAsk a Union Organizer.â
For abortion providers, many of their organizing issues echo those of other health care workers: low pay, critical staffing shortages, and frustration over managementâs handling of Covid. They also face threats of violence from anti-abortion protestors.
Facing an uncertain future as parts of their jobs are criminalized state by state, workers are unionizing also partly to win some level of control in budgets and layoffs.
Workers at the at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research center, won their election to unionize with OPEIU Local 153 on July 14. Less than an hour after the results were announced, one organizing committee leader was fired without cause; the union continues to fight for reinstatement. Planned Parenthood affiliates in Austin and Miami have also come under fire for laying off active members of union organizing committees.
Thishi Gangoda, on the organizing committee at the Preterm Union in Cleveland, Ohio, says workers there unionized because âabortion is health care and abortion workers are health care workers. We deserve power to decide our workplace conditions.â
Abortion after six weeks of pregnancy is now illegal in Ohio. Preterm is still open for some reproductive care, early abortions, and counseling to other states, but many workers have left for lack of work, or burned out by the stress of the last several months.
Labor can recognize these workers as siblings in our movement, and organize more of them. We can back their fights for strong contracts that will allow them to continue working in politically charged, changing, and occasionally violent workplaces.
ORGANIZE CATHOLIC HOSPITALS
Compounding the impact of the overturn of Roe, Catholic hospital chains are continuing to gobble up health care facilities around the country, posing a particular risk to access to reproductive care.
âCatholic hospitals in Illinois have never provided this care,â said Prater. âCompanies like Ascension and Aurora Advocate have bought up several facilities and imposed their values on hospitals, sometimes the only ones available in a community.â
These institutions may refuse to provide even legal reproductive care, along with contraceptives and gender-affirming health care for trans people.
In 2020, four of the largest 10 hospital systems were owned by Catholic-affiliated corporations. These institutions already control 40 percent of hospital beds in some parts of the U.S., and theyâve been growing rapidly through mergers and acquisitions.
For Prater, the punchline is: unions must organize these health care workers, to defend themselves and their patients.
Meanwhile, where abortion access remains, workloads will snowball. Border states like Illinois will see a huge influx of abortions from surrounding states.
With staffing levels at a crisis point already, health care unions must fight for wages and conditions that can make these nursing and caregiving jobs sustainable and attractive, and union protections for workers to provide appropriate health care.
But how divisive is it, really? We know the majority of the country supports the right for people to make decisions about their own bodies.
Members can engage in these conversations in good faithâparticularly around issues of health, autonomy, and the ability to use your professional judgment at work.
This blog is printed with permission.
About the Author: Author’s name is Sarah Hughes. Sarah is a staff writer and organizer at Labor Notes.
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