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Corona-fied: Employers Spying on Remote Workers in Their Homes

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The future of work is here, ushered in by a global pandemic. But is it turning employment into a Worker’s Paradise of working at home? Or more of a Big Brother panopticon?

Disturbing increases in the use of digital surveillance technologies by employers to monitor their remote workers are raising alarm bells. With the number of remote workers surging as a result of the pandemic—42 percent of U.S. workers are now doing their jobs from their kitchens, living rooms, and home offices—a number of employers have begun requiring their workers to download spying software to their laptops and smartphones. The goal is for businesses to monitor what their remote employees do all day, to track job performance and productivity, and to reduce so-called “cyber-slacking.”

Business software products from Hubstaff, which tracks a worker’s mouse movements, keyboard strokes, webpages visited, email, file transfers and applications used, are surging in sales. So are sales for TSheets, which workers download to their smartphones so that employers can track their location. Another product, called Time Doctor, “downloads videos of employees’ screens” and uses “a computer’s webcam to take a picture of the employee every 10 minutes,” NPR reports. One employee told NPR, “If you’re idle for a few minutes, if you go to the bathroom or… [to the kitchen], a pop-up will come up and it’ll say, ‘You have 60 seconds to start working again or we’re going to pause your time.’”

Another system, InterGuard, can be secretly installed on workers’ computers. The Washington Post reports that it “creates a minute-by-minute timeline of every app and website they view, categorizing each as ‘productive’ or ‘unproductive’ and ranking workers by their ‘productivity score.’” Other employers are using a lower-tech approach, requiring workers to stay logged in to a teleconference service like Zoom all day so they can be continually watched.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, one surveillance company, Awareness Technologies, says it has seen its sales triple. Executives at Hubstaff and Teramind also say demand for their companies’ monitoring products has tripled. One website showing “Employee Monitoring Software in the USA” lists nearly 70 companies with products for sale.

Outdated Laws Keep It Legal

Despite this surge in online surveillance activity, currently, it is a legal practice in the United States. Individual state laws vary over whether companies must inform workers that they’re using tracking software, but in reality, “When you’re on your office computer, you have no privacy at all,” says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute. “Anything and everything you do is probably monitored by your boss.”

Current laws are vastly outdated, as they are based on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, when the primary form of electronic communication was the telephone. That was a distant time when desktop computers were first becoming popular, and smartphones were not yet a glint in Steve Jobs’ eye.

And now, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, companies such as Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Salesforce have developed intrusive applications that enable companies to continuously track the health status of their employees. Often they include a system for tracking contacts between employees within an office, and a mobile app for collecting information about their health status. A number of large U.S. employers, including AmazonWalmart, Home Depot and Starbucks, are taking the temperatures of their employees before they are allowed to work. Certainly, employers have a legitimate need to collect the necessary data to safeguard their workplaces, especially in response to a pandemic. But what is the appropriate level of “health intrusion”? How voluntary is the participation of workers, and who gets to decide?

The reality of this constant Big Brother digital spying in people’s homes is that dozens of remote workers are starting to complain that they feel burned out by this pressure. A recent Fishbowl survey of major companies’ employees found that three-quarters of those polled were opposed to using “an app or device that allows their company to trace their contacts with colleagues.” Yet many fear they will be branded as a troublemaker or lose their job if they speak out. And since remote workers hardly see each other—and increasingly may not even know many of their coworkers—these factors will make labor organizing and collective worker empowerment increasingly challenging.

U.S. labor unions have been slow to advocate for updating these outdated laws. One union, the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, has been working to blunt the worst of the abuses. Labor-friendly media have been missing this story as well. Not only should unions advocate to update the laws and limit digital spying, but why not also demand that home-based workers be compensated by employers for use of their house, utilities and the internet? And that the employer remains responsible to provide equipment and a safe workplace, even in the home?

Remote Workforce GrowthThe New Normal?

As the number of remote workers rises, concerns are growing among labor advocates that this is quickly becoming the “new normal.” One survey by Gartner, Inc. found that 74 percent of companies intend to keep some proportion of their workforce on permanent remote status, with nearly a quarter of respondents saying they will move at least 20 percent of their on-site employees to permanent remote status. Google/Alphabet recently announced it will keep its 200,000 full-time and contract employees home until at least July 2021, and half of Facebook employees will work from home over the next decade. Hub International, a global insurance brokerage, has shifted 90 percent of its 12,000 employees to remote status. “Teleperformance, the world’s largest call-center company, estimates that around 150,000 of its employees [nearly half its global workforce] will not return to a physical worksite,” according to Social Europe.

Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom says:

“A recent separate survey of firms from the Survey of Business Uncertainty that I run with the Atlanta Federal Reserve and the University of Chicago indicated that the share of working days spent at home is expected to increase fourfold from pre-COVID levels, from 5 percent to 20 percent.

“Of the dozens of firms I have talked to, the typical plan is that employees will work from home one to three days a week, and come into the office the rest of the time.”

But not all at-home workers are created equal. Bloom continues:

“Taken together, this is generating a time bomb for inequality. Our results show that more educated, higher-earning employees are far more likely to work from home—so they are continuing to get paid, develop their skills and advance their careers. At the same time, those unable to work from home—either because of the nature of their jobs, or because they lack suitable space or internet connections—are being left behind. They face bleak prospects if their skills and work experience erode during an extended shutdown and beyond.”

The future of work has become more uncertain than ever. In this “brave new world,” labor unions and advocates must ensure that the pandemic is not misused by businesses as an excuse to worsen conditions for employees who work out of the office. It is easy to imagine how the lines between ‘remote’ work and ‘platform’ work could blur, leading to more ‘Uberization’ as work devolves into ‘independent’ contracts, bogus self-employment and ‘pay-by-project’ arrangements that can be easily outsourced to remote (and lower-cost) destinations.

Worker advocates must push for a strong and modern legal data protection framework. And that should include an effective enforcement system against privacy abuse that disincentivizes illegal spying behavior. Remote work should not become a downward slide toward a Big Brother panopticon that penetrates into society ever more deeply, including into our homes.

This blog originally appeared at Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute, on September 23, 2020.

About the Author: Steven Hill (www.Steven-Hill.com) is the author of Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers and Expand Social Security Now: How to Ensure Americans Get the Retirement They Deserve.


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National Hispanic Heritage Month Profile of Labor Leader Ernesto Galarza

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Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO will be profiling labor leaders and activists to spotlight the diverse contributions Hispanics and Latinos have contributed to our movement. Today’s profile features Ernesto Galarza.

Ernesto Galarza was born in Jalcocotán, Nayarit, Mexico, in 1905 and immigrated to California with his family after the Mexican Revolution began. As a youth, he assisted his family during harvest season, gathering his first experience as a farmworker. Because he had learned English in school, other Mexican migrant workers asked him to speak to management about polluted drinking water, providing him with his first experience in organizing and activism.

Galarza attended Occidental College on a scholarship and worked summers as a farm laborer and cannery worker. After graduation, he attended Stanford University and earned a master’s degree in history and political science. He continued his graduate studies while on a fellowship at Columbia University, where several of his research reports were published. 

Because of his experiences and education, he began to focus his efforts on improving the living conditions of working-class Latinos. This led to him being hired by the Pan American Union (later the Organization of American States) as a research associate. When the union created a Division of Labor and Social Information, Galarza was chosen to lead it. 

In the late 1940s, he was recruited by the National Farm Labor Union, which later became the United Farm Workers, to be director of research and education. Over the next several years, he helped direct numerous strikes and fought back against “right to work” laws. He became a leading figure in exposing abuse of Mexican American workers in government. 

In the ensuing years, Galarza became a leading writer on the plight of Mexican and Mexican American workers and the abuse of farmworkers. During his career, he wrote more than 100 publications and was a professor at the University of Notre Dame, San Jose State University, University of California, San Diego, and University of California, Santa Cruz. 

As an activist, scholar and organizer, it is hard to overstate the impact Galarza had on working-class Mexican American families and our broader culture.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 21, 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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Working people’s advocates mourn Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not primarily known for her positions on labor issues, though of course many feminist issues are also workplace ones, and Ginsburg’s anti-discrimination work in the 1970s opened up new possibilities for women. In recent years, Ginsburg wrote powerful dissents to the courts’ conservatives’ support of forced arbitration, in which workers are required to sign away their right to a day in court as a condition of employment. She also got the chance to cast a vote for the rights of pregnant workers.

Advocates for workers stepped up to remember Ginsburg. 

From the AFL-CIO:

America has lost one of the greatest jurists in our nation’s history. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent her career defending the Constitution and the everyday working people who bring that document to life. She was a consistent, unshakable champion of civil and women’s rights and the freedom to form a union. The AFL-CIO, the labor movement and all those who aspire for dignity on the job are better off because of Justice Ginsburg’s service. Her passing leaves a hole in our collective hearts and a vacancy on the highest court in the land, and you can rest assured that America’s unions will honor Justice Ginsburg’s memory as we fight for our democracy in the days and weeks to come.

From the National Education Association:

Justice Ginsburg was a woman, teacher and tenacious fighter for equal rights for women and girls. She reminded us the only thing that keeps women from being on equal footing with men is to take ‘their foot off our necks.’ Truly the Notorious RBG, she showed us the power of dissent. In the landmark decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear, she boldly wrote that what many of us know far too well and personally: women can be victims of sex discrimination, and we are far from achieving equal pay for equal work. In the power of the written word, Justice Ginsburg urged Congress to take up the issue.

From Pride at Work:

With the passing of Justice Ginsburg, America lost a champion for LGBTQ people, workers, women, and the ideals of equality and justice. Justice Ginsburg’s legal brilliance and work ethic made her more than just a popular hero for so many nationwide, it made her a force to be reckoned with.

From the American Federation of Teachers:

Justice Ginsburg is an icon. She leaves behind a legacy as a brilliant, hardworking jurist and a trailblazing feminist; her loss is incalculable. Long before she became notorious, she broke barriers most never even dreamed to approach. Her unfailing sense of justice reminded us of its awesome power, and her unbending sense of duty reminded us to remain committed to protecting our democracy, our Constitution and the rule of law. But it was her personal courage and resilience, especially in the face of illness, that reminded us just how much strength one single person can have.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on September 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Trump hails ‘manufacturing miracle’ as factories bleed jobs

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Eleanor Mueller

Trump’s anti-trade agenda and a pandemic-induced recession have combined to shutter factories and accelerate decades-old trends toward automation, eliminating hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, many for good, including in the Rust Belt states he needs to win in November.

The president’s path to the Oval Office was paved by his victory in this factory-intense region, where a downturn in manufacturing that began in 2015 opened the door for him to appeal to demoralized blue-collar voters.

But the White House’s trade wars kicked the sector into another slump in 2019, with Michigan, OhioIndianaWisconsinMinnesota and Pennsylvania facing declines or plateaus in manufacturing employment even back in February — well before Covid-19 forced layoffs at dozens of plants. As of July — the most recent month for which data is available — each state is down between 20,000 and 40,000 workers from prepandemic levels.

That record presents a particularly daunting challenge for Trump to replicate his stunning victory of 2016 as he struggles to overtake Democrat Joe Biden, who appeals more to Midwestern voters than Hillary Clinton did four years ago.

Yet the president is framing his policies as an unmitigated success.

“You better vote for me, I got you so many damn car plants,” Trump said during a Sept. 10 rally in Michigan. “And we’re going to bring you a lot more.”

“Trump has been all in on this huge resurgence of manufacturing employment, and that has not materialized.”

 Mark Muro, Brookings economist

But Michigan was down some 66,500 manufacturing workers in July 2020 from July 2019 — and the general trend, even before Covid-19, was down as well. There were 10,200 fewer manufacturing workers in the state in February 2020 than there were in February 2019.

He had a similar upbeat message for Ohio.

“Over the last six months, we’ve witnessed one manufacturing miracle after another,” the president said on a visit last month to a Whirlpool factory. Ohio was down 48,000 manufacturing workers in July from last year. Pre-pandemic, it had lost 2,200 workers in February from last year.

The trend is mirrored nationwide. Manufacturing across the U.S. is still down 720,000 workers from February despite gaining 29,000 jobs in August, with the pandemic more than wiping out the overall modest gains of 500,000 from Trump’s first three years in office — about the same pace of growth as under President Barack Obama. It was not an improvement over prior years — nor did it manage to restore more than a fraction of the jobs lost in the previous decade, according to an August analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis released Sept. 1 said that even prepandemic, the sector was on track to lose nearly 450,000 workers by 2029, the most of any area of the economy. At the same time, output has made a notable recovery due to increased automation, with the industrial production index bouncing back to almost 98 in July — less than 10 points down from February.

That disparity means that many of the losses are likely permanent, economists say.

“Trump has been all in on this huge resurgence of manufacturing employment, and that has not materialized,” said Mark Muro, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “Productivity-enhancing technology, such as robotics, and then international competition: To me, that’s a recipe for continued downward pressure on employment. I don’t think mass employment is likely to return.”

Remember when Congress came to a bipartisan agreement on coronavirus relief … like a million years ago? Well, it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen again anytime soon — despite the tens of millions of Americans struggling right now.

Manufacturing is hit hard by any recession, but Covid-19 presented unique issues. Few factory jobs can be performed from home, meaning that these workers were some of the first to be furloughed or laid off as the production lines shut down.

While economic downturns typically spur employers to turn away from physical labor and toward automation, the social distancing required by Covid-19 was an extra motivator. Combine that with advanced technology — along with historically low interest rates to make it cheaper to purchase it — and the move was a no-brainer for many manufacturers.

“In recessions of any kind, automation is accelerated because paying workers just becomes more expensive,” Muro said. “Meanwhile, technology and automation has improved and gotten cheaper so it’s easily used.”

More than half of U.S. companies report being more willing to invest in automation as a result of the pandemic, a July survey by Honeywell Intelligrated found. Tyson is shifting to robotic butchers; BMW is implementing artificial intelligence quality control. As of May, sourcing for automation equipment was up nearly 150 percent year-over-year, and up over 20 percent from last quarter.

Long before Trump took office, the U.S. was already well on its way to becoming more efficient at manufacturing with fewer workers. Over the past three decades, output has grown even as employment has declined.

“The fact which gets lost in some of the discussion is that in and of itself, that improvement in productivity — making more stuff per unit of labor input — is a good thing,” said Jeffrey Miron, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute.

But it also leads to the displacement of workers, and when Trump moved to impose tariffs on Chinese steel, aluminum and other products, that only served to accelerate the effect, economists say. Higher prices for imports have decreased demand, which — when combined with a global economic slowdown — contributed to depress manufacturing employment. On top of that, American exporters are hurt by retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries.

“A couple of things have played into the manufacturing job losses: One is trade,” said Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University who studies manufacturing. “The second, and the bigger effect, really, is the productivity growth of American manufacturing.”

Trump’s reelection campaign maintains that he has bolstered the manufacturing sector during his time in office, pointing to the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs that were added prepandemic.

“Back in 2016, people doubted President Trump could revive manufacturing in the United States, with then-President Obama saying he would need a ‘magic wand’ to bring back manufacturing jobs — but President Trump’s policies delivered,” campaign spokesperson Samantha Zager said. “President Trump is already rebuilding our economy, adding back manufacturing jobs, and continuing to promote policies that boost American manufacturers, no magic wand needed.”

Trump “talked a lot about manufacturing, but the policies he engaged in were predictably damaging to manufacturing,” Hicks said. “As a result of the tariffs his administration imposed, “people buy less [manufactured goods], and if they buy less of them, that causes lower demand for employment.”

Whether Trump wins reelection come November — and is free to continue his trade wars — could have an outsize impact on the U.S. manufacturing workforce, particularly given the sector’s relatively modest job gains since February.

“The returns from layoffs are probably over,” Hicks said. “And so if that’s the case, if we see a second term of the Trump presidency, I would expect manufacturing employment to not be able to crawl back to what it was at the end of the Obama administration.”

When workers lose their jobs in manufacturing, they are most likely to be rehired in the service industry, economists say. It’s often lower-skilled workers who are the first to go, particularly when displaced by automation — and when they do, low levels of education and barriers to relocation mean that they typically end up working in restaurants.

“For 30 years, manufacturing workers have been continually dislocated by robotics and wind up working in service jobs, or moving into nonparticipation,” Muro said. ”The older they were at the time of dislocation, the less likely they have been to rejoin the workforce.”

Between 2000 and February 2020, manufacturing lost about 5 million jobs. Over the same time period, the food services industry gained roughly the same amount, per Labor Department statistics.

“Almost person-for-person that we lost in manufacturing, we gained in restaurants,” William Spriggs, AFL-CIO’s chief economist, said.

The associated drop in wages — manufacturing workers made an average of $28.78 an hour in July, while food service employees made an average of $15.50 — has served to exacerbate economic inequality, Spriggs said.

“The slide, if people leave that industry, seems to be that they don’t end up in some other high-wage industry,” Spriggs said.

This blog was originally published at POLITICO on September 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Trump makes his pitch to white working-class voters, but some who’ve felt his impact push back

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Donald Trump needs white working-class voters. Much of the Republican National Convention (RNC) was aimed at white working-class people who may not have voted in recent elections but are seen as gettable for Trump this November—if he can turn them out. But the white working class isn’t monolithic, either, and there are warning signs for Trump among the younger members of the demographic. There are also some people who’ve seen the effects of Trump the businessman or Trump the politician up close and are ready to speak out against it. And in some cases, their unions are boosting their voices.

“Donald Trump’s claim that he saved Lordstown is a major misrepresentation of what is actually happening here,” said Tiffany Davis, a grade school teacher in the Ohio town. Davis’ husband had to take a job hours away when the GM factory in Lordstown closed. Pointing to the drop in employment at the facility from 4,500 to “a handful,” Davis said: “Our community is not the same and it never will be. The president clearly does not understand what’s happening in Lordstown.”

Davis’ video was shared on Twitter by the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

She’s not the only one. In a video from the Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers Union, Fred Braker tells how the bankruptcies of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos—and Trump’s habit of stiffing the contractors who work on his buildings—hurt workers in that area. The business Braker worked for had around 60 employees, and “we manufactured the 20-foot letters that were up on the top of the Taj Mahal and on Trump Plaza.” That meant not just making the letters but hanging them at the top of the buildings: “It’s hot out, it’s cold out, we work out in the elements. Not just the sign guys but everybody in construction, we worked around the clock … he wanted his name up. We built his signs, because the man loved to see his name, he loved seeing his name on the building.”

Then, of course: “My contractor never got paid, and many many other small contractors never got paid. It was a profitable endeavor for him, just the people who did the work didn’t get paid, that’s all.” Braker had the longest period of unemployment of his entire career because of Trump, and “was reduced to collecting food stamps” while he tried to get side jobs because “I was a proud man. I’m a worker.” Meanwhile, Trump “walked away scot-free, basically, not paying people.”

“My name’s Fred Braker, and I’m voting for Joe Biden, the blue-collar candidate, and I urge all my brothers and sisters to do the same,” the video concludes.

Biden is not going to win among white working-class voters. But he doesn’t have to. Peeling away some of them—as some polls have shown him doing—would be a huge blow to Trump. That’s why Republicans are talking about getting more white working-class people to vote to make up for Trump’s shrinking but still significant advantage among them. Can union members who see Trump for what he is, for what he has directly meant for their jobs, be influential messengers to people who have mostly heard Trump’s own false self-presentation? It can’t hurt, anyway.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Postal workers are speaking out to save our democracy, this week in the war on workers

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As Postmaster General Louis DeJoy slows down mail delivery to help Donald Trump accomplish his goal of undermining mail-in voting and to continue the decades-long Republican war on the U.S. Postal Service, postal workers have sounded the alarm. “You don’t just go and tell management, ‘Hey, I saw that. That’s not allowed,’ ” Scott Adams, an American Postal Workers Union local president in Maine told the Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz. “At some point you have to hold their feet to the fire and say, ‘I’m telling you, and I have been telling you, you follow the rules. And when you don’t, we’re blowing it up.’”

It’s not just in Maine. Postal workers in other locations are pushing back against DeJoy and Trump’s sabotage, as in the Milwaukee area where workers organized and refused to follow the new rules. With DeJoy having removed many sorting machines, though, it’ll take more than workers doing their jobs—against the rules—to fix things. As American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein told The American Prospect, “Can the union do something specifically about what machines they have or don’t have in the post office? No. Can the union be part of a movement to share with the public what’s really going on and be part of a movement for change? We’ve seen that in the last month.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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One in five child care workers has lost their job during the pandemic

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One of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic is also one of the industries on which others rest, often invisibly. Without child care, parents struggle to do their own jobs. And child care is in a major crisis. One in five child care jobs has disappeared since February.

Those losses are a jobs crisis for women, and women of color in particular: This is a workforce that’s 95% women, 20% Latina, and 19% Black. By contrast, the workforce as a whole is 47% women, 8% Latina, and 7% Black women. So when tens of thousands of child care workers lose their jobs, it’s hitting people who are already discriminated against and disadvantaged in the labor market.

Child care workers don’t have financial leeway to take a hit like this—the average full-time, year-round worker in the industry is paid just under $30,000, with Latina and Black women making even less. They’re also unlikely to have employer-sponsored health insurance or paid leave.

But it’s not just individual jobs at risk. This whole industry is at risk of collapsing, in desperate need of $9.6 billion per month in federal funding to survive the coronavirus crisis, according to the National Women’s Law Center’s Claire Ewing-Nelson. Without that assistance, child care centers won’t be able to handle the increased costs of cleaning and personal protective equipment at the same time as they have reduced enrollment to enable social distancing or because parents are afraid to send their kids to group settings. Already, many are at extreme risk of closing, or have already closed.

Child care center closures also threaten more than the large numbers of jobs in the industry itself, though, because of the importance of the service they provide in making it possible for parents to do their jobs. Many U.S. parents have learned over the past several months how difficult it is to work without child care, and expert warnings and anecdotal reports already show the danger to women’s careers as more children are home without outside care and the burden falls disproportionately on mothers. 

In short, the potential collapse of the child care industry is a disaster for the hundreds of thousands of women—disproportionately Black and Latina and overwhelmingly low-paid—who are at risk of losing their jobs and for the families, mothers especially, who would lose the care they need to be able to do their jobs. This is another part of the U.S. system that was already broken, and the pandemic is shattering it.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Working Life Episode 195: How to Steal an Election 101; Haitian Garment Workers Rise Up

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Voting in America, compared to many other countries, is not easy. That’s always been true. Donald Trump’s relentless effort to undermine the vote in November, in this case by crippling the postal service and trying to make it impossible for ballots to be counted on time, is surely corrupt. But, the undermining of the vote is made easier by a rickety election system that has existed for decades. Miles Rapoport, a former Connecticut Secretary of State and, now, Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy at Harvard’s Ash Center, talks to me about the threat to voting this Fall, what we can do and his bigger project to implement a national mandate that everyone must vote as a civic requirement.

If you wanted to pick a country that has been ravaged for decades by economic, political and physical blows a grimly appropriate choice would be Haiti—a country that is the poorest place to live in the Western Hemisphere. Its people endured decades of autocratic rule under the Duvalier regimes, who looted the country.  More recently, the scars of a 7.0 earthquake in 2010 still loom large because a desperately poor country always has less ability to cope with a natural disaster and, then, fully recover. Lauren Stewart, the Solidarity Center’s Regional Director for the Americas, joins me to tell the tale of a campaign by Haitian garment workers to survive the COVID-19 pandemic which has put many out of work.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on August 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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The Post Office Belongs to the Public. Let’s not Give it to Wall Street.

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On June 15, Louis DeJoy of Greensboro, N.C., began his new job as Postmaster General of the United States.

We are postal worker union activists who also hail from Greensboro (and are now American Postal Workers Union president and solidarity representative, respectively). For decades we have defended the interests of the public Postal Service and postal workers, and we bring a much different perspective than that of multi-millionaire businessman DeJoy. We are concerned that DeJoy, a mega-donor to Republican Party causes and to President Trump, has been tapped to carry out the administration’s agenda.

Trump has shown implacable hostility to the public Post Office. He has called it “a joke” and railed against its low package prices. In late March, Trump and his Treasury Secretary (Steven Mnuchin of Goldman Sachs) blocked the bipartisan Congressional effort to provide funds to the Post Office in the initial 2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief legislative package, despite the Postal Service being so impacted by the COVID economic crisis that it could run out of money either later this year or early next year. 

Trump’s nefarious plans for the public Postal Service are reflected in a June 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget recommendation to “restructure the United States Postal System to return it to a sustainable business model or prepare it for future conversion from a Government agency into a privately held corporation.” While the proposal gives lip service to the first option, all the initiatives are concentrated on the privatization path. Indeed, the OMB never mentions anything positive about the current, public U.S. Post Office.

Using the OMB recommendations as a guideline, in December 2018 the President’s Task Force on the United States Postal System called for piecemeal privatization, drastically increasing prices, closing retail outlets, curtailing service and doing away with the collective bargaining rights of the 570,000 unionized postal workers. 

Much of mainstream media presents Trump’s hostility to the Postal Service as a feud with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. This is misleading. The Trump administration has a clear agenda—a dagger aimed at the heart of the USPS. The USPS is the largest and most efficient postal service in the world. It is the low-cost anchor of a massive $1.6 trillion mailing and package industry, relied upon by small businesses everywhere, and is critical to ecommerce. It also holds a special place in rural communities and is cherished by the U.S. people who are its owners. With 91% favorability ratings among Republicans and Democrats (Pew Research), why would a President who wants to get re-elected so clearly oppose the needs and desires of the voters? What drives his agenda?

The answer lies in capitalist power—the marriage between politics and economics—as an op-ed in the May 5 Wall Street Journal, “Phase Out, Don’t Bail Out, the Post Office,” makes brazenly clear. Gary MacDougal, investor, entrepreneur and corporate executive, writes he is afraid that, in an upcoming COVID-19 relief package, Congress might “bail out” the Post Office along the lines promoted by the current USPS Board of Governors. As he feared, the House of Representatives passed $25 billion in COVID-related relief for the Postal Service as part of the “HEROES Act.” The Senate is now taking up the issue of new stimulus legislation, including the question of whether it will include postal relief.

MacDougal served for 34 years on the board of United Parcel Service of America (UPS), a company with over $75 billion in sales and more than 495,000 employees. He has served as chair of the Finance Committee and chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee. UPS is a main competitor of the public Postal Service. Indeed, the Postal Service’s public mission, and uniform, reasonable rates, is a major hindrance to UPS’s corporate profit maximization.

No wonder MacDougal lies in his op-ed, feigning concern about saving taxpayer dollars. The fact is, that since the early 1970’s, the public Post Office has not run on tax dollars. It has operated as a self-sufficient entity that is financed by the purchase of postage stamps and other postal services provided at uniform prices across the United States.

In his op-ed, MacDougal pushes for the complete liquidation of the public Postal Service. He writes, “The bottom line: 13 straight years of losses, almost $9 billion in fiscal 2019.” But those years of losses have all come since 2006, when Congress passed a law that required the USPS to fund future retiree health benefits an incredible 75 years into the future, an onerous financial burden not imposed on any other government agency or private corporation.

Mr. United Parcel Service eventually lets the cat out of the bag: “The combination of UPS, FedEx, DHL, Amazon and countless local delivery companies would pick up the slack left by the wind-down of the post office. Smaller delivery companies may…handle last-mile delivery in remote areas. If that isn’t enough, Amazon and others could charge more for deliveries to extremely remote locations.” (Our emphasis.)

This was not MacDougal’s and the Wall Street Journal’s first effort to impose their privatization stamp on the public Postal Service. In an October 2011 op-ed “Junking the Junk Mail Office,” MacDougal had already exposed his true motivation, “Entrepreneurs will see the demise of the USPS as an opportunity, and new companies will emerge. Indeed, this transition can be one of the badly needed bright spots in a troubled American economy.” (Our emphasis.) It is no surprise that his current editorial appears in the midst of an even deeper economic crisis than in 2011.Taking seriously his executive loyalty to United Parcel Service, in his recent 2020 Op-Ed MacDougal concludes: “The responsible course is to set the Postal Service on a careful path to liquidation.”

The Way Forward

The COVID Pandemic has created a fork in the road for the future of the public Post Office: Either the people will defend and strengthen their public Postal Service, or Trump and finance capital will use the crisis to cause its demise.

Like MacDougal, the autocratic Trump regime is all about “following the money.” In 2019, the public Postal Service generated over $70 billion of revenue used to serve the people on a break-even basis. Postal privatization, better termed “profitization,” will turn over this vast treasure to Wall Street investors and a few private corporations. In turn, companies could raise prices, eliminate a democratic right of the people to universal postal services no matter who we are or where we live, and destroy living-wage union jobs in the midst of the COVID-induced economic crisis. 

The same pandemic that is revealing Trump’s shameless effort to divide and conquer the people, is underscoring once again the “essential” public good carried out by the women and men of the public Post Office in binding our people together, in uniting us, especially in these most difficult times. It is noteworthy that, along with the previously cited 91% favorability rating, a recent YouGov poll conducted on behalf of the American Postal Workers Union, indicated that over two-thirds of the population favor Congressionally appropriated postal relief to restore lost COVID related revenue.

The Postal Service is owned by all the people of the United States, not capitalist entrepreneurs. The collective “we” rely on the Postal Service for vital supplies, medicines, ecommerce packages, pension checks, financial transactions, voter information, ballots and a vast exchange of personal correspondence as well as the sharing of ideas and information. Privatization of public postal services would end the democratic right of the people to these universal services, no matter who we are or where we live, at uniform and reasonable rates.

Hence, our starting point is to rally the people to defend what belongs to them. This is already taking on a variety of forms. Petitions to save the public postal service have garnered two million signatures. Tens of thousands of emails, letters and calls have gone to Congressional representatives advocating postal financial relief in the next stimulus package. In times of social distancing, car caravans in various locales have sent the same message. Both the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers have produced positive social media and TV ads. And actor-activist Danny Glover, the public face of “A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service,” has produced a public service radio announcement now airing.

Crises, even tragic ones, bring opportunity. We have the opportunity to not only defend but strengthen the public Postal Service and the common good. We have the opportunity to ensure that people have access to the ballot box through vote-by-mail and a vibrant Postal Service. We have the opportunity to expand the financial services offered at the Post Office and counter the predatory pay-day lending and cash checking industry that preys on the working poor.

Moreover, the public Post Office has historically been connected to decent union jobs for Black Americans and other communities of color as well as military veterans. We have the opportunity at a time of massive unemployment to defend over half a million postal union jobs that build rather than tear down working class communities This is an important front in the fight for the practical realization that Black Lives will matter in the United States today and tomorrow.

Even if the new Postmaster General were to become a people’s champion of the Postal Service (and DeJoy’s initial steps have been to undermine the postal service) the trajectory of U.S. monopoly capitalism makes it necessary for the postal union movement, the general labor movement and social justice movements together to take to their phones and to the streets as the Movement for Black Lives is now doing. Progressive and necessary change is only won with the power of the people.

Finally, in the course of mobilizing the successful defense of the public Postal Service, we advance the opportunity to win health care for all as a human right, and other fundamental social benefits that will move us in the direction of a society where we are truly our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Dimondstein is National President of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), AFL-CIO, and a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council and the former president of the APWU Greensboro Area Local.

About the Author: Richard Koritz is former Greensboro Branch President of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), AFL-CIO, a Solidarity Representative of the APWU and sits on the board of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (the Woolworth Sit-In museum) in Greensboro, N.C.


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Nevada’s Labor Movement Comes Together to Support Each Other

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Aaron Gallant, Ph.D., P.E. - Civil and Environmental Engineering ...

As the backbone of Nevada’s gaming and hospitality industry, more than 98% of the 60,000 members of the Culinary Workers Union/UNITE HERE Local 226 and thousands of other union members have been laid off since the pandemic began. Now, Nevada’s labor movement is swiftly responding to the unprecedented scale of need among union members and their families.

The United Labor Agency of Nevada (ULAN)—a partnership of the Culinary Workers Union, the Nevada State AFL-CIO, community organizations and Las Vegas-area labor unions—is providing services to not only union members, but also to people in the community who have been impacted by COVID-19.

“A number of different affiliates have contributed both funds and volunteers,” said Rusty McAllister (IAFF), executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO. “A large part of the labor federation’s relief efforts are done through ULAN, helping to raise money and provide relief to those in need.” ULAN was founded 25 years ago by the Culinary Workers Union and the state federation. McAllister is currently serving as chairman of its board.

In addition to its food pantry, which receives funding from the United Way of Southern Nevada, ULAN also is offering rent and utility assistance, as well as handing out gift cards that were purchased from grocery retailers. And while ULAN is based in southern Nevada, the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council is also stepping up to help members in need.

Union members from a wide range of unions, including Bricklayers (BAC) Local 13, International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Local 88 and Teamsters locals 631 and 986, have been volunteering their time and efforts to help their brothers and sisters who are out of work. The Teamsters locals recently teamed up to bring a truckload of food from Southern California to Las Vegas to bolster the state’s relief efforts.

“I’ve seen firsthand what labor can do when we get involved and come together. Just the amount of work and effort from our union members is incredible,” McAllister said. “The tough part for Nevada is that we’re always one of the first states to suffer from an economic downturn and one of the last to recover.”

UNITE HERE’s Culinary Training Academy has put union members to work to run their own drive-through food bank. The Culinary Union’s members have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and many of the Nevada State AFL-CIO’s affiliated unions have stepped up to donate funds.

“Look out for each other,” McAllister said to union members across the country. “Those who have work, help out your brothers and sisters who are hurting as much as you can.”

This blog was published at AFL-CIO on May 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Aaron Gallant is a contributor for AFL-CIO.


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