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Working Life Episode 216: Wealth Tax on the Table; Two Trillion for the Global Poor; Joe Biden and Union Organizing

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The number that sticks in my mind today, and has since I heard it, is 40 percent. While over half a million people in the U.S. have died of COVID in one year, while millions of people have become sick, while millions of people have lost their jobs, savings and homes, and many people have been forced to wait in long food lines to get enough to feed their families—while all that was happening, the billionaires—the top 0.05 percent in the country, the Waltons, the Jeff Bezos’ of the world—saw their collective wealth go up 40 percent. Which is one good reason to have a wealth tax.

This week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal rolled out an “Ultra Millionaire’s Tax”. The tax would only be on the wealthiest 100,000 households in America, or the top 0.05%, who have a net worth of $50 million, and it would raise $3 trillion over a decade. Since, and I’m just spit balling here, I don’t think my audience falls into the over $50 million-net-worth category, I figured it would be safe to engage the always-brilliant Amy Hanauer, executive director of the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, in a conversation about the great benefits of a wealth tax.

Some good news! Last May, I talked about an effort to raise two trillion dollars for poorer countries to battle the pandemic and the economic collapse. The money, so-called Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), can be created by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but the Trump Administration blocked the move—even though it comes at no cost to taxpayers here. But, now, there’s movement: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen appears to be in favor of some level of the SDRs, if not the full two trillion now in the newly resurrected bills in the Senate and House. Mark Weisbrot, co-director of CEPR and an expert in international affairs who has been leading the campaign since last year, joins us for an update.

I also have a few thoughts about the video Joe Biden made about the rights of workers to have a union. It’s a good thing—but it also shows how narrow the debate is about true union organizing rights. Check it out—and let me know your thoughts!

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on March 3, 2021. 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 Young Socialists’ School-to-Union Pipeline

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When West Virginia’s union teachers defied state law and walked off the job for fair wages and better healthcare in February 2018, their wildcat strike?—?and the wave of strikes it inspired?—?changed lives hundreds of miles away.

For example: Claire, a pre-med student at New York University (NYU), switched from the doctor-track to nursing?—?with the aim of landing a union nursing job. Claire is a member of NYU’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), which encourages members to find union work. 

In These Times spoke with half a dozen YDSA and DSA members across the country about their similar plans. (Claire and others requested pseudonyms to avoid limiting their chances of employment.) All of them pointed to the militant example set by teachers as a motivator. 

Emily, 22, a YDSA member in New York who wants to become a teacher, says the West Virginia strike was ?“probably the most inspirational thing I’ve seen in my years as a socialist.” 

In 2018, YDSA committed to steering college graduates toward unions to build working-class power from the shop floor up. It passed a resolution to create a National Labor Committee (NLC) in the summer of 2020, which will oversee a school-to-union pipeline and administer a yearly survey to assess union interest after graduation, among other responsibilities. 

The strategy dates back to at least the 1970s, when socialist organizations asked members to ?“turn to industry” and take up blue-collar jobs. The International Socialists went a step further; they advocated a ?“rank-and-file strategy” to place committed organizers into auto plants, steel mills and other factories, to inspire a ?“militant minority” of union membership to transform the working class into an agent of political change. 

While YDSA has only just begun implementing its rank-and-file strategy, the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA) passed a similar resolution in the summer of 2018. Articles in Politico and the New York Times went on to condemn what they deemed a socialist infiltration of New York City’s most powerful unions. 

Labor organizers within NYC-DSA, however, take issue with this characterization. They say they are building strong, democratic unions by focusing on day-to-day issues (such as overtime and health and safety), not pursuing union staff positions. NYC-DSA did not provide an estimate of how many members have taken union jobs, but the chapter’s Labor Branch says a large number are working in a range of union industries (from blue-collar to professional) and in a range of rank-and-file roles (from shop steward to low-level union officer). 

When shop floor issues arise, these DSA members offer to bring their coworkers to a Labor Branch meeting for training?—?on how to find a committee of people to run a campaign, for example, or how to turn a grievance filing into a collective action. 

Their idea is to fight collectively to improve working conditions and to demonstrate to other workers that solidarity is a winning strategy?—?one that can eventually expand to the whole working class. 

Others are more skeptical. ?“This idea that socialists should switch jobs, get whatever certification is necessary and go into these strategic sectors [is] really not something that most of our members can do,” says Ryan Mosgrove, secretary of Metro D.C. DSA and an organizer with a local teachers’ union. ?“Many of our members are in low-wage work. Many of them are not in these urban, high-union-density, metropolitan areas where this sort of strategy is even applicable.” 

Mosgrove says that, as only 1 in 10 U.S. jobs is a union job, members should organize whatever workplace they happen to be in. 

Proponents of the rank-and-file strategy?—?like Barry Eidlin, a sociology professor at McGill University—argue that militant minorities have historically played a critical role in working-class victories. They are ?“the necessary building block for any kind of mass collective action,” Eidlin says. ?“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you get a few people going into various types of unionized jobs (as opposed to becoming [a nonprofit] worker), that can really shift things.” 

YDSA’s focus on only a few particular sectors?—?healthcare, education and logistics?—?is also controversial. YDSA believes these sectors can have the most impact for the working class because of their preexisting labor militancy, a higher than average unionization rate and (especially in the case of logistics) the structural leverage they hold within capitalism. Eidlin believes that inroads into manufacturing and production will also be essential to any long-term strategy. 

The success of this rank-and-file strategy will be difficult to measure, especially because of the time it takes to build trust with coworkers or transform entrenched union bureaucracies. Proponents believe that socialists should be prepared to make a lifelong commitment to their organizing. 

Adam, 23, a YDSA member in Florida who is studying to become a union teacher, is ready to take the leap. ?“There are no shortcuts to organizing,” he says.


This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 1, 2021. Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Indigo Olivier is a 2020?–?2021 fellow with In These Times’ Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and a member of NYC-DSA.


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: National Nurses United Leads Coalition to Urge CDC to Acknowledge COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

National Nurses United (NNU) is leading a group of 44 allied unions and organizations, including the AFL-CIO—representing more than 13 million members and their communities—to urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to update its COVID-19 guidance to fully reflect the latest scientific evidence regarding coronavirus transmission through aerosols that infected people emit when they breathe, speak, cough, sneeze or sing. Today, NNU’s coalition delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures, including scientific experts, urging the CDC to recognize COVID-19 aerosol transmission.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the nation’s nurses have demanded that the CDC’s guidelines be based on scientific evidence,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of NNU. “Nurses know that to effectively battle this virus, we all need to get on the same page about how it spreads….We urge the Biden administration to honor its commitment to listen to experts in the battle against COVID-19, which includes having CDC and other federal agencies explicitly recognize aerosol transmission.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 25, 2021. 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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‘Union guy’ Joe Biden keeps his distance from Amazon union fight

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When Joe Biden was running for president, he promised union members that he would be the “best friend labor has ever had in the White House.”

Now in office, Biden is keeping his distance from the biggest union fight of his early presidency, one involving a powerful company that gave to his inauguration and has pledged to help his administration fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The White House on Wednesday declined to directly endorse the union election at the e-commerce giant Amazon’s Alabama warehouse, telling POLITICO that, It’s the president’s position — and the policy of the U.S. government — to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining.

A Biden spokeswoman stressed that it’s also White House policy not to comment on the merits of specific cases that are currently before, or likely to be before, the National Labor Relations Board, which adjudicates unionization campaigns.

“President Biden has urged employers not to run anti-union campaigns or interfere with organizing and bargaining, and has called for holding employers accountable and increasing penalties when they do,” the spokeswoman said.

The comments from the White House underscore the delicate political dynamics that exist around the election in Alabama — an election that could result in Amazon’s first unionized factory in America. And they quickly drew a rebuke from labor advocates who still haven’t forgotten about the time former President Barack Obama rebuffed calls to join thousands of public workers protesting against a GOP-led state law that restricted state employees’ ability to unionize, despite previously pledging to walk the picket line on behalf of labor.

“If we don’t have the leader of the free world speaking up and saying, I’ve got these workers’ backs, so that they can actually freely choose their union … We’re leaving them stranded,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA told POLITICO in an interview. “I mean this is a real opportunity for the President to say, I mean what I say… when I put forward the ideals that I have in my labor platform.”

Biden’s labor platform includes passing an historic overhaul of federal labor law that would broadly expand workers’ ability to form unions. And so far the new president has appeared to keep his promises to fight for collective bargaining rights. Last month, Biden fired the labor board’s Trump-appointed general counsel and his replacement, the first time in more than 70 years a president has exercised that power over the agency.

The situation in Alabama presents a different set of challenges, however. The factory workers, Nelson added, are “taking on incredible power, and they need to know that they’ve got the president of the United States who has their backs and they’re going to have a fair chance.”

Some 6,000 full-time and part-time factory workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center have been voting throughout February on whether to join The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

If workers vote in favor of union representation, it would be a massive win for organized labor against a company that has been largely hostile to unionization efforts in the past. In recent days, organized labor’s allies in Washington have thrown their weight behind the union drive, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), former state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Ga.), as well as actor Danny Glover, releasing a video in support of the election on Wednesday.

“I think it’s important for the administration to demonstrate during this campaign its support for unionization,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said in a published interview earlier this week. Appelbaum declined requests to speak for this story, and the RWDSU instead directed POLITICO to his statement specifying that the Alabama election “is a great opportunity for the administration to show working people what’s important to them.”

Amazon has reportedly encouraged workers to vote “no” in the election, including posting flyers in bathroom stalls at the warehouse. The company also sought to delay the Alabama warehouse election, and requested that the vote take place in person, rather than by mail, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company has a fair bit of political heft in Washington, D.C. It was one of many that contributed to the president’s inaugural ceremonies, and it employs former top Biden and Obama White House spokesman Jay Carney, who bundled money for Biden’s election. On the day that Biden was sworn into office, Amazon sent a letter to him offering its help with Covid vaccine distribution.


Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox declined to comment on recent calls for President Biden to weigh in on the union vote.

“We don’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views,” Knox told POLITICO. “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”

During the campaign, Biden took aim at companies like Amazon for not paying corporate taxes, riffing on the disparity on the trail and in tweets. “I have nothing against Amazon, but no company pulling in billions of dollars of profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers,” he said at one point during the primary. “We need to reward work, not just wealth.”

He also ran for president as an unapologetic champion of unions, often citing the dwindling number of unionized workers as the primary reason for the shrinking of America’s middle class. Shortly after his election, Biden relayed that he had explicitly told corporate leaders that he was “a union guy.”

“They just nodded,” he said. “They understand. It’s not anti-business. It’s about economic growth.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 24, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Across America, Workers Hold Day of Action to Save Union Jobs

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Braving bitter cold temperatures across much of the country, hundreds of union members, environmental activists and community groups turned out in force for a national day of action on Saturday to raise awareness of the IUE-CWA’s campaign to save union jobs at the GE-Savant lighting plant in Bucyrus, Ohio, and help the environment. According to IUE-CWA, GE-Savant intends to transfer its LED lightbulb product line to China, permanently laying off more than 80 workers, and possibly closing the plant. “People are saying that if these jobs go, then it’s only a matter of time before the plant closes,” IUE-CWA Local 81201 President Adam Kaszynski told The Daily Item. “The hypocrisy of the situation is glaring because they’re going to have to send these back from China to sell them in the United States, increasing the carbon footprint. Walmart certainly has the power to demand that these lightbulbs are manufactured in Bucyrus.” Kaszynski (not pictured) led rallies with the North Shore Labor Council at Walmart stores in Lynn and Salem, Massachusetts.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIOon February 24, 2021. 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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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: North Carolina State AFL-CIO Issues Workers First Agenda for State

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

North Carolina State AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan (IUOE) reported the state federation and its affiliated unions have announced a Workers First Agenda for the 2021–22 legislative session. The priorities include requiring the state’s Department of Labor (NCDOL) to respond to COVID-19 related complaints about unsafe working conditions, ensuring safe and adequate housing for migrant farmworkers, maintaining a stable workers’ compensation program, and more. In the agenda, the North Carolina State AFL-CIO explained:

“Our priority is ensuring that working people receive adequate resources to survive the pandemic. Ultimately, however, we want working families to do more than just survive. Beyond the pandemic, we want working people to be able to thrive, to build better lives for themselves and their children, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and to live with dignity. It is time for policymakers to recognize the significant contributions and sacrifices made by working people. It is time to put workers first, just as they have done for all of us during this unprecedented crisis.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 23, 2021. 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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A Letter to a Young Organizer

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There’s no getting around it. Organizing is hard. But the context you are organizing in right now? It’s a whole different thing.

When I was coming up, the expectations felt big. People in the neighborhood were being screwed seven ways to Sunday. So, each night we’d knock 50 doors, have a dozen conversations, and go deep with three or four folks – sign them up as members committed to hosting a house meeting. We were expected to build a neighborhood base, organize actions, put 200 people in a room every couple months, and win.

None of this was easy. And, it’s different from what’s required today.

You are organizing in an era of constant crises. You feel the weight of a country coming apart at the seams. You have to build a base, develop community leaders, engage in local fights AND you feel called to spring into action as soon as another Black person is killed by police, even if a thousand miles away, when children are separated from their parents at the border, a Supreme Court seat opens, a pandemic strikes.

After you’ve put it all on the line to defeat Donald Trump, you pivot to Georgia. The most important election of a lifetime is followed by the two most important runoffs of a lifetime.

The results from Georgia come in. You’ve pulled off what they say could not be done. You feel proud. Hopeful, even. Finally – after four years of Trump – maybe you can be more at ease, if just for a bit. 

Apparently in today’s America, “a bit” lasts around six hours. Because before you catch your breath, when you should be celebrating, armed white supremacists storm the U.S. Capitol.

The celebration and rest will have to wait. Another of the most important moments in American history is unfolding on your watch.

All of this because you are no spectator. You hold the beauty and the responsibility of being an organizer. You know good and well you can make a difference.

And still, you gotta hit 50 doors a night, have those 12 conversations, sign up a few new members, move people into action or whatever the expectations are in your organization (and in the context of a pandemic). And most importantly, you need to teach others to do all of these things too.

If all the pivoting of this era means you can’t be doing these things, you wonder. Am I making the right choices? What are the costs of constantly reacting? What is my compass in this chaotic period?

Twenty-five years into organizing, I ask the same questions. When unsure, I go back to the fundamentals, as I understand them. I’ve had periods where I’ve been grounded in these, and times I’ve lost my way. The most fulfilling have been marked by a deep commitment to these fundamentals.

1. Start Where People Are At 

The best organizing starts not with mobilizing, but listening. Always be listening, seeking to understand people’s most pressing struggles, greatest hopes, and what is front of mind for them.

The first public meeting I organized in Chicago was an accountability session with the city’s Deputy Director of Rodent Control (yeah, I too didn’t know there was such a thing).  Taking it to the rats is not why most people get into organizing, but that’s what people wanted. And if we aren’t organizing around what people want?—?and they wanted the rats gone – ?are we really organizing? Or are we doing something else?

2. It’s Not Where People Start, but Where They Could End Up 

Organizing is the process of creating a path for the still waking. We are not here to organize the converted.

In her new book, The Purpose of Power, Alicia Garza spells this out plain as day: “We can’t be afraid to establish a base that is larger than the people we feel comfortable with. We have to reach beyond the choir and take seriously the task of organizing the unorganized?—?the people who don’t already speak the same language.”

Our primary challenge is not that the choir is unorganized, but that the choir is too damn small.

3. Master the One-on-One 

A good one-on-one meeting helps you understand someone’s path, their motivations, and what is keeping them from realizing their fullest potential. Done right, they can literally be life-changing. A conversation that starts with someone wondering why they even said “yes” to the meeting, turns into a gift?—?revealing things about themselves and society they had never seen so clearly until you, the organizer, came into their life. What an amazing thing to be able to offer to another person.

The dizzying pace of today’s organizing can tempt us to skip this practice, because we “have to get down to business.” But this is the business. Something profound about organizing will be lost if we don’t continue to invest in the art and craft of a good one on one.  

4. Create the Arena for People to Become Leaders Together

As organizers we create the arena for people to become leaders. From the house meeting to the biggest direct action you ever organize, you are building opportunities for people to step into leadership.

Little builds the connective tissue of it all like going into the battle together. Whether a protest outside the Mayor’s office, a direct action at the bank’s shareholder meeting, or helping lead a meeting with elected officials, these big moments advance our campaigns, but also transform us as individuals, and can transform entire organizations. 

There’s an intensity to going into battle together. Going public is a risk. Taking that risk together builds bonds between each other and the organization. This allows us to take even greater risks, and hold together when the chips are down.

5. Don’t Do for Others What They Can (and Would Gladly) Do for Themselves 

Our job is to create opportunities for others to develop. This is how we develop skills in the community and build broader ownership of it all. It’s also how we get bigger?—?we can only grow so much if we are holding all the work. Each time we fail to share responsibility is a lost opportunity for others to develop.

I’ll never forget my first public meeting. My mentor at the time, Mike Evans, noticed I was doing most of the work to set up the meeting. He pointed out that the people who showed up early could remain spectators, or they could be a part of making the meeting a success. 

Picking up on the point, I invited folks to help set up tables and put up signs. They were happy to help, and they instantly became more invested in the meeting. Lots of small acts like this add up.

6. Life Is Hard, Winning Is Important

Securing victories?—?big and small?—?builds faith in the work. Wins provide evidence for members that the process of organizing?—?with all of the other demands on their time?—?does create real impact in their community. We have to be winning.

Nearly as important is celebrating the wins. A while back, one of the founders of National People’s Action, Anne-Marie Douglas, stopped by to share some stories. When asked what was something the organization did really well in her time, she paused, then said, “we always celebrated the victories. Always.” 

It’s true. I remember as a young NPA organizer, when we’d win, the leadership would shut down the office and we’d head out to a bar or to the Italian joint around the corner. Hell, sometimes we celebrated the anniversaries of our victories. 

Sometimes the wins are few and far between. When they come, enjoy them, and do it together.

These are some of the fundamentals that I try to return to. If you crave more grounding in these fundamentals, seek out that support. Find the great practitioner of the one-on-one meeting, the time-tested creator of the arena, the folks who know how to craft the campaign to win tangible and structural change. You’ll be surprised how thrilled they will be to hear from you.

We are in a critical period in the project of truly becoming an America that has reckoned and reconciled with all the contradictions between our founding words and so many horrific acts, and the structures that allow them to continue. 

Many days, the work of becoming a new America is a beautiful thing. Other days, that progress is met with the hateful backlash that you would expect. 

Because of this, organizing is as relevant as it has ever been, and as needed. And you are the young organizers doing it in this most critical period in our history.

You are an organizer. You bring not bread, but yeast. You are here to agitate and inspire more people to ask hard questions, to uncover hidden truths, to realize their power, and to do all of this with lots of other people. 

What an amazing thing. 

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on February 12, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: George Goehl is the director of People’s Action, a national grassroots organization fighting for economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice.


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Working Life Episode 214: Your Future Talking Points for $15-an-hour Minimum Wage; Alabama is Amazon Unionizing Ground Zero

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Right before our eyes, in these very days and at this time of crisis, you can see so clearly this bankrupt system, defended and promoted by greedy CEOs and spineless politicians, but a system people are trying to rebel against and take down. And that’s the picture of two really important fights—the fight to get millions of workers a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the organizing campaign at Amazon.

It’s infuriating to keep reading about these so-called Democrats, and, of course, every single Republican, who oppose raising the federal minimum wage to $15-an-hour? How deeply out of touch are these people who oppose giving people a semi-livable wage to try to survive on? So, in service to my listeners, I’ve given you four—just four!—easy talking points to argue for hiking the immorally low minimum wage.

Then, I return to the organizing campaign underway at Amazon’s huge warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. There is never enough conversation about organizing Amazon because of its power and how a victory in this campaign will inspire workers at other Amazon warehouses, not to mention labor as a whole. I am joined by Joshua Brewer, a main organizer of the campaign for the Retail Wholesale & Department Store Workers, for the latest on-the-ground intel.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on February 17, 2021. 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 Union Bond

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Dave Dell Isola, the son and grandson of union members, grew up grateful for the family-sustaining wages and benefits that organized labor won for working people.

But he never fully grasped the might of solidarity until he and his wife, Barbara, and their two sons lost everything in an apartment fire. Dell Isola’s brothers and sisters in the United Steelworkers (USW) rushed to the couple’s side with financial assistance and other support to help them through the tragedy.

“They had me in tears,” recalled Dell Isola, now vice president of USW Local 12012, which represents hundreds of natural gas and propane industry workers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The union bond is so powerful that corporate interests and their allies across the country desperately want to smash it.

Twenty-seven states already have falsely named right-to-work (RTW) laws on the books, and advocates of these union-busting measures now hope to enact them in New Hampshire and Montana.

In addition, corporations and their allies want to make another effort to ram the legislation through in Missouri, even though angry voters there rejected it by a landslide just a few years ago. And Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want to enshrine their anti-worker law in the state constitution, just to make it more difficult for wiser heads to repeal the legislation one day.

Working people only win fair wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions when they stand together. Solidarity also gives union members the grit to survive battles like the months-long lockout that Dell Isola and his co-workers at National Grid in Massachusetts endured during their successful fight for a fair contract.

Corporations want to rig the scales in their favor. They push RTW laws so they can divide workers—tear at the union bond—and exploit them more easily.

These laws allow workers to opt out of supporting unions while still reaping the benefits. Unions remain legally bound to represent workers regardless of whether they pay dues.

And just as corporations want, that erodes union activism and starves locals like Dell Isola’s of the resources they need to bargain with strength, enforce contracts, build solidarity and survive labor disputes.

“It snowballs into not being able to represent people,” explained Dell Isola, noting the laws’ corrosive force not only helps employers depress wages but claw back sick time and other benefits earned with the sweat, blood and unity of previous generations of union members. “It’s un-American to expect people to work for you, bargain for you, and not pay them anything.”

Workers call them “right-to-work-for-less” laws. That’s because people in states with RTW legislation earn 3 percent lower wages, on average, than their peers in other parts of the country.

Also, workers in these states are less likely to have employer-provided health insurance and retirement plans, but more likely to die in workplace incidents, than their counterparts elsewhere.

Nobody, outside of corporations and conservative groups, wants these laws, Dell Isola said, pointing out that officials in New Hampshire rejected the legislation dozens of times over the years “because of the outrage of the people.”

Yet out-of-state agitators with deep pockets are bankrolling another push, hoping they can dupe the Republican legislature and governor into enacting it.

“They’re trying to weasel their way into the Northeast by starting with New Hampshire,” explained Dell Isola, noting an overwhelming cross-section of voters, local government officials and business owners not only adamantly opposes the bill but resents the outsiders’ efforts to foist it on them.

When Republicans and corporations schemed to enact the legislation in Missouri four years ago, John “Tiny” Powell knew how much he and other workers stood to lose. So he joined a broad-based grassroots movement to overturn the law with a first-of-its-kind referendum.

Powell, vice president of USW Local 169G and an electrician at Mississippi Lime Co. in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., stood at a busy intersection for hours and helped to gather 800 of the signatures needed to get the referendum on the ballot.

Ultimately, he and other activists delivered an astonishing 310,000 signatures to state election officials—more than three times the number required—and celebrated the coming referendum with a rally so large that the state Capitol “sounded like a hornet’s nest.”

Powell put hundreds of miles on his car as he traveled dusty rural roads and stopped at one house after another to educate voters about the importance of killing RTW through the referendum.

He explained that dues are a small price to pay for the benefits unions provide. And Powell, who takes pride in his local’s bargaining power every time a member can afford to buy a house or welcome a baby, stressed that strong unions mean strong families.

“These companies are not going to give you everything out of the goodness of their hearts,” Powell said. “They start sweating when they see you standing together.”

Just as Missouri voters turned out in force to strike down a law they never wanted, Dell Isola and a large coalition of New Hampshire residents are working hard to defeat the legislation there.

If enacted, he said, many workers simply won’t stand for it.

As soon as employers take steps to dilute union membership, drag down pay and cut corners on safety, he predicted, many will take jobs in Massachusetts or other states. They’ll go where workers still stand together and fight for the wages, benefits and working conditions that sustained Dell Isola’s family for generations.

“My blood’s been in the union a long time,” he said. “I wouldn’t go any other way.”

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on February 16, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: DPE Announces Legislative Push to Advance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

The arts, entertainment and media unions affiliated with the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, (DPE) last week announced their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy agenda during a digital press conference with union leaders, staff and members. The DEI policy agenda details the legislative action the unions will urge members of Congress to support to help make their industries more representative. “Diversity is a strength,” said DPE President Jennifer Dorning. “Creative professionals and their unions know this, and continue to prioritize making their industries more accessible to underrepresented people. Advocating for policy changes at the national level is a natural continuation of the work arts, entertainment, and media unions have been doing to advance DEI in their creative industries.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 17, 2021. 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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