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The Federal Agency Designed to Protect Workers Is Trying to Destroy Unions and Weaken Labor Rights

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When Dan Hoskins tried to organize colleagues at an Oregon plant in 2019, vindictive managers marched him past as many workers as possible en route to a disciplinary meeting in the human resources office.

The company wanted to create a climate of fear, Hoskins recalled, not only by threatening his job but ensuring others saw “Mr. Leader Pants getting written up.”

From trumped-up disciplinary charges to threats of layoffs and other scare tactics, corporations wage ferocious wars of intimidation to sabotage organizing campaigns and torment union supporters.

“You’re in a war zone,” explained Hoskins, who willingly shouldered the mistreatment because he understands the benefits unions bring to a workplace. “The tension is thick, and you know it’s going to be that way for months.”

Sadly, abused workers can expect no help from the Trump administration, which is busy trying to exterminatelabor unions.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the urgent need for stronger workplace protections, Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ramped up a scorched-earth campaign aimed at annihilating organized labor and subjugating American workers.

The string of NLRB rulings amounts to death by a thousand cuts, each one chipping away at the long-established rights and practices enabling working people to join together to build better lives.

For example, the NLRB—run by Trump’s handpicked corporate cronies—imposed additional, unnecessary steps to the union election procedure solely to drag out the process and give employers more time to thwart organizing efforts.

And the agency went further, empowering employers to begin withholding email addresses and other information unions need merely to contact prospective voters.

The board also ruled that employers may discipline a worker just for mentioning a union drive to a colleague during work hours. In a decision rooted in spite, rather than logic, it concluded the mere reference to an organizing effort—even an offhand remark—constituted an illegal solicitation of a colleague’s vote.

The NLRB is ostensibly responsible for protecting workers’ rights. But under Trump, it’s stacking the deck in favor of greedy corporations desperate to silence workers’ voices and bust unions at any cost.

Hoskins said the several organizing efforts he helped to lead all fell short amid unfair rules that restricted his activities yet gave his employers free rein to viciously bully workers and paper the plant—even the cupboards and tables in the cafeteria—with anti-union propaganda.

He likened the uneven playing field facing unions to a political campaign in which only one candidate gets to use social media or a fight in which one person gets only one punch to an opponent’s 10.

“Then we’re supposed to win the boxing match?” asked Hoskins, who supports unions because they give workers a voice in the workplace and force corporations to share more of their profits with the people who actually create them.

The Trump administration continually seeks new ways to rig the system against working people.

In one of its biggest gifts to corporations yet, the NLRB went to court to overturn an Oregon law that affords workers a degree of protection from the pernicious anti-union meetings that employers across the country regularly hold to belittle union supporters, lie about labor and kill organizing campaigns.

In Oregon, employers may hold anti-union meetings. But they cannot force workers to attend them. The NLRB filed suit to change that, arguing the law violates employers’ free-speech rights.

That’s right. The Trump administration wants to further free employers to lie, bully and fearmonger during organizing drives, even as it empowers the same companies to discipline workers for so much as mentioning a union.

Hoskins attended anti-union meetings over the years where managers falsely claimed that a union could undercut a company’s competitiveness and force it to cut jobs.

“The number one emotion they manipulate is fear,” Hoskins said, noting one panicked co-worker threatened him for leading the union drive.

If the NLRB overturns Oregon’s law, employers will ramp up the coercion and launch anti-union campaigns every bit as brutal as the one Kumho Tire waged against workers in Macon, Georgia, in 2016-2017.

After workers began an organizing drive with the United Steelworkers (USW), Kumho forced them into daily anti-union meetings—each lasting up to 90 minutes—in which the company repeatedly threatened to close the plant, haul away the equipment and eliminate their jobs.

Kumho augmented that torture with shop-floor conversations in which supervisors continually bullied workers and demanded to know how they planned to vote. The pressure tactics began the moment workers began their shifts each day, creating an atmosphere of pure hell inside the plant.

Yet workers are persevering in their efforts to organize—just like a growing number of other Americans.

The NLRB’s assault on organized labor and workers’ rights comes as more workers—at companies ranging from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to FedEx and multi-billionaire Warren Buffett’s Cort Furniture—seek the protection of unions.

The pandemic further widened America’s rampant income inequality and underscored corporations’ indifference to workplace safety, as workers at Cort Furniture and Orlando International Airport discovered when their bosses herded them into anti-union meetings despite the need for social distancing.

These and other exploited workers realize that only by organizing can they win family-sustaining wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions.

However, building better lives for millions of ordinary Americans will require an NLRB committed to vigorously enforcing labor rights.

The president nominates NLRB members as well as the agency’s powerful general counsel, and the Senate confirms them. So only the election of federal officials committed to workers’ rights can truly put the agency back on course.

Trump and his Senate allies not only installed corporate lawyer Peter Robb as general counsel but put former GOP congressional staffer Marvin Kaplan and corporate lawyers John Ring and William Emanuel on the five-person board—appointments that deliberately set in motion the war on unions and workers.

In a recent letter, the USW urged senators to reject Trump’s renomination of Kaplan, whose term expires in August, because of the unprecedented damage he helped inflict on Americans like Hoskins, who only want fair treatment on the job. The Senate voted to confirm him for another term anyway.

Hoskins first grasped the value of collective bargaining years ago after seeing a corporate executive pocket millions of dollars in a single quarter, while some of his co-workers struggled to make ends meet.

Ever since, he willingly endured managers’ harassment during organizing campaigns because he understands the life-changing differences a union would deliver.

Hoskins doesn’t mind fighting for a union. He only wishes the NLRB would finally give him a fair shot.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

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


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Five Reasonable Accommodations at Work

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With workplaces reopening in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, people with all types of disabilities are wondering if they can ask their employer for what they need.  Here are five common ADA accommodations and how the law has treated them.

The good news is that, with some thought, many of these adjustments will benefit everyone—creating a safer and more productive work environment.  Workplaces, like architecture, can be designed to minimize barriers. 

UNIVERSAL DESIGN: The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

United States Access Board

1. Adjusted Work Times

Adjusting work hours can help people with many kinds of disabilities, and can cut down on workplace crowding.  If schedule adjustments are possible for the job, they are a reasonable accommodation. Even adjusting the schedule for a less crowded commute may be reasonable.[1] 

2. Adding Protective Equipment

Courts have said protective equipment—like masks and gloves—can be reasonable to keep people with disabilities on the job and safe, even if the employer generally does not provide or allow it.[2]  Many employees are asking to use their own equipment, and this is likely to be a reasonable request.  Indeed, usually the employer will have to provide reasonable protective equipment, or even modify the workspace. 

3. Fixing Mask Policies

On the other hand, some people with disabilities need adjustments to masks or other protective equipment that employers may want to mandate for all workers.  For deaf peoplepeople with sensory sensitivities or claustrophobia, and people with breathing impairments, for example, masks can be a problem. 

The key is to accomplish the goal of keeping everyone safe.  With some thought, that can be done in ways that work for everyone.

4. Work from Home

Many judges used to be skeptical when people with disabilities asked to work remotely.[3]  That law is changing fast.[4]  If the job can be done remotely, an employer should consider it. 

5. Temporary Leave

As a last resort, workers can simply ask to take time off.  Disability law usually doesn’t require pay during the leave, although other laws, insurance, or contracts may.   The key to a temporary leave request is to make it reasonable—clear communication and an expected time frame are important.  Employers have to be able to take care of business while the worker is out.

These are just a few examples—many other adjustments may be reasonable, depending on the situation. A couple more points:

Medical Documentation

Employers can ask for reasonable medical documentation.  Here is the EEOC’s guidance.

Interactive Process

The law calls for an “interactive process” when a worker requests an accommodation.  That means an employer must work with the employee to figure out what is possible.  It also means the employee must work with the employer—the law does not always require the employer to give the first accommodation requested. Now more than ever, let’s come together and find ways for all of us to get back to work.

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[1] See, e.g., Lyons v. Legal Aid Soc‘y, 68 F.3d 1512, 1514 (2d Cir. 1995).

[2] See, e.g. Barry v. Illinois Dep’t of Corr., No. 114CV03199MMMTSH, 2019 WL 1083759, at *5 (C.D. Ill. Mar. 7, 2019).

[3] See, e.g. EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., 782 F.3d 753, 761 (6th Cir. 2015) (“[R]egularly attending work on-site is essential to most jobs.”).

[4] See, e.g. Masters v. Class Appraisal, Inc., No. 217CV11283LJMEAS, 2019 WL 4597365, at *8 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 23, 2019); Boltz v. United Process Controls, No. 1:16-CV-703, 2017 WL 2153921, at *10 (S.D. Ohio May 17, 2017).

This blog originally appeared at ADA Update on May 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maia Goodell is a civil rights lawyer committed to community lawyering for people and organizations of people with disabilities.


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How Workplace Rights Could Change for Remote Workers

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Knowing your workplace rights protects you 

In every civil society, certain rights have been put in place to guarantee equity and fairness for all. The same goes for every workplace. Every employee has certain rights that they are entitled to that provide a safe and non-toxic environment where they can thrive and excel. These rights affect diverse aspects of workplace ethics in relation to the employee. This includes pay, health, safety, bullying at work, discrimination, entitlements, breaks, and much more.

As an employee, it is vital that you know and understand:

  • The terms and conditions of your employment. 
  • Your rights to health and safety, and against bullying and discrimination.
  • Your access to precautionary gear and safety equipment.
  • And most importantly, where to get help if any of the workplace challenges listed above arise.

Having substantial knowledge of these rights can protect you if the situation arises. 

Are you treated fairly as a remote worker? 

How Can the Workplace Rights of a Remote Worker Change?

With recent global developments, advancement in technology, and ongoing world crises, the need for many more employers and their employees to create a remote working arrangement, both formally and informally has arisen. More arrangements have been made to cater to and support a large percentage of workers to work remotely.

But do these developments truly benefit remote workers? Does it cater to their rights as workers or have their workplace rights been sidelined? In cases like this, it is easy for a lot of employers to get carried away with the concept of remote work, that they fail to extend the appropriate workplace rights to their employees. Many workplace rights and privileges were created to mainly cater to workers in the physical workspace and therefore, tend to leave out virtual workers. 

What this means in essence, is that:

  • Typical rights such as access to health and safety may be cut off or reduced since they may no longer report to the office.
  • Suitability of the worker’s remote working environment for their type of work may not be considered.
  • Discrimination or stereotyping (which may affect decision-making) may occur against those that work remotely.
  • Breach of employee privacy may occur due to excessive surveillance from the company.
  • There may be blurred lines between work hours and off-hours (instigated by the employer) since the employee now works virtually. 

This should not be so because rights in the workplace should cover all employees, not only those at the physical workspace. Remote workers have workplace rights and entitlements just as well as the employee who reports at the office. 

Knowing your Rights as a Remote Worker

Before you begin to examine your rights as a remote worker, it is important that you meet the standards of a remote worker as recognized by many companies. A remote worker is someone who works outside of a traditional office. This could be anywhere, your bedroom, favorite coffee shop, or lounging by the poolside. What matters is that the job gets done. If this description fits you, take a look at these important rights you ought to know and exercise as a remote worker.

  1. You have the right to a private life and family life. Although your employer has the right to monitor you, you must be adequately informed and aware of it. This covers emails, internet access, telephone calls, data, and images. 
  2. You have the right to see any information that has been recorded about you.
  3. You have the right to adequate health care and safety support from your employer.
  4. You have the right to reasonable working hours and at least 20minutes of rest breaks.
  5. You have the right to a standard employment contract.
  6. You have the right to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work.

In conclusion

As a remote worker, always remember that it is within your right to request for fairness in any working condition. Employers and HR need to work together to ensure that the welfare of every employee is adequately catered to. This would create a balance in workplace rights for all types of workers, remote or not. 

Alex Capozzolo is the owner of the Brotherly Love Real Estate blog and a content writer for the real estate industry. Our focus is on helping people through one of the most important investment decisions of their lifetime by seamlessly providing fast, honest and professional real estate services.

About the Author: Alex Capozzolo is the co-owner of Brotherly Love Real Estate.


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A Brief Look at Today’s Workers Rights and Protections

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Workers used to be at the mercy of their employers when the topic of job-related safety and benefits arose, to say nothing of hiring and promotions. Now, after a push for employee rights gained momentum late in the 20th century, the result was a series of important laws that millions of Americans rely on for protection to this day.

Today, roughly 180 worker protection laws ranging from pay requirement to parental leave benefits are in force. Some key federal protections are below.

The Minimum Wage

Per the Fair Labor Standards Act, American workers receive a minimum wage for their work. Since 2009, most public and private employers have had to pay staff members at least $7.25 per hour, with several states providing their own minimum rates that are even higher. The law offers special protections for minors as well. For non-agricultural positions, it places limits on the number of hours children under the age of 16 can work.

Workplace Safety

Since the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 came into law, dangers in the American workplace have been minimized through a number of specific safety provisions, including industry-specific guidelines for construction, maritime and agricultural jobs. There also is included a “General Duty Clause” that prohibits any workplace practice that represents a clear risk to workers. Primary enforcement of these provisions has been the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, although state agencies may also have a role. 

Health Coverage

Formed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act promised to make health insurance a right for workers at most medium and large-sized businesses. A provision that requires companies with 50 or more full-time workers, the “Employer Shared Responsibility Payment” offers workers a minimum level of health insurance. A worker that logs at least 30 hours a week, on average, is considered a “full-time” employee.

Whistleblower Protections

There is in place a patchwork of federal statutes to help protect whistleblowers who report employer violations of the law. Much of the time whistleblower protections are built into pieces of legislation that govern an industry. An example would be the Clean Air Act, which provides safeguards to those who highlight violations of environmental law, as well as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that affords protections to individuals that uncover unlawful manufacturing practices.

The main body responsible for protecting the rights of employees is OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. The program protects employees who may fear job loss or other reprisals if they speak up. 

Family Leave

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton signed the Family Leave and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which resulted in eligible employees being afforded 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year if they decide to stay home in the wake the birth of a child, adoption or serious personal or family member illness.

In order to receive FMLA benefits, an employee must have been with the company for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the year prior. Also, the law only applies to business that employs at least 50 employees with a 75-mile radius.

Employee Based Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for businesses to discriminate based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Subsequently, in 2009 the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act further strengthened workplace rights, prohibiting wage discrimination against minorities and women. Also in this category, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects against age discrimination for employees over 40 years and older, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provided protections against discrimination of employees with disabilities. 

The bottom line is that today, American employees benefit from the numerous protections designed to provide a minimal level of income, as well as protect them from danger in the workplace, and other safeguards.

About the Author: Jordan Fuller is a retired golfer. Now, he is coaching and teaching golf. He works with wonderful people who help him manage his schedule, mentoring materials, as well as his website, www.golfinfluence.com


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Workers Are Fighting for Their Lives on May Day. They Deserve to Be Heard.

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In the Season Three finale, Working People talks with Adam Ryan, a Target worker in Virginia and liaison for Target Workers Unite, one of the groups that has been organizing the coordinated strike actions planned for May 1st, 2020. Adam discusses his life, his path to becoming a leftist and getting involved in labor organizing, and the conditions that Target employees have been working under even before the Covid-19 crisis began.


This blog was originally published at In These Times on May 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, “a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.


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Big Win on Back Pay: Worker Wins

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Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with a victory on back pay for NABET-CWA workers at CNN and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. 

NABET-CWA Workers Win $76 Million in Back Pay from CNN: Locals 11 and 31 of NABET-CWA have negotiated one of the largest back pay settlements in the history of the NLRB. CNN is required to bay $76 million to hundreds of broadcast technicians who were fired when CNN terminated a subcontract with Team Video Services. NABET-CWA President Charlie Braico said: “After more than 15 years, this settlement agreement finally delivers justice for workers who experienced serious hardship in their lives due to CNN’s union-busting practices. This incredible settlement in workers’ favor should send a very clear message to CNN and to other employers that union-busting is illegal and has consequences.”

University of California-Santa Cruz Trades Workers End Strike with New Contract: Dozens of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other trades workers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, ended a strike with victory as they ratified a new contract representing for the 49 AFSCME Local 3299 members. Electrician Joe Baxter said: “I’m just really proud of our people that we held the line and were able to get a fair and good contract. In the end, I felt like UCSC came through and gave us a fair contract.”

King County, Washington, Water District Workers Win New Contract: Members of the Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 302 capped months of negotiations with a victory as the commissioners of King County Water District 19 approved a union contract, the first in the district’s history. Shop steward Dominic Jovanovich said: “It was definitely tense at first, but we knew our supporters would come out for us and show solidarity because we know that organized labor is strong together. We were happy the board made the right decision and we’re excited to move forward.”

Joliet Marijuna Workers Join UFCW: A majority of the 95 employees at the Cresco Labs marijuana cultivation facility in Joliet, Illinois, voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). This is the first successful organizing drive in Illinois since recreational marijuana use was legalized. The workers are seeking better pay and more comprehensive health benefits.

Sports Illustrated Editorial Employees Vote for NewsGuild Representation: More than 90% of the editorial employees have voted to join the The NewGuild of New York-CWA. The new unit covers some 80 writers, editors, producers and other editorial staff in print, digital and video. Top issues for the workers are job security, severance, layoff protections, pay equity, workplace safety, diversity in hiring and advancement, and a voice in editorial strategy. Senior writer Jenny Vrentas said: “As journalists, we hold the teams and athletes we cover accountable. It is our responsibility to do the same in our own workplace. We are unionizing to ensure that Sports Illustrated is a safe, inclusive place to work, where all employees are treated equally and can continue to perform our jobs at a high level.”

Google Cafeteria Workers Join UNITE HERE: Approximately 2,300 cafeteria workers at Google campuses in the California Bay Area have voted to be represented by UNITE HERE. The workers are technically employed by a subcontractor, Compass Group, through its subsidiary, Bon Appétit Management Co. Compass and UNITE HERE are negotiating the first contract for the unit.

NewsGuild Members at The New Republic Ratify Ambitious Contract: Newsroom workers at The New Republic unionized in 2018 in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Now those workers have secured their first contract, which contains ambitious diversity provisions, progressive policy to prevent sexual harassment, and industry-leading intellectual property and privacy rights. Unit Chair Alex Shephard said: “This contract solidifies an important goal behind why we organized: To protect and live the values that The New Republic has espoused in its pages for over 100 years. The strength of our union is reflected in this contract, and I’m proud to have stood alongside fellow Guild members in crafting an agreement that fosters an environment of collaboration, transparency, growth, and sustainability.” 

St. Louis Metro Workers Secure New Contract: The negotiations took months, but the members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 788 won a new contract from St. Louis Metro Transit. Some 1,500 working people voted to approve the new contract, which includes higher starting pay, protections against rising insurance costs, and increased pay for night and weekend work. Overall, wages and benefits for the workers will see an increase of $26 million over three years. Reggie Howard, president of Local 788, said: “It was a long fight. But we feel really good about it.”

USW Members at Clearwater Paper Agree on New Contract: Workers at Clearwater Paper have been working without a contract since 2017. The members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 712 approved an agreement that would cover more than 800 employees. Contract negotiations have been long and contentious with the membership almost unanimously rejecting what Clearwater previously said was its last and best offer. The new contract runs through 2025.

Food and Water Workers’ Union Voluntarily Recognized: Nearly 80 workers at Food & Water Action (and its affiliated organization, Food & Water Watch) from around the country voted to be represented by the Nonprofit Professionals Employee Union (NPEU), IFTPE Local 70. Management will voluntarily recognize the new unit. The workers said: “As an organization, we advocate for union power in the WATER Act and a real Green New Deal because we recognize the critical importance of protecting union labor and not leaving workers behind in our fight for a better world. We believe that a union will allow us to truly live up to our values; will give us a tangible way to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in our workplace; and will show the rest of the world how truly invested we are in the right of workers to make a fair living on a livable planet.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on April 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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Mnuchin Is Now Trying to Destroy Airline Workers’ Job Protections

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Image result for Sara Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants

America’s aviation workers won a huge victory in the CARES Act. In the bill, Congress created a grants program that funds paychecks and benefits for two million hourly workers who were going to lose their jobs while planes are grounded. This isn’t a no-strings-attached corporate bailout for airlines. The money goes directly to flight attendants, pilots, mechanics, cleaners, caterers, and wheelchair attendants, so that we can stay on the job, on our healthcare, and out of the unemployment line. It should be a model for how we help all workers impacted by coronavirus.

This bipartisan agreement for workers-first relief could go off the rails now. At the eleventh hour, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) tried to sabotage the program by requiring equity stakes in exchange for the payroll grants, i.e. “warrants.” A last-minute compromise to preserve relief for workers made such warrants entirely discretionary. On Capitol Hill, that’s what’s called a poison pill. In the bill, Congress intended that grants would actually be grants. But Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, so far, has shown little inclination to respect the will of Congress. His public statements imply that in exchange for keeping workers on the payroll for six months, the federal government could take stake in up to 40% of the airlines.

Under those conditions, the airlines will almost assuredly refuse the grants. And it will cause more job losses than our industry has ever seen. If Secretary Mnuchin insists on conditions that airlines can’t agree to, a million workers will get a pink slip in the near term and a total of two million will feel the pain of an industry in collapse on President Trump’s watch. That’s the opposite of what Congress intended and what the President promised. The entire point of the relief bill is to save our jobs, keep people connected to their benefits, and make sure aviation is ready to take off the minute we have this virus under control.

The federal government can take an equity stake in the airlines through warrants on the loans it provides to the companies instead. Warrants on loans make sense because when taxpayers step in to support a private company, the public deserves a share in the profits. That’s worked out well in the past. After 9/11, when airlines were reeling, the government took warrants in exchange for loans, and taxpayers made money. Even the conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eaton of the American Action Forum, appointed by Mitch McConnell to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2009, agrees that warrants on our paychecks make no sense, saying, “far from protecting workers, warrants are a potential assault on them.”

Warrants aren’t just destructive to the relief program, they’re unnecessary. The taxpayer return on the grants program is clear: no layoffs and no furloughs. Every dollar must go to wages and benefits. Two million workers keep paying taxes and stay off unemployment. And by keeping us on the job and on the tax rolls, our workforce will help keep the aviation industry intact during this crisis, able to provide essential services during this national emergency, and prepared to assist in the country’s economic recovery as soon as the “all clear” sounds. If a million workers are sent home, it could take months to get our industry back on its feet, and delay the whole country’s economic rebound. We don’t want our economy sitting at the gate, waiting for a flight crew to arrive.

Finally, these warrants are terrible for the flying public. If you think flying is too expensive or too uncomfortable now, warrants will make it much, much worse. Nearly everything consumers hate about air travel today is a result of past bankruptcies. Without payroll assistance that allows workers to keep their jobs, we’ll see more bankruptcies and consolidation in the industry. That means less competition, and more of the things consumers hate: smaller seats, fewer amenities, and higher and higher fees. The worst thing we can do right now is make demands on the airlines that will force layoffs, reductions in service, less competition and higher fees.

Aviation workers are trained to respond in a crisis. We’ve returned millions of Americans home to shelter, delivered critical medical supplies to healthcare workers on the front lines, and helped with the transport and care of coronavirus patients. We will protect access to air travel for small and rural communities and keep healthcare supply chains open. And we’ll be ready to lift off and support our economic recovery. But, to do that, we need our jobs. We oppose efforts to sabotage this program and we’ll keep fighting for aviation workers and all working people.

This blog was originally published by In These Times on April 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sara Nelson is the president of the Association of Flight Attendants–Communications Workers of America.


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Worried Call Center Workers Do Not Understand Why They Are Risking Their Lives for Customer Service

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As the coronavirus has shuttered swaths of America’s offices, many workers in corporate call centers say they are still expected to work, risking their own health. Call centers have been deemed “essential” by the Department of Homeland Security, but employees with little paid sick leave say they feel forced to work, in constant fear of infection, in order to keep customer service lines functioning smoothly.

Late last week, as states from coast to coast closed businesses in order to try to restrain the spread of the disease, call center workers across the country told In These Times that their jobs were continuing. Many said that the policies instituted by their employers were wildly insufficient for protecting employees from the scale and danger of this pandemic. One person who works as a customer service rep at a Kansas call center for the government contractor Maximus, said that employees were told late last week that they could apply for leave for childcare reasons after schools shut down, but that the process was broken.

“After applying online I immediately received an email from Maximus saying that I didn’t qualify for the leave. My supervisor told me to talk to human capital (that’s what they call HR now) about it, but they wouldn’t speak to me. They said they would only take appointments. I applied for an appointment twice and got no response,” the employee said on Friday. “We were also told to tell our supervisors if we were sick. I have symptoms of a cold right now, which I relayed to my supervisor. We assumed they were going to send everyone who was sick home, but human capital never responded. And I’m still scheduled to go into work tomorrow.”

Cassie Ludwig, who works at a Maximus call center in Kentucky, said that she is required to work 30 hours a week to qualify for health insurance, and now she fears losing it when she needs it most. “I got a schedule change because the schools in our area are closed due to COVID-19, but if I don’t work the minimum hours and fall ill, I won’t be able to afford treatment.” (A Maximus spokesperson said that the company’s updated sick leave grants up to 80 hours of paid leave to employees who are self-quarantined or forced to care for sick family members, and that “if an employee needs to take COVID related leave their health insurance coverage continues.”)

Several call center workers for Wells Fargo spent last week grasping for clarity on whether they could keep themselves safe without facing unemployment. Last Wednesday, an employee at a Wells Fargo call center in Minneapolis was desperate enough that she was emailing any news outlets she could find, concerned about the health of her husband, who was working in conditions she said were “definitely closer than they should be.” Her husband was later granted 14 days of paid sick leave due to a health condition, but other employees at the call center remain on the job.

There was similar uncertainty in other locations, according to Patrick Creaven, a member of the Committee for Better Banks who works at a Wells Fargo “contact center” in Concord, California that handles customer service. At the end of last week, Creaven said, some though not all of the several hundred employees in the building were told they could work from home—theoretically. “My colleagues and I in the Social Care department could work from home if we were given laptops, but they are currently not available. We’ve been told the bank is working on securing them for us, but there’s a backlog,” he said. “Overall, the workplace this week is very similar to the workplace we had pre-coronavirus.”

Creaven said that he and his colleagues are typically given three paid sick leave days a year; Wells Fargo has told them that if they test positive for coronavirus, or are deemed to be at high risk as defined by the CDC, they can file to receive 14 days of paid leave.

“Some Wells Fargo employees who support critical operations, including contact centers, must be onsite in order to serve our customers,” said Wells Fargo spokesman John Hobot. “As the situation evolves quickly, we continue to explore alternatives, and are taking significant actions to ensure the safety of our team while ensuring customers are provided the services they need.” He added that the company is updating policies, “including benefit enhancements specifically for employees directly affected by coronavirus through illness or school closures.”

A steady theme from call center employees over the past week has been that the reactive measures taken by their employers in response to the pandemic have not been enough to reassure them that they are not placing their lives on the line for their relatively low-paying jobs. An employee at a Consumer Cellular call center in Arizona who expressed fear of infection last week told In These Times that he has now left the job, making the calculation that the health risk was too great. “I am of the opinion that states like mine that are oversaturated with mega call centers are putting an untold number of lives at risk by allowing them to continue to operate,” he said.

Call center workers themselves are the strongest believers that they should all be working from home, rather than being forced to choose between coming into crowded offices or lose their livelihoods. “We need to be allowed to work from home to prevent people from catching the virus, as a precautionary measure—not as a reactionary one,” said the Wells Fargo worker Patrick Creaven. “I’m very worried. Government agencies have told us to ‘shelter-in-place’ to prevent the spread of the virus. Going into a building with hundreds of people in it, opening the same doors and touching the same elevator buttons, has suddenly become terrifying. I feel like it’s not a matter of if, but when someone becomes sick.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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You and Your Boss Have the Same Interests Right Now. That Is a Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity.

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“We’re a team.” “We’re a family.” “We’re all on the same side.” “A rising tide lifts all boats.” These are lies that companies regularly tell their employees. In fact, in normal times, the interests of the workers and the bosses are mutually exclusive. Their bigger slice of the pie gives you a smaller slice. But these are not normal times. For the first time in a lifetime, the interests of the workers and the bosses are—temporarily—the same. That is an opportunity.

I know a guy who owns a few bars. In the course of a week, his business dried up. His income went to zero. He had to close the doors. His 80 employees are all out of work. Even if he wanted to keep paying them, he couldn’t. All of his money is invested in the business. Now he and his employees are both powerless bystanders in the face of a disaster. It will wipe all of them out, together, unless something is done.

Multiply that scenario by a million and you have a rough picture of the American economy at the moment. This is not a normal acute business crisis, affecting a single area of the economy, which can be bailed out so that the rest of us can continue on. This is a stoppage of the economy, which renders the fight over slices of the pie moot. There is no pie now. There’s an empty plate, and we’re all going to starve together unless something meaningful is done.

Organized labor is built, and should be built, with the idea that it will always be locked in a contentious struggle with business interests, because the logic of capitalism means that every dollar that working people do not win with their own power will be snatched away by owners and investors. Broadly speaking, that is always true. Except for now. Now, today, business owners—in particular small business owners—and their workers have the exact same interest: not being completely wiped out by an unprecedented crisis that defies categorization. We all need help from above right now.

In a perverse way, this is a sort of leverage for the working class. The economic balance of power that is usually used as a weapon to force workers to take less out of desperation is being erased by the day. Yes, the working class is still fucked. But the boss is fucked too! The workers may starve faster, but we’ll all starve nonetheless. What is normally happy rhetoric that conceals a shiv is now real. We’re all on the same team, and we are losing.

A few big-picture things are clear for all of us: Whenever this virus and its quarantine pass, the businesses that employ tens of millions of people will not be able to just throw open the doors and restart on their own. For owners, the bills are still piling up while they have no income, which will drive them into bankruptcy. For workers, the bills are still piling up while they have no income, which will drive them into bankruptcy. A week ago, the boss may have been driving a Porsche and deriding his employees as ungrateful socialist kids who don’t understand the real world. Today, the idea of a rent freeze and universal government healthcare and a debt jubilee sound pretty damn good to that same boss. It has always been true that the economy should be organized around what is good for working people. Instead, it has been organized around the interests of money itself, and those who hold it. But all of the intricate rules and structures that have been built to pull wealth to the top are breaking down as we speak in the face of the fundamental fact that there is no functioning economy for anyone. That sudden equality is a form of power.

Paid sick leave funded by the government, healthcare funded by the government, financial relief funded by the government: All are in the interests of owners and workers right now. Organized labor and businesses can combine their power in this bizarre moment in time to extract what is necessary from a government that is used to picking the interests of only one side. Time for the cats and dogs to play together. The AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce should be kicking down the door to Congress together and threatening the entire place with scorched-earth destruction unless they pass a massive stimulus that puts money in the pockets of working people and suspends debt obligations. (Already, unions and employers in the airline industry have put together a plan that would save the industry while prioritizing the workers, a good model of what can be done on an even grander scale right now.) If the working class emerges from this with no money to spend, there will be neither employees nor customers for any owners to come back to. Anyone too stupid to see this now is like The Millionaire stranded on Gilligan’s Island, still trying to pay money for good service while everyone else is hunting for coconuts to survive.

Union membership in America boomed after the Great Depression. Union radicalism and strikes boomed after World War II. There is nothing like an existential crisis to show people that they need to stick together. Notions of justice and urgency are sharpened when the stakes are this high. In the past week I have heard from multiple people across the country who are newly interested in unionizing. They all say that this crisis has prompted everyone at work to start talking about what can be done. That means that one of the biggest hurdles to unionizing—getting workers talking about united action—is already being crossed at workplaces all over America. The seeds of new unions are being planted. It is up to the labor movement to see to it that they grow and flourish. We may never see a more fertile environment for union organizing in the national psyche. This moment must not be squandered. Millions of people without unions have come to realize very fast that they have no safety net. Unions can build that safety net only by building newer and bigger unions. Get ready to work.

Very soon, the business class of America is going to come to the working class and say: “It is time to work together.” And they’re right. There is no choice. But this unity comes with a price. Regular people are not going to unite to rebuild the exact same set of arrangements responsible for all of them being overworked, underpaid, and unprotected in the first place. That won’t fly. Organized labor is not here to throw its power behind a government bailout that will restore organized labor to its former position of glorious inferiority. We are all on the same team now, and that team doesn’t run union-busting campaigns, or squeeze minimum-wage employees to pay enormous executive bonuses. Isn’t that right, bosses? The price of our cooperation is your cooperation. We can teach a business owner what solidarity looks like. Now they have to listen. Workers, after all, have been suffering forever. Bosses are just getting their first taste.

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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Media Unionization Wave Continues: Worker Wins

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Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with organizing efforts at a publishing giant and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. The end of 2019 saw a flurry of wins for working people, so this is the second in several posts that will cover the victories of the last quarter of the year.

Employees at Media Giant Hearst Magazines to Join Writers Guild: Employees at one of America’s oldest major magazine publishers are forming a union, becoming the latest big media organization to join the ranks of organized labor. Editorial, photo, video and social media employees working at 24 major Hearst publications voted to be represented by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). The publications covered include Elle, Esquire, Town & Country, Cosmopolitan and others. Elle Culture Editor Julie Kosin, also a union organizer, said: “We’re excited to be a part of the labor movement among our peers, and most importantly create a fair and equitable workplace for the future of this industry.”

Chicago Teachers Union End Strike with New Contract: After an 11-day strike, the Chicago Teachers Union went back to work after approving a new contract. More than 25,000 teachers will be covered under the new contract and 300,000 kids returned to classes. Jesse Sharkey, president of the union, said: “This contract is a powerful advance for our city and our movement for real equity and educational justice for our school communities and the children we serve.”

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Workers Approve New Contract: The largest union representing Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) workers approved a new contract after six months of tense negotiations and no contract. Previous offers by the MTA sought to cut back on overtime, increase worker health care contributions and limit vacation time accrual for workers, proposals the union called “insulting.” The workers are represented by Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100, whose president, Ton Utano, said: “I am happy to report that we have reached a negotiated settlement with the MTA that I believe the Local 100 membership will ratify in overwhelming fashion.”

Massachusetts Marijuana Workers Join UFCW: Working people at Sira Naturals, a marijuana company in Massachusetts, voted to be represented by Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). More than 100 workers will be covered by the new unit. Sira’s chief executive, Mike Dundas, said the company voluntarily recognized the union. He said it would help attract and retain employees.

Musicians Reach New Film and TV Contract: Musicians represented by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) have reached an agreement on a new contract for film and television with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The two-year deal was reached after the two sides settled issues relating to residuals for films and television shows made for streaming services.

Los Angeles Proterra Electric Bus Assemblers to be Represented by Steelworkers: Working people at Proterra’s electric bus assembly line plant California voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675. The company’s leadership was amenable to the drive and worked with USW to help workers understand the need to a carbon-neutral economy. Blanchard Pinto, a supervisor at the plant, said: “This is my first time being in a union, and I’m actually excited about it. It was a no-brainer for me that it was something we could use for the job stability.”

Cedar Rapids General Mills Workers Ratify New Contract: More than 500 workers represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union voted to approve a new three-year contract with General Mills. The workers had threatened to strike before the deal was reached. Tim Sarver, who has worked for General Mills for more than 37 years, said: “I am thrilled to know we will all be going to work tomorrow with the peace of mind of a strong union contract. Over 500 families can sleep well tonight knowing their needed benefits are secure for the next three years. The strength of our union during these first contract negotiations was extraordinary. I am proud to say that a union contract is now part of every balanced breakfast that comes from our General Mills plant.”

NBC News Universal Editorial Staff Vote to Join The NewsGuild: Editorial staffers at NBC News Digital voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with the The NewsGuild of New York (TNG-CWA). After the vote, the editorial workers requested that NBC voluntarily recognize the unit. The new unit covers staff from nbcnews.com, today.com, StayTuned, Left Field, msnbc.com and NBC News Now. Nigel Chiwaya, a data journalist and member of the new unit, said: “NBC News is a storied name in journalism, and we all feel proud to be a part of it. Forming the NBC NewsGuild is our way of protecting the legacy for everyone here now and for those who will come after us. We are organizing to make our newsroom stronger and safer for all.”

Content Producers at Philadelphia’s WHYY Join SAG-AFTRA: Journalists and other content producers at WHYY in Philadelphia have voted to join SAG-AFTRA. The vote was nearly unanimous, and the 90 workers represented by SAG-AFTRA will next negotiate their first collective bargaining agreement. In a statement, the union said: “We’re thrilled by our strong showing. We look forward to beginning a democratic process to hear from our members about what they would value most from a contract with management.”

UAW and Ford Reach Agreement: The UAW reached a tentative contract in November. The contract covers 55,000 hourly Ford workers in the United States, the most of any domestic automaker. Rory Gamble, vice president of the UAW Ford Department, said: “Our national negotiators elected by their local unions have voted unanimously to recommend to the UAW-Ford National Council the proposed tentative agreement. Our negotiating team worked diligently during the General Motors strike to maintain productive negotiations with Ford. The pattern bargaining strategy has been a very effective approach for UAW and its members to secure economic gains around salary, benefits and over $6 billion in major product investments in American facilities, creating and retaining over 8,500 jobs for our communities.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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