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Mnuchin Is Now Trying to Destroy Airline Workers’ Job Protections

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.

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 Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

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 Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

Media Unionization Wave Continues: Worker Wins

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.

Major campaign to organize tech and video game industries launches, this week in the war on workers

There are increasing signs that workers in the tech industry are starting to see themselves as … workers. Maybe it’s the 100-hour workweeks as video game companies get products ready for launch, or maybe it’s the layoffs that come after a big release. Maybe it’s the increasing realization that companies such as Amazon and Wayfair are doing terrible work for the Trump administration, and that their employees are helping make that happen and have no control over it.

Workers at tech companies have staged a series of walkouts over a variety of issues, and subcontractors for Google recently unionized. Game Workers Unite, a grassroots group, has called for unionization in the video game industry. Now, following conversations with Game Workers Unite and with one of its founders onboard as a full-time organizer, the Communications Workers of America is launching a major organizing drive, the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE).

”We’ve been watching the amazing organizing of workers across the industry,” CWA organizer Tom Smith told the Los Angeles Times. “And workers themselves reached out to us while doing that amazing self-organizing, and said, ‘Can we do this in partnership with the CWA?’”

This could get very interesting—and it could really underline the point that unions are not just for blue-collar workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

The Decade That Put Capitalism On Trial

Image result for astra taylorI can’t say I’m convinced this decade has really just ended, especially since it didn’t start Jan. 1, 2010. As far as I can tell, it actually began in 2007, with Wall Street’s historic financial crisis.

That calamity has defined the last 13 odd years—call them the long teens—and transformed American politics by showing the center, indeed, could not hold. In the immediate aftermath of the mortgage debacle, the Tea Party rose to prominence, foreshadowing the racist, rightwing populism that continues to gain ground at home with Trump and around the world. But over time, the U.S. Left learned its own lessons: that capitalism can fail and that the government can spend huge sums of money to intervene in the economy. These revelations, in turn, have shaped the emerging generation’s sense of what is possible, spurring a democratic socialist revival and opening space for teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg to credibly insist in 2019, “If we can save the banks we can save the world.” United behind the proposal for an economically and ecologically transformative Green New Deal, young people understand it isn’t some pie-in-the-sky fantasy but a pragmatic and urgent necessity.

Greta’s comments echo the now famous refrain, which I first heard on Sep. 17, 2011 when a few hundred of us gathered at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan for Occupy Wall Street: “The banks got bailed out; We got sold out.” As a result of the financial crash, around 7.8 million U.S. homes were foreclosed. Black households lost half their collective wealth. Back then I didn’t have a home or savings to lose, yet my personal finances were in meltdown nonetheless. Around the same time Lehman Brothers collapsed, I got a call telling me my student loans were in default. I remember trying to grasp the logic: “I don’t have money, so you are increasingly my principal by 19%?” My balance ballooned, as did my monthly payments, which meant I was even more broke than before.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as I became more deeply involved in Occupy, I found myself gravitating to work focused on the problem of debt. It made sense, since most people drawn to the encampments were in the red as a result of being forced to debt-finance basic goods such as housing, healthcare and education, often with disastrous results.

Soon enough, I was collaborating with people I met through the movement and devising new creative ways to organize to transform indebtedness into a source of power and leverage. We co-founded the Debt Collective, a union for debtors, and in 2015 we launched the country’s first student debt strike, eventually winning over $1 billion in loan relief and crucial changes to federal law. Early on our position was mocked by mainstream media, but through organizing and public education we have shifted public opinion, helping lay the groundwork for the decommodification of higher education. We never would have predicted that in 2020 two leading presidential candidates would make our twin demands of mass student debt cancellation and free public college central planks of their campaigns.

Occupy marked a decisive break with the aughts, a difficult decade for social movements. In the wake of 9/11, New York City protests were often massively overpoliced, making demonstrating a grim and dispiriting affair, with the protesters who did show up to an action typically quarantined in “free speech pens” or arrested after being trapped by the awful orange netting cops would use to catch demonstrators like fish. Fortunately, most of the young people who had answered the call to “Occupy Wall Street” were new to activism—their sense of possibility hadn’t been constrained by the previous decade’s crackdown on dissent. Emboldened by recent uprisings including the Arab Spring, the Spanish and Greek indignados, and the occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol, the people gathered in Zuccotti Park were determined to hold their ground for the night, and they succeeded.

This has been one of the astonishing motifs of this decade: wave after wave of new people engaging in social movements for the first time, be it Occupy, Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL, the Women’s Marches, #MeToo, Indivisible, Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Movement, the Schools Strikes for Climate, and more. Since 2016, there has also been a remarkable insurgency of bold, unabashedly leftwing candidates for public office, many inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressivism. If you had told me in 2010 that socialists would be winning office from Houston, Texas, to Fulton, Georgia, and serving as judges, city councilors and Congresswomen, I never would have believed you.

If this decade has been anything, it has been a decade of crisis: the financial crisis, the post-Trump political crisis and the climate crisis. I spent much of this period writing a book and making a film about democracy and one thing I learned is that the word for crisis, like the word democracy, comes from the ancient Greek, krisis. It means the turning point in an illness—death or recovery, two stark alternatives. It’s fitting, then, that two divergent possibilities lay ahead: on one side, the path to a more egalitarian society, underpinned by a wholesale transformation of our economic and energy systems; on the other, a nostalgic, ethno-nationalist rightwing backlash combining plutocracy with other forms of minority rule. No one knows what the next decade will bring, but given the high stakes we have no choice but to pick a side and try to be part of the cure.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on January 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Astra Taylor is the director of the film What Is Democracy? and the author of Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone.

A Future That Works for Workers

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the AFL-CIO is partnering with SAG-AFTRA to host the second annual Labor Innovation & Technology Summit. The summit, led by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz ShulerSAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor, brings together union, technology, entertainment and media leaders to explore how these industries intersect and the potential impact for America’s workers and for the country’s creative culture.

As the voice of working Americans, unions play a critical role in ensuring that rapidly evolving technology, which will bring so many great things to humanity, doesn’t roll over humans in the process. Recognizing that this can only be accomplished by partnering with the tech industry, the second annual Labor Innovation & Technology Summit brings together diverse voices for a frank conversation about where we are, where we’re going and the critical milestones along the way.

About the AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions

For the better part of four decades, workers have been more productive than ever, creating massive amounts of wealth—but rigged economic rules, unmitigated corporate greed and unrelenting political attacks have weakened our voices, stifled our wages and eroded our economic security. Yet, as we write this report, a wave of collective action is sweeping the nation. Working people across industries and demographics are joining together for a better life. This uprising comes at a critical moment, as the astounding technologies of the digital revolution have the potential to improve workers’ lives but also threaten to degrade or eliminate millions of jobs.

The AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions, formed by a unanimous vote of the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention, is putting working people where we belong—at the center of shaping the economy, work, unions and the AFL-CIO.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on January 6, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

Work then, work now, and organizing to win: Five books about labor in the United States

As the Trump administration redoubles decades of Republican efforts to beat U.S. workers and their unions into fearful submission, it’s worth thinking about where we’ve come from, how workers fought for some of the rights we now take for granted—and some of those we’re in danger of losing—as well as where we’re going, and how to make it a better place than Trump has in mind. Here are some books to help do exactly that, looking at the history of work and worker organizing in the U.S., at what it’s like to be a low-wage worker in the U.S. today, and at how to organize for a better future.

Erik Loomis’ A History of America in Ten Strikes is just that—and it’s innovative and exciting in how it fulfills its title. Some of the strikes you may have heard of, like the Lowell mill girls or the Flint sit-down strikes. Some you may not have thought of as strikes, like the ways enslaved people fought back, withheld their labor, and ultimately fled to the Union army. But, Loomis writes, “We cannot fight against pro-capitalist mythology in American society if we do not know our shared history of class struggle. This book reconsiders American history from the perspective of class struggle not by erasing the other critical parts of our history—the politics, the social change, and the struggles around race and gender—but rather by demonstrating how the history of worker uprisings shines a light on these other issues.” In line with that promise, each chapter considers not only a particular strike, but also the context in which it happened.

Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age is the examination of the labor movement in recent years/critique of the broader progressive movement/analysis of power structures/organizing handbook you may not have known you needed, but you do. McAlevey uses a series of post-2000 case studies, from the Chicago Teachers Union to “the world’s largest pork production facility,” to argue that “for movements to build maximum power—the power required in the hardest campaigns—there is no substitute for a real, bottom-up organizing model.” Organizing, she writes, “places the agency for success with a continually expanding base of ordinary people, a mass of people never previously involved, who don’t consider themselves activists at all—that’s the point of organizing.” And it’s with organizing, McAlevey makes the case, rather than with advocacy or mobilization, that big change can be made.

Steven Greenhouse’s Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor is a good overview of the arc of the labor movement, from Triangle Shirtwaist to Walter Reuther and the UAW to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to the teacher uprising of the past couple of years. This is a good book to give a relative or friend who needs an intro text, someone who’s sympathetic to workers and open to the appeal of unions but isn’t all-in for organizing. What’s particularly striking about this book is the contrast it presents with the author’s earlier The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, of which I wrote in 2008, “Having clearly shown that it is corporations that most need to change their practices to improve the lot of American workers, Greenhouse is unwilling to suggest that they be confronted in any meaningful way.” Where that book shied away from acknowledging the reality that its detailed reporting laid bare, that corporations are making war on workers, Beaten Down, Worked Up is more willing to confront the political implications of corporate power, while retaining Greenhouse’s stellar reporting skills that make the stories he tells so compelling.

Emily Guendelsberger’s On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane is a book in the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. After being laid off from a reporting job, Guendelsberger spent time working three different low-wage jobs. She worked in an Amazon warehouse, a call center, and a McDonald’s. Much of the book, of course, is about the routine indignities of these jobs and the financial struggle of making ends meet while working them (though Guendelsberger is clear throughout that “I get to leave”). But what sets it apart is the focus on how technology is used to monitor and control workers, extracting every last possible drop of labor from them—from being timed down to the second at every task to force them to work at top speed through entire shifts to sophisticated scheduling software that ensures that there’s always a line at McDonald’s because there are never quite enough workers. For anyone who thinks that their experience in fast food or retail 15 or 20 years ago means that they know what those jobs are like now, this book is an important corrective.

Joe Burns’ Strike Back: Rediscovering Militant Tactics to Fight the Attacks on Public Employee Unions is an update of a 2014 book—and yes, this is a topic that needed updating between 2014 and 2019. Burns notes that in 2014 “the attacks on public employee unionism were already well underway” in Wisconsin and elsewhere. But those attacks have continued, reaching the Supreme Court with its Janus decision and, of course, reaching the White House with Donald Trump. In response, though, workers—especially teachers—are fighting back. This book offers some of the history behind public employee unions, a history of specific challenges that are being raised again, and a history of militance that is likewise once again relevant.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

It sure is great to be in the top 1%, this week in the war on workers

If you’ve been in the workforce since 1979, how much have your wages gone up? If you’re a little younger, how much have the wages for a job like yours gone up in those years? I bet it’s not 157.8%—unless, of course, you’re in the top 1%.

By contrast, wages for the bottom 90% grew by 23.9% between 1979 and 2018, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis. The top 1% still lags one group, though, and that’s the top 0.1%, which saw its wages rise by 340.7% in those years.

This is economic inequality in action, and it’s reshaped the economy. “The bottom 90% earned 69.8% of all earnings in 1979 but only 61.0% in 2018. In contrast the top 1.0% increased its share of earnings from 7.3% in 1979 to 13.3% in 2018, a near-doubling,” EPI’s Lawrence Mishel and Melat Kassa write. “The growth of wages for the top 0.1% is the major dynamic driving the top 1.0% earnings as the top 0.1% more than tripled its earnings share from 1.6% in 1979 to 5.1% in 2018.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

Loyola Marymount cafeteria workers win a deal, so Thursday’s debate will go on as scheduled

Happy holidays! This week’s gift is that the Democratic presidential debate will go on as scheduled on Thursday, Dec. 19, after food service workers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles reached a tentative deal with Sodexo, the company that employs them. All seven candidates who’ve qualified for the debate had said they would not cross a picket line, even if it meant missing the debate, and the Democratic National Committee was pressing for a resolution after Sodexo walked away from contract negotiations with the workers and their union.

DNC Chair Tom Perez, a former labor secretary, said, “I was proud to help bring all stakeholders to the table, including Unite Here Local 11, Sodexo and Loyola Marymount University, to reach a deal that meets their needs and supports workers.”

Workers will receive increased pay and job security and reduced healthcare costs under the tentative deal. That’s the value of organizing and solidarity, with the workers’ union, UNITE HERE 11, effectively using the leverage provided by the debate, and the Democratic candidates standing where they should, with workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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