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Elect Working People For Everything

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The 2022 midterms were full of surprises to many political pundits, analysts, and consultants. A popular narrative predicting a massive Republican wave election turned out to be wrong, with Democrats retaining the U.S. Senate and performing stronger than expected in many states despite serious inflation and low favorability ratings for national party leaders.

A major force behind these election results is an often overlooked list of scrappy, grassroots organizations focused on building working class power through political engagement, voter education, and better candidates. In my corner of rural America, that group is Down Home North Carolina.

‚ÄúOur strategy is going places where no door knockers and no phone canvassers have gone before,‚ÄĚ Down Home‚Äôs Dreama Caldwell told me when I asked her about the group‚Äôs 2022 election efforts. ‚Äú80 of our state‚Äôs 100 counties are rural. We focus on rural people and rural places because there‚Äôs no path to victory in our state without a rural strategy. There tends to be less voter engagement in rural communities, and we‚Äôre flipping that script here in North Carolina.‚ÄĚ

Wearing shirts that read ‚ÄúElect Working People for Everything,‚ÄĚ Down Home‚Äôs volunteers and staff knocked on more than 150,000 doors during the election cycle, leading to 36,712 in-person conversations with potential rural voters. The group‚Äôs phone canvass team made more than 155,000 phone calls and sent over 181,000 text messages. They also sent more than 500,000 pieces of rural mail.

The goal of this massive mobilization was to support Down Home’s slate of working class candidates for state legislative races, county officials, and multiple school board districts. Ultimately, Down Home’s election efforts helped to elect two new rural working class candidates to the state house and one to the state senate, preventing the Republicans from obtaining their sought-after supermajority.

Down Home member Lisa Hanami knocked on hundreds of doors in Cabarrus County. She was particularly proud to be getting out the vote for newly elected state representative Diamond Staton Williams, a Black nurse who won by just 425 votes.

‚ÄúWe knocked on doors and talked to people about the issues that matter to us. Issues like being able to put food on the table, being able to just pay your bills. Most people we talked to agreed that we need stronger candidates who are actually working class themselves, and Diamond, she‚Äôs one of us. She‚Äôs a nurse, a regular working class person,‚ÄĚ Hanami said.

When she was growing up, Hanami was challenged by her grandparents to become politically active, to join the family tradition of activism and organizing for racial justice and economic equality. Her experience knocking doors in Carrabus County was her first major campaign.

‚ÄúWhen you meet people in person, get to know them, you start to realize there are different problems than we hear about in the mainstream media. And that especially matters based on what media people are listening to or watching. I found out so many people had bad information, even misinformation. That‚Äôs a problem, and one way to solve it is more face-to-face interactions,‚ÄĚ Hanami said.

Caldwell told me that Down Home is committed to deepening its voter engagement work in rural North Carolina in the years to come.

‚ÄúWhat we‚Äôre trying to do is build a bigger ‚Äėwe.‚Äô Our organizing in rural communities is a year-round commitment. And we‚Äôre finding that where we work the election results are a little less red each time. And we‚Äôre inspiring more working class people to get involved, to run for office themselves.‚ÄĚ

I’m hoping that voter engagement efforts like this can spread throughout the countryside, growing in impact and influence here in rural North Carolina as well as other areas where working class issues are being neglected by mainstream politics. And selfishly, I’m hoping that Down Home can get the attention and funding they deserve to grow their organizing efforts to where I live in the mountains of Transylvania County.

Working class politics grows the map in rural America, and that’s a lesson we all need to remember come 2024.

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on December 7, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Oates is a freelance reporter and opinion writer covering rural issues, policy, and politics. He lives and works in Transylvania County, North Carolina.


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Juneteenth Jumble

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Politics, Policy, Political News - POLITICO

Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday last Thursday after Biden signed the legislation recognizing it ‚ÄĒ but what that actually meant for workers in the immediate aftermath has varied greatly.

Some nonessential government offices, federal courts and school districts shut down on Friday, NPR‚Äôs Camila Domonoske reports. And ‚Äúa small number of businesses acted swiftly to observe the holiday ‚ÄĒ even with just a few hours’ notice.‚ÄĚSome employers had already voluntarily decided to recognize the holiday.

‚ÄúOther companies say they’re recognizing Juneteenth without actually observing it,‚ÄĚ she writes. ‚ÄúGoogle is not giving people the day off but is encouraging them to cancel meetings. AT&T held internal events recognizing the holiday but also encouraged people to use their existing leave to take Juneteenth off. ‚Ķ Many big banks say they’ll start observing the holiday next year, and in the meantime, they’re are offering employees a floating day off to use sometime this year. The stock exchanges remain[ed] open for this year, although they may reevaluate in the future.‚ÄĚ

RELATED: ‚ÄúJuneteenth Was Supposed to Be a Holiday for N.Y.C. Workers. Not Anymore,‚ÄĚ from The New York Times

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 21, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Politico is a political journalism company based in Arlington, Virginia that covers politics and policy in the United States and internationally. It distributes content primarily through its website but also printed newspapers, radio, and podcasts. Its coverage in Washington, DC includes the U.S. Congress, lobbying, the media, and the presidency.


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VOTERS SUPPORT HOLDING CORPORATIONS ACCOUNTABLE FOR LABOR CONTRACTING ABUSES

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Recent polling confirms that voters who live in battleground districts overwhelmingly want their Congressional representatives to hold corporations accountable to the workers who build their business and their wealth. Voters want legislators to make it harder for companies to call workers ‚Äúindependent contractors‚ÄĚ; they want lawmakers to discourage companies from contracting with temp and staffing agencies and shedding responsibility for their workers.

Between January 22 and February 1, 2021, Hart Research Associates polled voters in the nation‚Äôs 67 most competitive Congressional districts. Across political parties, regions, race, genders, age groups, education levels, and income levels, there is broad understanding that policymakers should address the rampant contracting out of jobs.

Fully 72% of voters are in favor of passing legislation that would ‚Äúallow workers to hold lead companies legally responsible if their subcontractor fails to make Social Security, unemployment insurance, or workers‚Äô compensation contributions, or fails to pay workers the wages they are owed according to prevailing minimum wage and overtime laws.‚ÄĚ Both white voters (73%) and people of color (70%) support such legislation. Democrats especially favor such legislation (83% support), but both Independents (60%) and Republicans (66%) also endorse legislative action.

Seven in ten voters (70%) believe that eliminating permanent jobs and instead using workers from temporary or staffing agencies is a bad change in the workplace, with a third of voters regarding this as a very bad change.

And by a dramatic 40-point margin, 54% to 14%, voters think that businesses designating more workers as independent contractors, instead of hiring them as employees, is a bad change rather than a good change for the workplace. A strong majority (68%) of battleground voters favors legislation that would make it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors, including increasing the fees and penalties for companies that misclassify employees as independent contractors. Seventy-six percent of voters of color supported the new legislation; 66% of white voters also favored it, as did 79% of Biden voters and 58% of Trump voters.

NELP’s prior research shows that Black, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American workers are overrepresented in misclassification-prone sectors, such as construction, trucking, delivery, home care, agricultural, personal care, ride-hail, and janitorial and building services, by over 36 percent; they constitute just over a third of workers overall, but between 55 and 86 percent of workers in home care, agricultural, personal care, and janitorial sectors.[1]

NELP‚Äôs results come on the heels of polling by McKinsey that finds that contract, freelance, and temporary workers would overwhelmingly prefer to have permanent employment. In particular, people of color stated a strong preference for stable jobs. Together, the two polls make clear that excluding certain workers from labor protections‚ÄĒexclusions that are rooted in white supremacy and segregation‚ÄĒhas profound implications for racial justice.

The poll results make clear that lawmakers should resist efforts by Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Instacart, and others to gain special exemptions from foundational labor rights, both across the states and in intense lobbying to gain special exemptions from federal legislation known as the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act‚ÄĒwhich, if passed, would be the most consequential expansion of the right to organize that workers have seen in decades. These businesses and others that make up the misleadingly named ‚ÄúCoalition for Workforce Innovation‚ÄĚ are attempting to convince lawmakers that workers prefer being relegated to second-class status. The polling data shows that these claims are false.

…people across the country are demanding that their elected representatives ensure that foundational labor rights apply to all people who work for a living, and that foundational obligations apply to businesses that contract out.

Instead, people across the country are demanding that their elected representatives ensure that foundational labor rights apply to all people who work for a living, and that foundational obligations apply to businesses that contract out. NELP applauds efforts by the Biden administration, Congressmembers, and policymakers in states and cities who are working towards this goal.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on June 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Smith is the director of the Work Structures Portfolio at NELP. She joined NELP in 2000, after nearly 20 years advocating for migrant farm workers in Washington State.


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Amy Coney Barrett could influence workers’ rights, other economic issues if she joins Supreme Court

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The debate surrounding Amy Coney Barrett’s potential appointment to the Supreme Court has focused largely on the fate of abortion rights. But her tenure could significantly affect workers’ rights as well, experts say. 

While no one can predict how justices will ultimately rule once they have a seat on the nation’s highest court, their past records offer a meaningful window into how they interpret the law. And in cases ranging from harassment on the job to debt collection, Barrett’s opinions have often tilted toward bosses and business.

“Through her record on the Seventh Circuit … her rulings have favored employers as opposed to workers,‚Äô‚Äô says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, referring to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago.

Barrett’s appointment could have a particular influence on the most vulnerable in the workplace, says Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group.

“They‚Äôre the final arbiter of whether legislation that is designed to help workers is read expansively or narrowly, and everything about her record tells me that she will view things narrowly,” Conti says. She adds that she worries that the balance of the court would tip further from the needs of people who earn lower wages and who are vulnerable to workplace abuse.

But Noah Finkel, a partner in the labor and employment department of the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, says that while Barrett will likely typically side with the five current conservative members of the bench, she will not push the court in a dramatically more right-wing direction.

“I don‚Äôt really see her as all that radical,” he says. “I don’t see her bringing a lot of change in the employment sphere. Obviously, Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg is well known for some opinions that are pro-employee, but many are dissents that she offered. So ultimately what it might mean is there’s a 6-3 decision instead of a 5 to 4.” Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

Finkel added that Barrett’s record on the 7th Circuit is “fairly even-handed.” And he noted that it was Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative, who wrote the decision that enshrined workplace protections for the LGBT community because he stuck to the letter of the law as defined in the statute. Barrett would do the same.

“While many times that results in a pro-employer decision, it doesn‚Äôt necessarily,” Finkel says. “It could also be pro-employee. And she‚Äôs demonstrated great respect for jury decisions that are in favor of employees and has not upset those decisions.‚Äô‚Äô

Workplace discrimination 

In the case of Terry L. Smith vs. the Illinois Department of Transportation, a district court ruled against Smith, an emergency traffic patrol worker, who said he had dealt with a hostile work environment and was fired after he complained about being subjected to racial bigotry on the job.

In an August 2019 ruling upholding the lower court’s decision, Barrett wrote that even though Smith had been called the ‘N’ word by Lloyd Colbert, a supervisor ‚Äď “an egregious racial epithet” ‚Äď Smith didn’t prove that the slur caused him another type of distress or increased the stress he was already under.

“That won‚Äôt do under Title VII,” Barrett wrote, referring to the section of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits workplace discrimination based on factors like race or religion. “Without evidence that Colbert‚Äôs outburst changed Smith‚Äôs subjective experience during his last two weeks at the department, a reasonable jury could not resolve the hostile work environment claim in Smith‚Äôs favor.”

That ruling is troubling, Conti says.

‚ÄúFor a white woman to say a Black person hearing the ‘n’ word doesn‚Äôt change their experience at the workplace,” she says, that it “doesn‚Äôt make it subjectively hostile to that person and abusive … shows me that she is deeply out of touch with the experience that certainly Black people, and other people of color experience when they‚Äôre the victims of that sort of harassment and verbal violence.”https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

‘A hostile work environment’ 

But Barrett has sometimes sided with workers. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on behalf of a one-time Costco employee named Dawn Suppo, who said she endured a hostile work environment when she was harassed by a customer for more than a year.

A district court ruled in favor of Suppo, and Barrett later agreed, writing in a 2018 decision that “a reasonable jury could conclude that” the harassment “was severe or pervasive enough to render Suppo‚Äôs work environment hostile.”

Age and the workplace

In a decision that was not unanimous, Barrett joined fellow judges in ruling against a then 58-year-old attorney, Dale Kleber, who accused CareFusion Corporation of age discrimination when Kleber applied for a job that went to a 29-year-old instead.

The “disparate impact” Kleber was alleging applied to employees, not job applicants, the decision said.

“As a judge, her rulings have sided with corporations over people 76% of the time,” says Maggie Jo Buchanan, director of legal progress at the Center for American Progress.

Debt collection 

In the case Paula Casillas v. Madison Avenue Associates Inc., Casillas filed a class-action suit against a company that was trying to collect a debt but had failed to specify that if she wanted to seek verification of what she owed, her request had to be in writing.

Barrett wrote in the June 2019 decision that Casillas did not have grounds to bring that suit based on “a bare procedural violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.” 

“Casillas caught the defendant in a mistake, but it was not one that hurt her,” Barrett concluded. 

Three of Barrett’s fellow 7th Circuit judges disagreed.

“It is a fair inference from Casillas‚Äôs complaint that Madison’s omissions at a minimum put her in imminent risk of losing the many protections in the act that are designed to regulate the debt?collection process as it goes forward,” they wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Barrett’s ruling could affect many others, Buchanan says, making “it more difficult for people to protect themselves against abusive debt collection practices.”  

Health care

In her writings, Barrett has been critical of the reasoning that led Chief Justice John Roberts to cast a pivotal vote preserving the Affordable Care Act. And just two years after the act passed, she signed a petition against the law’s provision stating employers should cover birth control in their insurance offerings.

Now, one week after Election Day, the Affordable Care Act will once again be before the justices, and if appointed to the court, Barrett “might well join a majority to basically strike down what‚Äôs left of the ACA,” Tobias says. 

“Not only would this mean people would have their health insurance ripped from them,” Buchanan says, “but insurers could once again charge women more just for being a woman, which could cost women $1 billion more annually than men.”

Unions and dues

The funding of unions may also be among the issues Barrett helps decide if she gains a seat on the nation’s highest court.

In June 2018, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that public sector workers did not have to pay the fees that fund the work of their collective bargaining units, on the grounds that such mandatory payments violated workers’ First Amendment rights. 

Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who wrote the majority opinion “signaled he‚Äôs willing to consider that same rule for private-sector unions,” Conti says, “and I certainly worry about where Judge Barrett would come down on that issue should she be a member of the court.‚Äô‚Äô 

This blog originally appeared at USA Today on October 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Charisse Jones covers retail and workplace issues for USA Today.


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The Nightmare Facing the Poor and Working Class If There’s Not Another Stimulus

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As mil¬≠lions of U.S. work¬≠ers face unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment, food inse¬≠cu¬≠ri¬≠ty and evic¬≠tion amid the coro¬≠n¬≠avirus pan¬≠dem¬≠ic, the lim¬≠it¬≠ed aid pro¬≠vid¬≠ed by the fed¬≠er¬≠al government‚Äôs flawed CARES Act from March has long since dried up. 

Last week, fol¬≠low¬≠ing more than six months of stalled nego¬≠ti¬≠a¬≠tions with con¬≠gres¬≠sion¬≠al Democ¬≠rats over a new eco¬≠nom¬≠ic relief pack¬≠age, Pres¬≠i¬≠dent Trump abrupt¬≠ly announced he was halt¬≠ing talks until after the Novem¬≠ber election.

While the pres¬≠i¬≠dent quick¬≠ly back¬≠tracked and is now report¬≠ed¬≠ly con¬≠tin¬≠u¬≠ing to nego¬≠ti¬≠ate, the fed¬≠er¬≠al government‚Äôs ongo¬≠ing fail¬≠ure to pass a new relief pack¬≠age spells cat¬≠a¬≠stro¬≠phe for a U.S. work¬≠ing class already pushed to the brink by an eco¬≠nom¬≠ic cri¬≠sis seem¬≠ing¬≠ly on par with the Great Depression. 

Here‚Äôs a break¬≠down of what the con¬≠tin¬≠ued lack of fed¬≠er¬≠al help means for workers:

Sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant¬≠ly reduced unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment checks

Per¬≠haps the most ben¬≠e¬≠fi¬≠cial part of the CARES Act was the extra $600¬†a¬†week it pro¬≠vid¬≠ed to work¬≠ers on unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment‚ÄĒa tem¬≠po¬≠rary life¬≠line that the GOP-led Sen¬≠ate allowed to expire on July¬†31.¬†

Week¬≠ly unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment ben¬≠e¬≠fits vary wide¬≠ly by state, rang¬≠ing from $44 in Okla¬≠homa to $497 in Wash¬≠ing¬≠ton. The $600 week¬≠ly sup¬≠ple¬≠ment was an across-the-board ben¬≠e¬≠fit that ensured unem¬≠ployed work¬≠ers in any state main¬≠tained a decent income despite los¬≠ing their jobs due to the pandemic.

The Eco¬≠nom¬≠ic Pol¬≠i¬≠cy Insti¬≠tute found that the con¬≠sumer spend¬≠ing gen¬≠er¬≠at¬≠ed by that extra $600 per week sup¬≠port¬≠ed over 5 mil¬≠lion jobs, and that con¬≠tin¬≠u¬≠ing the sup¬≠ple¬≠ment through the mid¬≠dle of next year would have raised U.S. gross domes¬≠tic prod¬≠uct (GDP) by a quar¬≠ter¬≠ly aver¬≠age of 3.7 percent.

After this ben¬≠e¬≠fit expired, rather than agree to Democ¬≠rats‚Äô demands to extend it, Pres¬≠i¬≠dent Trump¬†signed¬†an exec¬≠u¬≠tive order slash¬≠ing it by¬†50¬†per¬≠cent‚ÄĒallow¬≠ing states to use fed¬≠er¬≠al funds to pro¬≠vide only a $300¬†week¬≠ly unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment sup¬≠ple¬≠ment. At least sev¬≠en states have already¬†exhaust¬≠ed¬†these¬†funds.¬†

Mean¬≠while, by los¬≠ing the week¬≠ly $600¬†boost, unem¬≠ployed work¬≠ers saw their incomes drop by¬†two-thirds, mak¬≠ing it more dif¬≠fi¬≠cult to pay the bills and afford gro¬≠ceries. There are cur¬≠rent¬≠ly¬†25.5¬†mil¬≠lion¬†work¬≠ers receiv¬≠ing unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment ben¬≠e¬≠fits. With at least¬†14¬†mil¬≠lion¬†more job¬≠less work¬≠ers than job open¬≠ings, mil¬≠lions will be forced to rely on unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment insur¬≠ance for the fore¬≠see¬≠able future‚ÄĒbut now with a¬†great¬≠ly reduced¬†check.

Mass fur¬≠loughs in the air¬≠line industry

Anoth¬≠er one of the CARES Act‚Äôs most help¬≠ful pro¬≠vi¬≠sions was the Pay¬≠roll Sup¬≠port Pro¬≠gram (PSP), which pro¬≠vid¬≠ed $32 bil¬≠lion in grants to the avi¬≠a¬≠tion indus¬≠try for the sole pur¬≠pose of keep¬≠ing work¬≠ers on pay¬≠roll and pro¬≠vid¬≠ing ben¬≠e¬≠fits dur¬≠ing the Covid-19 cri¬≠sis. The avi¬≠a¬≠tion indus¬≠try employs 750,000 work¬≠ers, many of them union¬≠ized, and accounts for 5 per¬≠cent of GDP.

The Sen¬≠ate allowed the PSP to expire on Octo¬≠ber 1, result¬≠ing in 40,000 air¬≠line work¬≠ers imme¬≠di¬≠ate¬≠ly being fur¬≠loughed with¬≠out pay or health insur¬≠ance. The industry‚Äôs unions are wag¬≠ing an aggres¬≠sive cam¬≠paign to extend the pro¬≠gram. With¬≠out the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment con¬≠tin¬≠u¬≠ing the PSP, more fur¬≠loughs are like¬≠ly to come as pas¬≠sen¬≠ger air¬≠lines suf¬≠fer a loss in busi¬≠ness due to the pandemic.

More lay¬≠offs at small businesses

The Pay¬≠check Pro¬≠tec¬≠tion Pro¬≠gram (PPP), anoth¬≠er com¬≠po¬≠nent of the CARES Act, offered up to $659 bil¬≠lion in for¬≠giv¬≠able loans to small busi¬≠ness¬≠es to keep work¬≠ers on pay¬≠roll. The pro¬≠gram has been crit¬≠i¬≠cized for allo¬≠cat¬≠ing mil¬≠lions of dol¬≠lars to large cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions and com¬≠pa¬≠nies con¬≠nect¬≠ed to politi¬≠cians, but it has also offered much-need¬≠ed finan¬≠cial sup¬≠port to small busi¬≠ness¬≠es across the country.

The appli¬≠ca¬≠tion dead¬≠line for PPP loans was on August 8. While the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion claims the pro¬≠gram saved 51 mil¬≠lion jobs, econ¬≠o¬≠mists have put that num¬≠ber at any¬≠where from only 2.3 mil¬≠lion to 13.6 mil¬≠lion.

What¬≠ev¬≠er the pre¬≠cise num¬≠ber, the PPP‚Äôs impact is quick¬≠ly run¬≠ning out of steam. Bor¬≠row¬≠ers say they expect to lay off work¬≠ers with¬≠in six months, while a Nation¬≠al Restau¬≠rant Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion sur¬≠vey indi¬≠cates that a whop¬≠ping 40 per¬≠cent of all U.S. restau¬≠rants could go out of busi¬≠ness in the com¬≠ing months, lead¬≠ing to mil¬≠lions of more layoffs. 

No sec¬≠ond $1,200 stim¬≠u¬≠lus check

While Sen. Bernie Sanders and pro¬≠gres¬≠sive Democ¬≠rats have been¬†call¬≠ing¬†on the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment to pro¬≠vide a $2,000¬†month¬≠ly check to every U.S. adult for the dura¬≠tion of the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic, the CARES Act instead pro¬≠vid¬≠ed a¬†one-time check of $1,200‚ÄĒwhich exclud¬≠ed many¬†undoc¬≠u¬≠ment¬≠ed immi¬≠grants¬†and¬†col¬≠lege-age adults. Econ¬≠o¬≠mists report that the checks did¬†vir¬≠tu¬≠al¬≠ly noth¬≠ing¬†to stim¬≠u¬≠late the econ¬≠o¬≠my, though they did help poor and unem¬≠ployed work¬≠ers par¬≠tial¬≠ly¬†cov¬≠er¬†a¬†few weeks‚Äô worth of basic¬†expenses.

Pres¬≠i¬≠dent Trump and con¬≠gres¬≠sion¬≠al lead¬≠ers have been say¬≠ing for months that a sec¬≠ond $1,200 check is on the way. But with¬≠out anoth¬≠er relief bill, even this mea¬≠ger finan¬≠cial assis¬≠tance will not materialize.

An uncer¬≠tain future

On Octo¬≠ber 1, the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic-con¬≠trolled House of Rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives passed a scaled-down ver¬≠sion of the HEROES Act, an eco¬≠nom¬≠ic relief pack¬≠age they orig¬≠i¬≠nal¬≠ly passed in May that extends the lim¬≠it¬≠ed aid from the CARES Act. 

Among oth­er things, the $2.2 trillion bill would con­tin­ue the $600 week­ly unem­ploy­ment sup­ple­ment to the end of Jan­u­ary (mak­ing it retroac­tive to Sep­tem­ber 6), allo­cate anoth­er $25 bil­lion for air­line work­ers, allow small busi­ness­es to apply for a sec­ond PPP loan, send out a sec­ond $1,200 stim­u­lus check, pro­vide $50 bil­lion in emer­gency rental assis­tance, and give an addi­tion­al $10 bil­lion to the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram (SNAP).

Over the week¬≠end, the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion¬†coun¬≠tered¬†with a¬†small¬≠er, $1.8 trillion pro¬≠pos¬≠al that would include a $400-per-week unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment sup¬≠ple¬≠ment, $20¬†bil¬≠lion for air¬≠lines, anoth¬≠er $330¬†bil¬≠lion for PPP loans, and a¬†sec¬≠ond $1,200¬†check, among oth¬≠er mea¬≠sures‚ÄĒbut nei¬≠ther House Speak¬≠er Nan¬≠cy Pelosi nor Sen¬≠ate Repub¬≠li¬≠cans appear ready to push this bill in their¬†caucus.

While mil¬≠lions of U.S. work¬≠ers are left in the lurch and mass lay¬≠offs con¬≠tin¬≠ue to mount, Trump and Sen¬≠ate Repub¬≠li¬≠cans are instead focus¬≠ing their atten¬≠tion on ensur¬≠ing right-wing, anti-union judge Amy Coney Bar¬≠rett is hasti¬≠ly con¬≠firmed to the Supreme Court in time for the election.

‚ÄúIf this gov¬≠ern¬≠ment doesn‚Äôt work for us, then we need to focus on the fact that it is our labor that gives all the val¬≠ue to this coun¬≠try,‚ÄĚ Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion of Flight Atten¬≠dants pres¬≠i¬≠dent Sara Nel¬≠son‚ÄĒwho famous¬≠ly¬†called¬†for a¬†gen¬≠er¬≠al strike to end Trump‚Äôs fed¬≠er¬≠al shut¬≠down in Jan¬≠u¬≠ary¬†2019‚ÄĒsaid¬†last week.¬†‚ÄúThis coun¬≠try doesn‚Äôt run with¬≠out us as work¬≠ers. So we have to think about that option as¬†well.‚ÄĚ

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work¬≠ing In These Times con¬≠trib¬≠u¬≠tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His¬≠to¬≠ry from the Uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ty of Illi¬≠nois at Chica¬≠go and a Master‚Äôs in Labor Stud¬≠ies from UMass Amherst. Fol¬≠low him on Twit¬≠ter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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The Details of Worker Abuse at One of the World’s Largest Logistics Companies Are Appalling

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XPO Logistics flies under the radar. The company is one of the ten largest logistics companies in the world, with 97,000 employees and over 1,500 locations, operating in thirty countries. Last year, XPO, led by billionaire CEO Bradley Jacobs, reported over $16 billion in revenue. While you may never have heard of the company, the brands it services are more familiar: Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, Starbucks, and Peloton, among others.

But according to a new report compiled by the XPO Global Union Family, a network of unions representing workers in countries where XPO Logistics has its largest operations, business as usual at XPO deserves more attention.

‚ÄúBehind the glossy marketing,‚ÄĚ write the report‚Äôs authors, ‚Äúare supply chains mired in worker exploitation, a cavalier and even negligent approach to safety that has led to injury and death, and a company where workers who protest against pregnancy discrimination and harassment are met by retaliation.‚ÄĚ The report, titled ‚ÄúXPO: Delivering Injustice,‚ÄĚ compiles workers‚Äô stories from around the globe, painting a picture of the logistics company‚Äôs flouting of the law and blas√© attitude toward worker safety, even as the global coronavirus pandemic hit. (XPO has not responded to a request for comment, but told Motherboard, ‚ÄúThe report repeats wholly inaccurate allegations that have been entirely debunked.‚ÄĚ)

Even as Jacobs told shareholders in April 2020 that ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve deliberately built XPO like a bulletproof tank to surmount all kinds of challenges,‚ÄĚ workers at the transportation and logistics giant, which specializes in last-mile delivery, were in crisis.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

As the report details, a March 2020 survey of XPO/ASOS workers at a 4,000-person warehouse in the United Kingdom found that 98 percent of respondents felt unsafe at work, emphasizing management‚Äôs failure to provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE), ensure social distancing, and provide handwashing facilities and sufficient supplies of soap. In July 2020, the company refused to shut down another distribution center in the country, even as sixty-four workers tested positive for COVID-19.

In the United States, a survey conducted by the Teamsters found similar concern and uncertainty among XPO‚Äôs workers. Asked to rate the company‚Äôs performance in addressing COVID-19 risks on a scale of 1 to 10, 24 percent of respondents gave XPO a 1.

The situation is, if anything, even more dire in Europe. According to the report, XPO‚Äôs use of Eastern European subcontractors leads to rampant labor-law violations, leaving workers stranded abroad with fake documentation. In interviews conducted in June 2020, Ukrainian drivers told Stichting VNB, the research and enforcement arm of Dutch union FNV, that they ‚Äúlive for months in the cabin of their trucks, do not get paid the agreed Lithuanian salary, and are even given false attestation de d√©tachement documents in France stating that they get a much higher ‚ā¨10 hourly wage.‚ÄĚ The report continues,

The drivers told VNB that they had begged their Lithuanian employer to allow them to go home but that the company ignored their requests. For their time on the road, the drivers only receive enough money for food ‚ÄĒ with too little to enable them to leave their trucks in France and go home of their own free will.

One Ukrainian driver employed in Lithuania told VNB in June 2020 that he had not been home since December 2019, despite begging his employer, the subcontractor, to send a replacement driver. ‚ÄúLuka was forced to live illegally in his truck the whole time, isolated and alone,‚ÄĚ write the report‚Äôs authors.

These exploitative conditions didn‚Äôt begin during the pandemic either. A New York Times story from October 2018 revealed rampant pregnancy discrimination against workers in a Verizon warehouse operated by XPO in Memphis, Tennessee. There, working conditions led to several miscarriages. In response to the story, XPO established a new pregnancy policy. ‚ÄúWhile the new policy appears progressive on paper and seems to be a large improvement of the former policy,‚ÄĚ write the report‚Äôs authors, it ‚Äúlacks any oversight or enforcement mechanism.‚ÄĚ Further, shortly after rolling out the new policy, XPO closed the Memphis facility, a move Senator Richard Blumenthal, who represents Connecticut, where XPO headquarters is located, said ‚Äúreeked of retaliation.‚ÄĚ

As the report notes, XPO workers in the United States have filed 120 unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against XPO since 2014. As Lafe Solomon, a former acting general counsel of the NLRB, concluded in 2018:

The sheer number of unfair labor practice charges filed and complaints issued by NLRB regional directors against XPO, resulting in numerous board decisions and settlements, are extraordinary and outside the norm of employer opposition to its employees’ organizing efforts, and evidence XPO’s intent to flaunt its obligations under the NLRA to deny its employees their right and ability to form and join a union.

Despite this resistance, which includes the hiring of anti-union consultants, workers have unionized at seven XPO facilities in the United States. Not one of these, however, has ratified a union contract yet.

‚ÄúUnions representing working people at XPO are greatly concerned that XPO‚Äôs business model is based on exploitation, illegal underpayments, and a callous approach to safety,‚ÄĚ conclude the report‚Äôs authors. They have repeatedly demanded to meet with the company to discuss workers‚Äô concerns, but so far, they say, XPO has refused.

This blog originally appeared at Jacobin on October 14, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alex Press is an assistant editor at Jacobin. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Vox, the Nation, and n+1, among other places.


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How Unions Can Bridge the Gap Between Climate and Labor Movements

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While U.S. union den¬≠si¬≠ty hit an all-time low in 2019, the non¬≠prof¬≠it sec¬≠tor appears to be one area where work¬≠ers are union¬≠iz¬≠ing. The Non¬≠prof¬≠it Pro¬≠fes¬≠sion¬≠al Employ¬≠ees Union (NPEU) brought sev¬≠en new work¬≠places into their union dur¬≠ing a 16-day peri¬≠od in April, includ¬≠ing the envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tion Friends of the Earth. And while there is no offi¬≠cial data on non¬≠prof¬≠it unions yet (many of them are fair¬≠ly new), cli¬≠mate jus¬≠tice orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions are some of the many work¬≠places that have scram¬≠bled to union¬≠ize both pri¬≠or to and dur¬≠ing the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic for the same rea¬≠sons as oth¬≠er work¬≠ers: pay, ben¬≠e¬≠fits and job security. 

Cli¬≠mate activists have often been denounced by trade union¬≠ists who believe they are out to destroy work¬≠ers‚Äô well-pay¬≠ing jobs. There‚Äôs an old joke that goes,¬†‚ÄúAre you an envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal¬≠ist, or do you work for a¬†liv¬≠ing?‚ÄĚ But what hap¬≠pens to the often fraught rela¬≠tion¬≠ship between unions and envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions when green staffers become union mem¬≠bers¬†too?

Unions‚Äô pri¬≠ma¬≠ry pur¬≠pose is to give work¬≠ers the abil¬≠i¬≠ty to col¬≠lec¬≠tive¬≠ly bar¬≠gain around work¬≠ing con¬≠di¬≠tions‚ÄĒso it‚Äôs not hard to under¬≠stand why many work¬≠ers would want to be union mem¬≠bers. In fact, labor unions cur¬≠rent¬≠ly have a¬†65% approval rat¬≠ing. As the econ¬≠o¬≠my is in sham¬≠bles, labor‚Äôs sup¬≠port has been¬†steadi¬≠ly increas¬≠ing, per¬≠haps because mil¬≠lions have been laid off, many of whom lost their health insur¬≠ance and received no sev¬≠er¬≠ance. Non¬≠prof¬≠its, which can be financed through a¬†mix of fed¬≠er¬≠al and state fund¬≠ing, pri¬≠vate grants and indi¬≠vid¬≠ual dona¬≠tions, are also in a¬†Covid-induced pre¬≠car¬≠i¬≠ous sit¬≠u¬≠a¬≠tion. Work¬≠ers who may have felt that their jobs were pre¬≠vi¬≠ous¬≠ly secure thanks to an air of pres¬≠tige have seen col¬≠leagues fur¬≠loughed or laid off‚ÄĒor have wit¬≠nessed lead¬≠er¬≠ship make big changes in their orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions with¬≠out involv¬≠ing¬†staff.¬†

Char¬≠lie Jiang, a¬†cli¬≠mate cam¬≠paign¬≠er at Green¬≠peace USA, an envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal non¬≠prof¬≠it, told¬†In These Times¬†that staff there¬†‚Äúhave been orga¬≠niz¬≠ing for quite some time, and the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic strength¬≠ened our resolve. We‚Äôre fight¬≠ing for more clear and con¬≠sis¬≠tent poli¬≠cies and more orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tion¬≠al trans¬≠paren¬≠cy.‚ÄĚ The Green¬≠peace USA Work¬≠ers Union, affil¬≠i¬≠at¬≠ed with Pro¬≠gres¬≠sive Work¬≠ers Union (PWU), was vol¬≠un¬≠tar¬≠i¬≠ly rec¬≠og¬≠nized in August. Jiang said that union mem¬≠bers¬†‚Äúare look¬≠ing ahead to meet¬≠ing man¬≠age¬≠ment with good faith at the bar¬≠gain¬≠ing table‚Ķ We formed a¬†union to fight for fair and bet¬≠ter work¬≠ing con¬≠di¬≠tions, and for a¬†cul¬≠ture root¬≠ed in¬†justice.‚ÄĚ

Unions do far more than allow work¬≠ers to col¬≠lec¬≠tive¬≠ly bar¬≠gain. They give peo¬≠ple the abil¬≠i¬≠ty to prac¬≠tice democ¬≠ra¬≠cy in the work¬≠place, they have the pow¬≠er to change our polit¬≠i¬≠cal sys¬≠tem, and they chal¬≠lenge cor¬≠po¬≠rate prof¬≠it and pow¬≠er‚ÄĒmak¬≠ing them poten¬≠tial allies for envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions that do the same. Groups like Green¬≠peace, the Sier¬≠ra Club and¬†350.org often fight big cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions over their dan¬≠ger¬≠ous dis¬≠pos¬≠al of chem¬≠i¬≠cal waste, fos¬≠sil fuel emis¬≠sions, fac¬≠to¬≠ry farm¬≠ing and more. Work¬≠ers for these cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions are the ones who han¬≠dle tox¬≠ic waste, breathe dirty air and process chick¬≠en at poul¬≠try¬†plants.¬†

Envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal groups and work¬≠er orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions are aligned on many issues, and some do work close¬≠ly togeth¬≠er. Accord¬≠ing to Rebec¬≠ca Wolf, a¬†senior orga¬≠niz¬≠er on the fac¬≠to¬≠ry farm team at Food and Water Watch and a¬†mem¬≠ber of NPEU,¬†‚ÄúOur true focus is cor¬≠po¬≠rate con¬≠trol. Union¬≠iz¬≠ing work¬≠ers inher¬≠ent¬≠ly beats back against cor¬≠po¬≠rate con¬≠trol and con¬≠trol of the food sys¬≠tem. I¬†see envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions all the time in cor¬≠po¬≠rate part¬≠ner¬≠ships, and we have a¬†hard line against¬†that.‚Ä̬†

While unions are fund¬≠ed only by mem¬≠bers‚Äô dues mon¬≠ey, many envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions take mon¬≠ey from cor¬≠po¬≠rate donors‚ÄĒsome of which face off against unions in their own work¬≠places. This dynam¬≠ic can cre¬≠ate ten¬≠sion between staff and lead¬≠er¬≠ship at envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions, which may have dif¬≠fer¬≠ent¬†priorities.

Elon Musk, bil¬≠lion¬≠aire CEO of Tes¬≠la, anony¬≠mous¬≠ly donat¬≠ed over $6¬†mil¬≠lion to the Sier¬≠ra Club. But¬†in the sum¬≠mer of¬†2018, after com¬≠ing under fire for a $40,000¬†dona¬≠tion to a¬†Repub¬≠li¬≠can-allied group, Musk asked Sier¬≠ra Club exec¬≠u¬≠tive direc¬≠tor Michael Brune for pub¬≠lic sup¬≠port. A¬†stew¬≠ard at PWU who asked to remain anony¬≠mous for fear of retal¬≠i¬≠a¬≠tion told¬†In These Times¬†that¬†‚ÄúPWU kicked that tough dis¬≠cus¬≠sion off. [We] help them stay ground¬≠ed on work¬≠er issues.‚ÄĚ While Brune ini¬≠tial¬≠ly shared words of sup¬≠port for Musk on¬†his per¬≠son¬≠al Twit¬≠ter account, lat¬≠er that year, the Sier¬≠ra Club¬†released a¬†state¬≠ment¬†in sup¬≠port of work¬≠ers orga¬≠niz¬≠ing at Tes¬≠la‚ÄĒsome¬≠thing union mem¬≠bers believe can be attrib¬≠uted, at least in part, to the union. The anony¬≠mous stew¬≠ard told¬†In These Times,¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs impor¬≠tant for unions that rep¬≠re¬≠sent work¬≠ers at pro¬≠gres¬≠sive orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions to hold those orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions account¬≠able.‚ÄĚ With¬≠out a¬†union, it may have been more dif¬≠fi¬≠cult for Sier¬≠ra Club staff to push back against lead¬≠ers and ensure that they pub¬≠licly sup¬≠port¬≠ed Tes¬≠la work¬≠ers instead of their CEO, that stew¬≠ard¬†underscores.¬†

And while unions are able to win impres¬≠sive gains around wages, ben¬≠e¬≠fits and a¬†voice at work, their true pow¬≠er lies in their abil¬≠i¬≠ty to shut down the econ¬≠o¬≠my if nec¬≠es¬≠sary. On the whole, work¬≠ers at non¬≠prof¬≠its and oth¬≠er pro¬≠gres¬≠sive orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions are not nec¬≠es¬≠sar¬≠i¬≠ly in a¬†strate¬≠gic posi¬≠tion to exert lever¬≠age to secure the biggest wins for the cli¬≠mate‚ÄĒtheir going on strike would not have a¬†sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant impact on the broad¬≠er econ¬≠o¬≠my. Work¬≠ers in logis¬≠tics, health¬≠care and edu¬≠ca¬≠tion have far more pow¬≠er to throw a¬†wrench in how our econ¬≠o¬≠my and soci¬≠ety func¬≠tions. And build¬≠ing trades work¬≠ers, who are like¬≠ly to have more work if leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion like the Green New Deal is passed, could be very influ¬≠en¬≠tial in cli¬≠mate pol¬≠i¬≠cy. Their unions are large and pow¬≠er¬≠ful, and their mem¬≠bers are con¬≠struc¬≠tion work¬≠ers and elec¬≠tri¬≠cians, whose work will be direct¬≠ly impact¬≠ed by both cli¬≠mate change and cli¬≠mate leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion. While build¬≠ing trades work¬≠ers tend to be more con¬≠ser¬≠v¬≠a¬≠tive, the poten¬≠tial for more work and larg¬≠er mem¬≠ber¬≠ship rolls could make them the decid¬≠ing fac¬≠tor in the pas¬≠sage of a¬†Green New¬†Deal.

But envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal staffers‚Äô iden¬≠ti¬≠ty with the broad¬≠er labor move¬≠ment and the sol¬≠i¬≠dar¬≠i¬≠ty that can be strate¬≠gi¬≠cal¬≠ly expressed‚ÄĒsuch as in the case of the Sier¬≠ra Club and Tes¬≠la work¬≠ers orga¬≠niz¬≠ing‚ÄĒcould forge more ties between the work¬≠ers‚Äô move¬≠ment and the envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal move¬≠ment as more of these work¬≠ers orga¬≠nize at their work¬≠places. It‚Äôs also unde¬≠ni¬≠able that the expe¬≠ri¬≠ence of act¬≠ing col¬≠lec¬≠tive¬≠ly with cowork¬≠ers can deep¬≠en polit¬≠i¬≠cal con¬≠scious¬≠ness, no mat¬≠ter one‚Äôs work¬≠place or pri¬≠or polit¬≠i¬≠cal¬†commitments.

Wolf, who was on her union‚Äôs orga¬≠niz¬≠ing com¬≠mit¬≠tee, told¬†In These Times¬†that¬†‚Äúeven though we work to make people‚Äôs lives bet¬≠ter every day at work, col¬≠lec¬≠tive action is the expe¬≠ri¬≠ence you need to tru¬≠ly under¬≠stand pow¬≠er-build¬≠ing. Form¬≠ing a¬†union takes all the messy and good bits of expe¬≠ri¬≠ence, val¬≠ues, and polit¬≠i¬≠cal con¬≠scious¬≠ness and brings them togeth¬≠er in a¬†patch¬≠work that moves every¬≠one¬†along.‚ÄĚ

But a¬†fac¬≠tor that may dimin¬≠ish the influ¬≠ence of these envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal staff unions is the unions they are tied to. NPEU is affil¬≠i¬≠at¬≠ed with the Inter¬≠na¬≠tion¬≠al Fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Pro¬≠fes¬≠sion¬≠al and Tech¬≠ni¬≠cal Engi¬≠neers (IFPTE), which is a¬†mem¬≠ber of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion in the coun¬≠try. In con¬≠trast, NPEU is a¬†fair¬≠ly small union, with¬†‚Äúrough¬≠ly¬†250¬†to¬†300¬†dues-pay¬≠ing mem¬≠bers, about¬†500¬†work¬≠ing on their first con¬≠tract, and hun¬≠dreds more that are in the process of orga¬≠niz¬≠ing,‚ÄĚ accord¬≠ing to Katie Bar¬≠rows, vice pres¬≠i¬≠dent of com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ca¬≠tions for the¬†union.

In con¬≠trast, PWU, which also orga¬≠nizes envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal non¬≠prof¬≠its, is an inde¬≠pen¬≠dent union, which means it‚Äôs not affil¬≠i¬≠at¬≠ed with any oth¬≠er union or any labor fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion. (PWU‚Äôs bar¬≠gain¬≠ing units include staffers at Sier¬≠ra Club,¬†350.org, Green¬≠peace USA and the Union of Con¬≠cerned Sci¬≠en¬≠tists.) Accord¬≠ing to the anony¬≠mous Sier¬≠ra Club stew¬≠ard, this inde¬≠pen¬≠dence from the AFL-CIO has actu¬≠al¬≠ly helped the union: PWU is free to run its own pro¬≠gram, which focus¬≠es on anti-racism and social jus¬≠tice. He told¬†In These Times¬†that¬†‚Äúthe mem¬≠bers of PWU are first-time union mem¬≠bers. They nev¬≠er knew what was pos¬≠si¬≠ble in a¬†union, so there are no lim¬≠i¬≠ta¬≠tions. Our pow¬≠er is in the involve¬≠ment of our mem¬≠bers and their¬†creativity.‚ÄĚ

How¬≠ev¬≠er, there are ben¬≠e¬≠fits to being part of a¬†larg¬≠er fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion. Only AFL-CIO affil¬≠i¬≠ates are able to shape the federation‚Äôs strat¬≠e¬≠gy and elect its lead¬≠ers, which means that PWU won‚Äôt have a¬†say in whether the AFL-CIO ever sup¬≠ports the Green New Deal. Bar¬≠rows believes that¬†‚Äúif envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal pro¬≠fes¬≠sion¬≠als orga¬≠nize, they‚Äôll be a¬†grow¬≠ing part of the labor move¬≠ment, and they‚Äôll have a¬†voice in deci¬≠sions, espe¬≠cial¬≠ly if they‚Äôre in the AFL. Hav¬≠ing envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal work¬≠ers orga¬≠nize will be help¬≠ful to bridg¬≠ing that gap, and to unit¬≠ing labor and envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal¬†groups.‚ÄĚ

While envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal staffers have formed unions for the same rea¬≠sons most work¬≠ers do, their unions may be a¬†tool for some¬≠thing greater. The anony¬≠mous stew¬≠ard told¬†In These Times,¬†‚ÄúOur mem¬≠bers are at the inter¬≠sec¬≠tion of labor and envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal work. They work on behalf of envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal caus¬≠es, but they‚Äôre work¬≠ers as well. They‚Äôre try¬≠ing to weave their beliefs about the impor¬≠tance of work¬≠ers into cli¬≠mate leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion and con¬≠ver¬≠sa¬≠tions with politi¬≠cians and union lead¬≠ers.‚ÄĚ The stew¬≠ard point¬≠ed to a¬†pro-union video that PWU mem¬≠bers made in col¬≠lab¬≠o¬≠ra¬≠tion with the Sier¬≠ra Club about the¬†2018¬†Janus v. AFSCME¬†Supreme Court deci¬≠sion, which made it ille¬≠gal for pub¬≠lic sec¬≠tor unions to col¬≠lect fees from non-mem¬≠bers. He also told¬†In These Times¬†that the Sier¬≠ra Club and union also worked togeth¬≠er to release a¬†state¬≠ment¬†about the deci¬≠sion, which quotes exec¬≠u¬≠tive direc¬≠tor Brune as say¬≠ing,¬†‚ÄúToday‚Äôs deci¬≠sion does the bid¬≠ding of the very same cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions that have pol¬≠lut¬≠ed our com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties, but we will march¬†on.‚Ä̬†

While it is unde­ni­able that the rift between labor and envi­ron­men­tal orga­niz­ing runs deep, the staff at cli­mate orga­ni­za­tions join­ing the ranks of the labor move­ment could help bridge the divide between these two crit­i­cal move­ments. As Wolf at Food and Water Watch told In These Times, “We can always be doing bet­ter, and while greens in gen­er­al are doing bet­ter, we need to be much more pub­lic about our con­nec­tion to labor, and a broad­er con­nec­tion to and with all social movements.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.


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Unemployment Systems Floundering Without Worker-Centered Design

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New York, NY‚ÄĒThe Century Foundation, the National Employment Law Project, and Philadelphia Legal Assistance today released the findings of an intensive study of state efforts to modernize their unemployment insurance benefit systems. This is the first report to detail how technology modernization has altered the experience of jobless workers.

The report, which was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, draws lessons from state modernization experiences and recommends user-friendly design and implementation methods for future projects.

Read the new report, ‚ÄúCentering Workers: How to Modernize Unemployment Insurance Technology‚ÄĚ

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the struggling technology holding up our unemployment systems and the harm to workers when they cannot navigate or access their unemployment benefits.  Many state systems were programmed with COBOL, a long-outdated computer language.  While some states have undertaken modernization projects, many encountered significant problems and workers paid the price through inaccessible systems, delayed payments, and even false fraud accusations. The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to an unprecedented spike in unemployment claims, has further exposed the weaknesses in these systems and the difficulties workers face with their unemployment claims.

State officials have at times been candid about the deep flaws in their systems. Pennsylvania‚Äôs labor secretary described their 50-year old computer system as ‚Äúheld together with chewing gum and duct tape.‚ÄĚ  Florida‚Äôs own state auditor found numerous flaws in the state‚Äôs new computerized system that went unfixed through multiple administrations. States and the private companies that develop these systems failed to consistently seek worker input and build systems focused on user experience.

The report also explores how modernization and controversial new technology like predictive analytics can affect access to benefits.

‚ÄúMuch remains unknown about how state unemployment agencies are using technology like automated decision-making, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence,‚ÄĚ added Julia Simon-Mishel, supervising attorney of the Unemployment Compensation Unit of Philadelphia Legal Assistance and principal investigator for the report. ‚ÄúWhile these tools can sometimes be helpful, we remain concerned about fairness, accuracy, and due process.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúThe pandemic has underscored that unemployment insurance is a lifeline for workers, yet state systems are rarely built with workers‚Äô needs in mind,‚ÄĚ said?Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst with NELP and a co-author of the report. ‚ÄúOur report finds that Black and Latinx workers are particularly poorly served by unemployment insurance systems. We have to do better.‚ÄĚ

To date, fewer than half of states have modernized their unemployment benefits systems. Several have plans to modernize or are already in the midst of modernizing. The report provides guidance for them, as well as for modernized states looking to improve their systems.

The report also recommends six steps states can take right now, to expand access to benefits during the pandemic:

  1. provide 24/7 access to online and mobile services for unemployed workers;
  2. mobile-optimize unemployment websites and applications;
  3. update password reset protocols;
  4. use call-back and chat technology;
  5. adopt a triage business model for call centers; and
  6. comply with civil rights laws requiring that websites and applications be translated into Spanish and other commonly spoken languages.

‚ÄúModernization needs to be approached carefully to avoid creating new problems for workers,‚ÄĚ noted?Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation and a co-author of the report. ‚ÄúOur analysis shows that states were able to pay benefits more quickly after modernizing their systems, but workers were more likely to be denied assistance and too many of these denials were inaccurate. These problems have been magnified during the pandemic when no one should have to choose between paying rent, putting food on the table, and good health.‚ÄĚ

The findings and recommendations in the report are grounded in publicly available data on unemployment insurance system performance, interviews with officials from more than a dozen states, and in-depth case studies of modernization in Maine, Minnesota, and Washington, conducted from October 2018 to January 2020.

This blog originally appeared at National Employment Law Project on October 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed?workers. For more about NELP, visit?www.nelp.org. Follow NELP on Twitter at @NelpNews.


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Restaurant Workers Are Building Solidarity Amid the Pandemic

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BOISE, IDA¬≠HO‚ÄĒIt was rain¬≠ing light¬≠ly June¬†29¬†when Geo Eng¬≠ber¬≠son, own¬≠er of the Pie Hole pizze¬≠ria, con¬≠vened an emer¬≠gency staff meet¬≠ing. He had intend¬≠ed a¬†quick con¬≠fer¬≠ence in the park¬≠ing lot behind the restau¬≠rant, known for its steady stream of week¬≠end bar-goers. Giv¬≠en the weath¬≠er, Eng¬≠ber¬≠son fer¬≠ried the hand¬≠ful of work¬≠ers into his¬†trailer.¬†

Ear¬≠li¬≠er that month, work¬≠ers at the piz¬≠za joint peti¬≠tioned for an hourly wage bump. Wor¬≠ried that Pie Hole was pre¬≠pared to replace them, for¬≠mer employ¬≠ee Kiwi Palmer says, she and her cowork¬≠ers refused to train new hires. This refusal trig¬≠gered a conflict. 

In a¬†record¬≠ing of the trail¬≠er meet¬≠ing obtained by¬†In These Times, Eng¬≠ber¬≠son says,¬†‚ÄúKiwi, yes¬≠ter¬≠day you told [the man¬≠ag¬≠er] you wouldn‚Äôt train new hires, any scabs. That still how you¬†feel?‚Ä̬†

When Palmer and fel¬≠low work¬≠er Mar¬≠shall Har¬≠ris reaf¬≠firmed they would not train new hires, Eng¬≠ber¬≠son fired them. 

In the weeks since, the Pie Hole work¬≠ers have¬†orga¬≠nized a¬†series of pick¬≠ets¬†in front of the restau¬≠rant. Call¬≠ing them¬≠selves the Pie Hole Work¬≠ers Union, they filed a¬†com¬≠plaint with the Nation¬≠al Labor Rela¬≠tions Board alleg¬≠ing the fir¬≠ing was retal¬≠ia¬≠to¬≠ry and vio¬≠lat¬≠ed their right to par¬≠tic¬≠i¬≠pate in¬†‚Äúcon¬≠cert¬≠ed activ¬≠i¬≠ty‚ÄĚ with¬≠out¬†reprisal.¬†

Eng¬≠ber¬≠son rejects the claim that Palmer and Har¬≠ris were fired for orga¬≠niz¬≠ing and that the busi¬≠ness planned to replace them.¬†‚ÄúWe got busy, and we need¬≠ed to hire more peo¬≠ple,‚ÄĚ Eng¬≠ber¬≠son tells¬†In These Times. He adds,¬†‚ÄúI treat my employ¬≠ees like fam¬≠i¬≠ly ‚Ķ and I¬†don‚Äôt ever hear from them that they‚Äôre dis¬≠grun¬≠tled about their wages.‚ÄĚ Eng¬≠ber¬≠son also says that, when he used the word¬†‚Äúscabs,‚ÄĚ he was quot¬≠ing Palmer‚ÄĒ not con¬≠firm¬≠ing the new work¬≠ers were, in fact,¬†scabs.¬†

The Pie Hole work¬≠ers have found sup¬≠port from the Boise chap¬≠ter of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Social¬≠ists of Amer¬≠i¬≠ca (DSA), which has aid¬≠ed in pick¬≠ets and con¬≠nect¬≠ed them with DSA‚Äôs nation¬≠al Restau¬≠rant Orga¬≠niz¬≠ing Project. 

Beyond Boise, mul¬≠ti¬≠ple left-wing labor groups have tak¬≠en on the cause of restau¬≠rant orga¬≠niz¬≠ing. In addi¬≠tion to its¬†Restau¬≠rant Orga¬≠niz¬≠ing Project, DSA has col¬≠lab¬≠o¬≠rat¬≠ed with the Unit¬≠ed Elec¬≠tri¬≠cal, Radio and Machine Work¬≠ers of Amer¬≠i¬≠ca (UE)‚ÄĒa demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic, rank-and-file union‚ÄĒto advise work¬≠ers on union dri¬≠ves and work¬≠place actions. Between the DSA projects and UE‚Äôs orga¬≠niz¬≠ing, the Left has tak¬≠en a¬†cen¬≠tral role in pan¬≠dem¬≠ic-era¬†organizing.

‚ÄúWe‚Äôve seen a¬†sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant uptick in work¬≠ers con¬≠tact¬≠ing us about orga¬≠niz¬≠ing from the restau¬≠rant indus¬≠try, and in the food ser¬≠vice [and] hos¬≠pi¬≠tal¬≠i¬≠ty sec¬≠tor more broad¬≠ly,‚ÄĚ UE orga¬≠niz¬≠er Mark Mein¬≠ster says.¬†‚ÄúWork¬≠ers are very con¬≠cerned about the lack of safe¬≠ty pro¬≠tec¬≠tions regard¬≠ing Covid, the lack of paid sick leave and the drop in income many antic¬≠i¬≠pate as a¬†result of serv¬≠ing few¬≠er¬†customers.‚ÄĚ

This wave of labor activism in hos¬≠pi¬≠tal¬≠i¬≠ty has already ush¬≠ered in wins. In March, a coali¬≠tion of New Orleans ser¬≠vice and hos¬≠pi¬≠tal¬≠i¬≠ty work¬≠ers cam¬≠paigned to dis¬≠burse reserves from the city‚Äôs con¬≠ven¬≠tion cen¬≠ter direct¬≠ly into the hands of work¬≠ers; by April 22, the city agreed to pro¬≠vide $1 mil¬≠lion in grants to work¬≠ers affect¬≠ed by the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic. Some restau¬≠rants in Philadel¬≠phia, where hos¬≠pi¬≠tal¬≠i¬≠ty work¬≠ers have orga¬≠nized to end the sub¬≠min¬≠i¬≠mum wage for servers and bar¬≠tenders, have increased wages dur¬≠ing the pandemic.

But the restau¬≠rant indus¬≠try remains dif¬≠fi¬≠cult to orga¬≠nize, and union shops are still the extreme minor¬≠i¬≠ty, with union den¬≠si¬≠ty in accom¬≠mo¬≠da¬≠tion and food ser¬≠vice hov¬≠er¬≠ing around 2.1%.

At Augie‚Äôs Cof¬≠fee, a chain in South¬≠ern Cal¬≠i¬≠for¬≠nia, work¬≠ers demon¬≠strat¬≠ed 70% sup¬≠port for the Augie‚Äôs Union (rep¬≠re¬≠sent¬≠ed by UE) and request¬≠ed the com¬≠pa¬≠ny vol¬≠un¬≠tar¬≠i¬≠ly rec¬≠og¬≠nize their bar¬≠gain¬≠ing unit. The com¬≠pa¬≠ny then shut down oper¬≠a¬≠tions and laid off every¬≠one in the caf√©s. Now, for¬≠mer work¬≠ers are cam¬≠paign¬≠ing for union recog¬≠ni¬≠tion and to be rehired.

‚ÄúPeo¬≠ple are so atom¬≠ized, and the job they do is so tem¬≠po¬≠rary,‚ÄĚ says Matthew Soliz, a¬†barista orga¬≠niz¬≠ing with Augie‚Äôs Union.¬†‚ÄúI think for peo¬≠ple my age and younger, unions aren‚Äôt real¬≠ly a¬†con¬≠cept, right? Like, in talk¬≠ing to my cowork¬≠ers, the most com¬≠mon response is,¬†‚ÄėI don‚Äôt real¬≠ly know what that¬†is.‚Äô¬†‚ÄĚ

Giv¬≠en the chal¬≠lenges, restau¬≠rant work¬≠ers are band¬≠ing togeth¬≠er across restau¬≠rants and across cities. In Chica¬≠go, New Orleans, Den¬≠ver and Boise, restau¬≠rant work¬≠ers have formed city¬≠wide sol¬≠i¬≠dar¬≠i¬≠ty orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions. On July 24, work¬≠ers around the coun¬≠try marched to demand expand¬≠ed ben¬≠e¬≠fits from unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment insurance.

‚ÄúThe fact that [DSA‚Äôs Restau¬≠rant Orga¬≠niz¬≠ing Project] is grow¬≠ing is evi¬≠dence [that] A, we‚Äôre not crazy, and B, we‚Äôre not alone, and C, that there is sol¬≠i¬≠dar¬≠i¬≠ty that is grow¬≠ing rapid¬≠ly,‚ÄĚ Har¬≠ris says.¬†‚ÄúInside of five weeks, I‚Äôve gone from nev¬≠er hav¬≠ing done any of this to attempt¬≠ing to orga¬≠nize oth¬≠er¬†people.‚ÄĚ

This article originally appeared at In These Times on September 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alice Herman is an In These Times Good¬≠man Inves¬≠tiga¬≠tive Fel¬≠low, as well as a writer based in Madi¬≠son, Wis¬≠con¬≠sin, where she works at a restau¬≠rant. She con¬≠tributes reg¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠ly to Isth¬≠mus, Madison‚Äôs alt-week¬≠ly, and The Pro¬≠gres¬≠sive magazine.


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What are the best and worst states to work in during the coronavirus pandemic?

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The coronavirus pandemic has dealt blow after blow to U.S. workers. The two biggest: Unemployment is sky-high, and many of the jobs that are left are suddenly unsafe. 

But as with so many things, from minimum wage to paid sick leave to enforcement of existing laws, how bad workers have it varies dramatically from state to state. Now, you can find out how your state ranks on labor protections in the era of COVID-19, thanks to a new report from Oxfam America. Oxfam ranked states by worker protections, healthcare, and unemployment, coming up with an overall ranking that puts Washington State, New Jersey, and California at the top, and Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia at the bottom.

At $275, Alabama‚Äôs maximum unemployment benefit is only a little higher than the minimum of $240 in Massachusetts‚ÄĒand in Puerto Rico, the maximum is just $190. But that‚Äôs not the only way Alabama is committed to hurting working families: ‚ÄúAlabama has no moratorium on evictions or utilities being shut off; no mandated paid sick or family leave; and no requirements for personal protective equipment for workers. In addition, the governor issued an executive order to protect businesses and health care providers from lawsuits resulting from COVID-19.‚ÄĚ

Oxfam America is calling on states to:

  • Improve worker protections to ensure paid sick time, paid family and medical leave programs, and childcare for all workers
  • Expand Medicaid
  • Increase unemployment payments

Regardless of what state you live in, employers are going to vary in how much they‚Äôre doing to protect workers‚Äô safety. The AFL-CIO has¬†a new checklist¬†to determine how safe you are at work, with information about workplace safety‚ÄĒincluding how to organize for it.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on September 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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