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What Workers Have Already Won in the Face of Coronavirus

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The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the stark reality of the United States: our inadequate, for-profit health care system, our precarious employment conditions, and the deep inequality that is foundational to our society. But it’s also shown us that when things get dire enough, the working class fights back. Over the last few weeks, in dealing with the outbreak of the coronavirus, people across the United States have organized at their workplaces, and also won major reforms in the housing sector. Workers’ consciousness about the cruelty of our profit-driven society—and about their own power—is being raised by the day, thanks to the failure of government leadership. While it’s likely that we will enter a recession or even depression soon, workers are still fighting for what they deserve—and that struggle must continue after the pandemic passes.

While many workers have lost hours or even been laid off in the last few weeks, others have made advances in various industries amid the crisis, including securing paid time off and health and safety guarantees. Teachers in New York City forced Mayor Bill De Blasio to close city schools under threat of a mass sick-out, workers shut down a Chrysler plant near Detroit over concerns about how the company was dealing with the virus, and workers at McDonald’s won 14 days of paid sick leave, albeit only at corporate stores which account for about 5% of the fast food giants’ restaurants.

In Philadelphia, city library workers moved a petition among themselves, patrons and the larger community to demand both the closure of public libraries and paid time off for all workers, even those who are not members of the union. The petition dropped in the morning on Monday, March 16, and by Tuesday evening, it had over 4,000 signatures, and the workers won their demands. Terra Oliveira, an after-school leader at the Philadelphia Free Library, told In These Times, “Our access to paid leave and our basic rights shouldn’t be something that we have to fight for every single time there’s a crisis.” Non-union library workers have been organizing with their union colleagues for about a year, building the infrastructure necessary to deal with our current crisis.

Similarly, the housing movement has long fought for moratoriums on evictions and utility shut-offs. Both have felt like far-off possibilities, the absolute peak of what we could win in a perfect storm of political will and power. But Tara Raghuveer, campaign director of the Homes Guarantee Plan at People’s Action, told In These Times that “the pandemic is showing us what has always been possible, and what that means is that it’s always been possible to end the practice of eviction.” Because of the seriousness of coronavirus, organizers and activists have won either moratoriums on evictions or utility shut-offs in cities and states across the country, including Philadelphia, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, Massachusetts, and Kentucky. The coronavirus crisis is revealing what was true before: It is unconscionable to abandon people who are houseless or without work.  “This has opened up tremendous space to ask for more and win more,” Raghuvver said.

The apparent ease with which these long fought for reforms were granted demonstrates that it is—and has always been—well within the power of the state and corporations to acquiesce to our demands. It also shows that it isn’t the benevolence of politicians and CEOs that has secured these victories, but worker organizing. If workers hadn’t been demanding paid sick time and eviction moratoriums for years, we never would have won them now. “Now that these demands have been won during this emergency crisis, there is so much more solidarity and communication among library workers that wasn’t there before. We will continue to fight,” said library worker Oliveira.

The state spends exorbitant amounts of money when it’s capital that’s feeling the pain, a fact illustrated by the dramatic financial actions being taken or considered to keep the economy afloat during the pandemic: a $1.5 trillion loan by the Federal Reserve to inject into capital markets; an $8 billion spending package to fight the coronavirus; and a nearly $1 trillion stimulus bill being considered at the time of this writing. These options obliterate the notion that money doesn’t exist to pay for programs like a Green New Deal, free college, free childcare, housing for all and various other social programs.

When it comes to spending to meet the needs of the millions of ordinary people who are hurting right now, politicians can’t muster the will. While the Democratic Party postures as recognizing and responding to this need in contrast to Trump, the proposals they’ve so far offered have been offensively mediocre and inadequate. H.R. 6201, trumpeted by Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, offers paid sick leave benefits to only 20% of U.S. private sector workers—a figure that does not include informal economy workers. Former presidential candidate Kamala Harris also promoted a bill she had introduced that would give workers $500 each month—a pittance compared to the $2,000 per month cash payments to U.S. households floated by sen. Bernie Sanders.

We are heading into almost unprecedented economic territory—a potential 20% unemployment rate if our leaders don’t act now. More and more workers are facing the prospect of losing hours and even being laid off, as many major cities, municipalities and states impose shut downs for businesses except those classified as essential industries. Already, nearly one in five U.S. workers reports losing hours or work altogether since the onset of the coronavirus crisis earlier this month. We can expect that number to balloon in coming weeks and months as the public health crisis—and the ensuing economic crisis—continues to deepen. 

Some are trying using this crisis to fortify the tyrannical power employers have over workers’ lives. In Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz just suspended some collective bargaining rights for state employees, citing the need for “flexibility… during this peacetime emergency.” As workers unite to demand what we’ve always deserved, and the crisis deepens, some politicians and bosses will undoubtedly use this as an opportunity to ram through more neoliberal reforms that dismantle our rights and public institutions.

Conventional wisdom might suggest that in times of economic hardship, workers have the least power and leverage based on the scarcity of jobs and desperation for whatever we can get to provide for ourselves and our families. But strike activity and worker organizing is on the rise, the Bernie Sanders campaign program is raising political expectations, and workers are winning in the face of this pandemic. It’s reasonable to believe that when things “return to normal”—if that ever happens—politicians and bosses will attempt to take back all that we’ve won. They’ll try to strip paid sick leave from workers, and to reinstate evictions. But we mustn’t let them. Like Oliveira said, “It feels like only the beginning.” 

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on March 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.


Coronavirus Prevention That Works For Working People

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America isn’t ready for coronavirus. In the last 24 hours, millions of school children across the country have been told to stay home for two weeks, or even longer. This is an important public health step to stop the spread, but it also means parents can’t go to work. 

I’m fixing lunch for a 9 and 12 year old as I write this. And I’m one of the lucky ones who is able to telecommute. Millions of Americans are not so lucky. 

In addition to the countless schools and businesses that are moving to telecommuting or closures, we’re also hearing from the CDC that if you are sick you should stay home, other than to seek medical treatment. 

And yet, we have to ask, exactly how are the third of Americans without paid sick days supposed to follow this advice?

Likewise the nearly 90 million Americans who are uninsured or underinsured are already sick with worry that if they contract the coronavirus they won’t be able to get treatment. 

This pandemic threatens to go from very bad to a whole lot worse simply because of our chronic disinvestment in the health and economic security of millions of Americans. The level of danger and risk we now face is directly related to our policy failures. 

Democrats in Congress are moving as fast they can on a policy response to the coronavirus that puts our health and safety first with paid sick days, enhanced unemployment insurance, food security, strong protections for frontline workers, widespread and free coronavirus testing, anti-price gouging protections from surprise medical billing, and increased capacity for the medical system. 

The reality is that these are all things that progressives have spent a very long time fighting for–guaranteed health care, paid sick days and family leave, an end to surprise medical billing, and a strong social safety net. Republicans on the other hand, have blocked them at every turn. 

And now we’re seeing the fallout from Republican indifference to low-income and middle-class families in real time: A Pennsylvania man and his young daughter were recently evacuated from Wuhan, China. When his daughter started coughing, they did the responsible thing and went to the hospital to get checked out. They were quarantined for a few days, and ultimately tested negative for the virus. When the medical bill for $3,918 arrived, he was stunned.  Almost 40 percent of people in the U.S. can’t afford a $400 emergency bill, let alone nearly $4,000. How many times has this scene played out already at kitchen tables across America? 

Just the other day, a family member told me her prescriptions were filled by a pharmacy tech who sneezed her way through the transaction. When asked why she didn’t go home to rest, the pharmacy tech said, “they won’t let me.” How many vulnerable people were exposed to cold or flu, or potentially worse, by that one pharmacy tech? Seven in ten low-wage workers can’t take time off to go to the doctor when they are sick or stay home from work without putting their jobs on the line. This is playing out in restaurants, stores, and yes, even pharmacies all across America.

When the 2008 recession hit, we engineered a massive bank bailout. If we can bail out the banks in a matter of days, we can provide guaranteed health care and workplace protections that our fellow Americans need to stay healthy and avoid getting the rest of us sick. We’ve also got to learn the lessons of 2008 and make sure we bail out the people who need it most.  Economic stimulus should focus on low- and middle income families, not tax giveaways or poorly structured bailouts that help Wall Street but leave Main Street in the dust. 

When it comes to a highly contagious virus like COVID-19 (or the flu for that matter), we’re all in this together. We have to make it possible for everyone to actually follow the CDC’s advice. That’s why Congress and the Trump administration must take action to ensure everyone can get tested, everyone has the guaranteed health care they need to get treated, everyone can stay home if they or a loved one are sick, and everyone can survive an economic slowdown. 

It should not take a terrifying national emergency for us to wake up to the realization that we all pay the price when we treat people like they don’t matter. Medicare for All, paid family leave, universal child care, a robust social safety net. These things are not a wish list. They are essentials. Now is the time to put the basic foundation in place that will make us all safer and more secure in good times, and more resilient when disaster strikes. 

This article was originally posted on Our Future on March 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Liz Watson is the executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. She is the former labor policy director of the House Education and Labor Committee and a former Democratic nominee for Congress in Indiana’s 9th Congressional district. 

How to Help Your Employees Become More Productive

Has your productivity been lagging? Are you struggling to find ways to inspire yourself to work harder for you? Are you inspired by your boss? Perhaps you are trying the wrong tactics. Instead of focusing on what your employer can do for you, why don’t you consider what you can do to improve your life at work?

Here are some suggestions on ways you can improve productivity in the workplace. We think you may be surprised by our advice.

Take afternoon walks.

We all feel that afternoon slump. Our eyes begin to get sleepy, and we lose our ability to concentrate. Some companies fight this problem by offering free coffee or caffeinated soda to employees to give them an energy burst. But having caffeine late in the afternoon may cause you to not be able to fall asleep at bedtime. Instead, maybe try going on a brisk walk outside. Not only will this combat sleepiness, but you could encourage your whole work crew outside at the same time to have a team-building exercise.

Create a more ergonomic workstation.

Perhaps you feel like you’re not performing well because you’re in constant pain. Maybe your backs hurt from the chair they provided you, or your wrists hurt from utilizing a keyboard with little wrist support. Make sure your work stations follow OSHA’s guidelines.

Even if your desks and chairs at work are supposed to be designed with comfort in mind, you could still suffer from back pain. Just as people use a wedge pillow to get better sleep, you may consider bringing a wedge pillow for your chair. A pain-free employee is a productive employee. You should let your employer know that you’re doing this to make yourself more productive and that it isn’t necessarily distracting at all. If anything, this has saved you hours from driving home to work more comfortably or even taking too many breaks during the day.

Take work-from-home days

Are you concerned that working from home will reduce productivity? Why not give it a try? Giving yourself a chance to work from home at least once a week may inspire you to increase productivity to extend the benefit.

There are many benefits to working from home. Not only is less time wasted on commuting, but your staff is less likely to share sicknesses and spend time around the “water cooler.”

Make your schedule flexible

Not every person in your office is a morning person, so why force yourself to have the same schedule?

Flexible scheduling will also benefit you if you’re a parent of young children or caring for elderly family members. This not only will allow you more time to spend time caring for them, but also give you the freedom to finish any project at any time that you feel most productive. If you’re more a productive night person, then this can help you be a better employee.

Work in a quiet work environment

Whoever designed cubicles for offices must not have ever had to concentrate while working. It’s difficult for some people to focus when they hear their coworkers’ phone conversations, the constant thump of the bathroom door, and the chatty Kathy loudly talking about her last date.

If you are able to work in an office space by yourself, do so. At a minimum, always open up that conversation with your boss or assign a quiet workstation for people in your office.

Utilize in-house childcare

If you’re a new parent, you may be continuously distracted if you have to worry about how your newborn infant is doing at the babysitter across town. If you have an in-house daycare at your workplace, you will know if something is out of the ordinary. Also, you won’t have to leave as quickly at quitting time when you know that you can simply pick up your child on the way out of the office.

Create a healthy work environment

Employees will be more productive and happier people if they eat right and exercise. Do what you can to promote healthy living at work. Perhaps this means that you will hold a contest each week to see what team records the most number of steps for your office. Maybe you could suggest the human resources department offer a free salad bar once a week to employees at lunch. Also, consider taking up that insurance policy that offers free counseling and other mental health services.

Schedule meetings for later in the day

Are you wasting the most productive part of your workday by hosting meetings in the morning? If you’re a part of a staff full of “morning people,” they may arrive at the office ready to tackle their inbox and cross items off of their to-do list.

Having staff meetings toward “quitting time” could encourage your staff to be more unified. Instead of one person always playing the devil’s advocate, your team will be encouraged to work together.

We hope that these ideas will help you find a way to increase productivity in the workplace.

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Susan Ranford is an expert on job market trends, hiring, and business management. She is the Community Outreach Coordinator for New York Jobs. In her blogging and writing, she seeks to shed light on issues related to employment, business, and finance to help others understand different industries and find the right job fit for them. Follow her on Twitter @SusanRanford.

Bloomberg aides cut loose despite yearlong employment promise

Mike Bloomberg’s shuttered presidential campaign is dismissing staffers across the country and inviting them to reapply for jobs on his new independent committee — despite extending guarantees of being paid through the November election when they were hired.

The consolation prize: They get to keep their Bloomberg-issued iPhones and MacBooks.

Multiple Bloomberg aides told POLITICO they participated in termination calls with the campaign on Monday. Some of them complained after the calls that they were originally told they would be paid by Bloomberg though the November general election regardless of whether he remained in the race. Most staffers will receive their last paycheck on March 31, sources said.

After a poor showing on Super Tuesday, Bloomberg dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden. The former New York mayor is now underwriting an outside effort to help Democrats defeat President Donald Trump.

Hiring materials from Bloomberg headquarters shared with POLITICO stated that regardless of what happened, field organizers could expect to have a job with “Team Bloomberg” through November, though it didn’t promise interviewees where they would be based. It outlined that organizers would be paid $6,000 a month, plus a $5,000 relocation stipend and full health, dental and vision benefits.

“Employment through November 2020 with Team Bloomberg (location not guaranteed),” the document stated.

The Bloomberg campaign has said it plans to remain active in six battleground states and could give priority to the aides still on payroll. But it’s unclear how many positions the new independent expenditure will have.

A Bloomberg spokesperson said it was always the campaign’s intention to keep its staffers employed in the six battleground states where the pro-Biden effort will be carried out: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

“As we’ve said over the course of the campaign, this election will come down to six battleground states,” the spokesperson said. “It’s imperative that we invest there with staff and infrastructure. Staff who were working in non-battleground states and would like to learn about future opportunities in the battleground states are being asked to let us know so we can consider them for jobs there.”

One Bloomberg campaign source said aides in those states have been asked to submit their personal plans through the general electionto Bloomberg’s team.

The outside effort has not been given an official name, and the billionaire has not released how much he intends to spend on it, though he had previously said he would shell out up to $1 billion of his more than $60 billion personal wealth on his own election. (As of his Jan. 31 filing, the most recent available, he had spent nearly $500 million on his campaign.)

Bloomberg has said he would assist any Democrat in defeating Trump, though Bernie Sanders has said he would not accept Bloomberg’s money. (Because “independent expenditures” cannot be coordinated with any campaign, he wouldn’t have much say in the matter, anyway.) The new campaign apparatus will also fund down-ballot Democrats in key House and Senate races, an aide said.

It will work alongside Hawkfish, a digital company that Bloomberg set up last spring to work for Democrats in races across the country. Hawkfish operated in tandem with the Bloomberg campaign but maintained a separate corporate structure.

Federal rules require Bloomberg designate a new vehicle to fund Democratic efforts and pay staffers. Three aides who were on different calls with the campaign said those possible jobs with the outside group were not presented as being guaranteed.

Said a staffer, “I think they are using the FEC regulations as an excuse to lay off a bunch of people” because they have to set up a new entity.

After hearing from the campaign Monday, a Bloomberg field organizer sent a mass email to other staffers that was obtained by POLITICO, also saying they expected to be paid though the general election.

“If you were told the same thing, please contact me at my personal email,” the aide wrote.

“I didn’t think I was going to have to apply for a job,” a different Bloomberg aide told POLITICO. “It was presented as being automatic. Field organizers were told during interviews that they had a guaranteed job through November.”

But, the aide added, “I don’t know if I want a job with Bloomberg, anyway. There are going to be so many opportunities — everything under the sun will be guns blazing to take out Trump. And I’m not sure what Bloomberg’s contribution is going to be to that fight.”

This article was originally published at Politico on March 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sally Goldenberg is City Hall bureau chief for POLITICO New York. She joined the team in October 2013 to cover New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, with a focus on budget and labor contracts. She also spent three years covering the city’s housing and economic development agenda.

Previously, Sally covered the New York City Council and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration for the New York Post. She also reported for the Staten Island Advance (July 2005 to May 2008), and covered municipal government for the New Jersey Star-Ledger (December 2002 to June 2005) and the Hillsborough Beacon (June through December 2002).

A native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Sally now lives in Brooklyn. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Rutgers University.

About the Author: Christopher Cadelago is a National Political Reporter.

Trump Gets An F From Workers

Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “great negotiator” and author of “The Art of the Deal,” promised to use his bargaining skills to help the American worker.

Trump vowed to rewrite trade deals, stanch the offshoring of U.S. jobs and reinvigorate American manufacturing.

His behavior tells a different story. Both of the trade deals he produced so far—the original United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the “phase one” agreement with China—failed American workers.

Bad trade cost millions of American jobs. Trump’s brand of deal-making won’t bring them back.

Make no mistake, Trump inherited real trade problems. For more than 20 years, politicians of both parties failed to fix a broken system.

Corporations exploited trade agreements to shift family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to MexicoChina and other countries that pay workers low wages and deny them the protection of labor unions. They made boatloads of money offshoring jobs, but in the process, they robbed U.S. workers of their livelihoods and hollowed out countless American communities, decimating their tax bases and exposing them to epidemics of crime and opioids.

Cheating compounded the job losses. China subsidizes its industries, manipulates its currency and then floods global markets with cheaply priced goods, severely damaging U.S. manufacturing in steel, aluminum, paper, furniture, glass and other products.

“Work just started to dwindle,” recalled Bill Curtis, who eventually lost his cloth-cutting job at a Lenoir, N.C., furniture factory swept under by cheap Chinese imports

Trump made fair trade—and standing up to cheaters—a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign.

He railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which empowered corporations to shift more than one million manufacturing jobs to Mexico. He excoriated China for illegal trading practices that siphoned off more than three million American jobs, and he vowed to stop the bleeding.

The labor movement was prepared to work with him to achieve its long-sought goals. But as president, he let workers down. America needs a comprehensive trade solution, but Trump’s policy lacks vision.

The omission of enforceable labor standards in the original NAFTA enabled U.S. corporations to move manufacturing jobs south of the border and take advantage of Mexican workers.

Mexican workers make a few dollars an hour, much less than their U.S. counterparts, and they lack the protection of real labor unions. Companies make deals with protection unions to muzzle complaints about wages and dangerous working conditions. Workers have no voice, and U.S. corporations get rich gaming this system.

But Trump’s version of the USMCA also lacked specific mechanisms to enforce labor standards. Because he failed to deliver, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress stepped into the breach and did the hard work of fixing the deal so that it provides real protections for workers and jobs in all three countries covered by the agreement.

Congressional Democrats traveled to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to visit a Goodyear plant that pays some workers less than $2 an hour, exposed them to hazardous conditions and fired dozens who dared to strike. Goodyear, which laid off workers in Virginia and Alabama while operating the low-cost Mexican plant, refused to let the Congress members through the door.

But the visit showed the importance of incorporating worker protections into the USMCA. Prominent Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. refused to pass the legislation until it represented a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Under the revised version of the USMCA, Mexico must follow through with promised labor reforms, such as giving workers the right to organize, or face enforcement actions. When Mexican workers join unions, their wages will rise, giving U.S. employers less incentive to relocate jobs.

In addition, the revised version makes it easier for the U.S. to initiate complaints against Mexican companies for trade violations, provides for multi-national inspections of Mexican factories and gives the U.S. the authority to impose significant penalties and ultimately to block violators’ goods.

That’s real enforcement.

Congress passed the revised version of the USMCA, not Trump’s toothless version. The deal is far from perfect, but it’s a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Trump’s failure to follow through on labor standards in the USMCA showed his murky strategy on trade. His use of tariffs does, too.

In 2018, he slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on the whole world—alienating global trading partners—when the right approach would have been a strong, surgical strike against China’s dumping. While the tariffs had some positive effects, they’re no substitute for big-picture fixes Trump has yet to deliver.

Last week, Trump unveiled “phase one” of a new trade deal with China. It’s little more than window dressing and an effort to defuse bilateral tensions during an election year.

The deal removes some tariffs on Chinese goods and theoretically commits China to purchasing $200 billion in pork, jets, energy and other U.S. products. It gives new market access to U.S. financial firms, allowing Wall Street to line its pockets. But it does nothing to address job loss.

The U.S. lost 3.7 million jobs to China since 2001, 700,000 of them during Trump’s presidency, and the trade deficit actually increased during the first two years of his term.

The loss of American jobs is no accident. It’s part of China’s policy to destabilize competitors and boost its own power.

China subsidizes its industries, giving companies raw materials, land and cash. Then the companies sell their products abroad at prices that U.S. companies—lacking government handouts—can’t match.

In addition, China allows its industries to overproduce and flood global markets, further driving down prices with gluts of steel, aluminum and other products. And it artificially depresses the value of its currency to encourage still more overseas sales.

These are the major problems that U.S. trade policy must address, but Trump’s phase-one deal doesn’t resolve any of them.

Instead, before announcing the phase one agreement, he backpedaled. He rescinded China’s designation as a currency manipulator.

Now, just like they did with the USMCA, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress must be ready to wade in and demand improvements to the China deal.

More jobs will disappear unless Trump pursues a cohesive trade strategy that prioritizes the American worker. Now, he’s just helping to perpetuate the broken system he bitterly criticized.

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on January 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

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

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