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Billionaires Can Have the Cosmos—We Only Want the Earth

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Luis Feliz Leon (@Lfelizleon) | Twitter

Fleeing is what the rich do best. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz fled Texas last winter, abandoning millions to freezing temperatures. But some have tired of the Earth altogether.

Billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson are fleeing to space on rockets with stratospheric price tags.

Branson was the first to venture forth July 11, in a gambit to launch a commercial space tourism industry—as if we didn’t have enough trouble with the carbon emissions from excess tourism.

That’s what it means to be ultra-rich—to squander oodles of untaxed cash and rake in public subsidies on boyhood fantasies of “space hotels, amusement parks, yachts, and colonies,” as Bezos put it in high school.

But the billionaires playing space cowboys aren’t like the rest of us. They’re on the other side of the fault line of an accelerating climate catastrophe caused by greenhouse emissions.

Workers who plow fields, erect scaffolding, haul garbage, lay track, and stuff mail are not going to escape onboard a winged rocket. We are going to have to fight to survive on Earth.

EXTREME HEAT

From 1992 to 2017 in the U.S., heat stress killed 815 workers and injured 70,000; every year, 65,000 people visit the emergency room for heat stress.

In June, an extreme heat wave hit the Pacific Northwest. With no federal heat standards in place, the United Farmworkers called on Washington’s governor to issue protections for thousands of vulnerable farmworkers.

Washington and Oregon adopted emergency heat standards for outdoor workers, guaranteeing cool drinking water and shade breaks (Oregon’s stronger rules cover indoor workers too)—but not before Guatemalan-born farmworker Sebastian Francisco Perez, 38, died moving irrigation lines in a 104-degree field in Marion County, Oregon.

Proposed heat-stress legislation in Congress, the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, doesn’t go far enough, especially in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that bans union organizers from approaching farmworkers in the fields.

Telecom workers, canvassers, and even librarians are among the union members who are fighting for contractual protection from heat and smoke.

In Maine, unions are teaming up with housing advocates, environmental groups, and indigenous people to push climate bills that will recognize tribal sovereignty, build energy-efficient affordable housing, and create green jobs in low-income areas.

WE WANT THE EARTH

But these are modest efforts compared to the scale of the challenge. All told, the scalding heat wave in the Pacific Northwest killed 800 people. Blistering heat melted power cables and buckled roads in normally temperate Seattle and Portland.

In New York, scorching sun gave way to floods. Viral videos showed subway riders wading through train stations waist-deep in sewage and runoff. A massive flood also hit Detroit, turning thousands of Labor Notes books to pulp.

Meanwhile the Southwest is parched; the people of Colorado are preparing for wildfires. Already the Canadian village of Lytton, British Columbia, combusted after setting an all-time heat record of 121 degrees.

European Union researchers released more evidence in July that planetary heating’s pace far outstrips the climate’s ability to adjust, noting that human-caused climate change is “abrupt and irreversible.”

But it’s never about more information; it’s about power. Alaska, for instance, is installing a cooling system to keep the permafrost frozen and prevent a section of the Trans-Alaska pipeline from crashing and spewing oil everywhere.

In other words, rather than solve the problem by removing the pipeline, the owners have geoengineered a way to keep exacerbating the very conditions that are melting the ice.

Newly leaked audio of an Exxon lobbyist reveals how sneakily the world’s biggest fossil fuel corporations have fought to stymie legislative solutions and sow doubts about the science behind climate action.

It’s up to workers to jump-start a mass movement to save life itself. If we leave it up to the oil barons and space cowboys, they will chase the last dollar till they annihilate us all.

Bezos and his space-trotting pals can have the cosmos. We only want the Earth.

This post originally appeared at Labor Notes on July 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luis Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


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As Devastating Plant Shutdown Looms in West Virginia, National Outrage Is Hard to Find

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Hamilton Nolan - In These Times

A union set to be wiped out by layoffs says politicians are missing in action.

Joe Gouzd is pissed. As the president of United Steelworkers Local 8?–?957 in Morgantown, West Virginia, he represents more than 800 of the 1,500 workers who are set to lose their jobs on July 31, when the Viatris pharmaceuticals plant in Morgantown shuts down for good. And though he is used to fights, he does not like feeling abandoned.

Ask Gouzd what he is hearing from his representatives in the federal government as the plant shutdown looms, and he’ll tell you, ?“Not a god damn thing.” 

“We’ve heard nothing,” he says. ?“We’ve heard all kinds of horse shit from A to Z.” 

This is a remarkable statement, when you consider that the closure of this one plant embodies an entire galaxy of issues that should make it a prime candidate for political intervention. It represents the often-lamented effect of offshoring: a decades-old factory whose jobs are being unceremoniously shipped overseas by the enormous conglomerate Viatris, which was formed in 2019 as the combination of Mylan and Upjohn and immediately set out to slash costs. 

It represents the human and economic toll of America’s industrial decline: Many of the union jobs at the plant pay $80,000 or more, more than twice what any of the workers who are laid off are likely to get if they stay in Morgantown and find a new job. An economic analysis by the Democracy Collaborative finds that the plant’s closure could cost the surrounding county more than 4,600 jobs in total and $400 million in wages in the coming year, in a county where the median income for individuals is less than $25,000 a year.

It represents the loss of America’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capability during a pandemic: Though the coronavirus made many politicians talk about the need for America to strengthen its own supply chain at home to avoid relying on foreign countries for medicines and pharmaceutical supplies, the union’s calls for the Biden administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to take over this plant that makes generic pharmaceuticals seem to have fallen on deaf ears. All indications are that the shutdown that has loomed for seven months will go forward as scheduled next week. 

And, on a raw political level, it would seem like the closure of a major factory in West Virginia?—?a state that has served as a political football for the past five years, and that is now the home to Joe Manchin, the Senate’s single most powerful member?—?would offer a prime opportunity for the Democratic-controlled federal government to score points in a red state, prove that Democrats can in fact deliver for the workers that Donald Trump paid lip service to, and throw a bone to Manchin all at once. 

But none of this has caused any concrete action from the federal government to save the plant. The story of the fate that awaits the hundreds of workers in Morgantown has not become a huge national story. A slow-motion disaster that could be the seed of a great bipartisan effort to save unionized American jobs in West Virginia is instead unfolding just as the company said it would when it announced the closure plans, when most of the country was distracted by the question of whether Donald Trump would actually leave office. Gouzd says that the politicians ?“are running away from us.” He dismisses West Virginia Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito as an unresponsive ?“blowup doll.” Joe Manchin, he says, gave the union members ?“two minutes of his time” several months ago, and has not done anything meaningful on their behalf. 

“He asked us if we still make penicillin,” Gouz says. ?“We haven’t done that for 20 years.” 

In a statement, Joe Manchin said, ?“For months, I have engaged in conversations with Viatris, Monongalia County, the Morgantown Area Partnership, and local and state leaders to find a solution that protects every single job.” (Since the plant’s 1,500 jobs are set to be eliminated in a week, any conversations he had were apparently fruitless.) 

The perceived lack of help is particularly noticeable because Joe Manchin has a very personal connection to this issue: His daughter, Heather Bresch, was the CEO of Mylan, the company that owned the Morgantown plant prior to the rebranding as Viatris. Bresch came under fire in 2016 for her company’s egregious price increases of EpiPens, which prompted a recent $345 million settlement after several class action lawsuits. Bresch herself retired last year after her company’s merger with Upjohn, earning herself close to $20 million during her last year on the job. The 855 unionized Viatris workers in Morgantown who are losing their jobs will receive two weeks of severance pay for every year that they had on the job. 

Our Revolution, the progressive political group, has been working for the past six weeks to elevate the profile of the workers in Morgantown, and try to win them anything it can. That work has been led by Mike Oles, an organizer who has worked on a string of similar plant closures across the country, beginning with the Carrier factory in Indiana that became a national political issue in 2016. In that case, there was a cell phone video of the company’s brutal layoff announcement that went viral; now, Oles says, companies often send workers home before making the announcements, and work strategically to bury the news. 

“This plant seems more saveable than Carrier was, even,” says Oles. ?“This idea that we’re sending 1,500 jobs to India to produce lifesaving medicines, in areas where we have concerns about supply chains… We can support a state that’s transitioning from fossil fuels. Why wouldn’t we try to keep pharmaceuticals in the state?”

The West Virginia state legislature passed resolutions calling on state leaders to keep the plant open, but Governor Jim Justice’s efforts to find a savior do not seem to have succeeded. In June, the White House issued a report calling a robust domestic pharmaceutical supply chain ?“essential for the national security and economic prosperity of the United States,” but that has not prompted any concrete action to keep the Viatris plant open. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” Oles says. ?“These jobs just don’t come back. Communities don’t bounce back from plant closings like this. I’ve seen it in five different states.” 

Adding to the grim situation is the fact that not only will the factory be shutting down?—?the union will as well. United Steelworkers Local 8?–?957 represents only the Viatris workers. After more than 40 years of existence, Gouzd says, the local will be closing after the plant does. 

Viatris said in a statement that the shutdown in Morgantown is a result of the company’s efforts to ?“optimize its commercial capabilities and enabling functions, and close, downsize or divest manufacturing facilities globally that are deemed to be no longer viable.” They add that the decision ?“in no way reflects upon the company’s appreciation for the commitment, work ethic and valuable contributions of our employees.”

The feelings of appreciation are not mutual. The mood inside the factory is ?“toxic,” says Gouzd. ?“The place is caustic. They’re ready to string somebody up by a tree.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 22, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. 


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At World’s Largest Hilton, Workers Fight for Jobs, Daily Cleaning

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This is one of two articles from Hawaiian hotel workers. Read the other, “Hawaiian Hilton Workers Fear Permanent Layoffs As Recall Rights Expiration Nears,” here.

Tourism drives Hawaii’s economy, and housekeepers are the heart of our hotels.

But as tourism is returning to Hawaii, only a few housekeepers are being called back to work because many hotels are not providing daily room cleaning—taking advantage of the pandemic to cut labor costs.

This leaves housekeepers like me, who aren’t called back, enveloped with worries. We’ve been furloughed for 15 months already. Where are we going to find a decent paying job like our UNITE HERE Local 5 union jobs, should we get permanently laid off? How will my family keep our apartment? We can’t go back to my sister-in-law’s two-bedroom apartment where we stayed for eight years when I was still working in a non-union company.

My furloughed co-worker at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Jhorina Ancheta, is a single mom with three kids is a furloughed housekeeper. “If there was daily room cleaning, more housekeepers would be called back to work,” she says. “If I can have my job back, I will be able to support my family the way it was pre-pandemic. We are only able to survive now because my bill and loan payments are deferred until September.”

DIRTY ROOMS HURT

Guests are spending hundreds of dollars a night in our hotel. Their room is supposed to be the cleanest and safest place to be. We, the housekeepers, are in charge of creating this atmosphere. A new study by HospitalityNet on hotel cleanliness shows that 79 percent of respondents are most concerned about their room’s cleaning and sanitation, while 91 percent are more likely to stay at a hotel that helps their employees who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, Hilton was named the number one place to work by Fortune magazine. But at the Hilton Hawaiian Village—the largest Hilton in the world—housekeepers who are currently working are suffering from stress and fatigue.

“It’s harder to clean a filthy room that hasn’t been cleaned every day, compared to a room that is being cleaned every day,” said Maria Luz Espejo, a housekeeper here for 18 years. “Sometimes we can’t finish the rooms in a timely manner, even if we skip our lunch break. I am not getting any younger, so cleaning dirty checkouts makes me suffer with body aches and joint pains.”

Housekeepers are ready to fight for our jobs and safety. We won’t stop until management works with us to resolve this. We will work together, passing leaflets to guests encouraging them to join our call to ask for their rooms to be cleaned daily.

VICTORIES

Smaller hotels like Queen Kapiolani and The Kahala Hotel in Honolulu and Sheraton Maui in Lahaina have implemented daily room cleaning.

The Kahala workers took numerous actions to voice their concerns to management regarding their working conditions, including daily cleaning.

“We found out the hotel was reopening in May 2020,” said Carmelita “Joy” R. Melegrito, a housekeeper at the Kahala. “We demanded regular meetings with management to prepare for the reopening. We had worker leaders in these meetings representing their departments, and I was there representing housekeeping. I shared with them that if we don’t have daily room cleaning, it’s going to be really hard for us to clean the rooms. It will take much longer to clean checkout rooms.

“I’m happy that we have daily room cleaning,” said Melegrito, “because it means less worry about our safety. I got two injuries pre-pandemic because I was rushing to clean a dirty room. If it was already hard before the pandemic to clean rooms, how much more [is it] now if there’s no daily cleaning?”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on July 19, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Nely Reinante is a housekeeper at Hilton Hawaiian Village and a member of UNITE HERE Local 5.


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Hawaiian Hilton Workers Fear Permanent Layoffs As Recall Rights Expiration Nears

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This is one of two articles from Hawaiian hotel workers. Read the other, “At World’s Largest Hilton, Workers Fight for Jobs, Daily Cleaning,” here.

“Did you see Hilton is getting rid of workers permanently?” Jungmin Kim, my co-worker, came running to ask me before I could even get to the front desk. Hilton’s CEO had told investors that when the pandemic is over, Hilton will operate with fewer workers.

My blood was boiling. “They cannot do that!” But she explained that our employer had refused to extend our union contract’s recall rights past two years. Workers who have been laid off since the start of the pandemic now have just 10 months left to win our jobs back.

‘I DON’T WANT MY FAMILY TO BE NEXT’

As Covid-19 started to reach Hawaii in March 2020, more than 2,000 workers received a letter announcing management was closing the Hilton Hawaiian Village (one of the largest hotels in the world, with 3,800 rooms) and Doubletree by Hilton Alana Hotel. We hoped the pandemic would pass and we would return to work in a month. It became more terrifying when months passed and there was still no word.

More than a year later, though Hilton-managed hotels are finally open, only a few of us have been recalled. The rest are scared: of when they will be able to return to work, how they will afford their rent or mortgage, and what they will be feeding their kids should the situation remain the same.

At the Hilton Hawaiian Village, management recently reopened the Wiki Wiki Market, Starbucks, and Starlight Luau after months of workers fighting for union restaurants to reopen. Some food and beverage workers were finally able to return to work.

Unfortunately, there are still workers like Earl Kono, an employee at Tree’s, who was told by his general manager that there are no plans to reopen Doubletree by Hilton’s only in-house restaurant.

“Losing my recall rights frightens me,” said Kono. “I am a single father taking care of my kids and my grandson. Every night, I’m on the verge of breaking down thinking about our future. I’ve been hearing stories on the news about people going homeless, and I don’t want my family to be next.”

The engineers in the maintenance departments are also anxious. Jesus Ragasa, an engineer at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Alana, is working full-time again. Many of his colleagues, however, remain furloughed. He anticipates double the workload if there continue to be only three full-time engineers, instead of the eight engineers pre-pandemic.

FIGHTING FOR EXTRA TIME

An extension of recall rights would give the furloughed workers extra time to fight for their jobs back, especially when hotels return to full occupancy. If workers who were laid off in the beginning of the pandemic are not recalled by March 2022, Hilton might end these positions permanently.

Meanwhile, workers at other union hotels represented by UNITE HERE Local 5—such as the Ala Moana Hotel, Modern Honolulu, and Waikiki Beach Resort—fought for and already won one more year of recall rights.

Jason Maxwell, a bartender at the Modern Honolulu, organized his co-workers to demand an extension from Diamond Resorts, the timeshare company that owns and operates his hotel.

“When we would get management to Zoom meetings, we would load the call with about 40 workers,” he said. “We made sure they listened to the concerns of workers directly.”

“Management tried to hide their anger, but the Diamond Resorts guy began panicking and hung up because of the number of workers on the call. The meetings lasted hours, because we brought up other issues like workplace safety.

“We also passed out leaflets to guests and conducted safety inspections to make sure management was implementing the proper safety procedures in the middle of a pandemic,” added Maxwell. “At some point, management tried to block us from coming onto property. We stood firm and kept going.”

Maxwell said he was close to achieving his dream of buying a home for his family pre-pandemic. “[Winning] the recall rights extension gave me hope. It gave our union a chance and time to fight. If they do bring jobs back, then the same workers come back,” he said, relieved that the pandemic was not the end of his dreams.

WE WANT OUR JOBS BACK

There is a false narrative that workers are living comfortably off unemployment and do not want to return to work. In reality, we are struggling and on the edge of our seats, frightened for the future. We desperately want our hotel jobs back.

“We have to stick together and fight for our jobs,” said Kono. “We have to organize and push our managers to do something about this.

“Extending isn’t going to cost them a penny, so why is it so hard for them to agree with us and give us peace of mind?”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on July 29, 2021.

About the Author: Aina Iglesias is a front desk worker at the DoubleTree Alana by Hilton and a member of UNITE HERE Local 5.


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We Are Zoomers and We Want the PRO Act

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Gen Z and Millennials are facing a bleak economic future. The answer is to massively expand union membership and democratize workplaces.

Like so many other recent college graduates of Gen Z who are trying to enter the workforce, become financially independent and grow our families, we’re seeing the promised ?“American dream” drift further and further out of reach. 

The economy our generation enters today is defined by rising inequality and stagnant wages. Debilitating student debt and astronomically high costs of living in metropolitan areas have dwindled our chances of achieving the same economic prosperity as previous generations. Our parents worked jobs that didn’t require a college degree and allowed them to purchase homes at a fraction of today’s price. Now that dream feels more like a fantasy for our cohort of younger workers.

Today, Millennials and Gen Z collectively make up 40 percent of the U.S. workforce but own only 5.9 percent of household wealth, while Baby Boomers account for just 25 percent of the workforce but own 53 percent of household net worth. When Baby Boomers were Millennials’ age, they owned more than double the wealth of Millennials today. Our generations won’t have the same stability as our parents and grandparents unless systematic changes are made to reinvigorate a key tool in the workplace that helped generations before us enjoy more economic security: labor unions. 

Congress is currently devising a solution that makes it easier for workers to organize and collectively bargain through unions. In March, the House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a bill that would allow gig workers to unionize, legalize solidarity strikes and ban various union-busting tactics that keep workers underpaid and overworked. By expanding access to unionization, the PRO Act strengthens avenues for workers to improve their wages and working conditions. It’s a necessary long-term policy for Millennials and Gen Z to remedy endemic economic inequalities. 

Union membership used to be far more common in America, with unions helping workers bargain for fair wages and expansive benefits. But, as union membership declined from 27 percent in 1979 to 10.3 percent in 2019, income inequality soared with the top one percent increasing their income by 160 percent during this period, compared to just a 26 percent increase for the bottom 90 percent. While the average CEO salary has grown by 940 percent since 1978, worker pay has only increased 12 percent over the past 40 years. Our Boomer parents and grandparents aged into the workforce when unions had high levels of membership, giving them power to hold employers accountable for living wages, safer conditions and robust benefits. 

Today, meanwhile, Millennial and Zoomer integration into the workforce is characterized by low union membership and stagnant wages, making it significantly harder to afford an education, buy a home and start a family. Even as Millennials and Zoomers become America’s most educated generationsresearch shows that real wages for high school graduates are 5.5 percent lower than in 2000 and the wages of young college graduates are 2.5 percent lower. These trends raise the stakes of younger workers in the fight to pass the PRO Act. 

The PRO Act would help offset weak labor laws that have historically stifled labor organizing. A full 48 percent of non-union workers say they would join a union, but less than 11 percent of workers are unionized because many employers utilize aggressive tactics to squash any organizing efforts. Employers can legally bar union organizers from talking to workers in the workplace and during union elections, nearly 90 percent of employers require workers to attend captive audience meetings where they deliver anti-union messages. The PRO Act would prohibit such tactics, making it far easier for workers to organize.

But what difference would unions make? Examples of organized labor’s successes are all around us. Striking teachers’ unions in West Virginia won a 5 percent raise in 2018, and teachers in Los Angeles won a 6 percent raise in 2019. During the pandemic, when large corporate grocers reaped record profits while refusing to pay their workers hazard pay, UFCW locals led the fight across California to pass $5 hazard pay mandates for essential workers in cities like South San Francisco.

Now is the time for Millennials and Zoomers to demand that the Senate follow the lead of the House and pass the PRO Act. Make calls, send emails, and organize your community. No senator from either party can claim to care about young people or working Americans if they don’t support this bill. A version of the PRO Act is reportedly included in the $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package that Democrats plan to pass through budget reconciliation, meaning it could be closer than ever to becoming law. We can help make that a reality. 

The fight to pass the PRO Act is not just about democratizing the workplace, it’s our best shot at building a fair economy and reviving the American dream?—?for our generation and all those who follow. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 20, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: James Coleman is a 22-year-old City Councilmember for the City of South San Francisco, and graduate from Harvard University.


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Rent is out of reach for minimum-wage workers in every state. New study shows how far out of reach

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Wage theft is a huge problem that requires a creative solution, this week  in the war on workers | Today's Workplace

Opponents of raising the minimum wage to $15 like to say that sure, $15 might be a reasonable wage in New York City or Los Angeles, but it’s just too high in the heartland. Guess what, guys? There are more than 3,000 counties in the United States, but only 218 in which a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out of Reach report. There is not one city or state in which a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. And there’s only one state in which full-time work at $15 an hour is currently enough for a two-bedroom market rate rental home. It’s not enough in Alabama or Mississippi, Iowa or Nebraska. It’s for damn sure not Texas or Utah. Congratulations, Sen. Joe Manchin: It’s West Virginia, sliding in 17 cent an hour under $15. But West Virginia’s current minimum wage of $8.75 an hour doesn’t come close.

Nationally, on average, a full-time worker would need to be paid $24.90 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental without paying more than 30% of their income. By contrast, the average renter in the U.S. earns $18.78 per hour. Nearly 60% of all wage and salary workers earn less than the $24.90 needed to make the average two-bedroom rental affordable.

Today’s minimum wage? Ha. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Thirty states, the District of Columbia, and some counties and cities have higher minimum wages, but even so, “the average minimum wage worker must work nearly 97 hours per week (more than 2 full-time jobs) to afford a two bedroom rental home or 79 hours per week (almost 2 full-time jobs) to afford a one bedroom rental home at the fair market rent.”

In five states—Hawai’i, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland—the average renter’s wage falls more than $10 short of the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom rental.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought billions in federal rental assistance, though it’s being paid out too slowly, with the expiration of a federal eviction moratorium looming on July 31. But as the comparison between the cost of modest rental housing and the wages people are actually being paid shows—and as past years of this report show—even before the pandemic, housing was a crisis that demanded policy solutions. The National Low Income Housing Coalition is calling on Congress to expand rental assistance to every eligible household that needs it—current programs fall far short of the need—as well as to invest in affordable housing and bolster public housing. Another key policy would prevent landlords from refusing to rent to people with housing vouchers, since many people with vouchers struggle to find housing they can use the vouchers for.

Republicans will never, ever allow these policies—or a minimum wage increase—to pass if they have the power to block them. Democrats need to find a way to get Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on board with doing something, because the situation is dire.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on July 19, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.


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From Carl’s Jr. to a gay club, Oregon workers suffered in the heat, this week in the war on workers

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Wage theft is a huge problem that requires a creative solution, this week  in the war on workers | Today's Workplace

Workers suffered during recent heat waves around the country, and hitting the Pacific Northwest especially hard. We’ve talked about the need for heat protections for farmworkers, but they’re not the only ones.

HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson looks at the heat complaints to Oregon OSHA, finding that restaurant workers were hit particularly hard. According to a complaint from a Carl’s Jr., “The restaurant management is forcing employees to work without air-conditioning in dangerous heat. The temperature in the building is at least 100*F. Employees are covered in sweat, and are showing signs of heat exhaustion.” At a Burger King, “110+ Degrees in the kitchen over the past few days. The AC system is broken and the employer will not fix it. This is when it’s been 101+ outside. Employees are forced to work nonetheless, no matter the heat hazard.”

It wasn’t just farmworkers and restaurant workers, either. The complaints Jamieson reviewed included a carwash, a cannabis dispensary, a canvassing agency that sends people out to fundraise for nonprofits, and dancers at a gay club. Clearly as climate change makes extreme heat a more frequent occurrence, workplace safety regulations and enforcement are going to need to catch up.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on July 17, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.


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How the Potency of Social Wages Can Beat Back Neoliberalism

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Jack Metzgar – LAWCHA

At the core of President Biden’s American Families Plan is an understanding that workers are paid too little in market wages and that government has a responsibility to change that.

If President Biden’s American Families Plan becomes law as he proposed it, my grand-niece Harri will finally have a ?“modest yet adequate” standard of living based on a new commitment from the federal government to provide social wages.

Harri is a 30-year-old single mother of two, one 3?year-old and one in school. As an assistant manager at Walmart, she makes about $47,000 a year, but about $8,000 of that goes for day care for her preschooler. She recently started getting $550 a month in a Child Tax Credit (CTC), but that’s just a temporary boost for the next year that was part of the Democrats’ March stimulus package. If the Families Plan?—?part of what Biden describes as ?“human infrastructure”?—?becomes law, she’ll get that CTC money for another five years and her preschooler will get free pre?K public education, freeing Harri from paying for day care.

Add it all up, and Harri’s income will be topped up by $6,600 and she’ll be saving $8,000 a year on day-care costs. She’ll go from having $47,000 a year in reported income to having $53,600, but with the absence of day-care costs, her real spending income will be enhanced by $14,600, a 37% increase. Where she lives, in central Pennsylvania, the Economic Policy Institute figures that with no child care costs, she would need about $49,000 to have a modest yet adequate standard of living. Harri will have a little more than that. Bringing in $53,600 will not provide her with a life of luxury, but the magnitude of that change should be transformative for Harri and her children. Harri will get more than parents with fewer kids or fewer pre-schoolers, but she’ll get less than parents with more kids or more than one preschooler. 

The point is that the combination of the CTC and public pre?K (plus an additional program where parents of one- and two-year-olds will pay no more than 7% of their income for day care) will make a dramatic difference in most parents’ and children’s lives. It is often said that the CTC by itself will cut child poverty in half. But the whole combination will do much more than that for many more families, including those who are not poor but struggle to get by.

Beyond its variety of impacts on different American families, Biden’s Families Plan is a breakthrough commitment to the concept of social wages, a concept that has even wider application. Along with other Biden initiatives, there appears to be a firm Democratic recognition that most workers are paid too little in market wages to get by and that the government has a responsibility to change that.

Social wages are different from the commonly (and loosely) used phrase ?“social safety net.” Safety-net programs, like unemployment compensation and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, are for people who have fallen on hard times for one reason or another. Like a net, they keep people from falling farther by providing temporary income until they can get back on their feet. 

Social wages, on the other hand, are more permanent, less means-tested, and available for much larger groups of people. They either subsidize essential workers by increasing their pay or reduce costs of common goods and services. Among Biden’s various plans, for example, are wage subsidies for home care and day care workers who now average $23,000 and $22,000 a year respectively. Obamacare subsidies and the Earned Income Tax Credit do this for a broader group of low-wage workers. Many cities with strong labor movements, like New York, have long had reduced transit fares and rent control to keep costs affordable for low- and moderate-wage workers, though better-paid workers benefit as well. In the postwar years, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union established cooperative housing and even a non-profit bank to reduce their members’ and other workers’ cost of living.

Increased income or reduced costs increase human freedom by providing a higher standard of living that gives people the chance to choose how to spend money, not just struggle to pay the bills. Harri should have nearly $4,000 in discretionary income if the Families Plan becomes law, something she has never had before. Disposable income is your income after taxes, and almost everybody has some. Discretionary income is the income you have left after all your ordinary expenses are met, the money you can actually choose how to spend. It’s anything over that modest yet adequate amount that the Economic Policy Institute has estimated for your family in the place you live.

Biden’s Families plan will affect my niece’s family and its prospects much more than it will for many other families. A family with one school-age child, for example, will get only $250 a month with the CTC and no savings for child care. Or, a single mother with two children, like Harri, will get the same amount in CTC and in child-care savings, but because she earns only $20,000, she’ll end up with a mere $26,600 and free day care?—?no longer in official poverty but still a long way from a modest but adequate income.

But the concept of social wages is just as important as the specific result of any particular program. It means that the federal government accepts its responsibility to make sure that ?“nobody who works full time should live in poverty.” It also represents the transfer of money from our super-wealthy to workers who make less than a modest but adequate living. Biden proposes to pay for his plans with increased taxes on corporations and on individuals who earn more than $400,000 a year?—?though it would be even fairer if the Walton family had to pay Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax on their $247 billion in wealth since Harri and her co-workers helped produce some of that.

I’m as surprised as anyone at how sweepingly progressive Biden’s initiatives are, but none of them came full-blown from the head of Biden. They are all programs that have been developed and advocated for by progressive activists and academics in opposition to a seemingly impregnable public commitment to neoliberalism?—?all that movement and electoral politics of the past several decades, all those Fight for $15 actions and the doors Berniecrats knocked on.

As an academic, I am especially inspired by the intellectual work that contributed to this process. Efforts to establish ?“modest but adequate” levels of family income, for example, had begun in the postwar period by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics?—?at a time when unions represented one of every three workers and that Henry Wallace aspirationally dubbed ?“the century of the common man.” That statistical series was ended in the early years of the Reagan administration, signifying that the federal government no longer gave a shit about what was adequate for common people. A decade or so later, a more sophisticated effort to establish adequate income levels was undertaken first by Wider Opportunities for Women and then by the Economic Policy Institute. The Reagan administration didn’t want us to be able to measure how inadequate most family incomes would become. But now we know, and we have one of our political parties at least rhetorically aspiring to adequacy.

The fate of Harri and her kids and millions like them will be determined in the next few weeks as the Democrats cajole, negotiate with, and debate each other about what will be in the final budget reconciliation bill. Let’s hope they do enough to decisively turn the page on four decades of neoliberal indifference to the people who do essential work we all depend upon.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Jack Metzgar is a professor emeritus of Humanities at Roosevelt University in Chicago. A former president of the Working-Class Studies Association, he is the author of a forthcoming book from Cornell University Press, Bridging the Divide: Working-Class Culture in a Middle-Class Society.


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At a Convention Like No Other, Teamster Challengers Turn a Corner

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Alexandra Bradbury | Labor Notes

This was a Teamsters convention like no other—and not just because it was held online, avoiding the usual Las Vegas spectacle where a few brave reformers run a gauntlet of booing red-vested delegates.

Even in person, the 2021 convention wouldn’t have gone down that way. The opposition slate didn’t just squeak past the 5 percent of delegates required to get on the ballot, as it often has before.

This time it pulled half the votes—reflecting a power shift in the union.

All 1.3 million Teamsters have the right to vote on their top officers. Now that the slates are nominated, members will be mailed a ballot on October 4; votes will be counted November 15.

At the convention, members of the durable reform movement Teamsters for a Democratic Union and their allies achieved constitutional amendments they’ve been seeking for decades.

For one, they won majority rule on contracts. Delegates voted to end the two-thirds loophole, which let leaders force a contract through unless a supermajority voted no; President James P. Hoffa sparked fury in 2018 when he imposed a UPS pact where members’ top concerns were ignored or worse.

About that out-of-touch contract: delegates also wrote into the constitution that every bargaining committee from now on has to include rank and filers.

And they voted to distribute strike benefits from day one, not day eight—reflecting a growing willingness to put the ultimate weapon on the table. The 320,000 UPS Teamsters are looking ahead to the 2023 contract.

“You always want that tool in your toolbox,” said Willie Ford, reform president of Local 71 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a candidate for trustee on the TDU-backed Teamsters United slate. “You may not have to use it, but it needs to be there.”

“The international union treats our members like they’re stupid, and they’re not,” said Fred Zuckerman, president of Louisville Local 89 and second on the Teamsters United ticket. “They’re very intelligent. They know what’s going on. We have found out that our members are willing to take on a fight, as long as leaders have their back.”

A few reform proposals went down to defeat. One would have protected the 5 percent nomination threshold. Raising it to 10 percent, something incumbents have threatened, would have kept the last four opposition slates off the ballot. Other proposals would have plugged a loophole on the officer salary cap and made rank-and-file experience a prerequisite for top office.

OLD ALLIANCES FRACTURE

“There’s definitely a thirst for change,” said Sean O’Brien, who leads the Teamsters United slate, “because there’s been 20 years of complacency. There’s been ineffective organizing. There’s been a lack of political action.” O’Brien heads Boston Local 25 and New England Joint Council 10.

If elected he plans to clean house in division leadership roles around the country, end the communication “brownout” in contract negotiations, and fight to reverse the UPS concessions.

“We’re going to ask for as much member participation as possible,” O’Brien said. “You’re going to see a more active, more militant union.”

In the delegate vote to nominate candidates, O’Brien beat out his rival on the Hoffa-backed Teamster Power slate, International Vice President and Rocky Mountain Joint Council 3 President Steve Vairma, 52-48 percent.

All the at-large Teamsters United candidates won about half the delegates. That’s a far cry from the single digits the opposition usually scores at the convention—even the 2016 slate, which nearly toppled Hoffa in the popular vote.

Typically the delegates are a tough crowd. Many are local union officers who have made their own bargains with the international leadership to get and keep power. So the even split this year shows that some local officers see which way the wind is blowing.

It also reflects a mood in the membership. Out campaigning, Ford said, he’s finding that the grassroots fight over the past six years to save Central States pensions has riled up freight Teamsters: “People lose faith in the leadership when something you’ve worked so hard for all your life seemed to be going down the drain.”

And at UPS, members are living the bad contract. Since the pandemic began, many delivery drivers are almost hitting the weekly legal maximum of 70 hours behind the wheel. “That is really taxing on their body,” Ford said. “Something has to be done.”

PAPER TIGERS

The online convention was a quirky spectacle. Speakers joined by phone while the video showed only the chair, Hoffa, who grimaced and walked off screen during one impassioned speech.

Many of the unseen convention delegates weren’t sitting at home in their bathrobes; they gathered regionally. Gabriella Killpack, a UPS driver and local trustee from Salt Lake City, got a taste of the traditional vitriol as one of just a handful of Teamsters United delegates in Denver—Vairma’s home turf.

The crowd there booed Killpack when she spoke on the virtual convention floor. A man followed her outside to call her a coward. Another person kept threatening her: “Some people here want to beat you the f— up.”

Killpack was shocked at the intense animosity. “It just blew my mind,” she said. “But it’s also kind of invigorating. They couldn’t even handle one person supporting the reform slate. The old guard of the Teamsters are paper tigers.”

Vairma and two other Teamster Power candidates did not respond to interview requests for this article.

EX-FOES TEAM UP

The campaign kicked off three years ago when Zuckerman and O’Brien announced they were teaming up, long before Hoffa announced his retirement and recruited Vairma as his successor.

TDU members ultimately voted to back the slate—some with enthusiasm, others with trepidation. O’Brien was an old foe who had run and won on Hoffa’s ticket before—a talking point the Vairma campaign is now making hay of.

But O’Brien took his job seriously as chief UPS negotiator in 2017. He reached out to opposition leaders to build the contract campaign; he insisted Zuckerman should be on the bargaining team. Hoffa then fired him as package division director.

TDU local leaders in the Northeast—the ones who had fought O’Brien most bitterly over the years—now call him their strong ally. Juan Campos, another powerhouse who leads a 15,000-member local in Chicago, joined the slate too.

The 2016 incarnation of Teamsters United fell just short of a win, with 49 percent of the vote. Now with an expanded coalition, it looks strong enough to go the distance.

SHOP FLOOR COMES FIRST

But for a reform movement, there’s an upside to the rank and file going into victory with a healthy skepticism of the leaders they elect. Members will recognize the need to keep mobilizing and pushing from below.

With the nomination secured, candidates and activists are hitting the road to talk with as many Teamsters as possible. Supporters are signing a pledge card that will be mailed back to them as a get-out-the-vote reminder.

In her local, Killpack is both campaigning for the slate and promoting collective action among overworked UPS drivers. By the end of the summer she aims to bring drivers together for parking lot meetings, then rallies with demands.

“Our primary objective is rank-and-file Teamsters organizing Teamsters over our issues,” she said. “A change in leadership only works if we also get members to step up and take on these fights. If the members aren’t activated and organized, then we have nothing.”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on July 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Alexandra Bradbury is the editor of Labor Notes


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We Have a Jobs Crisis and an Environmental Crisis. The Answer to Both Is a Civilian Climate Corps.

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free enterprise | Today's Workplace

From Bernie Sanders and AOC to the Sunrise Movement, progressives are working to establish an updated version of a New Deal program to meet the challenges of economic and climate upheaval. Its time has come.

The Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure deal embraced by President Joe Biden appears to be a dud. Instead of taxing the rich to modernize America’s roads, water systems and other infrastructure, it promotes various forms of privatization. A summary released in late June about how new construction will be financed includes so-called ?“public-private partnerships,” which are essentially high-interest loans to state and local governments that deliver massive returns for Wall Street banks, private equity investors and multinational financial firms. Also listed is a fringe policy idea called ?“asset recycling,” which would incentivize states and cities to outright sell off public assets. Back in 2009, Chicago leased out its parking meters to investors as far away as Abu Dhabi for at least $1 billion under value, which has forced residents to pick up the tab ever since. Asset recycling is that type of scheme on steroids. 

If Biden is committed to tackling both climate change and inequality?—?which he says he is—then encouraging privatization is counterproductive. Privatizing infrastructure makes adapting to a warming climate harder—because it gives decision making power to corporations and investors. It raises fees and rates for residents—because those corporations and investors need to make a profit. And it creates a race to the bottom on worker wages—because contracted out workers are less likely to be members of a union.

But all is not lost. Biden has a chance to deliver for working people and a healthy climate if he listens to progressives when it comes to a promising proposal that could potentially create millions of good-paying, green public jobs: The Civilian Climate Corps (CCC).

The CCC would be a government jobs program that puts people to work directly combatting the climate crisis. First envisioned by the youth-led Sunrise Movement, the program would aim to ?“conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”

Its impact could be considerable, especially if the final product echoes a proposal released in April by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D?N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D?Mass.). Their proposed CCC would create 1.5 million jobs that would pay at least $15 per hour, provide full healthcare coverage, and offer support beyond the workplace, like housing and educational grants.

The good news is that, even though Biden’s bipartisan deal doesn’t include money for the CCC, the president actually already established the program in a January executive order, and his original American Jobs Plan called for $10 billion in funding for it. The bad news is that the proposed funding was only a fraction of what’s needed. Biden’s proposal would only create up to 20,000 jobs a year—nowhere near the overall need.

That’s why progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.) and Ocasio-Cortez, alongside groups like Sunrise and the National Wildlife Federation, are pushing for a much bigger and broader infrastructure investment than the bipartisan deal, to include substantial funding for the CCC.

One avenue will be to pressure Biden to keep his word when it comes to public jobs. In late June, the president signed an executive order directing the the federal government to encourage diversity and inclusion among its workforce. If a CCC becomes a reality, it must avoid the mistakes made by its predecessor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which was established in 1933.

The first corps accomplished plenty. Over nine years, it employed some 3 million young men to fight forest fires, build more than 100,000 miles of roads and trails, construct 318,000 dams, connect telephone lines across mountain passes, plant 3 billion trees, and much more. But it suffered the same affliction as many New Deal-era programs by mostly shutting out Black Americans. 

While the bill authorizing the program stipulated that ?“no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, or creed,” Black workers were separated into different camps and often given more difficult, less prestigious work. They also experienced resistance when climbing the ranks within the Civilian Conservation Corps’ administrative hierarchy. Women weren’t allowed to join at all, instead offered opportunities with Eleanor Roosevelt’s ?“She-She-She” camps, which were widely scorned and only benefited some 8,500 people.

That’s why a new CCC must aim to target communities most harmed by the intersecting Covid-19, climate and unemployment crises. As In These Times’ editors wrote back in April, ?“The new Civilian Climate Corps must center Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous communities, which have been disproportionately affected by environmental injustice (and Covid-19).”

Public employment has long offered stable jobs to people of color, particularly after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Black Americans gained 28 percent of new federal government jobs in the 1960s, while only making up 10 percent of the U.S. population. By the 1980s and 1990s, Black public employees were twice as likely as their private sector counterparts to receive promotions into white collar managerial positions and technical jobs. For both men and women, the median wage earned by Black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.

For now, with the Senate still debating the paltry bipartisan infrastructure deal, it appears that funding for the CCC will have to find its way into a future budget reconciliation package, which wouldn’t require Republican votes to pass. ?“I want to enlist a new generation of climate conservation and resilience workers like FDR did with the American work plan for preserving our landscape with the Civilian Conservation Corps,” Biden said in a July 7 speech in Illinois. He made clear that the CCC, as well as other policies like two free years of community college, aren’t going to be in the bipartisan deal. ?“In Washington, they call it a reconciliation bill,” he said of the plan for enacting other major parts of his agenda.

Sanders is currently crafting language for such a bill, and plans to include increased funding for the CCC (reportedly $50 billion on top of Biden’s original proposal). Making such an investment a reality will likely require climate organizers and advocates to keep the pressure on lawmakers in Washington so they don’t renege on their promises on the environment. 

People need jobs. We need to modernize our infrastructure to combat climate change. The federal government is the only institution with enough coordination and resources to kill those two birds with one stone. A well-funded CCC is the clear path forward. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 13, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Jeremy Mohler is a Washington D.C.-based political writer with In the Public Interest and a meditation teacher.


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