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Team Building Activities That Improve Engagement for Remote Teams

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As of 2022, around 26% of Americans work remotely. This should come as no real surprise; remote work has a wealth of benefits, including boosting productivity and allowing employees to have a better work-life balance.

But it also has its disadvantages, including a lack of team interaction.

To tackle this, an increasing number of companies are putting more focus on team-building activities.

If you have a remote team, be it local or global, take a look at these top team games to bring your staff together and encourage successful collaboration.

Monthly Team Quizzes

Quizzes are always a crowd-pleaser and super easy to take part in remotely or in-house, so if you have a blend of office and work-from-home staff, it’s a great choice!

Those who are in the workplace can get together to create teams, heading onto the video chat as one. Remote workers can join the group video chat, but each team can be given a private online “room” to discuss answers in.

If you have remote teams, it might be a good idea to give everyone a list of questions to go through in their groups and a time limit. When the time is up, each team heads into the main group chat to share their answers and see who wins.

Organize Virtual Workouts

Over half of Americans admit to not living a healthy lifestyle, with many wanting to change their ways and become fitter. But when you have an important job that takes up most of your day, it can be tricky to prioritize health. That’s where your business comes in.

As an employer, you can help staff to get more exercise and forge lasting connections with virtual or in-person workout sessions.

Once a week, put aside time for a non-compulsory team workout. Hire a professional trainer to host the session, guiding your team through exercise classes to help them get healthier and happier. Set up a group chat for everyone involved and encourage conversations about fitness goals and workout motivation. 

Not only does this help your team get to know one another and collaborate better, but exercise is also a great way to boost engagement and productivity! With numerous workplace benefits, this activity is a no-brainer.

Challenge Staff to a Scavenger Hunt

Just because you have remote staff doesn’t mean that every activity has to take place in the digital world.

If your team works near the same city, for example, why not invite them to an in-person event? This is a great way to encourage your team to meet up and get to know each other, and also helps to build your company’s reputation as a positive employer.

A fun in-person activity that should get lots of RSVPs is a scavenger hunt. Encourage your team to work together to overcome challenges and solve clues, helping them get to know one another and become more comfortable solving problems as a group.

If you’re in New York, we highly recommend checking out The Secret City’s NYC Scavenger Hunt, which they describe as “Urban adventures bringing the secrets of New York City to life.” Sounds good to us!

Send Daily Lunch Snaps

Not every activity has to be overly complicated. Some of the simplest group activities can be the best, helping to generate better rapport between staff and build long-lasting connections. One such idea is sending daily pictures of lunches. It’s simple but effective! 

Start a group chat and add whoever wants to join. Every working day (or most days), participants send a snap of their lunch to the group, and conversations will start to flow naturally.

Discussions over who has the best lunch, which flavor chips people prefer, and what they should make the next day are just some of the ways that this activity will get people talking! It’s a particularly good idea for new teams, helping break the ice quickly and get everyone over those first-chat nerves.

A Workplace Trivia Game

This is another game that can be done in person or remotely. You could plan it for the last hour on Friday, for example, allowing everyone to finish work early and turn their attention to some workplace trivia. Create a range of workplace-themed questions, such as:

  • Who has a new puppy called Yorkie
  • Who is the company’s biggest competitor
  • Which employee has their birthday in May
  • Who’s getting married in December
  • How many employees does the company have

Not only is this a fun game that should lead to plenty of laughs, it also helps staff get to know each other and improve their team collaboration skills  – a win-win! 

Final Words

Team building for remote staff isn’t just about improving teamwork but also about helping staff get to know each other better. With better workplace relationships, you’ll see improvements in collaboration, problem-solving, and engagement.

Hopefully, these activities have given you the inspiration to start planning your own, bringing your team together no matter where they work.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness on January 4, 2023. Published with permission.

About the Author: Gemma Williams is a contributor to Workplace Fairness.


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How To Be an Ally in the Workplace

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Dakota Murphey

There can be no doubt that we are starting to get better at facing up to uncomfortable or awkward issues in the workplace.

The rise of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have taken topics that were once taboo and pushed them into the mainstream. In doing so, they have shown us how necessary it is to be allies to others at work. 

Promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workplace is a benefit not only to staff, but also the whole organization, as it can push forward new ideas and create a competitive edge for the company over competitors.

Ideas around this subject need to target everyone from the top level down the company, while understanding disability and the language of discrimination being key. Implementing diversity and inclusivity training can support everyone work at to be a better ally in the workplace.

Indeed, even if you feel like you are already doing a lot to be an ally, it is always a good idea to continue learning and re-learning these important lessons. 

In this article, we examine how anyone can be a better ally to underrepresented communities in the workplace. 

Educate yourself

The most crucial step to being an ally in the workplace is actually educating yourself. Learning – and in some cases unlearning – behaviors and mindsets is a crucial starting point, and there are many ways to do this.

It’s a great idea to start reading about ideas about systemic inequality, as well as finding ways to diversify the thoughts and ideas that you hear. It is too easy to go into the idea of being an ally with a fixed mentality – and actually, much of this way of thinking can be unhelpful, even if it comes from a good place. 

Promote creative expression

We can sometimes get stuck in the mindset that being an ally is all about political or economic matters in the workplace. In fact, there is a huge range of different ways to be authentically an ally to others in the workplace, in ways that you might not have considered. For example, promoting a colleague’s creative expression can be valuable.

“Creative support and encouragement is pivotal, especially from those who are in similar playing fields as you,” says Dondre Green, a photographer speaking to MPB. “This could look like sharing opportunities, advice, and budget negotiation numbers. I’ve seen even more Black creatives come together over the last few years and be put in positions to hire artists for assignments, too, which is a plus. In terms of representation, it matters.”

Listen to and lean on colleagues

It is important to resist the temptation to make assumptions about what is best for your colleagues. Even though your intentions may be good, you can end up putting your own presumptions forward and this might not end up being the best possible outcome from those you are trying to be an ally to. 

Remember that being an ally isn’t about doing what you think is right for an individual or community – rather it is about listening to what they need and putting that into action. And crucially, you need to think of listening as an act not only of understanding but also of empathizing.

It is therefore important to understand the nuances and language around racial issues and other issues that might affect minority groups  in the workplace by educating yourself, seeking professional guidance or finding support from colleagues.

The challenges that minorities and underrepresented groups face is often not the fault of the actions of individuals but rather systemic problems that won’t go away until they are acknowledged and faced.

Use your privilege 

Often misunderstood in the context of allyship, privilege is a key issue when it comes to providing support in the workplace. Some people take the concept of ‘privilege’ to be an insult or an attack on their personal character. This isn’t the case at all.

No one is saying that being privileged means that you have never faced any hardship of your own, or that you haven’t worked hard to get where you are.

Rather privilege should be seen as something that each of us generally has in one form or another.

Having a university education, for example, or facing no mental health issues, are forms of privilege that some people have. True allyship involves using the privileges that you have to defend or advocate for those who don’t have those same privileges. 

The first step in using privilege effectively is acknowledging it. From there it can be understood, and it can then be used to the advantage of those you are being an ally to. 

Many people are reluctant to be an ally in the workplace because they are worried that they might ‘say the wrong thing’ or act in a way that isn’t actually helpful. Don’t let this discourage you. Allyship exists in a sometimes awkward space and no one is expecting you to be perfect – it is all an opportunity for everyone to learn. 

Being an ally in the workplace is something that you can do that will make a genuine difference to colleagues’ lives and livelihoods.

Whether it is anything from ensuring that you are inclusive when listening to opinions in meetings, to implementing a diversity policy for future hiring; these are things that will benefit you and your business in the long-term. 

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness on January 4, 2023. Published with permission.

About the Author: Dakota Murphey is a contributor to Workplace Fairness.


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Think Twice Before Buying Holiday Gifts for Your Boss

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Miles Kampf-Lassin

It’s that time of year when entering most any department store or office waiting room means hearing the festive sounds of Mariah Carey pleading for her wish to come true.

That’s right, the holiday season has descended upon us, and with it all of the peculiar rituals that follow: Hams glazed with honey, toy elves mysteriously placed on shelves, inflated snowmen adorning front lawns and, of course, the tale of George Bailey’s class war against Mr. Potter broadcast across screens the nation over.

But while most of these customs range from vaguely problematic to politically benign to downright socialist, there’s one that clearly has to go: the practice of workers buying holiday gifts for their boss.

This bizarre tradition has become all too common in U.S. workplaces, with a full third of American employees now saying they regularly purchase a present for their manager. And even those who aren’t already planning to take part are being inundated with messages encouraging them to buy a special something for the person who signs their checks.

As Forbes implores its readers, “Here’s Why You Absolutely, Positively Must Buy Your Boss a Holiday Gift.” New York Magazine, meanwhile, just published its catalog of “36 Gifts for Every Type of Boss.”

This follows in a trend of such laundry-list-style articles, including Business Insider‘s “46 Work-Appropriate Gifts for Your Boss That’ll Make You Stand Out from the Team,” and Stylecaster’s wallet-friendly “13 Gifts for Your Boss That Don’t Cost Your Entire Paycheck.” Some companies are even specifically marketing products as good gifts for the boss.

The message from these enjoinders is clear: It’s your responsibility to recycle your hard-earned cash back to the very individual who granted it to you in the first place.

And even if you’ve tuned out these messages, there’s a high chance of feeling pressure from within your own workplace. Sites such as Reddit, Twitter and Ask a Manager are brimming with stories from workers who have been either asked directly or otherwise pressed to chip in to lavish a tribute on the boss.

There’s the part-time, low-wage worker who was called upon to send money to help pay for the CEO’s family to go on a ski trip. Or the hospital receptionist who was directed to send cash for four doctors in her office, despite not receiving a holiday bonus. And once the habit is formed, it can be difficult to stop — or even slow down.

One worker reported a 10-year-long tradition that ballooned into pooling money to send not just to their own boss, but also to their boss’s manager, as well as to that person’s assistant. Unless you have Bob Cratchit-levels of generosity, this type of servile expectation is enough to turn anyone into a Scrooge.

The solution? Just stop buying holiday gifts for the boss. And if you aren’t already doing so, don’t start. There’s no reason to feel guilt over not participating. All wealth is created by labor, and the fruits of that labor should flow back to workers, not the other way around.

As Karl Marx wrote back in 1867, “Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.”

The same principle holds true over 150 year later: Under capitalism, bosses are already sucking the living labor out of their workforces. Using the meager wages gained from that productive work to then heap more money onto owners in the form of gifts just increases employers’ effective profits while further impoverishing those responsible for generating the wealth in the first place.

Ultimately, it’s a trap that enshrines an exploitative power relationship. That’s no way to spread holiday joy and cheer.

What’s more, even those in the business of giving advice on such matters recommend workers avoid the practice.

Sherri Athay, author of Present Perfect: Unforgettable Gifts for Every Occasion, routinely tells employees not to get their bosses presents. And Alison Green, who runs the Ask a Manager site, says, “Etiquette is actually quite clear on this point: Gifts in a workplace should flow downward, not upward. In other words, it’s fine for your boss to give you a gift but you shouldn’t give gifts to your managers. “Certain workplaces, including some departments in the government and military, even ban outright such gift giving to superiors (good on them). 

After enduring a nightmarish pandemic that’s stretched on for nearly two years, U.S. workers are reporting a staggering level of burnout and emotional anguish.

Nearly 80% say they’re worried about their mental health, with 61% of women and 52% of men feeling stressed on a typical day, numbers that have increased since the Covid-19 crisis engulfed the country. And while supply chain issues and resulting price increases are hitting workers’ bank accounts, corporate profits are through the roof, reaching record rates this year.

Against this backdrop, the practice of giving gifts to the boss stands as woefully absurd. Sure, if you feel personally moved to get a present for someone up the ladder at your workplace, you have the freedom to do so (just so long as it’s not prohibited). But we should all remember that, on the whole, the act reinforces the very predatory dynamic at the heart of our economic system.

This year, take a page out of the playbook of George Bailey and the working people of Bedford Falls by giving gifts and sharing your bounty with friends and family, but not those who alienate you from the products of your own labor. After all, it could help finally make Comrade Carey’s wish come true.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on December 17, 2021; It was republished in December of 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Miles Kampf-Lassin is a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is a Web Editor at In These Times.


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Worker Rights are Critical to the Future of Ukraine

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Liz Shuler

As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, Ukrainian workers and their trade unions have become an undeniable force for solidarity and community support throughout the country.

Since the onset of the conflict, union members from the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) and the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) have mobilized in large numbers, remain united behind their elected government’s efforts to manage the war and continue to make valiant sacrifices to defend the nation.

However, in return, Ukraine’s government is now moving to break the unions’ power and take away crucial workers’ rights that are central to upholding its democracy. 

In March, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress and drew a powerful connection between his country and ours, stating that the war was a fight to protect our shared values of “democracy, independence, freedom and care for everyone, for every person, for everyone who works diligently….”

A strong labor movement is central to Ukraine’s struggle to remain an independent democracy because workers’ rights and democracy are inextricably linked.

That’s been true throughout the conflict, and it will remain true when this war ends. 

Unions put their organizing skills to use in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s attack as part of the Trade Union Lifeline initiative. They quickly converted their offices and properties into makeshift shelters to house more than 350,000 citizens displaced inside Ukraine.

Unions also allocated donated funds to fill gaps in care and moved large numbers of humanitarian supplies, such as food, clothing, diapers and feminine hygiene products, to those in need. Both national union federation presidents have made numerous trips to front-line towns to personally deliver shipments.

Workers on the job are keeping the economy going, while thousands of union members have enlisted in the military and the country’s civil defense, many of whom have been killed in active duty. Their incredible efforts have been recognized by the AFL-CIO and the entire global labor movement, which has been unwavering in their support for Ukraine. 

In October, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten traveled to Lviv, Ukraine, to provide support, meet with teachers and raise awareness about the war’s impact on the lives of children. Dozens of teachers are working hard to ensure that students remain able to keep up with their education. Members of the Construction and Building Materials Workers Union of Ukraine (PROFBUD) have found creative ways to support the war effort, including procuring life-saving medications and improvising the creation of a communications outpost for their communities.  

While labor has proven invaluable to every facet of Ukraine’s fight to defend its sovereignty, Ukraine’s parliament continues to advance several anti-worker, anti-union policy efforts under the cover of the crisis. In recent months, the parliament has considered more than 27 bills that would restrict or eliminate worker and union rights.

One proposal would confiscate the property of the FPU and all its affiliated unions, many of which are being used to house the displaced. Given that this property has been maintained and managed for 30 years by union dues and finances with no issue, it is suspected that the policy’s true motivation is to bankrupt the FPU and assert government control over valuable pieces of real estate.

These are not just hypothetical threats. Law 2434-IX, which was adopted in July and enforced officially in August, eliminated collective bargaining for all employers with 250 or fewer employees for the period of martial law and introduced precarious “zero-hour” contracts into Ukrainian labor relations. These contracts create a more perilous work situation because employers are not obliged to provide a minimum number of working hours to workers. 

Although these changes were passed for the war’s duration, the government’s Ukraine Recovery Plan indicates a desire to make these provisions permanent. Other equally troubling bills focus on eliminating worker protections on working hours, transfer rights, the right to organize unions, collective bargaining, social assistance funds, pension rights and administration, safety and health enforcement, unemployment benefits and the system that sets minimum wages — some of which have already become reality.

The rationale behind this effort — that worker rights must be eliminated to promote economic growth — relies on deeply flawed and outdated development models. These changes run counter to international standards that Ukraine previously ratified, and these modifications are in direct conflict with decisions handed down by the International Labour Organization that recognize taking action to confiscate union property as a significant violation of the freedom of association.

The Ukrainian government is aware of this — having previously lost a similar property confiscation case in the European Court of Human Rights in 2018. Anti-union legislation also flies in the face of Ukraine’s stated policy goal of further integration into the structures and norms of the European Union, where union coverage has remained high in many nations and workers’ rights remain strongly protected.

Many of these laws could not pass before the war and are now in motion only because of Russia’s unprovoked attacks. 

Ukraine’s fight for democracy must take a holistic view.

Unions will be instrumental in rebuilding the country, and Ukraine’s government cannot go down the path of destroying internationally recognized worker rights because of the ideological agenda of a few ultra-free-market, libertarian officials who are using the war to push their agenda of eliminating unions. Likewise, the war should not be used as cover for wealthy interests in Ukraine to squeeze more profits from Ukrainian workers, many of whom are making great sacrifices in service to their country.

We stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian sisters, brothers and siblings.

But Ukraine cannot become a respected democratic nation if it continues to destroy the rights of workers and unions.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on December 22, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Elizabeth Shuler is president of the 58 unions and 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO, and the first woman leader of America’s labor movement. 


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Focus on Black Women to Address Workplace Segregation

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Kemi Role

Occupational segregation in the United States reflects the systemic and structural racism built into the economy that marginalizes people of color.

Black workers are “crowded” into industries with poor working conditions, wages, and job security.  Black workers have also historically worked in jobs with the highest injury and fatality rates than other workers. Black women in particular are sorted into low-wage service sector occupations and five occupations account for more than half of all the jobs in which Black women work. 

The COVID pandemic has destabilized health, housing, and economic security for many communities in the United States and specifically for underpaid Black women. COVID disruptions to work and healthcare have compounded the challenges that Black women already face. Sixty-eight percent of Black mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners for their families. Black women are overrepresented in underpaid work, and are especially vulnerable to the disruptions to income and job loss caused by the pandemic.

Many Black women also work in positions that are now deemed essential including as nursing assistants, home health aides, and child care workers. This requirement to work at the frontlines of the pandemic puts Black women and their families at increased risk of exposure to the health and economic impacts of COVID. It has become abundantly clear that the US does not have the cohesive, integrated infrastructure to meet this monumental moment. Yet an ecosystem of Black women leaders and Black-led organizations are visioning new and bold program, policy, and narrative solutions that support Black women workers and address the impacts of occupational segregation. 

An Economy for All: Building a Black Women Best Legislative Agenda is a robust policy framework that centers Black women and recognizes that Black women’s economic well-being is central to a thriving economy. This framework recognizes the compounding impacts of racial and gender discrimination, and how Black women are sorted into underpaid, unstable, and dangerous occupations.

NELP continues to advocate for policies recommended in the report such as increased wages, paid family and medical leave, expanded access to unemployment insurance to support building Black women worker power and addressing the harmful impacts of occupational segregation. 

Bold policies such as guaranteed income also have the potential to build Black women worker power. The Magnolia Mothers’ Trust, a program of Springboard to Opportunities, is the first basic income pilot that specifically centered Black women head of households in Mississippi. The framework for the pilot was to provide “unrestricted, no strings attached cash…to better understand how a non-punitive, trust-based benefit could support families in not only exiting poverty but knowing that they have the freedom, dignity, and agency to be the anchors of their own lives”.

The initial pilot found that 100% of participants reported being able to meet their basic needs, increased positive family engagement, ability to pay bills, completion of high school education, and ability to pay over $10,000 in predatory debt. Make Sure the Shoe Fits: An Exploration of Guaranteed Income Pilots in California, a recent report from the Insight Center, underscores that targeted guaranteed income for Black women, creates more expansive choice with respect to work, has the potential to lift families out of poverty, and move the US towards a more equitable economy. 

Shifting the harmful impacts of occupational segregation for Black women workers also means dismantling the pervasive anti-Black narratives that undergird how work & the economy are shaped for them. Anti-Black racism is the scaffolding and fulcrum of radical economic inequality in the U.S., and of continued attempts to strip workers and communities of power and dignity.

Moving towards narratives that Center Blackness  “demands that we create and design policies and practices that intentionally lift up and protect Black people.

Radical shifts for Black women workers mean building new narratives centered on abundance, dignity, and collective liberation.  

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on December 13, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Kemi Role is the Director of Work Equity for Nelp.


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10 Predictions For Labor Next Year

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Hamilton Nolan

It’s December, which means that it is, by law, the time when we look ahead at the coming year, and make shockingly insightful predictions about what lays ahead. A year ago, we made Ten Predictions for the Year Ahead in Labor that were, it turns out, very good. More on that below. With that track record of quality, you must feel compelled to read our predictions for 2023. Joys, disappointments, and killer robots, ahoy!

Standard disclaimer: Predictions are folly, and only fools make them. So:

1. AI is a labor problem. 

Have you played with DALL-E 2, the artificial intelligence system that can spit out professional-quality illustrations based on any prompts you give it? How about ChatGPT, that can write essays, computer code, or anything else as you converse with it? They are amazing pieces of technology, and they are also a big, flashing sign of gargantuan labor problems ahead.

Enormous swaths of work could be outsourced not to impoverished foreign nations, but to computer programs. This has been a theoretical threat for years, but now AI has reached the point at which it is about to get very, very real. Unions must get ahead of the problem now to try to protect workers. DO NOT WAIT! DO NOT WAIT!

Trying to ban AI’s use is useless, but we would all be wise to seek out advice from unions like the Longshoremen, who have had some success shielding themselves from the ravages of automation. The main point is: We need strong strategies on AI now, because soon, it will be too late. But in even more immediate problems… 

2. The big first contract wall. 

We’ve all spent the past year celebrating the success of grassroots union drives at name brand companies: Amazon! Starbucks! Trader Joe’s! Huzzah! Now, those new unions face a task that is, in some respects, even harder: winning a first contract. At Amazon and Starbucks in particular, we have companies that are existentially opposed to unions, and that can and will drag out the contract process unto infinity, in hopes of drowning their fledgling unions in the bathtub.

That would be a blow not just to workers at those companies, but to an entire country’s worth of grassroots enthusiasm about organizing, which has launched a wave of independent unions. We shouldn’t fool ourselves: Winning these contracts will require a lot of money, lawyers and political capital from the entire labor movement. Even in the best case scenario, it’s gonna take a while. And a related issue…

3. The green shoots of new labor institutions. 

The rise of independent organizing drives everywhere was proof, above all, that organized labor as currently constituted was incapable of absorbing a true moment of opportunity. Rather than leading newly radicalized workers to the promised land, the creaky existing institutions in many cases sat on the sidelines. (The AFL-CIO’s vow to organize a pathetic one million workers in ten years was the splashiest demonstration of this failure of vision.)

In 2023, look for at least the beginnings of some new institutions that aim to draw together and empower the many little explosions of organizing that we saw in 2022. In better news…

4. Union democracy movements flourish. 

After many decades of calcified, undemocratic leadership, reform movements inside the UAW and the Teamsters have made significant gains in the past year. Similar movements are bubbling in other big unions as well. These breakthroughs are, at their core, driven by the same dynamic we mentioned above: Raw desire for worker organizing has reached such a high level that it is ready to fix the many broken, lazy aspects of the union world. And speaking of institutional opportunities…

5. Higher Ed asserts itself. 

My number one prediction last year was that higher ed would become a significant player in the union world. Amazing insight, yes! In 2022, the five largest union election filings in America (and the biggest strike of the year) were ALL grad student workers at major universities. Higher ed is creating more new union members than any other single industry in America — but they are divided among a number of different unions. It is nice to imagine a single dedicated union in higher ed, which would be large enough to be a significant player in the AFL-CIO, and which could pull that institution left. Ah, one can dream. Elsewhere in potential power…

6. A reckoning for transport unions. 

Biden’s decision to prevent railroad workers from striking and impose a contract on them was by far the worst labor thing the ostensibly pro-labor president has done. But it, and this year’s White House freak out over touchy contract negotiations by longshoremen at West Coast ports, point to the inherent power in all the unions that have a position in the supply chain, and transportation in general. They may be hamstrung by the Railway Labor Act, in legal terms, but a rise in radicalism and coordination between railway, airline, and logistics unions could lead to a real, unassailable demonstration of what strike power looks like. Some of the union leaders in these industries have such vision, and some don’t. The weaker ones should watch their backs. Meanwhile, in Washington…

7. Labor’s legislative gains grind to a halt. 

In two years of Democratic control of the White House and both branches of Congress, organized labor got a lot of money for its pensions, a very good but severely underfunded NLRB, some nice but not transformative regulatory changes, a crushed rail strike, and no PRO Act. That will be as good as it gets. Now that Republicans have taken the House, the chance for anything better, legislative speaking, is dead. It’s all a good reminder that we need to be pouring everything into organizing new workers, rather than chasing politicians. And to get a little more fine-grained…

8. The Warrior Met Strike ends. 

More than a thousand UMWA miners in Alabama have been on strike now for more than 20 months. Another 12 seems impossible. Somehow the strike should settle in 2023, though the prospect of real gains for the strikers still seems uncertain at best. (The fact that the national Democratic Party didn’t use more of its muscle to lift up this strike was shameful, and foolish.) Donate to their strike fund! And if you need a more relaxing topic…

9. Sports! 

The Major League Baseball Players Association joined the AFL-CIO this year, and promptly unionized minor leaguers for the first time, as well. That means the NFL and MLB are both in the union federation; if they can convince the NBA players to join, then the full trifecta of major American sports will be officially part of the larger labor movement. There is still great opportunity in college athlete organizing as well. In terms of PR for organized labor, these people are gold. Americans love athletes, to a stupid degree. We have to get busy putting all these players in front of cameras to talk about how good unions are, and sending them out to picket lines. Use what we have! We need the help! Finally, to close on a positive note…

10. The energy in labor remains astronomical. 

I tend to focus on the labor movement’s problems. WHICH WE ALL SHOULD. We’re here to improve things, after all, not send ourselves endless thank you notes. But to take a step back and look at the big picture: We are living through the time of the most promise and excitement that the labor movement has seen since Ronald Reagan crushed the PATCO strike, broke unions’ spirits and launched four decades of growing inequality.

Now! Now is the time! It’s been coming for years, but the pandemic accelerated the willingness of workers to take the leap towards organizing — to be willing to take a risk in exchange for the possibility of not having their entire working life be so dreary, underpaid and soul-sucking. I see no reason why this period of desire for unions should end next year. The real question is whether organized labor will be able to harness it, before it is crushed by the backlash from organized capital. 

The new year is coming. Let’s get to work. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on December 19, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer 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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No Union? You Still Have a Right to Strike

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Last year there were 87 strikes by non-union workers, according to Cornell’s Labor Action Tracker, accounting for one-third of all work stoppages in the U.S.

Even without a union, you have the legal right to organize strikes, job actions, and various protests—and your employer is banned from retaliating against you.

Despite the law, though, many employers will fire troublemakers if they can get away with it. That can bring organizing to a halt.

So if you’re organizing without the protection of a union contract, it behooves you to know your rights and how to enforce them.

With a little practice, you won’t even need a lawyer. You and your co-workers can develop and submit your own unfair labor practice (ULP) charges to the Labor Board.

The Law

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act says: “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

“Self-organization” means with or without the backing of a union or worker center. For instance, Amazon workers in Chicago have organized under their own steam as Amazonians United; I recently advised them on how to file ULP charges against employer retaliation.

“Concerted activities” include strikes, but also smaller actions like several employees complaining to the boss together, talking with co-workers on Facebook, circulating petitions, filing wage theft claims as a group, or holding a press conference.

The key word is “concerted,” which means two or more employees are acting together. According to the Labor Board (NLRB), it can even refer to actions by one employee “if he or she is acting on the authority of other employees, bringing group complaints to the employer’s attention, trying to induce group action, or seeking to prepare for group action.”

The action must be aimed at improving the working conditions of the group, not just an individual—that’s “mutual aid or protection.” The issue might be safety concerns, bathroom breaks, excessive heat, an unfair firing, or sexual harassment.

Illegal Conduct

Employers are prohibited from interfering with these rights. It’s a ULP for management to:

1. Spy on (or seem to spy on) organizing activities. Spying means doing something out of the ordinary to observe; seeing open union activity in workplace areas frequented by supervisors is not spying.

At Amazon, workers would hang around after work chatting about weekend plans. Once they started organizing, a member of management started photographing them from a distance, using a camera with a long telephoto lens. That’s a ULP.

Spying includes monitoring workers’ Facebook postings—though note the limits below about what you can say about your employer.

2. Photograph or take video of employees engaged in peaceful union or other protected activities.

3. Solicit individual employees to appear in an anti-union campaign video.

4. Enforce work rules that tend to inhibit the exercise of organizing rights—like prohibiting employees from talking about the union during work time, if they’re permitted to talk about other non-work subjects.

At Amazon they posted new rules against congregating or handing out literature in the parking lot. People standing near the doors were accused of blocking entry.

5. Deny off-duty employees access to outside non-working areas of the property, unless business reasons justify it.

6. Prohibit employees from wearing union gear like buttons or T-shirts, unless special circumstances warrant.

7. Convey the message that organizing a union would be futile.

8. Interview employees to prepare the company defense in a ULP case.

9. Fire, suspend, or discipline employees for organizing (or threaten to do so).

10. Coercively question employees about their own or co-workers’ union activities or sympathies.

This blog originally appeared in full at Labor Notes on December 8, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Richard de Vries is a contributor for Labor Notes.


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How the Pandemic Changed U.S. Labor Organizing

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The story of essential workers during the pandemic is part of the long unraveling of the New Deal. The destruction of the welfare state, the attack on unions, and the rise of neoliberalism provide the historical backdrop for the pandemic labor unrest.

As workers’ fortunes came under renewed attack in the early 1970s, the historic gains of the New Deal were rolled back decades. Inequality became the defining feature of our economy as we arrived at a second Gilded Age. This was more than unfair — during the pandemic it had deadly consequences. A 2020 study found that in over 3,000 U.S. counties, income inequality was associated with more cases and more deaths by the virus.

In the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007 – 2009, the unemployment rate remained stubbornly high long after the crisis had been declared officially over. The solution to lagging employment growth was an explosion of low-wage service jobs.

It was this new servant class of gig workers, low-wage healthcare workers, fast-food employees, maids, delivery drivers, and retail clerks who endured the most intense economic hardship during the Covid pandemic recession. They were deemed essential and worked through the pandemic, or they lost their jobs. Without this longer time frame for context, essential workers appear to be merely the product of the pandemic rather than the outcome of decades of political and economic shifts.

By April 2020, about a third of U.S. workers were designated as “essential” or “frontline” workers, tasked with laboring in person through the pandemic.

Who was considered essential or not often seemed capricious. Employers carved out niches for themselves as essential, forcing their employees into dangerous workplaces, even though they served no public benefit. Walmart designated its store greeters as essential, putting countless workers at unnecessary risk. The state of Montana designated elite fly-fishing guides as essential.

Kirk Gibbs, an electrician from Syracuse, New York, summarized his status as an essential worker like this: “I’m essential to the pocketbooks of rich contractors and essential for spreading the virus, but that’s about it.”

Across the world the designations varied even more. In fact, it wasn’t always clear what essential workers were essential for. Economic stability? Corporate wealth accumulation? Public health? Social reproduction? To ensure a pleasant experience for retail shoppers?

This mattered beyond public recognition. Because workers did not have a straightforward relationship to being classified as essential or not, their ability to collectively organize as such when necessary was inhibited.

Still, workers used the rhetorical power of their designation as “essential” to highlight their mistreatment and exploitation. In some cases, workers forced their managers, bosses, and corporate boards to provide lifesaving safety protocols, more paid sick days, raises, and better healthcare and other benefits.

Were it not for workers blowing the whistle, we might never have known the hazards they faced or gotten the kinds of improvements that saved lives. In addition to these much-needed tangible gains for an eclectic class of workers, pandemic-era activism shifted the national conversation about worker justice in ways the previous decade failed to do.

This blog originally appeared in full at In These Times on November 22, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Jamie McCallum is a professor of sociology at Middlebury College and the author of Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work Is Killing the American Dream.


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Employers are Using the “Labor Shortage” to Harm Workers

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Sarah Lazare

The “so-called “labor shortage” in the United States has quickly become a catch-all justification for policies that prevent workers from gaining too much power on the job, or collectively organizing by forming unions. 

Not enough applicants for low-paid jobs packing meat, or working the cash register at Dairy Queen? Better crank up the Federal Reserve’s interest rates (a policy explicitly aimed at spurring a recession and putting people out of work), so that we have a larger reserve of the desperate unemployed. Pandemic-era social programs ever-so-slightly redistributing wealth downward? Better shut them down, lest we eliminate the supposed precarity needed to incentivize work.

The concept of a labor shortage can be used to effectively justify any anti-worker policy under the sun. From reading the financial press or listening to business elites, the shortage may seem like an economic fact — a material reality that is beyond dispute.

But, in reality, the framing of a “labor shortage” is at its heart ideological.

As long as we’re talking about a labor shortage, we’re not talking about a shortage of good, dignified union jobs. As long as we’re talking about how people “don’t want to work,” we’re not talking about how bosses don’t want to treat their employees with basic fairness and respect.

And as long as we’re talking about how it’s bosses who are supposedly hurting, we’re not talking about what it would take to build an economy that doesn’t perpetually harm the poor and dispossessed.

Some unions and labor activists talk about a “labor shortage” as well, but often in the context of arguing that the way to fix it is to increase pay, improve benefits and treat workers with basic dignity.

Peter Greene, who spent 39 years as a high school English teacher, put it this way in a Forbes article arguing against the framing of a “teacher shortage”: “You can’t solve a problem starting with the wrong diagnosis. If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn’t mean there’s an automobile shortage. If I can’t get a fine dining meal for a buck, that doesn’t mean there’s a food shortage. And if appropriately skilled humans don’t want to work for me under the conditions I’ve set, that doesn’t mean there’s a human shortage.”

As the economist J.W. Mason pointed out in August, labor market conditions are indeed tight, though “there is not a labor shortage in any absolute terms.” Still, he notes, some may welcome the opportunity to change “employment dynamics” presented by such market conditions, which can give workers more bargaining power.

“When jobs are plentiful, the fear of losing yours is less of a deterrent to standing up to the boss,” he writes. “And people who are reasonably confident of at least getting a paycheck may begin to wonder if that is all their employer owes them.”

These market conditions present an opportunity to raise fundamental questions about who the economy should serve, how we can chip away at inequality and life-shortening poverty, and how we can build a society where utter destitution is not an anvil constantly waiting to drop. But instead, what we hear is fearmongering about a “labor shortage” that centers the perspective of the boss. 

From CEOs to politicians to media pundits, people in positions of power are cynically using the “labor shortage” to push for regressive policies that they pursued well before the present-day market conditions. Some of the proposed “solutions” — like rolling back child labor protections, or getting women out of the workforce — are so outrageous that they can help shine light on how the very concept of a “labor shortage” is being used to shift the conversation away from policies and practices that would actually help the working class.

“Labor shortage” means we need to roll back child labor protections.

The conservative organization, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), has cited the so-called labor shortage to justify its efforts, alongside local business associations, to roll back child labor protections in at least three states, as Workday Magazine and The American Prospect previously reported.

All of these bills are aimed at expanding the hours children are allowed to work. The proposed bill in Ohio would permit 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 9:00 p.m. on a school night, with permission from a parent or legal guardian. (It would apply to all employers not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a piece of federal labor law.)

A similar bill in Wisconsin would have let 14- and 15-year-olds work until 9:30 p.m. on a school night, and until 11:00 p.m. on non-school-nights. That legislation, which also would have applied to employers not covered by the FLSA, was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers after passing the state legislature.

But a similar effort was successful in New Jersey, which, this July, passed a bill that permits 14- and 15- year-olds to work up to 40 hours during the summer. (That measure rolls back state laws, which were previously more protective than the FLSA.)

The “labor shortage” has been directly referenced in each of these campaigns. “Our members’ inability to fill workplace vacancies has catapulted to the top concern currently facing the success of their businesses,” NFIB said in December 2021 testimony to support the Ohio measure.

This messaging echoes that made by companies.

“This would fill a void in many places,” Mike Todd, a Dairy Queen owner in Pickerington, Ohio, said in January when supporting the state-level bill. “Not just the quick service restaurant industry, but other businesses within the entire service industry.” 

Yet, beyond the obvious problems — that working too many hours can harm children’s development, and that child labor laws were established to protect vulnerable members of society from the brutality of overwork — the same entities that are pushing for these roll backs in the name of solving the “labor shortage” were pushing to erode labor standards long before any such shortage existed.

NFIB vociferously opposed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. And the organization was a major supporter of using the Supreme Court to hollow out public-sector unions, culminating in the 2018 Janus ruling, which decided public-sector workers can’t be required to pay union dues, even if they receive the services of a union.

This partial blog originally appeared in full at In These Times on November 22, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lazare is the editor of Workday Magazine and a contributing editor for In These Times.

Learn about workers’ rights at Workplace Fairness.


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This World Cup Is Brought to You By Abused Migrant Workers

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In a full-throated defense of 2022 World Cup host nation Qatar, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a press conference on Saturday, “Today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel disabled, today I feel a migrant worker…because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied.”

Criticizing the West, and Europe in particular, for migration policies, corporate profiteering off of Gulf oil, and “what we Europeans have been doing for 3,000 years around the world,” Infantino tried to draw attention away from multiple controversies plaguing the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA, the governing body for world soccer, is expected to bring in $6.5 billion in revenue from this year’s World Cup, a 25% jump from the 2018 games. Infantino himself made $3.2 million in 2019 alone.

Meanwhile, over 6,500 workers have reportedly died in construction for the games since the World Cup was awarded in 2010 to Qatar, reflecting widespread safety hazards and labor abuses.

Labor Recruitment and Exploitation

Migrant laborers have been forced to pay billions of dollars in fees since 2011 to “recruitment agencies” in order to secure jobs at companies contracted to build the stadiums in which national teams will compete over the course of the tournament.

According to numerous human rights observers, workers have faced nonpayment of wages for up to a year, wage theft, severe mental health issues, 14-hour workdays, and a range of other abuses and poor conditions.

“Who in the world aside from billionaires can afford not being paid for 10 months or a year?” said Namrata Raju, the India Director for Equidem, a London-based human rights organization that has issued several critical reports on labor conditions in the Gulf.

Among the findings of Equidem’s most recent report, titled “If we complain, we are fired,” are reports of forced labor, workplace violence, health-and-safety issues and nationality-based discrimination. The report is based on conversations with about 1,000 workers conducted over the past three years, including 60 in-depth interviews.

One anonymous Kenyan worker cited in the report says, “Supervisors would hit us in front of other workers to pressure us to work faster and complete our work on time. This physical abuse was never addressed.”

Conditions in Qatar’s leadup to the World Cup have been under fire for years since the country was awarded the games in 2010, and are part of a more general set of labor problems under the Gulf’s kafala system. This labor regime closely ties the low-wage migrant workers that the region’s economy depends on to their employers and leaves them with almost no voice and subject to massive abuses.

Human rights groups have reported that up to 10,000 migrant workers from South Asia, the Philippines, and other countries die in the Gulf each year.

Labor Reforms

After international pressure, the Qatari government has undertaken reforms since 2017 to mitigate the worst of the abuses, entering into an agreement with the International Labor Organization.

The reforms included a minimum wage increase, an end to requiring “exit permits” for migrant workers to leave Qatar, and the ability to change jobs without permission from the employer. The ILO reports mixed results, but abuses are reportedly continuing even as the World Cup gets underway.

Equidem’s Raju says the situation remains “dire” for migrant workers in the country. She describes the reforms as “lip service” because of a lack of enforcement and notes that labor unions remain illegal for migrant workers in the country. Strikes and protests by migrant workers are also illegal in Qatar.

Equidem is urging Qatar to set up a migrant workers’ center to allow workers an avenue to complain without being “terrified of some kind of punitive action,” in Raju’s words.

The “first step [is] for workers to feel safe,” Raju says.

Qatar’s government has argued that the criticisms it has faced are the product of anti-Arab racism, with the country being targeted on issues ranging from the freedom of the press to LGBTQ+ rights.

At least one former World Cup migrant worker who In These Times spoke with agreed that Qatar has been selectively targeted, even though the anti-worker abuses are real.

Md. Emran Khan reported having worked 14-hour-days in Qatar as a technical assistant making and testing concrete for Qatari contractor Advance Construction Technology Services from 2016 to 2018.

“If it was in the U.S. or Europe, would the media be paying this much attention to worker abuses like these?” he asked in Bengali.

Khan now works for the Awaj Foundation in Bangladesh assisting prospective, current, and former migrants. He argues that Qatar is the best migration destination in the Gulf for South Asian migrants.

Racism in Labor System

But Raju at Equidem argues that if Qatar were serious about racism, it would address the racism inherent in its labor system.

“I would ask them, if [they understand] what racism means, why do they have a two-tier labor system?” she asked.

In the Gulf, different labor rules apply to migrants, who are predominantly African, South Asian and Filipino workers, leaving them in a much worse position than nationals and citizens of other Arab countries. For example, Qataris are allowed to form trade unions, while migrant workers are not.

Raju says, “We’re asking [FIFA] to compensate all of these workers [in Qatar]. So many workers have not been paid.”

A returned Nepali migrant worker pseudonymously titled “Hari” in a video released by Human Rights Watch describes how he worked in Lusail, Qatar’s second largest city, where, he says, “there wasn’t a single building anywhere” when he arrived.

“Now there are towers everywhere. We built those towers,” says Hari.

Equidem’s report also notes “a pattern of egregious worker rights abuses during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2018 World Cup in Russia.” For example, workers in Brazil worked 84-hour weeks and there were also thousands of evictions of working-class residents to make way for construction.

FIFA, Qatar’s government, and Qatar’s body in charge of its World Cup preparations, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, did not respond to requests for comment.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 22, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is contributes news and blogs concerning labor to In These Times.

Learn more about workers’ rights, at Workplace Fairness.


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