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New England UAW Workers Join Parade of Local Unions Endorsing Bernie Sanders

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A New England United Automobile Workers (UAW) local this week voted to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, the latest in a stream of union locals across America backing Sanders even when their national parent unions have not issued endorsements.

The executive board of UAW Local 2322, representing about 5,000 workers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, voted to endorse the Sanders campaign, reported here for the first time. Anais Surkin, the local’s president, said that the board chose to endorse based on widespread support of Sanders by the members, and as a result of frustration with the UAW international’s lack of a process for backing candidates in the Democratic primary.

“What are they gonna do to us as a local if we endorse?” Surkin said. “We can and should express the will of the membership… the [Sanders] campaign isn’t focused just on the national leadership of unions. It’s focused on member-to-member communications.”

Local 2322 is an amalgamation of 27 different shops, including graduate student workers, child care workers, health care workers and teachers. There was not a vote of the full membership regarding the endorsement, but the board plans to bring its endorsement to a meeting of the joint council of all the bargaining units later this week and expects to gain their formal support.

The UAW, like many national unions, has not endorsed a candidate in the Democratic primary. Despite the decision of some national unions to bide their time until the general election, the Sanders campaign has been picking up endorsements from local unions across the country all year. In January, Sanders won the endorsement of a 10,000-member SEIU branch in New Hampshire. In February, 7,000 members of the American Federation of Musicians in Los Angeles backed him. Last week, he picked up the endorsement of UFCW 21, a 46,000-member local in Washington state; this week, he was endorsed by AFGE Local 704, a notable high-profile endorsement from federal workers at the Environmental Protection Agency. His campaign has also been endorsed by tens of thousands of people collectively represented by locals of AFSCME, CWA, UNITE HERE and other unions that chose not to issue primary endorsements on the national level.

National unions that have chosen to endorse candidates in the primary other than Sanders have risked an internal backlash. Last week, Sanders supporters within the IBEW released a letter signed by 1,300 members calling on their parent union to retract its endorsement of Joe Biden. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which endorsed Biden this month after backing Bernie in 2016, is also the subject of an internal effort by Sanders supporters to get that endorsement retracted. And the leadership of the Culinary Union, the powerful UNITE HERE local in Las Vegas, found itself at the center of a week-long hostile news cycle after it tried to dissuade members from voting for Sanders because of his support for Medicare For All, only to see him win the Nevada caucus with strong support from those very Culinary Union members.

The vocal backing of Bernie Sanders within organized labor is propelled in part by Labor For Bernie, a volunteer group rich with labor organizers who work to build and coordinate his support in the union world. Indeed, Anais Surkin says that many of the members of UAW 2322 have been organizing for Bernie on the side, helping to enhance his support within the union. The bulk of the local’s members are in Massachusetts, which votes on Super Tuesday (March 3). Even though the state is the home of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Labor For Bernie volunteers are optimistic that Sanders may have a chance to win there now, building on his momentum from Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

“It’s a campaign that stands for the things we stand for,” Surkin said. “This is a way to take them beyond the confines of our collective bargaining agreements.”

Read the full endorsement here.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

Labor Unions Were Crucial in Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire Victory

Sen. Bernie Sanders has emerged victorious following the nation’s first Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday. The win further solidifies Sanders’ position as the frontrunner in the race to take on President Trump in November’s general election.

Sanders was propelled to victory in the Granite State with help from a broad coalition of grassroots activist networks and community organizations, including Rights & Democracy New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Youth Movement and the Sunrise Movement. Campaign volunteers knocked on 150,000 doors across the state this past Saturday alone.

Another crucial player in Sanders’ New Hampshire coalition: organized labor. One of the state’s largest unions—the over 10,000-member State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire/SEIU Local 1984—endorsed the Vermont senator last month. Since then, the union’s members have been door-knocking and phone-banking for Sanders, and the local’s union hall in Concord has been used as a staging area for canvassers.

“Senator Sanders not only talks the talk about building a fair economy but has been walking the walk his whole career,” SEA/SEIU Local 1984 president Rich Gulla tells In These Times. “He’s somebody you can trust. He hasn’t just said, ‘ok, I’m running for president and this is what I think people want to hear.’ He believes in what he’s doing.”

Gulla explains that last September, Sanders joined a rally of nursing home workers in Brentwood, New Hampshire who were trying to unionize with SEA/SEIU Local 1984.

“What impressed me about him, he didn’t once talk about his run for president,” Gulla says. “He engaged the employees there and got them talking about why they wanted to unionize. Before he left, he pulled folks aside and kind of gave them a pep talk. He was speaking from the heart.”

A few days later, the nursing home workers successfully voted to join the union.

Another major New Hampshire union endorsement for Sanders came in December from the statewide organization of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), as well as APWU Local 230 in Manchester.

“What I appreciate about Bernie more than anything is that he gets the interconnectivity between problems,” says Janice Kelble, legislative director of New Hampshire APWU. “He’s been a huge advocate of postal banking, which is a win-win. It helps people in communities that don’t have banking available and helps strengthen the Postal Service. It solves a number of problems at once and he seems really good at doing that with a lot of issues.”

Kelble says APWU members were canvassing and phone-banking across the state, as well as attending campaign rallies, debates and town halls to show their support for Sanders.

Nationally, Sanders has been endorsed by the United Electrical Workers, National Nurses United, the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the national APWU. He also has the backing of the Clark County Education Association—the largest teachers’ union in Nevada—along with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which went on strike last January with Sanders’s support.

Over the past year, Sanders has repeatedly used his platform to draw attention to union battles large and small across the country. Using its expansive contact lists, his campaign has called on supporters to join workers on picket lines and at rallies. Through his Workplace Democracy Plan, which would remove the many legal barriers to unionization, Sanders aims to double union membership if elected president.

Meanwhile, ahead of the February 22 Nevada caucus, the leadership of the influential Culinary Workers Union of Las Vegas Local 226, has begun flooding its membership with a flyer attacking Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. The union, which runs its own health insurance program, is warning members that Medicare for All would “end” their healthcare—parroting talking points that moderates such as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have employed in the Democratic race.

Labor leaders like Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, have come to the defense of Medicare for All, noting that by guaranteeing healthcare to everyone and removing it as a subject of contract negotiations, unions would be in a more advantageous position when bargaining over other issues like wages, paid leave and workplace safety.

“Bernie’s behind the labor movement. Not just when it’s popular. He’s marched on our picket lines, he’s helped us organize, he’s championed our legislation in Congress. He’s got a 30- or 40-year track record,” Rand Wilson, an organizer with SEIU Local 888, tells In These Times. “To ignore that and support other candidates that just mouth the words is almost disrespectful to a person who’s been that much of a friend to labor and who’s got that much to offer.”

Wilson is an activist with Labor for Bernie, a network of Sanders supporters in the labor movement. Started in 2015 during the senator’s last run for the presidency, Labor for Bernie’s mission is to educate workers about why Sanders is the best candidate—and to help rank-and-file union members encourage their unions to endorse him.

“He’s best positioned to energize a movement, particularly of millennials and the youth who are going to be key for the ground game, key for the door-knocking and phone-banking and texting and rallies that will shape this election,” Wilson explains, adding that Sanders is also “the only candidate to actually take votes away from Trump’s base.”

Kelble says she thinks a lot of people voted for Trump in 2016 “because they were looking for somebody who wasn’t going to do business as usual” and “decided to take a chance with somebody who was talking about how much he cared about their issues.”

“Well, they were dead wrong about Trump and we’ve suffered a lot of disasters because of it,” she continues. “Hopefully this time voters will have the opportunity to select somebody who’s really going to be there for us. I can’t remember ever having the opportunity to elect an advocate for working people like we do today.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

Bernie’s labor support snowballs

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Most national unions haven’t picked a favorite yet in the Democratic presidential primary.

It’s been a boon for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has already racked up 11 labor endorsements, more than any of his Democratic rivals, most of which are from local, regional and statewide unions. And some are among the most powerful labor organizations in early-voting and Super Tuesday states.

“He’s picking up more labor endorsements because the national unions, almost without exception, have not made endorsements, which implicitly or explicitly sets the local and regional unions free,” said David Kusnet, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton who co-authored a book with an ex-AFL-CIO president. “He has a lot of friends and fans and supporters in the union movement, and some of them are succeeding in pushing their local labor unions to endorse him.”

The local endorsements are filling the political void left by national unions, still gun-shy after the acrimonious 2016 primary election left many rank-and-file members furious that their leaders supported Hillary Clinton over Sanders. Most are staying neutral for now, including some that have longstanding relationships with Joe Biden.

Five unions have come out for Biden, including three international or national unions, and three have gone for Warren, one of which is a national group that also co-endorsed Sanders. None has endorsed Pete Buttigieg.

The support of labor unions such as New Hampshire’s SEIU Local 1984, which represents more than 10,000 members, gives Sanders a boost of momentum and ground troops in critical early-voting states. Sanders has also won the backing of large teachers local unions in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, and in Nevada.

“We will have boots on the ground, canvass for him, get out the vote,” said Rich Gulla, president of SEIU Local 1984. “He’s talking good-paying jobs, he’s talking health care. I think he’s resonating with labor and, quite frankly, with a lot of working people in this country that are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, and I think that’s why he’s getting the endorsements that he’s getting.”

Though Biden has fewer unions backing him, he won the support of two international unions that together represent nearly 400,000 U.S. members: the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Iron Workers. Sanders has three national unions behind him.

Given teachers’ and nurses’ close relationships with members in their communities, Sanders’ team is hopeful that their canvassing will be especially effective.

It’s unclear which candidates other labor groups will endorse as the primary unfolds. More building trades are expected to side with Biden at some point, and there is a possibility that some pro-Sanders local unions will put pressure on their national unions to put their weight behind him.

Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under the Clinton administration, suggested that Sanders’ success stems from his work courting unions and their members, including by proposing to offer them advantages if Medicare for All passed. Under his plan, businesses whose workers have union-negotiated health care coverage would have to renegotiate their contracts if single-payer became the law of the land — and direct any windfall to the employees.

“Sanders has been particularly diligent in appealing to unions and workers. He’s proposed expanding union power and doubling union membership during his first four years in office. He’s demonstrated solidarity with striking workers,” Reich said. “Many unions are still weighing other candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, but Bernie seems to be in the lead right now.”

Sanders might also be benefiting from the effort he’s made to professionalize his 2020 campaign, including his political operation. In 2016, he had no political director. Analilia Mejia, who previously worked for SEIU and UNITE HERE, is now his national political director.

“I come out of the labor movement. My deputy comes out of the labor movement. A bunch of the staff comes out of the labor movement,” she said. “I was talking to one labor leader and they were like, ‘It’s nice to talk to a campaign that understands the difference between a lockout and a strike.’”

Sanders’ campaign has also texted and emailed its supporters to encourage them to stand on picket lines and raise money for labor groups.

“When I was political director [for unions], the thing I most wanted was a big turnout at my actions. And we were like, ‘Hey, wait — we have a list of people who care about Bernie. Let’s tell them they should come out in solidarity,’” Mejia said.

While Sanders’ supporters in labor unions are campaigning for him in early states, the pro-Biden Fire Fighters are blanketing the same areas. In Iowa, international leaders are meeting with locals and educating them about the caucus process, including how to persuade people during the second alignment.

“That is when you can use the influence, the voice, your reputation with your neighbors to say, ‘Come stand with us. Stand with your firefighters and stand with Joe Biden,’” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the IAFF. “They trust you, they admire you, they hold you in high regard.”

This article was originally published by Politico on January 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.

Sanders and Warren pledge to skip next debate if the alternative is crossing a picket line

The next Democratic presidential debate had its location changed over a labor boycott of the University of California. Now, top contenders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren say they will skip the debate if a labor dispute with the new location, Loyola Marymount University, isn’t settled.

Food service workers at the university have been in contract negotiations with Sodexo, the company that employs them, for over a year. With the negotiations stalled, the workers have held pickets, and a Democratic debate could provide them leverage. It’s a little late in the game for the debate to be moved again, but the university could pressure Sodexo.

At the time of this writing, none of the other candidates who have qualified for the debate have committed to honor a picket line.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

How Bernie Sanders would give power to workers in their companies

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Bernie Sanders unveiled a multi-pronged plan Monday aimed at giving more power to workers in their companies, ending corporate greed, breaking up monopolies and increasing taxes on big businesses.

“For more than 40 years, the largest and most profitable corporations in America have rigged the tax code and our economy to redistribute wealth and income to the richest and most powerful people in this country,” the Vermont senator said in a statement. “The American people are saying enough is enough.”

Sanders put out the proposal as he was off the campaign trail recovering from a heart attack. He participated in a union-sponsored candidate forum Sunday via video, and said he will attend Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

What would the plan do?

Sanders wants to provide workers with an ownership stake in their businesses: Under his proposal, employees at large companies would be given 20 percent of the shares. They would also have control of 45 percent of the seats on the board of directors at corporations.

Sanders’ agenda would also raise the corporate tax from 21 percent to 35 percent, which was the rate before the Republicans passed the 2017 tax cut. He vows to review the mergers approved by President Donald Trump’s administration and undo any that were “improper,” lays out a proposal to combat offshore tax havens, and promises to treat large stock buybacks “like stock manipulation” as well.

Sanders’ aides estimated that Amazon would have paid as much as $3.8 billion in taxes last year if his policies had been in effect.

How would it work?

Companies that meet Sanders’ guidelines — ones that are publicly traded or bring in $100 million or more in annual revenue — would be required to give at least 2 percent of their stock to their employees every year, until they reach 20 percent.

Those businesses would also need to put aside 45 percent of their corporate board seats to be elected by the company’s employees.

Sanders would also create a $500 million “U.S. Employee Ownership Bank” that would give loans to workers who want to buy their businesses.

Who opposes it?

Conservatives say that raising the corporate tax would eliminate jobs, reduce wages and hurt the economy.

How does it compare?

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Warren released a plan to require that 40 percent of seats on corporate boards be elected by workers. As Warren has risen in the polls, Sanders and his aides have begun to draw contrasts between the two candidates.

Sanders’ worker ownership proposal is the latest example. His wealth tax also goes beyond what Warren called for, and he has said that his agenda to fight climate change is the “most comprehensive” ever.

This article was originally published by Politico on October 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.

Only Bernie’s Green New Deal Answers Greta’s Call for Action

Image result for christopher d. cookIn a bit of reverse parenting, the young climate strikers are teaching the rest of us an embarrassingly obvious lesson in moral clarity and courage. Mobilizing more than 7 million people across 185 countries September 20–27—with about 1,000 actions in the United States alone—youth struck a thunderous blow against adults’ insane intransigence regarding our climate meltdown.

Students have been striking for our climate future since at least 2015, but September’s actions were by far the largest, featuring huge marches, civil disobedience (activists shut down the “Wall Street West” financial center in San Francisco on September 25), and truthtelling before the United Nations—significantly ratcheting up awareness and pressure.

The question following this profound inspiration is: What next?

As the global climate strike’s website warns, it “simply won’t be enough if it stops this week and people just go home.” To reverse today’s climate madness, we must connect the strikes and protests with politics and policy.

Here, too, young folks are showing us the way, with strike organizers demanding an end to all fossil fuel extraction, a rapid transition to 100 percent clean energy and support for the victims of climate chaos, which is “mainly caused by rich people and mostly suffered by the poor.”

But the adults still hold the levers of political and economic power (for now). In 2018, carbon emissions rose to an all-time high, and the adults still aren’t acting. As Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg observed in her scathing speech before the UN Climate Summit, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

Even the UN summit leaders who claim to support Thunberg’s message are dithering as the world burns. “There’s a big dissonance between every leader saying to Greta ‘we hear you’ and the commitments they are putting onto the table,” Isabel Cavelier, a former climate negotiator for Colombia, told the Guardian. “China said absolutely nothing new, India mentioned commitments made in the past, the U.S., Canada and Australia aren’t here.”

In the United States, while a climate denier sits in the Oval Office, the Democrats are fumbling away our future in their own fog of delay and denial. In 2018, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sidelined the Green New Deal while forming a relatively toothless climate committee. This summer, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) refused to hold a climate debate to put a spotlight on candidates’ climate plans

These moves reveal a mainstream Democratic Party that is in deep denial about the danger of its cuddly relationship with capitalism and corporate power, two chief drivers of climate disaster. As Mother Jones reported, in 2018 oil and gas companies gave $198,000 to the nine Democrats sitting on Pelosi’s climate committee. The DNC had briefly banned accepting donations from the fossil fuel industry that year, until DNC Chair Tom Perez reversed the policy.

To meet this moment, we must create a new politics, economics and culture—a new system of producing and consuming far less—that makes climate repair and justice the central driving force of our actions. Climate change is not “another issue,” but the issue that defines the others.

Only one major U.S. politician has put forth a serious, urgent and comprehensive Green New Deal proposal: Sen. Bernie Sanders. Investing $16 trillion over 10 years (nearly five times what fellow presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls for), Sanders’ plan stands out for creating millions of jobs for displaced fossil fuel workers; pushing for publicly owned power companies; dramatically increasing financial support to decarbonize the Global South; and zeroing all emissions from electricity and transportation by 2030—all of it on a faster timeline than his rivals.

If we are to celebrate Greta and the climate-striking youth, we must embrace Sanders’ sweeping Green New Deal. Otherwise, what are we rallying and marching and striking for?

Mainstream media and hand-wringing liberals fret over the price tag, but the alternative would cost more. As Sanders’ website states, “Economists estimate that if we do not take action, we will lose $34.5 trillion in economic activity by the end of the century. And the benefits are enormous: by taking bold and decisive action, we will save $2.9 trillion over 10 years.”

We cannot afford inaction: Pay big now, or pay far more in dollars and lives soon. Regardless of who you like for president, radical and immediate climate action must be job number one.

How do we turn the climate strikes into concrete success? The vital array of direct action and street-heat movements, along with climate policy pressure groups, must continue to coalesce, put tangible pressure on politicians and force immediate policy change, starting with the Green New Deal. The climate chaos bill has come due, and it’s time to pay it down and forward.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on October 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis. His writing has appeared in Harper’sThe AtlanticThe Nation, the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. You can reach him at http://www.christopherdcook.com/.

Bernie Sanders to Chicago Teachers: Worker Militancy Is Key to Fighting the Corporate Elite

When Chicago teachers led a historic strike in 2012, they boasted the critical backing of the public—but high-profile political allies were hard to come by. With then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the teachers’ nemesis, national Democrats stayed far away from the fight, and even a number of so-called “progressive” city council members opposed the walkout, including the now-disgraced former 1st Ward Alderman Proco ‘Joe’ Moreno who referred to the strike as “selfish.”

On Tuesday night, a very different scene was on display inside the headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—one of the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020—headlined a raucous rally to support the teachers in their ongoing contract fight with new Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Sanders was flanked by union leaders, community activists and a number of the city’s newly-elected democratic socialist aldermen, all of whom pledged to back the teachers. As Sanders stated as he took the stage, “I think that the Chicago school board should be very nervous.”

The Chicago visit marked a continuation of Sanders’ unique approach to his second presidential campaign, in which he’s not just supported labor battles, but positioned them front and center—manifestations of the political revolution he aims to foment. He has utilized his vast email and phone lists to turn supporters out to picket lines, and directly targeted bosses such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in order to raise workers’ wages. He has joined rallies of striking workers—as he plans to do Wednesday in Detroit to back the UAW’s ongoing strike. And, fundamentally, he has used his campaign as a vehicle to propel the revitalization of a militant U.S. labor movement.

But these aren’t acts of beneficence. To Sanders, an invigorated movement of the working class is the only way to achieve the type of bold redistributive policies that are central to his campaign, from Medicare for All to the cancellation of all student debt.

As Sanders stated at the teachers’ rally Tuesday, “For the last 45 years there has been a war in this country by the corporate elite against the working class of our nation.” And, he continued, “the only way to win prosperity for working people is when we significantly increase membership in trade unions all across America.”

“It’s about dignity”

Tuesday marked the first day of voting among CTU members on whether to authorize a strike, which could begin as soon as October 7. The union, which claims over 25,000 members, must reach a threshold of 75% of ‘yes’ votes to ratify a walkout. If recent history is any indication, that won’t be a herculean task. Ahead of the 2012 strike, nearly 90% of all CTU members who cast a ballot voted to walk out. In 2016, the figure was even higher—close to 96%—though that action was ultimately narrowly avoided.

Contract negotiations have reached an impasse over demands by teachers for more wraparound services and classroom resources at city schools. The union claims that there remain far too few librarians, social workers, counselors, nurses and paraprofessionals to adequately staff the district’s 514 schools, and that the Lightfoot administration is refusing to address these shortages in firm contract language. Teachers are also calling for smaller class sizes, investments in special education, and support for undocumented students through a “sanctuary school” program.

“This is about way more than just pay,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey to the boisterous crowd of teachers and supporters Tuesday night. “It’s about dignity, and the fact that our schools suffer from critical staffing shortages…It’s about the schools that Chicago’s children deserve.”

The rally also featured teachers giving first-hand testimonials of why they are voting to authorize a strike. Jamie Schnall, an educator at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary on Chicago’s South Side, echoed Sharkey’s claims, saying: “Large class sizes aren’t just in my kindergarten classes, it’s the entire building. They take more time to plan, to incorporate into lessons, and more time to get individualized attention. We need class size limits.”

And Adlai E. Stevenson Elementary teacher Norma Noriega highlighted the need for strong contract language guaranteeing safety for undocumented youth. “Our students are terrified of ICE,” she said. “We’re demanding sanctuary for all of our students. We fight for sanctuary because our students deserve to feel—and be—safe in their schools.”

“Everybody is going on strike”

But CTU members aren’t the only school workers on the verge of striking. Tuesday’s rally was also organized alongside SEIU Local 73, a union representing more than 29,000 workers, over 7,000 of whom who work in education-related positions such as custodians, special education assistants and security guards.

Local 73 members are demanding higher pay, increased staffing and an end to privatization deals that purge their ranks—such as the city’s agreement with contractor Aramark that brought private custodians into public schools, and left them in horrendous conditions. The union’s membership has already voted overwhelmingly to go out on strike, which could begin as soon as next month—potentially coinciding with that of the CTU.

Already in Chicago, thousands of nurses have gone out on strike in the past week at the University of Chicago Medical Center. On Monday, teachers at Passages charter school, who are members of the CTU, voted unanimously to authorize a walkout. And Chicago Park District employees announced at Tuesday’s rally that more than 94% of their members have voted to strike.

These actions come on the heels of recent strikes by Chicago hotel workers and orchestra musicians, as well as the first charter schools strikes in the country. Taken together, these displays of collective and concerted worker action represent a new approach for the city’s labor movement, moving into offense after years of being on its heels.

Jeanette Taylor, newly-elected alderwoman of the 20th Ward, summed up the newfound state of affairs at Tuesday’s rally, saying: “Everybody is going on strike in this city, and this is the right thing to do. We’re at a time in our lives when we can’t be silent anymore…we’ve got to stand and fight for each other.”

During his speech, Sen. Sanders urged the Chicago school board to “Sign a contract that deals with the desperate shortage of school nurses, of social workers, of librarians and of other critical staff that keep our schools going.”

“When we talk about valuing work, it’s not the hedge fund managers on Wall Street that we should value,” he continued. “It’s the teachers of this country, it’s the staffing, it’s the school nurses and the librarians.”

Supporting unions from the campaign trail

This isn’t the first time Sanders has used his 2020 campaign to lend support to Chicago workers in the midst of a labor dispute. In June, the campaign used its contact lists to call on supporters to join graduate student workers at the University of Chicago on their picket line. The campaign had previously done similar outreach to support striking workers at McDonald’s, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Mercy Health-St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. This mobilization, conducted through texts and emails, stands as an apparent first in modern presidential politics.

Directly pressuring employers to raise wages has been another strategy employed by Sanders’ campaign. The senator’s “Stop BEZOS Act,” introduced last fall, aimed to rein in corporate welfare and force large companies like Amazon to pay their workers a living wage. Weeks after the legislation was released, Bezos—the richest man in the world and a longtime target of Sanders’—raised his employees’ starting wages across the board to $15 an hour.

In each of these instances, Sanders did not single-handedly advocate for workers’ rights—he followed the lead of grassroots movements that were already putting forward bold demands. Whether it was grad student union members or the Fight for $15 movement, Sanders merely lent his support and voice to the labor struggles already underway. And the victories, such as Amazon’s wage raise, were made possible by organizers and rank-and-file activists—not simply a presidential candidate. Still, this type of overt worker solidarity has become a trademark of Sanders’ 2020 run.

The appearance in Chicago came the same day Sanders rolled out his wealth tax proposal, which would hit the top 0.1% of households and raise up to $4.35 trillion over the next ten years. Sanders has said that this money could be directed toward early childhood education, his ambitious housing plan and funding a Medicare for All system. Under the proposal, Jeff Bezos would be forced to pay $9 billion a year in taxes. As Sanders told the New York Times of his plan to target the super-rich, “I don’t think billionaires should exist.”

Sanders isn’t the only major presidential candidate to voice support for the Chicago teachers. On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted, “I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Chicago teachers making their voices heard to demand living wages, smaller class sizes, and all the things teachers need to do their jobs well.” The following day, former Vice President Joe Biden followed suit, tweeting, “I’m proud to support Chicago’s educators as they fight for fair wages, full staffing, and smaller class sizes.”

Seven years ago, Chicago teachers were able to emerge victorious in their strike even without help from the mainstream political class—locally or nationally. But today, following a wave of teacher strikes across the country which has shifted the political terrain decidedly in the direction of rebelling workers, and with all of the top Democratic candidates and an array of left-wing city council members in its corner, the CTU is poised to carry forward what the union initiated in 2012.

As Sanders said Tuesday night of the newfound labor insurgency, “What we are seeing is teachers standing up and fighting for justice.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 25, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is the Community Editor at In These Times. He is a Chicago based writer. miles@inthesetimes.com @MilesKLassin

Bernie Sanders unveils sweeping workplace democracy plan

Sen. Bernie Sanders has released his “workplace democracy plan,” a sweeping set of proposals for strengthening and modernizing U.S. labor laws that would, if enacted, create a major shift in the power balance in American workplaces. Sanders debuted the plan Wednesday as he and other candidates appeared at the Iowa Federation of Labor’s convention.

The reasons for the plan are at the core of Sanders’ candidacy. As its introduction notes, “Declining unionization has fueled rising inequality. Today, corporate profits are at an all-time high, while wages as a percentage of the economy are near an all-time low. The middle class is disappearing, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider”—and some key reasons for this aren’t a mystery. “There are many reasons for the growing inequality in our economy, but one of the most significant reasons for the disappearing middle class is that the rights of workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined.”

Sanders’ plan takes off from that point and has a lot of ways to fix it. Among them:

  • Allow workers to organize unions through a majority sign-up process.
  • Guarantee all workers, including domestic and farm workers, the right to unionize.
  • Prevent companies with new unions from exploiting loopholes to delay a first contract—currently “more than half of workers who vote to form a union don’t have a union contract a year later and 37 percent still do not have a first contract two years after the election” because of employer foot-dragging and weak labor laws.
  • Repeal Section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act, which allows states to pass so-called “right to work” laws, which allow workers to get out of paying union dues while getting the benefits of union representation.
  • Crack down on misclassification of workers as independent contractors, denying them minimum wage and overtime protections, workers comp and unemployment benefits, and more; or as supervisors, exempting them from overtime.
  • Keep companies from using franchises or contractors to evade responsibility for their workers. “If a company can decide who to hire and who to fire and how much to pay an employee at a franchise, that company will be considered a joint employer along with the owner of a particular franchise — and both employers must engage in collective bargaining over the terms and conditions of employment.”
  • Give federal workers the right to strike and all public sector unions the right to negotiate.
  • ”Issue an executive order to prevent companies from receiving federal contracts that outsource jobs overseas, pay workers less than $15 an hour without benefits, refuse to remain neutral in union organizing efforts, pay executives over 150 times more than average workers, hire workers to replace striking workers, or close businesses after workers vote to unionize.”

There’s more, too, including sectoral bargaining in which unions would negotiate a floor for an entire industry in a given area, working with wage boards set up by local governments, as well as a proposal for a careful transition from negotiated health plans to Medicare for All.

Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson notes that Sanders’ plan includes the labor law reform bill he proposed in the Senate in 2018, which was cosponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand. That mention of the Senate, of course, is a reminder of the hill that any pro-worker plan, let alone an ambitious one, has to climb. But some parts could be accomplished without Congress—plus, Democrats need to have big plans both to make the case for what a Democratic government would mean to voters and to be ready for moments of opportunity. Republicans don’t dream small, and neither should we.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on August 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

What Sanders’ political revolution looks like in real life

Image result for Holly OtterbeinIn May, an Illinois man emailed info@berniesanders.com with a plea: Graduate students at the University of Chicago were going on strike, and he wanted Bernie Sanders’ presidential team to help.

“I’ve been super inspired by seeing the Bernie campaign support similar actions,” he said.

A few days later, Sanders’ aides obliged, and then some: They used his massive email list to target his fans in the area, asking them to stand on the picket line with students. Some 100,000 texts and emails went out from the campaign, and hundreds of people showed up.

The Vermont senator’s team was ready to act quickly on the stranger’s request because it dovetailed with its plan to harness his state-of-the-art digital infrastructure and grassroots army of volunteers to keep Sanders’ promise to help American workers from the campaign trail. While other candidates have also stood on picket lines and used their email lists to raise money for progressive groups, the scale of Sanders’ efforts appears to be unparalleled in the 2020 field.

His moves also serve an important campaign purpose: to make clear to voters what Sanders means when he calls for a “political revolution.” His advisers acknowledge that the concept is fuzzy to some Democrats and they need to clearly show how he would usher in a revolt from the White House if elected president.

“He knows that when he talks about a revolution, there are some segments of people who don’t know what he’s talking about,” said Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager. “That’s why you see us trying to demonstrate that much more clearly — to give you a sense of what he would be like as a president.”

Sanders has tapped his email list to push his fans to join picket lines and labor rallies at Veterans Affairs hospitals, University of California campuses, Ralphs grocery stores, Reagan National Airport, a Kaiser Permanente campus, and McDonald’s restaurants in at least 12 places, including the first-in-the-nation caucus state Iowa and delegate-rich California. His efforts haven’t been limited to labor events: Sanders has also used his campaign apparatus to recruit volunteers to get out the vote for Queens District Attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán in New York and to boost turnout at a protest at a proposed migrant detention center in Oklahoma.

At times, Sanders’ team has utilized the same infrastructure to raise money for labor groups and other progressive organizations, like when it pulled in $100,000 for a strike fund for Los Angeles teachers by emailing its base. Sanders has also sought to portray himself as the country’s “organizer in chief” through public appearances, including when he crashed a Walmart shareholders meeting to push for a $15 hourly minimum wage or brought two buses of reporters and activists to Canada to highlight the exorbitant cost of prescription drugs in the United States.

The campaign’s moves reflect the intense competition underway for progressive voters and labor endorsements among the 20-plus candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. Sanders’ aides and allies are careful to point out that he has spent his career trying to build a political movement, including by standing on picket lines for decades. But they also think his efforts could help in the primary by building goodwill in the labor movement and distinguishing him from rivals.

“It’s not just about issues,” said Claire Sandberg, Sanders’ national organizing director. “It’s about whether you’re willing to pick the big fights.”

There’s evidence it’s working. Penny Logsdon, president of the Lee County, Iowa, Labor Council, said “it was wonderful” that Sanders utilized his email list to draw people to the group’s rally against President Donald Trump’s new trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

Scott Slawson, president of Pennsylvania’s United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America Local 506, had similar words for Sanders after the Vermont senator dragged his supporters to the union’s strike earlier this year. “The outpouring of support we had from the campaign was amazing,” he said.

After Sanders’ appearance at the Walmart shareholders meeting, the campaign revealed that the company’s workers were his biggest donor in the second fundraising quarter of the year. Likewise, the Los Angeles Unified School District was among the top 10 employers of donors to his campaign after the second primary debate last month.

Sanders’ campaign said it has sent hundreds of thousands of emails and a half-million texts to his supporters to push them to attend more than 50 strikes, protests and other events this year. It’s a significant investment for a presidential campaign, considering there’s only so much time or money Sanders’ supporters are willing to give overall, and he’s asking that they commit themselves to causes that only indirectly benefit his candidacy.

The decision to use his campaign in a sustained way to show solidarity with union members and other progressive groups was made before he launched his second bid for the White House, his aides said. According to his advisers, he determined he would only run for president again if he could do that. He believes that one of his biggest achievements is the fact that Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour after he rallied millions of people to the idea during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Sanders’ allies see his “theory of change” as one of the key ways he differs from fellow left-wing populist Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In their view, he’s pushing for change by building a movement to overturn the political and economic status quo, while she wants to overhaul the government by working from within the system. One former government official described Warren’s theory of change as being, “You focus on one or two levers, and you push them hard.”

But it’s unclear whether Sanders’ efforts are resonating with voters — or if Democrats, after three years of Trump, will want to be more engaged in politics, not less, once he leaves office.

Shi Williams, an operations coordinator at Philadelphia’s Hahnemann University Hospital, recently attended a rally protesting the planned closure of the facility where one of Sanders’ campaign co-chiefs spoke. Sanders’ team also emailed his supporters to push them to come to the event. Williams hasn’t yet decided who she’ll vote for in the Democratic primary, but she praised Sanders’ campaign for drawing attention to the cause.

“The more people that know about it, the more people that speak behind it, the more positive it is,” she said. “I like Bernie. Bernie’s for the people.”

There’s another problem facing Sanders: By his own estimation, no president in the history of the United States has pursued progress with a mass movement of workers. In other words, there’s no model for him to point to when he tries to explain to voters what a revolution would look like.

“We actually had this conversation one time, and he said to me candidly, ‘I don’t think there’s a precedent for this,’” Shakir said. “He thinks that’s one of the challenges that he faces, quite frankly, when he talks about building or bringing about a revolution.”

This article was originally published by Politico on August 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.

Did You Get a Text Inviting You to a Picket Line? It Might Be from Bernie Sanders.

As graduate student workers at the University of Chicago began a three-day work stoppage this week to demand union recognition, Sen. Bernie Sanders—one of the university’s most notable alumni—called on his army of supporters to join their picket lines through an email and text message blast.

One of Sanders’ supporters who received the message was UChicago graduate instructor Laura Colaneri, a member of the union Graduate Students United (GSU) and a PhD candidate in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Studies.

“It was a really awesome boost to get that message because I’m one of the workers involved in this action,” Colaneri told In These Times. “I’m excited to see a candidate using his status to support workers directly, not just by giving us a rhetorical line, but helping us out with an action that we’re doing.”

While candidates traditionally use their extensive contact lists to focus on fundraising or bringing people out to their campaign rallies, Sanders is undertaking an apparent first in modern presidential politics: using his lists to help mobilize turnout at worker-led actions.

Last month, the Sanders campaign helped turn supporters out to a one-day strike at the University of California campuses, where representatives said 1,000 people “responded with interest or committed to go to a protest.” The campaign also called onsupporters to join thousands of McDonald’s workers who went on strike across the country May 23 demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Sanders supporters were also recently encouraged to join healthcare workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on their picket line, as well as nurses at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. The campaign is currently working to turn supporters out for a march of McDonald’s workers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 9 that Sanders will join.

“I think it’s fair to say this is a workers’ movement as much as it’s a presidential campaign,” Bill Neidhardt, Midwest Press Secretary for the Sanders campaign, told In These Times. “And that’s exactly how we want it to be. That’s how you win. With a movement.”

Neidhardt noted that the Sanders team has previously used its contact lists to drive turnout for labor actions at Delta Airlines, Disney, Amazon, General Motors, Wabtec, Nissan and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Meanwhile, Sanders’ own employees recently unionized themselves, winning the first union contract for staff of a major party presidential campaign. Among other gains, the contract includes a $20-an-hour wage for interns at the Washington, D.C. campaign headquarters and a cap on manager salaries. Since the announcement, three other 2020 Democratic campaigns have unionized: those of former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“[Sanders’] objective is to strengthen unions as they’ve dwindled and been busted,” said Nanci Ponné, who joined GSU’s picket lines at UChicago on June 5 after receiving an email from the campaign. She was one of hundreds of people who joined GSU for a mass picket and rally that afternoon, many of them directed there by Sanders.

“Unions bring strength and power where workers didn’t have it before,” Ponné, who works in the Chicago hotel industry and identified as a member of Unite Here, told In These Times. “There’s no reason for Bernie not to use his awesome email list to empower unions that will help bring more benefits to workers.”

The three-day work stoppage at UChicago this week comes nearly 19 months after an overwhelming majority of graduate workers there voted to unionize with GSU in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

As at many other private universities where graduate workers recently voted to form a union, the UChicago administration continuously refuses to recognize GSU, claiming grad workers are more “students” than employees and therefore ineligible for union representation. With the NLRB now controlled by anti-union Trump appointees—who are poised to undercut the legal basis for grad worker unions—GSU has withdrawn from the formal Board process and is demanding voluntary recognition from the university.

“They’re stonewalling,” Colaneri said of the UChicago administration, adding that administrators called extra campus police out to the GSU pickets. “They keep saying it’s your free speech to do this, but then they’ve sent out emails to undergraduate students and their parents telling them to report if your graduate instructor isn’t in class. But we’re not letting it intimidate us.”

As a UChicago alumnus, Sanders has supported GSU throughout their fight for union recognition. “I hope very much that you will set an example throughout the world by supporting a democratic decision made by graduate students and teaching assistants,” the senator wrote university president Robert Zimmer in November 2017. “To appeal this decision to an anti-worker, Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board is not something that a world class institution of higher learning should do.”

No stranger to campus activism, while a student at UChicago in the early 1960s, the future presidential candidate helped lead a 13-day sit-in to demand an end to the university’s housing discrimination policy, was arrested protesting racial discrimination at Chicago Public Schools, and joined the youth wing of the Socialist Party.

“My four years in Chicago was an extraordinary moment in my life, and very much shaped my worldview and what I wanted to do,” Sanders said earlier this year.

With classes at UChicago now over for the spring, on the evening of June 5 GSU members voted to suspend their work stoppage. “We have shown the university, the world, and ourselves what we are capable of as a union, and how fundamentally the university depends on our work,” read a statement from the union.

“The amount of energy we’ve been able to sustain over three days is really incredible,” Colaneri said. “This doesn’t come from Bernie, it comes from us, from the workers being ready to fight for what we deserve. And it’s great to be supported in that, but not overshadowed. It’s not about Bernie, it’s really about us.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

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