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All Workplaces Need an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

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Every savvy employer knows that your workers are the heart and soul of your business. Without them, your company simply couldn’t survive. Unfortunately, though, employees have not always been afforded the respect and care they deserve. 

For too long, workers have been expected — and even required –to leave their concerns at the office door. But that is neither feasible nor desirable. If employers want the best from their employees, then they must be willing to give their staff the best in return. 

This is just one of the many reasons why implementing a robust employee assistance program (EAP) is so critical to building strong compassionate business leadership today. 

What Is an EAP?

Employee assistance programs (EAP) can take many forms, depending on the needs of your workforce and your company’s capacity to help meet them. EAPs are designed to offer diverse forms of support for employees facing particular life challenges — from illness to caregiving to preparing for retirement.  

In general, however, EAPs encompass a range of services — from financial planning assistance to legal and medical advocacy.

EAPs for Retirement Planning

No matter what the average age of your workforce or how young they may be in their careers, retirement is a concern for every worker. For those who are nearing retirement age, however, financial anxiety can take a devastating toll. 

Because of this, integrating assistance with retirement financial planning may well be one of the greatest benefits you can offer employees in your EAP.  The peace of mind of knowing that one can live securely and well in retirement can free employees of a tremendous burden, and in turn, promote their overall well-being, loyalty, and performance.

Medical Advocacy

There are few circumstances in life more frightening than when you or someone you love is facing a medical crisis. This is why ensuring that your employees have access to a patient navigator or medical advocate can be a tremendous asset for your EAP package. 

Patient navigators, for instance, can help your employees connect with care providers, manage health and life insurance policies, and in general, ensure that your employee and their loved ones receive the highest quality of care and the best possible patient experience.

The ability to access expert support such as that provided by a patient navigator or medical advocate may well mean a life or death difference for your worker or someone they love.

The Takeaway

Employee assistance programs (EAP) aren’t just an optional perk of doing business. They’re more than an ideal benefit to add to your workers’ compensation in the future. Today’s employees, after all, are facing challenges that could not have been imagined a few short years ago. From the trauma of the global pandemic to the current financial anxieties borne of a global economy on the verge of a recession, your staff has endured a lot, and they need support today.

An EAP is designed to provide that support, helping employees access the legal, medical, and financial resources they need to overcome whatever challenges they may face.  


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How to Ease Return-to-Office Anxiety

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Dan Matthews

Businesses have been returning to their offices post-pandemic for some time now, albeit to a ‘new normal.’ With such significant ongoing change and unprecedented concerns, returning to the office is understandably evoking some anxieties for both staff and employers. 

As an employer, it can be challenging to navigate these transitions while keeping staff anxieties down and productivity high. Here are some strategies to help manage employee anxiety when returning to office life.

Take the time to understand their anxieties

We can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge. So, before you attempt to support returning employees’ anxieties, it’s important to first understand what exactly they are feeling anxious about.

There can be a number of reasons why an employee may feel anxious about returning to the office environment; it could be a social anxiety after so long working from home, concerns about adapting back to the faster pace of office life, fear of feeling unsafe – the list goes on.

It can also sometimes be difficult for the employee themselves to pinpoint what they are feeling concerned about, so it’s essential to take the time to talk it through with them in an understanding way. In some instances, it can be helpful to create an anonymous form of reporting their worries, allowing them to feel more comfortable to share what they are feeling, and giving you a deeper insight as to what needs to be addressed. 

Provide tools and strategies to manage anxiety

It’s important to take a proactive approach to supporting your employees through this transition (as opposed to simply talking it out). 

Invest some time and resources into educating your staff on subjects such as stress and panic attacks, and provide them with a variety of coping strategy information. Encourage a judgment-free environment in which employees can feel comfortable practicing breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques at their desk, or request for some time-out to get some fresh air. 

This is also a great time to implement some general, ongoing wellness-related resources, such as wellbeing check-in apps and perks such as discounts on local yoga classes. It is important to also implement security technology that not only secures your employees in a physical and cyber space but also conveniently.

A type of technology that can help reduce anxiety about forgetting employee badges to gain access to buildings are keyless commercial access control systems, which leverage mobile phones as credentials instead of physical cards and fobs.

Stay open and flexible

When the pandemic hit, businesses (and everyone) had to adapt to being far more mentally flexible – virtually everything about our daily lives had to be recalibrated to fit into the chaos as best as possible.

This level of ongoing disruption brought about some changes that have not disappeared alongside the gradual quieting of Covid. Remote working might have been hard for some to adapt to, but once it became the norm, many workers have experienced the advantages and don’t want to return to the former working model.

According to a 2021 survey by FlexJobs, 98% of those who became remote workers during the pandemic either want to remain so (65%), or at least wish for ongoing flexible, hybrid work options (33%) post-Covid. Even more telling, is that 60% of respondents reported that they would seek new employment if their current position refused to allow ongoing remote working options. 

Unless your business will experience significant negative impacts from facilitating ongoing flexible work options, it’s in your best interests to remain flexible with your staff and be willing to reimagine how this new normal could look. 

Prioritize clear and meaningful communication

Staff resistant to returning to ‘normal’ office life may feel agitated and even confused as to why it’s necessary to do so. Left unaddressed, these feelings of confusion can lead to resentment, inevitably impacting working relations and productivity.

If returning to the physical office, either full or part-time, is unavoidable, then make sure you communicate clearly and openly with your staff. Make sure they understand the reasons behind your decision and why it’s so important to the running of the business.

Be willing to answer any questions or concerns, and also be open to hearing their opinion and ideas regarding how best to move forward; if you don’t agree, that’s fine, but at least you have heard them out and demonstrated your willingness to consider their point of view.

Outline all Covid-related protocols clearly 

As we know, the Covid-19 vaccination doesn’t fully protect us from contracting the virus, or passing it on to others. Some workers may be understandably concerned about the elevated risks of returning to the office, especially if they live with or care for vulnerable people. 

Make sure you adhere to all necessary Covid-19 protocols and keep your staff fully informed of all policies and requirements. Giving your staff the reassurance that all appropriate measures are being taken can help them to feel more comfortable about the return to office – some may be more concerned than others, and you will have to take this on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that you provide adequate consideration and understanding to their position. 

Meet your employees where they are at

Ultimately, your employees are all individuals with their own unique feelings, needs and concerns, and treating them as such will help to address any return-to-office anxieties. Investing in your employees should always be a priority, but all the more when there are so many changes afoot.

In many cases, people just need a little reassurance and a sense that their concerns are validated, so meet them where they are at and do what you can to meet their needs.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness by Dan Matthews.


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How Does a Company Qualify as a Great Place to Work?

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To ensure a company will succeed, it needs employees. That might seem obvious, but hiring and retaining the right ones can be tough. Hiring people is strenuous in and of itself, but keeping those people motivated to continue pursuing their career through your company can be even more challenging.

Some companies are considered a Great Place To Work and have a very
high retention rate when it comes to their employees. We hope this article helps you better understand how your business can reach this goal.

Culture and Values

All companies should have a list of values that they want their employees to live by, within their working hours. These values help create an atmosphere where employees feel like a team across all departments, in many different ways. Although a company may clearly state their values, they can be prioritized differently depending on the company and the administration team running the business. Employees coming in will learn and follow the example set by those
above them. This will have an effect on the way your employees work and if they choose to stay.

If the company and its reputable employees don’t abide by the values the company claims to work by, they might stray in a different direction. Sometimes this can get out of hand. An example of a value one company might list is integrity; the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

If an employee works for a company long enough, they will realize
quickly if that company actually portrays this value. Not only could this cause new hires to start cutting corners and become more outspoken in the wrong ways, but it could lead to a higher employee turnover rate.

Try to have an employee-first mindset when creating these values.

Benefits and Recognition

There are many ways for a company to grab the attention of someone in search of a job. Some might look for a specific salary, but not all can negotiate compensation. Others are simply looking for a company that will recognize their employees and show their appreciation for all the work they provide. Whatever category your company chooses to focus on, make sure the website or job listing points that out. When applying to jobs, this might be the first place people will look.

Sometimes compensation is harder to increase as this depends on how well the company is profiting. Providing the right benefits, allowing opportunities for employees to receive appreciation, and giving recognition when it’s due can balance out the happiness your employees feel when it comes to how the company treats them.

As far as benefits go, most companies will likely include your typical insurance coverage for medical, dental, and vision.

Along with these basic benefits, it is important to provide your employees with information regarding the open enrollment period. This is the time where employees can sign up for specific benefits and only occurs once a year. Letting them know about this period of time will allow your employees to make changes to their benefits in a timely manner, that won’t raise red flags for your insurance company.

The benefits that catch the eye of people in search of a job are the ones that aren’t so typical such as paid time off (PTO) and family medical leave. Some
companies also give out holiday bonuses as a thank you for the year’s work.

There are many different ways to give back to your employees, these are just a few options.

Networking and Events

Corporate team-building events are a great way to allow employees to connect on a more personal level. Sometimes those events look like networking. Networking is a chance for employees from one company to connect with others from similar companies. This could be great for many reasons. It could open up doors for companies to work together for a bigger purpose or combine their services to reach more potential customers.

Networking can also bring in new employees by providing classes for others to learn what it is your company specializes in. Consider networking as an event that goes outside of your business.

Other events within your company could be things such as holiday parties, in-office events, or happy hours that occur outside of the work day.

These events are a great way to help your employees feel truly connected. Throwing holiday parties is a fun way to give everyone a chance to unwind, while getting to know each other and can help boost morale. Happy hour would allow employees the same chance to relax while still conversing about work. Who knows… maybe a new idea could arise through these conversations.

In-office events could be for a birthday or achievement within the company. This just shows your employees how much you appreciate them and the work they provide.

Remember, we’re all human and we are all working towards a common goal.

Retaining employees could seem like a challenge at first, but organizing your thoughts and achievements can make your company a great place to work.


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Labor Did Not Get Much in the Good Years

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Hamilton Nolan

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, and an invisible clock started ticking.

That clock has been measuring the window of opportunity: The time during which Democrats held the White House and both branches of Congress. History told us that window would probably be closing with the 2022 midterm elections.

When you think back over the past two years, they may feel, subjectively, like a time of great chaos — Covid, economic peril and great political struggles over democracy itself. 

Wrong! The last two years were the good times.

The Democrats did better than expected in the midterms, but they appear likely to lose the House (thanks to gerrymandering). That’s all it will take to shut down the chance at any progressive legislation for the next two years.

For organized labor, the question worth asking now is: Did we take advantage of that opportune moment we had? The answer is no. And working people will suffer for that failure for many years to come. 

Political party power ebbs and flows, but movements are permanent. The labor movement has the same job after the midterms that it had before the midterms: to increase the power of working people relative to the power of capital. In the long sweep of American history, the movement has not been doing this job very well.

The political parties have swapped off control for the past half-century, but for virtually the entire time, union density has continued to decline, and economic inequality has widened. Individual victories notwithstanding, organized labor as an institution has been getting its ass kicked for generations now. 

Since Ronald Reagan swaggered into office, the national political situation has been that Republicans try to wipe unions off the face of the earth, and the Democratic Party — in exchange for huge campaign contributions — agrees not to try to wipe unions off the face of the earth.

Joe Biden’s election offered a respite from this depressing dynamic. Biden has been rightly called the most pro-union president of our lifetime. It’s a low bar, but one he meets. Jennifer Abruzzo, Biden’s choice to lead the NLRB, has pursued the most aggressive pro-union agenda that agency has ever seen. Though starved of resources and funding, the NLRB has been the one beacon that illustrates what a government that cared about labor could be. 

Legislatively, the union establishment made the passage of the PRO Act, which would transform America’s broken labor laws, their top priority.

This was a mistake. It was clear from day one that the PRO Act would never pass the 50-50 Senate unless we finally scrapped the filibuster. By lobbying for the law itself more voraciously than the structural change that is necessary to get the law passed, we got neither.

Even in this administration, the one that unions cannot stop declaring is the best ever, organized labor has had to settle for a smattering of nice-but-not-amazing regulatory changes from the White House, rather than any meaningful legislation. In retrospect, unions would have been better served by training all their firepower for the past two years on abolishing the filibuster and fully funding the NLRB, the only real government firewall against the hellacious illegal union-busting that corporations routinely engage in. 

The Democratic Party did in fact make an attempt to advance some transformative things in its big reconciliation package, once called Build Back Better, but those attempts crashed against the sullen wall of Joe Manchin. If the labor movement is being honest with itself, it will look back on 2021 and 2022 as a period of potential that was not taken advantage of.

If Republicans take control of even a single house of Congress, all legislative hope will instantly die; everything becomes mired in performative recriminations. There is plenty of promise on the state level for worker power — Illinois just enshrined collective bargaining in its state constitution, and Nebraska, for god’s sake, just passed a $15 minimum wage — but the climate for unions in Washington, D.C. is not going to be improving. 

The fact that this meager collection of crumbs is all that the labor movement has been able to shake loose from Washington over the past two years is a stark reminder that political power will always follow from labor power, not vice versa.

Do not fall into despair when the midterms spawn two years of mind-numbing debt limit showdowns over border walls and House investigations into Hunter Biden’s love life. Do not make the mistake we made in the Obama years, settling for the wolves of neoliberalism out of fear that the dragons on the right were even worse.

Go organize workers. Spend every last cent possible on organizing workers, before this moment of enthusiasm fades. Washington, D.C. is but one small speck in a vast nation of working people waiting impatiently to win a union. The labor movement’s future rests not on the outcome of the midterms, but on its willingness and ability to organize workers. Good things happen when we organize workers, and bad things happen when we don’t.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 14, 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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Independent Unions Are Great—And Proof of Labor’s Broken Institutions

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Hamilton Nolan

This year has brought a lot of stirring labor victories, a pace of union campaigns and strikes so frenetic that it’s easy to collapse in a puddle of undifferentiated cheering for stuff. The most important trend, though, has been the sudden rise of independent unions — organizing drives at untouched companies led by the workers themselves, not affiliated with any existing major unions.

The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) has been the biggest example of those, and an endless stream of others seem determined to follow in its footsteps. An independent union drive succeeded at Trader Joe’s, and they’ve popped up everywhere from Apple to Chipotle to Geico. Geico!

The rise of all of these independents is inspiring. It is the flowering of seeds that were planted by 40 years of rising inequality, and by the work of an entire generation of labor movement activists pushing unions as the solution. If we are being honest, though, the story of these independent unions is also a story about the brokenness of organized labor’s existing institutions. If we ignore half of the story, we won’t learn anything from this moment.

One thing that virtually every independent union that’s popped into being this year has in common is this: They are at places that should have been unionized a long time ago. I don’t just mean that in the generic sense of “all workplaces should have a union.” I mean that if America had a union movement with even a modicum of ability to do strategic planning on a national level, the big unions that already sit in these respective industries would have been working hard to build campaigns at many of these companies years ago.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), for example, is the grocery industry union. It should have been plainly obvious a decade ago, at least, that Trader Joe’s was a prime target: a successful, growing national grocery chain that also carried with it a cultivated reputation for caring about employees, as well as the community and social justice.

That is the absolute pinnacle of “characteristics of a company that should be a union organizing target.” The fact this country’s first Trader Joe’s union election happened in the year 2022 and was organized by workers themselves is a pretty harsh rebuke to the UFCW, which represents 835,000 grocery workers and has more resources than all but a handful of other unions.

Amazon? Apple? Chipotle? Geico? All of these are premier employers in industries that have existing unions. (In many cases, the existing unions have organizing drives at these companies themselves too: Communications Workers of America (CWA) is organizing Apple stores, and a Chipotle unionized with the Teamsters, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) is still deeply engaged at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, and UFCW is organizing Trader Joe’s — all of which are good examples of the ability of independent drives to energize moribund sectors, or to pick up excess demand where existing unions don’t.)

The problem here is not the failure of individual unions, but of an entire union establishment that has for decades accepted the proposition that it’s the responsibility of workers to come ask unions to organize them, not vice versa.

Let us imagine an American labor movement that had 1) A genuine belief that it is the responsibility of unions to offer every worker in their industry a true opportunity to unionize, and 2) A rudimentary level of central organization and accountability that could exert some pressure on unions that weren’t organizing to do a better job. In this fairy tale world, it would still take bravery and hard work and idealism from workers at all of these places to undertake the daunting and uncertain prospect of organizing their workplace for the first time.

The difference is that they would have all had the card of a union organizer in their pocket.

Because the unions in their respective industries would have made a strong effort to organize them, and would have made it their business to ensure that all the non-union workers at those companies knew that this union wanted to organize them, so when the stars aligned and the moment arrived when employees were ready to take on the challenge, they quite naturally would have thought of the existing union as their first phone call.

There are heroic union staffers everywhere, but not nearly enough of them.

The problem is not the individual people — the problem is this sort of thing, which should have always been the top priority of a labor movement that has been losing density for decades, has not been much of a priority at all.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared at In These Times on September 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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This Labor Day, Starbucks Workers Host Union “Sip-Ins” Nationwide

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This Labor Day weekend, Starbucks workers across the country will be rolling out the red carpet to their supporters. About 100 of the coffee chain’s stores are set to hold ?“sip-ins” from Friday, Sept. 2 to Monday, Sept. 5. (To see a map of locations, click here, and for a full list, click here.)

Sip-ins are loosely modeled after sit-ins. They mark designated times when supporters of a store are asked to come in, order low-priced drinks or water, and leave big tips. The events provide an opportunity for baristas and their supporters to engage in conversation about labor conditions and build community. 

“I’m a little nervous, but we’re excited,” said Samantha Shields, a 21-year-old barista at a Starbucks store in Washington, D.C. Her store filed to unionize in late August and is the first to organize in the city. She’s worried about retaliation as a result, she told In These Times.

Labor Day Strikes

Meanwhile, several stores will also be on strike. Additionally, in several large cities, other major events are also scheduled, pointing to a more expansive vision of what the nascent union can do for Labor Day. 

In Boston, a labor rally, a rank-and-file breakfast, and a reproductive justice rally will precede sip-ins on Labor Day. Starbucks workers are also rallying at the state capitals of Oklahoma and Texas. And Colorado baristas will converge on a Labor Day parade in Louisville in remembrance of the early 20th century Coal Wars, says fired Denver barista Ryan Dinaro, 23. 

“The goal of this [day of] action is to empower workers on Labor Day, it’s to send a message to Starbucks that they couldn’t run their business without us,” says Collin Pollitt, a barista in Oklahoma City. “They need to be held accountable,”

On Monday evening, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the union behind the organizing effort, is planning to host a web-based event. The event is for attendees of Labor Day events to have an opportunity to tune in so they can watch and discuss together.

“We’re not only building a movement for Starbucks workers, we’re building a cohesive labor movement,” says Tyler DaGuerre, a 27-year-old Boston barista. 

The array of different types of events, dominated by the sip-ins, reflects both the desire for coordinated action and the roles that different actors are playing in the SBWU-backed movement.

Early Organization

Conversation about SBWU’s Labor Day plans began in the early summer. Individual leaders in the Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and New England regions of SBWU including Pollitt, Dinaro, and DaGuerre, respectively, are among those who helped create the iteration that now exists.

They eventually did so as part of SBWU’s National Contract Action Team, the body charged with planning escalating direct actions to pressure Starbucks to negotiate a first contract. Workers United, the parent union for SBWU, first introduced the idea of a broad wave of sip-ins, which then received broad support from workers. 

Workers in some cities have also hinted at more militant events to follow in the days and weeks to come after Labor Day, noting that the next few months are Starbucks’ high season, though details were not yet available.

In the Boston area, the day’s events are themed around intersectionality, with a focus on reproductive rights, among other issues. ?“So long as we’re upholding one system of oppression, we’re therefore justifying our own,” says DaGuerre. ?“So it really needs to be a collective movement of intersectional solidarity.”

In Oklahoma, Pollitt was mindful of the need to make Labor Day relevant to today’s workers and also emphasized intersectionality. He wants to ?“spark a national discussion about labor” after what he describes as decades of stagnation. In Pollitt’s state, workers are gathering at the state capitol.

Collective Effort

Boosting community support is a key aim of the sip-ins. SBWU has a goal of gathering 30,000 signatures to its ?“No Contract, No Coffee” solidarity campaign over the course of the weekend.

Such support often, but not exclusively, comes from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members and chapters. For example, Worcester DSA member and barista Cory Bisbee, 25, told In These Times that his chapter has made supporting the SBWU campaign a priority. That city will see a LGBTQ+-themed sip-in, with Labor Day coinciding with Pride week in Worcester, Mass.

An outcome of the planning in the New England region, says DaGuerre, is that stores seeking support have been matched up with community supporters looking to ?“adopt” a store to help it organize, taking advantage of resources that were already there but uncoordinated.

Not every store is able to take part in the day of action. Because much of the national plan depends on community support, many workers in more isolated locations likely won’t be able to participate. Others, like the Anderson store in South Carolina where workers are suspended and barred from entering any Starbucks, have to take into account the impact of previous union-busting tactics by the company.

But for those who are able to participate, some see it as an opportunity to step up their impact in the innovative campaign to unionize Starbucks. 

“A bunch of Gen Z kids have banded together and decided to stop accepting that Starbucks will refuse to pay us a living wage,” says Dinaro. ?“It’s truly inspiring and it’s a stepping stone to greater change.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 2, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is a contributor for In These Times.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions and collective action to learn about your rights.


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Every Boss Has a Weak Spot. Find and Use It.

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Steel production in the late 1800s used to require one crucial step: a 20-minute process called the “blow” that removed impurities, strengthening the metal. It was not unheard of for union members to go to the supervisor at the start of the blow and demand that some important grievance be resolved.

According to old-timers, it was amazing what the company could accomplish in those 20 minutes. These workers had found their employer’s vulnerability — and they used it to make the workplace safer and more humane.

Think about where your employer is vulnerable. For some companies it might be their logo or their image, which they have spent millions of dollars cultivating. For others it might be a bottleneck in the production process, or a weakness in their just-in-time inventory system.

Whistle While You Work

At a Fortune 500 truck factory, supervisors were ruthless and degrading. Discipline was arbitrary and unjust. At the monthly union meeting one worker noted that they were all being “railroaded.”

A few weeks later, 2,000 plastic whistles shaped like locomotives arrived at the local. The instructions were simple: whenever you can see a supervisor on the shop floor, blow your whistle.

At first, whistles were going off all over. But by the morning break the plant floor was quiet. Not a single supervisor dared to show his face.

The next day in contract bargaining, the employer refused to bargain until the whistles were removed. The bargaining team noted the company’s statements on refusing to bargain, and asked for a break to go call the Labor Board.

Bargaining resumed immediately, with positive results.

Lunch to Rule

On a military base, aircraft maintenance workers would happily interrupt their lunch in order to deal with urgent problems. But in return they had an understanding that, once the problem was solved, they would go back to their sandwiches even though the lunch period had ended.

The situation was mutually acceptable for several years — until a new supervisor came along. We all know how that is. Had to prove himself. Show who’s boss. Etc.

Steve Eames, an international rep for the Boilermakers union, explained that the new supervisor insisted that workers take their lunch between 12:00 and 12:30, period.

“So the steward said, ‘Okay, we’ll play by the rules,’” Eames remembers. The maintenance workers had previously eaten at a lunch table in the work area. But now, when 12 o’clock came, they left and went to a fast-food restaurant on the base. For three or four days they all went as a group, leaving the shop unattended.

One day a plane came in during the half-hour lunch period. No one was there to help bring the plane in, or to check it out. The supervisor had to park the plane by himself.

“The boss went and talked to the steward, and the steward said, ‘That’s our time, we’re at lunch,’” said Eames. “‘You got what you wanted.’”

The workers went out for lunch for a couple more days, and then they ended what we might call “lunch to rule.” “They didn’t want to file a grievance,” says Eames, “because the company would have won on the basis of contract language.

“Without anything in writing, it went back to the way it had been before. It empowered the guys. It told the supervisor, we’ll be a little flexible if you’ll be flexible.”

Keep the Boss Off Balance

Managers like routine. They like to know that what happened yesterday will happen today and that no one is thinking too hard about it. You can make them nervous simply by doing something different, even something normal that would be unthreatening to the non-managerial mind. When they have to keep guessing where the next shot is coming from, you have the upper hand.

“The corporate culture is not a creative culture,” says Joe Fahey, a former Teamster leader, “and we need to look at that as an opportunity.

“I used to bargain with Smuckers,” Fahey recalls. “We decided to do things that would freak them out. Factory life is very predictable. The workers decided to take their breaks at the railroad tracks, instead of at the same table and the same bench that they did every day. It was easy for the workers to do, but it was scary for management. They are more easily scared than we realize.”

15-Minute Strike

Pennsylvania social workers figured out how to catch management off guard. During negotiations with the state, spokesman Ray Martinez said, “we wanted an activity that would irritate the boss, educate the public, and at the same time get the members psyched up. We decided that we would all take our 15-minute breaks at the same time.”

The union used its phone trees to call members at home. “At the agreed date and time,” Martinez says, “all of our members would get up and walk out of the office. This meant that clients in the office, phone calls, and so on would be placed on hold. In other words, all activity ceased.

“This served a couple of purposes. First, management and clients would get a feel for what it would be like without our services if we were to go on strike. Secondly, we, the members, would be outside of the worksite having outdoor shop meetings and updating the workers on the latest on the negotiations.

“While this was going on, we had picket signs asking drivers to honk their horns to show us their support. The beauty of it all was that this was perfectly legal, so there was nothing management could do.”

At the end of the 15-minute break, everybody went back inside and went back to work.

This blog originally appeared on July 28, 2022 at Labor Notes. Learn about workers’ rights and advocacy at Workplace Fairness.

About the Authors: Alexandra Bradbury, Jane Slaughter, and Mark Brenner are Labor Notes contributors. This article is excerpted from Labor Notes’ book, “Secrets of a Successful Organizer.”


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Depending on Employers for Abortion Access is a Nightmare

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Sarah Lazare

Following last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down federal protections for abortion rights, major companies, including a number of Silicon Valley giants, publicly broadcast their intention to assist their workers in traveling out of state to obtain an abortion.

Meta, Apple, Disney, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Condé Nast were among them, the New York Times noted, joining companies that had made similar pledges in May, when a leaked memo revealed that the Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. These companies include Reddit, Tesla, Microsoft, Starbucks, Yelp, Airbnb, Netflix, Patagonia, DoorDash, JP Morgan Chase, Levi Strauss & Co. and PayPal, the Times reports.

Meanwhile, Google pledged to allow workers to apply to relocate “without justification” if they live in states that do not allow abortion. Uber reiterated that its “insurance plans in the U.S. already cover a range of reproductive health benefits, including pregnancy termination and travel expenses to access healthcare.”

On its face, these gestures by employers may seem like a good thing.

But this response opens up another door to hell: The reality that workers will be even more reliant on capricious and self-interested employers to provide basic, necessary healthcare, handing bosses even more power, while giving workers one more thing to fight tooth and nail to protect.

The Problems with Employment Health Care

Let’s look at how this approach has worked out for general health coverage.

In a country that, unlike other industrialized nations, does not provide free and universal healthcare to its people, individuals rely on employers for this vital good. This means that a worker’s boss has control over their ability to get emergency heart surgery without going bankrupt, to pay for a child’s leukemia treatment, to get preventative healthcare to ward off serious complications, to afford insulin in order to not die from diabetes, etc.

Routine, day-to-day matters — like asking for time off, or asking a boss not to sexually harass you, or even banding together with your coworkers to organize a union — have higher stakes under this system. If you lose your job, you lose your healthcare. And if this healthcare is extended to your dependents and spouse, so does your family.

And what of other, more-difficult-to-quantify matters, like personal happiness and fulfillment at work? According to a May 2021 survey from West Health and Gallup, one out of six adults who receives employer-provided healthcare is staying in a job they don’t want because they’re afraid of losing these benefits.

In a capitalist society, work is how we spend our lives. Squandering our one precious life in an unwanted job is a tragic waste.

Unions Can Protect Workers’ Health

Of course, the best way to protect one’s health benefits, short of winning universal healthcare, is to organize a union.

Union workers are significantly more likely than their non-union counterparts to have health benefits at all. But imagine all the things workers could win if they didn’t have to spend their time at the bargaining table negotiating over their members’ ability to survive. If healthcare were off the table, because it was already provided by the government, maybe we would have stronger common good wins, or clauses protecting the right to strike under any circumstance, or 30-hour work weeks.

Now, apply this principle to the realm of abortion.

To think of having to add protection of one’s ability to get an abortion to the list of things employers provide, and can therefore take away, is terrifying. Some of the companies that publicly claim they will protect abortion rights are among the most viciously anti-union employers of our time.

There are Employers who Leverage Employees’ Health Against Them

How will they use this new form of leverage to crack down on workers’ rights to demand better conditions?

We are already seeing an example in Starbucks, which has said that it can’t “make promises” that any benefits for workers in need of abortions will be guaranteed for unionized shops, though they are currently provided.

Other companies making such pledges have pursued astoundingly anti-worker policies, like Uber, which is currently fighting against classifying its workers as employees, a move that would give workers access to key benefits, like the right to form a union and access to workers’ compensation.

Do we really think that a company that doesn’t want its workers to have basic rights is truly committed to ensuring they’re able to receive abortions when they need one?

Abortion travel funding shouldn’t have to be a chip on the bargaining table. But this is the terrain that unions must fight on. And they are, right now, some of their members’ best protection.

There are a host of other things unions could be doing to protect union members. Dr. Rebecca Givan, a labor law expert, has suggested creative solutions, including using union release time, to help people get abortions, drive them there, or provide childcare.

Unions should absolutely be thinking along these lines. Any step that could put abortion protections in the hands of workers, rather than their bosses, is a good thing.

Attacking Abortion Rights is Attacking Workers’ Rights

But let’s be clear-eyed about what the attack on abortion rights does.

Suddenly stealing a fundamental right to bodily autonomy helps place workers in a lower social class. It strips away workplace leverage — to give people who need abortions one more thing they have to beg their bosses for. One more thing to protect in a society where the safety net is already thin, and working-class people face rising prices and a potential looming recession. One more reason employers can claim benevolence as they crush union drives.

We can’t only rely on the bargaining table to win back the societal rights we have lost. It’s time for the resurgent labor movement to organize like hell to say that this attack on self-determination and humanity is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated — in the workplace and beyond.

This is a shortened version of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on June 27, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Sarah Lazare is a web editor and reporter for In These Times.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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The Sign Says It All: How Unions Can Stop Employers from Crying Poor

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My wife and I were motoring down the main avenue in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2017 when I yelled out, “Stop! I gotta have this sign!”

Nancy pulled over. I jumped out and yanked out of the roadside a real estate sign that announced, “From the Upper $1 Millions, New Luxury Condos,” with a big arrow telling you to turn so you could buy one.

Back when we moved here in 1992, this had been an affordable place to live, just across the river from Washington, D.C. But soon after that, gentrification kicked in full throttle.

Today, working people are priced out of home-buying completely, forced to pay exorbitant and climbing rents.

I wrestled the big sign into the back seat. “We can show this to the politicians and bosses around here when they tell us they can’t afford a big raise,” I told Nancy, who works for the city of Alexandria as a paramedic and belongs to the Firefighters Union (IAFF). And that’s what we’ve done for the past five years.

Mayors, city councilors, and county commissioners have seen the sign. So have transit authority bosses, corporate managers, company negotiators, state representatives, and many, many rank-and-file members.

It gets attention. At first people are puzzled: “Why do you have this real estate sign here?” But everyone gets the point when I explain that the mortgages and rents are “too damn high” and working people need a big raise now!

Can’t Cry Poor

I took the sign to a union meeting with the workers of the Alexandria DASH transit company in 2018. Coincidentally, it was the day after Amazon had announced it was setting up a new corporate headquarters here.

I held the sign up as I laid out why we had to win the union authorization election by a big margin so we could win long overdue and major wage increases. Every head in the room was nodding—that sign said it all. Several workers volunteered that their landlords had already given them rent increase notices as a result of the Amazon announcement.

We won the election 9 to 1. The economic settlement we negotiated was one of the best in our international union’s recent history. The sign came with us to union meetings, city council meetings, and DASH board meetings. None of the powers that be wanted to cry poor in a city with this sort of tax base—not with that sign staring them in the face.

So if you see a sign like this in your town, grab it and put it to work.

This is a blog that originally appeared on Labor Notes on June 1, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Chris Townsend is the former national organizing director of the Amalgamated Transit Union and retired United Electrical Workers international representative.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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Limiting Non-Compete Agreements is Key to a Just Recovery

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Najah Farley

As tens of millions of workers—more than one-fifth of the U.S. workforce—were losing their jobs at the start of the pandemic, worker advocates sounded another important alarm: In many states, being laid off would not release workers from “non-compete” agreements they had signed with their employers, which would restrict what future job offers they could accept.

The prospect that employers could hamper workers in their return to work by using non-competes seemed like a far-off possibility in March 2020. But now, with many seeking to return to work, the possibility of workers being bound by past non-compete agreements or agreeing to new ones is deeply concerning. Non-competes limit workers’ power and autonomy and exacerbate existing inequities that disproportionately harm workers of color.

What Are Non-Competes?
Non-competes are contracts, signed by employees when they accept a job, that restrict them from taking a job in the same industry for a set period of time after they leave their position. Restrictions may be defined by industry or geography, and some may list specific rival competitor companies that employees are prohibited from joining. Research suggests that nearly one in five U.S. workers is currently bound by a non-compete. The types of workers bound range from chief executive officers to security guards to sandwich makers, as in the infamous Jimmy John’s case that first brought this issue to the fore.

Nearly one in five U.S. workers—from CEOs to security guards to sandwich makers—is currently bound by a non-compete.

Employers usually present non-compete provisions in a “take it or leave it” fashion. They may require workers to sit out of the labor market for a year or even longer. Not surprisingly, non-competes have been shown to depress wages by reducing competition. This is what economists refer to as the problem of monopsony, where employers have greater market power and are able to continue to offer lower wages due to lack of competition.

Non-competes may exacerbate the wage gap that workers of color face.

Push for State Reforms
Many legislatures are successfully taking on the challenge of non-compete reform. New laws have been passed or are advancing in several states. Bills were introduced in West Virginia, Minnesota, Connecticut, Colorado, New York, and Iowa. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul included a non-compete provision in her budget proposal, and the State Senate also introduced a bill. Both the West Virginia and Iowa bills proposed banning non-competes for workers in low-wage industries.

Many legislatures are successfully taking on the challenge of non-compete reform.

The Minnesota non-compete proposal would limit agreements to an annual salary equal to the median family income and also provide for “garden leave”, i.e., an employer would have to pay 50 percent of the employee’s highest annual base salary during the restricted period. Connecticut’s bill, had it passed, would have set the non-compete threshold close to $100k. Colorado’s bill would be an important improvement of the state’s previous non-compete law. Although many legislative sessions ended without passing the non-compete laws under consideration, the bills in New Jersey, New York, and Colorado are still being considered.

Movement Nationally
President Biden’s initiative to improve competition through his Executive Order on Competition, released on July 9, 2021, has also helped fuel the push for these bills. As a result of this directive, federal agency work in the area has increased.

On March 7th, the Treasury Department, in partnership with the Labor Department, the Justice Department, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), released a report on “The State of Labor Market Competition.” The report found that the lack of competition results in wage declines of between 15 and 25 percent. It also highlighted the power differential that exists between companies and workers, based on information asymmetry as well as labor market forces, that leads to employers exerting market power and offering lower wages and worse working conditions. Now that the FTC has a full complement of commissioners, advocates are pushing for the agency to pursue rulemaking in this area. The Open Markets Institute initially submitted a petition to the FTC in 2019, joined by 60 signatory organizations, including NELP.

Coercive waivers, such as non-disclosures, arbitration agreements, and non-competes, work together to reduce worker power.

Where We Go From Here
In the wake of the “Great Resignation,” management-side lawyers have become even more aggressive in their tactics to keep employees bound by these coercive agreements. In a recent blog post on a human resources site, management-side lawyers stated that they have seen an uptick in employers wanting to sue employees because of the talent shortage; they not only want to retain the employees but also prevent them from going elsewhere. Such articles highlight the abusive way in which non-compete agreements are used to block workers from going elsewhere to use their talents and skills.

In the wake of the “Great Resignation,” management-side lawyers have become more aggressive in their tactics to keep employees bound by coercive agreements.

State law advocacy will hopefully help level the playing field for workers seeking to be free from onerous non-compete agreements imposed by their employers, but advocates still have more to do.

While many states are moving in the right direction, federal legislative reform and rulemaking remain crucial.

The Workforce Mobility Act, sponsored by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN), would eliminate non-competes for the majority of workers, keeping them only for workers involved in the sale of a business. This bipartisan bill would go a long way toward ensuring that workers can chart their own careers; it would take power away from employers that abuse the use of non-competes. A federal bill that bans non-competes for workers could, like Oregon’s non-compete law, have a positive impact on the wages of hourly workers. Now is the time to continue to push for broad non-compete reform, creating the just recovery that workers need.

This blog is a shortened version of one that originally appeared in full at NELP on May 19, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Najah Farley is a senior staff attorney at NELP, who focuses on workplace standards and wages.


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