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Union Veterans Fight for Texas Catering Workers

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On Tuesday morning, as union veteran Sam Tijerina drove from Pasadena, Texas, to Dallas, he had a lot on his mind. His thoughts wandered as he passed mile markers and towns—he thought about his young family at home and the life that having a union job has provided them. “A union card has allowed me to live with dignity,” he said.

Tijerina was traveling to one of the largest acts of civil disobedience that the Texas labor movement has waged in years. LSG Sky Chef workers, who are contracted by American Airlines, planned a rally with UNITE HERE to advocate for raising wages. “It was important to be part of the civil disobedience because my fellow veterans are affected by poor wages,” Tijerina said. “There are an estimated 1.3 million veteran workers who earn less than $15 an hour. It is disheartening to know my brothers and sisters have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. One job should be enough.”

More than 600 supporters showed up at the protest, including catering workers, union members from other airports and local supporters like Tijerina. He was one of 58 people who were arrested while blocking traffic during the protest.

Tijerina is an Elevator Constructor (IUEC) from Local 31 and a Marine veteran who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. The Marines taught him about selfless service and how to lead by example. “I know that it’s not just about me,” Tijerina said. “It’s about fighting for everyone, no matter what their situation is.” This is the same sentiment echoed by Union Veterans Council Executive Director Will Attig at a recent speech to the Texas AFL-CIO convention, shortly before announcing the creation of a Texas chapter of the Union Veterans Council. “Leaders lead from the front and motivate others to take action,” Attig added. “Texas union vets are ready to take action to support the working people of this state.”

Earlier this year, Attig was among a group of union leaders and activists who were arrested at the U.S. Capitol during the government shutdown, when a quarter of 1 million veteran workers faced no pay and job instability. Attig hopes this action will motivate fellow union veterans to get more involved. Attig wants Union Veterans Council members and the labor movement to know that union veterans are a force to be reckoned with.

The Union Veterans Council is working to unify our veterans by giving them the tools and platform to make their voices heard on a local and national level, along with inspiring union veterans to take an action-based role in the labor movement. Tijerina is just one of a growing movement of union veterans across the country who are using their voices to fight and advocate for fellow workers and the issues that matter to their community.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on August 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The Union Veterans Council brings working-class veterans together to speak out on the issues that impact us most, especially the need for good jobs and a strong, fully funded and staffed VA.

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These Hotel Workers Say They Shouldn’t Have to Work Multiple Jobs to Make Ends Meet

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Hotel workers union UNITE HERE isn’t resting on its laurels after winning a contract fight with the giant Marriott chain late last year. The union is pursuing new organizing efforts, including a push in Baltimore for a first contract covering some 145 newly unionized members there, according to Vikas Mohite, a full-time Marriott employee and active rank-and-file union member.
 This article was originally published at In These Times on August 8, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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California Assembly votes to rein in gig economy abuses, this week in the war on workers

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The so-called gig economy often rests on exploiting workers by misclassifying them as independent contractors, which means they don’t get minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, overtime pay, or other protections that regular employees are guaranteed (at least in theory). That may be about to change in California, where the state Supreme Court ruled to clarify how workers are classified last year, and the Assembly passed a bill this week tackling the issue.

If the bill becomes law, employers could only classify workers as independent contractors if they could prove that the workers truly controlled their own schedules and working conditions, weren’t doing work central to the company’s business model, and had their own “independently established” business or role. That would have huge ramifications for huge companies like Uber, Lyft, and Amazon, but would also apply to workers at many small businesses. The bill does exclude many jobs, though, such as doctors, real estate agents, lawyers, and some hairdressers.

AB 5 passed 53 to 11 in the Assembly and now heads to the state Senate. “Big businesses shouldn’t be able to pass their costs onto taxpayers while depriving workers of the labor law protections they are rightfully entitled to,” tweeted Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, one of the bill’s authors, in celebration of its passage.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 1, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Federal court deals a blow to Uber, Lyft drivers trying to unionize in Seattle

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A two-year legal battle over a Seattle, Washington law allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize was prolonged again this week, after a federal appeals court ruled Friday that it can be challenged under federal antitrust law.

The first-in-the-nation law was unanimously passed by the Seattle City Council in 2015 and sought to give ride-share drivers the opportunity to unionize and bargain for better pay and benefits.

But it was swiftly challenged by business and conservative groups, namely the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing Uber and Lyft, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Freedom Foundation. In a 2016 lawsuit against the city of Seattle, the Chamber of Commerce claimed “the ordinance will burden innovation, increase prices, and reduce quality and services for consumers.”

One legal challenge was dismissed last year, but the law remained on hold until other legal challenges were resolved. On Friday, three judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that Seattle’s law is not exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act, sending it back to U.S. District Court.

Uber spokesman Caleb Weaver called the decision “a win for rideshare drivers, riders and the entire Seattle community.”

The Teamsters Local 117 and members of the App-Based Drivers Association (ABDA) expressed their frustration and disappointment in the wake of Friday’s ruling.

“Anti-trust laws were put in place to protect the little guy from monopolistic practices from large corporations, not to shield a company like Uber — valued at over $70 billion — from negotiating with its workers over fair pay and working conditions,” said Don Creery, Uber and Lyft driver and member of the ABDA leadership council.

One bright spot for proponents of Seattle’s law: the Ninth Circuit judges agreed in their ruling that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) can cover independent contractors, like Uber and Lyft drivers.

This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), along with other Senate Democrats, introduced legislation that would make it easier for people working in the gig economy to prove they are employees and thus be able to organize and collectively bargain. While the legislation doesn’t stand a chance in the current Republican-controlled Congress, Bloomberg notes that it has the backing of potential Democratic presidential candidates and could be a sign of things to come if Democrats are able to regain control of either chamber this fall.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 13, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kiley Kroh is a senior editor at ThinkProgress.


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What to do when your work problem isn’t a legal issue

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A boss starts cancelling your check-ins after you give them feedback. A co-worker routinely undermines and interrupts you during meetings. You’ve been passed over for a promotion twice. Even after speaking to a lawyer, you’re not sure what to do.

Every day, across every workplace in America, people face challenges that don’t necessarily fall into a legal category. Instead, they fall into a vast gray area where solutions are rarely black and white. These issues–while not legal in nature–affect how we show up at work, and can have a lasting impact on a career. In a recent study, over 95 percent of people surveyed faced at least one challenging situation at work. Half left their job as a result.

Meanwhile, resources to help people navigate these challenges haven’t evolved to meet the needs of our vibrant, dynamic, and diverse workforce. Employee-provided resources are largely distrusted. Nearly 80 percent of people surveyed had never used a service provided by their employer. Moreover, the rapid growth of the gig economy often leaves employees feeling even more isolated. When people don’t get the support they need they’re more likely to take a step back in their career or leave their job without having another lined up.

Empower Work is a new resource that fills this gap by putting employees first. We provide free, anonymous, and immediate support for people facing non-legal work issues. Anyone can text 510-674-1414 and connect to a vetted and trained peer counselor within minutes.

Our approach is rooted in inquiry and empathy. We provide the space to talk about your experience and work toward an outcome that feels right to you. Our goal is for people to leave the conversation feeling empowered with the tools and support they need to move forward. Over 90 percent of people say they feel better after talking to an Empower Work peer counselor.

“Thank you for being [there] for me in the midst of a truly horrible, awful, depressing work situation. You helped me figure out my next steps.” -Empower Work Texter

Our peer counselors are working professionals who volunteer their time to support people through their most difficult experiences at work. They are leaders, coaches, mentors at every stage of their careers. Peer counselors undergo a selection process and receive hands-on training that blends best practices in coaching, counseling, and business.

We believe everyone should have access to support for tough work issues. What’s tough varies from person to person. You might be grappling with the decision to take a pay cut to pursue a dream job; questioning whether your company’s values are aligned with your own; or need support preparing for a big performance review. Next time you’re facing a difficult situation or decision at work remember you’re not alone.

Having a non-legal work issue you’d like to chat about? Text: 510-674-1414. Peer counselors are available Monday-Friday, 8:30am-8:00pm PT. To learn more visit www.empowerwork.org.

About the Author: Lauren Brisbo is a social impact communications professional with over a decade of experience. She’s worked with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies to launch communications initiatives that win hearts and minds, give a voice to those less heard, and help people make well-informed decisions. She’s passionate about helping organizations promote good causes externally, and creating supportive internal work environments that help employees thrive. Lauren currently leads communications and outreach for Empower Work, a free, accessible, and immediate text hotline for anyone facing a tough issue at work.


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California court decision poses a major threat to Uber and Lyft: minimum wage laws

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The business model at Uber and other “gig economy” companies could take a big hit in California, thanks to a new state Supreme Court ruling—the companies might be forced to follow labor laws like paying the minimum wage. Currently, many companies classify their workers as independent contractors who aren’t eligible for a raft of legal protections, protections that cost employers money. But the California Supreme Court ruled that delivery drivers for Dynamex Operations West are eligible for minimum wage and overtime protections:

The ruling applies to disputes under state Industrial Welfare Commission orders that set standards for minimum wages and overtime payments required for all workers who are classified as employees, but not for independent contractors. Companies like Dynamex, as well as Uber and Lyft, have classified their drivers as contractors and argued that they have enough control over their working lives — setting their own hours, with the freedom to drive for other companies — to be called independent.

But the court said the company, to justify contractor status, must prove, first, that the worker is free, in everyday tasks, from the company’s “control and direction”; second, that the work is “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business”; and third, that the worker is regularly engaged in an independent occupation or business of the same type he or she is performing for the company.

For example, [Chief Justice Tani] Cantil-Sakauye said, a store that hires an outside plumber to fix a leak, or an electrician to install a new line, could consider them contractors. But a clothing manufacturer that hires seamstresses who work at home to make dresses that the company will sell has hired them to perform work in its usual line of business and must pay them as employees.

The ruling did not address other issues, such as payment of work expenses, workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, which are covered by separate laws. But Kevin Ruf, a lawyer for about 300 Dynamex drivers who will now be allowed to pursue their case as a class action, said the court’s rationale should help workers seeking employee status overall.

This isn’t over—companies will fight this out case by case, spending huge amounts of money on lawyers to avoid having to pay their workers minimum wage and overtime (and other benefits and protections that might follow). But it’s a step in the right direction.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on May 1, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.


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