• print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Labor Did Not Get Much in the Good Years

Share this post

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.


Share this post

Musk and Social Media Struggling with Twitter Takeover

Share this post

Laura Clawson

Things are wild over at Twitter following Elon Musk’s takeover of the social media platform.

The company is laying off up to half of its workforce, which would amount to around 3,700 people.

As layoffs started, former Twitter employees wasted no time filing a class action lawsuit in a San Francisco federal court. Meanwhile, Musk continues to troll and whine all over the platform he is rapidly tanking.

Musk sent all Twitter employees an email on Thursday alerting them that layoff notifications would come Friday. People won’t even need to open the emails to know their fate because if they’re being fired the email will go to their personal accounts, while if their job is safe for now the email will go to their company accounts. But some people didn’t have to wait until Friday to find out: Their remote access was cut off Thursday night. 

This is very bad for Twitter as huge amounts of institutional knowledge and capacity are eliminated immediately before a plan goes into effect allowing users to buy blue checkmarks without any verification process other than their willingness to pay. That symbol will become a marker of people willing to fork over their money to Musk, but it will also be a big opportunity for scammers to make themselves look legit. Oh, and this scammer-enabling feature is set to roll out the day before Election Day.

The layoffs are also illegal. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, as well as a California WARN Act, require that workers get 60 days notice before mass layoffs. That obviously did not happen here. Four workers—one terminated on Nov. 1 and three terminated on Nov. 3—initiated the class action suit, represented by well-known workers’ rights attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan. Presumably that class will grow as layoff notices go out. 

The workers are seeking financial judgments including wages owed, but they also want the court to block Twitter from getting laid-off employees to sign away their right to join the class action. The latter is a significant concern since under Musk, Tesla did exactly that, getting workers to sign documents releasing the company from its WARN Act requirements in exchange for much smaller severance payments. A federal judge later called that “misleading,” requiring Tesla to inform workers they could join a class action suit. 

“Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, has made clear that he believes complying with federal labor laws is ‘trivial,’” Liss-Riordan said in a statement to CNN, quoting Musk on the earlier lawsuit against Tesla. “We have filed this federal complaint to ensure that Twitter be held accountable to our laws and to prevent Twitter employees from unknowingly signing away their rights.”

On Friday Musk went onto his new toy to whine that “Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists.” He added, “Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”

Awww, someone made his bed and is unhappy lying in it. Multiple companies have confirmed that they are pausing their Twitter advertising while they wait to see where things go. But activist pressure takes time to build and this happened almost immediately, pointing to other causes. Like, say, the flood of racist slurs that swept over Twitter as soon as Musk took control of the company. Or the plan to replace a blue-check system that let users know they were reading tweets from verified public figures or journalists with one that lets users know they are reading tweets from people willing to pay Elon Musk a monthly fee. Or the mass layoffs that erode confidence that the site will be secure.

One possibility is that Musk thinks he’s being clever here with regard to that class action suit, but if so … it’s not going to work.

Elon Musk took over Twitter and immediately use of the N-word spiked. He personally spread a conspiracy theory about an attempted assassination of the speaker of the House that left her 82-year-old husband hospitalized. He announced a series of ill-considered plans for the company and laid off thousands of workers in violation of the law. But sure, it’s activist groups causing advertising revenue to drop off. 

If nothing else, at least we probably won’t have to hear so much hype about the brilliance of Elon Musk from now on.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the assistant managing editor for Daily Kos.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on November 4, 2022. Republished with permission.


Share this post

It’s Time to Tap into Labor’s Fortress of Finance

Share this post

Despite the recent upsurge in worker militancy, union membership and density have been declining for decades. But a close look at labor’s finances suggests that unions have the economic resources to potentially reverse this decline.

Standard explanations for labor’s decline blame our grossly unfair labor laws, the full-scale corporate attack on organizing and collective bargaining, and economic trends including the decline of manufacturing.

But labor is not a passive bystander. Unions have the resources to deploy to new organizing and growth. They have chosen to pursue a defensive financial strategy instead.

Consider the National Education Association. Since 2010 its membership has declined by nearly 300,000 — while its net assets more than doubled.

The United Auto Workers has seen membership drop by 20 percent since 2007, yet over the last three years less than 10 percent of its budget was spent on organizing.

Twenty-five years ago, John Sweeney was elected to lead the AFL-CIO after a vigorous debate about organizing strategy. Sweeney set out real organizing goals for the affiliate unions, and proposed that they devote 30 percent of their budgets to organizing. Many of the affiliates rebelled, and the goal was quietly shelved.

Today UNITE HERE (my former union) is one of the few unions that devotes significant resources to organizing, up to 50 percent of its budget — consistently running operating deficits, spending more than its dues revenue. As a result, it was one of the fastest-growing unions before the pandemic, increasing its membership by 34 percent from 2010 to 2019.

FLUSH WITH CASH

In 2021, large unions booked $18 billion in revenues (mostly from dues) and spent $15.5 billion on operating expenses — leaving a surplus of $2.5 billion.

Though labor’s revenues are far less than those of business associations, they’re substantially bigger than those of environmental, human rights, and political organizations.

In 2021, organized labor had $31.6 billion in net assets (assets minus debt). That’s more money than any U.S. foundation but one: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with $48 billion.

While union membership declined by more than 700,000 from 2010 to 2021, total revenues increased by 33 percent over the decade, thanks to higher dues (the average rose from $778 per member in 2010 to $1,089 in 2021) and significant increases in investment, rental, and miscellaneous income, such as government training funds and royalties from selling membership lists.

Meanwhile, unions cut staff by 20 percent — they employed 24,540 fewer employees in 2021 than in 2010 — a 20 percent decline in the workforce. (Management positions in unions, however, increased by 64 percent, and more than 10,000 union employees now earn salaries over $125,000.)

Unions also paid out an average $78 million a year in strike benefits during this time — less than half a percent of net assets or revenues in most years. Overall, union spending increased only 18 percent over the decade.

As a result, unions generated large budget surpluses, and their net assets more than doubled. If these trends continue, labor’s assets could double again by 2031.

FORTRESS UNIONISM

These figures suggest that labor had substantial assets available to deploy to new organizing and growth — but chose not to do so.

Instead, to the degree it is pursuing any conscious strategy, the labor movement has followed the one laid out in a 2013 article by union researcher Richard Yeselson: “Fortress Unionism.”

Yeselson argued that, due to the straitjacket of labor law and an “uninterested working class,” labor should not undertake “lengthy and expensive campaigns to organize new sectors.” Organizing workers “takes too much time,” he wrote, “and it costs too much in money and staff resources to do so over that long period of time.”

He counseled that labor should “work to buttress the areas in which it is already strong” and “[d]efend the remaining high-density regions, sectors, and companies.”

Meanwhile, unions should “wait for the workers to say they’ve had enough” — at which point workers themselves would “militantly signal that they want unions.”

It’s long past time to adopt a dramatically different approach. We shouldn’t let labor hide behind the idea that it doesn’t have the resources to fund large-scale organizing. It does.

We should demand that our unions — from the local level to the AFL-CIO headquarters — back the current upsurge with a massive investment of resources.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at Labor Notes on October 26, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Chris Bohner is a union researcher and activist who has worked with the AFL-CIO, Teamsters, UNITE HERE, Culinary Workers Local 226, and a variety of worker centers. 


Share this post

Pizza Does Not Motivate Employees More Than Cash

Share this post

Laura Clawson

Pizza motivates workers more than cash, according to a headline that’s been making the rounds — in disbelief, not agreement — on social media. So what’s going on with this? Who would say that? Because … what?

As it turns out, it’s not an idea pulled directly out of the ass of some corporate consultant. Even though that’s what it sounds like. Although an image of a headline is circulating now, the coverage dates to 2016, when psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely released the results of a study testing three ways of motivating workers against a control group that was not offered an incentive. Pizza, a complimentary text from the boss, and about $30 cash were the three incentives. Pizza came in just behind the “Well done!” text from the boss, with cash doing the worst. Or so Ariely said.

Before we get into what this study would and would not mean if it was carried out absolutely perfectly, there’s this: In 2021, Ariely had to retract a different study — one on honesty — because of fake data. So that’s one grain of salt to add to your reading of his pizza study. But even if the pizza study was conducted with the utmost care and diligence and produced completely accurate data, there’s still absolutely no reason to believe it’s universally true. 

So any bosses out there who are thinking, “Great, I’m going to toss my workers the occasional pizza rather than a raise,” should slow their roll, for a number of reasons.

First off, it’s one study of one group of workers. Specifically, workers in a semiconductor plant in Israel. (That’s why it’s not exactly $30 in cash.) That setting offered the advantage of being able to measure productivity in the form of how many chips the workers made. But it’s not necessarily generalizable, as the coverage implies.

We don’t know how much those workers were paid regularly. This is a significant question when you’re considering how much motivation $30 would provide. There are people for whom $30 is more than four hours of work, and there are people for whom it’s the tip they casually give their hairdresser or waiter. A small cash bonus for someone who doesn’t worry about money lands really differently than the same amount of cash for someone worried about making rent.

The fact that this study’s incentives were one-time also matters. If you get a “Well done!” text from your boss every week, it might just start seeming a little insincere and pro forma. If you get a pizza party every week, you might start thinking it would be nice to just get to go home early instead.

Whereas if you got a $30-a-week raise, well, it wouldn’t be a very big raise — you deserve more! — but you’d be talking about $1,560 a year. In many parts of the United States, that’s a month’s rent.

If we want to put it in pizza terms, with $30 a week extra, you could get a large pizza as a meal for your family and still have some money left over, rather than eating a couple of slices at work. For a lot of families in this country, a weekly pizza night registers as a real extra in life.

But $30 a week could also mean back-to-school clothes for your kids. It could mean not falling behind on the electric bill. These things matter to people.

Indeed, according to a 2022 Gallup poll of more than 13,000 U.S. workers, the most important thing in considering a new job would be “a significant increase in income or benefits.” Nearly two out of three workers said that was “very important” to them. “Greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing” came in second, with 61% identifying it as very important. It’s safe to say they didn’t mean pizza parties by that.

What’s appealing about Ariely’s study, to managers, is that it looked at one-time incentives, not at the effects of treating workers well and paying them a living wage week in and week out.

As articles like “51 Employee Appreciation Day Ideas That Won’t Break The Bank” show, management is always looking for ways to convey “appreciation” without spending money, let alone giving raises. Whereas workers are pretty clear that being paid enough to live on is important — and bosses, who are themselves paid well enough for $30 to seem irrelevant, generally don’t want to hear it. 

This is not a hypothetical.

Recently, as workers at a Minneapolis Trader Joe’s moved to unionize, a worker put a sign in the break room saying, “We need a living wage, not a pizza party,” Josh Eidelson reports. How did management respond? By starting an investigation and grilling workers about the sign.

When that’s the attitude you take to workers saying they need a living wage, you kind of show the real motivation behind the pizza party.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on October 20, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. She has been full-time staff since 2011, and she is currently the assistant managing editor.


Share this post

California is Right: Stealing Workers’ Pay Should be a Felony

Share this post

Laura Clawson

Thirty-one California workers will get more than $216,000 in overtime pay they earned but were cheated out of by their employer. But the Labor Department’s investigation and action against the Sacramento pallet manufacturer that employed the workers is a great example of why a company would break the law by not paying overtime to begin with. A recent California law provides hope for a fix, but only if the state can beef up its enforcement.

Martinez Pallets Incorporated and its owner, Miguel Arturo Cruz, dodged overtime laws by paying cash or using separate paychecks to pay workers their regular rate, rather than the time-and-a-half they were legally entitled to, for hours they worked over 40 per week. The company also violated child labor laws by having a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old operate equipment that’s considered too hazardous for minors.

In addition to paying the workers what they should have gotten to begin with, Martinez Pallets was fined not quite $14,500 for the overtime and child labor violations. Fourteen. Thousand. Five hundred. Dollars.

Why would a boss who doesn’t care about doing the right thing follow the law here, if all that happens when—or rather if—they get caught is that they have to pay what they owed to begin with, plus a $14,500 fine?

What’s even more appalling, though, is that $14,500 is a large fine for workplace safety violations. The median Occupational Safety and Health Administration fine for a fatality investigation is just $9,753, according to the AFL-CIO’s 2022 Death on the Job report. 

A teenager working on dangerous machinery can turn into a fatality too easily. Workers under 25 are more likely to be injured on the job than older workers, and in 2015, 403 teenagers—24 of them under 18—were killed on the job. Teenagers are killed in construction and farm jobs, but also while working in amusement parks, campgrounds, and swimming pools. That’s the context in which Martinez Pallets had minors operating woodworking machines and forklifts. (And do we really think the company that was dodging overtime pay laws was being extra careful about the safety procedures involved with minors illegally operating hazardous machinery?)

The fact that Martinez Pallets committed both wage and safety violations is a reminder that bad employers are usually bad in more than one way. And wage theft is hugely common in California. It costs workers an estimated $2 billion a year. Minimum wage theft, where workers are cheated out of even the legal minimum wage, cost the average victim $64 a week, or $3,400 a year, in 2015, the last year for which data is available. Adjusting for inflation, we’re talking about 12 gallons of gas a week or three months of child care a year. 

One woman who worked at a Jack in the Box restaurant for 17 years without a raise above minimum wage did not know she was legally entitled to paid breaks. She told CBS News she had learned that if she’d been paid for the last three years of the wage theft she experienced, she might have been able to buy a car. And while California passed a law making some wage theft a felony, the agency responsible for enforcement is short-staffed. 

You can be an opponent of mass incarceration and think that felony charges are absolutely the right answer for employers who intentionally and systematically cheat their workers out of pay, be it minimum wage or overtime.

It can’t be only the state of California putting teeth in wage and hour law. There should be a federal law criminalizing this. Of course, it would never get past congressional Republicans. But this should be part of the Democratic agenda for the day when the filibuster no longer stands in the way of every possible piece of pro-worker legislation. And other states with Democratic majorities should consider copying California’s law.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on October 19, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been Daily Kos’ contributing editor since December 2006. She has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently the assistant managing editor.

Learn more about unpaid wages and wage theft with Workplace Fairness here.


Share this post

Florida Letter Carriers Won Back Our Sunday Breaks with Direct Action

Share this post

A simple grievance can take many months to get results. But at the post office where I work, we got fast results defending our breaks with a different approach: direct action.

I’m a city carrier assistant (CCA) — part of the lower-paid second tier of letter carrier — in Naples, Florida. The retention rate for CCAs nationwide hovers around 20 percent.

Letter carriers start each day by sorting the mail and loading it into our trucks. In my post office, Mondays through Saturdays we take our first 10-minute break together inside the office, with the air conditioning, before heading out to start deliveries.

We used to take our breaks together on Sundays, too. We would chip in for donuts and coffee, a sign of our camaraderie.

But in April, the Postal Service implemented a new way of doing the Sunday package runs. (On Sundays we don’t deliver letters, just parcels, mainly for Amazon.) They had half the workforce coming in first to load trucks, and the other half coming in later to start deliveries — and we were no longer allowed to take our Sunday morning break in the office.

By the middle of the summer, we were back to the old way of loading and delivering. Everyone was back to clocking in at the same time on Sundays, 8:30 a.m.

But management was still refusing to let us take Sunday morning breaks together. They wanted us to hit the road and take our breaks out on the street, in the heat.

‘IT’S BREAK TIME’

At 9 a.m. on Sunday, August 21, my alarm went off as it usually does Mondays through Saturdays. I said what I usually say those days: “It’s break time, ladies and gentlemen.” Three other workers and I started walking towards the break room.

Our supervisor stated, loudly, in front of all of us on the loading dock, that there’s no breaks on Sundays. We shrugged that off and went to the break room. A minute later he was standing over us.

He said we had two choices: Get back to work and take our 10-minute break out on the street, or go home.

We weren’t expecting an ultimatum. But the four of us looked at each other, and we all said we would go home.

We scanned our badges to clock out, and walked to our cars together in a state of shock.

When I got home, I typed up a report on what had happened and posted it on one of the Facebook groups for union letter carriers. My post got 500 likes and a lot of positive feedback.

QUICK RESULTS

By Monday morning, our union president and the postmaster had discussed what happened and started to discuss a solution.

A couple days later, management gathered us all together for a meeting to explain the new memorandum of understanding giving us back our Sunday morning office break, so long as we finished loading our trucks first. They posted it near the schedule for everyone to read.

Twice during the week I was also called into meetings with management — once to discuss my attendance, and once to be asked a bunch of open-ended questions, such as “Was this premeditated? Were you planning all this?” I told them yes, of course I was planning to take a break. But I wasn’t issued any discipline.

The following Sunday I brought in some juice and donuts for my co-workers to enjoy before they started delivering packages in the Florida heat.

UNION STRONG

My co-workers had to work harder and longer than normal that first Sunday when we chose to go home. But most are pleased with the result. Now every CCA across Naples — not just in my office –gets to take a break inside on Sundays.

A brand new CCA started his career that same day, and was busy loading his truck when I made the decision to go home. He recently moved to Florida, after many years of having no union and bad bosses in New York.

He has no bitterness towards me and the others who took action. Instead, witnessing from the beginning of his career the power of a union, he’s proud to be union and excited to get active. He recently attended his first union meeting.

Maybe this will help with the Postal Service retention rate and help build a stronger, younger union. I’d say that’s a victory.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on September 22, 2022. Republished with permission:

About the Author: John Murphy is a city carrier assistant and a member of Letter Carriers Branch 4716.


Share this post

Why It’s Important To Have an Employee-First Mindset with Business Decisions

Share this post

Dan Matthews

One of the most pertinent challenges businesses are facing today is the shift in employee mindset.

Employees are fighting for changes in the workplace that benefit them more than ever. But unfortunately, businesses that aren’t taking this shift seriously are losing employees — and their companies suffer because of it.

The solution? Adopting an employee-first mindset when making business decisions. Having an employee-first attitude in business decision-making can benefit both businesses and individuals in the workplace. Let’s look at this in more detail below.

The Benefits of an Employee-First Mindset

Putting employees first in business decision-making is integral to the stability and longevity of a
company.

For example, let’s say a company leader decides to add an entire department to their
organization. They aren’t planning on hiring new employees, and they don’t tell their existing
employees this.

Now, their employees are bombarded with extra responsibilities and expectations. The
employees try, but eventually, the stress leads to exhaustion, burnout, and a decline in
productivity. And the new department never gets off the ground.

Employees will end up departing, leaving no one to manage the existing and new departments,
impacting the ability to maintain the operation, let alone expand it. Had the company leader
considered how this change would affect their employees, communicate with them, and put
support structures in place to navigate potential challenges, their business would still be in good
shape.

An employee-first mindset with business decisions also benefits employees. For instance, when
a business brings new employees on board without consulting their existing team, it can result
in employees feeling insecure and uneasy about where they stand.

On the other hand, let’s say a company considers how its employees can benefit from a new
team member and asks their existing team how they feel about it. In that case, it’ll help
employees warm up to the change and feel more involved in the decision. In addition, they have
an opportunity to give their input on who and what skill sets the team needs to move forward.

Ultimately, having an employee-first mindset with business decisions is the best way to ensure
both the business and its employees are wholly supported.

How to Ensure Employees Come First in Decision-Making

Business leaders that adopt an employee-first mindset in their decision-making can create a
workplace where employees feel appreciated, supported, and secure. But how exactly do you
ensure employees are more involved in and at the forefront of decision-making?

Make accessibility a priority.

It only takes one employee to not have access to and ability to engage with something or
someone in the workplace for them to feel like they aren’t a valuable part of the team. And when
employees feel undervalued, it affects their and the entire workforce’s productivity.
So, always consider accessibility when you think about how a decision will affect your
employees.

For example, if you’re redesigning your office, plan with your employees living with
a disability in mind.

Even business trips should be accessible to everyone. Every time your team travels, list the
accommodations each person needs and do your best to ensure they’re met, whether it’s
needing a wheelchair-accessible location, budget-friendly events, or accessible transportation.

Whatever your employees need, ensure they have it so they can bring their best selves to work
daily.

Prioritize employee needs and input when making changes.

When a company leader makes a business decision, it usually means something is about to
change. Change will affect your employees in one way or another. So, you need to consider
their needs and input before making any permanent changes if you want things to go smoothly.

For example, let’s say you want to ramp up your sustainability initiatives. These initiatives will be
much more powerful if your employees are on board.

So, listen to their perspectives about sustainability and suggestions on improving it in your
workplace, whether it’s moving to a green office space, using resources more responsibly, or
removing certain health risks.

Ensure your employees are heard when it’s time to make a change.

Employees are demanding change in the workplace. Businesses resistant to change will stifle
business and employee growth. So, don’t just allow employees to advocate for themselves.
Genuinely welcome it. They’ll be much more empowered and productive because of it.

This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a contributor for Workplace Fairness.


Share this post

The Strike that Started the Red Wave

Share this post

Jackson Potter

On Sept. 10, 2012, I joined thousands of my fellow public school teachers in Chicago and walked off the job. 

After facing 30 years of corporate education “reform” that demonized teachers and led to massive privatization of public schools across the United States, teachers everywhere were ready to fight back.

For many of us in Chicago, ahead of the 2012 strike, political developments had shown a range of possibilities for what that fighting back could look like. 

In Chicago, resistance to the attacks on teachers required us to defeat one of the most powerful Democratic politicians in the country (then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel), endure the largest closing of Black schools in U.S. history, and roar back from the brink of an effort to dismantle public education as we know it. But today, ten years after the historic 2012 strike, we have seen the educational justice movement mature and become stronger through a decade of struggle. 

The 2012 Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike is often referenced as inspiration for an approach to contract negotiations called Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG), where unions make demands that would benefit not just members but the larger communities that they engage with. For example, that year, teachers called for an end to privatization and austerity policies affecting working people, despite being legally restricted on what issues they could bargain over. And during contract negotiations in 2015, the CTU made proposals to pay $15 an hour to all school district employees, even those outside their own membership.

Stephen Lerner, a senior fellow at the BCG Network and an architect of SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, has pointed to the CTU’s 2019 demand for affordable housing for all of Chicago’s 20,000 homeless students as emblematic of how the labor movement needs to call for what was previously considered outside the domain of traditional models of collective bargaining. 

According to labor historian Joseph McCartin and former President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Merrie Najimy, the new approach to bargaining has been adopted by teacher union locals who “understood that there was no way to confront the dynamics of austerity — and especially its devastating impacts on our most vulnerable communities — unless workers and those communities joined together around a shared analysis to advance common goals.”

As a result of the success by teacher unions in advancing social justice in their bargaining, unions outside of education have also begun to embrace the strategy. In 2020, around 4,000 Minnesota janitors from SEIU Local 26 led a strike that focused in large part on environmental justice demands. As reported in The Forge, “The demands included the creation of an Owner and Community Green Table; closure of the HERC incinerator, a major source of both greenhouse gasses and air pollution that harms nearby communities of color; and adoption of the union’s proposed Green Cleaning Training Program.”

A large part of the advance of social justice unionism over the last 10 years has been the use of internal organizing tools to cohere member sentiment around non-traditional demands. For example, in the years leading up to their 2019 strike, organizers with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) held thousands of conversations — in person, on the phone, at rallies, in groups, and one on one — with members, allies and parents.

Through a coordinated contract campaign across its 40,000-plus membership, the union built broad consensus around demands that would have an impact outside the classrooms, as well as inside. And, on many fronts, UTLA saw major victories.

No fewer than 20 teacher strikes in the past ten years have injected hope and momentum into the labor movement’s landscape, and virtually all of them have adopted a social justice framework.

In most of these efforts, teachers have won because they’ve run strong contract campaigns focused on what organizer and author Jane McAlevey has referred to as “structure tests” — clear-eyed assessments of what it will take to win. Organizers engaged members to take part in escalating actions that advanced a clear set of public good demands. 

In many respects, our 2012 CTU strike was a defensive one. We fought off a full scale privatization of the district and an effort to greatly diminish victories won by over 70 years of bargaining history. In the intervening years, our union has gone on an additional nine strikes.

The last big strike that the CTU waged was in 2019, and in many respects it was the most transformational. We won a nurse and social worker in every school for the first time in the history of the union. We also saw additional social justice wins that established first-time contract provisions: services and staffing for homeless students, the first “triggers” to limit class sizes in 25 years, the first moratorium on new charter schools, as well as advances in bilingual education and the creation of “sanctuary schools” to protect undocumented students from ICE.

The next “structure test” facing Chicago teachers will be to challenge an unpopular incumbent in Mayor Lori Lightfoot in next year’s municipal elections. Empowering the working class and nurturing vibrant public schools will largely depend on having a progressive city government in Chicago.

If 2012 was a fight for the soul of public education, 2023 and beyond will be a fight to determine whether or not union power — locally and nationally — can truly translate into political power. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 12, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Jackson Potter contributed to In These Times and is Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union.


Share this post

Workers Need Stronger Labor Laws Now More Than Ever

Share this post

Nearly 20 years after the publication of Kate Bronfenbrenner’s groundbreaking report on the state of organizing, she testified this week before Congress to preview new data showing that working people continue to face significant barriers in their efforts to form a union.

Her testimony was given during a hearing before the House Education and Labor Committee on corporate union-busting and removing barriers to organizing.

Bronfenbrenner’s testimony highlighted that while election win-rates have increased, the level of opposition workers face has intensified. Her analysis is further evidence for why we must pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

“Strengthening our labor laws has never been more urgent,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in response to the new data. “The working people who keep our economy going each day deserve the freedom to join or form a union without intimidation and fear.”

All workers deserve dignity and respect on the job.”

Approval of unions has reached 71%—the highest rate in nearly 60 years—and a significant portion of workers report that they would join a union if they could. Despite this unprecedented period of organizing, with millions of workers standing up nationwide to demand fairness on the job, the conditions that workers face have not changed much over the past two decades.

Bronfenbrenner’s findings show that a majority of companies still hire union-busting firms to deploy aggressive anti-union campaigns to thwart worker organizing.

Rates of retaliation, coercion, threats and intimidation remain inexcusably high: 

  • Eighty-five percent of employers used captive audience meetings while 71% used one-on-one meetings to harass workers. 
  • Forty-four percent interrogated workers about union activity. 
  • Forty-five percent threatened workers with plant closings, outsourcing or contracting out of their work.

The evolution of technology has allowed employers to introduce newer and so-called softer tactics to prevent organizing. Bronfenbrenner found that surveillance of workers has doubled and this includes monitoring through phones, computers key cards, social media and more.

Email communication has jumped from 3% to 43%, and employers now use text messages 18% of the time to contact workers with anti-union messages.

While this data primarily shows employer opposition only after workers have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), it does not reflect what workers know from lived experience—about how increased surveillance and other tactics are used by employers to mount anti-union campaigns even before a petition is filed.

These tactics continue to have a chilling effect on working people’s desire to organize and improve their workplaces. Workers have had to be more cautious in filing petitions for elections with the NLRB because employer misconduct so often precludes a fair election. 

And even when workers are successful in organizing by going through the NLRB election process, only 36% of elections result in a first contract within the first year while 44% still do not have a union contract within three years.

Without strong labor laws, workers will remain vulnerable to corporate abuse and overreach. Building a more equitable economy requires that employers be held accountable for violating workers’ rights.

This blog originally appeared on September 15, 2022 at AFL-CIO. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Julie Farb is a content contributor for AFL-CIO.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn more about workers’ rights.


Share this post

American Workers are Transforming the Economy

Share this post

Liz Shuler

In just one second, Amazon’s executive chairman Jeff Bezos makes nearly $2500. That’s four times the weekly pay of an Amazon delivery or warehouse worker toiling in the sweltering summer heat.

Last year alone $6.5 trillion flowed from the bottom 90% of wage earners to the top 1%. That means the janitor who cleans our child’s school, the nurse who cares for our sick father and the grocery clerk who always greets us with a smile are struggling, while the wealthiest among us literally skyrocket into space with bottomless bank accounts.

Upward mobility seems out of reach for most Americans. Young people are backsliding with low wages, out-of-control housing prices and crushing health care costs.

But our story—the American worker’s story—will not be written by billionaires.

This Labor Day, working people are writing a new chapter infused with hope for a brighter future. We’re no longer tolerating being called “essential” one minute and treated as expendable the next. Whether on a manufacturing shop floor, in a high-rise office, in a corner cafe or Amazon warehouse, workers are transforming our economy.

Recent data shows that workers won 639 union elections already this year, the highest win total in nearly 20 years. What’s notable is that those victories occurred in many different industries. The heroic organizing efforts at Starbucks and Amazon have captured our imagination.

And there have been worker victories big and small across the economy this year. Like the 19,000 graduate researchers in California who won a union for more equitable treatment at universities and nurses in Maine and North Carolina who wore trash bags as makeshift protections against COVID before organizing unions to win safety protections every worker deserves.

All across America, workers’ power is growing by the day as more demand the rights and democracy on the job that the laws of the United States promise us all.

But too many corporations haven’t moved with the times. At every turn, working people meet resistance from our employers when we try to form a union. Public approval of unions is the highest in my lifetime, a 57-year peak according to a 2022 Gallup survey released this week. Nearly 60 million workers would vote to join a union tomorrow. But far too few get that chance.

As president of the AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization of America’s unions, I am elected by everyone from soccer players to construction workers to educators to help all working people make our voices heard. My favorite part of this job is being on the frontlines of these fights with the workers who are leading them.

I see a lightbulb go off when people realize we don’t have to accept abysmal working conditions. Instead of quitting jobs in frustration, we can stand together as part of a union, and have the power to demand change.

Some corporate executives are evolving, like Microsoft President Brad Smith, who is respecting workers’ freedom to join a union. Microsoft worked with the Communications Workers of America to enter into a labor neutrality agreement at Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, because the company knows allowing workers to join a union is the best way for employers to count their employees as true partners.

But Microsoft is the exception, not the rule. Most CEOs still revert to a decades’ old playbook of stifling worker voice, often breaking the law to do so. When employers use retaliation, harassment and illegal firings to try to stop organizing, they reject the best path forward for an equitable economy and basic fairness on the job.

No worker should have to stand alone in the face of the power and ruthlessness of billionaire CEOs. That’s why the AFL-CIO is launching an effort this year to resource helping workers unionize at an unprecedented level, making organizing the center of everything we do as a movement.

Our new Center for Transformational Organizing aims to level the playing field by uniting our unions in strategic support of workers who are simply fighting for the American Dream of a better, more secure life.

Standing together, working people are raising wages that lift up entire communities. We’re solving climate change while creating good jobs with clean energy. We’re investing in the infrastructure that builds our nation’s future. We’re developing technologies like semiconductors to keep America globally competitive. We’re fighting for social and racial justice so economic gains are broadly shared. And we’re making workplaces safer, healthier and free from discrimination.

A more democratic workplace is coming. If you are one of the majority of America’s workers who are thinking about joining a union, now is the time.

This Labor Day marks the dawn of a new era of worker power. And we’re never going back.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 8, 2022. Published with permission.

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


Share this post

Subscribe For Updates

Sign Up:

* indicates required

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.