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God’s Work: Labor in the Church

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In this episode, we talk to Rev. Lindsey Joyce of the United Church of Rogers Park in Chicago and the Institute for Christian Socialism. We discuss Pastor Joyce’s life and path to being a full-time pastor and the community she serves. We also discuss the work of ministry: What is it like to be a worker who works in the church? What is the relationship between the higher calling?—?the vocation of being a pastor?—?and the daily labor that goes into fulfilling that role in the church and the community?

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez  is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, ?“a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.


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The Hidden Labor of Sex Work

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We’re back with Part II of our special mini-series on work and politics in the sex industry, guest-hosted by friend of the show Jessie Sage. Jessie is a writer, podcaster, phone sex operator, clip artist, and co-owner of Peepshow Media. In this rich and expansive two-part series, Jessie interviews sex worker, activist, writer, undocumented migrant, and DACA recipient from Honduras, Maya Morena. In Part II of their conversation, Maya and Jessie pick up where they left off last week and discuss the day-to-day labor that goes into being a sex worker, the images that sex workers have to maintain, and much more. To listen to part I, click here.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 17, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez  is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, ?“a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.


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New Survey From Broad Coalition Shows Overlapping Challenges of Racial, Gender, and Economic Injustice Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Today, Color Of Change, National Employment Law Project, the TIME’S UP Foundation Impact Lab, and the Worker Institute at Cornell ILR released results from new survey research showing deep racial, gender, and economic disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data point to immediate worker needs and long-standing structural inequities that policymakers and employers must address.

“The outcomes workers are facing as a result of the pandemic are because of deeply embedded racism and sexism in the labor market and beyond — factors which are not new, but have been amplified over the course of this crisis,” said report co-author Dr. Rakeen Mabud, Director of Research and Strategy at TIME’S UP Foundation. “We stand at a tipping point to make our nation better, stronger, and more equal, but only if policymakers do not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

The national survey, which was conducted in late 2020 and oversampled Black and Latinx respondents, examines outcomes across overlapping determinants of worker wellbeing and power, including measures related to economic security, health and safety, and agency and voice in the workplace and beyond.

“While our challenges may seem unprecedented, the reality of today’s economy is all too familiar: women, Black and brown people, and those at the intersection are getting left behind by their employers, our government and by the healthcare system as a whole,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change. “As Biden and Congress steer our nation through this crisis with the latest proposed package, this research shows that leaders in government must pay particular attention to marginalized communities. Funneling funds through big banks and corporate bailouts — schemes that leave out Black and brown workers — does not cut it. We need immediate, direct relief.”

The results demonstrate the profound and often compounding challenges that working people in the United States – particularly Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and those who are underpaid – are navigating in the workplace and beyond.

Some key findings:

  • Employers and government agencies are denying workers, and Black workers in particular, access to critical unemployment supports. Thirty-four percent of Black workers, 26% of Latinx workers, and 14% of white workers who applied for unemployment assistance were denied it.
  • Working women (17%) were more likely than working men (12%) to report that their household had trouble paying bills before the pandemic began, and a larger share of women (45%) than men (38%) reported increased challenges covering household expenses since then.
  • Black and Latinx workers are most concerned about employer retaliation for speaking up about unsafe workplace conditions. Thirty-four percent of Black workers and 25% of Latinx workers reported concerns about employer retaliation, compared to 19% of white workers.
  • Almost half of Black workers (48%), nearly a third of Latinx workers (29%), and many Asian workers (15%) fear receiving substandard health care due to their race if they become seriously ill, compared to 4% of white workers.
  • Support for Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements transcends race, gender, and socioeconomic identity. More than half of men (61%) and women (68%) expressed support for #metoo, and 58% and 64% of men and women support Black Lives Matter.
  • Sixty-two percent and 61% of non-union Black and Asian workers, respectively, said that they would definitely or probably support a union at their job, compared to 42% of white workers and 44% of Latinx workers. However, union membership stands at 8% to 12% across these groups, woefully out of step with these levels of support.

“The survey results speak to the enormous challenges people have experienced in healthcare institutions, voting systems, and the world of work. They also point to a broad-based desire for voice at work and support for movements advancing racial and gender justice,” said report co-author Sanjay Pinto, Fellow at the Worker Institute at Cornell. “We need responses that confront racial, gender, and economic disparities across different systems, both through policy and the power of collective action.”

This group of partners will remain focused on worker wellbeing and power through the pandemic and its aftermath, working with worker-led organizations and policymakers to support cross-cutting, equity-focused interventions that advance a just recovery: one that supports lasting security, safety, and agency in the workplace and beyond.

“The Just Recovery Survey offers both sobering and hopeful new indicators measuring the impact of the pandemic and economic crisis on working people, and provides new insight into the particular challenges confronting Black, Latinx, women, and low-paid workers, and those in frontline occupations,” said report co-author Maya Pinto, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. “Results underscore the urgent need for policymakers and employers to support and implement the policies workers need and demand, to build worker power and ensure health and economic security for all.”

Read the complete survey findings at bit.ly/justrecoverysurvey

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This blog originally appeared at NELP on February 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About Color Of Change
Color of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over 7 million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.

About National Employment Law Project
The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org. Follow NELP on Twitter at @NelpNews.

About TIME’S UP Foundation
The TIME’S UP Foundation insists upon safe, fair, and dignified work for all by changing culture, companies, and laws. We enable more people to seek justice through the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. We pioneer innovative research driving toward solutions to address systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace through the TIME’S UP Impact Lab. And we reshape key industries from within so they serve as a model for all industries. The TIME’S UP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

About the Worker Institute at Cornell
The Worker Institute at Cornell works to advance worker rights and collective representation through research, education, and training in conjunction with labor and social justice movements. We seek innovative solutions to problems faced by working people in our workplaces and economy today.


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3 Tips For Handling This Year’s Minimum Wage Increases

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Workers in half of the United States are seeing minimum wage increases in 2021, meaning employers and employees alike will need to stay abreast of changes that can affect various types of compensation beyond workers’ regular pay, experts told Law360.

The statewide wage floor will go up in 25 states this year, according to a Law360 tally. And several major cities, including Los Angeles; Chicago; Denver; and Portland, Oregon, are seeing increases as well.

Some of the changes are small, like in Minnesota, where the wage floor went up this year from $10 to $10.08 per hour. In other places, the increase is more significant. Virginia will see the biggest boost of any state this year on May 1, when the minimum wage rises to $9.50 per hour from the federal minimum of $7.25.

Here, Law360 takes a look at what employment lawyers should keep in mind as wages rise around the country.

Update Your Processes In Time

While many minimum wage increases went into effect New Year’s Day, some will take effect later this year. But whenever the change happens, employers and workers need to be ready for it, attorneys said.

Some worker advocates who spoke with Law360 predicted the increases could lead to an uptick in wage and hour lawsuits.

“We have seen cases where, once COVID hit, people were shaving hours, manipulating time cards [and] things like that. And I certainly would expect to see it as a result of this as well,” said Ryan Morgan, the co-chair of the employee rights group at Morgan & Morgan PA.

The responsibility to ensure workers get paid what they’re owed ultimately falls to the employer, but businesses that work with a payroll company should make sure their providers’ systems are updated to reflect new minimum wage rates, Morgan suggested.

Awareness can be more of a challenge for workers, said Edgar Ndjatou, the executive director of the worker advocacy group Workplace Fairness.

Even though state minimum wage levels are a matter of public record, workers may not be aware that they can go to the U.S. Department of Labor and its state-level counterparts for information, he said.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited worker interactions that might otherwise allow for peer-to-peer information sharing.

“It’s one thing if people get together and say, ‘Did you hear about this? There’s a minimum wage increase.’ But now, if people are not in the same room as much, the ability to provide awareness might be curtailed,” Ndjatou said.

Get Into the Weeds

Minimum wage laws can differ greatly across jurisdictions, so it’s important to know which one applies where.

“As states and local municipalities continue to pass regulations and the federal-level minimum wage stays pretty stagnant, employers are going to have to keep track and understand what the current minimum wage is in the jurisdictions in which they have employees,” said Chuck McDonald, a shareholder at management-side firm Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC.

Large employers with workers in many different jurisdictions should pay special attention to the details of each jurisdiction. Some legislation sets different minimum wage rates for employers of different sizes, or those that offer certain benefits versus those that don’t.

“Ten years ago, state law was mostly all anybody had to worry about,” McDonald said. “Now you’ve got to go down one more level to the county, city and municipalities.”

Beyond simply complying with the law, businesses should consider the implications of rising minimum wage rates on workforce morale, said Michael Schmidt, the vice chair of the labor and employment practice at management-side firm Cozen O’Connor.

“If you’re raising the wages that the lowest rung of employees get, that’s by definition going to be closing the gap between those lower wage earners and some of your other wage earners in the company,” he said.

Employers should also make sure they’re not opening themselves to discrimination claims if they change workers’ schedules in response to pay floors going up, said Ndjatou of Workplace Fairness.

“If they think that they can’t afford to pay everyone the new minimum wage, they might decide to cut back hours or readjust schedules,” he said. “Where sometimes employers may run afoul is if they don’t do those things equitably.”

Keep an Eye On Other Obligations

A rise in the minimum wage doesn’t only affect workers’ hourly pay. It might also have impacts on other compensation obligations that are based on employees’ regular rate of pay.

“If the minimum wage goes up, then what you’ve got to pay for paid sick leave, report-to-work pay [and] some of those other ancillary requirements are going to be impacted as well,” said Ogletree’s McDonald.

Additionally, a rise in the minimum wage could also affect whether certain employees qualify as exempt from overtime and other pay requirements.

In California, for instance, certain employees must earn at least twice what they would be paid for 40 hours per week of work at the state minimum wage rate in order to qualify as exempt from overtime requirements. When the minimum wage goes up, so does that threshold, said Zach Hutton, a partner at management-side firm Paul Hastings LLP.

“It’s important that employers not just increase the minimum wage paid to non-exempt employees, but also see whether they need to increase the salaries of some exempt workers,” Hutton said.

Lew Maltby, the president of the National Workrights Institute, predicted that such exemptions will be the basis for an increasing number of complaints against employers.”It happens all the time and it’s going to happen more now,” Maltby said. “When the minimum wage goes up, especially when it goes up substantially, an employer’s potential benefit from cheating goes up too.”

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Mike LaSusa is a senior employment reporter for the legal news service Law360, where he focuses on the laws and regulations surrounding pay for workers.


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The U.S. Economy Excels at One Thing: Producing Massive Inequality

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To grasp the sheer magnitude of U.S. economic inequality in recent years, consider its two major stock market indices: the Standard and Poor (S&P) 500 and Nasdaq. Over the last 10 years, the values of shares listed on them grew spectacularly. The S&P 500 went from roughly 1,300 points to over 3,800 points, almost tripling. The Nasdaq index over the same period went from 2,800 points to 13,000 points, more than quadrupling. Times were good for the 10 percent of Americans who own 80 percent of stocks and bonds. In contrast, the real median weekly wage rose barely over 10 percent across the same 10-year period. The real federal minimum wage fell as inflation diminished its nominal $7.25 per hour, officially fixed and kept at that rate since 2009.

All the other relevant metrics likewise show that economic inequality in the United States kept worsening across the last half-century. This happened despite “concerns” about inequality expressed publicly across the years by many establishment politicians (including some in the new Biden administration), journalists, and academics. Inequality worsened through the capitalist downturns after 1970 and likewise through the three capitalist crashes of this century (2000, 2008, and 2020). Nor did the deadly pandemic provoke soul-searching or policies adequate to stop, let alone reverse, the ongoing redistribution of income and wealth upward.

No advanced economics is required to grasp that divisions, bitterness, resentment, and anger flow from such a persistently widening gap between haves and have-nots. Among millions who search for explanations, many become prey for those mobilizing against scapegoats. White supremacists blame Black and Brown people. Nativists (calling themselves “patriots” or “nationalists”) point to immigrants and foreign trade partners. Fundamentalists blame those less zealous and especially the non-religious. Fascists try to combine those movements with economically threatened small-business owners, jobless workers, and alienated social outcasts to form a powerful political coalition. The fascists made good use of Trump to assist their efforts.

U.S. history adds a special sharpness to the search for explanations. The dominant argument for capitalism in the 20th century after the 1930s Great Depression was that it “produced a great middle class.” Real U.S. wages had risen even during the Depression. They were generally higher than elsewhere across the globe, and especially in comparison with those in the USSR. High wages showed the superiority of U.S. capitalism according to the system’s apologists in politics, journalism, and academia. Demolition of that middle class at the end of the 20th and into the new century pained especially those who had bought the apologies.

And indeed, the Great Depression and its aftermath had lessened inequality significantly, enabling such a defense of capitalism to have some semblance of validity. However, for that defense to be persuasive required two key facts to be forgotten or hidden. The first is that the U.S. working class fought harder for major economic gains in the 1930s than at any other time in U.S. history. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) then organized millions into labor unions utilizing militants from two socialist parties and a communist party. Those parties were then achieving their largest-ever numerical strengths and social influences. That is how and why together the unions and the parties won the establishment of Social Security, federal unemployment compensation, a minimum wage, and a huge federal jobs program: all firsts in U.S. history. The second fact is that capitalists in the 1930s and afterward fought harder than ever against each and every working-class advance. The “middle-class” status achieved by a large portion of the working class (by no means all and especially not minorities) happened despite not because of capitalism and capitalists. But it was certainly clever propaganda for capitalism to claim credit for working-class gains that capitalists tried but failed to block.

The reduction of U.S. economic inequality accomplished then proved temporary. It was undone after 1945. Particularly after 1970, capitalism’s normal trajectory of deepening economic inequality resumed through to the present moment. Simply put, capitalism’s basic structure of production—how it organizes its enterprises—positioned capitalists to reverse the New Deal’s reduction of economic inequality. Much of the temporary U.S. middle class is now gone; the rest is fading fast. Over the last half-century, U.S. capitalism brought inequality to the extremes surrounding us now. No wonder a population once persuaded to support capitalism because it fostered a middle class now finds reasons to question it.

In capitalist enterprises, tiny minorities of the persons involved occupy positions of leadership, command, and control. The owner, the owner’s family, the board of directors, or the major shareholders comprise such minorities: the class of employers. Opposite them are the vast majorities: the class of employees. The employer class determines, exclusively, what the enterprise produces, what technology it uses, where production occurs, and what is done with its net revenue. The employee class must live with the consequences of employers’ decisions from which it is excluded. The employer class uses its position atop the enterprise to distribute its profits partly to enrich itself (via dividends and top executive pay packages). It uses some of its profits to buy and control politics. The goal there is to prevent universal suffrage from moving the economic system beyond capitalism and the economic inequality it reproduces.

Deepening U.S. inequality flows directly from this capitalist organization of production—its class system. Occasionally, under exceptional circumstances, rebellious social movements win reversals of that inequality. However, if such movements do not change the capitalist organization of production, capitalists will render such reversals temporary. To solve the extreme inequality of U.S. capitalism requires systemic change, an end to capitalism’s specific class structure pitting employers against employees. If production were organized instead in enterprises (factories, offices, stores) that were democratized—one worker, one vote—as worker cooperatives, economic inequality could and would be drastically reduced. Democratic decisions over the distribution of individual incomes across all the participants in an enterprise would far less likely give a small minority vast wealth at the expense of the vast majority. The same logic that dispensed with kings in politics applies to employers in capitalism’s enterprises.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or ItselfUnderstanding Marxism, and Understanding Socialism.


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Biden picks Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for labor secretary

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President-elect Joe Biden is nominating Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for labor secretary. Walsh’s history with labor goes back to his early 20s, when he joined Laborers’ Union Local 223 in Boston, a union to which his father had long belonged, and one later headed by his uncle and then by Marty himself, who went on to be the head of Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council before becoming mayor in 2013.

Walsh was seen as a union favorite, with support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as well as the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. What he is not is an addition to the diversity of Biden’s Cabinet, as another top contender, California Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary Julie Su, would have been. (Su is also a rock star who would have done an amazing job.)

But Harold Meyerson recently made the case that Walsh is also not the your-grandfather’s-union throwback he might appear on the surface to be, coming from the very white, very very male, and comparatively conservative building trades unions. 

Walsh’s “own work in that movement,” Meyerson wrote, “has been to push the trades into the 21st century. As mayor, Walsh prodded the city council to approve his proposal requiring construction companies working on public projects or private projects exceeding 50,000 square feet to have 51 percent of their workers’ hours go to city residents, 40 percent to minorities, and 12 percent to women. He has also pushed the building trades into supporting a host of progressive causes.”

There is something to be said for a labor secretary who is of the white working class but has progressive priorities.

”He’s been at the forefront when it comes to promoting people of color, making sure people of color have a fair shake,” AFSCME’s Lee Saunders told Meyerson. The AFT’s Randi Weingarten also spoke highly of Walsh’s ability to get stuff done, another important qualification.

Will Marty Walsh be the most aggressive and effective labor secretary Biden could have chosen? Eh, probably not. But don’t write him off as just another Irish-American building trades guy.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on January 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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How to Keep On Keeping On

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Even asking the questions is exhausting.

Who’s making the Covid decisions, and why do they change every day? How has the workload doubled? What about the new extremes of micro-management? Which of my co-workers, or their families, or my customers or patients or students are going to get sick?

And why can’t we seem to do anything to stop all this suffering?

The pull to give up, to withdraw, to hunker down and “just survive” is almost irresistible—even for a committed activist like you. 

But here we are. We are connecting to one another at work, even if just through images on a screen. We know that others are in the same situation, and we remember that the fight we were already committed to—for decent, dignified work and the power needed to grab it—was always going to be a long and hard haul. 

So how do we make it through to the other side of this pandemic, with some semblance of solidarity and sanity?

COUNT ON YOUR VALUES

Check in with yourself, often. Remind yourself what you believe and what you want to do with your beliefs. Those have not changed just because our employers have found a new way to slap us around. Your deep values and beliefs can shape your response to any situation. 

Say the boss has abruptly and unilaterally implemented an awful new policy. You have a choice: shoulder it without question, complain bitterly, or think critically about a response.

If your values include self-respect and respect for your co-workers, then the first two options make no sense. Accepting abuse is incompatible with your values. Just complaining is an advertisement of powerlessness. Why not start with the intention to resist? Even as just an idea in your mind, the intention is necessary to push through hopelessness that nothing can be done.

BROADCAST DETERMINATION

Even if you can barely scrape yourself off the ground, don’t broadcast your despair to co-workers. The tendency towards hopeless dismay is very contagious, but so is determination to not give up. Commiseration and complaining are a waste of time; engaging your co-workers around productive ways to resist is gold.

Consider how often you’ve found yourself thinking that most of your co-workers are apathetic, or are frightened, or just go along to get along. It may seem true, but remember: these are the attitudes that people take on when they have given in to helplessness.

Your commitment to resisting oppression should help you reach past these defenses thrown up by your co-workers, simply by steadily asserting confidence that things can change through collective action. No need to be falsely optimistic, or to cheerlead; just be doggedly committed to your own—and their own—dignity.

SET A REAL GOAL

Some goal is better than no goal. It doesn’t help to be overly ambitious (we need to get rid of this guy, or let’s all walk out right now, or I’m refusing to follow that policy no matter what). Instead, simply start with a clear conviction that something can be done, that some action can be taken together with co-workers. 

Setting any goal that can be achieved is a far better use of your energy than setting a wildly unrealistic goal too soon. Is it a realistic goal to talk to colleagues and encourage them? Then that’s the goal to work toward.

Say your next goal is to get together with co-workers to ask the boss probing questions about the new policy. In lots of workplaces this itself will be seen as insurrection, and people will need coaching and encouragement to take such a step.

Again, it’s the attitude of collective noncompliance that matters. We should all be noncompliant with the fear that pervades the worksite, with the right of the employer to be unilateral and coercive, and with the “normal” subordinate behavior that’s expected of workers. Practicing noncompliance in small but purposeful ways builds the muscle of collective power, and pushes against helplessness.

For example: think of one totally useless form of record-keeping you’re required to do. Talk with co-workers who also despise this waste of time, and persistently reach out until you have a critical mass—it could be five people or 100, depending on your workplace—who are willing to just stop doing it.

Think through the arguments management will use to scare people, and how to respond. Think whether this particular form of noncompliance might affect anyone else’s work adversely. Consider what to do if management threatens discipline.

Always aim for a big enough group to call management’s bluff. If you win, even on something small, talk about it in the group and reflect on how it happened. Everyone’s confidence will increase for the next fight.

LOVE THOSE CO-WORKERS

Since our only path to power at work is through collective action, the need for connection to co-workers is beyond debate. But it’s quite possible that you don’t love your co-workers! Maybe your workplace is rife with gossip, cliques, racist hostility, competitive friction, or distrust.

Or maybe there’s so much turnover that you barely know your colleagues. Maybe Covid means you never get to see them, or only in Zoom meetings where the supervisor talks endlessly.

None of this is reason not to strive to love the people you work with. Yes, love—meaning a deep-down commitment to the idea that they are human beings capable of collective dignity.

As we know from lifetimes of loving family and friends, love can have infinite expressions: When a co-worker snaps at you, don’t snap back. If you admire the way a colleague has conducted herself, tell her. If someone in your workplace is driving himself beyond reason, support him to regain perspective and slow down.

And wherever despair and hopelessness rear up in a co-worker, find the way to quietly and confidently express your trust. (No one can love everyone they work with; set a reasonable goal of those with the best potential to be allies.)

STAY ON YOUR FEET

An amazing byproduct of the effort to love your co-workers is that it makes you feel less alone. Not only does it chip away at isolation—expressing your care and respect also builds out a productive network of people willing to trust one another. And when there is a network—even a small one—of co-workers in the habit of action, everyone’s confidence is built up.

If you happen to be brave enough to speak up to the boss individually, you may come to believe you’re the only one who will, or who can. Others will depend on your courage, rather than exercising their own; this actually reinforces isolation. 

But a network where you depend on each other can help you lift yourself back up at your own lowest moments. Trusting each other also means fostering debate, tolerating criticism, making apologies, and granting forgiveness. It can become a “righteous cycle” of mutual respect leading to critical reflection leading to purposeful action.

Whatever form your purposeful action eventually takes—bargaining a Covid Memorandum of Understanding, fighting for more staff, defending benefits, demanding safety, beating back a bullying boss—if it is grounded in relationships that sustain you, it will keep you on your feet for the many struggles still ahead.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on January 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ellen David Friedman is a retired organizer for Vermont NEA and a member of the Labor Notes board.


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Georgia’s Working People Deserve Better: In the States Roundup

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It’s time once again to take a look at the ways working people are making progress in the states. Click on any of the links to follow the state federations on Twitter.

Arizona AFL-CIO:

California Labor Federation:

Colorado AFL-CIO:

Florida AFL-CIO:

Georgia State AFL-CIO:

Indiana State AFL-CIO:

Iowa Federation of Labor:

Massachusetts AFL-CIO:

Michigan State AFL-CIO:

Minnesota AFL-CIO:

Missouri AFL-CIO:

New Jersey State AFL-CIO:

New York State AFL-CIO:

Ohio AFL-CIO:

Oregon AFL-CIO:

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO:

Rhode Island AFL-CIO:

Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council:

Texas AFL-CIO:

Vermont State Labor Council:

Virginia AFL-CIO:

Washington State Labor Council:

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 4, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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Top 10 AFL-CIO Blog Posts of 2020

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By any measure, 2020 has been one of the most historic years in recent memory. Working people across the country stepped up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, continued to organize their workplaces and came together to help elect a labor-friendly president and vice president in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. We covered these stories and many others throughout the year and here are the top 10 most-read stories by you, our readers.

1. In Memoriam: Union Members Lost in COVID-19 Pandemic: “As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the United States, our sisters, brothers and friends in the labor movement are among the first casualties. It is important for us to work together during this crisis to prevent further deaths. It is important to thank those who are doing the work to keep us safe and fed. It is important to remember those who we lost because of the coronavirus.”

2. Working People Respond to the Killing of George Floyd with Nationwide Protests: “Racism plays an insidious role in the daily lives of all working people of color. This is a labor issue because it is a workplace issue. It is a community issue, and unions are the community. We must and will continue to fight for reforms in policing and to address issues of racial and economic inequality.”

3. Biden Taps Working People Champions to Transition Teams: “President-elect Joe Biden made sure that the voices of working people will be heard in the transition to his administration. He appointed more than two dozen leaders from the labor movement to the various agency review teams that will help make sure the Biden administration is ready to go on day one.”

4. Shame on Corporations Using COVID-19 Pandemic to Attack Workers: “Some greedy corporations are using this time to attack these working people, attempting to use a crisis to roll back the rights of the very people who are dying while keeping America running.”

5. Government Must Act to Stop Spread of Economic and Financial Consequences of Coronavirus: “We need government to act to stop financial and economic contagion until the worst of the coronavirus passes and, most importantly, until everyone has a better sense of the exact nature of the threat—that is, until the uncertainty diminishes. Working people must demand that government act, or we and our families will pay the price for others’ lack of action, as we so often have in the past.”

6. The Trump Budget: The Other Shoe Drops: “They keep running the same play because it keeps working. Since 2001, the wealthiest 1% of all taxpayers have gotten $2 trillion in tax cuts, and federal tax revenues have been reduced by $5.1 trillion. This is money that should have been used to make life better for working people?—for example, by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, funding quality public education for every child and guaranteeing retirement security for our seniors?—rather than building up the fortunes of the 1%.”

7. 50 Reasons the Trump Administration Is Bad for Workers: “The Trump administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic marks the administration’s most glaring failure of leadership. However, the administration’s response to the pandemic is in no way distinct from its approach to governing since President Trump’s first day on the job. The administration has systematically promoted the interests of corporate executives and shareholders over those of working people and failed to protect workers’ safety, wages and rights.”

8. The Response to COVID-19: What Working People Are Doing This Week: “‘When things like these episodes break out, we’re on the front lines.’ – Leo Laffitte, a custodian for 18 years at the Hartford Public Library, a member of AFSCME Local 1716…”

9. The New Front-Line Workers: The Working People Weekly List: “Much of the American workplace has shut down, sending millions of employees home to wait out the coronavirus pandemic. Among those still on the job are grocery-store clerks, prison guards and delivery drivers. ‘Who would have ever thought that we would be on the front lines?’ said Joyce Babineau, a 67-year-old supermarket supervisor in Dartmouth, Mass., a coastal village 60 miles south of Boston.”

10. Breakthrough for Organized Labor and Clean Energy: “Her goal was to go beyond good intentions and rhetoric. So Liz Shuler, as secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, the second-highest position in the labor movement and, as it happens, highest-ranking woman in the federation’s history, went to Scandinavia in 2019. She leveraged AFL-CIO’s relationships with their sister union federations to talk directly with top management at some of the largest renewable energy companies in the world.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on December 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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2020 in Review: Workers Struggle Under the Weight of the Pandemic

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Workers will feel the ramifications of this unprecedented year long into the future.

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed 300,000 lives, destroyed millions of jobs, busted gaping holes in public budgets, and magnified the myriad inequalities that have come to define life in the United States.

Notwithstanding a few bright spots, the labor movement struggled to find its footing in the biggest workplace health and safety crisis of our lifetimes.

The year started with 3.5 percent unemployment—the lowest in a half-century—and hopes that workers might be able to use the tight labor market to recover some of what had been lost over decades of concessions.

All that came to a crashing halt in March, though the U.S. was slow to impose dramatic shutdowns. Eventually it took a seesaw approach, alternating between periods of lockdown and opening in an attempt to keep the economy going while waiting for a vaccine.

That came at an enormous human cost. Health care workers sustained grueling shifts for months on end, witnessing the havoc this new virus wreaks on its victims while working desperately to connect patients with loved ones to say their final distanced goodbyes. Meanwhile they often had to fight for adequate protective gear.

“Most of us are going to get it and some of us are going to die,” said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, president of the New York State Nurses, as the pandemic reached its early heights in New York City. Overall around 550,000 health care workers have contracted the virus, including 300,000 workers in nursing home, whose residents account for 40 percent of all Covid deaths. Sixteen hundred health care workers have died.

MOST UNEQUAL RECESSION

Unemployment peaked near 15 percent in April. By September a quarter of Americans would say that someone in their household had lost a job this year.

Even as unemployment dipped to 6.7 percent in November, there were still 9 million fewer workers on payrolls than a year ago, with 3.7 million having dropped out of the labor force. The real unemployment rate, which includes these workers as well as involuntary part-timers, stands at 12 percent. Among the unemployed, 3.9 million have been without a job for more than 27 weeks.

But even those figures understate the pandemic’s impact on workers. According to the Washington Post, this is “the most unequal recession in modern U.S. history, delivering a mild setback for those at or near the top and a depression-like blow for those at the bottom.”

Unemployment rates for Blacks and Latinos are 10.3 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively, compared to 5.9 percent for white workers. Retail has lost 550,000 jobs since February and leisure and hospitality 3.4 million.

While Americans got used to seeing cars lined up for miles at food banks—26 million adults reported not having enough food to eat in mid-November—those at the very top saw their fortunes grow astronomically. Since the start of lockdowns in March, 650 U.S. billionaires have tacked on an additional $1 trillion in wealth, led by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now worth $70 billion more, and the Walton family, up a combined $48 billion.

AN UPSURGE?

Suddenly, just the act of going to work every day became a potential life-or-death question.

That spurred some workers to action. Detroit bus drivers were the first to strike, to force the city to sanitize buses and stop fare collection. Apple packers—working shoulder to shoulder in the county with the highest rate of Covid on the West Coast—walked out to demand safety and hazard pay. Workers in Amazon warehouses, grocery stores, and fast food fought for paid time off.

These were among the hundreds of actions that workers took to defend themselves, their co-workers, and their communities. But it was far from the mass strike wave that some anticipated, a reflection both of the disorienting impact of the pandemic and of how little real organization had been built up heading into it.

Meatpacking and poultry plants stayed open throughout the year, even as the workers, largely immigrants, contracted the coronavirus at alarming rates. A Tyson plant manager in Iowa set up a pool for supervisors to bet on how many workers in the plant would get the virus, according to a lawsuit; over a third caught it, and five died. Tyson’s billionaire owner, meanwhile, saw his fortune balloon by $600 million. OSHA was almost entirely AWOL as 225 meatpacking workers died of Covid. Poultry plants were even granted federal waivers to increase line speed.

None of this is to dismiss the valiant organizing in some workplaces.

In just the week before we went to print, 30 workers walked out at a George’s poultry plant in Springdale, Arkansas, to protest the end of staggered shifts (which mean fewer workers have to cram into crowded hallways) and push for wage increases. Teachers organized a sickout in Chandler, Arizona, over their district’s refusal to consider hybrid or remote schooling as cases surge. And dozens of fast food workers in Durham, North Carolina, struck after a worker at a McDonald’s tested positive and management withheld the news; they demanded better virus protections and $15 an hour.

SOCIALLY DISTANCED TACTICS

Many unions and worker centers did their best to adapt by organizing socially distanced rallies and car caravans, including some that jammed up fast food drive-thrus to back workers’ demands. A digital picket line by the New Yorker’s new union won just cause after a two-year push.

Some unions canceled meetings entirely. Others switched to Zoom and reported record attendance. Many negotiated one-year contract extensions, hoping for a better bargaining environment next year. At some big union employers, like Verizon and AT&T, strong unions won model leave policies. Others, like UPS, refused calls for hazard pay—and national union leaders did little to rock the boat.

Some workers frustrated with their union officials’ inaction voted in new ones. Complaining that the six-term incumbent hadn’t “shown his face” and was “totally absent,” members of AFSCME District Council 33 in Philadelphia backed a challenger slate—which included sanitation workers pushing for hazard pay and personal protective equipment—two to one.

No big wave of workers joined unions, though a handful did. National Nurses United had a breakthrough in North Carolina, the biggest hospital union victory in the South in 45 years. A promising collaboration between the United Electrical Workers and the Democratic Socialists of America trained hundreds of volunteers to advise workers looking for fight-back help, but has notched just a few small wins thus far.

Educators were forced to navigate constantly shifting conditions. They worried that open schools could spread the virus, and raged at a politics that placed the economy above their safety.

Some locals, like United Teachers Los Angeles, used the power they had built through years of organizing to quickly win remote schooling. But in many other districts, educators are back in buildings, or shifting back and forth between in-person and remote.

GOOD RIDDANCE

Averting a second term for Donald Trump was a major goal for many in labor.

An election that Joe Biden won by 7 million votes still managed to be a nail-biter, thanks to the archaic and undemocratic Electoral College. While the Biden campaign itself downplayed the importance of face-to-face organizing, a few unions thankfully ignored this advice. UNITE HERE sent 1,700 mostly Black and Latino canvassers—many of them laid-off hotel workers—whose work provided the critical margins in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

But the larger “blue wave” heralded by pre-election polling failed to materialize, dashing hopes for a good terrain on which to fight for labor law reform, a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or a massive federal stimulus and jobs program. Absent changes that will actually improve voters’ lives over the next four years, the prospect looms of a swing back to a demagogic right-winger in 2024.

In an ominous development in California, Uber and other gig economy giants spent a record-breaking $200 million to buy a win on Proposition 22 so they could go on treating workers as disposable “independent contractors.”

LABOR FOR BLACK LIVES

The other major story of 2020 was the upsurge for racial justice that began with George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Millions took to the streets, including in small towns where demonstrations are a rarity. Many demanded to cut police funding and redirect it to social needs.

Labor played its part. Many Twin Cities unions supported the demonstrations. Bus drivers in Minneapolis and New York refused to transport arrested protesters. West Coast dockers shut down their ports twice.

Teachers in Minneapolis, Denver, Portland, Oregon, Rochester, New York, and Seattle forced their districts to cut contracts with the police. The King County labor council expelled the Seattle police union, and other labor bodies debated whether police unions belong within them.

Union leaders—often hesitant to weigh in on such issues—issued statements backing the protests. A Strike for Black Lives endorsed by eight national unions in July saw actions in 150 cities; many participants stopped work for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence to honor Floyd.

As Tim Schermerhorn and Lee Sustar wrote in these pages, “The challenge now is to bring the militancy and energy of this year’s revived Black struggle into the workplace.”

WHERE NOW?

Where does all this leave us heading into 2021? We don’t know how many jobs the vaccine will bring back. In the public sector—a major employer of Black workers—decimated state and city budgets will fuel battles over employee pensions, health care, layoffs, and collective bargaining rights.

Over the past year, tens of millions of workers have been heralded as essential and praised as heroes. But they’ve also seen that they’re expendable—that their lives do not matter as much as ensuring the smooth flow of goods and production.

“We’re up here risking our life for chicken,” said Kendaliyn Granville, a Georgia poultry worker who walked out early in the pandemic.

“All they care about is picking up the garbage. They don’t even care about our health,” said Pittsburgh sanitation worker Fitzroy Moss at a rally demanding protective gear and hazard pay.

Many of these same workers hit the streets in the dramatic protests for racial justice this summer. How will these experiences translate to a post-pandemic world, where workers may have more breathing space to organize?

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on December 21, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dan DiMaggio is an Assistant Editor of Labor Notes.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is an Assistant Editor of Labor Notes. Saurav covers worker centers, immigrant workers, LGBTQ workers, the Steelworkers, the Electrical Workers (UE), and the global labor movement.


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