Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council Launches Food Assistance Program

Share this post

Our Team — San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council

We are in an unforeseen crisis. Just a few weeks ago none of us could have predicted the economic impact created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our members and our neighbors are in a financial and food crisis. Our entire labor council operation has converted to an emergency team focused on securing member benefits and running a substantial food distribution operation. To date we’ve distributed more than 150,000 pounds of food and served over 5,000 families in need. In the coming days, our distribution will provide food to more than 2,000 families per week, as our operations continually expand. I wish to commend our staff team for the work they are doing to keep this operation running, in the face of the health crisis swirling around them.

Our ability to provide for our members would not be possible without the support of a number of our unions. A big thanks to Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 465, Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 122 and United Domestic Workers (UDW)/AFSCME Local 3930 for assigning staff to our labor council food distribution in the City Heights community in San Diego, including scheduling appointments. Our team is ordering food to support our City Heights food bank, for the Unions United-United Way of San Diego County food bank, and for UNITE HERE Local 30’s and IBEW Local 569’s distributions to their members. We have secured a steady stream of food product and have recently opened an Imperial Valley distribution site for our members.

Last week, for the fourth Saturday in a row a team of labor council volunteers joined in solidarity to provide food to more than 1,000 families in need. These distributions to the general public have been in partnership with Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank. A big shout out to the unions serving on our logistics committee—Ironworkers Local 229, the San Diego Education Association, UDW, Local 122, UFCW Local 135 and Local 569. They are leading this effort with our labor council staff to make sure our distributions run efficiently, and the safety of our volunteers is maintained. In addition, we have had a large turnout of over 100 volunteers each week willing to provide a helping hand, and we thank them all. 

I’d like to acknowledge both locals 30 and 122 for the effort they are making to support their impacted members. Both unions have essentially lost their entire memberships to layoffs. Many of these workers lost their jobs more than a month ago, due to conventions and major conferences canceling. They are hurting. Yet these two unions, with strong leadership and commitment, have assisted their members in filing unemployment claims, guiding them with utility and worker assistance processing, and making sure they are getting food for those most in need. This is a time that we all need to do our part to help these workers, and all of the other members who have lost their jobs and their paychecks!

FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR UNION MEMBER FOOD:Providing food for our union members impacted by this health and economic crisis requires a constant purchase of food. You can support our efforts by sending union contributions to the labor council’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit fund that is certified to receive and distribute food with both the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego. All funds received will go to providing food for our union members in the coming days and weeks. A big shout out to Local 135, AFT Local 1931, OPEIU Local 30, California Teachers Association and San Diego Gas & Electric for their contributions to a Partnership for a Better San Diego. We’ve also secured more than 110 online donations from individuals. 

UNIONS: Make checks out to A Partnership for a Better San Diego and mail or deliver to our labor council office. If you have questions, please contact Sandra Williams: [email protected].

INDIVIDUAL DONORS: Send contributions by clicking: Union Member Relief Program.

FOOD DISTRIBUTION:All affiliated local unions have been provided a form to request assistance for their members. Please provide the labor council with names of those you wish to receive food. Once received, the labor council staff or staff from our member unions will call to set an appointment time. Food assistance is by appointment only. The Unions United food pantry is fully functional. You can contact its operation directly. You also will need to provide the information to schedule an appointment for food assistance.

This article was originally printed in AFL-CIO on April 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Keith Maddox is the executive secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.


Share this post

Trump is putting the shock doctrine in action, using COVID-19 as an excuse to slash regulations

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is avatar_2563.jpg

It’s not just immigration. Donald Trump plans to use coronavirus as an excuse to weaken environmental, labor, health, and other regulations in exactly the ways he’s wanted to all along. While the White House negotiates with Congress, including Democrats, over what the next round of coronavirus relief could look like, regulatory changes can be made without congressional approval.

The administration already decided not to enforce air quality standards—during a respiratory disease pandemic. Now, Trump and advisers like director of the United States National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and incoming chief of staff Mark Meadows are talking about ideas like suspending regulations on small businesses—an absolute invitation to wage theft and dangerous working conditions, among other things—and “expanding an existing administration program that requires agencies to revoke two regulations for every new one they issue,” The Washington Post reports. Because nothing says “we’re serious about making good policy” like arbitrary rules limiting what the government can do on a strictly numeric level.

“This sounds exactly like the type of opportunistic political move that absolutely should not be attempted right now,” Jared Bernstein, who was the chief economic adviser to Joe Biden during his time as vice president, told The Washington Post. “Correlations between regulations and economic activity are far shakier than they assume, and I don’t believe this idea will help at all.”

According to Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen, “all attention should be focused on improving the regulatory state to protect the public. We should be focused on the crisis at hand, not loosening standards.” There’s a great example of someone saying something that is 100% true and 100% not what is on the table in the current administration. Protecting the public? Ha ha. Focused on the crisis at hand rather than on loosening standards—indeed, rather than using the crisis as an excuse to loosen standards? Bitter laughter to infinity.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 21, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


Share this post

How COVID-19 Showed America’s Dependence on Blue-Collar Workers

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is conway1.png

At the start of each shift, Eric Jarvis takes a handful of anti-bacterial wipes and sanitizes the equipment he uses at the Packaging Corporation of America mill in Valdosta, Georgia.

He worries about getting the coronavirus every time he leaves for work, but knows the nation depends on paper workers like him to produce the linerboard that goes into the cardboard boxes used to ship millions of items to stores and homes each day.

Jarvis, president of USW Local 646, may not be on the front lines of the pandemic in the same way as nurses and first responders. But he and other manufacturing workers also fulfill a vital role on the nation’s production lines, ensuring that Americans still have the food, medicine, toiletries and other items crucial for everyday life.

“If we don’t make boxes, then the grocery stores don’t have groceries,” Jarvis said.

“We know our job is an essential job,” he said of the local’s 235 members. “You can see the pride in the workers doing their jobs out there.”

Truck drivers, bakers, transit operators, grocery store clerks, warehouse packers and manufacturing workers form the backbone of America’s economy.

They show up every day and get the job done, performing so reliably that the nation long took their work for granted. No one questioned, for example, whether stores would have toilet paper and cleaning products.

Then the pandemic struck, and surging demand for consumer goods exposed America’s dependence on the blue-collar workers who supply almost every need.

Life would grind to a halt without them.

Right now, these workers risk COVID-19 by laboring in groups at mills, factories, warehouses and stores while many other Americans do their jobs alone at home. It angers Jarvis to think that service workers put their lives on the line for the poverty-level wages common in their industry.

“I hope people never forget that,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis and his co-workers protect themselves as best they can.

Besides wiping down equipment, they stagger their starting times to reduce contact with one another. They wait in their cars and trucks before a shift instead of congregating at the time clock. Inside the mill, they remain at their work stations unless their presence elsewhere is a necessity.

Still, workers worry about bringing the coronavirus home to their families. Some shower, change clothes and even wash their eyeglasses the minute they get home to avoid spreading any germs they picked up during their shifts.

“It gets a little rough,” explained Colt Kovatch, vice president of USW Local 14693, which represents about 80 workers at the International Paper box shop in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania. “You have family at home. You want to be with them. But I understand what I’m doing, what I’m making, and how it helps. It keeps my blood pumping.”

The box shop makes packaging for food and drug companies, plastics manufacturers and online retailers.

“We might not be the frontline workers,” Kovatch said. “But we’re right there behind them.”

At Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, members of USW Local 8888 continue building nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines for the Navy even though 23 co-workers contracted COVID-19. Local President Charles Spivey said the workers who report each day “are making a great sacrifice.”

“We do unique work here,” Spivey observed. “We can’t just shut down. There’s pride here. We know that we’re the best shipbuilders in the world.”

Some of the workers at Morton Salt’s production facilities in Lyons and Hutchinson, Kansas, have worked together for years.

Now, that camaraderie helps the members of USW Local 12606 cope with the risks they face from the coronavirus.

“We recognize that there’s a danger, but we also recognize that there’s a job to do,” local President Jon Ahrens said. “We still have to provide not only for our families but for the whole United States.”

Table salt in blue containers may be the most recognizable product supplied by the local’s approximately 200 members. But their salt also is used as an additive in shampoos and water softeners; as a preservative in the chips, snack cakes and other comfort foods in high demand during the pandemic; and in the saline solutions that hospitals use to treat patients.

So far, at least 33,200 Americans have died from COVID-19, and more than 671,000 have been infected. An influx of patients overwhelmed some hospitals and ambulance crews.

Jay Wright, president of USW Local 188S, figures that many exhausted health care workers and first responders survive on caffeine these days. And he’s happy to do his part to keep them going.

Each day, Wright and about 140 co-workers at the Ardagh factory in Valparaiso, Indiana, make more than 40 million tops for aluminum cans.

When the pandemic began, manufacturers of sodas, energy drinks and other beverages experienced increased demand for their products—so they requested more lids.

The factory is so loud that workers often speak mouth to ear. Because social distancing is crucial to controlling the spread of COVID-19, Wright successfully pushed Ardagh to purchase radio sets so workers can communicate while standing several feet apart.

USW members say they’re proud to belong to a union that fights for fair wages and benefits and holds employers accountable for worker safety.

But they worry about the home health aides, food delivery drivers and other service workers who put their lives on the line while laboring for low pay and few, if any, benefits.

“That minimum wage is a joke,” said Jarvis, referring to the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. “People should see that after this.”

Jarvis and other workers at Packaging Corporation make more than the minimum wage largely because they have the protection of a union contract. They recognize others aren’t as lucky.

For years, labor leaders and other advocates pushed for an increase in the minimum wage. Raising it to $15 an hour would help 33 million Americans, including many who live in poverty even though they juggle multiple part-time jobs.

The House last year passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. However, Senate Republican leaders refuse even to consider it.

Working-class people make, package and ship just about everything Americans need. Although their work is essential, they believe consumers long showed little appreciation for it because much of what they do occurs behind the scenes.

COVID-19 shined a light on their role, and they hope people will remember it after life returns to normal.

These workers are the lifeblood of the nation. They step up every day and keep America running—even during a pandemic.

“I think this has really opened a lot of people’s eyes,” Wright said.

This article was originally printed the Independent Media Institute. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).


Share this post

Trader Joe’s Said I Was ‘Essential’—Safety Concerns Made Me Quit

Share this post

I quit my job this month. No, not the well-paying NGO summer position; that was canceled weeks ago. Not the paid internship either; my boss hasn’t returned my emails or sent me back pay for the past month. I decided to let go of my last source of income because Trader Joe’s didn’t appear to take their workers’ safety seriously when I was working there.

As COVID-19 has swept through the country, the spread of the virus has been accompanied by a massive shift in how we view our workers. Blue-collar starter jobs—the grocery clerks, janitors, and postal workers of the U.S.—are now seen as essential to the survival of our country. Though they are often praised on social media and by elected officials, policy has yet to catch up.

Across America workers and their unions are rallying for increased protections and accommodations in these unprecedented times, demanding proper protective gear, sick leave, and hazard pay in order to continue to serve the public.

Some national retailers like Walmart and Target have increased wages and protections for their workers, but others, like Trader Joe’s, have been reluctant.

I have some health issues. Not too bad, but enough to make me think twice before going outside during a respiratory illness pandemic. I had always loved my job, and genuinely looked forward to showing up, especially in a time of crisis, to help my community and maybe make someone’s day that much better. I trusted my team to keep me safe. But the billion-dollar company let me down.

At Trader Joe’s, your coworkers are called your “crew,” and upper management takes the moniker “mate,” with the store manager as our “captain.” Nautical titles aside, leadership has been lacking since this crisis began and the policies around personal protection have been confusing at best.

One week we weren’t allowed to wear gloves at all. Then next, we could wear gloves when stocking shelves, but not at the register. No masks allowed, period. No restrictions on how many people can enter the store, and no guidance around social distancing and how to stay safe as a cashier.

In our daily meetings, whimsically called “huddles,” I heard less about how to protect yourself from infection and more about why unionizing would hurt us.

As the weeks went on, and the full scope of the situation became apparent, I kept waiting to hear that our management would do something. Finally, the day came, and I was shocked: there was no message of safety protocols, no guidance on how to minimize contact, just a disclosure that those who had worked during the first weeks of panic would get a small share of the profits from the store as compensation. For most, this amounted to less than $2 per hour.

A week later, for my own safety, I quit.

I ultimately made my decision from a place of privilege, and I am thankful that I had the means to make a decision like that in the first place. I am fortunate to have family with the means to support me. I have lost all my income, and like many, will not see a cent from the Care Act tax refund. I am ineligible for unemployment benefits, but unlike other immunocompromised workers, I have the luxury to sit at home and wait this out, for now at least.

Since I quit, I understand there has been some clarification in store policies. Officially, masks are now allowed, and stores can limit the number of customers. Yet still, daily reports come in from stores around the country detailing contradictory messaging from management, and confusion over what the store’s policies are. There has been a temporary 10 percent increase to the employee discount. Employees are still encouraged to donate their own paid leave to their peers. I received a letter from national management two days ago, one that went out to all TJ’s workers around the country. I opened it eagerly, hoping it contained some new information about medical leave, or compensation. It was two pages on the dangers of unions.

The pandemic has revealed the urgent need for billionaires profiting from the food industry to truly protect and support workers on the front lines. Treat your grocery workers like the heroes they are for continuing to work in the face of danger. Just understand that for many, they have no other option.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute. April 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeremy Frakes is a former Trader Joe’s employee. To protect the author from workplace retribution, their name has been changed.


Share this post

Why COVID-19 Will Strain the Safety Net for Homeless Vets to the Breaking Point

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is conway1.png

Under normal circumstances, Jerry Porter would be spending his time helping the veterans he finds in tent camps and run-down housing.

But the escalating threat of COVID-19 forces the community activist and retired Steelworker to remain at home for now, even though vulnerable vets need him more than ever.

As the coronavirus spreads across America, the poor bear the brunt of a pandemic that’s exposed the deep class lines in U.S. society.

The rich have big savings accounts and quality health care. They’ll emerge from the crisis just fine.

But Americans at the margins, including homeless vets who rely on a frayed safety net stretched to the breaking point by COVID-19, now face an even greater struggle to survive.

“I don’t know where they end up,” said Porter ruefully. Porter, 75, is a Vietnam veteran and longtime member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 105 who worked more than 40 years at the aluminum plant in Davenport, Iowa, now owned by Arconic.

Porter and a group of friends work together to help veterans in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois.

But now, they’re heeding the request of public health officials. They stay home to help their community slow the spread of COVID-19.

That prevents them from helping veterans like the one Porter found sleeping on a squalid mattress in a “junky” house. He got the man into a clean apartment and—thanks to a friend who owned a bedding store—a new mattress and box spring for just $180.

Just as alarming, COVID-19 halted the fund-raising supporting that kind of intervention. Local veterans groups just canceled a taco dinner and a poppy sale that together raise about $6,000 each year.

For some veterans, that money is the difference between sleeping indoors or on the street.

Porter and his friends use some of the funds to provide life’s basics to the homeless vets they move into government-subsidized housing with little but the clothes on their backs.

“There’s nothing,” Porter explained. “There’s no bedding, silverware, dishes, glassware, towels, sheets.”

Twice a year, advocates in the Quad Cities hold “stand down” events that serve as a one-stop shop for veterans needing anything from counseling to jobs.

Porter already worries that the three-day event planned for September will be canceled because of COVID-19, leaving veterans to face a long winter without important services.

Porter’s union job ensured good wages, a pension and affordable health care. He devotes his retirement to the less fortunate, feeling a duty to fellow vets with no one else to help them.

The federal government fails veterans who struggle to find adequate employment or wrestle with health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

For example, the nation hasn’t adequately addressed the challenges that doom many vets to unemployment or low-wage jobs. Among other problems, veterans have difficulty converting their skills to the private sectorfinding purpose in civilian work and obtaining occupational licenses enabling them to apply skills learned in the military.

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from the current $7.25, would benefit about 1.8 million vets, along with millions of other Americans, who barely scrape by. The House last year approved a bill to increase the minimum wage, but Senate Republicans refuse to act on it.

Although significant progress in combating veteran homelessness has been made in recent years, unemployment, low wages and health problems still force veterans onto the streets or into shelters. About 40,000 are homeless, and 1.4 million more are only a lost paycheck or other crisis away from losing the roof over their heads.

A collection of government agencies and nonprofits operates soup kitchens, shelters and other services to serve America’s homeless. But this underfunded system is strained to capacity even in ordinary times.

Volunteers like Porter provide crucial support, stepping in when government agencies don’t know who else to call for help.

A veterans hospital once contacted Porter and asked him to help a man who lived outdoors. His tent was broken, and rain kept getting inside.

Porter picked up the vet and drove him to see a friend who owned an awning company. The businessman fixed the tent for free.

In a crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, this patchwork system is easily overwhelmed.

Some service providers already reduced services or limited new admissions to slow the spread of the disease.

Agencies closed drop-in centers where homeless veterans can get out of the elements. Some now want to counsel clients remotely, even though homeless people may not have cell phones.

And in the Quad Cities, Porter and his crew are sidelined, too.

Homeless vets face even greater odds during the COVID-19 crisis even though they have a higher risk of contracting the disease than other Americans.

Many live in cramped quarters without the social distancing and sanitary measures vital to controlling the virus. The closing of libraries, malls and coffee shops deprived them of places to wash their hands. They have nowhere to isolate themselves if they get sick.

Some cities are scrambling to place homeless people in places such as unused motel rooms, vacant houses and recreational vehicles on public streets. The goal is to disperse the population and keep the disease from spreading like wildfire if someone contracts it.

While the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, the slapdash response underscores how fragile the safety net for America’s homeless really is.

As cities struggle to adapt, the ranks of the homeless likely will grow because of the economic slowdown, putting more stress on the overtaxed system.

The government’s response to COVID-19 must include injecting funds into programs that support homeless veterans and keep other vets from losing their homes.

But federal officials also must think about what the economy and social-service network will look like after the pandemic.

That means better funding a system now overly reliant on fundraisers like taco dinners and poppy sales. It means comprehensively addressing the problems servicemen and servicewomen face when they leave the armed forces.

Thoughtful interventions will save lives, says Porter, who recently ran into the veteran he rescued from the “junky” house.

“I’m on my feet,” the man told him. “I’m doing OK.”

This article was originally printed the Independent Media Institute. on March 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).


Share this post

You and Your Boss Have the Same Interests Right Now. That Is a Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity.

Share this post

Image result for Hamilton Nolan

“We’re a team.” “We’re a family.” “We’re all on the same side.” “A rising tide lifts all boats.” These are lies that companies regularly tell their employees. In fact, in normal times, the interests of the workers and the bosses are mutually exclusive. Their bigger slice of the pie gives you a smaller slice. But these are not normal times. For the first time in a lifetime, the interests of the workers and the bosses are—temporarily—the same. That is an opportunity.

I know a guy who owns a few bars. In the course of a week, his business dried up. His income went to zero. He had to close the doors. His 80 employees are all out of work. Even if he wanted to keep paying them, he couldn’t. All of his money is invested in the business. Now he and his employees are both powerless bystanders in the face of a disaster. It will wipe all of them out, together, unless something is done.

Multiply that scenario by a million and you have a rough picture of the American economy at the moment. This is not a normal acute business crisis, affecting a single area of the economy, which can be bailed out so that the rest of us can continue on. This is a stoppage of the economy, which renders the fight over slices of the pie moot. There is no pie now. There’s an empty plate, and we’re all going to starve together unless something meaningful is done.

Organized labor is built, and should be built, with the idea that it will always be locked in a contentious struggle with business interests, because the logic of capitalism means that every dollar that working people do not win with their own power will be snatched away by owners and investors. Broadly speaking, that is always true. Except for now. Now, today, business owners—in particular small business owners—and their workers have the exact same interest: not being completely wiped out by an unprecedented crisis that defies categorization. We all need help from above right now.

In a perverse way, this is a sort of leverage for the working class. The economic balance of power that is usually used as a weapon to force workers to take less out of desperation is being erased by the day. Yes, the working class is still fucked. But the boss is fucked too! The workers may starve faster, but we’ll all starve nonetheless. What is normally happy rhetoric that conceals a shiv is now real. We’re all on the same team, and we are losing.

A few big-picture things are clear for all of us: Whenever this virus and its quarantine pass, the businesses that employ tens of millions of people will not be able to just throw open the doors and restart on their own. For owners, the bills are still piling up while they have no income, which will drive them into bankruptcy. For workers, the bills are still piling up while they have no income, which will drive them into bankruptcy. A week ago, the boss may have been driving a Porsche and deriding his employees as ungrateful socialist kids who don’t understand the real world. Today, the idea of a rent freeze and universal government healthcare and a debt jubilee sound pretty damn good to that same boss. It has always been true that the economy should be organized around what is good for working people. Instead, it has been organized around the interests of money itself, and those who hold it. But all of the intricate rules and structures that have been built to pull wealth to the top are breaking down as we speak in the face of the fundamental fact that there is no functioning economy for anyone. That sudden equality is a form of power.

Paid sick leave funded by the government, healthcare funded by the government, financial relief funded by the government: All are in the interests of owners and workers right now. Organized labor and businesses can combine their power in this bizarre moment in time to extract what is necessary from a government that is used to picking the interests of only one side. Time for the cats and dogs to play together. The AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce should be kicking down the door to Congress together and threatening the entire place with scorched-earth destruction unless they pass a massive stimulus that puts money in the pockets of working people and suspends debt obligations. (Already, unions and employers in the airline industry have put together a plan that would save the industry while prioritizing the workers, a good model of what can be done on an even grander scale right now.) If the working class emerges from this with no money to spend, there will be neither employees nor customers for any owners to come back to. Anyone too stupid to see this now is like The Millionaire stranded on Gilligan’s Island, still trying to pay money for good service while everyone else is hunting for coconuts to survive.

Union membership in America boomed after the Great Depression. Union radicalism and strikes boomed after World War II. There is nothing like an existential crisis to show people that they need to stick together. Notions of justice and urgency are sharpened when the stakes are this high. In the past week I have heard from multiple people across the country who are newly interested in unionizing. They all say that this crisis has prompted everyone at work to start talking about what can be done. That means that one of the biggest hurdles to unionizing—getting workers talking about united action—is already being crossed at workplaces all over America. The seeds of new unions are being planted. It is up to the labor movement to see to it that they grow and flourish. We may never see a more fertile environment for union organizing in the national psyche. This moment must not be squandered. Millions of people without unions have come to realize very fast that they have no safety net. Unions can build that safety net only by building newer and bigger unions. Get ready to work.

Very soon, the business class of America is going to come to the working class and say: “It is time to work together.” And they’re right. There is no choice. But this unity comes with a price. Regular people are not going to unite to rebuild the exact same set of arrangements responsible for all of them being overworked, underpaid, and unprotected in the first place. That won’t fly. Organized labor is not here to throw its power behind a government bailout that will restore organized labor to its former position of glorious inferiority. We are all on the same team now, and that team doesn’t run union-busting campaigns, or squeeze minimum-wage employees to pay enormous executive bonuses. Isn’t that right, bosses? The price of our cooperation is your cooperation. We can teach a business owner what solidarity looks like. Now they have to listen. Workers, after all, have been suffering forever. Bosses are just getting their first taste.

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

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


Share this post

Coronavirus is a huge labor issue, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is avatar_2563.jpg

Thanks largely to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, workers’ issues are getting a lot of attention as the United States confronts coronavirus. We’ll see what Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell do with it, but Democrats (and COVID-19) have managed to get paid sick leave and paid family leave into the national conversation. Democrats are also pushing for emergency improvements to unemployment insurance and to food assistance, which is a workers’ issue when you consider how many working people rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Those aren’t the only concerns, though. Look below for a bunch of coronavirus-and-labor links, but also check out the Economic Policy Institute’s discussion of how to handle a coronavirus-related recession, which Josh Bivens warns could happen much more quickly than the 2008 Great Recession. He suggests “rapid direct payments to individuals,” similar to what President George W. Bush did in 2008, but with some improvements. State governments are also likely to be hit hard in ways that could be a strong anti-stimulus, so, Bivens suggests, the federal government could very quickly combat that: “A quick way to transfer resources to state governments is to pay states’ share of Medicaid for the next year. This was done as part of the Recovery Act in 2009, and it is possibly the single most-effective component of the Act (when combining scale and per-dollar impact).”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on March 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


Share this post

2018 and 2019 hit a 35-year high for major strikes, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

Large work stoppages, aka large strikes, had been on the decline for years. That turned around in 2018—going from 25,300 workers involved in major strikes in 2017 to 485,200 in 2018—and stayed relatively high in 2019, the Economic Policy Institute reports.

“Through 2017, the general trend was downward, but there was a substantial upsurge in workers involved in major work stoppages in 2018,” Heidi Shierholz and Margaret Poydock write. “On average, in 2018 and 2019, 455,400 workers annually were involved in major work stoppages—the largest two-year pooled annual average in 35 yearssince 1983 and 1984.” A significant number of them—10 in 2019—were really large strikes, involving at least 20,000 workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on February 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

Share this post

The Oreo Workers Trump Betrayed

Share this post

Some labor struggles can feel like long, dramatic sagas: unexpected twists, broken hopes, valiant attempts to overcome unyielding giants. Michael Smith knows this tale well as a member of the small, beleaguered Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, BCTGM.

Smith lost his delivery job of 15 years in the massive 2008 DHL Express layoff, then fell into debt, lost his house, and skimped by on unemployment checks and any work he could find. He finally landed a $25-an-hour job on Chicago’s South Side in 2010, with pension and healthcare benefits, on a factory line at snack-foods company Mondel?z International (known at the time as Kraft Foods). The job was a union one, with BCTGM.

But Smith again found himself in the crosshairs of a massive layoff six years later, as Mondel?z announced it was shifting 600 jobs to a new factory, with far lower wages, in Mexico. At 58, Smith had four children, bills for prostate cancer treatments, and slim prospects for finding another decent factory job in Chicago. So when BCTGM launched a public campaign to pressure Mondel?z into bringing the jobs back, Smith agreed to become a spokesperson, and the union offered him a modest stipend. Smith could have signed up for federally funded job training instead, but he wanted to fight the union fight.

Smith and BCTGM have now been battling the $26 billion global behemoth for nearly four years. Back in 2016, presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both briefly took up the cause. Meanwhile, Mondel?z has sent hundreds of union bakery jobs to Mexico and dealt a blow to the union’s remaining 2,000 members by ending their guaranteed pension plan.

As a union, BCTGM has suffered. Automation, non-union shops, plant closures and offshoring in the bakery and confectionery industries have shrunk the union’s ranks from 115,000 members in 2002 to 66,000 in 2018.

Mondel?z, for its part, has been doing just fine. Most consumers know the company for its Nabisco products: Oreos, Ritz, Triscuits and more. After the snack giant spun off from Kraft Foods in 2012, it turned steady profits, returning $2.9 billion to its shareholders in 2014 as then-CEO Irene Rosenfeld took a 50% pay increase, to $21 million. To meet shareholder demand for continuing profits, Rosenfeld then embarked on an “aggressive cost-cutting plan.” Since 2015, the company has been shuttering plants and trimming labor costs.

In May 2015, BCTGM received a jolting offer from the company: Mondel?z would consider $130 million in equipment upgrades at the 62-year-old Chicago plant if the union accepted $46 million in annual wage and benefit cuts—a 60% cut in pay and benefits, the union calculated. If the union refused, the investment and jobs would go to a new multi-million-dollar plant in Mexico.

The union refused, hoping to deal with the issue when company-wide contract talks began in February 2016. Then, Mondel?z “stonewalled” on providing “cost comparisons” and information about the Mexico plant, says BCTGM International Strategic Campaign Coordinator Ron Baker. “There was no negotiation,” Baker recalls. (Mondel?z spokesperson Laurie Guzzinati says that all “valid requests for information” received a response “within a reasonable timeframe.”)

Mondel?z began layoffs in March 2016, saying the union hadn’t offered a proposal.

A veteran of United Mine Workers of America’s long battles with coal behemoths, Baker doubted that negotiations could convince Mondel?z to stay in Chicago—but he believed public pressure could draw sympathy over the loss suffered by workers at a plant that makes the Oreo, a truly iconic American snack.

Indeed, Trump had repeatedly brought up the Oreo saga as part of his campaign rhetoric about offshoring jobs. “I’m not eating Oreos anymore,” Trump said in New Hampshire in September 2015. “Nabisco is closing their plant, a big plant in Chicago, and they’re moving it to Mexico.” The plant remains open (it had never planned to close), but about half of its jobs were moved.

When Mondel?z began its first round of 277 layoffs in March 2016, BCTGM stepped up its boycott campaign against Mexican-made Mondel?z products, begun months earlier, and opened a makeshift office across from the factory. The union was counting on publicity from the 2016 presidential campaigns.

Clinton visited the union’s campaign office that March, meeting with Michael Smith and other workers, then with Rosenfeld, reportedly to urge a halt to the move. Nothing changed.

The union sent Smith and others across the United States to meetings, public rallies and media interviews to talk about the harm done by prosperous companies seeking cheaper labor overseas. At a June 2016 Democratic Party platform committee meeting in Washington, D.C., Smith appealed: “I am not a number, nor [is] my family, nor my neighbors, nor my coworkers … We are, however, victims of [the] global snatch-and-grab that has gutted our community.”

In visits to 25 college campuses, BCTGM reps urged students to boycott Mexican-made Mondel?z products and have their schools do the same (though the union is not sure whether any schools did). More than 280 U.S. religious leaders signed a letter asking Mondel?z to stop shipping jobs outside the United States. The boycott made headlines and the rounds on social media, though some critics pointed to the limited success of such efforts and the xenophobic potential of “buy American” rhetoric.

After Trump became president, the union was optimistic he would take up the fight from the White House. In 2017, BCTGM reached out to Trump directly but received no reply, not even a tweet. Ron Baker says Trump has done nothing to help the union since 2016.

The 2016 job loss landed like a hammer. By summer, 600 Mondel?z workers had been laid off—half the plant—though the company did begin callbacks to fill openings created by retirements, per the union contract, and kept the process in place after the contract expired, according to a company spokesperson.

According to the union, the majority of workers at the plant were over 40, and many came from families that had worked for generations at the massive Southwest Side Chicago factory, which was built in the 1950s and employed up to 4,000 workers in its heyday. In job-hungry Chicago neighborhoods, the union plant, with an average $27 wage, had been an oasis. Manufacturing, once a driver of Chicago’s economy, accounted for about 18% of the city’s jobs in 1994 and only 10% in 2017. Chicago’s Black communities were hit especially hard: The percentage of workers in factory jobs dropped from almost 30% in 1960 to 6.5% in 2017, while unemployment more than doubled, to 20%. Two-thirds of the laid-off Mondel?z workers were people of color.

Lisa Peatry landed a job at Mondel?z in 2013, after four different layoffs and closings, including the Kool-Aid plant that sent some work to Mexico in 2002. She was 50, living on her own after raising three children. She liked her job on the production lines because they were fast and she appreciated her coworkers. “There was a diversity of races and everyone got along,” she says. Peatry was laid off in March 2016. Unable to keep up with rent, she lost her home and has been staying with a relative.

Eventually, Peatry found a factory job at $14 an hour—a job that often left her crying nightly from its difficulty and the treatment she received from bosses—and then a better job at $18. She still wanted to return to her $25.43-an-hour job at Mondel?z, but the company stopped its recalls, stranding Peatry and about 100 others on the recall list.

After being laid off, former Mondel?z worker Salvador Ortiz, 49, signed up for English classes and hoped to do better than friends, who were finding $11-an-hour jobs. Talking about his future one day in May 2016, in the living room of a comfortable bungalow not far from the plant, his wife cried, saying their middle-class dream was over. Ortiz feared losing his house and car. More than a year later, Ortiz was recalled back to the plant, but had suffered financially, getting by on unemployment checks and $14-an-hour jobs.

When Michael Smith was called back to Mondel?z in March 2018, he found the working conditions had changed for the worse. Smith was on mandatory overtime almost daily, sometimes working a double shift, getting only four or five hours of sleep and never knowing when he could make a doctor’s appointment. Smith felt the company was in disarray. He was now running an oven, a new job for him that was uncomfortable because of the high temperatures. “It’s 120 degrees and it’s like I’m sitting in the oven,” he tells In These Times. (Guzzinati says mandatory overtime may be required more than once weekly, to accommodate workload.)

In May 2018, just over two years after the union contract expired, Mondel?z imposed part of its benefits cuts, switching Smith and his coworkers’ retirement benefits from a guaranteed pension to a 401(k) account. Mondel?z honored existing pensions but pulled its 2,000 remaining union bakery workers out of BCTGM’s multiemployer pension fund, committing to instead pay an early withdrawal fee of $560 million over 20 years. Mondel?z told workers it was thinking about their future: The multiemployer plan could collapse by 2030, the company warned.

But the union sees it as just another blow to one of the most troubled multiemployer pension plans, which has suffered since the 2008 recession. When Hostess Brands, once the fund’s largest contributor, closed and filed bankruptcy in 2012, the company left a $2 billion pension liability. By 2018, the fund had $7.9 billion in liabilities and only $4.1 billion in assets.

In 2018, Mondel?z CEO Dirk Van de Put earned $15 million. The median Mondel?z worker worldwide, meanwhile, is a part-time hourly employee earning $30,639, an income ratio of 489 to 1.

Preventing U.S. firms from outsourcing jobs was a drumbeat for the 2016 Trump campaign. “These companies aren’t going to be leaving anymore,” Trump declared in December 2016 in Indianapolis. “They’re not going to be taking people’s hearts out. They’re not going to be announcing, like they did at Carrier, that they’re closing up and they’re moving to Mexico.”

But Rosemary Coates, head of the Reshoring Institute, a California-based nonprofit, says that, rather than bringing jobs back to the United States, companies are increasingly looking for new places to send production. The latest reshoring survey by consulting company A.T. Kearney shows that imports of manufactured items to the United States from 14 low-cost countries have steadily grown for the past five years, indicating that offshoring continues.

The Trump administration has lauded tariffs and trade wars as a way to pressure companies into keeping jobs in the United States. Yet, as Tobita Chow, director of the Justice Is Global project at the People’s Action Institute (and member of In These Times’ board of directors), explains, this strategy has backfired. “Trump’s trade wars have raised costs, reduced demand, killed jobs in the United States and worsened working conditions across much of the Global South,” Chow says.

In Mexico, factory workers earn 40% less than those in China. Mondel?z’s new plant opened in Salinas Victoria, Mexico, in late 2014 and now has 1,800 workers, according to the company. But workers in Mexico have been pinned under a mountain of problems.

Most Mexican unions serve companies under “protection contracts,” in which the company actually picks the union and dictates contract terms, defanging worker movements before they begin. Protection contracts are often signed by unions when a factory has very few workers to actually negotiate. In October 2014, with just 20 workers at the new plant, Mondel?z signed a union contract that capped the top day rate at 200 pesos, about $14.90 per day. BCTGM eventually obtained a copy of the contract, which it called proof that the Mexican workers were victims of a protection contract.

According to an August 2017 ruling from the National Labor Relations Board, a Mondel?z official told an administrative law judge that its Mexican workers earned $7 an hour in wages and benefits. As for the union there, a Mondel?z official told In These Times that the 2014 contract was no longer in effect and disputed the “protection union” moniker.

Meanwhile, BCTGM continued pressuring Mondel?z to reshore its jobs. In May 2017, 17 Democrats in the U.S. Senate called on Mondel?z to hire back workers let go at its plants in Chicago and at its operations in Fairlawn, N.J., Richmond, Va., Portland, Ore., and Atlanta—but nothing happened.

In November 2017, BCTGM partnered with religious and union leaders to arrange a visit with Mexican union activists from different groups in Monterrey, Mexico. The union has since reached out to the independent Mexican Los Mineros union, which separates itself from Mexico’s more corrupt or compromised unions. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pushed through stronger worker protections, but implementing them will be a challenge as longstanding protection unions fear losing control.

Importantly, the new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada—passed in December 2019 with support from U.S. labor unions—is a blow to the protection contracts signed by corrupt unions, calling for union monitoring and access to bi-national panels for inspections triggered by worker complaints.

Mondelez and BCTGM remain in a stalemate over lost jobs and a lost pension plan. They have not talked in a year, each claiming the other has quit negotiations. Mondel?z’s stock is up more than 30% since May 2015.

BCTGM Strategic Campaign Coordinator Nate Zeff, who picked up the torch when Baker retired in 2018, says a new campaign will launch early this year and will involve mobilizing Mondel?z workers in Mexico.

“We are almost four years into this fight,” Zeff says. “Eventually, we are going to win.”

“The real solution to offshoring is not trade wars—it’s to raise standards for workers across borders,” says Justice Is Global’s Chow. “We can get there through international worker solidarity, not by pitting workers against each other across borders as Trump has done.”

Michael Smith, who now works at the Chicago plant, has his own strategy. Ever an optimist, he is writing to Trump to ask for his help saving pension plans like his.

“It’s an opportunity for him to own up to saying he would never eat Oreos again,” Smith says. “It’s only a hope. He is still my president.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on  February 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Stephen Franklin, former labor and workplace reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was until recently the ethnic media project director with Public Narrative in Chicago. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans (2002), and has reported throughout the United States and the Middle East.

Share this post

More Than 1,200 IBEW Members Call on Union Leadership to Retract Biden Endorsement

Share this post

Image result for Hamilton Nolan

On February 5, the 775,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers announced that it was endorsing Joe Biden for president. It was Biden’s biggest union endorsement campaign so far in his presidential campaign. This week, nearly 1,300 IBEW members who support Bernie Sanders sent a letter to union membership asking them to retract that decision.

The letter, from “IBEW Members For Bernie,” blasts the union’s leadership for endorsing Biden without a vote of members. “The leadership of the union had previously provided reassurance to the membership that they would trust the judgement of rank-and-file leaders and members to  represent their own interest in the 2020 presidential primary, and we are disappointed that the International has instead thrown their weight behind the Biden campaign without member consultation,” it reads. The letter says that those who sign it support Sanders’ “transformative vision for expanding the labor movement, as well as the democracy and the solidarity that his campaign embodies.” It concludes, “We are calling on the International Officers to immediately retract their endorsement and call for the rank-and-file to participate in a democratic endorsement process by participating in an in person vote at their March local union meeting.”

It is signed by more than 1,200 IBEW members from across the country, including dozens who identify themselves as officers or members of the executive boards of their locals. Signatures were still being added as of Monday night.

The existence of the letter is a result of the work of Sanders supporters within the IBEW, who began circulating it online and within local chapters shortly after the endorsement was announced. Mark Gardner, an engineer in Manchester, Connecticut and member of IBEW Local 457 who helped to organize the letter, said that it came in response to not just a disagreement over candidates, but also over the union’s undemocratic process. “I have been frustrated with the trend of union leadership’s endorsing the establishment candidates while rank and file votes generally go for Senator Sanders,” Gardner said. “We do not want IBEW leadership to switch their endorsement to Bernie, but to open the choice up to the rank-and-file and hold a vote during the local unions’ March meeting.”

Another Sanders supporter, Joe Ellerbroek, a member of IBEW Local 347 in Des Moines, Iowa, echoed those sentiments. “I was outraged when I learned what the international had done. I felt there was too much at stake to just ignore it and hope for the best, especially when we have this rare opportunity to transform the whole dynamic of the labor struggle. Turns out I wasn’t the only one,” he said.

For Biden, whose campaign is flagging after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, union endorsements are a key firewall against charges that the platform of “Middle Class Joe” is not the most attractive for the working class. Biden has been endorsed by the firefighters union, the Iron Workers, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, but the 775,00-member IBEW is his biggest prize. The union did not endorse a candidate this early in the past two Democratic primaries. “It’s not typical for the IBEW to endorse this early in the primary process,” the union said in its endorsement, “but this year there’s an urgency we haven’t seen in a very long time. Energy policies made today will reverberate for decades, and it’s paramount that we have a candidate for president who supports IBEW jobs and IBEW values.” The IBEW has been publicly skeptical of the Green New Deal, the ambitious climate change plan that Sanders, but not Biden, has backed.

Neither the IBEW nor the Biden campaign responded to a request for comment on the letter.

In organized labor, as in society at large, the 2020 Democratic primary is exposing the deep, latent divide between the left and the establishment. The IBEW is not even the first union in the past week to experience an intra-union uproar pitting progressives against moderates—members of Unite Here who back Bernie Sanders circulated a similar internal letter for signatures last week after the Culinary Workers union in Las Vegas warned its members in ominous terms that Bernie Sanders wanted to “end” their health care plan. Already, both national and local unions are choosing sides in what amounts to a proxy war for the soul of the Democratic party. The ability of factions like the IBEW Members for Bernie to successfully exercise power against much more conservative union leadership will determine the posture of the entire labor movement long after the 2020 election is over.

Read the full letter here.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

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


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

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.