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

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“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 Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

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

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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.

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

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.

The Oreo Workers Trump Betrayed

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.

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

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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 Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

Media Unionization Wave Continues: Worker Wins

Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with organizing efforts at a publishing giant and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. The end of 2019 saw a flurry of wins for working people, so this is the second in several posts that will cover the victories of the last quarter of the year.

Employees at Media Giant Hearst Magazines to Join Writers Guild: Employees at one of America’s oldest major magazine publishers are forming a union, becoming the latest big media organization to join the ranks of organized labor. Editorial, photo, video and social media employees working at 24 major Hearst publications voted to be represented by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). The publications covered include Elle, Esquire, Town & Country, Cosmopolitan and others. Elle Culture Editor Julie Kosin, also a union organizer, said: “We’re excited to be a part of the labor movement among our peers, and most importantly create a fair and equitable workplace for the future of this industry.”

Chicago Teachers Union End Strike with New Contract: After an 11-day strike, the Chicago Teachers Union went back to work after approving a new contract. More than 25,000 teachers will be covered under the new contract and 300,000 kids returned to classes. Jesse Sharkey, president of the union, said: “This contract is a powerful advance for our city and our movement for real equity and educational justice for our school communities and the children we serve.”

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Workers Approve New Contract: The largest union representing Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) workers approved a new contract after six months of tense negotiations and no contract. Previous offers by the MTA sought to cut back on overtime, increase worker health care contributions and limit vacation time accrual for workers, proposals the union called “insulting.” The workers are represented by Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100, whose president, Ton Utano, said: “I am happy to report that we have reached a negotiated settlement with the MTA that I believe the Local 100 membership will ratify in overwhelming fashion.”

Massachusetts Marijuana Workers Join UFCW: Working people at Sira Naturals, a marijuana company in Massachusetts, voted to be represented by Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). More than 100 workers will be covered by the new unit. Sira’s chief executive, Mike Dundas, said the company voluntarily recognized the union. He said it would help attract and retain employees.

Musicians Reach New Film and TV Contract: Musicians represented by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) have reached an agreement on a new contract for film and television with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The two-year deal was reached after the two sides settled issues relating to residuals for films and television shows made for streaming services.

Los Angeles Proterra Electric Bus Assemblers to be Represented by Steelworkers: Working people at Proterra’s electric bus assembly line plant California voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675. The company’s leadership was amenable to the drive and worked with USW to help workers understand the need to a carbon-neutral economy. Blanchard Pinto, a supervisor at the plant, said: “This is my first time being in a union, and I’m actually excited about it. It was a no-brainer for me that it was something we could use for the job stability.”

Cedar Rapids General Mills Workers Ratify New Contract: More than 500 workers represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union voted to approve a new three-year contract with General Mills. The workers had threatened to strike before the deal was reached. Tim Sarver, who has worked for General Mills for more than 37 years, said: “I am thrilled to know we will all be going to work tomorrow with the peace of mind of a strong union contract. Over 500 families can sleep well tonight knowing their needed benefits are secure for the next three years. The strength of our union during these first contract negotiations was extraordinary. I am proud to say that a union contract is now part of every balanced breakfast that comes from our General Mills plant.”

NBC News Universal Editorial Staff Vote to Join The NewsGuild: Editorial staffers at NBC News Digital voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with the The NewsGuild of New York (TNG-CWA). After the vote, the editorial workers requested that NBC voluntarily recognize the unit. The new unit covers staff from nbcnews.com, today.com, StayTuned, Left Field, msnbc.com and NBC News Now. Nigel Chiwaya, a data journalist and member of the new unit, said: “NBC News is a storied name in journalism, and we all feel proud to be a part of it. Forming the NBC NewsGuild is our way of protecting the legacy for everyone here now and for those who will come after us. We are organizing to make our newsroom stronger and safer for all.”

Content Producers at Philadelphia’s WHYY Join SAG-AFTRA: Journalists and other content producers at WHYY in Philadelphia have voted to join SAG-AFTRA. The vote was nearly unanimous, and the 90 workers represented by SAG-AFTRA will next negotiate their first collective bargaining agreement. In a statement, the union said: “We’re thrilled by our strong showing. We look forward to beginning a democratic process to hear from our members about what they would value most from a contract with management.”

UAW and Ford Reach Agreement: The UAW reached a tentative contract in November. The contract covers 55,000 hourly Ford workers in the United States, the most of any domestic automaker. Rory Gamble, vice president of the UAW Ford Department, said: “Our national negotiators elected by their local unions have voted unanimously to recommend to the UAW-Ford National Council the proposed tentative agreement. Our negotiating team worked diligently during the General Motors strike to maintain productive negotiations with Ford. The pattern bargaining strategy has been a very effective approach for UAW and its members to secure economic gains around salary, benefits and over $6 billion in major product investments in American facilities, creating and retaining over 8,500 jobs for our communities.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Unions face another year of eroding membership as the war on workers continues

The share of U.S. workers represented by a union ticked down slightly from 2018 to 2019, dropping from 11.7% to 11.6%; the share of U.S. workers who are union members also dropped from 10.5% to 10.3%. The overall number of workers represented by a union stayed about the same, growing by 3,000. (Interestingly, unions grew by 47,000 members in Missouri, hitting a 15-year high.)

While the picture for unions remains dim, after decades of decline, it’s worth noting that the Supreme Court’s anti-union Janus decision hasn’t—so far, anyway—dealt public-sector unions the intended death blow. “The meaningful decline in the union membership rate among local government workers (from 40.3% to 39.4%) might suggest Janus is having its intended effect. However, there was not a similar decline among state government workers,” the Economic Policy Institute reports. But “The share of state government workers who are members of unions rose substantially between 2018 and 2019, from 28.6% to 29.4%.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 25, 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.

Bernie’s labor support snowballs

Image result for Holly Otterbein

Most national unions haven’t picked a favorite yet in the Democratic presidential primary.

It’s been a boon for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has already racked up 11 labor endorsements, more than any of his Democratic rivals, most of which are from local, regional and statewide unions. And some are among the most powerful labor organizations in early-voting and Super Tuesday states.

“He’s picking up more labor endorsements because the national unions, almost without exception, have not made endorsements, which implicitly or explicitly sets the local and regional unions free,” said David Kusnet, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton who co-authored a book with an ex-AFL-CIO president. “He has a lot of friends and fans and supporters in the union movement, and some of them are succeeding in pushing their local labor unions to endorse him.”

The local endorsements are filling the political void left by national unions, still gun-shy after the acrimonious 2016 primary election left many rank-and-file members furious that their leaders supported Hillary Clinton over Sanders. Most are staying neutral for now, including some that have longstanding relationships with Joe Biden.

Five unions have come out for Biden, including three international or national unions, and three have gone for Warren, one of which is a national group that also co-endorsed Sanders. None has endorsed Pete Buttigieg.

The support of labor unions such as New Hampshire’s SEIU Local 1984, which represents more than 10,000 members, gives Sanders a boost of momentum and ground troops in critical early-voting states. Sanders has also won the backing of large teachers local unions in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, and in Nevada.

“We will have boots on the ground, canvass for him, get out the vote,” said Rich Gulla, president of SEIU Local 1984. “He’s talking good-paying jobs, he’s talking health care. I think he’s resonating with labor and, quite frankly, with a lot of working people in this country that are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, and I think that’s why he’s getting the endorsements that he’s getting.”

Though Biden has fewer unions backing him, he won the support of two international unions that together represent nearly 400,000 U.S. members: the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Iron Workers. Sanders has three national unions behind him.

Given teachers’ and nurses’ close relationships with members in their communities, Sanders’ team is hopeful that their canvassing will be especially effective.

It’s unclear which candidates other labor groups will endorse as the primary unfolds. More building trades are expected to side with Biden at some point, and there is a possibility that some pro-Sanders local unions will put pressure on their national unions to put their weight behind him.

Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under the Clinton administration, suggested that Sanders’ success stems from his work courting unions and their members, including by proposing to offer them advantages if Medicare for All passed. Under his plan, businesses whose workers have union-negotiated health care coverage would have to renegotiate their contracts if single-payer became the law of the land — and direct any windfall to the employees.

“Sanders has been particularly diligent in appealing to unions and workers. He’s proposed expanding union power and doubling union membership during his first four years in office. He’s demonstrated solidarity with striking workers,” Reich said. “Many unions are still weighing other candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, but Bernie seems to be in the lead right now.”

Sanders might also be benefiting from the effort he’s made to professionalize his 2020 campaign, including his political operation. In 2016, he had no political director. Analilia Mejia, who previously worked for SEIU and UNITE HERE, is now his national political director.

“I come out of the labor movement. My deputy comes out of the labor movement. A bunch of the staff comes out of the labor movement,” she said. “I was talking to one labor leader and they were like, ‘It’s nice to talk to a campaign that understands the difference between a lockout and a strike.’”

Sanders’ campaign has also texted and emailed its supporters to encourage them to stand on picket lines and raise money for labor groups.

“When I was political director [for unions], the thing I most wanted was a big turnout at my actions. And we were like, ‘Hey, wait — we have a list of people who care about Bernie. Let’s tell them they should come out in solidarity,’” Mejia said.

While Sanders’ supporters in labor unions are campaigning for him in early states, the pro-Biden Fire Fighters are blanketing the same areas. In Iowa, international leaders are meeting with locals and educating them about the caucus process, including how to persuade people during the second alignment.

“That is when you can use the influence, the voice, your reputation with your neighbors to say, ‘Come stand with us. Stand with your firefighters and stand with Joe Biden,’” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the IAFF. “They trust you, they admire you, they hold you in high regard.”

This article was originally published by Politico on January 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.

Trump Labor Department gives big companies the go-ahead to exploit franchise workers

The Trump Labor Department is taking action to protect massive corporations from their low-wage workers seeking justice in court, because the Trump Labor Department, currently headed by Eugene Scalia, is all about putting a boot on the neck of workers. The department is finalizing a rule making it more difficult for workers at franchise businesses or contractors—like fast food workers or warehouse workers technically employed by staffing agencies—to sue the companies they actually work for for wage theft and other such violations.

The Labor Department is tightening up the joint employer standard that the Obama administration had made more worker friendly. Under Obama, companies would have counted as joint employers if they substantially set the terms of employment even if they only exerted indirect control over any individual worker. So McDonald’s, which exerts incredibly tight control over every detail of its franchisee-owned restaurants and has even told some franchisees they were paying workers too much, would count as a joint employer of McDonald’s workers. Under Trump, McDonald’s is off the hook unless it directly hires and fires workers, directly supervises the workers and sets their schedules, directly sets their pay, and manages their employment records.

But that’s the point—McDonald’s and other big companies that want to keep wages and working conditions at rock bottom while maintaining plausible deniability have gotten really good at getting franchisees and contractors to do their dirty work. They claim—and the Trump administration will back them up on this—that it’s not McDonald’s or Walmart engaging in wage theft and forcing workers into unsafe working conditions, even as the wage theft and working conditions are found across dozens of franchisees and contractors with McDonald’s or Walmart as the common factor. The common employer, in fact, exerting significant control over the places where its business is conducted.

This is a plan to let major companies abuse and exploit their workers without any legal risk for the labor law violations involved. Or, in Republican-speak via Scalia, “This final rule furthers President Trump’s successful, governmentwide effort to address regulations that hinder the American economy and to promote economic growth.” Economic growth for multi-billion-dollar companies at the expense of low-wage workers, that is.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 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.

Greater Boston Labor Council Makes History with Latest Election

Kalina Newman

The Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC), AFL-CIO, made history last week with the election of the first woman of color to its top office. Darlene Lombos takes over as executive secretary-treasurer, replacing Richard Rogers, who officially retired after leading the GBLC for the past 16 years.

Lombos brings more than 20 years of community and youth organizing experience in the labor movement to the position. She served as vice president of the GBLC and has been the executive director of Community Labor United since 2011. A vital asset to the greater Boston community, her work continues to protect and promote the interests of working-class families and communities of color in greater Boston and throughout the commonwealth.

“I am honored to lead such an amazing group of dedicated workers in the Boston area,” said Lombos. “Rich was a true mentor and I look forward to continuing his legacy of empowering working families for years to come.”

Rogers, a member of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 391, leaves behind an impressive legacy in the labor movement. Prior to leading the GBLC, Rogers served on the staff of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO for 21 years, 12 of those as the state federation’s political director. He was the chief organizer for several influential political campaigns, including Ted Kennedy’s 1994 U.S. Senate race and the elections of Jim McGovern and John Tierney to the U.S. House of Representatives. He played an integral role during his four terms as GBLC executive secretary-treasurer in growing and strengthening the Boston-area labor movement.

In recognition of his lifetime of hard work and dedication to the movement, The Labor Guild awarded the prestigious Cushing-Gavin Award to Rogers in December 2019.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on January 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kalina Newman is an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. Previously, she covered metro news for the Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in ARLnow, DCist, and the Washington City Paper. Kalina graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a degree in journalism.

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