• print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

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

Share this post

Laura Clawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Share this post

Federal Workers Need a Functioning Federal Labor Board

Share this post

Federal workers are in unfamiliar territory with the wind at our backs. The tight labor market; popular sympathies after three bitter government shutdowns over the past decade; the Biden administration’s reversal of Trump’s abusive anti-union policies — all this sets the stage for possible rank-and-file-led advances in working conditions and new organizing in the federal sector.

But it’s not clear how long this window of opportunity will remain open. Now is the time to get organized — not only within locals to win better contracts and enforce our rights, but also nationally and politically, among all the different unions and agencies.

For starters, there’s one urgent demand that we should all support: the confirmation of incumbent Ernest DuBester to serve another term at the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

The FLRA governs federal labor relations, akin to what the National Labor Relations Board does in the private sector. In particular, the three-member board hears arbitration appeals and negotiability disputes.

Without DuBester it’s a split board — the two remaining members were appointed one by Trump, the other by Biden — and the confidence of federal unions in negotiating and enforcing agreements will be diminished.

The demand to fill a labor board seat might not sound like a recipe for reviving a fighting movement. But paired with a push by federal workers to improve working conditions, a victorious grassroots push to confirm DuBester can lead on to more victories.

UNIONIZED BUT FRAGMENTED

The U.S. government is the country’s largest employer, with 2.1 million employees, not counting postal workers. Though this workforce is relatively union-dense (1.2 million are represented), it is also an open shop environment where fewer than 20 percent pay dues to a union.

Most of the 400,000 federal union members belong to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE); another quarter are members of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). The remainder are split among two dozen unions.

By profession the workforce is mainly white collar, though there are also significant numbers of blue collar workers, such as wildland firefighters, custodial workers, and maintenance mechanics. Geographically, aside from some concentrated pockets—chiefly in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., region where 15 percent of us work—the full federal workforce is distributed thinly throughout the country.

The result of such an atomized workforce is that federal workers exert far too little political and bargaining power for our numbers.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Legally, the deck is stacked against federal unions. Unlike in the private sector, owing to major concessions enshrined in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, pay and major benefits like health care are off the table in our collective bargaining.

Instead, our uniquely limited scope of bargaining covers working conditions and how (and how much) any union member may conduct representational activities while on the clock.

The open shop plus a strict ban on work stoppages limits union leverage. Accounting for this, the law elevates the role of government “neutrals” to adjudicate disputes. And as we’ve seen, “neutrals” are often anything but neutral.

Over the five years that the FLRA was run by a Trump-appointed majority, a hard anti-union agenda was pushed through every forum — from disbanding entire unions (such as those representing the FLRA’s own staff and immigration judges at the Department of Justice) to further limiting the scope of bargaining through an expansive interpretation of management rights.

BROAD RANKS OF UNION REPS

Despite these limitations, the FLRA does lend federal workers the opportunity to directly negotiate and enforce details on a vast array of working conditions — such as telework policies, disciplinary guidelines, health and safety measures, and work performance assessment procedures.

This potential for direct self-representation is owed to the law’s requirement that the government release workers from their job duties to conduct representational union functions while on official time.

Done strategically, spreading official time among the broadest possible ranks of the workplace allows for more workers to do the work of their unions — while avoiding the need to take experienced leaders entirely away from regular work duties.

This way, veteran leaders can maintain their connection to the workplace and a larger base of new union leaders can be developed. If we emphasize self-representation and prioritize negotiating working conditions and the details of the work process, we can develop a new strategy to rebuild federal unionism from the bottom up.

But all that potential can be lost if those few favorable features of the law aren’t upheld by the FLRA.

A RALLYING CRY

If DuBester remains unconfirmed at the end of this calendar year, the FLRA will be split between its remaining two members, Trump nominee Colleen Duffy Kiko and Biden nominee Susan Tsui Grundmann, and subsequently unable to issue decisions on controversial matters.

In more than four decades of modern federal labor relations, FLRA confirmations have typically been handled quietly by Senate leaders, perhaps with some nudging by the big unions. Members and locals were not consulted, let alone required, for the confirmation process.

But these days, nothing is typical. For Biden’s first nominee to the FLRA, Grundmann, a months-long drumbeat from national labor leaders was not enough to win confirmation in the Senate.

Only in May, after a few dozen union locals representing some 20,000 feds from across the country signed onto an unforgiving letter directed at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, did the political will materialize to see Grundmann confirmed.

The letter was part of a grassroots effort initiated early this year by an informal network of federal local leaders who were frustrated by the persistent presence of the Trump majority more than a year into the Biden administration.

A NEW OPEN LETTER

In the case of DuBester, Republicans are refusing to let his nomination out of committee, threatening to deny Biden the majority membership that the President is supposed to enjoy at the FLRA. The Senate has unanimously confirmed DuBester to all three previous terms he has served, beginning with his first nomination in 2009.

The only way around the GOP’s obstruction would be through a “discharge petition” to bring the nomination directly to the Senate floor. Such a parliamentary maneuver would require support from all 50 Senate Democrats.

Well over a year since Biden nominated him, it falls to the rank and file once again to push to get DuBester confirmed. A new open letter from local leaders and members is circulating, this time addressed to Biden, extending an offer to support the President’s nominee.

If federal union activists rally behind Ernest DuBester in the coming months, we might just manage to defeat Republican efforts to handicap federal unions. In the process, win or lose, we can cohere a national cohort of the next generation of government union leaders — and the years ahead could be full of experiments in creative, local and member-led federal unionism.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on October 13, 2022. It is republished with permission.

About the Authors: Chris Dols, Mark Smith, and Morgan Stewart wrote this blog. Chris Dols is president of IFPTE Local 98 at the New York District of the Army Corps of Engineers. Mark Smith is a steward with NFFE Local 1 at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. Morgan Stewart is president of AFGE Local 3380 at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Richmond, Virginia.

Learn more about federal workers’ rights on Workplace Fairness’ page.


Share this post

Workers Need Stronger Labor Laws Now More Than Ever

Share this post

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

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

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

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

All workers deserve dignity and respect on the job.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Share this post

Here’s What’s in the New Bill Jointly Backed by Uber and the Teamsters in Washington State

Share this post

Uber’s lobbyists, after clinching an agreement with UFCW Canada to launch a charm offensive at the Ontario provincial government for employee-like benefits on behalf of an estimated 100,00 drivers, weren’t done hobnobbing with unions.

Next up, the Teamsters in Washington state are working on a deal with Uber and Lyft.

The legislation would give ride-hail workers new benefits—sick pay, a process to appeal deactivations, protections against retaliation, and workers’ compensation—in exchange for codifying their status as independent contractors rather than employees, and preempting cities from regulating the rideshare companies as Seattle has done.

Washington lawmakers passed the bill, HB 2076, backed by Teamsters Local 117,
with 55 yeas to 42 nays on February 23. The Senate will hold a public hearing February 26.

“HB 2076 exemplifies Washington State’s spirit of leadership and innovation,” Teamsters Local 117 Vice President Brenda Wiest wrote to House representatives February 22 in an email obtained by Labor Notes. “This bill is supported by both Uber and Lyft, as well as the Teamsters, their affiliated Drivers Union, and dozens of labor and community-based organizations across the state. Moreover, it is backed by the people who matter most—the drivers themselves.”

The Teamsters international declined to comment on the legislation.

FLASHPOINT OF DEBATE

It’s a flashpoint of debate in the labor movement: should unions keep fighting for employee status for gig workers, or cut a deal to head off worse odds down the road? After all, unions and drivers are squaring off against Uber and Lyft, who with their bottomless pits of cash forced their way in California in a 2020 ballot initiative, Prop 22.

The companies have made explicit the threat that, if they don’t get this legislative compromise, they will pursue a ballot initiative in Washington. Lyft has put $2 million into a newly formed political action committee Washington Coalition for Independent Work with clones in New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts. It also has the backing of Instacart, DoorDash, and Uber, which have committed to contribute to the PAC.

What’s curious about this bill is that it has the backing of Teamsters Local 117 and its affiliate Drivers Union, which previously supported efforts to boost gig worker protections. Drivers Union members said the rationale for throwing their support behind a legislative deal with Uber and Lyft is the ballot initiative threat.

“They’re also holding the gun at our heads with the possibility of an initiative,” said Don Creery, 68, a ridehail driver since 2013 and a board member of the Drivers Union. “They spent $200 million on California. It comes down to the reality that we don’t have the money to buy TV ads. They do. They will misinform the public with a barrage of TV ads, so we will lose an initiative. We could lose everything.”

Jake Laundry, 29, has been an Uber driver since 2015; he is a member of both the Drivers Union and IATSE Local 15, where he is an audiovisual worker. He considers himself a Teamster and didn’t want to say anything that would jeopardize the union. But he’s heard that pitch about the initiative threat too many times. Laundry views this bill as making “a deal with the devil.”

“It’s great you have a wage floor and then will improve wage conditions in outlying areas [outside] of Seattle,” he said. “But this contractor relationship also locks in a sort of technocratic feudalism.”

Creery has no qualms with contractor status. “I’m not really concerned about us not being designated as employees,” he said. “In our union, we abandoned that seven years ago, eight years ago. We can be independent contractors and get rights. These are laws that can be changed by us, and we did.”

The Drivers Union’s biggest victories, though, were won at the city of Seattle—and this bill would put an end to that by reserving the regulation of rideshare companies to the state.

“Now you’re just kind of at the whim of the state legislature, which swings really moderate,” Laundry said. “Here in Washington, we have crazy secessionists that want a holy war. We’re not gonna get any labor victories out of them.”

PAY RAISES

What Creery feels “conflicted” about is the pay raises in the bill. “If you’re a Tacoma driver, it’s really outstanding pay rates,” he said. Currently, “once you leave Seattle city limits, our pay drops by 40 percent.” Drivers in Tacoma, who now get 80 cents a mile, would increase to $1.17.

Waiting time and travel miles without a passenger in the car would be uncompensated, though, and the base fare would be between $3 and $5.17 per trip. “To pay one of us $3 is class warfare,” said Creery.

The bill establishes two tiers of pay. For trips originating in cities with more than 600,000 people (Seattle), the rate would be $1.38 per mile driven with a passenger in the car and 59 cents per minute. Those figures are based on Seattle’s Fair Pay Law, which took effect January 1, 2022. Elsewhere, the rate would be $1.17 per passenger mile and 34 cents a minute.

Yearly pay increases based on the cost of living would begin September 30, 2022.

Mohamed Diallo, 33, has been driving for Lyft and Uber since 2017. He’s in favor of the legislation because his rent in Kent has skyrocketed. He also wants to extend the benefits like sick pay and the right to contest deactivations through an appeals process beyond Seattle to Kent and other parts of Washington state.

He said other drivers from his native Guinea are also in favor of the bill, describing it as “wonderful news.”

“Last year, my two-bedroom used to be $1,500,” Diallo said. “Today I talked to my leasing office because my lease is going to be over and I have to sign a new one. It’s $2,030.” He also feels the financial strain at the gas pump; he’s averaging $180-$200 to fill the tank of his Toyota Highlander SUV. He says the new legislation will increase his average earnings from about 90 cents per mile in Kent to $1.17, and spare him the commute into Seattle where the rates are higher.

Diallo works six days a week, 12-hour shifts, with only Tuesdays off. He has two young children, a boy of six months and a two-year-old girl. “The most important thing about the bill is I will get more money to put food on the table,” he said.

Uber touts “flexibility” as a perk it offers to drivers. But “I don’t think flexibility is as important for the guys with the Teamsters,” said Laundry, who connected me with Diallo. “They’re driving 70, 80 hours a week. They’re just scrambling to support their families. They’re working their tails off, so they don’t really have a flexible life.”

THE BEST WE CAN GET?

Why would any union agree to be involved in these compromise bills? The argument goes that we’re not going to win on employee status, plus there are innumerable hurdles to organizing gig workers at scale… so creating a third category, an independent contractor with at least some labor rights, is the best deal the labor movement can get.

Nicole Moore from Rideshare Drivers United in California finds a contradiction in that position. “There’s more demand for unions, a better minimum wage, and labor rights,” she said. “Compromise is absolutely the wrong direction. This is not to say we can’t get legislation on the road to employee status—but not at the cost of our labor rights.”

The app-based companies and their labor collaborators tout the notion of creating “portable benefits” that follow you from gig to gig. But “labor rights are portable benefits,” Moore said. “I have my rights to unemployment. If I get hurt on the job, I have portable benefits to workers’ compensation. Anything other than that is taking some people completely out of the picture.”

For Moore, the defeatist attitude that employee status isn’t winnable harks back to the National Labor Relations Act’s exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers. Like those workforces, the gig workforce is largely people of color and immigrants.

A personal vehicle makes for a very isolated and lonely workplace, which is why most gig workers’ organizing kicks off online. “We know each other in the parking lot of the airports,” Moore said. “We know each other online, because we find Facebook pages and Reddit in order to share information and understand. We are ready to organize.”

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

In the breezy language of Wiest’s email to state representatives, the benefits of the deal appear excellent. But not all that shines is gold. It can be a spear.

One of the sharpest daggers in the bill is preemption—giving the state government the exclusive power to regulate rideshare companies, so that Seattle could no longer enact wage increases or new rules about drivers’ working conditions.

“The Teamsters-affiliated Drivers Union has already won the nation’s leading labor standards for Uber and Lyft drivers at the local level in Seattle,” said Kerry Harwin, communications director for the Drivers Union, in a statement to Labor Notes. “Seattle’s first-in-the-nation protections have demonstrated a meaningful impact for Uber and Lyft drivers, who enjoy the highest minimum wage in the country, the nation’s first paid-sick days for gig workers during the pandemic, and the country’s only legal protections against unfair deactivations.”

Seattle’s City Council passed the Gig Worker Paid Sick and Safe Time ordinance, backed by Teamsters Local 117, in June 2020. Since then the city’s Office of Labor Standards has reached a $3.4 million settlement for violation of the policy with Uber and a $1 million settlement with the online food delivery company PostMates. It also reached a $350,000 settlement with DoorDash and PostMates in violation of a pandemic-related hazard pay law for food delivery workers; each company had to pay restitution to about 3,000 workers.

In September 2020, Seattle hiked the minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers to $16.39 per hour (it’s now $17.27) and required the ridehail companies to pay drivers at least 56 cents per minute drivers are traveling to pick up a passenger or carrying one; it also covers driver expenses.

For Uber and Lyft, this combination of a progressive city council and workers organizing was too much. Their business model depends on misclassification, and on state government footing the bill for benefits that employers are traditionally on the hook to provide. So they went to the legislature.

NO BENEFITS DURING ROVING TIME

In the email to state representatives, Wiest said the bill would provide rideshare drivers with workers’ compensation under the “same robust state-run program that protects employees in Washington State.”

But in fact, workers’ comp would only be in effect when a driver is on the way to pick up a passenger or actually has a passenger in the car; the legislation describes these activities as “dispatch platform time” and “passenger platform time” respectively.

This leaves workers vulnerable if they get injured between fares, while they are roving and awaiting a new trip request. A 2020 UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment study estimated this cruising without a passenger is 35 percent of their work time. This method is also used to calculate the premiums that Lyft and Uber will pay into state coffers for workers’ comp.

Weist championed the paid sick protections, which she said would be “at the same accrual rates for all workers.”

But paid sick leave would not accrue at the same rates for independent contractors as it does for employees. Again, it would exclude the time drivers are waiting for passengers, and in this case also the time they drive to fetch them after being pinged for a trip. Drivers would only earn paid sick time when a passenger is in the car, which the same study estimated to be roughly 53 percent of their work time. As a result, drivers will have to work twice as long as other workers to qualify for the same amount of time off.

“We are frontline workers—providing trips to nurses and other essential workers during the pandemic,” said Ahmed Farah, a Drivers Union member who has driven for Uber and Lyft since 2016, in an emailed statement. “As a father of three, paid sick days is a very important protection when my kids get sick.”

Drivers would be eligible for unpaid sick leave after working for 90 days for a ridehail app.

Paid family leave was included in an earlier draft of the bill, but was scrapped from the final legislation. Weist’s email doesn’t mention the change, but Drivers Union staff continue promoting the idea that it is in the current bill.

Unemployment insurance will be studied by a “work group of stakeholders” drawn from labor and the gig industry with the deadline of producing a report by December 1, 2022.

‘DRIVER RESOURCE CENTER’

Protection from retaliation and an appeals process to negotiate driver deactivations are critically important for drivers. How would the legislation address this? It would provide a direct line of funding for the Drivers Union, which presumably meets the criteria in the legislation to serve as a “driver resource center.” (It may be the only group to qualify, since the bill says such a group must be able to demonstrate that it has past experience representing rideshare drivers and “providing culturally competent driver representation services.”)

A driver resource center’s services will be paid through a 15-cent per-trip surcharge on riders, with dues membership modeled after the Independent Drivers’ Guild (IDG) in New York City, a Machinists-affiliated company union of Lyft and Uber drivers that receives an undisclosed amount of funding from both companies.

And what would it do? The legislation makes scant mention of what services drivers would receive from the resource center. Asked about that, Harwin, the spokesperson for the Drivers Union, didn’t elaborate much: “It will provide support services to drivers, including representation” when faced with a deactivation.

??The state treasury would oversee the fund. The state director of the Department of Labor would choose the driver resource center through what the bill describes as a “competitive process.” Workers won’t have a say in choosing the non-profit organization, nor in how the money is spent.

The legislation also says the “driver resource center may not be funded, excessively influenced, or controlled by a transportation network company.”

Joe DeManuelle-Hall wrote last year when a similar draft legislation was floated in New York that at a 10-cent surcharge, a similar resource center would have netted $75,000 per day—a staggering $27.5 million per year, based on a calculation of 750,000 rides daily in New York City shortly before the pandemic.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The idea of bringing an IDG-like deal to the West Coast can be traced back to disgraced ex-Teamsters leader Rome Aloise.

Aloise, once a vice president of the international union, was eventually found guilty of taking gifts from employers, negotiating a sham contract, and using union resources to rig a local union election—and then of running Local 853 and Northern California’s Joint Council 7 while he was suspended from the union for these offenses. He has been “permanently barred from the Teamsters” and “permanently enjoined from participating in union affairs” effective January 31, 2022.

But back in 2018, Aloise was still in power and trying to cut a deal with Lyft and Uber. Among the many exhibits and court documents compiled when he was brought up on internal union charges were various emails from that fall discussing plans (never realized) to create employer-linked driver guilds in Seattle and San Francisco.

Aloise proposed that Seattle’s Teamsters Local 117 and the Workers Benefit Fund, which has ties to Uber and Lyft, should jointly “support the creation of legislation and a guild infrastructure for Seattle Drivers.” In a document shared with WBF CEO Benjamin Geyerhahn, Aloise wrote: “WBF will provide with [sic] polling, legislative support, legal support, its expertise and its relationships with Uber and Lyft. This support includes financial support for these items carrying through until legislation is passed. In exchange, it receives the Teamsters full support and exclusive right to provide benefits to the Seattle drivers…”

In a revealing email to a few other California Teamsters leaders on November 21, 2018, Aloise wrote: “Maybe it is worth talking about setting up a Driver’s Guild in SF, and then of course expanding it at a later date… In NY, a lot of money is pouring into the Guild and back to the Machinists who were behind the establishment of the Guild.”

One year later, he wrote on February 1, 2019: “[Local] 117 heavily involved and substantial negotiations this coming week with both companies. The issue, of course, is how to stop any legislation which would give our core industries any loop hole [sic] to move into this TNC [Transportation Network Company] type model, while allowing Lyft and Uber to operate with some type of meaningful representation for the drivers.”

In 2018, he exchanged emails with former Service Employees president Andy Stern about the need to protect “core industries” for the Teamsters– package delivery and freight transportation– in order to enter into an agreement with Uber. “For any of this to get any traction in California, it will need to have some language about staying out of certain functions, which are core industries to the Teamsters, i.e.; such as package delivery, freight transportation, etc. If there is to be a carve out of their ‘industry,’ this will be essential, and perhaps a model for the other companies to deal with the ramifications of the Dynamix decision.” (At the time, the state’s Supreme Court in its Dynamix decision ruled against misclassification, creating a framework for standards to determine employee status.)

Last-mile transportation and delivery has gigified rapidly since 2018. Think: Uber Freight and Uber Eats. In September of 2020, United Parcel acquired Roadie, a crowd-sourced, same-day delivery company. FedEx bought Shoprunner. Amazon, Walmart, and Target have adopted and expanded their speedy gig-delivery business models to everything from yoga pants and furniture to pet food.

“Online competitors are shipping it from a distribution center going across multiple zones where we’re taking it in the back of a DoorDasher’s car for the same cost as if it was a tennis ball, delivering it the same day, and delivering it at lower cost,” said Petco CEO Ron Coughlin in a March 2021 interview.

What’s to protect UPS Teamsters from their work shifting to Roadie?

Update: this article has been updated to clarify that paid family and medical leave aren’t included in the current bill. But Weist and Drivers Union staff continue to promote the perks of the bill with those as included benefits. It has also been updated to reflect what the passage of the bill would mean for Teamsters in freight and transportation. —Editors

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on February 25, 2022

About the Author: Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


Share this post

Now That Government Is Funded, Here Is What Workers Want to See

Share this post

Last year, in communities all across the country, millions of Americans mobilized and called for an economy that works for all of us. From state houses and governors mansions to Capitol Hill, we elected advocates who committed themselves to advancing that cause. That election was defined by a movement of hard working people who stood together to reject the meager crumbs we are being handed and reclaim what is rightfully ours.

In electing more than 900 union members to office, we secured a great opportunity to right the structural wrongs of our economy. Our mission was not simply to rack up victories on election night last November. We changed the rulemakers. Now it is time for them to change the rules. As legislators move past the manufactured crisis that defined the first weeks of the 116th Congress, working people are ready to fight for that change.

Above all, that means affirming our ability to have a real voice on the job. A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that half of all nonunion workers, or more than 60 million Americans, would choose to join a union if they were given the chance, yet aspiring union members continue to face countless obstacles. The power of working people must be unleashed. Whether we work for private companies or public employers, in an office or a mine or a factory, all of us have the right to freely negotiate higher wages and better working conditions.

Congress should modernize the badly outdated National Labor Relations Act to truly protect our freedom to organize and mobilize together. Top lawmakers have put forth promising proposals that would ensure workers can organize a union without facing scorched earth tactics and hostile campaigns from corporations. If workers sign up for a union, they deserve to know their decision is protected by law. It is not the job of executives, governors or right wing operatives to make those decisions for them.

However, our fight will not end with one piece of legislation. An agenda for working families means building a fairer economy and a more just society for everyone in our country, whether you are in a union or not. That means achieving full employment where every American is able to access a good job, passing a $15 federal minimum wage, and refusing to approve any trade agreement that lacks enforceable labor protections.

It means providing a secure and prosperous future for all our families by expanding Social Security, strengthening our pensions, and making a serious federal investment in our infrastructure. It means defending the health and lives of working people by shoring up the Affordable Care Act, removing onerous taxes on health insurance plans negotiated by workers, expanding Medicare coverage to more people, and lowering prescription drug costs. It means passing laws that ensure paid sick and family leave.

All of these guarantees are long overdue for working people, but there is arguably no task so vital as defending our right to safety and dignity on the job. Congress should also extend comprehensive federal protections, including the Equality Act, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status, to LGBTQ and immigrant workers, whose livelihoods and families too often rest on the whims of their employers.

As one of a handful of men in my family to survive the scourge of black lung in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, I cannot overstate the dire need for broadly strengthened safety regulations, including the expansion of Occupational Safety and Health Administration coverage to all workers, toughened federal enforcement, and ironclad whistleblower protections.

Corporations and right wing interests continue to try their best to deny working people our fair share of the enormous wealth that we produce every day. In November, we stood up to change that twisted status quo. We made our voices heard at the ballot box, and we intend to hold the people we elected accountable to an economic agenda that will raise wages, move our country forward, and lead to better lives for all of us.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka is president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO.


Share this post

Wisconsin bill would ban cities from passing worker-friendly laws

Share this post

Wisconsin is considering a bill that would prevent local governments from enacting worker-friendly ordinances relating to overtime, discrimination, benefits, and wages. On Wednesday, the Senate held a public hearing on the GOP-backed bill.

The bill, Senate Bill 634, would prevent local municipalities in Wisconsin from increasing the minimum wage, stop enforcement of licensing regulations stricter than state standards, and prohibit labor peace agreements (in which employers agree to not resist a union’s organizing attempts). The bill also specifically says that no city, village, or town can prohibit an employer from soliciting information on a prospective employee’s salary history, because uniformity on employer rights is a “matter of statewide concern.” Since research shows that women are paid less right out of college compared to male counterparts and there are large racial wage gaps, proponents of these ordinances say that prohibiting employers from asking about salary history could help narrow the pay gap.

Madison City Attorney Mike May told Wisconsin-State Journal in December that the “biggest impact” would be on protected classes under Madison’s Equal Opportunity Ordinance. If the bill became law, May said it would mean that discrimination based on student status, citizenship, and even being a victim of domestic abuse would all be “fair game for discriminatory practices.”

“This bill attacks workers, our rights and our democratic processes,” Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer for the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, testified during the hearing. “This bill is about power, the power to overreach and tell citizens in their own communities that they don’t know what’s best for them.”

Wisconsin state Democratic senators Robert Wirch and Janis Ringhand voiced their opposition to the bill in statements on Wednesday. Both senators focused on how the bill could affect municipalities’ power to pass ordinances pertaining to sexual harassment.

“We need to be expanding avenues for victims of sexual harassment and assault to get justice, and not making it harder,” Wirch stated.

The committee didn’t take immediate action on the bill on Wednesday, but it’s still concerning that it’s being considered. Wisconsin Republicans have trifecta control of the state and have been successful in pushing a number of anti-worker bills through the legislature. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is nationally known for his long record of supporting anti-union bills. He signed bills that stripped the majority of Wisconsin’s public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights and made Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, which means workers can decide not to pay fees to unions because the union has to represent them regardless.

The Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Council of Churches, League of Wisconsin Municipalities and some labor unions oppose the bill, according to the Associated Press. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and groups representing various businesses support the bill.

Nick Zavos, government relations officer in Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s office, told Wisconsin State-Journal that the mayor is “deeply concerned about the direction (the legislation) represents,” with particular emphasis on the preempting of local ordinances relating to employment discrimination.

Wisconsin is not an outlier in considering this kind of legislation. As city governments have pushed for better labor standards, states across the country have passed laws to preempt increased protections for workers. At least 15 states have passed 28 preemption laws like this one that cover labor issues such as paid leave, minimum wage, and fair scheduling, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s August 2017 report. As the report notes, historically, preemption laws were used to set minimum statewide standards for workers that local governments couldn’t lower. These recent laws are doing the opposite. 

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 11, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.


Share this post

Workers May Have Just Killed Missouri’s Right to Work Law

Share this post

In a badly needed victory for organized labor, a coalition of workers’ rights groups in Missouri is poised to halt a devastating new anti-union law from taking effect later this month.

The deceptively named “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation—quickly passed and signed into law this February by Missouri’s new Republican governor, Eric Greitens—would prohibit unions in private sector workplaces from automatically collecting dues from the workers they are legally required to represent. Designed to decimate unions by cutting off their financial resources, RTW laws are currently in place in 27 other states.

Though the law is set to take effect on August 28, the pro-union We Are Missouri coalition, led by the Missouri AFL-CIO, says it has collected enough signatures from voters to call for a state-wide referendum in November 2018 that could nullify the legislation. Implementation of the RTW law would be put on hold at least until next year’s referendum results are known.

We Are Missouri spokesperson Laura Swinford tells In These Times that Republican legislators had been wanting to pass a RTW law for years, but were blocked by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. As soon as Greitens was elected last November, she says, “folks were prepared.”

Missouri allows residents to call a referendum on new legislation by collecting signatures from at least 5 percent of voters from six of the state’s eight congressional districts. “When Gov. Greitens signed the so-called ‘right-to-work’ law, we had a petition ready to go,” Swinford explains.

We Are Missouri estimated it would need to collect at least 100,000 signatures to call a referendum on the RTW law. Swinford says volunteer canvassers went to festivals, concerts, county fairs and other events in every county to gather signatures. “Our volunteers have gone out there day after day, weekend after weekend, going signature by signature, page by page.”

So far, the coalition has tripled its initial estimation, collecting over 300,000 signatures. During a rally at the state capitol today, We Are Missouri turned in the petition along with 310,567 signatures.

“We have gotten a tremendous response,” Swinford says. “We believe we’re going to qualify in all eight congressional districts, which is pretty unprecedented here in Missouri. We have way overshot our goals.”

The National Right to Work Foundation sued to block the initiative on the grounds that the petition contained bad grammar, but the Missouri Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit last month. Now that it appears they will not be able to prevent a referendum from appearing on next year’s ballot, Missouri RTW advocates are gearing up for a showdown in November 2018.

Over the past week, three anti-union political action committees in the state have received a total of $600,000 in dark money contributions. At least $100,000 of this money came from Gov. Greitens’s own nonprofit. Meanwhile, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Foundation recently launched an expensive “education campaign”—including ads, door-to-door canvassing, and phone calls—to convince voters to approve the RTW law.

Swinford says anti-union forces are also resorting to “old-school intimidation tactics.” Last week, four men circulating pro-RTW brochures were spotted carrying pistols outside the Buchanan County courthouse in St. Joseph.

“You can open carry here in Missouri, but when you see something like that in front of your county courthouse, it’s alarming and upsetting,” says Swinford. “It’s going be a hard campaign, especially when you have to deal with those sorts of tactics. We just hope that people are safe.”

Missouri’s Republican lawmakers also recently passed legislation that will cut the St. Louis minimum wage from its current rate of $10 per hour to $7.70. The “right-to-work” law would also likely have a negative effect on worker pay, as wages are on average 3.2 percent lower in RTW states than those without RTW laws on the books.

Swinford says RTW would be “terribly hurtful to many Missouri families. It not only would lower wages across the board, it would erode benefits and make worksites less safe.”

In the past five years, more states have passed RTW legislation that at any time since the 1950s. Until recently, most RTW states were located in the former Confederacy, but now even traditional union strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin are “right-to-work.”

Anti-union forces are not resting on their laurels. Earlier this year, House Republicans introduced a national RTW law, and the Supreme Court could soon hear a case that threatens to impose RTW on the entire public sector.

But anti-union legislation has been defeated before. In 2011, labor groups in Ohio called a referendum that successfully overturned the controversial Senate Bill 5, which would have severely curtailed public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights.

“What happened in Ohio shows that it’s possible to really educate folks and show them there’s a way to stand up when your legislature overreaches,” Swinford says.

“Missouri is not the only state that has a problem with extremists running amok in the legislature,” she continues. “We have the ability here through the referendum process to call them out on this behavior, to stand up and say, ‘Enough. We want you to work on the real problems we have in our state.’”

Swinford notes that she and other organizers have been amazed at how the referendum campaign has unified people of different backgrounds and communities. “People have really joined together on this. We have a lot of confidence in Missouri voters that they’ll be there in November 2018.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.


Share this post

Politicians Keep Promising Free Trade Agreements Can Protect Workers. We Should Stop Believing Them.

Share this post

Leo GerardIt’s all the rage now for Republican presidential candidates to spurn the Royal Romney approach and, instead, to fawn over workers.

When former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum announced his presidential bid last week, he did it from a factory floor and called for increasing the minimum wage. Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who also launched his candidacy last week, named as his political inspiration Teddy Roosevelt, a corporate trust-buster and working class hero. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who entered the race in April, said that to win elections, “You’ve got to get the people who work for the people who own businesses.”

That is true—if the businesses are in America. There’s not much point in American candidates soliciting votes from workers at factories that U.S. corporations closed here and moved overseas with the help of free trade agreements (FTAs). Decade after decade of free trade, presidents promised workers that the deals set the highest standards for labor. And decade after decade, the federal government failed at enforcement, placing Americans in competition with child laborers, underpaid and overburdened foreign workers and victims of human trafficking.

On trade, Sen. Paul got it right for working people. He opposed Fast Tracking approval of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress. He was on the losing side of that vote, though. So the Fast Track plan for Congress to relinquish its responsibility to review and amend trade agreements awaits action this week in the U.S. House of Representatives. House Republicans who believe in supporting American workers, not just pandering to them, should join Sen. Paul in voting no on Fast Track.

From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, Republican and Democratic presidents have pledged to workers that some new free trade scheme would protect Americans from unfair and immoral foreign competition.

Clinton claimed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was the first deal ever containing teeth to enforce labor standards. George W. Bush’s U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) contended the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) had the strongest labor provisions ever negotiated. Obama administration officials assured Americans that the Peru, Colombia and Panama agreements, and now the TPP, have the greatest worker protections of all time.

They all swore the standards would be strictly enforced. But none of it was true. The deals did not protect American workers. And they didn’t protect foreign workers either.

Now American workers overwhelmingly oppose the free trade brand of globalization. They’ve seen its terrible results for them. They’ve suffered as corporations closed American factories, destroyed American jobs and communities, and shipped that work overseas.

Americans have found themselves competing with children coerced to work in foreign factories, trafficked and forced labor, and foreign workers so mistreated that they jump to their deaths from factory buildings. American consumers find themselves buying products made in unsafe buildings that collapse or burn, killing thousands of foreign workers.

The USTR, who is supposed to enforce the labor provisions of trade agreements, along with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of State, has failed. That’s according to two reviews by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). After a damning GAO report in 2009, the USTR promised action. A second GAO analysis in 2014 reported little change.

Here’s the bottom line from that report: “Since 2009, USTR and DOL, with State’s assistance, have taken steps intended to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of FTA partners’ compliance with FTA labor provisions, but their monitoring and enforcement remains limited.”

In other words, no matter what those agreements say about labor, it’s not being enforced.

For example, five years after Guatemala entered CAFTA, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) named Guatemala the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. That’s because of the large number of union activists murdered, tortured, kidnapped and threatened there.

This was a startling development because Colombia had a lock on the inglorious title of most dangerous for years. Colombia dropped from first place even while murders of trade unionists continued there.

Since Colombia finalized a free trade agreement with the U.S. in 2011, two dozen Colombians trying to improve the lives and wages of workers through collective bargaining have been murdered every year. And these murders are committed with impunity. There are virtually never arrests or convictions for killing trade unionists in Colombia. Colombia’s trade deal with the U.S. and its “enforcement” by the USTR, DOL and the State Department have done nothing to change that.

And as in Guatemala, trade union activists in Colombia continue to be threatened, tortured and kidnapped. The free trade agreement is no shield for them. For example, a paramilitary group threatened the daughters of Martha Cecilia Suarez, the president of the Santander public servants association.

In 2013, the paramilitary group Comando Urbano de los Rastrojos sent her two dolls marked with her daughters’ names. They were covered in red paint, one missing a leg, the other an arm.

The 14 free trade agreements that the United States has signed with 20 countries contain provisions allowing groups or individuals to file complaints about such violations of the labor standards. The 2014 evaluation by the GAO suggests that only a tiny number of complaints have been filed because the Labor Department has failed to inform stakeholders of this process and few within the foreign countries know about it.

The GAO also found that the Labor Department has failed to meet its own deadlines for investigating and resolving the complaints it has accepted. Serious allegations, including human trafficking and child labor, remain unsettled for years.

In addition to the critical 2014 GAO report, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren detailed the failure of the United States to implement FTA labor provisions in a report issued by her office late last month titled Broken Promises. It says, “the United States repeatedly fails to enforce or adopts unenforceable labor standards in free trade agreements.”

Admittedly, this is a titanic challenge. What the United States is trying to do is tell other countries, often ones far less wealthy, how their businesses should treat workers. The United States hardly would take kindly to Guatemala telling it that the U.S. minimum wage is so low that it amounts to forced labor.

But president after president has promised American workers that the United States will compel foreign nations to meet high labor standards established in FTAs.

They haven’t accomplished that. They probably can’t. They should stop saying it. And American workers and politicians should stop buying it. The United States can sign trade agreements with countries after they stop murdering trade unionists and countenancing child labor. Entering agreements with countries that permit these grotesque practices demeans American workers and consumers.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on June 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Leo Gerard. Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.


Share this post

Extreme Bill Would Override All Local Employment Laws, Including LGBT Protections

Share this post

Zack FordDuring a meeting of the Michigan House Committee on Commerce and Trade, Republican lawmakers sneakily introduced a substitute bill replacing HB 4052. The new legislation, sponsored by Rep. Earl Poleski (R), overrides all local ordinances governing employers’ relationships with their employees. Because of the way it would impose state control, opponents have dubbed it the “Death Star” bill. Not only does it have implications for any local ordinance that controls minimum wage, benefits, sick leave, union organizing and strikes, wage disputes, apprenticeship programs, and “ban the box” policies (blocking employers from asking about felony convictions), but it would also override the LGBT protections that exist in 38 Michigan municipalities.

“A local governmental body,” the new HB 4052 reads, “shall not adopt, enforce, or administer an ordinance, local policy, or local resolution regulating the relationship between an employer and its employees or potential employees if the regulation contains requirements exceeding those imposed by state or federal law.” Because state law does not include employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, all of the municipalities who do protect LGBT workers would have their ordinances voided, similar to a law that passed earlier this year in Arkansas.

East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett (D) posted on Facebook Tuesday expressing great concern about the bill’s consideration, noting it would invalidate not only its LGBT protections, but also its Equal Benefits Ordinance, which requires the city’s contractors to offer partner benefits to employees’ same-sex partners. Describing Tuesday’s committee hearing, Triplett explained, “When State Representative Stephanie Chang pointed out that the bill would

invalidate Michigan’s 38 local nondiscrimination ordinances, the Chairman was forced to ask: ‘Will this bill really do that?’ The answer is: yes, absolutely.” East Lansing was the first community in the country to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation; its first ordinance became law in 1972.

The “Death Star” may be one of the most sweeping preemptive bills ever considered in any state. Ten states have passed bills prohibiting cities from enacting paid sick day policies, legislation championed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Last month, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a law overriding local bans on fracking. Michigan itself tried to preempt local minimum wage laws over a decade ago, but then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) vetoed the bill, and Wisconsin lawmakers failed to pass a similar bill last year.

Michigan Democrats have been pushing for LGBT nondiscrimination protections at the state level, but have so far been unsuccessful. Republican lawmakers are also considering a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), like those recently considered in Indiana and Arkansas, but Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has said he won’t sign such a bill if LGBT protections aren’t passed as well.

This blog was originally posted on May 13, 2015 on Think Progress. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Zack Ford. Zack Ford is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, hailing from the small town of Newport, PA. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. A graduate of Ithaca College (B.M. Music Education) and Iowa State University (M.Ed. Higher Education), Zack is an accomplished pianist with a passion for social justice education. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.


Share this post

The Civil Rights Act – looking back, looking ahead

Share this post

CELAVoiceThe Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed equal treatment in the workplace, in public facilities, and in public accommodations, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or sex.  Equality was not the norm in 1964.  Remembering where we started may provide hope and inspiration for the next fifty years.

This is the first of a two part posting: first, a history we have lived, second, imagining and planning for the future.

 

Looking Back – Part 1

By beginning with a look at the United States of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we can better appreciate the magnitude of the changes we have experienced.  There and then were the conditions which the Civil Rights Act was meant to address.  The United States Supreme Court struck down segregated schools and the doctrine of “separate but equal” public facilities, only in 1954.  A year later, the Court called for dismantling segregated public schools with “all deliberate speed.”   In practice, communities and states intent on resisting the required changes made much of “deliberate” at the expense of “speed.”

In 1960, as part of the Wilmington, Delaware school district’s long delayed preparation for desegregation, I, with a few classmates, had a chance to visit the black school about six blocks from our own.  The only apparent equal part was the architectural plan.  The two schools had the same floor plans.  Even as an eleven year old, I could see that the black school had almost no books, that the sandstone bricks were crumbling, the toilets broken and foul.  By contrast, my own school had well maintained granite, a fully stocked library, plenty of classroom supplies and materials, clean and functioning lavatories.

The lack of adequate facilities and the open lie of “separate but equal” were but the tip of the iceberg of de jure segregation.  Our country had opportunities only for a select few.  We did not tolerate differences.  We murdered those who challenged the assigned order.   State sponsored and state enforced racial separation — combined with political disenfranchisement, and an economic and social caste system — was violent, brutal, and unremitting.   In the Summer of 1964, the world witnessed the terrorism supporting American segregation in the murders of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

Lynchings, counted in the thousands, were carried out over generations, not only in the South, but throughout the country.  “Race riots”, actually pogroms and massacres of entire communities, terrorized people of color.  The ferocity of racial as well as ethnic violence characterized and defined American society in the first half of the twentieth century.

Pervasive discrimination was not limited to African Americans.  Universities had quotas for Jews, Catholics, and other minorities.  Large corporations, law firms, hospitals would not consider ethnic minorities for hire.  Women had limited rights to own property.   Gays were invisible. In quantitative terms, almost two-thirds of our country’s people suffered discrimination.  Freedom and opportunity were reserved for members of a small and privileged class consisting almost exclusively of economically fortunate, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant men.    The norm, the life experienced by most people, included closed doors, hatred, persecution, and violence.

When we hear the stories of individuals we can begin to understand the extent and severity of discrimination in the mid-twentieth century United States.  From my own family stories: a young woman limited to secretarial work for men who were far less talented than she, a high school girl learning from her admired father that his field of work was closed to all women, a man who died unable to tell his family of his love for another human being, a woman hospitalized for “hysteria” as she came to terms with her love of another woman, an entire family whose parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins were slaughtered after the United States refused them safe haven from Nazi genocide.

There are few in my generation, coming of age in the 1960’s, who do not know such stories.  The details may vary. The story tellers may be Asian, Hispanic, African American, Irish, Native American. Regardless of one’s origins, America of the early and middle twentieth century held up the torch of liberty and opportunity while unapologetically shutting doors and crushing hopes.

Discrimination and violence strike deeply.  At its core, discrimination is a disregard and disrespect of another person’s humanity.  It is an expression of contempt and hatred.  When we suffer discrimination, the pain stays with us for years.  It is felt for generations.  When we engage in discrimination, when we tolerate contempt and hatred, and when we acquiesce in violence, we rend the fabric of our communities.  We corrupt our souls.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, at the time of its passage, represented our country’s highest aspirations in the face of social and political realities far different than our Constitution’s promises.  The ongoing success of that legislation is all around us. Women and minorities have entered the workplace.  Many have risen to positions of prominence.  People with physical and emotional challenges are emerging from the shadows of dependence and isolation.  We are beginning to understand the waste of human potential and the pain we inflict in denying and demonizing love and sexuality.  We have made room for a true diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices.

But we can’t take our progress for granted.  As we try to imagine the challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years, an appreciation of how far we have come may help us choose compassion over misplaced caution and progress over the next iteration of “all deliberate speed.”

We now have a chance to be on the right side of history.  In my next post, I will discuss how we might get there.

This blog originally appeared in CELAvoice.org on October 7,2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/author/marvin-krakow/

About the author: Marvin Krakow (B.A., Yale, 1970, J.D. Yale, 1974), a founding partner of Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, focuses on discrimination based on race, age, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and ethnicity, wrongful termination of employment, civil rights, and class actions. He has won seven, and eight figure results. He helps victims of sexual harassment and rape, and represents whistle blowers. He argued landmark cases before the California Supreme Court, Loder v. City of Glendale and Superior Court v. Department of Health Services (McGinnis).


Share this post

Subscribe For Updates

Sign Up:

* indicates required

Recent Posts

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

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

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