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Los Deliveristas Speak: How Delivery Workers Are Organizing to Take On the Apps

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More than 2,000 food couriers snarled traffic in Times Square through pouring rain in protest April 21 demanding better working conditions and protection from violent assaults. The mass demonstration was organized by Los Deliveristas Unidos, a loose network of immigrant gig workers that was born in the strife of the pandemic last year through online chat groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram. Since then, Los Deliveristas have coalesced into an organization with support from the Brooklyn-based Worker’s Justice Project (WJP), a worker center that organizes immigrants in construction and service sector jobs. WJP has received backing from Service Employees Local 32BJ. Learn more about Los Deliveristas in our June cover story, “Can a Driver Uprising Make Food Apps Deliver?”

No sooner had their rain-whipped faces dried than gig companies moved to thwart them through legislative maneuvering. Last month, a bill backed by the New York State AFL-CIO, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), and the Machinists’ Independent Drivers Guild attempted to kneecap the Deliveristas. TWU President John Samuelsen walked back his support for the bill after Los Deliveristas Unidos opposed the legislation.“If they don’t want this particular bill, we will support them and work with them to craft a bill [that] satisfies the workers,” Samuelsen told The City.

The draft bill would have established a legal scheme for app-based workers to exercise certain collective bargaining rights without the labor protections afforded to employees. In return workers would forgo the rights to “picketing, strikes, slowdowns, or boycotts,” as well as agreeing to “not disparage, defame, sully or compromise the goodwill, name, brand, or reputation of the network company.”

The bill would have all but banned the April demonstration. Opposition was vociferous and support has faltered—killing the bill at least for this legislative session. Read more about it in “Draft Legislation in New York Would Put Gig Workers into Toothless ‘Unions.’”

Shortly after the April mass demonstration, Labor Notes writer Luis Feliz Leon spoke to Deliverista worker leader Jonán Mancilla and WJP executive director Ligia Guallpa. The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Part of the interview was conducted in Spanish and has been translated.—Editors

Labor Notes: Jonán, can you tell me a little bit about where you work? Who are the members of Deliveristas Unidos, and what do they do?

Jonán Mancilla: I am from Mexico City. I’ve been here for 15 years. I started working as a delivery boy in a laundry and then I started working in a restaurant. I left it because the work was too heavy. I worked as a barback and I had to carry the kegs and cases of beer. It was a lot of hours and little money. Four years ago I started with the platforms [food delivery apps], on the recommendation of a relative.

What is a typical day like for you?

I get up at seven in the morning. I drop my son off at school. I go back home to get my things ready. At nine in the morning I enter the platform, leave at one in the afternoon, come to have lunch, have a tortilla or something and go back to the platform again at two in the afternoon and finish at eight, nine in the evening.

How is it? Is there a lot of traffic? You have to, I imagine, take food up to different buildings where they don’t have working elevators. Tell me a little bit about that.

Yes, that’s an everyday thing. You can have a bad day when you have to use the stairs all day long, or you can have a day when you don’t use the stairs.

The problem is when you have to go to a building or to a public housing project where you know that your colleagues have already been assaulted and they send you there again.

How would you describe the work? Do you like it?

Yes, I like it, but with this pandemic, it is not as satisfactory as before. There is abuse from the companies in many aspects. One is the distances, another is the excess weight they make us carry, and another is the abuse with the payment. They demand things from you—for example, “put on gloves”, “put on masks”, “use antibacterial gel” [but they don’t pay for those supplies]. You have to buy the bicycle. Then it is stolen, and you have to buy another one. The company doesn’t take care of any of those things.

How did those experiences influence your decision to join Los Deliverista Unidos?

That caused us to unite. Thanks to the Worker’s Justice Project (Proyecto Justicia Laboral), I found out that this march was going to take place [on October 15].

After the march, our ethnic groups became more united. There is a big group of Latinos, but there is also a group of Africans, Bangladeshis, Chinese, other groups of people uniting in one voice and fighting for us to have rights at least. The fact that everybody was suffering from the same thing—the abuse and everything I was telling you about earlier—that was very influential.

What are the rights that you want to obtain as workers?

Prevention measures against bicycle thefts. Protections against assaults and accidents. Access to restaurants’ bathrooms, because that really sucks. A living wage besides the tips. Many people think that tips are a salary, and that is not a salary. [Income for food couriers averages between $300 to $800 weekly, according to The City.—Eds.]

The right to decent public places for protection from extreme weather. A lot of people have no idea what it’s like to wait for their bag of food when it is below 10 [degrees], or below 15. Protection against tip theft and retaliation from the apps. That’s pretty easy to explain: the apps put out messages warning, “Don’t ask about tips and if you ask you can be blocked.”

And the right to receive personal protective equipment. As I told you, they demand things from us, but they have never sent us anything. To receive compensation for accidents and to have paid sick days, which don’t exist either. The right to organize, and why not have representation? That is the Los Deliveristas Unidos movement. We are asking to be allowed to organize so that we have rights.

And when you talk about representation, what do you mean? Union representation?

Yes, I mean that a union be formed. So that there is a union group like the Taxi Workers Alliance or like the construction workers. In other words, a delivery workers union so you can count on that backup, and you don’t worry about anything happening to you. I am afraid that I will be assaulted, or that I will be robbed or something. But if there is a union—no, don’t worry. That would be very nice.

You mentioned to me some of the most important issues around which you are organizing. Any successes so far that you want to mention?

Well, right now, thank God, we have the [state] senator, Jessica Ramos, who was very influential in getting us vaccinated. [Los Deliveristas demanded to be put on the priority list for the vaccinations, and Governor Andrew Cuomo acceded to their demands in February—Eds.] There is also [New York City councilor] Carlos Menchaca and other elected representatives who have wanted to help us. They are writing legislation. [After the April demonstration, the New York City Council introduced a package of five bills to address some of the demands. One bill fines restaurants that deny drivers bathroom access. Another establishes minimum pay per trip (as Uber and Lyft drivers have). Another allows drivers to set their own routes. –Eds.] Thanks to this Deliveristas Unidos community we have made ourselves heard and that has caught their attention.

Ligia Guallpa: And can you mention DoorDash? After [Deliveristas] virtually meeting with DoorDash, the Restaurant Association sent out a press release asking restaurants to allow access to the restrooms, and DoorDash felt pressured also to ask. I think DoorDash said that they’ve gotten 200 restaurants [to agree].

Mancilla: DoorDash reached out to us, we did not look for them. DoorDash reached out to us for a meeting, to say, “I am concerned about this issue because I have many delivery drivers and I would like to know what their complaints are. What is bothering them? What do they need?” And then, the issue of the restrooms was addressed, wasn’t it? Because they had already sent a message to the restaurants. And they said that they had about 200 restaurants committed at that time, but I think there must have been more, thanks to that ruckus we made.

You protested and then DoorDash responded to your complaints? And said, “We hear you. We’re going to grant you access to the restrooms.” When did that happen?

In the first march [on October 15] there were over 800 delivery workers, I believe. I couldn’t count them either, it was impossible. But DoorDash noticed. I mean, DoorDash is not blind. DoorDash said, “They’re marching for a reason.” They noticed the signs, that it was not only Relay, but also DoorDash, Uber, Grubhub—all the platforms. They were the only ones that took notice and were concerned about their company and said: “We are going to have a meeting so that they tell us what is bothering them.”

So, basically you’re talking about power in numbers. Right? The last protest in April had 2,000 people. So, how did you guys build that organizational power? 2017 was the last time the immigrant community, in particular, mobilized in this way. There was a day without immigrants after Trump was elected, but other than that there hasn’t been such large mobilizations. So, can you talk to me a little bit about how you guys have built that collective power?

First of all, it is thanks to the Worker’s Justice Project. Because I can tell you, “I created the [Facebook] page for Los Deliveristas Unidos,” but without them we would not have done anything. They were the foundation—not only economically, but the support we receive from them is also moral: “Give it your best, guys! Let’s do it! Don’t let yourselves be defeated. These companies are nothing without you.” They tell us that a lot. “Imagine if you didn’t work there. Understand that without you, the companies wouldn’t exist.”

It is something that many people have understood, [but] many people are afraid to understand it. Or they are afraid to acknowledge it, because of retaliation.

First, we thought it would be easy with four of us [speaking about Worker’s Justice Project organizers—Eds.]. But we realized we need a bigger team, which joined us in this march. I saw many people that I didn’t know. We were thinking that there were going to be delivery workers, but we didn’t think that people who don’t deliver, but have a family member or an acquaintance who does, could march just to support the people. We didn’t expect that.

Guallpa: After October 15, Jonán and other leaders started to talk to other delivery workers on the streets, to connect with other groups and to tell them, “Hey guys, you’ve gotta join! Here are the [WhatsApp and Telegram] chats, like the [Facebook] page.” Going where they are working to talk to them every day, identifying the leaders. I hear Jonán say all the time—what’s the name of the one with the Dominicans there, the one from the tigers?

Mancilla: Henry. Right?

Guallpa: He says, “Henry is the leader of this group.” And he says, “Henry, you’re going to lead this group of 20.” It is something powerful. The organization supported by bringing resources [and] strategy, but I think the overall movement has been growing because of the leaders who are here now.

There are leaders in Queens. There is, for example, Isaias, who has a group of almost 80, 90 delivery workers who are everywhere mobilizing. Jonán created emergency chat groups, where they move quickly to assist each other. Either there’s a march, or there’s an action. And I think that the most powerful thing in this movement is that the network keeps growing every day. Right now, they are reaching out to Africans, to Bangladeshis.

They are asking us right now to have all the materials in [other languages]. [Many of the] Africans speak French. But the most powerful secret has been the leadership of leaders like Jonán, and they know that new leaders need to be groomed. They constantly say, “No. I’m not going be able to do this on my own.”

Mancilla: That forced us to be more leaders, because that is what I was telling Luis, that all of a sudden we were not enough. I was telling Ligia: “I can’t control this group, because there are so many of them.” “Ok. Well, let’s go talk to Henry. Let’s talk to Manolo, and let them help you… I know that Sergio is very intelligent and that he leads the group down there.”

This grew very fast. You can see that from October to February, not even a year. I never imagined that the page and the help groups would grow so fast. Well, I don’t like those to grow because it implies that the city is not safe, right? But it is something that we have to recognize, that they have grown because insecurity has grown.

So many people have the confidence to write to us for any kind of problem. Whether it is with their application, whether it is with their employer, or with some platform. In fact, they write to us for any nonsense. “Hey, do you know where there is a bike shop here in this area?” And I’m like, “A bike shop?!” So, it’s something that sometimes makes us laugh, but you know you’re doing something, and you know you’re doing good with the page.

I think you describe it in a way that might give the impression that it’s easy, but there are a lot of people who would like to be where you are—to be able to identify leaders and build the trust of those leaders. Could you share with me some lessons you’ve learned in organizing and what tools the Worker’s Justice Project has offered you to do the work?

Mancilla: Well, number one, the first thing I was taught in order to be a leader is not to say you can’t. Never say you can’t. And to have confidence in ourselves because if you don’t have confidence in yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere. That is something that maybe I had never told Ligia, but it is something that she has taught me a lot.

Her and Glendy [a lead organizer at Worker’s Justice Project—Eds.], they are always pushing me. Not in a bad way, but they tell me: “Yes you can, yes you can. Don’t tell me you can’t.” They go into the can-do mode and you can’t get out of it. There is no such thing as being afraid either—because many of the delivery workers are afraid to talk. You approach them, and they are afraid of you. We had to learn to talk, and I also learned a lot with her, because I think she is more used to talking to people on the street.

When I arrived and [Ligia] said: “Talk to him, talk to him,” I would say: “He won’t answer me, I know him.” “Talk to him, talk to him. You can do it, you can do it.” That helped me a lot to have self-confidence, to be sociable. Just by starting to go out with them, you realize how they act. You say: “I want to be like Ligia,” who has this leadership power, so natural that it doesn’t even show. I said, “I want to be just as natural.”

Guallpa: Also connecting with the groups, because there are different groups. The nice thing about this food delivery community is that, even if you see them alone, handling their food, they are always connected to a community. Even if it’s because they live in the same neighborhood, they are family. For example, downstairs there is a little group called the Garrafones and they are a group of 20 Mexicans. There are the Tigres [streetwise crew, in Dominican slang—Eds.], the Dominicans who are always there on the corner.

Something that didn’t happen is that they didn’t communicate among the networks. For example, the Tigres don’t talk to the Mexicans or the Garrafones. What separates the working community is always identity—where are you from? Ethnic groups.

But I think that in the delivery community everyone self-identifies, because everyone has had their bicycle stolen. Everybody has been denied the bathroom, so there’s an immediate sense of solidarity. Right? And something that Jonán and Sergio [another worker leader] have done a lot is to be quick to respond, and that helps to build trust quickly with the workers.

For example, if someone’s bicycle is stolen, they automatically post or send to the chats: “Can someone go to 112th Street right now, because there is an emergency?” Soon other workers show up to stand together against thieves. They’re the eyes, and they act fast. I think they’ve gained the trust of their peers. They are talking to the other compañeros, “You can do it and you are the leader. You are going to liberate this group.”

Mancilla: I think that these WhatsApp groups did something to break the ice between many ethnic groups. There was this saying, “Oh, he is from Guatemala, don’t talk to him.” Or “he’s from Ecuador.” And, “If he pretends he is Mexican, don’t talk to him. Don’t talk to those from Guatemala.” Those groups broke the ice a lot.

Do you remember at Thanksgiving when we went to play soccer? And we were there, the Guatemalans, the Mexicans, I think there were Ecuadorians there too. It was great to see that there is no longer that ice, thanks to the pages and the groups that were formed, thanks to the march.

Among the Latino community there are definitely divisions and you’ve talked a little bit about how you were able to create solidarity, but also, you’re working with other workers of different races and ethnic groups. Can you explain a little bit how you’re doing that work? And what are the working conditions and the racial inequalities that you share?

Guallpa: What we are doing with the delivery workers from Africa and the Bangladeshis is the same thing that we were doing with the Latinos, which is to gain the trust of the networks. Glendy and I don’t do food delivery, but the moment I feel that they give us the chance to open up, or they give us the chance to go visit them in their free time, then we go with Jonán, because we need them to see that he’s another delivery guy.

And it’s slowly building trust, because Africans have their networks as well. [But] when we go and talk and they listen to what the Latinos are doing, they identify automatically: “Well it’s about time someone fought for that, and I want to be part of it.” So, they started to give likes to the page.

We created fliers in French, so that’s been the tool, but we don’t speak French. So we are identifying partners who speak a little bit more English and who are the translators. There are some Africans who speak a little bit of Spanish because they are from a country in Africa where people speak Spanish [Equatorial Guinea].

So, that has been the way we have been growing. I’m the one doing the most outreach to the Bangladeshis in Brooklyn. I don’t speak Bangladeshi, but we have connected with some leaders and there is also a page of Bangladeshis, who communicate about robberies and all that.

It’s a process. It doesn’t mean it’s already perfect. I think that growing a more diverse movement takes time, and so does creating the foundation of values. Recently [we have talked about]—well, we have not talked about it constantly because everything has been going very fast—about inclusion, the language we use, how we make the [Los Deliveristas Unidos Facebook] page more inclusive because there are compañeros who speak [languages other than Spanish]…

Now, those who follow the site speak French. Some are already suggesting posting in English as well. So, little by little, for example, Jonán and others are trying to educate compañeros because sometimes it is talked about. When you talk about a problem, you talk based on color. How to remove the color as part of the problem, because in the end color does not matter. In the delivery industry people come in all colors and all flavors.

But it is a long process that is just beginning. As well as they have grown, they are in the first steps of building relationships with the new groups. And, for example, the most powerful thing that happened this time at the march [on April 21] was that one of the leaders of the West African networks wanted to speak.

He said, “I want to be there. You can’t leave me out of that program.” And I think the most beautiful thing about that day [was when] he talked about how “we are tired, we are essential, we are the ones who distribute, we are the ones who fed the doctors, the sick, and we are the most screwed. And here I am. I’m a deliverista.” And the fact that he said it in Spanish: “I am a deliverista. We are deliveristas.” It’s like acknowledgement, isn’t it? That this movement is his too.

And he says, “When is the next one? Because I have to bring my brothers.”

Mancilla: A lot of people got interested. They are like, “when is the next one? When is the next one? When is the next one?” I don’t know if you saw, Ligia, a guy said, “why they did only one, if when George Floyd was killed, there were marches every day?” “Well, you’re right. Why don’t we do another one?” But it’s not that easy.

Jonán, you mentioned the robberies. How are you all organizing around the security issues?

Mancilla: We have WhatsApp groups and other compañeros use Telegram, but there is also the Facebook page. Many people have come to trust it. Sometimes Ligia has to tell them, “You know what, call the police. [Oh,] you called the police already?” I don’t know what kind of page they think we are. They think we are from the police. They see it so big that they say, “I better tell them. Let’s see if somebody comes.” I feel that the page is something very important. The WhatsApp groups, the Telegram, and the page more than anything have made it into an emergency call, a solution for them.

Of course, they are not necessarily self-defense groups. What is it then?

Mancilla: I don’t know if I should call it that, but they do exist within the WhatsApp groups, because you send an emergency, as Ligia said today, “we need someone here. 148 and Amsterdam,” and all of a sudden you are going to see five or 10 people getting there and they help you.

You also mentioned George Floyd earlier and all the protests that have taken place through the summer and to this day. So, there’s a climate where a lot of people in the Latino community and the African-American community say that they fear police. How do you position yourselves in that debate? For example, street vendors often complain about how the police treat them. But then there are also other occasions where, if there is an attack, who do they call if the compañeros can’t come—who comes?

Mancilla: At the beginning it was as if many people understood that they had to call the police, but later they realized that the police don’t come. That led many to join the WhatsApp and Telegram groups, because they know they will come.

I don’t know if you saw the last video with the Queens compañeros. They sent a message to please let the groups know that they needed help. And if you look at the video, the last one shows how the [drivers] start to arrive, because the police don’t come—and if the [police] come they don’t do anything.

My friend says they were kids, teenagers, and they told him he was going to take the bicycle and then they started to fight. One of the bicycle thieves was caught and he was the one who got beaten badly. When the police arrived, they took the beaten teen away and my friend says that they saw him free later. So, it is a reality that the police don’t do anything. I don’t know if they don’t feel like it, if they don’t like the paperwork, or because they are minors they can’t do anything else. So, these self-defense groups, as you call them, emerged.

Guallpa: But what is funny is that the compañeros arrive faster than the police. For example, the chat messages, in less than five or 10 minutes, there are already five or 10, those who are nearby mobilize to get there faster. And they have helped compañeros when they have an accident to contact family members, or when a bicycle is stolen, if they are close by, they have rescued bicycles.

Mancilla: Yes, because the police do not come.

Guallpa: Or when they get stuck with a motorcycle. They’ve managed to react faster than the police. And the reason they are reacting like that is because, as Jonán said, the police are not doing anything. They are on their own, they only have themselves.

So, to wrap up the interview, Jonán, what are the next steps after last week’s protest?

Mancilla: Well, I don’t think we have finished the first steps yet. We have to keep on fighting because I don’t feel that they have listened to us yet. We have some legislation, don’t we, Ligia? We still have many things to do. If you notice, they tell us that we are essential, but they do not show it to us.

[Here the interview with Jonán Mancilla ends and the interview with Ligia Guallpa continues.]

Jonán mentioned all that you folks have done to support them. Can you take me back to where this campaign started and what kind of tools Worker’s Justice provided to the delivery drivers to help them get organized?

Guallpa: For him it started on October 15, but for WJP actually it started much earlier, in May of last year. When Covid happened, the Worker’s Justice Project became an emergency relief center for migrant workers and we had to turn our worker center serving Williamsburg, Sunset Park, and Bensonhurst into emergency relief centers where workers could pick up masks or ask for information. It was in April that we realized that Covid was going to be a long-term thing, and we saw many of our members going unemployed, being scared of Covid, not knowing if they should go back or not go back to work, also realizing that their co-workers were getting sick and they were not even notified whether they had Covid. We raised money to start doing cash relief, and we started seeing how most of our members started moving into food delivery work as an alternative.

In Bensonhurst we opened one of the worker centers to do food relief, and the people who were coming through our doors were actually the delivery workers. We started noticing that it was a whole different sector that nobody had been outreaching to, and in May, June, we started connecting with different networks.

We started connecting with different leaders that started telling us how they were doing this work and [about] access to bathrooms. They were sharing how they were carrying bottles of water to do their basic necessities, how they were treated by the restaurants, how they were pressured by the companies. I think one of the most important things for WJP is how fast and how quickly we started building trust with the different networks.

It was by May, June, July, September, we were having access to many of these networks; and also, understanding that this was not a specific issue workers were facing in Brooklyn, it was at a much bigger scale, and it was because most of these workers were not working as workers—they were treated as independent contractors. And doing this power analysis at the end of the day, it was because of these apps.

The apps were having full control of their lives. We’re talking to the leaders about understanding the power— many of them were blaming the restaurants, but we were trying to help them understand that it’s not just a restaurants’ responsibility, but the app has full control of this. The apps are the ones who negotiate these contracts in this partnership with the restaurants.

The apps could have easily said to the restaurants, “Hey, we’re going to enter into an agreement with you: we’re going to provide you the service, but you have to provide bathrooms,” and it was the apps who were actually not negotiating any conditions because they didn’t care. They just wanted to get restaurants to pay the 30 percent fee, and didn’t care about what conditions workers were facing.

One of the most powerful things was that in September, as we started connecting with different networks and talking through issues, every single worker was agitated. They were mad, they were angry, they were desperate because things were getting worse. I mean, if you think about September, it was already seven months of inhumanity; of so much unfair treatment that you have to go through that many said, “Enough.” They were like, “Somebody has to hear us.”

When we talked to the different networks and we were like, “We are ready, we’re going to march,” they initially thought, “We want to talk to the police, we’re going to march to the police,” and then we did a couple meetings.

We did something about strategy as well, like understanding who has the power to make things better, and we had conversations with the leaders that, you know, the company is responsible, has power to make changes, city council has power to make changes. The mayor of New York City has power, the restaurants have power; so, these are our main targets. The police is just one actor. They should do their jobs, but at the end of the day, they can’t give you what you need.

And there was the first time that I said, “We have to target our city council members,” and that’s when we started training our leaders, we started doing the framework of how to message. I think that’s something powerful, because they have the most powerful stories—they’re essential workers, they’re more like frontline workers. They’ve been delivering and keeping everybody fed and being treated without humanity.

Glendy and I will not only identify leaders and connect with the leaders in building trust but make sure that leaders really understand where their power is, and who has power to give them what they need, and that’s exactly what we did.

Yes, you should start targeting the restaurants who should give you access to the bathroom, but at the end of the day it’s the company who’s the target. Right? It is the mayor, it is city council who has the power to put legislation to regulate the apps.

We started doing informally this power mapping and making sure they understand the dynamics of that industry, who has the power to give it to them, and also making sure that they can tell the story of their own conditions. We started building with them what’s the narrative that they want to share, and building confidence. With Jonán, I feel like he’s a natural leader, but a lot of the leaders live with a lot of fear. “What about, if I say something, I get disconnected? or what about, if I talk to other leaders, they might not trust me.” So we’ve been helping Jonán build trust with other leaders and validating him in spaces that he’s a leader, and mentoring them.

There is so much power in the city, and they know it. But owning it has been a whole process for them, to own the power that they have, and that they could exercise. And also, building power takes time.

I remember when we did the first march. The leaders were pissed off. Not everybody came in. We only had I think between 700 and 800 people. Not all the leaders got into the buy-in of doing this march. There was a lot of criticism among them, like, “What do we want out of this march?” And I think what inspired and motivated them was DoorDash after the march. We were publicly shaming DoorDash and DoorDash was like, “Okay, we need to talk to them, because obviously they’re not talking good about the company and this is bad PR for us.” They reached out to Los Deliveristas: “We want to talk to the workers.”

Acknowledging these victories and how they’re escalating motivates them and inspires them to say, “we can do this.” Who brings a big powerful company to meet with a group of workers? That’s powerful. Or who expects the Restaurant Association to put out a press release asking the restaurants to open the bathrooms?

Acknowledging the power that they have, I think it has leveraged the movement to understand that this is their time, that this is their movement. I also see how they’re exhausted, of being like not only first responders as food delivery workers, but now also managing all these self-defense networks. I remember we were having a one-on-one meeting with Jonán, and he was like, “Ligia, I can only] manage so many people. Everybody’s expecting me, that as a leader, I should respond.” And that’s when we’d sit down with him, that part of the role of a leader is to develop other leaders, and what kind of leader you want to start identifying.

It is not just the person that talks the most—you know, Latinoamerica is like, the leader is the one who talks better, who talks the most and who’s louder. That is not a leader. You want to look for the one that has the followers, the one that is consistent, the one that you know is going to respond, the one that you know is committed to the movement.

The next phase is to diversify the movement. Bring more Africans, Bangladeshis. They took the first step by making sure that the agenda is open to other groups. Even though they have a struggle within, because they don’t speak English. So they have said, “we can distribute the flyers, but you guys have to help me follow up.” They might not talk but they go, “here’s a flyer, just read it. In your language.”

It sounds like a lot of the leadership development was done by modeling behavior through one-on-one conversations. Was there any curriculum that informed how you were power mapping, how you were helping Jonán and other leaders develop that credibility? Where do you get your lessons from?

To be honest, there is no formal training, A lot has been done one on one and with mentoring. Glendy talks to the leaders almost every single week, not only to check in with them, but we give them little homeworks. One of the most powerful things that I think organizers have to understand is that workers know the solutions better than the organizer. I talk every day to some of the leaders in Brooklyn, and they come up with these incredible ideas. Like, they came up with a sticker idea. They were saying that we had a need for something that self-identifies them as a group.

And he said, maybe stickers, to put on the bikes. And I said, how do you think the stickers will be used? And we started developing a strategy with them—like, maybe that’s a way to also talk to them about who we are and what we’re doing. They came up with the idea of giving out hardhats, because not all the delivery workers were wearing hard hats. And we consistently are asking, how do you think we can be building this strategy of hardhats?

What Glendy and I are doing is doing a lot of strategy, per borough and per neighborhood. What is needed for Harlem is not what sometimes is needed in Queens. The leaders know better what’s the dynamic in the neighborhood, so a lot of what we do is like holding open strategy sessions with leaders. We do a lot of listening; we ask a lot of questions. We also mentor them. For instance, Jonán, sometimes he’s afraid to go and talk to the bike shops, and we said, “Do you want us to go with you?” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah because I don’t know.” And then we asked him to do it and then he’s like, “Okay.” So it’s like, “See, you can do it.”

One of the things we want to do is bring all the leaders into one room to debrief what has worked and what hasn’t worked. We’re having these one-on-one conversations about what inclusivity means. Not only gender, but with other communities. That’s a conversation we are having one on one, because sometimes workers themselves make comments that can be racist.

A lot of the work that we’re doing is trust building, identifying leaders, mapping different neighborhoods where there is a high density of food delivery sites. We’re mapping where workers congregate. We are doing a strategy-one-on-one as well with each of the leaders. We are helping them sustain a lot of these networks, helping them manage by including more people into it and helping them identify new leaders as well.

But I think one of the most powerful things is that this is a community that believe it or not has this natural level of solidarity. They’re there for each other. I think that one of the things that Glendy and I have been able to do, including with Jonán and others, is build trust with the different groups. But also, unfortunately, conditions have become these most deadly jobs, which agitate workers to unite.

Every time they post something, they use this phrase: “Unidos somos más fuertes.” [Together we are stronger.—Eds.] All the texts when they win something or they want to agitate others, they created a hashtag. And then Glendy and I thought, you know, every time they finish a sentence we are like, “Unidos somos más fuertes, chicos!

Glendy and I cannot act so fast the way they are, there’s no way. Yesterday, Gustavo [another worker leader] was like, “I’m going to need help, because there’s some member leaders who came, brought groups, and they didn’t get a T-shirt.” And we just need to make sure that we collect their names or phone numbers because they want to grow their database, they know how important phone numbers and access to that is. So, I went to help him to collect all the phone numbers, and I was shocked because they created these stickers of Los Deliveristas Unidos. They created their own logo, how they want it to be, which is like a delivery worker with a big fist. Everybody came in, I thought they were coming for the T-shirts, but no. They’re coming for the stickers. And when they took the stickers, they said give me three, no, no, no, give me four. I asked one of the workers, I said why do you guys want so many stickers? He’s like, “I have a friend.” And I said, “Yeah but, you know, it’s a sticker, why do you need…?” He is like, “Because when we see this sticker, we know that we belong to each other. But not only that, I think the thieves are seeing these stickers, so they’re getting scared. They think that we’re part of the mafia.” I was laughing. I was shocked, but at the same time I felt like, wow, people are acknowledging how powerful they are.

This is how they own their power. They want people to know, “We’re not alone anymore. Watch us. We’re coming after you.”

Where does Los Deliveristas Unidos fit in the broader debate within the labor movement around fighting misclassification? You know, especially in the wake of Prop 22 in California, this seems to be like a poster child case of rampant misclassification.

This is much more than just fighting for basic rights for food delivery workers. The way I see it is, this is about defending the rights of all workers, whether or not they are food delivery workers. Because what they’re fighting is not just the big multi billion-dollar companies like DoorDash, GrubHub. These companies are building a new economy where they’re trying to erase decades of labor protections that historically the labor movement has won. Like minimum wage or workers comp, all these things were won because workers fought so hard for decades.

Tech companies are looking to rewrite every single labor law and redefine who’s a worker and who’s not a worker. They’re building a whole new economy. They’re using their power to define who gets protections and who doesn’t. What happened in California, it showed how powerful these companies are, and they’re looking into doing it in every single state.

They were able to make progress under Trump because Trump was more flexible about giving more power to the companies to expand the definition of independent contracting.

In New York, we know DoorDash and other companies are looking to do the exact same thing that they did in California. [The proposed New York bill fell apart in late May, thanks in large part to opposition from the Deliveristas—Eds.] And I don’t think DoorDash and others are ready to confront Los Deliveristas Unidos. They were all profiting from the pandemic. They were making good money. Nobody was complaining, the city was happy; restaurants were complaining but they realized that, at the end of the day, they were also helping businesses, they were helping New Yorkers. And they weren’t ready for workers to start raising their voices and building up so much power.

As soon as the October 15 march happened and workers started being vocal, and shaming [companies] publicly, the public [began] to realize, “Oh my god, the delivery worker that brought my food you’re telling me that he couldn’t eat? Or you are telling me that he’s not paid? But I’m still paying this high fee to DoorDash?”

And also moving elected officials to start paying attention and making it public.

We are hoping that more labor unions will join this fight because Deliveristas Unidos are about to define the future of the labor movement. And you’ve heard it from Jonán, they want representation. And the fact that we see some—32BJ, one of the unions saying we’re going to support you—it’s huge! We’re hoping that other unions will follow. Because this is a big fight. It’s about protecting basic labor protections that the labor movement won for decades.

Amazon has its Delivery Service Providers network, which also hires subcontracted delivery drivers. They are opening up shop in Hell’s Kitchen to have folks on e-bikes make deliveries. Are any Deliveristas part of that subcontracting arrangement?

Yeah, they are. One of the things they’re doing is, whenever they give a sticker, to get the person’s name and the phone number and ask, what app do you work for? Where do you deliver? And they are looking into expanding their WhatsApp groups because they also realized there is Amazon Flex—it’s one of the, one of the most common things that workers are using, which is people with cars or bikes that pick-up food from grocery stores, Whole Foods, and others.

Have you folks done a breakdown of what apps most of the deliveristas work for?

We are working on the research now, doing a survey that hasn’t been completed yet. We’re working on that with Cornell. We’re hoping that it will be completed at the end of May. I think it will give a huge understanding about where the industry is and which apps are the big actors.

In response to Amazon entering the bike delivery space, any thoughts? Amazon has been in the headlines because of the warehouse worker organizing campaign in Bessemer, Alabama. I’m curious, what is the potential for these struggles coalescing into a movement?

The movement is interconnected. Because at the end of the day, Deliveristas, Amazon workers are all fighting against corporate greed. I think the point of connection is to make sure that workers who are working for Amazon are also talking to workers who are doing food delivery. I think the big step right now is how we bring these worker leaders who are leading this amazing fight to talk to each other in real solidarity.

It’s so critical to fight together, and it takes time. Unfortunately, time is what we don’t have, because these companies are moving so fast. But the big job for unions and worker centers is to come together to understand and fight together, strategize together. This is why I think naturally 32 BJ said “Yes, we’re fighting the big fast-food companies, you know, we’re never gonna say no to the Deliveristas.” We are asking for other unions to step it up as well.

I share your belief in the potential for the labor movement to unite as a social movement of working-class people, and a multiracial working-class movement that, no pun intended, delivers for working people.

This is something I think many people don’t understand. Worker’s Justice Project and other worker centers are part of a movement that truly understands that there is no labor movement without organizing the new workforce, which just happens to be immigrant in New York—which is the exact same way the labor unions got started back in the day, right? They got started by immigrants. Los Deliveristas were born by immigrants, and look, they organized a massive march! We believe it was more like 3,000 people, not 2,000 people, because we bought 2,000 T-shirts and all of them were gone.

What stands out to me about this is that that’s the type of mass grassroots working organizing that unfortunately is all too rare these days, and we have not seen many big demos by immigrant workers in a long time. This is one of those moments where immigrant workers flex their muscle. So I want to ask for your last thoughts on that. How did these workers build up that kind of organizational power, and what’s next?

That’s a hard question, because everything is changing so fast. One of the true things that we believe as a worker center is that there’s a lot of power when people organize. What Worker’s Justice Project is doing right now is validating that power everywhere we go. We need to make sure workers understand that they have the power, and they just need to use it, and that we’re going to be there to back them up all the way through.

And also, being honest that it’s not easy to exercise your power. There’s challenges. And it has to be diverse, not just led by one leader. Los Deliveristas Unidos has grown so fast because it is led by workers and leaders, and in every borough, in every corner, every neighborhood there is one. Our job is to build their trust, build their confidence, give them the tools and make sure that they understand that this is a much broader movement, that it takes time.

What’s next? Right now, what they’re looking for is to fight specific protections at the city level. They want the city to pass some local legislation that will make things better.

They’re talking about building a much broader organization that can scale up. That takes more organizing and more base-building work, as well as deeper understanding and a stronger strategy—because they are not confronting, you know, un empleador cualquiera [just any employer—Eds.]. They are confronting multibillion-dollar tech companies that have not only a lot of economic power, but a lot of political power too. This is not a fight that can be won alone. We need to bring other people to fight together.

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on June 7, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

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


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The Long-Neglected Online Labor Organizing Space Is Getting More Crowded

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A glance at the website of various unions will tell you that organized labor is not always the most tech-savvy field. It has been clear for years that organizing at scale in the modern world will require a lot of online organizing—it is, as they say, where the workers are. The coming launch of two new online organizing tools could signal a new age of healthy competition in a space that should be a hive of activity, but is not.

The internet has been America’s dominant communications medium for decades now. Despite this, the attitude of traditional unions towards using the internet as an organizing tool has been, very broadly speaking, disinterested. Union organizing is a field with a history stretching back more than a century, tightly constrained by labor laws, and always under attack from hostile forces; it is inherently suspicious of new methods. For that reason, unions and other labor groups are, for the most part, an afterthought in online culture. The AFL-CIO has fewer Twitter followers than Steak-Umm.

It is easy to see why this is a problem. Union membership has been declining for more than a half-century. The demographic most positively disposed to unions is younger people, who spend their lives online. Reaching the next generation of union members means online organizing. It also means taking a much more flexible approach to organizing—one that does not restrict itself to only traditional union campaigns. The raw materials are millions of hard working, younger people who are at ease online, and who have the general political and moral tilt that would make them prime candidates for organized labor, but who don’t know much about unions, or how to connect their day-to-day work issues with what organized labor does. The attitude of traditional unions has often been that these working people should beat a path to their door. Instead, the labor movement needs to bring its tools to the people.

The most well established online organizing platform is Coworker.org, a site that allows workers to start and run campaigns in their workplace—not union campaigns, but issue-based campaigns, which have won workers at a wide range of companies everything from wage increases to the right to wear beards. Founded in 2013, the site has hosted campaigns for a million workers, including more than 300,000 in the past month who have participated in a slew of workplace campaigns related to the coronavirus crisis, many of them seeking hazard pay and safer working conditions. Coworker has also been intimately involved in the organizing that led to the Google walkout and other prominent labor actions in the tech industry in recent years.

Michelle Miller, an SEIU veteran who is the cofounder of Coworker (and a friend of mine), says that the site’s value is not only in its ease of use, but also in the organizing expertise that its staff earned by working on hundreds of successful campaigns. “Historically, the labor movement has thrived when we were able to meet people in the spaces they were convening—in the early part of the last century those spaces were the backrooms of bars, churches and synagogues, parks and, eventually, we built union halls where people could gather for both meetings and celebrations,” Miller says. “Online spaces should be considered no different. They are places people gather to talk about what matters to them and a savvy, thoughtful labor movement is part of those conversations.”

Coworker, a 501(c)3 nonprofit funded by donations and foundations, does not run union campaigns per se. But a new site set to launch soon aims to do just that. Unit.work, formed as a benefit corporation to support worker rights, allows workers to make an account, sign union cards, and form an independent union at their workplace, which Unit staffers then help to administer. It is not allied with any existing unions; rather, it aims to make it easy for people who work in the nooks and crannies that organizers often don’t have the time or resources to reach—small companies, out-of-the-way locations, industries without strong union interest—to unionize and administer their own union with one set of centralized resources. It’s an intriguing model. And if it works, it could help solve the omnipresent problem of how to unionize workplaces that major unions don’t consider to be worth the effort.

Unit’s founder is James White, a self-described “tech guy” with an MIT degree, who found himself drawn to labor by witnessing campus union actions in Boston and the rise of Occupy, and by reading white papers about the need for more virtual organizing. White worked on the tech and business sides of a medical device company when he graduated, but left a year ago to dedicate himself to building Unit, which he hopes to formally roll out later this year.

On one hand, those who work in the labor movement may dismiss tech people like White as neophytes; on the other hand, the labor movement could certainly use as much tech competence as it can get. White notes that the weakness of organized labor is manifesting itself online every day. Since the coronavirus crisis began, he says, Google searches for “layoffs” have increased seven times over, but searches for “labor union” and “strike” have barely risen at all. That’s indicative of a problem. “Tech tools can lower the barriers,” White says, “but ultimately power comes from the worker led actions.” Though unions can often be territorial, he sees himself as filling a gap, rather than competing with existing unions. He grew up in a small town of 5,000 people in Texas, and dreams of helping people in places like his hometown unionize, even though there may not be any union locals for miles around.

Another new entrant into the field is GetFrank.com, which just launched in an early beta phase. The site, a for-profit company that aims to eventually support itself via subscription revenue, has a model similar to Coworker: Workers subscribe, organize and create campaigns privately, and then “Frank helps to privately send your campaigns to management and works to ensure you are heard.” The company is being built by a team of tech industry veterans, based in Chicago.

It remains to be seen whether the uneasy overlap of tech industry funding mechanisms and labor organizing cause any problems. The more products that launch in the online organizing space, the more we will be treated to a natural experiment of what works and what doesn’t. Coworker, the nonprofit, must raise its funding from the world of foundations; Unit, the benefit corporation, will operate essentially as a labor side labor consultant, seeking capital but also legally obligated to fulfill its pro-labor mission; and there’s Frank, the regular for-profit firm, which is hoping that there is a high, untapped demand for these services which the market has yet to fill. (There is also UnionBase, a free social network for union members run by Larry Williams, who is the head of the Progressive Workers Union, which qualifies as a fully pro-union project.)

In the big picture, 90% of American workers are not union members, and the vast majority of them are not even involved in workplace organizing in any form. Competition for primacy in online organizing, at this stage, is a good thing. It means that there are more chances for someone to stumble upon a way to organize and become inspired. As Michelle Miller says, “Workers need all the help they can get.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 7, 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.


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Organizing Amidst The COVID-19 Crisis

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As the 2008 financial crisis unfolded, tens of millions of Americans were hurting and making meaning of what was happening. It was the first time in my life that suddenly, tens of millions of people were significantly more ready to be organized than in the weeks before. To meet the pressing needs of people in crisis, advance overdue structural reforms, and open up people’s sense of what was possible, we began to organize loads of new people. 

Crises expose the inequities and inadequacies of our systems – so they also create moments of incredible opportunity.  Everything is up for questioning. All of it is on the table.

Right now, we are in another moment of crisis – and potential insight – because of COVID-19. With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, more people are open to organizing than at any time in our lives. The gross inequalities and inadequacies of our systems are being seen in a new light by tens of millions of people. 

I remember during the 2008 financial crisis, people who had lost homes, jobs, and pensions were suddenly ready for action they had never imagined. With more than 25 million now unemployed, there are a lot of people looking for support, meaning, and action. This is a moment that requires organizing. 

But where to start?  We should start where people are at. That is the first organizing maxim I and many others were taught. It made total sense – meeting people where they are is a sign of respect, and respect is a foundation of trust. 

That’s why we have created this video – to meet people where they are, and help them make meaning in this new moment of crisis. Check it out – I think you’ll find it helpful.

This video comes from the political education program we built and run in partnership with Harmony Goldberg and the Grassroots Policy Project.  A big shoutout to Jenn Carrillo, Billie Kirkton, and Harmony for their work on this. 

Mobilizers – who have an important role to play right now – move people who are ready to be moved to action. Organizers build relationships and then move people who didn’t even know they wanted to move to action. It’s an important distinction.

During the financial crisis, people who had no connection to social movements came into organizing through direct service, specific issue campaigns like foreclosure prevention, or needing a place to express anger and simply take it to the banks. 

The COVID-19 context is dramatically more far-reaching in terms of loss of life, loss of livelihood, and loss of social connectivity and normalcy.  People react to things differently and as a result need different things from organizing – and that will certainly be the case now. Some will cope by moving to action, some by building community, and others by going internal and even shutting down. And therefore, what people are likely to join will vary.  The good news is that all of these pathways are valuable, and all can build power.  

As has been well exposed over the last couple of months, there are huge gaps in the left’s reach into working class communities. For all the talk of organizing the multi-racial working class, most are untouched by our organizations. It’s a brutal fact that we have to face. And it raises questions about how much time we spend speaking to the converted, engaging left twitter, or absorbing the existing choir. 

This is a moment that requires us to do better, and opens the possibility of doing just that. Some organizations will galvanize the already converted and that’s important work, and yet I hope most of us look at how we can connect with way more everyday folks who are currently untouched by organizing. 

 Starting where people are at will require us to think about the language we use. Most of the country supports what would have seemed a radical agenda. They support universal basic income, rent suspension, debt cancellation, guaranteed health care, and until now unheard of levels of stimulus investment. And yet, most people are not attracted to or are even alienated by the way the left talks about things that are otherwise wildly popular.  We can start where people are at by using language that people use vs. language designed to show bonafides to the already converted. This doesn’t mean we don’t move people along an analysis continuum, it just means we do it by talking like we did when we were organizers in the neighborhood. 

Tens of millions of people, maybe more, are significantly more ready for organizing than they were just weeks ago. To win the demands needed to sustain people in this period, and to advance big ideas to reorganize our systems for the long haul we will need so many more to join the fight. They are searching to find what they need, we just have to be thoughtful about where and how we engage them.

This blog was originally published at Our Future on April 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: George Goehl is the director of People’s Action, a national grassroots organization fighting for economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice. He is commonly credited with moving the field of community organizing to new levels, increasing emphasis on shaping worldview, building political power, and long-term vision and strategy.


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House Democrats plan push to pass PRO Act strengthening workers’ organizing rights

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House Democrats are getting ready to pass another pro-worker bill in the coming weeks, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Friday, tweeting that “House Democrats are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with working men and women across the country. I look forward to bringing the PRO Act to the House Floor for a vote prior to the President’s Day district work period to protect the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

The PRO Act would strengthen the right to organize in several ways. It would create real penalties for employers that fire workers for exercising their National Labor Relations Act right to organize, and get those workers their jobs back much more quickly than in the current system. It would streamline the union representation election process, preventing employers from holding captive-audience meetings at which they try to intimidate workers away from union support, forcing companies to disclose the money they spend on anti-union consultants, and “If the employer breaks the law or interferes with a fair election, the PRO Act empowers the NLRB to require the employer to bargain with the union if it had the support of a majority of workers prior to the election,” the Economic Policy Institute explains.

Once workers have a union, employers often drag out and delay the process of negotiating a first contract. The PRO Act cracks down on that, pushing employers into mediation and even binding arbitration if they won’t bargain in good faith. On top of that, it “overrides so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws by establishing that employers and unions in all 50 states may agree upon a “fair share” clause requiring all workers who are covered by—and benefit from—the collective bargaining agreement to contribute a fair share fee towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.” It protects the jobs of striking workers and lifts the prohibition on secondary boycotts. And it cracks down on misclassification of workers as either independent contractors or supervisors to make them ineligible for union representation.

Rep. Mark Pocan and Kenneth Rigmaiden, the president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, offered an example of workers the PRO Act could help. “[D]uring a construction project in Nashville, Tenn., 120 misclassified drywall finishers were never compensated for overtime work and two weeks of work at the end of the project,” they wrote in The Hill. “The Painters Union and other labor groups are fighting back to win these workers their fair pay. The PRO Act would ensure that employers could no longer dodge wage and hour standards by misclassifying workers.”

As usual, House Democrats will do something good for working people and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will send it to his legislative graveyard. But when Republicans claim that Democrats are too busy with impeachment to do things for the American people, remember this and so many other bills. Democrats are getting shit done. It’s just that Republicans are determined to keep working people down.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 10, 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.

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Newsom has an organized labor problem

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Angela HartMackenzie MaysJeremy B. WhiteSome of California’s most powerful unions are openly denouncing Gov. Gavin Newsom less than a year into his tenure, exposing early fractures in the Democratic governor’s base after he spurned proposals they considered a bellwether of his support for labor.

Simmering tensions erupted last month when Newsom vetoed three bills backed by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. The governor has also come under fire from the California Nurses Association for backtracking on single-payer health care.

Unions suggest that losing their support will have long-term consequences if Newsom, widely known to have national ambitions, does run for president. For now, Newsom insists he’s focused on his governorship.

“National politics provides us a cautionary tale of what happens when the working class is forgotten by candidates who are steeped in the ambitions of unrequited presidential aspirations,” said Robbie Hunter, president of the trades organization that represents 400,000 people.

Newsom coasted into office last year on a wave of support from organized labor, earning key endorsements from unions that underpinned his early lead in the Democratic primary as the clear frontrunner, allowing him to amass a war chest that carried him unscathed through the general election. He defeated his toughest rival, Democratic challenger Antonio Villaraigosa, by more than 20 points in the 2018 primary.

While in office, however, Newsom has taken some moderate positions that unions fear may signal how he intends to govern for as many as seven more years. The governor has pointed to fears of an economic downturn to reject state spending. He also has blamed President Donald Trump for his meandering single-payer stance, a change that has frustrated the California Nurses Association.

The nurses group recently called Newsom’s veto of a hospital closure notification bill “shameful” and believes he has not been forthright on the single-payer issue. CNA was among Newsom’s earliest backers.

“I think what true reformers of this health care system want to see is transparency, honesty, action and cooperation,” head CNA lobbyist Stephanie Roberson told POLITICO. “Just because we support you, that doesn’t mean that buys our silence on calling you out when you are wrong or don’t keep your promise.”

The construction workers’ union backed Newsom during his gubernatorial run, but he angered the group by vetoing proposals that would have increased funding for affordable housing construction, boosted union pay on taxpayer-subsidized public works projects and required higher wages for workers building charter schools.

“This governor has added his voice into the chorus of politicians that disrespect the contribution of blue-collar workers,” Hunter said.

Following that rare public rebuke, the trades council came after Newsom again, paying for social media posts slamming him for dithering on an Occupational Safety and Health Administration board appointment and not doing enough to protect worker safety.

The widening dispute followed Newsom’s earlier removal of Hunter from a coveted committee charged with examining broad shifts in California’s workplace demands. Not having a trades voice on the panel is “highly concerning to all of us,” the group’s chief lobbyist, Cesar Diaz, told POLITICO.

The California Teachers Association has likewise grown restless, though it has not blasted Newsom the same way as CNA and the building trades council. Three major teachers unions in California this year went on strike, reflecting the growing anger that members have over pay, benefits and working conditions while California state government has a record surplus.

The group was instrumental last year in helping Newsom win the primary after battle lines were drawn between teachers and charter schools, which gave Villaraigosa more than $20 million. Given that dynamic, teachers unions were hopeful that the governor would block new charter schools and crack down on existing ones.

CTA was satisfied that Newsom signed charter school restrictions previously rejected by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who founded two Oakland charters. Rick Wathen, a CTA political director, said the union got further with Newsom than it did in eight previous years under Brown.

But members were hoping for more. CTA leaders believed the governor drove changes that watered down the charter bill to reach compromise with the California Charter Schools Association.

The governor also signed a bill mandating later school start times for middle and high school students in response to research showing that adolescents need more morning sleep. That rankled CTA, whose members believe start times should be negotiated with unions at the local level.

And the California Federation of Teachers was upset that Newsom vetoed legislation expanding paid maternity leave for teachers. The governor said he was concerned about additional costs.

“I don’t think he is prioritizing education as much as he should be,” said Ever Flores, president of the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association, a CTA affiliate. “CTA — we did a lot for Gavin Newsom, making sure he would get elected.”

To those outside the state, Newsom may seem a California liberal figurehead. He made national headlines in 2004 when he performed same-sex marriages as a new San Francisco mayor well before it became politically popular. He broke through the national noise as governor this year when he approved Medi-Cal benefits for undocumented immigrants through age 25, raising the hackles of Trump and conservatives across the country.

But within California, the governor has not always been considered a liberal through and through. In San Francisco, he was elected as a fiscal conservative and business-minded Democrat who founded a local wine store that has grown into a network of wineries and resorts under the brand PlumpJack. Those business roots may still run deep as he confronts the risks of leading California at the end of lengthy economic expansion.

Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist and publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, suggested that Newsom is experiencing the normal transition from Democratic candidate to chief executive.

“I think there’s the sense that the governor made a lot of commitments when he ran for office, and predictably he’s tempering his agenda after assessing what the reality is,” Sragow said.

The governor appears to be playing a cautious hand not just because of recession fears, but also because a potential run for president may require moderation.

“This early, I think [labor unions] need him more than he needs them, but ultimately it could create vulnerabilities for Newsom,” said Republican strategist Rob Stutzman. “He’s exerting a certain amount of independence from labor that is not unusual for Democratic governors … it becomes impossible from an executive position to grant labor their every wish and be able to effectively govern.

“But labor will still be a constituency he’s going to want to court for national aspirations,” he said.

For all the outcry, it’s not as if Newsom has turned his back on unions. California’s umbrella labor group lauded Newsom for protecting gig worker rights and ending arrangements that shield employers from lawsuits in cases of alleged wrongdoing.

“Those were tremendous victories for us,” said Steve Smith, a spokesperson for the California Labor Federation. “He has three more years in his first term and we’re going to be looking at him to see how we can address some of the state’s thorniest problems like inequality and housing.”

Labor leaders also lauded a bill he signed allowing child care workers to unionize for the first time. At a celebratory Los Angeles rally last month, he stood alongside top labor officials to promote what will be the country’s largest union organizing campaign.

“Thank you to organized labor,” Newsom said to an adoring crowd. “Just know that this is the beginning. The best is yet to come.”

The governor also agreed this summer to significant salary increases for correctional officers, which drew a scathing report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office questioning if Newsom was actually doing too much for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Newsom spokesperson Vicky Waters said the governor and lawmakers “achieved historic and long-sought victories for working families this year.” As evidence, she pointed to the charter school restrictions, gig worker protections and child care organizing bill, as well as an increase in the earned-income tax credit and paid family leave expansion.

“Organized labor and our vibrant workforce are part of what makes our state great, and Gov. Newsom looks forward to continued partnership with organized labor in the months and years ahead,” she said.

Still, the governor has to worry about his left flank, given how loud some of his allies are. The California Nurses Association has long been a thorn in the side of California governors, even the ones they appear to like best.

Newsom didn’t push through a single-payer health care bill this year after voicing strong support as a gubernatorial candidate for a 2017 bill that stalled in the Assembly. “I’m tired of politicians saying they support single-payer but that it’s too soon, too expensive or someone else’s problem,” Newsom said during the campaign.

CNA’s relationship with Newsom has soured since the election as he’s soft-pedaled the issue. Newsom now insists it’s impossible to accomplish single-payer as long as Trump is in office.

“He made it clear to us that he was with us on single-payer,” Roberson said of his campaign promises. “We didn’t need an interpreter to find out what he meant. But if you compare his actions with what he told us in December, I would say it’s not congruent.”

Nurses are still hoping its members will win appointments on Newsom’s single-payer health care commission, but the governor is already more than two months behind schedule on naming his picks.

The nurses union told POLITICO its relationship with Newsom is “shaky” also because he vetoed legislation that would have expanded public notification periods for hospital closures. Nurses called Newsom’s veto “shameful” on Twitter, and the union this month wrote an op-ed with the headline, “Newsom said he was a health care champion. But this action says otherwise.”

Teachers are preparing to do battle next year as well. In a sign of their unrest, CTA board members this summer ousted longtime Executive Director Joe Nuñez and will confront the business community next year with a November ballot initiative that would raise commercial property taxes to generate more school and government funding.

Union members say that how Newsom handles the 2020 “split-roll” ballot initiative — including a possible Capitol deal that averts a campaign fight — will make or break his relationship with CTA, especially after the charter bill was watered down. And Wathen said CTA will be back in the Capitol seeking a moratorium on new charters and cap on charters in particular districts.

Elsewhere, no issue will more directly test Newsom’s relationship with formidable unions than how he handles negotiations over newly enacted CA AB5 (19R), which enshrines in law a California Supreme Court ruling dictating that more workers — including gig laborers — should be treated as employees, not independent contractors.

Labor unions are anxious because Newsom has long sought a deal that could mollify unions and tech companies that rely on contract labor. The governor’s desire to find compromise, as with the charter school legislation, has frustrated union members who believe he is willing to give too much away. And tech companies are trying to leverage a deal by floating a ballot initiative that’s weaker than their legislative proposal to let gig workers unionize if they remain contractors — a sweetener that’s intended to entice unions but could split labor.

Union leaders say they are counting on Newsom as they push for more in his second year.

“I really have high expectations for this governor,” said Service Employees International Union California President Bob Schoonover. “I think we’re going to accomplish a lot with him.”

This article was originally published by Politico on November 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Angela Hart covers health care for California Pro, focusing on political and policy developments in Sacramento. She is also part of the team covering the transition of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. Prior to joining Politico, she covered California politics and Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign for The Sacramento Bee and previously was the county government and politics reporter at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in Sonoma County, Calif.

She is a Wisconsin native, military veteran and holds a master’s degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

About the Author: Mackenzie Mays covers education in California. Prior to joining POLITICO in 2019, she was the investigative reporter at the Fresno Bee, where her watchdog reporting of Rep. Devin Nunes and other politicians — and the fierce push back it provoked — made national headlines, including being the subject of a feature in GQ. She is well-versed in California education policy, having started at the Bee as the education reporter, where she covered Fresno Unified, the state’s fourth-largest school district. She was a national finalist for the Education Writers Association’s reporting award in 2018.

About the Author: Jeremy B. White co-writes the California Playbook and covers politics in the Golden State. He previously covered the California Legislature for the Sacramento Bee, where he reported on campaigns, myriad nationally significant policy clashes and multiple FBI investigations of sitting lawmakers.

He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts University and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. A native of Bethesda, Maryland, one of his life dreams is to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game — although he would settle for winning a playoff series. He lives in Oakland with his partner and his cat, Ziggy Pawdust.


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How To Protect The Right To Organize

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Abigail Disney, granddaughter of the co-founder of the Walt Disney Co., called out the family business’ current CEO last month for making what’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth pretty darn miserable for its workers.

All of the company profits shouldn’t be going into executives’ pockets, she said in a Washington Post column. The workers whose labor makes those profits should not live in abject poverty.

This is what labor leaders have said for two centuries. But Disney executives and bank executives and oil company executives don’t play well with others. They won’t give workers more unless workers force them to. And the only way to do that is with collective bargaining – that is, the power of concerted action.

The United States recognized this in the 1930s and gave Americans the right to organize labor unions under the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA). The increase in unionization encouraged by the law significantly diminished income inequality over the next forty years. American workers prospered as a result of having a voice in the workplace.

But right-wing politicians, at the beck and call of CEOs, have chiseled large chunks out of labor organizing rights, diminishing unions and breeding vast economic disparities.

The decline in union density accounts for one-third of the rise in income inequality among men and one-fifth among women, Economic Policy Institute researchers found.

The solution, of course, is the same as it was in 1935. In order to restore balance to an astronomically uneven economy, Congress must restore workers’ power to organize. Democrats took a first steptoward accomplishing that when they introduced the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in the U.S. House and Senate. It would give back to workers the power they need to demand their fair share of the profits created by the sweat of their brows.

It’s great that some billionaires and millionaires like Abigail Disney want CEOs to give their workers raises. But workers need the PRO Act, the power of collective bargaining, to make them do it. Workers know this intrinsically and want union representation. A survey last year showed that nearly half of non-union workers would join a union if given the opportunity to do so. For that to happen, the law must change.

The PRO Act addresses several major problems with the current gutted NLRA that render too many workers powerless. Its intent is to give working people a fair shot when they try to form a union and bargain for a better life for themselves and their families.

The defects of the current law can be clearly seen in the case of Kumho Tire. In 2017, the union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), filed a petition to represent workers at the major international tire producer’s plant in Macon, Ga. The company ran a vicious $500,000 campaign against the union, including daily, mandatory captive audience meetings, designed to coerce workers into voting against union representation.

Kumho also fired the lead supporter of the organizing drive, Mario Smith, to intimidate his fellow workers. There are currently no penalties for employers who take such retaliatory actions. The best a wrongly fired worker can hope for is receiving back wages, but only once the case is settled, which can sometimes be years after the termination.

Meanwhile, corporations routinely forbid outside union organizers from entering the workplace, and workers are restricted from speaking about the organizing campaign while on the clock. Such limitations violate the intent of the NLRA, which was to encourage collective bargaining, not hinder it.

The USW filed more than 30 Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges against Kumho Tire, including for the unjust termination of Mario Smith, but this process takes time, sometimes years. And time doesn’t pay unjustly fired workers’ bills.

Under the PRO Act, rather than making fired workers endure long periods of uncertainty while waiting for their ULP cases to be heard by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), unions would be able to immediately seek an injunction to reinstate employees like Smith while their cases are pending. The bill would also authorize the NLRB to assess monetary penalties for each violation in which a company wrongfully terminates a worker or causes serious economic harm.

And those mandatary captive audience meetings would be banned, giving workers the power and freedom to decide for themselves if union representation is right for them.

The PRO Act would also forbid freeriding, which is when workers who choose not to join the union but benefit from union representation don’t pay fair share fees to cover the cost of bargaining and administering the collective bargaining agreement. This would beat back one of the major assaults on labor rights—so-called “right to work” laws—by allowing unions to function fully for their members.

The bill proposes a system to ensure that workers who succeed in a union organizing drive actually obtain a first collective bargaining agreement, establishing terms for pay, benefits and working conditions. As it stands now, nearly half of newly formed unions are denied a first labor agreement as the result of companies’ refusal to negotiate in good faith.

Volkswagen, for example, has spent years and millions thwarting their employees’ attempts to unionize at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Since 2015, when a group of 160 skilled-trades workers in the plant voted to join the United Autoworkers Union (UAW), the company has refused to negotiate and appealed to the NLRB and the courts to get the election overturned. With courts and the now Republican-dominated NLRB upending union-friendly Obama rulings, that looks likely.

Not to be defeated, however, the UAW has collected signatures from 65 percent of the plant’s 1,709 hourly workers, including the 160 skilled-trades workers. The cards say the workers want an election for union representation, and the UAW asked the NLRB to set a date. Instead, the GOP NLRB postponed the election indefinitely, giving VW all the time it wants to continue waging its aggressive anti-union campaign on their workers.

Newspaper columns and calls for compassion by Patriotic Millionaires like Abigail Disney can only do so much to convince CEOs to treat their workers fairly. Americans need more than nice rich people speaking up for them—they need the power to speak and stand up for themselves. An economy is only as healthy as its workers are empowered.

The PRO Act is the pathway to that power.

This article was originally published at Our Future on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard, is the International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) union and is the second Canadian to head the union. He is also a vice president of the AFL-CIO. Gerard is co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.


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Supreme Court takes up case that will devastate public sector unions

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In what is all but certain to be a terrible blow to organized labor, the Supreme Court announced on Thursday that it will hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case seeking to defund public sector unions. The case presents an issue that was recently before the Court, and where the justices split 4-4 along party lines.

Now that Neil Gorsuch occupies the seat that Senate Republicans held open for more than a year until Donald Trump could fill it, he holds the fifth vote to deliver a staggering blow to the union movement.

The issue in Janus involves what are sometimes referred to as “agency fees” or “fair share fees.” As ThinkProgress explained when this issue was last before the Court:

Unions are required by law to bargain on behalf of every worker in a unionized shop, even if those workers opt not to join the union. As such, non-members receive the same higher wages (one study found that workers in unionized shops enjoy a wage premium of nearly 12 percent) and benefits enjoyed by their coworkers who belong to the union.

Absent something else, this arrangement would create a free-rider problem, because individual workers have little incentive to join the union if they know they will get all the benefits of unionizing regardless of whether they reimburse the union for its costs. Eventually, unions risk becoming starved for funds and collapsing, causing the workers once represented by a union to lose the benefits of collective bargaining.

To prevent this free-rider problem, union contracts often include a provision requiring non-members to pay agency fees.

The plaintiff in Janus asks the Supreme Court to declare these agency fees unconstitutional, at least in contracts involving public sector unions, under what can charitably be described as an aggressive reading of the First Amendment. Indeed, prior to his death, even conservative Justice Antonin Scalia sometimes appeared skeptical of the plaintiff’s legal theory (although he did join an opinionthat embraced much of it).

With Gorsuch on the bench, however, there is little suspense regarding how Janus will come down. Unions will almost certainly be severely weakened by this decision. And, as a benefit to the Supreme Court’s increasingly partisan majority, that will also weaken a key arm of the Democratic party’s political infrastructure, making it more likely that the Court will remain in Republican hands.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is the Justice Editor for ThinkProgress, and the author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.


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The UAW Vote in Mississippi is a Battle for the Soul of the U.S. Labor Movement

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After years of painstaking work by United Auto Workers (UAW) organizers to build support for a union at the big Nissan auto and truck assembly plant near Canton, Miss., the workers themselves will vote today and tomorrow on whether to accept UAW their collective bargaining voice at the plant.

“I think it [union approval] will pass,” UAW president Dennis Williams told a press conference just days before the vote, “but we’re doing an ongoing evaluation. We’ve been thinking about it for six to seven months,” roughly since the UAW held a large march and rally at the factory attended by Bernie Sanders. The union says it is particularly concerned about a surge in the kind of unlawful management tactics to scare workers that brought charges against Nissan this week from the National Labor Relations Board.

The Canton factory is one of only three Nissan factories worldwide where workers do not have a union. Built in 2003, it is one of a spate of auto “transplants,” or foreign-owned factories built with state subsidies for the past three decades, largely in the South and border states.

Many see the upcoming vote as another test of whether unions can thrive in the South, where union membership has historically been well below the national average. However, the battle is far greater. Now the corporate strategies and values of the South have persisted and influenced multinational companies, as well as labor relations and politics in the North. The Nissan campaign is best conceived as a battle for the U.S. labor movement.

Nissan has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Organizing the South

Organized labor, usually prodded by leftists in the movement, has undertaken high-profile campaigns in the South to organize unions across the racial divides. Such drives were especially prominent during the 1930s-era organizing upsurge and the post-World War II “Operation Dixie,” which lacked adequate support from existing unions and was plagued by internal political divisions.

The UAW has, at various times, escalated organizing in the South, especially when General Motors was considering relocating much production there in the 1960s—and when the transplant growth surged in recent decades.

Despite the shortcomings of labor’s campaigns, many union strategists think that unions can only reverse their decline by directly tackling the racist strategy of employers and their conservative political allies. But employers have many tools to divide workers, such as Nissan’s employment of temporary, contract workers to divide a predominately African-American workforce.

In recent years, the South has suffered key organizing blows, including the big defeat in January for the Machinists’ union trying to organize the new Boeing factory in Charleston, S.C., and the limited UAW success organizing a skilled trades union at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn. against a supposedly neutral employer. Such defeats typically inspire funereal chants for labor rights and unions, but sound like party music for managers and investors.

Yet, some organizers dispute that the South is impossible territory. One veteran organizer with the AFL-CIO, who has overseen many organizing drives in the South and asked not to be identified or directly quoted, said that he thought it was not significantly more difficult to organize in the South. It just took more time and more money.

The organizer cited one success that defied expectations: the campaigns over roughly 15 years to organize 26,000 workers and preserve business at Louisiana’s giant Avondale shipyards for a shifting cast of corporate owners doing repair and rebuilding work mainly on military contracts. Ultimately, a decline in military orders led its latest owner to close the shipyards, wiping out the organizing victory.

“The unions often do not realize it, but they have been winning in the South more than in the Midwest for years,” says Kate Bronfenbrenner, a Cornell University labor relations professor who specializes in research on union organizing. “Because [in the South] there are more women working, more African Americans, and because there’s less high-tech work.” Each of those categories of workers is more pro-union than their counterparts, thus building in a small theoretical advantage in the South.

The South’s poor labor standards are spreading

In the end, it may be that the poor labor standards of the South are spreading nationwide. The ascendant conservative political power of the new Republican Party, linked with the more aggressively anti-worker and anti-union policies of big corporations and financial firms, indicate that, in this country’s long Civil War, the South is gaining ground.

Consider what has occurred from 1983, when Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” ads were on the horizon, as well as in 2016, when Donald Trump pledged to “make America great again.” Then and now, most people would consider Michigan and Wisconsin as typically northern, in terms of labor conditions and union density. Yet over that period, federal data shows that the percentage of all workers in Michigan who were covered by union contracts dropped from 32.8 percent in 1983 to 15.5 percent in 2016. For Wisconsin, the share dropped from 26.9 percent to 9.0 percent.

Unions are losing members and failing to gain new ones at an adequate rate to avoid the rough halving of the union share of the workforce over the past 15 years in most of both the South and the North.

Assault on workers knows no boundaries

It will be better for workers everywhere if the Canton, Miss., workers vote for the union, but management still has the upper hand. Workers are still weak and getting weaker nearly everywhere, with partial exceptions, like the Fight for 15 movement, which flourishes in nearly all of the country.

“Right to work” laws threaten unions nationwide, by prohibiting them from charging agency fees to workers who do not join the union but benefit from actions it takes. In recent years, the widespread passage of such laws outside of the South—now extending to half of all states—is a clear indication of the decline in union power.

Workers in Canton may win a union for a variety of reasons beyond the basic proposition that they need collective power to counter the power of their bosses. Or they may reject the union due to fear engendered by Nissan and its anti-union campaign, out of conservative political beliefs or for other reasons.

The best union organizers—and some very good organizers have played a major role at Nissan—understand how important it is to involve workers themselves as-organizers in reaching out to workers. In addition, organizers recognize it is vitally important to mobilize the progressive leaders and groups in the community for support, and employ a wide assortment of tactics to minimize the influence of the boss’s war on unions—a war conducted in large part on turf and terms favorable to the employer.

However, if the labor movement is striving to with significant gains for workers, it must create a progressive strategy for politics, workplace organizing and culture that focuses on the working class very broadly construed, including multiple levels of poverty, affluence and job histories. U.S. union organizing will need to strengthen and expand its community activities to develop a broader range of strategies to defeat racism. Within such a political context, union organizing might prosper—and workers might do so as well.

Whether the UAW does or does not win this summer, future successful organizing of workers in their communities and workplaces require an alternative political force that is more supportive and transformative.

 This piece was originally published at In These Times on August 3, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.

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Think It’s Tough for Labor Now? Just Wait Until Trump Takes Office in January

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photo_321703[1]In 63 days, organized labor is going to find itself in a new political reality, which it seems totally unprepared for. Donald Trump will be president; the Republicans will control the House and Senate and one of Trump’s first tasks will be to nominate a new Supreme Court justice. Though Trump was tight-lipped about specific policy proposals, his campaign and the current constitution of the Republican party do not bode well for labor.

Trump’s actions will largely fall into one of four categories: judicial, legislative, executive and at the level of federal agencies. Each potential move will take various levels of cooperation from other branches of government and varying amounts of time to complete.

On Day 1 of his new administration, President Trump can simply rescind many of Barack Obama’s executive orders that benefited large groups of workers. Chief among these were EO 13673, which required prospective federal contractors to disclose violations of state and federal labor laws, and helped protect employees of contractors from wage theft and mandatory arbitration of a variety of employment claims. Similarly, EO 13494 made contractor expenses associated with union busting non-allowable, thereby helping to ensure that workers can exercise their labor rights.

At the agency level, Trump will have the opportunity to fill vacancies on the five-person National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), effectively turning what has been one of the most pro-worker boards in recent memory into one that is more concerned with employers’ interests. The NLRB is one of the more politicized federal agencies, and it is not uncommon for a new NLRB to overturn a previous board’s rulings. A conservative board would put into jeopardy recent gains, including the requirement of joint employers to bargain with workers, the rights of graduate students to form unions, the rights of adjuncts at religious colleges to form unions and the protections from class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements, which effectively block access to justice for too many.

Similarly, Trump can immediately dismiss the entire Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) and appoint his own members. The FSIP is a little-known federal agency that functions like a mini-NLRB to resolve disputes between unionized federal employees and the government.

Donald Trump may be able to not only roll back many of Barack Obama’s accomplishments, but also change the face of labor law for decades to come. (AFL-CIO/ Facebook)
Donald Trump may be able to not only roll back many of Barack Obama’s accomplishments, but also change the face of labor law for decades to come. (AFL-CIO/ Facebook)

At the legislative level, various anti-worker bills sit ready for a GOP-led push. Perhaps chief among them is the National Right to Work Act, which would place every private sector employee (including airline and railway employees currently under the Railway Labor Act) under right-to-work. Right-to-work is the misleading law that prohibits unions from requiring that workers represented by the union pay their fair share. Such a bill was introduced last year by Sen. Rand Paul, and it had 29 co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump announced on the campaign trail that his “position on right-to-work is 100 percent,” so this will likely be an area where he has common cause with the GOP-controlled Congress.

At the judicial level, there is also a strong possibility that we will see a sequel to the Friedrichs case at the Supreme Court. Friedrichs was widely anticipated to bar fair share fees and place all public sector employees under right-to-work, but ended in a deadlock after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. It is likely that any Supreme Court justice that Trump chooses will be as critical of fair share fees as Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts, and would provide a critical fifth vote in changing long-standing precedent regarding the allowance of such fees. Groups like the National Right to Work Committee and Center for Individual Rights often have cases in the pipeline that could be pushed to the Supreme Court when the opportunity arises.

Similarly, at the judicial level, Trump will likely have his Department of Labor drop appeals to court decisions that enjoined or overturned pro-worker rules, such as the rule requiring union-busters to disclose when they are involved in an organizing campaign. Dropping the appeals would be an easy route to kill the rules, rather than going through a more time consuming rulemaking process to rescind them.

All indications are that labor has been caught unprepared for a President Trump and a GOP-controlled Congress and Supreme Court. With such broad control over every branch of government, Trump may be able to not only roll back many of Obama’s accomplishments, but also change the face of labor law for decades to come.

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on November 17, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.


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Foundry Workers Strike to Save Their Healthcare

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david baconBerkeley, Calif.—A strike of more than 450 workers in one of the largest foundries on the west coast brought production to a halt Sunday night, at Pacific Steel Castings.  The work stoppage, which began at midnight, has continued with round-the-clock picketing at the factory gates in West Berkeley.

Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union (GMP) has been negotiating a new labor agreement at Pacific Steel for several months. The old agreement expired on Sunday night.

The strike was caused by demands from the company’s owners for concessions and takeaway proposals in contract negotiations. Those include:

  • requiring workers to pay at least 20% of the cost of their medical insurance, amounting to about $300 per month per employee.
  • a wage freeze for the first two years of the agreement, and tiny raises after that.
  • eliminating the ability of workers to use their seniority to bid for overtime, allowing criteria including speedup, discrimination and favoritism.

david_bacon_strike_3222011-432x248
Striking Pacific Steel Castings workers on Berkeley’s new picket line, outside their foundry on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. (Photo by David Bacon)

“All eight other foundries in the Bay Area have agreed to a fair contract,” said Ignacio De La Fuente, GMP international vice-president. “Workers at Pacific Steel haven’t had a raise in the last two years, in order to help the company pay for increases in health plan costs.  Pacific Steel is now alone among the rest in trying to make its workers give back $300 a month.”

The $300/month would mean an approximately 10 percent cut in wages for most workers at the foundry.

Joel Soto, a member of the union’s negotiating committee, has worked eight years at Pacific Steel, and has a wife, 2-year-old child and another on the way.  Soto said, “We’ve been trying to save money for a house. If we have to give up $300 a month, we’ll have to continue renting.  My wife and I both support our parents, and that $300 cut is what we’re able to give them now that they’re old.  And with my wife pregnant, we can’t do without that medical care.”

Benito Navarro has 10 years at the foundry, and a wife and son. “That $300 is what I pay for my car to get to work. I’m the only one in my family working, so if we don’t  have that money, I’ll have to give up the car.  But I’d rather eat than drive.”

On both Monday and Tuesday dozens of Berkeley police, with helmets and face shields, shoved and hit strikers as they attempted to help the company bring trucks full of castings out of its struck facility. On Tuesday, one striker, Norma Garcia, who is seven months pregnant, was struck in the abdomen and taken to a hospital.

“It is inexcusable that Berkeley is spending precious municipal resources on providing protection for this business, and opening the city to liability through these unprovoked actions by police against strikers,” said De La Fuente.

“That violence isn’t necessary,” added Soto. “We’re just struggling for our rights. I wouldn’t be so surprised to see this in other cities, but Berkeley?”  Another worker showed the swelling on his arm he said was caused by a blow from a police baton.

Workers feel additionally betrayed by the company because they and their union testified before the Berkeley City Council three years ago.  They urged the city to draft environmental regulations that would allow the foundry to continue operating while installing needed pollution control equipment.

Pacific Steel Casting Co. is a privately held corporation, the third-largest steel foundry in the United States. Its large corporate customers include vehicle manufacturers, like Petebilt Corp., and big oil companies, including BARCO.  The company has been very productive in recent years, despite the recession. It chose not to comment.

About the Author: David Bacon is writer, photographer and former union organizer. He is the author of Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008), Communities Without Borders (2006), and The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the US/Mexico Border (2004). His website is at dbacon.igc.org.

This Blog Originally Appeared In These Times on March 23, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.


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