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Leveraging Federal Funds for Employment

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Ever since the passage into law of the American Rescue Plan, Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, CHIPS Act and Inflation Reduction Act, here’s what I say to friends and family whenever they bring up a problem we all know needs to be fixed right now.

“Do you know there’s money to fix that problem?”

That’s because there is $4 trillion on tap for communities through these programs.

$4 Trillion. On the table. Right now.

That’s more than four times the size of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that led the country out of economic ruin in the 1930s. It’s also eight times the size of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, which fought racial inequities with jobs and education and offered universal healthcare to the poor and elderly in the 1960s.

Achieving goals on this scale won’t be easy, but at People’s Action, we believe it is worth it. Our Executive Director, Sulma Arias, recently shared why she feels this is one of the best times to be an organizer. I agree.

Unlike during the New Deal, when federal agencies such as WPA & the CCC would show up in towns ravaged by the Great Depression to create jobs, build bridges, and plant trees, it’s now up to communities to claim these opportunities and overcome roadblocks thrown up by Red-State legislatures.

This moment will only become our New Deal if we make it so. This moment needs organizers like us.

That’s where People’s Action comes in, through our Leveraging Federal Funds work. We are well-positioned to help member groups cut through red tape so they can identify and make the most of federal opportunities.

We want to elevate how each opportunity can lead to the next. Together, we advance towards our long-term goal of a democracy that works for all of us, with sustainable jobs in a clean economy.

These federal funds will only reach and make an actual difference in people’s lives if they are administered through local initiatives created by trusted and knowledgeable local organizers.

Fortunately, that’s exactly who People’s Action and our member groups are known for: building trust and laying the foundation for moments such as this one.

This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at Our Future on March 10, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Ann Pratt is the senior campaign strategist for leveraging federal funds at People’s Action.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions and collective action.


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Opinion: “Police Unions are Spitting in the Face of Solidarity”

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Hamilton Nolan

This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into a law a bill aimed at making it much harder for public employee unions to exist and function. Watching a Republican governor with his eye on the White House aim a crude legislative club at public unions is a familiar sight.

Rather than dwelling on why DeSantis is an oily bum, let us use this opportunity to discuss another, unseen villain in this sickening process: police unions. 

Unions disagree on all types of things. They have different memberships. They have different priorities. Some are conservative and some are liberal. But the one thing that all unions should agree on is that every worker deserves a union. Every union should be willing to speak up when access to unions is under attack. And, in general, every union does.

Except police unions.

The bitterest irony of all is that major public unions like the American Federation of Teachers or AFSCME have always been unwilling to support measures cracking down on police unions, because they fear that any support for restraining public unions will be used against their own members. Okay. How’s that working out? 

Now the teachers in Florida are getting railroaded, and the cops are exempt, and the cops are just fine with it. That is unconscionable. There should be zero doubt in any honest labor leader’s mind that police unions would happily stand by while every other union in America was crushed — as long as they were okay themselves.

Kicking police unions out of the AFL-CIO would not deny cops the basic right to unionize. It would just prevent the police unions from drawing on the power that the solidarity of the entire labor movement gives them, and then spitting in the face of the rest of the labor movement when it is time to show some solidarity back to us.

For the past week, I have been walking picket lines with members of the Writers Guild who are on strike. The solidarity has been incredible.

The actors of SAG-AFTRA are out there every day. So are the TV and film workers in IATSE. The truck drivers in the Teamsters have routinely refused to cross our picket lines, shutting down a number of TV productions. I’ve seen teachers and musicians and laborers wearing their own union shirts and carrying picket signs next to us. They do so not for personal gain, but because they understand solidarity. It is an incredibly heartening experience.

Have I seen any police unions? Ha. Funny. Of course not. Never.

Yesterday, on a picket line in Brooklyn, one cop showed up in his official capacity, to keep an eye on things. I had been contemplating this column, so as I marched past him, I hollered out, “Where’s your union? Why aren’t you out here?” He smiled at me and gave a friendly laugh, as if I was kidding.

No, man. I was serious. But I can see why you wouldn’t think so. You’re in a police union. Worker solidarity is one big joke to you.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on May 10, 2023.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. 

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions.


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A Win for New Jersey Temp Workers

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Tens of thousands of New Jersey temporary help and staffing agency workers were essential but unprotected during the pandemic but will soon enjoy robust new rights and protections.

They triumphed over significant challenges, building power with support from Make the Road NJ and New Labor, to pass the “Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights” on February 2, 2023.

After a version of the bill passed both chambers in June 2022, a clerical error caused a series of delays, spurring intensified lobbying by the industry. The workers persevered, returning to Trenton repeatedly to make their voices heard, highlighting poverty wages and how taxpayers subsidize temp agencies by more than $20 million per year, and calling out agencies opposing the bill that were not even registered to operate in New Jersey.

As Reynalda Cruz, a New Labor leader and former temp worker, explained: the new law “has been a long time coming for us, after having passed the Assembly and Senate twice previously.”

“Temp workers need more protections and temp agencies need to be regulated! We’ve seen it through multiple votes, and when we fight we win!”

Nidia Rodrigues, a temp worker and member of Make the Road NJ echoed the excitement: “Finally, essential temp workers have the opportunity for just and dignified jobs, and a better future. This is a victory led by and for the hundreds of thousands of essential temp workers who have organized for years.”

Reflecting key worker priorities, the New Jersey law contains several provisions for transforming low-wage, precarious jobs into good jobs.

Workers assigned to designated occupations by temporary help and staffing agencies will enjoy equal pay for equal work, opportunities for permanent employment, transparency, and more.

Most of the provisions of this terrific victory will take effect on August 5, 2023, but the critical protections against retaliation and the Right-to-Know provisions take effect on May 7, 2023.

For the scores of temp workers routinely assigned to the covered occupations, passage of the law is only the beginning. Workers look forward to the improved conditions that implementation will bring and, ultimately, to ensuring all temp workers, regardless of assignment or state of residence, enjoy the same basic protections.

This is an abbreviated version of a blog that originally appeared at NELP on May 1, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: This blog was published by NELP (National Employment Law Project) staff.

Learn more about temporary workers here.


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We Shouldn’t Have to Work Forever

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We shouldn’t have to work ourselves to death.

In France for the past three months, a million or more people have filled the streets of cities across the country in daily rolling protests and strikes opposing the national pension reform proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron.

The plan would raise the age of eligibility for a government pension — in effect, the minimum retirement age — from 62 to 64. Although nearly two-thirds of the French people oppose this change and the French parliament did not have the votes to approve it, Macron unilaterally pushed it throughHe claimed it was needed to respond to people living longer and the French government’s debt. Macron later narrowly avoided a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly, but protests continued by angry citizens.

French Workers Are Speaking Out

In a story about a protest in the city of Metz, in northeastern France, not far from the German border, the French daily newspaper Le Monde quoted two workers from a nearby power plant run by the giant French electrical utility EDF.

One explained why he was protesting: “I’ve been on shift work there for 31 years, so I’m pretty fed up.” Another said that, “We work all year round in noise, heat, with risks from chemicals and radiation. We won’t let our best years of retirement be stolen.”

Debates over how much a person works for wages are not new. In the United States, the National Labor Union called for an eight-hour workday starting in 1866. It wasn’t until 1940 that an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act gave us the 40-hour work week standard. Of course, there remains consistent pressure from employers to work longer days and longer weeks, although some employers and workers are floating the idea of a four-day work week.

How much work goes into a day or week is one question about work. But perhaps an even greater — and more existential — question is how much work goes into a lifetime? For the French (who seem to love existential questions), the answer found on many protest signs has been “64 years. It’s a No.

Living Longer Shouldn’t Equal Working Longer

For many Americans, 64 seems like a perfectly fine answer. After all, when the U.S. raised its age for full Social Security benefits from 65 to 67 in 1983, there were no protests to mark the occasion. The rationale for the change was similar to France’s: the Social Security fund was projected to run low on money in the coming decades.

Perhaps people didn’t protest because the 1983 law phased in the two-year increase over 22 years. The people affected most were in their 20s and likely weren’t paying attention.

Forty years later, those born in 1960 or after — the oldest of whom today are in their early 60s — are stuck with 67 as the age at which they can collect full social security benefits. If they retire earlier, say at 62, they’d receive only 70% of the full benefit. At 65, retirees get just 86.7% of the benefits they’d be eligible for if they kept working for two more years.

This all may sound very logical — as people live longer, they can work longer and hold off on receiving Social Security benefits they’ve paid into their whole working lives. But as the French protestors understand, working-class people often can’t stay on the job that long. And even if they could, they would have fewer years after their working lives to enjoy retirement.

People may live longer now, compared to decades ago, but it shouldn’t necessarily invite years of more work.

A French study from 2021 found that postponing the retirement age results in more frequent and longer sick leave for older workers, “due to the gradual deterioration in the health status of workers at the end of their careers,” Le Monde reported.

Class Disparities

It isn’t just the physical demands of many working-class jobs. It’s a class issue we can see if we look at the senior citizen country club set. As an extensive study by the Brookings Institution shows, “income is a strong predictor of life expectancy.”

The study explains the income effect in more detail, noting that, “For example, 40-year-old men with incomes in the bottom 1% have an expected age at death of 72 years, while those with incomes in the top 1% have an expected age at death of 87 years — 15 years longer.” The pattern plays out for women, as well.

Working-class people are likelier to live shorter lives, and many have started working full-time earlier than their middle-class counterparts, so they work more years before reaching age 67 and receiving full benefits. Worse, they may need to continue working even after that to survive, since Social Security alone often isn’t sufficient.

Meanwhile, wealthier people may start their work lives later and have more years to draw upon Social Security.

About the Author: Christopher R. Martin is a professor of Digital Journalism in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

This is a portion of a blog originally that originally appeared in full at In These Times on April 11, 2023. Republished with permission.


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Rail Workers of the World, Unite!

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Maximillian Alvrez

From unions in the United States fighting to save our supply chain from the destruction wrought by corporate tycoons, Wall Street vampires, and bought-off politicians, to the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT) leading the fight against austerity politics and ruling-class union busting in the United Kingdom, to rail workers with the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in France joining their compatriots in the streets in a general strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s neoliberal attack on the country’s beloved pension system, rail workers around the world are fighting different battles in the same war: the class war. 

In this special international episode, we bring together a panel of rail workers from the US, UK, and France to talk about what they are up against, what the struggle looks like in their corners of the world, and what we can all do to connect those struggles and build international worker solidarity. 

Panelists include: Ross Grooters of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and Railroad Workers United in the US; Cat Cray and Clayton Clive of the RMT in the UK; Matthieu Bolle-Reddat of the CGT Cheminots Versailles in France.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 3, 2023 alongside a podcast recording and transcript.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at In These Times. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.


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Biden has an Obvious Best Choice New Labor Secretary

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Laura Clawson

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is expected to step down in the coming days. He plans to take a job leading the National Hockey League Players Association. While that’s not official yet, the jockeying to replace him is already well underway.

There’s an obvious choice to replace Walsh: Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su.

Diversity and Endorsements

She’s hugely qualified — in addition to being the current deputy labor secretary, she’s a former California labor secretary — and President Joe Biden has already faced pressure over the low representation of Asian Americans at the Cabinet level in his administration.

(In addition to Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Office of Science and Technology Policy head Arati Prabhakar are considered Cabinet level. But there are no Asian Americans currently holding the title of secretary in a traditional Cabinet role.)

Both the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have endorsed Su to replace Walsh. The CBC described her as “an unwavering advocate for workers’ rights” and “a trusted partner of the CBC and advocate for underserved communities.” 

”Given her experience serving as Deputy Secretary of Labor since July 2021, we know Deputy Secretary Su can hit the ground running on executing existing initiatives of the Department while implementing new ones,” CAPAC said in its statement.

“Because she is in the best position to understand the Department’s work and needs, and because the inclusion of an AANHPI as a Cabinet Secretary is long overdue, CAPAC endorses her to serve as Secretary of Labor and urges President Biden to swiftly nominate her to the role when appropriate.”

Acting Labor Secretary

If Walsh leaves as soon as expected, Su will become acting labor secretary. At The American ProspectRobert Kuttner has noted that she was confirmed to her current role with just 50 votes. He says she could face difficulty even with the slightly expanded Democratic majority in the Senate. This is especially true because the big gig work companies like Uber and Lyft really hate her and are prepared to lobby against her. He advocates for Biden to leave Su in the acting role until the end of his current term.

Acting or confirmed, Su would, as CAPAC noted, be able to “hit the ground running on executing existing initiatives” while drawing on deep experience fighting for workers and fulfilling Biden’s stated commitment to diversity. She’s the right choice.

Other Options

There are other options, though.

One name mentioned frequently — now and when Biden was first elected, before he nominated Walsh — as former Rep. Andy Levin, who lost a member versus member primary in Michigan last year following redistricting.

Before running for office, Levin had a career as a labor organizer, serving as assistant organizing director at the AFL-CIO for more than a decade. He, too, would be highly qualified for the role — but he is not campaigning for the job. Instead, he reportedly hopes to be named ambassador to Haiti.

Another name has come up recently, though, who is campaigning for the job despite being much less qualified. Former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney was head of the DCCC in 2022 and lost his own seat amid massive underperformance by Democrats in his home state of New York.

Maloney was a staffer in the Clinton White House (not on labor issues) and has worked as a software company executive and big-law attorney. While he’s been an adequately pro-worker House Democrat, he hasn’t done anything in his life to make him a strongly qualified choice for secretary of Labor. 

But what he has going for him is that Nancy Pelosi is making calls on his behalf, in a rare misstep for the former speaker.

Pelosi should back off — Labor secretary is not a consolation prize for her allies — and if she doesn’t, Biden should, on this specific issue, politely ignore her.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 13, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the assistant managing editor at Daily Kos.


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Elect Working People For Everything

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The 2022 midterms were full of surprises to many political pundits, analysts, and consultants. A popular narrative predicting a massive Republican wave election turned out to be wrong, with Democrats retaining the U.S. Senate and performing stronger than expected in many states despite serious inflation and low favorability ratings for national party leaders.

A major force behind these election results is an often overlooked list of scrappy, grassroots organizations focused on building working class power through political engagement, voter education, and better candidates. In my corner of rural America, that group is Down Home North Carolina.

“Our strategy is going places where no door knockers and no phone canvassers have gone before,” Down Home’s Dreama Caldwell told me when I asked her about the group’s 2022 election efforts. “80 of our state’s 100 counties are rural. We focus on rural people and rural places because there’s no path to victory in our state without a rural strategy. There tends to be less voter engagement in rural communities, and we’re flipping that script here in North Carolina.”

Wearing shirts that read “Elect Working People for Everything,” Down Home’s volunteers and staff knocked on more than 150,000 doors during the election cycle, leading to 36,712 in-person conversations with potential rural voters. The group’s phone canvass team made more than 155,000 phone calls and sent over 181,000 text messages. They also sent more than 500,000 pieces of rural mail.

The goal of this massive mobilization was to support Down Home’s slate of working class candidates for state legislative races, county officials, and multiple school board districts. Ultimately, Down Home’s election efforts helped to elect two new rural working class candidates to the state house and one to the state senate, preventing the Republicans from obtaining their sought-after supermajority.

Down Home member Lisa Hanami knocked on hundreds of doors in Cabarrus County. She was particularly proud to be getting out the vote for newly elected state representative Diamond Staton Williams, a Black nurse who won by just 425 votes.

“We knocked on doors and talked to people about the issues that matter to us. Issues like being able to put food on the table, being able to just pay your bills. Most people we talked to agreed that we need stronger candidates who are actually working class themselves, and Diamond, she’s one of us. She’s a nurse, a regular working class person,” Hanami said.

When she was growing up, Hanami was challenged by her grandparents to become politically active, to join the family tradition of activism and organizing for racial justice and economic equality. Her experience knocking doors in Carrabus County was her first major campaign.

“When you meet people in person, get to know them, you start to realize there are different problems than we hear about in the mainstream media. And that especially matters based on what media people are listening to or watching. I found out so many people had bad information, even misinformation. That’s a problem, and one way to solve it is more face-to-face interactions,” Hanami said.

Caldwell told me that Down Home is committed to deepening its voter engagement work in rural North Carolina in the years to come.

“What we’re trying to do is build a bigger ‘we.’ Our organizing in rural communities is a year-round commitment. And we’re finding that where we work the election results are a little less red each time. And we’re inspiring more working class people to get involved, to run for office themselves.”

I’m hoping that voter engagement efforts like this can spread throughout the countryside, growing in impact and influence here in rural North Carolina as well as other areas where working class issues are being neglected by mainstream politics. And selfishly, I’m hoping that Down Home can get the attention and funding they deserve to grow their organizing efforts to where I live in the mountains of Transylvania County.

Working class politics grows the map in rural America, and that’s a lesson we all need to remember come 2024.

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on December 7, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Oates is a freelance reporter and opinion writer covering rural issues, policy, and politics. He lives and works in Transylvania County, North Carolina.


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Worker Rights are Critical to the Future of Ukraine

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Liz Shuler

As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, Ukrainian workers and their trade unions have become an undeniable force for solidarity and community support throughout the country.

Since the onset of the conflict, union members from the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) and the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) have mobilized in large numbers, remain united behind their elected government’s efforts to manage the war and continue to make valiant sacrifices to defend the nation.

However, in return, Ukraine’s government is now moving to break the unions’ power and take away crucial workers’ rights that are central to upholding its democracy. 

In March, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress and drew a powerful connection between his country and ours, stating that the war was a fight to protect our shared values of “democracy, independence, freedom and care for everyone, for every person, for everyone who works diligently….”

A strong labor movement is central to Ukraine’s struggle to remain an independent democracy because workers’ rights and democracy are inextricably linked.

That’s been true throughout the conflict, and it will remain true when this war ends. 

Unions put their organizing skills to use in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s attack as part of the Trade Union Lifeline initiative. They quickly converted their offices and properties into makeshift shelters to house more than 350,000 citizens displaced inside Ukraine.

Unions also allocated donated funds to fill gaps in care and moved large numbers of humanitarian supplies, such as food, clothing, diapers and feminine hygiene products, to those in need. Both national union federation presidents have made numerous trips to front-line towns to personally deliver shipments.

Workers on the job are keeping the economy going, while thousands of union members have enlisted in the military and the country’s civil defense, many of whom have been killed in active duty. Their incredible efforts have been recognized by the AFL-CIO and the entire global labor movement, which has been unwavering in their support for Ukraine. 

In October, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten traveled to Lviv, Ukraine, to provide support, meet with teachers and raise awareness about the war’s impact on the lives of children. Dozens of teachers are working hard to ensure that students remain able to keep up with their education. Members of the Construction and Building Materials Workers Union of Ukraine (PROFBUD) have found creative ways to support the war effort, including procuring life-saving medications and improvising the creation of a communications outpost for their communities.  

While labor has proven invaluable to every facet of Ukraine’s fight to defend its sovereignty, Ukraine’s parliament continues to advance several anti-worker, anti-union policy efforts under the cover of the crisis. In recent months, the parliament has considered more than 27 bills that would restrict or eliminate worker and union rights.

One proposal would confiscate the property of the FPU and all its affiliated unions, many of which are being used to house the displaced. Given that this property has been maintained and managed for 30 years by union dues and finances with no issue, it is suspected that the policy’s true motivation is to bankrupt the FPU and assert government control over valuable pieces of real estate.

These are not just hypothetical threats. Law 2434-IX, which was adopted in July and enforced officially in August, eliminated collective bargaining for all employers with 250 or fewer employees for the period of martial law and introduced precarious “zero-hour” contracts into Ukrainian labor relations. These contracts create a more perilous work situation because employers are not obliged to provide a minimum number of working hours to workers. 

Although these changes were passed for the war’s duration, the government’s Ukraine Recovery Plan indicates a desire to make these provisions permanent. Other equally troubling bills focus on eliminating worker protections on working hours, transfer rights, the right to organize unions, collective bargaining, social assistance funds, pension rights and administration, safety and health enforcement, unemployment benefits and the system that sets minimum wages — some of which have already become reality.

The rationale behind this effort — that worker rights must be eliminated to promote economic growth — relies on deeply flawed and outdated development models. These changes run counter to international standards that Ukraine previously ratified, and these modifications are in direct conflict with decisions handed down by the International Labour Organization that recognize taking action to confiscate union property as a significant violation of the freedom of association.

The Ukrainian government is aware of this — having previously lost a similar property confiscation case in the European Court of Human Rights in 2018. Anti-union legislation also flies in the face of Ukraine’s stated policy goal of further integration into the structures and norms of the European Union, where union coverage has remained high in many nations and workers’ rights remain strongly protected.

Many of these laws could not pass before the war and are now in motion only because of Russia’s unprovoked attacks. 

Ukraine’s fight for democracy must take a holistic view.

Unions will be instrumental in rebuilding the country, and Ukraine’s government cannot go down the path of destroying internationally recognized worker rights because of the ideological agenda of a few ultra-free-market, libertarian officials who are using the war to push their agenda of eliminating unions. Likewise, the war should not be used as cover for wealthy interests in Ukraine to squeeze more profits from Ukrainian workers, many of whom are making great sacrifices in service to their country.

We stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian sisters, brothers and siblings.

But Ukraine cannot become a respected democratic nation if it continues to destroy the rights of workers and unions.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on December 22, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Elizabeth Shuler is president of the 58 unions and 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO, and the first woman leader of America’s labor movement. 


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Workers Need Stronger Labor Laws Now More Than Ever

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

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

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

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

All workers deserve dignity and respect on the job.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Sign Says It All: How Unions Can Stop Employers from Crying Poor

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My wife and I were motoring down the main avenue in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2017 when I yelled out, “Stop! I gotta have this sign!”

Nancy pulled over. I jumped out and yanked out of the roadside a real estate sign that announced, “From the Upper $1 Millions, New Luxury Condos,” with a big arrow telling you to turn so you could buy one.

Back when we moved here in 1992, this had been an affordable place to live, just across the river from Washington, D.C. But soon after that, gentrification kicked in full throttle.

Today, working people are priced out of home-buying completely, forced to pay exorbitant and climbing rents.

I wrestled the big sign into the back seat. “We can show this to the politicians and bosses around here when they tell us they can’t afford a big raise,” I told Nancy, who works for the city of Alexandria as a paramedic and belongs to the Firefighters Union (IAFF). And that’s what we’ve done for the past five years.

Mayors, city councilors, and county commissioners have seen the sign. So have transit authority bosses, corporate managers, company negotiators, state representatives, and many, many rank-and-file members.

It gets attention. At first people are puzzled: “Why do you have this real estate sign here?” But everyone gets the point when I explain that the mortgages and rents are “too damn high” and working people need a big raise now!

Can’t Cry Poor

I took the sign to a union meeting with the workers of the Alexandria DASH transit company in 2018. Coincidentally, it was the day after Amazon had announced it was setting up a new corporate headquarters here.

I held the sign up as I laid out why we had to win the union authorization election by a big margin so we could win long overdue and major wage increases. Every head in the room was nodding—that sign said it all. Several workers volunteered that their landlords had already given them rent increase notices as a result of the Amazon announcement.

We won the election 9 to 1. The economic settlement we negotiated was one of the best in our international union’s recent history. The sign came with us to union meetings, city council meetings, and DASH board meetings. None of the powers that be wanted to cry poor in a city with this sort of tax base—not with that sign staring them in the face.

So if you see a sign like this in your town, grab it and put it to work.

This is a blog that originally appeared on Labor Notes on June 1, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Chris Townsend is the former national organizing director of the Amalgamated Transit Union and retired United Electrical Workers international representative.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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