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Rutgers Strike Wins Big, But More is Needed to Change Higher Education

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After a five-day strike in April, members of the Rutgers faculty, graduate student, librarian, and clinician unions voted 93 percent to accept a new contract which included dramatic gains.

The strike was the first in Rutgers’ 253-year history, and remarkable in that all instructional workers walked out, including full-time faculty, grad workers, and adjuncts. Rutgers is the oldest large public university in New Jersey with 67,000 students.

The agreement includes big salary gains: 30 percent for the lowest-paid adjuncts in the first year, and 43 percent across the life of the contract, plus 33 percent raises for graduate teaching and research assistants. For adjuncts, it also includes multi-semester and multi-year appointments — a first — as well as professional development funding, binding arbitration for grievances, quicker and new paths to advancement, and a new title (we’re no longer “part-time” lecturers, but simply “Lecturers”).

The seeds of the decision to withhold our labor were sown several years ago. The executive board of the adjunct union was united in the belief that transformative contracts are only won through a massive organizing effort that credibly threatens a strike.

Bargaining: Open and United

While the university refused to recognize the merger (as we expected), the critical principle had been established: we saw ourselves as One Faculty, and demanded in the forthcoming contract campaign that management engage us that way.

That’s precisely what happened. We fought for open bargaining principles to shape negotiations, with considerable (if not complete) success. For example, management tried to limit our numbers at bargaining sessions. On one occasion, as our strike loomed, they refused to enter the room with 50 members observing our negotiations. We held firm, voted, and insisted that we’d only meet with our co-workers present. Ten minutes later, management entered the room to bargain with us.

We also negotiated across all job categories as if we were one bargaining unit: postdocs, grad workers, counselors, adjuncts, non-tenure track, and tenure track faculty. While management initially resisted this, eventually they acceded. Throughout the bargaining process, they seemed thrown off guard by our unity.

Another key element of maintaining unity was that the three faculty unions took our strike authorization votes at the same time. The energy for the strike was unprecedented: 80 percent participation among those eligible to vote, and 95 percent in favor. The effort to organize ourselves into a strike-ready workforce not only set the conditions for the gains we would make, but transformed our unions in the process.

Once the strike began, member participation on the picket lines and creative protests demonstrated our strength, and generated media attention and political pressure on the university. Student supporters of the union rewrote the 1961 Bruce Channel song “Hey Baby” to pressure university president Jonathan Holloway, singing, “Hey Holloway, I want to know, will you raise my wage?” It was very catchy, and went viral on social media. Our singing and dancing and vibrant picket lines garnered student and community support.

Debating the End

The day before the strike was called, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy offered to host negotiations if we postponed the strike for 48 hours. We welcomed the support from the governor, but we refused postponement. The strike was where our power lived, and we could not halt it on promises of a better deal.

Once negotiations shifted to Trenton, engagement with the governor’s office was tricky. While the state came up with additional funds to support our demands, the governor also wanted us to end the strike to approve a “framework” for the contract. The framework was reached after grueling, week-long negotiating sessions designed to pressure both sides to move toward an agreement.

Right Call?

The unions’ leadership bodies ultimately called for a suspension of the strike, while the bargaining teams continued to negotiate the remainder of the contract. At the same time, we made clear that we would be willing to return to the picket lines if necessary — the strike was “suspended, not ended.”

This was a controversial decision, and it merits a debate. A sizable minority within the union’s governing bodies believed the strike was suspended at a time when the unions retained power to press for greater gains. They called for a delay in signing the framework to further discuss the matter over the weekend. But the governor was threatening to remove tens of millions of dollars he had previously committed if the framework was not agreed to that evening and the strike suspended.

Though it was never overtly stated, it was also suggested that were the framework not accepted that night, Rutgers would seek (and likely receive) an injunction declaring the strike unlawful, something it had not done to that point due to the governor’s request. Under this scenario, if the strike continued, adjunct faculty and perhaps other striking workers could have faced firings.

Whether the unions made the right choice in a highly fraught moment should certainly be debated. What is clear, however, is that without the decision to withhold our labor, few of the enormous gains we made would have been realized. In short, we learned that if you are not preparing to strike, you are not preparing to win.

More remains to be won, but for now, we celebrate our gains, and our historic strike that made them possible.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at Labor Notes on May 11, 2023.

About the Authors: Bryan Sacks is the vice president of the Part-Time Lecturer Faculty Chapter AAUP-AFT Local 6324, the Rutgers adjuncts’ union. Michael Beyea Reagan is an adjunct at Rutgers University and a rank-and-file member of Local 6324.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions.


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WGA Strike Battles for Diversity in Hollywood

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Jireh Deng

When Caroline Renard moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago, she had zero connections to Hollywood. But she was determined all the same to break into the industry and did all sorts of side gigs — from working at Veggie Grill to driving for DoorDash and Lyft to babysitting — all to pay the bills while she worked on her craft. 

And that hard work eventually paid off.

She moved up from production assistant on set to an executive assistant at Disney before becoming a writer’s and showrunner’s assistant until she became a staff writer on a show. But throughout that decade breaking into Hollywood, she oftentimes noticed she was one of the few or only Black women in the room. She credits mentors and great bosses for championing her work, but she frequently felt like it was a battle just to be heard as a creator of color. 

Today, Renard is a writer on Disney’s Secrets of Sulphur Springs and a union captain with the Writers Guild of America. But the golden era of streaming has officially burst — she was one of more than 11,500 writers and others who went on strike May 2 after their current contract expired and negotiations fell through with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which represents the nine largest Hollywood studios).

Among the WGA’s demands: Restricting the use of artificial intelligence in writing, establishing transparency in viewership-based royalties, paying writers their weekly minimums during post-production of shows, and preserving a minimum staff of six writers with guaranteed employment for 10 consecutive weeks on prospective shows. These demands were all flat-out rejected by the major studios. And now production in Hollywood has essentially come to a screeching halt.

As negotiations deadlocked, the AMPTP released a statement, according to Deadline, that they had offered “generous increases in compensation for writers as well as increases in streaming residuals” and are open to further improve the current offer, but that they’ve been unable to concede to the WGA’s demands around “mandatory staffing” and “duration of employment.”

But writers like Renard aren’t willing to back down on the entirety of their demands at a moment that feels existential for her profession — and hope the WGA won’t back down either.

“If we don’t change what’s broken now, writing won’t be a viable career,” says Renard. “There won’t be a middle class in this industry because writing has become a gig economy. It is not sustainable.”

Renard is referring specifically to the proliferation of mini rooms, smaller versions of full-scale writers rooms that have grown in popularity as streaming services like Netflix have flooded their platforms with high quantities of shows.

Now, it’s more common to see shorter seasons (maybe 10 to 14-episodes) instead of the former broadcast seasons that would be longer and carry on for maybe 24 episodes in a season. These conditions, the WGA says, have sucked writers into the orbit of freelance work.

“The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” the WGA stated in a public announcement about the strike. 

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

About the Author: Jireh Deng (they/them) is a queer Asian American writer and filmmaker born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley. 


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Union “Salting” Tactics Need Revival

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Today’s revival of union “salting” could not be more welcome or more urgently needed.

A tactic as old as the labor movement itself, salting describes going to work in an unorganized workplace where there may be a chance to help initiate new union organizing.

It’s also a label for taking jobs at already unionized employers, hoping to play a positive role. But here I will deal with the former: taking jobs to help spur new organizing.

LABOR’S CRISIS

Whatever amount of salting is underway today — it’s impossible to precisely measure — it cannot come soon enough. The U.S. labor movement is mired in a crisis that threatens its very existence.

A bare fringe of the working class, 10 percent, belongs to a union. The rate of unionization has been cut in half in the past 40 years.

Virtually all employers are ferociously anti-union, and they’ve been able to construct enormous legal and illegal obstacles to unionization efforts.

The unorganized workplace is a de facto dictatorship of ever-lower wages and living standards, where blue collar, white collar, and even professional workers are held helpless in the employer’s grip.

With an army of unorganized workers arrayed against the dwindling union garrison, it is unlikely that any further forward progress for the existing unions or the working class as a whole will be possible without a revival of union organizing on a larger scale.

Widespread salting can and must be a component of these urgently needed organizing campaigns.

CRISIS BY THE NUMBERS

Union organizing efforts today are at best incidental and sporadic. Occasional large or name-brand campaigns achieve some media attention and provide an illusion of union vitality.

Several recent sizeable graduate student wins, the Starbucks movement, Amazon, and activity in the nonprofit sector are all welcome — but are still collectively too small to reverse the overall decline.

Organizing efforts in the public sector are largely stalled, with union recognition still banned in many states and localities. In the private sector, the number of National Labor Relations Board-supervised union authorization elections now hovers at historically low levels.

I joined the labor movement in 1979; that year 7,266 NLRB elections were held, with a union win rate of almost 45 percent.

In 2021, the number of union elections fell below 1,000, with a win rate not much more than 50 percent. The 2022 numbers show some improvement, but nothing approaching what’s needed.

The size of the units organizing today has also shrunk significantly, translating into far fewer workers organized.

While the U.S. union movement is the most financially wealthy union movement on planet Earth, allocations of resources to tackle the organizing crisis are minuscule and often short-lived. (See Chris Bohner’s â€œViewpoint: It’s Time to Tap into Labor’s Fortress of Finance.”

The 2022 AFL-CIO Convention’s much-publicized “transformational” organizing initiative remains invisible. Some individual unions have increased the resources they are dedicating to new organizing, but the sheer size of the task demands far more. Salting is one way that activists can dive in to initiate organizing and pull the institution along.

SALTING CONTROVERSIAL?

Employers decry salting as illegitimate. In fact, they routinely allege that workers who help lead any union organizing campaign in the workplace are “union plants.”

Bosses allege this even when it’s an absurdity — the sincerity and authenticity of everyone who challenges their total control must be discredited.

Anti-labor politicians occasionally team up with employers to denounce salting, in an attempt to somehow scandalize it. Bogus Congressional hearings have been held from time to time to denounce salting.

The current salting efforts at several name-brand corporations may catch the attention of these extremist anti-union elements in the current Congress. So be it. Their clumsy efforts in the past, given to shrill hyperbole and wild exaggeration, have always fallen flat.

The defense of labor’s salting projects must take an above-board, straight-on approach: Salting is often the required form of resistance to the employer’s workplace dictatorship.

When organizing is a de facto illegal act — when workers are fired and victimized by the tens of thousands for exercising their paper right to unionize — salting is the completely justified response.

It acts as a catalyst for the workers already on the job who are frequently supportive of unions but nearly purged of hope and terrified of organizing, for fear of retaliation. When the workplace has been reduced to this situation, those who confront it as salts are doing truly commendable work.

Ultimately, all of us are salts.

We have no means to earn a living other than finding a boss to hire us — and why shouldn’t we desire to start a union, or strengthen an existing union, while we’re there?

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on May 3, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Chris Townsend has been a union member, organizer, and staff member for 44 years, spending the bulk of his career as a staffer for the United Electrical Workers and the Amalgamated Transit Union. He can be contacted at cwtownsend52@gmail.com.

Visit this Workplace Fairness page to learn more about unions.


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The Memorial Day Massacre: A Lost Piece of History

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You might think that, having been raised a mile from where 10 workers were killed and 30 more were shot by police while picketing a steel plant, I would have heard of such a tragedy. More confounding, my great-uncle, Eddie Marasovic, was wounded by a police bullet in that violent affair that would become known as a massacre.

Yet I knew nothing of it. 

It happened in May, 1937, before I was born, on the prairie outside the Republic Steel plant on Chicago’s East Side. This spit of land, along Lake Michigan’s southern tip, linked the steel plants of southern Chicago to a long string of industry that reached through Indiana, giving rise to what labor economists called the largest steel producing region in the world. 

Why did I only learn about the killing of workers from a poster of the massacre that I found in a bookstore, in a city located two states away, nearly half a century after the event transpired?

The Memorial Day Massacre, as many refer to it, was largely repressed by many in the community where it occurred.

In the late 1990s when I began researching it, scholars had also neglected the tragedy for decades. Greg Mitchell’s new PBS film and book, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried, explore how vital evidence — a Paramount newsreel — helped union leaders and civil libertarians turn the tide against the extreme pro-police news coverage in the immediate aftermath of the killings.

A single newsreel cameraman, Orlando Lippert of Paramount News, captured the tragedy on film. Lippert’s footage, suppressed by Paramount until a congressional committee under progressive Sen. Robert M. La Follette Jr. (D-Wisc.) screened it, showed police firing at protesters, striking 40 of them, the vast majority in the back or on the side.

The newsreel provided vital proof of corporate and state violence against working Americans. 

How had events transpired as they did?

Tensions had been ratcheting up for months ahead of the tragedy. In 1935, the new Committee of Industrial Organizations (CIO), under the leadership of United Mine Workers’ John L. Lewis, organized industrial labor, unskilled workers flexed their muscle. And, in late 1936, workers set off the sit-down craze, initiating hundreds of strikes from late November 1936 through the spring of 1937.

Lewis’s CIO achieved an agreement with U.S. Steel, the largest producer in the country, but Thomas M. Girdler, the CEO of Republic Steel, and the heads of other smaller steel companies (known as Little Steel), vowed to keep unions out. When workers called a strike at these plants, unionists rallied at Republic Steel. But Chicago police refused to let strikers picket the plant and on May 28, 1937, they viciously beat strikers, including women. 

To build community support, workers organized a Memorial Day picnic for families and labor activists on the prairie several blocks from their plant. More than 1,000 people showed up, many in their Sunday best, and then set off on a peaceful march to form a picket line close to the Republic plant. 

Police halted them halfway there. Orlando Lippert’s newsreel of events shows men and women gesticulating to police. Seconds later, the film shows workers fleeing. Police run after them, many with guns drawn, and fire upon the crowd. Four workers died of their wounds immediately, and within three weeks, another six had lost their lives. Others were hospitalized due to severe beatings. One boy, age 11, was shot in the foot. 

My grandmother’s youngest brother, my great uncle Eddie, was one of those who had been shot. Ironically, though I learned of the massacre in 1983 at the Northern Sun bookstore in Minneapolis, I only discovered our personal connection at a family wedding several years later. My great uncle’s daughter shared the story of her father having been shot that Memorial Day.

In 1996, in the midst of my graduate studies, examining how news photography shaped labor conflict, I interviewed my aunts and uncles to see if I could find out more. They knew nothing of the Memorial Day Massacre. I became fascinated, not only about the events in Chicago, but about the ways in which it had been forgotten. 

Only from an oral history that my brother, Michael, conducted with our grandparents did I find out that my grandfather was working in the Republic plant for 17 days before and after the massacre. He was one of the “loyal workers” the company deployed to suggest the strikers did not represent most workers. He was, in effect, a scab. My uncle Eddie, in contrast, stood on the field that day, fighting for the right to a union.

I have few strands of information, hardly more than whispers, of Eddie’s life.

He continued his employment at Republic Steel for nearly four decades. But these are the lone facts I can dredge up. From family, there is little more. Others, notably urban sociologist William Kornblum in his 1975 book Blue Collar Community, have observed that Chicago’s East Siders did not want to discuss the events that so divided their community.

As documentarian George Stoney found in his exploration of Southern millworkers involved in the 1934 general textile strike, being subject to state violence can cause trauma or shame, making workers suspicious and willing to repress their own experiences.

Even the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) refused to honor the massacre’s victims — it took a decade for the union’s newspaper to print the infamous photographs of its members being beaten and shot at by police, even as other union papers and metropolitan dailies published such imagery. In 1937, SWOC was fighting for its right to exist — and it may have feared scaring off membership by highlighting the massacre.

The intransigence of Girdler and the other Little Steel executives soon stymied the union drive. Little Steel only accepted union representation after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1940 that workers deserved compensation for the companies’ illegal actions against them, and as President Franklin D. Roosevelt forced industry to negotiate with unions if they wanted federal defense contracts.

While workers did not obtain contracts immediately, efforts at curtailing labor spies, corporate mercenaries, and police overreaction to labor disputes mostly succeeded. A committee under Sen. La Follette probed the massacre and exposed the buried Paramount footage.

This spotlight upon extralegal violence helped curb it in the future. Documenting and publicizing the surveillance of workers — and the collusion between private “security” forces, police and the National Guard — lmited such practices. The stifling of violence, and federal support for unions along with workers’ ongoing mobilization, ultimately led a third of the nation’s industrial workforce to enjoy union representation by the early 1950s.

It was only in the mid-1990s that I began to deeply research the story of the massacre. By reading the La Follette transcripts, I was able to find traces of my great uncle.

I knew from a second cousin that her father, Eddie Marasovic, had been shot in his leg, and he carried the bullet in his body to the grave. Unexpectedly I encountered his name, in Exhibit #1463: A medical examiner’s sketch of a body, with dots strewn across the drawing, for all the bullets that more than two dozen activists had borne that day. My great-uncle’s name corresponds to the bullet that wounded his leg.

My family had been touched by history, recorded in history, and yet those marks had been lost to me. Repressed, censored or silenced — I am still trying to learn.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 4, 2023. It is an adapted excerpt from the foreword to he book, “Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried” by Greg Mitchell. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Carol Quirke is a professor of American Studies at SUNY Old Westbury and is the author of “Eyes on Labor.


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Watch for Employers Using Benefits as Bargaining Chips

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It’s never a bad idea to be suspicious of your boss, especially when they act like they’re doing you a favor. For workers at FrontLine Service, a Cleveland non-profit that serves the unsheltered, distrust of our employer is one of the critical sentiments that binds us.

FrontLine workers, members of Service Employees Local 1199, provide crucial services to some of the most marginalized and neglected people in Northeast Ohio. Every day, we assist folks struggling with mental health crises, substance abuse, lack of housing, and other hardships.

The work is arduous and the pay is low, but we do what we can to serve the communities in which we live and work.

Last June, our contract with FrontLine was ratified by a narrow margin. Throughout negotiations, there was a persistent sense shared by the bargaining committee that management wasn’t telling us the truth. We were continually given vague, clichĂ©-ridden responses to our inquiries.

As the window for negotiations closed, it appeared that a strike was imminent. However, the minor contract gains we managed to achieve were enough to win the approval of a slim majority.

SUDDENLY THEY LIKE IT

Nearly all of our most ambitious demands were rejected. One such demand was for the implementation of a four-day workweek: 32 hours a week, an additional full day off, with benefits and wages reflecting whatever increases were won through bargaining.

As appealing as the idea of a shortened workweek was to us, none of us thought it had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting added to the contract. If anything, we thought that it could be a bargaining chip we’d give up in order to obtain something else.

So, we were surprised when a few months later management requested to meet with us to discuss how a four-day workweek pilot project could be implemented.

The first draft of management’s proposal included stipulations that would lengthen the workday, cut worker benefits by 15 percent, reduce sick, personal, and vacation leave, and increase the daily productivity standard by an hour.

The proposed pilot would involve 25 out of a workforce of 300 people. This small sample for the pilot is, we believe, inadequate for measuring the four-day workweek’s effectiveness and, more importantly, could undermine solidarity and divide workers.

DID OUR HOMEWORK

In our counterproposal submitted to management March 23, we made it clear that we will not accept any modifications or reductions to hard-won gains in our contract.

Members of our bargaining committee conducted extensive research and we had several illuminating meetings with employers who successfully implemented a four-day workweek, both non-profits and for-profits.

All this suggested that FrontLine’s proposed pilot would be a failure. Cutting benefits, lengthening the workday to 9 hours (a 36-hour workweek), and increasing productivity requirements would diminish any advantages a four-day workweek could offer workers.

When we pushed back in our meetings, management offered some version of the same answer we received during negotiations last summer: “We would if we could, but we can’t.” FrontLine’s revenue, which exceeded $28 million in 2022, is mostly acquired through government grants and Medicaid billing.

When we asked if they had made any good faith efforts to obtain increased funding to raise wages, retain staff, and attract new workers, management declined to respond.

DISTRACTION FROM WAGES

As the concept of a four-day workweek becomes more mainstream, we would be wise to consider how employers and their consultants are responding to the idea’s increased popularity.

In the case of FrontLine, it appears that management’s proposal for a four-day workweek pilot is a Trojan Horse.

Once implemented, management could, through a clause in their proposal giving them “unilateral authority” during the duration of the pilot, refuse to negotiate terms and conditions with our union.

FrontLine Service is severely understaffed, so much so that in February they formally asked Cuyahoga County to search for other non-profits that could replace workers in at least one FrontLine building.

According to management, understaffing is why they want to pilot a four-day workweek. If they can retain staff and attract new workers, they figure they might be able to keep their lights on a little longer. It also would allow FrontLine to appear ‘progressive,’ while they continue to neglect our real concerns.

Management’s proposal delivers a two-fold blow to workers: It allows them to manipulate our contract without negotiating with us, and it distracts from the question of higher wages.

Compared to other agencies offering similar services, FrontLine’s wages are deplorable, with some workers making as little as $15 an hour. Prior to the ratification of our most recent contract, the lowest-paid workers made $13 an hour.

During negotiations last summer, our committee repeatedly told management that if they want to retain and attract workers, they need to offer higher wages. “We would if we could,” management told us, “But we can’t.”

We are waiting for management’s response to our counterproposal. Whether the pilot will favor workers or management, or whether there will be a pilot at all, is yet to be determined.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on March 30, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Adam Barrington is a supportive housing case worker. He is a member of SEIU 1999 and the Industrial Workers of the World.


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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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This is Why Organizing at Stop Signs is Genius

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Sulma Arias

I am so excited about what it means to organize right now. Not only are there unprecedented federal resources on the table to spark transformational change in communities, it’s clear that organizers, because they are trusted and engaged where they live, can turn this potential for change into reality.

Antidote to Hate

Organizing is an antidote to hate.

In a time of great disconnection, we can weave communities together with a sense of trust and hope for the future, for those who have a long legacy on these shores as well as newcomers.

That’s why People’s Action is calling for an Organizing Revival. We want to deepen and share, far and wide, the transformational skills community organizers know so we can restore our faith in one another. Together we can realize our country’s promise to build a multiracial democracy that works for all of us.

When I recently shared my excitement about this with one of our donors, he listened carefully, then asked, “But isn’t this like those ‘stop-sign’ campaigns of years ago? Didn’t we conclude that organizing in the neighborhood is a dead end, which will never reach the level of power we need to win?”

He has a point. An earlier generation learned to organize only around local goals, such as winning a stop sign for a dangerous intersection. We were taught these goals should be achievable, such as fixing a pothole or a broken streetlight, and should always come from the community. 

As one of the founders of National People’s Action, Shel Trapp, put it, “Just because you think it is an issue does not make it an issue. Just because you think it is not an issue does not mean it is not an issue.”

For Shel and his peers, organizing meant mostly staying in the neighborhood, and staying out of politics. Yet they were unafraid to break their own rules, as when they won national legislation to force banks to lend in Black and poor neighborhoods in the 1970s.

Engage Communities

And while the ‘stop-sign’ approach to organizing has limits, it is also brilliant, because it teaches you to meet people where they are.

This idea is simple but powerful.  For organizers, it teaches us how to listen to community members to identify what matters most, then motivate people towards a solution through the basic practices of civic engagement.

When done well, these types of campaigns can go deep and build the muscle memory and confidence communities need to win bigger goals.

In my experience, these campaigns brought community leaders in front of their city council members and mayor, taught local grassroots leaders how local governments make decisions about where to allocate resources, and the direct implications community engagement could have on what happens on the ground. If we want people to believe in government, we have to show people that government can and will work for them, at every level.

Long-Term Agenda

At People’s Action, we believe you have to combine deep local organizing with the courage to fight and win at scale. This is what led People’s Action to step forward as a national organization in 2016, when regional networks of grassroots groups came together to form a more powerful collective that could win structural change.

That’s why we created our Long-Term Agenda. This set of building blocks was discussed, drafted and approved by our members over a multi-year process to identify the strategy we need to achieve the goals of a multiracial democracy and a sustainable economy, with racial and gender justice for all.

 As a part of this vision, our network committed to build political infrastructure which complements our issue-based organizing. People’s Action and nearly all of our member groups now have both C3 and C4 organizations so we can elect and co-govern with public officials who share our values.

People’s Action has won major victories with this strategy. We turned out millions of voters in 2020 and 2022, mobilizing as if our very lives depended on the results, because for many of us it did. We passed the MAT Act, which saves lives from overdose, and won the trillions of dollars which are now flowing into communities to build a green economy through the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

 Winning national victories doesn’t mean we don’t need stop signs, or the deeply transformational skills organizers learn in their local communities. Now more than ever, people need to see and feel the benefits of organizing where they live. This is especially true in Black, Brown and working-class communities, which have been systematically starved of resources for decades.

Member Groups

That’s why I’m so excited by the work organizers from our member groups, like Rafael Smith of Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Carrie Santoro of Pennsylvania Stands Up, are doing right now. They are working hard to bring home the benefits of federal funding to their local communities, so they can transform neighborhoods block by block with safe streets, warm and comfortable homes, and green jobs in a sustainable economy.

Our member groups are uniquely positioned to make the most of this moment, because they have worked for decades to establish trust. Because they have long worked to create local change, organizers like Carrie and Rafael are trusted members of their communities.

At People’s Action, we believe that if we strengthen and scale the skills that win change in local communities through our Organizing Revival, we can unlock the potential of this moment for our nation.

We all know the challenges we must face together – the mistrust of government, our climate crisis and the erosion of civil society – reach far beyond our neighborhoods. Because we know how to listen and fight where we live, I am confident that we can fight for and win the transformational change our country needs.

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on March 24, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Sulma Arias is executive director of People’s Action and the People’s Action Institute, the nation’s largest network of grassroots power-building groups, with more than a million members in 30 states. 


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How to Avoid No-Strike Contract Clauses

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One thing you can be sure of when bargaining your first contract: management will demand a contract clause barring strikes while the agreement is in effect.

No-strike clauses took hold in the 1940s. During World War II, the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and defense industry executives issued no-strike/no-lockout pledges to guarantee production. When the war ended, many union leaders, apparently seduced by the experience of “labor peace,” agreed to similar pledges in their collective bargaining agreements.

Today, an overwhelming percentage of U.S. labor contracts, 94 percent according to a survey by the Bureau of National Affairs, contain no-strike clauses.

NO-STRIKE LANGUAGE

A typical no-strike clause reads: The union hereby agrees that no employee shall engage in, induce, or encourage any strike or work stoppage. The union also agrees that neither it nor any of its officers or agents will call, initiate, authorize, or participate in any such strike, work stoppage, slowdown, sickout, or other withholding of services.

Once a no-strike clause is ensconced in the contract, it is almost impossible to remove it. For years to come, employers will be free to fire workers who have the temerity to stop work to protest abusive employer conduct or blatant violations of the labor agreement.

Moreover, courts may order the union to pay the employer for lost income or property. To top it off, the employer may be permitted to rescind the entire labor agreement.

Note: It is not widely known, but provisions in U.S. labor law allow workers to violate no-strike provisions in order to protest “abnormally dangerous” working conditions or serious unfair labor practices that “substantially undermine” the integrity of the contract (see Section 502 of the National Labor Relations Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Arlan’s Department Store decision).

Nonetheless, few arbitrators or courts have had the courage to enforce such laws to overturn discharges or dismiss employer lawsuits.

INITIAL RESPONSES

Initially, a union may want to assert that a no-strike provision is so anti-union, so deep a concession, or so dangerous to members and officers that it will not even consider allowing such language in the contract.

Other Countries

French law says the right to strike is a constitutional privilege that cannot be waived in a collective bargaining agreement.

Canada, on the other hand, says strikes are only lawful before a labor contract takes effect or after it expires — in essence creating mandatory no-strike clauses.

Many U.S. states prohibit government employees from striking at any time. Nonetheless, public authorities invariably demand that public sector contracts include no-strike clauses.

Under the NLRA, however, a no-strike clause is a “mandatory” subject of bargaining. This means the union must discuss the matter in good faith with the employer and explain its objections.

Nothing in the NLRA, however, requires a union to agree to a no-strike clause. Moreover, because a no-strike clause is a mandatory subject of bargaining, the union may strike to keep it out of the contract.

If the union cannot keep a no-strike clause out of the contract, there are several ways to make it less damaging. As a first matter, the union should demand that the language be clearly restricted to the contract term. The union must be able to strike when the contract expires.

Second, the union should argue that the ban on strikes be limited “to matters that are subject to the union grievance procedure.” If a dispute does not fall within the definition of a grievance or, for other reasons, cannot be taken to binding arbitration, why should the union disarm itself by agreeing not to strike?

Third, the union should demand that strikes be permitted in certain circumstances. One is when all of the pre-arbitration steps in the union grievance procedure have been exhausted (like in the GE contracts mentioned below.) Another should permit strikes against serious unfair labor practices or unusually dangerous working conditions.

Another should permit the union to respect bona fide picket lines set up by other unions (i.e., sympathy strikes). For example, the Teamsters national UPS agreement protects drivers’ right to refuse to cross primary picket lines.

Fourth, the union should demand the removal of any language barring it from taking part in other pressure tactics during the contract term: for example, peaceful demonstrations, rallies, bannering, and boycotts.

Fifth, the union should demand language that protects itself if workers engage in spontaneous work stoppages without direction or leadership by the union. Example: “The Union shall not be liable for damages resulting from unauthorized actions of its members.”

GOLD STAR UNIONS

Some unions have bargained deep concessions from employers on strike rights. The IUE-CWA contract with General Electric has long allowed the union to strike mid-contract if a matter cannot be resolved in the grievance procedure.

The Teamsters Central Region UPS Supplemental Agreement allows the union to strike over grievances that are not resolved at the last step of the grievance process, which involves the company president of labor relations and the union national package director.

The Teamsters National Master Freight Agreement allows the union to strike if the employer fails to carry out a final decision of a grievance committee or reneges on a settlement.

The Longshore (ILWU) contract with the Pacific Maritime Association allows the union to refuse work: (1) in case of a good faith fear of a health or safety risk; (2) in the event of an “onerous” workload; or (3) to avoid crossing a bona fide picket line.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on February 27, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Robert Schwartz is a labor attorney and the author of “No Contract, No Peace: A Legal Guide to Contract Campaigns, Strikes, and Lockouts.”

Learn more about unions here.


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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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Strikes Are Stronger and More Stubborn Than Laws

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Hamilton Nolan

When people get frustrated and petulant, they lash out. So too do governments.

When labor unions are looking a little too powerful, governments often throw tantrums, like spoiled children momentarily denied their lollipops. The natural response of childish governments is to try to pass laws to deny workers the ability to strike, taking away their most powerful weapon.

It is important, in the midst of these threats, to keep in mind a simple fact: Strikes are stronger than laws.

As we speak, the UK is experiencing its most momentous strike wave since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister in the 1980s. Nurses, transit workers, postal workers, and a slew of other public employees have walked out of work in the past month, and the actions show no sign of letting up. These strikes make people yell at the government, which is the point.

Now the government is so mad! Argh! As a result, prime minister Rishi Sunak said that he plans to push for legislation that would outlaw such strikes in what he deems vital sectors — healthcare, schools, railways, border security and elsewhere. His bill would have workers fired and unions sued if they failed to maintain a “mnimum level of service,” which is another way of saying that strikes would be impossible. 

This sort of spasm of governmental overreach is not uncommon.

Strikes are an act of power totally outside the control of politicians, and therefore can make political officials go a little haywire.

Just a few months ago in Canada, the premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, made a similar proposal to criminalize strikes and impose a contract on strike teachers, only to back down in the face of credible threats of a general strike. U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision in November to force a contract on America’s railway workers, though not dependent on a new piece of legislation, was a similarly brazen act of government denial of the right of working people to decide whether or not a contract offer is good enough for them. 

It takes a lot of courage to go on strike even in the best of circumstances. To hear the most powerful elected officials in your country threaten to outlaw your strike and cause you to lose your job and see your union bankrupted can be intimidating.

But a proper understanding of the power dynamics at play in these circumstances should make workers feel better.

Think about the government’s position in these cases: They are scared of the disruption in services that happen as a result of strikes. They want to keep these public services up and running, because they know that it reflects badly on them if things aren’t functioning. Above all, they don’t want the public yelling at them because their stupid government isn’t providing the services that it’s supposed to provide.

Setting aside the underlying causes of these strikes — poor working conditions, which are the direct responsibility of the stupid government itself — the primary goal of panic-stricken governments during strike waves is just to get all the workers working again, as fast as possible.

Now, consider the method they employ to achieve this goal: They propose to make the strikes illegal. They propose terrifying penalties if the strikes continue.

Okay. Let’s play this out.

Suppose the striking workers reasonably say “f— off” to a government that tries to bully them back to work, rather than solving the actual problems that made the workers upset enough to strike in the first place. Suppose they defy these laws and carry on with illegal strikes. Suppose the government responds as promised, by firing all the striking workers.

Then what?

The government then finds itself less able to restore services than it was before. It will take even more time to hire and train thousands of new workers than it would have taken to settle the strike at the bargaining table. The public will be more outraged at the greater chaos and the government will get more unpopular as a result.

The very goal of passing laws against strikes, in other words, is unlikely to be achieved by passing laws against strikes. 

It doesn’t matter if strikes are illegal. The decision to strike should be made on the basis of what is necessary to achieve a job that doesn’t make you miserable and a life that is worth living. Strikes carry their own power — they don’t ask for permission to be powerful.

Organized labor should resolve to respond to attempts to take away the right to strike with bigger strikes. If you are a worker pulled into one of these strikes, have faith.

Politicians can try to outlaw rain if they want, but the clouds aren’t listening. 

This blog originally appeared in full at In These Times on January 9, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan s 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.


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