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Work Is the Reason Latinos Are Getting Slammed So Hard by the Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout have hammered the Latino community.

Latinos make up 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths after adjusting for age, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but only 19 percent of the population. This is the biggest disparity of any major ethnic or racial group.

Why the disproportionate impact? The reason is work.

Latinos are highly overrepresented in “low-wage hazardous jobs,” said Jessica Martinez, co- director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), and in “essential jobs that continue to work despite the peaks in COVID.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinos represent 18 percent of the working population, but 35 percent of the workforce in slaughterhouses and 23 percent in seafood processing.

“Sixty or 70 percent of Latino workers don’t have the chance to do teleworking,” said Jorge Mújica, an organizer at the worker center Arise Chicago. “They have to show up to the factory or the warehouse.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly half of non-Latino white workers are able to telework.

“So you get 25 workers getting sick in the workplace, and then they get 25 family members sick.”

Meatpacking and poultry plants have been particular hotspots for outbreaks of COVID. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), at least 49,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID.

“The companies were not providing any personal protective equipment,” said Magaly Licolli, who organizes poultry workers with the Arkansas-based group Venceremos. “Social distancing was almost impossible because of the way that these plants are structured—workers work shoulder to shoulder.”

At the same time that many Latino workers were forced to continue to work in cramped conditions, many others were being laid off. As the pandemic’s effects set in, the unemployment gap between white and Latino workers tripled, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Latinos work disproportionately in restaurants, hotels, and construction.

As a result, according to Pew Research, 59 percent of Latinos reported that their households suffered lost wages or jobs, compared to 43 percent of the overall population. The study was conducted in May.

NOT IN A VACUUM

COVID intensified the damage of “decades of structural and strategic racism,” said Martinez. “We are seeing the impact of long-term discriminatory practices in health care, employment, housing, and education.”

Latinos are more likely to be uninsured and undocumented. That means it’s harder to get treatment for COVID symptoms—and harder to get the economic relief that they disproportionately need.

For example, the checks sent out to individual taxpayers by the government were sent only to those who were documented. Even those who were part of married couples where one partner is undocumented were deemed ineligible, except for military households.

There are 10.5 million undocumented people and 16.2 million people in mixed-status families in the United States.

At work it is no different. Working at a poultry plant is extraordinarily dangerous. The line moves fast, repetitive motions often cause carpal tunnel syndrome, and workers handle chemicals whose long-term health effects are unknown, with little oversight from the government. Typically the plants are built in isolated rural spots, where workers have little recourse against intimidation on the job or discrimination in town.

SIXTY CHICAGO STRIKES

With the support of groups like Arise Chicago and Venceremos, Latino workers are fighting back against dangerous work conditions during the pandemic.

Mújica says that in the early days of the pandemic, his group was receiving between 80 and 100 calls and messages a day from workers seeking help because they had sick co-workers or even co-workers who had already died. Arise Chicago launched a campaign to assist workers to strike to defend their health.

They produced letters for workers to present to their employers, saying, “I’m sorry, but since you are so irresponsible, we are taking matters in our own hands. And we are going into quarantine,” Mújica said. Around 60 groups of workers went out on strike through this process, mostly in April and May.

Subsequently, as pandemic conditions eased, Arise Chicago produced video workshops on Facebook addressing questions about a safe return to work that have received over 380,000 views.

The group is also helping workers to form unions.

CALL THEM UP

Licolli said she was forced to turn away from in-person communication because of the pandemic and had to rely on phone calls to organize poultry workers. She made calls to workers, dividing them up by company and plant.

“Workers were terrified” to speak up against management, “but also afraid of losing their lives,” said Licolli.

Through this process she helped workers identify their needs, like social distancing at work and personal protective equipment, and map their workplaces to identify leaders who could help organize. From there, Licolli and the workers created a petition that received 300 worker signatures. The group set up public rallies to draw attention to the poultry plant conditions and began attracting national media attention. Workers gathered videos from inside and gave testimonies to the media.

So far, workers at Tyson Foods, an Arkansas-based multinational food company, have received daily surgical masks, more sanitation stations, and two additional $500 bonuses if workers were able to meet attendance requirements. They have fallen short, however, of winning paid sick leave, which was one of their top demands, and the surge in COVID cases is making it difficult to continue having public events.

DRIVERS’ LICENSES FOR ALL

In Massachusetts, immigrant workers have continued to push for a key pre-pandemic demand, despite the new obstacles to organizing: driver’s licenses for all. In July, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and the undocumented-led Movimiento Cosecha (Harvest Movement) led an occupation at the steps of the Massachusetts capital for 13 days.

Undocumented workers have been demanding driver’s licenses for years because they need to travel long distances within the state to get to and from work. A single arrest due to racial profiling or a minor traffic offense can lead to detention and deportation.

One alternative to driving yourself is to carpool—often with a management rep driving, for an exorbitant fee, as frequently happens in farm work. This was uncomfortable and unsafe before—but as Andrea Schmid of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center points out, in a pandemic it’s also yet another health risk.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on November 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is an Assistant Editor of Labor Notes. Saurav previously worked for the Poor People’s Campaign, as a staff writer for the business daily Mint in New Delhi, India, and at the National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom. He also started the blog South Asia Labor Watch. Saurav covers worker centers, immigrant workers, LGBTQ workers, the Steelworkers, the Electrical Workers (UE), and the global labor movement.


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“This Strike Is a Fight for Our Lives”: Healthcare Workers Are Walking Off the Job to Demand Pandemic Protections

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As a strike wave sweeps the U.S. health­care indus­try amid the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, 700 front­line work­ers at 11 Chica­go-area nurs­ing homes have been on the pick­et lines since Novem­ber 23. 

Pri­mar­i­ly Black and Lati­na women, the strik­ing work­ers are mem­bers of SEIU Health­care Illi­nois & Indi­ana and include cer­ti­fied nurs­ing assis­tants (CNAs), dietary aides, house­keep­ers and laun­dry work­ers. They are fight­ing for at least $15 an hour, haz­ard pay and ade­quate per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE).

Their employ­er, Infin­i­ty Health­care Man­age­ment?—?a for-prof­it chain oper­at­ing sev­er­al nurs­ing homes across Illi­nois and four oth­er states?—?recent­ly received $12.7 mil­lion in fed­er­al Covid-19 relief, but has so far refused to meet the work­ers’ demands after near­ly six months of con­tract negotiations. 

The strike is coin­cid­ing with oth­er health­care-relat­ed work stop­pages around the coun­try, sig­nal­ing grow­ing work­er unrest as the twin pub­lic health and eco­nom­ic crises con­tin­ue to wreak hav­oc on work­ing-class Amer­i­cans?—?par­tic­u­lar­ly Black and Brown communities.

In New York, over 1,000 nurs­es with the New York State Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion (NYS­NA) held a one-day strike at Albany Med­ical Cen­ter Hos­pi­tal on Decem­ber 1, while 200 oth­er NYS­NA nurs­es at Mon­te­fiore Hos­pi­tal in New Rochelle orga­nized a two-day strike on Decem­ber 1 and 2. At both loca­tions, nurs­es are demand­ing improved safe­ty pre­cau­tions and bet­ter pay.

Mean­while, in Wash­ing­ton state, over 100 doc­tors, physi­cian assis­tants and nurse prac­ti­tion­ers with the Union of Amer­i­can Physi­cians and Den­tists staged a two-day strike last week at 20 urgent care facil­i­ties run by Mul­ti­Care Health Sys­tems after being forced to work 12-hour shifts with­out breaks.

The strik­ing SEIU work­ers at the 11 Infin­i­ty-run nurs­ing homes in Chica­go and sur­round­ing sub­urbs plan to stay out indef­i­nite­ly until a con­tract set­tle­ment is reached.

Long-term care facil­i­ties have been at the epi­cen­ter of the pan­dem­ic in the Unit­ed States, account­ing for an esti­mat­ed 40 per­cent of coro­n­avirus deaths in the coun­try. In Illi­nois, a stag­ger­ing 52.1 per­cent of all Covid-19 deaths have been tied to nurs­ing homes. 

The Infin­i­ty-run facil­i­ties have seen some of the high­est Covid infec­tion and death rates in the state. At Infinity’s City View Mul­ti­Care Cen­ter in Cicero, there have been 249 cas­es, while the company’s Niles Nurs­ing and Reha­bil­i­ta­tion facil­i­ty has had 54 deaths. In May, City View under­went a court-ordered inspec­tion after the city of Cicero sued the facil­i­ty for fail­ing to abide by health guidelines.

“I’ve seen sev­er­al res­i­dents that I was very close to pass away because of lack of staffing,” a res­i­dent of an Infin­i­ty nurs­ing home said on a recent SEIU-host­ed livestream. The res­i­dent, who chose to remain anony­mous, said she has also wit­nessed the work­ers at her nurs­ing home get coro­n­avirus because they were giv­en inad­e­quate PPE.

“If I could phys­i­cal­ly take my [Social Secu­ri­ty] check out of the own­ers’ hands and put it in the arms of the CNAs, the nurs­es, I so would, because they deserve it,” the res­i­dent tear­ful­ly said.

Shan­to­nia Jack­son, a CNA at City View, told In These Times that one of her cowork­ers?—?a friend of hers who was set to retire in June after work­ing 24 years at the facil­i­ty?—?con­tract­ed the virus and passed away in March.

“This strike is a fight for our lives, and espe­cial­ly for our res­i­dents’ lives,” Jack­son explained. ?“The nurs­ing home indus­try is set up like a ware­house. Nobody wants to live in a ware­house. It’s their home, so it should be treat­ed as their home.”

A union stew­ard, Jack­son has worked at City View for five years and is respon­si­ble for as many as 70 res­i­dents per shift, but only makes $14.30 per hour. Some employ­ees at Infin­i­ty-run facil­i­ties make as lit­tle as $11.50 an hour despite being clas­si­fied as essen­tial workers.

“They call us heroes, but they don’t treat us like heroes,” she said, adding that the strike isn’t ?“just about a buck, it’s about the dig­ni­ty and respect of the work­ers that come every day” despite the risk of coronavirus.

The nurs­ing home work­ers have the over­whelm­ing sup­port of the com­mu­ni­ty. Sev­er­al social­ist and pro­gres­sive mem­bers of the Chica­go City Coun­cil, as well as activists and lead­ers from oth­er local unions, have joined them on the pick­et lines, while the work­ers’ strike fund has raised over $10,000 from pub­lic donations.

Illi­nois Gov. J.B. Pritzk­er has also come out in sup­port of the strik­ers. ?“Giv­en the sig­nif­i­cant fed­er­al and state finan­cial sup­port for nurs­ing homes dur­ing this pan­dem­ic, it’s impor­tant that work­ers see that fund­ing reflect­ed in their work­place, in their safe­ty and their pay,” Pritzk­er said.

“This is the first time I’ve been on strike,” said Jack­son. ?“It’s rough, but if you want some­thing and you believe in it, you got­ta do it. Now I know the pow­er of strik­ing, of hav­ing a union.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on December 2, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work­ing In These Times con­trib­u­tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go and a Master’s in Labor Stud­ies from UMass Amherst.


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

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Large work stoppages, aka large strikes, had been on the decline for years. That turned around in 2018—going from 25,300 workers involved in major strikes in 2017 to 485,200 in 2018—and stayed relatively high in 2019, the Economic Policy Institute reports.

“Through 2017, the general trend was downward, but there was a substantial upsurge in workers involved in major work stoppages in 2018,” Heidi Shierholz and Margaret Poydock write. “On average, in 2018 and 2019, 455,400 workers annually were involved in major work stoppages—the largest two-year pooled annual average in 35 yearssince 1983 and 1984.” A significant number of them—10 in 2019—were really large strikes, involving at least 20,000 workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on February 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Major campaign to organize tech and video game industries launches, this week in the war on workers

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There are increasing signs that workers in the tech industry are starting to see themselves as … workers. Maybe it’s the 100-hour workweeks as video game companies get products ready for launch, or maybe it’s the layoffs that come after a big release. Maybe it’s the increasing realization that companies such as Amazon and Wayfair are doing terrible work for the Trump administration, and that their employees are helping make that happen and have no control over it.

Workers at tech companies have staged a series of walkouts over a variety of issues, and subcontractors for Google recently unionized. Game Workers Unite, a grassroots group, has called for unionization in the video game industry. Now, following conversations with Game Workers Unite and with one of its founders onboard as a full-time organizer, the Communications Workers of America is launching a major organizing drive, the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE).

”We’ve been watching the amazing organizing of workers across the industry,” CWA organizer Tom Smith told the Los Angeles Times. “And workers themselves reached out to us while doing that amazing self-organizing, and said, ‘Can we do this in partnership with the CWA?’”

This could get very interesting—and it could really underline the point that unions are not just for blue-collar workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 11, 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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Chicago teachers reach tentative agreement but one key thing is missing to end strike

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The Chicago Teachers Union reported a tentative agreement with schools management Wednesday night, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot is holding up the end of the strike in a disagreement over make-up instructional days. In previous strikes, the schools have added make-up days to the end of the school year—but Lightfoot doesn’t want to do that.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey spoke highly of the tentative agreement, saying in a statement that “This deal will move us closer to ensuring that our most vulnerable students receive the instruction, resources and wraparound services they need to thrive. No educator wants to leave their classroom, but our 10-day struggle was the only option we had to enshrine, ensure and enforce real change for our students and school communities. This contract will put a nurse in every school, a social worker in every school and provide a real solution for thousands of homeless students in Chicago.” But, he said, “By not restoring days of instruction to our students lost during the strike, the mayor is making it clear that she is more concerned about politics than the well-being of students.”

Lightfoot objects to the make-up days because teachers would be paid for those days, saying “I’m not compensating them for days that they were out on strike.” Which is … not what would be happening since they would be working those days, but way to try to score a cheap political hit on your way out!

Lightfoot and schools management had supposedly been very concerned about instructional time (at the expense of the prep time teachers pressed for), but apparently that wasn’t really such a concern. The teachers also expressed frustration at Lightfoot’s admission that “There’s a lot of work that we could have done sooner, but we didn’t start to do really until the strike”—making her own lack of preparation in large part responsible for the length of the strike.

The teachers report that the agreement includes 209 additional social workers, 250 additional nurses, investments in staff education and recruitment, $35 million a year to reduce class size, and added funding for sports coaches and equipment.

The agreement has been accepted by the union’s House of Delegates, which would allow the strike to end if an agreement can be reached on make-up days. The CTU’s full membership would then vote on ratifying it. On Wednesday, school staffers in SEIU 73, who went out on strike with the teachers, voted to ratify their own contract.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 31, 2019. 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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Teacher strikes close schools across Oklahoma and Kentucky

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The red-state teachers rebellion that started in West Virginia continues to grow, with teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma walking out on Monday after the Kentucky teachers shut down schools in nearly two dozen counties on Friday. In Oklahoma, dozens of school districts have announced closures for Monday, and many Kentucky schools are closed as well.

The Kentucky teachers are protesting a sudden retirement overhaul, while Oklahoma teachers are fighting for increased investment in their schools even after lawmakers voted them a substantial pay increase.

This package does not overcome a shortfall that has caused four-day weeks and overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need,” Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said in a video posted on Facebook. “We must keep fighting for everything our students deserve.”

Arizona teachers, too, are calling both for pay raises and for increased education funding—and planning to take action if they don’t see improvements. Music teacher Noah Karvelis told NPR that he often has 40 students in a classroom with just seven pianos, and “The math just doesn’t add up. There’s no way to reach those kids. Every day you’re going home and you’re just feeling like, I failed. I failed these students. And that’s honestly the worst possible feeling any teacher could ever have.”

There’s a simple explanation for the education underfunding:

  • Arizona cut personal income tax rates by 10 percent in 2006, cut corporate tax rates by 30 percent in 2011, reduced taxes on capital gains, and reduced taxes in other ways over the last couple of decades.
  • Oklahoma cut personal income tax rates starting in 2004. The top income tax rate fell from 6.65 percent to 5 percent, with the latest drop taking effect in 2016 even as the state faced a $1 billion shortfall. Oklahoma also substantially reduced its severance tax on oil and gas, increased tax exemptions for retirement and military income, exempted capital gains income from taxation, and abolished the estate tax.

Disrespect for teachers is certainly at play in Republican-controlled states that pay salaries that leave teachers working second, third, and even sixth jobs, but it’s not just that. It’s also disrespect for students combined with short-term thinking that will harm people and economies. But hey, rich people will have really low taxes.

And that’s why teachers are fighting.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Momentive Workers Strike As Trump’s “Jobs Forum” Pick Cuts Wages

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More than 700 Momentive Performance Materials chemical plant workers in Waterford, NY have been on strike since November 2. The Albany Times Union explains why, in a report about the striking Waterford chemical plant,

Workers rejected a contract offer that would cut vacation time, reduce 401(k) benefits, increase health insurance costs and slice retiree health insurance and other benefits. The union had approved earlier cuts in pay and benefits in contracts with Momentive in 2010 and 2013, but workers said a third consecutive contract to cut benefits for workers and retirees, some of whom have ongoing health problems linked to years of working with toxic chemicals, is unfair.

Pay cuts, benefit cuts, cutting retiree’s pensions… The workers’ standard of living has been driven down since the company was bought by a hedge fund in 2006 including complete elimination of healthcare and life insurance for retirees. Some wages have been slashed up to 50% and jobs have been outsourced to intimidate remaining workers.

So they are on strike.

Trump’s Promise

In his inaugural address Friday President Trump said that “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.”

One person ripping the wealth from the middle class is Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone Group — and Chair of Trump’s new “Strategic and Policy Forum.” BloombergPolitics explains,

“This forum brings together CEOs and business leaders who know what it takes to create jobs and drive economic growth,” Trump said in a statement issued by Blackstone. “My administration is committed to drawing on private sector expertise and cutting the government red tape that is holding back our businesses from hiring, innovating, and expanding right here in America.”

Trump’s “jobs forum” pick Schwarzman is one of the owners of the Momentive Performance Materials chemical plant where the workers are on strike — because of the pay cuts and cuts in health care and retiree benefits that is ripping their wealth from them and redistributing it to a few extremely wealthy people at the top.

The Albany Times Union report, titled, Trump key economic adviser has stake in Momentive’s striking Waterford chemical plant, explains,

Outside the Momentive chemical plant, striking workers huddled in the cold around burn barrels have raised a symbol of their corporate owners: An inflatable caricature of a cigar-smoking pig with wads of cash flowing out of its jacket pockets.

But actual ownership of Momentive Performance Materials — sold to a New York City-based hedge fund a decade ago by General Electric Co. — is a corporate web that includes six billionaires on the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s 400 richest people, including a man named this month by President-elect Donald Trump as his chief job creation adviser.

Stephen Schwarzman, founder and CEO of the Blackstone Group, will have Trump’s ear on economic and tax policy as head of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a group of more than a dozen captains of industry, including former GE CEO Jack Welch.

… With an estimated net worth of $11 billion, Schwarzman is ranked 45th richest on the Forbes 400 list for 2016. His New York City-based firm currently holds about $361 billion in assets, making it the largest hedge fund in the world. The 69-year-old has estates in East Hampton, Saint-Tropez in the French Riviera, a beachfront villa in Jamaica, and a luxury Park Avenue apartment in New York City that was once home to John D. Rockefeller.

How rich is Schwarzman? See Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman Makes $250 Million In Five Days As Blackstone Posts Big Numbers.

Will Trump Keep His Promise?

Trump promised that he is going to restore the middle class. But Trump’s “jobs” pick is helping destroy the middle class at places like Momentive. From the Albany Times Union report,

“I would pray to God that Donald Trump would reconsider what he is doing and have a talk with some of these people, especially Mr. Schwarzman, about what is going on here in Waterford,” said Dominick Patrignani, Local 81359 president. “We are extremely concerned with the loss of jobs, and this guy is supposed to be the new czar of job creation and growth.”

Which is it going to be? Jobs and good wages for working people or, as Trump himself put it, ripping the wealth of our middle class from their homes and then redistributing it to a very few billionaires — like Trump’s “jobs” pick?

Whose side will Trump prove to be on? Momentive’s workers will tell you that Trump is off to a very bad start at meeting his promise.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on January 20, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


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Chicago Teachers Are on the Verge of Striking—This Is Why

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Chicago teachers will likely take to the streets early Tuesday in an escalation of their campaign to defend their jobs and improve the education of the students and the communities they serve. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has said it will strike if no deal is reached by midnight.

Four years ago, the CTU won a new contract with a dramatic 7-day strike that captured national attention. Although the CTU was unable in the following years to stop Mayor Rahm Emanuel from closing more than 50 schools, last April the union continued its contract fight with a mayoral-appointed Board of Education by calling for a 1-day strike over the failure of talks to renew their contract.

With the CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) still at loggerheads over a new agreement, the teachers are preparing to establish picket lines once again at schools throughout the nation’s third-largest school system, taking on the Board of Education, Emanuel, the obsessively anti-union Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and the local business class.

The fight is, in various ways, about money. The Board of Education, under Emanuel’s control, says it must cut costs since it is running a deficit. One of its proposed solutions would eliminate a longstanding agreement to pay for part of the cost of teachers’ pensions, effectively cutting teachers’ pay.

Rauner advocates a harsh and ideological strategy designed to humiliate the teachers and break their union. He has said bankruptcy might be the best option for CPS—a move that would allow a court to void union contracts.

But the strike is about more than money, too. The CTU sees negotiations as a chance to focus on the quality of education for Chicago students. The union wants to reduce class sizes, guarantee that all schools have libraries and librarians, give teachers professional support and training to teach more creatively, and provide social services and counselors who can help students resolve problems that may be interfering with their learning or leading them to drop out.

“In my 13 years of teaching, schools and students have never faced this type of assault,” said Lillian Kass, a special education teacher in CPS and a CTU delegate.

“We are going on strike to protect our students from further cuts. We need enforceable class sizes and adequate services so all students can succeed. Teachers and students have already suffered too many cuts. More cuts are not acceptable and not sustainable,” she said.

Historical backdrop

The contract dispute is linked to profound and pernicious questions regarding class and racial divisions in the city and state. The backdrop to the current conflict is the decades-long failure of the state government to follow the state’s constitutional mandate to carry the primary responsibility for financing public education.

As a result, schools are very unevenly and inequitably funded by local property taxes. The tax burden is greatest on working-class households, while businesses successfully resist paying their fair share. Chicago taxpayers suffer an additional burden: While state taxes—including taxes paid by Chicago residents—help fund teacher pensions for the rest of the state, Chicago residents alone pay for all pension-related costs for their schools.

Low-income communities, especially those that are predominately black, have suffered most from shortcomings in funding, school closings and many other CPS policies. Reinforcing the results of other investigations, a recent report by WBEZ, the Chicago public radio station, revealed that new school construction in areas of the city where the population is growing is carefully planned to maintain high levels of racial segregation, even though it would be easy to use the construction to create a more integrated school enrollment.

Community allies

Union leaders see community groups as crucial allies in the fight now unfolding. Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign (CTSC), with a dozen or more members, played an important role in the 2012 strike, says Steven Ashby, a labor educator at the University of Illinois. Ashby, who is the leader of a renewed CTSC, says the new coalition already includes more than 50 groups.

The CTU, CTSC and many other progressive groups are pushing for the city to redirect to the schools as much as possible from Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a funding tool. The money is largely a “slush fund” spent at the mayor’s discretion for business-related projects, and reformers argue that it could provide significant funding for schools.

The issues posed by the teachers’ strike involve a tangle of inherited pathologies of racism, business dominance, and corrupt local politics—together forming a Gordian knot that blocks progressive reform. The strike may not cut the knot, but it could help direct the next blows for reformers tackling the many challenges beyond the current, critically important task of educating the city’s children.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on October 10, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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. He can be reached at [email protected]


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After Contract Talks Break Down, Nearly 40,000 Verizon Workers Set To Strike Tomorrow

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Leaders of the unions representing nearly 40,000 Verizon telecommunications workers in big cities and small towns from Maine to Virginia announced today that their members would be going on strike at 6 a.m. Wednesday without “a major change in direction” in contract talks now underway, according to Communications Workers of America (CWA) president Chris Shelton.

The unions—CWA and IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)—are fighting to keep high-quality working class jobs in the United States.

Jobs in the two major categories of work pay relatively well—about $60,000 a year for call center workers and about $85,000 to $90,000 a year for technicians who install and service the telecom network, according to Bob Master, assistant to the CWA New York area vice-president Dennis Trainor.

Verizon is flush financially. It earned $18 billion in profits last year and about $1.8 billion a month so far this year. Last year it spent about $13 billion in buying back its stock, a dubious strategy to enrich stockholders. Now it is trying to buy Yahoo!, a long-shot target for a $35 billion speculative bet.

With the salaries that their union contract provides and the skills they learn, Verizon workers can provide their communities and families stable and supportive leadership. It will be harder to play that role with the lower wages, lesser benefits and less stable work routines that Verizon’s proposals would provide.

For example, Dan Hilton, a cable splicer from Roanoake, Va., who has been with Verizon for 20 years, often is sent out to provide cable service for an entire community or to restore service after disasters. The company has become addicted to such flexibility, but it means that its employees can not be at home when their family needs them.

“My wife had back surgery last year and needed my help, and I want to enjoy time with my grandkids,” he says. “We want to do a good job, go home and spend time with our spouses. … We’re just ordinary working people, doing our job, hoping for our company to succeed. That’s what life’s all about.”

But his job—and the company’s success—also involves serving people like himself in his community. He wants Verizon to expand FiOS, the company’s bundled Internet access, telephone and television service, in his home area, something he is not available to do when he is dispatched far away for long times. But he and CWA vice-president Ed Mooney see the company’s failure to build out fiber optic networks or to explain why they are adopting such a policy as representing Verizon’s disinterest in caring for needs of long-term customers.

Workers like Hilton and union leaders think that Verizon is narrowly focused on profit maximization, not the long-term well being of the company, the community or its employees. In the current negotiations over a contract that expired last June, Verizon wants lower health care costs regardless of the consequences. For their part, union negotiators have offered some changes to save some money, such as encouraging more use of preferred providers. But the unions are resisting pension cutbacks that Verizon demands.

The telecom industry has undergone decades of tumultuous change. Now even Verizon, a traditional land line telephone service provider, is ditching as much as it can of the land line business as possible and emphasizing cell phone service. It is no coincidence that Verizon has also been most intensively fighting recognition of unions in its cell phone operations.

“Our major issues involve contracting out of work,” says Trainor. That practice accounts for much of the 40 percent loss of jobs over the past decade, according to Master. The technicians, for example, not only feel pressure to work away from home for long periods but also the threat that if they do not, Verizon will turn to non-union subcontractors to do their work. On the other hand, call centers workers face the prospect of Verizon closing more of their centers and moving the work to Mexico or the Philippines.

Telephone strikes can be tough battles, with managers trying to handle much of the immediate service and repair work in central facilities as they can. But Verizon workers have some experience preparing for strikes and for ways to make their case to customers that the workers and the union are on their side, even more than Verizon itself.

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on April 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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. He can be reached at [email protected]


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Altoona Nurses Strike As UPMC Continues to Put Profits Before Patients

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seiu-org-logoSEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania‘s registered nurses at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Altoona are on a one-day strike today. UPMC rejected proposals for better staffing ratios, which is shown to improve patient outcomes, decrease the length of hospital stays, and increase patient satisfaction scores, among other issues.

“It comes down to patient care and safety,” explains Kim Heverly, who has been an RN at the hospital for 22 years. “If we don’t have good ratios, nursing becomes just a series of tasks, and you may miss subtle changes in a patient’s condition that could be an early indicator of complications. You also lose those one-on-one moments of caring and compassion, which is so important in nursing.”

Today’s strike is a part of a larger campaign effort by Make It Our UPMC, a coalition of UPMC employees, faith and community leaders, elected officials, healthcare providers and activists, parents and teachers, bus-riders and people across the region whose goal is to ensure that UPMC plays by the rules, partners with the community to build great neighborhoods, and makes every job a family sustaining job. UPMC, the $10 billion global health enterprise based in Pittsburgh, acquired Altoona Regional Health System on July 1.

Nurses, joined by community members, hosted a candle light vigil in December, launched a petition calling on the Board at UPMC to address community concerns, and are planning a Valentine’s Day Action where nurses from across the country will send Valentine’s Day cards to management asking them to “have a heart” and put patients before profits.

Share this on Facebook to show you’re standing with these nurses.

Stand up for SEIU Healthcare PA nurses on strike against UMPC

This article was originally printed on SEIU on February 11, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: SEIU Communications


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