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Working Life Episode 194: Two Hollywood Tales—A Union Win in California, A Florida Progressive Aims to Fire Debbie Wasserman-Schulz

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Today the show is all about Hollywood. Hollywood, California and Hollywood, Florida. Hollywood, California is in a rumble. For most performers in the entertainment business, residuals are the foundation to making a living—either a solid middle class living or somewhat less than that. Over many decades, residuals have been tied to various things such as repeat showings of a movie in syndication or sales of DVDs. Now, it’s all about streaming.

For performers, this is a huge change and it’s really about a fight to make sure generations of performers, some not born today, will be able to earn a respectable living. How do performers get paid in a streaming world? The performers’ union, SAG-AFTRA, just scored a big streaming deal win for performers—as well as locking in a big #MeToo step forward to protect actors from harassment. I dig into all this with the union’s president Gabrielle Carteris, who has a long career in film as an actor in film, TV and stage (most prominently in Beverly Hills 90210) and as a producer, and Ray Rodriguez, SAG-AFTRA’s Chief Contracts Officer.

Florida’s 23rd Congressional district is a strongly Democratic district currently represented by the odious Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In a world of dishonest, morally corrupt, vain and narcissistic politicians, Wasserman Schultz stands out. That’s where Jen Perelman comes in. Jen is challenging Wasserman-Schultz in the Democratic primary which wraps up next week with Election Day after thousands of Floridians have already cast early-voting ballots. Jen’s website is jen2020.com. She joins me from the campaign trail as she was out talking to voters.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on August 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years


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Child Care Workers Are Now a Mighty Force With a Huge New Union. It Only Took 17 Years.

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A 17-year organizing campaign in California culminated this week in the successful unionization of 45,000 child care providers—the largest single union election America has seen in years. The campaign is a tangible achievement that brings together union power, political might, and social justice battles for racial and gender equality. Now, the hard part begins.

Child Care Providers United (CCPU), the umbrella group now representing workers across the state, is a joint project of several powerful SEIU and AFSCME locals in California. Those unions divided up the state by counties, and workers will be members of either SEIU or AFSCME depending on where they live, as well as being members of CCPU. 

The stage for this week’s vote was set last fall, when California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law legislation that granted bargaining rights to child care providers, who had previously been legally ineligible for unionization. Getting the law changed took 16 years, during which time it made it to the governor’s desk twice, but was vetoed—once by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and again by Jerry Brown. In the months since Newsom signed the bill, the unions used the networks they had already created over the past two decades to administer the election. The vote, announced yesterday, was 97% in favor of the new union.

The road to winning the union was so long that it has seen multiple generations participate. Miren Algorri, a child care provider in San Diego, first became involved because her mother, who was in the same line of work, was active in the campaign from the very beginning. “She would go to meetings, and I would stay behind and take care of the children,” Algorri said. When her mother retired, she carried on—and lasted long enough to see her years of work pay off. 

“It’s taken so long because the work that we do has always been minimized and infantilized,” Algorri said. “It’s because of the way society has seen child care from the very beginning of this country. The foundation was women of color caring for children. Doing work that, according to society, doesn’t require any skills.” The industry’s workforce in California is mostly women and about three-fourths people of color, according to the union. 

Though the bulk of the 17-year campaign was focused on the primary goal of winning the legal right to collective bargaining, it also allowed a disparate statewide workforce to organize and fight for their own issues along the way. (The group had a large pool of dues-paying members even before the law was changed last year.) Although CCPU is brand new as a formal union, it already boasts thousands of members who are seasoned in labor organizing and political lobbying. That will likely come in handy as the group moves into its next phase: negotiating a contract with the state of California. 

Providers who care for low-income children receive a set reimbursement rate from the state, and raising that figure is one of the top priorities in bargaining. Algorri said that in San Diego, she is paid $234 a week to care for an infant for up to 60 hours, and she is obligated to pay her assistants at least the local minimum wage of $13 per hour. That means she can often end up making less than minimum wage herself. She also wants a good healthcare plan, which almost all child care providers lack, as well as some way to save for retirement. “I have been working for 23 years. I have not earned one day of sick leave, and pretty much I don’t have a retirement plan,” she said. “We don’t want a red carpet. Just a decent living.” 

Max Arias, the executive director of SEIU 99, one of the unions behind CCPU, said that the coronavirus pandemic, which struck while the union election was still underway, offered a chance for child care workers to organize to fend off any budget cuts, and to fight to get proper personal protective equipment (PPE). The pandemic has also highlighted the fact that these child care workers are absolutely vital to not only reopening schools, but keeping the entire economy running. Providers have continued to work throughout the pandemic in large part to provide care to the children of other essential workers, so that they can work as well. If child care work becomes economically untenable, the entire system could grind to a halt. 

“Providers will play an outsize role [in school reopening]. A lot of parents are going to need support,” said Arias, whose union already represents thousands of school employees. He ticked off the immediate needs: funding for livable wages and healthcare for child care providers, and for adequate PPE to keep them safe and operational. “If we’re going to reopen the economy, the status quo funding that exists is not enough,” he said, adding that California needs a tax on billionaires, something that he believes the public would support at this moment. Until then, the child care providers will fight for themselves. They are already building a bargaining team, and Arias said that he hopes to have a contract in place within a year, given the urgency of the situation. 

The sheer number of CCPU members, and their established connections with the highest level of state officials and national unions, means that they will be a force in California politics for years to come. They also represent one of the most meaningful instances of material progress in labor power for low-wage workers of color in years. 

For the moment, they have earned the right to simply savor their victory. Miren Algorri brings up a taco shop in her area that has a sign reading, “Patience is the essence of good Mexican cuisine.” 

“It’s the same with us,” she said. “We’ve cultivated that quality over the years.” 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected]


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The Post Office Belongs to the Public. Let’s not Give it to Wall Street.

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On June 15, Louis DeJoy of Greensboro, N.C., began his new job as Postmaster General of the United States.

We are postal worker union activists who also hail from Greensboro (and are now American Postal Workers Union president and solidarity representative, respectively). For decades we have defended the interests of the public Postal Service and postal workers, and we bring a much different perspective than that of multi-millionaire businessman DeJoy. We are concerned that DeJoy, a mega-donor to Republican Party causes and to President Trump, has been tapped to carry out the administration’s agenda.

Trump has shown implacable hostility to the public Post Office. He has called it “a joke” and railed against its low package prices. In late March, Trump and his Treasury Secretary (Steven Mnuchin of Goldman Sachs) blocked the bipartisan Congressional effort to provide funds to the Post Office in the initial 2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief legislative package, despite the Postal Service being so impacted by the COVID economic crisis that it could run out of money either later this year or early next year. 

Trump’s nefarious plans for the public Postal Service are reflected in a June 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget recommendation to “restructure the United States Postal System to return it to a sustainable business model or prepare it for future conversion from a Government agency into a privately held corporation.” While the proposal gives lip service to the first option, all the initiatives are concentrated on the privatization path. Indeed, the OMB never mentions anything positive about the current, public U.S. Post Office.

Using the OMB recommendations as a guideline, in December 2018 the President’s Task Force on the United States Postal System called for piecemeal privatization, drastically increasing prices, closing retail outlets, curtailing service and doing away with the collective bargaining rights of the 570,000 unionized postal workers. 

Much of mainstream media presents Trump’s hostility to the Postal Service as a feud with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. This is misleading. The Trump administration has a clear agenda—a dagger aimed at the heart of the USPS. The USPS is the largest and most efficient postal service in the world. It is the low-cost anchor of a massive $1.6 trillion mailing and package industry, relied upon by small businesses everywhere, and is critical to ecommerce. It also holds a special place in rural communities and is cherished by the U.S. people who are its owners. With 91% favorability ratings among Republicans and Democrats (Pew Research), why would a President who wants to get re-elected so clearly oppose the needs and desires of the voters? What drives his agenda?

The answer lies in capitalist power—the marriage between politics and economics—as an op-ed in the May 5 Wall Street Journal, “Phase Out, Don’t Bail Out, the Post Office,” makes brazenly clear. Gary MacDougal, investor, entrepreneur and corporate executive, writes he is afraid that, in an upcoming COVID-19 relief package, Congress might “bail out” the Post Office along the lines promoted by the current USPS Board of Governors. As he feared, the House of Representatives passed $25 billion in COVID-related relief for the Postal Service as part of the “HEROES Act.” The Senate is now taking up the issue of new stimulus legislation, including the question of whether it will include postal relief.

MacDougal served for 34 years on the board of United Parcel Service of America (UPS), a company with over $75 billion in sales and more than 495,000 employees. He has served as chair of the Finance Committee and chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee. UPS is a main competitor of the public Postal Service. Indeed, the Postal Service’s public mission, and uniform, reasonable rates, is a major hindrance to UPS’s corporate profit maximization.

No wonder MacDougal lies in his op-ed, feigning concern about saving taxpayer dollars. The fact is, that since the early 1970’s, the public Post Office has not run on tax dollars. It has operated as a self-sufficient entity that is financed by the purchase of postage stamps and other postal services provided at uniform prices across the United States.

In his op-ed, MacDougal pushes for the complete liquidation of the public Postal Service. He writes, “The bottom line: 13 straight years of losses, almost $9 billion in fiscal 2019.” But those years of losses have all come since 2006, when Congress passed a law that required the USPS to fund future retiree health benefits an incredible 75 years into the future, an onerous financial burden not imposed on any other government agency or private corporation.

Mr. United Parcel Service eventually lets the cat out of the bag: “The combination of UPS, FedEx, DHL, Amazon and countless local delivery companies would pick up the slack left by the wind-down of the post office. Smaller delivery companies may…handle last-mile delivery in remote areas. If that isn’t enough, Amazon and others could charge more for deliveries to extremely remote locations.” (Our emphasis.)

This was not MacDougal’s and the Wall Street Journal’s first effort to impose their privatization stamp on the public Postal Service. In an October 2011 op-ed “Junking the Junk Mail Office,” MacDougal had already exposed his true motivation, “Entrepreneurs will see the demise of the USPS as an opportunity, and new companies will emerge. Indeed, this transition can be one of the badly needed bright spots in a troubled American economy.” (Our emphasis.) It is no surprise that his current editorial appears in the midst of an even deeper economic crisis than in 2011.Taking seriously his executive loyalty to United Parcel Service, in his recent 2020 Op-Ed MacDougal concludes: “The responsible course is to set the Postal Service on a careful path to liquidation.”

The Way Forward

The COVID Pandemic has created a fork in the road for the future of the public Post Office: Either the people will defend and strengthen their public Postal Service, or Trump and finance capital will use the crisis to cause its demise.

Like MacDougal, the autocratic Trump regime is all about “following the money.” In 2019, the public Postal Service generated over $70 billion of revenue used to serve the people on a break-even basis. Postal privatization, better termed “profitization,” will turn over this vast treasure to Wall Street investors and a few private corporations. In turn, companies could raise prices, eliminate a democratic right of the people to universal postal services no matter who we are or where we live, and destroy living-wage union jobs in the midst of the COVID-induced economic crisis. 

The same pandemic that is revealing Trump’s shameless effort to divide and conquer the people, is underscoring once again the “essential” public good carried out by the women and men of the public Post Office in binding our people together, in uniting us, especially in these most difficult times. It is noteworthy that, along with the previously cited 91% favorability rating, a recent YouGov poll conducted on behalf of the American Postal Workers Union, indicated that over two-thirds of the population favor Congressionally appropriated postal relief to restore lost COVID related revenue.

The Postal Service is owned by all the people of the United States, not capitalist entrepreneurs. The collective “we” rely on the Postal Service for vital supplies, medicines, ecommerce packages, pension checks, financial transactions, voter information, ballots and a vast exchange of personal correspondence as well as the sharing of ideas and information. Privatization of public postal services would end the democratic right of the people to these universal services, no matter who we are or where we live, at uniform and reasonable rates.

Hence, our starting point is to rally the people to defend what belongs to them. This is already taking on a variety of forms. Petitions to save the public postal service have garnered two million signatures. Tens of thousands of emails, letters and calls have gone to Congressional representatives advocating postal financial relief in the next stimulus package. In times of social distancing, car caravans in various locales have sent the same message. Both the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers have produced positive social media and TV ads. And actor-activist Danny Glover, the public face of “A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service,” has produced a public service radio announcement now airing.

Crises, even tragic ones, bring opportunity. We have the opportunity to not only defend but strengthen the public Postal Service and the common good. We have the opportunity to ensure that people have access to the ballot box through vote-by-mail and a vibrant Postal Service. We have the opportunity to expand the financial services offered at the Post Office and counter the predatory pay-day lending and cash checking industry that preys on the working poor.

Moreover, the public Post Office has historically been connected to decent union jobs for Black Americans and other communities of color as well as military veterans. We have the opportunity at a time of massive unemployment to defend over half a million postal union jobs that build rather than tear down working class communities This is an important front in the fight for the practical realization that Black Lives will matter in the United States today and tomorrow.

Even if the new Postmaster General were to become a people’s champion of the Postal Service (and DeJoy’s initial steps have been to undermine the postal service) the trajectory of U.S. monopoly capitalism makes it necessary for the postal union movement, the general labor movement and social justice movements together to take to their phones and to the streets as the Movement for Black Lives is now doing. Progressive and necessary change is only won with the power of the people.

Finally, in the course of mobilizing the successful defense of the public Postal Service, we advance the opportunity to win health care for all as a human right, and other fundamental social benefits that will move us in the direction of a society where we are truly our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Dimondstein is National President of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), AFL-CIO, and a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council and the former president of the APWU Greensboro Area Local.

About the Author: Richard Koritz is former Greensboro Branch President of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), AFL-CIO, a Solidarity Representative of the APWU and sits on the board of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (the Woolworth Sit-In museum) in Greensboro, N.C.


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Amazon Will Not Change Without a Union

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Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Jeff Bezos has gotten $24 billion richer. Amazon’s stock price has risen more than 40% since mid-March. This explosive creation of corporate wealth has coincided with an unprecedented level of labor activism against Amazon, including multiple well-publicized workplace walkouts, protests, and a growing drumbeat of negative PR about the company’s handling of the pandemic, particularly regarding the workplace safety of warehouse workers. There has never been as much coordinated labor action against Amazon. And Amazon has never been more successful. If the goal is to truly change Amazon, it’s time to make the strategy sharper.

Yes, Amazon is a behemoth. It is not just a trillion-dollar company run by the world’s richest man; it is a machine that is slowly eradicating the traditional retail industry in America and changing the entire landscape of work. It is the engine that will eliminate millions of service industry jobs and reconstitute them as warehouse jobs. For this reason, Amazon warehouse workers are the most strategically important workers in America for the labor movement. If unions aspire to the fundamental goal of ensuring that working people get a fair share of the proceeds of the economy they create, then unions must be able to exert serious influence in the strongest parts of the economy. It’s that simple. If unions are relegated to economic niches, they will not be able to transform the economy in favor of workers in the way they should. And for decades, with the decline of manufacturing and the rise of anti-labor law, this is exactly what has been happening. If Amazon is America’s most powerful company, the influence of organized labor must be strong inside Amazon. Otherwise, organized labor cannot accomplish its mission on a national scale. The efforts of labor campaigns should be evaluated with this reality in mind.

These facts have been clear for years. The covid pandemic has provided an opportunity for a host of labor groups, many operating under the Athena Coalition, to crank up pressure on the company with walkouts and a media campaign—and the company has responded by firing both warehouse workers and tech workers who protested, exhibiting a bold industrial shamelessness that would make Henry Frick proud.

Because labor organizing is so difficult, and the odds are stacked so high against regular working people, we often tend to focus exclusively on what workers have won, emphasizing and celebrating every sign of hope or victory, no matter how small. This is important for the sake of morale. But it is equally important to look at our campaigns in the cold economic light of the corporate view. From the perspective of Amazon, here is what has happened lately: Their stock price is through the roof; the are rapidly capturing market share from wounded and dying competitors; they are hiring tens of thousands of new employees to meet exploding demand; and all signs indicate that they will come out on the other side of this crisis stronger than ever before. Shareholders and executives are fat, happy, and rich. A few minor flare-ups of labor unrest here and there is an exceeding small price to pay for what the bottom line is telling them right now.

I am sorry to say that there is only one thing that organized labor can do that will have any real lasting impact on Amazon, and that is: unionizing it. Neither a media campaign nor a PR campaign nor a political campaign is going to cut it. I say this not to denigrate any of the activists doing that work now, nor any of the brave Amazon employees who have agitated and spoken out at the risk of losing their jobs and being demonized by corporate spokespeople. All of that work is valuable. But it is valuable instrumentally, in that it lays the groundwork for a successful union campaign. A union can exercise power directly in a way that none of these other tactics can. Amazon warehouse workers who are unionized can win better pay and better benefits and a safer workplace directly, through collective bargaining, rather than indirectly through public pressure that may well simply be ignored by their staggeringly rich and powerful employer. The primary goal of all of the Amazon-related work that is being done by political and labor activists must be to unionize as much of the company as can possibly be unionized. That is the path to power. Realistically, the only path.

Will it be easy? No. It will be very hard. Walmart was the Amazon of a previous generation. It got much of the same sort of attention from organized labor. Are there any unionized Walmarts? To make a very long story short: no. A year and a half ago, the Retail Workers union announced with great fanfare that they were organizing an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island. Has that warehouse been unionized? No. The Fight For 15 is an example of a labor campaign that has, in fact, won widespread concrete wage gains for fast food workers without creating any unions. But the fast food industry is different from Amazon. It includes many different employers, who can be played off against one another; unlike Amazon, it is a public-facing retail business with physical locations that open it up to a much greater variety of public actions; and huge portions of its work force can reap substantial increases in pay from minimum wage increases that can be imposed on the local or state level, which is less true for Amazon, where hourly pay is somewhat higher.

The amount of money that Jeff Bezos made in the past month is many times greater than the combined budgets of every labor union in America. The labor movement cannot hire more PR consultants, lobbyists, or advertising firms than Amazon, nor can the company’s economic influence over politicians and regulators be matched. Jeff Bezos could personally fund ten anti-labor campaigns the size of the entire Fight For 15 out of his own pocket and not even miss the money.

Yes, it will be hard. But it is necessary if we want to prevent the future of work in America from being ground up in a vast algorithmic machine in service of a lone mega-billionaire. So it has to be done. The one thing that all of Amazon’s spending cannot change is the fact that, if 50% plus one of the employees in an Amazon warehouse decide that they want to stop being exploited, they will have a union, by law. And once they have a union, they will collectively bargain, by law. And once they collectively bargain, they become a serious force to be reckoned with, something that Amazon has never yet had to deal with. There is a reason why companies like Amazon have such sophisticated internal anti-union surveillance systems. It is because they understand that a union gives employees a type of power that they will never otherwise have. Not a power that depends on influencing others, but an inherent structural power of their own.

Is Amazon willing to close down sophisticated fulfillment centers to stop union campaigns, costing themselves hundreds of millions of dollars? Perhaps. Are they willing to fire and retaliate against any worker they think might be an organizer? Perhaps. But those are the stakes. This is a long war. The alternative is allowing Jeff Bezos, a man who said that he could not think of any way to spend his fortune except space travel even after his employees had been complaining of horrific workplace exploitation for decades, to set the agenda for working conditions in America. The alternative is unacceptable. The alternative is death to organized labor, and it is doom and poverty to working people. So we fight it. We have to fight it with the strongest weapon we have. That’s a union. Everything else must be a step in that direction. Otherwise, we will look back in 20 years, wondering why we lost.

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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Transit Workers Win Organizing Victories: Worker Wins

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Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with a series of wins for transit workers and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. 

St. Louis Metro Transit Workers Agree to New Contract: After a months of difficult negotiations, working people at St. Louis Metro Transit won a new three-year deal that increases wages and benefits by more than $26 million. More than 1,500 Metro workers are members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 788 who work as vehicle operators and mechanics.

Southern Poverty Law Center Employees Vote for NewsGuild-CWA Representation: Employees of the Southern Poverty Law Center voted to join the Washington-Baltimore News Guild/TNG-CWA. The members will now move forward on setting a “foundation for a legacy of equal rights, respect and dignity for all workers, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, and national origin.”

UNITE HERE Members at The Modern in Hawaii Win New Contract: Members of UNITE HERE Local 5 at The Modern Honolulu reached an agreement with Diamond Resorts, which owns and operates the property. The agreement includes a significant pay raise.

Editorial Employees at NBC News Digital Join NewsGuild-CWA: Some 150 editorial workers who create digital content for NBC News have voted to join The NewsGuild of New York/TNG-CWA. The unit includes reporters, video journalists, editors, social media strategists, designers and editorial staff from various NBC digital properties.

Registered Nurses at University of Chicago Hospitals Join NNOC/NNU: Nurses at two University of Chicago hospitals overwhelmingly voted to join National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). More than the 90% of the 320 registered nurses voted to join NNOC/NNU. Kathy Haff, a RN for 27 years in the emergency department, said: “Joining the union means that we will now have a real voice in patient care decisions. We can be better advocates for our patients and make sure we have a say when policies are implemented.”

UAW Members Ratify New Fiat Chrysler Deal: After nearly five months of negotiations, UAW members approved a new four-year deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The deal decreases health care costs for lower-paid production employees, a key goal of the UAW.

New York MTA and Largest Union Reach Agreement: After six months without a deal, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and members of Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100 reached a tentative deal. Local President Tony Utano said: “I am happy to report that we have reached a negotiated settlement with the MTA that I believe the Local 100 membership will ratify in overwhelming fashion.” Previous proposals from management sought to cut back overtime payments, increase worker health care costs and limit vacation accruals for new employees.

Jews United for Justice Join NPEU: Working people at Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) announced they are unionizing with the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU), an affiliate of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE). The organization focuses on advancing economic, racial and social justice in the Baltimore-Washington area by mobilizing local Jewish communities into action. Rianna Lloyd, a JUFJ staffer, said: “We have campaigned for the rights of all workers in Maryland and [Washington,] D.C., including nonprofit employees. We know the importance of keeping dedicated, talented people on the job, and in negotiations we are going to focus on the well-being of JUFJ staff. We want to create a work environment that workers want to stay in.”

Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art to Voluntarily Recognize Employee Union: Two weeks after workers at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) launched a campaign to join AFSCME, MoCA agreed to voluntarily recognize the new union. The new unit will represent more than 120 staffers. The workers sought to unionize in order to obtain higher pay and better benefits.

Fairfax Connector Strike Ends with ATU and Transdev Reaching Agreement: A strike that shut down service for Fairfax Connector bus rides ended with a victory for Transdev employees. The tentative agreement allows workers to go back on the job while details of a bigger deal are negotiated. ATU International President John Costa said: “Our strike was a victory, sending a loud and clear message to Transdev that we won’t tolerate their unlawful tactics at the bargaining table. We do reserve the right to walk off the job again if the good faith bargaining by Transdev disappears.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on March 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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House Passes Bill to Dramatically Strengthen the Power of Unions

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House Democrats just passed an important blueprint for strengthening unions and building worker power. If signed into law, the labor law reforms within the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would amount to the biggest change to the rules governing employers and workers in generations. Among other major features, it would bolster workers’ ability to unionize, expand organizing rights to more workers and strengthen the right to strike.

Although flawed­, the legislation would go a long way toward reversing decades of GOP-backed efforts to grind unions into dust.

“This is about stemming the assault that the Republicans are making on the rights of working men and women in our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who sponsored the PRO Act along with 218 other House members, including three Republicans, called the legislation the “most significant update in U.S. labor laws in 80 years” and “a major step towards creating an economy where everyone can succeed.”

But the PRO Act, which the House approved Thursday evening with a 224-194 vote (mostly along party lines), has essentially no chance of becoming law anytime soon.  Although 40 Democratic senators do support the Senate version of the bill, it is unlikely to be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate and will not be taken up for consideration during the current legislative session by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

So why did Speaker Pelosi bother bringing the bill to a floor vote this week? It’s an election year. The PRO Act strengthens Democrats’ claim to be the only party really fighting for the middle and working classes. And it hands organized labor a victory to point to, giving unions a rallying cry that could serve to solidify their members’ active support for whomever becomes the Democratic nominee later this year.

“Stand with us today and we’ll stand with you tomorrow,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at the press conference alongside Democrats.

None of this is to argue the PRO Act’s passage is solely a ploy by Democrats to shore up labor’s support as the campaign season lifts off. It signals the Democratic Party’s leftward movement since the 2016 election cycle. We’ve seen a wave of labor actions among teachers, journalists and nonprofits; it is no coincidence that the party has embraced an ambitious labor law reform bill amid this new organizing momentum. Democrats are shifting left along with the party’s base.

While it’s true that voting for a bill you know will not become law anytime soon isn’t exactly an act of political courage, members of Congress deserve applause for passing a measure that would clearly add muscle to a flailing union movement.

What the PRO Act would change

For about the last 40 years, employers have whittled away at labor power and unions through a host of unionbusting tactics. Meanwhile, GOP-controlled state legislatures have passed so-called “right to work” laws that have kneecapped unions by allowing employees to opt out of paying dues even though unions that still must represent them.

To counter all of this, the PRO Act, would among other things:

  • Penalize employers who fire or retaliate against workers trying to form a union.
  • Streamline the union certification process.
  • Prohibit employers from forcing employees to attend anti-union meetings, often deployed during organizing drives.
  • Eliminate right-to-work laws, which exist in 27 states.
  • Ban the permanent replacement of striking workers
  • Legalize secondary boycotts and picketing.
  • Make it harder to classify workers as independent contractors (similar to California’s AB5 bill, which Uber and Lyft are fighting).

It all adds up to a potential power rebalance that could help to counter rampant inequality and generally stagnant wages across vast swaths of the U.S. economy. Various groups aligned with business—from The National Retail Federation to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—are, of course, apoplectic over the proposed legislation.

Major omission

The PRO Act does indeed include a “grab bag” of measures for which unions have long been pushed. But there’s one big thing missing in the bill when it’s placed in the context of the last few decades of labor law reform campaigns: a provision allowing any group of employees to organize through a majority sign-up process (“card check”), rather than through a voting process monitored by the National Labor Relations Board.

Remember the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the reform law pushed by the labor movement during the 2008 election cycle that died in the U.S. Senate after passing through the House? Its centerpiece was card check, without conditions, making organizing much easier by circumventing the commonly drawn-out election process. The PRO Act only requires card check if an employer is found to have violated labor law during a failed union election.

It matters because card check alone could be as powerful as all of the PRO Act’s provisions for boosting union density and labor power. Strangely, the PRO Act, the biggest piece of labor law reform legislation in years, contains a watered-down version of EFCA’s centerpiece. Whether or not this signifies a strategic retreat on the part of Democratic leaders, who surely remember the battle over EFCA, is unclear. But it is puzzling, given that the PRO Act is—at least until the White House and the Senate flip to Democrats—mainly an aspirational statement of values and solidarity. Why not include card check as well, so there’s no daylight between the party and unions as the election approaches?

Card check is still an avowed goal of some legislators, namely, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who both laid out their plans for empowering workers and labor unions last year. (Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Andrew Yang also support card check.) The Sanders and Warren plans make the PRO Act seem relatively small bore, more tactical than structural in its approach to rewriting the rules workers must live by.

That does not mean the PRO Act is just window dressing; it would mark significant change if enacted. The House vote is notable, albeit essentially symbolic. A real victory must wait until Democrats win a Senate majority and the White House—and still prioritize rebuilding the labor movement as much as they did yesterday.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on February 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America’s War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

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Bernie’s labor support snowballs

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Image result for Holly Otterbein

Most national unions haven’t picked a favorite yet in the Democratic presidential primary.

It’s been a boon for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has already racked up 11 labor endorsements, more than any of his Democratic rivals, most of which are from local, regional and statewide unions. And some are among the most powerful labor organizations in early-voting and Super Tuesday states.

“He’s picking up more labor endorsements because the national unions, almost without exception, have not made endorsements, which implicitly or explicitly sets the local and regional unions free,” said David Kusnet, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton who co-authored a book with an ex-AFL-CIO president. “He has a lot of friends and fans and supporters in the union movement, and some of them are succeeding in pushing their local labor unions to endorse him.”

The local endorsements are filling the political void left by national unions, still gun-shy after the acrimonious 2016 primary election left many rank-and-file members furious that their leaders supported Hillary Clinton over Sanders. Most are staying neutral for now, including some that have longstanding relationships with Joe Biden.

Five unions have come out for Biden, including three international or national unions, and three have gone for Warren, one of which is a national group that also co-endorsed Sanders. None has endorsed Pete Buttigieg.

The support of labor unions such as New Hampshire’s SEIU Local 1984, which represents more than 10,000 members, gives Sanders a boost of momentum and ground troops in critical early-voting states. Sanders has also won the backing of large teachers local unions in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, and in Nevada.

“We will have boots on the ground, canvass for him, get out the vote,” said Rich Gulla, president of SEIU Local 1984. “He’s talking good-paying jobs, he’s talking health care. I think he’s resonating with labor and, quite frankly, with a lot of working people in this country that are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, and I think that’s why he’s getting the endorsements that he’s getting.”

Though Biden has fewer unions backing him, he won the support of two international unions that together represent nearly 400,000 U.S. members: the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Iron Workers. Sanders has three national unions behind him.

Given teachers’ and nurses’ close relationships with members in their communities, Sanders’ team is hopeful that their canvassing will be especially effective.

It’s unclear which candidates other labor groups will endorse as the primary unfolds. More building trades are expected to side with Biden at some point, and there is a possibility that some pro-Sanders local unions will put pressure on their national unions to put their weight behind him.

Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under the Clinton administration, suggested that Sanders’ success stems from his work courting unions and their members, including by proposing to offer them advantages if Medicare for All passed. Under his plan, businesses whose workers have union-negotiated health care coverage would have to renegotiate their contracts if single-payer became the law of the land — and direct any windfall to the employees.

“Sanders has been particularly diligent in appealing to unions and workers. He’s proposed expanding union power and doubling union membership during his first four years in office. He’s demonstrated solidarity with striking workers,” Reich said. “Many unions are still weighing other candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, but Bernie seems to be in the lead right now.”

Sanders might also be benefiting from the effort he’s made to professionalize his 2020 campaign, including his political operation. In 2016, he had no political director. Analilia Mejia, who previously worked for SEIU and UNITE HERE, is now his national political director.

“I come out of the labor movement. My deputy comes out of the labor movement. A bunch of the staff comes out of the labor movement,” she said. “I was talking to one labor leader and they were like, ‘It’s nice to talk to a campaign that understands the difference between a lockout and a strike.’”

Sanders’ campaign has also texted and emailed its supporters to encourage them to stand on picket lines and raise money for labor groups.

“When I was political director [for unions], the thing I most wanted was a big turnout at my actions. And we were like, ‘Hey, wait — we have a list of people who care about Bernie. Let’s tell them they should come out in solidarity,’” Mejia said.

While Sanders’ supporters in labor unions are campaigning for him in early states, the pro-Biden Fire Fighters are blanketing the same areas. In Iowa, international leaders are meeting with locals and educating them about the caucus process, including how to persuade people during the second alignment.

“That is when you can use the influence, the voice, your reputation with your neighbors to say, ‘Come stand with us. Stand with your firefighters and stand with Joe Biden,’” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the IAFF. “They trust you, they admire you, they hold you in high regard.”

This article was originally published by Politico on January 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter.


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Greater Boston Labor Council Makes History with Latest Election

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Kalina Newman

The Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC), AFL-CIO, made history last week with the election of the first woman of color to its top office. Darlene Lombos takes over as executive secretary-treasurer, replacing Richard Rogers, who officially retired after leading the GBLC for the past 16 years.

Lombos brings more than 20 years of community and youth organizing experience in the labor movement to the position. She served as vice president of the GBLC and has been the executive director of Community Labor United since 2011. A vital asset to the greater Boston community, her work continues to protect and promote the interests of working-class families and communities of color in greater Boston and throughout the commonwealth.

“I am honored to lead such an amazing group of dedicated workers in the Boston area,” said Lombos. “Rich was a true mentor and I look forward to continuing his legacy of empowering working families for years to come.”

Rogers, a member of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 391, leaves behind an impressive legacy in the labor movement. Prior to leading the GBLC, Rogers served on the staff of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO for 21 years, 12 of those as the state federation’s political director. He was the chief organizer for several influential political campaigns, including Ted Kennedy’s 1994 U.S. Senate race and the elections of Jim McGovern and John Tierney to the U.S. House of Representatives. He played an integral role during his four terms as GBLC executive secretary-treasurer in growing and strengthening the Boston-area labor movement.

In recognition of his lifetime of hard work and dedication to the movement, The Labor Guild awarded the prestigious Cushing-Gavin Award to Rogers in December 2019.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on January 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kalina Newman is an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. Previously, she covered metro news for the Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in ARLnow, DCist, and the Washington City Paper. Kalina graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a degree in journalism.


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Michigan steel mill closure announced two days after Trump told Michigan crowd ‘steel is back’

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Donald Trump, Wednesday in Michigan: “Look what I’ve done for steel. I mean, the steel is back. We taxed all the dumb steel coming in from China and other places, and US steel mills are doing great — they’re expanding all over the country, and they were gonna be out of business within two years the way they were going.”

Friday, CNN reported that US Steel is closing its Great Lakes Works mill near Detroit, with a loss of 1,500 jobs. The company will shift steel production to a mill in Gary, Indiana, and will also continue making sheets of steel outside of Pittsburgh and in Arkansas.

Trump’s steel tariffs did briefly give the industry a boost, but obviously things are not going so well recently, and 1,500 workers are getting some terrible news for the holidays, though the facility won’t close until spring.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 20, 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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Loyola Marymount cafeteria workers win a deal, so Thursday’s debate will go on as scheduled

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Happy holidays! This week’s gift is that the Democratic presidential debate will go on as scheduled on Thursday, Dec. 19, after food service workers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles reached a tentative deal with Sodexo, the company that employs them. All seven candidates who’ve qualified for the debate had said they would not cross a picket line, even if it meant missing the debate, and the Democratic National Committee was pressing for a resolution after Sodexo walked away from contract negotiations with the workers and their union.

DNC Chair Tom Perez, a former labor secretary, said, “I was proud to help bring all stakeholders to the table, including Unite Here Local 11, Sodexo and Loyola Marymount University, to reach a deal that meets their needs and supports workers.”

Workers will receive increased pay and job security and reduced healthcare costs under the tentative deal. That’s the value of organizing and solidarity, with the workers’ union, UNITE HERE 11, effectively using the leverage provided by the debate, and the Democratic candidates standing where they should, with workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 17, 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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