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We Need the Labor Movement To Organize Worker Fightback in the Face of the COVID-19 Crisis

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Life-and-death circumstances are being imposed on U.S. workplaces and workers are increasingly responding by standing up, fighting back and walking out, but frequently without the support of organized labor. Unions have a choice right now: Hunker down and try to ride out the COVID-19 storm or put our shoulders to the task of assisting workers in their fight to either improve conditions on the job or shut their workplaces down. If unions seize the moment, we can not only improve the immediate situation for millions of workers but also create a wave that changes our society greatly for the better, organizes many new workers into unions and forges a generation of workplace leaders who will be able to build fighting organizations for years to come.

With the enhanced unemployment benefits currently in place and with real fears surrounding just showing up for work every day, workers have the upper hand. Employers need them much more than the other way around. Workers who learn how to use collective action to shut a workplace down or to force management to yield to their safety and compensation demands will not soon forget those lessons.

The immediate need of workers at this moment is not a comprehensive list of demands but rather three basic principles that speak to their survival needs.

  • Fight to make employers shut down all workplaces except those truly critical to sustaining life until the public health crisis has been controlled.
  • Give workers in those critical jobs everything they need to do their work safely and compensate them for the immense risk they are taking.
  • Provide robust economic support for everyone else to allow and incentivize them to stay home.

Likewise, rather than an attempt to plan a national coordinated set of actions that would likely be joined by only a smattering of already-committed activists, what is needed instead is to help large numbers of workers gain the tools they need to lead fights at their workplaces.

Out of these fights the workers will develop the demands they need to protect themselves. And each of these fights, if given the proper direction and support, can inspire solidarity throughout the country and move many other workers into action, creating the conditions not only for more workplace victories but also to produce political pressures that force the federal government to address the needs of working people.

While the relief packages passed by Congress so far provide some economic support to laid-off workers, much more is needed, including to address all those left out, not least the undocumented. Congress must also act to provide health care to all given that millions more will now be without insurance due to the loss of their jobs. Already, a number of excellent proposals address these issues. Getting workers into motion is going to be the way to win them, just as widespread worker unrest in the 1930s won the relief programs and labor rights that workers needed then.

To organize the worker fightback needed right now, unions should:

•       Aggressively promote these principles, both to their own members and to the unorganized, and then provide workers the help they need to take on their employers.

•       Provide basic toolkits on their websites to educate workers on their rights and to outline for them the initial steps in self-organization and taking their demands to the boss.

•       Make union staff available to provide guidance and facilitate needed support.

•       Recruit labor leaders and member activists committed to solidarity actions that produce immediate pressure on the relevant corporate or political targets.

•       Create new and robust structures for coordinating effective solidarity.

Our union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), has called on all workers, both our members and nonunion workers, to stand up and fight. We have created online resources to help nonunion workers take action to win safe workplaces. We have published a special issue of UE Steward on how to organize members around COVID-19 issues in the workplace. Alongside the Democratic Socialists of America we are launching a joint effort called the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, which will provide organizing and logistical support to workers who are ready to take on their boss. Our members, both in organized shops and in workplaces where we have organizing campaigns, are winning concessions from their employers through militant and creative tactics.

Now is the time for all labor organizations committed to forging a better society for working people to step up and help launch workers into the kinds of fights needed to win that future. UE is committed to doing just that, and to work with and support all others who do so. We see some others in the labor movement doing likewise, but not nearly enough. We call on all labor unions to join us in this fight.

This blog was originally published at InTheseTimes on April 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Carl Rosen is the UE General President. Andrew Dinkelaker is the UE General Secretary-Treasurer. Gene Elk is the UE Director of Organization.


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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 Democrats pass pro-worker, pro-organizing labor bill, this week in the war on workers

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The House voted Thursday to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a bill to protect workers trying to unionize, increase penalties on employers who break labor laws to prevent workers from unionizing, and weaken some state-level anti-union laws.

“Good labor laws do more than just right the wrongs waged against unions and their members. Good labor laws help ensure people are safe at work and have a shot at decent wages, health care, and a secure retirement,” wrote Sara Nelson and Randi Weingarten, presidents of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and the American Federation of Teachers. “Good labor laws lift up every working person, even those not in a union, because when workers in unionized companies win better wages and working conditions than their peers in non-union companies, those peers may seek to unionize, too—and pressure employers to better their lot. Good labor laws set a standard for how working people should be treated in an economy where there are countless laws already on the books to protect the rich and powerful.” And, they say, the PRO Act is a good start at better labor law—even though it wouldn’t most directly affect their unions’ members.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on February 8, 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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Regulating from Below: How Front-Line Bank Workers Can Help Fix the Financial Industry

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Ten years after risky practices at our largest banks wreaked havoc on the global economy, we face a financial sector that, despite some reforms, remains broken in fundamental ways.

Wall Street has beat back many of the kinds of structural changes that happened after the Great Depression, and the reforms that have happened in the United States are rapidly being undermined by the Donald Trump administration. Banking scandals still abound—from Wells Fargo to Santander to Bank of America to Deutsche Bank. Consumers are encouraged to take on more debt than they can bear. Trust in the banking system remains dreadfully low while opacity of the financial system is near an all-time high.

In the wake of the 2008 crash, there was a renewed intensity by regulators and central banks to stop the bleeding caused by the banks’ irresponsible behavior, but that coordination has slipped away while power in the sector has concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer banks and corporations.

The public is right to sound the alarm.

Strengthening oversight of the financial system is necessary. Regulations are the guardrails that keep our global banking system from veering off course and into crisis. But while these rules are critical, they are stronger when paired with unions.

Unionization in the financial sector—the norm in nearly all advanced economies, except for the United States—provides a way to “strengthen financial regulation” from the ground up. Unions are a countervailing force against the worst tendencies of the financial sector, in part by guaranteeing that pay schemes are not driven by the extreme sales pressure and unfair performance metrics.

UNI Global Union has worked with finance unions around the world for many years to develop the best practices in this area, and many unions have negotiated what are called “sales and advice” clauses in their agreements to stop predatory Wells Fargo- and Santander-esque practices. In Italy, unions have a national, sector-wide agreement to rein in the high-pressure sales goals that harmed millions of consumers in the United States.

The Nordic unions provide another example. The Nordic Financial Unions have input into nearly all aspects of banks’ changing business practices and financial regulation through dialogue with global authorities. This cooperation exists because management sees the long-term benefit of partnering with unions for the bank, for workers and for consumers.  

Dialogue and partnership are especially important as banks that were “too big to fail” have grown even bigger. Through a cycle of constant mergers and acquisitions, global financial institutions have gotten bigger, more powerful and harder to regulate. Worker voices must be integrated into corporate governance of financial institutions to provide a backstop against abuses.

The importance of workers’ involvement in finding solutions to problems in our financial system cannot be stressed enough, given that executive decisions at systemically important banks easily affect the economy and our daily lives. This inclusion relies on an environment and culture in which workers are managed through respect and not fear, with protection against unfair dismissal and retaliation, will foster the trust and security required for workers to speak out against egregious practices  

Several large banks taking steps in the right direction by signing agreements with UNI to ensure that bank workers have the right to organize without the opposition and hostility common in the United States.   

Most recently BNP Paribas signed a Global Agreement with UNI that goes beyond the right to organize and also sets standards on paid maternity leave and insurance for its 200,000 employees around the world. 

In the United States, there are virtually no front-line bank employees protected by the kinds of collective bargaining agreements that have helped pump the breaks on abuses in other countries.

That is why U.S. bank workers have joined together to collectively speak out against questionable practices—exposing those that are risky, detrimental and fraudulent—and succeeded in challenging some of the industry’s vilest practices.

UNI Global Union-Finance and affiliates, such as the CONTRAF-CUT (Brazil), the NFU, La Bancaria (Argentina), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), along with the Committee for Better Banks, also have launched a global campaign for “regulation from below.” It puts workers’ voices and workers’ rights at the forefront of creating a healthier world financial system.

We know that “regulations from above” can and do work. In the U.S., Glass-Steagall, Dodd-Frank and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have curbed banks’ ability to game the system and hurt working people.

A multinational coalition of bank workers standing together to help fix the financial industry can help re-ignite the global approach needed to bring trust to our banking system.

Banks and other large financial institutions must act responsibly and be accountable when they do not. Governments must have their feet held to the fire to enforce, enhance and defend protections against unethical banking practices.

That’s something that workers united, and unafraid to speak out, are well positioned to do.

This post comes on the heels of a new report, authored by UNI Finance and the AFL-CIO, with support by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung New York, titled Tipping the Balance: Collective Action by Finance Workers Creates ‘Regulation from Below.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on September 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Christy Hoffman is the General Secretary of the UNI Global Union, a federation of 20 million service workers from more than 150 countries


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Why the Thrillist strike is so important for digital media unions

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Workers at Thrillist, a website that covers travel, culture, and food, went on the first known work stoppage at a digital media publication this week. Thrillist’s unionized staff voted to authorize a strike “should we not make sufficient progress at the table.”

On Monday, workers overwhelmingly voted in favor of going on strike, at 91 percent of union members, and they did not report to work. Workers were back on the job on Tuesday but are ready for another work stoppage if necessary.

On Monday, Thrillist workers said their Slack accounts and emails had been deactivated and one worker said their card to get into the building would not work. An hour and a half later, staff had their Slack and email reactivated, according to Splinter.

Thrillist workers voted to unionize last year and are still trying to negotiate a contract with the publication’s parent company, Group Nine Media.

Thrillist staffers said in statement that “livable salary minimums and fair annual increases” are at issue and that Group Nine Media has only put “scant, inadequate economic terms” on the table in response.

In February of last year, workers said that reasons for unionizing included increasing diversity of staff, having “common-sense standards for judging performance,” and more transparency about job responsibilities. Writers Guild of America, East is its collective bargaining representative. The publication had over 80 percent of its writers, editors, and social media staff sign cards choosing Writers Guild of America, East.

But Group Nine Media has resisted unionization efforts, with its founder and CEO Ben Lerer saying he is concerned about “the effect the union would have on our unique culture,” according to Deadspin and made some statements about union contracts that were just plain false. Lerer described unions as necessary for some industries and businesses but suggested that it did not make sense for workers at Thrillist or in journalism, with the “new types of personal career growth that we traditionally have.”

Talking about a “unique” culture and how a particular industry may not benefit from unionization is par for the course for anti-union rhetoric, including in journalism.

Last year, Slate Group Chairman Jacob Weisberg wrote that Slate’s “flexibility and fluidity” would be hampered by unionization, according to Splinter. He added that a union is “filled with bureaucracy and procedure,” and “That world is just not Slate-y….A union fosters a culture of opposition, which is antithetical to our way of doing things.”

Vox Media’s publisher, Melissa Bell, wrote a letter last year in response to unionization at Vox Media. Bell wrote, “… we are still in a precarious industry, and we want to ensure that our business remains strong and competitive by maintaining the flexibility necessary to adapt and innovate. Doing so is imperative to our ability to provide jobs and career paths to employees.”

Last year, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti responded to a question about unions in a companywide meeting. He said he is not against unions personally but does not believe that unionization is right for BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed News media and politics reporter Steven Perlberg tweeted at the time.

But many journalists and other media professionals have decided to unionize precisely because they work in a precarious industry. Journalists are concerned about low pay and long hours and mass layoffs.

Nastaran Mohit, organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York, told Columbia Journalism Review, “Looking at previously non-union digital publications, I think younger journalists recognize the instability and precarity of the industry, and they see the value of coming together to secure a seat at the table.”

Group Nine Media hired Proskauer Rose LLP, a law firm with 13 offices that represents major sports organizations and had 14 of its lawyers named in a 2018 guide on the top 100 “leading corporate, defense-side employment lawyers.”

A number of digital media outlets began unionization efforts in the past few years, including ThinkProgress, The Intercept, Vice Media, HuffPost, MTV News, The New Yorker, Salon, Los Angeles Times, Jacobin, Fast Company, Mic, The New Yorker, and Gawker, which is now defunct.

Fast Company’s union announced plans to unionize in June and was recognized at the end of July. The New Yorker staff had a similar timeline. It announced plans to unionize in June and and received recognition in July. CNN reported that in their letter to management, New Yorker staff said, “Salaries often vary significantly among people who hold the same position, and we have seen a steady stream of our colleagues leave for jobs that provide more tenable wages. Some of us have worked for years as subcontracted employees, without health insurance and other basic benefits, though we do the same jobs as the staff members who sit beside us.”

In June, Slate staffers said management insisted on an open shop so that union members can decide not to pay union dues and that 94 percent of the unit had signed onto a letter opposing an open shop. Unlike in the cases of The New Yorker and Fast Company, Slate took a lot longer to recognize the union: 10 months.

Thrillist workers said they decided on a work stoppage and called a meeting to authorize a strike now because, after a series of negotiations in July, Group Nine Media appeared to be dragging its feet in negotiations and workers were losing patience. There is a bargaining meeting set for September.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.


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9 campaigns and 1 major political firm have unionized ahead of the 2018 midterm elections

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Nine political campaigns have unionized ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, and one major political firm, Revolution Messaging, joined them this week, according to a BuzzFeed report Tuesday.

Revolution Messaging workers join a number of unionized campaign staffs, all of whom work for progressive Democratic candidates whose campaigns run the gamut from local county council races to congressional and gubernatorial races.

Staffers on Chris Wilhelm’s campaign for county council in Maryland have unionized, as have workers on Renato Mariotti’s campaign for attorney general in Illinois. Erin Murphy, who is running for governor in Minnesota, saw her staff unionize recently, as did Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, Jess King in Pennsylvania, Andy Thorburn in California, Brian Flynn in New York, Dan Haberman in Michigan, and Marie Newman in Illinois, all of whom are running for Congress.

The recent campaign unionization push has been led largely by the Campaign Workers Guild (CWG), which was formed about a year ago, and CWG is now facilitating negotiations with as many as 25 more campaigns, CWG vice president Meg Reilly told BuzzFeed Tuesday.

“It doesn’t show any sign of stopping,” Reilly said, adding that it is the first “really serious concerted effort” by political staffers to collectively bargain.

The trend is notable not only in that it reflects a commitment to labor, but also because campaigns are often staffed by young people who work long hours with low pay and few benefits.

“Campaign work is characterized by 80 to 100-hour weeks — making much less than minimum wage, even when candidates pay well like Bernie [Sanders] does — and immediately burning out,” Reilly told HuffPost. “We don’t get to talk to our family. We get exhausted.”

“That leads to a lot of talented, well-trained organizers leaving the field,” she added.

Unions can help prevent that.

“The more folks we can help stay in the field, the better off the Democratic Party and the progressive movement will be,” Reilly said.

Bryce, who is challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), is the most high-profile of the unionized bunch. Bryce, who has been a union ironworker for years before running for Congress, said in an interview with ThinkProgress last month that he was very supportive of the union.

“‘Yeah let’s do it. Why not?’” Bryce said he told the staffers. “That’s what I’ve been pushing for everybody else to do!”

“These are the people that are responsible for winning this election for me,” Bryce added. “It’s the very least I could do.”

In a letter to senior staff earlier this week, Revolution Messaging staffers reportedly said they felt it was time to “illustrate our pro-labor values” by organizing themselves.

“As progressives who care deeply about the work that we do, we feel that it’s time to illustrate our pro-labor values by organizing ourselves,” the letter said. “Our union will allow everyone at Rev to have a voice on the job and a seat at the table, which will undoubtedly help retain current and future employees, bolster our recruitment efforts moving forward, and attract business from clients who seek out unionized firms.”

Leadership at Revolution Messaging, which is known for helping drive Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 2016 presidential campaign, was, like Bryce, quick to support its newly unionized staffers.

Founder and CEO Scott Goodstein recognized the union the same day, reportedly writing, “This is great news! … As most of you know, we fought on behalf of dozens of labor unions since our inception, and it is part of our DNA. We believe in workers’ rights, labor rights, women’s rights and human rights.”

“We are excited to work with our workers and their chosen representatives,” the company tweeted Monday.

Revolution Messaging was the subject of a recent HuffPost report in which workers outlined a number of workplace complaints, including the handling of an incident in 2015 when an employee said she was physically assaulted by one of the company’s partners. The partner was fired, but the woman soon left her job, too, which some employees said they believed may have been an act of retaliation.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Addy Baird is a reporter for ThinkProgress on the news cycle team. Previously, she covered local politics and health policy at POLITICO New York and worked for The Charlie Rose Show digital team.


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Billionaire Trump donor puts 115 people out of work after some joined a union

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Last week, writers at the news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist joined a union. This week, the sites’ Trump-supporting billionaire owner, Joe Ricketts, shut them down, putting 115 people out of work.

Ricketts, who deleted negative coverage of himself when he acquired the Gothamist properties in March, has threatened to shut down the site in the past if the writers attempted to unionize.

On Thursday, he made good on the promise. […]

According to the National Labor Relations Board, laying off employees because they are engaged in union activity is illegal, but the Supreme Court ruled in 1965 that shutting down an entire business — like Ricketts chose to do Thursday — is one permissible form of retaliation.

Ricketts’ letter announcing the decision said that “DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” but the New York Times reports that Ricketts “lost money every month of DNAinfo’s existence.” It was only after workers dared to organize that he shut it down.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 3, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.


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Canadian Mounties to the Rescue of American Workers

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The Canadian Royal Mounties have offered to ride to the rescue of beleaguered American workers.

It doesn’t sound right. Americans perceive themselves to be the heroes. They are, after all, the country whose intervention won World War II, the country whose symbol, the Statue of Liberty, lifts her lamp to light the way, as the poem at the statue’s base says, for the yearning masses and wretched refuse, for the homeless and tempest-tossed.

America loves the underdog and champions the little guy. The United States is doing that, for example, by demanding in the negotiations to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Mexico raise its miserable work standards and wages. Now, though, here comes Canada, the third party in the NAFTA triad, insisting that the United States fortify its workers’ collective bargaining rights. That’s the Mounties to the rescue of downtrodden U.S. workers.

This NAFTA demand from the Great White North arrives amid relentless attacks on labor rights in the United States, declining union membership and stagnant wages. To prevent Mexico’s poverty wages from sucking U.S. factories south of the border, the United States is insisting that Mexico eliminate company-controlled fake labor unions. Similarly, to prevent the United States and Mexico from luring Canadian companies away, Canada is stipulating that the United States eliminate laws that empower corporations and weaken workers.

The most infamous of these laws is referred to, bogusly, as right-to-work. Really, it’s right-to-bankrupt labor unions and right-to-cut workers’ pay. These laws forbid corporations and labor unions from negotiating collective bargaining agreements that require payments in lieu of dues from workers who choose not to join the union. These payments, which are typically less than full dues, cover the costs that unions incur to bargain contracts and pursue worker grievances.

Lawmakers that pass right-to-bankrupt legislation know that federal law requires labor unions to represent everyone in their unit at a workplace, even if those employees don’t join the union and don’t make any payments. These dues-shirkers still get the higher wages and better benefits guaranteed in the labor contract. And they still get the labor union to advocate for them, even hire lawyers for them, if they want to file grievances against the company.

The allure of getting something for nothing, a sham created by right-wing politicians who prostrate themselves to corporations, ultimately can bankrupt unions forced to serve freeloaders. Which is exactly what the right-wingers and corporations want. It’s much easier for corporations to ignore the feeble pleas of individual workers for better pay and safer working conditions than to negotiate with unions that wield the power of concerted action.

Canada is particularly sensitive about America’s right-to-bankrupt laws because they’ve now crept up to the border. Among the handful of states that in recent years joined the right-to-bankrupt gang are Wisconsin and Michigan, both at the doorstep of a highly industrial region in Ontario, Canada.

So now, the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan can whisper in the ears of CEOs, “Come south, and we’ll help you break the unions. Instead of paying union wages, you can take all that money as profit and get yourself even fatter pay packages and bonuses!”

Then those governors will make American workers pay for the move with shocking tax breaks for corporations, like the $3 billion Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker promised electronics manufacturer Foxconn to locate a factory there. That’s $1 million in tax money for each of the 3,000 jobs that Foxconn said would be the minimum it would create with the $10 billion project.

Right-wing lawmakers like Walker and U.S. CEOs have been union busting for decades. And it’s been successful.  In the heyday of unions in the 1950s and 1960s, nearly 30 percent of all U.S. workers belonged. Wage rates rose as productivity did. And they climbed consistently. Then, one wage-earner could support a middle-class family.

That’s not true anymore. For decades now, as union membership waned, wages stagnated for the middle class and poor, and compensation for CEOs skyrocketed. And this occurred even while productivity rose. By January of 2016, the most recent date for which the statistics are available, union membership had declined to 10.7 percent. The number of workers in unions dropped by nearly a quarter million from the previous year.

This is despite the fact that union workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and employer-paid health insurance. The median weekly earnings for non-union workers in 2016 was $802. For union members, it was $1,004.

It’s not that labor unions don’t work. It’s that right-wing U.S. politicians are working against them. They pass legislation and regulations that make it hard for unions to represent workers.

It’s very different for unions in Canada. For example, union membership in Canada is growing, not dwindling like in the United States. In Canada, 31.8 percent of workers were represented by union in 2015, up 0.3 percentage points from 2014. That is higher than the all-time peak in the United States.

And it’s because Canadian legislation encourages unionization to counterbalance powerful corporations. In some Canadian provinces, for example, corporations are prohibited from hiring replacements when workers strike; striking workers are permitted to picket the companies that sell to and buy from their employer; labor agreements must contain “successorship” rights requiring a corporation that buys the employer to recognize the union and abide by its labor agreement; and employers must submit to binding arbitration if they fail to come to a first labor agreement with a newly formed union within a specific amount of time.

The second round of negotiations to rewrite NAFTA ended in Mexico this week. The third is scheduled for later this month in Canada. That’s a good opportunity for the northernmost member of the NAFTA triad to showcase its labor laws and explain why they are crucial to defending worker rights and raising wages.

Getting language protecting workers’ union rights into NAFTA is not enough, however. The trade deal must also contain penalties for countries that fail to meet the standards. This could be, for example, border adjustment taxes on exports from recalcitrant countries.

Canada’s nearly 20,000 Royal Canadian Mounted Police only recently filed papers to unionize. That occurred after the Canadian Supreme Court overturned a 1960s era federal law that barred them from organizing.

Canada’s Supreme Court said the law violated the Mounties’ freedom of association, a right guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution. Now, Canada is riding to the rescue of U.S. and Mexican workers’ freedom of association by demanding the new NAFTA include specific protections for collective bargaining.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on September 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.


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Food Workers Take On Fowl Play at Tyson—And Win Better Conditions

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A consumer pressure campaign against labor abuses in the chicken-processing industry has produced some initial results, with a detailed pledge this week from Tyson Foods to build a better workplace for its 95,000 employees.

The campaign, led by the famed hunger-fighting group Oxfam America, is challenging Tyson and three other large chicken producers to improve on their collective record of chronic worker safety problems, poverty-level wages and anti-union attitudes. It was launched in late 2015 with the help of a coalition of like-minded groups, including the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. Tyson’s pledge is the campaign’s first visible success.

An announcement from Tyson executive Noel White carefully avoided the language of labor rights and emphasized, instead, “investing in sustainability … to create a beneficial cycle of contributing to the future.” Nevertheless, the pledge promises some real improvements in the lives of workers on the shop floor, including:

  • Improving workplace health and safety with a commitment to achieving a 15 percent year-over-year reduction in worker injuries and illnesses;
  • Committing to a goal of zero turnover, striving for a 10 percent year-over-year improvement company-wide in worker retention;
  • Hiring 25 or more poultry plant safety trainers, adding to about 300 trainers and training coordinators the company has hired since 2015;
  • Broadening a pilot compensation program at two poultry plants aimed at increasing base wages and shortening the time it takes new workers to move to higher wage rates;
  • Making public the results of third-party social compliance audits of Tyson plants;
  • Improving and expanding other existing company-wide programs for worker health and well-being.

“Tyson Foods’ commitment to worker safety and worker rights should not just be applauded—it should serve as a model for the rest of the industry,” said Marc Perrone, president of UFCW. “Through our ongoing partnership with Tyson Foods, we have already made valuable progress. We look forward to these new and expanded initiatives.”

Oxfam campaign chief Minor Sinclair echoed Perrone’s call that other chicken producers adopt Tyson’s approach. The three other companies targeted by Oxfam—Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue and Sanderson Farms—have thus far refused to engage with the Oxfam-led coalition, Sinclair tells In These Times. The three are now “lagging behind” in their treatment of workers and their sensitivity to the concerns of consumers, he says.

Sinclair credited other organizations in the “Big Chicken” coalition for the initial breakthrough with Tyson. In addition to UFCW, other prominent members include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center. Even the U.S. Department of Labor has supported the safety goals of the coalition, he says.

Tyson itself has only recently had a change of heart about the Oxfam campaign, Sinclair continues. For the first year or so, Tyson typically ignored Oxfam and its allies. “For many months we felt stonewalled.” But a change came in late 2016, he says, at about the same time Tyson named Tom Hayes as the new chief executive.

“I can’t really say the exact reason that Tyson changed its attitude, but I don’t think it is a coincidence,” Sinclair said about the change in leadership.

UFCW is the largest union at Tyson, representing about 24,000 of its hourly workers, says company spokesman Gary Mickelson. There is some unionization at 30 of the company’s 100 U.S. food-product plants, he says, with a handful of other unions representing an additional 5,000 employees.

One of the other union is the UFCW-affiliated Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Randy Hadley, a RWDSU organizer, tells In These Times he hopes to see results from Tyson’s pledges soon. A cavalier approach to worker safety has characterized the meat industry for decades, he says, and improvements are long overdue.

“I hope this isn’t just a bunch of PR nonsense,” he says.

RWDSU, which represents Tyson workers in one of the Alabama chicken plants, has seen an increased emphasis on safety recently, according to Hadley.

“We have seen an increase in the number of safety meetings and safety training sessions,” he says, “so I’ll give them credit for that.”

Language barriers are the biggest obstacle to effective safety training, Hadley adds, because Tyson recruits a lot of new immigrants, including political refugees from the Middle East and other hot spots, to work in the chicken plants.

“We have another plant that we represent in Tennessee. When we print out our union literature, we do it in 17 different languages. And some of these folks can barely read, even in their own home language,” Hadley says.

As part of the new commitments announced this week by Tyson, the company pledged to expand its in-house program called “Upward Academy,” which offers courses in English as a Second Language (ESL) and other services aimed specifically at new immigrants.

This week’s announcement follows the company’s 2015 move to raise wages at most of its plants. At that time, Tyson said it would establish a new minimum of at least $10 an hour, up from $8 to $9 an hour. Top labor rates for certain skilled maintenance jobs were to be raised to as high as $26 an hour at the same time.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on April 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.


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Unionized Scientists March in Protest of Attacks on Science and Jobs

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Of all the attacks on our civil society, the attacks on evidence-based science pose perhaps the greatest existential threat. Decisions being made about climate science and environmental protection at this critical time will shape the future of our planet.

Advances in research are produced by the twin pillars of dedicated scientists and an activated citizenry who demand that the best science be applied to today’s most pressing problems. Because scientists produce the facts that expose the lies currently being purveyed, the tip of the spear is pointed at the heart of science-based policy and research.

But the imminent threat also presents an extraordinary opportunity for the scientific community to unify around a message of resistance, one in which organized labor has a critical role to play. Unionized scientists are well-positioned to fight back against the false narratives being pushed by the administration and to advocate collectively for continued funding of crucial basic research. Science professionals need a workplace free from fear of corporate power and political malfeasance influencing their results. We are the protectors of truth and facts, and in that way we all are in service to the public. With scientific integrity, we speak truth to power.

Budget cuts are the beginning of the attack. For example, the Donald Trump administration is proposing a 31% cut in funding and 21% cut in workforce at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on top of less-heralded budget cuts over the past three years. Such low funding levels have not been seen since the 1970s, prior to the enactment of most of our national environmental laws. Enforcement is also targeted, crippling the EPA’s ability to protect human health.

Is this a good way to save money? Investments in environmental protection pay huge dividends for the country. For example, air pollution reductions will avoid 230,000 premature deaths and produce total benefits valued at $2 trillion in 2020, according to a 2011 study. This benefit exceeds costs by more than 30-to-1, to say nothing of the human suffering.

Scientists have long held the view that with enough data and evidence we will be able to convince skeptics that climate change is real, that humans are responsible and that immediate action must be taken. It is increasingly clear that this approach has not worked.

For the nearly 7,000 postdoctoral researchers at the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab represented by UAW Local 5810, having a union ensures strong workplace protections as well as a powerful, nationwide platform for advocacy when research comes under threat. And the collective power of the union is not limited to the workplace.

Kathy Setian and other members of IFPTE Local 20 march at the Inauguration protest on January 20th in San Francisco.

With a diverse membership that includes both higher education and the manufacturing sector, the UAW has been a leading advocate for climate change policies that both create healthy communities and address economic and racial inequities. And at the EPA, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 20/Engineers and Scientists of California (ESC) has rallied in opposition to the cuts and will continue to speak out, including in San Francisco at the March for Science.

Make no mistake. As organized scientists, we are in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters who have lost jobs and real income steadily over the past several decades. We support the creation of jobs in clean energy sectors and in green infrastructure projects.

It is time for scientists and the citizenry who depend on science to embrace our responsibility to advocate for sound policies. Our very lives and livelihood are now dependent on stepping collectively forward into the realm of political advocacy and action.

Together we will March for Science on April 22, in opposition to the damage that the current administration seeks to do to research and in solidarity with scientists, researchers, and concerned citizens who remain resolved, undeterred, and organized in the face of these threats.

This blog was originally posted on aflcio.org on April 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Carly Ebben Eaton is a postdoctoral scholar and executive board member of UAW Local 5810.

Kathy Setian was a project manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a steward of IFPTE Local 20, Engineers and Scientists of California. She will be a speaker at the April 22 March for Science in San Francisco.


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