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The Federal Agency Designed to Protect Workers Is Trying to Destroy Unions and Weaken Labor Rights

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When Dan Hoskins tried to organize colleagues at an Oregon plant in 2019, vindictive managers marched him past as many workers as possible en route to a disciplinary meeting in the human resources office.

The company wanted to create a climate of fear, Hoskins recalled, not only by threatening his job but ensuring others saw “Mr. Leader Pants getting written up.”

From trumped-up disciplinary charges to threats of layoffs and other scare tactics, corporations wage ferocious wars of intimidation to sabotage organizing campaigns and torment union supporters.

“You’re in a war zone,” explained Hoskins, who willingly shouldered the mistreatment because he understands the benefits unions bring to a workplace. “The tension is thick, and you know it’s going to be that way for months.”

Sadly, abused workers can expect no help from the Trump administration, which is busy trying to exterminatelabor unions.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the urgent need for stronger workplace protections, Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ramped up a scorched-earth campaign aimed at annihilating organized labor and subjugating American workers.

The string of NLRB rulings amounts to death by a thousand cuts, each one chipping away at the long-established rights and practices enabling working people to join together to build better lives.

For example, the NLRB—run by Trump’s handpicked corporate cronies—imposed additional, unnecessary steps to the union election procedure solely to drag out the process and give employers more time to thwart organizing efforts.

And the agency went further, empowering employers to begin withholding email addresses and other information unions need merely to contact prospective voters.

The board also ruled that employers may discipline a worker just for mentioning a union drive to a colleague during work hours. In a decision rooted in spite, rather than logic, it concluded the mere reference to an organizing effort—even an offhand remark—constituted an illegal solicitation of a colleague’s vote.

The NLRB is ostensibly responsible for protecting workers’ rights. But under Trump, it’s stacking the deck in favor of greedy corporations desperate to silence workers’ voices and bust unions at any cost.

Hoskins said the several organizing efforts he helped to lead all fell short amid unfair rules that restricted his activities yet gave his employers free rein to viciously bully workers and paper the plant—even the cupboards and tables in the cafeteria—with anti-union propaganda.

He likened the uneven playing field facing unions to a political campaign in which only one candidate gets to use social media or a fight in which one person gets only one punch to an opponent’s 10.

“Then we’re supposed to win the boxing match?” asked Hoskins, who supports unions because they give workers a voice in the workplace and force corporations to share more of their profits with the people who actually create them.

The Trump administration continually seeks new ways to rig the system against working people.

In one of its biggest gifts to corporations yet, the NLRB went to court to overturn an Oregon law that affords workers a degree of protection from the pernicious anti-union meetings that employers across the country regularly hold to belittle union supporters, lie about labor and kill organizing campaigns.

In Oregon, employers may hold anti-union meetings. But they cannot force workers to attend them. The NLRB filed suit to change that, arguing the law violates employers’ free-speech rights.

That’s right. The Trump administration wants to further free employers to lie, bully and fearmonger during organizing drives, even as it empowers the same companies to discipline workers for so much as mentioning a union.

Hoskins attended anti-union meetings over the years where managers falsely claimed that a union could undercut a company’s competitiveness and force it to cut jobs.

“The number one emotion they manipulate is fear,” Hoskins said, noting one panicked co-worker threatened him for leading the union drive.

If the NLRB overturns Oregon’s law, employers will ramp up the coercion and launch anti-union campaigns every bit as brutal as the one Kumho Tire waged against workers in Macon, Georgia, in 2016-2017.

After workers began an organizing drive with the United Steelworkers (USW), Kumho forced them into daily anti-union meetings—each lasting up to 90 minutes—in which the company repeatedly threatened to close the plant, haul away the equipment and eliminate their jobs.

Kumho augmented that torture with shop-floor conversations in which supervisors continually bullied workers and demanded to know how they planned to vote. The pressure tactics began the moment workers began their shifts each day, creating an atmosphere of pure hell inside the plant.

Yet workers are persevering in their efforts to organize—just like a growing number of other Americans.

The NLRB’s assault on organized labor and workers’ rights comes as more workers—at companies ranging from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to FedEx and multi-billionaire Warren Buffett’s Cort Furniture—seek the protection of unions.

The pandemic further widened America’s rampant income inequality and underscored corporations’ indifference to workplace safety, as workers at Cort Furniture and Orlando International Airport discovered when their bosses herded them into anti-union meetings despite the need for social distancing.

These and other exploited workers realize that only by organizing can they win family-sustaining wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions.

However, building better lives for millions of ordinary Americans will require an NLRB committed to vigorously enforcing labor rights.

The president nominates NLRB members as well as the agency’s powerful general counsel, and the Senate confirms them. So only the election of federal officials committed to workers’ rights can truly put the agency back on course.

Trump and his Senate allies not only installed corporate lawyer Peter Robb as general counsel but put former GOP congressional staffer Marvin Kaplan and corporate lawyers John Ring and William Emanuel on the five-person board—appointments that deliberately set in motion the war on unions and workers.

In a recent letter, the USW urged senators to reject Trump’s renomination of Kaplan, whose term expires in August, because of the unprecedented damage he helped inflict on Americans like Hoskins, who only want fair treatment on the job. The Senate voted to confirm him for another term anyway.

Hoskins first grasped the value of collective bargaining years ago after seeing a corporate executive pocket millions of dollars in a single quarter, while some of his co-workers struggled to make ends meet.

Ever since, he willingly endured managers’ harassment during organizing campaigns because he understands the life-changing differences a union would deliver.

Hoskins doesn’t mind fighting for a union. He only wishes the NLRB would finally give him a fair shot.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


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Unions see big new worker interest amid coronavirus threats

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Coronavirus is exposing the inequities in the U.S. economy, posing incredible danger to the most vulnerable workers. Republicans and employers are eager to take advantage of this moment of high unemployment and risk, but workers are also ready to try to wring some added power out of the crisis.

“In literally a day, grocery store workers have gone from ‘just a job,’ to having a job that’s incredibly stressful, demanding and scary,” AFL-CIO policy director Damon Silvers told Politico. “The nature of the job has been transformed. Employees are saying, ‘If I’m going to risk my life, how about paying me more?’”

The attention to the importance of essential workers has helped those workers—many of them in low-wage jobs—see the importance they’ve had all along, and expect that other people will see it, too.

“Without your Dollar General or your Amazon warehouse workers, Americans wouldn’t be fed,” one local union leader said. “Maybe these workers will start to understand the value they have for society, because for decades they’ve been told they have no value and that they’re replaceable.”

That’s translating to a rush of calls to union locals from workers asking how they can join a union. “I was just talking to a dental hygienist who wanted to know how she can get a union started,” the Chicago Federation of Labor’s Bob Reiter said. 

Democrats are pushing to set up a victims’ fund for essential workers, but what workers need more than compensation for being victims is power in the workplace: unions, strong laws, workplace safety oversight, and did I mention unions? (Many of those being policies Democrats also support, but need to see as part of this moment as well, and fight for them.)

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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A Brief Look at Today’s Workers Rights and Protections

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Workers used to be at the mercy of their employers when the topic of job-related safety and benefits arose, to say nothing of hiring and promotions. Now, after a push for employee rights gained momentum late in the 20th century, the result was a series of important laws that millions of Americans rely on for protection to this day.

Today, roughly 180 worker protection laws ranging from pay requirement to parental leave benefits are in force. Some key federal protections are below.

The Minimum Wage

Per the Fair Labor Standards Act, American workers receive a minimum wage for their work. Since 2009, most public and private employers have had to pay staff members at least $7.25 per hour, with several states providing their own minimum rates that are even higher. The law offers special protections for minors as well. For non-agricultural positions, it places limits on the number of hours children under the age of 16 can work.

Workplace Safety

Since the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 came into law, dangers in the American workplace have been minimized through a number of specific safety provisions, including industry-specific guidelines for construction, maritime and agricultural jobs. There also is included a “General Duty Clause” that prohibits any workplace practice that represents a clear risk to workers. Primary enforcement of these provisions has been the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, although state agencies may also have a role. 

Health Coverage

Formed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act promised to make health insurance a right for workers at most medium and large-sized businesses. A provision that requires companies with 50 or more full-time workers, the “Employer Shared Responsibility Payment” offers workers a minimum level of health insurance. A worker that logs at least 30 hours a week, on average, is considered a “full-time” employee.

Whistleblower Protections

There is in place a patchwork of federal statutes to help protect whistleblowers who report employer violations of the law. Much of the time whistleblower protections are built into pieces of legislation that govern an industry. An example would be the Clean Air Act, which provides safeguards to those who highlight violations of environmental law, as well as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that affords protections to individuals that uncover unlawful manufacturing practices.

The main body responsible for protecting the rights of employees is OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. The program protects employees who may fear job loss or other reprisals if they speak up. 

Family Leave

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton signed the Family Leave and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which resulted in eligible employees being afforded 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year if they decide to stay home in the wake the birth of a child, adoption or serious personal or family member illness.

In order to receive FMLA benefits, an employee must have been with the company for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the year prior. Also, the law only applies to business that employs at least 50 employees with a 75-mile radius.

Employee Based Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for businesses to discriminate based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Subsequently, in 2009 the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act further strengthened workplace rights, prohibiting wage discrimination against minorities and women. Also in this category, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects against age discrimination for employees over 40 years and older, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provided protections against discrimination of employees with disabilities. 

The bottom line is that today, American employees benefit from the numerous protections designed to provide a minimal level of income, as well as protect them from danger in the workplace, and other safeguards.

About the Author: Jordan Fuller is a retired golfer. Now, he is coaching and teaching golf. He works with wonderful people who help him manage his schedule, mentoring materials, as well as his website, www.golfinfluence.com


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Democrats say DOL keeping workers in the dark about paid leave

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“They’re not stupid,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “They know how to get the word out. They just don’t want to.”

An Indiana truck driver denied paid leave while experiencing coronavirus symptoms. An Arizona HVAC employee paid for just two of 13 days spent in self-quarantine. A California USPS worker rejected for paid leave when caring for her child whose school was closed.

These are just a few of the 700-plus cases that employees who became temporarily entitled to paid leave under coronavirus response legislation have brought against their employers.

Though the Families First package enacted emergency paid leave for as many as 60 million workers, many report being uninformed, misled or in some cases, even threatened by their employers over the new benefit.

DOL says it is educating workers on their rights to the emergency paid leave to the best of its ability, including by fielding phone calls and hosting what it says is hundreds of outreach events. But Democrats and worker advocates say the agency could be doing more and may even be purposely keeping employees in the dark in an attempt to “run the clock” before the provisions expire in December.

“They’re not stupid,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “They know how to get the word out. They just don’t want to.”

More than half of Americans are unaware of or believe they are ineligible for the paid leave protections enacted via the coronavirus response legislation, according to a poll released in May by the National Partnership for Women and Families. And a poll released in June by the Paid Leave for All campaign found that just 53 percent of voters have heard a great deal or some about the provisions.

“I don’t think people really understand what their rights are,” said Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), who chairs the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. “We have to do a better job.”

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, which is responsible for enforcing the Families First paid leave provisions, employed 756 investigators at the end of April, a DOL official told POLITICO. The agency has concluded more than 700 cases related to the legislation, the official said, and there are “hundreds more” under way.

Much of the agency’s education surrounding workers’ entitlement to paid leave under Families First is tied to these cases, the official said. When the division receives a complaint from an employee, part of investigators’ job is to educate the employer in question on the provisions.

The division has also conducted more than 500 outreach events related to Families First, published an online series of FAQ pertaining to the legislation and posted a “Notice of Rights” in more than 10 languages about the provisions for employers to send employees.

That’s “a significant accomplishment, given that prior to March 2020, federal law had never broadly required private employers to provide paid leave,” a DOL spokesperson said in an email.

“[T]he public has taken notice of this material — since [Families First] was enacted, more than 25 million people have visited WHD’s website,” Labor Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella wrote in an op-ed this month.

But these steps are not enough, Democrats and advocates say.

“We provided $15 million [to DOL] to administer paid leave,” DeLauro said. “So far, [WHD] have $2.5 million that have been spent on outreach efforts. They don’t want to do it.”

Being active on social media, giving interviews to radio stations and local newspapers, conducting outreach at Covid-19 testing sites and food bank lines and hosting press conferences with mayors and governors are all ways that DOL can and should be going about getting the word out, DeLauro said.

“Congress has put the money on the table, now it is time for this administration to step up and educate Americans on the options and resources available to them,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) said in an email.

“This is just a failure on behalf of the administration,” Dawn Huckelbridge, the director of Paid Leave for All campaign, said. “They should be … deploying media, public service announcements, radio, local press. This should be a full ‘know your rights’ campaign.”

“We haven’t seen an effort or an investment or a lot of concern even from the Department of Labor.”

The Wage and Hour Division is working to set up “public awareness campaigns” that involve radio and TV outlets, the DOL official said. The official was unable to provide a timeline for when the campaigns will go into effect.

Aura Hernandez is a McDonald’s employee in California who became entitled to paid leave under Families First. When she developed coronavirus symptoms, she used up all of her accrued time off — and then her employer asked her to come back to work, even though she still felt sick, Hernandez said.

She was never informed that she had additional paid leave available to her under Families First — not even when she threatened to quit. She is now on strike.

“They did not explain what were my rights,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. She never received nor saw a “Notice of Rights” or other educational materials at her place of work, she said.

“The Department of Labor must do more in terms of public education and outreach to publicize the entitlements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said. “With now more than 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths in the United States, the burden cannot fall all onto the workers to understand the various nuances of these newly developed benefits.”

Democrats and advocates point to DOL’s guidance implementing Families First, which excluded employers of health care providers and others from having to comply with the law.

“The Department of Labor gutted the emergency paid leave protections that were passed by Congress, so it’s not a surprise that they’re neglecting their duty to make sure workers heard about them,” Huckelbridge said.

Adams said her subcommittee is working to schedule an oversight hearing at which lawmakers can hear from DOL officials, paid leave advocates, workers and others.

“Sometimes we just have to put the questions out there, ask the question again, because they may be doing more than we think they’re doing,” Adams said. “But we need to know.”

And Democrats may address the issue in their negotiations with Republicans over the next round of coronavirus aid, DeLauro said.

“When we get to dealing with the Senate on this, we’ll get maybe more specific with regard to the kinds of efforts they should be doing,” she said.

With the provisions scheduled to sunset in December, officials have less than six months to educate workers on what they’re entitled to.

“We only really have so much time here,” DeLauro said. “They’re gonna run the clock. That’s what they’d like to do.”

In the meantime, advocates are doing their best to fill in the gaps.

“The advocate community is trying to step up,” Huckelbridge said, citing Paid Leave for All’s website as well as a “know your rights video” the campaign is set to release this month. “But this is the job of the government, and this is a program that they need to fully implement and educate people about.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Grocery Store Workers Need Frontline Protections

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Grocery store workers, like healthcare workers, first responders, and transportation workers, are currently among those deemed “essential” workers during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And, indeed, they have always been essential: they help provide the food and supplies necessary to sustain us all.

But of all the frontline workers whose work puts them in contact with potentially infected members of the public, grocery workers are among those who receive the least protections and the lowest pay.

Now grocery workers, too, are becoming infected—and some are dying of COVID-19.

It is deeply disturbing that several large corporate grocery retailers are simply not doing enough to protect workers’ safety or health during this critical time. Some of these retailers have been accused of harmful practices against workers in normal times. But lax health and safety protections during this crisis are dangerous and intolerable. Some food stores have reportedly put concerns about optics before the health and safety of workers by not allowing gloves to be worn by workers. Despite a recent Politico analysis that revealed cashiers are the largest number of at-risk workers, these workers continue to fight employer inaction.

Of all essential frontline workers, grocery workers are among the least protected and lowest paid.

Black and brown workers are more likely to work in lower-paid, frontline positions like cashiers in retail stores, while white workers are more likely to be represented in management and supervisory roles. This means that the panic shopping that is resulting in lines out of the door and physical fights over supplies is being experienced disproportionately and most directly by workers of color. Shoppers are stocking up on supplies and food to stay home and to minimize exposure or risk, protecting themselves and their families. But what about the workers who are making the food and supplies available? Why isn’t their health and safety being better protected by their employers?

A cashier at a major grocery store in northwest Washington, D.C. says that her employer has done nothing to ensure that workers are protected from the influx of customers that she interacts with daily. The store has not even provided every employee with requested protective gear, leaving many of them to supply their own. When she questioned management about the store supplying workers with protective gear, she was told that masks are not allowed because they only prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that the company is only obligated to provide gloves to staff that come into contact with unwrapped food goods. This week, her store changed its policy and is allowing all workers to wear masks. But the workers are still responsible for supplying the masks and gloves themselves. “Even the porter, the person who cleans the bathroom, they don’t provide gloves to him. He brought his own gloves,” she said.

The federal agency in charge of workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has failed to issue a standard requiring employers to implement specific protections to safeguard at-risk workers in this crisis. Congressional efforts to require OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect the most at-risk healthcare workers were blocked by the Trump administration and hospital industry lobbyists.

It has become painfully clear that state and local lawmakers need to swiftly implement health and safety protections for all frontline workers. In Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Vermont, grocery workers have been officially classified as emergency workers—a designation that will make free childcare services available to them during the crisis. But no state has implemented any other required protections for grocery or any other workers. Further, OSHA is not conducting any enforcement when workers complain about unsafe conditions.

In unionized supermarkets, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has pushed large chains to install protective shields between cashiers and customers, and to provide hand sanitizer, additional cleaning and sanitizing of store surfaces, time to wash hands with soap, face shields, masks, gloves, and extend paid sick leave. But workers in non-union grocery stores are left with no required protection and few safety rights.

Black and brown workers are more likely to work in lower-paid, frontline positions like cashiers in retail stores.

Black and brown retail workers already faced large disparities in pay, scheduling, and advancement in their workplaces before the current crisis. These workers also make up a disproportionate number of workers in jobs with the highest injury risksRecent reports have also shown that only 19.7% of Black workers and 16.2% of Latinx workers work in occupations that allow them to telework. The concentration of these communities in the retail and hospitality sectors is a major contributor to these inequities.

With many workers of color on the job in workplaces that may expose them to a potentially deadly transmissible virus, these workers are facing both panic and a status they know all too well: exclusion. In fact, even if Black workers have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, they must then navigate a medical system that has discriminated against their communities long before COVID-19 swept across the globe.

A 61-year old Black woman I spoke with who works as a grocery cashier and has survived two strokes is not only concerned about her health but also has had to take additional steps to purchase groceries for her family. Her shift starts at 6 a.m., but she shows up even earlier to try to buy what she needs before her shift begins and the store gets busy. She began this routine after she was unable to buy toothpaste and soap for herself one day after her six-hour shift ended.

“We don’t have none in stock. We used to have hand sanitizer on each register but since this virus there’s been a backorder for hand sanitizer, so we don’t have any,” she said.

Union protections have proven to be crucial for workers of color and will be even more vital for frontline workers right now. The COVID-19 crisis has propelled workers to unify and use their collective power to secure the protections they need to endure the daunting workdays ahead. Across the country, workers who have joined together to form unions have won some of the strongest standards for essential workers in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The COVID-19 crisis has propelled many workers to use their collective power to secure the protections they need.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a myriad of socioeconomic problems that workers have faced for years. In every recession, disaster, or other crisis in our history, Black and brown people have endured the hardest of hardships. It appears that the COVID-19 pandemic will be no different. The impact on our families, communities, and the economy will extend for years to come, even after we can leave our homes and return to the everyday routines that we sorely miss right now.

Essential frontline workers are keeping the U.S. running during this crisis. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their own well-being to keep the rest of us safe. We must fight for immediate solutions that prioritize strong health and safety standards, wage protections, paid leave, and unemployment insurance to protect frontline workers and all workers affected by this public health crisis.

This blog was originally published at NELP on April 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Shayla Thompson is the government affairs manager on NELP’s Government Affairs team. She is a member of NELP’s committee tasked with change management and facilitating NELP’s commitment to dismantling structural racism. Her tenure at NELP has included conducting research in projects committed to racial equity, creating curriculum to guide NELP’s race caucuses, and facilitating equity training.

Shayla is committed to infusing race and inclusion into federal advocacy and creating policy messaging that reaches all working people.

Before joining NELP, she managed professional development training and social media campaigns for early childcare providers, infant mental health specialists, and parents.


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Corona in the Age of Class Warfare; McKayla’s Bid to Knock Out Hoyer

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jonathan-tasini

Pandemics might be one of the single best mass events to shine a light on class warfare, especially in the U.S. Rich people don’t have to worry about getting sick—they can afford extensive care in a country in which millions of working-class people can’t even afford to see a doctor for a run-of-the-mill reason. If a rich person gets sick, well, he can just sit home in his pajamas for as long as needed and never worry about paying next week’s rent, while a fast food worker or other service worker on an hourly wage is forced to go to work, even when sick.

What the corona virus has shown, quite sharply and clearly, is that a country without paid sick leave is not only an immoral society but also, on a practical level, a country which denies the most basic benefits that could contain a health threat—which is what I talk about today with Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project.

Then, you probably can’t find many people in Congress who are bigger shills for the corporate world than Steny Hoyer—and McKayla Wilkes is aiming to send Hoyer quickly into the world he really aspires to, that of a lobbyist for corporations. I talk with her today about her primary challenge.

This blog originally appeared in Working Life on March 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jonathan Tasini. Some basics: I’m 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; my goal is to find the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. I’m also publisher/editor of Working Life. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out more than a decade ago, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays (slacker), with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995). I’m currently working on two news books.


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Bernie Sanders staffers approve first-ever union contract for presidential campaign workers

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Sanders’ campaign will be the first in U.S. presidential election history with a unionized staff, though a handful of down-ballot races in 2018 featured successful union drives through the new Campaign Workers Guild.

The contract secures overtime pay for campaign team members paid by the hour and 20 paid vacation days per year for hourly and salaried staff alike – plus four monthly “blackout days” where staffers can’t be called in to work on their day off. The pact establishes transparency about pay within the campaign and sets a process for appeals should anyone feel they’re being underpaid for the work they’re doing. But the detailed attention to pay equity doesn’t stop with those sunlight provisions.

The contract also sets a cap on managers’ pay. As United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400’s Jonathan Williams explained to ThinkProgress, no executive on the team can be paid more than three times the compensation of the highest paid category of rank-and-file campaign staffers in the bargaining unit. If the campaign wants to bump an executive past that point, they’d have to make commensurate raises in pay for the unionized campaign workers.

“This is an effort for us to live up to the values of the campaign and address income equality,” Williams said in an interview. “They can’t grant lavish salaries to their top executives, as it were, without first ensuring they’ve raised the compensation for all the unionized workers.”

The pay transparency clause requires management to share outside consultants’ compensation with the union in addition to compensation within management, but large consultant payouts would not necessarily trigger the automatic staff pay hikes built into the manager pay cap, Williams said.

Interns like Reg Ledesma, who served on the union’s bargaining committee, will be paid no less than $20 an hour. In addition, full-time volunteers will get first crack at staff positions when the campaign hires to expand, and all staff will receive “broad coverage for mental health care services,” a union press release characterizing the deal said.

“You feel more at ease knowing you’re backed up by the strength of the union,” Ledesma said in the release.

That holistic support goes far beyond pay. For instance, the blackout days policy epitomizes the way this contract uniquely confronts the notoriously endless scutwork of professional electoral politics. Days off are rare in the campaign world, and staffers are almost always “on call” even when not actively working. But under this policy, managers are required to accommodate the staffers’ blackout days requests or provide an alternative blackout day within three calendar days of the request — provided the staffer gives 24 hours notice prior to the request.

Figuring out how to structure a policy to provide truly restorative time off on a flexible basis proved challenging, Williams said, but both sides wanted to balance campaign employees’ enthusiasm for their work with the campaign’s need to have someone on call at all hours – without succumbing to the sleep-when-it’s-over burnout common to campaign staffers.

“You have highly motivated employees who want to see a campaign win and are willing to put in long hours, but we don’t want them to be disincentivized to take time off when they need it,” he said.

Campaign manager Faiz Shakir concurred: “These aren’t machines, these are humans. On the management side it’s important for us to respect that people are going to need time off, an opportunity to recharge, and disconnect for a moment if they can.”

The contract is “an opportunity to find those moments,” Shakir said in an interview. “They’re hard to come by in a campaign. But I think we can find them.”

The May 2 ratification vote among bargaining unit members was not unanimous, Williams said, but the proposed contract was approved with a majority of the 100 currently covered employees. The contract, like all steps of the unionization process, was accomplished in brisk fashion. Williams attributed the efficient bargaining process to the Sanders management team’s own enthusiasm for seeing its workforce organize.

Williams described the Sanders managerial team more as allies than adversaries in the unit-defining process as well.

“Where a hostile employer might only meet with you once a week or once a month… so that negotiations drag on forever, we were meeting multiple days a week for long days, and we were given all the time we needed with the bargaining committee to formulate proposals and solicit feedback from staff and all that. It was productive, thorough, and quick.”

“They were amicable to [our proposed unit structure]. It wasn’t contentious,” the union staffer said. “It was a model campaign.”

Shakir says the management team was driven by a sense of higher purpose. “It’s an opportunity not just for ourselves but to show and teach others that the process can be peaceful and productive.”

The deal also reflects an ongoing shift within the broader community of progressive institutions, which have traditionally relied on young and ideologically motivated people to accept relatively light entry-level pay and intensive schedules, with the promise of moving to jobs with better pay and greater influence dangled as the payoff for paying one’s dues. Unionization drives at major progressive nonprofits have altered the landscape – and Sanders’ embrace of a unionized campaign staff may raise labor standards for everyone who plies their trade in political campaigns.

“We’re hopeful that the Sanders campaign and so many other new entities that are unionizing will be educational to a new generation,” said Shakir. “Hopefully they’ll think, hey, that’s something we can repeat over and over again.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Alan Pyke  covers poverty and the social safety net. Alan is also a film and music critic for fun. Send him tips at: [email protected] or

 


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Republicans Working Against Workers

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Ever-worsening is the chasm between the loaded, who luxuriate in gated communities, and the workers, who are hounded at their rickety gates by bill collectors.

Even though last week’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed unemployment at a low 4.4 percent, wages continue to flatline, killing both opportunity and the consumer economy. Meanwhile, corporations persist in showering CEOs and their cronies with ever-fatter pay packages and golden parachutes when they mess up.

This would all be sufferable if workers felt those in control in Washington, D.C. were striving to turn it all around. But the Republicans, who boast majorities in both houses of Congress, are just the opposite.

Their legislation shows they’re indentured to big business. Ever since they took power, they’ve labored tirelessly to destroy worker protections. They’ve swiped money from workers’ ragged pockets and handed it to 1 percenters on a silver platter – a plate bought with massive campaign contributions by the 1 percent.

The most blatant example is Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill. Both the House and Senate versions would strip health care from tens of millions of Americans while granting corporations and the nation’s richest tax cuts totaling $700 billion.

The Tax Policy Center determined that households with incomes above $875,000 a year would get 45 percent of those benefits. For the wealthiest, the annual tax cut would be nearly $52,000, a big fat break that is almost exactly the entire household income for the median American family.

In other words, Republicans want to hand millionaires a check that equals what a typical family earns by working an entire year.

Those massive tax breaks for the rich cost workers big time. Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill slashes Medicaid, so workers’ frail, elderly parents will lose the coverage they need to remain in nursing homes, babies born with cancer and crippling congenital diseases will be cut off care, and relatives who are victims of the opioid epidemic will be denied treatment. But, hey, the rich get richer!

Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing legislation in Congress to hobble labor unions and suppress wages. One House bill would delay union elections, giving corporations more time to bully and fire workers who consider joining. This proposed legislation would also stop workers from organizing small groups instead of the entire roster of employees.

Yet another GOP proposal would change the definition of democratic election. As it is now, a congressional candidate wins when he or she receives the highest number of votes cast. Candidates aren’t deemed losers if they receive votes from fewer than half of all potential voters.

Securing ballots from more than half of potential voters would be a very hard standard to meet because in many elections little more than a third of eligible voters go to the polls. In the 2016 Presidential election, 58 percent of potential voters exercised their franchise. That means neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have won under the more than 50 percent of eligible voters standard.

Even so, the bill under consideration in Congress would impose that standard on unions. When workers want to form a union, this legislation would require that they get positive votes from more than half of all eligible workers, not more than half of those who actually vote.

It is a standard no politician would want to be held to, but Republicans are willing to require it of workers to prevent them from organizing and bargaining jointly for better wages and working conditions.

At the bidding of corporations, Republicans are working against workers because labor organizations succeed through concerted action in wresting from fat cat CEOs a more fair share of the fruit of workers’ labor. Workers in labor unions receive higher wages, better health benefits and pensions and safer conditions.

When more workers were unionized, the space between rich and poor was more like a crack than the current chasm. In the 1950s, 33 percent of workers participated in labor organizations. Now it’s 10.7 percent. In the ’50s, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay was 20-to-1. That means for every dollar a worker made, the CEO got $20. Now the ratio is 347-to-1. For every dollar a worker earns, the top dog grabs $347. CEOs of S&P 500 corporations pulled down an average of $13.1 million in total annual compensation in 2016, while their typical worker received $37,632.

The high point of unionization in America, the 1950s, was the low point in income inequality. It is called the time of the great compression. And a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reaffirms that unionization produced better wages.

In a report titled “Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement,” scholars Brantly Callaway of Temple University and William E. Collins of Vanderbilt University analyzed new data and determined “the overall wage distribution was considerably narrower in 1950 than it would have been if union members had been paid like non-union members with similar characteristics.”

They go on to say, “Our historical interpretation is that in the wake of the Great Depression, workers sought and policymakers delivered institutional reforms to labor markets that promoted  unions, reduced inequality, and helped lock in a relatively narrow distribution of wages that lasted for a generation.”

That time is gone. Unions have been declining for decades, largely as a result of onerous requirements legislated by Republicans. As unions shrank, so did worker bargaining power. The result is that while workers’ productivity increased, their wages stagnated for the past three decades.

Still, Republicans are squashing unions even more by, for example, reversing a rule requiring corporations to report when they hire union busters to strong-arm workers into voting against organizing.

And Republicans are working hard on other measures to ensure workers make even less money. For example, Missouri Republicans reversed a minimum wage increase in St. Louis and prohibited the state’s cities from requiring union-level wages on public construction projects.

In addition, in Washington, the Republican administration refused to defend in court a new rule that would have made millions more workers automatically eligible to receive time-and-a-half pay when they work overtime.

If workers feel like the system is rigged against them, that’s because it is. Republicans working at the behest of CEOs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have created a government by corporations for corporations.

And none of the government welfare and benefits that corporations and one percenters got for themselves in this process ever trickled down to workers.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.


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