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Union “Salting” Tactics Need Revival

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Today‚Äôs revival of union ‚Äúsalting‚ÄĚ could not be more welcome or more urgently needed.

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

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

LABOR’S CRISIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRISIS BY THE NUMBERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALTING CONTROVERSIAL?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimately, all of us are salts.

We have no means to earn a living other than finding a boss to hire us — and why shouldn‚Äôt we desire to start a union, or strengthen an existing union, while we‚Äôre there?

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

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

Visit this Workplace Fairness page to learn more about unions.


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The Memorial Day Massacre: A Lost Piece of History

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

Yet I knew nothing of it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

How had events transpired as they did?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Make One Big Higher Ed Union

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Hamilton Nolan

Higher ed is unionizing. Like crazy!

Last year,¬†every¬†single one of the five largest filings for NLRB union elections in America — each representing more than¬†3,000¬†members — were for graduate workers at various universities. University of California workers pulled off the biggest¬†strike¬†of¬†2022. New units of more than¬†1,000¬†people, rare in most of the union world, have become commonplace in academia.

This wave shows no sign of slowing. Just this month, thousands more grad workers at the¬†University of Minnesota¬†and¬†Duke¬†filed for elections. Since the beginning of¬†2022, more than¬†45,000¬†graduate and undergrad workers have made moves to unionize,¬†according¬†to Daily Union Elections, a¬†site that catalogs union filings. And those workers have been voting “yes‚ÄĚ for unions at nearly a¬†90%¬†clip.

In many cases, these newly formed grad worker unions spring up alongside existing unions covering adjunct and full time faculty, as well as various service workers, on their same campus. In aggregate, higher ed today is the largest and most aggressively organizing industry in the union world.

There’s just one problem: They don’t have their own union. Until they do, they will never be able to exercise their full power in the fragmented and territorial union world. And that is bad news for all of us.

Thousands of newly organized grad workers have joined UE, a progressive union whose roots are among industrial workers. Thousands more are in UAW, making up a significant minority of the auto workers union. Other higher ed units are sprinkled among AFT (a teachers union), SEIU (a service workers union), CWA (a communication workers union), Unite Here (a hospitality workers union) and other big unions. All of those unions have one thing in common: They are not higher ed unions. They are unions that (admirably) organized higher ed workers.

Now, I ain’t criticizing anyone here. This is, in many ways, how union organizing should work.

When a¬†gusher of interest leaps up in an unorganized sector, existing unions should see it as an opportunity, and should be happy to offer their services to draw these workers into the labor movement. Many different unions have done this in higher ed. Great! Love it! But this should be understood as one stage in an evolving process — a process that proceeds towards the creation of one big union with all of higher ed under one roof.

Today, the overflowing energy among grad workers specifically is powerful enough to be the engine that unifies all the splintered, existing units into one.

There are two main reasons to do this.

One is the same reason that all industries could benefit from having a single union representing all of its workers: It concentrates the industry’s labor power in one place and creates the strongest possible counterweight to the power of the industry’s employers.

Industrial unions, especially ones that can achieve high union density, are the most effective way to achieve a¬†balance of power not just in one workplace, but in an entire field of employment. The industry-wide issues well known to all struggling workers in higher ed — the gig-ificiation of teaching, political assaults from right wing politicians, declining state budgets — take industrial strength to combat. Ten separate unions have a¬†harder time concentrating their firepower than one big one does. This is a¬†basic insight that should, ideally, drive all long-term labor organizing in¬†America.

Unfortunately, unions have grown so weak that we tend to be grateful to find anyone willing to organize workers, and seeing these groups coalesce into a¬†real industrial union becomes a¬†faraway luxury. But guess which industry, above all others, now has the density and the fire to ascend to the next stage of development? That‚Äôs right — it‚Äôs higher ed.

This is not some grand insight. There is, in fact, a group called Higher Ed United that brings the many unions together for discussions and strategy. But there is not, so far, a meaningful effort to do the (tedious, time-consuming, and very worthwhile) work of starting a new union for these hundreds of thousands of workers to be a part of, as one.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 21, 2023.


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Workplace Retaliation: What to Know and Examples

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Alana Redmond

What is workplace retaliation? According to the Department of Labor, workplace retaliation is “when an employer (through a manager, supervisor, administrator or directly) fires an employee or takes any other type of adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activity.‚ÄĚ

Retaliation can seriously impact an employee’s life and livelihood. It may also be used by employers as a way to discourage others from taking similar action, although this is illegal.

Protected activities that employees may engage in include:

  • Reporting discrimination or harassment
  • Complying with a harassment investigation
  • Refusing to comply with orders that would result in discriminatory action
  • Requesting reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious practice
  • Filing a complaint
  • Inquiring about pay or hours
  • Reporting harassment
  • Asserting workers rights
  • Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect someone else from sexual advances

Workplace retaliation is a serious issue that if left unchecked can foster a toxic work environment and lead to legal consequences.

Workplace retaliation can take many forms, here are some examples.

Demotion or Termination

Demotion and termination are some of the most severe forms of retaliation. If an employee engages in a protected activity and is demoted or terminated as a result, it would be considered retaliation. 

Reduced Hours or Pay

Reducing hours or pay is a more subtle form of retaliation, but still can have a considerable impact on the employee’s livelihood. 

Opportunity Exclusion

Excluding an employee from an opportunity in response to them engaging in a protected activity is retaliation. Opportunities can include training, meetings, promotions, and more. 

Creating a Hostile Work Environment

Another form of retaliation is when a hostile work environment is created. This can be through the form of intimidation, threats, or harassment by coworkers or employers. 

Disciplinary Actions

When an employer disciplines an employee for engaging in protected activities, this is workplace retaliation. Disciplinary action can include verbal reprimands, suspension, or unwarranted write-ups. 

Workplace retaliation is an issue that should not be taken lightly. The ramifications can have severe consequences on both employers and employees. Employers must take preventative measures to educate employees on retaliation. They can do this by providing training on anti-retaliation policies and procedures, and making sure that they foster an environment where employees feel comfortable enough to report illegal conduct without fear of retaliation. 

If you are an employee who believes they have experienced retaliation, you should consult with an attorney right away to understand your rights and learn about potential legal courses of action. Be sure to find a lawyer that is experienced in employment law for the best chance at a successful claim. 

It is important to note that retaliation claims can be difficult for employees to prove. Employees will need to provide ample evidence that their employer’s actions were in direct response to their engaging in a protected activity. While it can be challenging to prove, it is not impossible. Especially with the help of an experienced employment law attorney. 

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness.

About the Author: Alana Redmond is a worker’s rights advocate and consumer safety writer who works with The Janda Law Firm, an injury law firm dedicated to enacting workplace fairness across the country


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Worker Rights are Critical to the Future of Ukraine

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Liz Shuler

As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, Ukrainian workers and their trade unions have become an undeniable force for solidarity and community support throughout the country.

Since the onset of the conflict, union members from the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) and the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) have mobilized in large numbers, remain united behind their elected government’s efforts to manage the war and continue to make valiant sacrifices to defend the nation.

However, in return, Ukraine‚Äôs government is now moving to break the unions‚Äô power and take away crucial workers‚Äô rights that are central to upholding its democracy. 

In March, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress and drew a powerful connection between his country and ours, stating that the war was a fight to protect our shared values of ‚Äúdemocracy, independence, freedom and care for everyone, for every person, for everyone who works diligently‚Ķ.‚ÄĚ

A strong labor movement is central to Ukraine’s struggle to remain an independent democracy because workers’ rights and democracy are inextricably linked.

That‚Äôs been true throughout the conflict, and it will remain true when this war ends. 

Unions put their organizing skills to use in the immediate aftermath of Russia‚Äôs attack as part of the Trade Union Lifeline initiative. They quickly converted their offices and properties into makeshift shelters to house more than 350,000 citizens displaced inside Ukraine.

Unions also allocated donated funds to fill gaps in care and moved large numbers of humanitarian supplies, such as food, clothing, diapers and feminine hygiene products, to those in need. Both national union federation presidents have made numerous trips to front-line towns to personally deliver shipments.

Workers on the job are keeping the economy going, while thousands of union members have enlisted in the military and the country‚Äôs civil defense, many of whom have been killed in active duty. Their incredible efforts have been recognized by the AFL-CIO and the entire global labor movement, which has been unwavering in their support for Ukraine. 

In October, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten traveled to Lviv, Ukraine, to provide support, meet with teachers and raise awareness about the war‚Äôs impact on the lives of children. Dozens of teachers are working hard to ensure that students remain able to keep up with their education. Members of the Construction and Building Materials Workers Union of Ukraine (PROFBUD) have found creative ways to support the war effort, including procuring life-saving medications and improvising the creation of a communications outpost for their communities.  

While labor has proven invaluable to every facet of Ukraine’s fight to defend its sovereignty, Ukraine’s parliament continues to advance several anti-worker, anti-union policy efforts under the cover of the crisis. In recent months, the parliament has considered more than 27 bills that would restrict or eliminate worker and union rights.

One proposal would confiscate the property of the FPU and all its affiliated unions, many of which are being used to house the displaced. Given that this property has been maintained and managed for 30 years by union dues and finances with no issue, it is suspected that the policy‚Äôs true motivation is to bankrupt the FPU and assert government control over valuable pieces of real estate.

These are not just hypothetical threats. Law 2434-IX, which was adopted in July and enforced officially in August, eliminated collective bargaining for all employers with 250 or fewer employees for the period of martial law and introduced precarious “zero-hour” contracts into Ukrainian labor relations. These contracts create a more perilous work situation because employers are not obliged to provide a minimum number of working hours to workers. 

Although these changes were passed for the war‚Äôs duration, the government‚Äôs Ukraine Recovery Plan indicates a desire to make these provisions permanent. Other equally troubling bills focus on eliminating worker protections on working hours, transfer rights, the right to organize unions, collective bargaining, social assistance funds, pension rights and administration, safety and health enforcement, unemployment benefits and the system that sets minimum wages — some of which have already become reality.

The rationale behind this effort — that worker rights must be eliminated to promote economic growth — relies on deeply flawed and outdated development models. These changes run counter to international standards that Ukraine previously ratified, and these modifications are in direct conflict with decisions handed down by the International Labour Organization that recognize taking action to confiscate union property as a significant violation of the freedom of association.

The Ukrainian government is aware of this — having previously lost a similar property confiscation case in the European Court of Human Rights in 2018. Anti-union legislation also flies in the face of Ukraine‚Äôs stated policy goal of further integration into the structures and norms of the European Union, where union coverage has remained high in many nations and workers‚Äô rights remain strongly protected.

Many of these laws could not pass before the war and are now in motion only because of Russia‚Äôs unprovoked attacks. 

Ukraine’s fight for democracy must take a holistic view.

Unions will be instrumental in rebuilding the country, and Ukraine’s government cannot go down the path of destroying internationally recognized worker rights because of the ideological agenda of a few ultra-free-market, libertarian officials who are using the war to push their agenda of eliminating unions. Likewise, the war should not be used as cover for wealthy interests in Ukraine to squeeze more profits from Ukrainian workers, many of whom are making great sacrifices in service to their country.

We stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian sisters, brothers and siblings.

But Ukraine cannot become a respected democratic nation if it continues to destroy the rights of workers and unions.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on December 22, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Elizabeth Shuler is president of the 58 unions and 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO, and the first woman leader of America‚Äôs labor movement. 


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Employers are Using the ‚ÄúLabor Shortage‚ÄĚ to Harm Workers

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Sarah Lazare

The “so-called “labor shortage‚ÄĚ in the United States has quickly become a¬†catch-all justification for policies that prevent workers from gaining too much power on the job, or collectively organizing by forming¬†unions.¬†

Not enough applicants for low-paid jobs packing meat, or working the cash register at Dairy Queen? Better crank up the Federal Reserve‚Äôs interest rates (a policy explicitly aimed at spurring a recession and putting people out of work), so that we have a larger reserve of the desperate unemployed. Pandemic-era social programs ever-so-slightly redistributing wealth downward? Better shut them down, lest we eliminate the supposed precarity needed to incentivize work.

The concept of a¬†labor shortage can be used to effectively justify any anti-worker policy under the sun. From reading the financial press or listening to business elites, the shortage may seem like an economic fact — a material reality that is beyond dispute.

But, in reality, the framing of a “labor shortage‚ÄĚ is at its heart ideological.

As long as we‚Äôre talking about a¬†labor shortage, we‚Äôre not talking about a¬†shortage of good, dignified union jobs. As long as we‚Äôre talking about how people “don‚Äôt want to work,‚ÄĚ we‚Äôre not talking about how bosses don‚Äôt want to treat their employees with basic fairness and respect.

And as long as we’re talking about how it’s bosses who are supposedly hurting, we’re not talking about what it would take to build an economy that doesn’t perpetually harm the poor and dispossessed.

Some unions and labor activists talk about a “labor shortage‚ÄĚ as well, but often in the context of arguing that the way to fix it is to increase pay, improve benefits and treat workers with basic dignity.

Peter Greene, who spent¬†39¬†years as a¬†high school English teacher, put it this way in a¬†Forbes¬†article¬†arguing against the framing of a “teacher shortage‚ÄĚ: “You can‚Äôt solve a¬†problem starting with the wrong diagnosis. If I¬†can‚Äôt buy a¬†Porsche for $1.98, that doesn‚Äôt mean there‚Äôs an automobile shortage. If I¬†can‚Äôt get a¬†fine dining meal for a¬†buck, that doesn‚Äôt mean there‚Äôs a¬†food shortage. And if appropriately skilled humans don‚Äôt want to work for me under the conditions I‚Äôve set, that doesn‚Äôt mean there‚Äôs a¬†human shortage.‚ÄĚ

As the economist J.W. Mason¬†pointed out¬†in August, labor market conditions are indeed tight, though “there is not a¬†labor shortage in any absolute terms.‚ÄĚ Still, he notes, some may welcome the opportunity to change “employment dynamics” presented by such market conditions, which can give workers more bargaining power.

“When jobs are plentiful, the fear of losing yours is less of a¬†deterrent to standing up to the boss,‚ÄĚ he writes. “And people who are reasonably confident of at least getting a¬†paycheck may begin to wonder if that is all their employer owes¬†them.‚ÄĚ

These market conditions present an opportunity to raise fundamental questions about who the economy should serve, how we can chip away at inequality and¬†life-shortening poverty, and how we can build a¬†society where utter destitution is not an anvil constantly waiting to drop. But instead, what we hear is fearmongering about a “labor shortage‚ÄĚ that centers the perspective of the¬†boss.¬†

From CEOs to politicians to media pundits, people in positions of power are cynically using the “labor shortage‚ÄĚ to push for regressive policies that they pursued well before the present-day market conditions. Some of the proposed “solutions” — like rolling back child labor protections, or getting women out of the workforce — are so outrageous that they can help shine light on how the very concept of a “labor shortage‚ÄĚ is being used to shift the conversation away from policies and practices that would actually help the working¬†class.

“Labor shortage‚ÄĚ means we need to roll back child labor¬†protections.

The conservative organization, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), has cited the so-called labor shortage to justify its efforts, alongside local business associations, to roll back child labor protections in at least three states, as Workday Magazine and The American Prospect previously reported.

All of these bills are aimed at expanding the hours children are allowed to work. The proposed bill in Ohio would permit 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 9:00 p.m. on a school night, with permission from a parent or legal guardian. (It would apply to all employers not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a piece of federal labor law.)

A similar bill in Wisconsin would have let 14- and 15-year-olds work until 9:30 p.m. on a school night, and until 11:00 p.m. on non-school-nights. That legislation, which also would have applied to employers not covered by the FLSA, was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers after passing the state legislature.

But a similar effort was successful in New Jersey, which, this July, passed a bill that permits 14- and 15- year-olds to work up to 40 hours during the summer. (That measure rolls back state laws, which were previously more protective than the FLSA.)

The “labor shortage‚ÄĚ has been directly referenced in each of these campaigns. “Our members‚Äô inability to fill workplace vacancies has catapulted to the top concern currently facing the success of their businesses,‚ÄĚ NFIB said in December¬†2021¬†testimony¬†to support the Ohio measure.

This messaging echoes that made by companies.

“This would fill a¬†void in many places,‚ÄĚ Mike Todd, a¬†Dairy Queen owner in Pickerington, Ohio,¬†said¬†in January when supporting the state-level bill. “Not just the quick service restaurant industry, but other businesses within the entire service¬†industry.‚Ä̬†

Yet, beyond the obvious problems — that working too many hours¬†can harm¬†children‚Äôs development, and that child labor laws were established to protect vulnerable members of society from the brutality of overwork — the same entities that are pushing for these roll backs in the name of solving the “labor shortage‚ÄĚ were pushing to erode labor standards long before any such shortage existed.

NFIB vociferously opposed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. And the organization was a major supporter of using the Supreme Court to hollow out public-sector unions, culminating in the 2018 Janus ruling, which decided public-sector workers can’t be required to pay union dues, even if they receive the services of a union.

This partial blog originally appeared in full at In These Times on November 22, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lazare is the editor of Workday Magazine and a contributing editor for In These Times.

Learn about workers’ rights at Workplace Fairness.


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What Rights Pregnant Freelancers Have

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If you‚Äôre pregnant, freelancing might be your only income or at the very least, your primary income. It‚Äôs important to know what your rights are as a pregnant freelancer so you can be both confident and protected in your work. 

Here’s what you need to know about being pregnant and working as an independent contractor or an employee in the United States.

Can you get maternity leave from clients as a freelancer?

If you are a freelancer, your clients or the companies you work for do not have to pay while you’re on maternity leave. You should contact your insurance company to see if they offer maternity benefits that will cover you during this time, also known as approved Paid Family Leave (PFL) policies.

However, these decisions may depend on the type of contract that you have with your clients or any business you freelance for.

If you have a freelance contract with a larger company you may want to speak with someone in the human resources department at the company about what type of benefits you might be entitled to and whether they can help out in some way. They may be able to recommend other types of plans or put a plan into place for freelancers in the future that would cover maternity leaves.

Even though your clients are not required by law to pay you while you‚Äôre on maternity leave, they might do so anyway. It may also be possible to arrange for paid time off in advance, before becoming pregnant or going on maternity leave. One rather negative point is identifying pregnancy discrimination ‚Äď when you might feel as if you‚Äôre losing freelance work or future opportunities having disclosed that you are pregnant.¬†

How much maternity leave am I entitled to as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, you are not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, but many states do provide some form of protection.

In California, for example, freelancers can qualify for up to four weeks of job-protected disability leave if they’re unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth complications. This leave is available whether or not you have worked at the company for one year and protects you from being fired because of this request.

Freelancers are not usually entitled to maternity leave. However, if you are employed under a freelance contract, then it depends on what kind of contract you have with your client. If you have a contract that offers some form of paid time off that can be used for childbirth and recovery from childbirth in the form of paid sick days, vacation days or personal days.

Getting health insurance as a freelancer

It’s important to get health insurance as a freelancer, and being pregnant is one of the best reasons to do so! The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that insurance plans cannot refuse coverage or charge more based on a pre-existing condition. Maternity leave is considered a pre-existing condition and therefore you should be covered for it.¬†

For the first 12 weeks of maternity leave, you’ll be able to take unpaid leave from freelancing and still maintain your health insurance. You can also opt for short-term disability, which will provide up to 60% of your income during maternity leave if there are no paid sick days available in any given state.

The ACA also mandates that insurance companies cannot charge women more than men for coverage. This is especially important when it comes to maternity leave, which can be expensive if you have to pay out of pocket. 

How to approach work as a pregnant freelancer

Pregnant freelancers have to come up with their policies depending on what’s right for them and their clients.

What‚Äôs key is being fair with clients and outlining exactly how much time you’ll be away from client work while you’re on maternity leave. It can be tricky, but to retain current clients (or at least those who like working with you), it’s crucial that they know how much time off you’ll take and what happens after that period expires.¬†

Make sure that everyone involved knows about any necessary changes or deadlines ahead of time so there’s no confusion once maternity leave is over. Having this information ready when starting a new project will help give your client an idea of the timeline involved. 

Be honest with yourself when determining how much work is truly possible while you‚Äôre expecting ‚Äď take breaks and allow plenty of buffer time to accommodate unpredictable events, such as severe bouts of morning sickness, swollen feet, sensitive teeth or any other unexpected health check-up.¬†

It might also be wise to put on hold projects that require lots of concentration so you don’t end up being uncomfortably stressed. Any worry or stress can aggravate preeclampsia, a condition where high blood pressure poses serious health risks for mom and baby alike.

Is it possible for me to stop working completely while I’m on maternity leave?

Yes, it is possible to stop working completely while on maternity leave. Many freelancers pay for their maternity leave by saving up money before it. This way they can be supported by their partner and family while getting the time they need to adjust to new motherhood. 

If you don’t have the financial ability to stop working and take unpaid leave, then just try to work as little as possible before or after the baby comes.  

What happens if my business folds while I am on maternity leave?

It is important to have a plan in place if the business folds while you are on maternity leave. This could happen if you have been away from the business for a while and clients have left, or if the economy has taken a downturn.  If this happens, it’s best to contact your client base before starting maternity leave to get an idea of how many will be around when you return.  

For those who are still there, you may want to set up a contract to handle specific tasks during maternity leave so that they know what they can expect when it’s time for you to come back.

When should you return to work after having your baby?

The best time to return to work will vary for everyone and there is no real right answer. The consensus, however, is that you should give your body time to rest and yourself and your baby time to bond before returning. 

This allows you to recover from birth and prepare for the day-to-day stresses of being back at work.

Coming back to work after maternity leave

Think about when you’ll get back to work and how you’ll do it when you return. Many freelancers struggle with regaining momentum after coming back from parental leave and it is important to understand what your rights are. Make sure not to overcommit yourself or take too many small jobs until you’ve built up momentum again ‚Äď stick to deadlines rather than trying for larger jobs which will allow more room for error.

When returning to work after giving birth, it is important to discuss with clients how you will handle business in the future. Before starting work again, it is also advisable that you talk with your doctor about any potential risks associated with continuing work while pregnant and postpartum.

In terms of your rights as a pregnant freelancer, they are the same as any other freelancer. It largely boils down to the type of contract you have with your client or the company you work for. It is not legally required for your clients to pay anything for maternity leave or to offer you any paid leave. Companies that have freelancing contracts may have something in place for maternity leave. 

Of course, you could plan ahead by saving up money, getting health insurance, looking into disability benefits, and the like, but that all assume you know you’re planning to get pregnant. For example, some states may provide benefits that apply to pregnant freelancers, so it’s always worth looking into. 

The best approach when working while pregnant is to not overwork yourself and be as organized as possible to avoid stress on your body. It is also safe to continue working throughout your pregnancy, but only if you feel this is sensible and feasible for your freelance business.

About the Author: This blog was contributed to Workplace by contributor Dakota Murphey. Published with permission.


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When Unions Back Corporate Mergers, Workers Lose

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Hamilton Nolan

There has always been a fundamental tension in the organized labor world between people who think that unions exist to counteract the self-serving tendencies of businesses, and people who think that unions should copy the self-serving tendencies of businesses.

The gap between the view that unions should¬†change¬†capitalism and the view that unions should just help working people¬†get their piece¬†of capitalism is not just fodder for theoretical arguments — billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and the entire direction of the post-neoliberalism economy could ride on it. We‚Äôre seeing that tension painfully demonstrated right now, at the grocery¬†store.¬†

Last week, Kroger announced its¬†plan¬†to merge with Albertsons. That merger would create a $25¬†billion grocery giant that would control¬†more¬†than¬†15% of the American grocery market, second only to Walmart. (In certain local markets, it would control the majority of the grocery business.) Kroger argues that it needs such massive scale in order to compete with Walmart and Amazon — a strange claim, since Kroger‚Äôs profits¬†grew¬†14% in the past¬†year.¬†

Why do companies find this sort of mega-merger so attractive? It allows them to squeeze suppliers for lower prices, and, on the flip side, it gives them greater pricing power over consumers. (Mergers also create a¬†ton of fees for advisors and potential bonuses for executives, and a¬†little sugar rush jolt to the stock price — all things that create personal incentives for the people in charge to do deals, whether or not they end up being wise.)

What companies¬†say¬†when they do such mergers is, ‚ÄúIt will help us lower prices for consumers, and it will help us strengthen our company for shareholders,‚ÄĚ as if corporate dealmaking was an altruistic process. What they¬†mean¬†is,‚ÄúIt will help us proceed one step closer to monopoly power, the ultimate goal of all corporations, and also it will help the CEO buy a¬†new house.‚Ä̬†

Then there is the labor angle.

These grocery companies have an enormous number of employees who are unionized with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) — the merger, in fact, could create the¬†biggest¬†single private sector union employer in the country, even bigger than the Teamsters unit at UPS. Common sense should tell you that bigger, more omnipotent companies with more extreme market power are not generally a¬†good thing for their own blue collar workers, for many of the same reasons they are not a¬†good thing for consumers. Companies want to get bigger to squeeze suppliers, customers, and workers in service of shareholders and executives. That is Capitalism¬†101, and it has been demonstrated countless times.

It is an easy call for anyone who considers themself a progressive, or who cares even a bit about the balance of power between capital and labor, to oppose this merger and others like it. It is quite a tell that the fairytale of the free market‚Äôs benefit is all about how competition will create an optimal outcome for everyone, but the reality of capitalism is that companies seek to eradicate every possible trace of competition in order to accrue benefits for themselves and screw everyone else. 

This merger needs approval from the Biden administration‚Äôs Federal Trade Commission. That means this is a¬†political issue, and opens a¬†door for organized labor — particularly the UFCW — to have an extraordinarily large say, given the fact that this administration actually listens to unions more than any other in living memory. As soon as the merger was announced, a¬†group of five UFCW locals representing tens of thousands of grocery workers in the Western United States put out a¬†statement¬†opposing the merger, saying it would be, ‚Äúdevastating for workers and consumers alike and must be stopped,‚ÄĚ for all of the reasons just mentioned. Their position was very clear. They knew this would be bad, and they immediately stood against it. The internal reform caucus called Essential Workers for a¬†Democratic UFCW is also¬†agitating¬†against the¬†merger.

Oddly, though, a¬†full day then went by with silence from the UFCW‚Äôs International headquarters. Then, the union dropped a¬†statement¬†that was excruciating in its refusal to take a¬†stand. Rather than clearly coming out against the merger, it said that, ‚ÄúGiven the national impact such a¬†merger would have, the UFCW and our Local Unions are discussing this and will stand together to prioritize the best interests of our members, their families, and the communities they proudly serve,‚ÄĚ adding that the union, will oppose any merger that threatens the jobs of America‚Äôs essential workers, union and non-union, and undermines our communities.‚ÄĚ It was a¬†glaring, flashing siren that the leadership of the UFCW may be considering cutting a¬†deal.¬†

And here is where we come to my initial point about how union leaders see their mission. In theory, the UFCW could reach an agreement with Kroger that, for example, ensured the company would be neutral as UFCW went about organizing more of its workers. It could be a¬†way to deliver hundreds of thousands of new members into the UFCW‚Äôs ranks. (Of course, thousands of existing UFCW members could be laid off as a¬†result of the store divestments that would go along with this merger.) But no matter what the company offered, common sense again tells you that they will not give up the underlying benefits of this mega-merger — which are structurally bad for suppliers, consumers, and workers.

No union should think of workers as pawns to be traded back and forth with companies, in order to benefit the union.

This blog originally appeared in full at In These Times on October 19, 2022. Republishing with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere.


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Your Workplace Rights During Natural Disasters and Emergencies

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Natural disasters create a level of chaos that can be hard to prepare for. Nevertheless, there are many federal employment laws that are in place to guide employers and their employees regarding rights and responsibilities when disaster strikes. 

The following federal laws provide the framework for understanding your workplace rights in the event that a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, hurricane, fire, flood, or other emergency occurs.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Salary/wage payments to be made during natural disasters are outlined by the FLSA as follows:

Exempt employees

Employers must pay exempt employees their full salary while the worksite is closed due to natural disasters or inclement weather (for less than a full working week). Employers may, however, request that employees utilize any unused leave to cover this period.

Nonexempt employees

Employers must pay nonexempt employees only for any hours actually worked, regardless of whether or not it is possible to carry out work due to a natural disaster.

Exceptions to the rule

Whereby nonexempt employees have agreed to complete an unspecified number of working hours for a specified salary amount, their employers must pay them a full week‚Äôs salary for any week in which any amount of work was carried out. 

Other FLSA guidelines include:

Waiting time

If an employee is required to wait for working conditions to be reinstated, such as waiting at work for the power to come back on, it is considered time-worked that they must be paid for.

On-call time

Whether or not any work is carried out, any employees who are required to remain on-call, either on employment premises or close-by, and are not permitted to leave, may be eligible for pay for those hours.

Not-for-profit 

Not-for-profit organization employees must be paid for any work conducted that they typically carry out as an employee, and must not be regarded as volunteers during disaster response and management.

What about layoffs?

Federal laws under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) stipulate notice requirements regarding mass layoffs and some plant closures.

Exceptions are in place for closures/layoffs that are the direct result of a natural disaster, but employers are still required to give as much notice as possible; issuing less than 60 days’ notice is only legal if the employer can prove that they meet the exception conditions.

Taking leave after a disaster

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees suffering from a serious health condition (or caring for a spouse, child or parent who is) that has been caused by a natural disaster are entitled to leave. 

Employees who are also members of an emergency services organization are protected from employment discrimination under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The act protects such American workers from being discharged, denied employment, promotion or other employment benefits due to their membership or obligation to serve with an emergency services organization.

Employee Benefit Programs

When business operations are affected by natural disasters, employers must decide whether their employee’s coverage plans will be maintained. For COBRA coverage (continuation of health coverage following loss of benefits), employers must send employees COBRA packages upon being notified of that employee’s ineligibility for an ongoing plan (typically due to ceasing work).

In the event of a natural disaster that may affect health plans, check with your employer to determine whether your cover will continue. Governmental agencies tend to issue deadline extensions in such events, but this can vary, so it is important to check.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Employees suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from a natural disaster are eligible to reasonable accommodations from their employer, so long as no undue hardship would be caused to the business. 

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

As per the OSHA, employers are responsible for protecting their employees from (unreasonable) dangers in the workplace. Natural disasters can create safety issues (such as electrical or trip hazards), and employers must consider this before expecting employees to attend and carry out duties. 

If an employee feels that they have been placed in danger, they can file a complaint with the OSHA, and request ‚Äėwhistleblower‚Äô protections if they feel vulnerable to retaliation. 

Both the OSHA and the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) protects employees’ rights to refuse to  work in unsafe conditions. While they must have a reasonable cause for believing the conditions to be unsafe, they are still protected even if they were genuinely mistaken regarding the risks. 

Federal relief

In the event that a worker is laid-off due to a natural disaster and is not covered by their state’s unemployment compensation program, they may apply for assistance under the federally-funded Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). This assistance scheme also provides cover to self-employed workers from a range of sectors not normally covered under state assistance programs¬†

Protecting your rights

If you feel that your rights have been violated by an employer, you have every right to take action.

Depending on the severity of the violation, suing your employer in small claims court may be the most appropriate action.

Still, it’s vital that you first attempt to resolve the issue out of court, and that you retain this evidence of good faith in the event that you need to take the matter further. Small claims cases tend to move along more quickly than investigations carried out by the labor department, but there are other pros and cons to consider.

If your rights have been violated, it’s best to consult with a lawyer to determine the best course of action.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness by an anonymous guest author. Learn more about workers’ rights here.


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Iran’s Gender Justice Uprising Joined by Teachers, Unionists

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The world is currently witnessing an uprising in Iran, in the face of great state brutality, for liberation from gender, social and economic oppression.

This nationwide revolt, the latest in a series of popular uprisings, was sparked by the brutal killing two weeks ago of a young Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Zhina Amini, in custody of the state‚Äôs Guidance Patrol, or ‚Äúmorality police,‚ÄĚ for so-called improper hijab (headscarf and coverings legally mandated in Iran for women).

Protesters have called for an end to the dictatorship, that the policing of women’s bodies be stopped, that hijab be optional according to each individual’s personal choice, an end to discrimination against Kurdish people and other ethnic minorities in Iran, and an end to economic injustice.

Women and young people are at the forefront of these protests and students at numerous universities have boycotted classes. At least 83 protesters have been killed by security forces.

What we are witnessing in Iran is a feminist revolt that has sparked a larger anti-government uprising.

The current uprising also helps illustrate the centrality of gender justice to working-class struggle.

Last week, Kurdish shopkeepers launched a general strike across Iranian Kurdistan in protest of Zhina‚Äôs killing, and some workers and labor unionists across the country are taking action to support the uprising as well. In a statement this week, the Council of Contract Oil Workers said they “support the popular struggles against organized and daily violence against women and against poverty‚ÄĚ and threatened to withhold their labor if the state does not end its “arrests, massacring of people, repression, and harassment and harm of women because of hijab.‚ÄĚ

On September 25, the Coordination Council of teachers’ unions in Iran threw its weight behind the uprising and launched a two-day strike.

The teachers, who have been engaged in a wave of strikes and protests since last December, wrote that the uprising shows “Iran is still alive and active, and does not bow down in the face of oppression.‚ÄĚ The Council condemned the use of schools in the country as militarized bases to suppress protesters. They called on all working and retired teachers — as well as retirees in government, army, and social service sectors, workers‚Äô unions, athletes and artists — to stand alongside “the rights-seeking people of Iran.‚ÄĚ

A coalition of women teachers on strike released their own statement declaring “our solidarity with other justice-seeking people and protesters to this crime for which there is no accountability and never will be.‚ÄĚ

While on strike this week, teachers urged Iran’s broader labor movement to escalate the current uprising against the Iranian state to help secure gender justice, democratic freedoms and economic equality.

As 60 percent of teachers in Iran are women, they have an important role to play in the current uprising.

The leadership of the teachers’ unions is overwhelmingly male, but women teachers have increasingly formed core cadre in the recent strikes and protests.

Many women leaders in the teachers’ movement have made demands in recent months that are key for the success of the current popular struggle, and show the intersection of working-class and gender struggles.

They have demanded sex education around issues of healthcare and sexual harassment, as well as contraception, which is significant given Iran’s 2021 population law which imposed increased restrictions on abortions and banned the distribution of free contraceptives by the healthcare system. They have demanded expanded maternity leave and daycare centers at the workplace. And they have demanded that school administrations stop harassing them for improper hijab.

These calls from a segment of working-class Iranian women form an integral part of the broader Iranian feminist movement which has been thrust onto the global stage in recent weeks.

In many ways, the slogan of “Woman, Life, Freedom‚ÄĚ that has swept the country‚Äôs streets in recent days goes hand in hand with the slogan of “Bread, Work, Freedom,‚ÄĚ which emerged during previous nationwide uprisings in Iran against austerity and the high cost of living, both in late 2017 as well as in November 2019 when a gas price increase quickly led to anti-government protests.

Actions like these show the importance of leadership by women workers.

These workers are part of a larger Iranian working class that has taken part in an uptick in strikes and labor militancy in recent years, from sectors as diverse as petrochemicals, trucking, and heavy equipment. These actions have come as a result of domestic and international crises in global capitalism, and the greed of both domestic and foreign elites.

The uprising in Iran must also be seen in an international context, as part of a larger global movement for gender equality across the world among women and trans, queer, and non-binary people who are facing different, yet interrelated types of attacks.

Solidarity protests in countries such as Chile, Lebanon and Turkey have amplified the uprising in Iran and lent protesters morale.

This blog originally appeared in full at In These Times on September 30, 2022. Republished with permission. View Workplace Fairness’ page on discrimination in the workplace.

About the Author: Alborz Ghandehari is a Salt Lake City-based organizer, performance poet, and Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah.


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