Working In These Times

Monday, Jan 9, 2017, 1:28 pm  ·  By Tyler Zimmer

Only Organized Labor Can Save Illinois from Crisis

The labor movement remains the most potent weapon working people in the state have to overturn austerity and increase investment in the public good. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  

Illinois is heading for a major crisis. It has been more than a year and a half since the state had an official budget that appropriated funds for basic services. And, as of this month, the coffers will dry up and a public sector already on life-support will quickly slip into critical condition.

For the millions of ordinary Illinoisans who rely on the state’s network of public institutions, the situation is dire. For the state’s near-billionaire Republican governor, however, things appear to be going exactly as planned.

“We've become a collectivist economy in Illinois,” Gov. Bruce Rauner recently told the Chicago Tribune. “It's crushing us. And no problem is going to get fixed unless we bring more economic freedom into the state. And I believe that very passionately."


Friday, Jan 6, 2017, 6:55 pm  ·  By Mary Bottari

Anti-union Effort in Kentucky Is Ripped Straight from the Koch Playbook

The Kentucky AFL-CIO is holding a rally at the Capitol at 8:30 a.m. this Saturday and is urging citizens to call their legislators. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

This article was first posted by the Center for Media and Democracy.

On the first day that the Kentucky legislature got underway with a newly elected Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican governor, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity group blew the whistle and legislators jumped to do their bidding.

This week, the Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover rammed through the legislature three bills to break the back of unions and lower wages for highly-skilled construction workers.

It was bare-knuckled partisan politics. "We can pretty much do whatever we want now!" crowed GOP Kentucky Rep. Jim DeCesare behind closed doors.


Friday, Jan 6, 2017, 12:24 pm  ·  By Seth Kershner

Breaking the Chains: Can Labor Unions Organize Retail Workers?

The drumbeat of anti-unionism typically begins as soon as new employees begin their training. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  

Retail is the nation’s largest employer. Since 1980, the number of jobs in retail has reportedly grown nearly 50 percent, from 10.2 to 15.1 million. At the same time, real wages for retail workers have fallen by 11 percent while on-call scheduling, involuntary part-time work and “clopening”—where workers are required to lock up the store late at night and reopen the next morning—have wreaked havoc with workers’ lives. Not surprisingly, the retail sector also has one of the lowest rates of unionization in the economy—around the 5 percent mark under which unions have virtually no influence.

It didn’t used to be this way.

Retail had 15 percent union density in the 1970s, according to sociologist Peter Ikeler, with the density rate in grocery stores surpassing 31 percent at its peak in 1983. But, as with the rest of the labor movement, retail unionism has taken a steep fall since the early 1980s.

How did it go so wrong?

“There are a lot of parts to that puzzle,” says Ikeler, a sociologist at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury and author of the book, Hard Sell: Work and Resistance in Retail Chains


Thursday, Jan 5, 2017, 1:31 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Kentucky Right-to-Work Law Now a Question of When, Not If

If such a law passes, as it looks likely to do, Kentucky will become the 27th state to go right-to-work. (Kentucky AFL-CIO)  

Elections have consequences.

This is no more clear than in Kentucky, where emboldened Republicans are moving fast in the wake of their election victory to make the state a right-to-work state.

If such a law passes, as it looks likely to do, Kentucky will become the 27th state to go right-to-work.

“As I see it, it’s pretty much a done deal,” says Joe Brennan, director of the pro-union Kentucky Labor Institute.

All the necessary votes are lined up in the legislature and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is ready to sign, Brennan says, so “it’s really only a question of when it will happen, not if it will happen.” 


Wednesday, Jan 4, 2017, 1:55 pm  ·  By Moshe Z. Marvit

Labor Opponents Already Have The Next ‘Friedrichs’ SCOTUS Case Ready to Go Under Trump

As Democrats and the labor movement prepare for a possible fight over Trump’s imminent appointment to the Supreme Court, they should recognize that several major labor cases, brought by some of labor’s most persistent enemies, are waiting in the wings. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)  

The Supreme Court gave unions an unexpected victory last year when it issued a decision in a case that had threatened to take away the right of public sector unions to collect dues from workers they represent. That win may be short-lived. 

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was meant to be the capstone in decades of cases that sought to have the courts determine that fair-share fees for public sector workers are unconstitutional. Fair-share fees, or agency fees, require workers represented by a union to pay the portion of fees that covers collective bargaining. They seek to balance the worker’s right to dissent from the union by relinquishing membership and not paying for activities that aren’t related to collective bargaining, with the union’s right to avoid free riders and not be forced to represent a worker who contributes nothing.

The Supreme Court, largely through decisions written by Justice Samuel Alito, had indicated that its 1977 case that allowed for fair-share fees in the public sector was ripe for a rare overturning by the Court. It all but invited a challenge. Several cases were in the pipeline, but Friedrichs took the unusual approach of conceding before each lower court that it should be dismissed so that it could move quickly to the Supreme Court. Friedrichs faced a hostile oral argument before a conservative majority; unions braced for the worst. Then, as the Court was drafting its opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia died, and with him, so did Friedrichs. The Supreme Court issued a tied 4-4 decision affirming the lower court in March.


Wednesday, Dec 28, 2016, 11:26 am  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

More U.S. Workers Have Highly Volatile, Unstable Incomes

More Americans work without full-time employers yet policies fail to address this new reality. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

The U.S stock market may be at record highs and U.S. unemployment at its lowest level since the Great Recession, but income inequality remains stubbornly high.

Contributing to this inequality is the fact that while more Americans are working than at any time since August 2007, more people are working part time, erratic and unpredictable schedules—without full-time, steady employment. Since 2007, the number of Americans involuntarily working part time has increased by nearly 45 percent. More Americans than before are part of what’s considered the contingent workforce, working on-call or on-demand, and as independent contractors or self-employed freelancers, often with earnings that vary dramatically month to month.

These workers span the socioeconomic spectrum, from low-wage workers in service, retail, hospitality and restaurant jobs—and temps in industry, construction and manufacturing—to highly educated Americans working job-to-job because their professions lack fulltime employment opportunities given the structure of many information age businesses. As Andrew Stettner, Michael Cassidy and George Wentworth point out in their new report, A New Safety Net for an Era of Unstable Earnings, what all these workers have in common are highly volatile, unstable incomes and a lack of access to the traditional U.S. unemployment insurance safety net.


Monday, Dec 26, 2016, 11:49 am  ·  By Theo Anderson

Income Inequality Is off the Charts. Can Local Policies Make a Difference?

The increasing consolidation of wealth is not inevitable. (Tish Wells/MCT via Getty Images)  

The income gap between the classes is growing at a startling pace in the United States. In 1980, the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Today, they earn 81 times more.

The widening gap is “due to a boom in capital income,” according to research by French economist Thomas Piketty. That means the rich are living off of their wealth rather than investing it in businesses that create jobs, as Republican, supply-side economics predicts they would do.

Piketty played a pivotal role in pushing income inequality to the center of public discussions in 2013 with his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In a new working paper, he and his co-authors report that the average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States between 1980 and 2014. But only the highest earners benefited from that growth.


Thursday, Dec 22, 2016, 12:33 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

Ohio Factory Workers Fight for a Union: “Everyone Deserves a Seat at the Table”

The Fuyao plant in Ohio illustrates changing trends in U.S. manufacturing jobs, which are beginning to resemble jobs in the fast food and retail sectors. (Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

Forklift operator Timi Jernigan hopes President-elect Donald Trump fulfills his campaign promise to bring more manufacturing jobs to the United States. But he knows from experience that not all factory jobs are the same.

“I’ve worked at union and nonunion facilities,” says Jernigan, who’s worked at factories around Dayton, Ohio. “And it always was better at the union ones.”

He’s currently at Fuyao Glass America, a Chinese-owned company that opened an automotive glass plant in the Dayton suburb of Moraine. Jernigan was one of its first employees and is now part of a group of workers trying to organize a union.


Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016, 11:56 am  ·  By Branko Marcetic

From the WWE to the White House: The Anti-Worker History of Trump’s SBA Pick

Under the stewardship of Linda McMahon and her husband, Vince, the WWE racked up a long list of controversies when it comes to its handling of the business’ lifeblood—the wrestlers themselves. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

This month, President-elect Donald Trump continued his trend of appointing wealthy businessmen and women with little government experience to government posts by nominating former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) chief executive Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Most news reports on her appointment have focused on her net worth and the fact that she donated $7 million to Trump’s campaign. Few have talked about the WWE’s questionable labor record under McMahon.


Tuesday, Dec 20, 2016, 3:05 pm  ·  By Sonia Singh

5 Ways Unions and Workers Centers Can Defend Immigrant Members

The president-elect campaigned on promises to deport millions of undocumented workers and to target immigrants from Muslim countries. (Photo by Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images)  

This article was first posted by Labor Notes.

As the reality of a Donald Trump presidency sets in, unions and workers centers are gearing up for a massive fight to defend immigrant members, building on lessons from the past decade.

Undocumented workers are at risk both from the government and from their employers. Sometimes employers are under government pressure themselves. Other times they’re using the threat of immigration enforcement to discourage organizing or keep workplace standards low.

Besides workplace or home raids, over the past decade workers have faced:

  • I-9 audits, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigates employers to ensure workers have the right documentation to work legally
  • No-match letters, where the Social Security Administration notifies employers that the name or social security number on a worker’s W-2 form doesn’t match its records
  • E-Verify, an online system that checks workers’ eligibility to work, mandatory in some states and voluntary in others

The president-elect campaigned on promises to deport millions of undocumented workers and to target immigrants from Muslim countries. While we don’t yet know Trump’s game plan for attacking immigrant workers, here’s a checklist of five questions to ask as your union or worker center prepares to defend members: