Working In These Times

Thursday, Mar 19, 2020, 6:00 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Sara Nelson: Our Airline Relief Bill Is a Template for Rescuing Workers Instead of Bailing Out Execs

Flight attendants union president Sara Nelson is working with House Democrats on a relief package to help airline workers, with strings attached for management: No executive bonuses. No stock buybacks. No spending money on union-busting. Worker representation on boards.   (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sara Nelson is the head of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) and is widely considered to be a candidate for the next leader of the AFL-CIO. She gained prominence when she called for consideration of a general strike to end the government shutdown of 2019. Now, with the entire economy cratering in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Nelson is working overtime to help craft a relief package for the teetering airline industry that keeps all employees on the payroll—a model she says can be “a template” for a national bill to give relief to all workers.

She spoke to In These Times on Wednesday about how to save the airline industry, what unions should be doing to save working people from devastation during this crisis, and the opportunities for radicalism that lie ahead.

A $50 billion airline rescue package is in the news. What should it look like? 

Sara Nelson: It has to be centered on workers. We have a plan that provides payroll subsidies to keep everyone on the payroll. That’s really important, because you have to keep everyone in their job, if not on the job. Payroll subsidy for not just the airlines, but also all the airport workers, is approximately $10 billion a month. For a three month package, that’s $30 billion. So $30 billion of the $50 billion is for maintaining payroll. 

What’s your sense of the likelihood of that happening? 

Nelson: This has already been incorporated into the House Democratic plan, and they’re working with us on a package that would provide these payroll subsidies, plus a direct loan from the government to the airlines, with certain requirements attached. So this is a relief package focused on workers, not a bailout. 


Wednesday, Mar 18, 2020, 3:30 pm  ·  By Mindy Isser

What Workers Have Already Won in the Face of Coronavirus

Workers clean a subway station in Brooklyn as New York City confronts the coronavirus outbreak on March 11, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the stark reality of the United States: our inadequate, for-profit health care system, our precarious employment conditions, and the deep inequality that is foundational to our society. But it’s also shown us that when things get dire enough, the working class fights back. Over the last few weeks, in dealing with the outbreak of the coronavirus, people across the United States have organized at their workplaces, and also won major reforms in the housing sector. Workers' consciousness about the cruelty of our profit-driven society—and about their own power—is being raised by the day, thanks to the failure of government leadership. While it’s likely that we will enter a recession or even depression soon, workers are still fighting for what they deserve—and that struggle must continue after the pandemic passes.


Tuesday, Mar 17, 2020, 3:55 pm  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Call Center Workers Fear For Their Health as They Work in “One Big Germ Pool”

Call center workers fear for their safety. (Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)  

Employees of a large Consumer Cellular call center in Arizona say that their health is in danger from the spread of the coronavirus, as their company has kept hundreds of people in the call center working in close quarters even as it has shuttered its corporate headquarters in Portland, Oregon.*


Tuesday, Mar 17, 2020, 10:01 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

You and Your Boss Have the Same Interests Right Now. That Is a Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity.

(Photo by Ren Netherland / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)  

“We’re a team.” “We’re a family.” “We’re all on the same side.” “A rising tide lifts all boats.” These are lies that companies regularly tell their employees. In fact, in normal times, the interests of the workers and the bosses are mutually exclusive. Their bigger slice of the pie gives you a smaller slice. But these are not normal times. For the first time in a lifetime, the interests of the workers and the bosses are—temporarily—the same. That is an opportunity.


Monday, Mar 16, 2020, 4:35 pm  ·  By Sarah Lazare and Adam Johnson

Under-the-Table Workers Are Left Out of the Paid Sick Leave Conversation

A woman wearing a protective mask shines a customer's shoes at Grand Central Terminal on March 12, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)  

First published at Jacobin.

In the rush — or at least the pretense of rush — to bring immediate economic relief to the millions of average workers gutted by the tanking global economy brought on by the coronavirus, Democratic Party elites and centrist papers of record Washington Post and New York Times are cementing the terms of the debate to a narrow, ineffective, and wholly inadequate discussion of paid sick leave.

Over a forty-eight-hour period from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, the New York Times has run twelve articles and op-eds online that substantively mention paid sick leave, including Associated Press and Reuters reprints. Not a single one of those pieces mentions the fact that informal economy and contract workers would not benefit from such protections, which are urgently needed — but ideally would just be one strand of a much larger safety net.

piece published Saturday by the New York Times editorial board does criticize the legislation for paid sick leave passed by the House Saturday morning, shepherded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for not going far enough because it doesn’t apply to companies with 500 or more workers. “In fact, the bill guarantees sick leave only to about 20 percent of workers,” the piece notes. “Big employers like McDonald’s and Amazon are not required to provide any paid sick leave, while companies with fewer than 50 employees can seek hardship exemptions from the Trump administration.” Yet nowhere in this article will you find any mention of the informal economy workers who are entirely excluded from this legislation.


Monday, Mar 16, 2020, 11:27 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

The Culinary Union Faces Its Biggest Test as Coronavirus Shuts Down Vegas

The High Roller at The Linq Promenade and hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, including The Venetian Las Vegas, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas and The Palazzo Las Vegas, are shown as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States on March 15, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)  

There may be no more vivid illustration of the economic havoc being wreaked by the coronavirus than the rapid shutdown of the Las Vegas strip. What was a booming tourist destination a week ago is now in the process of becoming a locked down row of empty buildings. For the Culinary Union, whose 60,000 members comprise virtually the entire Las Vegas casino industry, this is the equivalent of a nuclear bomb.


Friday, Mar 13, 2020, 9:03 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Unions Across America Are Screaming For Paid Sick Leave and Healthcare

Diners eat at a Chipotle restaurant on October 25, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  

As coronavirus spreads, sowing panic and economic dislocation, unions across the country are using the crisis as an opportunity to call for priorities that were dismissed as left-wing fantasies not long ago—and now seem like common sense. 


Friday, Mar 13, 2020, 7:09 am  ·  By Harris Feinsod

“Social Poetics” Uncovers the Poetry of Everyday Workers

Clockwise from Top Left: Alando McIntyre, a writer in Mark Nowak’s Worker Writers School (WWS), gives a reading of his poem, “Langwige.” WWS writer Seth Goldman reads his elegy for driver Doug Schifter at the New York Taxi Workers Alliance protest outside New York City Hall in August 2018. The 21,000-member alliance demand a measure that would put a cap on city ride-share services. London. A flier advertises the Bookstore Workers Organizing Forum, which Nowak attended in Minneapolis in 2004. (Photos courtesy of Coffee House Press, Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)  

Cabbie Seth Goldman joined members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) outside New York’s City Hall in August 2018 to read an elegiac poem he wrote for Doug Schifter, a livery driver who killed himself in his car in front of City Hall earlier that year. In an emotional note Schifter posted on Facebook, he claimed gig economy taxi competition left him “financially ruined,” despite working 100–120 hours a week.

“You can’t get away from your sixteen-hour days,” Goldman mourned. “Up the FDR riding home in your filthy car / Doug could only drive so far.” After six drivers took their own lives in 2018, Goldman’s elegy affirmed the message of NYTWA’s legislative campaign: The next day, pressured by the 21,000-member union, New York City Council passed the nation’s first cap on ride-share services, temporarily halting the issuance of new licenses.


Thursday, Mar 12, 2020, 10:20 am  ·  By Sarah Lazare

Coronavirus Shows Capitalism Is a Razor’s Edge

Chipotle restaurant workers fill orders for customers on April 27, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)  

My best friend works as a standardized patient, which means she is a practice patient for medical schools to train and test students. One day she’ll play an older woman with a pulmonary embolism, her face stricken with worry, the next someone with depression, limp and listless. Each workday medical students fumble at her bedside, and at her body, some nervous and gentle, others over-confident and brusque, as she guides them through learning their craft. It’s not bad for wage work, with each gig paying somewhere between $16 and $25 an hour, although this doesn’t always cover the time spent learning the part, let alone biking miles through Chicago’s potholed streets so she can make it from one 3-hour gig to the next.


Tuesday, Mar 10, 2020, 8:43 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Never Forget: Anti-Union Attorneys Also Love Joe Biden

Democratic Presidential hopeful former Vice-President Joe Biden speaks at the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO Workers Presidential Summit, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA, on September 17, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)  

In the week since his strong showing on Super Tuesday, Joe Biden has collected a raft of new labor union endorsements. As voters in more states head to the polls, it is worth remembering that Biden launched his campaign with a fundraiser co-hosted by the head of an anti-union law firm.