Working In These Times

Thursday, Nov 29, 2018, 4:05 pm  ·  By Daniel Moattar

How Graduate Unions Are Winning—and Scaring the Hell out of Bosses—in the Trump Era

(GWC-UAW Local 2110 Graduate Workers of Columbia/Facebook)  

In a 1,035 to 720 vote, Columbia University’s graduate student union has agreed to a bargaining framework with the university’s administration, a milestone victory in the union’s nearly five-year campaign for recognition. The vote outcome, announced earlier this week, follows Columbia’s November 19 announcement that it would bargain with the union, ending long-standing efforts to halt graduate unionization on campus and in the courts.


Thursday, Nov 29, 2018, 1:55 pm  ·  By Rebecca Stoner

The First-Ever National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Was Just Unveiled—And It’s a Game Changer

The groundbreaking legislation would provide protections to domestic workers across the country. (NDWA)  

When Rosa Sanluis arrived in the United States, she earned $60 per week for a seemingly endless set of household tasks, working for a family in Texas. She worked from 5 a.m. until late at night, sometimes 3 a.m. on weekends, when her employers would go out and leave her to babysit. Like most domestic workers, Sanluis didn’t receive a written contract, uninterrupted breaks, sick leave, or overtime pay—because she wasn’t entitled to them under law.

Today, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) announced a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to raise wages and labor conditions for workers like Sanluis. The legislation is expected to be introduced when the new Congress convenes next year.


Thursday, Nov 29, 2018, 1:47 pm  ·  By Jake Johnson

After Reports of Sweetheart Deal for Billionaire Pedophile, Calls Grow on Trump Labor Sec. to Resign

U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta delivers remarks at the White House on November 15, 2018. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)  

President Donald Trump's Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is rumored to be on the short list of possible attorney general nominees, but he is now facing demands to resign immediately after an "incredibly disturbing" bombshell investigation by the Miami Herald on Wednesday revealed that—in his previous role as Miami's top prosecutor—Acosta "bent over backwards" to give a sweetheart plea deal to billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who has been accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.


Friday, Nov 16, 2018, 4:15 pm  ·  By Valerie Vande Panne

A New Economic Model for the South: Ditch Corporate Welfare and Fund Agricultural Co-ops

Majadi Baruti tends the pumpkin patch at the Dynamite Hill-Smithfield Community Land Trust in Alabama.   (Photo by Lynsey Weatherspoon)

A set of statistics from a new report provides a window into how misplaced economic priorities perpetuate poverty in the rural South.

Since opening a plant in Canton, Mississippi 15 years ago, auto manufacturer Nissan has been awarded at least $1.3 billion in tax subsidies.

Meanwhile, since 2010, small and cooperative farmers across Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have received just $2.3 million from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program, their primary source of economic support.

A report from the Institute for Policy Studies, titled “Agricultural Cooperatives: Opportunities and Challenges for African-American Women in the South,” makes the case that redirecting governmental support from corporate welfare to agricultural co-ops could provide an alternative vision for economic development in the South.


Friday, Nov 16, 2018, 3:40 pm  ·  By Tom Lewandowski

Forget Elections—Labor Needs To Get Back to Its Roots

A group of out-of-work men nicknamed "Coxey's Army" marched from Massillon, Ohio, to Washington D.C. in protest of unemployment in 1894, and were greeted along the way with solidarity and support. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)  

With the midterms behind us, we have Nov. 4, 2020, to look forward to—labor’s next morning after. On Nov. 5, 2008, we were euphoric and full of delusional hope over the imminent passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and the restoration of labor. On Nov. 9, 2016, we were paralyzed by despair and denial.

At this point, betting our future on the next brutal mating ritual of Republicans and Democrats is not a bet most workers are willing to take. Since the 1950s, union membership decline has been a straight line downward, regardless of which political party is in power. Only 10.7 percent of workers are unionized; an enormous 89.3 percent are not. That’s too low to make much difference for most people in most places—more molecular level Brownian motion than labor movement. No threat to wealth, the wealthy, or powerful. Much worse, no voice or power of, by, or, for workers. Instead, organized labor has become so marginal Donald Trump has been able to usurp its role as the emotional voice for workers.

The economy is doing great—apart from workers. Wages remain stagnant. Forty percent of adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense such as a car repair or medical crisis. Forty-three percent of families aren’t making enough to cover monthly living expenses. Uncertain work, unpredictable work hours, mandatory overtime, dictatorial bosses, miserable job standards, create day-to-day desperation with psychological and social tolls. The labor market is ripe for an organizing explosion, but it isn’t happening.

Blaming the rich and the Republicans is great sport. The income inequality research industry is booming and there is no need to catalog Republican offenses—they campaign on them. Long ago, labor outsourced its representation in the public sphere to the Democratic Party, and in the process become a dependent franchise and an easy target. But the truth is that the Democrats patronize labor on a good day, sell us out on a bad day, and ignore us on most days. (I speak as a recovering politician, a Democrat who ran and was elected four times to city council in my heavily Republican small town.)   

Partisan and competitive thinking insidiously affects behavior. Fifty percent plus one passes for solidarity. Unionists succumb to political speak, sounding like Washington rather than “folks ‘round here.” We blame workers for voting for Republicans. If they’d only voted how we told them, then we could get things done. We estrange ourselves from large chunks of workers while giving ourselves an excuse for failure. We don’t have to do the hard work of building a movement, we only need to win an election.

Maybe we should rethink that.

Instead, start today from where we are and who we are. Simple collective self-representation without institutional, ideological, partisan or monetary artifice. Understanding who and where we are by our own compass; by our own position, not opposition. This requires radical respect for our fellow workers. For lack of a better term, this unadorned organizing is social organizing.


Thursday, Nov 15, 2018, 1:00 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

Bernie to Walmart: Pay Your Workers $15 an Hour, or Else

Bernie Sanders at a rally in October (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images).  

Fresh off a successful campaign to to name and shame Amazon for its low wages, Bernie Sanders is setting his sights on Walmart. Today, the Vermont senator is introducing the “STOP Walmart Act,” a bill that demands the retail behemoth raise its wages or face penalties.

Co-sponsored by California Rep. Ro Khanna, the bill would prevent Walmart and other large companies from buying back stock unless they pay all employees at least $15 an hour, allow them to earn up to seven days paid sick leave and cap CEO pay at 150 times median worker compensation.


Wednesday, Nov 14, 2018, 6:29 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

When Janus Backfires: A Test Case In Labor Solidarity After Fair Share

Members of the Graduate Employees Organization at UIC demonstrating in 2010. (Ben Sasse / Flickr)  

In the aftermath of this summer’s Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision attacking public-sector unions, the University of Illinois at Chicago is rapidly becoming a bellwether for how those unions might sink or swim in a world without fair share.

UIC prides itself on being one of the most diverse college campuses in the country and one of the most welcoming to working-class students. The city’s only public research university and home to a vast hospital system, UIC employs a cross section of public-sector workers including nurses, teachers, clerical workers, and maintenance workers, nearly all of whom are unionized.


Wednesday, Nov 14, 2018, 5:46 pm  ·  By Marc Daalder

Why Every Democrat In Congress Should Support Bernie Sanders’ $15 Minimum Wage Bill

If Democrats want to show they side with the working class, they should get behind a $15 minimum wage. (Alex Edelman/Getty Images)  

Brittany Williamson is 24 and lives in Detroit, the poorest big city in the United States. Over the past three years, she has worked two—and sometimes three—jobs just to make ends meet, shuffling between Detroit-area McDonald’s franchises. That’s why, Williamson told the Detroit Free Press, she turned out to a Fight for 15 protest in October and was arrested for blocking Woodward Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

Williamson isn’t alone. Millions of people earn the minimum wage in their respective states—including 1.8 million who are paid at or below the federal minimum of $7.25—and thousands have turned out to protest their insufficient pay. Finally, that situation could be about to change.


Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018, 8:56 pm  ·  By Brooke Anderson

The Other Victims of California’s Fires: Workers Inhaling Toxic Fumes

Cesar Fragoso, a landscaper at Planting Justice, tends to seedlings in the company’s nursery in Oakland, CA amidst the wildfire smoke. (Brooke Anderson)  

With the death toll now standing at 42 and with some 7,200 structures destroyed, officials are now calling the wildfire in Paradise, CA (dubbed the “Camp Fire”) the deadliest and most destructive in California’s recent history. Two other massive fires—dubbed the Hill Fire and Woolsey Fire are simultaneously scorching Southern California.

As frontline firefighters—including many prison laborers—continue to battle the blaze while healthcare providers work around the clock treating fire victims, millions of other workers far away from the inferno are feeling a secondary impact: toxic smoke.


Friday, Nov 9, 2018, 2:56 pm  ·  By Kathy Wilkes

“Words Can’t Articulate the Joy”: Wisconsin Workers Celebrate Scott Walker’s Defeat

Peppi Elder celebrates Gov. Scott Walker's defeat with the other Solidarity Singers--who have met 1,999 times on weekdays at noon to protest Walker--at the Capitol rotunda in Madison on Nov. 7, 2018.   (Photo by Amber Arnold, State Journal)

Joy is the order of the day as 100 people or so congregate at the rotunda of the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison just hours after incumbent Republican Scott Walker conceded the gubernatorial election to Democratic challenger Tony Evers, a former teacher who heads the state's education department.

It's an emotional celebration. Old friends and allies greet one another with warm hugs, happy tears, cheers of delight and sighs of relief. They form a circle for, literally, the 1,999th gathering of the "Solidarity Sing Along," an hour-long, informal event held every Monday through Friday at noon.

Songs of solidarity and protest have filled the Capitol, buoyed spirits and lifted hearts during the eight years that purple Wisconsin bled beet red after the disastrous midterms of 2010. Upon taking office, Walker and statehouse Republicans immediately moved to strip public sector workers of union rights, spurring an uprising that erupted in February 2011 and continued into 2012 and beyond. Massive protests, bitter recall elections and multiple occupations of the Capitol captured the attention of the nation and the world.