Working In These Times

Thursday, Apr 3, 2014, 10:55 pm  ·  By Alexandra Bradbury and Jane Slaughter

Only We Can Feed the Labor Movement Fire

The Chicago teachers' strikes were a spark, but the labor movement has to keep fanning the flame. (Shutter Stutter / Flickr / Creative Commons)  

We troublemakers keep hoping for the spark that will set a wildfire of workers in motion. The worse our situation gets—economically, politically, ecologically—the more we yearn for a vast movement to erupt and transform the landscape.

It’s not impossible. Look at 1937, when workplace occupations spread everywhere, from auto factories to Woolworth’s. The 1930s wave of militancy forced Congress to aid union organizing with new laws and to enact Social Security and unemployment insurance. Industrial unions formed during that upsurge continue to this day.

So why not here and now?


Thursday, Apr 3, 2014, 9:44 pm  ·  By Jake Blumgart

Philadelphians Stage ‘Sip-In’ To Support Casino Workers

On April 2, supporters of SugarHouse workers stage a 'sip-in' at one of the eateries in the massive casino. (Photo by Jini Kades)  

Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino opened almost four years ago. Unite Here Local 54’s campaign to unionize workers there is almost as old. And at the end of the month, after a history of reported union-busting activity that includes alleged retaliatory firings, SugarHouse will face its first National Labor Relations Board hearing. According to the complaint filed with the NLRB, a manager stopped a few workers from handing out union literature, crumpled it up and threw it away, also known as “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of rights.”

On April 2, in response to the increasingly tense work environment, union members, staffers and a variety of concerned Philadelphians came together to organize a “sip-in” at SugarHouse.

SugarHouse workers cite a wide variety of reasons for wanting to unionize, including low wages (they estimate $11 or $12 to be the hourly median), expensive healthcare, and what they call "rampant bullying and favoritism" by managers. And then there is the exceedingly strict attendance policy. In addition to a few call-out days, workers say they're each alloted six "points" for their tenure at the casino. According to employees, missing work or arriving late, for any reason, results in a yearlong one-point deduction for each infraction. No more points means no more job.


Thursday, Apr 3, 2014, 4:45 pm  ·  By Kari Lydersen

Community Members, Including Former Chicago Bull, Unite To Save School From ‘Turnaround’

Dvorak Technology Academy parent Antwainetta Hunter and her son say the elementary school, which is in danger of being taken over by a private nonprofit, is like a family. (Kari Lydersen)  

At 2:50 pm on March 21, as Carrene Beverly-Bass remembers it precisely, her world changed.

That’s when she was told by administrators that Dvorak Technology Academy on Chicago’s West Side, where she has taught for 21 years, was targeted to become a “turnaround school.” This would mean all of Dvorak’s teachers and staff would lose their jobs next fall, when the elementary school would be taken over by a private nonprofit organization: the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which already runs 29 Chicago public schools attended by 17,000 students.

Along with North Lawndale's Dvorak, the Chicago Board of Education is planning to designate two other elementary schools as “turnarounds": McNair Elementary on the West Side and Gresham Elementary on the South Side are also on the chopping block. In some cases, some employees are retained during turnarounds, but the district has already announced that the plan this time is to remove all staff from the three elementary schools.

“They ambushed us,” Bass says, tears trickling down her face. “It was the most dehumanizing experience I’ve ever had in my life.”


Thursday, Apr 3, 2014, 12:01 pm  ·  By Rebecca Burns

More Than 20 Striking Students Arrested, Belying University of California’s Era of ‘Labor Peace’

Graduate students in the UC Berkeley School of Education picket on the first day of a system-wide strike on April 2.   (Photo via UAW Local 2865)

A system-wide strike by graduate assistants at the University of California commenced yesterday with what their union calls an ugly irony. The work stoppage, staged in protest of past alleged attempts by UC to intimidate graduate workers for labor organizing, was quickly met with what workers say was a further attempt at intimidation: The arrest of 20 students at UC Santa Cruz who were picketing early Wednesday morning.

As Working In These Times has reported previously, graduate assistants are one of several groups of workers who have been locked in intensifying labor battles with the UC system, which has been hit hard by nearly $1 billion in budget cuts during the past five years. In November, graduate student workers struck in solidarity with campus service workers, a rare labor action that is prohibited by most union contracts and that was enabled only by the expiration of the UAW’s contract earlier that month. The union says that since then, the university system has engaged in a “pattern of intimidation” against members who participate in labor actions on UC campuses, threatening that striking could result in loss of jobs and even, for foreign students, loss of visas.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2865, which represents 12,000 UC academic student employees, announced last month that it would stage a two-day strike on April 2 and 3 over allegations of unfair labor practices (ULP) by the university. After graduate assistants at UCSC and two other campuses walked off the job yesterday morning, five strikers and 15 undergraduate supporters were arrested as they picketed at the UCSC campus’ west entrance, according to the union. A union spokesperson said that two additional arrests of undergraduates had occurred today, in a situation that was still developing as Working In These Times went to press.


Tuesday, Apr 1, 2014, 11:05 pm  ·  By Mike Elk

Emails Show Sen. Corker’s Chief of Staff Coordinated with Network of Anti-UAW Union Busters

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has been accused by the UAW in an NLRB complaint of interfering with the union election at the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant. If the UAW wins, a new election will be held. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)  

Leaked documents obtained by Nashville TV station NewsChannel 5 WVTF reveal communications between the employees of two Tennessee Republicans—Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam—and a network of prominent anti-union professionals during the United Auto Workers' union drive at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga earlier this year.

Sen. Corker and Gov. Haslam have been blamed by the union for contributing to the drive’s defeat by making public statements against the UAW. Prior to the election, Corker claimed that the plant would add an additional SUV assembly line if workers voted against the union, while Haslam implied that businesses had told him that they might not relocate to Tennessee if workers at Volkswagen voted to join the UAW.

There was no direct evidence, however, that these politicians were coordinating with the various anti-union forces that had gathered in Chattanooga to oppose the drive, although In These Times reported in November 2013 that Washington, D.C.-based anti-union campaigner Matt Patterson had bragged about developing anti-UAW messaging with “politician [sic] and businessmen” in Tennessee. The documents by NewsChannel 5 provide the first direct proof of such coordination. In addition, In These Times magazine has obtained documents and conducted interviews with a top anti-union consultant that shed new light on the origins of the anti-union videos referenced in the communications.


Friday, Mar 28, 2014, 5:53 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Is Perelman Jewish Day School the Hobby Lobby of Union-Busting?

The Perelman Jewish Day School in Melrose Park, a suburb of Philadelphia.   (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

A small group of teachers in Philadelphia are finding their union rights under attack on questionable religious grounds, much the same way that women across America found their right to healthcare assaulted this week in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case.

Some 55 teachers at the Perelman Jewish Day School, which has two K-5 campuses in the Philadelphia suburbs with some 300 total students, were stunned March 24 to be notified that the school’s board had decided to cease recognizing their union. The teachers were told that the current union contract will be allowed to expire and they will be required to negotiate individual one-year contracts with school administrators. Normally, revoking union recognition would be considered a blatant violation of collective bargaining law. But board vice president Aaron Freiwald says the action is justified by a Supreme Court decision. The case he's likely referring to is the obscure 1979 NLRB v. Catholic Bishops of Chicago, in which the Supreme Court found that religious schools are exempt from certain provisions of the National Labor Relations Act.

The teachers, some of whom are observant Jews themselves, are not going to meekly allow their union to be dissolved, says Barbara Goodman, the communications director for the AFT Pennsylvania, the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the union with which the Perelman Jewish Day School Faculty Association Local 3578 is affiliated.


Thursday, Mar 27, 2014, 2:15 pm  ·  By Amien Essif

SeaTac Workers Fight for Their 15

Pictured from the center are Wayne Armstrong (blue cap), Lou Lehman, and Dan Park. All were fired by Extra Car, allegedly in retaliation for workplace organizing.   (Teamsters 117)

Early this year, the city of SeaTac, Washington inaugurated the highest minimum wage in the country: $15 an hour. The law already suffered a setback when a judge ruled that airport employees—who make up the majority of the city's workforce—would not be eligible for the higher wage. Yet among the SeaTac workers who do qualify for a raise, a number have had to take the enforcement of the new standards into their own hands.

On Wednesday morning, four recently-terminated employees of Extra Car Airport Parking, a parking service that serves the Seattle-Tacoma Airport in SeaTac, rallied in front of their former workplace. The workers were joined by a group of about 30 supporters, drawing attention to the company’s alleged wrongdoings, which include shirking the new $15 wage floor and engaging in retaliatory firings against workers who have voiced complaints.

According to the press release for a class-action lawsuit also announced Wednesday, an estimated 40 current and former Extra Car workers earn or earned between $10 and $11 an hour—or at least $4 less than required by law. Attorney Martin Garfinkel—who represents fired Extra Car worker Lou Lehman and may soon be representing other former and current Extra Car employees who have been invited to join the suit—said in a Wednesday press release that “the SeaTac living wage ordinance is in full force and effect outside the boundaries of the Airport, and must be followed....There is no excuse for Extra Car's unlawful conduct.”


Thursday, Mar 27, 2014, 1:40 pm  ·  By Alex Lubben

The First Blow to the NCAA Establishment: NLRB Rules Players Are Employees

Kain Colter highlighted three bread-and-butter issues that ignited the union drive: medical care, academic support and the securing of scholarships.   (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

In a ruling that could have a ripple effect across the NCAA, the National Labor Relations Board found yesterday that football players at Northwestern University—who until now were considered no more than “student-athletes”—are in fact employees.

The NCAA has long been under scrutiny for its treatment of the players who generate college sports’ enormous profits. Players have historically only received payment in the form of tenuous scholarships and occasional stipends, while the average pay for NCAA coaches was a startling $1.64 million in 2012.

Public reactions to the NLRB’s decision swamped social media Wednesday night, with most NCAA football fans coming out in support of the players challenging the “status quo of college athletics.” Others openly called the athletes greedy, saying the move could damage college-level sports.


Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014, 4:50 pm  ·  By James Bargent

Labor Crisis Begets Violence on Colombia’s Pacific Coast

For Colombia's union leaders, the epidemic of violence and poverty in the port of Buenaventura can be traced to the region's labor crises.   (Jimysantandef / Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

The Pacific port city of Buenaventura is the gateway to the Colombian economy. The city handles around two-thirds of the country’s maritime foreign trade and connects Colombia to 300 ports around the world. But despite its status as a thriving hub of international trade, Buenaventura is better known as an epicenter of narco-paramilitary activity, making it one of Colombia’s many sites of rampant poverty and violence, death and hopelessness.

Buenaventura is currently undergoing a multi-layered humanitarian crisis. Unemployment stands at around 64 percent, and over 60 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. Many of its residents lack even the most basic services, including potable water, reliable electricity and functioning sewage systems.

The city is situated on the frontlines of a narco-paramilitary war for Pacific coast drug trafficking routes, which has earned it a macabre reputation for torture houses, dismembered bodies and mass graves. Both sides in the war feed off the city’s poverties, using desperate youths as disposable soldiers.

Javier Marrugo, the president of Unión Portuaria de Colombia, the port workers union, believes that while the city’s problems are many and complex, they can be traced back to one abusive labor practice at the city’s main employer: the port.


Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014, 6:23 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Rejecting TPP, AFL-CIO’s Trumka Calls for ‘Global New Deal’

At a March 25 Center for American Progress event, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had sharp words about backroom trade deals such as the TPP.   (CAP)

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today called for a “Global New Deal” to fundamentally rethink U.S. foreign trade policies, especially so-called “free trade agreements” such as the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

These treaties in the works are examples of  “a failed model of global economic policies” based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of the mid-1990s, Trumka said. “We cannot enact new trade agreements modeled on NAFTA. ... NAFTA put corporations in charge of America’s economic strategy with the goal of shipping jobs off shore to lower labor costs,” he told an audience at the Washington, D.C., offices of the Center for America Progress, an advocacy group closely associated with the Democratic Party. Echoing common progressive criticisms of the trade deals, Trumka called NAFTA, TPP and TTIP “thinly disguised tools to increase corporate profits by poisoning workers, polluting the environment and hiding information from consumers.”