Working In These Times

Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016, 12:36 pm  ·  By Zach Schwartz-Weinstein

On Bill and Hillary Clinton’s First Date in 1971, They Crossed a Picket Line

Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton in New Haven, Connecticut.  

Yale Law School students Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton were both members, alongside future Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal and Bill Clinton’s eventual Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor Robert Reich, of the Yale Law School Students Committee for Local 35, the university's blue-collar worker union, and signatories, during the week before the union went on strike, to a statement asserting “WE BELIEVE THE UNION DESERVES THE SUPPORT OF YALE STUDENTS AND FACULTY." Bill Clinton was even, former UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm would note decades later in his eulogy for Vincent Sirabella, the Voter Registration Chairman of the Sirabella for Mayor Campaign.

And yet, on her first date with classmate Clinton in 1971, Rodham would later recall:

We both had wanted to see a Mark Rothko exhibit at the Yale Art Gallery but, because of a labor dispute, some of the university's buildings, including the museum, were closed. As Bill and I walked by, he decided he could get us in if we offered to pick up the litter that had accumulated in the gallery's courtyard. Watching him talk our way in was the first time I saw his persuasiveness in action. We had the entire museum to ourselves. We wandered through the galleries talking about Rothko and twentieth-century art. I admit to being surprised at his interest in and knowledge of subjects that seemed, at first, unusual for a Viking from Arkansas. We ended up in the museum's courtyard, where I sat in the large lap of Henry Moore's sculpture Drape Seated Woman while we talked until dark.

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Friday, Feb 12, 2016, 6:30 pm  ·  By Peter Dreier

NLRB Ruling Says 2 California Nurses Were Illegally Fired During Union Drive

Allysha Almada speaks at a 2015 rally alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders.   (NNU / Flickr)

Last October, Allysha Almada, a 28-year old nurse at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California, was invited to the White House Summit on Worker Voice, where she presented President Barack Obama with a stethoscope engraved with the message: "Listen to Nurses."

The White House event occurred two months after the hospital fired Almada and fellow nurse Vicki Lin, who were part of a union organizing drive. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—the federal agency that oversees union elections and unfair labor practices—did listen to the nurses. It found that Huntington illegally terminated the two nurses for their union involvement.

If the hospital refuses to reinstate the nurses and compensate them for their lost pay, the NLRB will issue a formal indictment (“complaint”), triggering a federal trial before an Administrative Law Judge. Meanwhile, the California Nurses Association—which helped the nurses in their union drive and represented Almada and Lin before the NLRB—has requested the NLRB to seek a federal court injunction to force Huntington hospital to return Almada and Lin to work as soon as possible.

The NLRB will also turn its attention to the other alleged “unfair labor practice” charges against the Huntington administration for violating nurses’ rights during last year’s contentious union organizing campaign.

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Friday, Feb 12, 2016, 6:16 pm  ·  By David Moberg

Presidential Campaigns Need to Start Focusing More on Global Inequality

Both Clinton and Sanders have failed to make unions an importance in their presidential campaigns.   (Disney / Flickr)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders owes his virtual tie with Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus and his win in New Hampshire to his urgent warning about the threat that escalating inequality of incomes and wealth poses to America. Yet despite its power to excite younger voters, it is still unclear whether this message that a billionaire class in this country rigs the economy to its advantage and maintains political power through a corrupt campaign finance system has the legs to take him to victory.

Whatever the strength of the fight against inequality as a campaign focus, a growing body of research underscores the credibility and immediacy of his alarms about the social, economic and political dangers of the widening gap between the richest 1 percent and the rest of the country. It is both a symptom of other deep-seated problems and the cause of many of our most troubling challenges, far beyond even what Sanders says.

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Friday, Feb 12, 2016, 10:30 am  ·  By Shaun Richman

With 3 Recent High-Profile Walkoffs, Is the Wildcat Strike Back?

New York Uber drivers during their wildcat strike earlier this month. (Spencer Platt / Getty)  

Three high-profile wildcat strikes have caught business watchers and union leaders by surprise in recent weeks. Could they be bellwethers for a rising tide of worker militancy?

A wildcat strike is one that occurs with little notice or legal sanction. Wildcats are often organized in violation of a contractual commitment not to strike or a legal prohibition to do so, and in defiance of both the employer and official union leadership. Non-union workplaces wildcat by striking without formally certifying or affiliating with a union.

Wildcat job actions have sparked some of the largest strike waves and union gains in American history, and the revitalization of the 21st century labor movement will require a degree of worker organizing that is not dependent on union staff and resources. So spontaneous job actions merit attention.

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Thursday, Feb 11, 2016, 5:05 pm  ·  By Jim Hightower

Corporate PR Flacks Are Trying To Convince You the Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Benefit Workers

(GlobalTradeWatch / flickr)

The basic problem facing the corporate and political powers that want you and me to swallow their Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is that they can't make chicken salad out of chicken manure.

But that reality hasn't stopped their PR campaign, pitching their "salad" as good and good for you! For example, a recent article touted a study blaring the happy news that TPP will increase real incomes in the U.S. by $133 billion a year. Even if that were true (and plenty of other studies show that it's not), it's a statistic meant to dazzle rather than enlighten, for it skates around the real bottom line for the American public: An increase in income for whom?

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Thursday, Feb 11, 2016, 11:11 am  ·  By Carrie Gleason

Retail Means Jobs. But Those Jobs Shouldn’t Mean Poverty.

A Walmart in Southington, CT.   (Mike Mozart / Flickr)

The National Retail Federation is fond of pointing out that “retail means jobs.” And it’s true: the retail industry today provides one in ten private-sector jobs in the U.S., a number set to grow in the next decade.  

Yet new findings show those jobs may be keeping retail workers and their families from rising up the career ladder, exacerbating our country’s growing inequality. The findings from the Center for Popular Democracy demonstrate that, for women and people of color especially, working in retail often means instability and low pay. Both groups make up the lion’s share of cashiers, movers, and other poorly paid positions and barely figure in the upper ranks of management. In general merchandise—including big-box stores such as Target and Wal-Mart—women hold more than 80 percent of cashier jobs, the lowest-paid position. And in the food and beverage industry, women make up approximately half of the workforce but less than a fifth of managers.

People of color in the retail industry are often relegated to the least lucrative jobs as well. In home and garden stores like Home Depot and Lowes, for example, employees of color account for 24 percent of the total workforce—but 36 percent of jobs that pay least.

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Wednesday, Feb 10, 2016, 4:30 pm  ·  By Paula Chakravartty and Nitasha Dhillon

Justice for South Asian Migrant Workers in the Gulf Requires a New Kind of Solidarity

Barbers at Bengali Friday Market, Mafra Workers City, Abu Dhabi, March 2015 (Paula Chakravartty and Nitasha Dhillon)  

Since 2006, migrant workers have launched a spate of labor actions and strikes in the UAE. These actions, combined with mounting evidence of the mistreatment and deaths of workers building the World Cup infrastructure in neighboring Qatar, has attracted global attention to the plight of the workforce on which the economic growth of the Gulf has been built.

Of the roughly 22 million migrants who currently live in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, South Asian work­ers have been the primary contributors to the region’s pell-mell development since the second oil boom of the 1970s. In the UAE, up to 90 percent of its nine million residents are migrants; “low-skilled” workers from India make up the largest popula­tion (between 2.2 and 2.8 million), followed by workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. The number of migrant workers notably spiked after the speculative real estate boom began in 2002, when the Gulf’s investors returned to the region following September 11 and a decade-long steep escalation of crude prices. Dubai, which hosted a number of international mega–real estate projects aimed at global elite investors, became an icon for the region’s growth.

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Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016, 10:22 am  ·  By Douglas Williams and Cato Uticensis

A Plan To Defragment the Labor Movement By Rebuilding ‘Federal Locals’ and Central Labor Councils

Directly Affiliated Local Unions (DALU) helped begin the strike wave in auto manufacturing that would culminate with the Flint Sit-Down Strikes and the establishment of the United Auto Workers union.   (Sheldon Dick)

The words on the flag of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are a perfect summation of the labor movement at its best: “JUSTICE ON THE JOB, SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY.”

It is that sense of solidarity that drives aggrieved workers to reach out to union organizers in the first place. They know that they are not just signing up to join a local or negotiate a contract, but to be a part of a movement that has been the last line of defense for many a worker since those Mill Girls first walked off the line in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1845. It is a movement that has come out of the shadows of its craft union past to embrace an industrial unionism that places its priorities in growing the ranks of the organized.

Well…not exactly.

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Monday, Feb 8, 2016, 5:30 pm  ·  By Jason Pramas

Why Is SEIU Backing Hillary Clinton When Only Bernie Sanders Backs the Fight for 15 Campaign?

Activists with the Fight for 15 campaign protest outside Saturday's Republican Presidential debate in Goffstown, New Hampshire. (Derek Kouyoumjian)  

GOFFSTOWN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—The “protest pit” outside the Republican Presidential Debate at Saint Anselm College on Saturday evening was a fenced-in area in a field about a quarter mile down the road from the main entrance to the campus.

Bumper to bumper traffic ran in front of the pit. Odd given that NH State Police were letting few cars onto the campus. Most were told to turn around. No one that Republican leadership didn’t want in was getting anywhere near the Carr Center where the debate was taking place.

Powerful lights shone down on the scene from one side — lending it an eerie cast. Behind the fence facing the road were a couple hundred supporters for a few of the Republican candidates. But that was just the first layer. Behind them were about 500 activists with the Fight for 15 campaign — organized and bankrolled for $30 million as of last August by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose leaders had bused in SEIU staff and members, student activists, and allies from other unions and immigrant organizations from around the region. At least 13 busloads from southern New England overall, according to the campaign’s registration form for the event.

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Monday, Feb 8, 2016, 10:47 am  ·  By Dan DiMaggio

Brooklyn Sweet’N Low Workers Face Mass Layoffs To Make Way for Luxury Condos

Sweet'N Low workers rallied outside the Cumberland Packing Plant after learning it will be shut down this year.   UFCW Local 2013

This post first appeared at Labor Notes.

The workers who make Sweet’N Low started the new year with some bitter news. Their factory—in ever-gentrifying Brooklyn, New York—will shut down in the next few months, likely to make way for luxury condos.

“It was a complete blindside,” said Louis Mark Carotenuto, president of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 2013. Since September the union had been in negotiations with family-owned Cumberland Packing for a new collective bargaining agreement.

At five buildings in and near Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, workers produce, package, and ship Sweet’N Low, Stevia, Sugar in the Raw, and other In the Raw products, including a new line of beverages.

“Never during the course of negotiations did they bother to bring up competitive pressures,” said Carotenuto. “It’s not about competition, it’s about real estate value.

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