Working In These Times

Thursday, Aug 27, 2015, 4:20 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

IKEA Says It’s “Socially Responsible.” So Why Are Workers Accusing It of Union-Busting?

“It’s pretty clear they don’t want a contract,” says a union representative. (Gerard Stolk / Flickr)  

With a potential strike deadline looming at one its largest U.S. warehouses, Sweden-based home furnishings retailer IKEA is facing renewed skepticism over its self-proclaimed commitment to fair labor policies, both in the United States and elsewhere.

The deadline has immediate impact for about 450 unionized warehouse workers in Perryville, Maryland, many of whom find themselves puzzled at what they say is IKEA’s refusal to negotiate seriously over a new contract. But the skepticism about the company’s goodwill towards its own union workers extends beyond rural Maryland to other outposts of IKEA’s sprawling global empire, calling into question whether the Swedish symbol of modern corporate culture is in fact staging a clandestine retreat from its stated commitments to fundamental labor rights.

“It’s pretty clear they don’t want a contract” to replace a labor agreement set to expire August 31, says Greg Woods, a Perryville IKEA warehouse worker active in International Association Machinists (IAM) Local Lodge I-460. He says many members are worried about a strike or a lockout that could bust the newly formed union local.


Thursday, Aug 27, 2015, 12:16 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

Behind the Business Attire, Many Bank Workers Earn Poverty Wages

A new campaign is looking to organize the surprisingly poorly paid workforce. ( / Flickr)  

Walking into a bank, a customer is usually interacting with a teller dressed in business attire. The clothing gives the impression of relatively high, stable wages, maybe even a comfortable perch somewhere in the middle or upper-middle class. But the collared shirts and pressed slacks may be hiding the reality: a significant portion of customer service workers in the retail banking industry make salaries low enough to make public assistance necessary.

The Committee for Better Banks (CBB), a Communications Workers of America (CWA)-affiliated community and labor coalition, was created in 2013 to put an end to that. Cassaundra Plummer, a Maryland-based CBB member currently employed as a bank teller at TD Bank, told In These Times, “A lot of the issues within the banks are not discussed, they’re kept really quiet. As a young woman, I always thought that working at a bank was more of a prestigious job than retail. Once I actually got into banking, I realized that it’s not a whole lot different.”


Wednesday, Aug 26, 2015, 12:39 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

UE Organizing Director Bob Kingsley Prepares To Step Down, But Lefty Union Shows No Signs of Slowing

Kingsley gives his final address as the union's Director of Organization at the UE national convention. (UE / Facebook)  

In an emotional moment last week, Bob Kingsley received a long, loud and sometimes raucous standing ovation from about 250 hardcore union men and women meeting in a Baltimore hotel.

The ovation was less a response to the report he had just delivered to the convention delegates of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) than to the fact that his remarks were a sort of swan song, representing Kingsley’s last official report after serving 22 years as the union’s Director of Organization. Kingsley will retire from UE in several months, and the ovation was a personal tribute to his many years in the front lines of labor organizing.

But there was little to reflect a retiring spirit in Kingsley’s report. He spoke boldly of the union’s recent successes in organizing California van drivers at Renzenberger, a Kansas-based company that specializes in providing low-cost contract labor to railroads. He also spoke passionately of organizing efforts at General Electric plants in Texas and elsewhere, where the union is engaged in long-running campaigns to increase its membership in the company’s sprawling network of U.S. factories. And new initiatives are sprouting, with organizers from UE’s Young Activist Program visiting several new sites in Baltimore last week, including an Amazon warehouse that just opened early this year.


Wednesday, Aug 26, 2015, 11:23 am  ·  By David Moberg

Home Care Workers Could Soon See a Major Raise In Their Wages

Home care worker advocates say the decision is a huge victory. (Getty)  

Two million American workers take care of other people with infirmities—frailties of old age, disabilities from injury or illness and other limitations that decades ago might have put them in an institution. But now many more of them are likely to be tended at home, and home care givers make up one of the fastest growing occupations in the country. Caregivers have long worked in limbo, however, with their rights ill-defined, their pay low, their industry in flux and their work underappreciated.

A District of Columbia Appellate Court took one big legal step towards improving the lot of home care workers on August 21 by upholding a decision by the Department of Labor that home care workers employed by third-party providers, whether public, non-profit or for-profit, are covered under federal wage and overtime rules.


Tuesday, Aug 25, 2015, 10:28 am  ·  By Kevin Prosen

‘The Teacher Shortage’ Is No Accident—It’s the Result of Corporate Education Reform Policies

The solutions to the shortage—insofar as it even exists—are easy, but they aren't what corporate reformers want to hear. (Province of British Columbia / Flickr)  

Like much else in the national education debate, panics about teacher shortages seem to be a perennial event.  In a widely discussed article for the New York Times earlier this month, Motoko Rich called attention to sharp drops in enrollment in teacher training programs in California and documented that many districts are relaxing licensure requirements as a result, pushing more and more people into the classroom without full certification or proper training.

“It’s a sad, alarming state of affairs, and it proves that for all our lip service about improving the education of America’s children, we’ve failed to make teaching the draw that it should be, the honor that it must be,” mused Times columnist Frank Bruni.

That Bruni would bemoan such a state of affairs is ironic, as he has used his column over the years to repeatedly argue that teaching is too easy a profession to enter and too easy to keep, and amplified the voice of reformers who want to want to make the profession more precarious. But the reality is that speaking of a “shortage” at all is a kind of ideological dodge; the word calls to mind some accident of nature or the market, when what is actually happening is the logical (if not necessarily intended) result of education reform policies.


Monday, Aug 24, 2015, 3:30 pm  ·  By David Moberg

McDonald’s Workers Take Fight for $15 to Brazil, Accuse Company of “Cannibal Capitalism”

Workers decried McDonald's' labor practices in front of Brazil's Senate. (Mike Mozart / Flickr)  

As the Fight for $15 has increasingly focused its campaign to raise standards among fast food workers on the industry leader, McDonald’s, unions and governmental officials around the world have joined in a chorus of criticism accusing the world’s second largest private employer of breaking laws and cheating workers—and the public—of what the company owes them.

Many of the critics from 20 different countries converged last Thursday in the chambers of the Brazilian Senate to jointly charge the company with avoiding taxes, breaking franchise laws, endangering health and safety, depriving workers of legally required wages and practicing racial discrimination.


Monday, Aug 24, 2015, 11:16 am  ·  By Yana Kunichoff

Chicago Parents Enter Week 2 of Hunger Strike Protesting Corporate Ed Reform and Dyett HS Closure

“That it’s 2015 and not 1950 and black people have to go on a hunger strike to get a neighborhood school—it says to me I’m not even human,” one parent says. (Michelle Strater Gunderson)  

As schools across Chicago begin the cleaning and organizing process leading up to the first day of school on September 8, one will stay shuttered. Dyett High School, in on the edge of the Bronzeville neighborhood, won’t be opening its doors this year.

The high school has long been in the process of closing. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced in 2012 that Dyett would be “phased out,” meaning after 2012 no new students would be admitted, as a result of low test scores, and the building would be closed when the last class graduated.

Three years later, Dyett’s doors are now closed. But the fight to reopen the school is heating up. On Monday, August 17, 12 parents and neighborhood activists began a hunger strike, under the banner of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, to demand that CPS make a decision on the future of the school and reopen it as a district-run, open-enrollment, neighborhood school that would allow all students to attend regardless of grades.  


Friday, Aug 21, 2015, 3:40 pm  ·  By Keisa Reynolds

Washington Supreme Court Rules All SeaTac Workers Must Be Paid $15 Minimum Wage

(Steve Rhodes / Flickr)  

SeaTac workers have a reason to celebrate after the Washington Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday that the $15 minimum wage passed by a recent voter referendum should apply to thousands of airport employees.

SeaTac surrounds Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and many of its 28,000 residents are employed by companies near and in the airport. SeaTac became the first city in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage after voters approved a 2013 ballot measure, Proposition 1, that took effect January 1, 2014.


Thursday, Aug 20, 2015, 12:34 pm  ·  By David Moberg

NLRB Declines To Rule On Northwestern Football Players’ Union, Setting Back Player Organizing

Former Northwestern Quarterback 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)  

Faced with a decision about whether Northwestern University’s football team players could vote on whether they wanted a union, the five members of the National Labor Relations Board borrowed a tactic from the petitioning players’ game: they punted.

They claimed that they could have decided, as the regional director did in March 2014, that the players were employees of the university. After all, they worked up to 60 hours a week practicing and playing football in return for a scholarship.

But the NLRB declined to rule one way or the other in its August 17 decision. Its members wrote that they could have asserted jurisdiction over labor relations in the Northwestern athletics department, but they chose not to.


Thursday, Aug 20, 2015, 11:49 am  ·  By Dean Baker

Workers Are Losing Manufacturing Jobs Because of Policy, Not NYT’s Mysterious “Tectonic Forces”

Policy choices are undermining manufacturing: Workers are losing relatively well-paying jobs in sectors like autos and steel and are forced into low-pay, low-productivity jobs in the retail or restaurant sectors. (Washington State Dept of Transportation / Flickr)  

Wall Street executive Steve Rattner had a column in the New York Times in which he derided Donald Trump’s economics by minimizing the impact of trade on the labor market. While much of Trump’s economics undoubtedly deserve derision, Rattner is wrong in minimizing the impact that trade has had on the plight of workers.

Rattner tells readers:

In Mr. Trump’s mind (although not in the minds of serious economists), [the trade deficit is] why we’ve lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000.

The Chinese are certainly protectionists, but a shift in manufacturing jobs was inevitable. For centuries, as countries have developed, the locus of jobs has shifted based on comparative advantage.

Moreover, many of those manufacturing jobs weren’t lost to other countries but to growing efficiency, just as employment in agriculture in the United States has fallen even as output has risen.

No policies could reverse tectonic forces of this magnitude, and in suggesting that there are remedies, Mr. Trump is cynically misleading the American public.

There are several points here that are worth correcting. First, productivity in manufacturing is not new, but the large-scale loss of manufacturing jobs is. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1971 we had 17.2 million jobs in manufacturing. In 1997, we 17.4 million jobs. This is in spite of the fact that there was enormous productivity growth in manufacturing over this quarter century. Manufacturing employment then fell to 13.9 million in 2007, the last year before the crash. The big difference between this decade and the prior 26 years was the explosion of the trade deficit as jobs were lost to China and other developing countries.