Working In These Times

Friday, Jul 13, 2018, 2:12 pm  ·  By Ethan Miller

Brett Kavanaugh Once Sided With an Anti-Union Company That Scapegoated Undocumented Workers

Judge Brett Kavanaugh poses for journalists before a meeting with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in the Senate President pro tempore office in the U.S. Capitol July 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to succeed retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)  

People working at a meat distribution warehouse in Brooklyn were tired of working for unsustainable compensation without health insurance, paid holidays or overtime pay, so they decided to come together to improve their jobs. Their company immediately threatened and fired individuals for their support of a union, but they persisted in wanting to achieve a better workplace. In 2005 they voted to join together to form a union, yet their bosses refused to negotiate with them. After the workers took the company to court, it claimed it had no obligation to honor its employees’ union because some of the people it hired were undocumented immigrants.

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Friday, Jul 13, 2018, 11:07 am  ·  By Rachel Johnson

#RedforMed: 1,800 Vermont Nurses Are On Strike Demanding Their Hospital Put Patients Over Profits

Striking nurses have won the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders who blasted the hospital for not offering workers a living wage. (Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals / Facebook)  

Ranked 47th for pay in the nation. High turnover, stagnant wages, and chronic staffing shortages—sound familiar?

You’d be forgiven for thinking these figures refer to the working conditions of West Virginia teachers, or those in any of the red states that erupted in strikes during this spring’s teacher rebellion. But, in fact, these figures describe the daily realities confronting nurses in none other than the widely-hailed progressive state of Vermont.

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Thursday, Jul 12, 2018, 3:34 pm  ·  By David Dayen

Tech Corporations Reportedly on the Verge of a Major Coup in NAFTA Negotiations

Companies are using the trade deal to handcuff Congress and protect themselves from regulation.   (Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto / Getty)

If you ask Donald Trump’s economic team, there’s a method to his madness of triggering painful trade wars. He’s imposing tariffs to force countries to the negotiating table, in order to set America’s terms of trade with the rest of the world. The first salvo is the NAFTA negotiations with Canada and Mexico, which have gone through eight rounds since last year and could restart as soon as August.

Trump isn’t personally running the show. The head negotiator, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, is a trade remedy lawyer with a core interest in manufacturing, and he has taken some positions that align with long-sought progressive priorities, like limiting incentives for corporate outsourcing.

But with these promising developments also come dispiriting ones, including the kind of corporate backroom dealing that has soured progressives on trade agreements for decades. Despite vowing to put America first, the Trump administration is facilitating policies that use trade to override U.S. law.

According to five sources close to the talks, the U.S. is near to signing off on a digital trade chapter that would give Internet service providers like Comcast and platforms like Facebook broad immunity from liability if their users post illegal or pirated content.

This framework, largely similar to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, would be included in a multilateral trade deal for the first time, as a prelude to making it a global standard—a major coup for the tech industry.

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Thursday, Jul 12, 2018, 2:02 pm  ·  By Juan Cruz Ferre

These Union Members Are Going to War with the Largest Private Development Project in U.S. History

Trades workers rally on January 11 at Hudson Yards, New York. (Photo: Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust)  

It’s 6:00 a.m. in a gelid winter morning. A crowd of sturdy bodies, mostly construction workers, packs a corner in Midtown Manhattan. The chants of, “Open shop, broken shop!” can be heard blocks away amidst the cacophony of New York City traffic.

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Thursday, Jul 12, 2018, 9:48 am  ·  By Lisa Graves

Inside the Koch Family’s 60-Year Anti-Union Campaign That Gave Us Janus

Charles Koch has spent his political life trying to crush unions. (Getty/Washington Post)  

With last month’s monumental Janus decision by the Supreme Court, the Koch family won a major victory in their multi-generational attack on unions.

The ruling spreads to the entire public sector one of the laws the Koch fortune first helped push through in Kansas 60 years ago: “right-to-work.” And in doing so it enshrines the union-busting agenda their fossil fuel money has helped advance for decades. 

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Wednesday, Jul 11, 2018, 4:40 pm  ·  By Doug Henwood and Liza Featherstone

After Wall Street’s Destruction of Toys ‘R’ Us, Pension Funds May Divest From Private Equity

A 'Going Out Of Business' sign is displayed outside a Toys 'R' Us store in New York City. The iconic retail chain closed all U.S. stores June 29.   (Photo by Liao Pan/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

At the beginning of this year, in an In These Times cover story, we reported on what union activist Stephen Lerner has called “labor’s assisted suicide”: investment by public employees’ pension funds in private equity (PE) and hedge funds, which make many of their profits through job-destroying, union-busting “efficiencies.” We’re happy to note that in the wake of the recent bloodletting at Toys ‘R’ Us, according to the Financial Times, some state pension systems are now rethinking this reckless and anti-solidaristic practice.

Volatile investment strategies have not only contributed to the current instability in public pensions, they’ve also funded the evil work of PE. The business model typically works like this: Buy a company, load it up with debt to pay yourself dividends and fees, then squeeze labor with pay cuts, layoffs and work speed-up in order to cover the interest and principal payments. Investors get rich and workers get nothing.

Toys ‘R’ Us was taken private by PE giants KKR, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty Trust and then driven into bankruptcy, closing forever on June 29. The toy chain’s 30,000 workers lost their jobs. The three PE firms extracted over $470 million in fees and interest payments out of the company before rendering it a corpse. Employees were far less lucky. Many low-level workers have protested their lack of severance pay, particularly appalling given the generous bonuses paid out to executives.

The Minnesota State Board of Investment decided in late June to stop investing in KKR while it reviews the PE firm’s role in the iconic toy retailer’s collapse. The Washington State Investment Board severely questioned KKR officials over the company’s treatment of Toys ‘R’ Us workers. The fund decided to continue one of their planned investments in the company, but referred another back to its board for further review.

Some of the store’s employees gave testimony last month to CALPERS, California’s public pension fund, the largest in the United States (though also last month, CALPERS discussed expanding its investment in the sector since the returns are so high). Pressure from the funds—and particularly the decisive action by Minnesota—along with confrontational protests from the workers and a group called Rise Up Retail, may already be leading to more generous treatment of the Toys 'R' Us workers; KKR announced last week that it would “help” its laid-off employees.

Public pension funds provide nearly a fifth of all assets controlled by PE, so if they were to divest, a deeply anti-labor and parasitical sector would be substantially weaker. It’s good to see labor questioning this relationship. Whether or not our article helped inspire this outburst of solidarity and good sense, it’s a much needed victory for workers.

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Wednesday, Jul 11, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Julianne Tveten

The Tech Industry’s Push to Hire Autistic Workers Could Be a Recipe for Hyper-Exploitation

The Microsoft logo is illuminated on a wall during a Microsoft event on May 2, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

For autistic people, employment prospects are grim. Using data collected in 2014 and 2015, a Drexel University study found that only 14 percent of autistic adults in the United States hold paying jobs. In 2016, the university reported that while 60 percent of autistic adults who complete vocational training secure jobs, the majority earn poverty-level wages. The issue isn’t limited to the United States: Gainful employment rates for autistic people remain comparatively low in a number of other nations, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

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Tuesday, Jul 10, 2018, 3:18 pm  ·  By Moshe Z. Marvit

Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Could Spell a Fresh Hell for Workers’ Rights

Brett Kavanaugh has shown a disturbing trend of siding with employers on a range of issues. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/POOL)  

On Monday, President Donald Trump announced his nomination of conservative Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, Chief Justice John Roberts, a fellow conservative, will become the ideological and political center of the Supreme Court, and protections for women, minorities, voting rights, civil liberties and more could come under threat. Workers and labor unions should be particularly concerned about Judge Kavanaugh’s history of siding with businesses against workers and for pushing a deregulatory agenda.

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Tuesday, Jul 10, 2018, 2:13 pm  ·  By Tobita Chow

With Anti-China Protectionism, the Left Is Aiding Trump’s Xenophobic Agenda

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a retreat with Republican lawmakers at Camp David in Thurmont, Maryland, January 6, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)  

Because China is increasingly seen as a threat to U.S. global hegemony, anti-China nationalism is on the rise in American politics. Late last summer, Steve Bannon spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and discovered—much to his surprise—that his hawkish approach to China had gone mainstream. Early this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is in what passes as the moderate faction in the Donald Trump White House, released the 2018 National Defense Strategy, stating that “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” China leads the list of “strategic competitors” cited by the Department of Defense. In May, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei warned at Axios that “China is the greatest, growing threat to America” and suggested that “a smart politician could turn China into a unifying villain on virtually every topic.” Earlier this month, the pundit Matt Yglesias appeared to agree, tweeting, “I’m sort of coming around to the view that anti-China politics could be the unifying national project we need.”

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Monday, Jul 9, 2018, 5:29 pm  ·  By Sebastián González de León

For Many Undocumented Workers, There’s No Such Thing As Minimum Wage

Immigrants and people of color tend to get more low paying jobs, placing them at more risk of facing any wage violation.(wavebreakmedia / shutterstock.com)  

Wage violations are commonplace in Chicago. They affect low-paid workers in industries like construction, food service and retail. Immigrants and people of color are especially vulnerable because they tend to work in more low-income jobs. David, who requested a pseudonym to protect his safety, told In These Times his story.

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