Working In These Times

Tuesday, Nov 15, 2016, 1:17 pm  ·  By Buzz Malone

Stop Blaming Immigrants and Start Punishing the Employers Who Exploit Them

Trump can build his wall, but so long as there are employers seeking to profit, illegal immigration from all nations will continue to be a problem. (Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images)  

This article was first posted on the author's blog.

"All of us assign blame in our own best interest—blame is relative. So one of the most important functions in society is controlling the blame pattern. Why is it that [the working class] assign blame downward to some welfare chiselers down at the bottom, "Tryin' to get a little somethin' for nothin'"—and they never assign blame upward to a handful of big-time chiselers who get a whole lot of something for doing nothing at all?" -Utah Phillips, labor activist and folk singer

Illegal immigration. It's apparently one of the key issues that moved the working class electorate to vote for Trump, so I feel compelled to offer my two cents on the subject based on my own thoughts and experiences.

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Monday, Nov 14, 2016, 11:41 am  ·  By Samantha Winslow

Massachusetts Teachers Defeat Charter School Expansion: “We Took On the Corporate Giants and Won”

Question 2 would have lifted the cap and allowed up to 12 new charter schools each year—opening the floodgates to privatize public education. But voters said no, 62 to 38 percent. (Save Our Public Schools/ Facebook)  

This article was first posted at Labor Notes.

One of a few silver linings in an otherwise doom-and-gloom Election Day was in Massachusetts—where, despite being outspent by corporate education reformers, a teacher-led coalition beat back charter school expansion.

“We took on the corporate giants and won,” said Concord teacher Merrie Najimy, president of her local union. “We did it the old-fashioned way, by organizing and building relationships.”

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Thursday, Nov 10, 2016, 6:07 pm  ·  By Theo Anderson

The Bright Spots for Workers Amid Tuesday’s Disastrous Election

Voters approved an increase to $12 an hour by 2020 in Arizona, Colorado and Maine. Washington voted to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020—and index it to inflation after that. (AZ Healthy Working Families/ Facebook)  

The presidential election was bad news for progressives, but the dark cloud had a sort of silver lining—ballot measures. At the state level, workers won minimum wage increases in four states and paid sick leave in two.

Voters approved an increase to $12 an hour by 2020 in Arizona, Colorado and Maine. Washington voted to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020—and index it to inflation after that. In Flagstaff, Arizona, voters approved an increase above the new state minimum wage, raising it to $15 an hour by 2021.

These increases will affect about 2.3 million workers, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). And overall, the “minimum wage ballot wins bring to 19.3 million the number of workers who have received raises because of minimum wage increases in the four years since the Fight for $15 launched in New York City and began changing the politics of the country around wages,” noted NELP’s executive director, Christine Owens.

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Thursday, Nov 10, 2016, 5:07 pm  ·  By Micah Uetricht

Labor Leaders Deserve Their Share of the Blame for Donald Trump’s Victory

Leaked emails showed that AFT's Randi Weingarten promised to act as an attack dog for Hillary Clinton against another union that had endorsed Bernie Sanders in the primary. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)  

Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States. I feel a wild urge to scrub my hands with steel wool and bleach after typing those words—my fingers feel filthy.

If we want to avoid a similar nightmare in the future, we have to parse this election’s lessons and figure out who is to blame—not for cheap point-scoring, but to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again. That means we have to talk about how American union leaders helped hand this race to Trump.

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Thursday, Nov 10, 2016, 1:42 pm  ·  By Buzz Malone

Organize or Die: Labor Must Fight Like Hell to Survive a Trump Presidency

Our future as organized labor, most likely, will now depend upon our ability to genuinely mobilize and fight like hell for our survival on every front. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)  

This article was first posted on the author's blog.

Many years ago, I spoke to a group of labor leaders. I talked about labor history, and how we all love and revere the movement of yesteryear. I talked about how we worship and adore the era of workers rising up against the machinery of the status quo and the heroes who emerged as leaders of those movements. And then I told them that if we are not cautious, that the next worker uprising will be against us. I warned them of the dangers of becoming so intertwined into the fabric of the establishment that the working class may not readily be able to discern the difference between the two.

For the record, my speech that day was not well received. In fact, come to think of it, a pretty long period of time elapsed before they ever asked me to say anything to a group again. But that doesn't make it any less true, even if they didn't want to hear it.

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Tuesday, Nov 8, 2016, 3:24 pm  ·  By Keisa Reynolds

Child Care Isn’t Just Expensive—It Can Be Really Hard to Find

Child care costs can rival housing costs and even be more than the cost of college tuition in some places. (mliu92/ Flickr)  

Many people have heard of food deserts, areas where people don’t have access to affordable and healthy food. But what about child care deserts? What are those?

The Center for American Progress (CAP) defines a child care desert as a ZIP code with at least 30 children under the age of 5 and either no child care centers or so few that there are more than three times as many children as there are spaces in the centers.

That definition was part of a recent CAP report that looked at child care centers across eight states: Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. The authors found that 42 percent of children under the age of 5 live in child care deserts. Rural areas are even worse off, with 55 percent of children under the age of 5 in rural communities living in such deserts.

“These findings show the child care marketplace in a state of crisis. In many parts of this country, working families face a deep shortage of child care options, which are often of inconsistent quality and at a financial cost that is out of reach,” the authors wrote.

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Monday, Nov 7, 2016, 6:15 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Labor Board Says Trump Broke the Law, Orders Him to Negotiate with Las Vegas Union

UNITE HERE has launched a national boycott of all Trump properties in an effort to force management to the bargaining table. (Culinary Workers Union Local 226/ Facebook)  

Whatever happens in the presidential election this week, the Las Vegas-based Culinary Union won’t let up in its campaign against Donald Trump.

The union’s argument against Trump goes deeper than the vague threats, promises and generalities that pass for presidential debate—the argument is about some 500 jobs in downtown Las Vegas, right at the beating heart of the union.

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 has been trying to organize a union at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas and is making slow but steady progress. It scored a major victory last week when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered hotel management to begin bargaining with the union over wages and working conditions for about 500 housekeepers, food and beverage staff and guest service workers.

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Monday, Nov 7, 2016, 4:41 pm  ·  By Kate Aronoff

LIUNA’s Rank-and-File is Challenging Union Leadership on Standing Rock—and Beyond

Demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline have divided unions. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)  

To date, several unions have come out in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, including the Communications Workers of America (CWA), National Nurses United, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Terry O’Sullivan—General President of Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA)—has few kind words for them. In a letter from late October, he called them “self-righteous,” “a group of bottom-feeding organizations” that “have sided with THUGS against trade unionists” and showed “a truly amazing level of hypocrisy and ignorance.”

 “LIUNA will not forget the reprehensible actions and statements against our members and their families from the five unions listed above,” O’Sullivan warned. “Brothers and sisters, for every ACTION there is a REACTION, and we should find every opportunity to reciprocate their total disrespect and disregard for the health, safety and livelihoods of our members.”

But will union leadership take “ACTION” against its own members, many of whom are bucking O’Sullivan’s position and choosing to stand with Standing Rock? The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is creating and revitalizing alliances between indigenous communities, greens and labor. In short order, these newly strengthened ties could have a significant impact on the energy industry and the next president alike.

Labor for Standing Rock

In Madison, Wis., LIUNA-City Employees Local 236—a LIUNA local—unanimously passed a resolution in support of water protectors at Standing Rock and against the Dakota Access Pipeline, citing their belief that “there would be more and better sustainable jobs if we invested in other types of energy that were not fraught with so many accidents.” Local 236 also sent a delegate, Chaous Riddle, to North Dakota for an October 29 convergence of the newly formed group Labor For Standing Rock, which has launched what they hope is a permanent union encampment within the larger Oceti Sakowin camp.

Asked if her local is expecting blowback from LIUNA leadership over the decision, Riddle says, “We’re expecting to get that anytime,” though exactly what that reaction will look like is unclear.

Riddle was one of several thousand protestors, many of them public sector workers, to help occupy the Wisconsin state capitol in 2011, a response to Gov. Scott Walker’s ultimately successful attempt to enact sweeping anti-union measures. “[Standing Rock] really wasn’t that much different from the protest in the capitol five years ago, where we had people from all walks of life coming,” Riddle says. “People were giving, and everybody was kind-hearted. If somebody was hungry we fed them. If they were cold we gave them a coat.”

“At first I got a lot of flak because I was wearing my LIUNA shirt,” Riddle says, though fellow campers warmed upon realizing she was there to join water protecters, not berate them. Riddle has recruited more Madisonians to travel to Standing Rock in the coming weeks. “We took a pledge when we were all in Wisconsin to all be a part of a Wisconsin union,” she tells In These Times. “So in my book everyone we’re sending out to Standing Rock is part of the Wisconsin union.

This is far from the first intra-labor conflict over fossil fuel infrastructure, and the sides can seem almost predictable: A handful of small and reliably progressive unions against the building trades and the AFL-CIO’s top brass. And while SEIU’s support for Standing Rock’s water protectors has helped tip the balance, the dissent among rank-and-file members of LIUNA and other building trades unions may point to a larger shift in the old “jobs versus environment” debate—both in terms of how workers relate to environmental issues and to their unions’ leadership.

Among fellow LIUNA members in Madison, Riddle says, supporting the water protectors makes obvious sense. The Badger State’s capital sits between two lakes, and the city has long regulated things like how much salt it deploys on roads during snowy winters, to protect the city’s water supply. “We want clean water,” Riddle said. “My guys understand that if the water’s poisoned they’re not going to be able to fish and hunt.”

“Our hope is that other unions will follow. … If we get more locals to follow us, we can change the head honchos,” she says, adding that she has spoken with LIUNA members in other parts of the country.

Pipeliners for Trump?

Liam Cain, of LIUNA Local 1271 out of Cheyenne, Wyo., was in Standing Rock with Riddle and the rest of the Labor For Standing Rock delegation. While his main job now is fighting forest fires on federal land, he still picks up occasional work from LIUNA, and spent years building pipelines through the union. Also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World’s Environmental Unionism Caucus, he says it was “the blatant racism involved in [what’s happening in Standing Rock] that was the catalyst for me [to go] from being uneasy, to not being able to support these projects in general.”

Cain says he is “deeply ashamed and disgusted” of his union’s position on the pipeline, and has “very little respect for the heads of LIUNA. … I think these are very top-down statements that are not reflective of the membership.”

In addition to pipeline and refinery workers, LIUNA also represents workers in the clean energy economy, and its members sometimes flow between jobs building pipelines and those erecting wind turbines. The issue, says Cain, is that the green jobs through LIUNA are often worse than those that “pillage the earth,” as he puts it.

“When I worked on a natural gas pipeline, that was the best income I ever made,” he says, noting that working 8 months could earn him as much as $52,000, plus generous benefits and health insurance. The work was long—10- to 12-hour days, 6 days a week—but reliable, and even when work was delayed a healthy paycheck would come through. 

Conversely, Cain says, “If I worked through LIUNA on a green project it was very tenuous whether I could pay my bills or not.” While other factors exist, Cain credits part of the precarity of wind work to LIUNA leadership, eager to enter the green jobs space but not as willing to negotiate strong contracts. “There’s a lot of noise around green energy and green construction, and LIUNA and many other building trade unions want to be on the right side of that.” But, he argues, “they’ve been conciliatory with the windmill companies.”

This disparity, according to Cain, is part of what leads some pipeline workers to vote for Donald Trump. He says that they are in a prime demographic for Trump: Largely straight, white men “who make more money than other people. It’s mostly not poor white people who support Trump,” he observes, but “people with a little bit to lose.”

Amplifying Trump’s appeal is the fact that—while all construction work is temporary—pipeline work is temporary in a more fundamental sense. The urgency of climate change mandate that the whole industry be phased out, ideally within the decade. By not acknowledging the problem, Trump would keep those jobs around.

The phenomenon isn’t specific to this year’s GOP nominee, however: “A lot of union people vote Republican because Republicans don’t legislate extractive industry as much,” Cain adds. Many—Cain included—have grown disillusioned with Democrats “who haven’t done shit for us.”

Key to channeling that disillusion toward progressive ends, he says, is recognizing a shared goal: well-paying union jobs and a livable planet. Clinton’s plan includes investing in infrastructure and transitioning coal miners into new jobs, but relatively little attention is paid to how she will ensure workers in other extractive industries end up in high-quality jobs.

If Cain’s experience is indication, Democrats hoping to pull pipeliners in from across the aisle should work to make existing green jobs into good jobs, and help build the political will for a just, unionized transition away from fossil fuels.

As the most recent rounds of leaked emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign show, construction unions have held a powerful sway with the candidate before. It was in front of the Building Trades Union that she unleashed some of her most impassioned defenses of natural gas, pipelines and fracking, saying that “keep it in the ground” activists should “get a life.”

Labor for Standing Rock is showing that if Clinton hopes to maintain the support of the rank-and-file, she’ll have to change her tune. If she wins Tuesday, workers, environmentalists and Native people will be pushing her to “make a just transition more than just a set of academic talking points,” as Cain says—whether LIUNA leadership likes it or not.

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Thursday, Nov 3, 2016, 6:38 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

Southern California SEIU Caucuses Call On AFL-CIO to Kick Out Police Union

Although SEIU is not part of the AFL-CIO, organizers hope it will spark a wider discussion about the role police and their unions play. (Elvert Barnes/ Flickr)  

In July 2015, the University of California’s student-workers union, United Auto Workers (UAW) 2865, passed a resolution calling on the AFL-CIO to terminate the membership of the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA).

Now, after a series of meetings in Los Angeles throughout October, the same resolution is making its way through Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 721, a local representing public service and nonprofit employees in Southern California. Although SEIU is not part of the AFL-CIO, organizers for the resolution hope it will spark a wider discussion about the role police and their unions play.

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Wednesday, Nov 2, 2016, 6:10 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Zuckerman Thinks He Can Beat Hoffa and Win the Teamsters Election

According to Zuckerman, Hoffa has benefitted from a pattern of low voter turnout in past elections. (Teamsters for a Democratic Union/ Facebook)  

The struggle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for the White House is crowding out much of the other news of the day, including the battle for the presidency of the 1.3 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Fred Zuckerman, president of Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville, Kentucky, is challenging incumbent James P. Hoffa for the union’s top spot. The election, which officially kicked off when Zuckerman and Hoffa accepted their nominations in July, is being conducted using mail-in ballots, with the final vote counting set to begin November 14. The Office of the Election Supervisor, which is independent from the Teamsters, is in charge of conducting the vote.

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