Working In These Times

Monday, May 16, 2016, 2:05 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

The Verizon Strike Is Now In Its Second Month, and the Stakes Are Higher Than Ever

CWA members in Buffalo, New York, in 2011. (Stand Up to Verizon)  

This piece first appeared at Jacobin.

As the massive strike at Verizon enters its second month with no end in sight, the stakes — for the workers, the company, and the broader labor movement — are rising. Even mainstream media outlets like the New York Times have taken note, casting it as something of an epochal battle over whether the economy can tolerate good jobs that actually deliver economic security and decent benefits.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016, 4:23 pm  ·  By Jim Hightower

The ‘Sharing Economy’ Is a Sham for Workers

Organizers protest against Uber in January 2015. (Aaron Parecki / Flickr)  

Pouty, whiney, spoiled-bratism is not nice coming from a four-year-old—but it's grotesque when it comes from billion-dollar corporate elites like Uber and Lyft.
The two internet-based ride-hiring brats call themselves "ridesharing" companies, but that's a deceit, for they don't share anything—their business model relies on folks needing a ride to hire a driver through the corporations' apps. With the bulk of the fare going to out-of-town corporate hedge funders.
The tow outfits have swaggered into cities all across our country, insisting that they're innovative, tech-driven geniuses. As such, they consider themselves above the fusty old laws that other transportation companies, like taxis, follow. So Uber and Lyft have made it a corporate policy to throw hissy fits when cities—from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Houston to Portland—have dared even to propose that they obey rules to protect customers and drivers.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016, 8:04 am  ·  By Steve Early

A Tale of Two Teamsters: Building a Community-Minded Union in Mid-Century St. Louis

Teamsters in New York City protest sometime in the 1950s. (Library of Congress)  

Long before the birth of Teamsters for a Democratic Union in the mid-1970s, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) was hostile terrain for creating model local unions. In the 1930s, warehouse workers and drivers in Minneapolis revitalized Teamsters Local 574, under the leadership of Farrell Dobbs and other labor radicals. They organized widespread community support for a citywide general strike—now much celebrated by labor historians. After its success, Dobbs and other Teamster militants helped organize over-the-road trucking throughout the mid-west.

What was Local 574’s reward from the IBT? It wasn’t a lot of favorable publicity in the Teamster magazine. Instead, General President Dan Tobin expelled the Minneapolis strikers from the union in 1935. A year later, the membership of 574 was readmitted but under a new local charter. When the politics of Local 544 (its successor) continued to offend Teamster headquarters, the local was put under trusteeship and its elected officers ousted in 1941. Among the Teamster goon squad members dispatched to Minneapolis for that dirty work was Jimmy Hoffa, father of the current IBT president and an admirer of Dobbs’ organizing methods (if not his Trotskyist views).

Labor educator Bob Bussel’s new book, Fighting For Total Person Unionism: Harold Gibbons, Ernest Calloway, and Working Class Citizenship (University of Illinois Press, 2016) describes a lesser-known effort to remake another Midwestern IBT local--without drawing the same kind of fire from Tobin’s successors, including Hoffa himself.


Friday, May 6, 2016, 3:42 pm  ·  By Sarah Lahm

If Education Reformers Are Concerned About a Teacher Shortage, Then Why Are They Attacking Teachers?

(Paul Marotta / Getty Images)

Depending on who you listen to, Minnesota’s public school teachers are either too hard to get rid of or too hard to find, hire and keep around. Thanks to two recent developments—first, a state report on teacher supply and demand, and second, a very public lawsuit aimed at challenging the state’s teacher tenure laws—this is the contradictory place Minnesota now finds itself in.

In early March, the Minnesota Department of Education put out a mandated, biennial report documenting teacher supply and demand in the state. The report shows that Minnesota is facing an alarming teacher shortage, especially in notoriously “hard to fill” positions like special education and bilingual instruction. Ninety-six percent of Minnesota’s teachers are also white, according to the report, yet one-third of the state’s student population are kids of color, due to a stated inability to find and retain teachers that look like their students. (Districts around the United States are facing similar situations, according to a 2015 report by New York Times education reporter Motoko Rich.)

School districts in rural Minnesota are also struggling mightily to attract teachers, leading a grassroots advocacy group, called MREA, to make this online declaration: “Minnesota can no longer turn a blind eye to the severe teacher shortages and long-term teacher supply issues in the state. A lack of teachers is affecting academic opportunities and achievement in our schools.” MREA has worked alongside groups such as the statewide teachers union, Education Minnesota, to make expanding Minnesota’s teaching pool a high priority for the state’s 2016 legislative session.


Thursday, May 5, 2016, 5:10 pm  ·  By Ari Paul

Reformers Aim To Shake Up the New York City Teachers Union

MORE members (including Jia Lee, second from left) at this summer's Labor Notes conference. (Labor Notes / Facebook)  

Manhattan special education teacher Jia Lee just couldn’t take it anymore.

New York state Common Core testing standards, implemented in January of 2011 under the first Andrew Cuomo administration, not only tied teachers’ careers to student scores, but forced those teachers to focus solely on taking exams and diverted all educational energy toward rote memorization.

“They’re little human beings, not test scores,” she says.

Lee was frustrated. But she says her union, the United Federation of Teachers (Local 2, the largest affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers) had agreed on implementing new testing requirements in order to negotiate with the state on how that regime would go forward.

When Lee announced that she and her colleagues would protest by not administering the required test in 2014, having pulled her own son out of testing as a parent activist the year before, the union regarded it as an unsanctioned action and gave her no support, she says. Lee claims they decided not to impose the test on their students, and no disciplinary charges from the school administration ever came down, either.

Her claims do, however, fly in the face of the UFT’s official stance on testing. UFT president Michael Mulgrew said as early as 2011 that testing requirements harmed students and teachers alike. “The relentless march onward of the testing obsession represents the complete triumph of ideology over evidence,” he stated.

Nevertheless, Lee was unimpressed with the union’s stance, and as a result of her activism, was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on the subject of testing, which she said shifted all resources in education away from social studies toward rote memorization, and that arts and musical education rested on outside funding from parents. Now a public face in the nationwide movement of teachers and parents resisting rigorous testing in schools, she is vying to become the president of one America’s most important teachers unions.

This month, she’ll face off against two-and-a-half term incumbent Michael Mulgrew as the lead candidate for the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, the local branch of the United Caucuses of Rank-and-File Educators that has affiliates throughout the country who are inspired by the reformers who took control of the Chicago Teachers Union and successfully led the 2012 strike.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 4:07 pm  ·  By Corey Robin

Why I Voted ‘Yes’ To Authorize My Union at CUNY To Call a Strike

Members of the CUNY Professional Staff Congress during a civil disobedience action in November 2014. (PSC)  

This semester, I’m teaching our department capstone seminar, on the classics of political economy, in which students are expected to write a lengthy piece of original research.

It’s an intense process for the students. We start with a one- to two-page précis. The students then write a detailed outline of the paper. Then they submit a rough draft (I just got the rough drafts yesterday and have begun reading them today). And then the final draft, which is due in a few weeks.

My goal is twofold: first, to get the students to really dig into a topic (I’ve written about that here); second, to teach the students that old truism that all writing is just rewriting. I think the fancy ed folks like to call that “iterative writing” (google that phrase and you get 16.2 million results). But to me, it’s just writing. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you snake oil.

This kind of teaching, that kind of intensive feedback, of going over sentence after sentence, is a lot of work. It can be grueling and challenging for the student.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 3:42 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

Garment Factory Workers in Southern California Are Calling for a Boycott of American Apparel

(Fuzzytek / Flickr)  

The General Brotherhood of American Apparel Workers (GBWAA), a union for garment workers at American Apparel’s southern California manufacturing facilities—one of which, its downtown Los Angeles location, is the largest garment-making factory in the country—has called for a boycott of the brand’s merchandise, pointing to mass layoffs and reduced compensation and benefits that have intensified since new management in January 2015 began a process of post-bankruptcy restructuring throughout the corporation.


Monday, May 2, 2016, 6:41 pm  ·  By Max Zahn

How Can the Fight for 15 Move From Winning Wage Increases to Winning a Union?

(Steve Rhodes / Flickr)  

The ubiquity of Drake's "Hotline Bling" has endured for months, but the song still shocks when played at 6 AM by a full marching band. That precise spectacle swiveled groggy heads in midtown Manhattan recently, when fast food workers rallying outside McDonald's enjoyed a brassy rendition of Drake's hit. Many workers danced, while others exuberantly sang the anthem's pining chorus, “you used to call me on my cell phone.”

A nitpick political consultant, however, might've labeled Drake's woeful lament as “off-message.” Unlike the character Drake is rapping as in “Hotline Bling”, the Fight for $15 has never felt a warmer embrace. 

Just two weeks before the single-day strike, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo struck a deal with the legislature's Republicans that put the state on a path to a $15 per hour minimum wage. The momentous victory, replicated shortly thereafter in California, enshrined into law one of the movement's principal demands. 

"I'm proud to say we won $15 for workers, neighbors, and friends," said Rebecca Cornick, an employee at a Wendy's in Brooklyn since 2006. "No one should have to work in poverty."

Yet the movement's goals, even in New York, remain unfinished. 

"Since the campaign began, the workers have always had two demands," said Fight for $15 organizing director Kendall Fells. "It's $15 and a union, not $15 or a union." 

The prospect of the campaign's flagship city and state turning their attention to the unionizing effort raises a crucial question: Can the Fight for $15 translate the popularity of its minimum wage platform into an equally successful union push? 


Monday, May 2, 2016, 12:05 pm  ·  By Dan DiMaggio

As Verizon Strike Enters Its Fourth Week, Local Unions Take the Lead in Solidarity

(CWA Local 3121)  

This post first appeared at Labor Notes.

As the strike by 39,000 Verizon and Verizon Wireless workers continues into its fourth week, efforts are underway to broaden picketing at Verizon Wireless stores across the country. Workers at seven Wireless stores in Brooklyn, New York, and Everett, Massachusetts, are on strike, along with wireline workers from Massachusetts to Virginia.

The Communication Workers are working with Jobs with Justice to get local unions and community groups across the country to “Adopt-a-Store”—meaning they would agree to picket and leaflet outside Verizon Wireless corporate stores at least twice a week for two to three hours.

But a few CWA locals didn’t wait for a lead from their District or the national to get going.

“We still believe in the old adage that an injury to one is an injury to all,” said Dave Ratcliff, secretary-treasurer of Local 6012 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which picketed a Verizon Wireless store on the afternoon of Saturday, April 23. “We saw our union brothers and sisters in the Northeast struggling and we wanted to let them and Verizon know that they’re not alone.”


Thursday, Apr 28, 2016, 12:46 pm  ·  By Chris Brooks

Indiana Truck Workers Jump-Start Their Union—And Reverse Two-Tier Wages

As part of their contract campaign, members parked in management spaces with signs opposing two-tier wages clearly visible. (J. Robert Burger)  

This post first appeared at Labor Notes.

Factory workers who make heavy-truck suspensions in Kendallville, Indiana, approved a contract in March that will phase out their two-tier wage and pension system, bringing everyone within 40 cents of the top tier by 2020 and eliminating the bottom tier by 2026.

How’d they do it? With a vigorous contract campaign that showed the company, Hendrickson International, that the union’s 130 members were ready to strike. That’s also how they’ve maintained 99 percent union membership, despite Indiana’s “right-to-work” law.