Working In These Times

Monday, Jan 26, 2015, 11:57 am  ·  By Jane Slaughter

How Scrappy Community and Labor Activists Took on a California Oil Giant—and Won

Even one of the world's largest oil companies couldn't defeat grassroots people power in Richmond.   (Richmond Progressive Alliance / Facebook)

First published at Labor Notes.

It’s not often that a city council race in a city of 100,000 draws national attention. It happened in Richmond, California, this fall because one big corporation was so shameless in its open attempt to buy the election.

But even more remarkable was the fact that the corporation got beat. Up against the Democratic Party establishment, plus $3 million in campaign spending by Chevron—the third-largest company in the world—a grassroots group won.

Richmond, north of Berkeley in the East Bay, grew up during the shipyard boom and war production of World War II, when workers from other parts of the country flooded in. More recently, it’s been known for its problems: population loss, high crime, bankruptcy, the hollowing out of downtown, dirty air, poverty. The city is now 40 percent Latino, 26 percent Black, 17 percent white, and 14 percent Asian. A fifth of the population was born outside the U.S.

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Friday, Jan 23, 2015, 1:30 pm  ·  By Alex Lubben

After Facebook Victory, Shuttle Drivers at Silicon Valley Companies Look to Unionize

Drivers at eBay and other Silicon Valley companies have to work gruelingly long shifts of over 12 hours, yet only get paid for eight. (rmfphoto.net/)  

Back in November, drivers for Facebook’s shuttle-bus contractor voted 43-28 in favor of unionizing with the Teamsters, a rare win for labor in the tech industry. Now, shuttle drivers at six other companies in Silicon Valley are looking to follow the drivers’ lead.

The Teamsters have contacted the CEOs of eBay, Apple, Genentch, Zynga, Amtrak and Yahoo, informing them that their drivers want to join a union. The union says the majority of the 120 drivers have already signed union cards.

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Friday, Jan 23, 2015, 1:16 pm  ·  By Doug Henwood

Union Membership Is Down Again—But It Still Pays To Be a Member

You can see why bosses hate unions: Even at a time when they're at their weakest in almost a century, they still deliver the goods for workers. (Doug Henwood)  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is just out with its figures on union membership in 2014. Overall membership, aka density, fell to 11.1% of the workforce, from 11.3% in 2013. The decline was more than entirely the result of slippage in the private sector, down from 6.7% to 6.6%. Public sector density, perhaps surprisingly, rose, from 35.3% to 35.7%. Since private sector employment is more than five times that of the public sector, the private sector decline dominated the public sector’s rise, producing the overall drop.

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Thursday, Jan 22, 2015, 5:00 pm  ·  By David Moberg

Is Ronald McDonald Racist?

A lawsuit from McDonald's workers in Virginia alleges that managers said restaurants' workforces looked "too dark” and that white workers needed to be hired “to get the ghetto out of the store.”  

McDonald’s Corporation shares legal responsibility with three Virginia franchise restaurants and their owner for rampant racial and sexual harassment in those workplaces, according to a federal lawsuit that ten former workers filed on January 22 alleging violations of their civil rights.

They accuse the franchise owner of firing them, despite their managers’ acknowledgement of their good work records, simply in order to reduce the proportion of non-white employees.

“All of a sudden, they let me go for no other reason than I ‘didn’t fit the profile’ they wanted at the store,” said fired plaintiff Willie Betts. “I worked at McDonald’s for almost five years, I was on time every day at 4:00 in the morning to open the store, and I never had a disciplinary write-up. They took away the only source of income I have to support my family.”

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Thursday, Jan 22, 2015, 2:08 pm  ·  By Steve Payne

Brazilian Workers, Students Battle Fare Hikes Pushed By Workers Party

Protesters in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 with a banner reading, "If the fare doesn't drop, Rio is going to stop!" (Tânia Rêgo / Agência Brasi / Wikimedia Commons)  

When I scanned my metro card in São Paulo the morning of January 6, the price rang up at 3.5 reals (1.33 US dollars)—50 centavos more than yesterday.

I’d been in São Paulo for about a week and a half, and the fare had been 3 reals every other day. Had I missed something?

As it turned out, the municipal government had just increased the cost of subway trips. I had seen "passe livre ja!" (“free passes now!”) graffiti around the city. And in 2013, militant protests, including many during the World Cup, beat back a 20 centavo fare increase.

Movement participants celebrated that victory and continued fighting for completely free, public transit system. And on Friday, January 9, tens of thousands of Paulistanos, as residents of São Paulo are known, rallied and marched against the most recent fare increase.

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Wednesday, Jan 21, 2015, 5:06 pm  ·  By Jake Blumgart

The U.S. Labor Movement: At a ‘Crossroads,’ or the Gallows?

If something doesn’t give, in 30 years, there won’t be any labor movement left to discuss.   (kenilio / Flickr)

Steven Greenhouse has been here before.

Nearly a month after his retirement, the august former New York Times labor correspondent spoke to union staffers, labor journalists and sympathetic academics at the American Labor Movement at a Crossroads conference in Washington, D.C. The title, he notes, is strikingly similar to a similar event he held in 1982, while in law school at NYU (“The Labor Movement at the Crossroads”).

The title made more sense three decades ago. Today the New Deal model of unionism would be more aptly described as being at the gallows.

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Wednesday, Jan 21, 2015, 4:00 pm  ·  By David Moberg

Saving Labor’s Sinking Ship

Labor leaders finally seem ready to embrace new ideas about organizing like the AFL-CIO's Working America. (Sasha Kimel / Flickr)  

What, if anything, can save the labor movement from its steady decline as the organizational voice of American workers? The question, as Jake Blumgart notes, is not new, but it is increasingly urgent for the future of both work and politics in this country. Now the losses of union members in past decades have opened the floodgates to the current devastation for nearly all the much-heralded “middle class” and even worse fates for those less fortunate.

Last week a diverse group of talented organizers and astute observers of labor gathered in Washington, D.C., to offer their answers, at the invitation of the Albert Shanker Institute, the Sidney Hillman Foundation and the American Prospect. Not surprisingly, no one reported finding a silver bullet solution. But ongoing efforts to try out new organizational forms and strategies, as well as to re-invigorate the old, offer some hope.

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Wednesday, Jan 21, 2015, 11:00 am  ·  By Bruce Vail

Goucher College Adjuncts Expect Union Victory As Organizing Spreads in Maryland

SEIU Local 500 now represents about 3,000 adjuncts in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area.   (Goucher College)

Part-time faculty members at Maryland’s Goucher College say they are on the threshold of winning formal union representation, marking another step forward in an organizing campaign spread across multiple campuses in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area.

If Goucher adjuncts win, their victory will be among several won last year by Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, which activists say is successfully harnessing the pent-up demand for labor reforms in the academic sector.

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Tuesday, Jan 20, 2015, 5:15 pm  ·  By Veronica Mendez Moore

Rep. Keith Ellison’s Low-wage Worker Organizer SOTU Guest: “I go with a conflicted heart”

Veronica Mendez Moore will accompany Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to tonight's state of the union address. (MN Fair Economy / Flickr)  

Today I will accompany U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, representing low-wage workers’ voices at President Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union. While I am honored, I go with a conflicted heart.

Yesterday the radio was filled with speeches from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today I will stand beside the first African American to be elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota listening to a speech from the first African-American President of the United States. Clearly we live in changed times, demonstrating that through organizing we can win important change.

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Tuesday, Jan 20, 2015, 1:30 pm  ·  By F. Amanda Tugade

‘We Deserve Respect’: Strippers Seek $100,000 Settlement From Portland Vegan Strip Club

The strip club famous for its commitment to animal welfare stands accused of abusing its workers.   (Alicia Rose / Flickr)

Two dancers are raising hell at Casa Diablo, Portland’s famous “vegan strip club,” over what they say is wage theft and management's failure to respond to their complaints of alleged harassment.

Former Diablo dancers Matilda Bickers and Amy Pitts filed a suit on January 11 in the U.S. District Court. Bickers and Pitts are each seeking about $100,000 from the strip club’s manager, Johnny Zuckle.

In an interview with Willamette Week, Bickers claims Casa Diablo charged her and other dancers “for every 30 minutes they were late to work,” “missing a shift” or “not undressing quickly enough onstage.” Bickers says she ended up owing her employer about $500, which affirmed her decision to quit.

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