Working In These Times

Monday, May 4, 2015, 5:49 pm  ·  By Rachel Luban

Tufts Students Stage ‘Indefinite’ Hunger Strike Against Janitor Layoffs

The university has responded by enclosing the students within a fenced-in area. (Tufts Labor Coalition / YouTube)  

Tufts University students launched a hunger strike and took over a quad next to the Medford/Somerville campus’s main administrative building Sunday to protest planned layoffs of 35 janitors. Five undergraduates joined the “indefinite” hunger strike as a show of solidarity with the janitors, 17 percent of whom are slated to lose their jobs. Dozens more students set up tents on a quad they plan to occupy day and night until the cuts are halted.


Monday, May 4, 2015, 4:23 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Does General Motors Matter Anymore?

UAW President Dennis Williams. (UAW)  

“What’s good for General Motors is good for America,” GM President Charles Wilson once reportedly said offhand in 1953, when the giant automaker was near the height of its corporate power. Wilson’s sentiment would be ridiculed in the years that followed, but the symbolic importance of the company to the U.S. industrial economy was re-emphasized as recently as 2012, when Vice President Joe Biden bragged about the successes of the Obama-Biden administration with the unofficial re-election slogan “Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive.”

Biden’s boasting about the 2009 government rescue of the bankrupt GM served as an informal starting point in Detroit March 24-25, when some 900 leaders of the United Auto Workers met for the union’s 2015 Special Bargaining Convention. At the top of the agenda was discussion of a strategy for collective bargaining with GM and other large automakers—the first such contract negotiation since the so-called “Detroit Three” auto companies recovered from the spectacular financial collapse of 2008.   


Monday, May 4, 2015, 1:28 pm  ·  By Kevin Solari

GOP Prez Candidate Carly Fiorina Forgets to Register URL, Gets Mercilessly Trolled for Mass Layoffs

That's a lot of :(  

No sooner had Carly Fiorina announced her bid for the Republican nomination for president this morning that she faced an incredible trolling from some anonymous denizen of the Internet. Fiorina and her campaign neglected to register, and the site has become a soapbox highlighting her tragic tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

The website is simple, saying “Carly Fiorina failed to register this domain. So I'm using it to tell you how many people she laid off at Hewlett-Packard. It was this many:” followed by 30,000 :( emoji.


Friday, May 1, 2015, 1:48 pm  ·  By David Goodner

Organized Labor Should Spend the Rest of 2015 Training Workers How to Fight

A "Strike School" curriculum shows how unions can help make their members ready to walk off the job. (Steve Rhodes / Flickr)  

While the labor movement is in some of its more dire straits in over a century, 2015 is also shaping up to be a big year for unions. The “Fight for $15” strikes held in over 200 cities on April 15 indicate that a mass movement for worker justice may be on the verge of exploding, one that blends the best of organized labor, community organizing, Occupy Wall Street and #BlackLivesMatter. Oil workers, truck drivers, and dockworkers also went on widely publicized, confrontational strikes this year, and LA teachers at both public and charter schools are preparing to take action on the job, as are graduate students at the University of Washington and several other campuses.

Today, May 1, a Bay Area local of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down its ports to protest the racism and police brutality against black and brown people, providing a classic example of what “social movement unionism” looks like in practice.

Unions are also fighting hard to block looming pension cuts and derail fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. But labor’s “Right to Work” defeat in Wisconsin in March was a huge setback, while the results of the April 7 Chicago mayor’s race were mixed, at best. Taken as a whole, the small upsurge in labor unrest in recent months has not been enough to slow down, much less stop and reverse, the steep historical decline of the trade union movement.  

Given all this, labor needs to take serious stock of the current populist moment, analyze which strategies are actually working and which are not, and start to consider what it’s really going to take to change course and rebuild a fighting workers movement from the ground up. Dumping hundreds of millions of dollars down the rabbit-hole of Democratic Party electoral politics during the next presidential election cycle is unlikely to get the job done.


Thursday, Apr 30, 2015, 6:20 pm  ·  By Peter Cole

On May Day, Longshore Workers Stop Work to Protest Racist Police Brutality

ILWU Local 10 members in San Francisco at a 2010 protest for Oscar Grant, a young black man murdered by public transit police. (Steve Rhodes / Flickr)  

Earlier this month, a video of a white police officer shooting and killing a black man, Walter Scott, fleeing and clearly posing no danger to the cop in North Charleston, South Carolina—like multiple recent videos of unarmed black men being killed by police—went viral. What few know is that his brother is a member of a predominantly black labor union in Charleston—in a state far better known for trying to secede from the Union than organizing one. This union has declared it will protest racist police brutality on May 1, May Day, and called for others to join the protest with actions of their own.

The San Francisco Bay Area longshore union voted to stop work at all Bay Area ports in solidarity. In a sad testament to the ubiquity of such shootings around the country, the walkoff was planned before the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. But the timing couldn’t be better to demonstrate the power of organized labor to forcefully intervene in policy discussions.


Wednesday, Apr 29, 2015, 10:42 pm  ·  By Miriam Shestack

University of Chicago Nurses Narrowly Avert Strike, Claim Victory Against Hospital

Nurses raised the issue of patient-to-nurse ratios in bargaining with the hospital. (NNU / Flickr)  

Early Tuesday, National Nurses United (NNU) announced that its 1,500 members at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) would not go on strike as planned. The union called for a one-day strike set for April 30, following nearly eight months of negotiations and a strike authorization vote on January 29, when 95% of membership voted in favor of authorizing a strike; now, the union is claiming victory in its negotiations with the medical center.

Jan Rodolfo, lead negotiator and Midwest Director of NNU has stated that she “feels wonderful about the outcome, as do nurses. … We accomplished many of our objectives” in negotiations.


Wednesday, Apr 29, 2015, 1:27 pm  ·  By Moshe Z. Marvit

In Major Anti-Labor Case, Union-busters No Longer Even Pretend Unions Don’t Benefit Workers

April Bain, a Los Angeles teacher and the plaintiff in Bain v. CTA, says her union has benefitted her greatly, and she wants to keep receiving those benefits. She just doesn't want to pay for them.  

April Bain is a high school math teacher in Los Angeles, and a dues-paying member of her union, Los Angeles Teachers United. She has benefited from this membership, and indeed claims that “everybody has a horror story of a teacher that needed their union.” She describes a personal experience of conflict with her principal in which having a union behind her made her feel safe. “You felt safe. You kind of felt like, okay, we can do what’s right here and we’ll be protected,” she has stated.

However, Bain has decided that she does not want to contribute to any of the union’s political activities of her union. Bain doesn’t specify which of the union’s expenditures she specifically disagrees with, but previous objectors to such spending have cited union support or opposition for political candidates, support or opposition for ballot initiatives, support for causes important to the membership, and the like. Though Bain can register as an objector and get a refund of all fees not germane to its representational duties while still being covered under any collective bargaining agreement with the employer, she does not want to exercise that right because she knows that membership has benefits.


Wednesday, Apr 29, 2015, 12:00 pm  ·  By Andrew Elrod

Inside the Case That Could Hold McDonald’s Responsible for Union-busting

The case could open the door to unionizing McDonald's restaurants around the country. (Miguel Vaca / Flickr)  

The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) complaint for unfair labor practices against the McDonald’s corporation inched forward in a Manhattan courtroom last month.

Lawyers representing the company, its franchisees, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the government met to discuss the future of a case that could lay the groundwork for union representation and collective bargaining at the country’s largest fast food brand.


Tuesday, Apr 28, 2015, 4:29 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

Alleging Millions in Wage Theft, West Coast Port Truckers Strike

(Slobodan Dimitrov)  

Hundreds of truck drivers operating at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on strike Monday morning in protest of wage theft by four of the ports’ largest trucking companies, who they say misclassify them as independent contractors rather than full-time employees.

The trucking companies, Pacific 9 Transportation (or “Pac 9”), Intermodal Bridge Transport, Pacer Cartage and Harbor Rail Transport, operate a combined 470 registered trucks and do business in the Southern California ports that currently handle 43% of U.S imports entering the country. The companies under strike count Walmart, Forever 21, Toyota and Costco as clients, among others, according to the union behind organizing efforts, Teamsters Local 848.


Tuesday, Apr 28, 2015, 2:49 pm  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

On Workers Memorial Day, Remembering the Words of Dead Workers

Crosses commemorating workers killed at a BP oil refinery fire. Marathon, the current owner of the refinery, casually discarded the crosses after workers erected them.  

To give voice to 35 workers killed on the job over the past 35 years at a massive refinery in Texas City, hundreds of surviving family members, co-workers and friends gathered there last month to erect white crosses marked with their names.

They conducted the ceremony on the 10th anniversary of an explosion that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170, including townspeople.

Marathon Petroleum Corp., which bought the refinery from BP two years ago, did its best to shut the mourners up. Marathon uprooted the crosses and tossed them in a box like trash within hours of the commemoration.