Working In These Times

Monday, May 22, 2017, 6:06 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

First Charter School Teacher Strike in U.S. History Set to Begin This Week

The vote to strike passed unanimously and signals a growing spirit of militancy among Chicago’s charter school workers. (Chicago ACTS Facebook)  

For the third time in eight months, Chicago charter school teachers are on the verge of going on strike.

After a year of negotiations with management for their first contract since unionizing last spring, close to 50 teachers, paraprofessionals and teacher assistants at Passages Charter School are prepared to walk off the job Thursday morning if an agreement is not reached. It would be the first time teachers at a U.S. charter school ever went on strike.

The educators are members of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS), Local 4343 of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents roughly 1,000 educators at 32 charter schools in the city.

A stand-alone school in the Andersonville neighborhood, Passages is managed by the nonprofit Asian Human Services (AHS) and is home to more than 400 students, mostly from immigrant and refugee families.

“For the past 12 months, we have been bargaining for a contract that gives us voice and guarantees fair working conditions for teachers and staff and fair learning conditions for our students,” Gina Mengarelli, a third-grade teacher at Passages and union activist, said at a rally on Friday. “But to this point, AHS has refused to make us an offer that provides for those things.”

The vote to strike passed unanimously May 4 and signals a growing spirit of militancy among Chicago’s charter school workers. Last October, another planned strike by ChiACTS teachers at the UNO Charter School Network was averted by a last-minute deal. Similarly, in March, members of A Council of Educators, the ChiACTS affiliate at ASPIRA charter schools, came close to a work stoppage before management moved to settle. The Chicago Teachers Union—ChiACTS’s sister local representing nearly 30,000 educators at Chicago Public Schools—also came within a hair’s breadth of walking off the job last October, but that, too, was avoided by an eleventh-hour agreement.

At Passages, the major unresolved contract issues are salaries and transparency on how management uses funds. Unlike other single-site charters in the city, which do some of their own fundraising, Passages is funded entirely by the public school district.

In a statement, AHS representatives said, “we are working very hard to reach a fair compromise with the Union” and alluded to the difficulty of negotiating a contract “at a time of significant financial uncertainty, given the local and State-wide budget issues that have resulted in reduced funding to all charter schools.”

But the union says AHS is mismanaging funds, spending far more on executive salaries than on student and personnel costs compared to other charter schools. At the same time, Passages teachers say they are paid 20 percent less than their counterparts at comparable charters, and programs for students—including music and language classes—are being cut.

“One of the core reasons educators formed a union at Passages was to have more voice in decisions that affect their students,” said ChiACTS president Chris Baehrend.

“We’re still trying to find out some financial information that AHS is withholding or only giving in bits and pieces, and we’re confused why they’re trying to withhold it,” Mengarelli told In These Times.

The lack of financial transparency on the part of AHS is the subject of a pending claim with the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau, according to the union.

“None of us want to strike. We want to be in our classrooms with our students,” Mengarelli said. “But if it takes a strike to force AHS to make changes that improve the education of Passages students, then we will be on the picket line until we achieve those improvements.”


Friday, May 19, 2017, 3:12 pm  ·  By David Bacon

40,000 AT&T Workers Begin 3-Day Strike

Workers had given company executives until 3 p.m. ET on Friday to present serious proposals. (Photo credit: David Bacon)  

This story has been updated with the start of the strike.

Around 40,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at AT&T walked off their jobs Friday, for a three-day strike, as pressure continues to mount on the corporation to settle fair contracts.

In California and Nevada, around 17,000 AT&T workers who provide phone, landline and cable services have been working without a contract for more than a year. Last year, they voted to authorize a strike with more than 95 percent support. And in February, an estimated 21,000 AT&T Mobility workers in 36 states voted to strike as well, with 93 percent in favor.

Workers had issued an ultimatum, giving company executives until 3 p.m. ET on Friday to present serious proposals. They didn't; the workers walked.


Friday, May 19, 2017, 1:24 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

New Study Finds “More Sweatshops than Starbucks” in Chicago

The study found that the most common kinds of retaliation were getting fired, having hours cut, or, in the case of temp workers, being placed on a temp agency’s “Do Not Return” list—a form of blacklisting. Employers also retaliated by threatening to call police or immigration authorities, and sometimes even resorted to physical violence. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  

Illegal abuses in low-wage workplaces are largely going unreported by workers because of a realistic expectation their bosses will retaliate against them for speaking up, according to a new study released this week.

The report, Challenging the Business of Fear, was prepared by Raise the Floor Alliance, which is a coalition of Chicago worker centers, and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI). Surveys and interviews were conducted with nearly 300 Chicago-area workers from a variety of low-wage industries, including warehousing, manufacturing, food service and retail.

The study finds that among employees who dared to speak up about workplace injustices like unsafe conditions, wage theft, injuries, sexual harassment and discrimination, 58 percent experienced retaliation. Of workers who reported legal violations to regulatory agencies like the Illinois Department of Labor, Department of Human Rights, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, over 80 percent said their employer retaliated against them.

Sophia Zaman, executive director of Raise the Floor Alliance, said at a press conference Thursday that retaliation has become “so normalized, it’s basically a way of doing business.”


Thursday, May 18, 2017, 11:00 am  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: On the Commodification of Education

Elijah Armstrong, an organizer with the National Education Association, talks about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the push to privatize schools. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we'll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They'll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn't, what’s changed and what is still the same.

Elijah Armstrong: I am Elijah Armstrong. I work with the National Education Association. I am an education organizer with the teachers’ union.

Sarah Jaffe: This past week had some interesting moments on the education front. First off, I wanted to ask you about Betsy DeVos’s visit to an historically black college and the welcome that she received, or didn’t receive.

Elijah: I was extremely proud to see the students resist Betsy DeVos, despite the administration bringing her against their will and having her give a commencement speech instead of actually being there to dialogue about her constant destruction of education, primarily public education. So it was great to see the students stand up against that. I was really inspired by it. I was really happy to see that they didn’t just allow her to come there and it be business as usual. 


Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 12:56 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

Republicans Will Turn the NLRB into a Force for Union Busting. We Can Turn It Back.

On the potential chopping block are the board’s expedited election rules, the organizing rights of graduate employees and workers at charter schools, the rights of subcontracted employees to join their coworkers in a union, the ability of unions to organize smaller units within a larger enterprise and the culpability of a parent company for a subsidiary’s illegal behavior. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  

Here comes the anti-union crackdown.

According to a recent Bloomberg report, Donald Trump has submitted the names of two anti-union lawyers to the FBI for vetting. This is a precursor to nominating them to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by June to cement a Republican majority that will reverse many of the pro-worker decisions and policies that the federal agency has advanced in recent years.

Marvin Kaplan works for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. William Emanuel is a lawyer at the union-busting firm, Littler Mendelson. Either of these garden-variety union-haters could have been appointed by Jeb Bush, John Kasich or whatever bland man in a navy suit the Republicans might have nominated if the reality TV star hadn’t bumbled his way into the GOP nomination and presidency.

On the potential chopping block are the board’s expedited election rules, the organizing rights of graduate employees and workers at charter schools, the rights of subcontracted employees to join their coworkers in a union, the ability of unions to organize smaller units within a larger enterprise and the culpability of a parent company for a subsidiary’s illegal behavior.

As inevitable as this right turn is for our nation’s workers’ rights board, so, too, should be our planned counterattack.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017, 11:06 am  ·  By Chris Brooks

The Slippery Slope of “Buy American” Campaigns

U.S. history has seen at least three waves of “Buy American” fervor. Chris Brooks interviews Dana Frank, a history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, about the history and impact of these campaigns. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)  

This article was first posted by Labor Notes.

Backed by a huge banner reading “Buy American—Hire American,” President Trump declared in March that his administration would make the U.S. the “car capital of the world” again.

“For decades, I have raised the alarm over unfair foreign trade practices that have robbed communities of their wealth and robbed our people of their ability to provide for their families,” Trump said. “They’ve stolen our jobs, they’ve stolen our companies, and our politicians sat back and watched, hopeless. Not anymore.”

Who is “they”? Based on the president’s previous comments, two safe guesses are Mexico and China. Since the inauguration he has been pushing to restrict trade and immigration. Meanwhile Auto Workers (UAW) President Dennis Williams has announced that his union will launch a new “Buy American” campaign.

U.S. history has seen at least three waves of “Buy American” fervor. Chris Brooks interviewed Dana Frank, history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism, about the history and impact of these campaigns.


Monday, May 15, 2017, 2:04 pm  ·  By Sam Wheeler and Leo Gertner

Want To Speak Out About Politics at Work? Here Are 3 Things You Need to Know.

These tips are not foolproof ways to protect your job, but they provide some cover in the face of the risks and challenges ahead. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)  

In the past several months, there’s been a noted uptick in political speech at work. That speech has often made national news, from Sally Yates’ dismissal as interim attorney general to IBM workers organizing against their employer’s support of Donald Trump. In the early days of the Trump administration, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s strike against the Muslim ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport stood out as an impressive act of resistance and solidarity. And even before Trump’s election, Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sparked a national discussion when he refused to stand during the national anthem in protest of racism against African-Americans and other people of color.

Protests against the administration are building quickly, with diverse groups organizing mass protests against the administration’s policies. This month, on May Day—otherwise known as International Workers’ Day—thousands of workers across the country took to the streets to challenge Trump’s draconian and unconstitutional immigration policies. In all likelihood, political activity at work will only increase throughout the Trump administration, all of which begs the question: How protected are workers who talk politics on the job?


Friday, May 12, 2017, 6:22 pm  ·  By Joseph Bullington

The Chicago Reader Staff Just Voted Unanimously To Authorize a Strike

The vote does not trigger a strike but does allow the staff's representatives in collective bargaining to call a walkout at any time. (Bryan Hayes/ Flickr)  

The unionized editorial staff of the Chicago Reader, the city’s premier alternative weekly, voted 17-0 Friday to authorize a strike. The vote does not trigger a strike but does allow the staff's representatives in collective bargaining to call a walkout at any time.

The newly formed union completed a proposal for its first contract 16 months ago, according to a statement released by the staff after the vote, but negotiations with Wrapports LLC, the paper’s owner, have failed to reach an agreement.

“Management seems to think it can get rid of its union problem by dragging this out until the entire staff quits to find work that will pay the bills,” said Philip Montoro, the Reader’s music editor and head of the bargaining committee. “Many of us are working second jobs or subletting our apartments to get by because the paper’s hugely wealthy owners seem to think they can retain talented full-time staff with decades of experience by paying them salaries that were substandard 10 years ago.”


Friday, May 12, 2017, 4:01 pm  ·  By Theo Anderson

23 Grad Student Workers Arrested as Yale Hunger Strike Continues

Thursday was “move-out” day for Yale undergraduates, which gave the action increased impact and visibility. The union plans to continue the fasts and protests indefinitely. (Local 33 - UNITE HERE/ Facebook)  

Twenty-three Yale graduate students were arrested Thursday in a civil disobedience aimed at pressuring the university to recognize its recently certified union of graduate student teachers, UNITE HERE Local 33.

Eight members of the union began a hunger strike on April 25. Thursday’s civil disobedience was the first time the union had staged a protest in city streets. Students blocked three busy intersections in downtown New Haven, Connecticut. Three were reportedly taken into custody for refusing to accept their court summons; Twenty more were ticketed and voluntarily accepted their summons.

Thursday was “move-out” day for Yale undergraduates, which gave the action increased impact and visibility. The union plans to continue the fasts and protests indefinitely. 


Friday, May 12, 2017, 11:09 am  ·  By Kate Aronoff

Amid “Constitutional Crisis,” Bernie Sanders Urges Workers To Seize Means of Production

“Simply put, when employees have an ownership stake in their company, they will not ship their own jobs to China to increase their profits, they will be more productive, and they will earn a better living," Sanders said. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)  

The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind, politically speaking. Most of it has to do with the onslaught of chaos that followed Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey—a move political scientists agree is off the spectrum of normalcy in the history of the American presidency. Before his termination, Comey was leading an investigation into the Trump team’s alleged ties to the Russian government. Keith Ellison, deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has said “we are witnessing a constitutional crisis.” Calls for impeachment are in the air, along with a good deal of conspiracy theorizing.

In sum, the republic as we know it may be its closest yet to tatters. Enter: Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont and the country’s most popular politician. He—alongside Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy, from Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand, from New York, and Maggie Hassan, from New Hampshire—is encouraging workers to take control of the means of production.