Working In These Times

Friday, Sep 22, 2017, 9:57 am  ·  By James Walker

“Right to Work” Doesn’t Have to Mean Defeat for Labor. These Nurses Prove Workers Can Still Win.

One thousand nurses at Munson Medical Center, one of the largest employers in Northern Michigan, voted to join the Michigan Nurses Association last month. (Photo: Michigan Nurses Association)  

This article first appeared on Labor Notes.

Nurses in rural northern Michigan made history August 9-10 when we won labor’s biggest organizing victory since “right to work” took effect in the state in 2013. By a vote of 489–439, more than 1,000 RNs at Traverse City’s Munson Medical Center, the area’s largest employer, will be represented by the Michigan Nurses Association.


Thursday, Sep 21, 2017, 5:13 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

Oklahoma Is Imprisoning So Many People It Can’t Hire Enough Guards To Keep Up

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officers stand guard at San Quentin State Prison's death row adjustment center on Aug. 15, 2016 in San Quentin, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)  

In July of this year, some 150 prisoners at the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Tulsa, Okla., rioted. The riot reportedly developed after a fight between prisoners and lasted for about eight hours. Two prison guards were taken hostage before the prisoners were corralled and returned to their cells.

The incident immediately led to calls for a guard increase. In January, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced it had a shortage of correctional officers relative to the state's growing prison population. Oklahoma has the second highest per-capita incarceration rate in the country, and the highest rates of incarceration for both women and black men.

Oklahoma isn’t an isolated case. Despite recent pushes for prison reforms and sentence reductions, the ranks of the incarcerated are growing in many states. Meanwhile, there’s a widespread shortage of corrections officers partially due to the profession’s cultural stigma as a job with less prestige than that of a firefighter or police officer. In 2014, 34 states submitted four-year prison projections to The Pew Charitable Trusts. Twenty-eight expected their prison populations to grow between 1 and 16 percent by 2018.


Thursday, Sep 21, 2017, 2:25 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

This Lawyer Helped Reagan Bust the Air Traffic Controllers Union. Now Trump Wants Him on the NLRB.

Members of PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, hold hands and raise their arms as their deadline to return to work passes. All strikers were fired on the order of President Reagan on August 5, 1981. (Photo: Getty Images)  

Former President Ronald Reagan had a long history of clashing with organized labor, but his most infamous moment came in 1981, when he busted the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) and fired more than 11,300 air traffic controllers who were on strike. This act weakened the power of U.S. unions and set the stage for an all-out assault on organizing rights.


Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017, 10:25 am  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

After Member Is Deported, New York Teamsters Declare Themselves Sanctuary Union

The family Eber Garcia Vasquez. (Courtesy of Teamsters Joint Council)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators about how to resist and build a better world.


Friday, Sep 15, 2017, 5:31 pm  ·  By Marilyn Katz

Low Wages in Illinois: When Corporations Don’t Pay, the Public Does

An employee moves Black Friday sales merchandise into a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location in Chicago, Illinois on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)   Illinois

Anti-tax fever seems to be on the rise in Illinois, most recently in editorial and public comments about the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ levy on sugary drinks. But those who’ve fretted about the penny-an-ounce tax—and all of us who didn’t—might want to turn their attention and ire to a far-greater burden on Illinois taxpayers: Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years.

What does that have to do with taxes? Plenty. Roughly 33 percent of people in Illinois live in or near poverty. Contrary to popular belief, people who make low wages are not the young or the so-called low-skilled. As of 2011, 94 percent of low-wage earners in the Chicago region were over 20 years old, and 57.4 percent were over 30, with one in six holding a college degree. Many work in the growing sectors of hospitality, healthcare, food service and retail.


Friday, Sep 15, 2017, 12:41 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

The Right Wing Has a Vast, Secret Plot to Destroy Unions for Good. Here’s How to Fight Back.

We need to greatly increase members’ democratic involvement in their unions. (Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)  

The vast right-wing network of Koch brother-funded “think tanks” is now plotting to finish off the public sector labor movement once and for all.

In a series of fundraising documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy of Madison, Wis., and published in the Guardian, the CEO of a cartel of 66 well-funded arch-conservative state capitol lobbying outfits promises funders a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse the failed policies of the American left.”

Tracie Sharp, the leader of the States Policy Network (SPN), goes on to explain that the pathway to permanent right-wing victory is to “defund and defang” unions that rely on the legal protections of state labor law.


Thursday, Sep 14, 2017, 5:07 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

In D.C.’s Wealthiest Suburbs, It’s Round 2 in the Fight for $15

SEIU local 32BJ workers are leading the charge to win a $15 minimum wage in the D.C. suburbs of Montgomery County, Md. (SEIU 32BJ)  

Undeterred by a stinging defeat earlier this year, a union-backed push for a $15-an-hour wage is back on in the Washington, D.C. suburbs—home to many of the senior civil servants, lobbyists and office workers that run key federal agencies.

Maryland’s Montgomery County Council will begin considering a revised bill later this month to raise the minimum hourly wage from $11.50 to $15, and the outlook is hopeful, says Democratic Councilman Marc Elrich, the chief sponsor. “We are almost there,” Elrich says. “I’m confident we’ll make it this time.”

Supporters have already lined up enough votes to pass it, Elrich says. The most powerful obstacle remains opposition from Democratic County Executive Ike Leggett, who vetoed a similar measure in January but has so far made no public decision on the new version of the bill introduced in July.


Thursday, Sep 14, 2017, 11:32 am  ·  By Rafael Soriano and Débora Nunes

Transforming Society as Capitalism Crumbles: Lessons from Brazil’s Peasant Movement

Débora Nunes, member of the National Directory of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, addresses a crowd. (Gustavo Marinho/Landless Workers Movement)  

Brazil is facing a profound political and economic crisis since a coup d’etat overturned Dilma Roussef’s government in March of 2016. The new government is unrolling austerity policies that are eroding working families’ political gains by dismantling labor protections and social services and unleashing human rights abuses, including escalating assassinations of peasants and indigenous people. This political context—which shares characteristics with the U.S. climate under Donald Trump—is defined by a crisis of capitalism that resurfaced with the economic meltdown in the Global North that was initiated in 2008. 


Monday, Sep 11, 2017, 11:50 am  ·  By David Bacon

Don’t Punish the Dreamers—Punish the Corporations Driving Forced Migration

On September 5, 2,000 people demonstrated in front of San Francisco's Federal Building, blocking intersections and marching through the streets, to protest the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Trump administration will repeal the DACA order protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation. (David Bacon)  

The "dreamers," young recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—are the true children of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). More than anyone, they have paid the price for the agreement. Yet they are the ones punished by the administration of President Donald Trump, as it takes away their legal status, ability to work and right to live in this country without fear of arrest or deportation. At the same time, those responsible for the fact they grew up in the United States walk away unpunished—and even better off.


Monday, Sep 11, 2017, 11:42 am  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

8,000 Airport Workers in Chicago Just Won a Wage Raise and the Right to a Union

The two-year "Poverty Don't Fly" campaign ended with a major victory for airport workers. (SEIU Local 1 Facebook)  

CHICAGO—Eight thousand workers at Chicago’s two airports have scored a major victory in their two-year campaign for higher wages and a union.

On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring private contractors—who employ O’Hare and Midway’s baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, janitors, security officers, ticket collectors and de-icers—to abide by new labor standards in order to be licensed by the city. Most employees of airport contractors make low wages, receive few benefits and lack job security.

The ordinance will require contractors to pay a minimum wage of $13.45 starting July 1, 2018, well above Chicago’s current minimum of $11 an hour. Though the Illinois General Assembly recently passed a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it last month.

“I’m a single mom with three kids and two grandkids. This raise will help contribute to supporting my family,” Darlene Navarro Montañez, an O’Hare janitor employed by the contractor Scrubs, told In These Times through an interpreter. “Eleven dollars an hour is just not enough.”

“With the raise, besides helping my family more, I could put bigger payments into paying back my student debt,” said Danny Rodriguez, a 24-year-old wheelchair attendant, security officer and shift lead at O’Hare.