Working In These Times

Thursday, Jan 5, 2017, 1:31 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Kentucky Right-to-Work Law Now a Question of When, Not If

If such a law passes, as it looks likely to do, Kentucky will become the 27th state to go right-to-work. (Kentucky AFL-CIO)  

Elections have consequences.

This is no more clear than in Kentucky, where emboldened Republicans are moving fast in the wake of their election victory to make the state a right-to-work state.

If such a law passes, as it looks likely to do, Kentucky will become the 27th state to go right-to-work.

“As I see it, it’s pretty much a done deal,” says Joe Brennan, director of the pro-union Kentucky Labor Institute.

All the necessary votes are lined up in the legislature and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is ready to sign, Brennan says, so “it’s really only a question of when it will happen, not if it will happen.” 

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Wednesday, Jan 4, 2017, 1:55 pm  ·  By Moshe Z. Marvit

Labor Opponents Already Have The Next ‘Friedrichs’ SCOTUS Case Ready to Go Under Trump

As Democrats and the labor movement prepare for a possible fight over Trump’s imminent appointment to the Supreme Court, they should recognize that several major labor cases, brought by some of labor’s most persistent enemies, are waiting in the wings. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)  

The Supreme Court gave unions an unexpected victory last year when it issued a decision in a case that had threatened to take away the right of public sector unions to collect dues from workers they represent. That win may be short-lived. 

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was meant to be the capstone in decades of cases that sought to have the courts determine that fair-share fees for public sector workers are unconstitutional. Fair-share fees, or agency fees, require workers represented by a union to pay the portion of fees that covers collective bargaining. They seek to balance the worker’s right to dissent from the union by relinquishing membership and not paying for activities that aren’t related to collective bargaining, with the union’s right to avoid free riders and not be forced to represent a worker who contributes nothing.

The Supreme Court, largely through decisions written by Justice Samuel Alito, had indicated that its 1977 case that allowed for fair-share fees in the public sector was ripe for a rare overturning by the Court. It all but invited a challenge. Several cases were in the pipeline, but Friedrichs took the unusual approach of conceding before each lower court that it should be dismissed so that it could move quickly to the Supreme Court. Friedrichs faced a hostile oral argument before a conservative majority; unions braced for the worst. Then, as the Court was drafting its opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia died, and with him, so did Friedrichs. The Supreme Court issued a tied 4-4 decision affirming the lower court in March.

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Wednesday, Dec 28, 2016, 11:26 am  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

More U.S. Workers Have Highly Volatile, Unstable Incomes

More Americans work without full-time employers yet policies fail to address this new reality. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

The U.S stock market may be at record highs and U.S. unemployment at its lowest level since the Great Recession, but income inequality remains stubbornly high.

Contributing to this inequality is the fact that while more Americans are working than at any time since August 2007, more people are working part time, erratic and unpredictable schedules—without full-time, steady employment. Since 2007, the number of Americans involuntarily working part time has increased by nearly 45 percent. More Americans than before are part of what’s considered the contingent workforce, working on-call or on-demand, and as independent contractors or self-employed freelancers, often with earnings that vary dramatically month to month.

These workers span the socioeconomic spectrum, from low-wage workers in service, retail, hospitality and restaurant jobs—and temps in industry, construction and manufacturing—to highly educated Americans working job-to-job because their professions lack fulltime employment opportunities given the structure of many information age businesses. As Andrew Stettner, Michael Cassidy and George Wentworth point out in their new report, A New Safety Net for an Era of Unstable Earnings, what all these workers have in common are highly volatile, unstable incomes and a lack of access to the traditional U.S. unemployment insurance safety net.

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Monday, Dec 26, 2016, 11:49 am  ·  By Theo Anderson

Income Inequality Is off the Charts. Can Local Policies Make a Difference?

The increasing consolidation of wealth is not inevitable. (Tish Wells/MCT via Getty Images)  

The income gap between the classes is growing at a startling pace in the United States. In 1980, the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Today, they earn 81 times more.

The widening gap is “due to a boom in capital income,” according to research by French economist Thomas Piketty. That means the rich are living off of their wealth rather than investing it in businesses that create jobs, as Republican, supply-side economics predicts they would do.

Piketty played a pivotal role in pushing income inequality to the center of public discussions in 2013 with his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In a new working paper, he and his co-authors report that the average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States between 1980 and 2014. But only the highest earners benefited from that growth.

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Thursday, Dec 22, 2016, 12:33 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

Ohio Factory Workers Fight for a Union: “Everyone Deserves a Seat at the Table”

The Fuyao plant in Ohio illustrates changing trends in U.S. manufacturing jobs, which are beginning to resemble jobs in the fast food and retail sectors. (Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

Forklift operator Timi Jernigan hopes President-elect Donald Trump fulfills his campaign promise to bring more manufacturing jobs to the United States. But he knows from experience that not all factory jobs are the same.

“I’ve worked at union and nonunion facilities,” says Jernigan, who’s worked at factories around Dayton, Ohio. “And it always was better at the union ones.”

He’s currently at Fuyao Glass America, a Chinese-owned company that opened an automotive glass plant in the Dayton suburb of Moraine. Jernigan was one of its first employees and is now part of a group of workers trying to organize a union.

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Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016, 11:56 am  ·  By Branko Marcetic

From the WWE to the White House: The Anti-Worker History of Trump’s SBA Pick

Under the stewardship of Linda McMahon and her husband, Vince, the WWE racked up a long list of controversies when it comes to its handling of the business’ lifeblood—the wrestlers themselves. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

This month, President-elect Donald Trump continued his trend of appointing wealthy businessmen and women with little government experience to government posts by nominating former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) chief executive Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Most news reports on her appointment have focused on her net worth and the fact that she donated $7 million to Trump’s campaign. Few have talked about the WWE’s questionable labor record under McMahon.

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Tuesday, Dec 20, 2016, 3:05 pm  ·  By Sonia Singh

5 Ways Unions and Workers Centers Can Defend Immigrant Members

The president-elect campaigned on promises to deport millions of undocumented workers and to target immigrants from Muslim countries. (Photo by Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images)  

This article was first posted by Labor Notes.

As the reality of a Donald Trump presidency sets in, unions and workers centers are gearing up for a massive fight to defend immigrant members, building on lessons from the past decade.

Undocumented workers are at risk both from the government and from their employers. Sometimes employers are under government pressure themselves. Other times they’re using the threat of immigration enforcement to discourage organizing or keep workplace standards low.

Besides workplace or home raids, over the past decade workers have faced:

  • I-9 audits, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigates employers to ensure workers have the right documentation to work legally
  • No-match letters, where the Social Security Administration notifies employers that the name or social security number on a worker’s W-2 form doesn’t match its records
  • E-Verify, an online system that checks workers’ eligibility to work, mandatory in some states and voluntary in others

The president-elect campaigned on promises to deport millions of undocumented workers and to target immigrants from Muslim countries. While we don’t yet know Trump’s game plan for attacking immigrant workers, here’s a checklist of five questions to ask as your union or worker center prepares to defend members:

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Tuesday, Dec 20, 2016, 11:35 am  ·  By Rebekah Frumkin and Enrica Nicoli-Aldini

Six Flags Great America Not So Great for Foreign Work-Visa Students

Six Flags Great America recruits foreign students as guest workers by promising a summer abroad to earn money, practice English and make American friends. But for many of these students, the experience feels more like exploitation. (Rebekah Frumkin)  

In a cramped hotel room in suburban Chicago, Roxana Cruz, 22, is preparing for another day of work at Six Flags Great America. She worked late the night before—a bus brought her back to the hotel after midnight—and she’s facing another long day now. She straps on a park-issued visor and applies makeup that she hopes aloud won’t melt in the harsh sun.

Cruz shares the studio-sized room with two roommates: a young woman who sleeps on the full bed in the middle of the room and a 21-year-old woman who asked to go by the name Marie, with whom Cruz shares a bunk bed against the wall. Marie is a pseudonym. The young woman, like some other foreign students in this story, asked that her name not be used for fear Six Flags could use her statements against her.

Both Cruz and Marie hail from the Dominican Republic and work as cashiers at restaurants in the park. Marie says her job is extremely taxing because it involves a lot of heavy lifting of boxes and crates.

“To tell the truth, I’m very disenchanted,” she says in Spanish. “I feel like I paid so much money to come here to kill myself physically and go through so much trouble. It’s hard to stay here—very, very hard.”

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Monday, Dec 19, 2016, 11:54 am  ·  By Paul Feldman and Stuart Silverstein

With Too Few Workplace Inspectors, OSHA Targets Worst of the Worst

With OSHA and its state counterparts relying on fewer than 1,850 inspectors to monitor about 8 million workplaces, it would take federal officials 145 years to inspect each job site once, union researchers estimate. (Greg Younger/ Flickr)  

This article was first posted by FairWarning.

Soon after beginning their cleanup of a fume-filled tanker car at an Omaha, Neb., rail maintenance yard, Adrian LaPour and Dallas Foulk were dead.

An explosion that April 2015 afternoon trapped LaPour in a flash fire inside the car and hurled Foulk out the top to his death.

Six months later their employer, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services, was hammered by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration with seven citations for “egregious, willful” workplace violations, along with 26 other charges. The agency proposed fines of nearly $1 million. To top it off, OSHA announced that it was tossing the company into its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, or SVEP.

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Friday, Dec 16, 2016, 12:07 pm  ·  By Samantha Winslow

“Si se Pudo!”: Hotel Workers Win Union in Santa Monica, California

A week after Donald Trump’s win, hotel workers at Le Merigot Hotel voted to unionize with UNITE HERE Local 11. (UNITE HERE Local 11/ Facebook)  

This article was first posted at Labor Notes.

While many union members needed time to recover from the presidential election results, a group of Santa Monica, California, hotel workers didn’t have time to spare. News of Donald Trump’s victory only pushed them to fight harder to win their union election at a beachfront hotel.

A week after Trump’s win, hotel workers at Le Merigot Hotel voted 27 to 15 to unionize with UNITE HERE Local 11.

Throughout his campaign the president-elect routinely vilified immigrants. The hotel workers are mostly immigrant women, a majority of them from Mexico and El Salvador.

“Once Trump takes over it’s going to be harder for us,” said housekeeper Filadelfia Alcala. “We had to get everyone on board. We wanted to protect ourselves from him.”

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