Working In These Times

Friday, Sep 16, 2016, 1:11 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

California Farmworkers Win Equal Overtime: “This Bill Corrects 78 Years of Discrimination”

Nationwide, almost all farmworkers are exempt from overtime thresholds thanks to agricultural worker exemptions in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. (United Farm Workers/ Twitter)  

California just approved the strongest overtime pay legislation in the nation for farmworkers, long exempt from overtime standards mandated for most other occupations.

The legislation, known as AB 1066, was signed into law this week by Gov. Jerry Brown and will eventually result in time-and-a-half pay for farmworkers who work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

“This bill corrects 78 years of discrimination, not just in the state but in the country,” says Juan Garcia, an internal coordinator with the United Farm Workers (UFW). “Most of the people that I’ve talked to here in Sonoma that have worked 30, sometimes 40 years—they’ve been waiting for something like this.”

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Wednesday, Sep 14, 2016, 12:25 pm  ·  By Cole Stangler

French Workers Step Up Labor Strikes: “With This Law, We’re Going Toward a Catastrophe”

Labor’s gripes with the Loi Travail are many: At the top of the list is a provision that undermines large-scale collective bargaining agreements. (Force Ouvrière/ Flickr)  

PARIS—France takes its summer vacation seriously: Families enjoy weeks of paid time off. Major cities empty out. Students go on break. This year, it’s also when the ruling Socialist government approved a deeply unpopular and sweeping set of labor reforms—arguably, the most significant rollback of workers’ rights since the nation’s welfare state rose from the ashes of World War II.

From March to July, hundreds of thousands of workers, students, unionists and sympathizers protested against the so-called Loi Travail. With the country back from its collective break—and the hotly-contested law starting to take effect—rabble-rousers are ready to hit the streets again. This Thursday, opponents have called for another round of strikes and protests against the reforms, demanding the government withdraw the law.

“The objective is the same,” says Eric Beynel, spokesman for Solidaires, one of several unions to endorse the latest round of protests. “We thought the law was bad before it was adopted. Just because it was adopted, moreover in a completely undemocratic way, doesn’t mean we should stop the mobilization. It’s only logical to continue.”

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Tuesday, Sep 13, 2016, 6:53 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

The Fight to Save UMass Labor Center Is a Fight for Worker Power

Founded in 1964, the Labor Center is one of about 30 labor centers around the country. (Save the Labor Center/ Facebook)  

The Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst is in turmoil. Its director, Eve Weinbaum, says she was abruptly pushed out of the position. In an alarming e-mail to alumni, students and allies, she protested funding cuts to teaching assistants and part-time instructors and, more troublingly, threats to the “Labor Studies faculty’s autonomy to make programmatic decisions and to designate a Director.”

Founded in 1964, the Labor Center is one of about 30 labor centers around the country. Most are rooted in the extension programs of land grant public universities. In addition to its extension work—providing trainings for unions and worker centers—the Labor Center runs undergraduate and graduate degree programs in labor studies.

These days it is most renowned for its limited residency Union Leadership and Administration (ULA) program, in which union leaders, staff and rank-and-file activists meet for intense 10-day periods of instruction every summer and winter and can earn a graduate degree in three years if they keep up with readings and assignments from home (or in the field).  As you might have guessed, I’m a proud alum of the program.

The response to Weinbaum’s letter produced nearly 500 letters of protest in a few days, according to organizers for a Save the Labor Center campaign. Local union leaders, heads of other labor centers, alumni and current students also expressed alarm about the situation in a prominent article in The Boston Globe. According to Jeff Schuhrke, another UMass alum and writer for In These Times, an organizing committee of at least 30 alumni is holding regular conference calls to plan the next steps of the campaign. The upheaval there has many worried about the future of labor education at public universities nationwide. Changes in the way education programs are funded are setting off a kind of labor center “Hunger Games,” where some programs grow while others die.

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Monday, Sep 12, 2016, 3:09 pm  ·  By Michael McCown

This is How You Win: A Guided Tour of the Campaign at City College of San Francisco

Strikes in higher education are rare. Faculty work is isolated, and despite the popular portrayal of academics as having the ultimate job security, most instructors are part-timers with short-term contracts. (AFT 2121/ Facebook)  

This article was first posted at Labor Notes.

For the first time in its 40-year history, the union of full- and part-time faculty at City College of San Francisco recently went on strike—and it worked.

Teachers (AFT) Local 2121 pulled off a one-day strike April 27, despite the administration’s claim that the strike was illegal. By July, to head off another strike, the college agreed to a union contract with substantial raises. Faculty members had been working without one for a year.

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Friday, Sep 9, 2016, 2:23 pm  ·  By Theo Anderson

150 Million Workers in India Just Staged the Largest Strike in History To Resist Neoliberalism

Unions have a 12-point “charter of demands” that includes not only higher minimum wages but better enforcement of labor laws, an end to privatization of the public sector, guaranteed pensions and social security protections for all workers, and an end to foreign investment in India’s railway, insurance and defense industries. (Centre of Indian Trade Unions/ Facebook)  

Trade unionists in India staged a nationwide strike last week that affected key sectors of the nation’s economy, including transportation, healthcare, finance, energy, coal, steel, defense and education. Organizers reportedly claimed that more than 150 million people took part and that it cost the economy some $2.5 billion, making the strike the "world's largest." 

Those numbers could not be independently confirmed, but this much is clear: Workers are angry at the Indian government and unwilling to accept its neoliberal economic agenda without a fight.

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Friday, Sep 9, 2016, 12:42 pm  ·  By Rebecca Nathanson

It’s Game On for Grad Students After NLRB Rules They Can Unionize

Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. (Rebecca Nathanson)  

December 5 fell on a Friday in 2014; in New York City, the air was crisp. At Columbia University, about 200 graduate student-workers pulled on hats and scarves to gather on the imposing steps of Low Library, which houses the university president’s office. While most stood in a block formation, holding signs declaring their department names, a small delegation went inside to deliver a letter to the president. It asked that he voluntarily recognize their union, the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2110), which a majority of graduate employees supported.

When the administration declined to reply, GWC and the United Auto Workers (UAW), with which it is affiliated, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to certify their union. A complicated legal process ensued.

For more than a decade, the NLRB considered graduate employees to be students, not workers. As such, they did not have the same legal rights of most employees, including the right to organize. All that changed two weeks ago when the NLRB decision on the Columbia case finally came back, siding with the student-workers and their right to collective bargaining.

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Thursday, Sep 8, 2016, 5:45 pm  ·  By Anna Simonton

45 Years After Attica, Prisoners Are Organizing What Could Be the Biggest Prison Strike Ever

According to strike leaders, inmates from 40 prisons in 24 states have signed on to the plan. (Act Out/ Twitter)  

Forty-five years after the bloodiest prison riot in the United States, incarcerated people across the country plan to commemorate the Attica rebellion and peacefully protest prison conditions by bringing the multibillion-dollar prison economy to a grinding halt, in what may turn out to be one of the biggest prison strikes this nation has ever seen.

According to strike leaders, inmates from 40 prisons in 24 states have signed on to the plan. That information is not easily verifiable because those leaders are behind bars.

Using cell phones, Robert Earl Council Jr. (also known as Kinetik Justice), Melvin Ray and James Pleasant—all inmates in solitary confinement in Alabama—have coordinated what they’re calling a National Day of Solidarity to End Prison Slavery. They say that on September 9, thousands of prisoners across the country will refuse to work. The duration of the strike may vary from prison to prison, but strike leaders in Alabama say they are prepared to maintain the protest until their demands for better working and living conditions––along with legal reforms––are met.

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Wednesday, Sep 7, 2016, 4:32 pm  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Want to Solve the Steel Crisis? Change the Rules

Many steelworkers are union workers. If those jobs disappear, that would mean fewer family-supporting private sector union jobs. And that would mean an even weaker lift to everyone else’s wages. (United Steelworkers/ Facebook)  

This article was first posted at Alternet.

China is gorging itself on steelmaking. It is forging so much steel that the entire world doesn’t need that much steel.

Companies in the United States and Europe, and unions like mine, the United Steelworkers, have spent untold millions of dollars to secure tariffs on imports of this improperly government-subsidized steel. Still China won’t stop. Diplomats have elicited promises from Chinese officials that no new mills will be constructed. Still they are. Chinese federal officials have written repeated five-year plans in which new mills are banned. Yet they are built.

All of the dog-eared methods for dealing with this global crisis in steel have failed. So American steel executives and steelworkers and hundreds of thousands of other workers whose jobs depend on steel must hope that President Barack Obama used his private meeting with China's President Xi Jinping Saturday to press for a novel solution. Because on this Labor Day, 14,500 American steelworkers and approximately 91,000 workers whose jobs depend on steel are out of work because China won’t stop making too much steel.

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Tuesday, Sep 6, 2016, 11:58 am  ·  By Mario Vasquez

Lipton Workers Vote to Unionize: “Everyone just got tired of it”

The organizing drive came after years of declining benefits—loss of sick pay, supplemental time off and a downgrade in insurance coverage considered too expensive for what it offered. (UFCW Local 400/ Facebook)  

Juanita Hart has worked as an operator at the Lipton Tea manufacturing plant in Suffolk, Virginia, for 25 years. She’s seen a lot of change in that time, but nothing like what happened last month.

“I was crying like I had won the lottery,” Hart told In These Times. I was so glad and I was so happy because I’ve been told for all this time, all these years, that it would never happen. And when it happened, I had so much joy that all I could do (was) cry.”

She was talking about workers’ decision to join a union.

They voted, 108-79, in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board on August 26. More than 200 workers at the plant, which makes nearly all of the Lipton Tea sold in North America, will now be represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400.

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Monday, Sep 5, 2016, 1:10 pm  ·  By David Moberg

Strong Unions Help All Workers—Not Just Union Workers

The decline of unions contributes to the prospect that wages in advanced countries, especially in the United States, will remain flat or, more likely, fall for the next generation. (Michael Fleshman/ Flickr)  

Since the 1890s, the United States has set aside the first Monday in September as Labor Day. It’s meant to be “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the Labor Department. But in recent years, the day has been as much an occasion to reflect on how the labor movement and American workers have lost ground as a time for celebration.

Unions do have some grounds for cheer this year—a burgeoning movement of low-wage workers and their advocates that is moving towards a substantial increase in the minimum wage, new laws protecting long-ignored groups of workers, such as domestic and home care workers, and an interest in unions among young workers. 

But actual organizing of workers into collective bargaining units with contracts has not kept pace with the growth of the private sector workforce. And it has become painfully obvious that as unions represent a smaller share of the workers in a region or industry, their members have less power and, with less power, they have a harder time bargaining for higher wages and other improvements.

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