Working In These Times

Wednesday, Feb 8, 2017, 3:39 pm  ·  By Alexandra Bradbury

How to Keep Unions Strong Under “Right-to-Work”

The Jeffboat story might reassure you—because their secrets to maintaining membership aren’t expensive or complicated. (Scott Beale / Laughing Squid / Flickr)  

This article was first posted by Labor Notes.

Plenty of union officers are justifiably worried about how many members will quit their unions if Congress or the Supreme Court imposes “right to work” conditions on the whole country.

But when right to work hit Indiana in 2012, it didn’t have much impact at the Jeffboat shipyard in Jeffersonville. “I believe we only have one person that’s dropped out,” said Teamsters Local 89 Business Agent Jeff Cooper. That’s one out of 700.

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Wednesday, Feb 8, 2017, 2:32 pm  ·  By Moshe Z. Marvit

The GOP’s National Right to Work Bill Is a Smokescreen—The Threat Is What Comes Next

Democrats would be wise to treat this bill for what is really is: a public relations stunt that has little chance of success, but is more broadly being used to help promote right-to-work efforts in the states. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)  

Last week, Iowa Congressman Steve King introduced the National Right to Work Act, which would create a nationwide ban on the requirement that workers who are represented by a union have to pay for the costs associated with representation. The bill was cosponsored by South Carolina’s Joe Wilson, whose primary claim to fame is having yelled “you lie!” at President Barack Obama from the back benches of a joint session of Congress.

In the two weeks since Donald Trump’s inauguration, King, in addition to the National Right to Work Act, has introduced bills to make it easier to fire workers who have union sympathies (with the Orwellian title, “Truth in Employment Act”), to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires paying prevailing wages for federally-funded construction projects, to repeal President Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which has served as the modern foundation for public education in America, and introduced a resolution to amend the 14th Amendment of the Constitution so that it no longer apportions the number of Congressmen by counting the number of people in each state, but by “counting the number of persons in each State who are citizens of the United States.”

Clearly, this is the wish-list of someone who has a perverse view of the nation. King has always been an extreme individual. The question is whether in Trump’s America any of his ideas should be taken seriously. Almost two years ago, King introduced an identical right-to-work bill, which garnered 75 original cosponsors, with an additional eight within a week. By contrast, King’s re-introduction this year had one original cosponsor (Wilson), with only seven more joining as cosponsors in the week that followed. 

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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2017, 1:44 pm  ·  By Mark Paul, William Darity Jr, & Darrick Hamilton

5 Reasons Why a Federal Job Guarantee Makes Sense

By strengthening their bargaining power and eliminating the threat of unemployment once and for all, a federal job guarantee would bring power back to the workers where it belongs. (jaimebisbal/ Flickr)  

This article was first posted by Jacobin.

Universal basic income (UBI), an annual government-sponsored payment to all citizens, has been gaining traction across the American political landscape. Andy Stern, former Service Employees International Union president, believes the program will counteract the “acceleration of technology” that he thinks will likely create “work but not reliable jobs or incomes.” On the Right, the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray argues that we should replace the “entire bureaucratic apparatus of government social workers” with a UBI.

Other heavy-hitters agree it’s worth discussing. Robert Reich’s recent video calls on the government to provide a minimum payment for every citizen. President Obama told Wired that the United States will have to debate UBI and similar programs “over the next ten or twenty years.”

The renewed attention makes sense: UBI would cover workers who, thanks to technological progress, have lost their jobs. One often-cited report tells us that 47 percent of all jobs are at risk of being automated. Yet existing social insurance programs are insufficient. The current array of programs—such as unemployment insurance, the earned income tax credit, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—help many Americans, but over forty-three million people still live below the poverty line. Children are among the most vulnerable, with nearly half living at or near poverty.

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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2017, 12:50 pm  ·  By Nida Bajwa

EPA Workers to Trump: We Don’t Want Scott Pruitt as Our New Boss

Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, addresses a rally outside the EPA’s Chicago office. (Susan Hurley/ Facebook)  

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers, activists and community members protested Donald Trump and his EPA administrator nominee, Scott Pruitt, in a rally outside the EPA’s Chicago office Monday.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 704, the union representing the EPA’s Chicago workers, organized the protest to oppose Pruitt’s confirmation and to pressure senators to vote against him. Speakers at the event included stewards and members of AFGE, state and city government officials and activists from non-profit environmental organizations.

“Thirty-six years, we been fighting for environmental justice,” Cheryl Johnson told the crowd. “[Pruitt] don’t know what a fight is, ‘cause he just started one.”

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Monday, Feb 6, 2017, 11:31 am  ·  By Bruce Vail

Republican Victory in Missouri Means “Right-to-Work” For Less

Once Gov. Eric Greitens signs the legislation, Missouri will become the 28th state to have a "right-to-work" law on the books. (Missouri AFL-CIO/ Facebook)  

Missouri’s House of Representatives passed a so-called “right-to-work” law this month, marking the end of a decades-long campaign for the adoption of the anti-union legislation in the state.

The measure had already been passed in Missouri’s Senate and newly-installed Gov. Eric Greitens has pledged to sign the law soon. Once he does, Missouri will become the 28th state to have such a law on the books.

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Friday, Feb 3, 2017, 1:27 pm  ·  By Stephanie Luce and Jen Kern

When Raising the Minimum Wage is a Bad Thing

Our side must uphold the fight for a $15 minimum wage and must reject any increase that is, as it inevitably would be under Donald Trump, paired with concessions. (Stephen L/ Flickr)  

Right now, most progressives and leftists appear to be in resistance mode against Donald Trump and his administration. If his early moves are any indication, that’s exactly where they may stay. But politics is not a fixed mark, and—while we are cautious about making predictions in this utterly unpredictable political moment—one issue could emerge to court compromise: the minimum wage.

We want economic progress, and it will be tempting to look for openings in the new administration where we could push for gains for workers. We have the momentum of a movement behind us and public support remains high for raising the minimum wage. Having run on a noxiously racist, false economic populism, Trump may need to deliver something to his working-class voters. A $10 wage might seem just the ticket.

We are sympathetic to the idea that “progress” might be made here. But we have a clear message to our allies in this fight: Our side must uphold the fight for a $15 minimum wage and must reject any increase that is, as it inevitably would be under Trump, paired with concessions.

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Thursday, Feb 2, 2017, 2:04 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

After String of Defeats, Workers Win Union at Baltimore Gas & Electric

The election victory will bring more than 1,400 new members into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun/MCT via Getty Images)  

BALTIMORE—Baltimore-area workers opened the Trump era by voting in favor of a labor union at the largest utility company in the metro region. The election victory at Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (BGE) will bring more than 1,400 new members into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

IBEW’s success in the National Labor Relations Board-supervised election last month breaks a long string of defeats for the union, which ran four unsuccessful organizing campaigns at BGE, stretching back to 1996. The final vote, 741-610, is strong enough to deter any legal challenge from BGE, according to union organizer Troy Johnson. Both sides expect to move quickly to negotiate a first contract.

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Thursday, Feb 2, 2017, 11:57 am  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: On Treating Trump Like a Bad Boss

As Republicans introduce legislation that would make labor law for the entire country like it is in the deep South, who better to talk about making unions relevant than an organizer with lots of experience organizing in a so-called “right-to-work” state? Ben Speight is the organizing director of Teamsters Local 728 in Georgia. (Fred Nye/ IBT photographer)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. In this series we'll be talking with organizers, troublemakers, and thinkers who are working both to challenge the Trump administration and the circumstances that created it. It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. This series will introduce you to some of them.

As Republicans introduce legislation that would make labor law for the entire country like it is in the deep South, who better to talk about making unions relevant than an organizer with lots of experience organizing in a so-called “right-to-work” state? Contrary to popular belief, right-to-work laws don't ban unions, they just allow workers to opt out of paying representation fees to the union while still requiring the union to represent all workers in a workplace. But it is still possible to fight for workers under a right-to-work regime—as long as unions remember to fight. 

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Wednesday, Feb 1, 2017, 3:15 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

Unions Are at Their Lowest Levels in Decades—To Gain Power We Must Stop Following the Rules

Because activists tend to conflate our legal rights with our actual human rights, we doggedly pursue age-old strategies because “it is what it is.” We must stop this. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)  

If Donald Trump’s first week as president wasn’t depressing enough, Thursday brought a report that showed union membership fell in 2016. Union members are now just 10.7% of the overall workforce and only 6.7% of the private sector. Those are the lowest levels since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began tracking them in the early 1980s—and possibly the lowest since the 1920s.

Bosses and union haters will crow that unions are dying institutions and even our friends may write eulogies. But this funeral is for the wrong corpse.

What may be dying is the system of collective bargaining that developed in the years after World War II. That system is one where unions exclusively bargain on behalf of workers on a company-by-company basis, not just for wages but also for an ever-expanding portfolio of employer-paid benefits. These collective bargaining agreements emphasize peaceful resolution of disagreements through grievance procedures, mediation and arbitration and can cover many years at a time with guarantees of no strikes and lockouts.

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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2017, 1:53 pm  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: Why Teachers Unions Are the Best Bet To Transform the Labor Movement

Teachers around the country are organizing against privatization, and gaining support from parents and students. (mitchell haindfield/ Flickr)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. In this series, we’ll be talking with organizers, troublemakers, and thinkers who are working both to challenge the Trump administration and the circumstances that created it. It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. This series will introduce you to some of them.

Public schools have been a bipartisan battleground for years now, with teachers unions taking attacks from elected officials at all levels as part of a broader movement to “improve” education by handing control over to private companies. Donald Trump's nominee to run the education department, Betsy DeVos, is a stalwart of this privatization drive, never having met a public school she liked (and barely, as many have pointed out, having met a public school at all, since she neither taught in any nor attended them nor sent her own children to them). But teachers around the country are organizing against privatization, and gaining support from parents and students. We talk to one of those teachers, Jesse Hagopian.

Hagopian teaches high school in Seattle and is an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. He is also active in his union with the Social Equality Educators

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