Working In These Times

Friday, Oct 28, 2016, 5:11 pm  ·  By Micah Uetricht

Think Democrats Take Labor’s Money and Loyalty for Granted? Here’s Proof.

At a time when labor could have chosen the most pro-labor Democratic candidate in decades, Bernie Sanders, all but a handful of leaders rejected his campaign—and some actively worked against it. (Joe Brusky/ Flickr)  

This article was first posted at Jacobin.

After the 2012 presidential election, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told labor journalist Josh Eidelson that the union federation “won’t be taken for granted” by the White House and the Democratic Party. Fast forward to a recent Wall Street Journal article: union contributions to politicians (almost entirely Democrats) are up 38 percent, with the AFL-CIO chipping in $11 million and SEIU over $30 million.

It’s possible, I suppose, that unions have devised a secret method for holding Democrats accountable behind closed doors while shoveling ever-greater mounds of money into their coffers. Labor has long backed a party that is addicted to scorning and betraying them, but maybe this time, with some well-timed whispers in politicians’ ears and a couple extra million in donations thrown in, things will be different.

But recent WikiLeaks emails of union leaders’ correspondence with high-ups in Hillary Clinton’s campaign suggest that rather than buying support for a working-class agenda from the candidate through their massive contributions—and through some leaders’ efforts to sink Bernie Sanders’s primary challenge to Clinton—labor will keep getting more of the same.


Friday, Oct 28, 2016, 2:21 pm  ·  By Branko Marcetic

A Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Clinton Campaign’s Calculated Decision to Oppose the TPP

By the time Clinton was set to launch her campaign, various segments of the U.S. population had lined up against the deal: labor unions, environmental groups, social justice activists and others. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)  

How do political leaders decide to take a stance on an issue? Does it come down to principle, a matter of drawing a line that they refuse to cross? Or do they examine pages of data, research and evidence to determine what would best serve the country?

If the emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign are any indication, the answer is neither. The process of developing one’s stance apparently involves weeks, if not months, of backroom discussions by advisers and aides that may only minimally involve the leader. Her position is then carefully weighed against a number of competing interests—from the feelings of key constituencies and other segments of the public to the timing of pending legislation—to ensure the least possible damage.

That’s the impression created by the thousands of private emails recently released by WikiLeaks, many of which cover one particular topic: how to manage the epic flip-flop Clinton was forced to make in the course of her campaign over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 


Wednesday, Oct 26, 2016, 11:56 am  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

New U.N. Report Shows Just How Awful Globalization and Informal Employment Are for Workers

The report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/ Flickr)  

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association, says a new United Nations report, “are essential to human dignity, economic empowerment, sustainable development and democracy. They are the gateway to all other rights; without them, all other human and civil rights are in jeopardy.” But these rights, says the report, are being jeopardized by the recent dramatic rise in the power of large multinational corporations and their dependence on global supply chains and the growing informal and migrant workforce. While these rights are most imperiled in the world’s poorest countries, workers in the United States are also facing these problems.


Tuesday, Oct 25, 2016, 4:51 pm  ·  By Arun Gupta

Beyond the Fight for 15: The Worker-led Fast Food Union Campaign Building Power on the Shop Floor

Burgerville Workers Union members and supporters rally in Portland, Ore.   Photo courtesy of the BVWU

Last year, at age 17, Eli Fishel moved out of her parents’ house in Vancouver, Washington, squeezing into a three-bedroom apartment with five other roommates. To pay her bills as she finished high school, Fishel landed a job at Burgerville, a fast-food chain with 42 outlets and more than 1,500 employees in the Pacific Northwest.

Founded in 1961, Burgerville has cultivated a loyal following by emphasizing fresh, local food, combined with sustainable business practices like renewable energy and recycling. But Fishel quickly realized she wasn’t part of Burgerville’s commitment to “regional vitality” and “future generations.”


Monday, Oct 24, 2016, 6:00 pm  ·  By Branko Marcetic

Leaks Show Machinists’ Union President Secretly Moved Up Endorsement Vote to Help Clinton

According to a statement put out by IAM the day of the vote, the endorsement was based on an internal poll of nearly 2,000 of the union’s members. (Karen Murphy/ Flickr)  

Back in August 2015, when Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were still battling it out for the Democratic nomination and Sanders’ campaign was viewed as a quixotic amusement, Clinton won the pivotal endorsement of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), one of the nation’s biggest unions. It was the second endorsement Clinton had secured from a national union and helped shore up Clinton’s credentials as a friend to workers.

Emails released by WikiLeaks over the past two weeks suggest the kind of machinations that went on behind the scenes to secure Clinton that endorsement. According to a July 8, 2015 email from Nikki Budzinski, the Clinton campaign’s labor outreach director, the union’s then-international president, Tom Buffenbarger, moved up the endorsement vote many months and did so without the knowledge of most of IAM’s officers.

“I just spoke with IAM, they have confidentiality [sic] shared with us that Buffenbarger will be moving his board to take a endorsement vote on August 14th in NYC,” wrote Budzinski. “Only three officers at IAM are aware of this, so its [sic] being tightly held so that they don't have any issues on the board with timing.”


Friday, Oct 21, 2016, 11:09 am  ·  By Mario Vasquez

BREAKING—One Bourbon, One Strike and No Fear: Jim Beam Workers Win a Better Contract

The strike takes place as Jim Beam and other Kentucky whiskey distilleries benefit from a boom in demand. (viviannny/ Flickr)  

This story has been updated with workers approving a new contract.

“We take great pride in our jobs at Jim Beam because we are Jim Beam,” says Troy Frazier, a processing operator with 25 years at the company. “We’d be glad to go back to our jobs that we loved, used to love—the way it used to be as a family—but the way that it’s been lately, no one liked their jobs.”

After a nearly weeklong strike, more than 200 whiskey workers in Kentucky, represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 111D, voted Friday to accept the company's latest contract proposal. They went on strike October 14 after members overwhelmingly approved a work stoppage. 

The strike coincided, roughly, with the expiration of Local 111D’s contract with Jim Beam’s parent company, Beam Suntory.


Thursday, Oct 20, 2016, 3:15 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

In Wake of NLRB Ruling, AFT and SEIU Vie to Organize Grad Student Workers at Northwestern

Northwestern’s administration is openly opposed to the campaign. In an August statement, the university warned that unionization “would significantly change the relationship between these students, their faculty mentors and the University." (Northwestern University/ Facebook)  

As millions tuned in to see the final presidential debate Wednesday night, about 100 graduate student workers at Northwestern University gathered to watch two unions debate which one can represent them best.

The event was organized by Northwestern University Graduate Workers (NUGW), an organization of teaching and research assistants seeking to unionize in the wake of the National Labor Relations Board’s landmark ruling in August that said graduate employees at private universities are indeed workers covered under labor law.

Representatives from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) were present. Both unions say they were approached by graduate student workers looking to affiliate with them.

When two unions compete over who will represent a group of workers, they typically make their cases in separate presentations. Wednesday night’s debate was unusual.


Tuesday, Oct 18, 2016, 6:29 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

The Two-Tier Provision in the Chicago Teachers Union’s Tentative Agreement, Explained

The CTU’s House of Delegates meets Wednesday to deliberate over the tentative agreement and vote on whether to send it to the entire membership for ratification. (Chicago Teachers Union/ Facebook)  

The tentative agreement that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) struck with district management less than an hour before a midnight October 10 strike deadline has been hailed by many as a victory. Facing another round of concessionary demands, the union managed to extract $88 million from the mayor’s corporate slush fund to restore some badly needed funding to the school system. The union also managed to win an increase in compensation.

But the way that the compensation is structured—with current teachers keeping their current 7 percent pension “pickup,” and new hires receiving a salary increase in lieu of a pension contribution—has some critics decrying the deal as a solidarity-killing, two-tier contract. A pickup is the percentage of a worker’s pay that an employer puts directly into a pension fund.

The CTU’s House of Delegates meets Wednesday to deliberate over the tentative agreement and vote on whether to send it to the entire membership for ratification. If the deal is rejected, there is no guarantee that management will agree to more of the union’s demands—or even return to the table.


Monday, Oct 17, 2016, 7:10 pm  ·  By Rebecca Burns

In a Nightmare for Neoliberal Ed Reformers, Chicago Charter School Teachers May Strike This Week

In preparation for a possible strike, dozens of teachers, parents and supporters picketed in front of the charter network’s swanky downtown headquarters last week. (Christine Geovanis/ Flickr)  

When the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) struck in 2012, then-CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) Juan Rangel took the opportunity to sing the praises of the city’s charter schools, which remained open as CTU members walked the picket lines.

"I think parents are going to be frustrated when they see 50,000 kids (charter students) having an education, going to school without interruption and their kids” are not, Rangel told the Chicago Tribune.

Four years later, the tables have turned. An eleventh-hour agreement between the CTU and the school district headed off a second strike in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) last week. But there’s another teacher walkout still brewing—this time, at the UNO Charter School Network (UCSN), a group of 15 publicly-funded, privately-managed schools established by Rangel’s organization, from which he resigned in 2013. For the past seven months, UCSN teachers have been in a tough contract fight with management. If no agreement is reached this week, teachers plan to strike starting this Wednesday.


Monday, Oct 17, 2016, 1:13 pm  ·  By Tim Shorrock

Korean Workers Launch Major Wave of Strikes, Winning International Support

The strikes pose one of the biggest crises in South Korean labor since the 1980s, when workers seized on the country's democratization to create one of Asia's most dynamic labor movements. (Photo Credit: Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union)  

Over the past few weeks, thousands of South Korean transport workers have gone on strike to protest against government “reform” proposals that would make it easier for employers to fire workers, weaken seniority protections won through collective bargaining and privatize some state-owned industries.

The strikes, and the South Korean government’s fierce crackdown on labor, have generated an unprecedented response from global unions over what they see as clear-cut violations of workers’ rights to freedom of association.

“This has become a challenge to the whole international community and is enormously damaging to the Korean government’s international reputation,” Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), told In These Times.