Working In These Times

Tuesday, Feb 2, 2016, 11:59 am  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

Govt. Report: Even After 2013 Texas Fertilizer Explosion, Hundreds of Communities Still at Risk

Much of West, Texas looked like a post-apocalyptic wasteland after the fertilizer explosion in 2013. But steps to prevent further disasters aren't being taken. (A Name Like Shields... / Flickr)  

Nearly three years after a catastrophic explosion and fire fueled by about 30 tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate ripped through the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas—killing 15 people, including 12 first responders, and injuring more than 260 and causing extensive community damage—the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released and unanimously approved its final report on the incident. Presented at a public meeting in Waco, Texas on January 28, the CSB’s report found that “limited regulatory oversight, poor hazard awareness, inadequate emergency planning and the proximity of the facility to nearby homes and other buildings all led to the incident’s severity.”

In a statement, CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland called this “one of the most destructive explosions ever investigated by the CSB.”

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Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016, 4:44 pm  ·  By Branko Marcetic

Loyola Students Face Discipline for On-Campus Protest, Say Univ. Violating Social Justice Commitment

Loyola students and supporters gathered outside the university's entrance on Monday morning. Father Larry Dowling of St. Agatha Catholic Church leads the group in prayer. (Branko Marcetic)  

“Faith is not a lofty theory, but a lifestyle,” Methodist pastor Claire Marich said early Monday morning to a small crowd of students, clergy and university alumni gathered outside Loyola University Chicago’s north gates. After each speaker spoke, the attendees held hands, bowed their heads and prayed.

The occasion was not a religious ceremony on the Catholic school’s campus, but a conduct hearing that four Loyola University seniors were preparing to attend, which the students and their supporters view as a heavy-handed attempt to silence free speech and protest at a Jesuit university that claims deep concern with issues of social justice.

The “Loyola 4,” along with Loyola’s entire student government, are being charged with disruption and harassment of a staff member over a November 20 demonstration for higher wages for unionized food service workers, which they helped organize and lead. If found guilty, they face probation and even suspension from the university.

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Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016, 4:34 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Did a Virginia School for Saudi Arabia Diplomatic Staff’s Children Fire Teachers for Organizing?

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama meet members of the Saudi royal family. (U.S. State Department)  

A long-dormant union rights case at the National Labor Relations Board is being revived, with the potential to pit the not-so-powerful federal labor agency against the very powerful King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, monarch of oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

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Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016, 10:39 am  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder Values Big Business More Than Children’s Lives

(Linda Parton)

The people of Michigan hired themselves a GOP businessman to be governor in 2011. And what they got was children poisoned by public water in Flint.

That is, what they got was a government run based on GOP business values. 

To line the pockets of CEOs and shareholders, corporations cut corners in ways that frequently end up injuring workers and the public. Think of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster where safety violations killed 29 workers or the Takata airbag fatalities that occurred despite workers voicing safety concerns or the nine deaths and 714 illnesses caused by salmonella-contaminated peanut butter knowingly sold by Peanut Corporation of America.  

So, really, the lead poisoning of Flint children by a government based on Republican business values is no surprise.

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Monday, Jan 25, 2016, 6:47 pm  ·  By Kari Lydersen

Chicago Window Workers Who Occupied Their Factory in 2008 Win New Bankruptcy Payout

(Jeremy Gantz)  

Seven years after Republic Windows & Doors workers occupied a recently-shuttered factory in Chicago, making international news, and three years after they opened their own window company, they are receiving a $295,000 payout in bankruptcy court that is both a symbolic and pragmatic victory.

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Monday, Jan 25, 2016, 5:43 pm  ·  By David Moberg

PBS’s ‘The Mine Wars’ Shows West Virginia’s Militant, Radical Labor History

(PBS)  

Television shows rarely tell much about the lives of working class Americans, past or present. But Tuesday evening, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) offers a spectacularly well-made history of one of the largest, most violent confrontations of American workers against business power, the rapacious coal companies in southern West Virginia and their armed agents.

The workers wanted a union and better lives for their families and better working conditions for themselves. Backed by the power of the state and federal governments, deploying troops armed with the latest weapons from machine guns to planes with bombs, the mine owners won that first Battle of Blair Mountain. Yet decades later, the miners prevailed, at least by making their union, the United Mine Workers, one of the strongest and most influential unions in American history.

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Monday, Jan 25, 2016, 11:09 am  ·  By Mario Vasquez

UNITE HERE New England Union Locals Endorse Bernie Sanders: He “Resonates With Our Members”

(Brookings Institute / Flickr)  

UNITE HERE's New England Joint Board (NEJB) endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for president on January 22 after the union’s executive board voted unanimously to “[answer] Bernie’s call for a political revolution.”

The NEJB is a regional collection of 10,000 workers from 51 different UNITE HERE locals that have historically represented women and new immigrants in manufacturing, hotel and food service jobs. “Over the years we have come to know Bernie as a relentless and unflappable fighter for workers,” says Bert Barao, a rank-and-file member of UNITE HERE Local 177 and president of the NEJB executive board. “Bernie is the candidate who will put workers and their families first.”

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Friday, Jan 22, 2016, 5:44 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

How ‘Friedrichs’ Could Actually Unleash Unions from Decades of Free Speech Restrictions

The CUNY Professional Staff Congress, during a civil disobedience action in November 2014. (PSC)  

As the spring semester starts up at the City University of New York, union activists continue the painstaking work of preparing for a strike authorization vote. Faculty and staff at CUNY have been working without a contract for over five years. While Governor Cuomo disinvests in the primary college system for working class New Yorkers, management proposes salary increases that amount to decreases after inflation.

The parallels between the struggle to save CUNY and the struggle over the future of Chicago Public Schools are obvious, with one major exception: it is totally illegal for teachers to strike in New York. The last major union to violate the draconian Taylor Law, TWU Local 100, was fined $2.5 million for waging a 60-hour strike that shut down the city’s subway and bus system in 2005. On top of that, the union’s ability to collect dues money was suspended for a year, its president jailed for 10 days and each individual striker was fined two days pay for each one day on strike.

But in an interesting twist, the anti-union Friedrichs v. CTA case currently under consideration by the Supreme Court could actually lay the ground work for making public employee strikes in New York and elsewhere constitutionally protected free speech.

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Thursday, Jan 21, 2016, 5:11 pm  ·  By Kari Lydersen

Chicago Car Wash Workers: Owner Took Their Tips, Said They Were His

(Giorgio Galeotti / Flickr)  

Harsh, messy winter days are when car wash workers’ jobs are the hardest, and the busiest. Vehicles stream in crusted with salt and grime. The workers are outside, on their feet in slush, hands cold and raw as they scrub, wipe and buff cars clean.

Given the extra challenges of winter, people seek out full-service, hand car washes instead of cleaning their vehicles at home or driving through automated washes. So winter is when car wash workers can earn the most in tips, a crucial part of eking out a living in jobs that typically pay minimum wage—or less, as a study by the University of Illinois Labor Education Program showed in 2012. 

So when the owner of Zips Car Wash on Chicago’s near west side told workers that customers’ tips belonged to him, they were not happy. Confiscation of tips is at the heart of an ongoing labor struggle for Latino workers at Zips and the Arise Chicago Workers Center, which has led a fight for the rights of car wash workers citywide since launching a campaign in 2012.

Five workers at Zips—four brothers and another man, all from Mexico—say that Zips owner Thomas Pozdol has accused them of stealing “his” tips and that he needed to use the tips to buy towels, soap and other supplies.

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Tuesday, Jan 19, 2016, 3:29 pm  ·  By Jonathan Rosenblum

To Fight Back Against Companies Like Uber, Workers Need Organizing—Not Technocratic Fixes

San Francisco cab drivers protest Uber and other "ride-sharing" companies in June 2015.   (Steve Rhodes / Flickr)

What are U.S. workers to do about the problems presented by the gig economy?

The past year saw a number of prominent liberals offer policy ideas to mitigate the worst elements of precarious employment. Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich proposed that companies pay into a common benefit fund for the gig workers they employ. Left-leaning think-tank executives, academics and even a few union leaders signed on to a manifesto declaring that portable benefits were the solution to easing the lives of precarious workers.

They’re off the mark. A lasting solution can’t simply address the obvious lack of benefits—it must tackle the real problem: the power differential between gig economy workers and the big businesses that control their labor.

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