Working In These Times

Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 12:13 pm  ·  By Steve Early

​Why Labor Should Get Behind Bernie Sanders in the Primary Elections

Bernie Sanders during his 1981 campaign mayor of Burlington, Vermont. (Vermont Press Bureau)  

This post first appeared at Jacobin.

When I first met Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders, he was a relatively marginal figure in his adopted state of Vermont. It was 1976 and he was running, unsuccessfully and for the fourth time, as a candidate of the Liberty Union Party (LUP).

Liberty Union was a radical third party spearheaded by opponents of the Vietnam War who had, like Sanders, washed up in the Green Mountain State as the sixties subsided. At its historic peak, the LUP garnered maybe 5 or 6 percent of the statewide vote for some of its more presentable candidates—in short, nothing like the winning margins racked up in recent years by the far more savvy and effective Vermont Progressive Party, which now boasts a ten-member legislature delegation and attracts growing union support.

During Sanders’s quixotic mid-1970s bid to become governor of Vermont, I accompanied him to a meeting of local granite cutters, teamsters and electrical workers. This was not a “flatlander” crowd, nor one dominated by full-time union officials. His audience was native Vermonters, some of them Republican, who were still punching a clock at local quarries, trucking companies and machine tool factories in an era when the future home state of Ben & Jerry’s and Vermont Teddy Bear Co. still had impressive blue-collar union density.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 12:58 pm  ·  By Andrew Klein

LA’s Min. Wage Will Be $15 by 2020. But This Bay Area City’s Minimum Will Be $14.44 By July.

Fast food workers at a Fight for $15 protest in Oakland, where a coalition of unions and other progressive organizations pushed through a ballot measure that Emeryville used as a template for their own campaign to raise the minimum wage.   (Steve Rhodes / Flickr)

With proposals to raise the federal minimum wage languishing in Congress, cities are increasingly taking matters into their own hands and leapfrogging ahead of the current national rate of $7.25. On May 19, Los Angeles became the largest city in the country to approve a $15 hourly minimum wage—one of several California cities including San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego which have recently passed substantial wage hikes. Seattle, Washington, set the precedent in June 2014, pledging to raise its minimum to $15 over the next two to seven years, depending on the size of the company.

Most of the increases will be implemented gradually over several years. LA’s minimum wage, for example, will reach $15 by 2020. But earlier this month, one small California city decided that its low-wage workers shouldn’t have to wait that long for a living wage. This summer, Emeryville will set a new national precedent when its minimum wage surges to nearly double the federal rate.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 11:42 am  ·  By Amien Essif

A View of Germany’s Economy from Die Linke, the Left Party

Klaus Ernst, co-chairperson of the German parliament and a member of the German Left Party, Die Linke, discusses labor issues and the economy throughout Europe and Germany. (Amien Essif)  

On the wall outside the entrance to German Member of Parliament Klaus Ernst’s office is a picket sign that reads: “We start from Greece. We change Europe.” Underneath it is a large bottle of Champagne sitting atop a bookshelf. Ernst’s secretary assures me the bubbly has nothing to do with the slogan above, but it’s no secret that while it may have unsettled Germany’s conservative chancellor Angela Merkel, the ascendance of Greece’s left party Syriza was a cause for celebration within Germany’s left party, Die Linke, which currently has about 10 percent of the seats in the German parliament.

Klaus Ernst, a former secretary of IG Metall, Germany’s largest union, was an active member of the center-left Social Democratic Party for 30 years until disagreements over a set of neoliberal reforms put forth by the party in 2003 known as “Agenda 2010” led to his expulsion and encouraged him to move leftward.

After joining the Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice—which later merged with other left groups to form Die Linke (the Left Party)—Ernst was elected to Germany’s parliament (the Bundestag) in 2005 and has served as co-chairperson of the party since 2010.

Ernst sat down with Working In These Times to talk about issues effecting workers in Europe’s largest economy.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 11:41 am  ·  By Marc Daalder

Milwaukee Public Schools Staffer Suspended After Flipping Off Union Organizer

The photograph that led to Erbert Johnson's suspension. (Joseph Brusky / MTEA)  

Erbert Johnson, chief of staff for Darienne Driver, the Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent, has been put on paid administrative leave and is being investigated for “unprofessional behavior.” The behavior in question was Johnson’s flipping the middle finger at a packed School Board budget meeting. This action was caught by the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association’s (MTEA) social media organizer, Joe Brusky.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 11:11 am  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Forced Trade and the Damaging Effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Many workers are being forced out of jobs and dealing with the lingering effects of Fast Tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, including 1,600 workers from the Galesburg, IL Maytag Factory. (Chad Broughton)  

Senators who voted last week to Fast Track ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) call it a free trade deal, but really, it’s forced trade imposed on protesting American workers who have endured its damaging effects for decades.   

Under the free trade regime, rich and powerful corporate interests have hauled in ever-higher profits as they shipped manufacturing overseas to low-wage, no-environmental-regulation countries. Meanwhile, American workers lost jobs, health benefits, income and all sense of stability.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 11:00 am  ·  By Samantha Winslow

Hawaii Teachers Union Reformers: Old Guard Rejected Election “Because They Didn’t Like” Results

Members of the Hawaii Teachers for Change ran for spots on the Hawaii State Teachers Association Board but the union is refusing to let them take office. (Labor Notes)  

This post first appeared at Labor Notes.

Remember the Hawaii teachers who in 2012 led a statewide work-to-rule campaign against low pay? This spring they won the top three spots in the Hawaii State Teachers Association—but the union’s board of directors is refusing to let them take office.

The board has kept the vote results secret, citing vague irregularities—and ordered a new election.

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Friday, May 22, 2015, 11:59 am  ·  By Anna Waltman, Natasha Raheja and Shannon Ikebe

Why Did the New York Times Ask Everybody But Grad Students About Grad Student Unions?

Graduate students march in New York City. Apparently the New York Times has never heard of them. (GEO-UAW)  

Graduate student-workers perform salaried work that is integral to university operations, including undergraduate education and research. Over the past several months, unionized graduate student-workers at the University of Oregon, NYU, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and UMass-Boston, University of Toronto, York University, Rutgers, Michigan State and the University of Connecticut have used direct action and other tactics to push their university administrations to provide more affordable health insurance that also covers families, fairer expectations regarding workload, living wages and reasonable grievance procedures. Graduate student-workers at Columbia, the New School, the University of Chicago, University of Hawai'i, Yale, Harvard and Cornell are actively organizing their own unions and fighting for collective bargaining rights.

These efforts date back to the 1960s. Graduate student-workers at UC Berkeley unionized during the Free Speech Movement in 1964; in 1969, graduate student-workers joined the faculty bargaining units at CUNY and Rutgers, followed closely by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Teaching Assistants Association, who gained recognition independently of faculty in the same year. 

In other words: graduate unionization is not a passing fad, but a movement over half-a-century old.

Given the rich history of student-worker organizing—in and around the New York metropolitan area and around the country, in addition to the highly-publicized, vibrant organizing of private-sector universities challenging the 2004 NLRB decision that has been ongoing in the region for the last two years—we find it disturbing and frustrating that the New York Times failed to interview a single graduate student-worker for its recent op-ed series “Room for Debate” on the graduate and contingent labor movement.

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Friday, May 22, 2015, 11:31 am  ·  By Arielle Zionts

Chicago Armored Truck Employees Say They Were Fired for Participating in Fight for 15 Strike

Background: Brink's workers on strike on April 15. Foreground: Darletta Scruggs and her son. (Arielle Zionts, 15Now)  

Former Brink’s route coordinator Darletta Scruggs says she always tried to keep her activism separate from her work. But when she learned about the working conditions of the armored truck drivers and messengers she scheduled, she felt she couldn’t stand idly by.

Among the workers’ other grievances, many say they are paid under $15 an hour, rely on poorly maintained trucks and only receive five hours of overtime even though many workers work 60 to 80-hour weeks—all for a job that requires them to risk their lives every day shuttling money and other valuables in their armored trucks. Scruggs said when workers aren’t happy, or their trucks are breaking down, it makes her coordinating job more difficult.

Scruggs says she encouraged the workers to form a union and walk of the job on April 15 to join the worldwide Fight for 15 protests but did not walk off the job herself. A week later, Scruggs tried swiping her ID card into work—only to find that she was denied entry. Last week, messenger John Downes was also fired. He participated in the walkout and personally delivered the message notifying managers that the workers were attempting to form a union.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015, 2:54 pm  ·  By David Moberg

Fast Food Workers Take Their Fight to McDonald’s Shareholders Meeting

The $15 target has moved quickly from a utopian ideal to a credible option in mainstream American politics. (Steve Rhodes / Flickr)  

The men and women who, in the words of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, “grind out” the burgers and fries that have made the company with the familiar golden arches the second largest private employer in the world dramatically displayed their discontent on Wednesday, returning again early Thursday as shareholders arrived in suburban Chicago for the company’s annual meeting.

Over the last two years, the focus of their “Fight for $15 and a union” movement has stayed constant.  They want to be paid a living wage, not just a wage at or slightly above a legal minimum wage with steadily shrinking purchasing power. Their goal of $15 an hour has invigorated a broader movement that at this point mainly has boosted wages for everyone in a growing number of cities, most recently Los Angeles.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015, 11:30 am  ·  By Mario Vasquez

After Police Union Pressure, Teacher Fired for Allowing Students to Write Letters to Mumia Abu-Jamal

The former president of Philadelphia's police officer union, Richard Costello (right), told Fox News on April 9 that NJ teacher Marilyn Zuniga "placed [children] in danger." (Fox News)  

New Jersey’s Orange Board of Education fired a first-year language arts and social sciences teacher named Marylin Zuniga on May 13 after lobbying from police union officials angered that Zuniga allowed her students to write letters to jailed black activist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

On February 5, Zuniga gave her third grade students at Forest Street Elementary in Orange, New Jersey, a writing assignment as a part of Black History Month: “What is the main idea of this quote? - ‘So long as one just person is silenced, there is no justice.' ”

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