Working In These Times

Friday, Feb 17, 2017, 12:19 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

The Deadly Reality of Construction Work

A new report identifies the specific vulnerabilities of being a Latino construction worker. (J J/ Flickr)  

Construction worker deaths are rising in New York and Latinos are especially at risk.

That’s according to a new report, released last month, by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). Between 2006-2015, at least 464 construction workers died while on the job in New York. The study also found safety violations at more than 68 percent of construction site inspections. The penalties for such infractions are small.

Released in the shadow of Donald Trump’s controversial executive orders on immigration, the report identifies the specific vulnerabilities of being a Latino construction worker. While Latinos made up just 30 percent of the construction workforce in 2015, they accounted for 57 percent of the fatalities due to falls.

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Thursday, Feb 16, 2017, 5:04 pm  ·  By David Goodner

BREAKING: Iowa Lawmakers Pass Sweeping Anti-Union Bill

Both the House and Senate, which are controlled by the GOP, approved the bill Thursday, passing the most sweeping and impactful changes to Iowa law in decades. (Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO/ Facebook)  

DES MOINES, Iowa – Lawmakers in Iowa have voted to dismantle the state’s 40-year-old collective bargaining law, dramatically weakening the power of public sector labor unions and leaving some 185,000 public workers unable to bargain over benefits, healthcare, vacations, retirement, and nearly all workplace issues outside of wages.

Iowa is a right-to-work state, and the new law would prevent voluntary union dues from being deducted from a public employee’s paycheck. It would also require regular recertification votes. Police officers, firefighters and transit workers are exempt from most of the bill’s provisions.

Republican lawmakers introduced their union-busting bill on February 7 and fast-tracked it through the legislative process. Both the House and Senate, which are controlled by the GOP, approved the bill Thursday, passing the most sweeping and impactful changes to Iowa law in decades. Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign the bill soon.

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Thursday, Feb 16, 2017, 11:52 am  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: What New York Taxi Workers Teach Us About Fighting Back

On January 28, as protesters rushed to airports around the country seeking to defend refugees and migrants against Donald Trump's travel ban, taxi drivers with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance took the protest a step further and refused to pick up fares at JFK Airport. (Rick Reinhardt/ AFL-CIO America's Unions/ Flickr)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we'll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They'll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same.

On January 28, as protesters rushed to airports around the country seeking to defend refugees and migrants against Donald Trump's travel ban, taxi drivers with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance took the protest a step further and refused to pick up fares at JFK Airport. The taxi drivers' strike caught the imagination of the public and even spurred a massive campaign to #DeleteUber after the ride-hailing app lowered its fares in an apparent attempt to break the strike. (Uber has since apologized, repeatedly.) But the taxi workers have more to teach us than just this one action. 

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Wednesday, Feb 15, 2017, 3:11 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

BREAKING—Andrew Puzder, Trump’s Pick for Labor Secretary, Is Out

A lobbying effort aimed at convincing Republican Party senators to oppose Puzder was in full swing for the last week, including demonstrations Monday in more than 20 cities. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)  

With a key Senate hearing looming, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday, backing down just as Democratic Party leaders and labor activists were unleashing their strongest attacks yet against hamburger chain executive Andrew Puzder.

Puzder decided to withdraw his nomination as the new chief of the largest federal labor agency as opposition spread from traditional pro-labor Democrats to include a handful of conservative Republicans.

“From the very start of the nomination process, it was clear that fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder was unfit to lead the U.S. Department of Labor. Thanks to fierce opposition from a diverse group of Americans, including people deeply concerned about the treatment of workers and of women, enough senators came to the same realization, forcing Mr. Puzder’s withdrawal from the nomination,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

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Tuesday, Feb 14, 2017, 5:04 pm  ·  By Chris Brooks

The Volkswagen Defeat Wasn’t Inevitable—and Labor Can Still Win in the South

We must survey the UAW’s organizing drive at Volkswagen for pertinent lessons. Winning is never easy or certain, but it is possible. (UAW/ Facebook)  

The future looks bleak. The Republican Party is now the dominant force in more than two-thirds of state legislatures, a majority of governorships, both houses of Congress and the White House. Upon seizing power, one of the GOP’s first goals is to kneecap the opposition. For labor unions, that means facing the body blow of “right-to-work” legislation, which allows workers to receive the benefits of unionization without having to pay for it. Twenty-eight states have already passed right-to-work laws and more are likely to do so in the coming months. Congress has introduced federal legislation that would make right-to-work the law of the land in the private sector and Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court could mandate it for public workers.

The further entrenched the Republicans become, the more rapidly the balance of power in society shifts to the benefit of employers. The starkly asymmetric war against workers that has typified labor organizing in the South is quickly becoming the new status quo everywhere. Part of what has led us to this moment is the labor movement’s failure to organize below the Mason-Dixon line.

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Tuesday, Feb 14, 2017, 12:14 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

Boeing Workers Face “Constant Barrage of Misinformation” Ahead of Union Vote

Anti-union sentiment runs high in South Carolina, where union membership is just 1.6 percent—the lowest in the nation. (Travis Dove/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

Workers at Boeing’s aircraft plant in South Carolina are voting Wednesday on whether to join a union, capping a multi-year campaign.

The road to victory will not be easy.

Anti-union sentiment runs high in South Carolina, where union membership is just 1.6 percent—the lowest in the nation. The state is also “right-to-work,” which means members are not required to pay for the costs associated with representation.

The campaign is being run by the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and involves some 3,000 Boeing workers in North Charleston, South Carolina. In 2015, IAM cancelled a vote, citing “an atmosphere of threats, harassment and unprecedented political interference.”

Since a new election was scheduled last month, Boeing workers who spoke to In These Times say that Boeing has been unrelenting in its opposition to the union.

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Friday, Feb 10, 2017, 5:11 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Early Optimism Crushed in Maryland’s Fight for $15

Proposed legislation adds new loopholes and scales back a $15 minimum wage bill that failed in the Baltimore City Council last year. (1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East–Maryland/DC Division)  

BALTIMORE – The optimism that fueled the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign last year in Baltimore and other Maryland jurisdictions is giving way to a more sober assessment of political realities and causing proponents to roll back expectations.

That new reality was on display this week at Baltimore City Hall, where Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a Democrat, unveiled a proposal for a citywide minimum wage. The proposed legislation adds new loopholes and scales back a $15 minimum wage bill that failed in the Baltimore City Council last year in the face of intense opposition by business interests and some local Democratic leaders.

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Thursday, Feb 9, 2017, 5:27 pm  ·  By Erik Forman

“Salting” Built the Labor Movement—It Can Help Rebuild It, Too

We’ve been telling workers for decades that it’s time to organize. Now the labor left needs to listen to its own advice. We know what is to be done. So get a job, and let’s get to work. (Alan Sung/ Flickr)  

This article was first posted by Jacobin.

The Left has a long tradition of asking ourselves, “What is to be done?” Ever since Lenin posed this rhetorical question, it has served as the hook for an ever-expanding genre of think pieces and calls to action on every imaginable social-movement dilemma.

“What is to be done?” bounces from movement to movement, crisis to crisis, and occasionally illuminates more foundational existential problems of the Left. In that spirit, Jacobin’s recent “Rank and File” issue examined one of our more urgent contemporary questions: what is to be done to revitalize the labor movement?

Contributors offered up numerous diagnoses and prescriptions. Charlie Post pointed out the crucial role the militant minority played in labor’s twentieth-century successes; Jane McAlevey called for “whole worker organizing,” Joe McCartin urged unions not to squander the brief window between the Friedrichs decision and the next attack on collective bargaining rights; and Sam Gindin proposed the “class-based left” as an alternative to social movement unionism.

Since publication of these articles, labor’s crisis has deepened. The right wing now controls all three branches of the federal government and the majority of states. The sequel to Friedrichs, Janus v. AFSCME, is headed for the Supreme Court, threatening to decimate public-sector unions nationwide. Talk of a national right-to-work law is spreading.

Figuring out “what is to be done” has only become more urgent. But there’s a problem with this question, evident first at the level of grammar. “What is to be done?” commits every writing teacher’s cardinal sin: the passive voice. Who is the subject here? Who is going to do what needs to be done?

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Thursday, Feb 9, 2017, 12:02 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

Groundbreaking Bill in Illinois Would Give Temp Workers Equal Pay and Rights as Direct Hires

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found a pattern of systemic racial and gender discrimination in the temp industry nationwide. Industry whistleblowers allege that African-American workers are routinely passed over for jobs in favor of Latinos, who employers consider to be more exploitable. (Beximco Pharma/ Flickr)  

Sweeping legislation introduced in the Illinois state legislature last month would dramatically improve pay, benefits and working conditions for almost a million of the state’s temp workers toiling in factories, warehouses and offices.

The Responsible Job Creation Act, sponsored by State Rep. Carol Ammons, aims to transform the largely unregulated temporary staffing industry by introducing more than 30 new worker protections, including pay equity with direct hires, enhanced safety provisions, anti-discrimination measures and protection from retaliation.

The innovative law is being pushed by the worker centers Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (CWC) and Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), which say it would restore the temp industry to its original purpose of filling short-term, seasonal labor needs and recruiting new employees into direct-hire jobs. 

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Wednesday, Feb 8, 2017, 5:32 pm  ·  By Melissa Sanchez

Chicago Is Failing to Enforce Its $10.50 Minimum Wage

The underpayment of Safe Passage workers is just one example of how the city’s minimum wage ordinance has fallen short since it took effect in July 2015. (Michelle Kanaar / The Chicago Reporter)  

This article was first posted by The Chicago Reporter.

Sabrina Jackson looked forward to a raise last summer at her job as a crossing guard near her children’s Englewood school.

Chicago’s minimum wage was slated to increase from $10 to $10.50 per hour under a city ordinance, providing a small but welcome boost to Jackson’s paycheck.

But when the new school year rolled around, Jackson discovered, “I didn’t get a raise.” Chicago Public Schools refused to pay the higher wage for the 1,300 crossing guards, telling nonprofit groups that run the program that the district had budget problems and claiming the workers were exempt. The district never explained why it considered the workers an exception.

The underpayment of Safe Passage workers is just one example of how the city’s minimum wage ordinance has fallen short since it took effect in July 2015. A Reporter analysis estimates that thousands of workers have been left behind because of exceptions in the law, which will raise the city’s minimum hourly wage to $13 by 2019.

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