Working In These Times

Wednesday, Jul 1, 2015, 1:20 pm  ·  By Trish Kahle

How the Labor and Environmentalist Movements Can Put Workers at the Center of Climate Justice

Union members rally during the 2014 People's Climate March. (maisa_nyc / Flickr)  

2015, only halfway over, has already been an extreme year for both labor and the climate: the Midwest and Texas are experiencing record rainfall while California is in a record-breaking drought, and 2015 is the hottest year on record so far (the standing record is from 2014), including a heatwave in India that left more than 2,300 people dead. The Obama administration continues to try and push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership on fast-track, with millions of workers livelihoods hanging in the global balance and attacks on unions like the United Steelworkers continue to threaten worker, community and environmental safety. Meanwhile, energy companies insist that drilling in the soon-to-be ice-free summertime arctic will create jobs—even as it may mean game over for the climate.

There has perhaps never been a more prescient moment to emphasize what a growing number of people already know: the fate of labor and the climate are linked. In his most recent piece for The Nation, Jeremy Brecher notes how well suited the traditions of the labor movement are to the fight for climate protection: "The labor movement's most essential value is solidarity ... that we will survive and prosper only if we look out for one another. Climate protection is the new solidarity." Brecher, a founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability and author of Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival as well as the classic labor history Strike! is at the forefront of the struggle to break down the false dichotomy of "jobs versus environment" and to fight for a just transition that puts workers at the center of a vision of climate justice. 

In These Times recently spoke with Brecher to consider this central question: How do we fight for a just transition that puts workers at the center of a vision of climate justice?

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Wednesday, Jul 1, 2015, 10:50 am  ·  By Crystal Stella Becerril and Arielle Zionts

Teachers Say 17 Firings at Urban Prep Charter Schools Were Retaliation for Unionization

The battle over unionization at one of Chicago's most celebrated charters will be key to the future of organizing charter schools in the future.  

On June 19, during their biannual semester-end interviews, 17 teachers were informed by school staff that they would not be returning to Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy come fall. The terminations came just weeks after 61 percent of Urban Prep’s teachers voted to form a union; activists say the firings were a blatant act of anti-union retaliation.

Last Thursday, around 100 teachers, students, parents and supporters attended Urban Prep’s board meeting to protest the firings and accuse the board of harming their community and hindering student progress. They also accused the board of resisting transparency and accountability, and creating a high teacher-turnover rate through firings and policies that push teachers out of the school.

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Tuesday, Jun 30, 2015, 8:47 pm  ·  By David Moberg

With New Overtime Rule, President Obama May Have Given an Estimated 5 Million Workers a Raise

The rule change could be a step towards shrinking American inequality. (aag.com)  

President Obama’s administration took another promised step on Tuesday towards raising the living standards of American workers, and Republicans and business groups are not likely to be able to stop it.

Using the administration’s power to update workplace rules regarding premium pay for overtime work, the Department of Labor on Tuesday began taking steps that could bring higher pay or more leisure time to an estimated 5 million middle-income workers by next year. 

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Tuesday, Jun 30, 2015, 3:40 pm  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Why Republicans Should End Their Losing Battle Against Obamacare

(Victoria Pickering / Flickr)  

The Supreme Court last week ensured millions of Americans retained their health insurance. Those who kept their coverage sighed with relief. Democrats cheered.

Republicans reacted with vitriol and recrimination. Even the GOP dissenters on the Supreme Court couldn't stop themselves from responding with bitter sarcasm. Weirdly too, with language like "jiggery-pokery."

For the entire five years since Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Republicans have relentlessly attempted to kill it—along with some of its most vulnerable beneficiaries who'd lack life-saving health care if the GOP succeeded. Some Republican legislatures and governors have jubilantly exploited a provision in a previous Supreme Court decision to deny the working poor in their states access to the ACA's expansion of Medicaid. But the GOP has lost the bulk of two appeals to the Supreme Court. And Republicans have failed at 67 attempts to repeal all or part of the ACA. They need to call off their war on health care now. Declare a ceasefire. Stop trying to slaughter a law that’s helping millions.  

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Tuesday, Jun 30, 2015, 2:51 pm  ·  By Micah Uetricht

Undocumented Restaurant Workers Learn to Fight Back in ‘The Hand that Feeds’

Workers and Occupy Wall Street activists picket and occupy Hot & Crusty, a café and bakery that had threatened to close on its newly unionized employees.   (Jed Brant)

Midway through The Hand That Feeds—a new documentary by Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick—Mahoma López, a shy Mexican immigrant restaurant worker, reflects on the effectiveness of a labor organizing tactic used by workers at Hot and Crusty, a New York City café and bakery. They put the faces and names of abusive managers and restaurant owners on fliers, and distribute them to passersby on the sidewalks of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

As grainy cell phone footage of managers angrily pushing union organizers and workers in the street and kicking the fliers flashes across the screen, Lopez flatly states, “It works really well. It really puts them in their place.”

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Tuesday, Jun 30, 2015, 11:00 am  ·  By Samantha Winslow

How Unions Are Preparing for the Threat of Right To Work in the Public Sector

(Jobs With Justice/ Flickr)  

This post first appeared at Labor Notes

In late June the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear a lawsuit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that could make the whole public sector “right to work.” The court would determine whether public sector unions could continue to collect so-called “fair share” or “agency” fees.

If CTA loses, public employees across the country could opt out of membership and pay nothing for the union protections they enjoy. Union budgets —and strength—would be further diminished. Public sector unions are playing defense. They need a plan to convince employees to join (or stay in) the union. But they’re operating in a difficult terrain, after years of cuts and concessions. “There’s been a loss of confidence,” said Vice President Daniel Barnhart of United Teachers of Los Angeles. “When you are in a crouch, it’s harder for people to see a fighting union.”

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Friday, Jun 26, 2015, 5:18 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

Boston Airport Workers Strike, Join Growing Campaign to Unionize Subcontracted Airport Employees

Employees at Boston's Logan Airport were on strike for safer work environments, better wages and a union earlier this month. (Flickr / 32BJ SEIU)  

On the morning of June 17, a large group of non-union airport employees went on strike at Boston’s Logan Airport, with about 100 of them picketing outside the facility. The contracted workers belong to G2 Secure Staff and ReadyJet Flight Support; workers accuse both companies of engaging in unsafe labor practices and say they are seeking a fairer work environment and a union.

The workers themselves aren’t the only ones flagging improper working conditions. According to a 2014 OSHA investigation of ReadyJet, which examined just two terminals at Logan, the contractor did not provide their employees with gloves when they were asked to clean airport bathrooms or effectively train them on how to deal with hazardous chemicals. The investigation produced four citations and a $29,500 fine. ReadyJet is subcontracted by airlines like JetBlue and US Airways for cabin cleaning services.

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Friday, Jun 26, 2015, 4:31 pm  ·  By Rachel Luban

Once Again, Bosses Are Trying To Eliminate New Protections for Guestworkers

Mexican guestworkers harvest Romaine lettuce in the fields of Yuma, Arizona, in 2012. (Peter Haden / Flickr)  

Once again, the beleaguered H-2B guestworker program is the subject of a legal battle. Once again, the battle is over basic worker protections. While employers are fighting in court and in Congress to have newly implemented protections removed, guestworker advocates are calling for the public to demand that the government keep them.

For decades, H-2B operated virtually without official rules. Until 2008, the federal visa program, which brings in foreign workers to do temporary, non-agricultural jobs when American workers supposedly cannot be found, was mostly regulated by informal “guidance letters” from the Department of Labor (DOL). The Bush administration issued a formal rule broadly regulating the program for the first time in 2008, and for four years, that was that.

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Friday, Jun 26, 2015, 12:21 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

Labor for Bernie Kickstarts Effort to Get Unions Behind Sanders With Nearly 2,000 Union Backers

Bernie Sanders speaks at a #StopFastTrack rally in DC this April.   (AFGE / Flickr)

Labor for Bernie, a new nationwide network for union members, announced today the launch of their grassroots movement to push the AFL-CIO and other unaffiliated major labor organizations such as SEIU and the Teamsters toward endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign.

Almost 2,000 union members have signed onto a letter outlining the network’s goals. Labor for Bernie reports that more than a third of these Sanders supporters belong to building trades unions, with 137 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers signees alone. Other unions that showed significant representation in the letter include the Communications Workers of America, American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, International Union of Operating Engineers, United Auto Workers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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Thursday, Jun 25, 2015, 4:26 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

In China, Walmart Is Unionized, But Workers Have No Power on the Job

Walmart and the Chinese government are colluding to deny workers basic collective bargaining rights.   (Daniel Ng / Flickr)

Almost 10 years after Walmart was forced to accept unionization of its stores in China, the U.S.-based merchandising giant continues to deny basic collective bargaining rights to its Chinese retail workers, according to two union experts speaking last week at a conference on Walmart and labor in Washington, D.C.

Walmart has succeeded in meeting the Chinese government’s demands that the company allow unions to be formally established, but this has not translated into any effective collective bargaining power for some 107,000 workers at the company’s 411 Chinese stores, says Han Dongfang, Executive Director of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. Han and other experts spoke June 15 at an “Organizing the Workers of Walmart: From Bentonville to Beijing” conference sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute

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