Working In These Times

Wednesday, Aug 24, 2016, 3:08 pm  ·  By David Moberg

This is Huge: NLRB Rules Graduate Student Workers Can Unionize

The NLRB has shifted back and forth over the past several decades on issues regarding who, among all the people on a university campus, is a worker and thus has the right to organize a union. (SEIU Faculty Forward/ Facebook)  

In a strongly-worded opinion released Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that teaching and research assistants at Columbia University and at other private institutions of higher education have the right to organize unions and collectively bargain with the universities that both employ and teach them.

The three Democratic NLRB members wrote that even if students are enrolled in the university to educate themselves, they also meet the definition of an employee—working for pay to do what someone else wants them to do. Thus, they should have the same labor rights as any other employee, the members wrote. (The lone Republican member dissented; one seat is vacant.)

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Tuesday, Aug 23, 2016, 12:04 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

We Are Witnessing a New Age of Social Justice Movements—And That Includes Labor

Now our movement has a slew of journalists who dig deep and follow campaigns and movements over the long haul. The result is not just that good campaigns get press attention, but that movements grow and expand as people read about them and get inspired to join or do something similar. (Michael Kappel/ Flickr)  

Something is happening. Socialism is no longer a dirty word (the “S-word”), but something a sizeable portion of Americans tell pollsters is their preferred vision for society. It’s no longer an anachronism to speak of “the Left.” A brave and quickly organized movement for black lives has not only sparked a new civil rights movement but has gotten many of us to see the criminal justice system for what it is: the evolution of Jim Crow. Oh, and a hell of a lot more workers are striking than before.

There have been attempts to describe this emerging movement for social justice in book form before. The latest, Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt by Sarah Jaffe, is the best so far. The Nation Books publication was released Tuesday.

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Monday, Aug 22, 2016, 12:55 pm  ·  By Barbara Bowen

How We Won a Contract Against Austerity at CUNY

Thousands of CUNY faculty and staff have now had the experience of seeing that collective action works. That’s a hard thing to forget. (Dave Sanders/ PSC)  

Earlier this month, the largest number of members in our union’s history participated in a contract ratification vote at the City University of New York (CUNY). Nearly three-quarters of eligible voters participated, and the result was a resounding 94 percent “yes.” Contract ratification votes don’t make the news as often as they should, but this one was preceded by six years of struggle for an agreement and a public debate about its merits—including opinion pieces in these pages and others.

The debate about the CUNY contract, fueled by a vocal “vote no” campaign, might have led readers to conclude that the outcome of the vote would be close, certainly much closer than 94 percent. Why was the contract so hard fought?

Why did it generate such heat? And why did it ultimately receive overwhelming support?

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Thursday, Aug 18, 2016, 3:52 pm  ·  By Chris Brooks

SEIU’s “Future Fighters”: “We need a plan for racial justice in every union”

The group now offers workshops every two to three months, on such topics as the rights of protesters, racist and classist stereotyping, and the role of unions in the civil rights movement. (Future Fighters of Chicago/ Facebook)  

This article was first posted at Labor Notes.

If you’ve attended a Fight for $15 rally or a Black Lives Matter protest in Chicago recently, chances are you’ve seen members of Future Fighters.

Their T-shirts proudly proclaim that they are “a movement of young leaders actively fighting against income inequality, racial profiling, police brutality, and homelessness; while engaging and educating other young workers who are taking direct action to unite and rebuild our communities.”

It’s a promising example of how union members can organize to support the growing movement for police accountability. The Future Fighters—young members of Service Employees Healthcare Illinois-Indiana (SEIU HCII)—are building a bridge between their union’s struggle for economic justice and their community’s struggle for racial justice.

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Wednesday, Aug 17, 2016, 11:17 am  ·  By Bruce Vail

Baltimore’s Democratic City Council Kills $15 Minimum Wage Bill, For Now

Union groups and other supporters of Fight for $15 rallied earlier this month in front of Baltimore's City Hall ahead of a key vote on a new minimum wage law. (1199SEIU/ Handout)  

The Baltimore City Council derailed a proposed increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour Monday, highlighting the ambivalence among many Democratic Party leaders over whether to support the national Fight for $15 movement.

Pro-business members on the all-Democrat 15-member council were able to hold together an alliance against the higher minimum wage and voted 8-6 to return the proposed legislation to committee for revision. The maneuver appears to have effectively killed the bill, at least for this year. 

“We live to fight another day,” said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, chief sponsor of the legislation.

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Tuesday, Aug 16, 2016, 5:20 pm  ·  By Parker Asmann

Domestic Workers in Ill. Win Bill of Rights: “Years of Organizing Have Finally Paid Off”

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. (Parker Asmann)  

Domestic workers in Illinois are celebrating a new bill of rights.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law last week, capping a 5-year campaign and making Illinois the 7th state to adopt such a protection.

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Monday, Aug 15, 2016, 4:51 pm  ·  By Alexandra Bradbury

Postal Workers Fend Off Attacks in New Contract

Postal workers can’t legally strike. If the union and management don’t reach a deal, an arbitrator writes the contract—which is what finally happened. (APWU/ Facebook)  

This article was first posted at Labor Notes.

They didn’t end three-tier in a single blow. But in a new contract covering 200,000 members, the American Postal Workers Union made serious headway and fended off most concessionary demands, including the Postal Service’s effort to create yet another tier.

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Sunday, Aug 14, 2016, 6:37 pm  ·  By David Moberg

BREAKING—Fight for $15 Organizers Tell SEIU: We Need $15 and a Union (Updated)

Emiliana Sparaco (R), a Fight for $15 organizer, and Roselva Gomez, a Burger King employee, both of San Diego.   (Photo courtesy of Waging Nonviolence

This story has been updated with a response from SEIU.

The start to this weekend’s Fight for $15 convention didn’t go as planned.

As roughly 10,000 conference goers gathered in Richmond, Va., to talk about unions and low-wage work, organizers behind the nationwide campaign demanded a union of their own.

On Friday, Jodi Lynn Fennell, a child care worker organizer from Las Vegas, attempted to deliver a letter from a Fight for $15 organizers asking the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to acknowledge it was their employer and to give them the right to organize.

A small group of supporters accompanied Fennell as she approached the stage where SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was scheduled to deliver the keynote address. But security guards stopped them from delivering the letter and escorted them away from the stage. Later, according to the Union of Union Representatives (UUR), a supervisor told Fennell and four other organizers they had to fly back to Las Vegas early Saturday morning, at their own expense.

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Friday, Aug 12, 2016, 2:34 pm  ·  By Jen Johnson

Authors Spill Organizing Secrets in Labor Notes’ New Book

A new book from Labor Notes—by Alexandra Bradbury, Mark Brenner, and Jane Slaughter—is a perfect primer on the basics of good organizing. (Jim West)  

As a public high school history teacher for 10 years, I organized lesson plans and materials and the arrangement of my classroom. I facilitated thousands of discussions about history with classes of teenagers. I designed projects and guided the students to achieve our goals and get excited about learning and putting in the work.

Yet, somehow, if you asked me if I was an “organizer,” I probably would have said that I wasn’t. "Organizers are the professionals. I’m not a professional organizer!”

Thankfully, my union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), has tried to change that wrong-headed perception. The CTU works hard to train our members to understand that organizing is grassroots rank-and-file work. There are leaders everywhere if you’re looking for them. Improving our workplaces and the lives of our communities are collective tasks. We can all be organizers, but there is an art and science to learning to practice good labor organizing skills.

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Thursday, Aug 11, 2016, 7:40 pm  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

Fire Departments, Airports and Military Bases May Be More Toxic to Workers Than You Think

While industrial sites were previously recognized as sources of these highly fluorinated, toxic and environmentally-persistent compounds, this is the first nationwide study to document that wastewater treatment plants, along with military bases and airports where these chemicals are used in fire-fighting foams, are also contributing significantly to drinking water contamination. (U.S. Pacific Fleet/ Flickr)  

Drinking water supplies for at least six million Americans contain toxic industrial chemicals at levels that exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended safety limit. This number is likely an underestimate since the information available through the EPA does not include data for about one-third of Americans—those 100 million or more people who rely on private wells or the vast majority of public water systems that serve communities with populations of 10,000 or less. These are the conclusions of a new study whose authors include scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the University of California at Berkeley and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The study “is just showing us the tip of the iceberg,” says author Philippe Grandjean, Harvard T.H. Chan adjunct professor of environmental health and University of Southern Denmark professor of environmental medicine. What also remains largely undocumented is the extent of exposure to workers on the frontline of this chemical use.

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