Working In These Times

Thursday, Oct 8, 2015, 4:05 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

33 Workers Dead After U.S. Cargo Ship Lost at Sea. Could It Have Been Prevented?

A shipwreck near Kalotaritissa, Greece. (Philippe Leroyer / Flickr)  

Search and rescue teams officially gave up hope yesterday after a failed five-day effort to locate 33 cargo ship workers lost at sea in the waters near the Bahamas. The sailors and other shipboard workers are presumed dead in the wreck of the U.S.-flagged commercial vessel El Faro, which disappeared October 1 in the high winds and heavy seas of Hurricane Joaquin.

The last voyage of the El Faro has already taken on the air of maritime mystery. U.S. Coast Guard teams were not only unable to locate any survivors, but are not even sure about the current location of the ship. U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor stated officials believe it sank near its last reported position about 35 miles northeast of Crooked Island, the Bahamas, but the precise location has yet to be identified.

Among the lost seafarers are 28 members of the regular crew, all American citizens, and five Polish nationals, who had been hired as a temporary “riding gang” to do special maintenance work. They departed Jacksonville, Florida, September 29 for a regularly scheduled voyage to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Another mystery has already been suggested by some family and friends of the crew: Were the deaths preventable?


Thursday, Oct 8, 2015, 1:23 pm  ·  By David Moberg

The Fight for $15 Is Raising Wages. Now It’s Time for Step 2: Unions.

(Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association / Flickr)  

It’s a safe bet that most working people would like a pay raise. They are also often reluctant to ask for one, let alone demand a doubling of their hourly rates. 

Low-wage Americans—the 42 percent of workers making less than $15 an hour—know all too well that they don’t just want more; they need more simply to survive at the lowliest version of the American standard of living. Increasingly, they are pressing their demands more forcefully, possibly inventing a new form of unionism as they persevere, organizers suggest.

This week, as the White House entertains a discussion of “worker voice,” there is new evidence from public opinion polls, legislative proposals, public testimony and activity from Congress to city halls that the fight to empower and properly pay the workers in low-wage service jobs continues to grow.


Tuesday, Oct 6, 2015, 3:42 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

Wave of Digital Media Organizing Continues as Al Jazeera America Goes Union

Al Jazeera America staff after the announcement of the vote's total. (NewsGuild / Facebook)  

The unionization of digital media continues—now at Al Jazeera America (AJAM), after the National Labor Relations Board confirmed this morning that the news publication’s digital workers voted 32-5 in favor of union representation under the NewsGuild of New York, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).


Tuesday, Oct 6, 2015, 1:32 pm  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Rich Guy’s Inequality Fix: Raises for Workers. Just Kidding! It’s ‘Give Free Stuff to Rich Guys’

A man in a suit stood behind a fence made of money (taxcredits,net / Flickr)  

Republicans and the rich guys who imposed on American workers 35 years of stagnant wages now offer a prescription for easing this pain.

Their solution for robber-baron-level income inequality is not the obvious: Give workers raises. They don’t want to increase the minimum wage, which would eventually push up pay for everyone else as well. They don’t intend to provide paid sick leave or decent pensions or fewer unstable contract jobs. They have no intention of strengthening unions so workers can collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Instead of any of those straightforward measures, rich guys and corporate-owned Republicans assert that the solution is more free stuff for corporations!  The government, they say, should provide that free stuff. The government, the very organization they deride and despise and denounce as incompetent and deserving of nothing but cutting and shrinking and destroying! Yes, they actually contend that very same government should take the taxes paid by workers and give that money to corporations to improve worker wages and working conditions!


Monday, Oct 5, 2015, 6:19 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Adjuncts Win Union Contract at Maryland Institute College of Art


The national movement to unionize part-time faculty at U.S. colleges and universities has secured an initial beachhead in the Baltimore area with ratification of a first contract between Service Employees International Union Local 500 and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Voting on the ratification concluded in mid-September and a formal signing ceremony for the pact is set for October 8, labor representatives report.

It’s the first union contract for any bargaining unit of part-time faculty, or adjuncts, in the city’s greater metropolitan area, where thousands of such workers are employed at about a dozen similar private and public educational institutions. The overwhelming ratification vote of 91-7 came following a protracted contract negotiation initiated when a union organizing drive won collective bargaining rights for about 300 MICA adjuncts in April of last year.


Monday, Oct 5, 2015, 5:52 pm  ·  By David Moberg

Central States Pension Fund Prepares To Slash Hundreds of Thousands of Workers’ Pensions

(Jagz Mario / Flickr)  

For several months, many current and retired truck drivers have feared receiving a letter in the mail that could be “devastating,” in the words of Teamsters union vice-president John Murphy. Finally, last Friday, the Central States Pension Fund sent those dreaded letters to 407,000 workers and retirees, mainly Teamsters employed by hundreds of trucking-related companies with roots in the Midwest, South and East.

Each individualized letter told them in detail whether the fund will now cut their promised pension payments—and, if so, by how much. 


Monday, Oct 5, 2015, 4:56 pm  ·  By Branko Marcetic

Carly Fiorina Didn’t Pay Several Workers From Her Previous Campaign

She also refused to pay $30,000 in back wages to the widow of someone who literally died while poring over polling data. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)  

Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign is running largely on the back of her highly dubious business record as CEO of HP. While Fiorina claims to have single-handedly turned the company around, others say she was a stubborn and irresponsible leader who couldn’t handle criticism and fired tens of thousands of people.

Turns out, however, that Fiorina might have even more in common with your least favorite boss—she also didn’t pay her employees.


Thursday, Oct 1, 2015, 6:01 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

T-Mobile Workers Say the Company Has Repeatedly Engaged in Union-busting

The company has admitted it developed a system to monitor any potential union activity and a response team to stamp out any spark of potential unionization. (Mike Mozart / Flickr)  

Last month, 20 Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to T-Mobile’s parent company in Germany expressing their concern over the treatment of T-Mobile workers in the United States. The sharply-worded letter explained that this was not their first attempt to get answers from the company: “Your July 14th response to the letter that we sent you on June 29th seemed to indicate that you are not taking this issue seriously, so we were seeking additional information about your familiarity with the American legal issues at stake with your politics and practices regarding labor complaints.”

It’s a safe bet that T-Mobile’s parent company, Deutsche Telekom, won’t have much to say in response to the second letter either. But if politicians are beginning to pay attention to T-Mobile employees, it’s because workers have been organizing towards improved working conditions for years.


Thursday, Oct 1, 2015, 3:04 pm  ·  By Branko Marcetic

Video Game Voice Actors Push for Strike Over Performance Bonuses and Stressful Recordings

Jennifer Hale, who voices the protagonist of the popular Mass Effect series, is one of the actors voting to strike.   (Ryan Somma / Flickr)

After several failed negotiations with producers, frustrated video game actors may vote to strike for royalties and fairer work conditions that match those of other industries, threatening potentially massive upheaval in the $91.5 billion industry.

Voice actors are demanding they receive residual income based on sales, with a performance bonus for every 2 million online subscribers or copies sold. This set-up is designed to ensure smaller games are unaffected, as this is the threshold at which a game can be considered a "blockbuster," according to creen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the union representing the actors.


Wednesday, Sep 30, 2015, 2:05 pm  ·  By Crystal Stella Becerril

Netflix’s Offer of Paid Family Leave Only to Salaried Workers Reflects Larger Divide in Tech


Last month, Netflix announced it would begin offering unlimited paid maternity and paternity leave to its employees during the first year of their new child's life. Within days of the announcement, the California-based tech company had become trumpeted as the new face of progressive employee benefits among private sector companies. The following day Microsoft announced its own maternity/paternity leave upgrade. (The company says the timing was pure coincidence and not at all related to Netflix's.) 

But the web streaming giant failed to mention that this new and improved benefit only applies to salaried employees in its web-division and will not be enjoyed by the 450 waged employees who work in their mail order or customer service division, 261 of whom are part time or seasonal.