Working In These Times
With union membership in a decades-long decline, recruiting a new generation of workers is crucial to keeping labor alive. Yet young workers are (and always have been) less likely to be in a union than their older counterparts: As of 2012, only 9.5 percent of 25-34 year old workers and 4.2 percent of 16-24 year old workers were union members, compared to 11.3 percent of all workers.
At the same time, nearly two-thirds of 18–29-year olds have a favorable impression of unions, more than any other age bracket. The time is ripe for labor leaders to bring the next generation into the fold.
In practice, however, unions attempting to recruit younger workers butt heads with the same forces that threaten labor’s existence writ large. Declining union density means younger workers may be less aware of the value of unionization or, within unions, less acquainted with older leaders who carry the tradition of rank-and-file leadership. With changes in the nature of work, such as the rise of minimum-wage and precarious employment, younger workers have fewer experiences with good jobs to compare against the new, worse ones and, in turn, less clarity about what organizing could accomplish. And there are sometimes generational tensions within unions: For instance, in industries such as auto manufacturing, some unions have submitted to two-tiered contracts, which set wages or benefits at lower rates for new workers—undermining intergenerational solidarity and relegating younger workers to second-class status.
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These days, French political culture appears to be retreating from its stereotypical liberalism on one of its best-known "vice" industries: the sex trade. Controversial new legislation in the country would criminalize paid sex—and sex workers see the proposed law as an assault on their dignity and safety.
The legislation—which just passed a vote in the Assemblée Nationale and is slated for a Senate vote soon—does not explicitly outlaw the act of selling sex, but it penalizes its purchase: A prostitution client may be fined up to 1,500 Euros. This penalty would build on a number of existing French constraints on sex work-related activities, such as pimping or running a brothel, that stop just short of outlawing prostitution altogether.
The aim of the legislation, which mirrors a widely praised model policy originating from Sweden, is to “reduce demand” by criminalizing the procurement of sexual services. But the ostensible moral purpose of the law—to protect women, especially underage girls, from exploitation and violence—obscures broader questions of economic agency, sexual prudence and social stigma. And that’s why many of its opponents are the very same people the law purports to “save.”
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Unions dodged a bullet today when the Supreme Court took the unusual step of dismissing the strange and possibly disastrous case of Mulhall v. Unite Here Local 355 as “improvidently granted.”
Though the dismissal leaves some bad law in place in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Florida, Alabama and Georgia, labor should nonetheless breathe a sigh of relief.
In Mulhall, a Florida casino employee backed by the anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW) argued that neutrality agreements violate an anti-bribery provision in the Taft Hartley Act of 1947 and therefore constitute a federal crime.
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“Those aldermen who support the TIF surplus ordinance: They are on our good list,” Michael Brunson, recording secretary for the Chicago Teachers Union, declared to a few dozen protesters on a freezing Monday afternoon outside Chicago City Hall. “However, we’re going to tell those who rejected the TIF surplus ordinance they have been naughty.”
The holiday-themed shaming was part of a National Day of Action to Reclaim Public Education held by the American Federation of Teachers on December 9 in more than 60 cities. The day was conceived as a way for union locals and community groups to act together on shared education goals. In New York City, for example, the call was for universal pre-kindergarten; in Houston, fairer teacher evaluations.
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CHATTANOOGA, TENN.—Volkswagen America recently told Working In These Times that it was not funding efforts to stop the United Auto Worker (UAW) union drive at the VW plant in Chattanooga, and that it supported the right of employees to unionize. Now, evidence has emerged connecting VW to another anti-union group.
Last month, WITT asked VW why it donated to a gala held in June by the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute—whose then-employee, Matt Patterson, had launched a media and community-awareness blitz against the UAW campaign in Chattanooga. Volkswagen America spokesman Carson Krebs responded, “We didn’t support CEI for any specific action or any action against UAW. Our Governmental Affairs Department attended a dinner featuring Senator Rand Paul—so did Ford and the Auto Alliance. As a general principle, Volkswagen supports the right of employees to representation at all its plants and is in favor of good cooperation with the trade union or unions represented at its plants.”
However, Working In These Times has uncovered that Volkswagen America supports a second group engaged in anti-UAW activity in Chattanooga: the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturer Association (CRMA). The local industry group boasts VW as a member, and the CEO of Volkswagen America’s Chattanooga Operation, Frank Fischer, sits on its board of directors.
CRMA engages in a variety of anti-union and anti-worker activities that would seem to run counter to Volkswagen’s stated position of supporting “the right of employees to representation at all its plants.” The organization promotes Chattanooga as attractive to manufacturers because workers receive "cost-competitive wages that are below national norms, including total average industrial earnings (83%), manufacturing wages (75%), and service sector salaries (81%).” In a membership brochure, CRMA advertises its “union avoidance/labor relations” seminars.
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On 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, union leaders and government officials in Will County, Ill., finally hammered out a contract agreement for county public workers after 15 months of negotiations and a three-week strike. Union members ratified the contract on Thursday with 95 percent support, ushering in four years of wage increases, in addition to an income-based sliding scale for worker contributions to healthcare premiums.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1028 represents the workers, whose ranks include, among others, health and highway department employees and administrators at the county clerk’s office and courthouse. Dave Delrose, president of Local 1028, portrayed the strike and ensuing contract as a productive step toward "ensuring that county employees have the fair pay and affordable healthcare they deserve in return for their hard work."
In a statement released on Thursday night, Delrose continued, "By standing together, we reached a fair settlement that achieves these goals."
Will County executive Lawrence Walsh was less optimistic in his own public statement. Regarding healthcare, for example, he claimed, "Ultimately, no one was completely happy with these agreed-to amounts—which often means this was a true compromise."
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The Starbucks cup, with its iconic green mermaid logo and smart cardboard sleeve, seems to embody the essence of the urbane yuppie lifestyle. But the carefully constructed cool of the coffee mega-brand belies some serious anger percolating beneath the surface of Starbucks' supply chain.
That cup means something different to Ray Allen, a machine operator at a paper goods plant run by Pactiv, a major Starbucks supplier. Allen got his first full-time job at the Stockton, Calif. factory; now, more than a decade later, the steady employment has allowed him to own a home and raise a family. But it hasn't come without cost.
"I have given [Pactiv] my blood, sweat, and tears throughout the years," said Allen in a recent testimonial. "I have missed many events in my children’s lives for this job with no regrets. All I ask for in return is a fair contract to preserve our well-deserved and hard-earned middle-class way of life."
Since the Stockton factory's parent company, Dopaco, was taken over by Lake Forest, Ill.-based Pactiv in 2011, Allen's union, Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 83, has been fighting for such a fair contract. The union says that management is pushing for unreasonable cutbacks on benefits and trying to allow temporary agency workers, hired outside the union, into the plant—a major departure from the old contract terms. They also claim the company wants to take away paid mealtimes, which they fear would significantly cut wages for a standard workweek.
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We've talked a lot about the finance industry since it nearly destroyed the economy back in 2008. (By “we” here I mean the American public, though it’s just as true of progressive communities and the world at large.)
We’ve discussed pay for those who work at the top echelons of finance: Bonuses, salaries and stock compensation have all been up for debate. Anger tends to flare at the news of another round of bonuses at a bailed-out bank, or when, after a new misdeed is uncovered, we learn the perpetrators will keep their outsized salaries.
But we've talked very little about the wages and working conditions for the lower tier of bank workers: the tellers, customer service representatives, technicians and others who, as Bank of America teller Alex Shalom told me recently, often face the wrath of customers who've been hit with another $5 fee or heard about the latest rigging of rates or foreclosure fraud.
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Illinois legislators, facing the deepest pension funding shortfall of any state—a gap of $100 billion and growing—voted on Tuesday to fill the hole by cutting $160 billion over the next 30 years in pension payments that the state had promised to current and future state employees. The decision by the solidly Democratic state government strongly rebuffed the public employee unions that played a major role in winning and holding a Democratic majority for the past decade.
Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, called it a victory for taxpayers and, implicitly, for himself, and pledged to sign it. But in fact, Quinn, an advocate of pension “reform” without a specific proposal, played a minor role. The bill was crafted almost entirely by the powerful speaker of the Illinois House, Democrat Michael Madigan of Chicago, who fought off other proposals from legislators in both parties.
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I took part in one of the hundreds of Walmart protests this past Black Friday. It gave me a new perspective on NSA surveillance.
Well before noon, my husband and I were sitting on a sunny bench in front of the Secaucus, N.J., Walmart. To the Walmart security agents, conferring with groups of Hudson County Sheriff’s officers, we must have looked like the silver-haired elderly couple that we are. They didn’t seem to realize that we, like they, were waiting for the demonstrators.
“Some of these demonstrators want to get hit by a cop,” a young security guard said. Perhaps he was only currying favor with the “real” cops when he assured them that if such a thing occurred that day, no one would later find those pictures on any Walmart surveillance camera. (At the risk of ruining the suspense, nothing remotely like that happened.)