Working In These Times

Thursday, Feb 2, 2017, 11:57 am  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: On Treating Trump Like a Bad Boss

As Republicans introduce legislation that would make labor law for the entire country like it is in the deep South, who better to talk about making unions relevant than an organizer with lots of experience organizing in a so-called “right-to-work” state? Ben Speight is the organizing director of Teamsters Local 728 in Georgia. (Fred Nye/ IBT photographer)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. In this series we'll be talking with organizers, troublemakers, and thinkers who are working both to challenge the Trump administration and the circumstances that created it. It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. This series will introduce you to some of them.

As Republicans introduce legislation that would make labor law for the entire country like it is in the deep South, who better to talk about making unions relevant than an organizer with lots of experience organizing in a so-called “right-to-work” state? Contrary to popular belief, right-to-work laws don't ban unions, they just allow workers to opt out of paying representation fees to the union while still requiring the union to represent all workers in a workplace. But it is still possible to fight for workers under a right-to-work regime—as long as unions remember to fight. 

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Wednesday, Feb 1, 2017, 3:15 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

Unions Are at Their Lowest Levels in Decades—To Gain Power We Must Stop Following the Rules

Because activists tend to conflate our legal rights with our actual human rights, we doggedly pursue age-old strategies because “it is what it is.” We must stop this. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)  

If Donald Trump’s first week as president wasn’t depressing enough, Thursday brought a report that showed union membership fell in 2016. Union members are now just 10.7% of the overall workforce and only 6.7% of the private sector. Those are the lowest levels since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began tracking them in the early 1980s—and possibly the lowest since the 1920s.

Bosses and union haters will crow that unions are dying institutions and even our friends may write eulogies. But this funeral is for the wrong corpse.

What may be dying is the system of collective bargaining that developed in the years after World War II. That system is one where unions exclusively bargain on behalf of workers on a company-by-company basis, not just for wages but also for an ever-expanding portfolio of employer-paid benefits. These collective bargaining agreements emphasize peaceful resolution of disagreements through grievance procedures, mediation and arbitration and can cover many years at a time with guarantees of no strikes and lockouts.

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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2017, 1:53 pm  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: Why Teachers Unions Are the Best Bet To Transform the Labor Movement

Teachers around the country are organizing against privatization, and gaining support from parents and students. (mitchell haindfield/ Flickr)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. In this series, we’ll be talking with organizers, troublemakers, and thinkers who are working both to challenge the Trump administration and the circumstances that created it. It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. This series will introduce you to some of them.

Public schools have been a bipartisan battleground for years now, with teachers unions taking attacks from elected officials at all levels as part of a broader movement to “improve” education by handing control over to private companies. Donald Trump's nominee to run the education department, Betsy DeVos, is a stalwart of this privatization drive, never having met a public school she liked (and barely, as many have pointed out, having met a public school at all, since she neither taught in any nor attended them nor sent her own children to them). But teachers around the country are organizing against privatization, and gaining support from parents and students. We talk to one of those teachers, Jesse Hagopian.

Hagopian teaches high school in Seattle and is an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. He is also active in his union with the Social Equality Educators

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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2017, 12:40 pm  ·  By Chris Brooks

Taxi Workers Strike Over Muslim Ban—And Uber Takes Advantage

The Taxi Workers organized quickly to get the word out to members in just a few hours. The work stoppage was a success. (Eric E Johnson/ Flickr)  

This article was first posted by Labor Notes.

In solidarity with a massive protest that erupted at New York’s JFK Airport January 28, the city’s Taxi Workers Alliance organized a one-hour strike at the international terminal.

New Yorkers flocked to protest after President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banned legal immigration from seven predominately Muslim countries and refugees from anywhere.

Hundreds of immigrants were detained that day by border agents upon arrival at international airports across the U.S., including dozens at JFK.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance represents more than 19,000 drivers in the city. “Ninety-five percent of cab drivers are immigrants, from over 100 countries,” said co-founder Javaid Tariq. “Sixty to 70 percent of our members are Muslim.”

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Friday, Jan 27, 2017, 11:19 am  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

New Congress on Track to Block Long-Sought Workplace and Public Health Protections

Not surprisingly, the historically pro-big business U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports antiregulatory legislation, as does the American Chemistry Council and National Association of Manufacturers. (Craig Bennett/ Flickr)  

An estimated 10,000 Americans die from asbestos-caused diseases each year, a figure that’s considered conservative. Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States but it still exists in products here, perpetuating exposure, especially for workers in construction and other heavy industries. In June 2016, after years of debate, the country’s major chemical regulation law was updated for the first time in 40 years, removing a major obstacle to banning asbestos.  

Exposure to beryllium, a metal used in aerospace, defense, and communications industry manufacturing, to which about 62,000 U.S. workers are exposed annually, can cause a severe, chronic lung disease. On January 6, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued a rule—more than 15 years in the making—that dramatically lowers allowable workplace exposure to beryllium. OSHA says this will prevent 94 premature deaths and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease per year.

On April 17, 2013, an explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, killed 15 people and injured hundreds. In late December—after a four-year process involving public, business, governments and non-profit input—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule designed to prevent such accidents, improve community response to and preparedness for such disasters.

Those three examples are among the occupational and public health protective policies finalized by the Obama administration now jeopardized by antiregulatory legislation already passed by the 115th Congress. It remains to be seen if this legislation will become law and actually used. But, says University of Texas School of Law professor Thomas McGarity, the likely outcome is “that this will make people sick and unsafe.”

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Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017, 6:00 pm  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

Trump Touts “Pro-Worker” Agenda at Meeting with Union Leaders; Some Waiting for Proof

Trump’s meeting with union leaders involved representatives from the construction industry. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)  

On his first full working day in the White House, President Donald Trump hosted what was announced as two “listening” sessions: one with business leaders, the other with union leaders and “American workers.”

Press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, “The president has been honored to receive tremendous support from union working men and women on Election Day and he’s dedicated to growing and deepening their support. And he made it a priority to meet with these union workers.” At the meeting, said Spicer, the president would “discuss his pro-worker agenda.”

But a look at who was in the room and who was not—for both the business and union meetings—offers clues as to where the new administration might be headed. In his remarks, the president focused on eliminating regulations. To the business leaders, Trump said that he would provide them with “great service,” but offered no specifics as to how his promised cuts in regulation would ensure worker health and safety and help protect the environment. And there were hints of a coming dispute between the administration and labor over the prevailing wages now required on most federal construction projects.

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Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017, 11:29 am  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: Strike Targets Donald Trump and Home Depot

On Friday, January 20, as Donald Trump was being sworn in as president, workers in Minnesota went on strike. (CTUL)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. In this series, we talk with organizers, troublemakers, and thinkers who are working both to challenge the Trump administration and the circumstances that created it. It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. This series will introduce you to some of them.

On Friday, January 20, as Donald Trump was being sworn in as president, workers in Minnesota went on strike. They are staff at Kimco, a company that cleans Home Depot stores, and their strike targeted not only the subcontractor but Home Depot and Trump, too. Striker Luciano Balbuena, a member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), and CTUL director Veronica Mendez Moore spoke about the strike and the potential for challenging corporate power under Trump. Their interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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Monday, Jan 23, 2017, 6:39 pm  ·  By Deirdre Fulton

People Power, Not Trump, Beat the TPP

Progressive groups campaigned hard against the 12-nation trade agreement that they said threatened public health, environmental protections, and human rights while handing a big win to corporate interests. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)  

This article was first posted by Common Dreams.

President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), marking a new phase for the broad movement that sought to kill the corporate-friendly trade deal.

Progressive groups campaigned hard against the 12-nation trade agreement that they said threatened public health, environmental protections, and human rights while handing a big win to corporate interests.

Indeed, digital rights group Fight for the Future was quick to credit that movement with Monday's victory. "The victory against the TPP belongs to the people, not to Donald Trump or any other politician," said Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer.

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Monday, Jan 23, 2017, 5:38 pm  ·  By Peter Cole

Want to Stop Trump? Take a Page From These Dockworkers, and Stop Work

To resist Trump’s agenda, Oakland longshore workers shut down their workplace and reminded us of the potential of organized labor. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)  

On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, many Americans wrung their hands. Some took to social media to express their discontent while others protested. But, perhaps, the most dramatic and important action was taken by dockworkers in Oakland, California: They stopped working. Their strike demonstrated the potential power ordinary people have on the job, when organized.

Longshore workers, who load and unload cargo ships, chose not to report to their hiring hall. As a result, “Oakland International Container Terminal, the largest container facility at the Northern California port, was shut down Friday,” according to the Journal of Commerce. It also reported that all other Oakland container terminals were essentially shut down, too.

Crucially, these workers did not first come together to protest Trump. They belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), one of the strongest and most militant unions left in the United States.

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Friday, Jan 20, 2017, 7:29 pm  ·  By Hubert Adjei-Kontoh

Workers Strike to Protest Trump: “There Is Power in Our Unity”

“We are striking today for our families, communities and the country,” said Angela Bello, a food service worker with nine years on the job at Northeastern University. “There is power in our unity and we are here to stay.” (UNITE HERE Local 26/ Facebook)  

Workers across the country walked off their jobs and staged actions Friday to protest the inauguration of one of the most anti-worker presidents in modern history, Donald Trump.

As he was being sworn in around midday, dining hall workers at Northeastern University walked out. The 1-day strike was planned with support from students, some of whom walked with workers in a sign of solidarity. The group marched for two miles along the Boston Common.

“Having the support of the students allowed the workers to feel protected and supported. We showed that we are committed to making sure that immigrant families can stay together,” said Tiffany Ten Eyck, an organizer for UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents workers at Northeastern.

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