Working In These Times

Thursday, Jul 2, 2020, 12:45 pm  ·  By Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez

To the Texas GOP, “Freedom of Choice” During a Pandemic Means the Freedom to Die for Profit

People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin on June 26. Texas Republicans have forced workers to choose between risking their health while working or to make no money at all. (Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty)  

In Texas, we now have the dubious distinction of having joined the six other states with over 100,000 COVID-19 cases. In Texas, like in many other GOP controlled states, our Governor and Lt. Governor took their cues on how to respond to COVID-19, not from health experts but from the political whims of Donald Trump, who proved to have a questionable grasp on how the disease worked when he suggested injecting disinfectant and using UV light to cure patients of COVID-19.

Today in Texas, thousands of new cases are being reported daily. Hospitals in Houston and across the state are at near capacity. Adult COVID-19 patients are being transferred to Texas children’s hospitals to meet the exploding healthcare crisis in Harris County, the state’s most populous region. On June 26, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) was forced to backpedal on his promise that Texas was going to remain “wide open for business.” And he shut-down bars and reduced seating at restaurants, just five weeks after he allowed them to reopen.

I am lucky. I’m able to keep working from home, but both of my parents have lost their regular income and are struggling to get by in the new COVID-19 reality. Before COVID-19 my parents lived below the poverty line. My 62 year-old diabetic mom, who doesn’t have more than a ninth grade education, worked as a Spanish language interpreter at a hospital.  When COVID-19 began spreading, she quit her job. For her going to work literally became a life or death choice. My dad ran a small fair trade business selling jewelry from Mexico, last year he personally made $18,000. Now, both my parents get their food from local pantries and food banks.

Yet, my life did change dramatically post COVID-19, because two weeks before Texas shut down on March 19, I was crisscrossing the state running as a progressive in the Democratic primary for the Senate, talking to voters about the economic pain they were already living before COVID-19  (in a 12-way race I missed making it into the run off by 1.5%)


Wednesday, Jul 1, 2020, 11:21 am  ·  By Maurizio Guerrero

A Mexican Labor Lawyer Denounced U.S. Pressure to Reopen Maquiladoras. Then She Was Jailed.

A protester rises her fist during a demonstration to demand the freedom of the lawyer and activist Susana Prieto, defender of Mexican workers, on June 11, 2020 In Mexico City, Mexico. (Ricardo Castelan Cruz / Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)  

Update: Susana Prieto was released from the Ciudad Victoria prison on July 1, although under harsh conditions imposed by the judge of the state of Tamaulipas. For the next 30 months, she cannot enter Tamaulipas and cannot continue her advocacy work for maquiladora workers in the state. She cannot leave her residence in Chihuahua state during the next 30 months, and cannot travel to the United States during this period, even though her five children reside in this country. In a video on her Facebook account, she said that she fears for her life and the lives of her attorneys in Tamaulipas. She said that she will file an appeal against the conditions of her release.

Throughout the month of May, as the coronavirus pandemic was peaking in Mexico, Susana Prieto, a top Mexican labor attorney who has been defending workers' rights for over three decades, was making her voice heard.


Tuesday, Jun 30, 2020, 12:31 pm  ·  By Rebecca Chowdhury

These Workers Don’t Get Aid and Are Going Hungry. A Tax on New York Billionaires Could Help Them.

People wait in line to receive food at a food bank on April 28, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  

Coronavirus cases continue to climb across the Southern and Western United States. In New York, previously the nation’s epicenter, many of the residents reeling from the economic consequences are excluded from any government assistance.


Tuesday, Jun 30, 2020, 10:21 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Police Union Denies Racism, Calls AFL-CIO President “Disgraceful” in Irate Letter

Cabral’s outrage notwithstanding, Trumka himself has actually been an ally of police unions in the AFL-CIO. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

In a scathing letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka dated June 12, the leader of the International Union of Police Associations said that a statement about America’s history of racism and violence against black people is “patently false,” and angrily denounced Trumka as “disgraceful” for “playing to the crowd” on the issue of police reform. 


Monday, Jun 29, 2020, 4:28 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

Weed That’s Legal and Union: Marijuana Dispensary Becomes First in Illinois to Unionize

A Chicago weed dispensary just became the first in Illinois to unionize. (Photo by Alberto Ortega/Getty Images)  

In a historic first for Illinois, workers at the Sunnyside cannabis dispensary in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood have voted overwhelmingly to unionize.


Thursday, Jun 25, 2020, 2:54 pm  ·  By Mindy Isser

How an Old-School Electricians Union Got Behind a Socialist Running on the Green New Deal

(Photo courtesy of Nikal Saval/Facebook)  

Nikil Saval is an unlikely Philadelphia politician. The socialist, writer, organizer and former editor of left-wing magazine n+1 beat long-time incumbent Larry Farnese for state senate in the First District in a surprise upset. Although the Covid-19 pandemic threatened to derail his campaign, the issues Saval embraced—a Homes Guarantee, Universal Family Care, and a Green New Deal—have grown more urgent as our economy has unraveled. And making him an even more unlikely candidate, he won the backing of a conservative electricians union—a rare feat for a Green New Deal advocate. His platform, which was proven popular enough to beat a fairly progressive legislator, will be extremely challenging to implement. In order to win life-changing reforms like a Green New Deal, Saval and his allies will need to build a broad and powerful coalition—including with some strange bedfellows. 


Wednesday, Jun 24, 2020, 3:36 pm  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

The Head of the South Dakota AFL-CIO Routinely Posts Ultra Right-Wing Memes on Facebook

The Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen on March 25, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)  

Duwayne Wohlleber is the president of the South Dakota AFL-CIO, a role that makes him, in effect, the highest-ranking labor leader in the state. Wohlleber is also fond of posting right wing memes on Facebook—recently, celebrating the Confederate flag, praising law enforcement, and joking about shooting “rioters.” 


Tuesday, Jun 23, 2020, 1:26 pm  ·  By Ella Fassler

Unpaid Prison Barber Made to Work During Covid Says, “We Aren’t Properly Disinfecting Anything”


Each morning at 8:30, Ron begins trimming hair and beards at a barber shop from hell. As soon as he walks in, someone is waiting for a cut in a little plastic chair. Over the course of the next three hours, he flies through about 35 cuts, and another 35 in the afternoon, alongside several other barbers.


Monday, Jun 22, 2020, 3:08 pm  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

AFL-CIO Leader Richard Trumka Defends Police Unions by Comparing Them to Employers

Trumka has defended the inclusion of police unions in the AFL-CIO. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)  

As the AFL-CIO struggles with a growing debate over its alignment with police unions, the disagreement inside of the labor coalition itself is becoming more pointed. At an internal meeting of the Executive Council on Friday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke out against the idea of kicking police unions out of the coalition—confusingly, by comparing them to the employers that unions bargain against. 


Saturday, Jun 20, 2020, 8:52 pm  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Celebrating Juneteenth, Labor Finds Its Voice for Racial Justice

Long shore workers with ILWU rally for Black lives at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46 in a West Coast port shutdown on June 19, the day commemorating the end of slavery. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP)  

In work stoppages, rallies, motorcades and a spectacular West Coast port shutdown, labor tied itself to the movement in the streets.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—The enormous white stone arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza is a memorial to the Union’s victory in the Civil War. Confederate monuments are toppling across the country, but the arch is only getting more popular. At 11:30 on a hot Juneteenth morning, Kyle Bragg stands in its shade, wearing a red T-shirt, a New York Knicks-branded face mask, and a purple hat with the logo of 32BJ SEIU, the 175,000-member union that he leads.

“My son is 25, and my daughter is 29. I worry every single time they’re out of the house,” says Bragg, a Black man who has spent decades as a labor leader. “The most important conversation I had with them when they were young was not about sex or drugs. It was about how to deal with the police.” 

The uprisings that have swept America this month are spontaneous, massive and often leaderless, and the structured world of unions initially seemed puzzled as to how to react. The burning of the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in the early days of the protests was symbolic of the disconnect between organized labor and the streets. But as the days went by, labor rallied to the cause. In the week leading up to Juneteeth, the June 19 holiday commemorating the end of slavery, it seemed unions found their voice.