Working In These Times

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.


Friday, Jun 19, 2020, 10:00 am  ·  By Adeshina Emmanuel

The Thing About Police Unions

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke stands trial in Sept. 25, 2018, for fatally shooting teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Despite video evidence that McDonald was walking away when he was shot, Chicago's police union vehemently defended Van Dyke to the end.   (Photo by Antonio Perez-Pool/Getty Images)

Most unions don’t aggressively shield their members from accountability for murder. Police unions are another story.

As protesters press elected officials to defund police departments across the nation, they’ve also railed against police unions for protecting violent cops. 

Some observers on the Right, in turn, have leveraged the uprising for a broader attack on public-sector bargaining, suggesting that the problem with American law enforcement isn’t cops, but unions.

But police unions are a special beast, and police aren’t your average worker.


Friday, Jun 19, 2020, 9:55 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

SEIU President: Expelling Police Unions From the Labor Movement “Has to Be Considered”

Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, speaks during a panel discussion on labor at the House Democrats' 2019 Issues Conference at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg, Va. on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)  

The 2 million-member SEIU—arguably America’s most politically powerful progressive union—passed a resolution last week vowing to align the union with the goals of the Movement for Black Lives. It included a call to divest from the police, notable in part because SEIU itself has both police and correctional officers as members.


Friday, Jun 19, 2020, 7:10 am  ·  By Michelle Fawcett and Arun Gupta

Undocumented Farmworkers Are Refusing Covid Tests for Fear of Losing Their Jobs

Migrant farmworkers in Greenfield, Calif., where Fresh Harvest has been implementing safety precautions to protect against Covid-19 infections. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)  

As states reopen for business, the coronavirus is exploding among America's 2.5 million farmworkers, imperiling efforts to contain the spread of the disease and keep food on the shelves just as peak harvest gets underway.

The figures are stark. The number of Covid-19 cases tripled in Lanier County, Ga., after one day of testing farmworkers. All 200 workers on a single farm in Evensville, Tenn., tested positive. Yakima County, Wash., the site of recent farmworker strikes at apple-packing facilities, now boasts the highest per capita infection rate on the West Coast. Among migrant workers in Immokalee, Fla.—who just finished picking tomatoes and are on their way north to harvest other crops—1,000 people are infected.