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Members of Electrical Workers (UE) Locals 506 and 618 rallied with supporters May 17 in Pittsburgh outside the Wabtec shareholders’ meeting. Wabtec, which completed its acquisition of GE Transportation in February, is still demanding a two-tier contract that would slash the average wage by $12 an hour.
For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various Asian Americans and Pacific Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Monica Thammarath.
Monica Thammarath was born and raised in San Diego, the daughter of refugees from Laos. She is a proud product of California's public education system and she earned two bachelor's degrees, one in political science and the other in social welfare. She is currently pursuing a master's in public administration at American University.
While in college, Thammarath began organizing to provide services that help students gain access to affordable and high-quality education. After graduation, she began working as the education policy advocate for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. She has since taken the position of senior liaison in the Office of Minority Community Organizing and Partnerships at the National Education Association, where she works on social justice issues like immigration, voting and collective bargaining rights.
She serves on the national executive board of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the national governing board of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, where she serves as co-chair of the education committee. In 2017, she was elected as the youngest person to ever hold the office of national president of APALA. Upon taking the office, she said:
APALA has always held a special place in my heart. I am honored to have been elected as the new National President, and I am excited to strengthen our chapters, our community and labor partnerships, and elevate the voices of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) workers and workers of color everywhere.
In an interview with LeanIn.org, she explained the importance of her work:
I realized that no matter how many girls I worked with, some of them would never have the opportunities to succeed unless the policies at the federal level reflected their needs. And those policies would never change unless people like me—people who personally understood the needs of those most impacted—were at the table to make their needs known.
And she spoke about the surprising road from college to her professional career:
If you asked me what I thought I’d be doing after college, moving from California to Washington, D.C., to work on federal education policy wouldn’t have been my answer. If you told me that four years later, I’d still be in D.C. working to connect the labor movement to civil rights and community organizations, I would have said you were crazy.
Thammarath's time as president of APALA has been eventful and the organization has been active. Since she took office, APALA has focused on building power for Asian and Pacific Americans, as well as defending workers' rights, fighting for justice for immigrants, temporary protected status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals holders, countering rising hate and white supremacy, fighting for women and reproductive rights, defending diversity, joining the efforts to stop Brett Kavanaugh from being confirmed to the Supreme Court, defending public education and advocating for sustainable jobs in a changing climate, among other efforts.
Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with women's hockey players forming a union and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.
Top Women's Hockey Players Form Union in Pursuit of Pro League: More than 200 of the top women's hockey players in the world have come together to form the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association. Among the goals the union is pursuing are a "single, viable women's professional league in North America," coordination of training needs and the development of sponsor support. Olympic gold medalist Coyne Schofield said: "We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had. It's time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work."
New England Macy's Workers Reach Tentative Agreement to Avoid Strike: Workers at several Macy's stores throughout New England have agreed to a tentative deal that will avoid a strike. Nearly 1,000 workers, represented by UFCW Local 1445, agreed to a three-year deal that includes better wages and health care options, among other gains. The union said: "Thanks to the strength of the Macy's members who with the support of the UFCW Local 1445 membership, allies, customers and other unions around the country won a tentative agreement security time and one half on Sundays, reduced cost of health insurance premiums and good wage increases and no give backs!"
Educators at D.C. Public Charter School Join AFT: Educators at Washington, D.C.'s Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School have voted to join the AFT. The teachers are currently bargaining on their first contract and chose the union because they want to make sure that the school is a place where kids will thrive, teachers want to work and parents want to send their kids. Kindergarten teacher Andrea Molina said: "While we teach our kids about social justice and equity, we do not always experience it ourselves. Our teachers and staff are a strong, dedicated team; they work around the clock to make our school an amazing place to teach and learn and to set an example for other schools in the district. Our victory tonight will ensure we are treated with the dignity and respect that reflects the commitment we each have made to our school.”
New York Tenement Museum Workers Join UAW: Workers at the Tenement Museum in New York voted to join UAW Local 2110. The workers are joining together to make sure they maintain the things about the job that are working and to improve things that aren't. Nicole Daniels, a museum educator, explained: "A big part of it is we want to protect the things that are working and secure the things that are already keeping so many of us here....So a lot of it is about preserving the things that work already, but also standardizing systems....There’s a huge range of people across the departments, some of whom are part-time and others full-time, some of whom have benefits through the museum and others who don’t. Some of the ones who don’t have benefits through the museum get them from their parents or their partners. We want to serve the whole group, so we’re just going to have to see what’s needed."
New Lear Manufacturing Facility Workers in Flint Join UAW: Nearly 600 employees at the new Lear manufacturing plant in Flint, Michigan, voted to join the UAW. The new plant makes automotive seats. UAW President Gary Jones said: "We are thrilled to bring Lear’s exceptional workers into the UAW family and are excited about the prospect of new jobs available in Flint. The UAW represents more than 400,000 members and has welcomed over 10,000 new members since August. We welcome these workers and the opportunity to be a part of Flint’s rebirth. We look forward to getting down to business, bargaining great contracts and helping our new members make a positive impact on the community."
Stop & Shop Strike Leads to Victory for Working People: After an 11-day strike that followed more than three months of negotiations, more than 30,000 Stop & Shop Workers, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers, reached a tentative agreement with the supermarket chain. The employees work at more than 240 stores across Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In a statement, the union said: "The agreement preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members. Under this proposed contract, our members will be able to focus on continuing to help customers in our communities." Stop & Shop workers have since ratified the contract.
Rutgers Faculty Avoids Strike with Tentative Deal: Faculty members at Rutgers were able to secure a new tentative contract in the proverbial last minute before they went on strike. The 4,800 full-time faculty and graduate workers represented by Rutgers AAUP-AFT will need to vote on the contract. Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Deep Kumar described the terms of the deal: "We made history today. For the first time in the union’s nearly 50-year history, we won equal pay for equal work for female faculty, faculty of color, and for faculty in the Newark and Camden campuses. We won significant pay raises for our lowest paid members, our graduate employees who will see their pay increase from $25,969 to $30,162 over the course of the contract. In other historic firsts, the union won $20 million for diversity hiring and a guarantee of a workplace free of harassment and stalking, enforced with binding arbitration. Academic freedom now applies to social media.”
Quartz Editorial Staff Vote to Join NewsGuild: Editorial staff at news outlet Quartz, which covers the economy, tech, geopolitics, work and culture, have voted to be represented by The NewsGuild of New York/CWA Local 31003. The union has asked Japanese media company Uzabase, which owns Quartz, to voluntarily recognize the union. The editorial staffers are looking to swiftly begin the bargaining process and are looking to strengthen existing benefits and improve pay equity, diversity and job security. "We love Quartz, and we love working here. For us, organizing is a way to double down on our commitment to the publication and the continued pursuit of its excellence. We are excited about the future of Quartz, and we want to make sure we are a part of it," said Annalisa Merelli, Geopolitics reporter.
Researchers in University of California System Launch New Union: Researchers in the University of California system are in the final stages of forming the first union exclusively for researchers who are not faculty or graduate students. The new union, Academic Researchers United (ARU), is a unit within UAW Local 5810. ARU members are seeking better pay and benefits, job security, transparency in hiring and promotion, and other protections. "At this moment, academic researchers have no job security and are facing super uncertain career paths," said Anke Schennink, president of Local 5810.
In a week of frenzied developments in the organizing drive at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the National Labor Relations Board tossed out the union's election petition, the Auto Workers (UAW) immediately refiled it, and the company announced it is removing the plant's unpopular CEO.
The Labor Board's decision gives the German automaker even more time to engage in the scorched-earth anti-union tactics commonly deployed by U.S. employers.
After a strike threat and a contentious ratification vote, 13,000 members of the New York State Nurses Association settled a contract that achieved gains but fell short of the union’s goal of winning safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.
The four-year agreement includes annual pay increases of 3 percent, increased tuition reimbursement, retiree health benefits for nurses who retire early, and a new process to enforce staffing levels.
The latest bargaining information for the University of California and Envoy Air.
The NewsGuild-CWA had a huge week in organizing, with workers at four different digital publications joining the union!
The NewsGuild-CWA had called on Gannett shareholders to reject Alden's take-over efforts.
With help from organizers, activists, stewards, and campaign leads from across the country, TSEU-CWA signed up 318 new members across Texas!
After years of organizing and campaigning by workers, unions, and community groups, the Connecticut legislature voted this month to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 per hour!
CWA political activists made thousands of calls, knocked on doors, and talked to members at work sites – and it paid off.
Well-trained union members make a difference in a crisis.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the Inclusive Prosperity Act, which imposes a Wall Street sales tax to generate revenues to invest in the needs of the American people.
CWA is asking the Commission to adopt strong quality of service and consumer protection rules to protect New Mexico customers' access to basic telecommunications services.
The award, presented by the Roosevelt Institute, honors individuals whose careers exemplify President Roosevelt's extraordinary dedication to public service.
For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various Asian Americans and Pacific Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profiles are Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes.
Silme Domingo was born in Killeen, Texas, in 1952. His father was a Filipino immigrant who had served in the U.S. Army during World War II. The family moved to Seattle in 1960, where Silme attended high school and college.
Meanwhile, Gene Viernes was born in Yakima, Washington, in 1951, also the son of immigrants from the Philippines. His father worked as a fruit picker and in local canneries. Gene grew up working in the fields with his father before going to school. At 14, he lied about his age and joined International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 37 and worked in the cannery. He spent many of his summers working as an "Alaskero," the nickname for Alaskan salmon cannery workers. At the time, Local 37 largely consisted of Alaskeros who lived in the Seattle area and traveled to Alaska for the summer work every year.
Domingo also began working in the Alaska canneries, and before long, Domingo and Viernes were close friends. They formed the Alaska Cannery Workers' Association. In Seattle, Domingo, in particular, was active in protesting the activities of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and he helped organize the first protests of the Marcos regime in Seattle, along with the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP). Domingo would help establish the KDP chapter in Seattle.
By 1981, Domingo was secretary-treasurer of Local 37, and Viernes was a dispatcher. Along with a slate of reformers, they had taken over all of the offices except for president. The reform slate were opponents of Local 37 President Tony Baruso, who was a Marcos supporter with ties to local Seattle gangs. At the time, the Alaskan cannery industry was rife with racial discrimination, with white workers getting the best jobs as well as company-provided food and housing, while Filipino workers worked long, dangerous hours with meager food and squalid living conditions. The reformers not only ran for election as officers in the local, they engaged in class action lawsuits against the canneries.
On June 1, 1981, Domingo and Viernes were working out of the ILWU offices in Seattle when two gunmen walked into the offices and shot and killed Domingo and Viernes. Terri Mast, Domingo's partner, was left with two young daughters to raise alone. Mast fought back publicly, eventually leading to the murder convictions of Baruso and local gang members. Marcos also was found complicit in the conspiracy and a successful civil suit was brought against the dictator in the case. While we will never know what heights Domingo and Viernes could've achieved in their pursuit of expanded rights for working people and Filipinos, Mast would go on to be elected president of Local 37, cleaning up the corruption in the local. In 1987, Local 37 merged with the Inlandboatmen's Union (IBU). Mast was later elected national secretary-treasurer of IBU.
Labor union member and activist Betty Guardado was elected to the Phoenix City Council this week, and with strong union support, she ousted the incumbent. Guardado easily beat her opponent as she won more than 62% of the vote.
Guardado, who started off as a housekeeper at a hotel in 1996, became an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 11, for which she now serves as vice president. And now she has risen to become a City Council member for the fifth largest city in the United States.
"I've worked hard for every single thing I’ve had in my life. I feel great, humbled, honored to have the voters decide I was the person to represent them at City Hall," Guardado said after her victory.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler (IBEW) was in Phoenix for Guardado’s win and Tweeted: "Honored to be at her victory party to congratulate her and the many dedicated @UNITEHERE11 volunteers who made it happen. Working people are lucky to have her powerful voice in office!"
"Betty Guardado is one of us and we are proud of the work she has done for working families, her union and her community," Local 11 posted on social media on election night. "We cannot wait to see what she will do for the people of District 5. Sí, se puede!"
In a monumental leap of economic justice last week, the Connecticut Legislature passed a law that increases the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023. The increase brings Connecticut into parity with its neighboring states of New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, which have passed similar increases. The victory comes as a result of unprecedented coordination among labor unions and allied advocates in the state that have been fighting for an increase for years.
"After years of grassroots organizing, Connecticut will finally catch up to our neighbors," said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano. "We applaud the legislature for doing the right thing and raising wages for over 330,000 workers in our state."
The victory was aided by a number of union members who have been elected to the state's General Assembly. Of critical importance to the bill’s passage were the co-chairs of the assembly's Labor and Public Employees Committee, state Sen. Julie Kushner, former director of UAW Region 9A, and state Rep. Robyn Porter, who was once a single mother who worked three jobs to make ends meet.
The state legislature also has a paid family and medical leave bill that is tentatively scheduled for a vote the week of May 20. "All these combined are going to make a huge difference in people’s lives," Kushner said.
The significance of the measure is not lost on those who will immediately benefit from the increase. "When fast-food workers walked off the job nearly seven years ago demanding $15 and a union, nobody thought we had a chance," said Joseph Franklin, a leader in the Fight for $15 coalition and a McDonald’s worker in Hartford. "Our movement is gaining momentum."
The Connecticut AFL-CIO has been diligently working to elect union members and allies to office, and this victory shows that the path to power flows directly through the labor movement.
The Rhode Island AFL-CIO has been busy in 2019, leading the fight on a number of important legislative initiatives. There are numerous union members who have been elected to the state legislature and that has provided an opportunity to pass legislation that will make a huge difference for our members and for working people across the Ocean State.
Earlier this month, the state legislature passed, and Gov. Gina Raimondo signed, a continuing-contract bill that would indefinitely lock in wages and benefits in expired public-employee contracts. The law now prevents cities and towns from unilaterally slashing pay and making employees pay more for their health insurance during deadlocked negotiations.
The state federation also was involved in passing a bill that established fairness in the overtime laws to firefighters and relieves them of burdensome shift scheduling practices. A top priority for the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters/IAFF, the new law sets the overtime threshold at 42 hours per week, bringing firefighters’ overtime protections more in line with other industry workers.
The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is also advocating for the passage of an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour for care providers for developmentally disabled individuals in the state. The legislation has broad support in the legislature and will end the discriminatory minimum wage disparity for these essential care workers.
All of these advancements were made possible through an unrelenting advocacy effort that coordinated many union members elected to the Rhode Island state legislature, including state Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (LIUNA). Ruggerio was instrumental in guiding these initiatives through a complicated political effort and ultimately passed the bills with overwhelming support.
The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is proving that the path to power runs through the labor movement.
Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).
Name of Union: Farm Labor Organizing Committee
Mission: To challenge the deplorable conditions of the broader workforce that remains voiceless, powerless and invisible to mainstream America by giving farm workers a voice in the decisions that affect them and bringing all parties to the table to address industry-wide problems.
Current Leadership of Union: Baldemar Velasquez is the founder and president of FLOC. Justin Flores serves as vice president and Christiana Wagner serves as secretary-treasurer.
Members Work As: Farm workers.
Industries Represented: Agriculture throughout the United States.
History: Baldemar Velasquez and a small group of migrant farm workers in northwest Ohio came together in the mid-1960s and FLOC was formally established in 1967. In the ensuing years, FLOC expanded its membership beyond Ohio, organizing thousands of new members.
After successfully leading a strike in Ohio in 1978, the largest agricultural work stoppage ever in the Midwest, FLOC held its first constitutional convention as a labor union. They began a boycott of Campbell's Soup that year, and in 1983, Velasquez led a 600-mile march as part of the boycott. After eight years of the Campbell's fight, FLOC successfully negotiated the first tri-party agricultural contract between the workers, the company and the growers associations. The success of the Campbell's boycott led to improvements in working conditions, wages and benefits and the end of exploitative sharecropping arrangements at Heinz and other food-processing corporations in the Midwest.
In the 1990s, FLOC began organizing farm workers in the South. Thousands of farm workers were organized during a five-year boycott of Mt. Olive Pickles that led to a 2003 contract with the farm workers, Mt. Olive and the North Carolina Growers Association. These contracts changed the way the agricultural system works and brought H-2A guest workers under union contracts for the first time. Today, FLOC is working to organize tens of thousands of tobacco farm workers in North Carolina and throughout the South.
Current Campaigns: The Reynolds campaign calls upon tobacco company R.J. Reynolds to create a written agreement guaranteeing the collective bargaining rights of farm workers and calls for a boycott of Reynold's e-cigarette brand VUSE. FLOC focuses on organizing efforts in the Midwest, the South and Mexico.
Community Efforts: We Are FLOC compiles the stories of how FLOC has affected the lives of farm workers. The FLOC Homies Union provides a democratic, unified collective voice for the Latino community in Toledo, Ohio. The Black/Brown Unity Coalition works to empower black and brown communities.
Originally published at rankandfile.ca.
On Tuesday, May 14, the majority of Winnipeg Transit drivers, members of Transit (ATU) Local 1505, did not enforce payment from transit riders. This “fare strike” is the first time the ATU has done this type of action in North America.
For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various Asian Americans and Pacific Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Arlene Inouye.
Arlene Inouye was born and raised in Los Angeles and has spent her life working for the students and teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Her grandparents immigrated from Japan, and they and her mother were placed in internment camps during World War II. Inouye went on to earn a bachelor's and a master's degree from Long Beach State University and she has been a Spanish bilingual speech and language specialist for 18 years. She has also worked as an adult education teacher, master teacher, mentor, multicultural and human relations trainer, school reform trainer, and financial manager.
After she began working in education, Inouye quickly got in her union. She ascended to leadership roles, including treasurer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), as well as various positions with the AFT, the National Education Association and their affiliates. She also serves on the executive board of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. Most recently, Inouye served as the lead negotiator in the contract talks between UTLA and the LAUSD during the January 2019 teachers strike.
Inouye has a history of activism. In the 1990s, she was working on building peace-based organizations and helping refugees when she launched the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools. Unions were among the supporters that made up the coalition and she eventually focused her activism more on collective bargaining rights.
As UTLA's lead negotiator during the weeklong strike, Inouye helped plan strategic efforts that prepared teachers for the work stoppage, built community coalitions and achieved significant gains. She spoke about the value of community:
But what really moved the dial was the fact that we had thirty-two thousand members picketing at every single school, together with fifteen thousand parents and community members. And we had fifty thousand members and supporters out here rallying almost every day. That’s real power. So they knew that if they didn’t meet our demands, we’d prolong the strike—and they didn’t want that. We had tremendous leverage and that’s why we were able to get everything we thought was critical—and more.
And about what it took to win:
We’ve really been building over the past years. I learned that there’s nothing that can stop you when you’re very organized, when you have the structures, the internal systems, the rank-and-file participation, the staff, and when you’re working together for a common agenda. I’m still amazed about what we as a union have been able to accomplish.
We were able to motivate our members and to walk them through the steps of overcoming their real fears and doubts; we were able to help them take a big risk. We stood strong for the issues of all our members, not just our teachers. When you’re inclusive like that you really experience unity. We were all able to come together.
In the end, the teachers won significant victories on behalf of themselves and their students and: a full-time nurse in every school, additional counselors and librarians, smaller class sizes, pay increases without health care concessions, increased oversight for charter schools, and political momentum for a moratorium on charter schools, among other gains. Not only did Inouye help secure victory for the teachers of Los Angeles, she set a standard for other trade unionists to follow.
Larry Hanley spent 40 years in the Amalgamated Transit Union, and he died at his post on May 7 after serving almost nine years as the international president.
Larry will be remembered by a lot of people for a long time. The members will mourn, and the employers will breathe a momentary sigh of relief. He was truly a trade union force of nature, the kind of leader largely absent from today’s staggered and dazed labor movement.
“How many more funerals do we have to have before we put a stop to assaults on bus drivers?” Larry Hanley asked in 1978. “Managers show up at every funeral with boxes of Kleenex, and then do nothing until the next funeral.”
Larry said this a thousand times between 1978—when he went to work driving a city bus in Brooklyn—and his last Amalgamated Transit Union General Executive Board meeting this spring.
Bent rims. Broken springs. Bridges and roads unfit for drivers. Search #FTDR (short for “Fix the Damn Roads”) on social media, and you’ll find countless stories from Michiganders who are paying the price of crumbling, potholed roads and highways.
Michigan’s roads cost the average driver more than $640 every year, and not a cent of that goes toward actually fixing the problem. The state of Michigan’s infrastructure is downright dangerous. School buses full of kids cross bridges held up with temporary supports. Chunks of concrete from overpasses fly into windshields, causing injuries. We’re running out of time to act.
Unfortunately, nightmare bridges and roads are just one example of how underinvestment in infrastructure hurts working families—and not just in Michigan. Many of America’s transit systems, airports, railways and ports—once a point of deep pride for our country—are sorely outdated and can barely keep up with demand.
As a result, Americans from all walks of life are suffering. Office workers endure grueling, hourslong commutes to and from work. Air travelers experience increasingly long lines at our nation’s airports. Small business owners face delays getting their goods to market. And those unable to afford vehicles find it difficult to access reliable transit options.
These experiences add up to a national crisis. Failing to act on infrastructure makes the United States less competitive than 15 of our major trading partners and could cost us 2.5 million jobs by 2025.
This Infrastructure Week, we’re calling on Congress to invest in our nation’s roads, bridges, schools and more. For every dollar spent on public infrastructure, we get $3.70 back in economic growth. That’s a phenomenal return on investment, putting an additional $1,400 per year back into the pockets of everyday Americans.
A robust federal investment would ensure safe roads, sturdy bridges, clean drinking water, quality public schools, dependable transit systems and ports that can keep up with global demand. The package we need wouldn’t just address our current shortfall, but would help propel America forward as a global leader in the technologies and infrastructure of the future, such as high-speed rail and smart utilities.
Improving our infrastructure also will help our families and communities by creating good-paying, family-sustaining jobs, lowering unemployment, raising wages and reducing inequality. This virtuous growth cycle can usher in a new era of broadly shared prosperity and, in turn, provide equality and justice within our communities. Without it, countless working families will be left to suffer the consequences—something Michigan knows all too well.
Last month marked five years since the Flint water crisis began. Michigan’s recent proposal for a $120 million investment to replace lead service lines and clean up contaminated water is a critical step forward. What’s more, it would immediately put hundreds of women and men to work in good-paying union jobs across the state, replacing and building pipelines so this never happens again.
Many of these jobs in infrastructure begin with a union apprenticeship. Workers receive education and on-the-job training—often at little or no cost—and afterward, they receive a career filled with dignity, opportunity, advancement and no debt.
These workers are willing and able to tackle the enormity of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure crisis. But, like Michiganders and all Americans, they are waiting for the federal government to act.
While Washington debates its next move, American families are footing the bill—paying more than $3,000 every year for government inaction—and wasting the equivalent of four full days a year sitting in unnecessary traffic.
Michigan and other states are stepping up to fill in the gaps where they can, but we need federal leadership to get the job done. With 79% of Americans agreeing that it’s extremely important to invest in infrastructure, Congress and the administration are out of excuses.
It’s time to fix the damn roads.
This post originally appeared in the Lansing State Journal.
Abigail Disney, granddaughter of the co-founder of the Walt Disney Co., called out the family business’ current CEO last month for making what’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth pretty darn miserable for its workers.
All of the company profits shouldn’t be going into executives’ pockets, she said in a Washington Post column. The workers whose labor makes those profits should not live in abject poverty.
This is what labor leaders have said for two centuries. But Disney executives and bank executives and oil company executives don’t play well with others. They won’t give workers more unless workers force them to. And the only way to do that is with collective bargaining—that is, the power of concerted action.
The United States recognized this in the 1930s and gave Americans the right to organize labor unions under the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA). The increase in unionization encouraged by the law significantly diminished income inequality over the next 40 years. American workers prospered as a result of having a voice in the workplace.
But right-wing politicians, at the beck and call of CEOs, have chiseled large chunks out of labor organizing rights, diminishing unions and breeding vast economic disparities.
The decline in union density accounts for one-third of the rise in income inequality among men and one-fifth among women, Economic Policy Institute researchers found.
The solution, of course, is the same as it was in 1935. In order to restore balance to an astronomically uneven economy, Congress must restore workers’ power to organize. Democrats took a first step last week toward accomplishing that when they introduced the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in the U.S. House and Senate. It would give back to workers the power they need to demand their fair share of the profits created by the sweat of their brows.
It’s great that some billionaires and millionaires like Abigail Disney want CEOs to give their workers raises. But workers need the PRO Act, the power of collective bargaining, to make them do it. Workers know this intrinsically and want union representation. A survey last year showed that nearly half of nonunion workers would join a union if given the opportunity to do so. For that to happen, the law must change.
The PRO Act addresses several major problems with the current gutted NLRA that render too many workers powerless. Its intent is to give working people a fair shot when they try to form a union and bargain for a better life for themselves and their families.
The defects of the current law can be clearly seen in the case of Kumho Tire. In 2017, the union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), filed a petition to represent workers at the major international tire producer’s plant in Macon, Georgia. The company ran a vicious $500,000 campaign against the union, including daily, mandatory captive audience meetings, designed to coerce workers into voting against union representation.
Kumho also fired the lead supporter of the organizing drive, Mario Smith, to intimidate his fellow workers. There are currently no penalties for employers who take such retaliatory actions. The best a wrongly fired worker can hope for is receiving back wages, but only once the case is settled, which can sometimes be years after the termination.
Meanwhile, corporations routinely forbid outside union organizers from entering the workplace, and workers are restricted from speaking about the organizing campaign while on the clock. Such limitations violate the intent of the NLRA, which was to encourage collective bargaining, not hinder it.
The USW filed more than 30 Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges against Kumho Tire, including for the unjust termination of Mario Smith, but this process takes time, sometimes years. And time doesn’t pay unjustly fired workers’ bills.
Under the PRO Act, rather than making fired workers endure long periods of uncertainty while waiting for their ULP cases to be heard by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), unions would be able to immediately seek an injunction to reinstate employees like Smith while their cases are pending. The bill would also authorize the NLRB to assess monetary penalties for each violation in which a company wrongfully terminates a worker or causes serious economic harm.
And those mandatory captive audience meetings would be banned, giving workers the power and freedom to decide for themselves if union representation is right for them.
The PRO Act would also forbid freeriding, which is when workers who choose not to join the union but benefit from union representation don’t pay fair share fees to cover the cost of bargaining and administering the collective bargaining agreement. This would beat back one of the major assaults on labor rights—so-called “right to work” laws—by allowing unions to function fully for their members.
The bill proposes a system to ensure that workers who succeed in a union organizing drive actually obtain a first collective bargaining agreement, establishing terms for pay, benefits and working conditions. As it stands now, nearly half of newly formed unions are denied a first labor agreement as the result of companies’ refusal to negotiate in good faith.
Volkswagen, for example, has spent years and millions thwarting their employees’ attempts to unionize at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since 2015, when a group of 160 skilled-trades workers in the plant voted to join the UAW, the company has refused to negotiate and appealed to the NLRB and the courts to get the election overturned. With courts and the now Republican-dominated NLRB upending union-friendly Obama rulings, that looks likely.
Not to be defeated, however, the UAW has collected signatures from 65 percent of the plant’s 1,709 hourly workers, including the 160 skilled-trades workers. The cards say the workers want an election for union representation, and the UAW asked the NLRB to set a date. Instead, the GOP NLRB postponed the election indefinitely, giving VW all the time it wants to continue waging its aggressive anti-union campaign on their workers.
Newspaper columns and calls for compassion by Patriotic Millionaires like Abigail Disney can only do so much to convince CEOs to treat their workers fairly. Americans need more than nice rich people speaking up for them—they need the power to speak and stand up for themselves. An economy is only as healthy as its workers are empowered.
The PRO Act is the pathway to that power.
This post originally appeared at Common Dreams.
The following excerpt from A Troublemaker's Handbook 2 documents the work of the late Larry Hanley.
The transit deregulation of the 1980s had trickled down from the airline industry to city buses. By 1989, union density among Staten Island-Manhattan express bus drivers was down to 60 percent, from a 1980 high of 90 percent. These figures, plus high bus fares, decreasing ridership, private companies threatening their jobs, and budget cuts, pushed Staten Island bus drivers to take action.
Dan Clawson, labor organizer, scholar, and activist, died suddenly of a heart attack on May 7. We had just come off of our Massachusetts Teachers Association annual meeting, where Educators for a Democratic Union, the caucus Dan helped to form, beat back attempts to strip the budget of organizing funds and won a motion calling for a national teachers’ strike for the Green New Deal. In our caucus meetings throughout the weekend, Dan was clarifying strategy and reminding us that we shouldn’t back away from conflict when taking a principled stand.
Being on strike is “kinda scary,” said one picketing nurse in Toledo, Ohio—but “kinda empowering,” broke in another. “We’re doing this for nurses across the board.”
After 58 bargaining sessions totaling 450 hours since last summer, nearly 1,900 hospital workers at Mercy Health St. Vincent walked off the job Monday, marching from union headquarters to line the street in front of the hospital.
The ivory tower of academia does not protect its workers. Across the country, austerity politics are bleeding colleges and universities dry, opening the door for the corporate takeover of higher education. But, like their colleagues in elementary and secondary education, higher education workers are fighting back.
Labor Notes staff member Barbara Madeloni led a conversation with higher education activists on on Tuesday, May 7.