Labor

The State of the Unions

AP Images/Bill Wagner
Gallup and Pew concur: Just over one-half of Americans approve of labor unions. In late June, the Pew Research Center released the results of its biennial poll on unions and corporations , and reported that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable view of unions—up from just 41 percent in 2011, the last time Pew popped the question. Pew’s new number is almost identical to Gallup’s, which found that 52 percent of Americans approved of unions when it last asked that question in August of 2012. Gallup polls on union approval every year and has reported a 52 percent approval rating each of the past three years. Before then, union approval had hit an all-time low for Gallup surveys, with just 48 percent in 2009. So unions are modestly, sorta, kinda back, in the public’s estimation. Back, that is, from the trough into which they fell during the first year of the recession, when their approval ratings toppled from the high-50s (Gallup) and the mid-50s (Pew) by ten points in each poll. The...

The Part-Timer Problem

The Obama Administration’s decision to delay for a year the penalty that employers (in firms of 50 or more employees) must pay if they don’t provide health insurance to their workers shines a light on a problem that may be even more profound than getting health coverage for every American: that is, the decline of the American job. The employer mandate was designed for an economy in which American workers were employed in what had been normal jobs. In firms of 50 or more, all workers who put in at least 30 hours a week were either to receive coverage from the firm or else the firm would have to pay the government a $2,000 yearly penalty. Problem is, fewer and fewer workers are putting in 30 hours a week. To begin with, labor-force participation is at its lowest level since women increased their work-force participation in the 1970s. It has declined even during the past four years of so-called recovery. The past four years have also seen a rise in the percentage of workers who are part-...

Progressives' Post-DOMA To-Do List

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, file
AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Fred Squillante T wo of my favorite writers on legal subjects, Dahlia Lithwick and Barry Friedman, wrote a piece for Slate earlier this week wondering if the progressive agenda hasn't been exhausted by the victories on same-sex marriage. "While progressives were devoting deserved attention to gay rights," they argue, "they simultaneously turned their backs on much of what they once believed." I share their sense of frustration, but I interpret the landscape differently. To me, the problem isn't the lack of a robust progressive agenda. The problem is that progressives generally lack power. Last week, I saw strong defenses of progressive values at every level of politics—from ordinary citizens to the highest offices in the country. In a brief window of time, you saw heroic opposition to barbaric attacks on the welfare state in North Carolina and reproductive freedom in Texas, President Obama's climate change speech , and eloquent defenses of equality by...

A Good Day For Hotel Workers

AP Images/Paul Sakuma
UNITE HERE, the union of U.S. and Canadian hotel workers, and the Hyatt chain announced a wide-reaching agreement on Monday afternoon that will give Hyatt employees in currently non-union hotels across the nation the right to choose a union without having to face management opposition. In return, UNITE HERE announced it is lifting its global boycott of Hyatt hotels. The agreement will go into effect when new union contracts for current members are ratified by UNITE HERE locals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Honolulu. The terms of those contracts were also agreed to in today’s settlement. Over the past quarter-century, UNITE HERE has significantly raised living standards for its members in cities where most major hotels have union contracts. In New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas, hotel workers make more than $20-an-hour with employer-provided health benefit plans that have won national acclaim. The union is also known for its innovative contracts: In Las Vegas, the...

Back to School for Labor

The fight for union recognition at Philadelphia’s Olney High School shows the challenges of organizing charter schools.

Courtesy of greatphillyschools.org
Courtesy of greatphillyschools.org Olney High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania M ost people wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to attend a three-hour meeting after work hours. But on May 29, the board meeting of ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, a non-profit that runs four charters schools in Philadelphia, was packed with teachers, students, and other staff members. Holding signs that read “Let’s Work Together,” a group of 30 from the Olney Charter High School quietly sat through the last board meeting of the academic year, waiting to hear if ASPIRA would continue to resist their efforts to unionize. The public-comment period didn’t begin until 9:00 p.m., with a strict two-minute limit for every speaker. Olney staffers got around the rule. Instead of rushing through their own remarks, each speaker read a few paragraphs from a co-authored statement. Olney employees emphasized their desire to work with the administration and asked ASPIRA to stop fighting their unionization drive. The speech’s...

Enough With the Daddy Wars

AP Images/Melissa Moseley
AP Images/Melissa Moseley Last week, in the run-up to Father’s Day, Marc Tracy wrote at The New Republic that we are seeing the beginning of the Daddy Wars . It’s not true. It’s even more a falsehood than the “mommy wars” ever were. But while the title is wrong—and I don’t think it will stick—Tracy did rightly identify a new tenor of discussion that is a very good thing indeed—not just for dads, but for families in general. Tracy pointed to Richard Dorment’s odd screed at Esquire titled “Why Men Still Can’t Have It All,” a reaction to the infamous Anne-Marie Slaughter article in The Atlantic . Dorment complained that he is just as torn up as women are about “work-life” conflict—i.e., having to choose between the job and the family. Dormant’s piece detailed the ways that he, too, misses his kids every minute—but then he went on to crab that men don’t whine about it the way women do, goddammit, because men are men and life is unfair and women have to stop the goddamn whiny whining. And...

The Fourth Circuit's NLRB Smackdown

Flickr/Tim Evanson/Carlos Fernandez
Flickr/Carlos Fernandez Union members outside the Region 13 office of the National Labor Relations Board A t the heart of the latest feud between business groups and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an 11x17 sheet of paper that blandly recites the basics of a statute. But depending on whom you ask, the future of labor, the First Amendment, and freedom from state interference are at stake. On Friday, the Fourth Circuit became the second federal appeals court to strike down the NLRB's requirement that employers hang a simple poster advising employees of their right to join a union—the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reached a similar ruling last month. The notice resembled the signs in so many break-rooms and copy nooks that advertise the minimum wage or anti-discrimination and health-and-safety laws. This particular poster, however, enraged groups opposed to organized labor and pulled the Labor Board into extensive litigation. The NLRB had intended the sign to educate workers...

Pacifiers and Pink Slips

AP Images/Joel Ryan
Would you lose your job if, for a few months, you had to run to the bathroom more often than your coworkers? Or your doctor told you to carry a water bottle and drink as often as possible? Or if you were told you couldn’t lift more than twenty pounds for a few months? Probably not, if you’re a white-collar worker. And probably not, if you’re a blue- or pink-collar worker—a janitor, factory worker, health aide, retail clerk—who’s strained your back or has some other condition covered as a temporary disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Amendments Act (ADAAA, or “AD triple A,” as the insiders say it) of 2008. But yes, you might well lose your job for that if you’re pregnant. Pregnancy doesn’t qualify as a disability. So if you’re a pregnant low-wage worker, your boss could very well tell you that if you can’t follow the workplace’s standard rules—about bathroom breaks, water bottles, standing all day, or carrying trash bags weighing up to 30 pounds—you have to stay home...

The Ugly Side of D.C.'s Corporate Bipartisanship

AP Images
AP Images/Ashraful Alam Tito Over the past month, an oceanic divide has opened between European and American retailers on the question of how to respond to the manmade epidemic of deadly disasters in the garment industry of Bangladesh, the world’s second largest clothing exporter. In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza fire on April 24, which killed at least 1,127 workers, a group of roughly 40 European retailers—including H&M, Carrefour, Bennetton, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer— signed on to a plan binding them to fund both a regimen of independent factory inspections and the improvements required to make those factories safe. But only three U.S.-based fashion companies and retailers —Abercrombie & Fitch, PVH (which includes the Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Izod labels), and Sean John (Sean Combs’s company)—have become party to the compact, despite the repeated urgings of anti-sweatshop and workers' rights organizations. Wal-Mart, Gap, Target, Sears, JCPenney, and other...

The New New Haven

Jesse Lenz
Major Ruth became a civic leader because he made a promise to his neighbor, Brian Wingate. Both had moved to the Beaver Hills section of New Haven, Connecticut, in 2003. A neighborhood of aging single--family homes that had seen better days, Beaver Hills had been targeted by the city for a housing--rehabilitation program, and, with the zeal of new arrivals, Ruth, a manager at the local utility company, and Wingate, a custodian and union steward at nearby Yale University, sought to involve themselves in neighborhood--improvement ventures. That proved harder than they had anticipated. Although New Haven aldermanic districts are tiny, encompassing no more than 4,300 residents, Ruth and Wingate couldn’t find anyone who could identify, much less locate, their alderman. “We joked that one of us would run for alderman and the other would have to run his campaign,” Ruth says. In 2010, Wingate told Ruth he was running and a deal was a deal. “It started out as a simple promise,” Ruth says, “but...

A Devil of a Problem for Labor in the City of Angels

AP Photo/Reed Saxon
AP Photo,File T omorrow, Angelenos go to the polls to select a new mayor. Well, some Angelenos—actually, not a hell of a lot. Indeed, turnout is projected to be so low that the winner may get fewer votes than Fletcher Bowron did in winning the election of 1938 , when Los Angeles was less than half as populous as it is today. The reason for the low turnout is straightforward: Not all that much differentiates the two candidates. Both City Controller Wendy Greuel and Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti are mainstream Democrats. Unlike the election, say, of 1993, which pitted Republican businessman Richard Riordan against liberal Democratic Councilman Mike Woo—two candidates with widely divergent views on how to fix the L.A. police in the wake of the Rodney King riots—no great issues separate the two candidates this year. Unlike the election of 2005, in which former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa ousted incumbent Mayor Jim Hahn, this year’s election won’t be a...

Labor's Plan B

Flickr/ Fibonacci Blue
AP Photo/Mark Kegans A week ago, labor-rights group Working America launched FixMyJob.com. The text of the site reads a bit like an infomercial: “Tough day at work? Are you feeling overworked, underpaid, unsafe or disrespected by your boss?” But instead of selling a new set of knives, the writers are hawking organizing skills. “Our tool can help you identify problems in your workplace and give you info about what others have done in similar situations.” The famous raised fist of labor is sideways, holding a wrench. The website is yet another attempt by the country’s once-powerful union movement to connect to workers in an increasingly hostile national workplace. “We also are trying to find new ways for workers to have representation on the job,” writes Working America spokesperson Aruna Jain in an email. “We want to train and educate people on how to self-organize, and to learn collective action—the single most effective way of improving their working conditions. This is one way we...

D.C. Circuit v. Worker Rights

WikiMedia Commons
Last week, a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals provided an excellent example of how both presidential action and inaction can matter. Because of the former, the National Labor Relations Board had issued a rule intending to alleviate the power disparities between workers and employers. But in part because of action by Republican presidents and inaction by Democratic presidents, the rule is no longer in effect. And while the outcome of the case is hardly surprising, the sheer radicalism of the court's holding is yet another sign of how in the tank much of the powerful D.C. Circuit is for powerful business interests. The case involved a 2011 regulation issued by the NLRB which required employers to post notices informing workers of their right to join a union and providing basic information about how to contact the NLRB. The regulation was challenged by business groups based on an assortment of legal arguments. The District Court upheld the authority of the NLRB to issue the...

The Upside Down Economy

AP Images/Scott Sady
AP Photo/Richard Drew O ne aspect that defines our current economy is that things are happening that shouldn’t be happening. I don’t mean that things are happening that are illegal or immoral. (Well, some of them are immoral, but that’s not what I mean.) Rather, things are happening that defy economic logic—a slippery term that really means, the economic patterns of roughly the past half-century. The first such logic-defying thing is that corporate profits are soaring even as corporate revenues limp along. The quarterly reports of S&P 500 corporations for the first three months of 2013 are almost entirely in now, and they show profits rising by more than 5 percent even while revenues have risen by less than 1 percent. Seventy percent of these companies—the largest publicly traded U.S. firms—exceeded the analysts’ profit projections. On the other hand, 60 percent came in under the projections for their sales. Were this disjuncture just a one-time epiphenomenon, we could pass it off...

Are Vouchers Dead?

AP Images/Ben Margot
When news broke Tuesday that the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s voucher system, which uses public dollars to pay for low-income students to go to private schools, the fight over vouchers made its way back into the headlines. The Louisiana program, pushed hard and publicly by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, offers any low-income child in the state, regardless of what public school they would attend, tuition assistance at private schools. It’s something liberals fear will become commonplace in other states in the future if conservative lawmakers get their way on education policy. Yet conservatives have been dominating legislatures since 2010 and there has been little success in creating voucher programs. Louisiana is one of only two states with such a broad program in place. After the 2010 Tea Party wave there was “a big spike in the number of states considering voucher legislation,” says Josh Cunningham, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State...

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