Labor

The Inclusive Strength of #BlackLivesMatter

Why the fast-growing movement has been intertwined with labor, economic justice, immigration, and LGBT rights from the beginning.

(Photo: AP/Seth Wenig)
(Photo: Amanda Teuscher) Attendees to the Movement for Black Lives Convening that took place in Cleveland July 24-26 gather for a group photo on the final day of the conference. An estimated 1,200 organizers and activists participated in the meeting. I t would be tempting to say the timing was surreal, if it didn’t happen so often. Less than an hour after the close of last weekend’s conference of Black Lives Matter activists, attendees were pepper-sprayed by a Cleveland transit police officer while they were protesting the arrest of a 14-year-old boy. The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) Convening at Cleveland State University brought together more than 1,000 activists and organizers from across the U.S., and even from other countries. Nearly one year after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the goal of the convening was to provide a space for the activists to mourn the loss of those killed by police, to show support for one another, to demonstrate pride in their community , and...

Federal Contract Workers Are Demanding a Big Raise. But Will They Get It?

The Fight for $15 comes to Washington. 

Good Jobs Now
Good Jobs Nation J ust outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, hundreds of workers wearing blue shirts that said "Strike!" rallied for more pay. Leaders led chants in English and Spanish, from "Hey, hey, ho, ho, $10.10 is way too low," to " ¿ Que queremos? Quince y un uni ó n ." These workers were striking for a day against companies contracted by the federal government to ring up powerful politicians’ lunch orders in the Senate, clean offices in the Pentagon, and cook food at the Smithsonian museums. As the Fight for $15 has gained traction across the United States, workers—supported by a coalition of unions, labor advocates, and politicians—are saying that it’s time for the federal government to become a model employer. A cadre of progressive politicians, including Senator Bernie Sanders, also used the event to introduce legislation that calls for a national $15 minimum wage. But with legislative success along those lines unlikely, advocates are calling on President Obama to take...

Why Joining a Union is Good For Your Well-Being

New research suggests that workplace organizing is key to personal happiness and overall well-being. 

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
AP Photo/Matt Rourke A Protestor gestures as he demonstrates to push fast-food chains to pay their employees at least $15 an hour, outside during a march to a McDonald's restaurant Thursday, September 4, 2014, in Philadelphia. A merican labor unions are facing a political assault unparalleled since the New Deal, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to “right-to-work,” to the attack on public sector unions at the state level. And there’s a good chance it’ll just get worse. Ahead of Scott Walker’s possible nomination in the race for 2016, Republicans in Congress are already floating the “ National Right to Work Act .” If passed it would create a legal environment more hostile to the rights of workers than in any industrial democracy. Any conceivable Republican president would certainly sign such a bill if it reached his or her desk. As is well known, these laws dramatically and purposely reduce workers' ability to collectively bargain. Already, half of American states are right-to-work. A...

Should Liberals Back Public Employee Unions?

The stakes in the new battle over unions have far-reaching implications.  

AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart
AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart Hundreds of labor union members and supporters gather for a rally to protest the collective bargaining measures of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's administration at the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin, Thursday, August 25, 2011. This article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences By Daniel DiSalvo 304 pp. Oxford University Press $27.95 Bring Back the Bureaucrats: Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government By John J. DiIulio, Jr. 184 pp. Templeton Press $9.07 E arlier this year, Wisconsin Governor and GOP presidential aspirant Scott Walker answered a question about how he’d handle the Islamic State with the assurance that “if I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.” Many people ridiculed Walker’s equation of Islamist warriors with American supporters...

SCOTUS Comes Calling on Public Sector Unions

A case that could decimate public sector unions is now headed to the Supreme Court. 

AP Photo/Nick Ut
AP Photo/Nick Ut Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members protest for higher wages in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. T he Supreme Court was dishing out win after win for liberals: Affordable Care Act subsidies upheld; same-sex marriage made the law of the land; a legal blow administered to the undemocratic process of gerrymandering. But through it all labor activists were holding their breaths as a case that could decimate public sector unions inched perilously toward the Supreme Court. Then late last month labor’s worst fears were realized when the Court announced that in its 2015-2016 session it will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association , a case that centers on the constitutionality of so-called “agency fees,” which require non-members to pay fees related to union bargaining and member representation efforts. “This is a very significant case. It may well be life or death for the unions,” Harvard Law School professor Benjamin Sachs told...

With Gawker Successfully Unionized, Is Salon Next?

Just weeks after Gawker's announcement, Salon staffers announce plans to unionize. 

Everett Historical/Shutterstock
Everett Historical/Shutterstock T he editorial staff for Salon Media, a progressive news and analysis outlet, unanimously announced in a letter today that they intend to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East. “Every single one of the editorial employees at Salon supports unionizing with the Writers Guild of America, East, and today we’re asking the management of Salon to recognize our union,” the letter states. “We are doing this because we believe in our publication and want it to be successful. We’re especially proud to work for a media organization that has championed progressive values for nearly 20 years. We believe this organizing campaign is a positive and public way for us to put those values into practice, right here at home.” The announcement comes just weeks after 100 editorial staffers at Gawker Media successfully voted to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), notably with the support of management . It appears that Salon staffers—26 in total—...

Why Labor Law Should Stop Leaning So Hard on the Wagner Act

As the National Labor Relations Act turns 80, we should remember what the law was designed to do—and what it wasn't. 

AP Photo/Mike Groll
AP Photo/Mike Groll A fast-food worker raises her fist during a rally for a $15 an hour wage at the Empire State Plaza Concourse, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Albany, New York. T he Wagner Act turns 80 this week and it’s about time that we lessen the old man’s load. For too long, this legislation that was meant to encourage workplace democracy has actually shouldered much of the burden of our nation’s employer-centered social welfare state. It’s high time to get citizens’ health care, pensions and even guaranteed basic wages off its back, and to allow the Wagner Act to do its job: giving workers in the U.S. a real voice on the job. Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 5, 1935, the Wagner Act (or National Labor Relations Act) marked the first time private-sector workers in the U.S gained permanent federal backing for organizing unions. Under the Wagner Act, if the government certified that the workers had a union—usually through a union election—then their...

First Gawker, Now Salon Staffers Announce Plan to Unionize

The union drives may signal a turning point for digital media. 

Everett Historical/Shutterstock
Everett Historical/Shutterstock T he editorial staff for Salon Media, a progressive news and analysis outlet, unanimously announced in a letter today that they intend to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East. “Every single one of the editorial employees at Salon supports unionizing with the Writers Guild of America, East, and today we’re asking the management of Salon to recognize our union,” the letter states. “We are doing this because we believe in our publication and want it to be successful. We’re especially proud to work for a media organization that has championed progressive values for nearly 20 years. We believe this organizing campaign is a positive and public way for us to put those values into practice, right here at home.” The announcement comes just weeks after 100 editorial staffers at Gawker Media successfully voted to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), notably with the support of management . It appears that Salon staffers—26 in total—...

Will the New Federal Overtime Protections Apply to You?

The Labor Department just announced that millions of Americans will now be eligible for overtime protection for the first time. 

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais In this June 26, 2015, photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Editor’s note: In 2013, Economic Policy Institute vice-president Ross Eisenbrey co-authored with economist Jared Bernstein a paper that first proposed expanding the eligibility of workers for overtime pay. Yesterday’s Labor Department ruling closely follows their proposal. T he overtime rules the Department of Labor announced yesterday are hugely important. They would restore in one action most of the overtime protections that have been lost over the past four decades through neglect and hostile regulatory changes, and prevent them from ever eroding again. Altogether, 15 million salaried workers would gain the right to time-and-a-half overtime pay or have their existing rights strengthened. Since the New Deal, the law has protected workers from being forced to work overtime without getting paid for it. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938...

Are the Dems Being Sucker-Punched on Trade?

With TPP on the ropes, passage hinges on a paltry worker assistance program. 

Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Images
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Images House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 4, 2015. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T hanks to a last-minute deal last Thursday between President Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress, the fast-track bill is still alive. Its passage depends on whether a handful of Senate Democrats can be persuaded to go along. Quick recap: The trade negotiating authority that Obama needs to complete his cherished Trans-Pacific Partnership has been linked to passage of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). The House at first voted down assistance in order to kill the whole deal, but then Republicans promised a separate vote on adjustment assistance; and so the House on Thursday narrowly approved fast track, 218-208, with 28 Democrats in support. Now the Senate has to concur. Back in May, when the Senate voted for the package that was rejected by the House, 14...

With Oregon's Bill, Paid Sick Leave Gains Momentum

How Oregon became the fourth state to mandate paid sick leave. 

Doug Geisler
Doug Geisler B uilding on a strong and growing level of momentum nationwide, on Friday, the Oregon legislature passed a bill that mandates paid sick leave. Governor Kate Brown, a progressive Democrat, is sure to sign the bill, making Oregon the fourth state to pass mandated paid sick leave. The vote is a significant win for a nationwide movement that’s been quietly gaining steam among cities, states, and presidential candidates in recent years. It’s also coming not a moment too soon. Half of the Oregon’s private sector workers don’t have access to paid sick leave; about 80 percent of the state’s low-wage workers are without it—this legislation will mandate access for somewhere north of 500,000 Oregon workers. The bill mandates that employers with more than 10 workers must offer up to five days of paid sick leave; businesses with less than 10 employees still must provide protected sick leave, though it may be unpaid. Both full-time and part-time workers are covered. The success in...

What Made the Difference at Gawker? The Boss

Management at Gawker has been open to workers' new push to organize a union. That's far from the norm. 

D oes the union victory at Gawker portend a new day for American unions? I wish. No question that the vote of three-quarters of the online media site’s employees to have the Writers’ Guild of America represent them in bargaining with Gawker management is a big deal. The victory marked a breakthrough for unions in one of those new sectors of the American economy from which organized labor has been totally absent. And the importance of the victory was magnified by the pro-union case that Gawker writers made to their readers. But did this victory among Gawker’s largely young and self-consciously hip employees signal that hitherto union-free millennials are now turning to unions? Actually, no—because every recent poll makes clear that a decisive majority of union-free millennials already support unions. Gawker’s writers and editors were simply able to do what millions of millennials would like to do. The crucial difference at Gawker was that their boss let them do it. Every year, both...

Why Voluntary Standards Won't Make the Global Garment Industry Safer

After voluntary codes of conduct failed to prevent the Rana Plaza disaster, garment companies pass the blame. 

AP Photo/A.M. Ahad
AP Photo/A.M. Ahad In this Monday, April 20, 2015 photo, Mahamudul Hasan Ridoy, 27, who worked at Rana Plaza, the garment factory building that collapsed, walks with the help of a crutch at the site of the accident in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. O n Monday, June 1, police in Bangladesh filed murder and other charges against the owners of the Rana Plaza building, the landlord of the factories that collapsed two years ago, killing at least 1,138 workers and injuring about 2,500. The collapse was a spectacular moment in a sordid history of fires and collapses in the Bangladesh and global garment industry. The cutthroat competition of that industry is a furnace that fuels thousands of deaths and injuries. Last weekend, by coincidence, a conference was held at Harvard, called Transformation Challenges and Opportunities for the Bangladesh Garment Industry. Attending were Bangladesh cabinet members and the heads of two major safety initiatives—The “Accord” and the “Alliance”—as well as...

The Tenure Conundrum

Higher education is under attack, but defending tenure is just half the battle. 

AP Photo/Gerry Broome
AP Photo/Gerry Broome Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker delivers remarks during the North Carolina Republican Party convention in Raleigh, Friday, June 5, 2015. This article orginally appeared at The Huffington Post . R epublican presidential hopeful Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, thinks he's hit political pay dirt with his proposal to gut faculty tenure protections at his state's public universities, notably the flagship University of Wisconsin, long one of the nation's best state universities. His idea is to remove tenure protection from state law, and leave the actual policy to the Board of Regents, his political appointees. For Walker, this is a three-fer. It's another attack on a public institution, in the wake of his successful campaign to weaken collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public employees. It is a thinly disguised assault on a university perceived as a hotbed of liberals and liberalism. And it continues Walker's faux-populist theme by seemingly going...

The Uphill Battle of Unionizing a Philly Charter School

How a Philadelphia charter operator can spend tens of thousands of public dollars to fight a union.

Sean Kitchen/ Raging Chicken Press
Sean Kitchen/ Raging Chicken Press Teachers from Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia rally at the Pennsylvania headquarters of ASPIRA, a national charter school operator, on April 30. O n April 30 th , faculty at North Philadelphia’s Olney Charter High School voted 104-38 in favor of forming a union, an NLRB election that Olney’s charter operator, ASPIRA, has since announced they’re challenging . Olney’s union campaign is only the latest in a small but rapidly growing wave of charter union drives nationwide. But few efforts have been as contentious, or as revealing, as this one. Ever since the campaign began three years ago, ASPIRA has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into an elaborate union-busting effort, even as the beleaguered district it’s funded by struggles with massive debt. Unionizing Olney also threatens to shine light on ASPIRA’s questionable finances, at a time when authorities at the state and district level have failed to act. More broadly, the union drive in...

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