Labor

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 But in part because of action by Republican presidents and inaction by Democratic presidents, the rule is no longer in effect.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...

Unions to Banks: Pay Up

AP Photo/Dominic Lipinski,
AP Photo/Keystone, Steffen Schmidt R ebecca Sandoval hasn't had a raise for six years. She and other home-care workers who work for the state of Oregon and are represented by Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) make $10.20 an hour to assist people with disabilities and senior citizens, like the 99-year-old woman Sandoval cares for. The state froze wages at 2007 levels to help offset a yawning $855 million budget shortfall caused by the financial crisis. Almost every year since then, Sandoval says, it has further cut back hours, leaving workers with the choice to leave some of their clients' needs unmet or to work for free. “You can't rush a 99-year-old woman with any aspect of her daily living,” she says. Members of Local 503 in different professions have seen similar wage freezes and cutbacks. James Jacobson got a layoff notice after 16 years as an office worker at the University of Oregon's college of education; budget cuts, it explained. He's one of the...

Fast Food, Slow to Change

AP Images/Rui Viera
The strikes of fed-up fast-food workers move westward with the sun. On Wednesday evening, fast-food employees in St. Louis, like their peers in New York and Chicago earlier this spring, staged a one-day strike to dramatize the low wages they, and millions of American workers in the restaurant and food sectors, take home. The job action is one of a series of short strikes that the Service Employees International Union, in conjunction with a range of local community groups, is helping to organize. Similar actions in other cities are slated in coming weeks. The goal of these actions is to catalyze a broader movement of workers in the sector—not with the intent of winning contracts from corporations like McDonald (that’s far beyond the labor movement’s capacity, alas), but in hopes that such a movement could spur city councils and state legislatures to enact higher minimum wages or living wage provisions for workers in specified sectors. At Tuesday’s night annual Hillman Prize...

How Unions Are Getting Their Groove Back

flickr/ Chris Dilts
Yesterday—April 24th — was a red-letter day in the annals of worker mobilization in post-collective-bargaining America. In Chicago, hundreds of fast-food and retail employees who work in the Loop and along the Magnificent Mile called a one-day strike and demonstrated for a raise to $15-an-hour and the right to form a union. At more than 150 Wal-Mart stores across the nation, workers and community activists called on the chain to regularize employees’ work schedules. And under pressure from an AFL-CIO-backed campaign of working-class voters who primarily aren’t union members, the county supervisors of New Mexico’s Bernalillo County voted to raise the local minimum wage. The Chicago demonstration, which began in the dawn’s early light of 5:30 a.m., included workers at McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Subway, as well as Macy’s, Sears, and Victoria’s Secret, all of whom make the state minimum wage ($8.25) or just slightly more. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Chicago are low-wage, and...

As Wal-Mart Swallows China's Economy, Workers Fight Back

Strikes continue to erupt in Asia.

Imaginechina via AP Images
Imaginechina via AP Images O n any given day, go to the Shenzhen Wal-Mart in the city's Yuanling neighborhood, and you may find a stocky man in his early fifties in front of its doors, draped in a banner that reads, in Chinese characters, “Support the just demands of workers.” Ask him why he's there, and he will tell you that he used to work at the Wal-Mart, that he was unjustly fired for organizing other workers and protesting deteriorating work conditions, and that he's fighting to get his job back. “A lot of people said I should just leave. But my skin is really thick, and I didn’t want to leave the company. I still had faith that things could and would change,” Wang said. “I asked myself, how should I protect my rights? How can this unfair situation be made right?” The answer he found, he said, was organizing along with his fellow workers and now, continuing to stage his weekly protests. While he usually protests alone, Wang Shishu's is one of a growing number of Wal-Mart workers...

Where's the Change?

AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke
AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File T he Democratic Party’s long-term prospects have dramatically improved since the November election. They will control the White House for another four years. The Republicans, who lost the total vote for the House of Representatives, remain captive of an unpopular reactionary right wing. The “Obama Coalition” of minorities and single women is growing faster than the GOP’s white male base. If demography is destiny, Democrats—and the progressive interests that they are supposed represent in the two-party system—are the wave of the future. But the American dream is about upward mobility. Ultimately, “The economy, Stupid” trumps identity politics. If the Democrats are not the champions of expanding jobs and incomes for the majority of voters who work for a living—whatever their gender, color, or sexual orientation—their claim to being the natural majority party will amount to little. So it made political sense that Barack Obama began his 2013 State of the Union...

The Keystone Fight's Labor Pains

The battle over the tar sands pipeline among unions has been XL on drama.

AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File
AP Photo/Nati Harnik “F or too long we have allowed some corporations to hold a gun to our heads and demand that we choose jobs or choose the earth.” That’s what Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers International Union of North America, told green groups and fellow unions at a green-jobs conference in February 2009, just a few months after the union—one of the largest in the country—joined the Blue-Green Alliance, a group organized to advocate for a “clean economy.” But by January 2012, O’Sullivan had made a choice. The climate bill had failed, the money from the recovery act had run out, political tides had turned against government spending, and the union was no longer so keen to partner with the environmental movement. “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” O’Sullivan said. This heady “job killer” rhetoric...

Why the AFL-CIO Is Embracing Immigration Reform

Flickr/Old Shoe Woman
Flickr/Old Shoe Woman Their agreement is very preliminary and hasn’t yet even been blessed by the so-called Gang of Eight Senators working on immigration reform, but the mere fact that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue agreed on anything is remarkable. The question is whether it’s a good deal for American workers. It is, and I’ll explain why in a moment. Under the agreement (arrived at last weekend) a limited number of temporary visas would be issued to foreign workers in low-skilled occupations, who could thereafter petition to become American citizens. The agreement is an important step toward a comprehensive immigration reform package to be introduced in the Senate later this month. Disagreement over allowing in low-skilled workers helped derail immigration reform in 2007. The unions don’t want foreign workers to take jobs away from Americans or depress American wages, while business groups obviously want the lowest-priced workers...

Forty Years Behind on Sick-Leave Policy, But Catching Up

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer Emilio Palaguachi, center, speaks at a rally at New York's City Hall to call for a vote on paid-sick-days legislation, which has been held up by I t’s too late for Tonisha Howard , the mother of three in Milwaukee who was fired for leaving work to be with her hospitalized two-year-old. And for Felix Trinidad , who was so afraid of losing his job at Golden Farm fruit store in Brooklyn that he didn’t take time off to go to the doctor—even after he vomited blood. Trinidad, a father of two who had stomach cancer, continued to work until just days before his death at age 34. But for workers in Portland and perhaps Philadelphia, paid sick days just got much closer to becoming reality. Last Wednesday, the city council in Portland, Oregon, voted unanimously for a bill granting most employees up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. On Thursday, the Philadelphia City Council passed a similar law—and, with only one vote short of a veto-proof majority, advocates are...

The Women Behind the Wheel

A look into the life of female cab drivers in New York City, the last story in a three-part series.

Dolores Benitez
This is the last story in a three-part series on the life of immigrant workers in New York CIty. Here is Part One , on Chinese delivery workers, and Part Two on Latino construction workers. D ozens of taxi drivers are waiting to be issued their cabs at a taxi-leasing garage in Queensbridge, New York, a neighborhood just across the river from Manhattan. It is raining lightly, weather that could make for a busier-than-usual Sunday-night shift. Mohamed, a Pakistani driver, begins to tell Dolores Benítez about the $650 he had paid to a private yellow-cab owner in New Jersey to lease his vehicle for a week. Mohamed did not get a receipt and before the term of his lease was up, the owner took the car back and would not return his calls. Benítez, the only female cab driver at the garage and one of the 1 percent of women working in the industry in New York City, has been listening to the drivers’ problems and offering solutions during her half-hour wait. She migrated from Honduras in 1976 and...

Men at Work

A look into the life of Latino construction workers in New York City, the second in a three-part series.

Sujatha Fernandes
This is the second story in a three-part series on the life of immigrant workers in New York CIty. Here is Part One , on Chinese delivery workers. F or ten months between October 2010 and August 2011, a Korean contractor named Bong Jun Park** hired a group of eight Latino construction workers to excavate the basement of a building in upper Manhattan. The workers were required to break the existing cement floor, excavate eight to ten feet of earth beneath it, and then pour cement for the new foundation. Many of the workers were undocumented, and none were unionized. According to the workers, they were not given the proper equipment required to carry out the work, as they say often happens on such sites. While the initial concrete floor was broken up with a jackhammer, the workers were required to use pickaxes and shovels to ply it out. The task of digging up the earth was done by hand.* There was not even a conveyor belt to carry out the buckets of excavated dirt. Instead, workers...

The Once and Future Gov

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
AP Photo/Eric Risberg A merica’s most futuristic governor seems borne back ceaselessly into the past these days. As he shows me around his office on a crisp winter morning, California Governor Jerry Brown points out not just the desk that his father, Edmund “Pat” Brown, used during his own term as governor from 1959 to 1967 but also photos of his grandparents and his great-grandfather, who came to California in the gold rush years. “He knew John Sutter,” Brown says. The only two governors in the past half-century who were native Californians, he points out, were he and his father. At 74, Brown has lost little of the intensity that impressed and occasionally discomfited voters during his first tenure as governor nearly 40 years ago. His outfit—an open-collar shirt under a white pullover sweater, blue jeans—may be West Coast casual, his shaved head may call to mind the Zen monks with whom he’s studied, but Brown’s emotional repertoire does not include laid-back, except when he’s talking...

The Maximum Impact of the Minimum Wage

AP Photo/Mike Groll
Cristina Romer, Berkeley economics professor and the former head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, passed judgment on the merits of raising the minimum wage in Saturday’s New York Times , and in the process made clear why she wasn’t a member of the president’s de facto council of political advisers. She argued, as some mainstream economists do, that the merits of a heightened minimum wage were slight—that it may, for instance, raise prices, offsetting the gain to low-wage workers. The better solution, she argues, is to raise the earned income tax credit (EITC)—the government’s payment to the working poor—and to support universal pre-K education. “Why settle for half-measures,” she concludes (by which she means raising the minimum wage), “when such truly first-rate policies [by which she means the EITC and pre-K schooling] are well understood and ready to go?” Ready to go? Congressional Republicans are rarin’ to increase government spending on the working poor and...

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