Labor

Solis Steps Down

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File
There has never been a more pro-worker Secretary of Labor than Hilda Solis, who announced yesterday that she’s stepping down from her cabinet post. But for much of her tenure, she was swimming upstream—confronting not just most anti-labor congressional Republicans in modern American history, but also an Obama White House inner circle that she, like many of her fellow cabinet members, never really permeated. Within those considerable constraints, Solis did what she could to get the federal government to intervene on workers’ behalf. Unable to advance many new policies, however, that often meant enforcing established pro-worker policies with uncommon vigor. During her tenure, the Labor Department collected record amounts of back pay for workers cheated by their employers, and moved to strengthen mine-safety inspections. The administration also announced new regulations that would bring nearly 2 million home-care workers under the coverage of the federal minimum-wage law, but,...

Just What Workers Need: More Labor Civil War

AP Photo/Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Rachel Denny Clow
As a rule, most merger or affiliation announcements between two organizations tend to the celebratory: Each group brings a proud history and now have joined together to create an even prouder future, yadda yadda. But not last Thursday’s press release from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA), which proclaimed its affiliation with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in an announcement largely devoted to attacking the presumed perfidy of the Service Employees International Union, with which NUHW has been engaged in a prolonged blood feud that puts the Hatfields and McCoys to shame. Broadly speaking, SEIU and CNA are the nation’s two pre-eminent health-care worker unions, with CNA the leading organization of registered nurses and SEIU representing close to one million hospital orderlies and nursing home attendants. In 2009, after the two groups had waged a number of bitter organizing campaigns against each other for the right to represent the same...

Watching Wal-Mart’s Warehouses

AP Photo/Noah Berger
Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported that Wal-Mart “is planning to monitor subcontractors’ U.S. warehouses, in the same way it tries to police conditions at suppliers’ factories around the globe.” For the more than half-million Americans who work in warehouses like those that supply Wal-Mart—the Labor Department puts their number at 672,000—this is modestly good news. As the Prospect has been reporting since 2009, Wal-Mart and America’s other discount retailers don’t employ their warehouse workers directly. In the Ontario-Fontana exurbs of Los Angeles, where half the imports that come into the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors are trucked to be unloaded, arranged on pallets, and retrucked to Wal-Mart and kindred stores for a thousand miles around, the warehouses themselves are owned by property management companies, and they’re run by logistics companies with which Wal-Mart and other retailers contract. But the logistics companies aren’t the workers’ employers of record. Rather,...

States of Play

Flickr/Paul Weaver
If you’d forgotten just how much state legislatures impact citizens’ day-to-day lives, 2012 was a year full of reminders. From unions to health care to basic civil rights, states have a tremendous amount of power in shaping public policy. That’s no secret to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which offers model bills lawmakers can introduce and has pushed issues like voter ID and the “Stand Your Ground” bills that many believed helped pave the way for the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis shootings in Florida. Thanks to a whistleblower and Common Cause, a nonpartisan good government group that supports a variety of reforms to campaign finance and lobbying, a number of ALEC’s tactics were exposed this year, and many lawmakers and corporate members dropped their affiliation with the controversial group this year. Many state debates took on national significance this year, especially those involving birth control, abortion, and unions. Both the right and the left...

For Unions, It Was a Very Bad Year

AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young
AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Capitol Rotunda in Lansing, Michigan to protest "right to work" legislation being considered by the Republican-controlled legislature. A merican labor can begin the new year with thanks that 2012 is over. Not that the unions didn’t win some big victories in 2012. Their political programs in key swing states played a major role in President Obama’s re-election, both by turning out minority voters in record numbers in Ohio, Nevada, and Florida and by winning Obama a higher share of white, working-class voters in the industrial Midwest than he won in other regions. Their efforts also helped liberal Democrats hold key Senate seats in Ohio (Sherrod Brown) and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin), and pick up Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren). In California, the nation’s mega-state, unions beat back a ballot measure designed to cripple their political programs by a decisive 12.5-percent margin, turning out so many voters that they...

It’s a Mad, Mad Michigan

Right-to-work legislation was only the beginning. State Republicans have an entire docket full of legislation set to limit rights.

(AP Photo/The Detroit News, Elizabeth Conley)
Sure, lame-duck legislatures are bound to be a bit mad. But the session that just closed in Michigan was one for the ages. Aflush with the flurry of bills sent to the desk of Governor Rick Snyder—not so much speaking to his opinion on their quality—a politics-loving friend of mine in Detroit exclaimed, “It’s like Christmas in … well, in December.” The swift passage of right-to-work in Michigan picked up national and international headlines last week. But that overhaul of labor law is only one piece of the expansive legislative plan for the state that now awaits Snyder’s go-ahead. The lame-duck session was the final and powerful display of influence by GOP and Tea Party lawmakers that had a total and triumphant win in the 2010 election. Even as Michigan’s reputation as a “swing state” is diminishing—it’s voted Democratic for president since 1992, and both its U.S. senators are Democrats—local politics remain fractious. Not only does the GOP dominate both chambers in the state...

Political Punishment as Policy

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Michigan is about to become a right-to-work state and according to Republicans, labor brought it on itself. That’s because on the November ballot, labor groups put a measure to enshrine collective-bargaining rights into the state Constitution. The measure failed, but for daring to wage the campaign, the unions need to be punished, it seems. Governor Rick Snyder previously avoided right-to-work legislation. "One of my concerns was about raising the whole profile of the discussion about labor issues," Snyder said in an interview with MLive . “I said it could stir up the whole topic that we're discussing right now—right to work—or freedom to choose is the way I prefer to look at it.” Greg McNeilly, who runs the pro-right to work PAC Michigan Freedom Fund, put it even more bluntly. “Bob King put this on the agenda,” he told The Washington Post , referencing the president of the state’s most powerful union, the United Auto Workers. “He threatened this state [with the constitutional...

This Is Not Wisconsin. It's Worse.

Sheldon Dick/Farm Security Administration
Sheldon Dick/Farm Security Administration Strikers guarding window entrance to Fisher body plant number three in Flint, Michigan (1937) L et’s clear one thing up. “Right to work” laws, which permit employees working at a unionized workplace to refuse to join the union or to pay the union the cost of representing the worker, are designed to weaken the economic and political power of organized labor and, by extension, wage workers. Full stop. They allow workers to “free ride” all the benefits of a collective-bargaining agreement (increased wages, benefits, rights to adjudicate a dispute with a supervisor, safety and health requirement beyond those mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, etc.) negotiated by the union without paying any of the union dues their fellow employees pay. The vaunted libertarian argument in support of right to work would be far more convincing if libertarians supported the rights of employees to reject at their discretion the countless...

Home Is Where the Union Is

E. Tammy Kim
E. Tammy Kim Members of Damayan, a migrant domestic-worker organization in New York City T welve years ago, "Janie"—a round-faced, single mother of four—said goodbye to her children and life as she knew it in Manila. She agreed to follow a family to the U.S., where she would fulfill a contract for live-in domestic work. In her employers' Pennsylvania home, she cleaned and cared for the children seven days a week, 24 hours a day, without any days off. Her employers held her passport, and kept her at home—not once in seven years did she see friends or family. And her pay was a fraction of the minimum wage: a mere $400 per month, most of which she sent to the Philippines. When her employers moved, Janie, who asked that her real name not be used for legal reasons, found another job. She negotiated a better salary but met a new challenge: constant verbal harassment by her employer's mother. She recalls, "I cannot bear it anymore. I'm nothing to [them]. So they gave me pay, and I said I had...

Michigan: A Right-to-Work State?

AP Photo
AP Photo/Detroit News/Dale G. Young Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Rotunda at the Capitol in Lansing, Michigan after House and Senate Democrats said there was a possibility of "Right To Work" legislation coming up for a vote. L abor never ruled Michigan as such. It may have been home to the best and biggest American union, the United Auto Workers, but even at the height of their power, the UAW could seldom elect its candidates to Detroit city government. Still, the UAW dominated the state’s Democratic Party and much of state politics for decades—at least, until the auto industry radically downsized. Just how downsized union power has become is apparent from the decision of the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, to support a right-to-work bill that began speeding its way through the state’s lame-duck GOP-controlled legislature on Thursday. Should the bill become law—and given Republican control of state government, it’s hard to envision how it won’t—Michigan would join...

Marvin Miller's Lasting Legacy

The first leader of the MLB players union helped dramatically transform labor relations not just in baseball—but in all of America's professional sports. 

(AP Photo)
While he was alive, the baseball establishment five times rejected Marvin Miller, who freed players from indentured servitude, from its Hall of Fame. The Major League Baseball Players Association, which Miller headed from 1966 to 1983, sat on its hands, failing to raise a stink about this outrageous miscarriage of justice. Miller, who died on Tuesday at 95, was never bitter about his exclusion from the Cooperstown shrine. As a staunch unionist, he knew which side he was on and understood that the baseball owners and executives who control the Hall of Fame would rig the rules to keep him out. The baseball moguls have always viewed their teams as personal fiefdoms and are among the most ferociously anti-union crowd around. But what’s appalling is the timidity of the Players Association to mount a campaign on Miller’s behalf. Over the years, many Hall of Fame players—including Tom Seaver, Joe Morgan, Brooks Robinson, Bert Blyleven, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, and Reggie Jackson—have...

Fast Food Shouldn't Mean Low Wages

(Flickr/GenBug)
From Burger King to Walmart , the low-wage workers we depend on to staff America’s consumption-driven economy are tired of being overworked and underpaid, and they are letting their bosses know. Early this morning, fast-food workers in New York City went on strike across more than half a dozen chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Papa John’s. Backed by community groups like New York Communities for Change , United NY , and the Black Institute , as well as various representatives of religious organizations, fast food workers are asking for a chance to work with dignity in an industry notorious for its fast pace, low wages , and often erratic scheduling. Also notorious for high turnover , fast food workers have historically had a difficult time organizing for better conditions. As reported by Steve Greenhouse at The New York Times : Leaders of the effort said that workers were walking off the job to protest what they said were low wages and...

Why You Shouldn't Shop at Wal-Mart on Friday

(Flickr/Laurie O'Findy)
A half century ago America’s largest private-sector employer was General Motors, whose full-time workers earned an average hourly wage of around $50, in today’s dollars, including health and pension benefits. Today, America’s largest employer is Wal-Mart, whose average employee earns $8.81 an hour. A third of Wal-Mart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits. There are many reasons for the difference—including globalization and technological changes that have shrunk employment in American manufacturing while enlarging it in sectors involving personal services, such as retail. But one reason, closely related to this seismic shift, is the decline of labor unions in the United States. In the 1950s, over a third of private-sector workers belonged to a union. Today fewer than 7 percent do. As a result, the typical American worker no longer has the bargaining clout to get a sizeable share of corporate profits. At the peak of its power and influence in the...

Wal-Mart: Always Low Wages

Employees are planning a walkout on Black Friday, and that's only the beginning.

(Elise Amendola/AP)
(AP Photo) I n the last few months, an unprecedented wave of labor unrest has shaken the retail giant Wal-Mart and its far-reaching supply chain. While the number of employees taking part in walkouts has been limited to the low hundreds , workers and labor activists are mounting pressure and threatening to stage a company-wide strike on Black Friday—the busiest shopping day of the year. The Black Friday walkout is being organized by the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Walmart), a group of Wal-Mart employees formed last year that works closely with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, or UFCW. OUR Walmart, which organized walkouts in October, is pushing for better working conditions, benefits, and an end to alleged retaliation by management. The Black Friday strike would add yet another chapter to a wave of worker protests across Wal-Mart’s supply chain. It all began in June when a group of immigrant guest workers at a Wal-Mart seafood supplier in Louisiana...

The Great Society's Next Frontier

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) A copy of H.R. 3200, America Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, sits on the desk of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California. A s The Washington Post ’s Ezra Klein declared shortly after voters re-elected President Barack Obama, one of the major winners last week was health-care reform. With Democrats holding on to the Senate and the White House, Republicans will be unable to repeal the law before all of its provisions go into effect in 2014—after which, the theory goes, the public will come to accept that government has the responsibility to ensure health care is available for all. This is the end of a long battle for progressives: Health care has been the major missing piece of our welfare state for nearly a century, and for decades making it part of our system of social insurance has been a primary goal of politicians, think tanks, and activists. With this piece of the progressive puzzle in place, the natural...

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