Labor

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...

Defending the Right to Treat Your Employees Like Dirt

Papa Johns? More like Papa Jerk's! Thank you, I'll be here all week. (Flickr/jumbledpile)
Getting tired of eating at Chick-Fil-A every day to express your hatred of liberals? Well, now you have a couple more options. You can chow down at Applebee's, where the CEO of their New York franchises went on TV to declare that he won't be doing more hiring because of the costs Obamacare would impose. Or you can head over to Papa John's, whose CEO, John Schnatter, has said that Obamacare could add as much as—brace yourself—10 cents to the cost of a pizza, and since obviously customers would never tolerate such price gouging, he'll just have to cut back employees' hours. In our new era of corporate political activism, we're goin to be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing. So let's make sure we all understand exactly what it is these chieftains are complaining about: They don't want to give their employees health insurance . That's it. They'd prefer to talk about "regulation" in some general sense, so you might get the impression that Obamacare is making them needlessly remodel...

Progressives: The Biggest Winners of State Ballot Measures

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Liberals had a lot to celebrate on election night, from the outcome of the presidential race to a number of major Senate wins. But less noticed on the whole was the stunning display of progressive power in ballot measures across the country. From gay marriage to marijuana legalization, from teachers unions to school funding, voters on the whole supported a progressive agenda in the 2012 election. State policy not only carries major implications for the lives of state residents, it also helps set the stage for national debates on issues . In a number of states, voters were deciding the direction of public education; in others, the fate of union power. Election night brought some big victories for liberals, albeit with a few defeats. Here are the most notable winners and losers. WINNERS Teachers Over the cries of teachers' groups, legislatures around the country have passed a number of reform laws, expanding the role of testing and decreasing educators' contract protections. But on...

Get Out the Union Vote

(Flickr/Wisconsin AFL-CIO/Justin Geiger)
Despite setbacks in several states, the American labor movement came out a clear winner in Tuesday’s elections. Most important, they played a key role in ensuring the re-election of President Obama, and contributed significantly to Democratic Senate victories in hotly contested races in Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia. How effective were the unions’ massive voter-education and mobilization programs in the swing states? This year, for the first time, the network exit polling didn’t ask whether respondents were union members, though it did ask if there was a union member in their household. Historically, while union-household voters are more pro-Democratic than voters with no union members at home, the gap is smaller than that between actual union members and non-members. Also historically, union membership doesn’t make much of a difference among, say, African-American women, who are going to vote Democratic at a 95-percent rate whether or not they belong to a union. Where...

Workers Won! An Election Fly-Around

(Flickr/uusc4all)
There’s no question that Tuesday’s elections brought some significant wins for working people. I’m not talking about the candidates—although national political reporters are busy acknowledging Obama’s reelection as a clear sign that “ labor ain’t dead ” and pondering the policy implications of victories for pro-worker politicians like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown—but rather thinking about the ballot initiatives, where in several votes across the country voters spoke out clearly in favor of raising workplace standards and preserving rights on the job. We can speculate about exactly what candidates will do once in office, but it seems certain that many working people will benefit from higher wages, improved benefits, and a right to a voice at work as a direct result of the following ballot measures: In Albuquerque, New Mexico, 40,000 low-wage workers in will get a pay boost as voters in the city overwhelmingly cast their ballots in favor of an increase in the municipal minimum wage. In...

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Former California governor Pete Wilson with his wife Gayle in 1995. During his tenure, Wilson promoted Proposition 187, which would have denied all public services to undocumented immigrants—a move that is credited with turning Latinos in the state against the GOP. O ver the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any...

Follow the Money—Where?

During the past few hours in California, the new model of Republican/Big Money campaign finance has become clear. It’s the Russian Doll model—every time you think you’re about to identify the source of a major contribution, you open it up and lo! There’s another doll that you have to open up and lo! There’s another … To move from the metaphoric to the actual, the contribution in question here was an $11 million check that came in several weeks ago to a Sacramento-based right-wing business organization called the Small Business Action Committee that is running a campaign against Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which would raise taxes chiefly on wealthy Californians in order to keep school and public-university budgets from falling through the floor, and the campaign for Proposition 32, which would make it much harder for unions to access their members’ dues for their political activities. The Sacramento organization, required by California law to reveal the source of the...

Unions Fighting Two-Front War on California Ballots

Flickr/quinn.anya
This is the eighth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year. It’s been a bad year for California unions. Republicans have never been fans of the labor movement , and now state Democratic support is waning. In September, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a pension reform plan that will force union members to work longer for fewer benefits, and vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights , an AFL-CIO-backed bill that would have given labor rights to domestic workers. And earlier this month, Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed child care workers to unionize . In cities like San Jose and Los Angeles—both Democrat-leaning cities with Democratic mayors—unions are fighting more losing battles against pension reform. In this election, state unions were forced to open a new front—at the ballot box. California ballot Proposition 32 puts labor in even deeper trouble, and could leave the movement effectively silenced. And even if labor kills the...

Ohio's Brown Revolution

(Flickr/SEIU)
United States Senator Sherrod Brown is wearing Velcro strap sneakers. They are distinctly geriatric in flavor, black and sturdy-looking, the sort that might be found in the “Mall Walking” section of the shoe wall at FootLocker. Brown is wearing them with a suit. On stage. At a big Teamsters rally a couple of weeks before Election Day. Say what you will about Brown—and plenty has been said about the liberal bête noire of national conservatives during this election cycle—but the man certainly has his own distinct brand of business casual. And in his fierce race to maintain his Senate seat against Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel, it just might be Brown’s brand of who-gives-a-hoot sartorial schlump and off-the-cuff crankiness that is winning Ohio voters over. His opponent is a trim, smooth-faced 35-year-old Iraq War veteran who favors pin-neat suits and a crisp haircut reminiscent of a Marine buzz. Mandel stands in stark physical contrast to the 59-year-old Brown, who sports an...

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