Contracting Out Public Services Worsens Inequality and Lowers Wages

by Gregory N. Heires

Decision_contract_outContracting out public services—which aims to help the federal, state and local governments save tax dollars—often has a harmful effect on the community, including worsening inequality and lowering wages.

A recent study, “The Decision to Contract Out: Understanding the Full Economic and Social Impacts,” finds that the savings of outsourcing varies widely and often diminish over time. The study, by Daphne T. Greenwood of the Colorado Center for Policy Studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, concludes that contracting out undermines our democratic principals by leading to corruption and less control over public funds.

“While reducing costs is most often the motive for outsourcing, a growing body of research documents that savings are minimal, on average,” the report says. “It is also not unusual for total costs to be greater when performed by private contracting firms than they were in-house.”

Studies show that contracting out typically leads to short-term savings of 5 to 10 percent. Over time, the savings often diminish because of a lack of competition and other factors.  Continue reading

Striking Workers Shame Prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital Over Low Pay

by Bruce Vail

On Wednesday, union workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital began a three day strike, demanding higher wages. With their current pay, many workers qualify for food stamps.   (Rae Rawls)

On Wednesday, union workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital began a three day strike, demanding higher wages. With their current pay, many workers qualify for food stamps. (Rae Rawls)

Some 2,000 union workers went out on strike Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in a protest aimed primarily at exposing low wages at Baltimore’s second biggest employer and one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals.

Members of 1199SEIU United Health Workers East hit the picket lines at 6:00 a.m. April 9 for a three-day strike provoked by a stalemate in negotiations for a new contract to cover the union workers. The previous contract expired March 31, and renewal talks earlier this week stalled on the key issue of raising wages, according to 1199SEIU spokesperson Jim McNeill.

Hospital executives had received a ten-day warning of the strike, says 1199SEIU Vice President Vanessa Johnson, so there was ample time to ensure that patient care would not be adversely affected. Union members are primarily in maintenance and food service, with some technical workers such as surgical techs. Operations at the enormous Hopkins medical complex are reported to be near-normal with non-union nurses, administrators and temporaries filling in for the unionized strikers. Hopkins spokesperson Kim Hoppe would not respond to repeated inquiries for additional information from Working In These Times.

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Remembering Martin Luther King: Rallying for the Robin Hood Tax

by Bill Barclay

Bill Barclay speaking at Chicago RHT rally

Bill Barclay speaking at Chicago RHT rally

April 4th was the Fiftieth anniversary of an event that we don’t like to remember: the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But, it also offers the chance to honor and carry forward MLK’s thinking and goals, particularly the concerns with poverty and inequality that he articulated with increasing intensity in the last years of his life.

So, on April 4th there was a national mobilization around the Robin Hood Tax (RHT), the proposal for a very small tax on financial transactions in stocks, currencies, debt and derivatives, futures and options based on these financial claims. The RHT has two goals: raising a large amount of money to reconstruct the U.S. political economy in a way that serves most of the population and at, the same time, restricting or even eliminating some of the most destructive aspects of finance and financial activities by throwing a small amount of sand into the gears of always increasing and always going faster treading volumes.

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The UAW’s Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant Will Not End the Southern Auto Organizing Drive

by Paul Garver

Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference by anti-union special interest groups and right-wing politicians, on 21st February the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians and wealthy anti-union organizations.

The success of the UAW’s novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would  prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by some workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed organizing efforts by pro-union VW workers and their families can succeed.

I went away from a workshop with renewed hope at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago addressed by Volkswagon workers  and by Chris Brooks, of Chattanooga Organized for Action.  The workers and Chris explained with passion and clear analytical thinking how the union came close to victory, only to be blindsided by a massive anti-union campaign fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from shadowy outside special interests.

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Welcoming China’s labor federation back into the global union family?

TU vs. workers

by Eric Lee

[Ed. Note: This image shows strikebreakers sent by the local union federation attacking young striking workers at a Honda parts plant in 2010  The local union  was forced to apologize and a higher level federation officer helped negotiate higher wages at the plant.  A wave of strikes at auto parts plants in China followed.  -Paul Garver]

At the end of March, the International Labour Organisation’s Bureau for Workers Activities (known as ILO-ACTRAV) and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) signed a Memorandum of Understanding “to promote Trade unions South-South Cooperation in the Asia- Pacific region”.

The Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder, said “we need to find a way which so that the ACFTU can work more closely with other parts of the international trade union movement, sharing common objectives.”

Ryder is a former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which has decided to invite the ACFTU to attend its upcoming World Congress in Berlin in May.

These two events illustrate the fact that the trade union leadership in much of the developed world now seems keen on putting the past behind us and welcoming China’s trade unions back into our “global family”.

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Review of Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance

by Joe Burns

LoW fcover pf5

Many times in discussing labor issues the tendency is to focus on policy issues or major events far removed from the workplace. In Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance, a couple dozen workers from the US, Canada and Great Britain, loosely affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, seek to turn the conversation in a different direction—to tell stories of work and the workplace. Sometimes they talk about workplace struggles and resistance; sometimes they talk about their jobs and work. There is something refreshing about this approach.

The book contains over thirty chapters with stories ranging from a warehouse worker’s fight against speedup to a clerical worker’s struggle to make her liberal boss at small non-profit understand her class privilege to a liquor store worker’s organizing against sexual harassment. Some of the stories are about organizing campaigns, such as Starbuck workers, others are about personal battles with victories as small as getting workers to celebrate each other’s birthdays over the boss’ objection. All, however, are up close and personal and share a common perspective that talking about time spent at work is important.

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College Football Players Win Right to Unionize

By Gregory N. Heires

Cain Kolter

Kain Colter

Last week’s regional National Labor Relations Board ruling that college football plays are workers opens up the possibility for a wave of organizing in collegiate sports.

The ruling that players at Northwestern University with athletic scholarships have the right to vote on whether they want a union challenges the “student-athlete” principle whereby players receive scholarships in exchange for competing in sports on behalf of their schools.

“The NCAA invented the term student-athlete to prevent the exact ruling that was made today,” said Ramogia Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, after NLRB Region 13 Director Peter Sung Ohr issued his ruling on March 26. CAPA filed the case along with Kain Colter, a former quarterback of the Northwestern Wildcats football team. Continue reading

How a Leftist Labor Union Helped Force Tunisia’s Political Settlement

chayes_color_medium1

by Sarah Chayes
Democracy and the Rule of Law Program
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

[Editorial note:  Over the last three years, Talking Union has run several articles on the constructive role that independent labor unions have played in creating  the underpinnings for the emerging democratic society in Tunisia,which continues to be  a positive accomplishment of the Arab Spring - Paul Garver]

Summary
Without the muscular involvement of a powerful labor union, it is unlikely that Tunisia’s remarkable political settlement would have come about.

On a Saturday afternoon last October, in an ornate, scarlet-draped convention center bedecked with flags and white flowers, Tunisian labor leader Houcine Abbassi presided over a signing ceremony that would mark his country’s destiny and perhaps that of the Arab world. “Thank you for heeding the nation’s call,” he told the leaders of two dozen political parties, before each stood to sign what has come to be called the Road Map.

The event almost came off the rails. Some politicians were shocked to discover upon arriving that they would be forced to sign the document in front of television cameras—and thus be bound by its terms. On a tight calendar, the text called for three giant steps: the resignation of Tunisia’s entire cabinet and the appointment of a nonpartisan prime minister tasked to put together a new one, the formation of an independent election commission, and the modification and approval of a draft constitution.

With handcuffs like these lying open before him, the head of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, balked. The Road Map, in his view, was merely a “basis for discussion.” For three hours, as participants and witnesses and journalists grew confused and impatient in the main hall, Abbassi tousled with Ghannouchi offstage, at last extracting an agreement to sign.

And what was a labor union doing in the thick of politics? Everything, it turns out.

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The End of Work

by Sarah Jaffe

In a major victory for a long-running campaign,  port truck drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation in California have won the right to be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and to form a union.

That ruling, by Region 21 of the National Labor Relations Board, that the truckers had been misclassified as “independent contractors”   comes after months of sustained actions, including strikes, by port truckers.  It comes in an industry where union jobs were the standard until deregulation turned all workers into “free agents.” Free agency, they quickly found, didn’t come with much freedom, as they still had their hours and working conditions dictated by the company for whom they worked–but it came with a price tag. The cost of gas, truck maintenance and licenses landed on their shoulders instead of their employers’.

It’s in this context that I’m thinking about the “end of jobs as we know them.”

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Reflections on the defeat suffered by the TN workers in Volkswagen

by Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Bill Fletcher (Feb 18 , 2014) The election loss at the Chattanooga plant of VW was, first and foremost, a loss suffered by the workers.  Secondarily it was a loss suffered by the United Auto Workers.  The workers at that facility lost the chance to bargain collectively and to obtain a voice in their workplace.  This was a loss that was mainly the result of the all-out right-wing offensive that took place in TN against the workers and their–the workers’–decision to seek representation. And, as is the case for all workers who lack collective bargaining (or the even rarer personal contract), they remain in a free-fire zone where they can be removed from their job for any reason or no reason as long as the reason does not violate statute.   I am sorry; i just needed to cut to the chase.

Yet, we cannot stop there with our reflections on what transpired.  This was a situation where the company–VW–agreed to be neutral and, in many ways,seemed to welcome the union.  Nevertheless, by a relatively slim majority, the proponents of workers’ rights did not prevail.   This reality emphasizes the point that employer neutrality, while important, is insufficient.  There are larger factors at stake when workers must make a decision on union representation, particularly in a period where labor unions have been under such vicious assault.  The decision, in this case, of the Republican Party and others on the political Right to draw a line in the sand and go all out to intimidate the workforce is a case-in-point.  The workers, their families and friends had to decide whether the threats coming from the political Right were genuine or just rhetoric.  Given the history of anti-worker repression in the South, along with the on-going racist efforts to secure a ‘white bloc’ against progress, the messages of the political Right came through loud and clear. Continue reading

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