When Workers Fight: NUHW Wins Battle with Kaiser

National Union of Healthcare Workers

National Union of Healthcare Workers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Cal Winslow, Beyond Chron

The therapists, counselors, and social workers at Kaiser Permanente in California have won a magnificent victory. In a last minute retreat, in the face of an open-ended strike, Kaiser, the giant California health care corporation, settled with 1400 workers and their union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

The therapists’ victory is a landmark, in healthcare and above all in mental healthcare. The bottom line: these workers have won patient care ratios, they’ve won the right to advocate for patients, and they won these in a context of a nationwide drive to cut costs and press productivity in an industry awash in cash.

For Barry Kamil, a psychologist with 34 years experience at Kaiser in Richmond, CA, “It’s an historic victory. It puts our union in the forefront of the movement for getting mental health care on par with medical care.  Kaiser’s resistance has been unbelievable; they wanted to eliminate us as a union.”

The Kaiser workers won on economic demands as well; 6 % the first year, 4.5% plus bonuses in the second and third years of a three year contract. They protected their pension benefits; Kaiser – what’s new – proposed erasing their defined benefit plan.
Continue reading

Undocumented Immigrants and the New Gilded Age

by Martin Kich


An article written by David Chen and published in the New York Times  on 26th November included the following statistics on construction-related deaths and injuries in New York City:

“Seven workers have died on the job since July, including three in a nine-day stretch before Labor Day, according to records of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

“The city’s Buildings Department keeps its own count of construction deaths, injuries and accidents, offering a broader look at safety year over year. There were 10 construction-related fatalities in the most recent fiscal year, from July 2014 to July 2015, according to city figures. In contrast, the annual average over the previous four years was 5.5.

“Meanwhile, 324 workers were injured in the last fiscal year, a jump of 53 percent, and the Buildings Department recorded 314 accidents over all, an increase of 52 percent from the year before. The total was more than two and a half times what the city tallied in 2011. In comparison, permits for new construction projects grew by only 11 percent in the last fiscal year and permits for renovation and other work by 6 percent.”

Because the city is experiencing another building boom, the number of workers employed in construction has increased; so, one might expect some increase in the number of fatalities and injuries on construction sites.

But, as Chen points out, when one examines the cases more closely, it is very clear that many, if not most, of the deaths and injuries are attributable to three easily addressed factors:

1. A very high percentage of those killed and injured have been undocumented immigrants.

2. A very high percentage of those undocumented immigrants have had no training in the building trades.

3. A very high percentage of the deaths and injuries have involved falls or falling objects in which the workers were not taking such basic precautions as wearing safety harnesses or hard hats.

Meanwhile, the fines and other penalties imposed on the construction companies that have employed these undocumented and untrained workers and that have ignored the most basic safety rules for building sites have been extremely minimal. Very clearly, reduced construction costs for the owners of the buildings and increased profits for those doing the building have had priority over enforcing workplace safety laws, requiring certification of even the most basic worker training, and enforcing laws meant to prevent the exploitation of workers who are undocumented immigrants.

And all of this is occurring in New York State, which still has the highest rate of unionization in the nation, with a quarter of the workforce being unionized.

For all of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the Red states, imagine the level of exploitation of undocumented immigrants that is almost certainly occurring in states such as Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona.

This is what deregulation means. This is what the evisceration of labor law means. This is what comes from the weakening and elimination of labor unions. This is what results from political hypocrisy and the broader failure of the media to perform its most basic function in exposing such hypocrisy.

David Chen’s article is more notable today than it might have been in the relatively recent past not only because labor unions were much stronger and helped to limit such abuses but also because the article represents a type of investigative journalism that is very rapidly disappearing. In July 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that, since 2003, there has been a 53% decline in the number of reporters assigned to cover our statehouses.

The increasing corporatization of American media has paralleled the increasing corporatization of American politics and, of course, the American workplace. The previously maintained, if often tenuous balance between not just the influence but also the values of the corporate world, organized labor, the major political parties, and the media has eroded to the point that corporate influence and values now predominate more than they have had at any time since the beginning of the Progressive Era. The “New Gilded Age” refers to much more than just the increase in income inequality. The phrase highlights a skewing of American values not seen for more than a century in favor of the unchecked creation of material wealth.

David Chen’s complete article is available at:http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/27/nyregion/rise-in-new-york-construction-deaths-strikes-the-poor-and-undocumented.html?_r=0.

This post first appeared on the Academe Blog (AAUP).

The Maquiladora Workers of Juarez Create Independent Unions

By David Bacon              The Nation, web edition, 11/20/15

Rosario Acosta and other mothers march behind the banner of the group they organized:  “Nuestras Hija de Regreso a Casa” – “May Our Daughters Come Home”

Torreon, Coahuila  11/15/02 Rosario Acosta (l) and other mothers of women murdered and disappeared in Juarez, march in Torreon to call on Mexican authorities to investigate the cases.

Torreon, Coahuila 11/15/02
Rosario Acosta (l) and other mothers of women murdered and disappeared in Juarez, march in Torreon to call on Mexican authorities to investigate the cases.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, CHIHUAHUA — After more than a decade of silence, maquiladora workers in Ciudad Juarez have found their voice.  The city, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, is now the center of a growing rebellion of laborers in the border factories.  At the gates to four plants, including a huge 5000-worker Foxconn complex, they have set up encampments, or “plantons,” demanding recognition of independent unions, and protesting firings and reprisals.

“We just got so tired of the insults, the bad treatment and low wages, that we woke up,” explains Carlos Serrano, a leader of the revolt at Foxconn’s Scientific Atlanta facility.  “We don’t really know what’s going to happen now, and we’re facing companies that are very powerful and have a lot of money.  But what’s clear is that we are going to continue.  We’re not going to stop.”

The Juarez protests come just as Congress gets ready to debate a new trade treaty, the Trans Pacific Partnership, which opponents charge will reproduce the same devastation Mexican workers experienced as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Critics charge NAFTA cemented into place a regime of low wages, labor violations and violence on the border after it took effect in 1994.  Today, economic pressure has become so extreme that Juarez’ workers feel they have no choice but to risk their jobs in hope of change.

Ali Lopez, a single mother at the planton outside the ADC CommScope factory, describes grinding poverty. “The only way a single mother can survive here is with help from family or friends,” she says.  Lopez has two daughters, one 13 and one 6 years old.  “I can’t spend any time with them because I’m always working.  When I leave in the morning, I leave food for the older one to warm up for lunch.  Childcare would cost 200 pesos a week or more, so I can’t afford it.” Continue reading

If We Do Not Vote, The Haters Will Win – Dolores Huerta

by Duane Campbell

Dolores Huerta, who co-founded United Farmworkers with Cesar Chavez and who is an Honorary Chair of Democratic Socialists of America, spoke during a news conference Tuesday morning Nov. 10, before the Republican candidates debate  in Milwaukee  and said it’s “really unfortunate” that GOP leaders are trying to win by attacking innocent people.

Huerta has led movements for organizing union rights and  social justice  since the founding along with Cesar Chavez, Philip Vera Cruz and others  of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. She continues through her current work in supporting union democracy,  civic engagement and promoting Latino Voter participation.

Organizing Latino voter education and outreach is an important part of defeating Republicans in 2016. And, it is working.poll

Huerta calls Donald Trump the face of the Republican Party, and accuses him of dehumanizing Latinos. With organized work, GOP positions on immigration and union rights may sink Republicans in the 2016 elections.

Huerta says Trump’s primary opponents are no better.

“When we think about people like Rubio and Ted Cruz, even Jeb Bush, who speaks Spanish, they may have a Spanish last name — but they do not have a Latino heart because they don`t care about immigrants. They don`t care about our community,” Huerta said. Continue reading

Labor for Bernie: Respect Our Dissent

by Labor for Bernie 2016

After SEIU’s endorsement of Clinton…
Sanders’ supporters call on leaders to recognize and respect differences of opinion within the union

A significant number of SEIU local union leaders, stewards and activists waged a valiant campaign to stop an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president by the union’s International Executive Board (IEB).

Members created a Facebook page, initiated a petition campaign, spoke out at union meetings and with the press, wrote letters and made calls to top union officers.

SEIU Local 560 in New Hampshire endorsed Bernie Sanders, while SEIU’s largest affiliate, 1199 (United Health Care East), Local 503 (Oregon public employees) and Local 509 (Massachusetts social service workers) all passed resolutions calling for no endorsement.

However, despite our best efforts, SEIU endorsed Clinton on Nov. 17, 2015.  The IEB undoubtedly believed it was in the best interests of the membership.  Days later, in a major repudiation of the IEB’s Clinton endorsement, SEIU Local 1984 in New Hampshire voted to endorse Sanders after thorough membership engagement, debate and discussion.

SEIU’s decision to endorse Clinton is short-sighted and unprincipled. It is based on a failed strategy of engaging in purely “transactional” politics with corporate liberals.  That’s why members who support Bernie Sanders are so understandably frustrated.  Many feel that SEIU’s endorsement process was insufficiently responsive to rank-and-file sentiment.  Some are threatening to stop their voluntary contributions to SEIU political action funds.

While many of us strongly disagree with the decision, we need to stay united and continue the fight for our shared objectives: the Fight for $15, immigration reform, reinstating Glass–Steagall and winning campaign finance reform. Continue reading

Organized Labor and Democracy: Talking to Liberals

by Carl Proper


Photo by Dana Simon

[Author’s note]: This is a draft for a talk to a generally liberal and economically well-off audience in Arlington, Virginia.

The U.S. labor movement once had significant liberal support. Now, not so much. We need liberal support in the political arena – and they need us. This represents an effort to appeal for liberal support, to an audience with little direct union experience, in terms of our common interests.

To download a Power Point version of this file, with notes and photos, go to carlproper.com and click on the small-type ‘Organized Labor and Democracy’ text. To project the show, please request permission at cproper2@gmail.com.

When people hear that I spent most of my working life in the labor movement, they often say to me, “unions are really in trouble today.”

My default answer: “the country is in trouble; democracy is in trouble.”

That answer is what I want to explain today.

My political belief, generally, is that the Founding Fathers were right to recognize the dangers of concentrating too much power in one person, or one institution. I believe in checks and balances. Applying that radical moderate belief to our economic system places me pretty far to the left in this country today.

I share the understanding of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, who faced the then-new phenomenon of giant corporations (“trusts” in Teddy’s day). These continental organizations wielded economic power great enough, if left unchecked, to overwhelm a weak and passive national government. The Roosevelts, from their lofty perspective, saw that American society needed the countervailing power of free labor unions as well as a strong national government to balance corporate power. Continue reading

The Right to Unite


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