Filed under: Busting the union busters, Fair Trade, Health Care, Immigrant Workers, Low wage workers, Organizing, Politics, The enemy | Tagged: austerity, Corporations, jobs, oligarchy, Sanders, unions | 1 Comment »
by Harold Meyerson
About a month ago, the Supreme Court closed out its term in a blaze of nonpartisan glory. Or nonpartisan obloquy, depending on one’s reaction to the court’s legalization of same-sex marriage and its upholding of Obamacare — but nonpartisan either way. A court with a Republican-appointed majority upheld a Democratic president’s health insurance program and a marital policy that most Republican officeholders felt obliged to oppose (even if most Republican political consultants felt relieved to see gay marriage rendered a fait accompli).
But that was then. In the term that will begin this fall, the court has a splendid opportunity to deliver the most partisan decision it has rendered since Bush v. Gore. When the court rules in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association , which will be argued in the coming months, the Republican-appointed justices will be able, if they so choose, to create a long-term advantage for their party over the Democrats.
Friedrichs is a case brought by a California teacher who objects to paying dues to the union that has bargained the contract that secures her pay and benefits. The union does not collect any money from her to support its political activities, but, by virtue of the court’s 1977 Abood decision, and hundreds of later decisions based on Abood, she is obliged to pay that portion of her dues that goes to bargaining and administering her contract. That obligation, the court ruled in Abood, is essential if public employees are to have an effective right to collective bargaining. If employees can benefit from union representation without funding the union, the court reasoned, the union could be weakened to the point that it couldn’t represent those employees adequately, if, indeed, at all. Continue reading
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by Harold Meyerson.
Manufacturing has continued to move to the South, and factory workers’ wages have gone south as well. Between 1980 and 2013, The Wall Street Journal has reported, the number of auto industry jobs in the Midwest fell by 33 percent, while those in the South increased by 52 percent. Alabama saw a rise in manufacturing jobs of 196 percent, South Carolina of 121 percent, and Tennessee of 103 percent; while Ohio saw a decline of 36 percent, Wisconsin of 43 percent, and Michigan of 49 percent.
Many firms opening factories in the South pay wages well below companies like General Motors and Ford, despite paying higher wages in their home countries, and block attempts to unionize. The one exception is Volkswagen, which has not opposed employees at its Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant (above) from attempting to unionize.
Even as auto factories were opening all across the South, however, autoworkers’ earnings were falling. From 2001 to 2013, workers at auto-parts plants in Alabama—the state with the highest growth rate—saw their earnings decline by 24 percent, and those in Mississippi by 13.6 percent. The newer the hire, the bleaker the picture, even though by 2013 the industry was recovering, and in the South, booming. New hires’ pay was 24 percent lower than all auto-parts workers in South Carolina and 17 percent lower in Alabama.
One reason wages continued to fall throughout the Deep South, despite the influx of jobs, is the region’s distinctive absence of legislation and institutions that protect workers’ interests. The five states that have no minimum-wage laws are Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Georgia is one of the two states (the other is Wyoming) that have set minimum wages below the level of the federal standard. (In all these states, of course, employers are required to pay the federal minimum wage.) Likewise, the rates of unionization of Southern states’ workforces are among the lowest in the land: 4.3 percent in Georgia, 3.7 percent in Mississippi, 2.2 percent in South Carolina, 1.9 percent in North Carolina. The extensive use of workers employed by temporary staffing agencies in Southern factories—one former Nissan official has said such workers constitute more than half the workers in Nissan’s Southern plants—has lowered workers’ incomes even more, and created one more obstacle to unionization.
From the American Prospect. Read the entire piece.
America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations.
Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different. President Obama and the CEO of Nike, a company that doesn’t manufacture one shoe in the United States, got together in Oregon on Friday to urge Americans to fall once again for a trade deal.
The trade fanatics say everything will be different under the TPP – even though it is based on deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that lured American factories across the border, destroyed good-paying jobs and devastated communities. They plead: “Just come back for one more deal and see how great it will be this time!” And, like all batterers, they say: “Sorry about the terrible past; trust me about the future.”
This is trade abuse.
United Steelworkers of America.
At the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., the chief executive officer of Air Jordans told the chief executive passenger of Air Force One that Americans should believe in the TPP because it’ll be like Santa Claus stuffing jobs down chimneys across America.
CEO Mark Parker promised that the TPP would miraculously prompt Nike, the brand that is the icon for shipping production overseas, to create 10,000 U.S. manufacturing and engineering jobs – over a decade, that is. Not only that, Parker pronounced, the TPP will generate thousands of construction jobs and as many as 40,000 indirect positions with suppliers and service companies – again, over a decade.
Now those are some great-sounding promises! Nike employs 26,000 American workers now, a few of whom make soles in Oregon and Missouri. But presto, Parker says, the TPP will increase that number by nearly 40 percent!
The thing is, Nike could easily create 10,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the United States right now. No TPP required. It employs 1 million overseas, the vast majority in low-wage, high-worker-abuse countries like Vietnam, China and Indonesia. To bring 1 percent of those jobs – 10,000 – to the United States doesn’t seem like such a Herculean, TPP-requiring task, especially considering Nike’s massive profit margin.
The average cost to make a pair of Nike shoes is $30. The American sneaker consumer, who may pay $130 to swoosh, is certainly not getting the benefit of low prices from Nike’s cheap overseas production.
Instead of manufacturing in America, Nike chooses to “just do it” in countries where it knows workers are abused. In the 1990s, the media slammed the corporation for sweatshop conditions in its foreign factories. Like a typical abuser, Nike promised to reform its ways. It said in a news release last week, “Our past lessons have fundamentally changed the way we do business.”
Well, not really. The company admitted in 2011 that two Indonesian factories making its shoes subjected workers to “serious and egregious” physical and verbal abuse. Nike told the San Francisco Chronicle then that there was “little it could do to stop” the cruelty.
And it accomplished exactly that – little. Just last month, a three-part series in the Modesto Bee described sickening conditions in Indonesian factories producing Nike shoes: Workers paid $212 a month for six-day, 55-hour work weeks. Workers denied the country’s minimum wage and overtime pay. Workers paid so little they couldn’t afford to care for their children. Workers fired for trying to improve conditions.
Last week, the world’s largest athletic gear maker said, “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions (in the TPP) because we believe that will drive higher industry standards and create economic growth that benefits everyone.”
Promises, promises. Why doesn’t Nike simply insist on higher standards at its factories? What exactly is there in a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that is essential to Nike establishing higher standards and stopping the abuse of workers in factories making its shoes?
Oh, yeah, the American middle class, which has suffered most from past trade deals, is not allowed to know that. The TPP is secret. Well, except to the privileged corporate CEOs who helped write the thing.
In pushing for “Fast Track” authority to shove the deal through a Congress that has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to oversee foreign trade, President Obama admitted “past deals did not always live up to the hype.”
That’s not quite right. It’s actually way worse than that. Past deals killed U.S. factories and jobs. Since NAFTA, they’ve cost Americans 57,000 factories and 5 million good, family-supporting jobs.
Just three years ago, trade fanatics promised that the Korean deal, called KORUS, would definitely provide more exports and more jobs. Instead, U.S. goods exports to Korea dropped 6 percent, while imports from Korea surged 19 percent. So the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea swelled 104 percent. That means the loss of 93,000 America jobs in just the first three years of KORUS.
It’s the same story with the other trade deals that followed NAFTA, including the agreements that enabled China to enter the World Trade Organization. The Commerce Department announced just last week the largest monthly expansion in the trade deficit in 19 years. The deficit with China for March was the biggest ever.
What this means is that instead of exporting goods, America is exporting jobs. Foreign workers get the jobs making the stuff Americans buy. And they’re often employed by factories producing products for so-called American corporations like Nike. They’re employed by factories that collapse and kill hundreds. Factories that catch on fire and immolate workers trapped inside. Factories where workers are ill-paid, overworked and slapped when they can’t meet unrealistic production quotas. Factories that pollute grievously.
American workers no longer are willing to engage in this abusive relationship with trade fanatics. They no longer believe the promises of change. They don’t want the federal money TPP fanatics promise them to pay for retraining as underpaid burger flippers after their middle class-supporting factory jobs are shipped overseas. They’re over trade pacts that benefit only multi-national corporations like Nike.
To Fast Track and the TPP, they say, “Just Don’t Do It!”
Leo Gerard. President . United Steelworkers of America.
Follow Leo W. Gerard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uswblogger
Filed under: Busting the union busters, Economy, Fair Trade, Global organizing, Politics, Solidarity, The enemy, Uncategorized | Tagged: Barack Obama, Democratic Party (United States), Fast track (trade), Mexico, North American Free Trade Agreement, Republican Party (United States), Trade pact, Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership, United States, United States Senate | Leave a comment »
by David Bacon
When hundreds of people marched to the Los Angeles City Council last October, urging it to pass a resolution supporting a farm worker union fight taking place in California’s San Joaquin Valley, hardly anyone had ever heard the name of the company involved. That may not be the case much longer. Gerawan Farming, one of the country’s largest growers, with 5,000 people picking its grapes and peaches, is challenging the California law that makes farm workers’ union rights enforceable. Lining up behind Gerawan are national anti-union think tanks. What began as a local struggle by one grower family to avoid a union contract is getting bigger, and the stakes are getting much higher.
The Gerawan workers got the City Council’s support and, on February 10, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education passed a resolution that went beyond just an encouraging statement. The LAUSD purchases Gerawan’s Prima label peaches and grapes through suppliers for 1,270 schools and 907,000 students. The LAUSD’s resolution, proposed by board member Steve Zimmer, requires the district to verify that Gerawan Farming is abiding by state labor laws, “and to immediately implement the agreement issued by the neutral mediator and the state of California.”
Verifying compliance, however, may not be easy. In mid-March a hearing on Gerawan’s violations of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) ended after 104 days of testimony by 130 witnesses. Continue reading
Filed under: Busting the union busters, Immigrant Workers, Low wage workers, Organizing, Politics, Solidarity, The enemy | Tagged: Air pollution, California, Davis, de-certification, Gerawan, Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley, UFW, University of California | 1 Comment »
NPR Morning Edition aired a report this week that reeked of anti-union bias, and inadvertently promoted the Koch brothers’ agenda to reduce collective bargaining rights, which means smaller wages and benefits.
The report was rife with errors, missing facts, bollixed concepts, and a meaningless comparison used to impeach a union source.
Below I’ll detail the serious problems with reports by Lisa Autry of WKU Public Radio in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but first you should know why this matters to you no matter where you live.
A serious, very well-funded, and thoroughly documented movement to pay workers less and reduce their rights, while increasing the rights of employers, is gaining traction as more states pass laws that harm workers. A host of proposals in Congress would compound this if passed and signed into law.
News organizations help this anti-worker movement, even if they do not mean to, when they get facts wrong, lack balance, provide vagaries instead of telling details, and fail to apply time-tested reporting practices to separate fact from advocacy.
The advocates are sophisticated. Continue reading
by Rand Wilson
Wisconsin is now the 25th state to adopt a so-called “right-to-work” law, which allows workers to benefit from collective bargaining without having to pay for it.
It joins Michigan and Indiana, which both adopted right to work in 2012. Similar initiatives, or variants, are spreading to Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia—and the National Right to Work Committee and the American Legislative Exchange Council probably have a well-developed list of additional targets.
Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. To defeat it, the first step is committing to fight back, rather than resigning ourselves to what some say is inevitable.
We’ll have to go beyond what we’ve mostly been saying so far, which is that right to work is “unfair” or “wrong.”
That argument certainly works for most union households and many of our community allies. But the real challenge is to convince a much broader public that a strong (and fairly-funded) labor movement is in their interest and worth preserving. Clearly most Americans aren’t yet convinced.
Many unions over the last few years have undertaken important campaigns along these lines. For example, teachers unions have positioned themselves as defenders of quality public education. Refinery workers have struck for public safety.
Nurses and health care unions have fought for safe staffing to improve the quality of care. And most notably, the Service Employees (SEIU) and others have waged the “Fight for $15” for fast food and other low-wage workers.
In its own way, each union is working hard to be a champion of the entire working class. Yet with the exception of SEIU’s Fight for $15, each is essentially focused on the issues of its core constituency at work. This still limits the public’s perception of labor.
Supporters of right to work cynically play on the resentment many workers feel about their declining standard of living. Absent a union contract, the vast majority have few, if any, ways to address it. To most, organizing looks impossible and politics looks broken.
Workers’ understandable frustration is fertile ground for the far right, which promises to improve the business climate and create more jobs by stripping union members of their power.
Thus, when we anticipate right to work’s next targets, the best defense should be a good offense—one that clearly positions labor as a force for the good of all workers.
‘Just Cause for All’
Here’s one approach that would put labor on the offensive: an initiative for a new law providing all workers with due process rights to challenge unjust discipline and discharge, “Just Cause for All.”
Such a law would take aim at the “at-will” employment standard covering most non-union workers in the U.S. At-will employees can be fired for any reason and at any time—without just cause.
While such a major expansion of workers’ rights as Just Cause for All would be unlikely to pass in most state legislatures—Montana did it in 1987, but it’s still the only one—it could become law in states that allow ballot initiatives.
A well-orchestrated attack on the at-will employment standard would force the extreme, anti-worker, and big business interests who back right to work to respond. If nothing else, imagine how competing initiatives would force a debate. On one side, extending due process protections and increased job security to all workers: a real right-to-work bill. On the other side, taking away fair share contributions for collective bargaining.
This strategy isn’t untested. When the Coors beer dynasty backed a right-to-work ballot initiative in Colorado in 2008, labor collected signatures for a counter-initiative, “Allowable Reasons for Employee Discharge or Suspension,” which would have overturned at-will employment. (Labor also supported a proposal that would have provided affordable health insurance to all employees and a measure to allow workers injured on the job to sue for damages in state courts.)
Fearing that the just cause proposal might pass, centrist business people offered a deal. In exchange for labor withdrawing its proposal, they provided financial support and manpower that helped labor defeat right to work in Colorado. (For more on this story, read “The 2008 Defeat of Right to Work in Colorado: Is it the End of Section 14(b)?” Raymond L. Hogler, Labor Law Journal, Spring 2009.)
While it’s unfortunate that the labor initiative didn’t go before Colorado voters, the result was still encouraging—and instructive. By championing the interests of all workers, labor split business and blunted the right-to-work effort.
To win back “fair-share” participation in the three new right-to-work states and stop further attacks, we’ll need well-planned campaigns that include grassroots mobilization, direct action, paid and earned media, and focused electoral work.
Just Cause for All campaigns should be part of the strategy. Even if we lose, campaigns for due process and job security for all will help shift the debate on right to work, leave the labor movement stronger—and make labor and its allies once again the champions of the “99%.”
Rand Wilson is policy and communications director at SEIU Local 888 in Boston. This Viewpoint is reposted from Labor Notes with permission of the author.