Sanders Seeks to Expand Union Rights

SandersThe fight to expand democratic control over the workplace just received a major shot in the arm.

From: Working In These Times.

Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced sweeping legislation that would dramatically expand labor rights, making it easier for workers to join unions, speed up contract negotiations, roll back “right to work” laws and clamp down on union-busting tactics by employers.

The legislation, known as the Workplace Democracy Act (WDA), is being co-sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and has been endorsed by more than a dozen major unions and labor groups.

At an event on Wednesday announcing the legislation, Sanders said: “If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and rebuilding the middle class, we have got to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country.”

If passed, the legislation would redistribute power on the job to vastly benefit workers over their employers. And it would do so by extending democracy to the place Americans spend much of their waking lives.

In the United States, the concept of democracy generally conjures images of voting booths and candidate forums. But every time workers come together to advocate their interests and challenge concentrated power, they are practicing democracy. In daily life, one of the most important—and universal—arenas for this form of democratic action is the workplace.

Corporations and employers hold enormous power over workers, dictating which hours of the day they’re at work, what they’re allowed to say on the clock, what they wear and when they can go to the bathroom. Employers also determine workers’ wages as well as the type of healthcare they receive (if any)—all with the dangling threat of losing their job if at any time a boss decides they are expendable.

This slanted power dynamic is what allows employers to keep workers compliant even under abhorrent conditions. And it is why the role of labor unions—the primary vehicle for advancing democracy in the workplace—is absolutely critical to protecting workers’ rights at a time of unchecked corporate power.

Enshrining labor rights

The WDA would simplify the process of unionization by allowing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to certify a union if a majority of eligible workers say they want to join. That process, commonly called “card check,” would eliminate union elections and give workers a clearer pathway to organizing their workplaces.

As it currently stands, employers have wide-ranging power to influence and intimidate workers into voting against unionization. They commonly force employees to attend anti-union meetings and threaten workers involved in organizing campaigns. The WDA would curb this type of behavior and create a more level playing field during union drives.

Labor advocates believe such reform is critical to giving workers a stronger voice on the job. In an interview with In These Times, David Johnson, National Field Director for the National Nurses United (NNU)—which has endorsed the legislation—says the WDA “is an important step forward in restoring what should be worker’s constitutional rights to engage in concerted activity to freely associate and to form strong unions to advocate for themselves and, in the case of registered nurses, to advocate for their patients as well.”

The legislation would also repeal section 14(b) of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which has allowed 28 states to pass laws restricting the ability of unions to collect dues from members who benefit from collective bargaining agreements. Such “right to work” laws have weakened unions in these states and led to lower overall pay for workers.

Under the WDA, employers would also be required to enter into contract negotiations within 10 days of a new union being formed. A full 37 percent of new unions go without a first contract for at least two years because of employers dragging their heels on negotiations. Such practices would be ended by this legislation.

As Sanders explained when introducing the bill: “Corporate America understands that when workers become organized, when workers are able to engage in collective bargaining, they end up with far better wages and benefits… and that is why, for decades now, there has been a concentrated well-organized attack on the ability of workers to organize.”

A more democratic economy

The push for the WDA—a version of which was originally introduced in 2015—comes on the heels of an announcement that Sanders’ office will soon propose a federal jobs guarantee. While the specifics have not yet been revealed, at its core such a program would seek to create a system of full employment in the United States, offering a job paying $15 an hour to any worker who wants one.

Once enacted, such a plan would have the potential to fundamentally shift the relationship of workers to their employers. If a job were always available through the government, workers would no longer live under the constant threat of losing their livelihood whenever their boss decides they are no longer needed. By setting a floor with a living wage, this form of a jobs guarantee would likely lift up the pay and benefits of workers everywhere, and open the space for more union activity in the private sector.

The combination of the WDA and a jobs guarantee, taken together with proposals for instituting Medicare for all, a federal $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, represents a barrage of progressive changes to the U.S. economy that would lift millions out of poverty and bring more democracy into workers’ daily lives.

Other senators have also recently voiced support for a version of a jobs guarantee, including Gillibrand and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). And the demand is not new in American politics: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously fought for full employment as a means to end poverty and advance the cause of racial justice.

Misery into progress

King was a staunch supporter of union rights throughout his life. In 1965, he gave a speech to the state convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO in which he called the labor movement “the principal force that transforme­d misery and despair into hope and progress.” King’s last major campaign before he was assassinated in April, 1968 involved joining with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn. to win justice and dignity on the job.

In 2018, 50 years after King’s death, the U.S. labor movement is facing monumental threats. The Supreme Court will soon rule on Janus vs. AFSCME, a case that is poised to deal a severe blow to public-sector unions. President Trump is overseeing a massive rollback of workers’ rights and stacking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with appointees who are outwardly hostile to unions.

Corporate entities such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have engaged in a decades-long campaign to weaken the power of labor, and today unionization rates in the United States stand at among their lowest levels in generations.

As NNU’s Johnson says, “I think we should be clear: There is a relative handful of incredibly wealthy, powerful mostly white men who are standing in the way of working people having the kind of country we deserve, where people have rights and they have decent wages and a decent community and a safe and healthy workplace, and education and healthcare as human rights.”

However, there are also signs of hope.

In states across the country, from West Virginia to Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado, teachers have waged statewide strikes to win higher pay and better working conditions. Rank-and-file caucuses are helping to transform their unions into more militant organizations, willing to take dramatic action to defend members and stand up to attacks.

Workers in a diverse array of industries, from media to universities, logistics and tech, are launching new union drives. And over the past two years, workers under the age of 35 have led an unprecedented surge in union membership, and are much more likely to view unions positively. Overall, labor unions are now viewed more favorably by the public than they have been in well over a decade.

At a time of staggering economic inequality, when corporate profits are soaring while the safety net is shredded and working people are forced to scramble over crumbs, the renewed interest in labor unions is a sign that Americans are coming to see collective action as the best way to improve their living conditions and wrest workplace power from profit-obsessed employers.

While the WDA may be a dead letter under Trump and the GOP Congress, it does plant a flag for how a more democratic economy could be structured. And with a potential political sea change on the way in coming election cycles, this type of bold proposal sets the contours for what progressive politicians and activists alike can demand.

As workers are proving across the country, winning a better standard of living is possible, but it can only come about through demanding—and practicing—democracy on the job.

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UAW Local Union 42 Created at VW Chattanooga

by Paul Garver

The campaign to organize Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga is taking a new and interesting direction.

The UAW has chartered Local 42 as a new local organization representing workers at the VW plant.  According to the UAW press release, Local 42 will offer the workers the opportunity for a voice in the workplace similar to the VW works council system for employee representation in Germany.  Calling itself “Volkswagen’s works council partner,” the union pledged to continue its advocacy for state incentives to encourage VW to expand production and create jobs at the Chattanooga plant.

Unlike the usual American labor relations system the union will not have the right to exclusive representation, nor will it represent workers other than its own members.  However the UAW expects that the company will “recognize” the union once it has signed up a “meaningful” portion of its workforce as an organization that represents its own members.  Since the union had dropped its NLRB challenge to the February representation election it had narrowly lost, it could no longer at this time seek formal collective bargaining rights nor the right to exclusive representation of the work force.
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The Labor Law Reform We Need

by Rand Wilson

Rand Wilson

When the next opportunity for labor law reform arrives, union membership will be smaller and our political clout even more diminished. If we are to succeed, future reform proposals must be wrapped in a broader mantle that will appeal to all workers.

The four-year drive for the Employee Free Choice Act was the single largest union-backed campaign in decades and it succeeded in uniting the labor movement as never before. I doubt there was a steward in the country who wasn’t familiar with EFCA and why we needed it.
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Back to the Future: Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America

by Steve Early and Rand Wilson
The rupture of labor-management relationships that may have been “comfortable” in the past, plus the accompanying loss of legal rights in a growing number of states, have triggered membership-mobilization activity reminiscent of the original struggles for collective bargaining. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, labor’s recent defensive battles demonstrate that a new model of union functioning is not only possible but necessary for survival. As a first step in this process of union transformation under duress, workers must definitely shed their past role as “clients” or passive consumers of union services. In workplaces without a union or agency shop and collective bargaining as practiced for many decades, they must take ownership of their own organizations and return them to their workplace roots, drawing on the experiences of public workers in the South whose practice of public-sector unionism has, by necessity, been very different for the last half century.
When the history of mid-western de-unionization is written, its sad chroniclers will begin their story in Indiana. That is where Governor Mitch Daniels paved the way, in 2005, for copycat attacks on public-sector bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan — and for a successful assault on privatesector union security in his own state earlier this year.

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Union Supporters Still Fired With Impunity

by David Bacon

A pro-Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) march in San Francisco features workers fired for union support. (Photo: David Bacon)

When a private employer, like the Los Angeles Film School (LAFS), decides to fight the efforts of its workers to form a union, there is very little holding it back, despite the rights written into US labor law almost three quarters of a century ago.The National Labor Relations Act says workers not only have the right to form unions, but that the government encourages them to do so, to level the power imbalance with their employers. The law sets up an election process, in which workers supposedly can freely choose a union. And it says that it’s illegal for an employer to fire or punish any worker who uses these rights.

Then there’s the reality, as practiced by the LAFS.
That company, set up in 1999 by the former lawyer for Occidental Petroleum, was bought by Florida-based Full Sail Film School in 2003. The film and recording business in Los Angeles has strong, well-respected unions. The studios that are the hoped-for employers for film school graduates negotiate with unions all the time. But the LAFS and Full Sail are not ordinary film schools. They are diploma mills that feed off federal loans taken out by students.A lawsuit filed last year against LAFS says that students, who pay $18,000 to $23,000 per year tuition for a two-year AS degree, receive much less than promised. The school hands out gift cards to Target and Best Buy, the suit says, to students who list jobs at Apple and Guitar Center stores as “creative positions” on forms submitted to get the college accreditation. That allows the schools to enroll its students in federal loan programs.Brandii Grace, a digital game designer, moved from Seattle in 2009 when she was offered a contract to teach her skill at LAFS. She took a $2,000 per year cut from her previous job, and was promised $70,000 per year. Her fiancée had to stay behind, but still in their 20s, they decided the prospect of making a life together in the heart of the entertainment world made the sacrifice worth it.

Trade unions renew call for financial transaction tax


International Trade Union Confederation

As the Plenary of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) meets today in Zurich, international trade union organisations have submitted their priorities for the FSB current programme of action as mandated by the G20.

The failure of the FSB to consider a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) on today’s plenary agenda is unacceptable and leaves the FSB out of step with the growing support for the FTT.

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Fired for Organizing a Union

Companies dump workers for union activity all the time, and they often get away with it.

By Josh Eidelson

Josh Eidelson

Last month Target fired Tashawna Green — but not for being bad at her job. They fired her, she says, for trying to make her job better. Green, a 21-year-old single mom, was the most public supporter of a campaign to unionize the workers at her Long Island, New York store. Before an unsuccessful union vote there, she told The New York Times and other media outlets about the challenge of supporting her daughter on $8 an hour and insufficient hours. Her photo appeared in several newspapers.
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New Election Ordered at Kaiser Permanente

by Paul Garver

In October 2010 the NLRB certified SEIU (with 61% of the vote) as the victor over the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW with 38%) in a long delayed election for which union would represent the largest unit of healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente. As Talking Union reported, the NUHW filed charges that SEIU and Kaiser had conspired to prevent a free and uncoerced electoral process, while the SEIU claimed victory and demanded that NUHW accept the results of the election and drop its challenge.

Approximately 43,000 California healthcare workers employed by Kaiser Permanente are now preparing for a re-run of the largest private-sector union election in 70 years after an NLRB administrative law judge recommended throwing out the results of last year’s election between NUHW and SEIU.

Writing in a 34-page decision, Administrative Law Judge Lana Parke found SEIU guilty of misconduct that “interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice” and determined that SEIU broke the law through campaign tactics that “tended to stoke unwarranted and coercive voter fears.”

Prior to the election, Kaiser had unlawfully withheld wage increases and other promised benefits from 2,300 Southern California professional employees and registered nurses who voted overwhelmingly to join NUHW in January 2010.

According to Judge Parke, SEIU piggybacked on Kaiser’s illegal behavior by threatening the 43,000 workers that they, too, would lose wages and benefits if they voted for NUHW. The judge found that Kaiser’s illegal actions “figured as silent, menacing reminders that Kaiser not only could, but already had, unilaterally withheld benefits when other employees had chosen to be represented by NUHW.”

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What Kind of Workers’ Movement?

by Paul Garver

Carl Finamore already reviewed Steve Early’s The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor for Talking Union.  I’d like to comment further on this important book, focusing on the issue of the organizational structures needed to rebuild the workers’ movement in the current context.

Should we be reflecting on our own weaknesses and sources of disunity while an implacable external enemy is threatening our very existence?  We are in a war for the very survival of public sector unionism, as right wing ideologues financed by billionaire foes of all working people are assailing this bastion of any conceivable progressive revival in the USA. We are encouraged that private and public sector unions stand united, while communities and campuses are mobilizing in their support.  But even in a hot phase of the class war there are lulls in the battle that permit some reading and reflection.  Reading Early’s book help us understand that our own weaknesses and dysfunctional behavior contributed to our current crisis. Continue reading

California passes card check bill for farm workers on Chavez holiday

by Duane Campbell

Photo from Wikipedia

On March 31,2011, California and 10 other states honored  Cesar Chavez and his legacy.  Today in California the state Senate passed again SB 104 to allow card check for workers  as a route to secret ballot elections in the fields.

The bill passed on a party line vote.  All 24 Democrats voted for it, the 14 Republicans voted against it.  SB 104 will  allow workers to have a union by submitting petition cards to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.  The ALRB was established in 1976 the first time Jerry Brown was governor after years of effort by  Cesar Chavez and the UFW. California is perhaps the only state that that has a reasonable law permitting  farm workers to organize into  a union.  Agricultural workers were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act when it was passed.  Today’s bill was sponsored by the United Farmworkers Union.  Such legislation  has long been a major goal of the UFW. The bill also includes enhanced penalties for growers who seek to block workers from unionizing. Continue reading