The Right to Strike

Will-Strike

For half a century, the loss of the right to strike has moved in lock step with the increase in income inequality. According to an International Monetary Fund study of twenty advanced economies, union decline accounted for about half of the increase in net income inequality from 1980 to 2012. The following is the start of a Boston Review discussion on US workers’ right to strike.

James Gray Pope, Ed Bruno, Peter Kellman

Boston Review

May 22, 2017

In December 2005 more than 30,000 New York City transit workers walked out over economic issues despite the state of New York’s Taylor Law, which prohibits all public sector strikes. Not only did the workers face the loss of two days’ pay for each day on strike, but a court ordered that the union be fined $1 million per day. Union president Roger Toussaint held firm, likening the strikers to Rosa Parks. “There is a higher calling than the law,” he declared. “That is justice and equality.”

The transit strike exemplified labor civil disobedience at its most effective. The workers were not staging a symbolic event; they brought the city’s transit system to a halt. They claimed their fundamental right to collective action despite a statute that outlawed it. For a precious moment, public attention was riveted on the drama of workers defying a draconian strike ban.

How did national labor leaders react?

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney issued a routine statement of support, while most others did nothing at all. To anybody watching the drama unfold, the message was clear: there is no right to strike, even in the House of Labor.

About a decade earlier in 1996, Stephen Lerner, fresh from a successful campaign to organize Los Angeles janitors, had warned in Boston Review that private sector unions faced an existential crisis: density could soon drop from 10.3 percent to 5 percent if unions did not expand their activity beyond the limits imposed by American law. He called for unions to develop broad organizing strategies—industry-wide and regional—and to engage in civil disobedience. Few embraced these radical strategies. Today private sector union density is about 6.5 percent, not quite as low as Lerner predicted, but down from a high of over 30 percent in the mid-1950s. Continue reading

ICE Helps Unscrupulous Employer Shaft Injured Worker

by Paul Garver

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Rosa Benitez with her 2 year old son missing her partner and his father Jose Flores

/After working three decades as a union organizer in the USA and assisting unions to organize in other countries, I thought that nothing ruthless and callous employers in collusion with corrupt governments could shock me anymore.

I was wrong.   This story makes my stomach churn and my blood boil.   It appeared on WBUR, the PBS news outlet in Boston, and shared with me by the Metrowest Worker Center in Framingham, MA.   Thanks to WBUR for its extensive and ongoing news coverage on issues relating to immigration, I quote its report in full here:

“Thirty-seven-year-old Jose Flores and his longtime partner, Rosa Benitez, have been living in Massachusetts for almost seven years. The Honduran nationals both entered the United States by illegally crossing the Southern border.

Benitez, 40 and with tired eyes, says she and Flores had to leave Honduras because of the violence.

‘I Came Here To Fight For My Family’

“Like all of the immigrants arriving from other countries,” she said in Spanish, “I came here to fight for my family. That’s why I’m here. Honduras is terrorized by gangs. I can’t live there. My dad was killed by the gangs. They threatened him and told him to pay a fee, but he didn’t pay it.”

The couple has five children together, three of whom are U.S.-born citizens. The oldest is 17 and the youngest is 2 years old. Benitez says since Flores was arrested by federal immigration agents last week, all of the children are scared and asking when their dad is coming home.

The family has had no income for two months. Flores, the sole provider, hasn’t been able to work since the end of March when he fell off a ladder at a job site, breaking his femur bone in his leg and undergoing several subsequent surgeries. After consulting with attorneys, and even though he’s living here illegally, Flores sought compensation from the Boston-based construction company he was working for.

Stacie Sobosik is a workers’ compensation attorney who’s advising Flores, and she says he’s within his rights. “Under case law in Massachusetts, undocumented workers are eligible for the same benefits as any other worker injured in the state,” she said.

Sobosik says she works with plenty of clients who are in the country without documentation and often they’re hesitant to report workplace accidents. The fear is that doing so will result in retaliation from employers in the form of a call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“And we’ve always been able to tell clients,” Sobosik said, “ICE has better things to do, bigger fish to fry, than to come after an injured worker because their boss has reported them.”

But that’s exactly what Sobosik believes happened to Flores.

Fears Bosses Could Retaliate Against Some Immigrant Workers

Sobosik says she could not have expected what would take place when Flores’ boss offered some cash to help the family and arranged a meeting.

“The employer told this worker where to be, at exactly what time, and immigration was waiting,” Sobosik explained.

Lawyers for Flores say it’s still unclear whether the employer — who, it turns out, had no workers’ comp coverage on the day of Flores’ accident — arranged the arrest that day.

The company, Tara Construction, has declined to comment.

“… Now we have this added fear that, could an employer … use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

Christina Corbaci, an immigration lawyer

Because Flores has orders to be deported back to Honduras, ICE agents had the authority to take him into custody. But the concern for Flores’ immigration attorney, Christina Corbaci, is that this could signal another new enforcement approach by ICE under President Trump.

“Before, I wouldn’t have really had a concern telling someone, ‘Yes, you should go ahead to report something like this and assert your rights,’ ” Corbaci said. “But now we have this added fear that, could an employer in this kind of case just, you know, use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

In an emailed statement, an ICE spokesman said he wouldn’t comment on specific work methods for security reasons. He did say, however, that ICE receives investigative leads and tips from a variety of sources, and through many means and methods.

Flores remains in custody at the Suffolk County House of Corrections. As for the workers’ comp claim, Sobosik, the attorney, says the case is active.

“He’s clearly going to be disabled for quite awhile into the future, his doctors have said at least six months,” she said. “If he stays in the States that long, he should still be eligible, but what happens if he’s deported? That’s a big question mark. We don’t know.”

And his partner doesn’t know what to expect either.

Sitting at the kitchen table with her 2-year-old son playing in the background, Benitez says despite the hardships, she has no regrets about coming to the U.S.

That’s because, she said in Spanish, “This is a country of opportunity … where the voice of one person can be heard.”

The Metrowest Worker Center is an advocate for Jose Fores and for many hundreds of undocumented workers in the Boston area who are routinely cheated of their wages, subjected to dangerous working conditions, and threatened by the criminally negligent employers and sub-contractors who hire them.  With limited resources, this Worker Center, like unions and worker centers around the globe, do what they humanly can. It is raising funds to support Jose Flores, Rosa Benitez and their children at

http://www.mwc-casa.org/home-and-news/injured-worker-detained-by-ice-in-retaliation

UPDATE   5/23 from Diego Low of the Metrowest Worker Center:

The injured worker detained by ICE at the instigation of his employer, Tara Construction, is back with his family.    He was released around noon today under a temporary stay of deportation while investigations proceed regarding his employers retaliation for reporting the injury and pursuing workers comp.  We will continue to pursue sanctions against the employer and to stabilize the status of the worker and his family.  The worker is likely to need at least six months to heal from the workplace injury.   We hope to get the crowd funding site updated so as to raise funds for the substantial legal fees the family is facing.

North American IUF Affiliates rally at Mondelez shareholder meeting

IUF Global Mondelez Union Network

mondelez

On May 17, members from North American IUF affiliates BCTGM and UFCW rallied in advance of the Mondelez shareholder meeting in Lincolnshire, Illinois to show their commitment to defending quality employment at the company they have helped to build. Over 18 labour organizations were present to express their support; Letters of solidarity from IUF affiliates were also read out to rally participants.

A smaller group of IUF affiliates who attended the shareholder meeting spoke out against the destructive direction in which management has taken the company, urging a more long-term and sustainable strategy for the future. This group supported the shareholder resolution submitted by the national trade union center AFL-CIO calling for measures to mitigate the impact of any future plant closures, an experience all too familiar to Mondelez workers in the US and around the world.

Mondelez recently moved over 500 production jobs from the Nabisco factory in Chicago to Salinas,Mexico.
See more photos of the event here.

Support AT&T Workers

by CWA member Cindi Chesters

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I may be on strike Friday along with 38,000 of my coworkers at AT&T if we haven’t won a fair union contract by then. I’m a single parent of four and there is a lot on the line for me. My kids are the reason I’m fighting so hard and why I’m ready to do whatever I have to do to make sure they have a good life. We hope to avoid having to strike, but we may have to make that sacrifice to make sure our livelihoods are secure.

Please stand with us. Click here to email AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson now and demand that he settle a union contract that protects good jobs.

I work at an AT&T retail store, but the company wants to keep closing stores and instead send work to third-party dealers where workers make super low-wages and don’t have the union protections we have. Meanwhile, my co-workers at AT&T call centers worry that their jobs will be sent overseas.

CEO Stephenson made $28.4 million last year, while he cut our commissions, which meant I took home less pay than the year before. This fight is about making sure working people can make a decent living in this country. We are up against unaccountable corporations that are working us harder for less in order to pad their bottom line.

As the only income for a family of five, my budget is tight as it is, and the money I may lose if I go on strike isn’t something I take lightly. That’s why I’ve been preparing, saving money, stocking up on groceries, and making a plan.

Please take action and send a message to the CEO that you support workers fighting for their livelihoods.

There is too much on the table for us to sit back and let the company take advantage of us anymore. We want to be treated like human beings.

If we strike, we’re following in the footsteps of our brothers and sisters at Verizon who last year struck for 49 days and won big improvements for themselves, their families, and sent a message that corporate giants can be beat if working people stick together.

Thank you for your support. If we strike, we’ll be back in touch with more information about how you can support us on a picket line near you. Until then, I hope you’ll email CEO Stephenson to make sure he knows his customers and members of the community have our back.

Thank you for listening to my story,

Cindi Chesters
AT&T Sales Support Representative, Shelton, CT

http://www.dsausa.org/

Can Labor Unite?

IN THE AGE OF TRUMP, CAN LABOR UNITE?

Donald Trump performed far better among union voters than previous Republican candidates, but since taking office has enacted disastrous anti-worker policies. Now, some unions are organizing their members around an explicitly progressive analysis, hoping to unlock the power of workers to help lead the resistance.

BY ALEXANDRA BRADBURY

YOU KNOW YOU’RE GETTING THE SHORT END OF THE STICK AS A WORKER, but you don’t really know why,” says Joe Tarulli, a Staten Island Verizon tech who’s put in 17 years with the company. “They make it seem like these rich people are just lucky they got the right chances, and these poor old working folks, nothing ever goes right for them. No! These corporations are doing it on purpose.”

Last spring, Tarulli and 39,000 Verizon workers were forced out on a 49-day strike to fend off outsourcing and other concessions demanded by the company, even as it raked in billions in profits. Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders walked the picket line with them to draw media attention to their battle against corporate greed. But in the general election, Tarulli says many of his coworkers went on to vote for Donald Trump, who spoke to the anger that had motivated them to strike in the first place. “Trump’s a great communicator,” says Tarulli. “For a long time people felt ignored, even by their own unions, because these companies take advantage of them so badly.”

Trump’s win highlighted a rank and file that feels alienated from politics as usual. While most major unions backed Hillary Clinton, 43 percent of voters in union households cast their ballots for Trump. The swing in votes was less a bump for Trump (who outperformed Mitt Romney by 3 points in union households) than a shortfall for Clinton (7 points below Obama in 2012)—and that’s not counting those who simply stayed home.

“I did believe in him trying to get more jobs back to the United States,” says Trump voter Jack Findley of Chattanooga, Tenn. Findley worked for four years on a Volkswagen assembly line, backing the unsuccessful union drive at the plant in 2014 before an injury put him out of commission. He has two kids, ages 4 and 7, and worries as he watches power companies and retailers in his area shut down. “When my kids get old enough, I don’t know where they’re going to be working,” he says.

It’s difficult to fathom that workers who risked their livelihoods to take on a corporate behemoth like Verizon, or back a long-shot union campaign at Volkswagen, went on to vote for a poster child of corporate greed. But after decades of bipartisan fervor for privatization, budget cuts and so-called free trade deals, many workers are disillusioned with both parties. Continue reading

May Day Message – Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka; AFL-CIO

Throughout North America and globally, May 1 is a day to remember and respect workers’ rights as human rights. As working people take to the streets in communities around the world, a quieter but equally important movement of workers on both sides of the United States–Mexico border has been growing.

Whatever language we speak and wherever we call home, working people are building power, supporting labor rights and fighting corruption—and we’re doing it together.

Our agenda is simple. We oppose efforts to divide and disempower working people, and we oppose border walls and xenophobia anywhere and everywhere. We want trade laws that benefit working people, not corporations. And we want economic rules that raise wages, broaden opportunity and hold corporations accountable.

Nearly 20 years ago, many independent and democratic Mexican unions began an alliance with the AFL-CIO.

We’ve developed a good working relationship. We’ve engaged in important dialogue and identified shared priorities. Now we are ready to take our solidarity to the next level, turning words into deeds and plans into action.

You see, we believe no fundamental difference exists between us. We share common values rooted in social justice and a common vision of the challenges before us.

The corporate elite in the United States and Mexico have been running roughshod over working people for too long. Corporate-written trade and immigration policies have hurt workers on both sides of the border.  We each have experienced the devastation caused by economic rules written by and for the superrich.

 

Those of us in the United States can see how unfair economic policies have destroyed Mexico’s small farms and pushed many Mexicans to make the perilous trek north or settle in dangerous cities. Many in Mexico are worried about their own families, some of whom might be immigrants in the United States today. Workers in the United States share their concern, especially as anti-immigrant sentiment has become disturbingly mainstream.

The truth is more and more politicians are exploiting the insecurity and pain caused by corporate economic rules for political gain by stoking hatred and scapegoating Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants.

We will not be divided like this. Workers north and south of the border find the idea of a border wall to be offensive and stand against the criminalization of immigrant workers. We need real immigration reform that keeps families together, raises labor standards and gives a voice to all workers.

Instead of erecting walls, American and Mexican leaders should focus on rewriting the economic rules so working people can get ahead and have a voice in the workplace. One of our top priorities is to transform trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement into a tool for raising wages and strengthening communities in both countries.

We’re outraged by the kidnapping and murder of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, as well as too many other atrocities to list.

America’s unions are democratic in nature and independent of both business and government, but that’s mostly not true in Mexico. A key step in ending violence and impunity in Mexico and raising wages and standards on both sides of the border is to protect union rights and the freedom of association in Mexico.

We’re united. We’re resolute. We are ready to win dignity and justice for all workers.

Posted on the AFL-CIO website.

Continue reading

Immigration Blame Game

We at Talking Union received the post below by Buzz Malone titled Immigration Blame Game.  It was originally posted on his blog. He is a union activist in Iowa.

We encourage dialogue among union activists on critical issues.  We do not fear open discussion of difficult issues.

A response to Immigration Blame Game was posted on Working In These Times by labor organizer, writer, and photographer David Bacon. Bacon corrects some important points in labor history and argues against the position urged by Buzz Malone.

Malone’s piece.

Immigration Blame Game, by Buzz Malone.

“All of us assign blame in our own best interest — blame is relative. So one of the most important functions in society is controlling the blame pattern. Why is it that [the working class] assign blame downward to some welfare chiselers down at the bottom, “Tryin’ to get a little somethin’ for nothin'” — and they never assign blame upward to a handful of big-time chiselers who get a whole lot of something for doing nothing at all?”       -Utah Phillips-

 

Illegal immigration. It’s apparently one of the key issues that moved the working class electorate to vote for Trump, so I feel compelled to offer my two cents on the subject based on my own thoughts and experiences.

It’s not a terribly well kept secret to anyone who has ever travelled across Iowa and passed the heavy noxious air of a hog confinement along the interstate, that Iowa has more hogs than people. It’s always been that way. The Midwest I call home has long been a bastion of all things agricultural; of corn and beans and hogs and cattle, and all of the industries that spawn from them. Continue reading