Join The Fight for $15

$15DSAThousands of people across the country will be taking part in a huge strike for better pay and working conditions  on April 15.  From fast-food to home care, airport, construction, and Walmart workers to adjunct professors and other underpaid workers, folks from every corner of the country and the globe will be joining together across industries on Tax Day, April 15th, for the Fight for $15.

Will you stand with them this Wednesday? Find an action near you.

You and I know that it’s inevitable in the capitalist system for bosses to exploit workers. But it’s not just happening at the level of individual workplaces. Corporations must compete with each other or die, and that means avoiding expenses as much as possible. Low-wage workers struggle to make ends meet and, if they can navigate the deliberately complicated application process and the constant shaming that comes with public assistance, they get the support they need from taxpayers while their employers get off the hook for paying higher wages. That’s what I call corporate welfare.

All workers deserve a union to demand their fair share of the fruits of their labor, but in the meantime, let’s demonstrate that collective action can be society-wide, not just in one workplace. It’s good practice for building a movement for democratic socialism. Continue reading

Raising Wages From the Bottom Up

Three ways city and state governments can make the difference.

Harold Meyerson

This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. I

In 1999, while he was working at a local immigrant service center in Los Angeles, Victor Narro began encountering a particularly aggrieved group of workers. They were the men who worked at carwashes, and their complaint was that they were paid solely in tips—the carwashes themselves paid them nothing at all.

At first, the workers came by in a trickle, but soon enough, in a flood. Narro, whose soft voice and shy manner belie a keen strategic sensibility, consulted with legal services attorneys and discovered that while every now and then a carwash was penalized for cheating its workers, such instances were few and far between. “There were no regulations overseeing the industry,” Narro says. The state’s labor department conducted no sweeps of the carwashes to investigate what looked to be an industry-wide pattern of violations of basic wage and hour laws. When Narro took a new job at UCLA’s Labor Center, he had researchers survey L.A. carwashes. They reported that roughly one-fourth of the industry’s 10,000 workers were paid only in tips.

“She wouldn’t pay us on time, but she demanded the rent on time,” Sanchez says.

The workers who did get a paycheck weren’t raking it in, either. Wage theft was the norm in the industry, and the carwasheros (as the workers, almost entirely Mexican and Central American immigrants, have come to be called) had little recourse—especially since so many were undocumented. Oscar Sanchez, a tall, sober-faced carwashero who came to Los Angeles from Guatemala in 2000, recalls working a 10-hour day and routinely getting paid for five hours. Workers at his carwash, in South Central L.A., got no lunch breaks; the owner would “bring us burgers and we’d have to wash cars and eat at the same time.” The owner also had a mini-mart on the property, and rented the two rooms upstairs as living quarters for four of the workers—one of them Sanchez. “She wouldn’t pay us on time, but she demanded the rent on time,” Sanchez says. “When we fell behind, she said she couldn’t pay us because we owed her rent.” Continue reading

Striking Oil Workers Emerge Victorious Thanks in Part to Green Group Solidarity

by Kate Aronoff

Due, in part, to the environmental concerns posed by unsafe refineries, strikers quickly gained the support of green groups. (Photo: USW Oil Workers)

Yesterday afternoon, the United Steelworkers reached a tentative contract agreement with negotiators from Shell Oil Co., which has represented Chevron, ExxonMobil and other oil companies affected by the union’s now nearly six-week strike. Even as the strike continues in many workplaces, yesterday’s victory is the hard-won result of careful organizing and some promising collaboration.

Beginning on February 1 — after a particularly contentious round of negotiations — an estimated 3,800 workers kicked off a strike action across nine refineries in Texas, California, Kentucky and Washington. As of Thursday’s truce, the strike had grown to include 7,000 workers across 15 refineries, petrochemical and cogeneration plants, including the nation’s largest refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. In total, the United Steelworkers, or USW, represents 30,000 members, and holds leverage over an impressive 64 percent of the United States’ refining capacity.

United Steelworkers’ spokeswoman Lynne Hancock says that she hopes the past several weeks’ events will serve as a sign to oil companies “that we are serious when we bring up issues … that they come from the membership.”

Although the oil workers brought demands around wages and benefits, union negotiators’ central demands were for safer working conditions and a scale-back in companies’ hiring of non-union, often temporary workers. Chiefly, Hancock said, health and safety concerns were “key in this round of bargaining.” Long hours, scant safety regulations and lax training requirements — the oil workers argued — have contributed to workplace environments harmful to not only employees, but the communities surrounding the plants and refineries where they work.

While the four-year contract — covering wages, benefits, working conditions, and health and safety measures — received unanimous support from the rank-and-file National Oil Bargaining Policy Committee, the end of the strike remains contingent on plant locals’ negotiations with management over “local concerns,” such as seniority and vacation time. Because the national agreement has yet to be approved by either USW locals or international leadership, the union is not yet discussing the details of the pending contract. Hancock, however, said that she does not “anticipate there being any problems with it getting ratified at local union bargaining tables.”

A press release by the USW yesterday stated that the proposed contract includes “calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility,” as well as “daily maintenance and repair work in the plants,” yearly wage increases, a joint review of plant staffing needs, and an agreement that hiring plans be developed “in conjunction with recruitment and training programs.” Negotiators had rejected seven previous contract proposals from Shell before Thursday’s agreement.

In addition to the strike, workers took part in an ongoing series of rallies and guerrilla film screenings at refineries and corporate headquarters. One delegation of workers traveled to Europe to garner international support for their actions; alongside the British union UNITE and Divest London, oil workers demonstrated outside a speech by Shell CEO Ben van Buerden in the British capital. USW Local 675 in Torrance, Calif., took a particularly creative route, delivering a pile of horse manure to ExxonMobil offices in response to the company’s failure to respond to inquiries about the health impacts of a mid-February refinery explosion that left four workers injured.

Due, in part, to the environmental concerns posed by unsafe refineries, strikers quickly gained the support of green groups, including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Sierra Club and Communities for a Better Environment in the Bay Area, which walked the picket line with workers at a Tesoro refinery in Martinez, Calif. Joe Uehlein, a long-time unionist and executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, urged fellow environmentalists to support USW workers in a statement released at the strike’s onset.

“As we work to protect the earth from climate change,” he said, “it is particularly important that we advocate for the needs of workers in fossil fuel industries whose well-being must not be sacrificed to the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Hancock echoed this sentiment, noting, “The workers are like canaries in the mine … They can see what’s going on and what happens before something tragic happens.” She also saw environmental groups’ support as a major boon to the strike. “It is encouraging to other unions to see that working with environmental groups helps you in your bargaining strength and in improving the work situation for the workers,” Hancock told me. Notably, the United Steelworkers were a founding member of the Blue Green Alliance, which seeks to unite “America’s largest labor unions and its most influential environmental organizations,” according to the group’s website.

The fight for the United Steelworkers is far from over, but the last six weeks have proven a galvanizing force for the union’s membership. Just coming off conference calls with locals around the country, Hancock observed “a lot of energy [among workers], and the motivation to stay involved and support the locals that are still having trouble on local issues.”

As collective bargaining comes under fresh attack by Republicans in Illinois and Wisconsin, the oil workers’ victory this week might be one of the month’s most hopeful headlines — especially with regards to organized labor. Amid dropping oil prices and divestment campaigners, fossil fuel companies, now more than ever, are on the defensive. Given thenot-so-secret ties between fossil fuel magnates and the GOP, ties between unions and green groups built during the strike could well have just bolstered the foundation for one of history’s most powerful — and necessary — alliances.

Kate Aronoff is a History major at Swarthmore College active in the climate justice movement, including Swarthmore Mountain Justice‘s campaign to divest the college’s endowment from fossil fuels. She currently serves as a Board Member for the Responsible Endowments Coalition. Find her on Twitter @KateAronoff.

Scott Walker Signs Right to Break Unions Law

by Laura Clawson

Surprising no one, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an anti-union law Monday that, during his re-election campaign, he’d repeatedly said he wasn’t interested in passing:
In his gubernatorial re-election bid last fall, Walker also downplayed the possibility of such a measure passing.
Walker said in September he was “not supporting it in this (2015) session.”

“We’re not going to do anything with right-to-work,” Walker told The New York Times in October.

Fitzgerald announced he would be introducing the legislation on Feb. 20 and Walker said he would sign it that same day. Continue reading

Adjuncts Organize

California Faculty Association

California Faculty Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Below Politico’s morning report describes Adjunct organizing today. ( Part time faculty)  Of note, in the California State University system, the largest public university system in the nation, adjucts are in the faculty union.  The California Faculty Association. ( NEA, SEIU).  They enjoy health benefits, a measure of job security, retirement, and negotiated wages.  Many of the adjuncts in the California community colleges are also covered by union contracts and have significant benefits.  Being in a union helps.

ANGRY ADJUNCTS: Non-tenured faculty at colleges and universities nationwide will mark today’s National Adjunct Walkout Day with an array of events designed to call attention to their low pay and tenuous working conditions. Marches and rallies are scheduled on several campuses in the University of California system. At the University of Arizona, faculty have organized a “teach in” open to the community. And at Cleveland State University, some lecturers have canceled classes so they can hand out literature. “It’s fabulous for momentum building,” said Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority advocacy group. The demonstrations come as unions have been making progress organizing adjuncts around the country. [http://politico.pro/1D9bPV2]. The Service Employees International Union, meanwhile, has launched a bold campaign calling for adjuncts to be paid $15,000 per course, up from just a few thousand on many campuses.

Tony Mazzocchi’s Spirit Lives on in Oil Refinery Strike

by Steve Early

Mazzochu

Twelve years ago, America’s leading advocate of occupational health and environmental safety succumbed to pancreatic cancer. In the U.S., where the influence of organized labor has long been contracting, the death of a former trade union official is often little noted. Yet Tony Mazzocchi was no ordinary labor leader. His passing from the scene, at age 76, was widely recognized and correctly mourned as a great loss for the entire union movement.

As a top strategist for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), Mazzocchi pioneered alliances between workers concerned about job safety and health hazards and communities exposed to industrial pollution generated by companies like Shell, Chevron, and Mobil.

In 1973, members of the OCAW (who are now part of the United Steel Workers) conducted a national contract campaign and four-month strike at Shell Oil over workplace safety rights and protections. As Mazzocchi’s biographer, Les Leopold notes, “the strike helped build a stronger anti-corporate movement” because OCAW members learned “that you can’t win these fights alone.” To win—or even just battle Big Oil to a draw—workers had to join forces with the very same environmental organizations long demonized by the industry as the enemy of labor and management alike.

Striking Big Oil Again

Four decades later, echoes of that struggle could be heard on the refinery town picket-lines that went up in northern California, Texas, Kentucky, and Washington state this week. Thousands of oil workers walked out, for the first time in 35 years, over issues and demands that Tony Mazzocchi helped publicize and build coalitions around for much of his career.

About 30,000 refinery employees are still covered by the USW agreement that expired last weekend. Nearly 4,000 of them are on strike at nine plants already, including Tesoro refineries in Martinez and Carson, CA. Other USW members, including those employed at Chevron in Richmond, may join the walkout if industry negotiators fail to address non-wage issues summarized by USWA vice-president Gary Beevers as follows:
Onerous overtime, unsafe staffing levels, dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it and the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job.” Continue reading

Port Truck Drivers on Strike! A Dispatch from Two of the Nation’s Largest Ports

 by David Bensman

 November 22, 2014

bensman

All Photos Courtesy of the Author

On Thursday, November 13, port truckers struck at the nation’s largest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, demanding an end to misclassification and wage theft. It was the fourth strike in a campaign initiated by the Teamsters and Change to Win seven years ago. It’s been a long campaign and the cost has been enormous.

The trucking companies categorize the truckers as independent contractors, a ploy that relieves the companies of the responsibility of employers. They don’t have to pay payroll taxes, don’t have to contribute to unemployment or workers’ compensation funds, don’t have to respect labor and employment laws: no right to unionize, no health and safety protections, no freedom from discrimination. After several strategies stalled, the Teamsters and Change to Win embarked on a campaign to prove that the drivers were employees, not contractors, and therefore fell under the jurisdiction of the Wagner Act. (The first step was convincing the drivers themselves that they were misclassified.) Having spent seven years researching the port trucking industry, I wanted to find out if the unions’ organizing campaign had finally broken through, so I flew out to Long Beach last weekend. This is what I saw.
Friday, November 14, 2014

Things are breaking on the port truckers’ strike. Nick Weiner, Change to Win’s lead organizer on the campaign, met with two trucking company heads and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about respecting the workers’ right to unionize. Court rulings and NLRB actions are taking a toll on the companies. At the end of two days of picketing, the parties issued a joint statement that, amazingly, recognized the independent contractors’ right to join a union if they so chose—a major breakthrough. The union agreed to suspend the picket lines on Saturday, with the understanding that if the companies did not sign agreement next week, the strikes would resume. Two other trucking companies are reported to be close to a card check agreement.

In the afternoon, members of Teamsters Local 848 and International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) staff joined drivers from two struck companies on the picket lines. Truck after truck was turned away at terminals by terminal operators who did not want to bring down the wrath of the IBT. At the Pac9 picket line, striking drivers actively blocked traffic while discussing strategy in loud Spanish. I met with one driver, Alex Paz, who was discharged by another trucking company, TTSI, for filing charges in court complaining of wage theft and misclassification. Alex was one of thirty-five drivers illegally discharged for speaking up. The unfair labor practice complaint against the company is before NLRB. While awaiting restitution, Alex is working as an employee of Toll, a member of the Teamsters, where—for a change—he enjoys overtime pay and health care coverage.
Continue reading

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