How the UAW Lost at Nissan

by Dianne Feeley

IN EARLY AUGUST the UAW’s union recognition campaign at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi ended in a disastrous 63% “no” vote — 10% greater than the loss at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee three and a half years earlier.

From the beginning of the decade-long campaign at Nissan the UAW sought community support, stressing that “Workers’ Rights = Civil Rights.” This was a particularly effective strategy given that 80% of the workers are African American, and Canton is 80% Black. And given the 6,000-strong march held this spring in support of the unionization drive, it seemed like the UAW was headed for victory.

But that was outside the sprawling plant. Inside management took an aggressive anti-union stance, holding captive meetings, blaring anti-union videos in the break rooms, and in the days just before the vote holding mandatory large group meetings and even one-to-one sessions. They explained how the UAW would not represent the interests of employees and other “facts.”

In listening to the voices of the Nissan workers, health and safety was a major issue, as it is in most non-union workplaces. Several mentioned Derrick Whiting, 37, who collapsed and died on the plant floor in September 2015. He had gone to the plant’s medical facility complaining of chest pains and was sent back to the line.

Anna Wolfe reported in the Clarion Ledger, “Some employees claim Nissan did not respond quickly to the crisis and even kept nearby production lines moving. The company denies these allegations, maintaining that safety at its automotive plant is ‘significantly better than the national average.’” (http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/politics/2017/08/01/inside-fight-over-unionizing-nissan/508465001/)

Others planning on voting for UAW representation spoke about the need for job security and pensions. A big contradiction in the election, however, was the division among African Americans. At Nissan, the top-tier workforce averages $26 per hour while second-tier workers make $18 — but both are much higher than Canton’s per capita annual household income of $15,000. Given these economic disparities the company was effective in discouraging eligible workers from “rocking the boat” and voting for an untested union.

African Americans in Mississippi have few opportunities for relatively higher paying blue-collar jobs. Faced with both an anti-labor government and Nissan, many Black workers feared losing a stable, well-paying job. Meanwhile there was debate in the plant around management’s favoritism of whites in promotions and opportunities. But neither the in-plant issues of economic inequality nor the particular history of racism in the region were well understood by the UAW leadership. Had there been a strong in-plant committee capable of taking initiative, these could have been addressed.

Organizing Problems

Of the 6400 workers at the plant, only 3500-3800 were eligible to vote. The rest were temporary workers. In fact 2500 are employed by Kelly Services, not Nissan.

At Nissan there are three separate tiers. There are “legacy” workers who were hired in when Nissan began. Second are “pathway” workers who started as temporaries and gained full-time employment — but whose benefits will never equal the highest tier. There are approximately 1500 of these second-tier workers. Third are the “temporary” workers employed by Kelly Services.

As a retired autoworker, I see two huge organizing issues: 1) the pro-union workers didn’t come together and begin to act like a union but merely talked about why there should be one. 2) The UAW didn’t reach out to the temporary workers and draw them into the campaign.

Most autoworkers see how temporary workers are superexploited. They work as hard, or harder, than “legacy” workers but are paid significantly less, with no job security and zero benefits.

In watching the organizing drive from a distance, I’ve wondered what could the UAW organizers do to build a militant union at a large Southern plant, given that many of the problems Nissan workers faced were similar to the ones we had in UAW-represented plants.

After all, UAW officials had preached concessions as a way to keep our jobs since the 1980s. They, along with the corporations, sold two-tier wages and benefits to autoworkers, intimidating and slandering those of us who argued against this strategy.

Once imposed, the two-tier structure was rationalized. Unable to organize the foreign-owned transplants who had located in the South in order to keep unions out, the UAW maintained that until the proportion of unionized autoworkers grew, UAW workers were stuck with concessionary bargaining.

That’s a circular argument. We lost our power because the proportion of unionized autoworkers declined with the opening of the nonunionized transplants. Therefore, we were told, UAW workers must survive by taking concessions, waiting for a better day, when we can grow again and regain what we have lost. But through taking concessions, we undercut the reasons why unorganized autoworkers would want to join!

In the last round of Big Three negotiations, UAW President Dennis Williams chose to negotiate with Chrysler first. Many wondered about his choosing the smallest and weakest corporation for negotiation because it would set the pattern for the other two.

When the negotiated contract was announced, it retained the two-tier system and limited the percentage of workers who could climb up the ladder. To the surprise of Solidarity House (the UAW headquarters), Chrysler workers overwhelmingly rejected it. A second and slightly improved contract was approved — but today there are more job and pay categories than ever before.

The current contract expands the use of temporary workers. Yet the industrial union model is built on the concept that whatever one’s job, there is relatively little difference in pay, benefits and working conditions. Yes, skilled workers make more money, but with the same benefits. Permanent differentials erode collectivity on the shop floor, and allow management to promote a culture where workers see themselves as individuals competing against other workers.

A Different Strategy?

What could the UAW have fought for at Nissan to benefit the 2,500 Nissan temporaries? A core of UAW supporters, coming from all three tiers, could have begun to function as a union on the shop floor. They could have raised demands around health and safety issues. They could have contested discrimination that occurs when supervisors favor white workers and when one part of the workforce lacks security.

This would have changed the dynamic about what the union is and deepened the understanding and commitment to economic equality on the job. The union is not a foreign body injected into the Nissan plant, it’s the workers who have come together collectively to voice their demands and seek their implementation.

Under this model, building the union is the goal. Maybe the shop committee would be so strong it could challenge the racist system of promotion, maybe even force the company to get rid of Kelly Services and start hiring. But whether or not it could accomplish its goals, the union would function as an institution to carry out campaigns that its members decided upon.

It might even turn the tables on management, tracking Nissan’s suppliers and helping those workers to organize as a way of increasing the union’s power over the company’s just-in-time production.

Holding a recognition election would be a secondary goal. Whenever it happened the temporaries, whatever their formal status, should have the right to vote. Two potential contract demands might then be that temporaries become permanent employees and the wall between tiers be dissolved. That would be a union worth fighting for.

I believe an organizing campaign that united the workers around their needs could have won at Nissan — despite the words of the Republican governor who opposed the union, despite all the Nissan ads on local TV and all the intimidating tactics used on the job.

Such a campaign would transform the union, which today is a shell of what the UAW was. Once it did take on management through a variety of actions including delegations during break time, work-to-rule actions and quickie strikes — a strategy, by the way, that’s also needed in the already organized UAW plants.

reposted from Against the Current (https://www.solidarity-us.org/node/5082)

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DSA Launches National Boycott Against B&H

by Maria Svart, National Director DSA

For 16 weeks, DSA members in New York City have been picketing every Friday and Sunday in support of hundreds of unionized warehouse workers fighting to save their jobs and win a contract at B&H Photo and Video. They’ve engaged in direct action, contacted city politicians, pressured the company on social media, produced flyers and videos and organized fundraisers for the campaign.

But B&H is a national retailer, with $2.65 billion in sales revenue – and so the campaign against them must be national too. That’s why today DSA is launching a new national boycott effort and website, www.boycottbnh.com, to tell the company: Settle a contract with your workers! End the exploitation!

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B&H is the largest non-chain distributor of media production equipment in the U.S. It’s also a notorious violator of workers’ rights with a long track record of inhumane working conditions and rampant discrimination. The company is currently being sued by the Department of Labor for racial disparities in hiring and forcing Hispanic workers to use segregated bathrooms, among other abuses.

Please visit www.boycottbnh.com today and sign on to the boycott of B&H Photo and Video to tell the company that you won’t stand by while it exploits its warehouse workers. Share the website on social media and tell all your friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances to sign on too. Remember to tag your social media posts #BoycottBnH.

The conditions under which B&H warehouse workers work are deplorable. These include

  • 5.5-day work weeks with frequent demands for 16-hour days but only a 45-minute break;
  • denial of ambulances when seriously injured;
  • exposure to asbestos, benzene, and fiberglass dust resulting in chronic nosebleeds and other complications;
  • lack of training on operating dangerous equipment like forklifts, powerjacks, and pickers, and on handling of hazardous chemicals like sodium selenite and ammonium bromide;
  • lack of basic safety equipment; and
  • coercion to sign away workers’ comp benefits after injuries.

During a 2014 fire at one warehouse, workers were denied access to fire exits so management could run them through metal detectors to check for potential theft.

The warehouse workers are fighting back against these abuses – but they need your help. Please visit www.boycottbnh.com now, sign on to the boycott and share the website widely. Use the hashtag #BoycottBnH. Tell B&H: End the exploitation!

After the 2014 fire, workers contacted the Laundry Workers’ Center (LWC) to help them organize and address their grievances. In November 2015, the workers voted to join the United Steelworkers to secure a union contract. Management has fought them every step of the way and now intends to close the warehouses where they work and relocate production to Florence, NJ, 75 miles away rather than settle a union contract.

On July 10, the workers delivered their response to B&H’s demand that they accept the move: No! Let the workers know you stand with them – and against union-busting – by signing on to the boycott of B&H Photo and Video at www.boycottbnh.com today. Then share the website with everyone you know using the hashtag #BoycottBnH.

While DSA has coordinated nationally on many labor campaigns in the past, it has historically played a supporting role. This boycott marks the first time in recent memory that it has launched its own coordinated national labor initiative. DSA is the driving force behind this boycott – and so it is critical that each of us do our part to see that it succeeds.

If you would like to get more involved in the campaign, please write to nyc.strike.solidarity@gmail.com, especially if you work for or are otherwise affiliated with an organization that does business with B&H. And remember to visit www.boycottbnh.com today!

In Solidarity,

Maria Svart, DSA National Director
http://www.dsausa.org/

boycott b & H

Undocumented Immigrants and the New Gilded Age

by Martin Kich

worker-on-a-scaffold-symbolfoto-for-building-construction-boom-labor-protection-144052165

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).

Union members are Happier and Better Paid !

By Duane Campbell

While union membership has declined, union workers on average make more per hour than non union workers, have better health and vacation benefits, and are ‘happier” according to “Labor Union Membership and Life Satisfaction in the United States “an October 2014 paper by Patrick Flavin Assistant Professor Baylor University, Gregory Shufeldt Assistant Professor University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

http://op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/13/want-to-be-happy-join-a-union/?

In 2014, the union membership —the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 11.1 percent, down 0.2 percentage point from 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday, Jan.23. . The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.6 million, was little different from 2013. In 1983,  the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers. Continue reading

Campaign for Fair Scheduling

by David Bensman

A great cultural transformation is driving demands for workers’ control of job schedules.

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Though it would be hard to see it in the midterm election results, we live in the opening phase of a great countermovement against neoliberalism. The evidence is everywhere you look, and not only in the United States and Latin America. The stunning success of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century can only be understood in this context.

Throughout America, there are campaigns for raising the minimum wage and for setting a $15 floor. (On November 4, four red states approved ballot initiatives to up the minimum wage, and San Franciscans voted to follow Seattle’s lead by setting the floor at $15 per hour.) There are also accelerating campaigns for fair workweeks, a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, and for granting home-care attendants the employment protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Fast Food workers, taxi drivers, port truckers, Wal-Mart employees, car washers, Fed Ex freight truck drivers and many health-care workers are all organizing unions.

The campaigns by worker centers to combat wage theft and end misclassification of so-called independent contractors has been joined by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service

The slow-growing international effort to govern global supply chains has produced a comprehensive Rana Plaza Accord, binding leading apparel retailers (though not Wal-Mart or The Gap) to enforceable commitments to pay professional engineers to inspect factory buildings in Bangladesh for structural integrity and fire safety. The campaigns by worker centers to combat wage theft and end misclassification of so-called independent contractors has been joined by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as 15 state governments. Fast food workers’ uprisings have prompted the National Labor Relations Board to consider making franchisors share responsibility for the working conditions of the employees of their franchisees. The midterm elections also advanced the movement for paid sick leave, which won approval by 60 percent of Massachusetts voters, and was approved by voters in two New Jersey municipalities (bringing the total to six), as well as by Oakland residents.

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Nurses are among the many workers who suffer from unpredictable schedules that often lead to working double shifts.

It’s a global phenomenon. In France, it was expressed by the sans papiersmovement, which brought progressives into alliance with immigrant groups in a struggle for civil rights. In Greece, Spain, Belgium, and Slovenia, protests against austerity, deregulation and privatization are challenging the E.U.’s turn from social democracy into neoliberalism. In India, female agricultural workers are organizing to assert rights denied by governments and male heads of households. In Brazil, there is the landless people’s movement. Elsewhere in Latin America, the emergence of indigenous people’s movements against deforestation, dam construction and environmentally devastating mining projects reflects signal a thoroughgoing rejection of neoliberalism. In China, workers’ protests against low pay and excessive overtime, which are beginning to develop into campaigns for free association and collective bargaining, are emblematic not only of growing anger at Communist Party rule, but also at the soulless capitalist road the party has embarked on. On the world stage, the effort of the BRICs nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to organize a development bank to serve as an alternative to the World Bank demonstrates the determination of nations outside the sphere of Western domination to build institutions supporting a different path to development.

In addition to these progressive tendencies, right-wing populist movements also contain elements that reject neoliberalism in the name of individual freedom and/or communitarian values, as Ralph Nader has recently pointed out in Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance for Dismantling the Corporate State. Although there are many facets of the Tea Party, the anti-immigration movement, the French National Party and Golden Dawn that are poisonous, there are also tendencies calling for reining in Wall Street banks and opposing trade deals that weaken national sovereignty in favor of corporate domination. Whether or not progressive forces can find common ground with these elements in right-wing populism will help determine our future.
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California Truckers Strike for Worker Rights

by Peter Dreier

Truckers Go To Court Over LA Port's Clean Trucks Program

More than 40 percent of the goods that come into the United States from overseas come through the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That fact alone gives thousands of truck drivers who haul those goods from the ports to warehouses considerable leverage with big companies (like Walmart, Cosco, and Home Depot) whose goods are mostly made in Asia as well as with the shipping companies, the municipal Harbor Commission which oversees the port, and the trucking companies who employ the drivers.

If the truckers shut down the port, they can disrupt a huge part of the U.S. economy that depends on global trade. That’s particularly true during this time of year, when more cargo arrives at the ports in anticipation of the gift-buying holidays.

The trucking companies routinely put profits over people. For example, the Harbor Trucking Association (HTA), which represent the companies, is asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to relax the safety rules that dictate the amount of sleep truckers must have. The HTA wants to lift the requirements so that employers can extend drivers’ hours to accommodate the increased shipping loads prior to the holidays.

No worker wants to go on strike, but several major trucking companies at these L.A. and Long Beach ports have made working conditions so miserable that many drivers believe they have no choice. So the drivers will be out of their trucks and onto the picket lines this week.

In July, drivers went on strike to protest the companies’ chronic unfair labor practices. After five days of picketing that dramatically impacted port operations and garnered international media attention, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti brokered a “cooling off” period that included an agreement by three trucking firms — Total Transportation Services (TTSI), Pacific 9 Transportation (Pac 9), and Green Fleet Systems — to accept all drivers back to work without retaliation. But the trucking companies went back on their pledge to Garcetti. They continued retaliating against drivers who have complained about unfair conditions and who want a stronger voice in their workplaces. They even fired several of the most outspoken truckers.

So now the drivers are ready to go back on the picket lines and to shift their protests from the offices of the trucking companies to the dockside terminals where longshore workers move containers from ships to trucks. Their actions could be compounded if, the dock workers also withhold their labor. About 20,000 longshoreman at 29 West Coast ports, who have been working without a union contract since July 1, are poised to go on strike in a dispute with the shipping companies.

The drivers claim that the trucking companies have been misclassifying them as “independent contractors” in order to make it impossible, under federal labor laws, to unionize. The companies routinely deduct huge amounts from drivers’ paychecks for fuel, parking, insurance and other expenses, a practice that the drivers say is wage theft. After drivers pay for the cost of renting and maintaining their trucks, their pay is often below the minimum wage.

“The companies treat us like regular employees but compensate us like independent contractors,” drivers said in a joint statement.

Several times in the past year the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) sided with the drivers, finding that they are actually employees rather than independent contractors because the trucking companies establish all the conditions of their work. Since February 2013, DLSE has ruled against one of the firms, TTSI, in 17 cases awarding the drivers over $1.2 million in the form of unpaid wages and reimbursements for expenses paid by workers. DLSE admonished the trucking firms to stop retaliating against drivers who raise these issues, but the retaliations have continued.

Last summer, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a consolidated complaint alleging that GFS has committed more than 50 egregious labor law violations. And last month, a Federal Judge issued an injunction against Green Fleet Systems (GFS), ordered the company to immediately re-hire two drivers who were fired illegally, and stop other illegal labor activities or face contempt of court. The court found that in January 2014 that GFS misclassified drivers Mateo Mares and Amilcar Cardona as independent contractors and then fired them for openly supporting GFS’ drivers’ efforts to unionize with the Teamsters and for refusing to withdraw their wage and hour claims for illegal deductions.

“This is a great victory not just for me and Mateo,” said Amilcar Cardona. “It is a great victory for all drivers serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and across the country. The majority of U.S. port drivers are misclassified as “independent contractors” and with this decision, we are beginning to see that the law is on our side and that we all have rights as employees to form our union.”

But despite these rulings by the DLSE, the NLRB, and a federal court, the trucking companies have continued to break the law and try to intimidate the drivers, leading to the latest showdown on the docks.

The drivers have appealed to the Harbor Commission, a municipal agency that oversees port operations, to take steps to reign in the rogue companies. If the dockers walk off their jobs in solidarity with the truckers, port activity would come to a halt, but the truckers alone have sufficient clout to have a significant economic impact if they strike.

According to Harbor Commissioner Patricia Castellanos, “these trucking companies’ behavior is outrageous. After all these deductions, some drivers are barely getting paid anything.”

Castellanos expressed sympathy for the drivers’ plight and their decision to resume their strike.

“It is very clear that the actions that their employers are taking is what’s causing them to take even further action,” she said.

Peter Dreier teaches Politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame(Nation Books, 2012)

This article is reposted from the blog of the Huffington Post.

Obama Acts to Deny Federal Contracts to Labor Law Violators

by Mike Hall

Obama signing contractorsPresident Barack Obama on Thursday signed an executive order that will make it harder for companies with a history of labor law violations such as wage and hour and workplace safety to win federal contracts. Said Obama:

We expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely on these contracts. Our tax dollars shouldn’t go to companies that violate workplace laws, they shouldn’t go to companies that violate workers’ rights.

From raising wages to workplace protections, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, “President Obama is showing strong leadership where it’s needed most.”
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