Raising Wages from the Bottom Up – part 2

By Harold Meyerson

$15DSAThree ways city and state governments can make the difference.

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

THE FIRST STRATEGY, PIONEERED by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and copied in multiple cities, is to condition city approval of new projects seeking tax abatements, public funds, or other municipal assistance on those projects meeting labor criteria that benefit the city’s residents: the payment of living wages, the hiring of women and minorities, the adherence to environmental standards—and the ability of workers in the project to join unions.

No one has done more to foster unionization through such policies than Madeline Janis, LAANE ’s founding director and now the head of Jobs to Move America, which seeks to bring the manufacture of rail cars and buses—an industry almost entirely offshored in recent decades—back to the United States and back to unionized American workers. In 2008, Los Angeles voters levied a tax increase on themselves to fund the construction of an ambitious rail system. When L.A.’s transit authority began looking for a rail-car manufacturer, however, virtually all were overseas. Even more problematically, the federal Department of Transportation conditioned its considerable financial support for such transit projects on conventional lowest-bidder criteria. Janis managed to persuade the department to add a “best value” criterion that gives points to bidders who hire veterans and workers from neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Able to choose a bidder by those criteria, the L.A. agency selected a Japanese manufacturer that pledged to build a factory in L.A. County and, with further prodding from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, not to oppose its workers’ efforts to unionize. Transit agencies in Chicago and Maryland have now adopted contract criteria similar to those in Los Angeles. Continue reading

Labor in the Fields of California

Immigrant Farm Workers Pull Leaves off Vines in a Coachella Valley Grape Vineyardby 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

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

How the Media Enabled the Anti Worker Movement

DavidJohnsonDavid Cay Johnson

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

Teamsters Call for Defeat of Fast Track and TPP

by James P. Hoffa

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[Ed. note:  Leaders of the U.S. labor movement are unanimously opposed to the passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Along with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and CWA President Larry Cohen, IBT General President James Hoffa has been a vocal critic of anti-worker “trade legislation.”  Even though even a united labor movement by itself may not be able to prevail against the unholy alliance of President Obama, the mainstream Republican and Democratic party leaderships, and the Business Roundtable and America Chamber of Commerce, a large and diverse coalition of progressive political movements, citizens’ action, religious and environmental groups has been mobilizing alongside organize labor to oppose Fast Track and the TPP]

The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has for years been shrouded in mystery. But last night, WikiLeaks gave U.S. workers a real gift when it pulled back the curtain on a portion of the proposed trade deal that shows what a boondoggle the agreement would be for big business.

Language included in the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) chapter of the TPP would grant new rights to companies to challenge limitations and exceptions to copyrights, patents and other intellectual property. That means corporations could sue the U.S. or other countries included in the deal if they didn’t like their laws. Such challenges would be handled by an unaccountable international arbitration forum. And taxpayers would end up paying the tab if the private sector wins.

Companies are already challenging governments around the globe when they feel elected officials are holding down their profit margins. Tobacco giant Philip Morris, for instance, is currently appealing Uruguay’s regulation of advertising on cigarette packages because it believes the nation’s rules are tamping down on sales in that South American country. But the TPP language would make it worse.

Trade experts agree the ISDS provisions would be very bad news for the public. “With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that would undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

An analysis of the ISDS text by Public Citizen shows, among other things:

  • Foreign investors would be allowed to challenge new policies that apply to both domestic and international corporations on the grounds that they undermine foreign investors’ “expectations” of how they should be treated.
  • The amount that an ISDS tribunal would order a government to pay to a foreign investor as compensation would be based on the “expected future profits.”
  • There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to create even broader interpretations of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.

In short, the ISDS language shows that based on this TPP chapter alone, the average worker is going to get screwed. The provisions will give corporations the ability to do an end-around on U.S. laws they don’t like. How is that fair? What about the rights of the American people? What about democracy?

Mind you, this doesn’t even address how Americans will be hammered by the other 28 chapters included in this Pacific Rim trade deal. But we already know they will. We’ve seen what NAFTA has done; we’ve seen what the recent U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement has done. Those two deals together have led to more than a million lost U.S. jobs.

Previous leaks have also let us know that lower wages, unsafe food and products, lessened environmental standards and reduced access to affordable medicines will result if the TPP becomes a reality. It’s why the Teamsters and our numerous allies have taken a stand against this terrible trade agreement. And it’s why we can’t let up now.

Want to stop this from happening? Let your members of Congress know you oppose fast-track trade authority. Forcing Capitol Hill to debate this agreement in the open on its merits is the only way hard-working Americans will be able to get a full picture of what the TPP will do. And it’s the best opportunity we have to halt TPP in its tracks.

James P, Hoffa is General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  His statement is reblogged from the Huffington Post with the permission of the IBT.

Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and Why Unions are Needed

by Duane E. Campbell

On March 31, 2015, Eleven states and numerous cities will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino leader Cesar Chavez. ChavezConferences, marches and celebrations will occur in numerous cities and particularly in rural areas of the nation. A recent film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta presents important parts of this union story.

The current UFW leadership, as well as former UFW leaders and current DSA Honorary Chairs Eliseo Medina and Dolores Huerta are recognized leaders in the ongoing efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform in the nation.

ArturoUFW President Arturo Rodriquez says, “We urge Republicans to abandon their political games that hurt millions of hard-working, taxpaying immigrants and their families, and help us finish the job by passing legislation such as the comprehensive reform bill that was approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote in June 2013,” Rodriguez said.  Similar compromise proposals, negotiated by the UFW and the nation’s major agricultural employer associations, have passed the U.S. Senate multiple times over the last decade. The same proposal has won majority support in the House of Representatives, even though House GOP leaders have refused to permit a vote on the measure. “The UFW will not rest until the President’s deferred relief is enacted and a permanent immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, is signed into law.” www.UFW.org Continue reading

A Smart Strategy to Defeat ‘Right to Work’

by Rand Wilson

rtw

Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. “Just Cause for All” campaigns should be part of the strategy. Photo: Glenn Schmidt.

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.

Everyone’s Interests

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.

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