The Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor

by Jeremy Brecher

Labor Network for Sustainability


As United States Energy Transfers Partners began building the Dakota Access Pipeline through territory sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the tribe began an escalating campaign against the pipeline. By this summer nearly 200 tribes around the country had passed resolutions opposing the pipeline and many hundreds of their members joined nonviolent direct action to halt it. Amidst wide public sympathy for the Native American cause, environmental, climate protection, human rights, and many other groups joined the campaign. On September 9, the Obama administration intervened to temporarily halt the pipeline and open government-to-government consultations with the tribes.

The Dakota Access Pipeline has become an issue of contention within organized labor. When a small group of unions supported the Standing Rock Sioux and opposed the pipeline, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka issued a statement discounting Native American claims and urging that work on the pipeline resume. Other constituencies within labor quickly cracked back. Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?

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Joslyn Williams and the Metro DC Labor Council

by Kurt Stand

Reposted from the Washington Socialist, April 2016

joslyn williams

After nearly 30 years, Joslyn Williams is stepping down as president of Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO.  He is succeeded by two people – Jackie Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 689, will serve as Council President (the first woman elected to that position), and Carlos Jimenez, most recently field organizer for Jobs with Justice, will take on the new position of Executive Director.  Each embraces the social unionism – unionism that connects workplace rights to workers’ democratic and civic rights – Williams espoused.

In order to fully appreciate the meaning of this moment when the torch is being passed to a new generation of leaders, it is worthwhile to look back upon the tradition of struggle within which Williams played such an important role.

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Labor for Bernie Activists Take the Political Revolution into Their Unions

by Dan DiMaggio and Rand Wilson


Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders shakes hands after speaking at the UAW Local 600 hall in Dearborn, Michigan, in February. Jim West,


Last June a small group of volunteers kicked off a network called “Labor for Bernie.”Their goal was to build support inside their unions for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Since then, Sanders has come a long way—racking up primary wins in nine states, including a major upset in Michigan. The all-volunteer Labor for Bernie operation has come a long way too, growing to include tens of thousands of union members.

So far they’ve helped Sanders win the endorsements of more than 80 local unions and four national or international unions, including the Postal Workers (APWU), Communications Workers (CWA), and National Nurses United.

CWA made its endorsement after polling its members online—and after Sanders rallied with Verizon workers who are battling for a contract. The candidate is a longtime advocate for postal services, which impressed the Postal Workers. He’s also a lifelong proponent of single-payer health care, NNU’s signature issue. Nurses have crisscrossed the country on their union’s “Bernie Bus,” talking to voters.

The latest big union to endorse Sanders was the Amalgamated Transit Union. In a March 14 press release, President Larry Hanley cited the senator’s “longstanding fidelity to the issues that are so important to working people.”

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South Carolina Raising Wages Summit

by Rick Patelunas

south carolina

The last of four Raising Wages summits sponsored by the AFL-CIO was held at the International Longshoreman’s Hall in Charleston, South Carolina on February 6th.  Previous summits were held in Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, but South Carolina might present the environment most hostile to raising wages.  South Carolina is one of only five states without a minimum wage; it is a right-to-work state and Governor Nikki Haley said:

“We discourage any company that has unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water . . .[W]e educate different companies coming in from outside to understand that’s not what we want to do in South Carolina; and if they’re interested in that, we’re not where they need to come.”

That’s the same Governor Haley who delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in January.  She is also responsible for the infamous “It’s a great day in South Carolina” phase that state workers are forced to say when they answer the phone.  Speakers at the Raising Wages summit tell a different story.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenberg explained how his office is wrestling with the falling wages in the city at the same time housing costs continue to climb.  Using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator, the Mayor found that $11.60 an hour was needed for a living wage in Charleston.  With no state minimum wage, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 prevails.

On the legislative front, State Senator Marlon Kimpson talked about two bills he sponsored in the state legislature:  one to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and one to provide paid sick leave to workers.  It’s an uphill battle with the Koch brothers behind some of the opposition in the state, but workers need to be respected with a livable wage and paid sick leave.

At the federal level, Congressman Jim Clyburn spoke of his support for a livable wage of $15 per hour.  He also recognized that everyone should do what they can at the local level and if $10.50 is all that’s possible in South Carolina, South Carolina needs to work for that.

Chris Kromm, Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies provided examples of South Carolina’s “low road” approach to economic development.  For instance, the $1,020 Billion incentive package the state put together to attract Boeing to North Charleston.  A handout from Mr. Kromm reports that the State newspaper “estimated that the price tag for incentive deals for just four companies – BMW, Boeing, Bridgestone and Michelin – totaled $800 million, or about $100,000 for each of the 8,000 jobs created.”

It’s interesting to find BMW in the list of incentives given Governor Haley’s anti-union polemics and policies.  From the BMW website:  “In accordance with the regulations contained in the German co-determination Act, BMW AG’s Supervisory Board shall comprise ten shareholder representatives . . . and ten employee representatives.”  Those ten employee representatives are the union.  That’s the law in Germany and it’s not simply for show — the Supervisory Board has final veto power of whether plants open or close.

Eight hundred million dollars is more than a price tag.  It’s $800 of taxpayer money that is not used elsewhere.  Politicians made a decision to use that money for business incentives rather than investing in the people of South Carolina.  Consider the plight of two Raising Wages panelists.   After ten years as a fast food worker, Rachel Nelson toils for $9.00 an hour with shifts lasting twelve hours with no breaks.  That’s above the minimum wage, but it is not a livable wage.  Likewise, Amy Reece is a child care worker who considers leaving the job she loves because her pay may be above the minimum wage, but it is not a livable wage.  Both are fighting for $15 an hour and the chance to unionize.

At a time when South Carolina’s education system, health and quality of life rankings are routinely at the bottom of the country, incentives to lure businesses to low wage, no union “havens” have another cost.  It’s corporate welfare.  Corporations keep the profits from paying low wages and leave taxpayers the responsibility of helping the underpaid.  Days before the Raising Wages summit, the Economic Policy Institute released a report showing how raising the minimum wage to $12.00 an hour would save billions of taxpayer dollars by 2020.

  • Among workers in the bottom three wage deciles, every $1 increase in hourly wages reduces the likelihood of receiving means-tested public assistance by 3.1 percentage points. This means that the number of workers receiving public assistance could be reduced by 1 million people with a wage increase of just $1.17 an hour, on average, among the lowest-paid 30 percent of workers. These workers would see higher incomes, even as they no longer received public assistance.
  • For every $1 that wages rise among workers in the bottom three wage deciles, spending on government assistance programs falls by roughly $5.2 billion. This estimate is conservative, as it does not include the value of Medicaid benefits.
  • Raising the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 would reduce means-tested public assistance spending by $17 billion annually. These savings could fund a variety of improvements to government anti-poverty tools, such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to childless adults, or provide funding for new education initiatives, such as improving access to preschool for children from low- and moderate-income families.

Governor Haley’s anti-worker, anti-union, anti-minimum wage, anti-government policies are not particular to her or South Carolina.  At the Republican forum on poverty in South Carolina three weeks before the Raising Wages summit, six Republican Presidential candidates shared their remedies for poverty.  Governor Christie called teachers unions the single most destructive force in education.  Ben Carson called the US progressive tax system socialism that doesn’t work in America.  Senator Rubio dismissed raising the minimum wage because it would make people more expensive than machines.

On the Democratic side, both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders favor raising the minimum wage, support unions and advocate raising taxes on the wealthy.  Their plans are different, but understanding the problems and the way towards solving them stands in stark contrast to Republican policies.

Our economic situation did not just happen.  It is not the working of some free market.  It is the result of government decisions and policies that have rigged the system against workers for forty years.  A number of the speakers called for the need to change the rules and the upcoming primaries and elections are an opportunity to begin the change.  Hold politicians accountable.  Ask them what they’ve done, what they’re doing and what they will do.

The Raising Wages summit provided a road map listing policies that can begin to turn things around for workers:

  • Restore Freedom of Association
  • Restore and Strengthen Labor Standards
  • Ensure Full Employment
  • Reform the Global Economy
  • Reform Wall Street
  • Increase Productivity Growth to Allow for Higher Wage Growth.

Jobs, Justice and Climate Rally and March to Defend New England’s Future

by Paul Garver


By 12th December the Paris climate talks will have ended.  Political leaders will have made promises to voluntarily reduce carbon emissions. Whether these promises are kept or not kept over the coming decades depends upon us.

We know what we need: real climate solutions that create secure union jobs and strengthen community power and resiliency.

To get there, we must build an unstoppable grassroots movement that unites workers and  labor unions with immigrant rights. racial justice and climate justice movements.

Representatives of these movements are calling for a rally and march in Boston on 12th December to Defend New England’s Future. Organizers include 350 Mass for a Better Future and Jobs with Justice.  Endorsers include labor unions [Vermont State AFL-CIO, SEIU Locals 1199 and 509, Mass. Nurses Association/National Nurses United, Boston Musicians, Local 3844 American Postal Workers Union], worker centers from Vermont, Southern Maine and New Bedford, and numerous community and social rights groups like City Life/Vida Urbana, the Migrant Center and Interfaith Workers Justice.

They will join with a broad network of climate justice and environmental groups including numerous 350 MA nodes, campus divestment groups, Mass Peace Action and the Sierra Club in rallying in Boston Common and in front of the Mass. State House.   The march will also take support for organizing low wage workers at McDonald’s and Primark.  Flyers are being prepared in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English to help reach out to immigrant communities.

Although social movements have been gathering momentum and winning specific legislative victories in Massachusetts and other New England states in the years since the Occupy movement, they have been somewhat isolated into separate “silos.”  Organizers of the 12th December Rally and March hope to help spark a more inclusive and unified grassroots’ movement that reaches broader mass constituencies beyond their organizational leaders.

For some background on how the 12th December actions being organized throughout the world relate to the Paris talks, see

Strong Unions Strengthen Democracies and Deliver Peace

3500Houcine Abassi and Richard L Trumka, The Guardian (UK)

Strong unions make strong democracies. It sounds simplistic, but each of us have experienced this fundamental premise in our nations. As labor leaders in the United States and Tunisia [1] respectively, we know full well that when workers come together for a voice on the job, it boosts the economy, eases social unrest and creates the conditions for peace, prosperity and the protection of rights.

To be sure, we come from very different countries, each with its own set of economic and political challenges. But we have seen the healing power of unions firsthand.

In Tunisia, organized labor was the primary catalyst in winning and sustaining democracy as states around it descended back into totalitarianism. The coalition to build a strong, inclusive democratic alliance became known as the Quartet, bringing together labor, business, human rights and legal organizations. This effort earned the Quartet, with strong leadership from the Tunisian labor movement, the Nobel peace prize. Continue reading

Fight for $15 – Labor’s Big Bang or Not?

IMG_3693Will AFL-CIO Jump In?

 By Carl Finamore

There are only two flash points in American history where labor unions became center stage in politics.

I will call these “Big Bang” moments because they propelled the American Federation of Labor (AFL) after 1886 and the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) after 1935, from fledgling organizing committees into mass organizations directly impacting and attracting millions.

In the case of the AFL, it was due to avid support for the eight-hour day and in the case of the CIO, it was due to resolute support for union organizing of millions of previously excluded industrial workers.

There has never again been such mass acceptance and relevancy for labor, mostly because of numerous failures to grasp the historical moment. Continue reading