Labor Day and Farm Workers

Arturo

Arturo Rodriguez,
This Labor Day the American worker has reason to be optimistic.

While a few short years ago a $15 minimum wage seemed like a moonshot, today municipalities and states across the country are standing with workers and adopting a minimum wage that will ultimately lift 35 million hard-working American families out of poverty.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration expanded overtime pay protections to more than 4 million working Americans.

And in California we are on the cusp on progress that builds on what the President has accomplished and paves the way for reforms that have the potential to put millions of working Americans on a pathway to the middle class.

Last week, California lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation that allows farm workers to get paid overtime like all other workers.

Right now – in 2016 – a Jim Crow-era federal law excludes professions like farm workers, maids and domestic workers from overtime. Professions almost exclusively held by people of color. The fact that 78 years later that law is still on the books, prohibiting farm workers from earning a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, is reprehensible.

In 1938, it was passed to discriminate against people of color and all these years later it still discriminates, now predominately against Latino farm workers.

While we haven’t been able to change that law on the federal level due to Congressional inaction, states have the right to expand benefits. After decades of fighting to correct this injustice, we are close to righting an historic wrong.

The bill sponsored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that recently passed would gradually raise overtime pay for farm workers, requiring time-and-a-half for more than 8 hours worked in a day or 40 hours worked in a week. Farm workers who work more than 12 hours a day would get double pay.

It means a hard working mother or father who rises before dawn in the summer heat or on a freezing winter’s day and gets home well after the kids are asleep will finally get the pay they deserve but have been denied.

This isn’t controversial – it’s just fair.

The legislation didn’t pass on its own. Hillary Clinton was the first national leader to advocate for the change, Obama Administration officials, including Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have stood with us, as has Senator Dianne Feinstein and a diverse coalition of labor, immigrant, civil rights and social organizations.

Now the only remaining hurdle we have to clear to level the playing field for farm workers is Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. Ed. note; Governor Brown signed the bill on September 12.

If we can do it in California – the largest agriculture producer in the nation and the state that produces more than half of our nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts- it would be the latest example of the Golden State leading the nation in workers’ rights. It will yet again be a model for other states to follow.

Today, I’m proud to see our efforts bear fruit. As we celebrate Labor Day, farm workers in California rejoice the passing of this historic legislation. We’re almost there.

Together, we will continue to fight alongside our brothers and sisters as we work to open up a path to the middle class for farm workers and their families.

Follow Arturo S. Rodríguez on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ufwupdates
President, UFW.
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What Happened to the Labor Party?

And, Why Should We Care?

In the 1990s, hundreds of US labor activists came together to form the Labor Party. The initiative was the brainchild of Tony Mazzocchi, the passionate leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (which, after two mergers, is today part of the United Steelworkers).

Mazzocchi held true to the dream of an independent political party rooted in the labor movement over which working people would have ownership. He was fond of saying: “The bosses have two parties. We need one of our own.”

Dereck Siedman interviews Marc Dudzic:

 Historically, labor has been committed to the Democrats, and Mazzocchi recognized a problem here: unions won’t abandon the Democrats for a labor party that can’t promise victory and may be an electoral spoiler. But at the same time, it would be impossible to build a labor party that could compete electorally if it didn’t have the support of unions. What was the Labor Party’s strategy for confronting this dilemma?

Mark Dudzic:

Our party-building model was premised on the understanding that you cannot have a party of labor that does not have at the table a substantial portion of the actually-existing labor movement. The Labor Party had to start with the assurance that it wouldn’t play spoiler politics and that it would focus on building the critical mass necessary for serious electoral intervention. Continue reading

The Radical Labor Roots of the Great Delano Grape Strike

David Bacon
September 20, 2015
http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-radical-roots-of-great-grape-strike_20.html

This is an expanded version of an article in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle:  http://sfchron.cl/1QHt9Jt

LarryLarry Itliong.  Photo:  Bob Fitch Photo Archive © Stanford University Libraries

Fifty years ago the great grape strike started in Delano, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields on September 8, 1965.  Mexican workers joined them two weeks later.  The strike went on for five years, until all California table grape growers were forced to sign contracts in 1970.

The strike was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country.  It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color.  Beyond the fields, Chicano and Asian American communities were inspired to demand rights, and many activists in those communities became organizers and leaders themselves.

California’s politics have changed profoundly in 50 years.  Delano’s mayor today is a Filipino.  That would have been unthinkable in 1965, when growers treated the town as a plantation.

But a mythology has hidden the true history of how and why the strike started, especially its connection to some of the most radical movements in the country’s labor history.  Writer Peter Matthiessen, for instance, claimed in his famous two-part 1969 profile of Cesar Chavez in The New Yorker: “Until Chavez appeared, union leaders had considered it impossible to organize seasonal farm labor, which is in large part illiterate and indigent…” Continue reading

Open Shop Trend Makes Organizing “the Organized” Top Union Priority

by Steve Early

Steve Early

            For many years, American unions have been trying to “organize the unorganized” to offset, and, where possible, reverse their steady loss of dues-paying members. In union circles, a distinction was often made between this “external organizing”–to recruit workers who currently lack collective bargaining rights–and “internal organizing,” which involves engaging more members in contract fights and other forms of collective action aimed at strengthening existing bargaining units.

Thanks to the growing success of corporate-backed “Right-to-Work” campaigns, these two forms of union outreach now greatly overlap.  Virtually all labor organizations face the expanded challenge of recruiting and maintaining members in already unionized workplaces where the decision to provide financial support for the union has, for better or worse, become voluntary. (Some left-wing critics of “contract unionism” have long argued that automatic deduction of dues, by employers for their union bargaining partners, makes the latter overly dependent on management and less responsive to rank-and-file workers.)

Throughout the country, labor foes have succeeded in limiting the ability of unions to collect dues, or the equivalent in “agency fees,” from more of the 16 million workers they are legally certified to represent.  In the private sector, 24 states now have an “open shop,” which means that union membership or fee paying by non-members cannot be required in contracts with employers, including, most recently, those operating in Michigan and Indiana.

In the public sector, the parallel legal/political assault on “union security” agreements and automatic deduction of dues or fees from government employee paychecks has unfolded in those two states, neighboring Wisconsin, and every state with recently created bargaining units for home-based direct care providers.

With adverse ramifications for 700,000 similarly situated union-represented workers in other states, the Supreme Court ruled, in June, that publicly funded home health care aides in Illinois were only “quasi-public employees.” According to the Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn, they are no longer subject to the requirement, under local public sector labor law, that non-members pay their “fair share” of the cost of union representation and services which unions must provide to everyone in their bargaining units.

Membership Exodus

When Service Employees organizer Rand Wilson and I wrote about this emerging trend two years ago, in an essay for Monthly Review Press entitled “Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America,” we noted that there were already more than 1.5 million Americans covered by union contracts, who had declined to become members. Based on developments then underway in the mid-west, we predicted that the guaranteed revenue stream that many U.S. labor organizations had long enjoyed–and used to pay for their large complement of lawyers, lobbyists, full-time negotiators, and field staff–would soon be interrupted.

For example, in Wisconsin, where public employees had just been battered by contract concessions and then stripped of meaningful collective bargaining rights, most of their unions had not functioned as voluntary membership organizations for three decades or more. We expressed the concern that a new, more intimidating workplace environment might combine with rank-and-file resentment over wage and benefit give backs to send dues receipts plummeting–if unions did not move quickly to strengthen their shop-floor presence.

In Indiana, from 2005-11, a similar Republican revocation of “dues check off” and more limited bargaining rights caused state worker union membership to drop from 16,400 to less than 1,500. In Michigan, after legislators excluded home care workers from their state’s definition of public employees and stripped them of bargaining rights granted by a previous Democratic governor, membership in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) declined by 80%–from 55,000 members to less than 11,000 in a single year.

Painful Transition 

As The New York Times reported last February, the forced transition to a new model of functioning has been no less painful in Wisconsin. Since Republican-backed Act 10 “severely restricted the power of public employee unions to bargain collectively,” the state worker membership of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) “has fallen by 60 percent; its annual budget has plunged to $2 million from $6 million.”

Founded in 1932 as a pioneering AFSCME affiliate, Madison-based Local 1 went from 1,000 to 122 members. To keep the union alive, “99 percent of what the staff does is organize,” explained AFSCME council director Marty Bell. “Without the ability to bargain, Bell’s union mostly represents members and engages in collective action,” according to The Times. Local affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have been similarly decimated—in part because of official resistance to lowering dues—while their counterparts in the National Education Association (NEA) had done better maintaining Wisconsin membership.

Now comes Michigan again, where the most recently enacted state “right to work” law is going into effect for 112,000 public school teachers, who represent one out of every six union members in the state. During all of August, they’ve had a chance to “opt out” of paying for their union representation. In a previous “opt out” period last year, only 1,500 or 1% did. But this summer, teachers have been bombarded with anti-union mailers and newspaper ads–the latter purchased by Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers creation. These have urged them to withhold annual payments of up to $822 to the Michigan Education Association and its parent organization, the NEA.

Other major unions in Michigan, including the United Auto Workers (UAW) have multi-year contracts that are in effect until 2015 or later. When those expire, more private sector union members will have the same choice as teachers this summer. As the Associated Press reported August 25, “a significant number of drop outs would deliver a financial blow to labor in a state where it has historically been dominant”—or, at least, far more influential in the past than today.

When a cash-strapped UAW hiked its dues earlier this year, opponents of that measure warned that higher dues might encourage more of the union’s 50,000 Michigan-based autoworkers to drop out next year. Of particular concern is the simmering resentment of more recently hired UAW dues payers, who are demanding changes in the Big Three’s two-tier wage structure that leaves them far below the hourly pay of higher seniority workers. If that issue is not satisfactorily resolved in the next round of auto industry bargaining, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity may even gain traction in a few auto plants.

Pre-Emptive Organizing Needed

In an anticipation of an unfavorable ruling in Harris v. Quinn, some SEIU and AFSCME locals, with large numbers of home-based workers paying agency fees rather than dues, stepped up their efforts to convert them into actual members, who would stick with the union when and if “free riding” became possible. These efforts have paid off, in some places, but still have a long way to go in SEIU affiliates like United Long Term Care Workers in California. SEIU-ULTCW has publicly claimed to have 170,000 “members” at the same time its U.S. Department of Labor filings showed that 80,000 or more were, in fact,  just “agency fee payers,” with little apparent connection to the union.

Newer additions to the nation’s unionized homecare workforce—like the statewide unit of 27,000 personal care attendants in Minnesota who won union recognition August 26—will need continuous internal organizing, to boost their post-election membership levels. In that new group, only one fifth of the workers eligible to vote actually cast a ballot for or against SEIU, which won by a margin of 60-to-40%. In an open shop environment, under a less friendly governor, the other 21,000 could easily go the way of SEIU’s now lost dues paying majority in Michigan home care.

As former SEIU organizer Jane McAlevey has argued, based on her past union experience in open shop Nevada, “even in the face of campaigns by employers to get workers to drop their membership, workers will continue to be members and contribute from their paycheck when they experience their union as their union.”

Ironically, some of the best examples of what McAlevey calls the “high participation model” of union building can be found in southern “right-to-work” states.  As Wilson and I reported in our “open shop” organizing chapter in Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (Monthly Review Press, 2010), “non-majority” unions have been constructed by public sector members of the Communications Workers of America in Tennessee, Texas, and Mississippi and the United Electrical Workers in North Carolina—all in the absence of formal collective bargaining and any mandatory payment of dues or fees.

These member-driven labor organizations have devised more reasonable dues structures, ways of collecting dues voluntarily, and, most important of all, a workplace and community presence not defined by employer recognition or statute. Their survival and effectiveness depends on worker activity–the kind of member mobilization around job-related and legislative/political issues that labor needs, in many other states, to remain “organized” without the legal props of the past.

 (Steve Early worked for 27 years as an internal and external union organizer for the Communications Workers of America. He is the author, most recently, of Save Our Unions (Monthly Review Press, 2013). For more on his work, see http://steveearly.org/ or contact him at Lsupport@aol.com).  This article is reposted from the blog classism.org

 

A Labor Day Lesson on How Corporations Use Profits

by Harold Meyerson

meyersonharold2 

In corporations, it’s owner-take-all

Labor Day — that mocking reminder that this nation once honored workers — is upon us again, posing the nagging question of why the economy ceased to reward work. Was globalization the culprit? Technological change? Anyone seeking a more fundamental answer should pick up the September issue of the Harvard Business Review and check out William Lazonick’s seminal essay on U.S. corporations, “Profits Without Prosperity.”

Like Thomas Piketty, Lazonick, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, is that rare economist who actually performs empirical research. What he has uncovered is a shift in corporate conduct that transformed the U.S. economy — for the worse. From the end of World War II through the late 1970s, he writes, major U.S. corporations retained most of their earnings and reinvested them in business expansions, new or improved technologies, worker training and pay increases. Beginning in the early ’80s, however, they have devoted a steadily higher share of their profits to shareholders.

How high? Lazonick looked at the 449 companies listed every year on the S&P 500 from 2003 to 2012. He found that they devoted 54 percent of their net earnings to buying back their stock on the open market — thereby reducing the number of outstanding shares, whose values rose accordingly. They devoted another 37 percent of those earnings to dividends. That’s a total of 91 percent of their profits that America’s leading corporations targeted to their shareholders, leaving a scant 9 percent for investments, research and development, expansions, cash reserves or, God forbid, raises.

As late as 1981, corporations directed a little less than half their profits to shareholders, but the shareholders’ share began rising in 1982, when Ronald Reagan’s Securities and Exchange Commission removed any limits on corporations’ ability to repurchase their own stock and when employers — emboldened by Reagan’s destruction of the federal air traffic controllers’ union — began large-scale union-busting. Buybacks really came into their own during the 1990s, when the pay of corporations’ chief executives became linked to the rise in the value of their company’s shares. From 2003 through 2012, the chief executives of the 10 companies that repurchased the most stock (totaling $859 billion in aggregate) received 58 percent of their pay in stock options or stock awards. For a CEO, getting your company to use its earnings to buy back its shares might reduce its capacity to research or expand, but it’s a sure-fire way to boost your own pay.

Exxon Mobil, for instance, devoted 83 percent of its net income to stock repurchases and dividends, and 73 percent of its CEO pay was stock-based. Cisco Systems devoted 121 percent of its net income to repurchases and dividends, and 92 percent of its CEO pay was stock-based.

About that 121 percent: With companies lavishing virtually all their net income on shareholders and executives, the way many of them cover their actual business expenses — their R&D, their expansion — is by taking on debt through the sale of corporate bonds. A number of companies, however — most prominently, IBM — borrow specifically to increase their payout to shareholders. And IBM is not alone. Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. companies are currently incurring record levels of debt, much of which, the Journal noted, “is being used to refinance existing debt, being sent back to shareholders as dividend payments and share buybacks, or banked in the corporate treasury as executives consider how to potentially deploy funds as the economy expands.” Many of the companies that have spent the most on buybacks, Lazonick demonstrates, have also received taxpayer money to fund research they could otherwise afford to perform themselves.

What Lazonick has uncovered is the present-day American validation of Piketty’s central thesis that the rate of return on investment generally exceeds the rate of economic growth. Indeed, Lazonick has documented that wealth in the United States today comes chiefly from retarding businesses’ ability to invest in growth-engendering activity. The purpose of the modern U.S. corporation is to reward large investors and top executives with income that once was spent on expansion, research, training and employees. To restore a more socially beneficial purpose, Lazonick proposes scrapping the SEC rule that permitted rampant stock repurchases and requiring corporations to have employee and public representatives on their boards.

Lazonick’s article does nothing less than decode the Rosetta Stone of America’s economic decline. The reason only luxury and dollar stores are thriving, the reason German companies outcompete ours, the redistribution of income from workers to investors – it’s all here, in Lazonick’s numbers.

The lesson for Labor Day 2014 couldn’t be plainer: Unless we compel changes such as those Lazonick suggests to our model of capitalism, ours will remain a country for investors only, where work is a sucker’s game.

This article appeared on the Opinions Page of the August 26 issue of the Washington Post and is reposted with the permission of the author. Harold Meyerson is a Vice Chair of DSA. 

Farm Workers’ Push for Immigration Reform Honors the 28 ‘Deportees’ From 1948

This Labor Day finally brought recognition for the 28 Mexican migrant farm workers who tragically perished when the twin-engine DC-3C charter plane flying them back to Mexico caught fire and crashed on Jan. 28, 1948, near Los Gatos Canyon in west Fresno County, Calif. The Latino community of Fresno buried the 28 unidentified bracero farm workers after funeral services in a mass grave at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery. News reports of the crash didn’t offer any names of the farm worker victims. They were just called “deportees.”

Incensed by how the farm workers were treated on the radio and in the newspapers, famed folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie wrote a beautiful poem, later a song, called “Deportee” or “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos.” Many artists, including Joan Baez who sang it at a United Farm Workers benefit last July in San Jose, have performed the ballad. The refrain goes:

Farewell to my Juan, farewell Angelina
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
You won’t have your names
When you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be deportee

Continue reading

GOP Tries to Turn Labor Day into “Nation of Builders” Day

by Martin Kich

Martin Kich

Martin Kich

In Congressional Republicans’ weekly radio address, ostensibly commemorating Labor Day, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R—Pennsylvania) never mentions unions, organized labor, or collective bargaining. In fact, he uses the word “workers” only five times while using the word “business” three times, and he seems to suggest that most of what he has learned about workers’ problems he has learned while attending business-sponsored luncheons and other comparable events.

Fitzpatrick begins by complaining that the Obama administration has ignored the issue of jobs.

Then with almost maddening predictability, he then spends half of his address complaining about the anti-business effect of “Obamacare” and the administration’s energy policies—especially bemoaning that the President has failed to approve the Keystone pipeline, a “shovel-ready project.”

Continue reading