A Happy Labor Day—Really

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(Photo: AP/Lynne Sladky)
Protesters, part of the national Fight for 15 movement, applaud in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour at a church in Miami in April.

Harold Meyerson. The American Prospect

Labor Day is upon us, marking an end to summertime, when the livin’ is easy and Americans take their well-earned vacations. Well, some Americans. About 56 percent of American workers took weeklong vacations last summer—a new low-point in a steady decline that began in early 1980s, when more than 80 percent took weeklong vacations.

That depressing bit of news is of a piece, alas, with everything else we know about the declining fortunes of American workers. As the Economic Policy Institute documented in report released Wednesday, productivity rose by 72.2 percent and median hourly compensation (that’s wages plus benefits) by just 8.7 percent between 1973 and 2014. As the National Employment Law Project reported in a study released the following day, real median hourly wages declined by 4 percent from 2009 to 2014. Continue reading

San Francisco Nursing Home Calls Cops on Peaceful Protesters

By Carl Finamore
 photo by NUHW
NUHW picket
A lively San Francisco picket line of 50 caregivers from the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) began their one-day strike of San Francisco Nursing Center (SFNC) in the very early morning hours of Wednesday, July 22, 2015.

NUHW negotiator Dennis Dugan told me the strike was primarily to preserve union-contract Kaiser Foundation health benefits that were unilaterally eliminated after San Diego-based Providence Group Inc. took control of SFNC long-term care facility in May.

 As a result, workers were dumped into a grossly inferior and more expensive healthcare pool of insurance choices. And, since then, the company has refused to negotiate with the union, limiting themselves to email exchanges through a federal mediator.
 
Nonetheless, despite the disruptions brought upon SFNC by Providence, there were other examples on this day of the warm, compassionate and very human connections in the facility.
 
For example, convalescing patients in wheelchairs and others sitting on comfortable lounge couches crowded the front lobby area to exchange waves and smiles with their favorite nursing assistant now unaccustomedly out of reach and on picket duty.
 
“These sudden cuts to our healthcare will make it difficult to recruit quality caregivers in the future,” says Certified Nursing Assistant Marilyn Aquino, “and that will undermine the quality of care SFNC residents receive.”
 
Several strikers asked of me, “how can we properly care for our elderly and sick patients with our own health in jeopardy because we will be unable to afford full care?”
 
Of course, healthcare is a huge issue for millions of Americans who often delay care because of the expense. This is a matter of record. However, when this reality hit the low-paid workforce at SFNC who previously enjoyed good contract health benefits, they united as never before.
 
All In for First Strike
 
This was the first strike ever at the facility and for almost everyone on the picket line, mostly Latinas and Filipinas, it was their first time too. So, workers reported with great pride their 100 percent participation in the one-day strike.
 
It was a start. Everything was going fine. A 12 noon rally of several dozen community and union supporters lifted spirits and was topped off by pizza, snacks and drinks being spread around.
 
So, when a San Francisco patrol car with two cops showed up at around 1pm, everyone took it in stride. The pickets did not stop moving and the chants did not stop echoing. Everyone assumed it was just a routine check – maybe asking folks to keep the sound down or cautioning us about street traffic.
 
But, it turned out to be anything but routine.
 
These cops were actually called by the SFNC administration to arrest prominent members of a community delegation that had just entered the facility to parlay with the employer.
 
The delegation facing arrest included SF Board of Supervisor John Avalos; top aides of two other city Supervisors; Tim Paulson, Executive Director, SF Labor Council and leaders from SEIU 87, the Filipino Community Center and the Chinese Progressive Association.
 
Incredulously, to make this scene on the inside all the more absurd, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, a supporter of NUHW workers and the strike, was himself picketing outside.
 
Paulson told me that the company’s security officer told him “you are trespassing” and that you have to leave or be subject to arrest. But Paulson and the others refused to leave before speaking with the onsite administrator and delivering the delegation’s message that “these striking workers and NUHW do not stand alone.”
 
The security guard was told that the delegation had elected officials along with union and community representatives who all believed it unacceptable to “unilaterally scrap existing health benefits and impose other sick day and vacation cuts while refusing to bargain.”
 
And, according to NUHW, this is exactly the record of the new owners.
 
Instead of negotiating with NUHW directly, Dugan continued, the company hires notoriously anti-union Los Angeles attorney Josh Sable who represents another nursing home operator under investigation for poor care and “flagrant disregard for human life” according to the Sacramento Bee.
 
A bad sign indeed.
 
“So, actually,” Dugan commented to me, “while the whole confrontation inside SFNC unfolding before our eyes looked ridiculous and was quite shocking, it is not all that surprising.”
 
The new owners have been stonewalling us from the beginning, he said. “In fact, the community delegation got a dose of SFNC’s new style of bargaining,” Dugan mused.
 
Nothing like this in recent memory has happened at SFNC where good union contract benefits were enjoyed by the workers who, at the same time, maintained SFNC’s state-sanctioned standards at a very high level.
 
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Providence has come in and broken it,” an exasperated Dugan told me.
 
Let’s Talk This Over
 
Indeed, the new owners’ old, outmoded command and control style of management was on vivid display for all the delegation to see. But when community representatives refused to budge until they spoke with an onsite administrator, who apparently was holed up in his office, a rapid-fire series of phone calls between company representatives ensued and a semblance of sanity was eventually restored.
 
Delegation members reported to me that, finally, the onsite administrator crawled out of his office to report a phone call from the Providence CEO from Los Angeles “that he did not like the strike, did not want another one and was very eager to begin negotiations with the union.”
 
As a result, a union organizer told me that the whole day was considered by the workers as a big success: “Our message was heard loud and clear – the company’s anti-worker behavior is not acceptable in San Francisco and when it is attempted, we mobilize extensive community outrage against it.”
 
Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He was outside on the NUHW picket line looking on the inside where all the fun was happening. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

Clocking In for Equality

by Seth Sandronsky

Clocking In is a new online tool from Race Forward, a New York-based group whose self-described goal “is to build awareness, solutions and leadership for racial justice.” Its analysis finds disturbing trends for people of color and women employed in the U.S. service industry. This virtual resource allows service employees to share their real-life job experiences with other workers, consumers, employers and policymakers 24/7.
90% of female tipped workers have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Continue reading

Immigrant workers and Justice for Janitors

We posted a fine piece on Justice for Janitors (below) by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson with suggested lessons for organizing.  Here is a well informed supplement by labor journalist and activist David Bacon.

David Bacon,

jforjr-1This article makes some excellent points, and shows the importance of the way the existing base of membership was used to reorganize building services and start Justice for Janitors. Its point about the market triggers was very interesting – I hadn’t really heard this discussed before, and it does show that putting this in the contract gave workers a concrete reason to support reorganizing the non-union buildings. As it says, ” it was not a ‘blank slate’ campaign disconnected from the sources of SEIU’s membership and contract power.”

Many of the janitors and leaders who fought in Century City were the Central American immigrants coming into LA from the wars. Their experience in their home countries was very important in their willingness to fight, and the use of the tactics of mass demonstrations and even CD in the street. They’re one of the best examples of the way migration, for all the pain it causes migrants, has benefited our labor movement enormously and given us leaders from Rocio Saenz to Ana Martinez to Yanira Merino. This is a big reason why there was an upsurge of organizing in general in LA in the 90s. Without this wave of migration I don’t think the best of strategies would have produced the results we saw. The article credits Gus Bevona with a role in getting the contract in Century City, but by comparison, this seems less important to me, and more like the mechanism than what actually forced the contractors to settle. Continue reading

Organized Labor Should Spend 2015 Training Workers How to Fight

BY David Goodner
While the labor movement is in some of its more dire straits in over a century, 2015 is also shaping up to be a big year for unions. The “Fight for $15” strikes held in over 200 cities on April 15 indicate that a mass movement for worker justice may be on the verge of exploding, one that blends the best of organized labor, community organizing, Occupy Wall Street and #BlackLivesMatter. Oil workers, truck drivers, and dockworkers also went on widely publicized, confrontational strikes this year, and LA teachers at both public and charter schools are preparing to take action on the job, as are graduate students at the University of Washington and several other campuses.

Today, May 1, a Bay Area local of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down its ports to protest the racism and police brutality against black and brown people, providing a classic example of what “social movement unionism” looks like in practice.

Unions are also fighting hard to block looming pension cuts and derail fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. But labor’s “Right to Work” defeat in Wisconsin in March was a huge setback, while the results of the April 7 Chicago mayor’s race were mixed, at best. Taken as a whole, the small upsurge in labor unrest in recent months has not been enough to slow down, much less stop and reverse, the steep historical decline of the trade union movement.   Continue reading

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

Is U.S. Labor Morphing into something new ?

HaroldMeyersonAIDBy Harold Meyerson

Haltingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years — of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Wal-Mart employees — have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven’t done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future, do unions anticipate that they will.

Blocked from unionizing workplaces by ferocious management opposition and laws that fail to keep union activists from being fired, unions have begun to focus on raising wages and benefits for many more workers than they can ever expect to claim as their own. In one sense, this is nothing new: Unions historically have supported minimum wage and occupational safety laws that benefited all workers, not just their members. But they also have recently begun investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members.

Read the entire piece from the Los Angeles Times. December 8, 2014.

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-meyerson-labor-organizing-20141208-story.html

Meyerson is an editor of the American Prospect and a Vice Chair of DSA.

Wage Theft Confidential

Do Laws Work?

By Seth Sandronsky

California has roughly a dozen labor codes governing wage-theft on the books, with more proposed each year in the state legislature. Are these laws proving effective? Fausto Hernandez is one worker who doesn’t think they are. The 55-year-old native of Oaxaca, Mexico, has labored in the carwash business for a decade.

“For several years I worked at Slauson Carwash in South L.A. — 10 to 11 hours a day,” he told Capital & Main. “The employer would only pay me for three hours, never for all the hours I worked.”

According to Hernandez, he sought relief by contacting the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, a community coalition led by the United Steelworkers union. The campaign helped him file a claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), an office of the state’s Labor Commissioner.

Workers who take such action face employer retaliation. Hernandez’s employer fired him, he said. Hernandez was eventually hired at another carwash that later closed. “Recently I received a letter saying that the [Slauson Carwash] owner didn’t pay me correctly and that I’m owed tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “I am still waiting to see the actual money.”

Continue reading

San Francisco Workers Aim High Nation’s Top Minimum Wage

by Carl Finamore

On the steps of City Hall (photo: Carl Finamore)

On the steps of City Hall (photo: Carl Finamore)

In a very unusual political combination seldom seen nowadays, San Francisco’s mayor, city officials, business, community and labor leaders have jointly agreed to place a proposition on the November ballot that will give a big raise to virtually all low-wage full time, part time, sub contract and temporary workers of big and small businesses alike.

San Francisco already has the country’s highest minimum wage which currently stands at $10.74.

But, if this proposal gets approved this Fall as expected, an estimated 100,000 workers will get an extra boost after six months to $12.25 an hour with additional annual increases until the minimum wage finally jumps to $15 an hour in July 2018.
Continue reading

Living Poor in San Francisco Inequality by the Bay

By Carl Finamore

Savage truck in Bayview neighborhood in San Francisco

Savage truck in Bayview neighborhood in San Francisco

“I was born and raised in San Francisco but had to move to Oakland to provide for my young twins,” 24-year old working single mother Jaquayla Burton told me. “I wanted to stay near my family in the city I love and I could have if wages were higher, if job opportunities were available and if housing was more affordable.”

Jaquayla is not alone. This is a tale of growing inequality in one of the wealthiest cities in America and it just doesn’t have to be this way.

San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world resting on the Pacific Ocean with incredibly picturesque landscapes surrounded by plush water inlets and bays. Continue reading