Working In These Times

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2019, 4:49 pm  ·  By Jeremy Mohler

Privatization Is Fundamentally An Attack on Democracy. The Teachers Strikes Show Why.

Charter schools are anti-democratic by nature. (Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)  

One key feature of the Trump era is a renewed public focus on the issue of democracy.

Last year’s congressional elections had the highest midterm voter turnout since 1966. Americans across the country have poured into the streets and packed the halls of Congress to protest President Trump’s power grabs. Over one million people convicted of felonies have regained the right to vote in Florida, thanks to a successful statewide ballot measure. New York City residents pushed their elected officials to all but force the world’s richest person, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, to walk away from $3 billion in tax breaks. 


Tuesday, Mar 12, 2019, 1:09 pm  ·  By Nato Green

Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change

Teachers at The Accelerated Schools, a community of public charter schools in South Los Angeles picket outside the school on second day of the Los Angeles school teachers strike on January 15, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)  

Union contract negotiations include mandatory and permissive subjects of bargaining. Employers are required by law to negotiate over mandatory subjects—wages, benefits and working conditions. Permissive subjects, such as decisions about which public services will be provided and how, have historically been the purview of management. We only negotiate over how managerial decisions affect members’ jobs. Employers may voluntarily agree to negotiate permissive subjects, but unions can’t legally strike over them.


Friday, Mar 8, 2019, 4:16 pm  ·  By Kelly Candaele

Sherrod Brown Is Out for 2020, But the Fight for Workers’ Rights Is Not

Sherrod Brown will not run for president in 2020.(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)  

Over the 13 years I worked as a union organizer, I used the phrase “dignity of labor,” most every time I met with workers. When it came to risking the wrath of their bosses by joining a union, I found that workers cared as much about pride as they did about pay.      


Wednesday, Mar 6, 2019, 1:29 pm  ·  By David Goodner

Will 2020 Be the Year Presidential Candidates Actually Take Labor Issues Seriously?

2020 candidates back sweeping labor reform, but will they talk about it on the stump? (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)  

Call it a sin of omission, but the historic decline of labor union power was on full display during recent CNN town hall meetings with 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar.


Friday, Mar 1, 2019, 5:25 pm  ·  By Lois Weiner

The Oakland Teachers Strike Isn’t Just a Walk Out—It’s a Direct Challenge to Neoliberalism

The Oakland teachers strike represents a watershed moment. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)  

Though at first glance, the Oakland teachers’ strike, now in its seventh day, may seem simply yet another in the wave of teacher walkouts this year, it in fact represents a watershed in resistance to neoliberal economic policy. The strike in Oakland simultaneously mirrors and advances popular resistance across the country to austerity and “accumulation by dispossession”—the capitalist elite’s conscious transfer of wealth and power from us to them.  


Friday, Mar 1, 2019, 2:39 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

Why Workers at the Biggest Grocery Chain in New England Just Authorized a Strike

Customers wait in line to purchase food at Stop & Shop in Boston, Massachusetts as people prepare for Hurricane Sandy on October 28, 2012. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)  

​On February 24, a union representing more than 8,000 Massachusetts workers at the supermarket chain Stop & Shop overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. The vote came just one day after the company’s three-year labor agreement with its employees expired. Stop & Shop is the largest grocery chain in New England.


Thursday, Feb 28, 2019, 3:53 pm  ·  By Nick Johnson

After Janus, Cities and Towns Are Poised to Become the New Battleground Over “Right to Work”

Union activists and supporters rally against the Supreme Court's ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case, in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan, June 27, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

In December 2015, Lincolnshire, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a population of a little over 7,000, passed a right-to-work (RTW) ordinance. While a slim majority of states have enacted RTW laws over the past several decades, RTW measures at the county or municipal level are rare in comparison. A group of unions quickly sued to strike down the ordinance, and after nearly three years of litigation, the next stop for the legal battle might be the Supreme Court.


Wednesday, Feb 27, 2019, 5:37 pm  ·  By Sarah Lahm

Pennsylvania Workers Are Waging the Biggest U.S. Manufacturing Strike in the Trump Era

(United Electrical Workers/Facebook)  

On February 26, nearly 2,000 members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) walked off their jobs at a longstanding locomotive manufacturing plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, in the largest U.S. strike in the manufacturing sector since 2016. The move came just one day after the plant began operating under its new owner, the Wabtec Corporation of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.


Tuesday, Feb 26, 2019, 4:35 pm  ·  By Saurav Sarkar

What the Green New Deal Means for Labor

Solar energy installation provides good, union jobs for electrical workers. (Clean Energy Economy for the Region/flickr/cc)  

The simple yellow protest signs were stenciled “Green Jobs for All.” Speaker after speaker stepped into the middle of the office floor, marked with a U.S. House of Representatives seal. Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, fresh off her election win, gave the protesters high fives.

That was the scene in November when the youth climate justice organization Sunrise Movement held a sit-in at the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was soon to be the Speaker of the House.

Most Americans had never heard of the “Green New Deal” at the time.

Now, it’s on the mainstream radar. The New York Times and the Washington Post ran multiple stories when Ocasio-Cortez introduced a resolution on February 7 to reduce carbon emissions through a massive good jobs program. The resolution has 67 House co-sponsors, while the Senate version has 12.

Just like the original New Deal in the ’30s, her version of a Green New Deal would include a federal guarantee of living-wage employment—that is, anyone who wanted a job could get one at a salary that could support a family, with an emphasis on union jobs and protecting the right to organize.

The plan would also include public investments in clean energy infrastructure. But “there are millions of good, high-wage jobs that will be available through the Green New Deal, and they’re not just jobs that are in the manufacture of clean energy,” said security officer Judith Howell, a Service Employees 32BJ shop steward. For instance, she said, it will take work to clean up the environment where it’s already been damaged.

Howell has been an environmental activist since hearing Ray Charles sing “America the Beautiful” on Earth Day. Last year she helped push through a carbon tax in her hometown of Washington, D.C.

Activists like her are responding to the acute necessity to deal with climate change before the earth is drastically damaged.

It’s not too soon. Scientists now estimate that humanity has 12 years to cut carbon pollution by 45 percent to avert dramatic increases in droughts, flooding, heat, and poverty. Among the costs will be exposure to deadly heat illnesses for 350 million more people around the world by 2050 and $500 billion lost annually to the U.S. economy by 2100.

It hasn't been easy

Not everyone is on board, though. In fact, significant forces in the labor movement are actively opposed to a Green New Deal.

“It is difficult to take this unrealistic manifesto seriously, but the economic and social devastation it would cause if it moves forward is serious and real,” said Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers union, in a statement about the Green New Deal resolution. 

The Laborers are worried that members will lose their jobs in fossil fuel industries, which they say are paid much more than current jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The American labor movement has a long history of mistrusting environmental groups as job-killers. Frequently the Building Trades are at odds with environmental groups over projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

Most often, the AFL-CIO backs the Building Trades, though some unions, like National Nurses United, Steelworkers, and Service Employees, have forged ties with environmental groups.

“A small group of unions with close ties to the fossil fuel industry appear to be setting the definition of what the millions and millions of union members in America want and need,” said historian Jeremy Brecher, a staff member at the Labor Network for Sustainability.

It’s not hard to see that a huge gap exists between current labor-environment collaboration and what it will take to win a massive, federally mandated good jobs program to combat climate change.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

One union that finds itself in a unique position is the Electrical Workers (IBEW), which benefits from solar energy construction but has traditionally allied with the other Building Trades and still supports coal and nuclear energy production, anathema to environmentalists.

The IBEW has offered career training for electricians in the solar energy industry in New York, Los Angeles, Alameda County in California, and Washington state.

Kevin Norton is a member and former assistant business manager of IBEW Local 11 in Los Angeles. He strongly supports his local’s environmentally friendly work. But his first reaction to the Green New Deal is that it’s “a lot of well-meaning people who don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about.

“There’s always a group of people,” Norton said, “that want to do those kinds of projects, but they want to do them at $15 an hour, or $13 an hour.” In contrast, he said, wages and benefits for a union journeyman can total up to $74 an hour.

He believes what’s necessary for an environmentally friendly jobs program is to “do it in a way that’s responsible, so we don’t kill every job in the state.”

California is a good example, he said—the state has created a “whole wave” of green jobs, and good ones at that. Local 11 has had as many as 1,000 electricians working on a solar project at a given time. Why not do the same in Appalachia and Detroit?

In New York state, a coalition called Climate Jobs NY has used pre-hire collective bargaining agreements, called project labor agreements, to win guarantees that workers will be paid prevailing wages in $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects. These are in wind energy construction, solar, and the retrofitting of schools and other public buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

The Worker Institute at Cornell University spearheaded the project alongside IBEW Local 3, the New York State Nurses, 32BJ, and other unions, aiming to create unionized jobs while investing in sustainable energy. Importantly, the project has the support of the local Building Trades council.

Lina Lopez is a journeywoman electrician in New York. She has taken two classes at Local 3, one to install solar panels and the other to learn how to work with electric car charging stations. She likes doing the work.

“It’s to help a little bit,” she said, “to help keep this climate clean for the next generation.”

These local and state projects are examples that a federal Green New Deal might draw upon—and they offer a glimpse at how the slogan “Green Jobs for All” could be made real.

This article first appeared on Labor Notes.


Monday, Feb 25, 2019, 12:23 pm  ·  By Michael Sainato

When a Company Tries to Decertify Its Union

Members of IBEW Local 3 cheer during a rally of hundreds of union members in support of IBEW Local 3 (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) at Cadman Plaza Park, September 18, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

Cable provider and mass media company Charter Communications, which offers its services under the Spectrum brand, is pushing to decertify the IBEW Local 3 union in New York City, whose workers have been on strike since March 28, 2017. Decertification votes are used by workers to get rid of a union or replace it with a different one, with the vote to get rid of IBEW Local 3 being pushed by replacement workers.