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This Day in Labor History: February 13, 1837

[ 18 ] February 13, 2017 |

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On February 13, 1837, the Equal Rights Party, better known as the Loco Focos although that was a pejorative from the city’s Whigs, held a rally in City Hall Park in New York City to protest the high cost of living. This led to the Flour Riot, where workers raided flour mills to gain what they thought what rightfully belonged to them at a much lower price than they paid. This brief moment of labor agitation is a good window into both the problems early 19th century urban workers faced, as well as their nascent labor organizations.

The Loco Focos were a faction of the New York Democratic Party that defined itself as being anti-Tammany Hall. Many of them were former members of the Working Men’s Party that existed between 1829 and 1831. That was one of many nascent workers’ parties that developed in this period, with a platform of land reform, government confiscation of inheritances, and opposition to monopoly. The Loco Focos held to similar ideas, promoting the legal protection of labor unions, and against paper money and state banks. In short, this was a grassroots movement of white working men who distrusted the burgeoning system of capitalism growing especially fast in their city and the booms and busts that went with it such as the devastating Panic of 1837, soon to follow the Flour Riot. Food prices skyrocketed as well, with a barrel of flour rising from $7 in September 1836 to $12 in February 1837.

The faction’s influence began to grow and started shaping the economic policies of Martin Van Buren, founder of the Democratic Party and New York’s most powerful politician in these years. He was just about to take over the presidency when the Loco Foco riot occurred. The Working Men’s Party and Loco Focos that followed were highly concerned about their ability to earn enough to support their families. Self-identifying as husbands and fathers in their rhetoric, they saw the rise of financial capitalism as undermining the self-sustaining male economy they valued. Their rhetoric focused heavily on paternal duties, on providing children what they need to grow into the next generation of independent workers, and to provide decent housing for their families at reasonable rates. They built upon a quasi-religious message, bringing spirituality into their movement without being explicitly denominational and certainly without falling toward the growing alternative religious movements popping up during this time. All of this was responding to the desperation working men felt about a politics they did not feel they could control, even as white male democracy was in the ascendant. Said William English, a Philadelphia worker who was involved in labor politics at the same time that the Loco Focos formed in New York:

Once a year they call us men; once a year we receive the proud appellation of freemen; once a year we are the intelligent, virtuous, orderly working men. But then they want our votes, and they flatter us; they want our interest, and they fawn upon us; and it grinds them to the very soul, to have their delicate fingers clenched in the friendly gripe of an honest hand, but they dare not avow it then. There is contamination in the very touch of a man who labours for his bread

For the Loco Focos, the banks were at the heart of their loss of control. One Loco Foco named Clinton Roosevelt, serving in the state house in Albany, stated, “banks decrease the wages of mechanics and others when they appear to rise” because they manipulated the supply and type of paper currency in circulation that workers used to pay their bills so that they could play the market on the discounted bills that marked early 19th century paper. Bosses would frequently pay workers in paper currency worth less than its stated value. With the price of this currency often declining daily, it took money away from workers because they assumed they were being paid in face value. Given that much of this unregulated currency was developed for speculation in western lands the middle class engaged in, the Loco Focos also rightly claimed that their landlords were passing along their own debts from this system to the working class through raising their rents. This angered them tremendously because a hard-working artisan should be able to support his family. At a March 6, 1837 rally, a Loco Foco committee stated that workers should not face such high “prices of provisions, rent, and fuel,” given that they had “not been unusually wasteful or lazy.” As would often be the case in American labor history, workers also blamed immigrants for their low wages, saying that Irish and German migrants were undercutting their labor power to set wages.

To rally people to their February 13 protest against all these problems, Loco Focos put out handbills that demanded “Bread, Meat, Rent, And Fuel! Their prices must come down!” They protested that “every article of necessity—bread stuffs, flesh meats, fuel and house rents, are at exorbitant rates; and an increase is demanded beyond the means of the working and useful classes of the community.” They had no interest in blaming the flour merchants. Rather, the focus of the Loco Focos was the bankers and their nefarious discounted paper money. At the rally, they called for taxing the wealthy and prohibiting bank notes larger than $100.

However, the crowd quickly got rowdy, as was not uncommon during these days where street protests frequently turned violent. As soon as the official rally ended, about 1000 protestors went to nearby flour processors, broke down the doors, and looted the flour and wheat. This food riot went on for a few hours. Fifty-three people were arrested, but none of them were known Loco Focos. Generally, the Loco Focos avoided displays of riots, preferring to work through the political system. So they largely ignored the criticism they received in aftermath of the Flour Riot. In fact, they built upon this action to continue to demand an end to monopoly and the banks. Later that year, their rallies attracted up to 40,000 people. By the end of 1837, Tammany Hall agreed to adopt most of their program and the Democratic Party was reunited in the city. The Loco Focos disappeared as an organized political movement, although the Whigs would not let it go, simply using Democratic Party and Loco Focos as synonyms, lasting all the way into the early days of the Republican Party.

I borrowed from Joshua Greenberg, Advocating the Man: Masculinity, Organized Labor, and the Household in New York, 1800-1840, for the writing of this post.

This is the 209th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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Radio

[ 3 ] February 12, 2017 |

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Talking general strikes (extremely skeptical) and building trades’ snuggling with Trump (sigh) with Joshua Holland.

This Day in Labor History: February 11, 1903

[ 10 ] February 11, 2017 |

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On February 11, 1903, the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association formed to build racial solidarity among workers against sugar beet farmers near Oxnard, California. This was the first major cross-racial, non-white agricultural union in California. The following strike and victory was a sign of the possibilities of cross-racial organizing in the United States, but the aftermath and its eventual defeat a sad story about how white racism within the labor movement has undermined labor organizing in American history.

On the West Coast, and especially in California, a complicated labor situation developed soon after the United States stole it in the Mexican War. With the discovery of gold, white men rushed to what soon became a new state. But so did other people from around the world. This created immediate tension, as the white working class preferred to labor for themselves than do the hard service labor required, but also deeply resented any competition to them in what they saw as a white man’s state. So while the Chinese and Mexicans soon became banished to service labor and the most dangerous labor such as building railroads, the state’s burgeoning union movement wanted to eject Asian labor from the state entirely. They succeeded with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. But employers, especially in the state’s growing agricultural sector, quickly found other sources of cheap labor, both from Japan and Mexico.

Japanese workers soon gained a reputation for breaking contracts to force wage increases. One farmer complained to an investigator with the Department of Labor, “Every Japanese gang is a trade union; they come and quit together.” When one farmer hired a group of Japanese to pick his almonds in 1901, he thought he had a great deal because he hired them for $1.25 a day when he was paying whites $1.50. But after being on the job for two days, the Japanese demanded a raise to $2.50 and had to find a new labor force for that year, switching to hiring Japanese contractors in the future so he didn’t have to deal with it. As a whole, Japanese laborers found themselves earning steadily higher wages each year after 1900.

In response, the farm owners formed their own organization to collectively push down wages. The Western Agricultural Contracting Company sought to take control of the labor situation by undermining the Japanese contractors, forcing them and all other non-white contractors to subcontract through the WACC. They had a Mexican Department and a “Jap Department” to do this with the individual racial groups. This was effectively a racist labor monopoly. The prices paid for the thinning of the sugar beets were reduced from $5-6 an acre to $3.75. The promised $1.50 wage a day the reality became a brutal piecework system. It was this that spurred the organization of workers, not only the Japanese, but the smaller number of Mexican workers caught up in this system.

On February 11, 500 Japanese workers and 200 Mexican workers formed the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association. They named Kosabura Babo, a Japanese labor contractor, as president and then had a Japanese and a Mexican secretary for each ethnic group. The union soon grew to 1200 members. Their primary goal was eliminating the WACC. Believing the employer labor monopoly artificially suppressed wages, they wanted the end of the subcontracting system as it required workers to pay both the contractor and the subcontractor to work and they wanted to be paid in cash instead of company scrip, always a classic way employers sought to steal from their workers in rural areas. The one thing the workers had going for them, as farmworkers always do, is that crops must be planted and/or harvested within a short and very specific amount of time, before they go bad. In this case, the critical thinning of the sugar beet seedlings was just around the corner.

On March 23, white farmers struck back, as they would against organized labor so many times in their sordid history. A group of them shot into a crowd of strikers, killing a Mexican worker named Luis Vazquez and wounding four other workers, two Mexican and two Japanese. The media blamed the JMLA for this, even though the workers were innocent. The Los Angeles Times, ever an anti-union outfit in these decades, wrote that “agitation-crazed Mexicans and Japanese” had attacked “independent workmen.” Charles Arnold was soon arrested for Vazquez’s murder but even though he was obviously guilty, the all-white male jury was not going to convict him. So the JMLA upped the ante, engaging in more aggressive actions to win the strike. In one action, 50 Mexican strikers wearing masks went to a scab camp, cut down their tents, and forced them to leave the farm. They also managed to win a lot of the scabs being brought from elsewhere over to the strike by just talking to them.

In the aftermath of the violence, with the JMLA showing continued success and the beets needing their trimming, the farm owners finally agreed to a deal, which the union made more likely by threatening to take all their workers out of the county if they did not agree. On March 30, they signed the agreement. The wages for thinning were reset to $5 and then up to $6 an acre. The JMLA won union recognition and the right to represent workers on 5000 acres of farms through Ventura County, excluding only one large farm. Japanese and Mexican contractors retook control over the hiring process.

So this is a happy story, right? They even won union recognition at a time when that was pretty rare, especially for low wage, low skill workers. Nope. That’s because Samuel Gompers denied their AFL charter since the organization would not allow Japanese members. After the JMLA’s victory, J.M. Lizarras, secretary of the Mexican branch of the new union, petitioned the AFL for a charter. This would have made the JMLA the first agricultural union in the AFL. The California AFL was extremely anti-Asian. This was only a couple of years before the San Francisco population, including many unions, went ballistic over the idea of Asians going to school with white children and tried to institute a Jim Crow system of segregation that forced President Theodore Roosevelt intervene to avoid an international crisis with a growing power, leading to the Gentlemen’s Agreement that ended Japanese immigration. So the willingness of California white workers to accept even the idea of unionized workers of color was pretty fleeting. Some labor councils were better than others and the Los Angeles County Council of Labor adopted a resolution to favor the unionization of all unskilled workers regardless of race or nationality, even at the same time also opposing further Asian immigration. But most would not go this far. Neither would Gompers. He turned them down after heavy lobbying against them by the San Francisco Council of Labor. Without that official support, the JMLA declined quickly and there is little evidence of it existing even by the end of 1903. There was more agitation over labor exploitation in 1906, but no documents mention the JMLA. Once again, racism got in the way of an effective American labor movement.

This would be far from the last time the different races in the California fields and other agricultural sectors of the U.S. organized to help each other, although as the marginalization of the Filipinos within the United Farm Workers demonstrates, such cross-racial solidarity was never easy to maintain. It would not be the last time by any means that California farmers would resort to violence to bust a strike. It would also be far from the last time that white unionists hurt their own economic interests by opposing the unionization or employment of people of color.

I borrowed from Mark Wyman, Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West and Tomás Almaguer, Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California for the writing of this post.

This is the 208th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

How’s Embracing Trump Working Out for the Building Trades?

[ 64 ] February 10, 2017 |

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I and many others have excoriated the building trades for embracing Trump. Not only is it betraying the rest of the left and betraying the interests of many of their own members who are black, Latino, and/or Muslim, but it’s not even going to work out for them. Trump is going to sign a bill repealing Davis-Bacon if it gets past the Senate. And now he’s brought the former head of the construction industry’s chief lobbying group into the Department of Labor.

Last month, President Donald Trump hosted the chiefs of several building trades unions at the White House in a meeting notable for how friendly it was given that they had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the campaign.

In a particularly glowing statement after the meeting, Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said Trump “has shown that he respects laborers who build our great nation, and that they will be abandoned no more.” That was in response to the administration’s effort to restart two controversial pipeline projects.

But the recent hiring at the Department of Labor of Geoffrey Burr, the former chief lobbyist of the construction industry’s trade group, has worker advocates alarmed.

It also highlights the dilemma of the building trades unions, the segment of organized labor that has been most friendly to Trump: They largely support his agenda on infrastructure and trade even as he is assembling a Department of Labor team that is hostile to unions and cherished wage standards on government contracts.

“What does it mean that we are putting people in charge of the Department of Labor, which is meant to be the strongest advocate for workers within the administration, who built their careers around advocating dismantling protections for workers?” asked Karla Walter, director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

Burr, now a member of the Trump beachhead team at the Department of Labor, spent seven years as the vice president for government affairs at the Associated Builders and Contractors.

The group is a fierce opponent of the law that gives workers on government construction contracts the right to be paid in line with local prevailing wages — a rate determined by the Department of Labor. The idea of the Depression-era law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, is to protect workers from being undercut by lower-paid, less-skilled workers from other areas of the country.

But hey, the Laborers will get to build the Dakota Access Pipeline before their union is destroyed!

Uber: “Maximum Evil Is Our Goal”

[ 27 ] February 10, 2017 |

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Oh Uber. Whenever it comes up in the news, you know it’s going to be because they are doing something awful again.

Late last month, Uber sued the city of Seattle, challenging the city’s authority to implement a landmark law allowing drivers in the gig economy to unionize. It was an opening shot in what is likely to be a long and costly legal battle.

Uber’s legal challenge comes at an awkward time for the ride-hailing juggernaut. The company recently named 2017 “the year of the driver” and has said it will devote energy and resources to improving its relationship with the hundreds of thousands of people who drive on its platform. But the company’s bungled response to a taxi strike during the recent JFK protests led to a grassroots #DeleteUber campaign that saw 200,000 riders canceling their accounts. This latest situation in Seattle may further complicate Uber’s attempts to reverse the negative effects of that campaign.

After its passage in December 2015, Uber and Lyft declined to challenge it outright, instead supporting a lawsuit brought by the pro-business, anti-union US Chamber of Commerce. But then in August, a judge tossed the chamber’s lawsuit, calling it premature until the city moved forward with implementation.

That implementation began in December, when Seattle’s department of Finance and Administrative Services published rules online that cover issues like which drivers get to unionize, working conditions subject to bargaining, and how an organization gets certified to represent drivers exclusively.

Shortly thereafter, Uber filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s rulemaking authority, calling it “arbitrary and capricious” and inconsistent with “fundamental labor laws,” according to court documents. “The City must follow a lawful rulemaking process and adopt rules which properly consider the facts and circumstances of drivers and the industry, and labor law precedent,” Uber argues in the suit.

LGM has exclusive live coverage of Uber headquarters.

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Talking About Buy American Campaigns

[ 144 ] February 9, 2017 |

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One of Trump’s strongest appeals to the white working class is his aggressive economic nationalist rhetoric that seeks to punish other nations for sending goods to the United States instead of having them made here. Trump doesn’t actually care about any of this of course. He pals around with capitalists, the very people who are responsible for this. He tweets at union leaders when called out on his actions, blaming them for the loss of jobs. But it doesn’t really matter to a lot of these workers. Finally, someone is speaking their language. And when combined with other forms of white resentment, this is very powerful for large swaths of the white working class. Even if he fails to bring the jobs back (and of course he will fail because that’s not actually his goal), for white people who remember buying a new car every 3 years, they don’t believe that Democratic politicians are any better, even if they provide them with better health care options and want to save their Social Security. After all, they see those things, especially the older retirement-based benefits, as their rights as working Americans, not gifts from liberal Democrats.

Moreover, it’s simply reasonable industrial policy to create employment in industrial jobs in the United States. It’s necessary on a number of levels. First, it’s smart politics. Second, it stabilizes areas in decline by attempting to build jobs in struggling areas. Third, we have to provide a dignified life with good-paying jobs for working class people of all races. We can’t simply say, “Automation is inevitable. Tough luck. Here’s a little money to get some education to do some other job that will pay not very much, 52 year old worker with maybe a high school diploma.” This is a recipe for social disaster, as we are already seeing with the 2016 election and its horrifying aftermath. Moreover, there are good reasons to produce goods in the United States. The access to clean energy is one of them. If we want to create industrial policy that is going to be useful in mitigating climate change, then considering the whole cost of a project, including its climate costs, may well be a really good reason to produce goods in the United States, even if that costs more up front. Moreover, there are good reasons to not support or allow the labor and environmental exploitation of the world’s poor, and I have long called for international courts and national laws to regulate this, taking away some of the incentive for capital mobility.

One of the areas undergoing a lot of outsourcing right now is industrial food production. Companies like Mondelez, which sounds like a fancy French company but is actually just a renamed Kraft, bought up Nabisco at some point. It has now moved Oreo production out of Chicago to Mexico. The Nabisco workers are doing a national tour, talking to college campuses and other workers, about their plight. These are workers who are suffering. Their good jobs are gone and they don’t have any other options. As part of this, they have produced an animation explaining their position in a very simple way. It’s worth your time.

Unfortunately, this video and therefore the workers’ message, is a little bit racist. It starts out OK, playing on a very important point–that Nabisco factories in Mexico pay workers very little and have lax regulatory standards. These are good reasons to say, I don’t want my cookies exploiting others. But it’s a feint. The rest of the video doesn’t care one whit about the Mexican workers. Talking about bad regulatory standards and low wages is an excuse to say instead that we as Americans should want our products made in the United States. It says you should go into the grocery store, find products with Made in Mexico labels, and confront store manages to tell them you don’t want those products. And that’s a level of economic nationalism I’m not real comfortable with. But trying to thread a needle of wanting products made ethically no matter where they come from is going to be a hard sell to these workers. For them, it’s not just about saving their own jobs, it’s about AMERICA! And given that we on the left don’t really have an answer to their particular problems, you can see the appeal Trump would have to the white workers in these plants, as well as of course why black and Latino workers would be deeply disturbed by that appeal. In a global era, the answer to our problems is not AMERICA!, it’s ethical production that raises standards around the world while also seeking to keep good union jobs in the United States. But given how hard it is to articulate precisely how that happens, good luck communicating that to everyday workers. And good luck getting the white everyday workers to think the Democratic Party has an answer to their problems.

Life Under Puzder

[ 196 ] February 8, 2017 |

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I won’t attack Andy Puzder for hiring an undocumented worker to clean his house, but I sure will attack for everything else, including how he treats his own workers.

In 1984, I was hired as a cashier at Hardee’s in Columbia, S.C., making $4.25 an hour. By 2005, 21 years later, my pay was only at $8 an hour. That’s a $3.75 raise for a lifetime of work. Adjusted for inflation, it’s only a 2-cent raise.

Andrew Puzder, the chief executive since 2000 of CKE — which owns Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and other fast-food companies — is now in line to become the country’s next labor secretary. The headlines ponder what this may mean for working people in America, but I already know.

I already know what Trump/Puzder economics look like because I’m living it every day. Despite giving everything I had to Puzder’s company for 21 years, I left without a penny of savings, with no health care and no pension. Now, while I live in poverty, Trump, who promised to fix the rigged economy, has chosen for labor secretary someone who wants to rig it up even more. He’s chosen the chief executive of a company who recently made more than $10 million in a year, while I’m scraping by on Supplemental Security payments.

When I began at Hardee’s, I was hopeful. I liked the work and received a promotion to shift manager after only a month. But the pay remained low, and even with my husband’s salary as the head cook at Fort Jackson, we relied on food stamps and Medicaid. We were two full-time-employed adults; we shouldn’t have had to turn to the government, but we had kids to raise, and so we were left with no other choice.

Low pay wasn’t the only reason my family struggled: It was the lack of benefits and respect, too. I remember once my manager came to my house on a day off and demanded I go into work. I remember trudging through Hurricane Katrina to get to the store. I remember being denied a raise multiple times.

In 2005, I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had to stop working. After more than two decades at Hardee’s, I left without any savings, a 401(k), pension or health benefits. That’s Puzder’s America.

But hey, fast food workers are all 16 year old kids in their first job and we don’t need to worry about paying them a living wage, right? It doesn’t matter I guess since Puzder will lead us on our Great Leap Forward of Automation in the next four years. Massive unemployment and desperate poverty won’t just be the fate of fast food workers anymore! The New Gilded Age is a glorious time!

The End of Unions, A Continuing Series

[ 45 ] February 8, 2017 |

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Iowa is going full Wisconsin to destroy its public sector unions by outlawing most parts of collective bargaining. Cops excepted of course.

“I think it’s an extremely bold proposal,” said Drew Klein, director of the Iowa chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. “When you really start to dig into the substance of this bill, it makes a number of really important changes. It does so in a common sense way. It does so while protecting our government services but also making sure that we’re protecting budgets at the state and local level as well.”

The changes would remove health insurance from mandatory contract negotiations for most public-sector union workers, and it would limit mandatory negotiations only to base wages, cutting out discussions over things like insurance, evaluation procedures and seniority-related benefits. Other changes are proposed to the arbitration and certification process for unions.

“The only thing that we will be able to is bargain over is wages. Nothing else.” said Danny Homan, president of Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 40,000 Iowa public employees. “Wages are not the most important thing that we want to bargain over. It is health insurance, layoffs, transfers … It’s all those other elements in the contract.”

Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents 34,000 Iowa school employees, described the legislation as “punitive” and lacking any respect for public employees.

“I am beyond angry today,” she said. “I am absolutely mortified.”

But hey, Donald Trump represented the interests of white people so let’s elect Republicans across the board to keep those Muslims and Mexicans out of my state.

The only way to fight this is going to be at the state election level. If people are really that angry about everything that is happening both at the state and national levels, then organizing has to happen starting at the local level to retake those state house seats and overturn this legislation and whatever else these awful Iowa Republicans are going to push through in the next two years. It hasn’t worked in Wisconsin, but maybe the combination of state outrages with national outrages will motivate enough people to action. IT’s the only hope.

Hiring Undocumented Workers

[ 98 ] February 7, 2017 |

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Andy Puzder is a terrible human being. He opposes the minimum wage. He is an unreconstructed sexist. He wants to lay off every fast food worker and replace them with machines. He was a leading opponent of the Obama administration’s attempt to hold fast food companies accountable for the franchisees, as well as of every other thing Obama and Tom Perez and David Weil and the rest of that excellent Department of Labor did to make the lives of workers better. He will be an utterly atrocious Secretary of Labor, a right-wing extremist who will seek to take us back to Gilded Age wages and working conditions. I wish for nothing more than the defeat of his nomination to this fascist Cabinet.

But of all the things I will not attack him for, it’s hiring an undocumented worker to clean his house. An undocumented worker is a worker. That worker deserves to be treated with respect. We need to open the borders to ensure that no workers are undocumented and Andy Puzder is not going to do that. For that reason among so many others, I strongly oppose his nomination. But I am highly uncomfortable with a campaign to defeat him based on the fact that he hired an undocumented worker. To me, this keeps the millions of undocumented people behind the curtain, fearful to be found out or caught, when they need to be integrated into society and accepted as the workers and human beings that they are.

Here Comes Right to Work!

[ 43 ] February 7, 2017 |

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The building trades’ romance with Donald Trump is sure to pay off since he will only totally sign any right to leech bill that comes across his desk.

On Wednesday, Republican Reps. Steve King (IA) and Joe Wilson (SC) re-introduced a so-called right-to-work bill that would significantly hamper unions across the country and likely lower wages for all Americans.

Republicans have proposed this kind of legislation before; King introduced a similar bill almost exactly a year ago. But now they may feel emboldened by having an ally in the White House. On the campaign trail, President Trump said he is “100 percent” in favor of right-to-work laws.

No American can be forced to join a union or pay dues that are used for political purposes. But right-to-work laws go further: they repeal the requirement that all employees in a unionized workplace must pay dues to the union, given that it bargains on behalf of all workers — and, therefore, the benefits of those negotiations flow to everyone. Without that requirement in place, critics of these laws argue, they create a free rider problem: Employees can refuse to pay dues while still reaping the benefits of higher wages or more generous benefits negotiated by the union — including having the union take up a grievance on their behalf, which can be costly.

That can significantly hobble unions’ finances, given that they still have to do the same work as before but with less money, making it more difficult for them to operate and organize more workers.

So far, 27 states have gone right-to-work. And in those states, workers are much less likely to be in a union: Those in non-right-to-work states are about two-and-a-half times more likely to be in one or protected by a union contract.

Research has found that this has a serious impact on everyone’s wages, even those not in unionized workplaces. According to a paper from the Economic Policy Institute, wages in right-to-work states were 3.1 percent lower as of 2012 than in those without these laws, even when controlling for a variety of factors. That translates into a loss of more than $1,500 a year for an individual full-time worker.

Unfortunately, for huge sections of the white working class, their interests as whites are more prominent and meaningful than their interests as workers. But at least we don’t have the candidate of Goldman Sachs in the White House! Meanwhile, Missouri became the 28th right to leech state just yesterday. The only thing standing in the way of national right to leech is the Senate filibuster. And you probably feel more confident about the future of that than I do.

Trump and the Labor Department

[ 18 ] February 7, 2017 |

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Tom Perez was probably the most effective Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins. The Department of Labor was unusually integral to promoting a liberal agenda in Obama’s second term. The skies seemed the limit for what might be done. But then the fascist won. To say the least, the culture of the DOL is very depressed right now.

In fact, it could impede the department’s ability to carry out its investigatory duties. Right now—before the freeze has taken its toll—a couple thousand Labor Department investigators are charged with enforcing the laws on wages, pensions and workplace safety on behalf of more than 100 million workers. At the current level of staffing, Lu says, the frequency with which an OSHA investigator is likely to show up at your workplace is probably once every 100 years. “It compromises the safety of workers, compromises workers getting wages,” Lu says. “That’s what I’m concerned about.”

The future of workplace safety looms large in the Obama alums’ concerns. “When OSHA issues a regulation, there’s always controversy and employers who say, ‘we can’t do this.’ And then inevitably they look at the regulation and say, ‘we can do this,’” says Obama’s OSHA director David Michaels. “When OSHA was in process of rulemaking protecting workers in hospitals from blood-borne pathogens, dentists told us that they wouldn’t be able to practice dentistry if they had to wear gloves. How many dentists work without gloves now? Americans have forgotten that the reason there are glove containers in every doctor office is because OSHA requires it. We would never want to go back to that earlier period.”

FURTHERMORE, rumors are swirling about whether parts of the department might just be abolished altogether. A policy proposal from the Heritage Foundation, which has close ties to White House officials, calls for repealing the overtime and conflict-of-interest rules, rolling back Weil’s efforts to root out misclassification, cutting funding for workforce training programs, and completely abolishing the department’s Women’s Bureau, and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. “The [women’s] bureau was created to examine the challenges that uniquely faced women when they entered the workforce,” the report states. “Today, women make up half of the workforce. The challenges facing female employees are now the challenges facing the workforce as a whole.” (It fails to mention that gender pay and hiring gaps persist across nearly every sector of the economy).

The OFCCP is charged with enforcing racial discrimination laws for federal contractors and ensuring that they meet federal Affirmative Action standards. Under Obama, the agency expanded protections to LGBTQ workers, implemented federal contractor hiring goals for disabled workers, and updated gender discrimination rules. The basic principle of the agency is that federal taxpayer dollars must never be used to discriminate, says former Obama OFCCP director Patricia Shiu. “I am concerned about what approach the Trump administration will take to ensure that people across this country not only have jobs, but good jobs. Jobs that are inclusive and reach out to all stripes and colors,” Shiu says. The Heritage paper claims that because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces discrimination laws for all employers, the OFCCP is redundant.

In Congress, Republicans are working to repeal Obama’s Fair Pay, Safe Workplaces order that requires federal contractors to disclose past labor law violations, and labor advocates fear that additional orders that required federal contractors to pay workers at least $10.10 an hour and provide paid sick leave could be on the chopping block, too. Despite reports detailing how Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump helped save Obama’s executive order prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination from federal contractors, there’s no such reassurance for the minimum wage or paid sick leave orders The future of the overtime rule, which a federal judge blocked just days before it was supposed to go into effect, is also very much in question. It remains to be seen whether the administration defends the rule in the courts or hangs it out to dry.

But hey, Hillary was the candidate of Goldman Sachs and Trump wouldn’t do what he says he is going to do, right? And I’m sure that the building trades cuddling up to the fascist will totally pay off for them!

Are Factory Jobs Good Jobs?

[ 105 ] February 6, 2017 |

Norma-Rae-movie-Union

No, not unless they are backed up with worker power that ensures a safe workplace, good working conditions, and a decent wage and benefits. It took a century of struggle to make that happen in the United States. Even though industrial unions have been largely crushed in this country, the residual effects of those unions are not reversed overnight. So we talk about good factory jobs today, even in nonunion southern states, because they do tend to pay better than a job in Walmart or McDonald’s. But that’s because unions made them that way and the employers can’t completely reverse that overnight. However, they can slowly reverse it and that brings us to this horrible story out of Alabama, where a dead worker is a window into how everything that made those jobs good is disappearing.

On June 18 2016 — a Saturday — a robot that Elsea was overseeing at the Ajin USA auto parts plant in Cusseta, Alabama, stopped moving. She and three colleagues tried to get it going, stepping inside the cage designed to protect workers from the machine, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. When the robot restarted abruptly, Elsea was crushed. She died the next day when she was taken off a life-support machine, with her mother, Angel Ogle, at her side. After an investigation, Osha concluded that the accident that killed Elsea was preventable.

The life and death of Regina Elsea points to a national predicament as President Trump seeks to “make America great again” by increasing industrial employment. With automation on the rise and unionisation on the decline, manufacturing jobs no longer guarantee a secure middle-class life as they often did in the past. Much of the new work is low paid and temporary. Staffing agencies sometimes supply factories with workers who have little training or experience — and who can quickly find themselves in harm’s way.

Elsea’s factory status was indicated by the colour of her clothing. Although she worked at Ajin, a Korean parts maker that supplies Hyundai and Kia and is Chambers County’s largest private employer, Elsea was not an Ajin employee. She wore the blue shirt of Alliance Total Solutions, which along with another labour agency, Joynus Staffing, provides roughly 250 of the nearly 800 workers at the plant.

Starting in early 2016, Elsea worked Mondays to Fridays, her family says. But the demands increased. In her last weeks, she worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, hoping to qualify for a full-time position and an hourly wage of about $12. The only respites were a half-hour for lunch and sometimes an eight-hour shift on Sundays. Otherwise, she was on her feet all day. “She was always tired,” says her mother, who lives near the parts plant. “She would come over here and take her shoes off and I would rub her feet. She said her feet hurt.”

Elsea’s death came less than a year after David Michaels, the assistant US labour secretary for Osha, warned Hyundai and Kia officials during a 2015 visit to Korea about hazardous conditions at their suppliers. Osha records show that accidents at Hyundai and Kia parts makers in Alabama and Georgia in 2015 and 2016 resulted in 12 amputations — one of a worker’s foot, the rest involving all or parts of fingers.

In December, Osha levied a $2.5m penalty against Ajin, accusing it of 23 violations of federal safety rules, most of them “wilful”, in Elsea’s accident. Osha alleged that Ajin failed to put in place the proper controls to prevent machinery from starting up while being serviced or when workers entered robotic cells. Elsea’s family has also filed suit, seeking damages from Ajin and Joynus.

This is the type of job that Trump talks about when he goes MAGA. These aren’t good jobs. They are terrible jobs. They are also the only even halfway decent jobs in the rural South. Because of capital mobility and the inability of unions to organize southern industrial plants (which may be changing but we will see), these jobs are unsafe and they are getting worse, not better. The lack of any real industrial policy in the United States for a half-century combined with the desperation of American blue-collar workers to take anything they can get these days contributes to this situation. There aren’t any easy answers either except to fine the living hell out the suppliers, the subcontractors, and the auto plants who buy supplies from these factories. Of course, that’s not going to Make America Great Again so you can forget that for the next 4 years.

But we need to remember is that there is nothing inherently good about a factory job. What makes any job a “good” job is a union or at least competition with unionized workplaces. Whether it is McDonald’s or Kia suppliers, only a union can protect workers. Promoting union workplaces needs to be the left’s primary goal, not creating specific types of jobs except in areas that already having a union presence that would make their creation automatically a pretty good job.

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