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The Politics of the Individual vs. The Politics of Solidarity

[ 153 ] April 2, 2016 |

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The comment thread for yesterday’s Chicago Teachers Union strike post was typical. Inevitably during any strike, especially a public sector strike, people who claim to be liberals find their sense of solidarity with working people ends precisely at the point where they might be personally inconvenienced. They put aside the great common ground they should have with the strikers to create policies that would benefit all and instead engage with a politics of personal short-term selfishness. That’s sad. When BART workers go on strike for better wages and working conditions, it absolutely makes things harder for commuters. On the other hand, if the city wants to make life miserable for BART employees, that is going to therefore lead to tired drivers, long-term service deterioration, and the general decline of the system. Not to mention that better paid employees place more money into the economy, which stimulates the city, allows a middle-class to still exist (very important in a place like San Francisco), and creates a principle of paying working people dignified salaries. Is all of this worth a few days of not having the BART system operational? I would certainly think so, but many people struggle to think outside of their own current situation at a given time.

Similarly, the Chicago Teachers Union is striking because of the general failure to invest in education at the city and state level, the attacks by Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Rauner and on unions generally (he’s nothing more than 1-issue governor and that issue is union busting), Rauner’s unwillingness to pass a budget, not to mention the larger issues of police violence and injustice in Chicago. These issues affect every person in Chicago. But if taking an action to fight for these issues is a bad thing because for one day I have to deal with child care, a day that is basically like a snow day except that you time to prepare for it, then there’s no really no hope for any kind of coalition to fight for broader issues of racial justice. Sure it makes life harder for parents for one day or one week. That sucks. But life is far longer than one day or one week.

What is solidarity? There are many definitions but I think at the core is the willingness to accept and embrace personal inconvenience in order to support larger causes of justice. Rather than focus on just how such an action affects me on a particular day, you need to take yourself out of the equation and evaluate a particular action based upon whether you would support it if it does not affect you at all. If a Black Lives Matter protest decides to blockade I-93 through Boston when I am driving up there and I am delayed for an hour, I might be frustrated. But I also have to remember that the broader cause of justice is far more important than whatever I have going on in a given day. It is my duty as a human to support whatever action is necessary to end police violence against people of color. That’s far more important than the talk or band I want to see. Moreover, what cause has been advanced without inconveniencing the public? Protests block streets, strikes take money out of the economy, ACT-UP made people feel uncomfortable, the Black Panthers scared whites, environmentalists threaten entire industries to save the planet. Direct action is disruptive. If you can’t support it whenever it might possibly affect you in some way, you don’t really have the right to think of yourself as someone supports justice.

As for individual strikes, we don’t necessarily have to support each and every one, although if you claim to be a liberal or on the left, the burden is on you to say why you can’t support it. There are two fundamental scenarios where it makes sense not to support a strike. The first is when it’s about a turf war between two unions. At that point, it’s dependent on the situation. The second is when the strike is aimed at hurting the broad cause of justice rather than defending it. Thus, while police absolutely should have the right to unionize and collectively bargain a contract, the NYPD engaging in a slow down because Bill DeBlasio wants to do something about their open racism and use of violence is not something we should support. Unfortunately, it makes many on the left engage in open union-busting that would do nothing to stop police violence instead of fighting the evil at hand. Otherwise, while one can question the wisdom and strategy of given actions, anyone who makes claims to be liberal needs to be showing at least some support for the principle of collective action by workers to both maintain the middle class and fight for larger issues of social justice, as the CTU did on its strike yesterday.

It’s funny to me that people say the labor movement is antiquated, unimaginative, ineffective, etc. And that it needs to use new tactics or more aggressive tactics in order to force change to society. And then when they use those tactics, large swaths of the general public, including those who claim to wish for a stronger labor movement, judge the strike entirely based upon how it affects themselves on the given day of the strike. That’s not the politics of solidarity. That’s the politics of the empowered narcissistic individual. And it’s at that point where people start supporting the position where they would have supported Reagan firing the air traffic controllers. The public supported the firing not because PATCO was engaging in an illegal action. They supported it because by doing so, they shut down the airlines and got in the way of people’s travel plans. The politics of individual desire defeated the politics of solidarity in 1981 and it continues to do so today.

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CTU Strike

[ 126 ] April 1, 2016 |

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The Chicago Teachers Union, which in 2012 had one of the biggest and most important strikes of the last decade, is back on the picket line today for a 1-day strike. Like the 2012 strike, this is about more than just a contract. This is a political strike with broad if somewhat vague demands about the treatment of teachers and students, the racial injustice of Chicago, and of course the CTU’s archenemies, Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Rauner. The legality of this strike is questionable, although I’d be surprised to see Emanuel do too much with that. However, the CTU has deep roots in the Chicago community and is receiving a lot of community and labor support. Micah Uetricht explains what is going on.

The union is walking a fine line between the narrow issues they are legally permitted to strike over and those “bigger issues.”

“This [strike] is a call for revenue for funding the schools and social services in this state appropriately,” CTU President Karen Lewis recently told Chicago Tonight, shortly after explaining they were striking over the “steps and lanes.”

The union says that school closings and round after round of budget cuts and teacher layoffs have meant that many schools aren’t able to accomplish their most basic tasks.

“We’re not able to function with this low level of funding,” says Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo Academy. “And the board says they’re going to make more cuts.”

The strike comes amid a longstanding budget battle between Illinois’s Democratic-controlled State House and Senate, and Gov. Rauner. A former private equity mogul and near-billionaire, Rauner has refused to pass a budget for the state without new rules restricting public sector workers’ union rights and has enacted deep budget cuts that have caused numerous social service agencies in the state to close down or drastically reduce services. Illinois is currently the only state in America without a budget.

The union’s demands for increased revenue — a tax on millionaires, a tax on financial transactions like futures and options trades, and a progressive state income tax (Illinois is one of the few states that has a flat income tax) — can’t be won in contract negotiations. Some would require state constitutional changes. That makes a union victory hard to define.

“Victory will be showing a united force — not just teachers and parents and students, but actually creating a movement with other workers from around the city and the state,” Chambers says.

Still, the fact that an American union is going on strike alongside other unions and community groups with broad political demands is almost unheard of.

“[Such strikes] happen pretty much everywhere but the US,” says Professor Bruno. “They’re very common in France, they’re common in Germany and Central and South America. It’s only in the US, because of the historical evolution of labor law, that you can only strike legally under the narrowest of conditions. And a political strike over larger policy issues is clearly prohibited.”

That makes today’s strike “extraordinary.”

The action “hearkens back to the ’30s and ’40s, when organized labor was using the strike to make larger economic and political points and trying to pursue broader economic and social goals,” Bruno says. “We don’t have much precedent for it.”

See also Uetricht’s interview with CTU activist Sarah Chambers.

One of the biggest tragedies of modern politics is Karen Lewis coming down with cancer before taking on Rahm Emanuel. She would have crushed him.

Life for Garment Workers in India

[ 20 ] March 31, 2016 |

The global production economy is obviously great for workers. Thank you Walmart, Gap, and Target for providing these workers in India jobs by contracting production out to the lowest bidder who have every incentive to beat and rob workers at every point of the process.

Rahul was earlier being paid Rs. 5813. However, he says, the working hours are rarely limited to eight. “Generally, we work for 12 to 14 hours per day,” said Prajapati. Money for ‘overtime’ is paid but rarely according to official rates which should be double the usual wages. For someone getting Rs. 7600 as salary, money for per hour of ‘overtime’ should amount to around Rs. 60 (with the daily pay being Rs. 250 approximately, the per hour rate would come to around Rs. 30). Prajapati said that workers like him got anywhere from Rs. 27 to Rs. 30 as payment for overtime, in gross violation of the official guidelines.

Virender Ram is a tailor, a higher-up in the hierarchy of garment factory workers. He came to work here two years ago, from the plains in Nepal. Although he is getting the newly revised salary of approximately Rs. 9000, he is still not entitled to any paid leaves or regular weekly offs, nor does he get the payment for “overtime” according to the official rates.

Ajay Kumar came to Udyog Vihar looking for work a decade ago. Initially, he received Rs. 2600 as salary for his work as “helper”. He continued at the same factory all these years and is now getting paid the revised minimum wage. He told me that while he was getting payment for “overtime” at the official rate – double of the usual rate – the behaviour of the supervisors in the factories in Udyog Vihar left much to be desired. “They are often abusive,” he told me.

Other workers corroborated the allegation. “The lower level of management treats workers badly,” said a worker on condition of anonymity. The reasons for the ire of the supervisor can often be a small delay in finishing lunch or having the tea within the stipulated time – they are allowed half an hour for lunch and fifteen minute breaks for tea twice a day. “Especially those in the housekeeping department, like sweepers for example, are treated the worse. They can be fired for the smallest of reasons, and that too only on the basis of suspicion sometimes,” said Rithik Kumar who has worked as a sweeper among other odd-jobs in these factories. He told me he had worked in several factories in Udyog Vihar and physical abuse was a recurring feature everywhere. “If they abuse us verbally, we also respond at times. If you have hands, so do we,” he said, explaining how fights took place. He added that no one was happy working in these factories. “People return to their villages as poor as when they came to work here,” said Rithik.

Rithik and other workers also claimed that while money for Provident Fund was deducted from every worker’s salary, hardly anyone received it. “They even throw you out if you fall sick a couple of times in quick succession,” another worker added.

Others pointed to the open drain near which many workers live as an important source of occurrence of illness. It traversed the entire length of the colony on one side. Flies and other insects hovered above its dirty water, with garbage rotting on its sides.

“What can be worse than this? Kids are playing next to the open drain. It is filthy here,” said one of the workers. “We are also human beings. But the way we are treated in these factories, I am afraid to set foot in them,” Rithik told me. Other workers added that even going to the loo was highly restricted and controlled, with workers expected to do it as quickly as possible.

India has different workplace and environmental standards and I guess that’s OK! Those workers should be thankful when they are beaten or when their kids get sick from the poisons around the factory! Yay capitalism! Obviously opposing this system of exploitation is a sign on my own immorality in denying these workers these wonderful lives they are now leading.

Outsourced Oreos

[ 93 ] March 30, 2016 |

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It’s no wonder that growing number of Americans would be attracted to either socialism or fascism when economic stagnation and working-class decline are the reality for millions of people. A key part of this of course is outsourcing industrial production to other nations, which destroys the ability of working-class people without college educations to live a dignified life. Given that the core Trump supporters are working-class whites, this is an issue that we need to take seriously and try to fix or stop if we want social stability within the United States. Thus when Nabisco decides to outsource Oreo production to Mexico, it drives more Americans into economic crisis.

On Chicago’s South Side, about 1,200 workers have been baking chocolate wafers and mixing the cream filling for Oreo cookies for decades at a plant on South Kedzie Avenue. The whole neighborhood smells fantastic.

Last summer, managers held a companywide meeting. The workers expected to hear updates for a planned $130 million upgrade to the facility.

Instead, the company demanded its workers swallow $46 million in wage and benefit cuts. Otherwise, the investment would go south of the U.S. border, said Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Mondelez International, which owns Nabisco. Rosenfeld received almost $200 million over the past eight years in pay and benefits.

This is how CEOs use a bad trade deal as a club to beat workers.

Sure enough, at the end of July, managers announced a plan to shift some production from Chicago to a factory in Salinas, Mexico.

And once that facility begins to make Oreos and other treats, 600 employees in Chicago will lose their jobs, said managers at Mondelez, the global food giant.

The above is by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union president David Durkee. They damn the trade agreements such as NAFTA for destroying working-class jobs, note how Nabisco’s corporate giant could save money other than union-busting and outsourcing, and argue they will defeat the TPP. I’m awfully skeptical of the latter claim, but of course they should try because NAFTA and the TPP are disasters for American workers. I don’t doubt that such agreements are great for the American elite, corporations, and maybe foreign policy. But for the American working-class, they are terrible, unmitigated disasters. And they are an important part of the reason why the white working-class is attracted to the fascism of Donald Trump.

This Day in Labor History: March 30, 1930

[ 32 ] March 30, 2016 |

Hawk's-Nest-Tunnel

On March 30, 1930, the Hawk’s Nest tunnel project near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia began. This tunnel was designed to divert the New River to help Union Carbide increase its energy efficiency at a downstream plant. However, this mountain contained an unusual amount of silica. The largely African-American workers were not given any protection. While in normal cases, it takes years for silicosis to develop and kill a worker, of the 3000 workers, perhaps up to 1000 died of silicosis, some within a year. This is one of the more horrifying workplace safety disasters in American history, one heavily conditioned by racial prejudice.

To build this project, Union Carbide contracted with a Charlottesville, Virginia construction company to recruit labor. As was common for hard labor projects, most of the workers were African-American, and they came from around the southeast. As was also common, African-American workers labored in more dangerous conditions with fewer safety protections and were housed in segregated housing. The company didn’t expect there to be this much silica in the rock. When the high silica rates were discovered, the company was thrilled because the deposits were dense enough they could be sold commercially for steel production. Thus, the radius of the tunnel was expanded to pay for the project. Drilling and blasting were the standard ways to create tunnels. It can be done with a lot of water. Wet drilling reduces the dust and thus the silica. But this did not happen at Hawk’s Nest. Moreover, the workers were immediately sent into the mine to gather the blasted rock instead of allowing the dust to settle. Once again, the employers simply did not care because these were largely black workers.

After 6-day weeks of workers breathing in silica-laden dust, their health deteriorated quickly. The tunneling work ended in September 1931 and the entire project was completed in 1934. It did not take long for workers to being dropping dead, which began happening as early as the first half of 1931. The survivors, many of whom were also horribly sick, began to file lawsuits against their employer in 1932. By mid-1933, the contractor faced lawsuits with a total liability of $4 million. It agreed to settle out of court, paying a total of $130,000, half of which went to the attorneys. The compensation was much higher for the relatively small number of exposed white workers than it was to black workers. The judge determined that a single black man would receive only $400 and a married black man $600 while a single white man got $800 and a married white man received $1000. During this whole process, there is significant evidence that the contractor worked to bribe witnesses and tamper with juries. However, this story is hard to be precise about because the contractor destroyed all the records, including any information about the afflicted workers.

By the time the tunneling was done, many of the workers were too sick to return home and they died nearby. The contractor threw their bodies into unmarked graves without identification, hiring a mortician at twice the normal rate for paupers to deal with the problem quietly. Even when families were around, the bodies were immediately buried. George Robison later testified, “I knew a man who died about 4 o’clock in the morning in the camp and at 7 o’clock the same morning his wife took his clothes to the undertaker to dress her dead husband and when she got there they told her the husband had already been buried.” In 1972, a highway project in the area uncovered 45 of these graves. Between 750 and 1000 people died of silicosis on the Hawk’s Nest project in the years after it. About three-quarter were African-American, with the rest made up of local whites.

This tragedy was so profound that even though it was mostly black workers involved, it received national attention. A few local newspapers had begun reporting on the deaths in 1931, but Union Carbide intimidated the journalists and squashed the story. But it received attention when somehow Albert Maltz, a screenwriter later blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten, became aware of the story and wrote a successful short story about it in New Masses that featured a white (unsurprisingly) worker who got sick in the tunnel. This brought it broadly to the attention of the left and then the nation. The People’s Press reported on the incident, trying to raise money for the survivors. It wrote in 1936:

In the name of greed, 476 men—at least—are dead. Another 1,500 are doomed of whom 200 probably are dead in other places.

The dying are unable to get state or federal relief.

The doomed who can still work cannot get jobs. Employers know they are doomed.

The wives and children of the dead, the families of the dying and the doomed live at the edge of the starvation line.

Greed put them there.

In the name of humanity, the People’s Press asks you to help them.

Any sum, large or small, $100 or 1¢ will make life a little easier for this Town of the Living Dead.

They will not get help from the millionaires who kill 2,000 men for a few dollars. That we know.

So we urge you to help them. Everything given will go directly to these people in desperate need.

Josh White, performing under the pseudonym Pinewood Tom, also recorded “Silicosis Is Killin’ Me,” about the dead Hawk’s Nest workers, in 1936.

That same year, a congressional committee launched an investigation. There it was revealed that the engineers and bosses knew there was a severe risk of silicosis. They protected themselves by wearing masks. But they of course gave no masks to the workers, even though this is an incredibly inexpensive form of protection. The committee was deeply critical of Union Carbide and the contractor. But they took no action against the perpetrators. The worried mining companies did what timber companies, railroads, and other employers in dangerous workplaces had done since 1911, which was lobby to include their workers under state worker compensation programs. Those programs largely existed to protect employers from lawsuits and liability, providing very limited compensation to workers that fell far below the money they made on the job. West Virginia added tunnel diggers in 1935 with relatively long employment periods that excluded short-term workers so that companies would not have high liability rates in the future.

This would not be the last time Union Carbide was involved in a massive industrial disaster.

Silicosis is still a problem in the American workplace. The Department of Labor’s recent regulations hope to move closer to solving that problem.

Much of the material for this post came from Martin Cherniack, The Hawk’s Nest Incident: America’s Worst Industrial Disaster.

This is the 174th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Labor of Spring Break

[ 180 ] March 26, 2016 |

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Party on dude, it’s Spring Break! Time to go to Florida, drink to oblivion, puke everywhere, and have some great stories to tell to our bros back home!

But of course, there’s a labor side to Spring Break. What do you think it’s like being a housekeeper in one of these hotels? Pretty bloody awful, as Michelle Chen writes in this fantastic article.

Among them is Adelle Sile, a Haitian-born housekeeper with cherry-hued corkscrew curls, a compact frame, and deep-set eyes. Around this time of year, thanks to the influx of spring break and Easter break vacationers, the time she has to clean each room during her eight-hour shift gets squeezed as guests stretch their mornings to the final minutes before checkout. When she does finally get in, she sometimes opens the door to find vomit, empty bottles, crack pipes, marijuana buds, and makeshift mattresses of cushions and blankets strewn about—the season’s bacchanalian detritus.

“My back [is] hurting me. Picking up trash, picking up trash, trash everywhere, like this, like this,” Sile said recently, demonstrating the scene in her modest, pleather-upholstered living room in her working-class immigrant neighborhood in North Miami. By the end of the day, she said in a Creole-inflected drawl, “My body dead.” (The Fontainebleau declined to comment for this article.)

Compared with even lower-paid work in retail and fast food, hotel jobs are considered a decent way to earn a living in Miami, offering one way for poor immigrants to work toward living wages and benefits after a few years. Though tourism service jobs start at poverty pay scales, the fast-growing sector offers a narrow path out of drudgery. But the annual pilgrimage of college students for spring break coincides with a sharp rise in both complaints and grievances—complaints from guests about poor service and grievances filed by workers in disputes with managers over working conditions or contract rules.

“Spring break is all about partying, getting drunk, acting wild. … And the housekeepers, they’re the ones that have to do the cleaning up after,” said Kandiz Lamb, an organizer with the hospitality workers union Unite Here, which represents workers at a handful of area hotels and casinos. “It’s all kind of stuff that happens. People getting so drunk [they’re] like almost drowning in pools, falling asleep in hallways, aggressive, getting into fights in the hallways.”

Of course for the guests, the workers are not even worth thinking about. I wonder how many of them leave any tip at all at the end of their stay. And while being young and stupid is a rite of passage for college students, the hotels are not providing the extra staffing necessary to deal with this, even as they jack up their room rates for the onslaught. Like in every other industry, the desire for maximum profit comes on the backs of the workers, usually women, who are also subject to sexual harassment and sexual assault by guests.

Just another terrible job in a service economy that provides no dignity for working-class people.

Silicosis Rule

[ 69 ] March 25, 2016 |

Silicosis 1

Another day, another great move by Obama’s Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor is issuing a long-awaited and controversial rule Thursday aimed at better protecting workers from inhaling silica dust.

The new rule dramatically reduces the allowed exposure limits for workers in a slew of industries, from construction to manufacturing to fracking.

About 2.3 million people in the U. S. are exposed to fine grains of silica on the job; inhaling the dust is one of the oldest known workplace hazards. Silica, which is basically sand, scars the lungs, causing diseases like silicosis and cancer.

Secretary of Labor Tom Perez says the existing rule that limits a worker’s exposure to silica dust hasn’t been changed since the early 1970s. And even back then, he adds, research showed the exposure limit didn’t offer adequate protection.

“We’ve known for over 40 years that it needed to be strengthened, and it has taken 40 years to strengthen it,” says Perez. “Many people who are going to work right now and breathing unacceptable levels of silica dust are in for a brighter future.”

He says the current rule for construction sites caps exposure at 250 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air.

“And the science says we need to be at 50,” says Perez. “So that’s what the final rule will say.” That same updated exposure limit will apply to general industry as well, he adds, which will cut the current exposure limit in half.

Of course, we know there really isn’t any difference between the two parties and voting is a consumer choice anyway, so why even bother if Bernie Sanders isn’t the nominee, unless you think that we can heighten the contradictions with a Trump presidency……

Incidentally, I love this trial balloon of Hillary naming Secretary of Labor Tom Perez as her VP candidate. I think that would be great. No, he’s never been elected to office. But that never hurt Chester Arthur! He’s tremendously competent, is a really strong progressive, is Dominican-American and speaks fluent Spanish, and has a lot more concrete accomplishments than Julian Castro. My wife, a historian of Latin America with very deep roots in Mexican immigrant communities and therefore who knows far more about these things than I do, assures me that Latinos won’t really care that Castro can’t speak Spanish and that’s it would be an aspirational assimiliationist story more than a liability. But it certainly isn’t going to hurt that Perez is fluent in Spanish. We all know that barring naming someone who turns into a huge liability like Tom Eagleton or Sarah Palin, VP candidates don’t really shift elections. But given the likely significant increase in Latino voting because of the open Republican war against them, reinforcing that Democrats are the party of Latinos by naming a very skilled Dominican to the ticket is certainly not going to hurt. Plus it would be nice if organized labor actually got a big prize for all its support for once.

On Peeps

[ 109 ] March 25, 2016 |

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It’s always good to have a union-based holiday. So here’s a list of union-made candy, usefully provided by UFCW.

However, I want to be clear on something. Don’t blame unions for Peeps. Peeps are candy bought by parents who don’t love their children, but feel social pressure to buy candy for them anyway. People often blame unions for the terrible U.S. cars of the 1970s and 1980s. This is ridiculous. It’s not like the UAW was involved in the design process. Similarly, it’s not like UFCW is involved in the decision to continue to make the worst candy in known human history. They are just making sure said terrible candy supports a middle-class household.

In Conclusion, Voting is a Consumer Choice and Both Parties are the Same Anyway, So If Bernie Sanders Isn’t Nominated, Might as Well Vote Trump

[ 76 ] March 23, 2016 |

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Obama’s Department of Labor, Ted Cruz’s Department of Labor, really what’s the difference?

The Labor Department on Wednesday released the final version of a rule requiring employers to disclose relationships with the consultants they hire to help persuade workers not to form a union or support a union’s collective bargaining position.

The department said the rule, which will be published on Thursday and apply to agreements made after July 1, is necessary because workers are frequently in the dark about who is trying to sway them when they exercise their labor rights.

“In many organizing campaigns, decisions that workers make about whether to choose to stand together are often influenced by paid consultants, or persuaders, who are hired by employers to craft the management message being delivered to workers,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a call with reporters. “About 75 percent of employers hire such persuaders, and too often, workers do not know.”

The 1959 law on which the regulations are based already required employers to disclose the hiring of such consultants. But the Labor Department argued that previous administrations had allowed an enormous loophole that effectively exempted consultants who coached supervisors on how to influence employees so long as the consultants didn’t interact with the employees directly.

The use of consultants has proliferated since the 1970s, and the techniques they deploy to discourage workers from forming unions have become progressively more sophisticated — more akin to modern political campaigns than workplace discussions.

There are consultants “scripting what managers and supervisors say to workers,” Mr. Perez said.

The new rule will require employers to disclose in government filings any consultant they hire to develop plans or policies for supervisors involved in attempting to persuade workers, who create materials that will be distributed through the workplace for this reason, and who lead seminars on how to discourage workers from forming unions or bargaining collectively.

In addition to disclosing the hiring of a consultant, the employers will have to disclose the fees involved. The consultants will also have to disclose the relationships and fees in filings of their own.

This is a great rule. At the end of the article, the writer interviewed Paul Secunda, who is a very smart person and who recently suggested that the DOL also require equal time for union organizers to speak when employers speak to employees about the evil of unions. That’s a really good idea. Maybe the DOL will move in this direction under Democratic presidents. But really, I’m sure Ted Cruz or Donald Trump would do the same. And if they don’t, then Democrats are complicit for some unknown reason and this will heighten the contradictions and bring Full Communism anyway.

Republicans Go After That Great Enemy of Freedom: Overtime Pay

[ 60 ] March 23, 2016 |

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The Obama administration significantly expanded the salary ceiling for overtime pay. This is of course a total outrage to those freedom-loving Republicans who see the impoverishment of the working and middle classes as a just end.

As the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) overtime rule hurtles toward finalization, advancing to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) March 14, House and Senate Republicans stepped in and introduced legislation March 17 calling for the rule to be stopped in its tracks.

“This mandate on employers will hurt the lowest paid American workers the most, by reducing their opportunities for a promotion or a better job and making it all but impossible for workers to negotiate flexible schedules,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., when introducing the bill. Alexander said small independent colleges in Tennessee estimate the rule would cost each of their schools a minimum of $1.3 million—“a giant figure that may cost the colleges’ students in tuition hikes and cost employees in job cuts.”

As proposed, the rule recommended setting the salary threshold for exempt employees at $50,440 annually, up 113 percent from the current $23,660 annually. It also called for annual automatic increases to the salary threshold and suggested that the duties tests might be made more stringent, requiring managers to spend at least half of their time on managerial functions.

Bill’s Proposals

The Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act (S. 2707 and H.R. 4773) would:

Nullify the proposed rule.
Require the DOL to first conduct a comprehensive economic analysis on the impact of mandatory overtime expansion to small businesses, nonprofit organizations and public employers.
Prohibit automatic increases in the salary threshold.
Require that any future changes to the duties test must be subject to notice and comment.

The legislation “provides a clear vehicle to push back on the overtime rule,” said Lisa Horn, a spokeswoman for Partnership to Protect Workplace Opportunity (PPWO) and director of congressional affairs with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed concerns about the unintended consequences of this rule, and this bill provides a reasonable approach to updating the overtime rules in a way that that works for both employers and employees.” The PPWO is a group of more than 60 employer organizations and companies representing the broad employer community’s response to the proposed overtime rule changes.

Some Democrats might have expressed some questions about it. But of course this proposed bill has zero Democratic support.

Two Views on Fast Food and Minimum Wages

[ 159 ] March 21, 2016 |

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Turns out if you treat workers like humans, they work better. Who knew!

Turnover is down, and customer service scores are up, company says.

Last year, McDonald’s MCD -0.08% joined a chorus of struggling U.S. companies offering workers pay hikes to help spur a turnaround. And it looks like the move is paying off for the fast-food giant.

The hamburger chain in April announced it would raise the average hourly rate for workers at the U.S. restaurants it owns to $9.90 from $9.01 starting July 2015, with average wages climbing above $10 per hour by the end of 2016. The company also said it would allow those employees to earn up to five days of paid vacation every year following one year of employment. (The higher wages remain very far from the $15 rate many labor advocates are pressing McDonald’s to adopt.)

The raises, which affected only about 10% of workers (the vast majority of McDonald’s U.S. restaurants are franchised), were announced while McDonald’s was developing a plan to shake off a multi-year comparable sales slump and bring people back to its stores.

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, who took the helm in 2015, has since moved swiftly, closing hundreds of weak stores, bringing back all-day breakfast, and simplifying the chain’s menu, reducing bottlenecks in serving customers quickly. But improving the customer experience hinges on workers being on board with all these changes, hence the raises.

“It has done what we expected it to—90 day turnover rates are down, our survey scores are up—we have more staff in restaurants,” McDonald’s U.S. president Mike Andres told analysts at a UBS conference on Wednesday. “So far we’re pleased with it—it was a significant investment obviously but it’s working well.”

The move reportedly created friction with franchisees, who hire and pay their own workers, as they felt pressure to match the wage hikes. Still, there are early signs it is paying off: In October, McDonald’s reported its first quarter of comparable sales gains in two years. The company built on that growth with a huge 5.7% increase in the following quarter.

The improvements echo those at Walmart which also offered U.S. workers wage increases that were followed by improved customer service scores.

On the other hand, you have Carl Jr’s automating all the ordering, supposedly because of that dastardly minimum wage. Thus it is evidently the fault of workers themselves they are losing their jobs:

Is he being heartless? No. Just responding to the government’s foolish plans to jack up the minimum wage and put restaurants, hotels, bars and other service industries out of business. “With government driving up the cost of labor, it’s driving down the number of jobs,” said Puzder. “You’re going to see automation not just in airports and grocery stores, but in restaurants.”

He’s right. That’s why whenever the minimum wage rises above the market-set prevailing wage, jobs are destroyed. Who would pay someone $15 an hour to do a job that’s worth less than that? No one.

This isn’t rocket science or even advanced economics. It’s plain common sense — something that populist demagogues on the left seem to be missing entirely.

This is of course ridiculous. While there may be a point where higher wages could directly lead to automation, the minimal moves toward higher wages over the last couple of years is not freaking out fast food CEOs. Current minimum wages in the large majority of the nation are still below inflation-adjusted minimum wages decades ago. This is just a shunt to find someone to blame for throwing people out of work in order to maximize profit.

But given how much so many people love to do work for Kroger and Safeway while throwing grocery clerks out of work by checking out their own groceries just so they don’t have to interact with another human being, I’m sure there will no major backlash to Carl Jr’s actions. In fact, I’m sure this will expand. It won’t have anything or much to do with the minimum wage. It’s part of the broader move toward automation. Were there actually a jobs program in this country for people who do not have a college education, I might say that something like a fast food cashier is a job that one might want eliminated. But there are no jobs program. The alternative to the fast food job is nothing. And that’s where the working class is headed because of automation and because of capital mobility. To nothing. Carl’s Jr and your own willingness to embrace automation are part of the reason for that.

The Fight for $15: A History

[ 23 ] March 20, 2016 |

fightfor15

This is a good history of how the Fight for $15 started, how SEIU has promoted it, and the impact it has had on American political life.

The groundwork for the movement was laid in 2011, when the Occupy movement started drawing unprecedented attention to the growing chasm between haves and have-nots. Around the same time, the Service Employees International Union launched a campaign called Fight for a Fair Economy.

The SEIU, which represents 2 million health care, janitorial, and other service workers, formed a coalition of 15 labor and community groups to reach out to low-wage workers and address concerns such as job creation and foreclosures, then running rampant through working-class communities.

Advocacy groups around the country were also stepping up efforts to help struggling residents. One of them, New York Communities for Change, started surveying low-income residents about affordable housing and other issues. Many of the most destitute — and vocal — people they met worked in fast food.

These cooks and cashiers were not teenagers working part time for extra cash, but parents struggling to feed their children. Some had worked in fast food for years, while living in public housing and relying on food stamps.

“It was a really a flashbulb to us,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change.

But the size and scope of the fast-food industry — employing close to 3 million people, according to the US Census — was beyond NYCC’s abilities, Westin said, and he sought help from SEIU, a frequent partner.

That initial fall 2012 meeting attracted about 40 workers. Twice that many showed up to the next one. This time, the conversation revolved around forming a union and how much money it would take to survive, said Kendall Fells, an SEIU organizer.

The fast-food workers decided $10 an hour wasn’t enough, and $20 an hour didn’t seem possible. So they settled on $15.

At the third meeting, they set a strike date: Nov. 29, 2012. And early that Thursday morning, a week after Thanksgiving, 200 fast-food workers took to the streets of New York City. Many of them walked off their jobs, risking being fired and losing what little income they had.

“The individual courage of these few hundred workers making a bodacious demand galvanized the next stage of the national conversation about inequality,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU.

Demonstrations soon spread to Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, and beyond. A year later, a one-day strike calling for $15 and a fast-food workers’ union took place in more than 100 cities, including Boston.

Darius Cephas got involved in early 2013, when an organizer walked through the door of the McDonald’s in Dorchester where Cephas was working. Cephas, 24, had been working since he was a teenager to help support his younger sisters and mother, who had a stroke when he was 18. On his McDonald’s wages, he said, he sometimes couldn’t afford to eat.

Cephas quickly became a leader in the movement, using his days off to recruit Boston workers to join the cause and traveling to Europe and Brazil on the SEIU’s dime to spread the word to workers and elected officials.

Cephas still makes low wages — at McDonald’s and at a Dollar Tree discount store in Hyde Park. But he now has something he previously had little of — a voice, and respect. “I’m actually going to be a part of history,” he said. “My name’s going to be remembered.”

There’s more. But a couple of points here. First, this probably doesn’t happen without the support of SEIU. There is a labor journalist world that hates SEIU with enormous passion–they see SEIU as worse than no union at all. Sometimes they have good points, but usually, like this terrible Arun Gupta article which claims that *GASP* SEIU is behind the Fight for $15 and interviews a bunch of anonymous organizers about this fact and how it is a “problem,” they let their internal hatreds get in the way of understanding how change happens. In fact, SEIU was and is absolutely critical to this in terms of using its significant organizational advantages, particularly its experienced organizers and money, to promote this movement.

Note also how being involved in such a movement can empower people in ways they never could have imagined, like Darius Cephas. This is the story of organizing–people who never felt they have a voice in fact can develop a very powerful voice. This is a wonderful thing.

Finally, I love that the $15 demand was basically just splitting the difference between $10 and $20. And that’s fine. Creating a rhetorically powerful demand is more important in creating change than all the economists’ studies of what a proper minimum wage should be in 2016. Those studies can sometimes be used to support said demands, or not. But the catalyst to change is a catchy slogan and people willing to work for that slogan more than anything academics or think tanks will ever do.

Lot to chew on in this history. Be a lot more to chew on as it continues to develop.

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