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Tag: "labor"

Donald Trump, Friend of the Worker

[ 19 ] July 12, 2016 |

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That populist Donald Trump, he’s really a friend of the working person. I really take his populist talk about jobs and trade agreements very, very seriously. The history of workers in his own properties shows he’s the kindest, warmest, man to ever live.

GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump fashions himself a friend of union workers. He has bragged about having good relationships with labor unions. When the AFL-CIO recently endorsed his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, Trump claimed it was he who deserved the labor federation’s coveted backing.

“I believe [union] members will be voting for me in much larger numbers than for her,” Trump declared last month.

Before entering the voting booth, those union members might want to know how much money one of Trump’s businesses has spent in an effort to persuade low-wage workers not to unionize.

The Culinary Workers Union recently organized housekeepers and other service workers at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. The union won the election in December — but not without a fight from hotel owners Trump Ruffin Commercial LLC. That’s a joint venture between the likely GOP nominee and casino magnate Phil Ruffin, himself a major financial backer of Trump’s presidential run.

According to Labor Department disclosure forms reviewed by The Huffington Post, Trump Ruffin shelled out more than half a million dollars last year to a consulting firm that combats union organizing efforts. The money was paid from Trump Ruffin to Cruz & Associates in a series of seven payments between July and December, totaling $560,631.

Nearly $285,000 of that money was paid over the course of two weeks in December, shortly after the hotel held its union election.

Despite the heavy investment from Trump Ruffin, the union prevailed by a vote of 238 to 209. Trump Ruffin argued in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board that the union illegally swayed the vote, but a regional director for the NLRB rejected those claims. The hotel has asked that the board members in Washington review that decision. According to an NLRB spokeswoman, the board has not yet determined whether it will grant that review.

A lawyer for Trump and a campaign spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the payments. Lupe Cruz, the owner of Cruz & Associates, did not respond to a voicemail left at his office on Friday.

I’m not going to say that it’s not in the interests of union members to vote for Trump. It’s certainly not in their economic interest to do so. But too many Americans prioritize their interests in white supremacy over their interest in feeding their kids. That’s unfortunate, but it’s true and some of those people will vote for Donald Trump. Racial resentment has usually trumped economic solidarity in American history. But this should be brought up over and over whenever Trump talks about himself as a friend to union members.

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Are Right to Work Laws Unconstitutional?

[ 55 ] July 10, 2016 |

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Are right-to-work laws an unconstitutional taking of property? That’s what unions and their lawyers are arguing in Wisconsin and West Virginia, both states that have recently passed such law.

Eleven state labor unions filed petitions in Kanawha Circuit Court Monday challenging the state’s new “right-to-work” law as an illegal taking of union property and resources.

“First and foremost, it’s unconstitutional because it’s an illegal taking of property without due process,” said Josh Sword, secretary treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, one of the 11 plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, and a motion for a preliminary injunction to block the law from going into effect July 1, contends that the Workplace Freedom Act (SB 1) is intended to discourage union membership by “enabling nonmembers of unions to get union services for free.”

Vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, but enacted into law by override votes with no Democratic support in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Senate, the legislation allows employees in union shops to opt out of paying union dues.
The lawsuit contends that amounts to an illegal taking of unions’ property and resources, since state and federal labor laws require unions to negotiate contracts and provide representation to the non-union employees at “considerable cost” to the unions.

“Requiring unions to provide services to free riders while simultaneously prohibiting unions from charging for those services necessarily takes union funds and directs them to be expended on behalf of third parties,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit contends one intent of the law is to discourage employees from joining unions.

“Why, the employee would ask, should I pay for something that the law requires be made available to me for nothing,” the petition states. “Such a circumstance would — naturally and predictably — seriously burden a union’s ability to recruit and retain members.”

In April, a Wisconsin circuit court judge overturned that state’s right-to-work law in a case that similarly argued the law amounts to an unconstitutional taking of union property and resources. That ruling has been stayed, pending an appeal to the Wisconsin state Supreme Court.

“This is ultimately going to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, without question,” Sword said of the challenges to right-to-work laws. “The general question of whether it’s an illegal taking of property without due process will be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

This indeed does seem headed up the court ladder. We have a very good idea what a court with Scalia would have ruled on such a case. Once again, the fate the Court is the single most important reason to vote for Hillary Clinton this fall, even if you hate her. It’s the only responsible for choice for anyone who cares about unions at all.

Union Busters and Their Friends on the Bench

[ 10 ] July 8, 2016 |

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Speaking of Tom Perez, his Department of Labor helped even the playing field between unions and employers earlier this year by forcing employers to be transparent to their workers about the unionbusting firms they hire.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) passed the “persuader rule” that closed a major loophole, which has for decades allowed employers to hire attorneys and consultants to secretly assist them in what is politely referred to in the industry as “union avoidance.” The goal of this activity is to persuade and prevent workers from organizing unions.

The new rule did not try to make the consultants’ and attorneys’ practices illegal, or regulate the types of activities that employers and consultants could engage in; it was simply intended to provide transparency to workers who are the subject of a coordinated anti-union campaign. But last week, a Texas federal district court judge issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the DOL from implementing the rule.

The persuader rule reinterpreted the “advice” exemption in Section 203(c) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), which had only required disclosure when employers hired outside consultants who directly communicated with employees. Under the previous interpretation of the exemption, the vast majority of employers who hire labor consultants—sometimes referred to as “union busters”—and the consultants they hire have been able to evade their filing requirements and remain in the shadows by having these consultants work behind the scenes.

As a result, the workers are never privy to who is coordinating the anti-union campaign or how much their employers are spending on it. It is estimated that employers in 71-87 percent of organizing drives hire one or more consultants, yet because of the massive loophole in the law, only 387 agreements were filed by employers and consultants.

Good idea, right. Well, sure, except for that Texas judge issuing an injunction against it at the behest of right-wing Texans and, oddly, the American Bar Association.

The new persuader rule, which covers all agreements and payments after July 1, was intended to close this loophole. The rule requires employers who hire anti-union consultants (and those consultants hired) to disclose to the DOL the agreement and the amounts paid. It would not require disclosure of what the consultants said or any legal advice sought. It is akin to a requirement that political campaign ads disclose who is paying for the ad so that people know who is behind the message they are receiving.

But now, under last week’s injunction, all of that is in jeopardy.

“This was one of the most one-sided orders I have ever seen,” explains Seattle University School of Law Professor Charlotte Garden. “The court found every one of the theories brought by the plaintiffs likely to succeed.”

The suit was brought by the National Federation of Independent Business, the Texas Association of Business, the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Home Builders, the Texas Association of Builders, and a group of GOP-controlled states. Some of these organizations were concerned that their current activities of providing anti-union seminars and materials would require them to file reports identifying themselves as labor relations consultants.

Perhaps the most surprising group to take a side in this case was the American Bar Association (ABA), whose mission is “To serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.” The ABA cited attorneys’ ethical rules for their opposition to the DOL Rule, and said, “by imposing these unfair reporting burdens on both the lawyers and the employer clients they represent, the proposed Rule could very well discourage many employers from seeking the expert legal representation they need, thereby effectively denying them their fundamental right to counsel.”

This coalition of business and attorney groups and states brought forward a number of arguments, from the DOL lacking authority to pass the rule to the rule exceeding the DOL’s estimated compliance costs by $59.99 billion over 10 years. (The DOL estimated the rule would cost all employers and consultants a total of approximately $826,000 per year; the plaintiffs estimated it at $60 billion over 10 years.) Additionally, in line with the growing use of the First Amendment against government regulation of business, the plaintiffs argued that the rule violated the employers’, lawyers’, and consultants’ free speech, expression and association rights. The Judge concluded that some union busters may not offer their services as freely, and some attorneys may leave the field, if their identities and the terms of their arrangements were disclosed.

This is the sort of case that is probably going to be adjudicated over the next few years going up the ladder, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court. And as we know, voting is a consumer choice and Hillary Clinton doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside so I am going to vote for Jill Stein to show those Democrats. If that means Trump gets elected, then it’s totally that neoliberal Hillary’s fault when Trump’s judges rule in favor of corporations in cases like this.

Lockouts

[ 13 ] July 7, 2016 |

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Often, when people say workers are on strike, they are actually being locked out by their employer. Lockouts have become a distressingly common way for employers to bust unions. Moshe Marvit has a compelling essay arguing that the courts should rein how corporations are able to use lockouts. He notes that the lockout was actually something largely created by judges and therefore the courts are the best method to fight this problem today. The original version of the National Labor Relations Act prohibited lockouts, but the language was removed in committee. Marvit then details how the courts have expanded the lockout’s use over the years. Finally, his conclusion:

On May 31, 2016, the NLRB released an important decision that limited the employer’s use of replacement workers during a strike.44 The Board held that the employer’s motivation in hiring replacement workers is important, and if the decision is made to discourage union membership, then the use of replacement strikers is a violation of the Act. Harvard Law Professor Ben Sachs argued that the decision brought “some sanity” to the use of replacement strikers because it addressed the long-standing tension in the law where workers may not be fired for striking, but they may be permanently replaced.45 It is time for the NLRB to similarly bring some sanity to the use of lockouts and temporary replacement workers.

Lockouts are highly disruptive of workers’ lives and they impact one of labor’s greatest strengths: its ability to strike. The lockout serves as a looming threat and a punishment for workers who have joined a union and engaged in meaningful collective bargaining. The employer’s right to lay off all union workers—even if only temporarily—because they engage in their rights to collectively bargain violates these workers’ core rights.

As labor lockouts continue to rise as a percentage of work stoppages, the National Labor Relations Board should reconsider its position that lockouts do not have much impact. In following the Supreme Court’s direction, the NLRB should investigate whether the lockout has had on a “slight effect on employee rights.”

If one walks the picket line in a lockout, one can easily conclude that the effects on workers’ rights are significant. The balance of power is already greatly tilted towards employers, and the right to withhold labor should belong solely to workers. Putting this power to stop work primarily back in the hands of workers is one step toward leveling the playing field of labor.

Assuming a Hillary Clinton victory in November and the Democrats retaking the Senate, the courts are rapidly becoming dominated by Democratic-appointed justices. It’s time to start filing cases against these lockouts and seek to roll back some of the legal framework to even the playing field between employers and workers.

This Day in Labor History: July 6, 1924

[ 11 ] July 6, 2016 |

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On July 6, 1924, members of the Philippine Scouts, a division of Filipino troops in the U.S. Army occupying the Philippines, refused to drill to protest their poor pay and unfair treatment. This would eventually lead to their court martial. This incident shines a light on two critical and understudied issues in American labor history: the idea of the military as labor and the labor history of American imperialism.

The Philippine Scouts were a division of troops that joined the U.S. Army in defense of American colonial rule of their nation, land wrested from the Spanish in 1898 and which it then had to crush a independence movement with shocking brutality. This was instituted soon after the U.S. took control and included many Filipino members of the Spanish army. By the early 1920s, these made up the majority of occupying forces, with about 15,000 Filipino soldiers serving under 2500 white officers and additional 5000 American soldiers. Primarily they existed to protect the colony from its greatest threat–Filipino insurrection. Most served near Manila, although they were scattered around the islands. They could marry and bring their families with them, creating what was basically a steady job. Reenlistment rates were about 80 percent.

But the pay was low, especially compared to American soldiers of the same rank. A U.S. private made $21 a month. A private in the Scouts made $8 a month, a rate that had barely changed since the Scouts were first created. With the U.S. wanting to avoid international commitments and costly programs during the 1920s, replacing American soldiers with poorly paid Filipinos was appealing in Washington. The Scouts had to put their wives and children to work, often serving the white officers. Cost of living increased dramatically during the post-World War I years though and the Scouts had a harder time making ends meet. By 1924, the Scouts were making less than skilled labor in Manila. Although the benefits were still much higher than other Manila workers, the Scouts saw themselves as downwardly mobile.

There was a good bit of labor strife in Manila around wages and working conditions during these years, much of it aimed at U.S. controlled operations. By 1924, the Filipino labor movement had 145 officially registered unions or similar organizations, consisting of over 90,000 members. These included fairly conservative unions that served more like member lodges and more radical communist unions. Outside of this, there were also peasant movements heavily infused with messianic religious leadership. The response of the U.S. colonial administration, led by Colonel Leonard Wood, was, not surprisingly given how the U.S. would usually respond to labor uprisings at home and abroad, not that it was a series of responses to specific lived conditions of workers, but part of a global communist plot against colonialism. For Wood, all labor questions were attacks on colonialism. On the minds of Wood and other leaders was the Boston police strike of 1919, which for the first time called into question whether security forces would agree to crush organized labor.

Calvin Coolidge, who had risen to national prominence by destroying the Boston police union, was also responsible for what was to follow in the Philippines. In May 1924, Congress passed an omnibus military bill that raised Scouts’ rations and subsistence allowances and also created a pension system for them that gave them three-quarters of their salary after 30 years. Coolidge vetoed it. The Philippine Scouts did not know all the details, but they came to believe that Congress had granted them a pay raise and their officers were withholding it from them.

In response, the Scouts started organizing into what they called the Secret Soldiers’ Union. They were mostly young and mostly privates. They planned a demonstration for July 4, gathering on a hill near Fort McKinley and marching into downtown Manila where they would present their demands to the commander of the the U.S. Army’s Philippine Department and then go to Leonard Wood’s headquarters to make their demands to him. They decided to delay it until August 2, but on July 5, informants told the Army of the soldiers plan. Fort McKinley’s Provost Guard raided a meeting and detained 26 Scouts. The next morning, July 6, 380 Scouts refused to drill. Warned of the consequences and told their refusal would be treated not as a strike but as a mutiny, only 104 soldiers held out on July 7, but that increased to 202 on July 8.

The American community in the Philippines freaked out, fearing plots to blow up U.S bases and a general attack on Americans. One told a reporter, “Discharging these men and allowing the to return home is similar to turning smallpox into a hospital full of patients. Each man is carrying the germs of insurgence to his home province.” Army officers were more divided on how important this protest was, especially since a growing number of the protesters were veterans with long service records. But on July 9, the Army announced plans to discharge 190 of the men for mutiny. On July 29, three proceedings began, one for 17 supposed ringleaders, another for 209 charged with mutiny, and a third for 298 who had refused to obey orders.

Proceeding over the trial was Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, head of the Philippine Division’s 23rd Brigade. Nearly all the men charged were found guilty. Tomas Riveral, identified as the mutiny’s leader, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Most of the rest were placed in convict detachments on Correigdor and released after two years. In 1928, the Army finally raised the pay of a private in the Scouts from $8 a month to $9 a month. The Secret Soldiers’ Union disappeared almost immediately after the repression. The War Department did conduct an internal study because it worried that it’s whole plan to defend the colonies from internal rebellion was worthless if the soldiers were not loyal. But the Scouts continued and no additional labor agitation came from the Scouts before the end of U.S. occupation of the Philippines.

As to the broader question of whether military service is labor, the answer is that it is a different form of labor with a different relationship to the state, yes, but it’s labor nonetheless. Like most forms of labor through American history, it is heavily gendered and racialized. And occasionally, despite structures that make protest much harder than in the civilian labor force, soldiers do rise up and protest their oppression, such as in the Port Chicago protests during World War II.

I based this post on Christopher Capozzola’s essay “The Secret Soldiers’ Union: Labor and Soldier Politics in the Philippine Scout Mutiny of 1924,” in Daniel Bender and Jana Lipman, Making the Empire Work: Labor & United States Imperialism.

This is the 184th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Finally, I will note that I started this series 5 years ago today with a relatively brief discussion of Homestead. It’s been a fun series to write over the years. And now that I’ve gotten through most of the standard events of labor history, I can write up incidents like the Philippine Scouts that basically no one has ever heard about before. Here’s to 5 more years of it.

The Story of a Photo

[ 44 ] July 3, 2016 |

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Cats, beer, unions–what does this story not have? I guess ketchup, but that wouldn’t make any sense. Anyway, this is a fascinating attempt to piece together this photo of a British strike from the 1920s.

This Day in Labor History: July 2, 1964

[ 7 ] July 2, 2016 |

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On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Today’s post evaluates the impact of Title VII of the law. Title VII prohibited discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, with an exception for members of the Communist Party who employers could continue to discriminate against. For the first time, they had the right to a job regardless of their race and gender. This transformed employment law and the lives of millions of American workers.

Title VII came out of a long history of employment discrimination. A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington Movement had targeted this directly and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom had not only aimed to get the bill that became the Civil Rights Act passed but also sought economic remedies like Title VII. Civil rights and economic rights can not be separated, as much as Republicans would like to think civil rights is about one line out of one speech Martin Luther King gave and absolutely nothing more.

Title VII targeted private employers, excluding the federal government. Many feared Title VII would be toothless. The law created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but it originally had little power. Said the chair of the EEOC from 1967-1969, Clifford Alexander, “We sort of gummed them to death if we could, but we had no enforcement powers.” But when LBJ issued Executive Order 11246 in 1965 that required federal agencies to establish nondiscrimination clauses and private contractors practice nondiscrimination, Title VII slowly took on life. Requiring govenrment contractors to comply meant that the government’s significant power of the purse as it became an ever larger sector of the economy was a powerful tool that sent reverberations through the labor market.

In the long-run, Title VII had the farthest reaching impact of any clauses in the law. Civil rights groups began finding the EEOC a useful tool and assisted people who had been discriminated against in filing suit to use it. In its first year, people filed 9000 complaints to the EEOC. By 1975, there were 77,000 complaints. They could also use class action lawsuits for a much larger tool against systemic employment discrimination. More than 1200 such lawsuits were filed between 1965 and 1971. In 1972, Congress granted the EEOC the power to sue in federal court, vastly expanding its reach. Major companies sought to create consent decrees with the EEOC rather than face trial. Many of those companies agreed to major settlements with female workers and workers of color. The success of many of them gave employers the push they needed to solve their employment discrimination problems themselves.

The inclusion of Title VII contained a vitally important principle rarely recognized in the Untied States—that civil rights preempted property rights, which is why racists like Rand Paul still rail against the law today. As Barry Goldwater said when voting against the law, “Our right of property is perhaps our most sacred right.” Human rights surpassed property rights, arguably for only the second time in American history, and the first took a civil war to accomplish.

The inclusion of women in Title VII was at first seen as something of a joke, although it turns out the issue was more complicated than it first appeared. When Virginia Rep. Howard Smith, a staunch segregationist, added the category of sex to the law, he did intend to undermine it. But Smith had worked closely with Alice Paul in the past. Paul and the National Women’s Party had long opposed any liberal legislation, especially labor law, and often worked with conservatives who were interested in a broad Equal Rights Amendment. Smith was one of them. So Smith introduced the word “sex” both because he wanted to see the bill die but also because if it did pass, he wanted women to have a right under it, especially if they were competing against black men for jobs.

One of the most frustrating thing about studying justice issues is that white women are among the biggest beneficiaries from affirmative action programs, yet so many do not see themselves as benefiting or in solidarity with people of color. Title VII was arguably the biggest political victory for women’s rights since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. The EEOC’s initial reluctance to fight for women’s rights on the job helped lead to the creation of the National Organization of Women in 1966. While we might not remember NOW as a leader in the fight for employment equality, NOW frequently worked closely with civil rights groups to fight both racial and sexual discrimination.

Title VII also allowed the Supreme Court to ban sexual harassment at the workplace under the law, including same-sex sexual harassment, as decided in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services. Of course the use of Title VII to drastically change employment arrangements came under attack from the conservative movement and the Reagan administration underfunded the EEOC as it did the EPA, OSHA, and any other agency that sought to create a more equal America. Today, we are still far away from equal pay for equal work or an end to employment discrimination, despite real gains that we have made.

Some complain that the rise of a workplace fairness doctrine like Title VII has helped undermine the broader call for economic justice that the civil rights movement fought for. And there’s some real truth there. A. Philip Randolph was worried at the time that the law would ultimately do little for African-Americans because automation would throw many black workers out of a job and thus a jobs program was needed as well. But, between the 1960s and 1990s, the number of black policemen double, the number of black electricians tripled, and the number of black professionals quadrupled. The numbers of female professionals increased from 5 percent of the workforce to more than 30 percent in the same years. On the other hand, economic inequality is a major problem in society, it falls heavily by race and gender, and nothing in the Civil Rights Act even begins to solve this problem. Of course, the answer is new federal legislation to start solving it, but that’s probably far away.

I borrowed heavily from the forum on Title VII in the Fall 2014 issue of Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas for this post.

This is the 183rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Save America’s Pastime–From the Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay?

[ 52 ] July 1, 2016 |

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Did you know baseball evidently needs saving? From what, you might ask? Is it from sluggers using specific drugs that challenge the records of the heroes current sportswriters had when they were kids? Is it from Clayton Kershaw going on the DL? Is it from the horrors of the Yankees winning the World Series? No. Evidently baseball needs saving from the oppressive measures of the Fair Labor Standards Act. But what, you say? Major league players are millionaires! Indeed. This is about making sure that minor league players don’t receive proper compensation.

Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky introduced the “Save America’s Pastime Act” late last week. The bipartisan legislation—Bustos is a Democrat, Guthrie a Republican—proposes to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and create a specific exemption for minor league baseball players (who are not unionized) so that they are explicitly not guaranteed the minimum wage, and thus not allowed overtime pay.

Minor leaguers are professional athletes, so they’re never going to get widespread sympathy from the public, but MiLB’s wage structure is set up such that that they can barely earn a living while playing baseball. At best, they can break even. It’s tricky to conceive of sports jobs on hourly terms, since the responsibilities of a professional athlete extend so far beyond simply clocking in and out on game days, but minor league baseball players live all of the round-the-clock lifestyle of MLB players, just without getting the pay to justify it.

The bill alleges that MiLB players need their wages locked in at poverty level and that if players start getting paid at least as much as fast food workers, grassroots minor league baseball is at risk:

If the law is not clarified, the costs to support local teams would likely increase dramatically and usher in significant cuts across the league, threatening the primary pathway to the Majors and putting teams at risk.

This is bullshit. Major league owners pay the salaries of their farm teams. MiLB teams don’t need attendance revenue to pay their players, the money comes from the top. As ESPN noted, bumping every minor leaguer’s pay by $5,000 would shake out to 5 percent of Justin Verlander’s salary. MLB made $8 billion in revenue in 2013 (the number is certainly higher now). But the “Save America’s Pastime Act” isn’t about saving money, and it certainly isn’t about saving America’s pastime.

If you are asking why a Democrat like Bustos would be involved in such a horrible piece of anti-worker legislation, the answer is pretty simple. Her father in Major League Baseball’s chief lobbyist. The entire justification is completely ridiculous. Major League Baseball is going to support a minor league system because they require a minor league system to prepare players for the major leagues. The idea that teams in Missoula and Batavia are going to fold because the Yankees and Dodgers have to pay the minimum wage to the players does not hold up to even the first bit of scrutiny.

Outside of the grotesque nature of the arguments for this rather Orwellian named bill, Grant Bisbee explores just how despicable it is by thinking of the minor leaguers themselves. Basically, minor leaguers develop no job skills for the future. If they sign out of high school, they spend their traditional college-aged years learning nothing but to hit and field and pitch. If they do go to college, they probably leave after 3 years without a degree and spend their post-college years, when their friends are starting to find stable jobs and figure our careers, learning nothing but to hit and field and pitch. Most of them will never see a 40-man roster, not to mention actually playing in the major leagues. Far less will become wealthy. For most, this is a career dead-end. This bill is about making sure a 26 year old outfielder with a .700 OPS in Chattanooga doesn’t get paid if he goes to visit a nursing home in a team event, not about protecting players, the minor leagues, or baseball itself.

…Bustos has since withdrawn her support of her own bill in what Bill Shaikin calls “a flip flop monumental even by Washington standards.” Honestly, this is enough that her constituents should seek to primary her out of a job in 2018. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is doubling down and saying that minor league players aren’t really employees–they are creative class people like artists and musicians. Yeah, that makes as little sense as it sounds.

“How much of strength, of skill, of possible loyalty, does modern industry tap from the average Hunky?” Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (IV)

[ 42 ] June 26, 2016 |

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The genre of “rich person going undercover to show us what the real life of the working class is like” is pretty old now, going from at least the mid-nineteenth century to Barbara Ehrenreich. Sometimes these exercises can be useful, often they are condescending. I decided to read Charles Rumford Walker’s 1922 book Steel: The Diary of a Furnace Worker for the same reason I read many things–it appeared in front of my face at the right time.

It’s hard to feel comfortable reading such a text when this appears in the first paragraph:

I acquired the current Anglo-Hunky language and knew speedily the grind and the camaraderie of American steel-making.

Ah, nothing like some pejoratives to really sum up the camaraderie of the steel mills. Certainly Thomas Bell’s family just loved being called Hunkies by Anglo folks.

I love the class privilege involved in this sort of paragraph, as our narrator decides what to do after being an officer in World War I:

I was twenty-five, a college graduate, a first-lieutenant in the army. In the civilian world into which I was about to jump, most of my connections were with the university I had recently left, few or none in the business world. Why not enlist, then, in one of the basic industries, coal, oil, or steel? I liked steel— it was the basic American industry, and technically and economically it interested me. Why not enlist in steel? Get a laborer’s job? Learn the business? And, besides, the chemical forces of change, I meditated, were at work at the bottom of society—

The next day I sent in the resignation of my commission in the regular army of the United States.

I’ll bet those Hunkies were making the same choice. Should I go work in middle management of U.S. Steel or slum up with the boys? This guy was really with the people!

This guy clearly was one of the boys:

I was first conscious of the blaring mouths of furnaces. There were five of them, and men with shovels in line, marching within a yard, hurling a white gravel down red throats. Two of the men were stripped, and their backs were shiny in the red flare. I tried to feel perfectly at home, but discovered a deep consciousness of being overdressed. My straw hat I could have hurled into a ladle of steel.

Lucky they didn’t hurl him into a ladle of steel.

My heart leaped a bit at “the night-shift.” I thought over the hours-schedule the employment manager had rehearsed: “Five to seven, fourteen hours, on the night-week.”

My father worked the night shift for many years. I don’t think his heart “leaped a bit” over the matter.

As a whole, the thing reads reasonably decently. Walker is a fair writer. He describes the process of steel making pretty well and enlivens it with a decent amount of swearing from the Hunkies and Wops. Oh, wait, did I mention that Walker loves stereotypes? The Russians booze it up. The Italian makes an OK boss even though Walker admits his resentment to taking orders from the Wop. Surprised he didn’t figure him to be an anarchist, infiltrating the steel mills, or perhaps a member of the Black Hand. But, to give Walker credit, after struggling to understand what anyone is saying, he admits his realization:

This is amusing enough on the first day; you can go off and laugh in a superior way to yourself about the queer words the foreigners use. But after seven days of it, fourteen hours each, it gets under the skin, it burns along the nerves, as the furnace heat burns along the arms when you make back-wall. It suddenly occurred to me one day, after someone had bawled me out picturesquely for not knowing where something was that I had never heard of, that this was what every immigrant Hunky endured; it was a matter of language largely, of understanding, of knowing the names of things, the uses of things, the language of the boss. Here was this Serbian second-helper bossing his third-helper largely in an unknown tongue, and the latter getting the full emotional experience of the immigrant. I thought of Bill, the pit boss, telling a Hunky to do a clean-up job for him; and when the Hunky said, “What?” he turned to me and said: “Lord! but these Hunkies are dumb.”

Of course, he immediately backtracks:

I suddenly had a vision of how the New York subway looked: its crush, its noise, its overdressed Jews, its speed, its subway smell. I looked around inside the clattering trolley-car. Nobody was talking. The car was filled for the most part with Slavs, a few Italians, and some negroes from the nail mill. Everyone, except two old men of unknown age, was under thirty-five. They held their buckets on their laps, or put them on the floor between their legs. Six or eight were asleep. The rest sat quiet, with legs and neck loose,

“Its overdressed Jews.” Gawd….

What’s remarkable is how utterly apolitical this book remains. Walker tells of the heat and stress and long hours. But to what end? It’s almost as if the description is just entertainment for the middle classes reading it. There is very little sense of political purpose until the end, when Walker briefly admits that the long shifts are terrible and undermine workers’ lives. But there’s certainly little empathy with the long-term struggles of the working classes in any political aim, except for one brief mention of Walker, who could talk to bosses since he came from their class and was kind of slumming through this, telling one that his claim that his workers labored an 8-hour day was not true..There’s also very little discussion of workers dying on the job, just a mention or two of stories from the past, which is an obvious omission in an industry suffering frequent deaths. This could have led to something of real interest, but is too much about Walker wanting to “learn the trade.”

In short, too much tourism, not enough analysis. It is a kind of interesting book, but suffers the problem of the wealthy in 1919, when Walker labored in the mills, not really understanding the working class, even when they do actually interact with them.

After Charles Rumford Walker left the steel mills, he had a very hard career ahead of him working for Yale. It’s unclear if he let any Hunkies or overdressed Jews into the august institution.

I am one of all of seven people to download this text. A best seller!

This Day in Labor History: June 25, 1914

[ 9 ] June 25, 2016 |

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This is a guest post by Jacob Remes, who is clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. His book, Disaster Citizenship: Survivors, Solidarity, and Power in the Progressive Era, is available from the University of Illinois Press. He tweets at @jacremes.

Charles Lee worked at a patent leather factory in the Blubber Hollow neighborhood of Salem, Massachusetts. It was unpleasant work in a rickety building. Workers like Lee dissolved flammable scrap celluloid film in flammable amyl acetate and alcohol, painted it on leather, added another layer of wood alcohol, and then steam heated it.

A hundred and two years ago today, on the afternoon of June 25, 1914, the inevitable came: a fire broke out. Charles Lee was the worker standing closest to the fire’s origin, and he broke both his legs jumping out of a window to escape the flames. Half an hour later, 300 workers had been forced to flee their factories. By evening, the fire had consumed 50 factories across the city, including, most devastatingly, Salem’s largest employer, a sheet factory called Pequot Mills. More than 18,000 people were left homeless or jobless.

Every disaster is a workplace disaster for someone. Sometimes, as for Charles Lee, the disaster is part of work. Other times, as for Pequot Mills employees, a disaster destroys opportunity for work. For others, including the 87 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2015, it is disaster itself that is the worksite. Workers have long responded to workplace disasters by coming together with their coworkers and neighbors to think about–and fight over–the conditions of their labor.

Changes in illumination, heating, firefighting, and transportation technologies–together with organizing and government regulation–led to a gradual decline in the sort of fires that once regularly destroyed large swaths of cities. In 1918, a Canadian government researcher counted 290 urban conflagrations in the United States and Canada between 1815 and 1915, more than half of the global total. Salem’s was among the last.

But industrial risk was not vanquished. In the United States in 2014, the last year for which data were available, about 13 people a day were killed at work, whether in small accidents or big disasters. This risk–of lives lost, of bodies mangled, of property and livelihoods diminished–is never evenly distributed (as Erik, among others, has reminded us). Who bears the bodily risk of industrialism is a political choice we all make. Most of the time, workers die in ones or twos, invisible except to their families, coworkers, and friends. Disasters–like when 29 coal miners died in Upper Big Branch, West Virginia, in 2013, or when, in the same year, 1,100 garment workers died in a factory collapse at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh–are the times we see our choices and have an opportunity to correct them.

After the Salem fire, as after disasters today, people debated how to organize society and its risk in their neighborhoods and churches, in town meetings and voting booths. Six months after fire, Salemites recalled their mayor in the first modern recall in New England. Catholic laypeople argued with priests and the archbishop about how their parish should be rebuilt. Neighbors argued about whether a new building code, designed to make the city less flammable, was worth the cost.

Most of all, they fought for power in their workplaces. Pequot Mills was rebuilt and reopened a year and a half after the fire, in 1916. Soon, workers began to experiment with new ways of organizing and building power across skill, gender, and ethnicity. At a time when in most Massachusetts textile mills only the most skilled workers, mostly men, were welcomed into unions, workers at Pequot Mills organized a union that included women, unskilled workers, and French Canadians, whom many labor leaders at the time thought were unorganizable.

Workers at Pequot Mills fought for, and won, higher pay, but more importantly they wanted a say in how the factory would be run. They won seniority rights, a grievance system, and defined job categories and so limited management’s arbitrary ability to hire, fire, promote, and discipline workers. By the late 1920s, the union had taken charge of the company’s sales and marketing departments, and it controlled a joint labor-management committee that sought to increase productivity through scientific management. Workers’ willingness to sacrifice some material gains for control over how the factory would run got press attention as a national model.

It did not last. While at first union power meant democratic control of the workplace by workers, within a few years the business manager, not the workers themselves, controlled the process. “I didn’t bother to report,” he told visiting researchers, “because they are a bunch of ignorant Canucks and Polacks who wouldn’t understand anyway.”

After a few years of growing union autocracy, workers took the skills they had honed in the aftermath of the fire and rebelled against their own leaders. Led by women, who were especially hurt by the business manager, they rebelled and struck in 1933 and again in 1935 to found a new, more democratic union. A generation after the fire, workers were still debating with each other, with management, and with their neighbors how to organize work.

In our own era of workplace disasters, we too can debate how labor should be organized. Disasters offer opportunities for solidarity in the workplace, in the community, and up and down the supply chain. They are times when the choices society makes about whose lives are more or less valuable become visible, and they are times we can make different choices.

One example was the prosecution of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for his role creating the Upper Big Branch disaster. (He was sentenced to a mere year in prison.) So too was the Rana Plaza factory collapse. The horror of that disaster forced the North American companies that had subcontracted work to those factories to impose greater–though still inadequate–safety standards. More importantly, it spurred greater garment worker organizing, so that in Dhaka, as in Salem, workers can build power and set their own standards.

This post also encourages readers to donate to the Rosenberg Fund, supporting the children of targeted activists. You can read more about the Rosenberg fund here.

This is the 182nd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Non-Compete Clauses

[ 96 ] June 23, 2016 |

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It’s completely ridiculous that it took the New York attorney general’s office to force this to happen, but Jimmy John’s is finally ending its practice of making its employees sign non-compete clauses so they can’t take the valuable skills they learned and get a job at Subway.

The Illinois-based sandwich chain has agreed to stop including noncompete agreements in its hiring documents, a practice that was deemed “unlawful” by the New York attorney general’s office.

The announcement follows an investigation by that office into Jimmy John’s use of noncompete agreements with franchisees in New York, which began in December 2014. The agreements had barred departing employees from taking jobs with competitors of Jimmy John’s for two years after leaving the company and from working within two miles of a Jimmy John’s store that made more than 10 percent of its revenue from sandwiches.

“Noncompete agreements for low-wage workers are unconscionable,” Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, said in a statement. “They limit mobility and opportunity for vulnerable workers and bully them into staying with the threat of being sued. Companies should stop using these agreements for minimum wage employees.”

It seems that this agreement only covers its New York stores, although Illinois is going after it now, so maybe that will finally stop the practice entirely.

This Day in Labor History: June 22, 1896

[ 11 ] June 22, 2016 |

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On June 22, 1896, mine owners in Leadville, Colorado agreed to lock out their unionized miners, presenting a united front against unionism. This action would spur one of the largest battles between unions and employers in the 1890s, one that typically would be ended by the Colorado militia’s use as a private army of the employers.

Silver was discovered in Leadville in the 1870s, eventually making it one of the nation’s leading mining towns. In its first years, Leadville mines were generally unconsolidated, owned by the people who staked the claim. This did not change until the early 1890s, when capitalists began investing in the silver mines. Taking control of the city, the culture of mining in Leadville changed almost overnight. The Panic of 1893, the worst economic depression in the nation’s history to that time, shook the silver industry. Prices plummeted. Mine owners slashed wages from $3 a day to $2.50. By 1896, about one-third of the miners were still only earning that reduced rate. Those were poverty wages for a very dangerous job.

Miners organized with the Western Federation of Miners. The WFM, formed out of the bitter 1892 Coeur d’Alene strike, sought the industrial organization of hard rock miners. Local 33, also known as Cloud City Miners Union, formed in Leadville. From its formation in 1893, the WFM had demanded the 8-hour day. Yet in Leadville, many miners were working 12-hour days. The CCMU, as its first demand, wanted the restoration of the $3 day for all miners at a time when the mine owners were building luxury homes for themselves, even if the economy had not fully recovered by 1896. They presented this demand to the mine owners on May 26, 1896. All the owners rejected the demand. On June 19, the WFM tried again. Again, the owners rejected it. That night, the union decided that all workers making $2.50 should strike. Several mines shut down the next day when their workforce walked off the job.

The mine owners responded by seeking to crush the WFM in Leadville entirely. On June 22, it responded to the strike by locking out all miners. The owners quickly imported strikebreakers to run their mines. They also hired Pinkertons and Thiel agents to infiltrate the union and spy on the strikers. Both sides refused to compromise with the other. The union was unaware of how closely the mine owners were working together and believed if they could just get one to cave, the others would follow. One minority owner of a mine did cave and reopened with a higher wage. When his partners took him to court, the court ruled it had to pay the $3 wage. So when the state deputy labor commissioner offered to arbitrate the case, the union refused, thinking victory was right around the corner. The WFM’s aggressive action disturbed the American Federation of Labor. The AFL did not call other unions out in support, which often happened in strikes of this time, even if the supportive unions might settle themselves for small raises. The Leadville WFM local was largely on its own, although other WFM locals did contribute financial help.

On August 13, the owners tried to cut a deal, saying they would raise the wage to $3 when the price of silver rose to 75 cents an ounce. It was not at that time 75 cents. But given that the majority of the striking miners were making the $3 wage already, there was some effort to end the strike. However, the WFM leadership wanted to hold out for victory. Before you think such demands were unrealistic or that the union should have compromised, understand that in 1894, the WFM had won probably the single greatest union victory of the decade in the Cripple Creek strike. Believing the union’s credibility was at stake and hoping to organize throughout the West, another victory at Leadville would have really solidified the union’s position and power.

Some of the mines began to build fortifications around them, preparing to reopen and crush the strike with force if necessary. This led the WFM to take the offensive. On September 21, fifty armed miners attacked the Coronado and Emmett mines. They set the Coronado mine on fire by dropping dynamite into it, causing $50,000 worth of damage. A gun battle ensued with the twenty armed strikebreakers at the mines. Four union members were killed. In response, Colorado governor Albert McIntire, who had previously refused mine owners’ requests to use the state militia as a private police force, promptly changed his mind. The mines reopened under military guard. Eugene Debs came to Leadville to try and negotiate a solution, but could not. Low-level violence continued through the winter. Strikebreakers surrounded one striker outside his house and murdered him while a policeman shot another. Given that the Leadville police chief hated the strikers, it’s surprising there were not more deaths. The WFM caved on March 9, 1897 after half the workers had already given up and returned to work. Those workers not on the blacklist went back under the old wage system.

The Leadville experience left the WFM deeply bitter. The union disaffiliated with the AFL after the federation refused to support it. The Leadville strike’s failure contributed significantly to that union’s radical phase that included its central role in forming the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905, with WFM leader Big Bill Haywood eventually leading the new union. And while the WFM largely withdrew from the IWW after 1908 as more moderate leadership took over in the miners’ union, it retained it’s radical edge. The WFM eventually turned into the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers in 1916. More popularly known as Mine, Mill, it retained its radical edge and was one of the unions evicted from the CIO for its communist leadership in the late 1940s. It also led the famous Salt of the Earth strike in southern New Mexico.

Today, Leadville is one of the most fascinating and kind of scary places in the nation, with the mining legacy all over the landscape and the culture.

This is the 181st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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