I was unaware that Stanley Kubrick had made a documentary about the Seafarers International Union in 1953. I have not seen it, but it is now available here, although I will have to wait until I am back in the U.S. to watch it.
Given that Steve Jobs was a sociopath and given the labor conditions at overseas factories where Apple products are made, it’s not at all hard to believe that the company would treat their U.S. labor horribly:
A state court in California has granted class certification to nearly 21,000 current and former Apple employees over claims that the company failed to provide timely meal and rest breaks as required by the law, and sometimes denied workers rest breaks altogether.
In a ruling late Monday, Judge Ronald S. Prager of the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego granted the class certification for a large group of retail employees and workers at corporate headquarters.
Under California law, employers are generally required to provide 30-minute lunch breaks within an employee’s first five hours at work each day and provide a 10-minute rest break every four hours or major fraction thereof. In addition, California law requires employers to provide a second rest break for shifts that run six to 10 hours, and Judge Prager wrote that the evidence showed that Apple had failed to authorized second rest breaks under these circumstances.
Freedom Summer was 50 years ago this year and its anniversary has been pretty underreported. Anyway, this is an interesting piece from one of the white organizers about the relationship between organizing civil rights workers and union organizing in Mississippi. Obviously, biracial unionism did not exactly take hold in Mississippi or the rest of the South but still, there are potentially useful lessons here.
I know I am supposed to be all doom and gloom all the time. But that’s only true 99% of the time. Sometimes there are victories. Such as the concession workers for the San Francisco Giants who just ratified their first contract with 98% of the members voting yes.
Instead, it took place in the stands where 800 seasonal concession workers organized by UNITE HERE Local 2 just ratified by 98% a contract with Centerplate, the subcontracted concessionaire at Giants Park and one of the largest hospitality companies in North America.
The agreement provides the best wages and benefits in the country for their type of work.
The terms included an immediate raise of $1.40 an hour with some back pay, strong job security protections, dental insurance and fully paid family medical coverage without co-pays through the contract’s 2019 expiration date.
The agreement will also fund a big improvement in pension benefits and will tie future health care and wage increases to San Francisco’s big hotels – so when Local 2 hotel workers get wage and benefit increases, Centerplate will match them at Giants stadium.
This convergence of interests is not accidental.
Local 2 members regularly discuss the importance of solidarity. Membership unity across job classifications and work sites strengthens the union and, as results indicate, increases its bargaining leverage considerably.
Tying their salaries with those of the hotel workers in a strong local is a big deal.
Can you name the worst job you’ve ever had? For Cliff Martin, that’s not an easy question. All three of his current jobs—delivering newspapers, delivering magazines and working as a janitor—are strong contenders. Taken together, they pay so poorly that the 20-year-old Northfield, Minnesota, native relies on MNsure, the state Medicaid plan, for healthcare and lives at home with his father to save money. But what if Martin’s bosses had to fork over a fee to the state for paying him so badly? That money, in turn, could be used to help support Martin and his fellow low-wage workers in a variety of ways, from direct subsidies for food and housing to social programs such as Medicaid or public transportation.
TakeAction Minnesota, a network that promotes economic and racial justice in the state, wants to make that fee a reality. It’s developing the framework for a bill that it hopes will be introduced in 2015 by state legislators who have worked with the network in the past. As conceived, the “bad business fee” legislation would require companies to disclose how many of their employees are receiving public assistance from the state or federal government. Companies would then pay a fine based on the de facto subsidies they receive by externalizing labor costs onto taxpayers.
TakeAction Minnesota’s plan is one prong of a larger national effort. As progressive organizations grapple with how to turn years of public outrage over income inequality into policies for structural change, a network of labor and community organizing groups has seized upon the bad business fee as a solution that might take off.
It’s certainly an interesting idea. Moreover, if one state promoted this, even if it didn’t pass, I do believe you’d see a pretty quick turnaround in workers’ wages, at least locally. A real threat to punish corporations for their antisocial behavior would likely cause change. We’ve seen that many times in the last century and the repeal and erasure of that century of gains in recent years reflects the defeat of the forces who forced those changes, especially but not solely labor unions, a strategy corporations affected through capital mobility and outsourcing work abroad.
I am always amused by the idea that technology will set us free from the hassles of work. Talk about utopian. The reality is that technology chains us to our jobs, creating a state of permanent surveilliance by our employers who demand more and more. The 40-hour week becomes a joke, both because many people cannot work at all or can only find part-time work while those who do have work have to labor well past 40 hours because the boss can track them.
Kathleen Geier, Sarah Jaffe, and Sheila Bapat have a great discussion of how the Hobby Lobby and Harris decisions conspire to undermine women’s economic security. You should definitely read the entire thing, but Sarah’s piece is especially valuable. In part:
It should go without saying that the decision to have a child or not is one of the most profound economic decisions most of us will make in our lifetimes. The Supreme Court this week made it harder for lower-income women to be able to make that choice for themselves. While I support those who argue for the right of all people to enjoy sex on their own terms, we have spent far too little time elaborating the ways in which the “culture war” is a class war.
Take Hobby Lobby. The hashtag #NotMyBossBusiness gave me some hope that the discussion of this case would turn not on religion, hypocrisy or even just on corporate personhood but on the place where Americans’ freedoms are most curtailed: work. It is, after all, the boss, not the government, who has the most say over what we do and say, whether we can pay the rent or feed the kids, the boss who has increasingly sought the right to influence our political choices and what we wear and track our every move and keystroke.
Instead, I have watched photos of people going into Hobby Lobby stores to rearrange letter-blocks to read “pro-choice” flit across the Internet as if the workers who will have to put those blocks back away are unaware of their boss’s power over them. If we were more aware of this decision as one that will affect women not simply as women but as workers, we might stop and ask ourselves what it would mean to actually be in solidarity with the people who work at those stores, to help them get what they need.
The separation between abortion care and other healthcare that I commented on above plays out in Hobby Lobby, which attempts to paint birth control not as a legally required part of a worker’s compensation package, one that allows women to work on an equal footing with the men, but as something outside, different and worse. Or, in the voices of some dismissive commentators, simply less important, not a big deal, something easy enough for women to buy on their own.
If we recognized Hobby Lobby as a workplace issue, we might reply that the people who work at Hobby Lobby stores make between $9.50 and $14 an hour (and those are actually fairly good wages when it comes to retail work) and that $25 a month (if it’s actually that cheap; that depends on which form of contraceptive you’re using) is a significant extra expense if one is, say, raising children on the wages from that job.
I think the connection between the culture war and class war especially valuable since the culture war is very much a war against poor women seeking to control their own bodies and who lack options once the effects of the culture war are literally growing inside them. And the kind of activism that just makes Hobby Lobby workers have to labor harder while doing nothing to affect the company is the sort of the buying thriftshop clothes to protest sweatshops that might not be counterproductive but don’t really do anything to help the situation.
As I stated earlier, I don’t necessarily see the UAW-Volkswagen agreement as a major victory. It’s certainly a positive thing for the workers involved, but as something to celebrate, I’m less than sure. Others however disagree (as they did in comments to the original post). Joe Atkins:
The UAW knew that withdrawing its objections to February’s tainted election, in consensus with Volkswagen, would expedite the company’s decision on the new product line,” Casteel said in a formal statement. “The fact that the new line is being announced four days after the rollout of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga reinforces the consensus that the UAW has reached with the company.”
Casteel said “a cornerstone of Volkswagen’s business model” is the Global Groups Works Council that provides employee representation on work-related issues at Volkswagen plants around the world.
In fact, Global Works Council chairman Bernd Osterloh, a strong supporter of union representation at the Chattanooga plant, was recently appointed to the board of directors of Volkswagen’s American operations. At one point, Osterloh said he would work to prevent the new SUV line from coming to Chattanooga if workers there didn’t get union representation.
Local 42 will not collect dues for the time being, and participation is voluntary. However, the UAW hopes membership will grow to a size that gives it weight in representing workers’ concerns at the plant. No formal agreement exists with Volkswagen regarding the local, but a “consensus” exists that allows the local to work with the company in the future, Casteel said.
This non-traditional approach to worker representation is somewhat similar to other efforts across the South to help those who have no collective voice vis-à-vis management. Examples include the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in North Carolina and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, both of which have won agreements with major corporations despite the fact that farm workers aren’t covered in the National Labor Relations Act.
The victories by FLOC and CIW are significant not only because of region but because of the type of laborers and industry involved (migrant immigrants in a heavily exploitative industry existing far from the view of most Americans). Comparing the UAW deal to those unions actually depresses me because these are workers with more power, with a long-standing powerful union backing them, with the extremely unusual arrangement of international labor unions and the company supporting them, and on a big shop floor, traditionally a relatively easy place to organize, at least compared to the fields or small shops. The innovation is definitely something I support, but I still have trouble seeing it as a big win.
….Sorry for not including the link, I wrote this before a long and horrible day of travel and so just saw I forgot it now. Here is the original link, for what it’s worth 20 hours later.
Among the many potential impacts of the Hobby Lobby decision is for employers to claim unionization of their workforce violates their religious beliefs. This is already percolating through the court system, most famously at Duquense University, when that Catholic institution of higher education used this argument (because all know the Pope hates unions or something).
By declaring that “closely held” corporations may hold religious beliefs, the court may have provided businesses with a new tool for crushing workplace unionization drives. In addition to declaring themselves exempt from contraception mandates and non-discrimination laws, religious employers may soon be able to argue for an exemption from collective bargaining laws.
“All you need is one employer saying, ‘My religious beliefs tell me I shouldn’t collectively bargain,’” said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. If an employer takes the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to court and uses that argument, it could set the table for a major court battle over the future of union rights in nominally religious workplaces.
Religious primary and secondary schools are already exempt from collective bargaining rules, thanks to the 1979 Supreme Court case NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over schools “operated by a church to teach both religious and secular subjects.” As a result, schools operated by the Catholic Bishop of Chicago were under no obligation to recognize employee unions, no matter the circumstances. Putting religious schools under the jurisdiction of the NLRB, the court reasoned, would present “a significant risk of infringement of Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.”
Other religious schools have seized on the decision over the years. Most recently, Perelman Jewish Day School in Philadelphia decided to stop recognizing its teachers’ union, citing NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago as legal justification. A March 28 article from the labor-friendly magazine In These Times suggested that the school’s actions may have earned it the title “the Hobby Lobby of Union-Busting.” But the Perelman case may wind up being less important than another legal fight brewing elsewhere in Pennsylvania. In 2012, adjunct professors at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University requested the right to hold a union election, only to have the school claim a religious exemption. The crucial difference in this case is that Duquesne is a university, not a religious day school like Perelman or the Chicago Catholic schools.
The implication of Alito’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, if fully implemented, opens the door to employers using religious exemptions to avoid every law they don’t like, which I have no reason to believe reasonable moderate Sam Alito would oppose.
One of the world’s most exploitative industries is seafood, mostly for rich nation consumption. Two of the biggest areas of production are in southeast Asia and the Gulf Coast. In the southeast Asia fisheries, slave labor is far too common, with frequent killings of workers, usually immigrants from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, for actions such as asking to be paid. Things aren’t quite that bad on the Gulf Coast, but they are pretty terrible.
So it is positive that seafood workers in the Gulf are working with the National Guestworker Alliance to try and put pressure on the big retailers like WalMart and Whole Foods over working conditions. Those companies don’t care if supply workers live or die, as we see from WalMart’s response to the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. But putting pressure on them at least gets people’s attention and hopefully builds the movement necessary that humane working conditions can return to this country.
As most of you know by now, Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers came to an agreement to create a union local in the company’s Chattanooga plant to represent the workers who want to join. This agreement will not include any dues collection until after a collective bargaining agreement is reached. It comes in the face of the UAW’s devastating election loss earlier this year after unprecedented political interference.
My general reaction to this agreement: meh.
I suppose it’s not a bad thing. For those who want representation, they have it, sort of. It doesn’t exactly show the union in a good light to people around the country who are maybe on the fence about joining, since it does seem to ignore the vote, but who really cares. The bigger question is whether it is remotely replicable or whether we would even want it to be. I’m skeptical. I have a hard time seeing the UAW taking a hard line with Volkswagen on anything given that the company and union have already agreed for it to exist. Of course, the UAW isn’t talking tough to any of its employers at this point. This can only be replicated if other employers want the UAW in their factories enough to create such a system. That’s unlikely. The Volkswagen case is unique because of the pressure the company faces from its German unions, a level of power that American unions do not have.
More positively I think is promoting the idea of minority unionism, where a voluntary group of workers seeks to stand up for themselves in the face of hostility from employers and even other fellow workers. There’s no reason why this sort of unionism shouldn’t be promoted. No, it isn’t going to lead to big membership gains and dues infusions to the unions nor is it likely to lead to a collective bargaining agreement, but it still can provide workers a voice on the job and lead to concrete gains when workers are angry enough to act.
At best, this agreement between VW and UAW leads to real material gains for union members and it convinces others that joining up is in their best interests. Whether that happens or not in the face of the two-tiered contract the union agreed to with the Big Three that helped doom the Chattanooga vote, I don’t know. And I suppose it already has led to more jobs, with VW following up this announcement with one picking the factory for the construction of a new SUV. Hopefully workers see the connection between unions and more jobs and sign up.