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Tag: "labor"

Guestworker Exploitation

[ 12 ] February 10, 2016 |

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When people talk about the undocumented immigration “problem” outside of Republican debates calling for giant fences to keep out brown people, politicians and pundits often speak of a guestworker program as a way to provide the cheap labor American businesses want without forcing people to cross without papers. There can be a sympathetic piece to this argument because thanks to the militarization of the border, those people are forced into very dangerous situations, including crossing way out in the desert when they can and do die of heat exhaustion and thirst. But the history of these programs is one of rank exploitation, with workers having few rights. That was certainly true in the Bracero Program. And it remains so today, as Michelle Chen explores:

 According to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the guestworker labor force provides US employers jobs on the cheap, offering less in wages and virtually nothing in terms of labor rights or benefits.

EPI’s analysis of a decade of data on guestworkers under the H-2B visa program, which pipes immigrants into temporary low-wage service-industry jobs, shows that the visa allows bosses to employ guestworkers at “hourly wage rates that are far lower than state and national averages in the overwhelming majority of cases.” For example, in the most popular H-2B industry, landscaping and groundskeeping, “employers saved on average between $2.59 and $3.37 per hour by hiring an H-2B worker instead of a worker earning the national average wage.”

 This is not the standard protectionist argument about immigrants’ “taking jobs,” it’s about inequality being baked into a contract system that grants legal status in exchange for rights. In a sense, contracted guestworkers are less free than undocumented workers who can at least try to switch employers. As a recent NPR story on agricultural guestworkers points out, despite the dangers of living in the country without papers, undocumented workers at least have relative autonomy (albeit without any legal protections) to try to escape an abusive boss and reenter the underground labor market.

 A civil suit recently brought by a group of Jamaican H-2B guestworkers charges the Kiawah Golf Resorts in South Carolina with systematic wage theft, alleging that the resort violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and never paid the mandated wage set under the program’s guidelines, … in part to various travel costs and fees imposed on the workers as a condition of their employment. Some workers had allegedly been underpaid by as much as $2.20 per hour. They were working as housekeepers, servers, and bell persons for patrons who paid up to $1,000 per night for their lavish service.

Complaining about the system can cost a worker a livelihood and legal status. Shellion Parris, a former H-2B worker from Jamaica, helped launch a federal crackdown when she and coworkers organized an uprising against a Florida staffing agency, charging them with fraud and exploitation after they were denied the hotel housekeeping jobs they were promised and held in squalid conditions. Her hopes of vindication were upturned, however, when her petition for immigration relief foundered, leaving her destitute and stranded abroad after paying thousands. “We were all in debt when we came here,” Parris told The Nation last October. “We’re still in debt.”

These guestworker programs are just too problematic and open for labor exploitation to be part of the solution to immigration and labor problems. Republicans in Congress have of course just expanded the program and lowering the very limited labor protections in the program. Republicans read these stories and think, “yeah, we need a lot more of this, except maybe stopping the workers from filing civil suits. Tort reform!”

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The AFL-CIO, Black Lives Matter, and Police Unions

[ 53 ] February 9, 2016 |

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This is a good piece on how the AFL-CIO is trying to thread the needle between supporting the rights of police unions to collectively bargain and be part of the labor movement and support the millions of people of color in this country, many of whom are also union members, who rightfully fear the violence of those police union members. My position remains the same–that we all need to support police unionism while shunning the police unions from any other form of support. All workers need the right to collective bargaining and there is absolutely zero evidence that busting their unions would do anything at all to address the concerns of Black Lives Matter activists. That said, the police unions are terrible on all political and racial questions and show no solidarity ever with any other unions. But yes, they do deserve collective bargaining rights. Whether that is in the AFL-CIO or not, that’s another question. I don’t think the AFL-CIO has to provide much support for them and I think the future of unionism is far more with workers of color in service industries than in the older police unions. But some of the building trades unions, which are very powerful within the larger federation because of the decline of the industrial unions and soon to be decline of public sector unions in the wake of Friedrichs, are politically much closer to the police unions than BLM activists. So it’s a tricky situation for Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO. I am glad Trumka is taking a lead on creating dialogue and participating in what are not always friendly meetings with activists to try and build bridges. That’s the hard work.

Classic Krusty In Real Life

[ 10 ] February 7, 2016 |

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You’ve seen Classic Krusty interview George Meany. But have you seen the real thing? You have now. From September 1952.

Is There Hope for Bangladeshi Workers?

[ 14 ] February 4, 2016 |

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Above: Survivors and Families of the Rana Plaza Collapse Protest in Bangladesh, November 2013

Maybe.

In the aftermath of Rana Plaza, the European apparel companies (not the major U.S. ones like Gap, Target, or Walmart of course) decided it was in their interests to take a small measure of responsibility for their contractors. This led to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, creating a team of inspectors that would identify and pressure contractors to fix safety problems in the sweatshops. Since there is some apparel company effort to see changes, changes are seen.

The Accord is the first legally binding agreement between apparel brands and unions where companies are obligated to pay for contractor factory upgrades. It potentially covers over 1,600 factories employing over 2 million workers. Elements of the Accord include an independent factory inspection program which involves workers and unions, public disclosure of all factories, inspection reports and Corrective Action Plans (CAP), a commitment by signatory brands to provide funds for remediation and to maintain sourcing relationships, democratically-elected health and safety committees in all factories, and worker training programs, complaints mechanisms and the right to refuse unsafe work.

How has the Accord turned out? The current Accord Progress Overview shows that as of December 2015, 1,358 factory Corrective Action Plans have been published, and 1,600 out of 1,660 factories have been inspected so far. Nearly 100,000 electrical, fire and structural violations have been identified and about 20,000 have been fixed. However, most of the factory CAPs are behind schedule. Still there is some progress here.

But workers and movement allies know that it’s not enough for the Accord to fix up factories. A recent ILRF report on interviews with dozens of Bangladeshi garment workers, Our Voices, Our Safety: Bangladeshi Garment Workers Speak Out, found that while workers view the factory repairs as important, the ability of workers to organize is crucial. The report states:

Workers report they will not be safe without a voice at work. Fire, electrical, and structural safety in garment factories is essential and will save lives. But these renovations and repairs must be the foundation for additional reforms that address the intimidation and violence that keep workers silent, afraid to voice concerns and put forward solutions to ensure their own safety.

So there are minor improvements. That’s good. On the other hand, until Bangladeshi workers have real voices on the job, i.e., unions, they won’t really be safe. That’s going to take international pressure since it will probably require more action from the apparel companies. The best way this can happen, as the linked article suggests, is that you and I get involved in finding ways to support these workers, raise awareness, and spread information about the plight of these workers, demanding specific changes. That is what we need, pressure at home working with the workers overseas. This is why boycotts outside of those demanded by workers or buying your clothes at thrift stores to say you aren’t responsible for these conditions is not a useful way to act. We have to build solidarity with workers and act in order to improve their lives, not make ourselves feel righteous. Bangladeshi workers are making real demands. We need to support them since we are the ones wearing their clothes.

My question to readers and commenters who constantly defend the current system of globalization is to ask what you are doing to respond to the concerns of workers in Bangladesh and India and Vietnam and Cambodia. What would you tell them if they were in front of you? That their lives are so much better than they used to be so they shouldn’t complain so much?

Labor Conditions and Your Clothing

[ 43 ] February 3, 2016 |

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As we all know, most of our clothing is now made in Asian sweatshops. The clothing companies intentionally know as little as possible about the conditions of production. They contract it out and then close their eyes. They refuse all responsibility for what happens so long as the clothes come in at price and on time. Otherwise, they don’t want to know. They don’t want you to know either, which is part of the reason why they claim that not only don’t they know, but they can’t really do much about it. This is of course a lie. In any case, what are the conditions of production in Indian sweatshops?

Among the worst of the findings in the report was that some Bengaluru factories kept women (the majority of garment workers) in hostels monitored by male security guards and severely restricted their movements. Most were allowed to leave for only two hours a week, usually on Sunday to buy groceries and other items, and only after registering with a guard. The rest of the time, women were expected to travel only to and from work, and guards recorded when they arrived at and left the hostels.

The ICN, it’s worth noting, didn’t record these practices at the two factories known to produce for H&M and C&A, though the C&A factory did employ guards. The H&M factory hostel only housed men, and they were allowed out until 11pm.

Workers could use phones to talk with friends and family, but the report points out that they had little to no opportunity to interact with labor advocates, making them more vulnerable to abuses. Indeed, some hostels segregated migrants by region, paying certain groups less. All made at least the minimum wage, though Bengaluru’s garment industry has previously been singled out for its unfairly low wages.

Many of the workers were also afraid of punishment. If a woman returned late, for instance, she could be made to wait outside the gate for hours until a guard let her in.

The report found that the hostels generally provide the bare minimum. At a hostel run by Arvind, which supplies H&M, men slept on three-tier bunk beds in large, divided halls. There are no kitchens, the water supply is irregular, and one bathroom serves 12 to 14 people. “Nothing is good,” one Arvind worker said. “But we are staying here because we have to live and there is no other way.” Workers also had to pay to stay there.

As I have documented over the years here and in Out of Sight (recently named a Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 2015–yay!), these conditions are basically the same in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. These are the clothes you are wearing today or yesterday or tomorrow. The question is what you are going to do about it? When are we going to start demanding that our politicians make these conditions a priority? When are we even going to begin questioning them about the basics? Does even Bernie Sanders have a meaningful position on global labor exploitation by American companies? If so, I haven’t heard it. We have to publicize these conditions and demand that our clothes are made in humane conditions. We have to demand that our fish is not produced by slaves. We have to at least publicly criticize the Obama administration when it reclassifies Malaysia’s human rights record just after human trafficking camps have been discovered so that it can include the nation in the TPP.

Right now, we are failing at all of this.

Are Strikes the Answer to Labor’s Woes?

[ 27 ] February 1, 2016 |

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Shaun Richman thinks so.

Our challenge is to inspire even non-union workers to think about their power and how to exercise it using the tools we have on hand: a union movement with miniscule density in only a handful of service and public sector industries largely led by staff who have precious little personal experience with leading job actions. We should be clear about how deep this deficit is.

One of the most promising labor projects of the moment is Bargaining for the Common Good. This is an effort by public sector unions in Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio to align their bargaining demands with each other and with community demands around progressive taxation, affordable housing, youth incarceration and government transparency.

These community demands fall well outside a union’s scope of bargaining and are therefore technically illegal. But as long as the unions also have demands that are within their legal scope (not hard to do when employers refuse to pay people what they deserve), then the unions can press the community’s case. This is a brilliant way of getting community to see unions’ fights as their own and of building worker and community power—and the next Chicago teachers strike will likely be the highest profile test of the theory this side of the Mississppi.

What follows could be bigger. A number of public and private sector unions in Minnesota have contract expirations in 2016. Their bargaining demands for the common good are focused not just on their individual employers but also on the largest employers in the state: Target and Wells Fargo. This is the potential for the closest thing we’ve seen in a while to a general strike (something Minnesota has a history of doing).

Another promising project is the Fight for 15. Some have dismissed the series of rolling one-day strikes for increases in the minimum wage and organizing rights as mere P.R. stunts. But there is something deeply radical and significant at play here. Workers who don’t even technically have a union are proving their value—and their power—to their bosses by withholding their labor. And the response from the general public is, at worst, a sort of patronizing “Well, good for them” but more often something a bit closer to “Go get ‘em!”

As I write my new book for The New Press, No Retreat, No Surrender: American History in Ten Strikes (first draft due in June, yikes!), I am musing on these questions a lot. And, as any good historian would probably say, it depends. The real lesson of studying strikes is that they can serve as a great window into their time. Sometimes they are aspirational, demanding and winning real changes in the lives of workers. The Flint Sit-Down Strike is one of these moments, where a small group of workers taking radical action can inspire millions to improve their own lives. Some of the IWW strikes like at Lawrence or the timber strikes in the Northwest serve some of these functions as well. Other strikes can be more consumeristic in content, such as the Oakland General Strike of 1946, where workers shut down the city for no radical purpose. They just wanted more money for themselves. That really helps us understand the consumer republic of the postwar period. Other times though, what strikes really tell us is that workers are desperate. The strikes become last-ditch efforts to save what they once had, whether the Gilded Age strikes of workers losing control over their own labor or the strikes of the 1980s like at Hormel or Phelps-Dodge that companies used to crush unions entirely. These incidents are more sad than anything else.

So this leads us back to the question of whether strikes are part of the answer for labor’s woes. I don’t know. The CTU strike was pretty inspirational, in part because Rahm is such a villain and in part because they did some great things. But it’s not like the CTU has beaten back Emanuel in the years since. That strike was defensive and CTU remains in a defensive posture today, just trying to keep teachers’ jobs and schools open.

On the other hand, it’s true enough that in the New Gilded Age, organized labor is going to have all their long-used tactics rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court, the Koch Brothers, and hostile Republicans around the nation. Friedrichs is just the latest example. There may be a time when a strike or series of strikes becomes that spark that shows a newly aggressive American working class.

In any case, we really need people who are thinking hard about how to express worker power in an era where they are seeing power stripped from them. Things like the Fight for $15 are great examples of how that power can be reclaimed, although actually winning some victories does have to happen at some point. Certainly whatever does bring worker power back in the United States is going to take some new strategies in combination with some traditional strategies. More analysis of these new strategies is necessary, which is why articles like Richman’s are important.

Recording the Workplace

[ 75 ] January 31, 2016 |

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As I have noted in posts here and in Out of Sight, the greatest threat of ag-gag laws, which criminalize knowledge of what happens inside agricultural operations to fight against animal rights activists getting hired to work so they can record and publicize the mistreatment of farm animals, is that if knowledge of one workplace is criminalized, why wouldn’t the law criminalize all public knowledge of what happens inside all workplaces? It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. It’s one that corporations are well of and have tried to implement. Luckily, Obama’s National Labor Relations Board is there to stop them, at least for now. It may not surprise that the corporation in discussion here is Whole Foods, whose interest in the lives of poor people largely extend to photos in their stores of happy brown farmers to provide an sheen of authenticity to their high prices and cultural appropriation and perhaps to their employees which they won’t allow to join a union.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in a 2-1 decision, ruled against blanket employer policies banning employees from taking photos or recordings in the workplace. Such policies would, in the view of the NLRB, having a chilling effect on employee’s ability to record or photograph workplace safety violations or actions that were discriminatory.

Whole Foods’ unsuccessful argument to the NLRB was that its policy allowed for a free and open discussion in the workplace, without concerns of statements appearing on the Internet. But the NLRB found that a blanket ban went too far, as it was “essential” in many cases to have a photo or video in order to prove a violation of an employee’s rights.

This is somewhat different of course than an ag-gag bill because the NLRB has no authority unless the images are recording workplace safety violations. But the principle is very important.

This case also is another reminder that we can demonize the other Democratic Party candidate all we want to, but the election in November is far, far more important than who wins the nomination.

How the Wagner Act Laid the Groundwork for Affirmative Action

[ 5 ] January 31, 2016 |

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Very interesting Touré Reed analysis at Jacobin:

The case for affirmative action — like unionization before it — proceeded from the view that anti-discrimination policy was in the public interest. Though the history of federal workplace anti-discrimination initiatives dates back to the New Deal, President Kennedy’s 1961 Executive Order 10925 — which authorized the federal government to cancel contracts with vendors who failed to take “affirmative action” to redress employment disparities — is generally understood as the start of the modern era of anti-discrimination policy.

The Kennedy and later the Johnson administrations argued that workplace discrimination was a drag on the national economy, viewing racism as an irrational encumbrance on productivity. The Kennedy administration’s case for a fair employment practices bill — what would eventually become Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — thus centered on the Commerce Clause, placing workplace discrimination in the purview of the federal government.

Those who imagine that market-oriented programs offer the best route to racial equality today should recall that opponents of Title VII, like Republican senator Barry Goldwater, argued that fair employment practices legislation violated “freedom of contract.”

But while anti-discrimination legislation necessarily infringed on an employer’s right to hire, fire, promote, or demote whomever they wished, the Wagner Act had already abridged this right — as proponents of anti-discrimination law understood at the time — thus establishing a precedent for affirmative action.

In fact, the phrase “affirmative action” first appeared in a Wagner Act provision that directed judges to impose financial penalties on employers who discriminated against union organizers.

The eventual implementation of affirmative action in the workplace likewise drew on precedent stemming from the Wagner Act. As study after study has shown, few if any employers use quotas — which are not mandated by Title VII. Instead, employers hoping to avoid costly lawsuits established offices of equal employment to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination law.

These new equal employment offices were modeled on the labor relations departments union and non-union firms established in the wake of the Wagner Act. Moreover, many of the policies implemented by equal employment offices to ensure fair employment practices — including in-house grievance procedures, formal job descriptions, published guidelines for promotion and termination, salary classifications, and open bidding— were already in use by labor relations departments partly because unions had demanded them.

The Wagner Act and the labor movement it helped spawn are perhaps the clearest expression of the social-democratic impulses informing the old New Deal Democratic coalition. As such, the links between the right to collective bargaining and anti-discrimination legislation draw attention to the historic importance of social democracy to so-called civil rights issues.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine on what basis black civil rights leaders — who lobbied on behalf of a group that accounted for just 10 percent of the nation’s population — would have demanded a fair employment practices act in the 1960s, if the Wagner Act had not already established a precedent, in the name of the public good, for abridging the right to freedom of contract.

Simply put, the civil rights movement’s victories required an interventionist state — as was understood by all of the principal players, on both sides, at the time. And while the New Deal had significant limitations, its efforts to enhance the purchasing power of working people — centered on fostering a more stable form of capitalism — established a framework for a rights discourse that would prove indispensable to African-American civil rights.

Cursing and Labor Law

[ 12 ] January 31, 2016 |

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Does labor law protect cussing at your bosses? It depends. And that’s the subject of this story about how Murray Energy, a horrible coal mining company, has fired a couple of workers for swearing at bosses in what the workers call a labor action. Now, for context, coal miners work blue. So do their bosses. This is not a conversation for those who find swearing a mortal sin. For example:

The coarse language, according to workers, extended all the way up to the company’s CEO — Mr. Bob Murray himself.

After Murray Energy took over the mine in late 2014, Bob Murray laid out his company’s rules in a meeting with workers. “These are my f—— rules, and if you don’t like it, there’s the f—— door,” he said, according to workers who testified before the NLRB.

So, in this atmosphere, this is what the workers did:

Richard Harrison and Jesse Stolzenfels used to work at the West Virginia mine. In late 2013, Murray Energy Corp., one of the nation’s largest coal companies, took the mine over from a previous owner. Shortly thereafter, the company tried to implement a controversial production-based bonus program.

Workers at the mine, who are represented by the United Mine Workers of America union, voted it down. But the company went ahead and adopted the plan anyway — in violation of its labor contract, according to the union. Murray Energy disagrees and maintains it followed the agreement.

Under the program, workers received bonuses based on the amount of coal they extracted. Many opposed it on safety grounds, including Stolzenfels and Harrison, according to court filings. The latter, in particular, had a history of a speaking out over safety. Meanwhile, the company told miners who disagreed with the plan that they could opt out of it by writing “void” on their checks and returning them.

In February 2015, Harrison and Stolzenfels took this route — but not before adding some profanity-laced flair. Harrison’s check, for $11.58, read, “Void Void Kiss My Ass Bob.” Stolzenfels’ check, for $3.22, read “Void Eat S— Bob.” The company responded by suspending both of them with “intent to discharge,” citing the employee handbook’s policy against profanity.

For this, they were suspended and canned. So is this a labor issue? What legal protections might these workers have?

“Certainly there are many people who would feel uncomfortable or disapprove of the [workers’] conduct,” said Angela Cornell, director of the labor law clinic at the Cornell University Law School. Ultimately, though, that’s not what matters.

The National Labor Relations Act, the federal bedrock of American labor law, gives workers the right to engage in “protected concerted activity” — to join together with one or more co-workers and speak out over pay and working conditions without facing retaliation. “In this context, workers have more rights than they would otherwise,” Cornell said.

For example, an angry worker who comes into the office and fires off an expletive at his or her boss is unlikely to be protected by the National Labor Relations Act. But if that worker drops an f-bomb or two while she’s complaining with co-workers about say, long hours or unsafe working conditions, her speech is more likely to be protected.

A separate federal law that covers mining safety offers comparable protections.

Cornell University’s Angela Cornell said the angrily worded missives from Harrison and Stolzenfels don’t appear to be isolated or individual incidents. Instead, they seem to be part of a broader workplace dispute — one that involved tense disagreements over workplace safety and the miners’ collective bargaining agreement.

Of course, workers can lose protections if their conduct is especially reckless or egregious — for example, by making a violent threat to a supervisor, or by trying to sabotage their employer’s business. Indeed, that’s precisely what Murray Energy is arguing.

The company maintains the voided checks did not amount to “protected concerted activity” in the first place. But even if they did, the company argued in its post-hearing brief, the miners forfeited their protections by engaging in “indefensible or abusive misconduct.”

The board’s general counsel disagrees. It also noted in its post-hearing brief that employees have used “far more biting and insulting profane language” toward management and not lost their protections. In previous cases, for instance, workers have legally confronted their supervisors with such epithets as “egotistical f—–,” “stupid f—— moron” and “f—— liar.”

Cynthia Estlund, a labor law professor at the New York University School of Law, said the labor board tends to give workers a fair amount of leeway when they express grievances. “It’s not that profanity is protected as such,” she said. But “from the beginning, the board has given employees some breathing room when they’re engaging in protected, concerted activity,” she added.

Right now, the two workers are being paid by their employer to stay at home.

Interesting case.

How Unions Screw Each Other

[ 27 ] January 30, 2016 |

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Above: Members of UNITE-HERE Local 217

I know the Rhode Island story everyone wants to discuss is the death of Providence’s ex-scumbag mayor Buddy Cianci. Who will teach our children how to ride of wave of rape, kidnapping, and graft to national fame now? He will be laying in state at the Providence City Hall next week if you want to go pay your respects and drop a bag of cash in the coffin for old time’s sake.

But a detail in this story of our governor securing a Providence tax break for a hotel development brings up to me a more interesting and useful issue: how most unions really suck at solidarity with each other.

The tax-stabilization agreement languished in the City Council for several months as private labor unions publicly sparred over the terms of the deal. On one side, the construction trades painted the hotel project as a significant job creator that will pour millions of dollars into the local economy. On the other side was Unite Here Local 217, the local hotel workers’ union, which wanted the Procaccianti Group to commit to staffing their hotel with union members.

Raimondo confirmed what was widely whispered in City Hall circles over the last few months: she helped nudge the project along.

She said she made a personal phone call to Council President Luis Aponte. Others on her staff called members of the City Council Finance Committee on the day they voted to send the deal to the full council. (Three of the Finance Committee’s five members work in state government; another works for the hotel workers’ union.)

Guess which union lost? That’s right, it was UNITE-HERE. The back story here is that the Laborers union really wanted the hotel because it wanted the construction jobs. UNITE-HERE wanted the hotel too, but it wanted union jobs and it wanted a $14.25 minimum wage tied to inflation. Now, you’d think that the two unions could come together here. But the company said it wouldn’t build the hotel with that wage. And it wouldn’t build it without the tax break. So LIUNA stuck the shiv into UNITE-HERE. It gave the its support for the tax break. It also, behind the scenes, gave its support to the Rhode Island law banning municipalities from setting their own minimum wages, a law Rhode Island saw fit to borrow from Oklahoma. LIUNA and most of the Rhode Island building trades are mostly made up of white people. UNITE-HERE is heavily Latino and African-American. You can make the connections as to one big reason why solidarity does not exist here.

Labor’s Southern Strategy

[ 5 ] January 30, 2016 |

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Justin Miller reviews labor’s latest southern strategy. Articles like these come out every few years, talking about the latest way the AFL-CIO is going to organize the South. And of course it never happens. Will it happen this time? No, probably not. However, it is still useful both to get at what the AFL-CIO is doing in the South and what its potentials and problems are. Basically, the unions are targeting particular cities with diverse populations to fight locally for change, both the unionization of workplaces but also at the municipal level to pass politically progressive legislation like wage theft bills and higher minimum wages and for public transportation systems that would get its members to their jobs. These are good things. On the other hand, we can look at the Chattanooga disaster, where even with technical Volkswagen support (although a lot of opposition from VW bosses on the ground), the UAW could not win an election to organize that plant. That was an embarrassing and awful loss. And the reason the UAW lost the election was racism. Grover Norquist and the like funded ads playing up that unions equal Detroit and we all know what Detroit really means.

Meanwhile, if you look at what the AFL-CIO is doing here, it’s about mobilizing black and Latino workers. This is a smart, but limited strategy. Unions simply are never going to organize white southerners in any large numbers. It flat will never happen. Racism is ultimately what undermined Operation Dixie in the 1940s and it is what continues to undermine southern unionism. There are related issues as well like evangelical Christianity and paternalistic traditions here too, but race is the fundamental problem. In 1946, it was African-Americans who wanted unions and it’s the same, along with Latinos, in 2016. So focusing (increasingly scarce and soon to be more so after Friedrichs) resources where they are going to pay off. And practically, especially in cities like Dallas and Houston where you have huge non-white populations that are not politically mobilized, this could help lead to increases in voting that would begin to find turn Texas purple. That’s all good. But at the same time, municipal government is a very limited place to make change when you have hostile state governments. And with white supremacy the order of the day last four centuries, voters in most if not all southern states are going to continue electing racist and anti-worker governors and state reps. And even if the numbers of non-whites grow in the South to look like Texas, gerrymandering means that the mountain to climb is even steeper.

So the AFL-CIO efforts in the South are interesting and have value. But they have a limited upside.

H1-B

[ 93 ] January 30, 2016 |

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The H1-B immigration visa is a sticky issue. I of course support immigration and I have no problem with an immigration program targeting highly skilled workers, although I see no reason that they should have preference over the world’s tired and poor either. But when you have outsourcing companies working with Disney and other huge corporations to cut American jobs directly in order to import cheaper labor and then make the American labor train the new workers, well, that’s a huge huge problem.

Even after Leo Perrero was laid off a year ago from his technology job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. — and spent his final months there training a temporary immigrant from India to do his work — he still hoped to find a new position in the vast entertainment company.

But Mr. Perrero discovered that despite his high performance ratings, he and most of the other 250 tech workers Disney dismissed would not be rehired for at least a year, and probably never.

Now he and Dena Moore, another American laid off by Disney at that time, have filed lawsuits in federal court in Tampa, Fla., against Disney and two global consulting companies, HCL and Cognizant, which brought in foreign workers who replaced them. They claim the companies colluded to break the law by using temporary H-1B visas to bring in immigrant workers, knowing that Americans would be displaced.

“I don’t have to be angry or cause drama,” said Ms. Moore, 53, who had worked at Disney for 10 years. “But they are just doing things to save a buck, and it’s making Americans poor.”

Ms. Moore had also trained her replacement. After she was laid off, she applied for more than 150 other jobs at Disney. She did not get one.

Responding to the frustration of American workers, Congress in December renewed and increased a fee on outsourcing companies that it had allowed to lapse. Larger companies employing many H-1B workers in the United States will pay an extra fee of $4,000 for each new H-1B visa — up from $2,000 — and another $4,000 to move an H-1B immigrant who is already in the country to a new employer.

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, a Democrat who has been openly critical of Disney’s layoffs, offered a bill to reduce the H-1B quota by 15,000 visas a year to 70,000. The issue came up in the presidential race, as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican candidate, introduced a bill with Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a Republican hard-liner on immigration, to sharply increase the minimum wage for H-1B workers to $110,000 a year, to discourage outsourcing companies from using the workers to lower wages.

Cruz and Sessions are terrible people. Racism may well be their motive. And $110,000 is too much for an H1-B minimum wage. However, there does need to be curbs on bringing in individual workers with the direct intent of laying off specific American workers. It’s simply inhuman to force people to train their own replacements. The H1-B program helps build a diverse and successful America. In principle, I support it. But between the gaming of the system by big outsourcing corporations and the widespread use of it not to find needed workers but as another way to get a nice quarterly profit report by Disney and other companies, reforms are indeed needed. Well-trained workers from India do have a place in the United States. But this is a bridge too far.

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