Memphis sanitation workers went on strike 50 years ago. The battle goes on

Monday February 12, 2018
By CLEOPHUS SMITH and BETTIE DOUGLAS, THE GUARDIAN

It was 50 years ago today that two black sanitation workers in Memphis were crushed to death on the job. Soon after, hundreds of their brothers went on strike demanding the recognition of their union and fair pay, and to assert their own basic humanity. The strike commanded the attention of the nation and became a driving force of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign.

Standing with working people fighting for a strong union was King’s final public act before his assassination. “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end,” he told the sanitation workers the night before he was shot dead.

Each day of the two-month 1968 strike, workers marched from Clayborn Temple to Memphis city jall. They stared down mace and teargas, police dogs and the barrels of shotguns, all while wearing signs that proudly declared: “I AM A MAN.”

Read the full story from The Guardian

N.Y. Teamsters form ‘sanctuary union’ to fight ICE agents

Saturday February 10, 2018
By GINGER ADAMS OTIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Worried about federal immigration policies, a New York labor organization is taking steps to protect its own.

Across Long Island and throughout the city, some 120,000 Teamsters are getting prepped to become a “sanctuary union.”

In 27 shops, business agents, supervisors and front-line workers are getting schooled on their rights under U.S. law — and when and how to challenge federal immigration agents who show up to search their work sites.

The training is complex and technical — hinging on specific types of warrants and the definition of a raid.

But in fundamental labor terms, it follows one simple rule: Union solidarity first, immigration status second.

Read the full story from New York Daily News

Justice in the factory: how Black Lives Matter breathed new life into unions

Saturday February 10, 2018
By MIKE ELK, THE GUARDIAN

After decades of decline unions have found a new champion in efforts to organize workers: the Black Lives Matter movement.

Unions have suffered as manufacturing has moved south away from their old strongholds in the north of the US. Membership rates were 10.7% in 2016, down from 20.1% in 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time the shift from manufacturing to service industry jobs has hurt them too.

But as the Black Lives Matter and other social justice campaigns increasingly focus on economic justice, unions see a new opportunity. And ironically, a series of defeats for labor in the south is helping to fire up recruitment drives and attracting international support in the process.

Read the full story from The Guardian

Fast-Food Workers Claim Victory in a New York Labor Effort

Tuesday January 9, 2018
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE, NEW YORK TIMES

With labor unions seeing their influence wane, more than 200 organizations have sprouted nationwide to help low-wage workers. But nearly all these groups say they are hampered by a lack of dependable funding because, unlike unions, they cannot rely on a steady flow of dues.

To the dismay of many business groups, New York City enacted an innovative law last year that many labor advocates hope will become a model to finance such organizations across the nation.

Under the law, fast-food employees who want to contribute to a nonprofit, nonunion workers’ group can insist on having the restaurant they work for deduct money from their pay and forward that money to the group. But before a group can receive these contributions, it must get 500 workers to pledge to contribute.

One such group, Fast Food Justice, planned to announce on Wednesday that 1,200 New York fast-food workers have signed pledges to contribute $13.50 a month to the organization.

“This has been a lot of hard work, but we think this is great,” said Shantel Walker, who works at a Papa John’s in Brooklyn and is a member the new group. “We want to bring change not only in the fast-food industry, but in our communities.”

Read the full story from The New York Times

Port trucking companies risk lives by putting sleep-deprived truckers on the road

Sunday December 28, 2017
By BRETT MURPHY, USA TODAY

Every day, port trucking companies around Los Angeles put hundreds of impaired drivers on the road, pushing them to work with little or no sleep in violation of federal safety regulations, a USA TODAY Network investigation found.

They dispatch truckers for shifts that last up to 20 hours a day, six days a week, sometimes with tragic results.

Read the full story from USA Today

Stronger Labor Unions Could Do a Lot of Good

Wednesday December 6, 2017
By NOAH SMITH, BLOOMBERG

It’s pretty well known that U.S. workers have lost a lot of bargaining power over the past few decades. Wage gains, for example, haven’t kept pace with rising productivity.

Clearly, workers have been unable to take home a fair share of the new value they were creating. Why? One big potential culprit is the decline of labor unions. Unions use strikes and other collective action as a bargaining chip to force employers to raise wages. For this reason, union workers get paid about 22 percent more than non-unionized workers. Even non-union workers often benefit from unions setting the bar higher for wages. But unionization rates, never more than 50 percent, have declined to a negligible level in the U.S. private sector.

Read the full story from Bloomberg

Labor change shorts the National Guard

Friday November 24, 2017
By CATHERINE RAMPELL, HOUSTON CHRONICLE

For two years, Frank Ourada has been “supporting our troops” – more literally than most.

He has connected soldiers and veterans with food pantries, temporary housing and legal advice. He haggled with an insurance company when a soldier’s home flooded. He helped a suicidal veteran find treatment.

Ourada basically ran triage for military families, connecting them with whatever services they need to survive.

“This work is my therapy,” Ourada, 30, told me.

And yet last Friday he resigned. Because the job he loved so much had left him homeless.

Ourada had his pay slashed in March, from $20.08 hourly to $13.17. He soon fell behind on mortgage payments and lost his Minnesota home. He’s been crashing with friends and family since August; next week he’ll move in with a buddy in Utah, where he hopes to find better-paying work.

Ourada’s situation is unusually dire, but he’s far from alone.

Hundreds of his colleagues around the country also had their pay cut by 25 to 50 percent in March. About a third have quit, taking their networks and collective decades of experience, in an exodus that leaves American military families at risk of falling through the cracks.

The root of the problem? A bungled government contract.

Read the full story from Houston Chronicle

Chinese Auto-Glass Magnate Faces Union Challenge in Ohio

Wednesday November 8, 2017
By KEITH BRADSHER and NOAM SCHEIBER, NY TIMES

FUQING, China — Cao Dewang saw his impoverished mother nearly die of starvation more than 50 years ago, during a famine driven by Mao’s mismanaged push to industrialize China.

Today, Mr. Cao is a billionaire auto glass magnate, and he wants to give back. He has given a large chunk of his fortune toward construction of an enormous public library near his hometown and numerous Buddhist temples. He has paid for the medical care of distant relatives of employees who fall seriously ill. He entreats his fellow Chinese billionaires to give as well.

“I started from the very bottom of society, so I understand the wants and needs of those at the very bottom,” said Mr. Cao in an interview earlier this year. “We should take care of the needs of our employees as part of a family.”

Now, in a factory with roughly 2,000 workers in Moraine, Ohio, 7,600 miles away, Mr. Cao’s paternalistic attitude is facing a deep test.

Read the full story from NY Times

Federal bills aim to stop exploitation of port truckers

Tuesday October 24, 2017
By BRETT MURPHY, USA TODAY

House Democrats will introduce two federal bills Thursday aimed at cracking down on port trucking companies that have for years exploited their workforce with lease-to-own contracts that forced drivers to work around the clock for pay that sometimes dipped to pennies on the hour.

The measures come in response to a USA TODAY Network investigation that revealed truckers were working as modern-day indentured servants while hauling goods for America’s retail giants.

The Port Drivers’ Bill of Rights Act of 2017 lays out basic work standards for port truckers, including fair pay, protection under labor laws, and freedom from “exploitative truck lease or rental arrangements,” according to a draft obtained by USA TODAY Network.

“For truck drivers to be treated fairly and paid fairly,” said Grace Napolitano, D-CA, one of the eight bill sponsors, “that’s a no-brainer.”

Read the full story from USA Today

America’s Industrial Accident Investigators: Their Uphill Battle to Prevent Disasters

Wednesday October 4, 2017
By JEFF JOHNSON, ALICIA PATTERSON FOUNDATION

Before dawn, Jim Gannon kissed his sleeping wife and kids goodbye and drove to work at the Napp Technologies chemical plant near his home in Lodi, New Jersey. There, like most mornings, he parked his car and headed off to his locker, but this morning Gannon was hit with the strong stench of rotten eggs. Hydrogen sulfide gas, he guessed, and he knew something was wrong. Gannon and his friend Buster McKenzie put on their protective face masks and both volunteered to go into the process room to check out the problem. They argued and McKenzie won, and while Gannon waited in a hallway outside, McKenzie went in and died.

“Everything got quiet, and then it was like the sun came into the hallway,” Gannon explained. “I was flying backwards, but my arms and legs were being sucked in opposite directions. I could feel my hair burning off, and the skin burning off my hands. But as hard as I could try, I couldn’t pull them in. I felt like I was going to die, so I relaxed because I figured it would just be easier if I just let it happen, rather than trying to fight it.”

Read the full story from the Alicia Patterson Foundation