How One Local Union Is Doubling Wages for America’s Airport Workers

Thursday, April 2, 2020
By Steven Greenhouse, The American Prospect

Andrea Bundy came to the United States from Jamaica in 2011 in pursuit of the American dream, but her first job in America—cleaning airline cabins at New York’s Kennedy Airport—turned out to be anything but a dream. Her pay was so low, just $7.25 an hour, that “I wasn’t able to afford the clothes for my daughter to be on the high school track team,” she says.

In a typical eight-hour shift, she helps clean 7 to 12 planes, picking up trash left on seats and in seat pockets and mopping airplane bathrooms and pantries. She also has to get on her hands and knees to look under seats to make sure no one on the previous flight left a bomb or poison. Airlines sometimes plant fake bombs on the floor or wedged underneath a seat cushion, and if cabin cleaners fail to find them, they can get suspended or even lose their job.

Bundy was fortunate. Most private-sector unionization campaigns fail, undone by obsolete labor laws that often thwart workers’ attempts to organize and by fierce opposition from their employers. But 32BJ decided to go all in, devoting sizable resources to the campaign and devising a strategy that mobilized workers and their allies to pressure government officials to raise the workers’ wages, which in turn built the momentum for unionization. It worked. Local 32BJ mounted one of the biggest private-sector unionization drives in years and spearheaded a living-wage campaign for the airport workers. That dual strategy doubled pay for many airport workers and enabled them to win a union.

Read the full story from The American Prospect

Farmworkers, Mostly Undocumented, Become ‘Essential’ During Pandemic

Thursday, April 2, 2020
By Miriam Jordan, The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — Like legions of immigrant farmworkers, Nancy Silva for years has done the grueling work of picking fresh fruit that Americans savor, all the while afraid that one day she could lose her livelihood because she is in the country illegally.

But the widening coronavirus pandemic has brought an unusual kind of recognition: Her job as a field worker has been deemed by the federal government as “essential” to the country.

Ms. Silva, who has spent much of her life in the United States evading law enforcement, now carries a letter from her employer in her wallet, declaring that the Department of Homeland Security considers her “critical to the food supply chain.”

“It’s like suddenly they realized we are here contributing,” said Ms. Silva, a 43-year-old immigrant from Mexico who has been working in the clementine groves south of Bakersfield, Calif.

Read the full story from The New York Times

UPS Workers Say Company Not Prioritizing Safety as Workers Test Positive

Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Guests: Richard Hooker and David Levin, Democracy Now!

The White House is now estimating 100,000 to a quarter of a million people could die from the coronavirus pandemic. Some of those most concerned about exposure to the highly infectious virus are workers on the frontlines of grocery stores and delivery services. On Monday, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island walked off the job, and the company fired one of them in response. At least three employees at a large UPS facility near Boston have tested positive, and two dozen more have been quarantined. Details about the infections were shared by the workers’ union because they said the company refused to provide the critical information to its employees. We speak with Richard Hooker, secretary-treasurer of the Philadelphia Teamsters Local 623, and David Levin, lead organizer with Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the coordinator of the UPS Teamsters United campaign.

On Monday, workers who fulfill orders for Instacart staged a protest to demand better working protections and hazard pay. Also Monday, Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island walked off the job. Amazon fired one of them in response, and we’ll get his response later in the broadcast. Amazon says they fired him because he wasn’t doing social distancing. He tells a different story. On Tuesday, Whole Foods workers organized a national sick-out protest demanding double normal wages for workers as hazard pay for working on the frontlines during a pandemic. This comes as three workers at a large UPS facility near Boston have tested positive and two dozen more have been quarantined.

Read or listen to the full story from Democracy Now!

American Workers Are Going On Strike In Huge Numbers

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
By Dave Jamieson, Huffpost

U.S. workers continued to throw their weight around in a healthy economy in 2019, recording the largest number of major strikes in the decade.The U.S. saw 25 work stoppages involving at least 1,000 workers last year, according to data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was the most of any year between 2010 and 2019, a time span in which the average was 15.

The number of strikes is largely a reflection of the tight labor market, which has shifted leverage from employers to workers, coupled with the relatively slow growth in wages. Unions feel more emboldened to carry out strikes when many companies can afford to meet their demands and may have a difficult time finding replacement workers due to low unemployment. The total number of workers who went on strike in those work stoppages was 425,500 ― fewer than the 485,000 in 2018, but still a hefty number by historical standards. Workers generally have not gone on strike in such large numbers since the mid-1980s.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 2018 and 2019 accounted for the largest two-year average of striking workers in more than three decades.

Read the full story from Huffpost

Why the PRO Act is a victory for workers and our democracy

Saturday, February 8, 2020
By Alexander Hertel-Fernandez and Aaron Goldzimer, The Hill

The House of Representatives just passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act, HR 2474), and it’s one of the most significant pieces of labor legislation to come before Congress in years. The PRO Act would make it substantially easier for workers to form and join unions and for those unions to negotiate meaningful contracts with employers.

It would do so by extending union rights to workers who have been excluded from the reach of labor law; by introducing real penalties against businesses that break the law when their workers attempt to form unions; by requiring companies to bargain in good faith with unions; and by protecting workers’ rights to use their most powerful weapon — the strike — against employers.

The PRO Act would be good for the economy and good for workers. Unions raise workers’ wages, benefits, and working standards and give them more input into management decisions. One rigorous study of the effect of union strength on state economies from 1940 to 2009 shows no penalty to states with stronger labor movements (if anything, unions might be associated with slightly higher levels of growth).

Read the full story from The Hill

Union Report Finds Food Safety Risks at New York Chipotle Stores

Wednesday, February 5, 2020
By Josh Eidelson and Leslie Patton, Bloomberg Business

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.’s workplace practices and staff incentive programs are fueling food safety risks at some locations in New York, according to a report by a consumer group and union based on interviews with 47 current and former employees.

The restaurant chain’s pay bonus program creates a “highly pressurized” environment that can lead some managers to cut corners, according to the report from the National Consumers League and a New York based affiliate of Service Employees International Union.

Some New York locations also demonstrated instances of adjusting cleaning operations ahead of an audit without maintaining the standard once the audit is completed, it said. Chipotle said in response to the report’s concerns that it will follow up on all the allegations when it views the report in full. The burrito chain encourages employees to contact it with concerns so it can investigate and respond, it said, including via an anonymous number.

Read the full story from Bloomberg Business

New Jersey Just Passed the First Law in the Nation to Guarantee Severance Pay After Mass Layoffs

Wednesday, January 15, 2020
By Bryce Covert, The Nation

On Monday, the New Jersey legislature gave final approval to a bill that would make it the first state in the country to guarantee severance pay in the wake of mass layoffs. The bill ensures that workers at big companies have to be paid at least a week’s wages for every year of work. It now sits on the desk of Governor Phil Murphy, who has 30 days to sign or veto it; advocates say the governor has expressed support for it.

The bill is a response to a series of bankruptcies among major employers in the state over the past two years. When Toys “R” Us went bankrupt in 2017, the company had 1,500 employees in New Jersey. At first, it announced that it would let them go without any severance pay at all. Without this new law in place, it was perfectly legal to refuse to give longtime workers any financial cushion in the wake of sudden job loss. So employees came together, with the help of the worker-organizing nonprofit United for Respect (at the time called Rise Up Retail), to demand payment for their years of work at the toy retailer. They eventually secured a $20 million hardship fund from the company’s private equity owners, KKR and Bain, although it was a good deal less than the $75 million they had originally demanded. When Sears went bankrupt in 2018, its management similarly told employees they wouldn’t get severance pay, either. Workers pressured Eddie Lampert, whose hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc., bought the company in 2005, to agree to pay them up to $43 million, although he later tried to back out of the deal during the bankruptcy process.

Read the full story from The Nation

USPS Could Privatize As Early As Next Year

Friday, December 27, 2019
By Nicole Goodkind, Fortune

The right to an inexpensive, public postal system in the United States has roots that go back further than most amendments recorded in the Bill of Rights.

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin ran the post office and used it to sustain communications between a small group of revolutionaries who would soon wage a winning war against the largest empire in the world. In 1792, George Washington and James Madison created legislation to allow newspaper companies to send their products through the mail at very low rates and to protect correspondence from any prying eyes. That act is credited with cementing Americans’ rights to free information and privacy.

But the Postal Service as a public, government-run entity is not guaranteed, and advocates in Congress, President Donald Trump’s administration, and consulting firms like McKinsey & Co. have called for privatization of the agency for some time.

Read the full story from Fortune

CWA launches campaign to organize video game and tech workers

Tuesday, January 7, 2020
By Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times

The last two years have witnessed a wave of walkouts, petitions and other workplace actions at video game and tech companies.

But despite this swell in labor activism, employees at no major video game studios and only a handful of tech offices have formally voted to form or join a union. A new campaign launched Tuesday by one of the nation’s largest labor unions — and spearheaded by one of the leading video game industry activists in Southern California — aims to change that. The Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE for short) is a new project of the Communications Workers of America aimed specifically at unionizing video game and tech companies.

It grew out of conversations between the CWA and Game Workers Unite, a grass-roots organization that sprang up in 2018 to push for wall-to-wall unionization of the $43-billion video game industry, alongside conversations with organizers across the larger tech industry.

Read the full story from Los Angeles Times

Raising the minimum wage to $15 could add over $100,000 to Social Security benefits for many workers

Saturday, August 10, 2019
By Alessandra Malito, MARKETWATCH

More than doubling the federal minimum wage is quite the controversial proposal currently sitting in Congress, but there’s no debate about one facet of the concept: doing so would boost Americans’ retirement savings.

The House of Representatives recently passed the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the minimum wage across the country from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2025. The bill still needs to get approved in the Senate and then by the president, but if it were to pass as is — or somewhat similar to its current form — it could mean adding thousands of dollars to many American’s retirement income.

Higher wages would allow workers to put more of their money in a retirement account, even if it was still a low percentage of their salaries (say 3%, which is a typical rate companies use to automatically enroll new hires). But the impact of raising the minimum wage goes beyond an individual’s own savings rate and affects other aspects of retirement planning — especially Social Security.

Read the full story from Marketwatch