Low-wage workers, union activists rally for higher pay and right to organize without fear of retribution

Monday, September 4, 2017
By LOUIS SAHAGUN, LA TIMES

Uber drivers, street vendors, fast-food workers and union activists arrived downtown by the busload on Monday to participate in a boisterous march and rally aimed at mustering the political power of low-wage employees in next year’s United States congressional elections.

On a hot and sticky morning, more than 1,000 workers and Service Employees International Union members blew whistles, banged drums and chanted, “If we fight, we win,” as they marched from the intersection of North Grand Avenue and West Cesar Estrada Chavez Avenue to Los Angeles City Hall.

Giving the noisy procession an approving nod, state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), said, “On a Monday when the vast majority of Americans are relaxing by the pool or at the beach, this is a wonderful turnout.”

Service Employees International Union organizers said it was only one of many Labor Day events across the nation focused on mobilizing dissatisfaction with the Trump administration and lawmakers opposed to boosting the minimum wage — and unionization in general — and turning it into a collective vote at the polls.

Read the full story at LA Times

The Democratic Party needs to become a workers’ party

Monday, September 4, 2017
By SCOTT COURTNEY, WASHINGTON POST

There’s a debate in the Democratic Party about how to win in the Trump era. Some progressives have been shocked over President Trump’s appeal to working class voters, and Beltway pundits speculate that a surge in blue collar support for Trump explains Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Some commenters have argued, therefore, that the Democrats should shy away from the left and move back to the center if they want to recapture Trump’s voters. This summer, for instance, Democratic insiders Mark Penn and Andrew Stein argued in the New York Times that Democrats “need to reject socialist ideas and adopt an agenda of renewed growth, greater protection for American workers and a return to fiscal responsibility” if they want to win in the future. In other words, campaign and legislate more like Republicans.

If the Democratic Party listens to this conventional wisdom, we are going to lose big again in 2018. The truth is that Hillary Clinton didn’t lose the election to Trump; she lost to apathy from working people who have given up on politics altogether.

Read the full story at Washington Post

Labor unions are trying to take back politics in the Midwest

Sunday, September 3, 2017
By KIRA LERNER, THINK PROGRESS

On Labor Day — designated a federal holiday in 1894 to honor America’s labor movement — at least eight Democratic candidates will hold rallies in five Midwest cities to tell workers just how far the country has veered from its pro-labor roots.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) has helped turn the state red by decimating public-sector unions. In Iowa, Republicans rolled back an increase in the minimum wage in March. Just last week, Illinois’ Republican governor vetoed a bill that would have raised the minimum wage. And Republican governors in Michigan and Ohio have also pushed for regulations that would cripple workers.

In 2018, each will face challenges from unconventional, labor-aligned candidates inspired to run by President Trump’s election and the decline of pro-worker lawmakers, which has resulted in a political system in the Rust Belt that favors the wealthy over the working class. Each candidate will center their campaigns on their support for a $15 minimum wage, progressive health care, and pro-union policies.

Read the full story at Think Progress

Plant Explosions, Spills Test Industry’s Response to Harvey

Friday, September 1, 2017
By MATTHEW BROWN, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Explosions and fires at a Texas chemical plant inundated by Harvey’s floodwaters are raising questions about the adequacy of industry preparations for the monster storm and stoking fears of more accidents in the days ahead.

As portions of the plant erupted in flames for the second day in a row, its owners said Friday they would let 500,000 pounds (227,000 kilograms) of liquid organic peroxide that caused two explosions continue to burn, because they have no way to cool the unstable chemical to prevent it from igniting.

Eric Frumin, health and safety director for a federation of labor unions, Change to Win, said the plant flooding was foreseeable.

“They clearly knew they were in a hurricane zone and could lose power because they had backup generators,” he said. “Where was their ‘plan C’?”

Read the full story from Associated Press

Labor groups step up pressure on Trump to deliver

Saturday, August 20, 2017
By DAVE WEIGEL, WASHINGTON POST

Labor leaders, once courted by President Trump, are stepping up their campaign to turn workers against the White House if it does not deliver more on jobs and trade — and if it does not stop undoing Obama-era regulations.

The most visible effort, which starts in Indianapolis on Monday afternoon, is a two-week tour organized by the coalition Good Jobs Nation that ropes in labor-friendly politicians. The coalition, launched in 2013 to pressure Barack Obama’s White House on trade and wage issues, is organizing rallies throughout the Midwest through Labor Day.

“Trump ran as a working-class hero, so let’s look at the results,” said Joseph Geevarghese, Good Jobs Nation’s executive director. “We’re seven months into his administration, and wages are flat. People are still getting pink slips.”

Read the full story at Washington Post

Progressives quickly organize responses to Charlottesville

Saturday, August 12, 2017
By DAVE WEIGEL, WASHINGTON POST

ATLANTA — The aftermath of the weekend’s white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, and the resulting violence, reverberated in the last hours of the annual Netroots Nation conference. On Saturday afternoon, attendees of the progressive gathering quietly shared the latest news from Virginia. Some began organizing a response.

One of the first responses came from Mikey Franklin, a digital director of the labor-backed Good Jobs Nation campaign, who had found a print shop that could quickly make T-shirts. Franklin made a black-and-white shirt reading “Punch More Nazis,” then was dogged by questions about them, then printed 30 more.

Read the full story at Washington Post

Anti-union intimidation won the day at Nissan, but not the war

Friday, August 11, 2017
By JOE ATKINS, FACING SOUTH

Threats of lost jobs and a closed plant, fear-mongering, intimidation, interrogations of pro-union workers, and even the use of state inmate labor to pull down pro-union signs on roads and highways paid off last Thursday and Friday as Nissan workers at the Canton, Mississippi, plant voted against United Auto Workers representation 2,244 to 1,307.

The 64 percent victory for anti-union forces, however, was quickly followed by UAW officials filing a new set of charges against the company for violating legal labor and labor election practices.

“The result of the election was a setback for these workers, the UAW and working Americans everywhere, but in no way should it be considered a defeat,” UAW president Dennis Williams said in response to the vote. “The courageous workers of Nissan who fought tirelessly for union representation alongside community and civil rights leaders should be proud of their efforts to be represented by the UAW.”

Read the full story at FACING SOUTH

How the Battle For Mississippi Went South

Wednesday, August 9, 2017
By HAMILTON NOLAN, Splinter News

In Jackson, Mississippi, in the state capitol, inside the very top of the rotunda, in a circular frame on a large wall panel, not far below the fierce, gilded golden eagle that sits atop the dome, there is a painting of two white-haired men who look like Colonel Sanders hoisting a Confederate battle flag. Not far below, flanked by a Mississippi state flag featuring a Confederate cross in its top left corner, sits the office of the governor, Phil Bryant. Late last month, Bryant spoke out on an issue of importance to regular Mississippians: he urged Nissan workers in the town of Canton to reject a union in their plant, calling the union a “con game to destroy private market success.”

The state capitol’s broad front staircase is flanked by decorative cannons. Their vintage appears too new for them to have been used to shoot at people trying to free Mississippi’s slaves.

Why do foreign automakers now build their factories in the Deep South? They do it because the government is friendly, and labor is cheap. These two facts are not unrelated.

Read the full story at Splinter News

Trucking investigation sparks Senator action

Friday, August 4, 2017
By STAFF, USA TODAY

In response to the recent year-long USA TODAY NETWORK investigation about the port trucking industry, Rigged, a group of high profile Democratic Senators have signed a letter to the nation’s top retailers demanding that they crack down and root out “shameful” labor abuse of truckers.

Rigged is a year-long NETWORK investigation uncovering the mistreatment of port truck drivers in California. The investigation details the stories of drivers who say they were forced into debt and then required to work up to 20 hours a week for pay that dropped to pennies per hour.

The effort was led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), who is working with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.),and California Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, to pressure some of America’s largest retail brands to root our labor violation in the port trucking industry they rely on to move their goods.

Read the full story at USA Today

RIGGED. Forced into debt. Worked past exhaustion. Left with nothing.

Friday, June 16, 2017
By BRETT MURPHY, USA TODAY

Los Angeles — Samuel Talavera Jr. did everything his bosses asked.

Most days, the trucker would drive more than 16 hours straight hauling LG dishwashers and Kumho tires to warehouses around Los Angeles, on their way to retail stores nationwide.

He rarely went home to his family. At night, he crawled into the back of his cab and slept in the company parking lot.

For all of that, he took home as little as 67 cents a week.

Then, in October 2013, the truck he leased from his employer, QTS, broke down.

When Talavera could not afford repairs, the company fired him and seized the truck — along with $78,000 he had paid towards owning it.

Talavera was a modern-day indentured servant. And there are hundreds, likely thousands more, still on the road, hauling containers for trucking companies that move goods for America’s most beloved retailers, from Costco to Target to Home Depot.

These port truckers — many of them poor immigrants who speak little English — are responsible for moving almost half of the nation’s container imports out of Los Angeles’ ports. They don’t deliver goods to stores. Instead they drive them short distances to warehouses and rail yards, one small step on their journey to a store near you.

A yearlong investigation by the USA TODAY Network found that port trucking companies in southern California have spent the past decade forcing drivers to finance their own trucks by taking on debt they could not afford. Companies then used that debt as leverage to extract forced labor and trap drivers in jobs that left them destitute.

Read the full story at USA TODAY