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

Nissan Accused of Snooping in Labor’s Latest Fight for the South

Tuesday October 3, 2017
By JOSH EIDELSON, BLOOMBERG

Automakers have battled hard to keep organized labor from gaining traction in the U.S. south. Mostly, they’ve won — as Nissan Motor Co. did when workers at its Mississippi plant voted in August against joining a union. But the Japanese company has been accused of fighting dirty.

It could prove a test-case for labor in the age of Donald Trump. Unions have been fighting a rearguard action as automakers shifted production to southern states, where wages are lower and laws are more management-friendly — something Trump encouraged, even as his campaign was winning union votes. It’s part of a wider squeeze on workers who’ve seen pay stagnate and protections erode, sparking a backlash in industrial regions that both Trump and Bernie Sanders tapped into.

Read the full story at Bloomberg

Teamsters organize truckers to move supplies in Puerto Rico

Saturday, September 30, 2017
By JACKIE WATTLES, CNN

Major U.S. labor unions are organizing truck drivers to help with relief efforts in Puerto Rico as the island continues to grapple with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last week.

The Teamsters union and the AFL-CIO, a federation of more than 50 unions, are working together to recruit truckers to travel to Puerto Rico and help distribute a stockpile of relief supplies

Thousands of shipping containers full of food, water, and medicines were sitting unused at Puerto Rico’s Port of San Juan.

Read the full story at CNN

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