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

Southeast workers rally in Atlanta amid contract talks with AT&T

Saturday, August 3, 2019
By Gracie Bonds Staples, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Hundreds of AT&T workers and union leaders rallied outside the telecommunication giant’s Midtown Center on Saturday for fair wages and job security.

The event was organized by the Communications Workers of America, which represents more than 150,000 AT&T technicians, customer service and call center representatives and retail store employees. About 20,000 workers across the nine Southeastern states, including 4,000 in Georgia, are negotiating their contracts with the company.The four-year deal is set to expire at midnight Saturday.

Union officials recently described Saturday’s protest as a dress rehearsal for a possible strike should negotiations collapse.

Read the full story from Atlanta Journal-Constitution

XPO Truck Driver Speaks Out on Worker Misclassification

Monday, July 29, 2019

Josue Alvarez, a misclassified truck driver from XPO Logistics in Southern California, testified at a hearing for the “Protecting the Right to Organize Act” at the United States House of Representatives.

Sections of the “PRO Act” would make it easier for misclassified workers to be properly recognized as employees.

“As the workplace becomes increasingly splintered, we must protect worker rights,” said Chairwoman Fredricka Wilson (D-FL).

Speaking to his experiences as a misclassified XPO employee, Josue shared the impact of misclassification on his life and why the law needs to change.

“We should be able to go to the table and bargain for the rights we’ve long been denied like vacation days, sick days and better pay,” said Alvarez. “Taking a vacation or sick day shouldn’t mean coming home to a negative paycheck.”

Misclassified workers at XPO yards across Southern California have been fighting for years to be properly recognized as employees and to form their union.

“XPO does what it can to fool workers into buying in to this business.They try to sell us a dream. My paycheck comes with a statement attached. It tells me how much I made per load and then lists deductions for insurance and miscellaneous administrative fees. I have no idea what some of the administrative costs really are or if they are legitimate. And because I am misclassified, XPO is able to push operations costs like taxes, diesel, parking, tags and more onto me,” said Alvarez.

Josue’s testimony comes on the heels of a legal victory from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals where XPO workers, at the same yard in CA where Josue works, were found to be owed close to one million dollars in stolen wages.

In his testimony, Josue shared how the PRO Act would change things not just for him but for all misclassified drivers at XPO.

“Being properly classified as an employee would mean that we could finally form our union and bargain for the employee benefits and protections we’ve long been denied,” Alvarez said.

Lawmakers offered their support to workers speaking out on these issues.

“We are on their side,” said Chairwoman Wilson. “If we need to hold a third hearing on why we need the PRO Act we will.”

Read the full story from Teamster.org

Amazon Prime Day deals aren’t worth the moral cost of exploiting their workers

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
By Michelle Chen, NBC News

The promise of Amazon Prime Day — to be an all-encompassing one-stop shop for all our material desires at the lowest possible prices — increasingly rings hollow both for the people who fill the boxes and for the consumers who unpack them. Amazon might offer shoppers infinite choice, but there are often vanishing few alternatives for those who want to escape its grip. Whenever we “proceed to checkout,” our wish becomes the command of a distant anonymous warehouse worker, but the transaction comes at the cost of our civic soul.

Read the full story from NBC

A $15 minimum wage started as a slogan. This week, it’s set to pass the House

Monday, July 15, 2019
By Lydia DePillis, CNN Business

Nearly seven years ago, a week after Black Friday, a few dozen workers walked off their New York City fast food jobs to demonstrate for higher pay. The median wage for fast food workers was $9 an hour, CNN reported at the time. The demand that would soon emerge as the movement’s rallying cry — $15 and a union — seemed hopelessly ambitious, like a wild-eyed opening bid.

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on the Raise the Wage Act, which would make $15 an hour a reality for nearly all American workers by 2024, up from the current national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. And it’s expected to pass.

Read the full story from CNN Business