Strikes erupt as US essential workers demand protection amid pandemic

From The Guardian Online:

Wildcat strikes, walkouts and protests over working conditions have erupted across the US throughout the coronavirus pandemic as “essential” workers have demanded better pay and safer working conditions. Labor leaders are hoping the protests can lead to permanent change.

Food delivery workers have become essential in New York after the city closed restaurants and bars to the public on 16 March.

Norma Kennedy, an employee at an American Apparel clothing plant is one of those people. Kennedy along with dozens of other workers walked off her job in Selma, Alabama, on 23 April after two workers tested positive for coronavirus. The plant has remained open during the pandemic to manufacture face masks for a US army contract.

“We left for our own protection,” said Kennedy. “Beforehand, management said if someone tested positive they would shut down and have the plant cleaned. When workers tested positive, they didn’t want to shut it down. They’re not really concerned about the workers.”

Working conditions, low pay and lack of safety protections have triggered protests throughout the pandemic as workers across various industries, including food service, meat processingretail, manufacturing, transportation and healthcare have come together to protest about issues, many of which were apparent before the coronavirus.

“There are no federal mandates or requirements to implement the social distancing guidance or anything else. It’s only guidance and employers can choose to implement them or not,” said Deborah Berkowitz, director of worker safety and health for the National Employment Law Project. “And that is why, in an unprecedented way, they are walking out to bring public attention to the fact that their companies are not protecting their safety and health.”

Read the complete article here.

Amazon, Instacart Workers Demand Coronavirus Protection And Pay

From NPR News Online:

Some Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, N.Y., and Instacart’s grocery delivery workers nationwide walked off their jobs on Monday. They are demanding stepped-up protection and pay as they continue to work while much of the country is asked to isolate as a safeguard against the coronavirus.

The protests come as both Amazon and Instacart have said they plan to hire tens of thousands of new workers. Online shopping and grocery home delivery are skyrocketing as much of the nation hunkers down and people stay at home, following orders and recommendations from the federal and local governments.

This has put a spotlight on workers who shop, pack and deliver these high-demand supplies. Companies refer to the workers as “heroes,” but workers say their employers aren’t doing enough to keep them safe.

The workers are asking for a variety of changes:

  • Workers from both Amazon and Instacart want more access to paid sick time off. At this time, it’s available only to those who have tested positive for the coronavirus or get placed on mandatory self-quarantine.
  • Amazon workers want their warehouse to be closed for a longer cleaning, with guaranteed pay.
  • Instacart’s grocery delivery gig workers are asking for disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer and better pay to offset the risk they are taking.

Read the complete article here.

Airline catering workers plan protests at major US airports on Thanksgiving week

From today’s CNBC News Online:

Hundreds of airline catering workers are protesting this week at some of the largest U.S. airports to demand higher wages and better benefits during what’s expected to be a record Thanksgiving travel period.

Some of those workers, who prepare and deliver meals to airlines and are represented by the Unite Here labor union, are planning to block airport roads or stage sit-ins around ticket counters and pre-security areas on Tuesday at airports including those serving New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Philadelphia.

Others plan to picket and hand out pamphlets about their demands, according to the union, which represents more than 20,000 airline catering workers. Airlines for America, a trade group, expects a record 31.6 million travelers to fly on U.S. airlines during the 12 days around Thanksgiving, up nearly 4% from last year.

The protests are the latest demonstrations by emboldened workers who are demanding a bigger share of corporate profits, which have surged since the last recession more than a decade ago. Airline workers have been particularly visible this year after airlines reported disruptions they said were due to workers trying to gain leverage in contract talks. President Donald Trump signed a bill ending the longest-ever government shutdown in January, hours after a shortage of air traffic controllers disrupted flights.

Read the complete article here.

Early UAW votes on ending the GM strike are a mixed bag

From today’s CNN Online:

Nearly 50,000 General Motors employees are in the process of voting on a tentative labor deal that could end their five-week strike. The early results are mixed.

The Warren Technical center, in Warren, Michigan, which is made up mostly of engineers, voted 85% in favor of the deal. It also passed easily at a metal stamping plant in Saginaw, Michigan, and a transmission plant in Toledo, Ohio.

But at the enormous assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, which has almost as many UAW members as Warren, Saginaw and Toledo combined, members voted narrowly against the deal by a 51% to 49% margin. That factory builds three different SUVs, including the GMC Acadia, and the Cadillac XT5 and XT6.

Union locals across the country are voting on different days. They will remain on the picket lines while the vote is completed. The nationwide results are expected to be announced Friday evening.

The tentative deal reached last week would pay members an $11,000 signing bonus and raise hourly pay for veteran workers 6% over the life of the contract, to $32.32. And many workers who have been getting by on $275 a week in strike benefits are eager to get back to work earning more than $30 an hour.

The deal also will allow many temporary workers to become permanent employees, which will significantly improve their pay and benefits. And the union got GM to drop its demand that workers pay a much greater percentage of their own health care costs.

But union members are angry at GM’s management, because the deal would lead to the closure of three US plants: an assembly line in Lordstown, Ohio, and transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and Baltimore.

Although GM has found other jobs for most of the employees who were working the plants when production ended earlier this year, most of the workers had to relocate. Those displaced workers, and some of those who lost their jobs and have not taken new ones, will get a chance to vote on whether to accept this deal.

Read the complete article here.

Chicago Teachers Go On Strike, Capping Years Of Social Justice Activism

From today’s NPR News Online:

For the second time in seven years, Chicago Public Schools teachers will be on strike starting Thursday, walking out of class, they say, in the name of better schools.

Gathered on the stage of the union hall on Wednesday, the Chicago Teachers Union said its delegates were in full support of moving forward with a strike. Delegates had already authorized the walkout and set a date so it would have taken a reversal to cancel the strike.

“We have not achieved what we need to bring justice and high quality schools to the children and teachers of Chicago,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We need to have the tools we need to do the job at our schools. We need pay and benefits that will give us dignity and respect. We are on strike until we can do better.”

Altogether, more than 30,000 workers will be on the picket lines. This includes 7,500 teacher aides, custodians and security guards who members of SEIU Local 73. SEIU said Wednesday evening it had rejected CPS’ contract offer and planned to strike on Thursday along with CTU.

Officials say schools will be open, with principals and other administrators supervising any children that need a place to go. They also are telling parents they can bring their children to libraries and some community organizations.

Some 300,000 students who attend district-run schools will be impacted. Another 62,000 students who attend charter and contract schools run by private organizations will not be affected.

Read the complete article here.

After 30 days on strike, GM-UAW talks suddenly face a deadline

From today’s Detroit Free Press:

The clock is ticking for General Motors executives to reach a proposed tentative agreement with the UAW, people close to the talks said Tuesday.

The union’s move to summon its National GM Council to Detroit for a meeting Thursday morning was a pressure tactic to prompt GM leaders to reach a deal acceptable to the UAW, said three people familiar with the talks.

Talks continued Tuesday, with GM CEO Mary Barra and President Mark Reuss joining UAW President Gary Jones at the “main table” with the UAW’s lead negotiator in the talks, Terry Dittes.

That was widely seen as moving the talks toward their final phase, but no agreement had been reached Tuesday afternoon. Also present were the bargaining committee members for both sides. A person close to the talks said Barra and Reuss did not stay for discussions through the afternoon.

“Mary’s got two days to come up with a contract, then the National Council meets to decide what to do next,” said a person briefed on the negotiations late Tuesday.

For such heavyweights to show up to the main table indicates a proposed deal is likely close at hand, likely to happen late Wednesday or in the early morning hours Thursday prior to the National Council’s meeting, said one person who had been briefed on the talks.

“If they don’t have a deal, they will give us an update and let us know what the protocol is at that point,” said a UAW local leader who asked to not be named. “Product allocation is an issue GM has come late to the table on.” 

Read the complete article here.

5 questions about labor strikes that you were too embarrassed to ask

From today’s Vox News Online:

Nearly 1,000 Amazon employees are walking out of work. More than 45,000 GM auto workers are on strike for the fifth day in a row. In October, about 80,000 Kaiser Permanente employees are set to go on strike.

The wave of labor unrest has become a defining feature of the economy since the 2008 Great Recession. In 2018, a record number of employees went on strike: School teachers, hotel workers, health care workers — even Google employees. Most of them were angry about stagnant wages and proposed benefits cuts, but some were just frustrated with company policies.

But all the walkouts have raised the question of what, exactly, counts as a strike and what are the consequences? Is it the same as a walkout? Is it even legal?

I spoke to four labor lawyers across the country to get a better understanding of what legal rights workers have to throw up their hands and walk off the job — and what right a company has to respond.

One law professor pointed out that a walkout to protest government inaction climate change, for example, is not protected under federal labor law because it’s not related to an employee’s working conditions. But if workers walk out because they believe their employer (like, say, Amazon) isn’t doing enough to make the company sustainable, then that would likely be a protected work stoppage.

“If everyone walks out or calls in sick, it’s still a strike,” Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, an employment law professor at Indiana University Bloomington, said to me. Whether or not the law protects workers from getting fired depends on the context.

Read the complete article here.

Experts warn GM strike not likely to be resolved anytime soon

From NBC News Online:

On this General Motors and the United Auto Workers agree — the strike that sent 50,000 workers out on the picket lines Monday is not likely to be over anytime soon.

Both sides are talking, but both sides are bracing for a long and costly fight as workers dig in on their fight for better wages, health care benefits and job security, union representatives and auto industry experts said.

“It will go on as long as it’s going to take to achieve our bargaining goals,” Chuck Browning, the UAW’s Region 1A Director, told MSNBC. “The bottom line is this company has been extremely profitable for a long period of time. Those profits have been made off the sweat and the hard work of our members, and our members want a fair agreement.”

Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan and an auto industry maven, said the leadership of the UAW needs to take a stand against GM not just for the rank and file — but for its own survival.

UAW President Gary Jones and other top union officials are currently under investigation by federal authorities for allegedly embezzling member dues and blowing thousands of dollars on everything from fancy vacations and golf equipment to $400 bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne.

“I think the union leadership wanted a strike because they’re under attack, and when you feel like you could be losing your grip on power the age-old tactic is to go to war,” Gordon said.

And because they need to be seen as taking a hard line against GM management, union negotiators won’t seek a swift solution even though rank-and-file workers will start feeling the financial pain almost immediately.

Read the complete article here.

State of the Unions: What happened to America’s labor movement?

From today’s New Yorker Magazine:

Do you have rights at work? Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought you did. In 1936, while trying to haul America’s economy out of the bog that the free market had driven it into, Roosevelt argued that workers needed to have a say, declaring it unjust that

a small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives. For too many of us throughout the land, life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

For Roosevelt, a system in which bosses could unilaterally decide “the hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor” amounted to “dictatorship.” He hoped that the New Deal would bring workers and managers together in a new form of workplace governance.

New Dealers drew on an idea known as industrial democracy, developed, in the late nineteenth century, by English socialist thinkers who saw workplace rights as analogous to civil rights such as due process and the freedoms of speech and assembly. Senator Robert Wagner, who wrote the National Labor Relations Act of 1935—also known as the Wagner Act—made the point explicitly: “Democracy in industry means fair participation by those who work in the decisions vitally affecting their lives and livelihood.” In their efforts to civilize the workplace, however, Roosevelt and his allies didn’t set up a new institution for workers to speak through. They relied on an existing one: the union.

Whenever the rate of unionization in America has risen in the past hundred years, the top one per cent’s portion of the national income has tended to shrink. After Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act and other pro-union legislation, a generation of workers shared deeply in the nation’s prosperity. Real wages doubled in the two decades following the Second World War, and, by 1959, Vice-President Richard Nixon was able to boast to Nikita Khrushchev that “the United States comes closest to the ideal of prosperity for all in a classless society.”

America’s unions and workers haven’t been faring quite as well lately. Where labor is concerned, recent decades strongly resemble the run-up to the Great Depression. Both periods were marked by extreme concentrations of personal wealth and corporate power. In both, the value created by workers decoupled from the pay they received: during the nineteen-twenties, productivity grew forty-three per cent while wages stagnated; between 1973 and 2016, productivity grew six times faster than compensation. And unions were in decline: between 1920 and 1930, the proportion of union members in the labor force dropped from 12.2 per cent to 7.5 per cent, and, between 1954 and 2018, it fell from thirty-five per cent to 10.5 per cent. In “Beaten Down, Worked Up” (Knopf), a compact, pointed new account of unions in America, Steven Greenhouse, a longtime labor reporter for the Times, writes that “the share of national income going to business profits has climbed to its highest level since World War II, while workers’ share of income (employee compensation, including benefits) has slid to its lowest level since the 1940s.”

Read the complete article here.

For Amazon workers in Minnesota, Prime Day means protest

From today’s Washington Post:

As a “rebinner” at an Amazon fulfillment center outside Minneapolis, Meg Brady says she is expected to handle 600 items per hour, constantly pivoting on her feet to grab one item and place it in a nearby chute.

Brady, 55, compared the job to an aerobics workout — one she says has left her with a stress fracture in her foot and on short-term disability for almost two months.

She’s been an Amazon employee for a year and seven months. And on Monday afternoon, she joined a small group of her fellow workers and dozens of other protesters outside the cavernous warehouse to demonstrate against the company’s working conditions, benefits and corporate culture. The protest took place on the first day of Prime Day, one of Amazon’s flagship shopping events that generates billions of dollars in sales for the retail giant.

“To actually get out and say [to Amazon], ‘You’re not doing a good job,’ that’s not an easy thing to say,” Brady said. “Because Amazon is so huge, you do feel like you’re this small person trying to fight a giant.”

Amazon has long defended how it compensates and treats workers, and the company argues that employees don’t need to form a union because Amazon already provides comprehensive benefits. Last year, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all U.S. employees, and chief executive and founder Jeff Bezos has challenged his retail rivals to do the same. Last week, the company announced it would retrain one third of its U.S. workforce — a total of 100,000 employees — to prepare them for increasingly tech-centered jobs. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

But Amazon has still come under increasing scrutiny from workers rights groups, lawmakers and politicians over issues ranging from corporate taxation to market competition. Amazon’s growing power has drawn particular attention on the 2020 campaign trail, with calls to break up the tech giant or more heavily regulate its vast empire. On Monday morning, presidential candidate and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted in support of the strikers, saying that “Their fight for safe and reliable jobs is another reminder that we must come together to hold big corporations accountable.”

Read the complete article here.