Colorado Public Sector Workers on the Verge of Winning Right to Unionize

From today’s Jacobin Magazine:

he Colorado legislature will soon consider a bill that would establish collective bargaining rights for the hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in the state who are currently without such a framework. The legislation’s primary sponsors are the majority leaders in both chambers — Democrats Daneya Esgar in the House and Stephen Fenberg in the Senate — and the AFL-CIO and the Colorado Education Association (CEA) are backing the bill too.

Jacobin’s Alex N. Press spoke to workers from Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 7799, which is helping lead the charge for the legislation: Alex Wolf-Root, an adjunct lecturer in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado Boulder and a founding member and current vice president of CWA Local 7799; Jacob OldeFest, a paramedic for Denver Health and a member of the Denver Health Workers United union; and Rachel Godby, a registered nurse at UCHealth Memorial North and Central hospitals and a member of UCHealth Workers United. They discussed the obstacles they face without collective bargaining rights, the wave of workers leaving health care, and where legislation fits into building worker power.


ANP: So, you’re part of a coalition pushing to expand collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in Colorado. What are your rights now, and how will the bill change them?

AWR: It’s important that we start by stating that we have the right to organize and unionize regardless of what state labor law says about collective bargaining. However, because we’re public workers, our right to collectively bargain and force recognition with our bosses is different than in the private sector. In the private sector, employees’ right to organize is codified through the National Labor Relations Board. Those rules and regulations don’t apply to public workers, whose organizing rights are determined state by state.

In Colorado, the law is silent on the rights of the vast majority of public workers. We recently passed a bill for state workers, which created a union that represents them. But with respect to all other public workers, be they health care workers, higher ed, K-12, firefighters, or municipal workers, the state has no legal framework for us to get to the table. Some local jurisdictions have passed ordinances or laws to change things, but this bill will provide a legal framework for all public workers to have our unions recognized by our bosses and collectively bargain.

ANP: What specifically is in the draft of the bill?

AWR: There are two avenues for recognition: the standard 30 percent of workers signing cards and holding an election route, and then card check, i.e., 50 percent plus one, which is important because of what the boss can do between when elections are called and when they happen. The bill also has strong protections against employee interference — retaliation, intimidation, and discouraging unionization — both once there’s a recognized union and beforehand.

It is very open around what can be on the table. We’re firm believers in a wide scope of bargaining so that we can bargain for the common good: for class sizes, for staffing ratios, etc. Additionally, there is no restriction on our right to strike, because we know that a collective bargaining agreement is only as strong as the power we bring, and the right to strike is the biggest flex of that power. If that gets chopped off at the knee, we lose a lot more power than we would gain through a collective bargaining agreement.

Read the complete interview here.

Gov. Lee Will Try to Put Right-To-Work Law in Tennessee Constitution

From today’s Tennessean:

Gov. Bill Lee will chair the committee campaigning to enshrine Tennessee’s right-to-work law into the state constitution in November 2022, the governor announced Monday. 

The Yes on 1 Committee Lee will chair was formed to support the right-to-work constitutional amendment, which Tennessee lawmakers approved earlier this year. The initiative, which will appear on the ballot on Nov. 8, 2022, will require final approval from voters.

“We believe that in order to make certain that in this state that right to work is enshrined … for all workers, to provide freedom for all workers, we should have that as part of our constitution,” Lee said Monday during an event in Nashville to announce the effort.

Tennessee’s right-to-work law prohibits contracts between companies and labor unions that would require all members to pay their union dues. 

Republican lawmakers have argued approving the measure would further protect the state’s right-to-work law — which has been on the books since 1947 — by codifying it in the state constitution. 

But the issue has drawn opposition from union groups such as the Tennessee AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the nation, which argues the law hurts unionizing efforts and hinders Tennesseans from accessing better benefits.

When asked if adding the state law to the constitution has any practical impact, Jim Brown, Tennessee director of National Federation of Independent Businesses, said this offers the law “extra protection.”

Read the story here.

Workplace Strikes Surge During Pandemic, Empowering Workers

From today’s Washington Post:

Factory workers, nurses and school bus drivers are among the tens of thousands of Americans who walked off jobs in October amid a surge of labor activism that economists and labor leaders have dubbed “Striketober.”

The strike drives, experts say, stem from the new leverage workers hold in the nation’s tight job market: Having seen the massive profits their companies collected during the coronavirus pandemic, they want their contributions acknowledged in the form of better pay and working conditions.

While work stoppages may contribute to near-term inflation and production tie-ups, economists say they could fundamentally change the economic standing of millions of workers. Here’s what you need to know about the tide of recent strikes.

There are a number of reasons, but ultimately it comes down to how the pandemic has changed the way people see themselves, their employers and their jobs — especially if going to work heightened their risk of exposure to the deadly virus. So while millions of people quit or switched positions, others have staged walkouts — or at least are threatening to.

“People don’t want to go and die at work. I mean, they’re not compensated enough,” said Kim Cordova, president of the 23,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers in Colorado.

Strikes or strike authorizations — when a union supports a walkout if negotiations with management break down — typically revolve around compensation. At John Deere, where 10,000 workers at 14 factories walked off the job on Oct. 14, employees want better pay and retirement benefits. The company offered 5 to 6 percent raises in a new collective bargaining agreement, but workers say it’s not enough, given the company’s soaring profits.

Kaiser Permanente nurses and health workers in California and Oregon want the health care provider to drop a proposed two-tiered wage and benefits system that would compensate new employees less than existing ones. More than 30,000 workers represented by several unions authorized a strike in an Oct. 11 vote.

Read the complete story here.

As Starbucks Workers Seek a Union, Company Officials Converge on Stores

From today’s New York Times:

During her decade-plus at Starbucks, Michelle Eisen says she has endured her share of workplace stress. She points to the company’s increased use of productivity goals, inadequate attention to training and periods of understaffing or high turnover.

But she had never encountered a change that the company made after workers at her store and two other Buffalo-area locations filed for a union election in late August: two additional “support managers” from out of state, who often work on the floor with the baristas and who, according to Ms. Eisen, have created unease.

“For a lot of newer baristas, it’s an imposing force,” Ms. Eisen said. “It is not an easy job. It should not be complicated further by feeling like you’re having everything you’re doing or saying watched and listened to.”

Workers and organizers involved in the unionization effort say the imported managers are part of a counteroffensive by the company intended to intimidate workers, disrupt normal operations and undermine support for the union.

Starbucks says the additional managers, along with an increase in the number of workers in stores and the arrival of a top corporate executive from out of town, are standard company practices. It says the changes, which also include temporarily shutting down stores in the area, are intended to help improve training and staffing — longstanding issues — and that they are a response not to the union campaign but to input the company solicited from employees.

“The listening sessions led to requests from partners that resulted in those actions,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman. “It’s not a decision where our leadership came in and said, ‘We’re going to do this and this.’ We listened, heard their concerns.”

None of the nearly 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the country are unionized. The prospect that workers there could form a union appears to reflect a recent increase in labor activism nationwide, including strikes across a variety of industries.

Read the complete story here.

Unions Fighting Vax Mandates Endanger Public Health & Economic Recovery

From today’s New York Times:

As New York pushes forward with some of the toughest and farthest-reaching vaccine mandates in the nation, thousands of health care workers in the state appear to be willing to be fired rather than get vaccinated.

So, too, do thousands of people who work in New York City’s public schools.

How sad that many of these vaccine holdouts are supported by their unions. Talk about a lack of solidarity.

For years, these unions defended the health and safety of their members. They fought for better wages and protected workers’ rights. They built the middle class. Now they are fighting state and city vaccine mandates aimed solely at keeping workers and communities safe and healthy. So much for the old union idea that an injury to one is an injury to all.

At least city and state government officials have the best interests of the public in mind, even if some in the labor movement have forgotten which side they’re on.

The state’s mandate, requiring vaccination of health care workers, went into effect at midnight on Monday. The city’s, which requires the same of all Department of Education employees, goes into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday. A court upheld the city mandate on Monday.

Some unions, like New York’s nurses’ union, took a reasonable approach, expeditiously negotiating over the vaccine mandate and fighting for other workplace safety measures related to the pandemic, like proper protective gear. Local 32BJ, a New York unit of the Service Employees International Union, which represents health care aides, janitors and many other lower-wage employees, has taken a similar approach and pushed hard to vaccinate its members.

But other New York unions have sought to stymie or delay the vaccine mandates. Some have argued that vaccination shouldn’t be a condition of employment at all.

Read the complete story here.

Pres. Biden to require federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated

From today’s New York Times:

President Biden on Thursday will sign executive orders requiring the vast majority of federal workers and contractors who do business with the government to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. They are part of an aggressive new plan that will also put pressure on private businesses, states and schools to enact stricter vaccination and testing policies as the Delta variant continues its spread across the United States.

The mandate will apply to employees of the executive branch, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the armed services — a work force that numbers more than four million — but not to those who work for Congress or the federal court system, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The spread of the highly infectious variant had pushed the country’s daily average caseload over 150,000 for the first time since late January, overwhelming hospitals in hard-hit areas and killing roughly 1,500 people a day. The surge has alarmed Mr. Biden and his top health advisers, who see mass vaccination as the only way to bring the pandemic under control.

Mr. Biden, who was briefed by his team of coronavirus advisers on Wednesday afternoon, is set to deliver a speech at 5 p.m. Eastern that will address about six areas where his administration can encourage — or, at this point, push — more eligible Americans to receive vaccines.

Mr. Biden had already pushed federal workers to get vaccinated by announcing that those who refused would have to undergo regular coronavirus testing. But the surge, coupled with last month’s decision by the Food and Drug Administration to grant full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to those 16 and older, has made him decide to take more aggressive steps, eliminating the option of testing, the officials said.

At least one federal workers’ union has already indicated that the new requirements should be subject to the bargaining process. On Thursday, the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal-worker union, stopped short of offering full-throated support for Mr. Biden’s plan.

“Put simply, workers deserve a voice in their working conditions,” Everett Kelley, the union’s president, said in a statement. We expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation, and we urge everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can do so.”

Read the complete story here.

U.S. unions lodge first Mexico labor grievance under new NAFTA

From today’s Reuters Online:

U.S. unions on Monday filed the first labor rights petition against Mexico under a new regional trade pact, vying to bring a complaint against an auto parts company on the border that they say has denied workers the right to independent representation.

The petition – filed by the biggest U.S. labor federation, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) – states that workers at Tridonex in Matamoros, across from Texas, were blocked from electing a union of their choice.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that replaced NAFTA last year, enshrines that right as part of its aim to give more power to workers to demand better salaries. It was also meant to prevent low labor costs from leeching more U.S. jobs.

Since the 1994 NAFTA, which had few enforcement tools for labor rules, wages in Mexico have stagnated and now rank as the lowest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a club of 37 industrialized nations.

Reuters reported last week that hundreds of workers had sought to be represented by a new union led by activist-attorney Susana Prieto since 2019, yet state labor officials never scheduled an election. Prieto said 600 of her supporters at Tridonex last year were fired, in what some workers described as retaliation for their efforts to switch unions. read more

Tridonex’s parent is Philadelphia-based Cardone Industries, which is controlled by Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management (BAMa.TO).

Cardone said it did not agree with the AFL-CIO’s assertions, but would address any concerns that could arise in the complaint process.

“We do not believe that the allegations in the complaint are accurate and welcome a full inquiry so that the facts can be disclosed,” the company said in a statement, without detailing which elements it disputed.

Read the complete article here.

Break down employment barriers with training, education programs

From today’s CalMatters Online:

“You can’t have just one job in America,” says a gig worker in Los Angeles County, and “you could get replaced like this. ‘Say one wrong thing to me? You’re fired …There is a line outside the door who wants your job.’”

That is one of several perspectives from struggling workers in California captured in a new report by the Institute for the Future, which interviewed a cross-section of Californians paid less than $15 an hour last fall. The report, released March 24, explores troubling trends that preceded the pandemic but now are worsening. 

And it comes on the heels of another report by the state’s Future of Work Commission that calls for a new social compact for workers based on some staggering statistics. For example, nearly one-third of all  workers in California make less than $15 per hour, and a majority are over age 30. Women and people of color also are paid, disproportionately, the lowest wages in our state.

Beyond wages, fewer than half of workers in California report having a “quality job,” which the Future of Work Commission describes as “a living wage, stable and predictable pay, control over scheduling, access to benefits, a safe and dignified work environment, and opportunities for training and career advancement.”

The commission also notes how a decrease in worker power and organizing relates to job quality, inequality and violations of workers’ rights. The percentage of Californians in a labor union has dropped from 24% in 1980 to 15% in 2018, and membership in a union reduces the likelihood of low-wage employment more so than a college degree (39% versus 33%).

The futurists at the Institute for the Future outline how COVID-19 has accelerated instability and insecurity for workers. This is now an all-hands on deck moment, requiring consensus and collaboration across sectors – government, business, labor, education, workforce development, philanthropy and community organizations. This is difficult, complicated, and even expensive work, but it is essential if we are to make the California Dream real and attainable for all.

Despite collaborative efforts, we need more employers and labor organizations at the table. Industry has a critical role, and they must be closely involved every step of the way, not as an afterthought.     

The good news is that some promising efforts are underway. If passed, Assembly Bill 628, introduced by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, a Democrat from Coachella, will build upon the Breaking Barriers to Employment Initiative by assisting individuals in obtaining the skills necessary to prepare for jobs in high-demand industries. The program would support individuals who face systemic barriers to employment with training and education programs aligned with regional labor market needs.

Read the complete article here.

Unionization Efforts by Amazon Workers Dealt a Blow After Alabama Vote

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon workers at a giant Alabama warehouse have voted against unionizing, a significant blow to a months-long campaign that pitted union activists against one of the nation’s most powerful employers and briefly appeared poised to reenergize the American labor movement.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort to unionize employees at the facility in Bessemer, Ala., while 738 workers voted to join the union, according to a vote result Friday overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Some 5,876 warehouse workers were eligible to cast ballots by mail-in vote starting in February.

The result came after a days-long count that was announced online via livestream, and after nearly a week in which the labor board reviewed and certified, behind closed doors, all cast ballots. There were 505 contested ballots set aside during this process and not included in the final tally. The union said the majority were contested by Amazon. The labor board determined there weren’t enough contested ballots to affect the election result.

It was the closest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. had come to a union, unusually in a right-to-work state with enduring Deep South history. In Bessemer, worker concerns over the company’s handling of COVID-19 workplace safety converged with the racial equity movement to set in motion one of the most closely watched American union drives in recent history.

The RWDSU said it intended to challenge the result, which it characterized as the result of intimidation and unfair practices by Amazon during the campaign. Amazon on Friday disputed union messaging that it had unfairly influenced the vote, and thanked the Bessemer workers for participating in the vote.

The chasm reflected the dual reality that many Amazon workers say they navigate: On the one hand, earning higher than minimum wage, with benefits, at one of the world’s most influential companies at a precarious time for the economy and jobs. And on the other hand, enduring the exacting control and pace of work in warehouses that Amazon has come to be known for, to meet the quick delivery goals customers have come to expect — all as consumer demand boomed during the pandemic.

Read the complete article here.

Unions at The Ringer and Gimlet Media announce their first contracts

From today’s New York Times:

Unions representing employees at two prominent podcasting companies owned by Spotify, the audiostreaming giant, announced Wednesday that they had ratified their first labor contracts.

The larger of the two unions, with 65 employees, is at The Ringer, a sports and pop culture website with a podcasting network. The second union, at the podcast production company Gimlet Media, has just under 50 employees. The two groups were among the first in the podcasting industry to unionize, and both are represented by the Writers Guild of America, East.

Lowell Peterson, the guild’s executive director, said the contracts showed that the companies’ writers, producers and editors “bring enormous value to the major platforms for whom they create content.”

The contracts establish minimum base pay of $57,000 for union members at The Ringer and $73,000 at Gimlet Media, annual pay increases of at least 2 percent, and a minimum of 11 weeks of severance pay.

The agreements include provisions that limit the use of contractors and allow workers to receive titles that reflect their seniority.

The two companies will create diversity committees that include managers and union members, and will require that at least half the candidates seriously considered for union positions open to outsiders come from underrepresented groups, such as racial minorities or people with disabilities.

Read the complete article here.