As L.A. ports automate, some workers are cheering on the robots

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Day after day, Walter Diaz, an immigrant truck driver from El Salvador, steers his 18-wheeler toward the giant ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Will it take him half an hour to pick up his cargo? Or will it be as long as seven hours? He never knows.

Diaz is paid by the load, so he applauds the arrival of more waterfront robots, which promise to speed turnaround times at a port complex that handles about a third of the nation’s imported goods.

“I’m for automation,” Diaz says. “One hundred percent. One hundred percent.”

But what about the thousands of International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers who have mounted massive protests, saying the robots will replace human jobs? The ILWU members, who transfer cargo from ships to trucks and direct terminal traffic, “don’t care about the drivers,” said Diaz, 41, who has serviced the ports for two decades. “Never. We sit in line while they take two-hour breaks. With automation, we don’t have that problem.”

The arrival of robots at the nation’s largest marine terminal, a 484-acre facility run by Danish conglomerate A.P. Moller-Maersk, is exposing a stark economic divide between two sets of Southern California workers.

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.

Worker rights are shaping up a key issue in 2020. Who has the best ideas?

From today’s New York Magazine:

Never before have I seen Democratic candidates do so much to woo workers and win over union leaders. Elizabeth Warren kicked off her campaign at the site of the famous 1912 Bread and Roses textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Julián Castro marched in Durham, North Carolina, with fast-food workers demanding a $15 wage, while Pete Buttigieg spoke outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco alongside drivers demanding to be considered employees. Joe Biden held his first official campaign event at a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh. Kamala Harris has called for a raise averaging $13,500 for the nation’s schoolteachers, while Bernie Sanders has bolstered labor’s cause by using his email lists to urge supporters to join union picket lines.

Why all this sudden attention and affection for workers and unions — far more than I’ve ever seen during my nearly 25 years of writing about labor? Part of it is that this year’s Democratic candidates are doing what any smart politician would do when the field is so large — court one of the party’s largest constituencies, i.e., unions and their members. Part of it is that the candidates see that something is seriously broken in our economy: that income inequality, corporate profits, and the stock market have all been soaring while wages have largely stagnated for decades. Also, Democrats realize that a big reason Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 was that she didn’t show enough love to labor. The field seems to recognize that if a Democrat is going to win the presidency in 2020, the surest route is to win back the three longtime union strongholds — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that were key to Donald Trump’s victory. So the candidates have loosed a flood of pro-worker ideas, not just to make it easier to unionize, but to extend paid sick days and family leave to all workers, provide protections to pregnant workers, and safeguard LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination on the job.

Four of them — Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rouke, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker — have put forward remarkably detailed platforms of pro-worker and pro-union proposals, while Elizabeth Warren’s elaborate plan on trade goes far beyond what many union leaders have called for. Andrew Yang says his universal basic income will be a boon for workers, providing a lifeline to those who lose their jobs because of artificial intelligence and robots. Biden has been vague so far on labor matters, calling himself a union man and saying he supports a $15 minimum. Booker has introduced a fairly radical bill, the Worker Dividend Act, which would require corporations that do stock buybacks to pay out to their employees a sizable chunk of the money going to the buyback.

Considering how many candidates there are and how many proposals and speeches they’ve made, it’s hard to keep track of who stands for what — and which plans are substantively the most pro-labor. Below, I give grades to the Democratic front-runners, based not just on the positions they’ve espoused during the campaign, but also on their track records. (Some candidates seem to have discovered the cause of workers only after announcing that they were running for the presidency.)

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.

Opinion: You Call It the Gig Economy, but California Calls It “Feudalism”

From today’s New York Times:

Labor leaders cheered in the balcony and lawmakers embraced on the floor of the California Senate on Tuesday as it passed a landmark measure that defines employees, a move that could increase wages and benefits for hundreds of thousands of struggling workers.

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But the bill is as much a starting point as an endgame: It will drive a national debate over how to reshape labor laws fashioned in the industrial era of the 1930s to fit a 21st-century service and knowledge economy.

With the measure, which Gov. Gavin Newsom says he will sign, California will lead in a shift that will likely redefine the roles of governments, unions and worker organizations. Just as federal labor laws were promulgated to help the country recover from the Depression, the imperative to extend basic guarantees like a minimum wage stems from the staggering income inequality in California, the state with the highest poverty rate in the country.

The new paradigms will need to fit not the relatively stable industrial work force of the last century but a gig economy in which workers are increasingly likely to hold multiple jobs or report to no workplace at all. California lawmakers took a major step in constructing the foundation of such a model with the new measure, which presumes workers are employees, entitled to all concomitant protections and benefits, unless they meet strict criteria as truly independent contractors.

Read the complete article here.

A California bill that would ban forced arbitration heads to Gov. Newsom

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

When companies in California tell job candidates they have to give up their right to sue the company for most disputes, a bill headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk would let the candidates decline without fear of losing their job offer.

The bill is the latest effort by state governments to limit private companies from imposing forced arbitration agreements, whose surge in popularity has contributed to the difficulty of workers suing their bosses for sexual harassment in the era of #MeToo.

Federal law and some U.S. Supreme Court decisions do not let state governments ban these arbitration agreements. Supporters argue that the bill in California would not ban arbitration agreements, but make them optional: Employees could sign them, but they may not be punished for declining to. The bill would not affect existing arbitration agreements and would apply only to people hired after Jan. 1, 2020.

Still, Republicans and the state’s business groups said the bill is illegal and would probably be challenged in court. The state Senate voted Thursday to approve the bill.

The Economic Policy Institute says more than 67% of all employers in California require workers to sign these arbitration agreements. Companies like these agreements because arbitration costs less than going to court and moves faster. Labor groups argue that arbitration puts employees at a disadvantage because the employees don’t have an attorney and are subject to the ruling of an arbitrator who is often selected and paid for by the company.

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.