After its stunning victory at the massive Staten Island warehouse a few weeks ago, the drive of the fledgling Amazon Labor Union to unionize the smaller Amazon facility in Staten Island failed to materialize.

The vote at the LDJ5 center was 998 to 380 according to the NLRB tally. The plant has about 1,600 employees. The larger facility, where the union was successful, employed some 8,000 workers.

Gothamist,5/2

Union busting has been a widespread employer activity for many years and is today not the exception but the norm.  The Economic Policy Institute, in a study released three years ago, found that 41.5 percent of employers whose employees are organizing are charged with violating federal labor law. Another study found that 90 percent of employers at these workplaces held mandatory captive audience meetings, and two thirds required workers to meet one-on-one with their supervisors at least weekly

Employers today spend $340 million a year on union busting. Using both legal and illegal tactics, with labor laws barely enforced or penalties for violation minimal, it is one of the reasons working people’s pay and conditions have stagnated over the years.

A book, written in 2003 by a former hired union buster who had a change of heart, has been re-issued, It is called Confessions of  a Union Buster by Marty Levitt. It details many of the sordid details of his career over the years. It is must reading for anyone interested in the rights of working people

It can be ordered by clicking the link: https://www.confessionsofaunionbuster.com

Workers at the General Motors plant in Silao, Mexico won a major victory in early February when an independent union won collective bargaining rights for them by a large margin. The new independent union, the National Auto Workers Union (SINTTIA) soundly defeated the corrupt national Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which has been allied for decades with government politicians but has produced little benefits for workers.

$9 a Day to Feed and Care for a Family

Under the present contract with CTM, workers like Guillermo Ramirez start out earning $9 a day. After about a decade, Ramirez told The New York Times, he earns $23 a day, the top wage at the plant but still not enough to feed his three children. That top salary is what workers at General Motors in Detroit make in little more than an hour. Ramirez children eat at his mother’s house and he has to borrow a car to take his 7-month-old baby, who suffers from seizures, to the hospital. In order for the family to survive, he had to turn part of his mother’s house into living space for them.

GM Plant Just One of Many U.S. Runaway Shops

In addition to the rotten wages, the workers also tell of a plant environment that pushes speedup  production and often denies workers bathroom breaks for hours on end. The GM plant is one of the many in Mexico and other areas around the globe to which U.S. companies have moved their operations, making huge profits on substandard wages and working conditions in these countries and leaving closed factories and laid-off workers in the U.S.

The workers at the GM plant, CTM members who make Chevy Silverados and G.M.C. Sierra pickup trucks, had no right to elect their union leaders or to be involved in union negotiations. Many Mexican unions, like CTM, are notorious for protecting employers rather than workers and have maintained their power from a cozy relationship with politicians who have written the labor laws to guarantee the relationship. The SINTTIA vote at the GM plant in Silao will be an important example for workers across the country over the next year.

International Labor Groups Monitored Election

During the election process, there were  many reports that the company and CTM were trying to disrupt the election. In one instance, the company fired a union activist while there were other reports that the CTM was attempting to bribe workers to vote for them. To guarantee the election process, independent observers were there to monitor it. They included representatives from the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) in the U.S. and other unions in Canada and Brazil.

Important Win for U.S. Workers, Too

Contract negotiations are set to start soon and under Mexico’s recently enacted labor law, will have to be voted on by secret ballot by May 1, 2003. The significance of SINTTIA’s victory goes beyond Mexico’s borders. U.S. corporations have long taken advantage of poor labor conditions to move their manufacturing facilities to countries like Mexico to cut their costs at the expense of workers at home.

Hailing the SINTTIA victory, UE General President Carl Rosen declared that he was “excited to see this victory for an independent union in Mexico, especially one with an American employer.” Working conditions in the U.S. are adversely affected, he said, “when corporations can run off to Mexico or another country to take advantage of workers who are forcibly denied basic labor rights. We look forward to SINTTIA putting forward a strong contract campaign to fight for the needs of the workers at this shop.”

The New York Times, 2/3; UE News, 2/5

Photo: Associated Press

Buoyed by the victory of a newly organized union at one Starbucks store in Buffalo to gain collective bargaining rights, and in the face of intense anti-union pressure from the company, Starbucks workers at other facilities are also talking union.

Workers at a second store in the Buffalo area won union rights after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified their election.

Credit: More Perfect Union

 

And in mid-January, the NLRB ordered elections at three more stores in the Buffalo area, the Buffalo News reported. But just as significantly, Starbucks workers at over a dozen stores in eight states have since have begun to fight back against their poor pay and working conditions. They’ve gone public, calling for recognition as the bargaining agent for its workers and filing petitions for their own union elections.

Along the way, Starbucks has launched an aggressive anti-union campaign, hiring notorious management-side law firm Littler Mendelson to represent the company before the NLRB. In the latest bid to compete as champ union buster, The New York Times reported February 9 that a Starbucks in Memphis, Tennessee, had fired seven union activists over alleged violations of company policy. The seven worked at one of the several dozen stores that had filed for union representation elections with the NLRB. The workers and the union trying to organize the store charged that they were fired for their union activities and have appealed the firing to the NLRB.

NY Times, 1/10, 2/9; Strike Wave, 1/18; The Guardian, 11/23

What a difference a good strong union makes. Particularly a progressive one that always keeps the needs of its rank-and-file members as its number-one priority.

Hospitality workers line the Las Vegas Strip for the Culinary Union’s “We Will Come Back Stronger” rally in October.
Photo courtesy Culinary Union

A most recent example of that difference is the work of the 60,000 member Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas, Nevada, representing the city’s workers in the hotels and casinos. It is an affiliate of the 300,000 member national union Unite Here. The majority of the Las Vegas union workers are Latino women and men who do the housekeeping work and the cooks and kitchen workers, all of whom essentially keep the hotels running. Its secretary-treasurer, Geoconda Arguello-Kline, came to the United States from Nicaragua in the 1980’s and worked in the hotels, subsequently joining the union, becoming a union activist, organizer and officer. She has led strikes against the powerful hotels and casinos on the Vegas strip, marched with Cesar Chavez on a picket line, and has negotiated contracts that are now part of the industry. Normally workers in the hospitality and hotel industry are among the lowest paid with the fewest benefits. But the union’s successful organizing and fighting for its members – one that spans decades – have made an enormous difference in the lives of these workers.

And nowhere has this has come into focus more sharply than in the in the union’s role in helping its workers survive the Covid epidemic crisis. A must-read article by Hamilton Nolan in the January, 2022, issue of the magazine In These Times, details the role of the union in its life-saving work when 98% of its members found themselves unemployed by the prolonged shutdown of the hotels and casinos, the city’s major industry.

Over the years, the Culinary union has not only been a just an ordinary union fighting for wages and benefits but, according to the In These Times article, “a full-service social service agency and political operation with unparalleled efficiency in using labor power to create sustainable middle-class lives for workers who would otherwise face low wages and indifferent prospects.”

With the shutdown of the casinos and the unemployment of practically all its members (and the subsequent loss of its income without membership dues) the union’s care for its members met the hardships head-on and helped them to sustain themselves.

Even with its finances in peril “it launched a free food distribution program that has, to date, given out more than 475,000 baskets of food to members: beans, rice, chicken, fruit. At the program’s peak, 1,800 people were coming to pick up food each day.” It also began a major campaign to help workers file for unemployment benefits, launching online assistance to help them cut through the complex process laid out in the “creaky” state-run website.

Guarantee of Health Care

Another great concern of laid-off workers,  particularly in the midst of a pandemic, is the loss of health care. But this union had long fought for and gotten its own employer-funded but union-run health care system, that provided particularly fine coverage for its members. With employer funding now cut off, the union, nevertheless, guaranteed that its workers and their families, about 180,000 people, would keep their coverage for 18 months. What a relief for Culinary Workers members to know that they would not lose their coverage, particularly since some 1,500 of them or their family members have been hospitalized with the Covid virus. The union also conducted a campaign to get its members vaccinated, running virtual town halls featuring doctors to counteract the anti-vaccine propaganda dished out by Fox News and other right-wing media.

In the middle of all this, and perhaps because more workers saw the benefits that it provides, the union continued to organize, winning unionization at two major facilities and adding 3,400 new members to its rolls.

A Major Political Player in Nevada

A major part of its success has been the political role it plays in the politics of Nevada. Its endorsement has been sought by every major Democratic presidential, congressional and state office contender, all of whom know that this is an organization that can deliver votes. And they also know that they’d better deliver for workers in turn. During the 2020 campaign, its members knocked on thousands of doors and resulted, in large measure, for delivering the state to Joe Biden and for the victory of its two Democratic senators. The union has also been something of a training ground for office holders. In the Nevada State Assembly, the chair of its powerful Ways and Means Committee, Maggie Carlton, was the Culinary Union shop steward in one of the major hotels on the Vegas strip.

Its political clout was evident in the midst of the pandemic in getting the state legislature to pass a law guaranteeing that laid-off workers would return to their jobs when the hotels and casinos reopened. Although it was also part of the union-negotiated contracts, it wrote into law the guarantee that employers could not replace union workers with others at lower starting wages. Today, with the hotels and casinos starting to reopen, two-thirds of its members are back at their jobs.

In the Words of Its Members

The role that the union has played is best summed up in the words of its members. One of them, Shawn Best, was a casino worker in the Cosmopolitan on the strip. Unable to pay his rent, he lived in a hotel which he could not sustain for long. He called his union which put him in touch with  a non-profit organization that provided him with rental assistance. “Without the union, I would have been homeless,” he recalled. He is also a diabetic who needs regular insulin and spent some time in the hospital in 2020 with complications from the disease. Without the union’s health care, he would not have had the insulation he needed, and in his words, “I might have been dead.”

Another worker on the strip, a porter at The Strat who goes by one name, Rocha, can’t hide her love for the union. Since she joined, according to the In These Times article, “she’s received free training for a new job at the union-affiliated Culinary Academy; she took a leave of absence from work to help with union business, a benefit guaranteed by her contract; and she bought a house, with help from the union housing program that provides mortgage assistance and training for first-time homebuyers.”

She also got Covid and was out of work and in quarantine for four weeks. “It was really scary,” she says. “But having an organization like the union, that protects and fights for our rights, our protection, it makes you feel strong.” It’s wonderful to feel “I’m not alone.”

In These Times, Jan. 2022

A footnote to the work of the Culinary Workers Union was the story from the AP wire, Nov. 30, when a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling ordering the Station Casinos’ Red Rock Casino to bargain with the culinary and bartenders unions.

The union had waged a long fight to unionize about 1,350 employees at the Las Vegas-based casino company that had refused to negotiate in good faith, a charge sustained by a National Labor Relations Board lawsuit against the company.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro identified what she called a “landmark violation” of federal labor law in July when she issued her ruling backing the NLRB’s request for injunctive relief. She ordered the company not to threaten, discipline or interfere with employees because of their membership or support for the union.

Associated Press, Nov. 30, 2021

Latest figures compiled by the AFL-CIO continue to provide evidence that the American workplace, in many instances, is an unsafe place. Particularly significant is the fact that, in a very large number of cases, workplace fatalities are the result of company neglect, particularly in non-union shops where there is no one to push for needed safety precautions.

Another major factor is the weakening of safety regulations, the reduction of the budget and staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, the federal body that is charged with making and enforcing safety rules, and the meager penalties doled out to companies that are found to violate the rules.

The shocking figures below list only work-related fatalities, not the vastly higher number of serious injuries on the job. They are for the year 2019, the last year for which the AFL-CIO completed a tally of job related deaths in the United States.

Number of workers killed on the job:  5,333.

Estimated number of workers who died from occupational diseases:  95,000.

Number of worker deaths caused by workplace violence: 841.

Number of Black workers who died on the job:  634.

AFL-CIO website

Also, for latest figures on workplace deaths and injuries as well as descriptions of numerous incidents, see Confined Space – Weekly Toll: The Last Shift, 1/17.

Most people think of unions as benefitting their members with higher pay and better working conditions. But it has long been known that the benefit of unions go far beyond that – affecting the well-being of their communities and the entire country.

A recent report by analysts at the Economic Policy Institute documents the benefits that unions bring to most people, union and non-union members.

For example, in states with the highest union densities, minimum wages and annual incomes for everyone are much higher than the national average and substantially higher than those states with the lowest union density. They are also more likely to enjoy other benefits like paid sick leave, health insurance and retirement benefits. This comes as non-union employers must compete with union shops in order to attract and retain workers.

The benefits are substantial to local communities and the country as well. The higher wages and benefits that union workers get means a generally healthier population. People earning more means they pay more in taxes and are less likely to use public benefits.

We recommend that you click on the link below and see the entire report which is rich in facts and documentation on this subject.

Economic Policy Institute, 12/15

 

Don’t let some of the media pundits and so-called “moderates” fool you. In the wake of the defeat of Democrats in a number of races around the country, there has been a stream of lament that they have gone “too far to the left,” (whatever that means!). Example: Virginia Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger remarked last week, “Nobody elected him (Biden) to be FDR. They elected him to be normal and stop the chaos”

But what is normal? A return to an economy that saw 40 years of decline in the quality of life of American working people, with factories closing as billion dollar corporations took their capital and fled to other countries where wages were a fraction of where they are here? Where billionaires and their corporations got away with paying taxes at a lower rate than most middle class Americans? Where government consistently sided with these corporations to bust unions, denying workers the benefits of collective bargaining? Where, despite the Affordable Care Act, some 28 million Americans still don’t have affordable health insurance, the social safety net has been shredded, and millions of Americans have to work at two or three jobs to keep their families afloat? This is precisely the kind 0f “normal” that led a large portion of workers – mostly white workers -to leave the Democratic Party and fall for the racist line the Republicans have been dishing out since Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy.” That’s exactly the formula for a resurgence of another dose of  Trump or another Republican like him.

Two recent articles are highly relevant here. One by John Nichols in The Nation magazine, titled If Biden Doesn’t Govern Like FDR, Democrats Are Doomed.

The other is a New York Times online article, titled The Shadow of Ronald Reagan is Costing us Dearly. 

The AFL-CIO has posted on its website a statement from its president, Liz Shuler, on what the recently passed infrastructure law means to America’s workers. Click the link below to access it.

https://aflcio.org/press/releases/infrastructure-and-investment-breakthrough-victory-working-families

And for further late news and views from the national AFL-CIO, click the link below:

afl-cio.org

After previously rejecting two proposed contracts over the heads of their union leaders, workers at John Deere voted to approve a new six-year contract Nov. 17 that wins big gains for them. The new contract, approved by 61 % of the 10,000 Deere workers, members of the United Auto Workers in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas, will give them an immediate 10% raise, an $8,500 signing bonus two 5% raises, and bonuses to workers who meet production targets.

The workers went out on strike Oct. 14 after overwhelmingly rejecting a contract negotiated by UAW leaders and the company. They subsequently rejected another offer and continued the strike.

The Deere walkout was one of the latest in a wave of rising militancy of working people around the country (see Notes from Growing Union Activity on Labor News page of this website).

Record Profits for Companies, “Crumbs” for Workers

The rising worker militancy has been fueled by the fact that the companies they work for have been recording record profits. John Deere, for example posted a net profit of $6 billion this past fiscal year, the highest in its history, with the values of its stock tripling. Its net worth is now around $100 billion.

“The company is reaping such rewards, but we’re fighting over crumbs here,” said Chris Laursen, one of the striking workers at the Deere facility in Ottumwa, Iowa and a former president of his local at the plant. And a statement issued by Chuck Browning, the director of the union’s agricultural department, declared, “Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules.”

In Iowa, the strikers had wide public support. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll conducted Nov. 7-10 shows 58% of Iowa adults mostly sided with the workers, with just 16% mostly siding with Deere. Support cut across political, age, gender, income, educational, urban and rural divides.

“UAW John Deere members did not just unite themselves,” UAW international President Ray Curry said in a statement. “They seemed to unite the nation in a struggle for fairness in the workplace. We could not be more proud.”

Workers May Have Hit Their Breaking Point

The increasing series of labor actions has caught the attention of many observers of the current political scene. In his op-ed column in October 15’s New York Times, Nobel Economics Laureate Paul Krugman noted, “Long suffering American workers, who have been underpaid and overworked for years, may have hit their breaking point….America is a rich country that treats many of its workers remarkably badly. Wages are often low; adjusted for inflation, the typical male worker earned virtually no more in 2019 than his counterpart did 40 years earlier. Hours are long: America is a “no-vacation nation,” offering far less time off than other advanced countries. Work is also unstable, with many low-wage workers – and nonwhite workers in particular – subject to unpredictable fluctuations in working hours that can wreak havoc on family life.”

 Des Moines Register, 11/17