Writers Guild of America members walk the picket line on the first day of their strike in front of Sony Pictures on Tuesday in Culver City.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The big labor news so-far this month is the walkout of 11,500 movie and TV writers, members of the Writers Guild of America after their negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke down. The strike was immediately felt in New York and Hollywood with late night TV shows cancelled or showing re-runs.

The big issue is the rapid growth of online platforms like Netflix. The union points to the fact that minimum pay, affecting a large number of guild members, and residuals (the money they get for re-runs) have not kept up with the rapid technological change, They are demanding higher minimum pay and streaming residuals.

On the first day of the strike, hundreds of picketing writers lined the streets in New York outside offices of NBC Universal and major studios in Hollywood. They carried signs saying, “Pencils Down! No Contract, No Scripts” The last writers strike in 2007 lasted nearly three months.

NY Times, 4/30; 5/1   Los Angeles Times, 5/2


In 2015, Carlos Moncayo, an Ecuadorian immigrant construction worker, was crushed to death on his job of helping to build a rooftop restaurant in New York City. His death made little news because on-the-job deaths, despite rules promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are a common occurrence in the country.

According to the AFL-CIO, in 2020 4,764 workers were killed on the job, with an average of 340 dying each day due to employer neglect of hazardous working conditions. 120,000 died from occupational related diseases and 705 lost their lives to workplace violence.

The issue has risen again in the wake of revelations of the rising number of injuries suffered by workers, many of them illegal immigrants, as employers flout the rules and OSHA, whose funding have been repeatedly cut by Congress, lacks the resources to enforce those rules.

And a new element in the mix is the recent upsurge in the illegal employment of children in unsafe or unhealthy jobs like work in meatpacking plants and operating dangerous machinery. As previously reported on this page and in the NY Times (2/25), children as young as 12 are now working at dangerous jobs around the country, some late at night at machinery like fast-moving pulleys and gears that have torn off fingers and ripped open a woman’s scalp. The practice of employing child labor today is being aided and abetted in a number of states, like Arkansas and Iowa, which have passed laws lifting many restrictions on the employment of children.

One illustration of the recent attention to job-related illness and death is the upsurge of a new version of black lung disease among coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. According recent data from OSHA, in Kentucky and West Virginia 1 out of every 8 miners, many only in their forties and fifties “are struggling to breathe.” It’s a sharp increase from the 1 out of 30 just a decade ago. But the dust that they’re breathing comes not primarily from coal. It’s from silica dust which is 20 times more toxic than coal. The dust is caused by having to drill through layers of silica-laden rock as the old coal veins yield less and miners have to drill deeper and deeper to access the coal.

The dust clings to their clothes and parts of their bodies and eventually gets into their lungs, causing chronic pulmonary diseases like bronchitis and lung cancer, and eventually killing them. And as mentioned above, with OSHA’s enforcement ability severely hindered by a lack of resources, mine operators have been flouting health and safety regulations for decades.

What is clearly needed is pressure to push for the enactment of strictly enforced laws for the protection of workers’ lives. It’s a factor in the renewed organizing drives for unions that can negotiate the enforcement of these rules by management along with the demand for higher wages and better working conditions. For what is more basic than the very lives of people who do the work.

NY Times print edition, 2/25. Work Bites, 5/1, In These Times, May/23

The faculty at Rutgers University ended their week-long strike April 15 after the three unions representing them reached a “framework” of an agreement with the school. Students at the school were slated to return to their classes on Monday, April 17.

Rutgers, the flagship in the New Jersey state university system, has 67,000 enrolled students.  University said that the new agreement includes substantial pay raises for graduate school workers and part-time lecturers as well as stronger job security for part-time faculty.

The three unions involved in the strike were the American Association of University Professors-AFT representing full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates and counselors, the AAUP -BHSNJ representing faculty in the health and sciences departments, and the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union representing part-time lecturers. The strike saw tenured professors join graduate school workers and other non-tenured faculty on the picket line.

The unions cautioned that, while there were some “profound victories” some issues continue to be unresolved and the return to work was not a cancellation but a suspension of the strikewith the possibility of renewing it if renewed bargaining did not produce a solution.

NPR, 4/15

America’s corporations spent over $400 million on retaining companies whose specialty is union-busting, a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute reveals. Amid the rising tide of union activity and organizing campaigns has come a backlash from employers who are fighting union organizing with an arsenal of weapons, some legal, some bordering on illegality, and some that have crossed the line.

According to the EPI report, union-busting has become a lucrative profession as some have discovered “there’s gold in them thar hills.” The report notes:

  • When workers seek to form unions, employers often hire “union-avoidance” consultants to dissuade and weaken workers’ unionization efforts. These consultants work to prevent a union election from taking place—and if that fails, to ensure that workers vote against the union.
  • Employers spend a lot of money trying to derail union organizing campaigns. EPI estimates employers spend $433 million per year on union-avoidance consultants. This work is well compensated – consultants report being paid $350-plus hourly rates or $2,500-plus daily rates for their work to defeat union organizing efforts. This estimate is just a drop in the bucket because there is not enough data to reveal the true scope of what employers spend.
  • Employers are required to report certain union-avoidance expenditures. However, statutory exemptions and enforcement limitations severely limit the scope of reportable employer union-avoidance activities. As a result, relatively little data exist on employer expenditures on union avoidance.
  • This reality makes it harder for workers to fight for their collective bargaining rights because they do not know the extent of their companies’ investments in union-busting, a figure that could empower them at the negotiating table when employers claim they can’t afford to increase pay and benefits.
  • While the law requires employers and consultants to disclose their union-avoidance agreements, it provides an important exception when the consultant is merely providing the employer with “advice”—a term that is not defined in the statute and is exploited by many union-busting consulting firms.
  • The Obama administration tried to rectify the problem by attempting to close this loophole through a regulatory action known as the “persuader” rule. In its proposal, the administration emphasized the significance of this loophole, stating: “Although 71 to 87 percent of employers hire consultants to manage counter-organizing campaigns, the Department has received very few reports on these activities because employers deemed them to fall under the ‘advice’ exemption.”
  • Unfortunately, business groups sued to prevent the rule from being enforced, and the Trump administration rescinded the rule. Without reform to the reporting system, we have little to no idea how much companies spend on union busting.

We can get an idea of the extent of the problem by looking at just a few of the companies who did file mandatory reports with the Labor Department in 2021 – understanding that many of them, with the loopholes in the law, probably spent much more that they are not reporting.

Amazon   …. $4,260,000
United Natural Foods  ….  $2,650,000
American Auto Assoc., N. California, Nevada, Utah….       $1,923,000
Grocery Delivery E-Services (Hello Fresh) ….  $1,638,000
Maine Health   …. $958,000
El Milagro Tortillas    ….$863,000
Curation Foods   ….$689,000
Intralot   …. $251,000
Garden Fresh Gourmet  ….  $211,000


Celine McNicholas, Margaret Poydock, Julia Wolfe, Ben Zipperer, Gordon Lafer, and Lola Loustaunau, Unlawful: U.S. Employers Are Charged with Violating Federal Law in 41.5% of All Union Election Campaigns, Economic Policy Institute, December 2019; U.S. Department of Labor.

“Overview/Summary: Persuader Agreements: Ensuring Transparency in Reporting For Employer and Labor Relations” (fact sheet), October 2016. 

In a close runoff election, Shawn Fain, an electrician and UAW member for over two decades, defeated the incumbent Ray Curry and has become the new president of the United Auto Workers. The defeat of the “Administration Caucus” that has run one of the country’s major unions for some 70 years marks a big upheaval and a new militancy of rank-and-file workers against an ossified leadership that has made major concessions to management over the past few decades. Fain’s caucus, “UAW Members United” also captured a majority of the union’s International Executive Board.

The election saw a record number of 141,500 votes cast by direct mail ballot, a 33 percent increase from the direct election that prompted the runoff. It was the first time that the leadership was chosen by direct mail election of the membership rather than in a national convention, the result of a membership referendum last year, in the wake of a corruption scandal involving the incumbent leadership.

After his victory, Fain issued a statement declaring that the“election was not just a race between two candidates, it was a referendum on the direction of the UAW. For too long, the UAW has been controlled by leadership with a top-down, company union philosophy who have been unwilling to confront management, and as a result we’ve seen nothing but concessions, corruption, and plant closures.” Fain added that “while the election was close, it is clear that our membership has long wanted to see a more aggressive approach with our employers. We now have a historic opportunity to get back to setting the standard across all sectors.”

The new leadership will lose no time in confronting management in the bargajining process. The UAW current contract with the Big Three automakers expires in September and the union will be formulating its demands beginning almost immediately.

On Labor, 3/28NY Times, 3/25

Despite the inconvenience faced by many Los Angeles parents, most of them are strongly supportive of the three day strike by school workers that has shut down schools in the city.

The strike, called by Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, involved school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other non-pedagogical employees in the second largest school district in the country. LA schools serve some 420,000 students. In addition, the Los Angeles local of the American Federation of Teaches supports the strike and teachers stayed out in support.

Diana Cruz, a parent interviewed by the NY Times, talked about the difficulty the strike has caused forcing them to find care for their small children. In many cases, they have had to take their children to work with them. Nevertheless, Ms. Cruz expressed unequivocal support for the strikers whose lives they see reflected in their own. Los Angeles is an expensive city to live in with housing costs well above the national average. But it is a city of stark contrasts with hundreds of thousands earning just the minimum wage or just barely above it.

Many of the striking school workers are in that category. The union says that the average annual salary of non-pedagogical workers in LA schools is only $25,000. The school board claims that the figure consists of both full-time and  part-time workers but it does not say what percentage are full-time. The superintendent of the school district is paid $440,000 a year.

“When I see the cafeteria workers, when I see the lady at the front door, when I see the lady working at the parent center, we talk mom to mom,” said one parent who cited the difficulty she has in making ends meet as she pays $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. “The struggles that they have are the same struggles that we have.”

“The intersection of school staff and the community is tight and close,” said a former LA school superintendent. “They are the community. So many of them have family members or neighbors working in schools”

Local 99 has emphasized that the fight for its members is a fight for low-wage workers all across Los Angeles. And parents seem to understand that even as the strike has caused inconvenience and hardship for them over the course of the three-day strike action.

NY Times, 3/22, 3/23


Faced with overwhelming support from community and parents and solid support from teachers, the Los Angels school board has come to an agreement with Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, representing non-pedagogical employees after a three-day strike. According to the union, the agreement “addresses our key demands and sets us on a clear pathway to improving our livelihoods and securing the staffing we need to improve student services,” but noted that members still need to vote on it. The tentative agreement includes multi-year wage raises that will add up to an approximately 20 percent increase, a $1,000 bonus for current employees who worked in 2020, a $2 per hour raise for all employees effective January 1, 2024, and health care for all employees who work at least four hours per day. School workers at LAUSD are overwhelmingly women and people of color, and make an average of $25,000 year, according to union data.

On Labor, 3/27

In gross violation of child labor laws, children as young as 12, are now working at dangerous jobs around the country. They are working in factories, some late into the night at machinery like fast-moving pulleys and gears that have torn off fingers and ripped open a women’s scalp.

They are migrant children who crossed the border without their parents who now work at machinery that packages household products that nearly all Americans are familiar with.- cereals like Lucky Charms and Cheerios, granola bars like Nature Valley and Chewys. They work for Hearthside Food Solutions that packages the products and ships them across the United Sates.

The practice takes us back about a hundred years before the enactment of state and federal child labor laws that outlawed the dark days of the early industrial revolution when children were exploited in record numbers in factories. And a number of states, instead of outlawing the practice, are passing laws legalizing it. The latest to do so was Arkansas under  recently elected Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump’s one-time press secretary.

A recent report in the NY Times detailed the exploitation of children now working at cut-rate wages. They are the 15 year-olds at Hearthside Food Solutions, the 12 year-olds fixing roofs in Florida and Tennessee, and the underage slaughterhouse workers in Mississippi, North Carolina and Delaware. They work on overnight shifts at wood sawing machines  in South Dakota. They build walls around vacation homes in Hawaii and run milking machines in Vermont. They are 13 year-old-girls that wash hotel sheets in Virginia and wash dishes in restaurants across the country.

“In many parts of the country,” reports the Times, “middle and high school teachers in English-language learner programs say it is now common for nearly all their students to rush off to long shifts after their classes end.

“Migrant child labor benefits both under-the-table operations and global corporations,” The Times found. “In Los Angeles, children stitch ‘Made in America’ tags into J. Crew shirts. They bake dinner rolls sold at Walmart and Target, process milk used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and help debone chicken sold at Whole Foods. As recently as the fall, middle-schoolers made Fruit of the Loom socks in Alabama. In Michigan, children make auto parts used by Ford and General Motors.”

For a full report on this new labor atrocity, click on the link below.

NY Times, 2/25

With their current five-year contract set to expire in July and negotiations for a new one to start in April, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is preparing its members for a possible strike against United Parcel Service this summer.

The large increase in deliveries during the pandemic netted the company record profits – its revenue was up eleven percent for each year of the pandemic – hitting a record high last year. It is the second largest ground carrier in the country, delivering some twenty million packages a day, behind only the US Postal Service. About six percent of the US Gross Domestic Product goes via UPS, which employs about 385,000 workers who are Teamster Union members.

Among the issues at stake, aside from salary increases in the face of the huge increase in company profits, have been a rising anger among its workers over layoffs and displacement of workers, cutting hours and splitting shifts. Many workers accustomed to working eight hour shifts are now ordered to work a split shift, four hours in the morning and four hours at night, disrupting an entire day and wreaking havoc with their family lives.

“UPS is trying to piss everyone in this room off,” declared Vincent Perrone, president of Local 804, at a recent meeting of hundreds of the local’s members. Local 804 represents the company’s workers in the New York metropolitan area.” Every year they try to scare and intimidate us,” he said.

If indeed a strike does come off, it will be one with the largest magnitude in a long time.

Jacobin, 2/21

The US Supreme Court is scheduled hand down a decision in April that may severely curtail labor unions’ most important weapon – the right to strike. The unions are nervously sitting on edge for the outcome of the case, which was argued before the court on January 10.

The case involves Glacier Northwest, Inc., a Washington State-based company that supplies mixed concrete to construction projects. In the face of delays by the company in negotiating a new contract in 2017, drivers represented by Local 174 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters went out on strike. Although they took care not to destroy the mixed concrete in their trucks by returning the trucks to company property and keeping them running, much of the cement hardened and became unusable.

The company sued the union for damages to its property. Labor law in cases like this has held that it could only apply if there was willful destruction of property. And the law also provides that complaints like this are handled by the National Labor Relations Board, Acting under the law, the Washington State Supreme Court dismissed the case because it falls under the purview of the NLRB, which later sided with the union. Glacier Northwest has appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, arguing that federal law does not cover cases like this.

Unions are very worried for a number of reasons. A strike, any strike, is meant to put economic pressure on employers. That’s the purpose of a strike. If a union can be sued for economic losses by a company when it strikes, it severely limits the union’s right to strike and sharply reduces its bargaining power. “Who’s going to go on strike when you know that if your strike is successful, you’ll be sued?” observed one labor analyst.

A relevant concern is the current ultra-right makeup of the Supreme Court, which has decided for companies over unions and workers in most cases involving labor disputes.

Following arguments at the Supreme Court on January 10, Teamster President Sean O’Brien declared: “Workers in America have the fundamental right to strike, and American workers have died on picket lines to protect it. The ability to withhold your labor is the one powerful tool throughout the history of unionization that has ensured workers can improve their working conditions.

“This right is now on trial at the Supreme Court. The anti-worker case before the Court is undemocratic and disregards long-standing legal precedent. It is about corporations using the legal system to try to deny workers their inherent power. Regardless of the outcome, Corporate America will fail in such pursuits because American workers will never be broken.

“For both the American worker and our entire country, the Supreme Court must affirm the lower court’s ruling that the legality of the strike falls exclusively within the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board.

“The right of workers to strike must be preserved and protected.”

Politico, 1/9, Teamsters Union website, 1/10

The efforts by New York City Mayor Eric Adamas and the heads of municipal unions in the Municipal Labor Council to push retirees out of Medicare and into a cheaper Medicare Advantage plan have led to a stalemate that is stonewalling negotiations on a new labor contract for 300,000 unionized city workers. Under the proposed retiree health care plan, negotiated in secret over a period of several years, the city paid for raises in the contracts of current workers at the expense of expected savings in retiree health costs. The Medicare Advantage plan would charge a monthly fee for those who choose to retain their existing Medicare coverage.

When the proposed changes were revealed last year there was an immediate reaction from retirees across the city that grew louder as more and more heard about it. Chief among their concerns were the facts that (1) while some 80 to 90 percent of doctors in the United States take Medicare, under the private insurance plan, patients are restricted to the panel of doctors that participate in the plan, and (2) many medical procedures under private insurance require pre-approval and are often denied, requiring the patient to bear the expense, which can be great, out of pocket. They can appeal the decision to the company, which is also often denied, but even if approved, the delay can lead to serious consequences for the patient.

The massive opposition from retirees has stalled the proposal. Opposition was also growing among current city employees who will someday be retirees and who also fear that their health care could be threatened by future actions to save money. In a lawsuit brought by retirees, the court held for the plaintiffs and threw out the plan on the grounds that it violated  a provision of the City Charter. The city has tried to amend the Charter but at a hearing of the City Council Labor Committee in January, retirees and their representatives loudly expressed their opposition and a number of the committee members also indicated their opposition. Several units of the unions in the MLC also have publicly opposed the plan as well as the Professional Staff Congress, representing faculties at the colleges in the city university system. The New York Daily News reported earlier this month that the proposal to amend the City Charter was dead.

That leaves 300,000 city workers without a new contract since the mayor has refused to consider any alternate way of raising the money to pay for raises and improvements for teachers and other city employees. And there are alternatives like tapping into the general reserves or the $3.4 billion Temporary Benefits Trust. Other alternatives would be to reinstate the Stock Transfer Tax, a tax on stock market sales that was in force for many years before it was ended by the Koch administration some 40 years ago.

For the present, as one teacher put it, “I think we could be without a contract for a very long time.”

The City, 2’/12