A conductor on Union Pacific rail summed up the mood. “The company keeps making working conditions worse. They’re making billions per quarter and they’re only paying those dividends out to shareholders, when it’s the workers who are moving freight and making sure this country keeps the supply chain moving.”

The conductor asked that his name be withheld for fear of reprisal, a common practice among workers in a company fighting union actions. It reflects the rising outrage among freight train workers over the issues that are pushing them to strike. Once a high-paying blue collar job, it is now one of tension and misery for workers. According to a report for NBC News, one conductor said he nearly missed his wife’s funeral because he couldn’t get time off. On-call, 24/7 scheduling requirements are the norm, leading, many say, to divorces and  health problems.

The rising anger among freight train workers comes amid a strike authorization vote in ten rail unions led by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. The vote of about 11,000 union members authorized a strike by more than 99 percent.

Under the Railway Labor Act, a strike may not take place for 90 days while a presidential-appointed commission negotiates a solution. Freight train workers transport some 40 percent of goods moved long distance in the country, about 20 billion tons a year.

NBC News, 7/19; Portside

We invite you to click on the link below for a graphic presentation by Robert Reich of the four ways that corporations engage in union busting. The tactics are classic and they continued to be employed by corporations all around the country. Reich was Secretary of Labor in Bill Clinton’s administration and is currently a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.


Workers at Medieval Times have formed the dinner-theater chain’s first labor union, bringing collective bargaining to a castle in northern New Jersey.

The knights, squires, show cast and stablehands at the Lyndhurst location voted 26 to 11 in favor of joining the American Guild of Variety Artists following a ballot count June i5, according to the union. The National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the election, has not yet certified the results.

Medieval Times workers in New Jersey have been organizing to improve their pay and working conditions, with a particular focus on safety. The Middle Ages-themed shows involve jousting on horseback and other dangerous stunts, all in front of an unpredictable and sometimes rowdy crowd.

Medieval Times opposed the organizing effort. The company hired a union-avoidance consultant who held meetings at the castle with employees at a cost of $3,200 per day, plus expenses.

The union in Lyndhurst would include about 40 workers, most of them performing in the show or working in the stables, where the castle keeps about two dozen horses. The American Guild of Variety Artists represents workers in other theaters and touring shows, including the Rockettes and performers at Disneyland.

Medieval Times workers often put on two or three two-hour shows in a day and must regularly rehearse to stay safe. Knights mock-fight in heavy gear, smash lances as they ride and jump from horseback, while stablehands and squires handle horses that can get excited by the crowds. The queen and other actors run the show and often have to keep the crowd in check while staying in character.

Huffpost, 6/28

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) for many years during the period of its historic growth, and a staunch defender of civil rights, who died July 10. In addition to being an effective union leader in bargaining for good wages and working conditions for his members, he was a prominent voice in the fight for affordable health care for all and against the ongoing drive by Republicans and some Democrats to privatize public services that would turn essential services for people into for-profit enterprises.

Statement from AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 6/24:

Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade is a devastating blow to working women and families across this country. We strongly believe that everyone should have control over their own bodies, including decisions over their personal reproductive health care. At a time when we should be focused on expanding equity for all working people, particularly for marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, this ruling will only deepen racial and economic disparities. The burden of this decision will undoubtedly fall on low-income women and gender-oppressed people, and no one should be forced into financial insecurity because they have been denied reproductive health care. Our government also must prioritize overdue and necessary investments in our child care system, and family and medical paid leave; it must end the gender wage gap and increase access to jobs with high wages and good benefits.

This is just the latest in a harmful string of attacks on our fundamental rights, including the right to vote and to collectively bargain in the workplace, and points to an alarming trend that other well-settled rights like marriage equality may be taken away. The current conservative majority of the Supreme Court is bent on limiting bodily autonomy, freedom and self-determination to a select few, and that is fundamentally undemocratic. America’s unions remain committed to the fight for gender justice and economic equity for all people.

AFL-CIO Website

Very few people are still around who remember the year 1947 when the US labor movement  represented one out three American workers. It came after a decade in the thirties when union organizing hit its peak with the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO provided the militant push that organized the millions of workers in the mass industries – workers who had been ignored by the AFL’s concentration only on skilled craft workers.

And all workers, from skilled to unskilled in one union, provided the worker unity that sustained sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan, that unionized General Motors and built the United Auto Workers (UAW), strikes in the giant  electrical industry that unionized General Electric and Westinghouse and built the United Electrical, Radio and  Machine Workers Union (UE), and strikes in the steel industry that unionized US Steel and built the United Steelworkers union (USW). Labor was flexing its muscles as it entered the post-World War II years and began to take action to improve wages and working conditions of millions of workers.

But the giant companies would have it no longer. Sparked by the developing cold war abroad and the beginnings of the shameful McCarthy era at home, Republicans began a counterattack. Well financed by big money and actively pushing the growing anti-communist scare, they gained control of Congress in 1946. A year later, they enacted what became the centerpiece of the attack on labor with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, overriding he veto by President Harry Truman. The act, passed mainly by Republicans but with the support of a substantial number of Democrats, was the opening gun in the war against unions that has continued to this day and was accelerated after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. It was the beginning of the policy that revived union-busting as the norm among America’s corporations.

What was the Taft-Hartley Act and how did it provide the fertile ground for the decline of the union movement? For a detailed description of  the role this law played in the decline of the union movement over the past 75 years, we highly recommend you click on this link to an article in the June 23 issue of UE News, organ of the United Electrical Workers. It conveys some great lessons for working people today who are fighting to organize unions and rebuild a movement for a more fair and just America.

 UE News. 6/23

In what is reported to have been an inspiring weekend conference of labor union activists, opening speeches by those involved in current organizing drives drove home the picture of  working people building unions and fighting for their rights around the country.

Highlighting the picture of the power and greed of giant corporations and the rising movement of workers, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gave a rousing keynote speech to the Chicago gathering of some 4,000 unionists. What followed was two days of panels over the June 17-19 weekend in which the people involved in front line unionizing exchanged experiences and views to help push the nationwide upsurge further along. Among those participating in the conference were leaders and rank-and-file members from the unions that won election at the large Amazon warehouse in New York and  numerous Starbucks stores across the country.

The conference was sponsored by Labor Notes, a website publication that has been a long advocate for labor. Below, we are linking to the Labor Notes website, that is worth looking into for developments in the field of labor. Our website, SpotlightOnLabor.com is happy to associate with their continuing fight on behalf of America’s working people.

Labor Notes held a followup 0nline Zoom meeting on June 30 in which participants applauded and critiqued the conference and talked about future organizing and union building in its aftermath,

 Labor Notes Website, Further reports on Union Activities – Who Gets the Bird, June 18-25; Also, courtesy Locker Associates, New York

In another breakthrough on the labor front, 100 workers at an Apple store in Towson, Maryland, voted by a two-to-one margin to unionize. The victory represents a big step for union activists who have been trying for years to make inroads into the retail outlets of the computer corporate behemoth.

The union, the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, is affiliated with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). The union it is eager “to get Apple to the table and talk to them about who we are and what we want for out union members,” declared IAM vice president David Sullivan. He said he was getting phone calls from all over the country an the groundbreaking union victory in Maryland.

Union activists are hoping that it is just the beginning of a nationwide push by Apple workers in much the same way that a union victory at a Buffalo, NY, Starbucks store sparked a drive that so far has seen union wins at over 100 Starbucks stores across the country.

Labor Start, 6/21



“For decades, the labor movement’s efforts to halt its long slide have been – to speak plainly – an utter failure” writes Steven Greenhouse in The American Prospect (6/13). “The U.S. has gone from having 35 percent of its workforce unionized in the 1950s to 20 percent in the 1980s to just 10 percent today. But now, finally, comes a burst of unexpected hope” in the wake of union organizing across the country.

But this has created a challenge for established labor unions as so much of then union activity is coming from independent unions formed outside the traditional labor organizations. The challenge is similar to the 1930’s when the drive to organize the workers in mass production industries was scorned  by the AFL, representing skilled trades workers. They looked down upon workers in steel mills and auto plants and shunned the idea of organizing thousands of factory workers into one union rather than organizing separate unions by their particular crafts. It was union leaders like United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis, Amalgamated Clothing Workers President Sidney Hillman and others who saw the future in the new wave of organization and formed the CIO that welcomed the new unions into its ranks.

Greenhouse writes that although the AFL-CIO’s President Liz Shuler, who is slated to be elected to a full-four year term, wants the nation’s unions to do considerably more to help today’s surge of unionization grow, “many unions in the federation feel little urge or compulsion to help.” In particular, although the biggest unions in the federation are saying all the right things, they “haven’t yet stepped up to provide the money, lawyers, and other resources that are required to turn the current burst of unionization into a far larger, more lasting wave.”

Today’s labor leaders and their unions have a crucial decision to make, he declares. “Will they remain mere spectators to these efforts, thereby increasing the chances that this very promising moment will peter out? Or will they heed the example of John L. Lewis, and join in solidarity with the most pro-union generation this nation has seen in 80 years? Will they put up the money and resources required to turn this into a watershed moment for labor?

“If not now, when?”

The American Prospect, 6/13

Efforts to unionize the giant Starbucks chain that began with two stores in Buffalo a few months ago is picking up momentum even though there is still a long way to go. As of mid-May, 78 Starbucks stores around the country have voted to unionize.

And Starbucks is not the only one. The drive of workers to unionize is moving into high gear as about a half-dozen Apple stores, Amazon, REI, and scores of other American workplaces that have never seen a union are facing union organizing drives. And this is taking place even in the face of desperate union-busting tactics by management.

These tactics include the illegal firing of union activists and pouring out millions of dollars in hiring anti-labor law firms and “consultants”.

Workers have a lot to be sore about. According to Robert Reich, the secretary of labor in the Clinton administration and now Professor of Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley, despite the recent uptick in wages, workers are still lagging far behind their real earnings 30 or 40 years ago with corporate CEOs averaging 351 times the typical worker’s salary.

In addition, more than half of  Americans work overtime averaging nine hours of overtime work each week but only 15 percent of them are eligible to receive overtime pay,. Reich figures that the total amount of wage theft from unpaid overtime comes to $35,451 for the average family each year.

But there’s more. The American workplace has become a hazardous place. An example of this was the Amazon workplace in Illinois where six workers lost their lives in a tornado after being told by the company that they couldn’t leave, even though they were warned about the deadly storm hours in advance. The AFL-CIO’s figures put the numbers at an average of 340 workers who died each day because of hazardous working conditions with 4,764 workers killed on the job in 2020.

Robert Reich newsletter, 5/20; Portside, 5/19