Thomas M. Conway

President’s Perspective

Tom Conway USW International President

Selling Out Safety

The March 2005 fire and explosions at BP’s Texas City, Texas, oil refinery killed 15 contractors and injured 180 other workers in ways that will haunt them forever.

Some lost limbs. Others suffered horrific burns, head injuries or wounds that left them infertile. Still others live with the memory of injured co-workers screaming in agony or dying under heaps of rubble.

Since then, dozens of other incidents have killed workers and endangered residents near petrochemical plants. But tragedies like these don’t have to happen.

In January 2017, the EPA issued the Chemical Disaster Rule, which provided sweeping new safeguards for workers, first responders and communities where dangerous plants are located. It would have forced operators to address unsafe practices and keep their equipment up to date.

However, Donald Trump became president before the new requirements took effect. Corporations that own chemical and petrochemical plants complained about the requirements, and shortly after Trump took office, his business-friendly EPA abruptly decided to sit on them.

Now, after delaying implementation of the Chemical Disaster Rule for two years, Trump’s EPA just killed most of it.

Corporations don’t want the cost or inconvenience of tougher standards, even when those changes would save lives. They don’t want to be told that they have to consider safer methods of production. They don’t want to share hazard information with the public. They don’t want to answer to anyone.

And instead of standing up for workers, the EPA capitulated to the industry it’s supposed to regulate. It sold out safety. It put corporations over workers.

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Amplified Advantage: Why Education Is Not the Answer to Our Class Problems

Allison L. Hurst Oregon State University

Thirty years ago, after having dropped out of college after just one term, unable to pay for my dorm room, I was unsure if I would ever leave the working class.  Two years later I was a student at Barnard College, an elite small liberal arts college three thousand miles from my parents’ home.  To this day, I am not sure how I made that leap, but it was smoothed over by significant financial assistance from the college.  Unable to pay for my public university, I was able to graduate from one of the best private colleges in the country virtually debt-free.

Now I study higher education and its connection to what we call intergenerational social mobility, the movement (or lack of movement) between classes, comparing children and parents’ occupational outcomes over time.

I have some bad news.  While the path I took was not easy, gaining social mobility through college education is much harder for young people today.  Ironically, even as more children of the working class go to college, the educational attainment gap between the middle class and the working class continues to grow.

How can this be?  For one thing, the bar for “being educated” continues to rise.  As more people earn college degrees than ever before, the kind of college degree increasingly matters.  What type of institution?  What major field of study?  Also important is the level of education – in many fields a four-year degree is no longer enough to assure a middle-class salaried job.  You need a master’s degree, or even a PhD, for some work, even outside of academia.

Scholars of education (including sociologists like me) have known all of this for a while now, which is why so many of us have studied access to colleges and programs.  Colleges have struggled to open their doors to first-generation and working-class students.  They are paying more attention to ways of broadening access, sometimes pushed and shoved into doing so by state boards of higher education.  At the same time, budget cuts at public colleges and universities undercut many of these efforts.

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Workers will lose more than $700 million dollars annually under proposed DOL rule

By Heidi Shierholz and David Cooper

In October, the Trump administration published a proposed rule regarding tips which, if finalized, will cost workers more than $700 million annually. It is yet another example of the Trump administration using the fine print of a proposal to attempt to push through a change that will transfer large amounts of money from workers to their employers. We also find that as employers ask tipped workers to do more non-tipped work as a result of this rule, employment in non-tipped food service occupations will decline by 5.3% and employment in tipped occupations will increase by 12.2%, resulting in 243,000 jobs shifting from being non-tipped to being tipped. Given that back-of-the-house, non-tipped jobs in restaurants are more likely to be held by people of color while tipped occupations are more likely to be held by white workers, this could reduce job opportunities for people of color.

The background: employers are not allowed to pocket workers’ tips—tips must remain with workers. But employers can legally “capture” some of workers’ tips by paying tipped workers less in base wages than their other workers. For example, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but employers can pay tipped workers a “tipped minimum wage” of $2.13 an hour as long as employees’ base wage and the tips they receive over the course of a week are the equivalent of at least $7.25 per hour. All but seven states have a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.

In a system like this, the more non-tipped work that is done by tipped workers earning the sub-minimum wage, the more employers benefit. This is best illustrated with a simple example. Say a restaurant has two workers, one doing tipped work and one doing non-tipped work, who both work 40 hours a week. The tipped worker is paid $2.50 an hour in base wages, but gets $10 an hour in tips on average, for a total of $12.50 an hour in total earnings. The non-tipped worker is paid $7.50 an hour. In this scenario, the restaurant pays their workers a total of ($2.50+$7.50)*40 = $400 per week, and the workers take home a total of ($12.50+$7.50)*40 = $800 (with $400 of that coming from tips).

But suppose the restaurant makes both those workers tipped workers, with each doing half tipped work and half non-tipped work. Then the restaurant pays them both $2.50 an hour, and they will each get $5 an hour in tips on average (since now they each spend half their time on non-tipped work) for a total of $7.50 an hour in total earnings. In this scenario, the restaurant pays out a total of ($2.50+$2.50)*40 = $200 per week, and the workers take home a total of ($7.50 + $7.50)*40 = $600. The restaurant’s gain of $200 is the workers’ loss of $200, simply by having tipped workers spend time doing non-tipped work.

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Union Matters

Members of Local 7798 achieve major goal with workplace violence policy

From the USW

Workers at Copper Country Mental Health Services in Houghton, Mich., obtained wage increases and pension improvements in their contract ratified earlier this year, but the benefit Local 7798 members were most proud of bargaining was language regarding workplace violence.

The contract committed the employer to appoint a committee, including two members of the local, to draft a workplace violence policy. Work quickly began on the policy, and just last week, the committee drafted and released its first clinical guideline focusing on responding to consumer aggression toward staff.

“We are so excited to have this go into effect,” said Unit Chair Rachelle Rodriguez of Local 7798. “This was a direct result of our last negotiating session.”

The guideline includes the definition of aggression and an outline of procedures, all of which will be reviewed yearly. And though this is just a first step in reducing the incident rates and harm of workplace violence in their workplace, it still is a big one for the local, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a collective bargaining agreement.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work