Posts from Mark Gruenberg

Amazon Warehouse Workers Strike

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The eyes of the world were on Shakopee, Minn., on July 15, where 30-50 workers at the vast Amazon fulfillment center staged a one-day strike to protest working conditions. The workers’ picket line was joined by a throng of supporters from the local labor movement and other community supporters.

Semi-trailer trucks trying to enter or leave the Amazon property were forced to wait until the 200-plus picketers moved to the sides of the entrances to let them pass. A few truck drivers chose to not cross the picket line and drove away.

Planned by Amazon workers organizing with the Awood Center, the action came on Amazon’s much-hyped “Prime Day,” a day of discounts to encourage shoppers to buy something from the online retailer. A Facebook meme countered: “I don’t know who needs to hear this… but you don’t need anything from Amazon today.”

The low prices and quick delivery from Amazon come at a high cost to the workers at a fast-paced Amazon fulfillment center, the crowd learned from workers, many of whom wore t-shirts proclaiming, “We are Humans, Not Robots!”

“We are striking… because we are humans — we are not robots,” said Sahro Sharif, the emcee of the rally on the picket line, who has worked for a year at Amazon’s Shakopee fulfillment center as an order picker. “We are tired of Amazon workers being hurt on the job… Keeping up with increased workloads is just too much.”

Injured Amazon worker Meg Brady reported how the fast-paced demands of the work took a toll on her health and her co-workers. When she started working at Amazon 18 months ago, she said, she was part of a group of 70 new staff. Only five people from that group remained, Brady reported. Some people left injured, some couldn’t keep up with the required work pace, some couldn’t bear the stress, quitting because staying “just wasn’t worth it any longer.”

Brady stayed, she said, “to make it better for me and all my co-workers.” She explained: “If you want to see change, you just don’t go — you stay and you fight… Amazon can do better. Amazon must do better. Management demands the best from their workers. Now we want their best.”

The crowd also heard from Weston Fribley, an Amazon software engineer from Seattle who is an activist with Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. He read a few of what he said were 100 support letters collected in one day from Amazon tech workers in Seattle. “We stand with you,” Fribley said. “Thank you for having the courage to do this.”

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Michigan Rep. Andy Levin Lauds Retiring USW President Gerard

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., has an unusual retirement gift for departing Steelworkers President Leo Gerard: No new NAFTA without strong and enforceable worker rights in all three of its countries: The U.S., Canada and especially Mexico.

Of course, Levin knows Gerard better than almost any other lawmaker does: After a long career as an union organizer, capped by a stint as deputy AFL-CIO Organizing Director, the first-termer from Michigan succeeded his pro-worker father Sandy in the U.S. House.

Gerard, president of USW starting in 2001, retired effective July 15, which led Levin to laud him that day in a short House floor speech. Levin called Gerard “a great leader of workers throughout North America and, indeed, the world. Leo rose through the ranks and was a dynamic leader of the Steelworkers for 40 years, and he was president for the last 18 years. He led on so many issues.”

“He was a fierce negotiator for his members, but he was also a leader for all workers. For example, he brought the environmental movement and the labor movement together to tackle tough issues about keeping our water and air clean for everyone and for future generations, while protecting our jobs.”

“But one thing I think stands out. I want to pledge to Leo Gerard on his retirement that we are not going to pass a replacement NAFTA unless it honors the workers of Mexico, Canada, and the United States.  What a great champion for workers in North America. I assure Leo we are going to carry on his work. God bless him.”

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Key Panel Oks Multi-Employer Pensions Rescue Bill

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

At a hearing packed with hundreds of workers, lawmakers on the key committee handling pension issues approved  legislation to establish federal loans for troubled multi-employer pension plans.

The measure, HR397, named for Ohio unionist Butch Lewis, who died of a stroke four years ago, would set up a bureau in the Treasury Department to judge applications from the troubled plans. Lewis’s multi-employer plan went broke, and his widow’s pension payout collapsed.

Those plans which can show federal loans would be used to both become solvent and to keep benefits level for current retirees – or their families and survivors – would get the loan funds, repayable after 30 years. The money would come from selling U.S. Treasury bonds.

“We are in the homestretch” of passing HR397, Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said at an outdoor press conference an hour before the July 12 House Ways and Means Committee work session on it. “This is a battle for dignity and for keeping the promises made” to millions of workers. But workers “have to walk the halls” to ensure it passes, he warned.

The multi-employer pension plan problem now affects more than 100 plans serving one million retirees and survivors. Multi-employer plans cover 10 million people overall. They’re common in industries such as trucking, bakeries and confectionery firms, construction, food processing and coal mining.

Joint labor-management boards run the plans, with all employers contributing to the workers’ pensions.

But corporate consolidations, bankruptcies and the plummet in pension values during the 2008 Great Recession put multi-employer plans into the “red zone” of financial danger, where they could go broke within months or years.

The Mine Workers’ two pension plans, which the federal government virtually chartered 72 years ago, are in the most-immediate danger. The biggest threat is the Teamsters’ giant Central and Southern States pension plan.

And the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) fund to cover takeovers of broke multi-employer plans – which would pay out far less than what was promised to workers by their multi-employer plans – is running out of cash, too. The result is huge benefit cuts for workers, like Butch Lewis, who sacrificed pay hikes for a decent pension, his widow, Rita, said.

 

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Pregnant 17-year-old’s death may lead to federal law protecting workers from excessive heat

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Just over 11 years ago, on May 14, 2008, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, after toiling in excessive heat for three straight days picking grapes and hauling huge crates of them in the farm fields near Lodi, Calif., collapsed.

The pregnant 90-pound girl was earning money there to send back to her poverty-stricken family in Oaxaca, Mexico, says retired United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez. There was no water spigot for her to drink from, no shelter to retreat to when temperatures soared into the 90s and above, and no shade in the fields, even when she had time for lunch. She often didn’t. 

Jimenez paid for her devotion with her life. And, this July 11, her death came to mean something on Capitol Hill.

“She fell to the ground because of the heat,” Rodriguez told Press Associates Union News Service the day before a House hearing on a bill to try to prevent future heat deaths among farm workers, roofers, construction workers, highway crew workers and any other worker forced to toil under the hot summer sun.

“The foreman left her on the ground, then put her in the back of a hot flatbed truck,” Rodriguez continued. The foreman first planned to take Jimenez home, but her fiancée finally convinced him to take her to a nearby clinic instead. It was too late.

“She died the next day. Her body temperature was over 100 degrees. The doctors told us her organs were cooked,” Rodriguez said.

Jimenez died even though California, after lobbying by the Farm Workers and a long campaign by then-State Sen. Judy Chu (D), had the nation’s first-ever regulations on the books, since 2005, ordering growers and all other employers to protect workers against heat-related injuries and deaths.

Firms could protect the workers by such simple measures as providing shade, water, shelter and even cooling scarves workers could use to sponge their necks and hands – measures demonstrated at a July 10 outdoor press conference in D.C.’s sunny 90-degree heat.

But the farm labor contractor who brought Jimenez to those fields broke the state’s protective rules. The contractor later lost its license, but not before Jimenez’s death led UFW into another long campaign to enforce the regulations, including a 6-day march from Lodi to Sacramento, and a lawsuit.

 

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Communications Workers Launch Anti-Offshoring Offensive

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Communications Workers are launching a summer-long offensive to convince Congress to move against corporate off-shoring of U.S. jobs, especially call center jobs.

In a mass conference call with activists on July 9, union President Chris Shelton urged them to lobby lawmakers – and to get other union members to do so – for two pieces of legislation.

Shelton wants unionists to text “no offshoring” to the phone link 69866, which would go to Congress. He also wants them to recruit five colleagues each to do the same thing. And unionists should sign CWA’s on-line anti-offshoring petition.

And then on August 21, the union will sponsor a National Day of Action on the issue, tackling lawmakers at home during the congressional recess, and calling in to their offices – all to push against offshoring and for two pieces of legislation to cramp it.

One would order firms – such as airlines, stores, banks and big distributors like Amazon – to order their call center responders to tell customers where they are physically located, and give customers the option of demanding and getting their call transferred to a U.S.-based center. That bill has been kicking around prior GOP-run Congresses, unsuccessfully.

The other, which the union is drafting in conjunction with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would repeal a huge tax break that encourages firms to offshore U.S. jobs. The break was in the GOP-passed 2017 $1.2 trillion tax cut for big businesses and the rich.

That tax break particularly rubs CWA the wrong way, since one of the nation’s biggest telecoms, AT&T – which is unionized with CWA except for its call centers – announced call center moves to Mexico just around the time solons OKd the tax cut.  That cost thousands of U.S. workers jobs, especially in rural areas with few alternatives.

“We are under attack by Wall Street and corporations and their political puppets – destroying our jobs, destroying communities and destroying our lives,” Shelton said.

“We need to stop this offshoring of good union jobs and of all jobs,” he declared. “We’ve heard a lot of promises from politicians” that they would do so, he added. “But once they get elected, they only make the same situation worse.”

 

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Illinois Democrats Approve Slate of Pro-Labor Laws

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

What a difference election success makes.

The Democratic-run Illinois legislature – its pro-worker majority strengthened by last fall’s results – and new Democratic pro-worker Gov. J.B. Pritzker teamed up to enact what the St. Louis Labor Tribune called “a barrage” of pro-labor laws.

And that’s quite a contrast to the prior four years, when right-wing anti-worker anti-union GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner spent his tenure trying to destroy workers and unions, battling the lawmakers and refusing to sign a budget unless it included his anti-worker and union-busting schemes.

As a result, the ex-hedge fund mogul ran state finances into the ditch. Illinois’ bond rating under Rauner headed for “junk” status, increasing state interest costs – and costs to taxpayers.

By contrast, not only did Pritzker and the lawmakers pass a balanced budget and on time to meet the July 1 deadline, but they enacted the state’s first infrastructure plan in a decade, banned local “right to work” laws, and approved a plethora of other pro-employee measures.

The $48 billion Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan, along with legalizing casino gambling in more areas, will create “hundreds of thousands of jobs and bring economic development to Illinois,” state AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said at the signing ceremony.

And in a final rebuke to Rauner, Pritzker and AFSCME District Council 31, which represents approximately 40,000 state and local workers all over the Land of Lincoln, signed and ratified a new contract. Rauner had spent his term literally trying to destroy the union. He failed.

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N.Y. Grants Farm Workers Labor Rights

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

To cheers from farm workers, their advocates and the state AFL-CIO, New York joined California enacting a wide-ranging law giving farm workers labor rights. The legislation passed in late June.

“Farm workers are finally getting basic labor rights including the right to organize a union, a mandatory day of rest, and the right to overtime pay. Organizing rights include absolute employer neutrality and binding interest arbitration,” said state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento.

New York’s new law also sets up a state farm worker wage board to set both minimum wages and to mandate overtime pay for farm workers, said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero.

“Tens of thousands of lives will improve immediately and future generations of farm workers will also benefit for years to come,” Cilento said.  

“Today is the culmination of a decades-long fight centered upon one simple premise: That farmworkers deserve fairness, equality and justice. Today, justice was finally served.”

The New York legislation is important because – despite its image as an urban state – New York has a large agricultural industry, from the Hudson Valley on upstate. And many of its farms, such as in Orange County’s nationally known “black dirt” onion-growing country, depend on migrant farm workers.

Those workers, like other farm workers nationwide, are historically exploited by growers and sometimes by overseers who bring them to farms up and down the East Coast, including New York.

After lobbying by the United Farm Workers several decades ago, California established its own Agricultural Labor Relations Board to regulate wages, working conditions and the right of farm workers in the nation’s largest agricultural state to unionize. UFW and other unions lobbied for similar protections in the Empire State.

On the state level, New York and California fill a gap in federal labor law. It does not cover farm workers, a relic of when FDR needed Southern racist senators’ votes to help pass the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The Southerners’ price was to exclude occupations that were majority-African American, such as housekeepers and domestic workers, and majority-Latino, such as farm workers.

 

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Pro-Worker Dems Bargain With Trump Trade Rep About Worker Rights and the ‘New NAFTA’

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

A coalition of pro-worker House Democrats, led by veteran Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., opened talks on June 25 with GOP President Donald Trump’s trade negotiator about writing strong and specific worker rights straight into Trump’s “new NAFTA,” rather than just into U.S. legislation to implement the controversial “free trade” pact.

“We have made it clear from Day One there must be changes in the agreement” itself, DeLauro said in an interview after a Capitol Hill press conference that day with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, other union reps and other pro-worker lawmakers.

Trumka called the confab to present more than 200,000 names on “National Day Of Action” petitions demanding Congress not even consider, much less approve, legislation implementing the ‘new NAFTA’ – formally called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement -- unless there are strong and enforceable worker rights sections.

With such strictures, Mexican wages would increase, unions and workers say. “If Mexican wages are not allowed to increase, they” – corporations – “will continue to suck jobs out of the U.S.,” Trumka warned. 

One reason the lawmakers and unions want the pro-worker requirements written into the trade pact’s text itself is they don’t trust Trump, or U.S. multinationals, to follow any law implementing the new agreement.

“Go back to 1992-93, when NAFTA passed,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an Electrical Worker and former head of the South Jersey Building Trades Council. NAFTA proponents “promised we’d get more and better-paying jobs, but if you were a worker, you got royally screwed.”

“So the idea of ‘Trust me again and somehow it’ll be different’ isn’t going to do it.”

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Federal Workers Back House Bill Providing 3.1% Pay Raises

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Federal worker unions are praising proposed House legislation that would give all 2 million U.S. government workers a 3.1% general raise on Jan. 1. President Donald Trump declared he’d give them zero.

Not only that, but Trump wanted to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management – in essence the government’s human resources department – and transfer its functions to an unaccountable political appointee within the White House. The House legislation would bar  that scheme.

Killing OPM would have been a long step back to the old spoils system of the 19th century and just what Trump and his anti-worker, right-wing ideological backers in and out of the White House wanted, said J. David Cox, president of the Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal workers union.

But the Democratic-run House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government subcommittee bounced Trump’s anti-OPM plan. Lawmakers inserted a flat ban on the “reckless and potentially dangerous” idea, Cox said. Then, in their June 3 late-afternoon work session, the subcommittee unanimously passed the legislation providing raises.

Both Trump moves that the panel discarded are part of his ideological war against workers, especially federal workers, and their unions. The war also includes Trump’s executive orders evicting unions from their small spaces within federal office buildings, seizure of phones, fax machines and computers that union representatives used to help protect workers, and forcing the reps to do so on their own time and on their own dime.

Trump also barred the feds from communicating with lawmakers.

A federal judge in D.C. overturned most Trump moves last year as both unconstitutional and violating federal law governing union-management relations. But several Trump political appointees, notably the Secretaries of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs, are following Trump’s orders – and defying the judge.

The Democratic-run House panel appears to be coming to the workers’ defense.

 

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AFGE: Trump Plan to Trash Govt. Personnel Agency Would Politicize Civil Service

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Republican President Donald Trump’s plan to abolish the government’s central personnel agency and put most of its authority in the hands of unaccountable White House aides would politicize the U.S. civil service, the head of the largest federal workers union says.

And Government Employees President (AFGE) J. David Cox’s warning got a sympathetic hearing from majority Democrats on the House Government Operations subcommittee on May 21. Panel Republicans gave Trump tepid support, at best.

"The plan to abolish OPM is reckless, ill-conceived, and potentially dangerous,” Cox testified. “It is potentially dangerous because without a separate personnel agency, there is no formal institutional structure to protect and defend the apolitical civil service from an administration intent on politicization.”

Trump wants to abolish the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is in effect the government’s HR department, overseeing its two million workers. He would split its duties between the Executive Office of the President -- within the White House -- and the General Services Administration, which manages federal buildings, furniture and supplies.

The new personnel chief would be a White House staffer, unaccountable to Congress, workers, unions or the public for trashing federal workers.

Trump’s scheme, previously hinted at in his budgets, is in line with the hard-right anti-worker ideology and actions of both the right-wing president and his extremist anti-worker advisors, many of them drawn from the notorious Heritage Foundation. Cox noted Trump drew it up without consulting anyone else – including workers and unions -- outside his inner circle.

Besides freezing federal workers’ pay and demanding mass cuts, Trump infamously locked out almost 400,000 federal workers for seven weeks, and forced another 400,000 to toil without pay.

Disregarding the suffering he caused to the feds, their families and their communities, Trump used the lockout in a vain effort to force Congress to kowtow to his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall at the Mexican border. 

One unpaid Transportation Security Officer – an airport screener – depressed because he couldn’t feed his family or pay his bills, jumped to his death from the eighth floor of the Tampa Airport’s interior hotel.

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Union Matters

Raise the Wage!

From the AFL-CIO

It’s been a decade since the federal minimum wage was increased—the longest period in American history without an increase. In that time, the cost of living has increased and working families have struggled to make ends meet. The Raise the Wage Act would finally bring the federal minimum wage up to $15 an hour.

The House of Representatives is voting tomorrow on the Raise the Wage Act, and we need to make sure lawmakers know where workers stand. Will you show your support and ask your friends to call their representatives?

One in 9 workers in the U.S. is in poverty—even when working full time and year-round. Passing the Raise the Wage Act as it stands would empower working families in need and build an economy that works for everyone.

Share our #RaisetheWage message on social media right now.

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The Richest Fantasy

The Richest Fantasy