Category Archives: Organizing

The Return of the Strike

The picketing GM workers and impending Chicago Teachers Union action suggest a dramatic revival of striking as a tactic.

By Sarah Jaffe
The Progressive

Oct 8, 2019 – Friday night on the picket line at the General Motors facility in Langhorne, Pennsylvania involved pizza reheated over a firepit, supporters dropping by with beers and snacks, and a dance party to Carly Rae Jepsen.

It was the eighteenth day of the strike, which shows no signs of ending as of this writing. Spirits were surprisingly high despite the cold. Strikers in their UAW shirts and supporters were cutting up pallets for firewood, and planning a potluck for the following weekend. “Maybe it’ll be a victory celebration!”

The strike at GM, now at twenty-three days the longest in decades at an American auto manufacturer, came as a surprise even to longtime labor observers like me. Certainly, the workers have ample reasons for anger. GM’s CEO made $21.87 million last year while the workforce is splintered into tiers (new hires who do the same work get paid less than longtime employees) and dotted with permatemps. But because the action of the strike has been all but dead in U.S. manufacturing for decades, a massive strike at one of the Big Three car companies has seemed like a pipe dream.

Yet now, the workers are dug in, holding picket lines twenty-four hours a day and determined to see the end of the tiered system and the use of temps, and a revived though still small left is determined to show solidarity.

Of course, we’re still nowhere near the strike frequency levels seen before Ronald Reagan’s crushing of the air traffic controllers’ union in 1981. Acts of rebellion in recent years have been more likely to be occupations, uprisings, the kinds of dispersed mass protests that spread virally from city to city, as in the Occupy movement and the Movement for Black Lives. The Trump era brought back the mass march, alongside more disruptive actions like the airport protests in response to the Muslim ban. But the strike, long considered gone, is creeping back into favor.

Chicago Teachers Took the Lead

It was the Chicago Teachers Union in 2012 that revived the strike in dramatic fashion, defeating state and city officials determined to make teachers’ strikes a thing of the past. In the process, it provided a template for a reshaping of public sector unions that have allowed those unions to survive the 2018 Janus decision, which ruled that union fees in the public sector are unconstitutional. The teachers struck “for the schools Chicago students deserve,” and rallied the community to their side. They reminded us all what it looks like when city streets are filled with workers making demands. Continue reading The Return of the Strike

Pittsburgh Google ‘Contract’ Workers Start Unionization Process, Bosses Prep Union-Busting Campaign

White-collar workers join with United Steelworkers for collective bargaining rights.

By Vasuki R
Liberation News

Sep 11, 2019 – Last week, the Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals filed a petition on behalf of tech employees at HCL Technologies, a contractor for Google in Pittsburgh.

These 90 employees perform essential work for the Google Shopping platform alongside full-time employees, but with reduced benefits, pay and job security. Through this mechanism of sub-contract work, Google has maintained its reputation as a generous and fair employer — despite the fact that temps, vendors and contractors form a “labor underclass” that comprises over half of Google’s global workforce.

Over two thirds of the workers at HCL signed cards seeking union representation. They organized on the basis of directly improving their working conditions, hoping to bargain for better wages and benefits.

HCL employee Josh Borden drew attention to the lack of job security, noting that he and his co-workers “constantly worry about being downsized at any moment while watching our benefits slowly slip away.” With no severance policy and a recession looming, contract workers are stuck in a position of permanent instability. At other contractor sites, the prospect of permanent employment with Google is used to lure white-collar workers into abusive wage theft.

PATP is an arm of the United Steelworkers, formed to fight for better working conditions in the city of Pittsburgh and raise the voices of tech professionals. While workplace activism has long been prominent at Google, this campaign marks a qualitative shift in organizing for tech and contract workers.

Since the announcement of the union drive, USW organizer Damon Di Cicco has seen a surge of interest around the PATP. Unionizing efforts elsewhere in the industry have yet to succeed, but the workers at HCL are demonstrating an actionable path for tech and games workers subjected to miserable working conditions. The date for their union representation election has been tentatively set for the 24th of September.

The path forward will not be without resistance: recently, HCL recently hired consultants from the union-busting law firm Ogletree Deakins. Despite stonewalling requests by workers for better wages, the company is willing to pay exorbitant legal fees to attempt to stop their workers from organizing. Ogletree specializes in defending bosses against discrimination lawsuits, yet was itself sued by a shareholder for gender discrimination before forcing the plaintiff into arbitration.

Forced arbitration is a mechanism by which employees waive their right to a trial as part of their contract, with workplace issues instead adjudicated by third-party arbiters that favor management; ending this loophole nationally has been a key plank of tech worker organizing.

Ogletree has set up space at a hotel near the office, with the classic strategy of trying to create division within the campaign by dissuading workers one by one. Working closely with Ogletree is the Labor Relations Institute, a “preeminent firm in countering union organizing campaigns”, which boasts a client list that includes Kronos Foods and Trump Hotel. These firms have been brought on as “neutral advisors that will educate workers about their rights”, despite overtly advertising “union avoidance” services.

HCL has clearly demonstrated little respect for the legal right of workers to organize themselves, and it remains to be seen whether Google itself will directly intervene with its own anti-worker retaliation apparatus. In these crucial coming weeks, solidarity and militancy will keep the workers united as they fight for democracy and the ability to collectively bargain.

To follow the campaign and stay updated on the best ways to support the workers, sign up for email updates at pghtechprofessionals.org/join

Despite Trump, State Progressives Advance Pro-Worker Policies

trump-mouth

While the president goes on the attack, Democratic-controlled states and municipalities forge ahead

By Justin Miller
American Propect

July 11, 2017 – In the face of the Trump administration’s predictably antagonistic stance on pro-worker policies, coupled with the escalating onslaught against worker power in Republican-controlled states, progressives are racing ahead to enact innovative labor laws to help working people in the places where they can.

Over the past eight years, Democrats’ control of government has receded to 1920s-levels, severely hindering progressives’ ability to advance pro-worker labor policy in Washington, D.C., or in the states. As of now, the Democratic Party controls the governorship and legislature in just six states, while progressive power is most concentrated in a few dozen municipalities.

It’s in those places in recent weeks that lawmakers have pushed forward a number of innovative labor laws that present a clear contrast to the Chamber of Commerce-influenced, deregulation-driven labor agenda in the White House.
Improving Home Care

Last week, Hawaii passed a law establishing a cash assistance program for people who are struggling to take care of a sick or elderly family member while maintaining a full-time job. The policy, the first of its kind in the country, takes aim at the increasingly urgent elder care crisis as the massive boomer generation ages and their children struggle to care for them.

“Every eight seconds, somebody turns 65 in America,” Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, a group that advocates for policies that improve home care, said on a call with reporters Monday. “It’s a great thing; we’ve extended longevity. And we are wholly unprepared for what the implications are in terms of care.”

Fully half of the workforce will be called on to provide care for an elder within the next five years, the group says. And that’s not a small commitment. Of the 45 million people who currently provide some level of unpaid home care to a relative, more than half are spending about 20 hours a week while also holding down a full-time job.

The Kapuna (the Hawaiian word for elder) Caregiver program would establish a fund to provide full-time workers who are providing care to a dependent elder $70 a day to help offset the burden. A recipient could use that money to help pay for health care, a caregiver, or transportation to a doctor’s appointment.

There are more than 150,000 unpaid caregivers in Hawaii currently, according to estimates by the AARP. And while in-home care or assisted living is expensive, costing between $5,000 and $10,000 a month in the state, the $70-a-day benefit is a small step to helping caregivers balance their lives.

The legislature has provided an initial $600,000 for the program and advocates say they will return to the statehouse next year to bolster funding. Continue reading Despite Trump, State Progressives Advance Pro-Worker Policies

‘Day of Disruption’ Protests in Pittsburgh Target McDonald’s, UPMC, Giant Eagle

Workers’ demands include $15 minimum wage, union rights

By Katelyn Sykes

WTAE Reporter

PITTSBURGH — No 29, 2016 – Thousands of workers are walking off the job and marching Tuesday in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, where morning protests will be followed by a larger downtown rally in the afternoon.

The Service Employees International Union is targeting McDonald’s restaurants and UPMC with marches demanding a $15 minimum wage and union representation.

Organizers began their "Day of Disruption" marches at McDonald’s on Penn Avenue in East Liberty. Demonstrators went inside to voice their demands, then began circling the restaurant outside and chanting slogans like "Hold your burgers, hold your fries. We want wages supersized."

"I want to be able to take care of my family, to take care of myself, to pay bills," McDonald’s employee Aaron McCollum said. "You can’t possibly do that on $7.25, $7.35 an hour."

The protest then moved to a McDonald’s restaurant on North Euclid Avenue.

"It’s about workers, but it’s also recognizing that workers are more than who they are in between when they clock in and clock out, but that they’re our community members, they’re our neighbors, they’re humans," said Kai Pang, an organizer with Pittsburgh United. "We should have the right to not only survive but thrive in this city."

The group plans a similar protest near a McDonald’s and the federal building downtown during the evening rush hour.

"I’m just trying to fight for something that I believe in," McCollum said.

A press release on behalf of the group added, "Giant Eagle workers will also join the Fight for $15 today, asking that the company start paying family-sustaining wages and stop interfering with Giant Eagle employees’ right to organize."

The union contends UPMC shuttle bus workers have also gone on strike seeking union representation.

UPMC previously announced plans to increase the minimum starting wage for entry-level jobs at most of its facilities to $15 per hour by 2021.

But the union says UPMC needs to move faster, and it accused the network of trying to silence workers and union organizers.

UPMC hasn’t commented on Tuesday’s activity.

"I think more now than ever that we’re standing up for worker’s rights, for economic justice at a time when income inequality is very high and only grows higher," said Pang.

Faculty Organizing at the University of Pittsburgh: Why a Union, and Why Now?

By Anupama Jain

New People

Oct 22, 2016 – There’s something in the air in Pittsburgh! From Robert Morris to Point Park, Steel City-area faculty are organizing to join the ranks of unionized labor. To some, this might be little surprise: Pittsburgh, is a city with a rich history of labor organizing. At the same time, when one thinks of Pittsburgh labor history they might think of workers smelting steel or armed Pinkertons at the Homestead steel mills. This isn’t entirely off base: in fact, Pittsburgh-area faculty are organizing with the help of the United Steel Workers including faculty at the University of Pittsburgh.

But why unionization, and why now? There are many reasons, but three important ones are: 1) labor contingency and uncertainty worsens learning conditions, 2) teachers and researchers need a stronger voice in negotiations with administration, and 3) academic freedom is an increasingly valuable commodity in an age of emerging social consciousness about inequality.

Focused, appropriately compensated teachers can do their best work,but one class of teachers, adjuncts, teach on a pay-per-class basis. Because the compensation for these classes is very low, adjuncts often teach at several different universities, and many must work other jobs. Moreover, these positions are renewed on an ad hoc basis, often with little lead time before classes start. One colleague of mine would teach two classes at Pitt a semester, a few more at Point Park, and also tended bar in the evening. The only job he could count on having come next semester was the gig tending bar. For many, teaching is a vocation chosen not for monetary benefit, but for the value of teaching itself. But running around town, barely making ends meet is not a recipe for the best teaching. The unpredictability wears both on the teachers —who struggle tol pay their bills—and students, who may be excited about particular instructors and their classes, only to scroll through the catalogue and see no hint of the instructors because they have not yet been renewed. For other, less-contingent faculty, increasing demands for service and research also eat into teaching time. Appropriately compensated faculty are more capable of directing time and effort into education.

Continue reading Faculty Organizing at the University of Pittsburgh: Why a Union, and Why Now?

Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green to Aid Urban Revival

A community farm in Detroit, which has been a leader in green urban renewal.

Gary, Indiana is joining Detroit and other fading U.S. industrial centers in an effort to turn abandoned neighborhoods and factory sites into gardens, parks, and forests. In addition to the environmental benefits, these greening initiatives may help catalyze an economic recovery.

By Winifred Bird

Beaver County Blue via Environment 360 Yale.edu

May 31, 2016 – Depending on how you look at it, Gary, Indiana is facing either the greatest crisis in its 110-year history, or the greatest opportunity. The once-prosperous center of steel production has lost more than half its residents in the past 50 years. Just blocks from city hall, streets are so full of crumbling, burned-out houses and lush weeds that they more closely resemble the nuclear ghost town of Pripyat, near Chernobyl, than Chicago’s glitzy downtown an hour to the northwest. Air, water, and soil pollution are severe.

Yet in the midst of this, Gary has quantities of open space that more prosperous cities can only dream of, and sits on a stretch of lakeshore where plant biodiversity rivals Yellowstone National Park. Now, the big question for Gary, and for dozens of other shrinking cities across the United States’ Rust Belt — which collectively have lost more than a third of their population since the middle of the 20th century — is how to turn this situation to their advantage.

The answer that is beginning to emerge in Gary and other cities of the Rust Belt — which stretches across the upper Northeast through to the Great Lakes and industrial Midwest — is urban greening on a large scale. The idea is to turn scrubby, trash-strewn vacant lots into vegetable gardens, tree farms, stormwater management parks, and pocket prairies that make neighborhoods both more livable and more sustainable.

These types of initiatives have been evolving at the grassroots level for decades in places like Detroit and Buffalo; now, they are starting to attract significant funding from private investors, non-profits, and government agencies, says Eve Pytel, who is director of strategic priorities at the Delta Institute, a Chicago environmental organization active in Gary and several other Rust Belt cities. “There’s a tremendous interest because some of these things are lower cost than traditional development, but at the same time their implementation will actually make the other land more developable," she said.

Or, as Joseph van Dyk, Gary’s director of planning and redevelopment, put it, “If you lived next to a vacant house and now all of a sudden you live next to a forest, you’re in better shape.”

Van Dyk noted that city planning in the U.S. had long been predicated on growth. But, he added, “That’s been turned on its head since the Seventies — Detroit, Cleveland, Youngstown, Flint, Gary have this relatively new problem of, how do you adjust for disinvestment? How do you reallocate your resources and re-plan your cities?”

Detroit, which has at least 20 square miles of abandoned land, has been a leader in envisioning alternative uses for sites that once would have been targeted for conventional redevelopment. The city has 1,400 or more urban farms and community gardens, a tree-planting plan so ambitious the local press says it “could serve as a model for postindustrial cities worldwide,” and $8.9 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement green infrastructure projects and install solar panels on other vacant lots.

But while demolition itself has added an estimated

$209 million to the equity of remaining homes in Detroit, Danielle Lewinski, vice president and director of Michigan Initiatives for the Flint-based Center for Community Progress, said hard data on the value of greening projects is more difficult to come by.

“There’s opportunity in Detroit to see an impact in surrounding property values, and therefore people’s interest in that area,” said Lewinski, who has been involved in land-use planning there. “The key, though, is that it needs to be done in a way that is strategic and links to other attributes that would attract a person to move into a neighborhood. My concern is that green reuse, absent a connection to a broader vision, may not be nearly as successful from an economic value standpoint.”

In Gary, the broader vision is to concentrate economic development in a number of “nodes,” each of which would be surrounded by leafy corridors of “re-greened” land. The corridors would separate the nodes, helping to give each neighborhood a more distinct identity, as well as bring residents the benefits of open space and serve as pathways for wildlife moving between existing natural areas. A land-use

plan for preserving Gary’s core green space is already in place, and officials are currently revising the city’s Byzantine zoning regulations to make redevelopment of the nodes easier. Continue reading Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green to Aid Urban Revival

Minimum Wage Debate Heats Up in Pennsylvania

Meagan Gemperlein, 25, is a part-time tipped worker at Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey. Wigle owners say they pay each of the workers at least twice the tipped minimum wage of $2.83.

By Molly Duerig
Beaver County Times

Sept 1, 2015 – PITTSBURGH — Cori Shetter is a college graduate and aspiring actress who’s worked minimum-wage jobs for 15 years.

“It’s like swinging from Tarzan vine to Tarzan vine. One vine’s about to end and break, so you just grab the next one, but you’re never really putting your feet on solid ground,” said the 31-year-old Pittsburgh resident.

Living in her Lawrenceville home is only possible because her parents own it, and Shetter pays them as much of the mortgage and other expenses as she can.

The one major thing she could do to further her career goals — auditioning — has fallen by the wayside as she invests most of her time in serving jobs for small, but reliable, paychecks. She supplements that by cutting hair for up to 10 clients a month at home.

Many servers, like Shetter, earn Pennsylvania’s tipped minimum wage of $2.83 per hour. The standard minimum wage, both state and federal, is $7.25.

Many believe the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with the times, and movements to raise it are being led by grassroots groups and governments in communities across the nation. In June, Los Angeles became the biggest city in the country to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2020.

Nineteen U.S. cities and counties experienced mandated wage increases this year; 29 states and Washington, D.C., already require employers to pay workers more than $7.25.

Pennsylvania isn’t part of this group – yet.

There are five bills pending in the state Legislature proposing to raise the minimum wage, with different methods and standards ranging from $8.75 to $15. Some politicians and business owners said they worry that putting this mandate on employers could mean fewer job openings and other cutbacks in the business community.

“If minimum wage is hiked, many of these jobs will vanish, or work hours will be drastically cut,” state Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, wrote in an email. “Employers simply find less costly alternatives, either through automation, technology or other means.”

Even economists, who also have opinions, disagree about the impact. Although some studies indicate a minimum-wage increase would cause job losses, other studies show just the opposite, said Sean Flaherty, the economics chair at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

“There’s just no strong consensus evidence that this is a significant problem when you have a modest increase in the minimum wage, done in stepwise fashion,” Flaherty said.

The proposals

The federal wage hasn’t increased since 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25. In 2008, it rose from $5.85.

Several states, counties and cities are taking the matter into their own hands.

In Pennsylvania, the most ambitious proposed bill is from Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware, Montgomery. His “One Fair Wage” bill would raise the wage to $15 an hour and tie it to inflation across the board, for regular and tipped employees.

Continue reading Minimum Wage Debate Heats Up in Pennsylvania