Union Label & Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO 202-508-3700 unionlabel@unionlabel.org
Nancy Austin, School Community Health Nurse and Shop Steward,  UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO

Nancy Austin, School Community Health Nurse and Shop Steward, UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO

I am a School Community Health Nurse in Montgomery County, Maryland. The County Department of Health and Human Services, not the school system, employs and funds all School Nurses in my county.

As a school nurse, I deal with the usual cuts, scrapes and upset stomachs in schools, but I also deal with very challenging health issues as well. Childhood asthmatics, insulin-dependent diabetics, and a number of other medically fragile students rely on me and my colleagues in our schools, and there are increasingly fewer of us to help.

Each School Community Health Nurse is assigned one to three schools with an unlicensed Health Room Technician in each school. It’s a dangerous situation for our students. We’ve been fighting year-after-year to get the county to fund more nurses.
As a shop steward, I recently testified to the County Council about our need for more nurses, and they finally agreed to grant emergency funding to add a few more nurses. They didn’t give us the number we need, but it’s a start. I’m hoping once they’re hired, they stay.

My union has empowered me to stand up for myself and my coworkers. We can demand better thanks to the union and our collective voices. ■

Workers’ Wages and the Truth About Unemployment

Workers’ Wages and the Truth About Unemployment

“[T]he working-class can’t thrive on low unemployment rates alone. For the median job-seeker in Trump’s America, the odds may be good, but the good jobs are an oddity,” wrote Eric Levitz, associate editor of the Daily Intelligencer in his December 6, 2019 article, Jobs, Jobs Everywhere, But Most of Them Kind of Suck.

At the end of 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reported that the unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, the lowest it has been in decades. But despite the low unemployment numbers, workers aren’t prospering, far from it.
The truth is, most of the surge in hiring has been to fill low-wage positions. The Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization, wrote in its November 2019 report, Meet the low-wage workforce, that “even as the U.S. economy hums along at a favorable pace, there is a vast segment of workers today earning low enough to leave their livelihood and families extremely vulnerable.”

The report states that more than 53 million people, or 44 percent of all workers ages 18-to-64 in the United States, are low hourly wage earners. Their median earnings are $10.22 per hour, about $18,000 per year.
The report shows that 64 percent of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25-to-64. And more than half work full-time year-round.

Calling our current economic state, a “barbell” economy, a Washington Post December 5, 2019, article by Heather Long points out that among the “10 jobs expected to add the most employees in the next decade, six pay less than $27,000 a year. Jobs are growing at the high and the low end.”

In her article, Long writes about the lack of news coverage on the more than 2.1 million (disproportionately female) administrative and office-support jobs that have been shed since 2000.

We have all heard countless tales of the offshoring of manufacturing jobs, but very little has been said of the loss of those administrative and office-support roles. Traditionally, those jobs have been a route to life-long economic security for non-college-educated women.

The Washington Post reports that “employment in administrative support positions has fallen to 1986 levels, and the Labor Department predicts that secretaries and administrative assistants will see the largest job losses of any occupation in the coming decade.”

Where we once had what the Federal Reserve calls “opportunity employment” — employment accessible to workers without a Bachelor’s degree that typically paid above the national annual median wage — we are seeing more and more of those jobs being shed and most of them aren’t being replaced. There are very few opportunities for adults entering the workforce who don’t have the education or training to get ahead.

Another statistic not taken into account in the DOL’s report on unemployment is the number of involuntary part-time workers. Rob Valletta, a vice president in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco told Business Insider in January that there are “about 1.4 million additional individuals who are stuck in part-time jobs. These numbers imply that the level of involuntary part-time work is about 40 percent higher than it would normally be expected at this point in the economic expansion.”
In examining the part-time and gig economy phenomenon, Business Insider editor Jim Edwards writes, “the part-time ‘gig economy’ has broken a fundamental link in capitalism that was good for workers. Pay rates no longer move upward as unemployment moves downward because companies like Uber, Amazon, Just Eat, and Deliveroo switch their demand for labor on and off, on a minute-by-minute basis.”

“Having a job is no longer a guaranteed way of getting ahead. Instead, work may keep you poor. You cannot get rich working for Uber. You cannot get rich working for Deliveroo.”

Demise of Workplace Class Action Lawsuits Makes Unions Key to Fight Rights’ Violations

Demise of Workplace Class Action Lawsuits Makes Unions Key to Fight Rights’ Violations

The US Supreme Court in May 2018 ruled against workers in Epic Systems v. Lewis declaring that employers can force employees to accept arbitration of disputes individually and give up their right to class action lawsuits in the courts. The ruling puts individual workers at a severe disadvantage in confronting corporate power.

More than half of America’s non-union workers are currently subject to this ruling’s affirmation of mandatory arbitration by employers. Furthermore many workers must agree to forego their right to act together in a class-action lawsuit when they suffer wage and hour theft, sexual harassment , racial discrimination, or a host of other workplace violations.

Forced arbitration is inherently unfair, pitting the individual worker against corporate power in a dispute-resolution procedure established by the employer. Denial of class-action lawsuits prevents workers suffering a shared complaint from acting together to seek redress in the courts.

A counter to this corporate attack upon workers’ right exists: the union

Union members do not suffer this injustice. Union members can act together under provisions of their collectively bargained grievance procedures or as a unit in the courts. Union members’ right to act jointly is secured by the National Labor Relations Act.
“Unionization offers the only effective response to this corporate strategy of required arbitration,” wrote Martin Hart-Landsberg, Prof. Emeritus of Economics at Lewis & Clark College. Writing for StreetRoots, Prof. Hart-Landsberg noted growing support for unions among young workers and increased union militancy with community involvement.

Educating nonunion workers about this unionized workplace advantage is critical. Union organizers now have another argument for joining a union.