This Label Letter carries more news of the Trump administration’s continued attacks on working people, but that’s not the big story.
The big news is fighting back against Trumpian repression. The big news is unions fighting for the health and safety of healthcare workers in the face of Federal government inaction, ineptitude and misinformation during a pandemic.
The big news is the Puerto Rico education system rescue mission organized by the AFT and joined by numerous other unions. This effort is but one of many similar public service campaigns organized or assisted by the Labor Movement.
Our newsletter also has the responses of workers who said “I’m Union because….” The statements range from wages and benefits to speaking to power, from respect in the workplace to solidarity. These are tough times but the comments indicate a spirit that matches the situations we face as working people.
Finally in addition to useful Do Buy information about UAW-built autos, we have a Fact Sheet about the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
More information about the virus is available at www.cdc.go/COVID19. Stay abreast of the news about the virus from reliable sources. Misinformation and scams are spreading with the virus.
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.
It’s nice to have friends and allies and supporters. But for some it’s even nicer, if more costly, to have cronies. Cronies, not buddies, who have the political power to bestow favors on those who can fill their campaign war chests, fund their PACS and hire their spouses and family members.
What kind of favors can these cronies give? First and foremost: tax cuts that benefit the richest Americans and corporations; deregulation of safety and health, environmental and workplace standards; attacks on public education to gain more tax cuts and promote private education; and reducing financial safeguards to prevent another Great Recession or worse.
The cronies also reward their patrons with endless assaults on workers’ rights and the unions that represent them. Some cronies support rolling back such social policies as protective child labor laws. And, of course, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and other programs that benefit the majority of Americans. Obliterating or limiting these programs would enable the richest, the so-called 1%, to become even richer. Cronies aim to please their donors.
But working people don’t have cronies. We do have each other and our unions, if we are lucky enough to belong to one.
As the 2020 elections loom larger and larger, we have a chance to confront cronyism and find political leaders unattached to the oligarchs. We should evaluate all candidates closely before we adorn them with a Union Label. ■
Activist union teachers around the country continue to stack up victories and anti-union legislators continue to oppose workers’ union rights, as in Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) introduction of a national right-to-work bill.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Lest we forget: the Trump administration issued executive orders attacking government employee unions, interfering with their ability to perform their responsibilities to union members. The unions went to court to reverse the actions limiting the basic rights of federal employees.
The much-dreaded Janus decision was rendered in favor of its anti-union plaintiffs. And then, guess what. Union membership did not decrease, it increased. Non-member government workers chose to join the union when they realized that having a strong defender in the workplace outweighed not paying union dues.
Graduate students at various universities (including Brandeis and Harvard) are intent on joining the more than 30 other graduate student unions. Hotel workers on the West Coast are fighting for their rights.
Workers at New Era Cap Company’s Derby, Pa., factory, makers of iconic Major Leagues Baseball players’ caps, are supported by MLB players in their opposition to sending their jobs to a non-union plant.
Sean Doolittle of the Washington Nationals has this to say about his support of the New Era workers: “union membership is not the sole guarantor of job security and a living wage, but nonunion factory workers do not enjoy the same protections as union workers. They’re subject to exploitation, underpayment and lower standards of workplace safety — which is also often the case for manufacturing workers outside the United States.” The Major Leagues Baseball Players Association has called for keeping New Era’s union plant open.
The more things change, the more solidarity matters. ■
Assaults on the First Amendment continue as Republicans tried again unsuccessfully to pass Marco Rubio’s Combating BDS Act, a measure designed to protect Israel. Unfortunately, an act that criminalizes boycotts in one sphere may lead to criminalization of other boycotts and protests.
Reactionaries in state legislatures have enacted similar legislation to Rubio’s proposal. Legal restrictions on protests and demonstrations are becoming more common. Although frequently aimed at environmentalists, these restrictive laws can be expanded to include other protests including labor protests.
Attacks on Labor’s right to protest are a matter of record. The history of the Labor Movement is rife with accounts of legalized repression by reactionary politicians and their backers. If the First Amendment is infringed upon proponents of one cause, what guarantees its sanctity when infringed upon by another interest?
In Los Angeles, 30,000 teachers were striking for a reduction in class sizes, improvements in safety, accountability of charter schools and increases in wages and benefits commensurate with the skyrocketing cost of living in Los Angeles. LA’s striking teachers used their rights guaranteed by the first Amendment. Protecting those rights is a vital concern for the Labor Movement.
The boycott, the strike, the informational picket, leafletting and other actions and communications are the mainstays of protest and social progress. The First Amendment enshrines these activities as basic rights. They must be protected. Any doubt about the need to protect these rights disappears upon reading this Label Letter, numerous workers express their fear of retaliation for expressing workplace dissatisfaction.
The so-called “blue wave” that swept many Democrats and Progressives into office on November 6 contained a less-noticed labor wave. Not only were many of the successful candidates, who frequently washed away reactionary incumbents supported by the Labor Movement, but many were actually current or former union members.
This is an accomplishment on which to build. This election provides a model for the next election, a presidential election featuring a load of Republican Senate seats that can be flipped by candidates who support workers’ rights.
With more than 800 Labor-backed candidates winning in 2018, we expect policy changes at many levels of government. So do the voters, union and general public alike. All across the country, healthcare was a major, possibly determinative issue.
Healthcare is a concern for Americans in many ways: access and affordability being foremost. Those politicians who opposed protecting us against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions frequently and fortunately paid the price at the ballot box this year.
Labor has other matters to press. Perhaps first should be the end to voter suppression, especially affecting minorities, because progressive politics would have been even more successful if all eligible voters had been able to vote.
Moving on to a legislative agenda, the issues of protecting and expanding Medicare and Medicaid are crucial. Defending Social Security from right-wingers who want to roll back FDR’s New Deal is another imperative. Protecting prevailing wage laws is one more critical initiative.
Our allies should press for infrastructure funding and for legislation to address climate change, the harmful effects of which are now visible as fires and floods across the United States.
The 2018 election was a re-start. Let’s make use of it and keep the momentum. ■