Tag Archives: Labor

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SLU Students In Action: Brian’s Story

By Brian Fleurantin, M.A. in Urban Studies Program

For the past year, I’ve been working as a Care Manager at Housing Works. In that time, I’ve worked with various clients across New York City assisting them with finding housing, access benefits, etc. It’s rewarding, yet challenging work. Beyond the daily challenges of work, various conditions I and my coworkers have experienced led to us working with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to form a union and walking off our jobs on October 29th.

Being there in that moment, speaking at the rally, and discussing work-related issues with my co-workers has been an eye-opening experience for me. I’ve gotten to see firsthand what my fellow coworkers have gone through and have used the things I’ve learned at SLU to work in solidarity with my colleagues to fix our work environments. It’s been difficult, especially with management reverting to classic union-busting tactics, but we as workers have been able to counteract their tactics and show the truth of what’s going on. It’s also been amazing to see the support we’ve gotten outside of the company, from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams all the way up to U.S. Senator and recent presidential candidate Kamala Harris. I feel very proud to be standing in solidarity with my co-workers and union workers across the country and around the world.

Click on these links to learn more about our walk-out:

Video: Going Big: Reversing Trump’s Agenda & Modernizing Labor Rights

On Friday, November 15th, SLU hosted a Labor Forum on the future of labor rights. 135 people attended to hear how the labor movement can fight for workers’ rights and protections while the Trump administration continues to attempt to roll them back.

Featured speakers included:

  • Randi Weingarten — President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
  • Steven Greenhouse — Veteran New York Times labor journalist and author of the new book, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.
  • Vincent Alvarez – President of NYC Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Although union density is near an all-time low, labor activism has surged in many sectors. From adjunct faculty to video game developers, digital media workers, platform app drivers, and public school teachers, labor movement activism is growing in a number of key sectors. This is happening as many full-time jobs with benefits are disappearing, consumer/student debt is skyrocketing, the “gig economy” is expanding, and economic insecurity is increasing for American workers and families. Housing and child care costs – which heavily impact workers’ income, wealth, and health – have also become more burdensome for many families. Under President Trump, a number of worker rights and protections have been weakened or denied, including:

• No movement toward federal minimum wage increase

• Weak overtime protections for salaried workers

• Allowing employers to self-report wage violations and escape penalties • Siding with employers against rights of gay and transgender workers

• (Mis)classifying Uber drivers and others as independent contractors, denying them basic rights

• Continuing ‘Right-to-Work’ efforts kickstarted by Supreme Court’s Janus decision

• Restricting workers’ right to organize at franchised businesses like McDonald’s

• De-funding and weakening OSHA

What should be Democrats’ top policy priorities to strengthen all workers’ rights? What are the most significant gaps and weaknesses in protections for worker organizing and economic rights today? ‘Right-to-work’ laws? Legal constraints against strikes and other worker actions? Minimum wage? The growing numbers of workers who fall outside the protections of the NLRA? Lack of livable safety net benefits for displaced and underemployed workers? Lack of protections for flex/gig workers? What new policies would best promote stronger worker protections and greater economic justice?

New Labor Forum Highlights: November 2019

The New Labor Forum has a monthly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

Two historically important strikes came to a close last week, as 49,000 GM workers returned to work after the longest national work stoppage against the automaker in half a century; and 25,000 teachers and 7,500 school employees headed back to Chicago schools after landmark gains in negotiations with the city. Part of a rising tide of victorious strikes during the past two years, these workplace actions represent advancements worth noting in both public and private sector bargaining.

With $8.1 billion in earnings at GM in 2018 and $1.5 million in annual salary going to chief executive Mary Barra, UAW members were hell-bent on sharing in the company’s reversal of fortune since the Great Recession. A primary bargaining concern for workers was to raise the abysmal wages at the low end of their multi-tier contract, which included both temporary workers and “in progression workers” hired after 2007. A hallmark divide and conquer tool of management, multi-tier wage scales sell out the unborn by establishing lower wages and benefits for new hires, thus undermining worker solidarity and, in effect, giving employers reason to target older, more expensive workers. Undoing a multi-tier contract, which is precisely what UAW members managed to do, requires a heightened level of worker solidarity, given the need to direct contract gains toward workers on the lower end, in this case roughly 37% of the GM workforce. This sort of egalitarianism, heightened solidarity, and militancy in the private sector, the core of our economy, bodes well for a labor movement struggling to revive itself.

The Chicago Teachers Union − a leader in experimentation with a promising new strategy called Bargaining for the Common Good − won major concessions last week from the city in the form of contract language that went well beyond traditional negotiations over wages and benefits. Putting the demands of their community-based allies on the bargaining table, the union won lower class sizes and guarantees that every school will employ a nurse and social worker, as well as 120 new counselors, restorative justice coordinators and librarians in the highest-need schools, and improved staffing in bilingual and special education. These demands, including an unmet bargaining demand for affordable housing, make the union an increasingly powerful voice in policy-level concerns that impact educational outcomes. The strategic advance of Bargaining for the Common Good in the public sector presents a dramatic advance in joining the interests of worker and tax-payers in securing well-funded, equitable, high quality public services. The CTU strike, joined by SEIU Local 73, points the way in that direction.

With this installment of the newsletter, we offer a New Labor Forum article by Jobs with Justice Executive Director Erica Smiley that assesses organized labor’s growing militancy and innovation during the last year. We also bring to your attention to new publication from Labor Notes , “How to Strike and Win ,” which seeks to encourage and inform the rising tide of strikes by providing analysis and resources for unions and workers contemplating how, why and when to use the strike weapon.

Table of Contents

  1. Crisis, Creativity, and a Labor Movement Revival /  Erica Smiley, New Labor Forum
  2. How to Strike and Win/ Labor Notes, November 2019 Issue

Photo by Charles Edward Miller via flickr (cc-by-sa)

New Labor Forum Highlights: June 10th, 2019

The New Labor Forum has a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

In the current issue of New Labor Forum , columnist Sarah Jaffe covers a very bright spot in the contemporary labor movement: the impressive union organizing taking place at digital media outlets around the country. Beginning in 2010 with Truthout, the first digital newsroom to organize, then since 2015, a wave of unionization has taken place at outlets that include: Gawker, The Onion, The Dodo, Gizmodo Media Group, HuffPost, Mic.com, Thrillist, Mic, Jacobin, Fast Company, The Onion, BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Slate, Salon, the Intercept, MTV News, and the fashion site Refinery29.

Campaigns with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) and NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America (CWA) have been led largely by millenials and, as Steven Greenhouse reports in an article in NiemanLab included here, have focused on raising abysmal starting wages, improving benefits packages, and protecting workers from the precarity that characterizes the industry. And according to TeenVogue columnist Kim Kelly − who figures in Jaffe’s and Greenhouse’s reporting and spoke at a CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies forum – collective bargaining at these media outlets has also begun to make strides toward improving workplace culture and bringing about “the world we think we want.” New digital media union members continue to experiment with their own feisty and innovative organizing to secure labor contracts. For instance, just last Thursday at Vox Media, approximately 300 workers stayed out of work to pressure the company to settle a contract that’s been in negotiation since April of last year. The dearth of fresh content to post left the company high and dry for the day and seems likely to spur a settlement.

Table of Contents
  1. The Labor Movement Comes to Virtual Reality: Unionizing Digital Media/ Sarah Jaffe,New Labor Forum
  2. Why are digital newsrooms unionizing now?/ Steven Greenhouse, Nieman Lab
  3. The Next Generation: Young Workers Building Movements/ The Murphy Institute, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies

Photo by lizsmith via flickr (cc-by-nc-nd)

Union Semester Student Bailey Miller Wins Labor Journalism Contest

Each year, the Metro New York Labor Journalism Council gives out awards for student labor journalism. And this year, the winner for written article was SLU student Bailey Miller, who wrote about “body shops,” labor-leasing companies that exploit formerly incarcerated workers, and which are proliferating on construction sites throughout New York City. Her article is reproduced below. Congratulations, Bailey!

The Rise of Labor-Leasing Companies and the Exploitation of Formerly Incarcerated Workers in New York City

By Bailey Miller

Construction in New York City is booming, but beneath the glitter and shine of new buildings, a troubling trend has emerged. An expanding class of labor-leasing companies, known as “body shops”, is providing general contractors with workforces of formerly incarcerated people for exploitive construction sites across the five boroughs. Body shops pay barely minimum wage, offer no benefits like medical coverage, and provide minimal safety training for workers to erect scaffolds, clear debris, and perform other types of work on the cheap. The rise of body shops means that formerly incarcerated workers, who are disproportionately Black, are increasingly exploited to perform the dangerous work of erecting New York City’s luxury towers and shopping complexes.   Continue reading Union Semester Student Bailey Miller Wins Labor Journalism Contest

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