City Works is a NEW monthly news magazine program produced by the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies (SLU) in collaboration with CUNY TV and hosted by Laura Flanders. The show’s mission is to create is a visual and thematic presentation of work, workers and worker organizations, employing topical examinations of the changing nature of work, tributes to unsung heroes, and analysis of the enduring challenges faced by workers. The show will spotlight the vast array of occupations of working people across New York City, and explore individual and collective efforts to make a better life for workers and a more prosperous and equitable society.
On this month’s show…
Randi Weingarten; Chicago Teachers Union Vice President
Stacy Davis Gates on the strikes of 2019 and what comes next.
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.
The global video game industry – catering to 2.5 billion gamers across the world who annually purchase upwards of $152 billion in games – has become a new site of labor organizing. The mostly young people who carry out the game design, programming, aesthetics, and quality assurance for games like Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and World of Warcraft, are finding reasons aplenty to unite as workers. Having largely grown up without an experience of unions, their passion for video games has run headlong into the 50 to 70-hour work weeks (known as “crunch”) that are common in the industry prior to a game’s release. Often these hours go unpaid or underpaid. And once the games are released, mass layoffs are common, and those who have contributed to the game’s development often find their names missing from the credit rolls.
In the current issue of New Labor Forum, Jamie Woodcock describes nascent worker organizing in the U.K. that arose outside of traditional union channels, largely on-line, foregrounding demands for worker control more so than for wage increases. Woodcock assesses the use of social media as an organizing tool and conjectures on the lessons the UK campaign offers to game workers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Recent self-organizing among game workers in the U.S. has, in fact, spurred the formation in early January of the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees launched by the Communication Workers of America. We offer an article from the L.A. Times that describes that budding effort. And we conclude with a talk by Jamie Woodcock on his book, Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle.
Table of Contents
Organizing in the Game Industry: The Story of Game Workers Unite U.K. / Jamie Woodcock, New Labor Forum
Major union launches campaign to organize video game and tech workers / Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times
Video: Jamie Woodcock presents Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle / Jamie Woodcock
On January 28th, following 10 months of failed negotiations, nearly 8,000 employees of Swedish Health Services, all members of SEIU 1199 Northwest—a union representing more than 30,000 nurses and healthcare workers throughout Washington State and Montana—walked out on a three-day strike. Right there on the picket lines with them was SLU alumna Mia Ragozino.
Ragozino, who earned her Masters in Labor Studies in 2019, recently joined SEIU 1199NW as an organizer. “SEIU 1199 was a good fit for me,” said Mia. “It’s an organizing union with a racial justice lens and a concernfor workers’ safety.” She said the strike was a last resort in the union’s fight for not just fair compensation, but for adequate staffing and patient safety. “Since corporate giant Providence took over the Swedish healthcare system, management has prioritized profits and executive pay over patients’ needs and workers’ rights.” She noted that three presidential candidates had tweeted in support of the walk-out, including Senators Sanders, Warren, and Pete Buttigieg.
Mia says her learning experiences at SLU prepared her well for her current role. “SLU prioritizes the education of people and workers of color. And learning about the history of the labor movement was a huge eye-opener for me.” After SLU, Mia attended Cornell ILR’s summer institute for strategic corporate research. While there, she learned about the job with SEIU 1199NW.
Mia credits Professor Stephanie Luce with not only inspiring her, but for recommending her for the position in Seattle. “She was a role model for me,” said Mia, “and she helped me get started in the career I always wanted to pursue. It all came together at SLU.”
Professor Luce returned the compliment: “It was a joy to have Mia as a student,” she said. “Her energy and passion for social justice inspired other students as well as me. Given her sharp mind and research skills, SEIU 1199NW is lucky to have her!”
Read more about the SEIU 1199 healthcare workers’ strike here.
In New York and California, museums are getting unionized. And if organizers have anything to say about it, this is a trend that’s going to spread. Last month, SLU alum and IUOE Local 30 Director of Special Projects Andres Puerta went on Museum Confidential to discuss the recent wave — and where we might go from here. Check it out.
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:
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?
A conversation about workers, communities and social justice