Working In These Times

Tuesday, Jun 2, 2015, 11:10 am  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Politicians Keep Promising Free Trade Agreements Can Protect Workers. We Should Stop Believing Them.

Democratic and Republican presidents alike have all sworn in the last two decades that protections for workers in trade agreements would be strictly enforced. But none of it was true. (b.wu / Flickr)  

It’s all the rage now for Republican presidential candidates to spurn the Royal Romney approach and, instead, to fawn over workers.

When former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum announced his presidential bid last week, he did it from a factory floor and called for increasing the minimum wage. Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who also launched his candidacy last week, named as his political inspiration Teddy Roosevelt, a corporate trust-buster and working class hero. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who entered the race in April, said that to win elections, “You’ve got to get the people who work for the people who own businesses.”

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Monday, Jun 1, 2015, 2:44 pm  ·  By Mario Vasquez

30,000 Teachers Walk Out in Protest of Big Class Sizes in Washington State

Since late April, Washington state teachers have been striking for reduced class sizes and better funding for classroom programs. (Washington Educators Association / Facebook)  

On Tuesday, May 19, thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Seattle to support a rolling strike by public school teachers across Washington state. The teachers are protesting what they say are unacceptably high class sizes and low pay, stemming from their state legislature’s failure to fully fund public education.

Six thousand teachers and supporters from Seattle Public Schools and the nearby districts of Mercer Island and Issaquah shut down intersections for blocks in the largest coordinated action since the rolling walkout began on April 22. In total, at least 30,000 teachers in 65 striking school districts have participated in one-day strikes.

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Friday, May 29, 2015, 2:12 pm  ·  By Julia Kann

California Walmart Workers Go on Hunger Strike After Stores Closed in ‘Retaliation’ for Organizing

Workers set up camp outside a Los Angeles Walmart this week and held a one-day fast to protest the corporation’s "retaliation" against their organizing.  

This post first appeared at Labor Notes.

With tents and sleeping bags in tow, workers set up camp outside a Los Angeles Walmart this week and held a one-day fast to protest the corporation’s retaliation against their organizing.

Walmart recently closed five stores, including one in Pico Rivera, California, where workers were especially active in OUR Walmart, the Food and Commercial Workers-backed effort to boost standards at the retail giant. 

Walmart management asserted the stores were having plumbing issues. But workers said the Pico Rivera closure was retaliation for their organizing. The UFCW has filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, and workers are keeping up protests despite some recent cuts to the campaign’s funding.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 4:54 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Daniel Tobin and the Rise of the Teamsters Union

Tobin, left, was the president of the Teamsters for 45 years.  

When Daniel J. Tobin was inducted in the Labor Hall of Fame last week, few modern Americans had any idea who he was.

This is understandable, as Tobin, who died in 1955, retired uneventfully from the Teamsters union more than 60 years ago. And even in his heyday as a labor leader in the New Deal and World War II eras, he was overshadowed by more flamboyant union figures like John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, or Harry Bridges of the West Coast longshore workers. But Tobin well deserves recognition in the Hall of Fame, according to some modern observers, for laying the foundations for one of the country’s largest and most powerful unions.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 12:13 pm  ·  By Steve Early

​Why Labor Should Get Behind Bernie Sanders in the Primary Elections

Bernie Sanders during his 1981 campaign mayor of Burlington, Vermont. (Vermont Press Bureau)  

This post first appeared at Jacobin.

When I first met Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders, he was a relatively marginal figure in his adopted state of Vermont. It was 1976 and he was running, unsuccessfully and for the fourth time, as a candidate of the Liberty Union Party (LUP).

Liberty Union was a radical third party spearheaded by opponents of the Vietnam War who had, like Sanders, washed up in the Green Mountain State as the sixties subsided. At its historic peak, the LUP garnered maybe 5 or 6 percent of the statewide vote for some of its more presentable candidates—in short, nothing like the winning margins racked up in recent years by the far more savvy and effective Vermont Progressive Party, which now boasts a ten-member legislature delegation and attracts growing union support.

During Sanders’s quixotic mid-1970s bid to become governor of Vermont, I accompanied him to a meeting of local granite cutters, teamsters and electrical workers. This was not a “flatlander” crowd, nor one dominated by full-time union officials. His audience was native Vermonters, some of them Republican, who were still punching a clock at local quarries, trucking companies and machine tool factories in an era when the future home state of Ben & Jerry’s and Vermont Teddy Bear Co. still had impressive blue-collar union density.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 12:58 pm  ·  By Andrew Klein

LA’s Min. Wage Will Be $15 by 2020. But This Bay Area City’s Minimum Will Be $14.44 By July.

Fast food workers at a Fight for $15 protest in Oakland, where a coalition of unions and other progressive organizations pushed through a ballot measure that Emeryville used as a template for their own campaign to raise the minimum wage.   (Steve Rhodes / Flickr)

With proposals to raise the federal minimum wage languishing in Congress, cities are increasingly taking matters into their own hands and leapfrogging ahead of the current national rate of $7.25. On May 19, Los Angeles became the largest city in the country to approve a $15 hourly minimum wage—one of several California cities including San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego which have recently passed substantial wage hikes. Seattle, Washington, set the precedent in June 2014, pledging to raise its minimum to $15 over the next two to seven years, depending on the size of the company.

Most of the increases will be implemented gradually over several years. LA’s minimum wage, for example, will reach $15 by 2020. But earlier this month, one small California city decided that its low-wage workers shouldn’t have to wait that long for a living wage. This summer, Emeryville will set a new national precedent when its minimum wage surges to nearly double the federal rate.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 11:42 am  ·  By Amien Essif

A View of Germany’s Economy from Die Linke, the Left Party

Klaus Ernst, co-chairperson of the German parliament and a member of the German Left Party, Die Linke, discusses labor issues and the economy throughout Europe and Germany. (Amien Essif)  

On the wall outside the entrance to German Member of Parliament Klaus Ernst’s office is a picket sign that reads: “We start from Greece. We change Europe.” Underneath it is a large bottle of Champagne sitting atop a bookshelf. Ernst’s secretary assures me the bubbly has nothing to do with the slogan above, but it’s no secret that while it may have unsettled Germany’s conservative chancellor Angela Merkel, the ascendance of Greece’s left party Syriza was a cause for celebration within Germany’s left party, Die Linke, which currently has about 10 percent of the seats in the German parliament.

Klaus Ernst, a former secretary of IG Metall, Germany’s largest union, was an active member of the center-left Social Democratic Party for 30 years until disagreements over a set of neoliberal reforms put forth by the party in 2003 known as “Agenda 2010” led to his expulsion and encouraged him to move leftward.

After joining the Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice—which later merged with other left groups to form Die Linke (the Left Party)—Ernst was elected to Germany’s parliament (the Bundestag) in 2005 and has served as co-chairperson of the party since 2010.

Ernst sat down with Working In These Times to talk about issues effecting workers in Europe’s largest economy.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 11:41 am  ·  By Marc Daalder

Milwaukee Public Schools Staffer Suspended After Flipping Off Union Organizer

The photograph that led to Erbert Johnson's suspension. (Joseph Brusky / MTEA)  

Erbert Johnson, chief of staff for Darienne Driver, the Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent, has been put on paid administrative leave and is being investigated for “unprofessional behavior.” The behavior in question was Johnson’s flipping the middle finger at a packed School Board budget meeting. This action was caught by the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association’s (MTEA) social media organizer, Joe Brusky.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 11:11 am  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Forced Trade and the Damaging Effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Many workers are being forced out of jobs and dealing with the lingering effects of Fast Tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, including 1,600 workers from the Galesburg, IL Maytag Factory. (Chad Broughton)  

Senators who voted last week to Fast Track ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) call it a free trade deal, but really, it’s forced trade imposed on protesting American workers who have endured its damaging effects for decades.   

Under the free trade regime, rich and powerful corporate interests have hauled in ever-higher profits as they shipped manufacturing overseas to low-wage, no-environmental-regulation countries. Meanwhile, American workers lost jobs, health benefits, income and all sense of stability.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 11:00 am  ·  By Samantha Winslow

Hawaii Teachers Union Reformers: Old Guard Rejected Election “Because They Didn’t Like” Results

Members of the Hawaii Teachers for Change ran for spots on the Hawaii State Teachers Association Board but the union is refusing to let them take office. (Labor Notes)  

This post first appeared at Labor Notes.

Remember the Hawaii teachers who in 2012 led a statewide work-to-rule campaign against low pay? This spring they won the top three spots in the Hawaii State Teachers Association—but the union’s board of directors is refusing to let them take office.

The board has kept the vote results secret, citing vague irregularities—and ordered a new election.

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