All Articles Tagged "union"
As this day draws to a close we reflect on the many historic commemorations that took place: the second inauguration of President Obama, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and, of course, the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Among the many things that Dr. King stood for was worker’s rights and economic justice. MNSBC’s blog for The Ed Show reminds us of this, with a look at the 1968 strike of Memphis sanitation workers.
Echol Cole and Robert Walker had been killed on the job in February of that year and given only a small bereavement fee by the state of Mississippi. It was one more slight against black workers who were expected to work with old equipment for little pay. It also became what MSNBC calls a “catalyst” for a strike in which black sanitation workers in the city sought to unionize.
“[T]he 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike plays, at best, a tertiary role in the popular narrative of King’s legacy—this despite the fact that it was his last campaign, the battle which cost him his life. When Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, he was staying in a Memphis motel. The last speech of his life, the famous ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech, had been delivered the night before to an audience of striking workers and their supporters,” the blog says.
Ultimately, Dr. King’s great fight was for civil rights of all kinds. In a climate in which black workers were doing tough jobs for no money, this strike falls under the umbrella that covers the larger fight that Dr. King engaged in and led. But as the blog points out, Dr. King recognized the singular importance of economic equality.
“Dr. King became involved in the strike as he was working to launch the Poor People’s Campaign, an effort which would explicitly highlight the link between racial and economic justice,” writes the MSNBC blog. “He fought for union recognition because he understood racism and economic inequality as intimately connected phenomena: mutually reinforcing evils in an even larger tapestry of injustices.”
As we celebrate Dr. King, we should remember the many fronts on which he fought.
The country has been consumed with the news that “right-to-work” legislation was signed into law in Michigan on Tuesday evening. “The pair of new laws, which make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state, make it harder for its workers to organize and to maintain power because workers covered by union contracts will no longer be required to pay dues,” explains NBC News. Less money means weakened unions. And it gives companies the power to hire non-union workers.
The number of union members has been steadily dropping in recent years, to 14.8 million people, or 11.8 percent of workers, NBC News reports. (The article blames the loss of auto jobs to globalization.) But even with their number diminished, unions still hold political sway. This law, and many Republican lawmakers, seek to diminish them further.
“Those who oppose unions say that’s a victory for businesses who want more flexibility in how they manage their work forces, and for workers who don’t want to be constrained by union rules or collective bargaining agreements. That, they say, will ultimately create more jobs and help the state’s economy,” NBC News continues.
The unions, of course, aren’t buying this, so they’re already plotting to reverse these laws or dump the politicians who support them out of office. Talking Points Memo lays out the options in further detail. The Atlantic is banking on union attempts to boot Republican governors from office.
“Many Republican governors in the industrial Rust Belt are aggressively challenging union power, and hoping to see the fruits of their own labor rewarded. For a Michigan governor to sign antilabor legislation and live to tell the tale would be truly historic, in the birthplace of America’s labor movement,” that website reports.
“These upcoming gubernatorial races will be a test for how much influence labor can still muster,” the article continues.
The Michigan Chronicle argues that right-to-work laws would actually benefit black workers.
“The fact is that, contrary to the “scare tactics” of union bosses, Right to Work Laws do not give employers the ability to fire employees ‘at will,’ making Black workers especially vulnerable to losing their jobs,” the outlet says. “A Right to Work Law empowers workers, giving them the option to choose whether or not to join unions without suffering backlash, such as employer or union retaliation. The law also means that workers may resign union membership, when they so choice, devoid of any consequence.”
The article argues that in neighboring states with right-to-work laws, per-capital income has grown significantly more than in Michigan. And in Detroit, the black population makes up 84 percent of the total population. Unemployment in the city is 17 percent, according to the article.
On the flip side, Slate magazine questions the numbers that are continuously pushed out by right-to-work supporters. The article quotes numbers from Fox News that puts the unemployment rate in right-to-work states at 6.9 percent vs. a national average of 7.9 percent vs. 7.6 percent in non-right-to-work states. Calling the numbers “impossible,” the site says that while the employment rate in right-to-work states might be a little higher, the cause hasn’t been established. And the article reiterates the message of the picture above and the Economic Policy Institute: workers in right-to-work states make $1,500 less annually than those in non-right-to-work states.
The same organization also says that black male union workers earn $2.60 more per hour than non-union black males, and women, $2.25 more per hour.
Workers across the country have been more actively protesting low wages and long hours in recent weeks. Walmart staffers raised their voices over schedules that had them in stores on Thanksgiving Day. And today there will be an international day of action. Port workers in Los Angeles went on strike. And fast-food workers in New York have been protesting wages — $7.25 per hour with a median annual income of $18,230, according to Daily Finance. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show that more older people — 28 and older, in general; 32 and older for women — are working these jobs. Some even have college credits under their belt. The headline on this Bloomberg story paints the picture: “McDonald’s $8.25 Man and $8.75 Million CEO Shows Pay Gap.” Tyree Johnson, who works at two McD’s restaurants and has been an employee of the company for 20 years, struggles to pay for his single-room occupancy home. The protesters were asking for $15 per hour.
“[S]ome protesters also hope to improve their bargaining power by gaining recognition for a new union, called the Fast Food Workers Committee, that would represent fast-food workers at a variety of restaurants,” writes Daily Finance. “[Organizer Jonathan] Westin claimed that last week’s strikes demonstrated to workers that they could strike without losing their jobs, and predicted that this would lead to increased employee involvement in future protests and build momentum for the movement.”
In other words, workers whose place on the corporate totem pole is low are finding strength in numbers and seek out the kind of support and cohesion that a single voice — like the one offered by a union — offers. If you read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair in high school, you’ll recall that many of the same issues were discussed when that book was published in 1906 — workers coming together to fight for fair pay and better working conditions. Would this lower revenues for these corporate giants and their executives? Sure (but they’d still be super-rich). Does that mean there might be fewer items on the dollar menu? Yep. But is it better for individuals and society as a whole when people make a living wage? Absolutely.
Part of the problem, The Daily Beast points out, are the unions themselves. They’ve failed to detail the modern-day significance of unions and the labor movement.
[Unions] drive up the cost of doing business, we hear, though unmentioned is that higher wages mean a stronger local economy. Unions are corrupt, we hear, though that’s a hard stone to cast for anyone living in a glass mansion built by the banking and investment industries, or with the ill-gotten gains from corporate insider trading. Even odder is to hear that argument from working-class people, who have bought into the notion that “right to work” actually has something to do with workplace freedom.
Now, as in the past, unions stand for workers who, on their own, couldn’t possibly bargain with the huge corporations that hold their livelihoods in their hands. The fight is on and neither side is backing down.
For a second day, class is not in session at public schools across Chicago as a result of a teacher’s strike that’s having far-reaching implications. The work stoppage — the first in 25 years — is affecting about 350,000 students in that city. According to Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane (who rails against the striking teachers), 85 percent of these students are African American or Latino (about 42 percent are black, according to Reuters). And just about the same percentage receive reduced-price or free meals, meaning they live at or near the poverty line.
The average public school teacher earns $76,000 per year according to the school board and the school system is currently running at a $700 million deficit. The union had asked for a 29 percent pay raise over the next four years. The district, after negotiating, offered 16 percent over that same period of time.
But it’s not just a case of the big, bad, self-serving unions making obscene demands. While politicians are talking up the benefits of a shift to charter schools away from “dismal urban schools,” reports Reuters,” teachers see themselves fighting for their livelihoods now and into the future.
“Many teachers… see the new policies as a brazen attempt to shift public resources into private hands, to break the power of teachers unions, and to reduce the teaching profession to test preparation,” Reuters reports.
While the unions have been willing to bend on pay, they have been rigid about certain provisions that speak to a level of job protection, such as giving principals more authority over hiring and firing and the “last in, first out” policies. (Lengthening the school day was among some of the other changes on the table.) The Reuters story goes on to say that teacher demographics in that city have already changed with the rise of charter schools, decreasing the number of minority teachers.
“Today, just 19 percent of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, down from 45 percent in 1995, the union says; organizers fear that shift means fewer teachers have deep roots in and passion for the communities where they work,” the story says.
Moreover, they argue that tying a teacher’s job to student performance is unfair, as many students have socioeconomic issues outside of the school system’s control that impact their education. The discussion about school reform is one that many school districts across the country are having.
The situation also raises political questions for Chicago’s Mayor (and former chief of staff to President Obama) Rahm Emanuel, as well as the President himself. Mayor Emanuel and the teacher’s union have had a tense relationship over the past few months. A separate Washington Post article calls the strike ”the boldest confrontation yet involving one of a growing number of Democratic mayors who have been pressuring unions to accept policy changes.” And in an election year, when the President needs the support of unions, this could create a chasm between the two. A number of major union organizations, including the SEIU, have donated millions to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that supports the President’s re-election effort.
It’s important to note the benefits to the black community that unions have afforded. The “union premium,” which ThinkProgress defines as “an increase in wages for workers who belong to a labor union compared to workers who are not organized,” has bumped up the pay of black unionized workers by a significant percentage – $2.60 per hour. That increases their pay by 17.3 percent over black non-union workers.
“Black men who belong to a union see a 20 percent increase over the normal wage; for black women, the increase is 14.8 percent,” the article says. The gains are even more significant for Latino workers.
Moreover, the site (which, it should be said, is a liberal blog) credits unions with aiding the black community through already tough economic times in which it has experienced higher-than-average unemployment rates.
Seeing an opportunity, Mitt Romney has released a statement against the unions, a stance which has proven successful for other Republican politicians, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet,” the statement says. “President Obama has chosen his side in this fight.” The President hasn’t made a statement.
Finally, of course, there are the parents and students, who find themselves struggling to make do with alternative arrangements. Some parents have taken their kids to schools offering activities in lieu of classwork, but other parents don’t want to cross the picket line. Some parents have had to take the day off to look after their kids. Others take their kids to work with them. Talks continue, but there’s no word of a resolution.
(AP) — The start of the NBA season was thrown into doubt Tuesday after players and owners made no progress at a key labor meeting, with no further talks scheduled. Union executive director Billy Hunter says players were prepared to make a “significant” financial move, but found owners unwilling to budge off their positions.