New Network for Social Justice Unionism Seeks to Change the Labor Movement

Chicago schools march by Sarah Jane Rhee - Love + Struggle Photos

Rank and file labor leaders announced for the first time the creation of the Network for Social Justice Unionism (NSJU), a new infrastructure that unionists concerned with advancing social justice beyond the workplace hope to use to organize for a shift in the way the labor movement operates. The NSJU seeks to encourage the creation of social justice caucuses in union locals across the nation and to establish working relationships between those caucuses to be able to support each other’s struggles. Together, these caucuses hope to create an movement inside of organized labor that pushes union leaders across the country to do more to see that union power benefits not just workers themselves, but also the communities that unions are embedded in and rely upon. The NSJU effort has its roots in recent struggles for change led by teachers, but seeks to encourage workers of all kinds to commit to lending their knowledge, resources, and influence to other ongoing struggles for justice beyond their workplaces.

The Changing Face of Labor

Stop war on workers

The Wobblies, my friends, refers to the IWW, and for those of us whose standard education conveniently glossed over this knowledge, that stands for International Workers of the World. It was not a glorified title of a handful of disgruntled activists. It was – and still is – a description of the common fate of the world’s workers. Today, labor organizers like Richard Monje and activists like the Occupiers recognize that the struggle continues to be global. When US workers went on strike against toxins and the jobs went overseas to poison others – that was not justice for workers. When we protested pollution and the smokestacks closed over our cities, but rose to pollute Beijing – that was not justice for workers. When we demanded healthcare, shorter hours and better wages only to see our offices outsourced to India – that was not justice for our workers or theirs. When we were sold our identity as consumers, but then lost our ability to buy in – that was not justice for workers. When we see the same destructive cycle being packaged up for the rest of the world, we know that is not justice for workers, humanity, or the planet.

How To Start A Workers Co-operative

Cooperative hire ourselves

We believe that we are in the midst of economic and political transformation. There are many aspects to the changes people are helping to make happen. On the economic side we advocate for economic democracy — where people have greater control over their economic lives. One foundational change is ownership? The workplace where most work is not owned or managed by the workers. One way that changes is the creation of a worker owned cooperative. More people are moving in this direction and as a result there is more information available about how to create a worker owned coop. Worker Cooperative Startup Guides There are several written guides for starting worker cooperatives, and many more for starting cooperatives in general that include sections on worker cooperatives. Having a good organizer or consultant, or mentor, surely makes any of the guides more useful.

UPS Rehires 250 Workers After Firing Them For Protesting

UPS Trucks

UPS, one of the country’s largest shipping and logistics companies, has reached an agreement to give 250 New York-based drivers their jobs back. The workers were dismissed last month after protesting the firing of a longtime co-worker. The deal was struck following Wednesday’s negotiations between top executives at the delivery company and union representatives from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 804, according to the NY Daily News. The agreement will restore the jobs of those who protested the firing of longtime coworker Jairo Reyes in February. Reyes was fired after a dispute over the number of hours senior staff were able to work. The UPS workers welcomed the news. Steven Curcio, who has worked as a UPS driver in Queens for more than 19 years, attributed the reversal to the “insane amount of support from the local communities we deliver to.”

Should There Be A 6 Hour Work Day? 30 Hour Work Week?

Gothenburg, Sweden

A Swedish city has embarked on an experiment in limiting the workday to six hours in an effort to improve productivity. A section of employees of the municipality of Gothenburg will now work an hour less a day than the seven hours customary in the Scandinavian social democracy famed for its work-life balance. The measure is being self-consciously conceived of as an experiment, with a group of municipal employees working fewer hours and a control group working regular hours – all on the same pay. The groups’ performances will then be compared. It is hoped that the experiment will ultimately save money by making employees more productive in their working hours. Mats Pilhem, the city’s Left-wing deputy mayor, told The Local Swedenthat he hoped “staff members would take fewer sick days and feel better mentally and physically after working shorter days”.

Workers At Nation's Top Hospital Strike For Fair Wages

JOhn Hopkins Strike

We’re here at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It’s considered the top hospital in the country and perhaps the world. But today it’s the front line in the battle against income inequality and the fight for a living wage. Hundreds of workers with 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East walked off the job at 6 a.m. Wednesday after contract negotiations broke down. They say they will strike for three days against what they call poverty wages. The hospital did not respond to The Real News’ request for a comment and has thus far not spoken to the media about the strike. They’ve previously said they’re offering a fair wage and cannot afford to pay more. RHYMER: I’m asking for more money myself ’cause I’m taking four kids, I’m on public assistance, I get food stamps, I get Medicaid. And Hopkins has the nerve to say that they don’t have the money. You’re standing in front of two buildings they just built for $1 billion. They’re buying up property on the east side to build more buildings. They got the money. They just don’t want to give it out. And Maryland did raise the minimum wage to $10.10, but that ain’t going to go into effect to, what, four years from now, and we’re barely living now on what we got.

Movement Towards Privatizing Post Office Continues

USPS Mail, source Justin Sullivan for Getty Images

Because the U.S. Postal Service will change its staffing policies in September, as many as 3,300 postmasters could lose their full-time jobs. The policy involves shortening post-office hours and providing more part-time positions and fewer full-time ones. “By October, the institution of the small-town career postmaster will become a thing of the past at almost half the country’s post offices,” says (Hat tip to the Daily Yonder) Around 8,800 post offices have already cut some hours during the past year and one half, 300 have scheduled public meetings and 3,900 have not scheduled a meeting or implemented any such changes. “If implementation continues at the current rate (about a hundred a month), some 600 of these post offices will have their hours reduced during the spring and summer,” SavethePostOffice says. To see an interactive map showing post offices planning to reduce services, click here.

Graduate Students Arrested For Striking


A system-wide strike by graduate assistants at the University of California commenced yesterday with what their union calls an ugly irony. The work stoppage, staged in protest of past alleged attempts by UC to intimidate graduate workers for labor organizing, was quickly met with what workers say was a further attempt at intimidation: The arrest of 20 students at UC Santa Cruz who were picketing early Wednesday morning. As Working In These Times has reported previously, graduate assistants are one of several groups of workers who have been locked in intensifying labor battles with the UC system, which has been hit hard by nearly $1 billion in budget cuts during the past five years. In November, graduate student workers struck in solidarity with campus service workers, a rare labor action that is prohibited by most union contracts and that was enabled only by the expiration of the UAW’s contract earlier that month.

Beyond The Minimum Wage


Raising the minimum wage is an idea whose time has come. Long an important grassroots demand, campaigns to raise the wage are taking place throughout the country. Even the national Democratic Party has recognized it as it winning issue that its candidates should embrace. Yet, although a minimum wage boost is long overdue, an increase from $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour will not bring the working poor out of poverty. Nor will it restore the type of labor rights and collective organization that built the American middle class in the mid-20th century. This dilemma raises a critical question: How do we use the enthusiasm around this issue to promote a more robust and thoroughgoing vision of economic justice? Sarita Gupta is one progressive leader who is searching for an answer to this question. Gupta is executive director of Jobs With Justice, a national organization whose mission is to “win real change for workers by combining innovative communications strategies and solid research and policy advocacy with grassroots action and mobilization,” according to its website.

How One Protest Turned Into A Fast-Food-Worker Movement


Two years ago, Brooklyn-based nonprofit New York Communities for Change asked residents about housing issues in the city. Staffers heard many stories: While some people spoke of barely being able to pay rent, others were living in the backseats of cars or homeless shelters, all while raising kids. The organizers noticed one commonality: Many of the people they spoke with relied on minimum wage paychecks earned from working part-time hours at fast-food chains. “So we started talking to workers at fast-food places and asking them if they wanted to organize for higher pay,” New York Communities for Change’s Jonathan Westin said in an emailed statement. “There was not a worker we talked to who wouldn’t sign onto the campaign.” The movement became known as Fast Food Forward. It held its first citywide protest in 2012, and the movement has since spread across the country.

This Activist Gave His Life To Sound The Alarm On Bangladesh’s Labor Crisis

Press conference held by Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and the Bangladesh Garments & Industrial Workers Federation in Dhaka (Courtesy: International Labor Rights Forum)

A year before Bangladesh was hit with its worst modern industrial disaster, the murder of a trade unionist portended the lethal dangers looming over the country’s booming garment industry. This month, labor advocates are commemorating the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed and injured thousands of garment workers and shook the global fashion industry. And they’re also mourning the two-year anniversary of the death of Aminul Islam, which should have been seen as an early sign of the human rights crisis roiling in Bangladesh’s factories. Islam’s murder was emblematic of the oppression besieging Bangladesh’s labor movement, as well as the collusion between the state and the booming garment export industry. He was a prominent advocate for workers in the factories of the Savar and Ashulia areas of Dhaka and an organizer with the internationally-renowned Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS). On the eve of his death, he was helping to organize workers embroiled in a labor dispute with suppliers for global brands like American Eagle.

UPS Fires Hundreds Of Workers Who Defended Colleague


UPS, one of the world’s largest shipping and logistics companies, has decided to fire 250 workers who staged a 90-minute protest in February. The protest was organized after a long-time employee was fired over an hours dispute. Twenty of the workers were notified of their dismissal on Monday. The remaining 230 were told they would be fired as soon as replacements are trained. The workers, who are based in Queens, N.Y., walked off the job when Jairo Reyes, a 24-year company veteran and union activist, got in a dispute with the company over the number of hours senior staff could work, according to the New York Daily News. Reyes was fired on February 14 — “that was my Valentine’s Day gift from UPS,” Reyes told the Queens Courier — and the ensuing protest occurred February 26. A UPS spokesperson confirmed the firing to the Huffington Post, referring to the protest as “an unauthorized work stoppage.”

Burlington, VT Bus Drivers Win Victory After Strike


“We won this fair contract because of our unity and the tremendous support from our community. This strike was hard on us and on the community, there was a great deal of self-sacrifice from many people. This contract meets our core concerns, including those that relate to public safety,” says Rob Slingerland, CCTA bus driver and spokesperson for the drivers. According to James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers Center, “In the current context of the attack on public transit, the public sector and the labor movement nationally, this is a tremendous victory for work with dignity that benefits all working people in the long haul. It was an amazing example of the community rallying behind workers. There was no doubt this was hard on the riders, but the level of solidarity was tremendous.”

Job-Based Benefits And American Inequality


American inequality is driven not just by the uneven distribution of wages, but also by the uneven distribution of job-based benefits. More than any other country, the United States relies on private employment and private bargaining to deliver basic social benefits—including health coverage, retirement security, and paid leave. The results—on any basic measure of economic security—have been dismal. Reliance on private benefits made some sense in a mid-century economy organized around lifetime “family wage” employment in large and stable firms. But even under these circumstances, benefits bypassed many workers. Their coverage was always uncertain (loss of a job meant loss of benefits) and often capricious (consider the health and pension plans that routinely evaporate in corporate restructuring). Good benefits followed good jobs, widening the gap between low-wage workers and everyone else.

Wage Theft Is A Bigger Problem Than Other Theft


Wage theft is a far bigger problem than bank robberies, convenience store robberies, street and highway robberies, and gas station robberies combined. Employers steal billions of dollars from their employees each year by working them off the clock, by failing to pay the minimum wage, or by cheating them of overtime pay they have a right to receive. Survey research shows that well over two-thirds of low-wage workers have been the victims of wage theft, but the governmental resources to help them recover their lost wages are scant and largely ineffective. Few local governments have any resources or staff to combat wage theft, and several states have closed down or so severely cut back their labor departments that workers are left mostly unprotected and vulnerable to exploitation. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is the one agency that brings substantial resources to the effort to prevent and remedy wage theft, but its total staff of wage and hour investigators, about 1100 in all, is responsible for securing compliance from more than seven million employers.