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Professors Join in Struggle Against Blick

Last week, professors joined workers, community members and students who have been waging an 8-month contract battle with Utrecht Art Supplies, a conglomerate of Blick Art Materials. The activists served management with a petition demanding that Utrecht move forward on a contract and supporting the workers’ right to unionize and earn fair pay.

Murphy Prof. Stephanie Luce explained the struggles of low-wage workers, many of whom are students, in work environment like Utrecht’s:

“A lot of the students have a hard time just covering their tuition because they work in these low-wage jobs…They also work at a lot of jobs that have unpredictable schedules so it’s even hard for them to make it to class.”

For the full story, visit LaborPress.org.

Photo via rwdsu.info.

Photo by Thomas Altfather Good via flickr (CC-BY-ND).

Organized Labor Hopes to Grow by Helping Immigrants Gain Citizenship

By Steve Brier

One of the persistent tragedies in the history of the U.S. labor movement has been the repeated opposition of unions to organizing new immigrant workers into their ranks. Not only the old AFL, but even the more progressive and inclusive Knights of Labor, attacked new immigrants (the Chinese, in the case of the Knights), refusing to organize them into their ranks and even working politically to restrict the entry of international workers into the U.S. Those moments when the labor movement shed its xenophobia and actually organized immigrant workers — the 1919 steel strike and the early CIO organizing drives in basic industry — stand out as beacons of light and organizing success in an otherwise grim and dark history of exclusion and labor defeat. Even the contemporary AFL-CIO, as recently as the late 1980s and early 1990s, actively opposed organizing the rising numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America entering the U.S. workforce, precisely at the moment that the labor movement was in sharp decline in the face of employer and government intransigence and attacks. Continue reading Organized Labor Hopes to Grow by Helping Immigrants Gain Citizenship

Legal Appeals & Partial Strategies: Labor at the Crossroads

By Stanley Aronowitz

As previously reported on this blog, two weeks ago, the School Reform Commission appointed by Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett unilaterally cancelled the union contract of 15,000 Philadelphia teachers and staff personnel. The union president Jerry Jordan promised to “fight” the brazen action of the commission. Later in the week a number of the city’s union leaders met to consider mass action to protest and hopefully reverse the decision. Jordan said that direct action such as a general strike must await the union’s efforts to exhaust its legal options. The assembly bowed to his caution. But parents and teachers demonstrated at City Hall anyway.

However, as in Madison Wisconsin almost three years ago when 100,000 public employees occupied the state capitol to protest the right-wing Republican governor and his legislative allies to strip them of bargaining rights, the union leaders called off the protest. Instead they supported a Democratic Party proposal to recall Governor Walker and four of his Republican senators. The recall failed to unseat the governor and two of his allies, so the recall failed. But similar efforts to thwart direct action in Ferguson, Mo. by substituting a voter registration campaign were rejected by many black people protesting the murder of Michael Brown. The streets are still crowded with protesters. Continue reading Legal Appeals & Partial Strategies: Labor at the Crossroads

Union Pension Funds and the Power of Capital

By Steve Brier

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Walking to work, I came across a building trades union-run informational picket line near my office. The NYC Concrete Coalition was picketing the Church Pension Group (CPG), which invests union pension funds. It seems that CPG has invested in a hedge fund, the Baupost Group, that is partnering on a huge real estate project on the east side. The $600 million project will be built by SSC Highrise, a “very irresponsible construction contractor,” according to the flier the workers were distributing. SSC’s principal, Seth Klarman has been found guilt of racial discrimination, wage theft, and tax fraud, according to the flyer.

What is to be done? According the picketers, we’re all supposed to call the Baupost CEO to complain. That’s a good idea and we should all do that, if possible. But complaining to a hedge fund billionaire about his desire to make money seems a bit like splitting in the wind. It makes one nostalgic for the days when building trades workers would take a more militant stance, shall we say, against scabs and non-union contractors. Shaming a hedge fund CEO (an unlikely outcome if there ever were one) isn’t going to make much of a difference for building trades workers and their union.

Dr. Steve Brier is a Murphy Institute Consortial Faculty Member and Prof. of Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Fighting Sexism in the Workplace

By Steve Brier

The New York Times recently ran back-to-back articles in their “This Working Life” column by Rachel Swarns. The first article, which appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of the paper, describes the firing of a pregnant low- wage worker, Angelica Valencia, from her position at Fierman Produce Exchange in Queens, where she earned $8.70 an hour packing potatoes. Her job, which frequently required overtime work, led her to get a doctor’s note indicating that her “high risk” pregnancy required that she not work beyond 40 hours a week. The company insisted that both overtime and heavy lifting of boxes were essential parts of the job and, despite passage by the City Council more than a year ago of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the company refused to make an accommodation for Ms. Valencia and fired her in August. The company claimed that she was unable to continue working because she was at “high risk” in a workplace “that was fast-paced, was very physical and involved machinery.” Continue reading Fighting Sexism in the Workplace

Harsh Prison Sentences: A Labor Issue?

Is mass incarceration a labor issue? According to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

According to Dave Jamieson, writing in the Huffington Post, Trumka is prepared to give remarks on Friday “offering robust support” for California’s Porposition 47, a proposal that would downgrade non-violent crimes to misdemeanors, thereby rendering thousands of state and county prisoners eligible for immediate release or sentence reduction.

Trumka’s prepared remarks state, “It’s a labor issue because mass incarceration means literally millions of people work jobs in prisons for pennies an hour — a hidden world of coerced labor here in the United States…It’s a labor issue because those same people who work for pennies in prison, once they have served their time, find themselves locked out of the job market by employers who screen applicants for felony convictions.” Continue reading Harsh Prison Sentences: A Labor Issue?