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Updated: 27 weeks 3 days ago

The Need for Labor Law Reform: The Working People Weekly List

Fri, 2021-02-26 18:39
The Need for Labor Law Reform: The Working People Weekly List

 

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

The Amazon Workers’ Campaign Shows the Need for Labor Law Reform: "The organizing drive still underway by workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., reveals some of the many ways our current labor law gives employers too much power to stand in the way of workers trying to gain a collective voice. Workers at Amazon want a union to bargain better pay, safety protections, and dignity on the job. Instead of respecting its workers’ choice, what has Amazon done? Amazon has forced workers to attend small group meetings where supervisors rail against the union."

House Passes Equality Act to Boost LGBTQ Protections: "The House voted 224-206 on Thursday to pass the Equality Act, which would expand federal protections for LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Why it matters: The legislation passed in the House in May 2019 but never reached the Republican-controlled Senate under former President Trump. Democratic leaders believe there is a chance to pass the act into law this year with a 50-50 split in the Senate, but it is uncertain whether enough Republicans will support the bill for it to move forward."

Amazon Workers’ Fight to Unionize Draws Help from Around the World: "Roughly a hundred organizers have been calling workers from Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse in recent weeks, making the case for why they should unionize. The robust phone-banking operation reflects the high stakes for organized labor as workers at the facility consider forming the first Amazon union in the U.S. The organizing effort extends well beyond the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which would represent the facility’s employees. The phone campaign includes around 20 organizers on loan from the AFL-CIO, the influential labor federation that includes 55 unions. A dozen nurses who recently unionized their hospital in North Carolina also have been pitching on the effort, calling workers to tell them large-scale labor victories are possible in the South."

Multimillion-Dollar ‘Union Avoidance’ Industry Faces New Scrutiny: "Workers unionizing with the Retail, [Wholesale and Department Store Union] at an Amazon distribution center in Bessemer, Alabama, have been met with a range of tactics to dissuade them from voting for a union, including frequent text messages, paid social media advertisements, and 'classes' intended to warn them against unionization."

Four Million Hotel, Restaurant Workers Have Lost Jobs. Here’s How They’re Reinventing Themselves: "Workers at America’s hotels, restaurants, bars and convention centers have been among the hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and the lack of travel have caused many gathering places to close or reduce their staff. Since February 2020, the leisure-and-hospitality sector has shed nearly four million people, or roughly a quarter of its workforce. As of January 2021, 15.9% of the industry’s workers remained unemployed; more than any other industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a result, millions of hospitality workers—a group that includes everyone from front-desk clerks to travel managers—are trying to launch new careers. Some have transitioned to roles that tap skills honed over years of public-facing work in high-pressure environments. Others have seized the moment to remake themselves for different occupations. Many remain conflicted about leaving an industry they say continually provides new experiences and engenders lasting relationships."

Trumka Talks Importance of Infrastructure Investment: "AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joined Bloomberg Radio to discuss how important it is to rebuild our infrastructure with good union paying jobs and how that will benefit our communities."

2.5 Million Women Left the Work Force During the Pandemic. Harris Sees a ‘National Emergency.’: "Vice President Kamala Harris said on Thursday that the 2.5 million women who have left the work force since the beginning of the pandemic constituted a 'national emergency' that could be addressed by the Biden administration’s coronavirus relief plan."

Infrastructure Is Prime Topic in Biden Meeting with Union Leaders: "AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a post-meeting statement, 'For working people, this was the most productive Oval Office meeting in years.' Trumka added, 'As we made clear today, America can only build back better if unions are doing the building.'"

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 02/26/2021 - 17:39

Pass the American Rescue Plan: What Working People Are Doing This Week

Fri, 2021-02-26 16:53
Pass the American Rescue Plan: What Working People Are Doing This Week

Welcome to our regular feature, a look at what the various AFL-CIO unions and other working family organizations are doing across the country and beyond. The labor movement is big and active—here's a look at the broad range of activities we're engaged in this week.

Actors' Equity:

Actors' Equity has announced terms for the use of archive recordings and remote work, effective through December 31, 2021. Learn more in the member portal - https://t.co/MUB60Meckj pic.twitter.com/mTyDIVzIs9

— Actors' Equity (@ActorsEquity) February 24, 2021

AFGE:

Our statement on @POTUS revocation of Trump memo that gave DoD Secretary authority to eliminate collective bargaining rights for DoD workers⬇️#1u pic.twitter.com/wqHo5DGaQl

— AFGE (@AFGENational) February 25, 2021

AFSCME:

Tomorrow: Feb. 25th, 8 p.m ET tune in for an informative conversation about #COVID19, the vaccine and ways to stay safe during this pandemic w/ the @NAACP and today’s leading experts. https://t.co/1kXXP3IKsZ

— AFSCME (@AFSCME) February 24, 2021

Alliance for Retired Americans:

It's time for President Biden to fill the vacancies on the Postal BOG and #SaveThePostOffice. Sign our petition if you agree: https://t.co/ztZ8BCIvN9 pic.twitter.com/D4xrLnRwlq

— Alliance for Retired Americans (@ActiveRetirees) February 24, 2021

Amalgamated Transit Union:

ATU International supports ATU Canada’s call for all Premiers and provincial health and transportation ministers to recognize aerosol transmission of #COVID19 as a public health risk for transit workers, riders, and the public. #TogetherWeFightTogetherWeWin #Labour pic.twitter.com/6N8xeLXc77

— ATU, Transit Union (@ATUComm) February 25, 2021

American Federation of Musicians:

Tell your elected members of Congress to support the Reconciliation Package. This link will automatically connect you to your senators: https://t.co/KrV8Xh7HuK...& @Local_802_AFM @local4afm @AFMLocal47 @ICSOM @ChiTheatreMusic @ROPAorchestras @TheaterMusician pic.twitter.com/qWRhUGxcMO

— AFM (@The_AFM) February 25, 2021

American Federation of Teachers:

President Biden’s stimulus plan is supported by Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all over the country because voters know it's what our schools and communities need. We need our Senators to put politics aside and come together to help us get through this pandemic together pic.twitter.com/r9O5uKWBD5

— AFT (@AFTunion) February 24, 2021

American Postal Workers Union:

And we've started: @RepMaloney introduces the hearing: Legislative Proposals to Put the Postal Service on Sustainable Financial Footing #SaveThePostOffice https://t.co/0FG2WwpjU4

— APWU National (@APWUnational) February 24, 2021

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance:

With over 20 chapters across the nation and at-large members in regions without chapters, APALA is a great community to join if you are looking to build a movement of AAPI workers.

Check out our work and become a member today: https://t.co/je1A49vpAi pic.twitter.com/PW3W5SzOo4

— Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (@APALAnational) February 23, 2021

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA:

Good morning. Trans rights are human rights. https://t.co/qxKo4cudqu

— AFA-CWA (@afa_cwa) February 25, 2021

Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers:

Working people fought to elect pro-worker lawmakers to the Senate, House & White House who would make the #PROAct a top priority. The BCTGM intends to hold them to their promises!

Call Congress NOW! 866-833-1560 Tell them to PASS THE PRO ACT!

Black History Month Profiles: A.J. Starling

Fri, 2021-02-26 10:30
Black History Month Profiles: A.J. Starling

This year, for Black History Month, we're taking a look at a group of leaders who are currently active making Black history across the labor movement. Check back daily for a new profile and meet some of the people working to improve not only their community, but also to improve conditions for working people across the country. Today's profile is  A.J. Starling.

A respected pillar of Tennessee's labor community for nearly five decades, A.J. Starling has become synonymous with the fight for economic and racial equality. As both an advocate for and friend to working families throughout the state, his commitment to ensuring that everyone is treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve is second to none. His contributions to both the labor and faith communities and desire to leave things better than he found them will be felt for decades to come.

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 02/26/2021 - 09:30

Tags: Black History Month

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: New Hampshire AFL-CIO Provides PPE to State Lawmakers

Fri, 2021-02-26 09:30
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: New Hampshire AFL-CIO Provides PPE to State Lawmakers

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

After the U.S. District Court in Concord, New Hampshire, failed to provide remote access for at-risk legislators at the state House of Representatives, New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Glenn Brackett (IBEW) said union members handed out personal protective equipment (PPE) to lawmakers ahead of Wednesday’s House session at the NH Sportsplex.

“Last week, the New Hampshire AFL-CIO strongly urged our state representatives to provide remote accommodations for lawmakers who have special vulnerability to COVID-19, as defined by the [Americans with Disabilities Act] and Rehabilitation Act,” said Brackett. “Unfortunately, a federal judge ruled Monday that the House can proceed with in-person sessions this week without providing remote access to medically vulnerable lawmakers. We didn’t want it to come to this. No one should fear going to work. However, distributing personal protective equipment is the least we can do to keep our lawmakers safe.”

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 02/26/2021 - 08:30

Black History Month Profiles: Darrell Copeland

Thu, 2021-02-25 10:27
Black History Month Profiles: Darrell Copeland

This year, for Black History Month, we're taking a look at a group of leaders who are currently active making Black history across the labor movement. Check back daily for a new profile and meet some of the people working to improve not only their community, but also to improve conditions for working people across the country. Today's profile is Darrell Copeland.

Darrell Copeland hails from Atlanta and he puts his heart and soul into growing the labor movement and bringing the dignity of union representation to nonunion workers. Copeland is a humble, capable and dynamic union leader with high expectations and a positive attitude while embracing change. Open-minded and motivated to serve, he played an important role in the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' (BCTGM's) campaign to win the U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia. He was also important in the recent BCTGM organizing victory in Memphis, Tennessee, at the Blue City Brewery, and he continues to build experience as a passionate and effective union organizer throughout the South.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 02/25/2021 - 09:27

Tags: Black History Month

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: National Nurses United Leads Coalition to Urge CDC to Acknowledge COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission

Thu, 2021-02-25 09:30
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: National Nurses United Leads Coalition to Urge CDC to Acknowledge COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

National Nurses United (NNU) is leading a group of 44 allied unions and organizations, including the AFL-CIO—representing more than 13 million members and their communities—to urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to update its COVID-19 guidance to fully reflect the latest scientific evidence regarding coronavirus transmission through aerosols that infected people emit when they breathe, speak, cough, sneeze or sing. Today, NNU’s coalition delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures, including scientific experts, urging the CDC to recognize COVID-19 aerosol transmission.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the nation’s nurses have demanded that the CDC’s guidelines be based on scientific evidence,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of NNU. “Nurses know that to effectively battle this virus, we all need to get on the same page about how it spreads….We urge the Biden administration to honor its commitment to listen to experts in the battle against COVID-19, which includes having CDC and other federal agencies explicitly recognize aerosol transmission.”

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 02/25/2021 - 08:30

Tags: Community Service, COVID-19

Black History Month Profiles: John Coats

Wed, 2021-02-24 10:30
Black History Month Profiles: John Coats

This year, for Black History Month, we're taking a look at a group of leaders who are currently active making Black history across the labor movement. Check back daily for a new profile and meet some of the people working to improve not only their community, but also to improve conditions for working people across the country. Today's profile is John Coats.

John Coats has been teaching in Philadelphia for more than three decades and is one of the most dedicated people you'll meet. A building representative for 28 years, he has also served for 14 years as a member of the executive board of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Local 3 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He is an incredible advocate for his students and for his union.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 02/24/2021 - 09:30

Tags: Black History Month

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Across America, Workers Hold Day of Action to Save Union Jobs

Wed, 2021-02-24 09:30
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Across America, Workers Hold Day of Action to Save Union Jobs

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Braving bitter cold temperatures across much of the country, hundreds of union members, environmental activists and community groups turned out in force for a national day of action on Saturday to raise awareness of the IUE-CWA’s campaign to save union jobs at the GE-Savant lighting plant in Bucyrus, Ohio, and help the environment. According to IUE-CWA, GE-Savant intends to transfer its LED lightbulb product line to China, permanently laying off more than 80 workers, and possibly closing the plant. “People are saying that if these jobs go, then it’s only a matter of time before the plant closes,” IUE-CWA Local 81201 President Adam Kaszynski told The Daily Item. “The hypocrisy of the situation is glaring because they’re going to have to send these back from China to sell them in the United States, increasing the carbon footprint. Walmart certainly has the power to demand that these lightbulbs are manufactured in Bucyrus.” Kaszynski (not pictured) led rallies with the North Shore Labor Council at Walmart stores in Lynn and Salem, Massachusetts.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 02/24/2021 - 08:30

Tags: Community Service, COVID-19

Organizing Institute Partners with NBWCP for First-Ever Black Lead Organizer Training

Tue, 2021-02-23 11:39
Organizing Institute Partners with NBWCP for First-Ever Black Lead Organizer Training

We are just coming off of the first-ever AFL-CIO Organizing Institute (OI) Advanced Organizer Workshop for Black lead organizers and campaign strategists. In commemoration of Black History Month and the history and impact of Black organizers in the civil rights and labor movement, the OI partnered with the National Black Worker Center Project (NBWCP) on a training specifically designed on developing Black lead organizers.

Twenty-five Black lead organizers from the Electrical Workers (IBEW), American Postal Workers Union (APWU), NBWCP, United Steelworkers (USW), UNITE HERE, and Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) from across the country came together to share experiences, sharpen their campaign management skills and reinforce best practices to win campaigns for recognition in workplaces and communities.

Thank you to:

  • NBWCP Executive Director Tanya Wallace-Gobern and NBWCP Deputy Executive Director Shanika Houlder-White for partnering with the AFL-CIO OI to make this happen, and for taking time from their own work to serve as facilitators for the empowering workshop.

  • AFSCME Associate Organizing Director Ashley Jenkins and AFL-CIO Internal Organizing Coordinator Handel Lundy for taking time from their campaigns to serve as facilitators.

  • OI Senior Trainers Tiffany Bender (lead) and Patricia Recinos (co-lead), OI Senior Administrator Indeya Taylor and AFL-CIO Meetings and Travel Senior Planner Roberta Loving for all the work, planning and execution in making this historic lead organizer workshop a success.

Click the video to check out how Arrion Brown (APWU), Monique Hennagan (OPEIU), Semi Cole (NBWCP) and Keith Rivers (IBEW) share what they learned and how they plan to take back to, and win, the campaigns they are leading.  

Although this was the first workshop for Black lead organizers and strategists, we will continue partnering with unions and allied organizations to sharpen the skills of women and organizers of color, from entry-level to lead organizers.

We thank you for your continued support and trust in the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute. The OI will post the 2021 OI Digital Three-Day Training Schedule later this week. Check out aflcio.org/oi for updates.

We look forward to training organizing teams to empower working people to win respect and dignity on our jobs.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 02/23/2021 - 10:39

Tags: Black History Month, Organizing Institute

Black History Month Profiles: Trina Dean

Tue, 2021-02-23 10:30
Black History Month Profiles: Trina Dean

This year, for Black History Month, we're taking a look at a group of leaders who are currently active making Black history across the labor movement. Check back daily for a new profile and meet some of the people working to improve not only their community, but also to improve conditions for working people across the country. Today's profile is Trina Dean.

A Philadelphia public school parent and educator, Trina Dean has taught for 12 years and serves as a building representative and associate secretary on the executive board of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 3. Dean is a remarkable advocate and educator, and she fights tirelessly for a school system that her students and fellow educators deserve.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 02/23/2021 - 09:30

Tags: Black History Month

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: North Carolina State AFL-CIO Issues Workers First Agenda for State

Tue, 2021-02-23 09:30
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: North Carolina State AFL-CIO Issues Workers First Agenda for State

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

North Carolina State AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan (IUOE) reported the state federation and its affiliated unions have announced a Workers First Agenda for the 2021–22 legislative session. The priorities include requiring the state’s Department of Labor (NCDOL) to respond to COVID-19 related complaints about unsafe working conditions, ensuring safe and adequate housing for migrant farmworkers, maintaining a stable workers’ compensation program, and more. In the agenda, the North Carolina State AFL-CIO explained:

“Our priority is ensuring that working people receive adequate resources to survive the pandemic. Ultimately, however, we want working families to do more than just survive. Beyond the pandemic, we want working people to be able to thrive, to build better lives for themselves and their children, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and to live with dignity. It is time for policymakers to recognize the significant contributions and sacrifices made by working people. It is time to put workers first, just as they have done for all of us during this unprecedented crisis.”

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 02/23/2021 - 08:30

Tags: Community Service, COVID-19

Union-Busting Is Disgusting: In the States Roundup

Mon, 2021-02-22 11:55
Union-Busting Is Disgusting: In the States Roundup

It's time once again to take a look at the ways working people are making progress in the states. Click on any of the links to follow the state federations on Twitter.

Alaska AFL-CIO:

This is a HUGE win for the labor movement here in Alaska! Time and time again, @GovDunleavy has tried to subvert the law and undermine working people. Good thing we have advocates like @JakeMetcalfe4 to set the record straight! #UnionStrong #1Uhttps://t.co/Xg89ZsFsOd

— Alaska AFL-CIO (@AKAFLCIO) February 9, 2021

Arizona AFL-CIO:

Thank you @RepKirkpatrick for standing with Labor and co-sponsoring the #PROActpic.twitter.com/EVv75rqGPh

— Arizona AFL-CIO // #VotersDecided (@ArizonaAFLCIO) February 9, 2021

California Labor Federation:

.@Instacart lied. @DoorDash lied. @Uber lied. @lyft lied. Prop 22 was simply a $220 million scam by some of the wealthiest companies in the world to cheat workers out of basic protections in law #SickofGigGreed https://t.co/17CVDbXqWv

— California Labor Federation (@CaliforniaLabor) February 21, 2021

Colorado AFL-CIO:

That's

Black History Month Profiles: E.J. Jenkins

Mon, 2021-02-22 10:30
Black History Month Profiles: E.J. Jenkins

This year, for Black History Month, we're taking a look at a group of leaders who are currently active making Black history across the labor movement. Check back daily for a new profile and meet some of the people working to improve not only their community, but also to improve conditions for working people across the country. Today's profile is E.J. Jenkins.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1014's Jenkins is the epitome of a union activist. He got involved through the USW's Next Generation program for young members and has since been active in civil rights, election and organizing work, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. He won the Jefferson Award in 2018 for starting Black Labor Week, a program dedicated to educating, empowering and uplifting the community. The program began in Gary, Indiana, and has since expanded under Jenkins' leadership.

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 02/22/2021 - 09:30

Tags: Black History Month

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Florida AFL-CIO: Standing Up Against COVID-19 Business Liability

Mon, 2021-02-22 09:30
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Florida AFL-CIO: Standing Up Against COVID-19 Business Liability

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Rich Templin, the director of politics and public policy at the Florida AFL-CIO, spoke at a Florida Consumer Watch press conference on Monday about how state legislation that’s aimed at enacting sweeping COVID-19 lawsuit immunity is an excuse for big businesses and will ultimately harm workers.

“The Florida AFL-CIO represents 1.3 million workers, retirees and their families,” said Templin during the conference. “Over the last couple of weeks, we have received tons of calls. Workers are afraid of this legislation, and here’s why. Where the coronavirus began, workers got very little in the form of a federal response. They got very little in the form of a state response. What they saw was a state determined to reopen too early, too quickly, and outside of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines. But they went to work anyway, because they had to. Now the same government that gave little to no direction, that forced the reopening of the state, is asking for a blank check for business owners.”

“In the middle of a public health crisis, legislation is being pushed in the Florida Legislature that, if passed, would prevent businesses that expose working people to COVID-19 from being held accountable,” said Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams (IBEW). “Florida has rushed through the reopening process with little regard for the safety of both essential workers and consumers. This is yet another example of leadership in our state government putting profits before people. Granting sweeping liability protections to bad actors is not only an insult to working people, it also ignores the businesses who have followed proper safety protocols to ensure the safety of their workers and customers.”

Watch the full press conference here.

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 02/22/2021 - 08:30

Tags: COVID-19, Community Service

Black History Month Profiles: Rochelle Palache

Sun, 2021-02-21 09:54
Black History Month Profiles: Rochelle Palache

This year, for Black History Month, we're taking a look at a group of leaders who are currently active making Black history across the labor movement. Check back daily for a new profile and meet some of the people working to improve not only their community, but also to improve conditions for working people across the country. Today's profile is Rochelle Palache.

Rochelle Palache leads SEIU 32BJ's Connecticut District. Like many of the union’s members, Palache moved to the United States for a better life, leaving her native Jamaica after finishing high school. She attended Smith College on a scholarship and began working at the SEIU Connecticut State Council soon after graduating. Over the next 15 years, she lead successful campaigns for a $15 minimum wage, paid family medical leave and several immigrant rights bills. In 2020, she helped guide the union as members suffered layoffs in the economic downturn and faced the pandemic as essential workers. She also worked to engage the union on issues related to Black Lives Matter.

Kenneth Quinnell Sun, 02/21/2021 - 08:54

Tags: Black History Month

Black History Month Profiles: Lucy Wells

Sat, 2021-02-20 10:00
Black History Month Profiles: Lucy Wells

This year, for Black History Month, we're taking a look at a group of leaders who are currently active making Black history across the labor movement. Check back daily for a new profile and meet some of the people working to improve not only the conditions for working people in our community, but also across the country. Today's profile is Lucy Wells.

Before she was eligible for union membership, Lucy Wells was active in Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 154 and has maintained involvement even while the theatre industry was shut down because of COVID-19. Over the years, she has participated in numerous actions and rallies, served on labor/management committees and helped her union grow. Wells is passionate about engaging and educating people in conversations about racial inequities and inclusion. On top of it all, she is an amazing wardrobe specialist and the first BIPOC associate wardrobe supervisor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Kenneth Quinnell Sat, 02/20/2021 - 09:00

Tags: Black History Month

Pathway to Progress: The Charleston Hospital Strike

Fri, 2021-02-19 11:34
Pathway to Progress: The Charleston Hospital Strike Wikimedia Commons

History has long been portrayed as a series of "great men" taking great action to shape the world we live in. In recent decades, however, social historians have focused more on looking at history "from the bottom up," studying the vital role that working people played in our heritage. Working people built, and continue to build, the United States. In our new series, Pathway to Progress, we'll take a look at various people, places and events where working people played a key role in the progress our country has made, including those who are making history right now. Today's topic is the Charleston hospital strike.

In the late 1960s, Charleston, South Carolina, was NOT primed to be the next city to be a touchstone in either the civil rights movement or the labor movement. Much of the progress and activism seen elsewhere had passed Charleston by. And the White power structure was as equally entrenched against labor unionism as it was against the expansion of Black people's rights. But the hospital strike of 1969 became as important to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) Poor People's Campaign and the labor movement as the Montgomery bus boycott would be to the civil rights movement.

After dock workers were rejected in their bid for a union contract, everyone assumed Black hospital workers had absolutely no chance or successfully organizing. Workers at two hospitals, though, had other plans. One of the hospitals was run by the state and the other by the county. Management had reportedly engaged in racially biased behavior, notably preventing Black doctors from working at the hospital for many years.

Local 1199, then associated with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, had experience with organizing in hostile territory. After it organized 34,000 new members in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, it formed a national organizing committee for hospital workers. The local also reached out to the SCLC, one of the most important civil rights organizations, to coordinate on organizing efforts. Nearly 3 million hospital and nursing home employees throughout the country were without union representation, most were Black or Latinx and most were desperately poor. The SCLC launched the Poor People's Campaign specifically to help out in such situations and so it joined with Local 1199 in forming the National Organizing Committee of Hospital and Nursing Home Employees. Coretta Scott King was named honorary chair and Ralph Abernathy and other SCLC leaders were members of the committee.

The SCLC and Local 1199 trained staff in union organizing methods that were successful in places like Memphis, Tennessee, Atlanta and St. Petersburg. The hospital workers in Charleston weren't idle, either, as they began organizing meetings with help from the local Black community. Management was led by Dr. William McCord, president of the medical college, which ran the state hospital. After delaying meeting with organizers, McCord fired 12 of them. The reaction was immediate, when 400 workers, including nurses, nurse's aides, kitchen helpers, laundry workers and orderlies, walked off the job. A week later, workers at the county-run hospital walked out in sympathy. The workers' demands were clear, rehire the 12 fired workers, recognize the union, increase wages and institute grievance procedures.

McCord was contemptuous. He offered to give Black workers an additional holiday for the birthday of Robert E. Lee. McCord secured an injunction from a segregationist judge that effectively eliminated legal protests. The Black workers rejected the injunction's validity and began picketing the hospital. Arrests immediately followed. Even worse, vigilantes began assaulting strikers, who had to establish security guards at the picket and around their union hall.

By now, SCLC and Local 1199 staff were on the ground to provide leadership and assistance. Abernathy and other prominent leaders like Andrew Young set up camp in Charleston and sought to bring national attention to the plight of the Black hospital workers. They quickly tied the hospital strike to the larger civil rights movement and connected the strike directly to Martin Luther King Jr., who had been slain in Memphis the previous year while supporting striking sanitation workers. Coretta Scott King said: "If my husband were alive today, he would be in Charleston, South Carolina."

Charleston faced mass meetings, daily marches, evening rallies and boycotts of stores and schools that didn't support the strike. The response included daily confrontations with police and local White citizens, and arrests were daily. The governor came out against the strike and sent state troopers and National Guardsman. Arrests were stepped up.

But the strikers didn't back down and they weren't intimidated. They showed up, day-after-day, regardless of what was thrown at them, which, by that point, included bayonets, tanks and National Guardsmen patrolling the city's streets. Coretta Scott King spoke at two local churches and nearly 30% of the city's Black population showed up. She not only championed the cause of the hospital workers, she appealed for financial assistance, as the union and SCLC were running out of money to sustain the strike. 

King's request went national. The leaders of civil rights organizations and Black elected officials came together for the first time since Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. The appeal worked. With the help of national ads and television coverage, money began flowing in. Walter Reuther personally joined the demonstrations and donated $10,000. George Meaney and the national AFL-CIO gave another $25,000. Other unions, including White unions, joined the hospital workers on the picket lines. Abernathy was jailed, as were leaders of 1199B, the new designation for the local started by the Charleston hospital workers. 

The opposition to the strike started to fracture. Boycotts brought business activity to a standstill in the city. The business community began to fear a economic disaster and they called for a settlement. Others feared that a victory for Black hospital workers would lead to further organizing by civil rights organizations and labor unions in the city. In particular, they were afraid that union organizing would move into the textile industry, which was strong in the state. Further complicating the situation were federal contracts, with $12 million worth on the verge of being canceled if the hospital continued to discriminate against Black workers.

In this environment, the hospital administration agreed to rehire the strikers, including the original 12 fired workers. State government agreed to raise the minimum wage as well, potentially giving strikers several of their demands. With the agreement set to be finalized, Sen. Strom Thurmond stepped in and said that the federal aid would be delivered, regardless of the hospital's actions. The hospital withdrew from the settlement and Local 1199 and the SCLC accused President Richard Nixon of "giving Senator Thurmond his political payoff for services rendered in the last election. A payoff whose real price is the suffering of Black hospital workers."

Demonstrations started up again and they expanded to the textile companies and government buildings in the state and in Washington, D.C. More unions joined the protests and mass arrests continued. Attempts to solve the problem from the nation's capitol were stalled by the Nixon administration until Secretary of Labor George Schultz took action. He sent a mediator to South Carolina and demanded that the strike be settled.

After 100 days, the strike was settled in favor of the Black hospital workers. They won wage increases of 30-70 cents an hour, the establishment of a credit union, a grievance procedure that allowed the union to represent employees and all fired and striking workers were reinstated. They didn't win union recognition, but the wins they achieved addressed most of the problems the union would've taken on anyway.

At a victory rally at Zion Olivet Church, the Rev. Andrew Young summarized why the strike was successful: "We won this strike because of a wonderful marriage—the marriage of the SCLC and Local 1199. The first of many beautiful children of this marriage is Local 1199B here in Charleston, and there are going to be as many more children like 1199B as there are letters in the alphabet."

The combined efforts didn't stop in Charleston. The tactics used in South Carolina were quickly exported elsewhere. Within months, they had also secured collective bargaining rights for 1,500 mostly Black workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Within a year, the Baltimore local had added 6,000 more hospital and nursing home workers. In December, the National Union of Hospital and Nursing Home Employees was established with Coretta Scott King as honorary chairperson. While reflecting upon the success in Charleston, King said that right before his death, her husband had concluded that "the key to battling poverty is winning jobs for workers with decent pay through unionism." Charleston was one of the first moments that proved King right.

Source: "Organized Labor and the Black Worker, 1619-1981" by Philip S. Foner, 1974.

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 02/19/2021 - 10:34

Tags: Pathway to Progress

Making History: The Working People Weekly List

Fri, 2021-02-19 11:23
Making History: The Working People Weekly List

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

Amazon Workers Could 'Make History' with Historic Union Vote in Alabama: "The Retail Wholesale Department Store Union, or RWDSU, the union organizing workers at the warehouse in Alabama, has been in contact with the White House about the effort, Reuters reported earlier this month. 'We have a new administration in Washington that has a completely different attitude towards the importance of unions,' RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told Yahoo Finance Live last week. 'So it seemed like the right time and the right place to hold an election on unionization.'"

Grocery Store Workers Have Been on the Front Lines for a Year, but They're Struggling to Get the COVID Vaccine: "Grocery store workers in the United States have been stocking shelves, handling customers and keeping stores tidy in challenging and sometimes dangerous pandemic conditions for almost a year. But a vaccine that once offered these essential workers hope for their safety remains elusive for most. Although coronavirus risks are high and new variants of the virus are spreading, most of the more than 2.4 million low-wage grocery workers in this country have not yet been made eligible for the vaccine. Guidance on vaccine eligibility continues to evolve, leaving these frontline workers unsure of when they'll be able to receive the vaccine. Some workers say they feel let down that they have not been given vaccine priority and are bracing themselves for months more of possible exposure to COVID-19 at their jobs without the best protection against the virus."

Millions of Jobs Probably Aren’t Coming Back, Even After the Pandemic Ends: "Millions of jobs that have been shortchanged or wiped out entirely by the coronavirus pandemic are unlikely to come back, economists warn, setting up a massive need for career changes and retraining in the United States. The coronavirus pandemic has triggered permanent shifts in how and where people work. Businesses are planning for a future where more people are working from home, traveling less for business, or replacing workers with robots. All of these modifications mean many workers will not be able to do the same job they did before the pandemic, even after much of the U.S. population gets vaccinated against the deadly virus."

Biden Meets with Labor, Business on COVID-19 Relief: "The meeting on Wednesday included Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and Elizabeth Shuler, the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer. The AFL-CIO has been one of the loudest groups calling for a $15 minimum wage. Other attendees at the Wednesday meeting, which also covered Biden’s push for an infrastructure measure, included Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trades Union, and Robert Martinez Jr., international president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers."

Biden, Union Leaders Huddle on Infrastructure Plan: "Union leaders meeting with Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, and Mark McManus, general president of the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters. Biden noted that many of the attendees were longtime friends—'as they say in parts of my state, these are the folks that brung me to the dance'—and the meeting capped a number of actions to appeal to his labor allies."

Biden Nominates Jennifer Abruzzo to Serve as NLRB General Counsel: "Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), cheered Abruzzo's nomination, describing her as someone who has 'tirelessly fought for working people her entire career.' 'Even as workers have stepped up to the plate throughout this pandemic, we’ve been denied basic federal protections time and again. Today, is another step toward righting the wrongs of the past four years. The days of the NLRB actively blocking workers from organizing a union are over. We look forward to working people finally getting the fair treatment we deserve,' Trumka said."

Key Players to Watch in Minimum Wage Fight: "'It would actually help millions of workers out there right now,' he recently told CNBC. Trumka added that the economy would also benefit because those workers would boost consumer demand and, in turn, create new jobs."

How Amazon Is Trying to Stop Its 6,000 Alabama Fulfillment Center Employees from Forming a Union: "Amazon is using PowerPoint presentations, text messages, and posters and signs hung on bathroom stalls as part of a ‘disinformation campaign’ to pressure warehouse employees not to form a union, it has been alleged. Employees at the BHM1 fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama that is staffed by some 6,000 workers have recently started to vote on whether to become the first Amazon warehouse workers in the country to unionize. The decision could set off a chain reaction by inspiring workers in many of the other scores of Amazon facilities and warehouses across the country to do the same."

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 02/19/2021 - 10:23

Trumka Congratulates Doris Harakay on 70 Years of Union Membership

Fri, 2021-02-19 11:12
Trumka Congratulates Doris Harakay on 70 Years of Union Membership

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) sent the following letter to Doris Harakay, who, at nearly 90 years of age, has been a member of IUE-CWA Local 775 for 70 years and is both the longest-serving and oldest employee at General Electric (GE) Aviation.

The letter:

Dear Sister Doris,

As president of America’s labor movement, I want to congratulate you as you celebrate 70 remarkable years of union seniority. It is clear you understand that the strength of America’s labor movement is measured by the steadfast dedication, determination and devotion of its members. 

Undoubtedly, a lot has likely changed since you joined IUE-CWA Local 775 and started to work at GE Aviation. I know the company changed owners five times. But during dark passages and on bright days, what has always remained constant for all these years is you. Every day, your brothers and sisters could count on you to punch in every morning and punch out after a hard day’s work. 

Of course, you will just say you were doing your job, and that’s true. You will say you were trying to provide a better life for your family, and you certainly have. But I know you did not plan to stay for 70 years. Well, God bless you for it and for doing your job with grace and ceaseless optimism. 

Union members like you are how we are building a stronger labor movement—a movement not just for today, but for decades to come. 

Once again, congratulations on this monumental milestone. And thank you for your service. 

In Solidarity,

Richard Trumka
President, AFL-CIO

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 02/19/2021 - 10:12

Black History Month Profiles: Akua Dixon

Fri, 2021-02-19 10:32
Black History Month Profiles: Akua Dixon

This year, for Black History Month, we're taking a look at a group of leaders who are currently active making Black history across the labor movement. Check back daily for a new profile and meet some of the people working to improve not only their community, but also to improve conditions for working people across the country. Today's profile is Akua Dixon.

Looking back after nearly 50 years in the union, jazz cellist and composer Akua Dixon reflected on how much she's depended on the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) throughout her career: “I’ve seen a lot of progress since the 1970s when the change started. You had a group of people band together to form the Symphony of the New World, which had a lot of African American players in it and as part of the foundation of the orchestra’s board. To go through the legal system to try to change the hiring practices at places like the New York Philharmonic, and having an organization like Local 802 to march with you and be with you was a wonderful thing.”

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 02/19/2021 - 09:32

Tags: Black History Month