Collective Action Is Key to Keeping Labor Strong

By Mery Concepcion

When the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to public sector unions last month with its decision in Janus v. AFSCME, some pundits were quick to sound the death knellfor organized labor. Those pundits haven’t been paying attention, a panel at the AFL-CIO showed earlier this month. The event brought together workers from different sectors, all of whom have made organizing inroads over recent months to improve the conditions in their workplace.

Titled “Collective Action on the Rise: How the Labor Movement can Sustain the Momentum of Change, the panel, moderated by journalist Michelle Chen, asked how the labor movement could capitalize on the momentum from collective actions like the teacher strikes that gripped the U.S. last spring. Union membership is at an all-time low. But as Chen put it, there’s value in expanding ideas of the labor movement beyond formally-recognized unions, and taking a look at “what it means to really think about labor as a collective social enterprise.”

That’s something Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a law student and research assistant at Harvard Law School, thought about while working on the campaign to unionize Harvard graduate students. The grad students organized with the United Auto Workers in order to bargain for higher wages, affordable housing, and healthcare benefits. When questioned by skeptical family members about why she, as a graduate student, was organizing with auto workers, Sandalow-Ash responded with a message of solidarity.

“The UAW represents 40,000 grad workers and 25,000 academic workers overall but also our union movements are more powerful when we are not separated by what kind of work that we do. We’re more powerful when we all stand together,” she said.

Anna Simmons, an elementary school counselor and mental health therapist in Morgantown, West Virginia, explained how this solidarity had worked in practice earlier this year. As part of the American Federation of Teachers, she organized with teachers from all over the state in February to strike for higher wages and affordable healthcare.

When union leaders returned from the negotiating table with a contract that would give teachers a better deal than other public sector workers, Simmons was part of a large group teachers who refused to accept the deal and continued to strike until all public sector workers were offered the same terms.

“If we all are together and we’re all unified and we’re all in solidarity on these issues we can make tremendous impact on the lives of ourselves, of our future generation and as a nation,” said Simmons. “It wasn’t just about a $2,000 increase on our salary, it was about saving our state.”

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

More ...

A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder