Brazil in crisis as truck drivers strike

A strike by Brazil’s truck drivers has brought the nation’s economy to a standstill.

Striking truckers have been blockading the country’s highways since Monday causing food and fuel shortages in cities.

The strike has caused key industries such as auto manufacturing and meat processing to shut down.

The lack of transportation has caused supplies of sugar, one of the country’s leading export items, to dry up at ports.

Airlines have had to cancel flights because some airports don’t have enough jet fuel.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer had hoped to resolve the crisis brought on by the strike by agreeing to a deal with unions representing the truck drivers, but as the truckers’ strike entered its fifth day on Friday, the deal apparently did not sit well with many truckers.

The truckers are striking because of the rising prices of diesel, which has made it difficult for them to meet expenses and have enough left over to support their families.

Temer on Thursday agreed to eliminate taxes on diesel and reduce diesel prices by 10 percent at the pump in hopes that truckers would return to work.

But the price reductions promised by Temer would last only for one month.

Because it was only a temporary reprieve, Abcam, the truckers’ largest union, rejected the deal, and instead of returning to work, strikers on Friday closed more highways. On Friday, 521 highways were blockaded by strikers up from 402 on Thursday.

When it appeared that the temporary concessions that Temer was willing to make wouldn’t get the striking truckers back to work, Temer said that he would use the armed forces to break the strike.

After Temer threatened to use the army, Abcam urged its members to return to work.

At this writing, it’s not clear whether the truckers will heed Abcam’s call to return to work.

The increase in fuel prices that caused the strike, began two years ago when Temer became acting President while the sitting President Dilma Rousseff was defending herself against impeachment proceedings.

One of Temer’s first acts was to appoint Pedro Parente as CEO of Petrobras, the national oil company in which the government owns a majority share.

Prior to Parente’s appointment, Petrobras subsidized fuel prices for truckers and other Brazilian consumers.

But Parente with the blessing of Temer and the country’s investor class ended that practice and let fuel prices rise to market levels.

Over the last two years, Brazil’s fuel prices doubled.

Increased fuel prices hurt consumers especially truck drivers whose livelihoods depend on the price they pay for fuel.

But Petrobras shareholders reaped a bounty from Parente’s and Temer’s decision. The value of Petrobras stock increased from $3 a share in 2015 to more than $12.70 a share by May 2018.

During 2018, fuel price increases have been especially steep. Bloomberg reports that diesel prices have increased by 50 percent in 2018.

Most recently, the Brazilian currency, the real, has lost value in relation to the dollar.

The currency’s devaluation plus the increases in the global price of oil caused Petrobras to recently increase diesel prices by 16 percent and then by another 17 percent.

It was the latest steep increases in the price of diesel that set off the strike.

The truckers’ strike has led Fitch’s Rating, Inc., one of the world’s big three credit rating services, to become concerned about the strike’s impact on the national economy.

“The truckers’ strike has elevated concerns about the ability of Brazilian corporates to maintain just-in-time supply chains, as well as to export products in key sectors, such as agriculture,” Fitch said.



Unions plan worldwide joint actions against GE

General Electric has been on a job cutting binge not just in the US but in Canada and Europe as well.

After a steady drip of job cuts in 2017 that resulted in the elimination of 1700 US jobs in GE’s Transportation division, the company announced in December that it would eliminate 12,000 of its Power division jobs in Europe and Canada.

Unions whose members work for GE in Europe, Asia, and North America finally said enough is enough and banded together.

Under the auspices of IndustriALL, a global confederation of manufacturing unions, GE’s unions formed the GE Trade Union Network.

Unions from the network on May 7 and 8 met in Toronto to develop a plan to win respect for workers and their communities from GE.

At the end of its meeting, the network issued a statement saying that they will take joint actions on a worldwide scale to change things at GE.

The statement condemned GE for walking away from workers and communities that helped build the company, and it said that GE must work with their workers to “achieve a fair and just social business model.”

Despite the company’s assertions to the contrary, GE comes up short when it comes to being a fair and just social business model.

At the network meeting, delegates heard from Bill Corp, president of Unifor Local 524, whose members work at a GE factory in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

The Peterborough factory has been operating for 125 years and is the heart of the local economy.

Workers there make large motors for many industrial uses.

But last year GE announced that it is closing the factory and that in September 2018 when the factory shuts down, 358 workers will lose their good-paying jobs.

Those jobs will be shipped to Brazil, France, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

“It’s devastating news for the community and Peterborough, there’s no doubt about it,” said Sue James, who has worked at the factory for 30 years to the Toronto Star.

Corp criticized GE for “walking away from workers and communities that the corporation was built upon” and leaving behind what the Star calls a “lethal legacy.”

The “lethal legacy” referred to by the Star is the health impact of thousands of toxic chemicals that Peterborough GE workers worked with between 1945 and 2000.

A report by Unifor found that during that period, workers were exposed to 3000 toxic chemicals, 14 of which have come to be identified as carcinogens.

More than 600 Peterborough workers filed workers compensation claims charging that exposure to toxic chemicals left them with debilitating illnesses including an exceptionally high rate of cancer.

The company contested those claims.

Erie, Pennsylvania is another community that GE has let down.

The Erie locomotive plant, part of GE’s Transportation division, has for the three years seen a steady trickle of its jobs being shipped to a non-union factory in Texas.

GE is Erie’s largest employer, and it pays good, hard-won union wages.

But as it shifts more work to its non-union plant, workers have become more concerned about losing their jobs and the community is on edge about GE’s future plans.

Last year, GE announced that 570 Erie workers would be laid off beginning in 2018.

The layoffs were announced after a decline in demand for the products produced at Erie, but demand is starting to pick up.

GE in December announced that Canadian National Railway Company will buy 200 new GE locomotives over the next three years, and GE management in Erie told leaders of UE Local 506, the Erie production workers’ union, that they expect production to pick up by the beginning of next year.

Nevertheless, the company recently told the local newspaper that it still plans to lay off workers;  although, the layoff number has now been lowered to 300.

In a message to members, Mike Ferritto, business agent for Local 506, said that the union will continue to fight the layoffs.

UE and Unifor, both members of General Electric Trade Union Network, have already begun to take joint action to protect GE workers’ jobs and the communities where they work.

They have started an across-the-border campaign called GE-Commit to Our Communities to generate public pressure on GE to

  • End mass layoffs and plant shutdowns and honor its commitments to retirees,
  • End the practice of intimidating workers who try to exercise their fundamental right to organize collectively, and
  • Where GE has harmed the health of workers, community members or the environment, GE should offer lifetime medical monitoring at no cost to those persons exposed to PCBs and other toxic material, and financial restitution to communities.

On April 25, members of Unifor’s GE locals in Peterborough and UE local 506  demonstrated outside GE’s annual shareholders meeting in Pittsburgh.

“GE’s recent history of poor decision-making is hurting workers, communities, and shareholders,” said UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson. “Corporate leaders are making one bad move after another. The company’s decisions don’t make financial sense, they wreak havoc with the lives of GE workers and local economies, and they threaten to lead us all over a cliff.”

One of the bad moves to which Slawson may have been referring was GE’s decision to go into the long-term care insurance business.

After the market failed to produce the revenue GE hoped for, the company scrambled to get out of the business, but it was too late.

GE recently took a $6.2 billion charge against earnings because of the losses from the failed venture.

The whooping losses became public shortly after GE announced in December that it was laying off 12,000 manufacturing workers worldwide.

In Pittsburgh some GE workers left the demonstration outside and went inside to address investors.

“GE workers are the economic stimulators of our communities,” said Tom Bobrowicz vice-president of local 506 to at the meeting. “We buy houses and new cars, we spend our income in the local communities. Over the last several years, GE has slashed the workforce in Erie from 3000 to 1500. GE’s workers, the communities where GE operates, and GE’s shareholders are all tied into this mess together. Getting GE on the right course starts with GE making a commitment to their employees and the communities in which they operate.”

UC service workers strike to fight inequality

Saying that their fight against rising inequality will continue, 20,000 University of California (UC) workers ended their three-day strike and returned to work on May 10.

The strike was called by the workers’ union AFSCME Local 3299 after university management announced that it was breaking off negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement with the union and unilaterally imposing new terms of employment on 9000 service workers at ten UC campuses and five medical centers across the state.

Under the new terms, UC service workers, the lowest paid of all UC employees will pay more for health care coverage, wait five years longer to retire, not receive a pay raise commiserate with the high cost of living in California, and continue to face the threat of losing their jobs to outsourcing.

The decision to impose its terms on low-wage service workers comes shortly after a report commissioned by Local 3299 found that inequality at UC is prevalent and increasing.

“A taxpayer supported public university system is not the place where we should expect to see exploding wage gaps, blacks disappearing from the workforce, and an opportunity ladder that seems to prize white males above all others, but that is precisely what is happening at UC—and the trends appear to be getting worse, not better,” said Owen Li co-author of the report titled “Pioneering Inequality: Income, Racial and Gender Inequality at the University of California.

Kathy Lybarger, president of Local 3299, said that the union had been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with UC that it hoped would begin to address the growing trend toward inequality identified in the report, but UC abruptly ended the negotiations.

“Instead of joining us in the effort to arrest these trends, UC has insisted on deepening them—leaving workers no option but to strike,” Lybarger said.

Among other things, the report finds that:

  • Between 2005 and 2015, the ratio between average salaries of UC’s top executives and other UC employees increased from 7:1 to 9:1.
  • Starting pay for women and people of color averages as much as 21 percent less than white males and
  • UC’s outsourcing has led to a 37 percent decline in the number of African American workers at UC.

Outsourcing is the biggest driver of inequality at UC, Lybarger said.

An audit conducted by the state last year found that UC’s propensity to outsource more of its work to private companies has hit low-wage career employees the hardest.

Their jobs have been outsourced to private contractors that pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits than UC.

When the impact of its privatization efforts were called to the attention of UC President Janet Napolitano, she instituted policies that required outsourcing companies to pay a minimum wage, but according to a state’s audit, UC has been lax at enforcing its own policy.

While Napolitano has been driving down wages by outsourcing away jobs, she has been much more generous in the way that she treats her immediate staff.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that another state audit found that salaries for employees who directly work for her “are significantly higher than those of comparable state employees.”

These favored employees during the years audited also received an additional $21.6 million worth of perks that included contributions to their supplemental retirement accounts and stays at expensive hotels while travelling on UC business.

While Napolitano’s closest associates were being treated to extra perks, UC’s service workers, who include custodians, grounds keepers, security guards, and other service staff, have had to scramble to keep their livelihoods intact.

Some UC workers like Juan Donto, a groundskeeper at UC Santa Barbara, must work multiple jobs to support their families.

Donto, who works three jobs, said that having to work so much to meet his expenses has made it hard for him to spend any time with his children.

“It’s not right that the UC is known for its upstanding reputation when their workers have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet,” Donto said. “It’s not right that Latinos and African Americans are making at least 20 percent less than their white co-workers. I ask you, why does it take an African American woman six years to make the (starting) salary of a white man?”

Air France workers reject latest proposal to end strikes

Air France workers on May 4 rejected a wage increase proposed by the company’s CEO.

After the rejection, the workers’ unions announced that a series of two-day strikes that have been going on since February will continue, and Air France’s CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac resigned.

Janaillac had hoped to end the strikes by proposing a 7 percent wage increase that would be phased in over four years.

The unions have been demanding an immediate 5 percent increase because wages at Air France have frozen for the last five years.

Janaillac bypassed the unions, which had been in negotiations with Air France, and took his proposal directly to the workers, who voted online on whether to accept or reject his offer.

Workers were told that if they didn’t accept the proposal, the very existence of Air France would be at stake.

Despite the warnings, 55 percent of Air France’s pilots, cabin crew, and ground staff voted to reject Janaillac’s proposal.

Janaillac had staked his reputation on being able to end the strikes, and the workers’ rejection of his proposal clearly left him shaken and frustrated, which led to his resignation.

“The vote is the victory, not (Janaillac’s) resignation,” said Laurent Le Gall, a representative of CFTC, one of the unions whose members work at Air France to Bloomberg News. “(He) attempted to bypass the negotiation framework with this move, and it comes back at him like a boomerang.”

After rejecting Janaillac’s wage proposal, Air France workers on Monday went on another two-day strike.

It was the 14th time since February that Air France flights have disrupted by strikes, costing the company 400 million euros.

Prior to the strikes, Air France had been reaping record profits, and its workers thought it was time that the sacrifices that they have been making since the company restructured in 2012 should be rewarded.

Since 2012, Air France’s workers have endured layoffs and wage freezes, and the unions representing them proposed an immediate 5 percent wage increase to offset some of the workers losses.

Janaillac and the French government, which owns a 12 percent share in the company thought otherwise.

They preferred that investors rather than workers should be the ones rewarded for the company’s successful recovery.

The workers’ demands for a decent pay raise have irritated the government of President Emmanuel Macron, but when they rejected Janaillac’s wage proposal, the government’s irritation morphed into imperious contempt.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire fumed that the workers rejection could lead to the “disappearance” of Air France, a not-so veiled threat that unless workers buckled under, Air France would go out of business.

Le Maire’s over-the-top remarks about the dangers posed to Air France by a 5 percent wage increase is not particularly out of character for a government official appointed by President Emmanuel Macron.

Since he took office a year ago, Macron’s government  has taken measures suggesting that he and his government think that workers have it too good and need be taken down a peg or two.

One of the first things that he did after becoming president was to ram through changes to the country’s labor code that made work more precarious and made it easier for businesses to fire workers and to ignore pattern-setting, industry-wide labor contracts negotiated by unions.

He told Parliament that if his proposals bogged down in debate, he would unilaterally implement them through a directive of his own.

This year, he decided that workers for the country’s public rail service SNCF had it too good, and decided to eliminate job security for new hires, reduce pension benefits, and pave the way for privatizing SCNF.

That decision has led to ongoing railway strikes. The day after Air France workers began their 14th two-day strike, rail workers began their seventh two-day strike since the beginning of April.

If that weren’t enough, Macron has proposed cutting pensions and unemployment benefits.

Macron said that the worker pain he is proposing is needed to make France more business friendly and competitive.

But workers have another view.

The New York Times reports that “many workers worry that the financing of the country’s cherished safety net will be plucked away and transferred to business for the profit of shareholders.”

In many ways that is the same feeling that Air France workers have about the company’s reluctance to share their profits with them.

Strike in Connecticut averted as lawmakers raise pay for home care workers

After the Connecticut state Senate voted to increase the pay of workers who provide home care services to people with disabilities, the workers’ union called off a strike that was scheduled to begin Monday morning.

The Senate vote sends the pay raise legislation to Gov. Daniel Malloy, who said he will sign the bill.

Connecticut’s home care workers provide personal care services to people living in group homes and to people in day programs. They haven’t had a pay raise in ten years.

Low pay and the lack of raises have made it difficult to maintain essential services needed by people with disabilities

“Our clients are like family and we are willing to fight to make sure they get the proper funding they deserve,” said  Kim Ackerman, a home care worker, explaining why she was ready to strike.

Connecticut home care workers like Ackerman are members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NE.

The union called for the strike after its efforts to increase funding for home care services stalled in the legislature.

The state provides funding used to pay private companies that hire workers to provide the care.

For the last ten years, the funding for these services has remained flat.

The union had been working with the governor and lawmakers to find a way to increase funding, but it took the possibility of a strike to focus lawmaker attention on this problem.

The union had originally planned to begin the strike on April 18, but a plea by Gov. Malloy led to a postponement.

When lawmakers dithered about increasing funding, the union announced that the strike would begin on May 7.

About a week before the strike was to begin, the state’s Office of Policy Management Secretary Ben Barnes proposed legislation that would raise home care workers’ pay to a minimum of $14.75 an hour effective January 1, 2019.

Barnes’ proposal included a one-time 5 percent raise for workers who already earn $14.75 an hour.

The state House of Representatives approved the proposal about a week ago, and the Senate concurred over the weekend.

The long overdue raise will provide some relief to workers and to their employers.

Before passage of the funding bill, Jennifer Schneider, a spokesperson for SEIU 1199NE, said that under funding home care services had created a crisis in the state.

“When privatized group homes and programs are shuttering and workers are forced to work 80 hours a week just to make ends meet, something has to change,” Schneider said.”


In addition to working long hours, some personal care workers have been forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

The union estimates that 35 percent of its members receive some form of public assistance.



The problems faced by Connecticut’s home care workers and the people served by them are not unique.

In fact there is a crisis of care all over the US.

For instance, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that in Minnesota the number of unfilled personal home care positions has “skyrocketed” from 2,038 in 2012 to 7,766 in 2017.

As a result, some people with disabilities have been forced to live in nursing homes rather than in less restrictive settings.

The Star Tribune blames the dearth of personal care workers on the job’s low pay, which the newspaper says is on average between $12 and $13 an hour.

The $12 to $13 an hour that Minnesota personal care workers are paid is actually a well above the national average.

According to PHI, a policy and advocacy organization, the average pay for a home care provider nationally is $10.11 an hour, which adjusted for inflation is $0.10 less than it was in 2005.

Low pay means a high level of poverty for home care workers who are overwhelmingly female and people of color, continues PHI. “24 percent of home workers live in households below the federal poverty line, compared to 9 percent of all US workers.”

Low pay is driving many qualified workers away from home care work and into jobs that pay more.

Unfortunately, this exodus is coming at a time when there is a growing need for these services.

In its report on home care needs, PHI says that demographic changes in the coming years will create a greater need for home care workers.

PHI estimates that by 2024 more than 633,000 new home care jobs will be created, but low pay will mean that many of these jobs will go unfilled.

“If the home care workforce is to grow, jobs will need to be more competitive, offering
higher wages and improved working conditions,” concludes the PHI report.

Women fight sexual harassment at XPO

Women workers from an XPO Logistics warehouse in Memphis traveled to Seattle to demand that their employer be held accountable for sexual harassment that they are experiencing on the job.

The women were joined in Seattle by women’s rights activists and members of the Teamsters union who demonstrated with them at Verizon’s annual shareholders meeting.

Verizon contracts with XPO to operate the Memphis warehouse where a number of Verizon’s products are stored and shipped to customers all over the US.

In April three women at the warehouse filed charges with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging that XPO supervisors had groped them and made inappropriate and unwanted sexual comments and advances toward them.

A few weeks later, five more women filed similar charges.

“My coworkers and I were sexually harassed all the time with nowhere to turn,” said Lakeisha Nelson, one of the women who filed charges against XPO. “Our warehouse is an essential part of Verizon’s supply chain, and I hope now that we have the ear of Verizon’s CEO and board, that the company will help us end supervisor sexual harassment and misconduct at XPO once and for all.”

Later in the day, Nelson and Tasha Murrell, another XPO employee, met with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam and two Verizon board members to discuss the charges.

After the meeting, a Verizon spokesperson told USA Today that as soon as Verizon learned of the charges, the company began its own investigation into the matter.

At the Seattle demonstration, Nelson and Murrell were joined by supporters of the TimesUp and MeToo campaigns against sexual harassment.

Prior to the demonstration, prominent activists in the two campaigns wrote a letter to McAdam informing him and the Verizon board about the charges.

The letter was signed by Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the NAACP Tennessee State Conference, Cherisse A. Scott, CEO and founder of SisterReach, Elizabeth Gedmark, senior staff attorney/director of the Southern Office of A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, Sarah David Heydemann, legal fellow, Workplace Justice National Women’s Law Center, and Gabrielle Carteris, president SAG-AFTRA

James P. Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters, also signed the letter.

According to the letter, most of the workers at the Memphis XPO warehouse are African-American women, and most of the supervisors are white men.

The letter goes on to describe some of the harassment that XPO women workers endure.

“Numerous women told stories of how they and their coworkers regularly faced
disturbing behavior from their supervisors, including aggressive groping and grabbing,
uncomfortable sexual comments, and retaliation for reporting harassment to HR or not
entertaining the sexual advances,” states the letter.

The signees called on Verizon to “hold XPO accountable for the shocking and inexcusable
treatment of its workers.”

In addition to sexual harassment, workers at the XPO Memphis warehouse have other grievances including dangerous working conditions, low pay, having to work shifts that can last as long as 15 hours, and lack of control over their fluctuating hours, shifts, and work week.

They are also angry about the company’s lack of respect toward them.

“XPO management forces workers to remove their bras at the security checkpoint, we see snakes, rats, lizards and bugs,” said Elizabeth Howley, an XPO worker in April. “We don’t have any nurses or defibrillators, and no one is allowed to do CPR, even if certified. A co-worker died and we had to work around her body. We don’t deserve to be treated like this. No one does.”

Howley was referring to Linda Jo Neal, a 58-year old XPO Memphis worker who in October collapsed on the job and died of a heart attack.

According to XPO workers who were on the scene when Neal collapsed, those who tried to help her were warned by supervisors not to do so under threat of disciplinary action.

These conditions have led XPO workers to begin trying to organize a union.

They have received help from the Teamsters who have an ongoing organizing campaign at XPO, one of the biggest and fastest growing logistics companies in the world.

The Teamsters have won union election campaigns at XPO warehouses in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

But XPO has relied on questionable and possibly illegal tactics to keep from bargaining with the union.

In January, an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled that XPO violated the law when it withheld raises from workers who voted to join the union and required the company to pay the workers millions of dollars owed to them in back pay.

One thing that the Memphis workers have in common with other XPO workers is that the company treats its frontline workers as so many interchangeable parts, as if they were just gears in a machine.

“I am human,” said Nelson at a union rally in April. “(XPO must) treat me as such. Give me that respect.”

JetBlue flight attendants turn the tide; vote to unionize

While teacher strikes dominated the labor news during April, another group of white-collar workers made an important statement when they voted to unionize,

Just like teachers in West Virginia and other states who decided that collective action is the only way to get their voice heard, JetBlue flight attendants voted 2661 to 1274 to join the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

John Samuelson, TWU’s president, said that the union vote at JetBlue is “yet another example of the tide turning in America as workers continue to lock arms and fight back to defend their livelihoods.”

Since JetBlue began operations in 1998, management has styled the airline as a new kind of business: one that brings “humanity back to air travel.”

JetBlue, so the story went, would use technology to enhance air travel for customers, and build a direct relationship with employees to make JetBlue a great place to work.

Unions might be needed at other airlines, but at JetBlue, a third party such as a union could only get in the way of this direct and special relationship shared by employer and employee.

Unfortunately, a third party did get in the way of this special relationship, but it wasn’t a union.

Wall Street investors began demanding more profits from JetBlue, and management paid attention to this third party.

To appease Wall Street, JetBlue began looking for ways to cut costs to boost profits.

The company added more seats to their airplanes and reduced the number of flight attendants on them.

It reduced cleaning staff and made flight attendants perform more of the cleaning work.

To save money of health care costs, it dramatically increased the amount that employees pay for their health care benefit.

It also kept flight attendants’ pay well below industry standards set by unionized airlines.

When the company’s own work rules got in the way of its profits, management arbitrarily revised or reinterpreted them without any input from employees, belying the company’s direct relationship with employees.

These grievances along with the fact that JetBlue is an at will employer with no grievance procedures for appealing unjust firings or disciplinary actions made some flight attendants think that they needed a union, and they contacted TWU.

TWU organizers helped the union supporters set up an organizing committee, and members of the organizing committee began circulating union authorization cards asking for a union representation at JetBlue.

When word about the organizing campaign got out last summer, management launched an aggressive counter attack.

In e-mails and direct mailings to flight attendants, the company ignored the fact that its own employees were the driving force behind the organizing campaign and blamed it on outside agitators.

A company email to flight attendants called TWU “an opportunistic and negative third party” and accused the union of criminal behavior.

Labor Press reports that JetBlue worked with the right-wing anti-union groups Center for Union Facts and the National Right to Work (for less) Defense Foundation to carry out its anti-union campaign.

It also hired a union avoidance law firm.

In addition to a barrage of misinformation sent by e-mail and direct mail, anti-union websites purportedly operated by flight attendants popped up urging flight attendants to reject the union.

JetBlue also took a softer approach. In January, one month after union supporters petitioned the National Mediation Board for a union election, the company announced that it was giving all employees a $1000 bonus because of the new tax cut.

But neither the company’s hard line nor its soft approach proved effective.

When the results of the  union election were announced on April 16, 66 percent of the more than 4000 flight attendants who voted, voted for the union.

The next step will be for the union to gather information from members and decide what issues to take to the bargaining table.

JetBlue has already indicated that it may try to delay the negotiations in hopes that the union will be unable to sustain itself.

As part of its anti-union pitch before the election, JetBlue pointed to the length of time it took for TWU to negotiate a first contract with Allegiant airlines, and intimated that a union at JetBlue would face the same uphill battle.

What the company failed to mention is that when TWU finally did negotiate its first collective bargaining agreement with Allegiant, flight attendants got a 33 percent pay raise over the five years of the agreement.

Samuelson said that TWU had no intention of letting negotiations with JetBlue drag on for a long time.

“TWU intends to immediately commence contract bargaining with JetBlue,” Samuelson said. “It is our sincerest wish that the company comes to the table and bargains a fair and just contract with the workers they employ. But if JetBlue refuses to bargain in good faith, this union is prepared to engage in a fight back campaign that will continue until a contract is secured and the inflight crew members are protected.”



Teachers strike against austerity

2018 has been the year of the teachers’ strike. West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma teachers have walked off the job and won major victories for public education.

On April 26, teachers and education support employees in Arizona and Colorado joined the strike movement.

In Arizona striking teachers and their supporters marched through downtown Phoenix to the state capitol in 100 degree weather to demand more funding for public education.

Defying a threat of arrest, Colorado teachers walked off the job and rallied in Denver, the state capital, for more funding for public education.

Teacher strikes haven’t been confined to the US. On April 16, teachers in Tunisia began a strike that affected the country’s high schools and colleges.

Tunisian teachers are also demanding more funding for the country’s public schools.

These strikes and the ones that came before them have one thing in common: they are all demanding an end to their governments’ austerity policies that for the last ten years have cut public education funding and funding for other public services.

In Arizona, teachers created the #RedforEd movement to restore public education funding.

Wearing their red t-shirts, an estimated 75,000 teachers, school support staff, and public education supporters flooded the streets of Phoenix on their way from a downtown baseball field to the state capitol.

They came to town to demand that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and state lawmakers restore more than $1 billion cut from the state’s education budget over the last ten years.

In a letter to Gov. Ducey, the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United describe some of the challenges their students face because of the state’s austerity measures.

“Our classrooms go without updated textbooks, basic supplies, and technology,” states the letter. “We have among the highest class sizes and school counselor ratios in the nation making it difficult to meet the individual needs of students.”

In addition, school buildings and school buses are not being repaired creating dangerous conditions for learning.

Since Arizona began cutting its education budget, spending per student has dropped to $7500 per student, the third lowest rate of spending per pupil among all states in the US.

Teachers want Gov. Ducey to increase education funding per pupil, so that it rises to the national average.

Cuts to the education budget have also resulted in stagnant teacher pay causing an exodus of qualified teachers, and a dearth of new teachers to take their place, leading to a teacher shortage and overcrowded classrooms.

Teachers are demanding a 20 percent pay increase, so that local school districts can retain experienced, quality educators and attract qualified newcomers to the profession.

Additionally, they want a competitive pay raise for school support staff, whose services play a vital role in the education of the state’s children.

Before the strike began and after teachers announced their decision to strike, Gov. Ducey tried to dissuade them by offering teachers a 20 percent pay increase.

Teachers rejected his proposal because it wouldn’t do anything about lowering class sizes or fixing local districts’ dilapidated infrastructure and because the governor proposed to funding the raises by taking money from state programs that serve low-income children and their families.

Like the #RedforEd movement in Arizona, the Colorado teachers’ #WeAreRed movement is fighting to restore money slashed from education budgets.

According to the Colorado Education Association, (CEA) these cuts have resulted in an $828 million under funding of Colorado’s public schools this year.

This year’s education funding deficit isn’t unique. For year, the state has scrimped on funding education.

As a result, teacher pay has not kept up with increases in the cost of living. CEA reports that over the last 15 years, teacher pay has been reduced by 17 percent when adjusted for inf lation.

Teachers in Colorado are also mad at the attempt by some lawmakers to undermine their pensions.

Legilslation was introduced this session to expand defined contribution retirement plans at the expense of teachers’ more traditional defined benefit pensions.

A mass mobilization of teachers and other education employees eliminated this proposal from pension legislation being considered by lawmakers, and the mobilization resulted in an infusion of $225 million to shore up the pension fund.

When Colorado teachers announced that they planned to strike, some lawmakers introduced legislation to make teacher strikes an illegal offensive that could result in jail time for those participating in strikes.

That threat didn’t keep thousands of Colorado teachers from walking off the job both Thursday and Friday resulting in school closures in at least 27 districts.

In Tunisia, secondary and college teachers on April 16 began an indefinite strike to stop cuts to public education being proposed by the government.

The teachers’ union, the FGESEC, blamed the government’s cuts on the International Monetary Fund, which has insisted on a number of austerity measures including cuts to education in return for a loan that the government requested.

The union is demanding wage increases for teachers, retirement at age 55 after 30 years of service, more progressive schools, a democratic education structure that benefits all children, teaching of the national culture, and an end to privatization of government resources including schools.

In Arizona, teachers were disappointed when Gov. Ducey refused to meet with them and  lawmakers adjourned and left town rather than meet face-to-face with angry teachers.

But the teachers weren’t deterred. They returned to the Capitol on Friday, and vowed to continue their fight.

“They ran from red,” said an AEA posting on its Facebook page referring to the #RedforEd movement. “But we’ll be back. We’re not giving up.”

Grad workers strike, urge Columbia’s leaders to follow the law and negotiate

Graduate workers at Columbia University in New York City are on strike.

Instead of teaching classes, conducting research, and grading papers, teaching and research assistants, members of the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110 (GWC), on Tuesday morning walked off the job.

After the strike began, about 1000 graduate workers gathered on campus for a rally. They carried signs reading, “Bargain Now, “UAW on strike,” “Pro-Union=Anti Sexual Harassment,” and others.

The rally was briefly interrupted by about two dozen construction workers wearing their hard hats and marching toward the rally chanting, “union, union, union. . .”

The show of solidarity, organized by New York City’s building trades unions, surprised the graduate workers, but they quickly responded by cheering their supporters, blowing whistles, and joining the chants.

For that moment, the chant of “union, union, union. . .” created an unlikely bond between the hardhats and the student workers.

The graduate workers blamed the strike on Columbia’s administration, which for 17 months has refused to recognize the results of a union election that the union won 1602 to 623.

“We work hard and are dedicated to the core principles of this University, but we have had enough,” said Olga Brudastova, a teaching assistant at Columbia’s civil engineering and engineering mechanics department. . . “As long as they refuse to respect our legal rights, we will take action to take our power back.”

The organizing effort among Columbia’s teaching and research assistants goes back for years, but a breakthrough happened in the summer of 2016 when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that graduate workers at private universities had the right to join a union and bargain collectively.

That ruling led to a December 2016 union vote at Columbia in which 70 percent voted for the union.

Despite the overwhelming support for the union, Columbia’s administration led by President Lee Bollinger refused to recognize the union and challenged the vote.

In December 2017, the NLRB ruled against Columbia’s administration finding that “the Employer has failed to carry its burden,” noting that Columbia’s challenge was based on weak evidence in an election in which the margin of victory was 979 votes.

“In these circumstances, we find no reasonable doubt as to the fairness and validity of the election,” stated the board in its decision.

Despite this rebuke, President Bollinger continued to ignore the union’s demand that the administration begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

After repeated attempts to make Bollinger follow the law and bargain with the union, last week GWC took a strike vote in which 93 percent voted to authorize a strike if the administration refused to bargain.

After the strike vote, the union sent a letter to Columbia’s administration announcing that union members would strike on April 24 unless the administration agreed to come to the bargaining table.

President Bollinger sent a last minute message to graduate workers warning them, not to go on strike.

However, when the administration failed to respond to the union’s demand by the deadline, the 3000 members of GWC walked off the job.



The union called the strike “a showdown between the Academic 1 percent of deans and administrators and the 99 percent of younger academic workers.”

“We work long hours for Columbia, and most of us take home less than $30,000 a year while securing millions in grants and research funding,” Brudastova said. “We want a union because we want real recourse when faced with sexual harassment or assault, and progress on issues like late pay, dilapidated lab facilities, and benefits.”

While graduate workers struggle to make ends meet, administrators at Columbia like Bollinger, who likes to burnish his credentials as a liberal champion of the poor, are doing much better.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Bollinger’s annual compensation of $4.6 million makes him the highest paid chief executive among his peers at private universities in the US.

The union said that the strike will last until April 30, the last day of classes, unless the administration agrees to come to the bargaining table.

While the strike is scheduled to end in a week, members of the union said that they are ready to take further action if Columbia’s administration continues to flout the law.

“This is only the beginning,” said Ian Bradley-Perrin, a PhD candidate in public health. “If Columbia continues to refuse to bargain with us, they should expect us to strike again. We love our work and our students, but we need the security of a contract to move forward. We won a democratic election that was certified by the federal government, and the law is clear. It’s time for Columbia to come to the table.”

A solidarity fund has been set up to support striking graduate workers.


Tax cuts result in big profits for AT&T, workers get layoffs and concession demands

At an annual Tax Day demonstration in Washington DC, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) criticized the corporate tax cuts passed in December.

Union leaders said that the tax cut produced billions of windfall profits for corporate giants like AT&T and gave them incentives to offshore and outsource good paying, working class jobs.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was an enthusiastic supporter of the tax cuts, which have proven to be especially good for the company.

AT&T reported a $29.5 billion profit in 2017, a 126 percent increase over 2016 when the company reported $13 billion in profits.

The tax cut was a big reason for AT&T’s enormous profits.

Morningstar reports that “the corporate-tax overhaul, a long held goal of Chief Executive Randall Stephenson, helped AT&T book a $19 billion profit in the fourth quarter (of 2017), though its revenues slipped by 0.4 percent.”

Shortly after the tax bill passed in December, Stephenson promised that the company would invest its savings to create thousands of new jobs, but four days later on Christmas Eve, AT&T notified workers that it was eliminating thousands of jobs across the US.

One of the workers who received a layoff notice was Merle Milton, CWA Local 4004 president in Detroit.

AT&T told Milton and 114 other union employees at its Detroit call center that it was closing the call center and laying off the workers. Earlier in 2017, AT&T closed another Detroit call center eliminating 53 union jobs.

“This December, AT&T announced that they were closing the call center where I’ve worked for 25 years,” Milton said. “My co-workers and I worked hard to provide quality customer service and help grow AT&T into the successful company it is today. But instead of rewarding us for our dedication, AT&T is pulling out of our community and taking our jobs overseas–undermining customer service and hurting hardworking families. Workers deserve better, AT&T customers deserve better, and cities like Detroit deserve better.”

Milton and the Detroit workers weren’t alone.

Larry Robbins, vice president of CWA Local 4900, told the Indianapolis Star that, “we believe there’s more than 4,000 people AT&T has (notified of layoffs) across the country.”

CWA said that many of these lost jobs are being sent overseas where workers are “paid pennies on the dollar relative to call center workers in the US,” and it appears that the new tax law is facilitating these job losses.

A recently released report by the Congressional Budget Office  (CBO) says that the new tax code gives tax breaks to companies that offshore tangible assets. Tangible assets include things such as factories, office buildings, and call centers.

Doing so, states the CBO, “may increase corporations’ incentives to locate tangible assets abroad.”

CWA is supporting legislation to end tax breaks that encourage companies to shift jobs overseas.

The bill titled the “No Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Act” is sponsored by Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse  of Rhode Island.

Those that still have jobs at AT&T have found that the company is acting as if it were in financial trouble rather than flush with tax-cut cash.

AT&T is seeking concessions as it negotiates a new collective bargaining agreements with two of its bargaining units–AT&T Midwest and AT&T Legacy T.

The company is demanding what the union calls “unprecedented” increases to workers’ health care costs, weaker pension benefits, and more outsourcing of union jobs.

Lisa Bolton, CWA’s vice president for telecommunications and technologies called AT&T’s concession demands “insulting.”

“AT&T made nearly $30 billion in profits last year, and is reaping major benefits from the passage of the corporate tax cut bill,” Bolton said. “They can afford to keep good family supporting jobs in our communities instead of laying off workers and sending their work to low-wage contractors.”

The two contracts that cover 14,000 workers have expired, but the union and company continue to negotiate.

Workers at the two bargaining units have authorized a strike if the two sides can’t reach a fair agreement.

“Our members remember the big promises that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson made if the corporate tax cut bill passed, and now we’re holding AT&T to those promises,” said CWA District 4 Vice President Linda L. Hinton. “AT&T should not underestimate CWA members. They are ready to do whatever it takes to get a fair contract. . . , including going on strike if we aren’t able to make progress at the bargaining table.”



Union finds pay discrimination at LA Times

A report by the new journalists’ union at the Los Angeles Times finds that women and journalists of color at the newspaper are under paid.

Last January, the Times journalist voted to form a union and bargain collectively with their employer.

In order to prepare for its first negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement, the union, the LA Times News Guild-CWA, requested pay data from the Time’s owner Tribune Online Content, better known as Tronc.

After reviewing the data, the union issued a report on its findings.

A summary of the report states that “Tronc has underpaid women and journalists of color by thousands of dollars a year at the Los Angeles Times, suggesting systemic salary gaps by race and gender.”

The union released the report last week to its members, and it angered employees in the newsroom.

“I’ve long thought (the Times) underpays women and people of color. But to see the numbers in this (union) report is infuriating,” tweeted a Latina employee.

“It’s so grim to be able to mathematically quantify exactly how much my company undervalues me and dozens of my talented, hardworking coworkers,” tweeted another female employee.

The union received pay information for 323 newsroom employees in the newly created bargaining unit, which includes reporters, photographers, copy editors, designers, and other newsroom employees.

After analyzing the data, the union found that on average women in the Times newsroom are paid 70 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.

The report examined pay for people working in similar jobs, and noted that with a few exceptions pay disparities exist in all job classifications.

For example, the average reporter’s salary is about $95,000, but the average female reporter’s salary is $87,564 and the average reporter of color’s salary is $85,622.

Some of the pay gap can be explained by the age and experience levels of the Times employees.

Because of past hiring practices and other employer decisions, most of the better paid, longer tenured employees at the Times newsrooms are white males.

But, notes the union, this is only a partial explanation of the pay gap.

After comparing salary data for people in the same job classification with the same level of experience, states the report, we “found (that there are) scores of individual women and journalists of color who, on average, make thousands of dollars less than white and male co-workers of similar ages and job titles.”

Employees responding to the report said that discrimination at the Times goes back before Tronc bought the paper.

“Let’s be clear, this is not a problem created by Tronc,” tweeted a Latina employee. “This is the result of a culture in the newsroom that undervalues women and people of color, especially those hired through the Metpro program and then tasks those same reporters with working some of the toughest stories.”

Tronc describes its Metpro program as “a unique program designed to help beginning journalists launch careers and boost diversity at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune (another paper owned by Tronc where journalists are organizing a union).

Tronc will likely not own the Times for very much longer.

In February, Tronc announced that it had sold the Times for $500 million to Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Los Angeles biotech entrepreneur.

That sale is still pending, but Soon-Shiong visited the Times newsroom last Friday to share his vision of what the Times should be with newsroom staff.

It’s not clear whether he had anything to say about the union’s report.

From the start of its organizing campaign, union supporters have stated that one of their main goals was to fight pay discrimination in the newsroom.

In a letter written last October to fellow newsroom staffers, members of the union organizing committee said that winning “equal pay for men and women and equal pay for journalists of color” was one of its main goals.

The union said that it plans to follow up on the findings in the recent report.

“The findings shed light on why the Los Angeles Times unionized after 136 years. We’re a stronger newsroom when we look out for each other. We will be meeting with our members soon to discuss this report and what should come next,” said the union in its summary of the report.

German public sector workers strike for big wage increase

After a week of “warning strikes,” The leader of Germany’s largest union ver. di expressed optimism that a deal raising wages for Germany’s public sector is in reach as the third round of wage bargaining resumed on Sunday.

More than 150,000 public service employees took part in the warning strikes that began on April 10 and lasted throughout the week.

Frank Bsirske, leader of ver. di, said that the solidarity expressed by members of ver. di and the German Civil Service Union (dbb) has made him confident that the government is now ready to negotiate wage increases.

Prior to the strikes and during the first two rounds of negotiations, the government had been stonewalling the unions on the wage increase demands.

The two unions want a 6 percent pay increase with a minimum increase of 200 euros a month. They also want a 100 euro a month increase for interns and trainees.

The strikes began on Tuesday when Lufthansa ground crew workers and firefighters walked off the job causing Germany’s largest airline to cancel 800 flights.

The next two days transport workers all over Germany idled public transportation.

Public transportation in Stuttgart, Hanover, Braunschwieg, Wolfsburg, Dusseldorf, Mannheim, Kaiserslautern, and Heidelberg was shut down for a day because of the strikes.

Government administrative offices, hospitals, child care centers, kindergartens, sanitation services, and other public services were all affected by the warning strikes.

As the strikes began to have their effect, Bsriske said that the government has the financial resources to meet the unions demands.

“Public coffers are full as never before–when if not now would be the time for wage increases,” Bsirske said.

The German government reported a 2017 budget surplus of 36.6 billion euros, Germany’s largest budget surplus since 1990.

Despite its record-breaking surplus, the government during the first two rounds of negotiations refused to make any wage increase offers, which frustrated union negotiators.

During a rally of striking workers in Bonn, Ulrich Silberbach, leader of the German Civil Service Union (dbb) whose members also participated in the warning strikes, said that the government needed to alter its negotiating position.

“Real trouble beckons if government employers . . . do not finally understand that they need to invest in their current and future workforce to make the government fit for the future,” said Silberbach.

After the warning strikes ended on Friday, union leaders buoyed by the solidarity shown by union members, entered the weekend confident that the third round of negotiations would be more fruitful.

And they were right.

After the first day of the third round ended, the unions and the government issued a joint statement announcing “initial progress” had been made in resolving their differences on a wage increase.

The statement went to say that work remained on the scope and structure of the wage increases

Bsriske told reporters that the progress made during the first day of negotiations was the result of the higher than expected number of union members who took part in the strike.

Rail workers in France continue their strikes

For the second time in five days, French rail workers on April 8 went on a two-day strike to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to eliminate hard-won labor rights and to transform France’s state-run rail system from a public service into a business.

Euronews reports that because of the strike only one in seven high-speed trains that connect the nation and one in five regional trains were operating during the two-day walkout.

The first two-day strike took place on April 3 and April 4, was equally disruptive.

Bloomberg reports that the four days of strike have cost SNCF, which operates France’s state-owned rail system, $100 million euros.

Four unions of rail workers have joined together to plan and organize the strike.

These two-day strikes will take place every five days and continue until the end of June unless President Macron re-thinks his decision to implement by decree changes to workers’ pension rights and job protections.

The unions are also concerned about Macron’s plan to turn SNCF into a business whose stock will be listed on stock exchanges.

Even though the government will maintain control of the stock, union leaders think that turning SNCF into a business will lead to its privatization.

While the original plan for the nationwide two-day strikes is for them to end in the latter part of June, Philippe Martinez, leader of CGT, the largest of the four striking rail unions, said that if the Macron government continues its present course of stonewalling negotiations, the strikes could last longer.

Martinez called on Macron and his negotiators to “unblock their ears to hear the worker’s discontent.”

“It’s this unwillingness to listen to the railway unions that has caused this situation,” Martinez said on LCI television. “We are a social opposition and that’s our role as a union.”


The discontent referred to by Martinez is the result of Macron’s announcement that he will if necessary issue a decree that eliminates early retirement and job security rights for newly hired rail workers.

Right now, rail workers can retire when they turn 52 years old and they have the guarantee of a job for life.

While the business-friendly press has characterized these benefits as privileges, they are in fact benefits that compensate rail workers for doing a hard job vital to commerce, leisure for others, and national unity.

“These rights were won by hard struggle and are seen (by workers) as some compensation for the low pay and the unsocial and unhealthy hours which must be worked to run a national rail network in a large country,” reports John Mullen for Counterfire.

There other reasons for concern among striking rail workers.

Macron wants to change the status of SNCF from that of a state-run public service to a joint-stock company.

Macron has characterized this change as an attempt to make SNCF more efficient, so that it can compete when France’s rail service is opened up to competition as required by the European Union.

The opening is supposed to begin in 2019, but Macron could postpone that intrusion until 2033 if he chooses.

Union leaders like Thierry Nier, deputy head of CGT’s rail workers union, are wary that Macron’s proposal will undermine the public nature of France’s rail system.

“The issue is this,” said Nier. “Does the state want to use this public good to meet the needs of the common interest, or play Monopoly with the SNCF? Competition doesn’t work, and it hurts passengers.”

There is also concern among the public that changing the structure of SNCF will lead to privatization of France’s rail system.

Critics of Macron’s proposal point out that the privatization of France Telecom began in a similar way.

Public opinion about the strike is divided.

The strike has been disruptive, which has been stressful for commuters trying to get to work and to travelers trying to reach their destination. That stress has led to frustration and anger.

But people are also concerned about the long-term impact that Macron’s proposals could have on the nation’s social fabric, leading many to support the strike.

In just two weeks, supporters of the strike have donated more than 500,000 euros to a strikers’ solidarity fund that will be used to supplement wages lost during the strikes.

“I unreservedly support the rail workers in their defense of public service,” wrote one donor.

“I completely agree with the rail workers and the reason behind what they’re doing,” said Hemet Sylla, a rail passenger whose train had been delayed, to The Local. “It’s absolutely vital to protect your rights and keep on fighting those trying to take them away.  And the disruption to our day might be annoying but this is part of living in a society where you have the right to protect yourself.”

OK teachers win victories for the students; more work remains

After a week of demonstrations and lobbying at the Oklahoma state Capitol, Oklahoma teachers on Friday, April 2 won major victories when state lawmakers passed two new tax bills that nearly double the amount of new education funding.

Since their strike began on April 2, teachers have made it clear that their job action is about more than pay raises; it’s about redefining the state’s priorities.

Teachers want state leaders to put their students first, and they want state leaders to find the resources it will take to invest in their students.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), said that the passage of two new tax bills, HB 3375 and HB 1019xx, shows that legislators are listening to striking Oklahoma teachers.

HB 3375, also known as “ball and dice,” allows casinos on Native American reservations to offer ball and dice games, which will generate significant new revenue for education, and HB 1019xx requires online retailers such as Amazon to collect sales taxes on purchases.

Priest praised the striking teachers, who “have been passionately advocating for their students and asking the legislature to provide more funding for our classrooms after a decade of neglect of Oklahoma’s public schools.”

“Because of the educators, parents and students who have taken to the Capitol this past week, the new funding for Oklahoma’s students nearly doubled to $92 million,” she added.

But Priest also said that there is more work to do.

She called on Oklahoma’s Gov. Mary Fallin to veto HB 1012xx, a bill that repeals a small tax on hotel and motel stays.

Priest said that passage of HB 1012xx is a step backward from progress that lawmakers had made on education funding.

“We call on Governor Fallin to immediately veto HB 1012xx because it steals $42 million in funding away from Oklahoma’s students,” Priest said.

She also urged lawmakers to pass SB 1086, a bill that eliminates a state income tax deduction on capital gains.

“They can end this walkout with the passage of Senate Bill 1086, which will provide significant and much-needed funding for students,” Priestly said.

SB 1086 would eliminate the deduction of capital gains on the sale of real estate or stock in an Oklahoma-based firm.

The tax break, which was designed to encourage business investment, benefits about 20,000 households or about 1 percent of the state’s households at the expense of education and other vital services.

According to Together Oklahoma, 85 percent of the benefits of the deduction go to people with annual incomes of $200,000 or more.

Rep. Cory Williams, a Democratic lawmaker from Stillwater told NonDoc that the capital gains deduction is a failed incentive that deprives the state of revenue it needs to provide core services such as education.

“We had an independent auditor tell us that this is an upside-down incentive where we have lost $465 million in revenue over a four-year period, (but only) got an additional $9 million in investment across the state because of it,” Williams said.

Priest said that the striking teachers would be back at the state Capitol on Monday morning to urge lawmakers to pass SB 1086.

For the past ten years, leaders of the state have disinvested in public education while at the same time giving tax breaks to the wealthy and special interests.

As a result of this disinvestment strategy, spending per pupil in the state’s public schools has decreased by 26.9 percent since 2008, and for the last four years, Oklahoma has led the nation in the size of education budget cuts.

The impact has been devastating.

Nearly 20 percent of the state’s public schools have cut their school week to four days because they can’t afford to stay open for five.

There isn’t enough money to buy new textbooks, so the ones used by students are outdated and in some cases, must be shared with other students.

Many students go to schools in a severe state of disrepair, but school districts can’t afford their maintenance much less their repair.

School districts also don’t have the money needed to retain qualified teachers, many of whom have left Oklahoma to teach in other states where the pay is better.

But the action by the state’s teachers has given Oklahomans reason for hope, which is why the public has strongly supported the teachers’ action.

Priest said that a survey by Sooner Poll, which she called “a reliable Republican pollster,” showed that 72 percent of those surveyed support the teacher action.

Priest said that this strong support from the public is one reason that teachers and their supporters will continue to fight for their students.

“We will be back at the Capitol on Monday,” said Priest.

“It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will dig in their heels and protect special interests over doing what’s right by students,” she continued. “If lawmakers won’t stand with teachers, support professionals, and students, we’ll work hard to elect education champions who will.”

Oklahoma teachers’ strike for their students

“Our students deserve more,” was the message of 30,000 striking Oklahoma teachers and their supporters at a rally at the state Capitol on April 2, and they vowed to continue their strike until lawmakers hear their voice.

Last week Oklahoma lawmakers thought that they had staved off a teachers’ strike by passing a new tax bill, HB 1010xx, which provides revenue to pay for an average $6000 a year raise for teachers, but striking teachers urged lawmakers to find more money to help their students get a quality education.

“Students, parents, and teachers have been negatively affected by 11 years of cuts to classrooms,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA). “They see broken chairs in classrooms, out of date textbooks that are duct taped together, and class sizes have ballooned.”

Priest said that there is a bi-partisan deal on the table to add $100 million to the $400 million in new taxes for education and other public services that Oklahoma lawmakers approved last week.

“Unfortunately the deal to provide the additional $100 million was left unfinished (on Monday) because the House of Representatives adjourned without taking action on the deal,” Priest said.

“That’s why we’ll be back at the Capitol April 3, and the walkout will continue,” added Priest.

The Oklahoma Senate on March 28 approved HB 1010xx.

The next day, the state House of Representatives approved the bill and sent it to Gov. Mary Fallin, who said that she would sign the new revenue bill.

At the time of the passage, Priest called the new tax bill a good down payment on much needed improvements for Oklahoma’s schools.

But Priest also said that the state needed to find more revenue to fix a broken education system that has been damaged by more than a decade of budget cuts.

Lawmakers and the governor were patting themselves on the back after passage of the new tax bill and were hoping that its passage would stave off the planned April 2 strike.

But then special interests intervened, and the deal that had been supported by OEA and the American Federation of Teachers-Oklahoma City began to unravel.

The hotel/motel lobby began to complain about a new $5 per night fee on hotel and motel stays that was included in HB 1010xx.

Lawmakers responded by deleting the new fee, which lowered HB 1010xx estimated new revenue by about $25 million.

The deal alarmed teachers, who feared that other special interests would seek to eliminate other new sources of revenue, and on March 30, Priestly announced that the strike planned for April 2 would still take place.

The importance of the passage of HB 1010xx cannot be underestimated.

Tax cuts have been the mantra of state leaders since the mid-2000s.

But the tax cuts have come with a price.

Lost revenue resulting from tax cuts have made it difficult for the state to fund basic services.

Public education has been hit the hardest.

Since 2008, spending per pupil has decreased by 26.9 percent.

NPR reports that nearly 20 percent of the states public schools have cut back their school week to four days because of the lack of state funding.

The Guardian reports that for the past four years, Oklahoma has led the nation in cuts to its education budget.

Despite these dire circumstances, when HB 1010xx came up for consideration, special interests lobbied hard to keep their taxes from being raised.

None lobbied harder than the oil and gas industry, which has enjoyed preferential tax breaks for more than two decades.

But HB 1010xx raised the gross production tax on oil and gas drilling by a modest 3 percentage points.

To protect its preferential treatment, the oil and gas lobby organized a special lobbying effort on the day before the Senate voted on HB 1010xx.

The lobby’s job seemed to be made easier because it takes a  vote of 75 percent in both houses of the legislature to raise taxes in Oklahoma.

But the possibility of a teachers’ strike and the effective mobilization of organized teachers and their supporters coupled with the dire state of Oklahoma’s budget proved more compelling to lawmakers than lobbying by the oil and gas industry.

Despite their victory, Oklahoma teachers decided to press for more funding that would directly benefit their students, and so tens of thousands of the state’s teachers left their classrooms on April 2 to make their voice heard at the state Capitol.

As the Oklahoma teachers’ strike enters its second day, teachers have made it clear that their work stoppage is about more than a pay raise.

Before the strike began, Candice Pierce, a seventh grade teacher, said that she was supporting the walkout “to show that our students matter.”

“It’s not just about teacher pay,” continued Pierce. “It’s about our students getting funding. . . Our students deserve the best books; they deserve the best educators; they deserve everything that’s the best.”




Kentucky teachers close schools to protest pension ambush

Twenty school districts in Kentucky were shut down on Friday, March 30 as teachers poured into Frankfort, the state capital, to protest the passage of what teachers are calling an “ambush pension bill.”

Kentucky Education Association (KEA) president Stephanie Winkler said that KEA has planned a rally on Monday, April 2 to continue to protest the state’s leadership’s “blatant disrespect for the law and democracy.”

Winkler’s remarks came after Republican leaders of Kentucky’s Legislature inserted language that radically alters pensions for teachers and other public employees into a routine bill about sewer repairs, and then rushed the bill, SB 151, through both houses for a vote.

No committee hearings were held on the newly written bill and there was no analysis of the bill’s impact on the state or to legislators’ constituents. There wasn’t even a chance for lawmakers to read the 291-page bill before they voted.

Nevertheless, the House of Representatives at 7:30 P.M. narrowly approved the bill 49-46, and three hours later the Senate did the same and sent it Gov. Matt Bevin to sign.

The new bill eliminates pensions for newly hired teachers and other government employees and replaces them with a cash balance plan, which shifts much of the investment risks onto individual employees and reduces their pension benefit.

In addition to protesting the stealth attack on pensions, Winkler said that the Monday demonstrations will be about holding the governor and lawmakers accountable for education funding.

“We want lawmakers to vote for a budget that funds public education,” said Winkler at Friday afternoon media conference.

Winkler said that lawmakers need to increase state funding for classroom education, restore cuts to public school transportation budgets, and ease local school districts’ financial burdens.

Most school districts will be on spring break beginning April 2, but Winkler urged districts that are still open to close school on April 2 so that educators can come to Frankfort and make their voices heard.

As of Friday afternoon, at least three had announced that they will do so.

After passage of the SB 151, Gov. Matt Bevin, who enthusiastically supports SB 151, said that the bill solves the state’s pension funding problem, but it doesn’t.

For one thing, the bill provides no new funding to pay down the $26.75 billion unfunded liability of the state employees’ pension fund.

Gov. Bevin wants to divert more than a $1 billion from the teachers’ pension fund, which is in much better shape, into the state employees’ pension fund.

Winkler said that HB 151 is bad for public education because it creates an inferior retirement benefit that makes it more difficult than it already is to attract new teachers to teach in the Kentucky’s schools.

Making it more difficult to attract quality educators, Winkler said,  breaks a promise that the state has made to provide an equal and quality education to all public school students.

SB 151 leaves the pension of current teachers and other public employees intact, but the teachers who came to Frankfort on March 30 and plan to return on April 2 have every reason to believe that SB 151 breaks a promise made to them as well as to future teachers.

SB 151 leaves public pensions still seriously under funded, and there’s every reason to believe that in the not too distant future, Gov. Bevin won’t hesitate to use the pensions’ precariousness as an excuse to eliminate pensions for all teachers.

The stealth attack on public pensions comes after, Gov. Bevin’s original proposal to end public pensions in Kentucky, SB 1, appeared to be dead in the water.

Public demonstrations by teachers and other public employees had made lawmakers wary about supporting the bill.

Gov. Bevin’s antipathy toward secure retirements shouldn’t come as a surprise. He is an enthusiastic acolyte of the Koch brothers, whose political action committees lavishly support political candidates seeking to weaken public institutions including public education and public service.

Teachers from all over Kentucky recognize this threat, and that’s why they rushed to Frankfort on March 30 and will return on April 2.

And it appears that their loud voice has been heard by Andy Beshear, the state’s Democratic attorney general.

Beshear told an audience of teachers who packed the capitol’s halls on Friday that SB 151 violates the non-voidable contract the state has made to teachers and other public employees, reports the Lexington Herald Leader.

“While the (legislature’s) leadership broke their promise to you,” Beshear said. “I am going to keep my promise to you. I’m going to sue over this bill.”

Restaurant workers stop Trump administration’s tip grab

A mobilization of restaurant workers and their supporters stopped a Trump administration attempt to rewrite regulations that protect tipped employees from wage theft.

President Trump’s Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta proposed a new regulation that would have overturned an Obama-era regulation guaranteeing that tipped workers maintained controlled their tips.

Acosta’s proposal, which was supported by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), would have turned control of tips over to employers.

The NRA said that the new regulation was needed, so that restaurant owners could create tip pools that could be used to distribute tips among all restaurant employees.

But the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, which led the successful mobilization, said that the new rule would allow restaurant owners and managers to keep a portion of the tips for themselves, which ROC called “a glaring example of a legal form of wage theft.”

The mobilization efforts by ROC caught the eye of sympathetic lawmakers Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who put Secretary Acosta on the spot during a committee hearing.

Their questioning of Acosta led to the drafting of legislation that protected tips from employer control, the TIP Act.

Subsequently, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Secretary Acosta negotiated an agreement that allowed the TIP Act to be incorporated into the omnibus budget bill that Congress passed last week.

Doing so codified the portion of the Obama-era rule ensuring that employers, managers, or supervisors don’t grab their workers’ tips.

“The fact that hundreds of thousands of workers stood up and said no to employers taking their tips and that Congressional leaders listened and acted is a testament to the power of workers standing together,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and president of ROC.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project said that the Labor Department received 350,000 comments about the new tip rule.

According to Owens, “the vast majority” of the comments were from restaurant workers, consumers, and others who opposed the new rule.

Additionally, demonstrations by restaurant workers and their supporters opposing the new rule took place at Labor Department and NRA offices in 20 US cities.

In Washington DC, members of ROC dropped a banner from the Labor Department’s headquarters reading, “Trump, Don’t Steal Our Tips.”

The mobilization effort resulted in what Jayaraman call a “historic victory” for restaurant workers.

The proposed rule that restaurant workers were protesting would have allowed restaurant owners to create tip pools as long as they paid all employees at least the minimum wage.

Many if not most restaurants pay their tipped employees a sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, which they are allowed to do under federal law.

The proposed rule also would have allowed restaurant owners or managers to take control of the tips and distribute them any way they chose including keeping some of the tips for themselves.

Doing so, reported the Economic Policy Institute, would have given owners and managers control of $5.8 billion worth of tips with no guarantee that the tips would be distributed fairly.

The agreement negotiated by Sen. Murray and Secretary Acosta and codified in the TIP Act allows restaurant owners to create tip pools if the pay all their workers at least the minimum wage, but it forbids employers, supervisors, and managers from taking and keeping any of the tips for themselves.

“This compromise will protect workers’ income and will allow for more gender and racial equity in the restaurant industry,” said Tupti Patel, a server in a Washington DC restaurant and ROC member.

Jayaraman said that “protecting workers’ tips from managerial tip theft would also protect a mostly female workforce from exacerbated sexual harassment.”

But protecting tips from management control is just one step toward making restaurant work less subject to exploitation.

Jayaraman said that the next step will be for Congress to pass the One Fair Wage, which eliminates the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.

“The next step is that we need One Fair Wage—the elimination of the lower wage for tipped workers so that this incredibly large workforce, the majority of whom are women, is not entirely dependent on customer tips to feed their families,” Jayaraman said.


Kentucky teachers: stop education funding cuts and honor pension promise

Teachers from all over Kentucky were back in Frankfort, the state capital, on March 23 to demand that Gov. Matt Bevin and his allies in the state Legislature keep their promise to the state’s school children and their teachers.

The Legislature currently is considering bills that threaten the quality of education in the classroom and threaten the stability of the teachers’ pension fund.

Last week, the state Senate passed a budget bill that cuts the funding for classroom education approved by the state House of Representatives by $153 million. It also shaves spending for pre-school programs by 6.25 percent, cuts school transportation funding by $215 million, and provides no funding for student textbooks.

In addition, the Senate version of the budget cuts funding for teacher pensions by $1.1 billion over two years.

“We find it curious that even after taking $1 billion from pension funding, the Senate couldn’t find a way to do more for (classroom education), preschool, or textbooks,” reads a statement issued by the Kentucky Education Association.

The cuts to the teachers’ pension fund is especially alarming because actuaries, who audit the pension fund and determine its soundness, say that the cuts undermine the fund’s stability and will make the teachers’ pension fund insolvent by 2038.

The proposal has sparked outrage all over the state. Dozens of local demonstrations have taken places, and on Thursday, March 22, 2500 teachers and their supporters marched through Frankfort to demand an end to education funding cuts and adequate funding for their pensions.

Demonstrators said that the government has promised Kentucky students a quality education and teachers a secure retirement in lieu of a competitive paycheck.

“This fight is about keeping a promise to the students and teachers of (Kentucky),” said Stephanie Winkler, president of KEA, to KEA members over the weekend.

Gov. Bevin, who called protesting teachers “thugs” for speaking out against his cuts to education and pension funding, wants to take $1.1 billion from the teachers retirement fund and use it to prop up with the ailing state employees’ pension fund, which for years, has been purposely under funded.

Winkler criticized Gov. Bevin for “asking hard-working educators to bail the state out of this problem again rather asking corporations to pay their fair share.”

“We need to find new revenue,” Winkler said. “That’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

“We give away $13 billion in tax credits (to corporations) but only take in $11 billion in tax receipts,” she continued.

So far, the House and Senate have passed two different budget bills and a conference committee composed of leaders from the House and Senate has been convened to reconcile the two budgets.

In the meantime, Kentucky educators continue to make their voices heard.

On Monday morning before dawn, teachers in Louisville gathered in front of their schools to stage walk-ins to protest the Senate version of the budget bill and HB 1 another bill being considered by the Legislature.

HB 1 would radically alter pensions for public employees.

For newly hired public employees, it would eliminate their defined benefit pension plans that guarantee a modest but reliable pension for life after retirement and replace it with a cash balance plan.

Cash balance pension plans are often described as hybrids that contain features of individual retirement savings plans such as 401(k) savings plans and defined benefit plans.

In reality, they transfer much more risks to individuals covered by the plans and don’t guarantee the same level of benefits as defined benefit plans.

Gov. Bevin’s support for HB 1 and steep cuts to education and the teachers’ pension fund do not come as much of a surprise.

He is an acolyte of the Koch brothers, whose hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions favor politicians who wish to eviscerate public services such as public education and demean employees who provide these services.

But in his attempt to reduce funding for education and strip teacher pension funds of much-needed resources, he has run into a formidable opponent in Kentucky’s teachers.

Their campaign to save public education from unaffordable budget cuts and to protect their promised pensions has generate widespread community support.

When teachers came to Frankfort on March 22 to oppose cuts to education and their pensions, at least nine school districts called off classes, so that teachers could participate in the demonstrations in Frankfort.

Thousands of people, not just teachers have participated in the fight to stop education funding cuts and to protect teachers’ pensions, said Winkler.

“Our leaders made educators a promise,” she continued. “The people of Kentucky want that promise to be kept, and they’re not silent about it. . . We are the majority, and we will not be silent anymore.”

Striking Idaho miners stand firm

Striking Idaho miners on March 17 marked the one-year anniversary of their strike with a solidarity march and rally.

Miners at the Lucky Friday silver mine in Mullan, Idaho and their supporters chanted “Mullan is a union town. We won’t let you shut it down!” as they marched from the town center to the Lucky Friday picket line.

The mine is owned by Hecla Mining, a precious metals mining company that operates mines in Alaska, Mexico, and Canada as well as the one in Idaho.

Members of  United Steelworkers Local 5114 began their unfair labor practices strike on March 13, 2017 after the company attempted to unilaterally implement changes to the collective bargaining agreement.

The company’s attempt came after more than a year of  negotiations with the union on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Among the changes demanded by Hecla, were concessions, some of which, workers said, will make their jobs less safe.

Work in underground silver mines like the Lucky Friday is dangerous.

A mixture of heavy equipment, high temperatures, brittle rock, and unstable dust make for a volatile work environment.

“When things go wrong (in the mine), you usually don’t get a second chance,” said Louis Elam, a Local 5114 member to the Spokane Spokeman-Review during the solidarity march.

In 2011, an explosion at the Lucky Friday killed one miner.

“They pay you for your diligence and safety,” continued Elam. “These are talented people who know how to work the rock.”

A key element in keeping the mine safe is the seniority system that miners and the company agreed to more than 35 years ago.

The seniority system allows senior miners to select their crews. The system, according to union members, enhances safety because it builds crew cohesion and communication.

It also has resulted in record-setting production levels.

But the company thinks that the seniority system gives miners too much control over their jobs and wants to end it.

The company’s concession demands also included changing procedures for recalling workers after layoffs, increasing workers’ health care costs, moving work out of the mine, and reducing miners’ bonuses.

Before the strike began, the company tried to bully workers into accepting the company’s demands and once the strike began, it tried to intimidate them into returning to work.

The union filed unfair labor practice charges against the company, and some of the charges were recently resolved.

As a result of a settlement between the company and the National Labor Relations Board, Hecla mailed letters to union members telling them that the company will no longer engage in the unfair labor practices listed in the letter.

Among other things, Hecla said that it will not threaten employees with “negative consequences” if they support the strike; it will not promise benefits to those who abandon the strike; and it will allow workers to take accrued vacation as either a lump sum payment or earned vacation time.

The letter also said that the company will bargain in good faith with the union and will not unilaterally implement changes to the collective bargaining agreement.

Prior to receiving the letter, Local 5114 members had a chance to vote on whether to continue the strike.

In a secret ballot election held on March 7, workers voted 123-51 to reject a proposal to submit the outstanding negotiating issues to arbitration and instead to continue the strike and to continue negotiating with the company.

“Our members have spoken,” said Dave Roose Local 5114 unit chairman to the Shoshone News Press after the vote. “We have played the game, jumped through the hoops, and everyone has had the chance to vote. We have chosen to remain on strike rather than let someone else decide our future.”

Local 5114 members are looking to make it clear that the March 17 solidarity march was not just a one-time event and that they are ready to continue their fight for a fair contract.

On the local’s Facebook page, Roose announced that beginning March 23, “every Friday will be designated Black Friday” and encouraged members, family, and supporters to wear black “in remembrance of all the union members that have given their lives on picket lines and (as) a show of solidarity!!”

Unions members join suit to save TPS

Labor organizations have joined immigrant rights activists in challenging the Trump administration’s decision to revoke temporary protected status (TPS) of immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

UNITE HERE, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) joined a coalition of groups supporting ten TPS holders and five children of TPS holders who on March 12 filed suit in a San Francisco federal court to overturn the Trump administration’s TPS decisions.

One of the plaintiffs is Wilna Destin, a Haitian immigrant and a UNITE HERE organizer in Orlando, Florida.

“For my daughters, America is all they’ve known,” said Destin, explaining why she joined the lawsuit. “Without legal intervention to stop the expiration of Haitian TPS, my daughters will be forced to either lose their mother to Trump or to sacrifice their entire lives and educational opportunities to move to an underdeveloped country that cannot absorb a wave of thousands of deportations. I am afraid of becoming a target by standing up to Donald Trump, but my daughter and I chose to do this to save our family.”

One of Destin’s daughters is also a plaintiff.

TPS, which was authorized by legislation passed in 1990, allows immigrants fleeing from political violence, war, repression, or natural disasters to live and work in the US without fear of deportation.

Since TPS became law, TPS holders have routinely had their status reaffirmed, but that has changed under the Trump regime, which in little more than a year has revoked TPS for 200,000 immigrants and their families.

“With the stroke of a pen, this administration upended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people lawfully residing in the United States for years and sometimes decades,” said Emi MacLean, staff attorney for NDLON and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “But in terminating TPS in the way that it did, this administration was exercising authority it did not have.”

The lawsuit contends that the decision to revoke TPS was based on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant, white supremacist agenda.

According to the lawsuit, the decision to revoke TPS “motivated by intentional race- and national-origin-based animus against individuals from what President Trump has referred to as ‘shithole countries’.”

In addition to resting on a foundation of racism and nativism, the lawsuit says that Trump’s revocation of TPS is unconstitutional and violates the Administrative Procedures Act.

Trump’s revocation of TPS is unconstitutional, argues the lawsuit, because it deprives US citizens, this case the children of TPS holders, of their constitutional right to live in the US.

“These American children should not have to choose between their country and their family,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, advocacy and legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, who also represents the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit also says that the Trump administration has violated the Administrative Procedures Act because it arbitrarily and without explanation departed “from existing practice” without any regard for the impact that the revocation will have on peaceful, law-abiding people who contribute to the public good with their hard work and taxes.


In addition to Destin, the other adult plaintiffs are members of the National TPS Alliance, CARECEN-Los Angeles, African Communities Together, which are immigrant rights groups, and IUPAT.

D. Taylor, international president of UNITE HERE explained why the union is supporting this legal action to save TPS.

“This lawsuit is about who UNITE HERE is as a union, and who America is at its core,” Taylor said. “We are proud to be a union made up of many immigrant families and deeply committed to the labor movement as a civil rights vehicle. As Donald Trump and his administration attempt to divide America with his racist policies, it is imperative that labor serve as the moral conscious of this country and challenge the illegal and immoral policies that would destroy working families.”