Tentative agreement announced in Verizon strike

Unions representing 39,000 striking Verizon workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states on May 27 announced that they had reached a tentative agreement with the company on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The workers, who belong to the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers(IBEW), have been on strike for 45 days. If the agreement is ratified, the strikers could return to work next week.

No details of the agreement have been released, but CWA President Chris Shelton said that tentative agreement achieves “our major goals of improving working families’ standard of living, creating good union jobs in our communities, and achieving a first contract for wireless retail store workers.”

“The addition of new, middle-class jobs at Verizon is a huge win not just for striking workers, but for our communities and our country as a whole,” said Shelton. “The agreement in principle at Verizon is a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people. This proves that when we stand together we can raise up working families, improve our communities, and protect the American middle class.”

Since the strike started, members of the two unions have taken an aggressive stand to protect their jobs, which Verizon was looking to eliminate by outsourcing work and consolidating call centers.

Workers not only picketed work sites, they held demonstrations at Verizon stores, thousands of them converged on Verizon’s headquarters in New York, and they conducted outreach campaigns to win the support of consumers and elected officials.

Verizon tried to maintain a semblance of normal service by using managers and replacement workers to provide services.

The company even paid for replacement workers to stay in hotels during the strike.

Alex Gourevitch writing for Jacobin reports that, when union members learned where the scabs were staying, they arrived at the hotels early in the morning blowing horns, ringing bell, and chanting loudly.

The disruptions caused some hotels to stop allowing Verizon to use their premises as a base of operations.

The courts finally issued injunctions to stop the workers from demonstrating at the hotels, but the workers maintained their solidarity on the picket lines, and the strike began to takes its toll on Verizon.

The Montclair Patch reported that Verizon customers in New Jersey complained about serious service problems during the strike.

“It as been nothing short of a nightmare,” said one dissatisfied Verizon customer, who was trying to get her phone fixed. The replacement worker who was sent to fix her phone, “didn’t have a clue as to how to fix my phone, so they called two more techs to come and help. They were at the house from 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and the four of them completely botched my phone and made it even worse.”

The strike also appeared to be affecting Verizon’s bottom line.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam on May 24 told investors to expect lower second quarter earnings because of the strike.

The Wall Street Journal reported that one analyst estimated that the strike would reduce company revenue by $343 million during the company’s second quarter reporting period.

Three days later the tentative agreement was announced.

Negotiations for the new contract began last summer, but dragged on until April when the company decided to test the resolve of its workers by forcing them to go on strike.

The company demanded that the unions accept its concession demands, or the company would begin requiring technicians to accept job assignments that would keep them away from their homes for months at a time.

The unions refused to budge, and the strike began on April 13. A few days later, Verizon announced that its concession-laced contract proposal was its last, best final offer.

The move was an attempt by the company to stampede union members back to work, but the strikers held firm.

In a few more weeks, government officials began to worry about the strike’s impact on the larger economy, and US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez summoned union leaders and company executives to Washington for a face-to-face meeting.

After the meeting, the two sides announced that negotiations would resume, and a day later, Perez said that a federal mediator would help the two sides reach an agreement.

The subsequent negotiations took 13 days before a tentative agreement was announced. When it was announced, the unions said that they would take down their picket lines.

One important result of the strike is that 65 Verizon wireless workers, who joined CWA in an attempt to improve their working conditions won their first collective bargaining agreement.

The company had steadfastly refused to recognize the new union bargaining component because it wanted to keep its wireless division union free.

The new contract for wireless workers will likely encourage other Verizon wireless workers to join the union.

Newspaper employees sick of imposed sick leave changes

Employees of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald are sick of the treatment they’ve received from the newspaper’s owner, the Oahu Publishing Incorporated (OPI).

For more than a year, the two sides have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, but  the company has begun implementing new policies without negotiating with the workers’ union, the Pacific Media Workers Guild CWA Local 39521.

The last straw came when the company started punishing employees for being sick by deducting vacation days when they used their sick leave.

Additionally, the company began requiring employees to bring a doctor’s note when returning to work from being sick.

“Employees should be encouraged to take care of their health rather than be penalized,” said Tom Callis, the local’s vice president for Hawaii. “These policies do not create a healthy and productive workplace.”

The union responded to the company’s new sick leave rules by filing an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

“To implement these new sick leave rules without negotiating with employees or telling them is a clear violation of labor law,” reads a statement issued by the union.

“The assumption by the company that its employees need to be managed in this fashion is both misguided and insulting,” said Brad Sherman, a member of the union’s bargaining team. “The stance that the newspaper’s employees are somehow deceitful is frankly absurd. These are the same employees whose hard work and dedication had created a business that was profitable–in an industry that is facing struggles–at the OPI made the purchase.”

The union and the company have been bargaining for a new contract for more than a year now.

The old collective bargaining agreement was terminated when OPI purchased the Tribune-Herald, which operates out of Hilo, Hawaii, in December 2014.

Collective bargaining on a new agreement began in 2015, and while some issues have been resolved the two sides are still far apart on others.

In the meantime, OPI has laid off half the Herald-Tribune employees and begun implementing policies without regard for the collective bargaining process.

OPI is owned by Black Press Limited Group, a private company owned by David Black, who the  Vancouver Sun describes as a Canadian “media mogul.”

Black Press, the largest privately owned newspaper company in Canada, owns a string of community newspapers throughout North America and daily newspapers in Akron, Ohio and Everett, Washington. It also owns the Honolulu Star Advertiser and the San Francisco Examiner.

Black has recently branched out of the publishing business and is seeking permission to build what he describes as an environmentally clean oil refinery in Kitmat, British Columbia.

The Vancouver Sun portrays Black as a shrewd (some might say ruthless) businessman adept at squeezing maximum profits from the newspapers he owns.

“His model for newspaper ownership — buy cheap or distressed properties, ruthlessly cut unnecessary staff, make budgets squeak and consolidate common services such as printing, accounting and human resources in regional centers–has wholly rewritten the newspaper industry in British Columbia and Washington,” reported the Sun in 2012.

Employees of the Tribune-Herald have not been impressed with the Black model for running a newspaper.

After OPI bought the Tribune Herald, he laid off 19 workers at a profitable business, outsourced much of the work at the newspaper, implemented a regressive sick leave policy, and eliminated the job security workers enjoyed under the previous collective bargaining agree.

In addition, OPI has proposed subjecting workers to drug tests without cause, which many employees think is an invasion of their privacy.

To protest the new drug testing policy, workers began displaying specimen cups in the workplace with the message, “My Urine, My Business.”

On the union’s Facebook page, one union member posted a picture of a specimen cup with a more detailed message, “What OPI’s sick leave and drug testing policies mean to me . . . That we at HTH are not trusted to act like adults and do our job (without being treated like children).”

Amid all this, the union has continued to fight for a fair collective bargaining agreement by mobilizing workers and supporters in the community.

Union members are wearing “I love fair contracts” buttons at work and urging supporters to show their solidarity by posting pictures of themselves wearing the button on the union’s Facebook page.

Tribune-Herald workers recently received a strong message of support from fellow union members at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, where collective bargaining on a new contract with OPI is about to get underway.

“We stand with our brothers and sisters on the Big Island,” said Sjarif Goldstein, Star-Advertiser assistant sports editor and Honolulu unit chair of the union. “The Honolulu newsroom understands what’s at stake for media workers in Hawaii as ownership consolidation continues.”

Overtime rule changes to benefit millions of workers

A recent update of overtime rules and regulations by the US Labor Department will mean that at least 4 million US workers who were previously ineligible will now be eligible for overtime pay.

When the updated regulations go into effect on December 1, salaried employees whose annual pay is $47,476 will be paid time and a half when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

Before the overtime regulations were updated, salaried employees had to have annual salaries of $23,600 or less to be eligible for overtime pay.

According to the Labor Department, more than 4 million more US workers will now be eligible; however, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says that as many as 12 million people could be affected.

“(The) new overtime protections mark a major victory for working people that will improve the lives of millions of families across America,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL_CIO. “We applaud the Obama Administration heeding the call for action to ensure working people get paid for all the hours we work.”

For years now, the AFL-CIO through its America Needs a Raise campaign has been urging federal, state, and local officials to implement policies that raise workers’ wages.

That effort gained momentum when tens of thousands of workers took to the streets to demand a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.

That grassroots effort led cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angles and the states of California and New York to adopt labor standards that raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years.

The new overtime rule, which the AFL-CIO urged the Obama Administration to adopt as early as 2012, is another government action that will raise wages for workers who most desperately need a raise.

Overtime laws were enacted nearly 80 years ago to ensure that workers were fairly compensated when they worked longer than the standard work week–40 hours.

But like many other laws that are supposed to protect workers, overtime laws over the last 40 years have been weakened.

In 1975 more than 60 percent of salaried workers were covered by overtime laws. Today just 7 percent are.

Among those who will now be eligible for overtime pay are 1.6 million workers in the nation’s retail and grocery stores, where many low-paid employers are classified as management even though, they perform worker duties such as stocking shelves and working cash registers.

“It is not uncommon to see managers (in grocery and retail stores) work 50 to 60 hours per week with no extra pay,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers. “By increasing the overtime threshold we begin to put an end to this unfair practice and see more hours given to people who really want them.”

Salaried workers in the retail industry aren’t the only ones who benefit from the updated regulations.

Postdoctoral research employees at the nation’s universities will now be eligible for overtime pay.

Dennis Williams, president of the United Autoworkers, which represents postdoctoral researchers at some universities said that these professional employees are “underpaid and regularly work more than 40 hours a week.”

“The new threshold will enable many to pay for basic necessities like child care and rent,” said Williams.

Williams also called on the Labor Department to expand coverage “to all academic employees and other workers who are unfairly denied overtime pay.”

EPI reports that the updated rules will benefit a broad range of workers and their family members including, 6.4 million women, 4.2 million parents and 7.3 million children (under age 18), 1.5 million African Americans, 2.0 million Latinos, 3.6 million workers age 25 to 34, 4.5 million millennial, and 3.2 million workers with a high school degree but not more education.

In addition to helping millions of workers, the expansion of overtime coverage will boost the economy that has yet to find solid footing eight years after the end of the Great Recession.

The Wall Street Journal reports that wage stagnation is one of the main reasons that economic growth has been sluggish.

“The U.S. economy, like much of the globe, is stuck in a slow-growth rut. Turmoil overseas and still-weak commodity prices are preventing the manufacturing, trade and energy sectors from supporting growth. That leaves US consumers to boost the expansion. But without accelerating wages, it’s difficult for them to step up spending,” writes Eric Morath in the Journal.

According to the AFL-CIO, expanding overtime coverage will increase take home for people who will spend it and help the economy grow.

“Increasing the salary threshold would increase the take-home pay for workers who become eligible for overtime pay for their extra hours, allowing them to purchase goods and services. Updating the overtime rule would grow the economy much the same way increasing the minimum wage would,” writes Brendan Duke of the Center for American Progress.

Increasing the number of people eligible for overtime is also a step toward reversing the growth of inequality.

“Taking this step to restore overtime is one of the many ways we are beginning to change the rules of our economy that are rigged in favor of Wall Street,” said Trumka. “The fight for even stronger overtime protections and to raise wages for all working people continues.”

Union fact finders confronted by SWAT team; unions return to bargaining table with VZ

A week after a union fact-finding team was confronted by a SWAT team carrying automatic weapons, US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez called leaders of the unions representing 39,000 striking workers to Washington DC to meet with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam.

As a result of the meeting, the two sides agreed to return to the bargaining table on May 17.

Secretary Perez said that time was of the essence for the two sides to reach a “mutually beneficial resolution to the strike.”

The unions have established a website where strike supporters can show their solidarity by donating to a fund that provides financial assistance to striking workers.

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) who work for Verizon in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have been on strike since April 13.

They want to protect their good-paying jobs and maintain some control over job assignments that affect their home life and the quality of their life away from work.

Verizon wants to close call centers, offshore more work, and impose work rules that would force workers to accept work assignments that require them to live away from home for months at a time.

CWA recently learned that Verizon has already begun the process of offshoring more customer service jobs.

According to CWA President Chris Shelton, Verizon call center workers in the Philippines contacted CWA to inform the union that Verizon was routing customer service calls to call centers in the Philippines.

The Philippine workers, who are paid $1.78 an hour, said that they were required to work one to two hours of overtime five days a week and a sixth eight-hour day without being paid for overtime.

McAdam had previously denied that the company was extensively offshoring customer service calls; although he did admit that a few business calls for service were being routed overseas.

CWA sent four representatives on a fact finding mission to uncover the truth.

They talked to workers at the Verizon call centers and found out that they were indeed paid $1.78 an hour and were working unpaid overtime to handle the upsurge in calls from Verizon’s US customers.

When the fact finding team visited a Verizon office in Alagang and asked to speak to company representatives, they were confronted by armed security personnel and local police carrying automatic weapons.

The fact-finding team returned to their car, but as they were driving away, their vehicle was pulled over by a police vehicle.

Masked SWAT team officers, dressed in black, and carrying automatic weapons exited the vehicle and confronted the union fact finders.

After several harrowing minutes, the union fact finders were allowed to leave.

“When our members uncovered how Verizon is padding its incredible profit margins by replacing good paying American jobs with poverty-wage jobs abroad, Verizon sent armed guards and a SWAT team after them,” said Shelton.

Verizon has reported profits of $39 billion during the last three years, and its first quarter, pre-strike profits for 2016 were $4.3 billion; however, the company warned investors that the ongoing strike would likely lower profits in the second quarter of the company’s fiscal year.

Commenting on Verizon using armed guards and police to confront union fact finders, CWA District 2-13 Edward Mooney said that “Verizon is going to great lengths to try to hide their strategy of outsourcing middle-class American jobs in favor of poverty wages abroad.”

New York City pension plan cuts ties to hedge funds

The New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS) board of trustees in April voted to liquidate all of its investments in hedge funds. In doing so, NYCERS became the second large public pension in the US to severe its ties to hedge funds.

NYCERS is the largest of the city’s five public pension funds with more than $51 billion in assets.

The board of trustees made its decision because hedge fund investments have performed poorly and are too expensive.

Hedge fund investments are “lousy,” said NYCERS board of trustees member Henry Garrido to New York magazine.

Garrido’s made his assessment after reading a report by the city’s comptroller.

According to the report, the fees charged by firms that manage alternative investments–investments in private equity companies, real estate, and hedge funds–cost the the city’s five public pension funds $2.6 billion over ten years.

Last year, hedge fund performance was especially troubling.

NYCERS’ hedge fund investments had a rate of return of -1.88 percent, a rate of return below the S&P index and the traditional bond market.

Despite the hedge funds’ lackluster performance, they still collected their 2 percent management fees on $1.5 billion worth of assets that they managed for NYCERS.

“Hedges have underperformed, costing us millions,” said Letitia James,  New York City’s public advocate. “Let them sell their summer homes and jets, and return those fees to their investors.”

NYCERS is the second large public pension fund that decided to stop investing in hedge funds. The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) did so in 2014.

CalPERS Chief Investment Officer Ted Eliopoulus said that the cost, complexity, and the inability to scale hedge fund investments to a size appropriate for CalPERS were the reasons for CalPERS’ decision.

Bloomberg reported that in fiscal year 2014 before the market took the downturn that characterized its performance in 2015, CalPERS paid $135 million in fees for “hedge fund investments that earned 7.1 percent, contributing 0.4 percent to its total return (on investment).”

The decision by NYCERS was applauded by Hedge Clippers, an activist group that has been waging a campaign against public investment in hedge funds.

Prior to the NYCERS decision, Hedge Clippers had spent months lobbying for the pension fund to cut its ties to hedge funds.

Hedge Clippers is urging other public institutions to do the same because hedge funds investments often are at odds with the public interest.

One of its issue papers, “Endangered Endowments: How Hedge Funds Are Bankrupting Higher Education,” finds that hedge fund managers hold a disproportionate number of seats on boards that oversee university endowment funds and use their positions to steer investments to companies they own or to which they have ties.

“Hedge funds collected an estimated $2.5 billion in fees from university endowments in 2015 alone, even though 2015 was reportedly the worst year for hedge fund performance since the financial crisis (of 2008),” reads the issue paper.

According to the paper, “many universities are cash-strapped because they have prioritized paying high fees to hedge fund managers while asking students, faculty, and staff to make up the difference.”

Hedge Clippers is also highly critical of hedge funds role in the current crisis now gripping Puerto Rico.

The unemployment rate in Puerto Rico has climbed to 12.5 percent, and the cash-strapped government has had to cut or eliminate health care, education, and social services.

The Puerto Rican government has asked Congress to grant it permission to work out a deal with its creditors in order to take the pressure off its suffering citizens.

But hedge funds, which swooped in to scoop up cheap Puerto Rican debt, have successfully lobbied Congress to prevent legislation that would enable Puerto Rico to make a deal with creditors.

Hedge Clippers started off as a project of the American Federation of Teachers, whivh grew tired of the role that hedge funds were playing in the effort to privatize public education.

According to a report from the American Prospect, hedge fund owners bankrolled a number of local school board elections in order to stack school boards with proponents of charter schools.

But since its inception, Hedge Clippers has expanded into a broad coalition that includes labor, community, environmental, social justice groups that are outraged by the corruption spawned by the influence of hedge funds over public institutions.

“The Hedge Clippers are working to expose the mechanisms hedge funds and billionaires use to influence government and politics in order to expand their wealth, influence and power,” states a description of the group on its website. “We’re exposing the collateral damage billionaire-driven politics inflicts on our communities, our climate, our economy and our democracy.  We’re calling out the politicians that do the dirty work billionaires demand, and we’re calling on all Americans to stand up for a government and an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well-connected.”

Treasury Department says no to proposed Teamster pension cuts

Retired Teamsters won’t have their pensions cut as had been proposed last year by the Central States Pension Fund (CSPF).

CSPF , a multiemployer pension fund that covers more than 400,000 active and retired Teamsters, had planned to reduce pensions by an average of 34 percent in order to return the pension fund to solvency.

To do so, the fund needed the permission of the US Treasury. After reviewing CSPF’s application requesting the pension cuts, the Treasury Department on May 6 announced that it was denying the request.

Retirees who were facing the pension cuts had mounted a strong grassroots movement that mobilized thousands of Teamster retirees and others to oppose the proposed benefit reductions.

They formed more than 60 regional committees that informed retirees about the proposed cuts. Retirees responded by writing letters to Congress, attending hearings on the proposed cuts, and holding local rallies to protest the cuts.

All this activity culminated in a demonstration in Washington DC where thousands of retired Teamsters gathered a month ago to protest the cuts.

Their message was clear–a pension is a promise that must not be broken.

Karen Friedman, executive vice president of the Pension Rights Center, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the Treasury Department’s decision is, “a tremendous victory of retirees.”

“It showed that the government listened,” she added.

“I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted,” said Greg Smith whose pension would have been cut by more than 50 percent. “The pension that I worked all those years for will continue to be there for me.”

While retirees were relieved to hear the good news, the structural problems that caused CSPF to propose benefit cuts have not been resolved.

These problems, which led actuaries to estimate that CSPF would be insolvent by 2025, took shape 30 years ago as the trucking industry was being deregulated.

As new trucking firms entered the market, they sought to undercut market rates by lowering labor costs. Workers for these companies usually did not have a union to stop this race to the bottom.

As a result, fewer trucking companies are providing their workers with a pension, which means fewer pension contributions are being made by employers.

In the 2000s, as more Teamsters with pensions began to retire, the number of retirees grew while the number of active workers in the plan grew smaller.

Today, CSPF is paying $3.46 in benefits for every $1 it collects.

To make matters worse, CSPF suffered another blow when the fund’s investments took a big hit during the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. The fund has since recovered from the economic fallout of the crisis.

Action at the federal level will be needed to keep  CSPF and other multiemployer pension plans solvent.

Two bills have been introduced that could protect retirees whose pensions come from pension plans like CSPF

The Keep Our Pension Promise Act by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Marcy Kaptur would ensure that multiemployer pension plans like CSPF will have enough money to continue to pay promised pensions.

“Pensions are earned benefits just like a paycheck,” said Rep. Kaptur after introducing the bill in the US House of Representatives. “These workers aren’t asking for a favor or a handout. They’ve put in long hours over the course of a lifetime and deserve the compensation they are owed. They certainly deserve better than to be abandoned after that lifetime of work to retire in poverty or be forced to depend on their families or the government for support.”

The Pension Accountability Act by Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. David Joyce amends the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA), which made CSPF’s proposed cuts possible.

The bill by Sen. Portman and Rep. Joyce would give workers and retirees a seat at the table where decisions about their pensions are made.

“The MPRA was a horrible piece of legislation that would have never passed through Congress on its own merits,” said John Murphy, the Teamsters’ eastern regional international vice president. “In the short term, we intend to continue to push through legislative remedies that will fix the negative aspects of the MPRA while fighting to repeal the law in the long term.”

Despite the challenges that remain, those most affected were glad to hear that the Treasury Department had rejected the proposed cuts.

“I worked for 31 years with the expectation that when I retired my pension was going to be there to support me through my golden years,” said Mike Walden, a Teamster retiree from Akron, Ohio. “A pension is a promise made by the company to the employee and there is no acceptable reason that the promise should be broken. This was the right decision.”

Mom explains to Verizon CEO why she is on strike

Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s CEO, is a dollar and cents kind of a guy.

Over the last three years, Verizon booked profits totaling $39 billion, but that’s not enough dollars and cents for McAdam–he wants more.

To get more, he is demanding that Verizon’s union employees, who belong to the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), accept steep cuts to their health insurance plan, allow Verizon to close some of its call centers and move some of those jobs overseas, and accept job assignments that would require them to live away from their families for months at a time.

As a result of McAdam’s demands, Verizon’s union workers went on strike nearly four-weeks ago.

A few days into the strike, McAdam, whose 2015 compesation was 243 times greater than the average Verizon employee, visited a CWA picket line in DeWitt, New York and told those on the picket line that he didn’t understand why they were on strike–it didn’t make dollars and cents to him.

A video showing McAdam’s befuddlement went viral, and Amanda Poe, a CWA member who works for Verizon in Willmington, Delaware, wrote him a letter explaining why she is on strike.

The letter contains a powerful message that even a clueless multi-millionaire should be able to understand.

Poe, a single mother of two teenage daughters, said that the strike is about more than dollar and cents; for her, it’s about being able continue being a good mom.

One of her daughters was born with a severely cleft palate and lip that required several expensive surgeries. The operations have been a success, but years later her daughter continues to receive expensive follow up treatment.

Fortunately, Poe has health insurance, won by her union through hard-fought struggles, that has covered most of the expenses.

But Verizon, even though it is flush with profits and facing a profitable future, wants its striking workers to accept steep health care cuts.

“Changes to the health care coverage offered by Verizon could prevent us from getting the help (my daughter) needs to compete her health care plan,” wrote Poe to McAdam. “Affordable health care is not an option–it is a necessity. Is she worth it? Absolutely.”

Verizon also wants to close call centers such as the one where Poe works.

If McAdam shuts down her call center, Poe may still have a job, but in order to keep her job, she will have to commute hours a day to keep it.

Instead of spending time with her daughters at home and during their extra-curricula activities, Poe will be driving to and from work.

“Changing my work location would take away much of what I hold dear — spending my time with my children. I am sure that is not the intention of the move, but please realize it is the result. I am not just a number Mr. McAdam. I am someone’s mom.” wrote Poe.

Poe was joined by thousands of other Verizon striking workers as they took to the streets to explain to McAdam and his Wall Street bosses why Verizon’s workers are on strike during a nationwide day of action on  May 5.

In New York, 2000 Verizon workers marched to Verizon wireless store on Wall Street to demand a fair contract.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, 250 Verizon workers and supporters demonstrated at Verizon’s annual shareholders meeting. Fifteen union  members and community supporters were arrested in an act of civil disobedience to protest Verizon’s greedy contract demands.

“As long as corporate executives put short-term profits ahead of the workers who make those profits possible and the communities they promised to serve, the calls for a change of course at Verizon will only grow stronger,” said protester Bianca Cunningham before she was arrested,

Cunningham is a former Verizon Wireless worker who was fired in September while helping her fellow employees form a union.

In all, 400 actions, mostly at Verizon wireless stores across the country, were held to demand a fair contract.

As part of the day of action, the striking unions set up a website where you can show your support for Verizon workers standing up to corporate greed by donating to a solidarity fund.

Money in the fund will help workers facing financial difficulties while they remain on strike.

Teacher sickout ends; Detroit schools still facing tough times

After hearing that most Detroit teachers might not get paid for work they performed, members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) on May 2 and May 3 staged a two-day sick-out.

The teachers refused to go to work until they received a guarantee from the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) governor-appointed emergency manager that they would be paid in full.

After initially refusing to provide such a guarantee, Judge Steve Rhodes, DPS’ emergency manager, in a May 3 letter to the union wrote, “DPS recognizes the contractual obligation to pay teachers what they have earned and we assure all teachers that we will honor that legal obligation. This same assurance applies to all similarly situated employees of DPS.”

That appeared to satisfy the union’s demand for a guarantee, and the union’s leadership urged its members to return to class on May 4.

While the teachers were conducting their sickout, The Michigan House Appropriations Committee passed a bill authorizing $548 million to fund Detroit schools.

The bill, which had been stalled in committee, appropriates less than the $715 million that the state senate had approved in a similar appropriations bill. The two bills will have to be reconciled before the legislature can pass and send the reconciled bill to the governor for his approval.

The fact that the appropriation bill had been stalled in committee set in motion events that led to the sickout.

When it looked like no action would be taken on the bill, Judge Rhodes let it be known that without funding from the legislature, teacher pay would be in jeopardy.

The school district, according to Judge Rhodes, was running out of money, and if the House failed to pass the appropriations bill, there would not be enough money to pay teachers during the months of July and August.

About two-thirds of DPS teachers had elected to stretch their nine months worth of pay over a 12 month period, so that they would continue to receive a paycheck during the time school was out.

If no paychecks were issued in July or August, teachers who elected the 12-month pay plan would have been shorted two months worth of pay.

The union told DPS’ administrators that if they could not guarantee paychecks for July and August, union members were not about to work for free.

While legislative inaction may have precipitated the events that led up to the sickout, it is only one in a series of missteps that has put Detroit schools in a permanent state of crisis.

Like the city of Detroit, DPS’ problems can be traced back to problems in the US auto industry.

In the early aughts, Detroit was hit hard when US auto makers stumbled on tough times. Companies that supplied parts to the Big Three auto makers went out of business or moved production overseas reducing the property tax base that supported public schools.

Layoffs at auto and auto parts plants hit the working class hard, which further reduced revenue available to the public schools.

In 2009, the State of Michigan took control of Detroit’s schools, supposedly to put the school district’s financial house in order.

But things only got worse. Even though the state was now in control of Detroit’s schools, the state legislature failed to adequately fund the schools.

The lack of adequate state funding coupled with a decline in local tax revenue left DPS in even worse financial shape.

A succession of emergency managers appointed by Michigan governors tried to keep the schools open by borrowing heavily.

According to the Detroit Free Press, at the end of the school year, the school district’s debt will be $320 million, which doesn’t include $5 billion in long-term debt owed by DPS.

While state leaders were failing to fund Detroit’s schools, they were also pushing to expand charter schools in Detroit, a project that DPS’s emergency managers embraced.

As a result about half of Detroit’s school children now attend privately operated charter schools, which drain resources away from public schools.

The results have been devastating. Without adequate funding, DPS has been unable to properly maintain and repair its schools.

As a result, many students go to dilapidated schools that are poorly maintained.

The situation became so dire, that teachers held sick-ins in January to protest the filth and squalor of the buildings where they taught and where children were supposed to learn.

The lack of funding has also caused class sizes to increase well beyond a reasonable size for good learning opportunities.

The New York Times reports that “the planned class size in Grades 6 to 12 (for Detroit schools) is 38 students.”

Whatever amount that the legislature appropriates, it will not be enough to turn around Detroit’s schools because much of the money will go toward paying off creditors.

When school starts again in the fall, Detroit’s teachers, its students, and their parents will be the one’s left to deal with the residue of past decisions that crippled public education in the city.

May Day demonstrations in France denounce proposed labor law changes

Five hundred thousand workers and students in France took part in 300 May Day rallies, marches, and demonstrations protesting so-called labor reforms that the country’s Socialist government has proposed.

Parliament on Tuesday will begin debate on the proposed changes.

The government says that labor law reforms are needed to reduce the county’s 9.2 percent unemployment rate.

But the proposals are widely unpopular, especially among young people who fear that the new laws will make their jobs more precarious.

The proposals have sparked a mass uprising of young people, whose nascent movement is called Nuit Debout (Standing Together Through the Night). It resembles the global Occupy movement of 2011.

The changes proposed by the government are designed to make the country’s labor market more flexible.

But according to Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “labor market flexibility” is just another way of saying that “it should be easier to fire employees” and “lower wages.”

France’s hard-won labor laws help protect workers’ wages, working conditions, and job security.

Many see them as a strong buttress against the insecurities inherent in a capitalist economy. Recent polls show that 58 percent of respondents opposed the government’s proposed changes.

The government is proposing changes that would make it easier for employers to avoid paying overtime for work in excess of 35 hours a week, weaken unions’ bargaining power, and weaken employment contracts that provide a modicum of job security.

The government’s labor reforms are in line with the conventional wisdom that labor laws that actually protect labor are bad for business and are thus the cause of high unemployment.

But according to Weisbrot, “the available economic research provides little or no evidence for this argument.”

“For example, there is no relationship between the amount of employment protection in different countries and their unemployment rate,” writes Weisbrot. . .  There are “a number of countries with high levels of labor market protections and low levels of unemployment: Austria (5.2 percent), Denmark (4.4 percent), Ireland (4.3 percent), the Netherlands (4.6 percent), and Norway (4.5 percent).”

Perhaps one of the most contentious pieces of the government’s proposal would make it easier to fire workers, especially those 26 years of age and younger.

The government argues that if it were easier to fire young workers, then employers will be more likely to hire more young workers.

This logic confounds many of the young people who have taken to the streets to protest the reforms.


On March 31, 1.2 million workers and students marched and rallied to protest the government’s proposals.

Since then, demonstrations have been taking place on a weekly basis.

In some of these demonstrations, rage against the proposals resulted in conflicts between youthful demonstrators and the police.

That rage has also manifested itself in other ways, most notably the rise of Nuit Debout, an activist movement of young people who gather in city squares at night to stand in unity with each other.

At these gatherings, people discuss and debate strategies and tactics for fighting the government’s labor reform proposals, but these debates and discussions are also more wide ranging.

Topics include a number of social justice issues such as the treatment of immigrants, inequality, a guaranteed minimum income, and more.

While the government tries to justify its labor reforms as a way to help young people enter the labor market, youth in Nuit Debout want more than low paying, precarious work.

As Adam Nossiter of the New York Times writes, the youth of Nuit Debout “want what (their) parents have, and then some.”

The youth of Nuit Debout showed up at the May Day demonstrations ready to fight to maintain labor rights guaranteed by the law and for more.

CGT, France’s largest labor confederation and one of the organizers of the May Day demonstrations, echoed this sentiment.

May Day is just the start of a month of struggle against the labor reforms and for a more just society, said CGT in its May Day statement. It also will be a month when young people, wage earners, and others  intensify the fight “for social progress” and to improve “the lives of each and everyone.”