14,000 NYC Uber and Lyft drivers sign union authorization cards

Uber and Lyft drivers in New York City rallied at the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission on September 27 for the right to join a union.

The drivers at the rally were among the 14,000 Uber and Lyft ride share workers in the city who have signed union representation cards in response to an organizing campaign initiated by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1181-1061.

Michael Cordello, president of Local 1181-1061 said that such a large show of support should not go unrecognized.

“We’re asking the commission to order Uber and Lyft and those other companies to negotiate with us, and we believe under their charter, (the commission has) the ability to do so,” said  Cordello to Vice News.

But there are several obstacles that Uber and Lyft drivers must overcome before they can join a union.

For one thing, they are classified as independent contractors, not employees which makes union membership for them problematic.

Independent contractors have no US labor law protections. Employers don’t have to provide them with minimum benefits such as overtime pay and unemployment insurance and can’t form unions to bargain collectively.

Local 1181-1061 says that it is unjust to deny union membership to ride share drivers, who are treated like employees but classified as independent contractors.

“We say that together we can change this injustice and make it possible for a person who wants to join a union to do so freely,” said Local 1181-1061 in a letter to ride share drivers.

In addition to putting pressure on the Taxi and Limousine Commission to order a union election, Local 1181-1061 is pursuing other routes to give ride share drivers the right to unionize.

“We are making progress on the legislative side with the city council and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB),” said the local in another letter addressed to ride share drivers.

The union wants the city council to pass an ordinance similar to one passed last year by the Seattle City Council. The ordinance gives ride share drivers in that city the right to join a union.

The union also is monitoring an NLRB investigation involving Uber. The labor board is gathering information to determine the employment status of Uber drivers. If the NLRB determines that the drivers are in fact employees, then drivers will have the right to join a union.

The NLRB has issued a subpoena seeking information from Uber that will help the board make its determination. Uber is fighting the subpoena in court.

In response to the challenges to its labor practices, Uber has partnered with the International Association of Machinist and the Freelancers Union to create the Independent Drivers Guild in New York.

Guild representatives meet regularly with Uber’s management to address concerns raised by drivers, but Uber’s agreement with the Guild stipulates that fares can’t be discussed and that the Guild will not act as a collective bargaining representative.

ATU argues that the meetings between the Guild and Uber’s management are no substitute for collective bargaining that can reach an enforceable contract.

Without a union unfettered by rules created solely by the company “workers will never have the power to achieve what they need or want,” states Local 1181-1061 in its letter to drivers.

One of the things that Uber drivers need and want is some relief from the fare reductions that Uber implemented in January. The fare reduction means that Uber drivers must work longer and harder to maintain a decent income.

“Before they lowered the rates, I used to make $400 or more a day,” said John Zapata to Vice News. “Now I have to work harder for that–now sometimes there’s a fare for as little as $3.

“They dropped the fares so much that we have to work 15, 16, 17 hours a day to make some money,” said Peter Acosta to Vice.

In addition to drivers wanting to organize a union, Uber is facing other problems resulting from the way it treats its employees.

In June, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance filed a wage theft suit against Uber for not paying overtime to its drivers.

The Alliance in July joined two former Uber drivers who lost their jobs in filing a suit to compel New York’s Labor Department to investigate unemployment insurance claims by the two drivers and other Uber drivers seeking unemployment insurance.

The suit contends that the drivers earned wages, which makes them eligible for unemployment insurance. Uber claims that the drivers’ earnings were not wages because the drivers were independent contractors.

In August, a judge overturned a settlement in a class action lawsuit claiming that Uber misclassifies its drivers. The settlement required Uber to make payments to the plaintiffs but left open the question of whether they were employees or independent contractors.

According to Local 1181-1061, Uber’s labor practices are impoverishing hundreds of thousands of workers.

Whether these practices are allowed to stand will have an impact on the millions of workers who like Uber drivers are misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees.

General strike opposes coup in Brazil

Unions in Brazil on September 22 held a national general strike to protest what they called a coup against democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff. The unions were also protesting austerity measures proposed by Rousseff”s successor Michel Temer.

Among those participating in the general strike were 60,000 bank employees who have been on strike since September 7.

Rousseff was impeached for allegedly misrepresenting budget items, a charged that has subsequently been refuted by an independent auditor commissioned by Brazil’s Senate.

When Temer spoke to a meeting of corporate representatives in New York, he said that Rousseff was removed from office because she opposed austerity measures that Brazil’s business class was demanding.

During the general strike participants carried banners that read “Fora Temer (Down with Temer). In the city of Belo Horizonte members of the teachers union marched behind banner that read, “Professoras Contra o Golpe” (Teachers Against the Coup).

When Temer assumed office, he announced that he would push for the implementation of austerity measures proposed in a document entitled “Bridge to the Future.”

Among other things, “Bridge to the Future “calls for reduced government spending on health and education, reduced welfare benefits, raising the retirement age, deregulating the economy, privatizing Brazil’s public assets, and eliminating workers’ labor law protections.

Shortly after proposing new austerity measures, Temer traveled to the US where on September 21, he addressed a gathering of the American Society/Council of the Americas.

Council of the Americas counts among its membership “the leading international companies representing a broad spectrum of sectors, including banking and finance, consulting services, consumer products, energy and mining, manufacturing, media, technology, and transportation” doing business in the Americas.

The group says that it promotes “economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

Its president emeritus is John Negroponte, a former US ambassador during the Reagan and Bush Administrations, who during his tenure as ambassador to Honduras oversaw a military buildup in the country, was accused of ignoring human rights abuses committed by the military, and participated in clandestine activities aimed at overthrowing Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

Ignacio Vieira reports that at the New York meeting, Temer told those present that Rousseff “was impeached because of her position on economic policy, rather than any alleged wrongdoing on her part. More to the point, Rousseff opposed “widespread cuts to social programs and privatization” that Brazil’s business class was calling for.

In his report, Vieira provides a lengthy video that recorded Temer’s frank talk.

Temer was vice president until Rousseff was impeached in August. Temer’s party the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party had been in a coalition with Rousseff”s Workers Party, but quit the coalition and joined forces with conservatives to oust Rousseff.

Rousseff’s ouster came at time when Brazil was in a severe recession, which weakened her popularity.

As is the case in every country, the working class has borne the burnt of the worsening conditions caused by the recession.

In response, Brazil has seen a rise in the number of street actions and job actions like the bank workers strike.

The bank workers union, Contec had been in negotiations for a new contract with Fenaban, the national bank federation, which represents Brazil’s banks in labor negotiations. The union demanded a 15 percent raise to help its members keep up with the inflation rate that has reached as high as 10 percent.

The union also proposed changes to the contract that would  fight discrimination against Black people, women, LGBTI people, and people with disabilities and improve working conditions for all.

The union said that Fenaban’s counter proposal did not recognize the significant role bank workers played in the banking business.

“Bank workers are the main ones responsible for immense bank profits every year in Brazil,” said Contec. “And all this commitment and dedication should be reciprocated.”

When Brazil’s labor federations called the general strike to oppose the coup, Contec enthusiastically supported the action.

On the day of the general strike, Contec reported that 13,159 bank branches, or about 55 percent of the country’s bank branches had been closed as a result of its strike and that even some administrative centers had been closed.

“We closed the administrative centers of the top three private banks in Sao Paulo and the main building of Caixa in Brasilia,” said Robert von der Osten, a Contec leader. “It was a historic and necessary move.”

The unions see the coup against Rousseff as an attack on the gains that workers made while the Workers Party was in power.

“The coup was done . . . to take away (our) rights,” said Vagner Freitas, president of CUT, the largest labor federation in Brazil.

“There is an ongoing hit on a structural change in the country, which involves the removal and reduction of basic rights, such as social security, working hours, funds for health and education,” said Rafael Marques leader of the metalworkers union.

The bank workers strike is still ongoing and there may be more actions like the general strike to come.

“If the rights of the working class are still at risk, metalworkers are ready for a general strike,” said Marques.

Locked out Honeywell workers demand withdrawal of government contract

Locked out Honeywell Aerospace workers on September 21 blocked traffic outside of a federal office building in Albany, New York to demand that the government stop supporting the lockout.

The lockout began four months ago when workers at Honeywell factories in South Bend, Indiana and Green Island, New York rejected a Honeywell contract proposal that would have eviscerated their health care plan, eliminated their pensions, reduced overtime pay, and ended cost of living raises.

Ignoring the lockout, the US Department of Defense on September 12 announced that it was awarding Honeywell an $18.3 million contract to manufacture replacement brakes for the Navy’s F/A 18 multi-role combat jet.

“We believe the government should stop giving new contracts or extending old contracts to a deplorable company that is locking out its workers and destroying good, middle-class jobs,” said Julie Kushner, director of United Autoworkers (UAW) Region 9A.

Workers at the South Bend plant are members UAW Local 9 and those at Green Island are members of Local 1508.

Members and leaders from other unions, clergy members, and community supporters demonstrated their solidarity with the locked out workers by joining them in the street outside the O’Brien Federal Office Building in Albany.

“Our federal tax dollars should not be supporting a company that puts profits before people,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO. “It is unconscionable that Honeywell Aerospace is benefiting from a multimillion dollar defense contract while locking out the dedicated men and women who possess the necessary job skills required to safely manufacture the wheel and braking systems for our military. Honeywell’s action is an outright attack on the middle class. This contract should be suspended until Honeywell acts responsibly and negotiates a fair contract with our members.”

“We drove up from Eastern Long Island (New York) and are prepared to be arrested today to make the point that taxpayer money should not be used to line the pockets of union busters like Honeywell CEO David Cote, who put profits before the safety of our men and women in uniform, and the flying public,” said Brian Schneck, president of UAW Local 259 as he prepared to join other protesters in the street.

There was some hope that Honeywell would be willing to reach a fair agreement on a new contract when the two sides resumed bargaining on September 12 and were joined by a federal mediator.

But the bargaining session adjourned after two days.

“The company arrived for bargaining with no new proposals and the ones we eventually received during the week did not move us closer to a contract,” said Tim Vogt, a 29-year Honeywell employee and president of Local 1508.

Honeywell continues to demand steep concessions from members of Local 9 and Local 1508 even though in 2015 the company reported $4.8 billion in profits and paid its CEO $25 million in salary, a bonus, and stock options.

The company has continued to operate its plants in Green Island and South Bend with replacement workers.

The UAW has charged that the Honeywell lockout is illegal, and the National Labor Relations Board  (NLRB) is investigating the charges.

In the meantime, people can show their support for the locked out workers by signing a petition addressed to Cote urging him to end the lockout.

Vogt said that Honeywell’s intransigence has wreaked havoc on workers who have made Honeywell a profitable company and its chief executive a multimillionaire.

“For me it’s devastating. Are my kids going to have a Thanksgiving this year? Are they going to have a Christmas this year? They’ve disrupted so many lives here. It’s a very, very, scary and dangerous situation that they put us all through,” said Vogt to New 10 ABC in Albany.

Teamsters help organize XPO’s supply chain workers

Bradley Jacobs was puzzled.

Jacobs, a private equity firm owner and CEO of XPO Logistics, couldn’t figure out why XPO warehouse workers in North Haven, Connecticut wanted to join a union. After all, hadn’t Forbes magazine put XPO on its best places to work list?

So he had his chauffeur drive him to his North Haven warehouse to find out first hand.

The workers told him that they were having a hard time making ends meet on the $12 an hour that Jacobs pays them and that when they or their families got sick, they didn’t have a health care plan to help them pay for expensive medical care.

They wanted to know why they couldn’t have decent pay and benefits.

Bradley, however didn’t have any answers for them and grew frustrated as he heard more questions.

Finally, he blurted out, “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”

Bradley’s outburst made it clear that he wasn’t interested in the workers’ concerns, so the next day with the help of Teamsters Local 443 in nearby New Haven, they filed a union representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board.

“XPO workers are fed up with the mistreatment and lack of respect from management,” said Daniel Flanagan, secretary treasurer of Local 443. “For far too long, the workers have not been treated fairly.”

And it’s not just the XPO workers in New Haven that are fed up. Workers all along XPO’s supply change are standing up for better treatment on the job.

The day before the North Haven workers filed their petition, XPO truck drivers in Aurora, Illinois filed a union representation petition, other XPO freight workers have already voted for a union, and XPO short-haul drivers in California are fighting to change their misclassification as independent contractors, so that they can have a union.

XPO Logistics, a Fortune 500 company, is one of the largest transportation and logistics companies in the world.

It operates businesses in just about every link of the world’s supply chain. It’s

  • the second largest company in the less than full trucking sector (truckloads of between 100 and 10,000 pounds that service several different shippers),
  • the second largest warehouse outsourcing company,
  • the second largest freight broker, and
  • among the top 20 companies in the full load trucking sector.

It also employs short-haul drivers who transport goods from ports to nearby warehouses and drivers who transport containerized freight across the US and Europe.

The one thing that XPO’s businesses have in common is that they try to pay their frontline workers as little as possible and treat them as cost inputs rather than as human beings.

For example, XPO recently purchased another freight company Con-way for $3 billion. After the purchase, XPO shut down seven Con-way terminals and indicated that more closures were on the way, but has kept the former Con-way workers in the dark about their futures.

Prior to the XPO acquisition, Con-way workers in Miami, Laredo, Texas, and Vernon, California voted to join the Teamsters.

XPO’s planned terminal closures has sparked more interest in joining a union among Con-way workers, and the Teamsters have been conducting an outreach campaign to show former Con-way workers how having a union gives them a say in decisions that affect their jobs and livelihoods.

“We joined the Teamsters here in Laredo because we want a strong voice on the job,” said Javier Moreno, a Con-way/XPO worker and new Teamster member. “With all the changes that are under way, we need real strength to protect ourselves and our families.”

Teamsters are also helping XPO short-haul drivers in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The drivers say that XPO misclassified them as independent contractors. As a result, they don’t receive any of the few protections provided by the US’ labor laws. There’s no minimum wage, no overtime pay, and the workers can’t join a union to bargain collectively. They also have to pay XPO to lease the trucks they drive and pay for their upkeep.

In November, the misclassified drivers conducted a five-day strike.

In January, they filed suit seeking $200 million in damages resulting from their misclassification.

In April an NLRB regional office in Southern California issued a complaint against XPO for misclassifying the short-haul drivers.

The misclassified short-haul drivers,the former Con-way workers facing an uncertain future, and the XPO workers in North Haven and Aurora are the human beings who make XPO’s supply chain work.

They are hoping that through their collective efforts they can force XPO to treat them with the respect and dignity that all those who work deserve.

“We look forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these workers to help them improve their lives and to get the respect and dignity they deserve,” said Tom Flynn, president of Local 179 in Joliet, Illinois, who helped the Aurora drivers organize.

Unprecedented lockout of LIU Brooklyn faculty ends

Two weeks after she initiated an unprecedented lockout of 400 faculty members at Long Island University Brooklyn, the university’s president Kimberly Cline suddenly reversed herself and ended the lockout.

“We have won a victory,” read a September 14 message from the leadership of the Long Island Faculty Federation (LIFF) to their members announcing the end of the lockout.

In addition to ending the lockout, Cline agreed to extend the union’s current collective bargaining agreement through May 31, 2017 and to engage a professional mediator to facilitate further negotiations.

One of the steps that Cline took to intimidate faculty members was to drop their health care coverage during the lockout. As part of the agreement to end the lockout, the university agreed to reimburse faculty members for health care costs incurred during the lockout.

The union said that it would continue to press for action against LIU Brooklyn on two unfair labor charges that it filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

In announcing the end of the lockout, the union said that faculty would begin teaching their classes on September 15.

The lockout began on September 2 after Cline abruptly announced that faculty members would be barred from teaching their classes or even from coming on campus.

At the time of her announcement, negotiations between LIU’s administration and LIFF were still in progress.

The negotiations, which began in the spring, had been difficult.

Cline insisted on maintaining the pay differential between faculty at LIU Brooklyn and its sister university LIU Post located in suburban Nassau County.

She also wanted to eliminate the university’s contributions to the Adjunct Benefits Trust Fund, which adjuncts may use to help them purchase health insurance, end seniority payments to adjuncts, and implement new scheduling rules that could have reduced the number of hours that adjuncts teach and their pay.

Additionally, Cline wanted to establish a two-tiered benefits system that would have reduced pension and health care benefits for faculty members hired after the proposed collective bargaining agreement went into effect.

The union held firm against accepting these steep concessions and continued to bargain.

The lockout caught the union leadership and members off guard.

When it was announced, Jessica Rosenberg, LIFF’s president called the lockout an “unprecedented act of aggression and hostility taken against our faculty and students” meant to bully faculty members into accepting an unacceptable new contract.

As soon as the lockout was announced, the union began organizing and mobilizing its members to fight back.

At a general membership meeting that previously had been called to discuss the negotiations, the union’s negotiating team provided information about the lockout and its consequences. Members received information about applying for unemployment compensation and alternatives to their newly canceled health insurance.

On September 7, the first day of class, union members rallied at the gates of the university.

Two days later they held a teach-in to explain to students the issues that led up to the lockout.

The administration tried to win over the students by blaming faculty for tuition increases.

The union criticized the hypocrisy of the administration for pretending to care about students’ education while hastily hiring replacement faculty and using administration employees to teach the classes during the lockout.

In the meantime, the union urged the public to show support for the faculty by phoning President Cline to demand that she end the lockout immediately.

Locked out faculty received a boost when their colleagues at LIU Post voted for a resolution of no confidence in President Cline.

“This no-confidence resolution highlights concerns of the faculty related to the negative impact on campus services and the university’s reputation as a result of President Cline’s handling of contract negotiations with the LIU Brooklyn faculty,” said John Lutz, vice chair of the LIU Post Faculty Council in a statement issued by the council.

“President Cline’s actions reflect a disinvestment in academics and student needs and that the decision to lock out the LIU Brooklyn faculty compromises the integrity and proper functioning of LIU programs, including those at LIU Post,” continued Lutz.

Students at LIU Brooklyn also expressed their displeasure with Cline when they staged a noisy walkout to protest the lockout.

The lockout ended as suddenly as it began with a lot of questions still unanswered.

As soon as the lockout ended, the union announced a general membership meeting so that members could hear from the negotiating team and ask questions about “the next steps in our struggle.”

National actions for a “radical revolution of values” take place in 30 states

Workers and clergy on September 12 joined together across the US to tell state officials and politicians that promoting civil rights, human rights, and worker rights is a moral imperative.

Those taking part in the Higher Ground Morality Day of Action held rallies, marches, and other actions in 30 state capitals. At the actions, a Higher Moral Ground Declaration was read.

The declaration echos a sermon that Dr. Martin Luther King gave in 1967  in which he called for a “radical revolution of values.”

“Following moral traditions rooted in our faith and the Constitution, we are called to stand up for justice and tell the truth,” reads the declaration. “We challenge the position that the preeminent moral issues today are about prayer in public schools, abortion, and homosexuality. Instead, we declare the deepest public concerns of our faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, children, workers, immigrants, and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.”

It is a moral imperative says the declaration to support pro-labor, anti-racist policies that lead to economic democracy and policies that protect voting rights for all, women’s rights, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, equality in education, health care for all, fairness in the criminal justice system, and environmental protection.

The day of action was dedicated to Myrna De Los Santos, a former McDonald’s worker who died at the age of 49 because she couldn’t afford medical treatment for her diabetes on the $8 an hour that McDonald’s paid her.

In Austin, Texas, about 100 people took part in a march to the state Capitol where speakers talked about the need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

One of the speakers was Freda Lacy a fast-food employee. “It’s very hard, especially when you are trying to raise a family,” said Lacy explaining the difficulties of getting by on a near minimum wage salary. ”

In Texas the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour is hampered by a state law that prohibits cities and other local governments from passing minimum wage ordinances.

“Fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage is not an issue of left or right,” said City Council Member Greg Casar . “It’s an issue of right and wrong. It’s absolutely wrong that Texas law prohibits our local elected officials here in Austin from raising the minimum wage.”

In Carson City, Nevada supporters of Higher Moral Ground Declaration delivered a copy of the declaration signed by more than 10,000 people to Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“We’re uplifting issues from raising the minimum wage, expanding worker rights, immigrant and racial justice, and making sure that this coming election that they have a moral compass as we’re all going to the voting booth this coming November,” said AJ Buhay, organizer for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, about the purpose of the Carson City day of action.

The day of action on Monday, September 12 was reminiscent of the Moral Mondays movement that began in North Carolina in 2013 when lawmakers passed laws that curtailed voting rights, cut people off Medicaid, disrespected public school teachers, and other laws that ushered in a period of reaction, racism, and mean-spiritedness in the state.

Back then, thousands of people flocked to Raleigh, the state’s capital to protest these policies, and for much of May and June, hundreds of people committed acts of civil disobedience to protest the state’s new regressive policies.

“We are building a movement, not just a moment,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday movement in the early days of the movement. “As our coalition and supporters grow, we will continue to shine a spotlight on injustice and go back home to our respective communities and organize against the regressive agenda of North Carolina’s legislative leadership.”

The September 12 day of action was the most recent action taken to build and expand the movement that Rev. Barber helped found in 2013.

At the day of action in Raleigh, Rev. Barber addressed a crowd of hundreds and urged them to demonstrate their radical revolutionary morality by voting in the November elections.

“We are making a declaration and calling on all people of conscience who believe in these deep moral values to exercise their right to vote on the polls in November and beyond and call others to vote in massive waves,” said Barber to the crowd.

“It’s time for people of conscience to come out of the sanctuary into the public square, into the ballot box [in] November, and beyond,” he added.

180 million workers in India join strike against government

Tens of millions of Indian workers participated in what is believed to have been the largest general strike in history.

Media reports from India, estimate that 180 million people took part in the one-day strike on September 2.

“The response to the strike has been unprecedented. It is sweeping and outstanding. Millions of workers from across the country have joined us,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) to IANS, India’s largest independent news service.

“Even in Delhi, we are seeing such an impact for the first time,” continued Dasgupta. “Auto-rickshaws and taxis are off the roads, post offices and banks are closed. Even Gurgaon (a city near New Delhi that has become one of India’s leading financial and industrial centers) is closed.”

The strike was a protest against Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s proposed labor law revisions and his “anti-worker” policies.

The strike was called by ten of the country’s labor federations. Only one federation, BMS, the labor federation affiliated with Modi’s political party Bhartiya Jan Sangh (BJS), abstained from support.

The labor federations supporting the general strike issued a 12-point charter of demands that includes raising the minimum wage, broadening the social security system to cover all workers including those in the informal economy and contract workers, halting the privatization of public assets, ensuring that contract workers receive the same pay and benefits that permanent workers doing the same job receive, and reducing barriers to unionization.

Modi is seeking to make India more business friendly by changing labor laws to make it easier to fire workers, make it more difficult for workers to form unions, and make it harder for government agencies overseeing enforcement of labor laws to do their jobs. Modi also wants to privatize government-owned companies and services now provided by the government.

But Pragya Tiwari writing for Al Jazeera, points out that even without the proposed changes, India is already business friendly. There is little enforcement of the country’s laws that protect workers, it’s difficult for workers to join unions, and employers are allowed unrestricted use of contract workers, who do the same work as permanent workers but for less pay and no benefits.

Between 1999 and 2010, contract workers increased from 12 percent of the workforce to 25 percent.

Unions are worried that if Modi is allowed to privatize the country’s public assets like its railways, utilities, and the businesses owned by the government many of the permanent jobs that pay decent wages and provide benefits will be eliminated and the use of contract work will continue to escalate.

The labor federations also demanded an increase in the minimum wage. The current minimum wage is 6394 ($95) rupees a month. The unions want the minimum wage increased to 18,000 rupees ($271) to help working people keep up with the increasing cost of basic goods.

In hopes of staving off the strike, the Modi government announced that it would increase the minimum wage to 9,100 rupees ($136), but the government’s last ditch effort did little to stem the anger of workers who joined the general strike.

And as the number of people who participated in the strike would suggest, there was widespread support for the strike.

“The protesters included large numbers of women, construction workers, industrial workers, hosiery workers, bank, electricity, PSSF, public health workers, contract workers, roadway, and other sections of workers and employees,” wrote one reporter observing the strike in the city of Ludhiana, a city of more than one million in the state of Punjab.

“The strike was almost complete in transport, coal, oil refineries and marketing, automobile, banking and insurance, telecommunications, postal services, defense, and transport sectors,” reports New Age, the newspaper of the Communist Party of India.

“In states like Odisha, Telangana, Kerala, Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur, Karnataka, Puducherry, Tripura and Bihar, it was a bandh-like (total shut down) situation where even markets remained closed,” continues New Age.

Before the strike, the government had been in talks with the unions about its economic and labor policies.

After the strike, unions called for a renewal of the talks, but the leftist-led federations like AITUC and the Center for Indian Trade Unions said that the talks can’t be one-sided and that the government needs to accept input from unions instead of trying to enforce its neoliberal economic policies unilaterally on an unwilling public.

Allina’s CEO leaves town as nursing strike begins

Striking Allina Health nurses in the Minneapolis-St Paul area are asking, “Where’s Penny?”

They’re referring to Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina’s CEO, who left town on the first day of the strike to visit Salt Lake, Utah where she was attending the Healthcare Analytics Summit, a yearly conference sponsored by Health Analytics, a health care technology company that Allina recently purchased for $108 million.

Health Analytics uses the yearly summit to pitch its technology wares to customers.

“Dr. Penny Wheeler, you need to respond to the nurses’ proposal, but we know you can’t because you’re not here,” said Angela Becchetti, a registered nurse and member of the nurses’ negotiating team. “We know you and Ben Bache-Wiig (vice president of Allina’s Abbott Northwestern hospital in Minneapolis) are at the Health Catalyst conference, and you’re not paying attention to us or what nurses need.”

Nearly 5000 nurses at five of Allina’s facilities walked off the job on Labor Day after the representatives of Allina walked out on contract negotiations with the nurses’ union, the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA).

The contentious negotiations had been going on since February and a federal mediator had been called in to help get a fair deal done.

The main point of contention is Allina’s demand that the nurses dissolve their own health care plan and transfer to the company’s plan. Doing so would cost the nurses considerably more because the company’s plan has higher premiums, deductibles, and co-pays.

Allina also wants take health care off the bargaining table and make unilateral decisions about future changes to its health care plan.

High quality and affordable health care is essential for nurses, whose job constantly exposes them to contagious diseases and a high risk of injury.

MNA had agreed to a phase out of the nurses’ own high quality, affordable plan, but the union wanted a gradual transition to the company plan and higher pay to lessen the financial impact of transferring to the higher-cost company plan.

Rather than negotiate a fair transition, Allina walked out on the negotiations, leaving nurses with no alternative but to strike.

“Nurses saw how Allina Health behaved at the table,” said Becchetti. “Just like a bully, Allina demanded nurses give up their affordable health insurance plans, and when we agreed to phase them out, they wanted more.”

Becchetti said that an agreement was close, but Allina would not guarantee that “nurses’ benefits wouldn’t be cut or diminished.”

“Allina Health has been asking to terminate the nurses health plans, and the nurses were willing to allow them to be phased out,” said Rose Roach, MNA executive director.  “But Allina must have felt they had a weak victim in the nurses, because they raised the price of an agreement by asking for more concessions.  This is what happens when the profit mindset takes over health care.  Allina is the EpiPen of hospitals.”

Allina calls itself a non-profit hospital company, but it has been acting like a for-profit company.

Mathew Keller, a regulatory and policy nursing specialist for MNA, reports that Allina’s net revenue over the past 6 years has been $1.3 billion and that in 2014 it paid its top 25 executives $23.9 million.

According to Keller, Allina has deposits totaling $160 million in offshore accounts located in the Caribbean islands of Antigua, Barbuda, Aruba, and the Bahamas.

Allina has also been generous to the companies whose executives sit on the Allina board of directors. For example, it paid US Bank $121 million to help Allina refinance low performing bonds that it purchased in 2007. Coincidentally, one of Allina’s board members is Mark Jordahl, the chief investment officer for US Bank.

By its own account, Allina would save $10 million under its proposal to transfer nurses to its own health care plan. In light of its $3.8 billion in annual operating revenue, the savings that it seeks to wring from its nurses is a pittance.

What it appears that Allina is really after is more control over its nurses.

“It’s about them having control and the nurses having no say so whatsoever in their terms and conditions of employment or for the safety and care of their patients,” said Roach in a message to members about the company’s refusal to negotiate a fair contract.

With Wheeler out of town tending to the business of Allina’s new for profit acquisition, MNA has decided to take its case to the Allina board of directors. The union has asked the board for a meeting to provide its members with accurate information.

“Allina Health will spend $20 million every week the nurses are on strike,” said Roach. “How can the stewards of a not-for-profit health care company allow that to happen when we were just $2 million away from a deal at the bargaining table?”

In addition to seeking a hearing from the Allina board, MNA has also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The charge alleges that Allina is committing surface bargaining, a sham form of negotiations in which one side goes through the motions bargaining but has no intention of reaching a deal.

Unprecedented lockout of faculty at LIU Brooklyn

Faculty members at Long Island University Brooklyn were locked out on September 2 by the school’s President Kimberly Cline five days before classes are to resume for the fall semester.

Long Island University (LIU) is a private university with two main campuses: one in Brooklyn and the other in suburban Nassau County.

Cline announced the lockout during ongoing contract negotiations with the Long Island University Federation of Faculty (LIUFF), which represents the university’s faculty and adjunct faculty members. The old collective bargaining agreement expired on September 1.

“This unprecedented, hostile action by the administration was taken while the faculty union. . . continued to negotiate its contract in good faith,” said Emily Drabinski, secretary of LIUFF.

“The administration has taken an unprecedented act of aggression and hostility against our faculty and students by preemptively locking the faculty out of coming to work effective Friday, September 2nd at midnight” said Jessica Rosenberg, president of LIUFF after the lockout was announced.

Negotiations have been ongoing since the spring. LIUFF has been seeking raises for both faculty and adjunct faculty that will bring them closer to parity with their academic counterparts at LIU Post, the LIU campus in Nassau County.

“Almost 50 percent of Brooklyn full-time faculty makes less than our counterparts at Post at rank level,” Rosenberg said to Seawanhakathe student newspaper at LIU Brooklyn, last spring.

The administration on the other hand wants to maintain the pay gap between LIU’s two campuses and wring concessions from the faculty.

If the administration’s concession demands make it into the final collective bargaining agreement, adjuncts would be especially hard hit.

The administration is proposing workload changes that could result in fewer teaching hours for many adjuncts, which according to Drabinski would result “in a 25 percent cut in earning potential.”

The administration also wants to stop contributing to the Adjunct Benefits Trust Fund, used by adjuncts to purchase health insurance, and stop seniority payments, used by some adjuncts to make contributions to the pension plan.

In addition to concessions, the administration wants a collective bargaining agreement that establishes a two-tiered benefit system in which the university contributes less pension money for new hires and limits their options for health insurance.

The new pay scale proposed by the administration would lower pay for newly hired adjunct faculty by hundreds of dollars as well.

Rather than bargaining over these issues, the administration wants to force faculty members to accept the terms of an agreement that it dictates.

To do so, the administration has tried to turn students against faculty by telling the students that a fair contract for faculty will result in higher tuition for students, whose tuition is already high.

This threat sounds a bit disingenuous. In April President Cline was bragging to the student newspaper that the university is on solid financial footing with assets of more than $36 million and an endowment of more than $135 million.

LIU also told students that by not accepting the administration’s terms, faculty members were disregarding students and their education.

The administration then showed how much regard it had for its students by locking out their teachers and hiring ill-prepared replacement teachers. In addition, it is forcing administration employees to teach classes during the lockout.

Faculty also have been the target of threats. In letters and messages, faculty were told that unless they accepted the administration’s dictates, their health insurance would be canceled.

Despite the administration’s campaign to force capitulation, LIUFF has said that it will continue to fight for a fair collective bargaining agreement.

“We are continuing to negotiate on Labor Day and continuing to stand up for all faculty and, as importantly, for our students,” said Drabinski.  “The negotiating team will not capitulate to an egregious and onerous contract, and we will not let the administration divide the faculty and attack our freedom and autonomy to teach and create.”

LIUFF has called for a solidarity demonstration at the LIU Brooklyn campus on September 7, the opening day of classes, and is urging people to send letters of solidarity to LIU Brooklyn’s administration.

“We are going to seek resolution,” says Rosenberg. “That’s our charge, and that’s what we’re trying to do. But we’re not going to allow ourselves to be bullied and intimidated by an administration that has shown no respect for the work that we do.”