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.

 

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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.

Flight attendant union to Wall Street: raises were fair, punishment wasn’t

The leader of the American Airlines flight attendants union hit back at Wall Street for punishing the airline for giving pay raises to its pilots and flight attendants.

“It seems Wall Street is putting pressure on the airline industry to squeeze out more revenue, but they could care less about passengers or front-line workers, ” said Bob Ross, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Ross made his comments after a CitiGroup analyst named Kevin Crissey  criticized American for giving its pilots and flight attendants pay raises that brought their salaries up to the same level as their counterparts at Delta and United airlines.

In a note to investors, Crissey griped that the pay raises were “frustrating (because) labor is being paid first again (my emphasis). Shareholders get the leftovers.”

Crissey was not alone. Other Wall Street analyst downgraded their assessment of American causing the price of the airline’s stock to plummet.

In rebuttal, Ross wrote an opinion piece that appeared in Aviation Weekly setting the record straight.

First of all, American has been extremely generous to its shareholders.

Ross points out that between 2014 and 2016, American authorized stock buybacks worth $9 billion to investors, and during the same period, the company paid investors $600 million a year in dividends.

Combined, the stock buybacks and the dividends are substantially more than the $1 billion over three years that the employee raises will cost.

Ross goes on to describe the sacrifices that he and his fellow workers made to keep the company operating after the airline industry downturn following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York and Washington DC.

Workers gave American $6 billion worth of wage and benefit concessions during the decade that followed 2001.

Those concessions meant that some of his fellow union members lost their homes, cars, and savings.

Finally Ross criticized Wall Street for its short-term thinking. Ross called the employee raises an investment in frontline staff, which American needed to make to remain competitive.

“Underpaying key front-line employees leads to high turnover and low morale, which is not a recipe for quality service. Treating workers fairly is a better long-term strategy,” said Ross.

While Wall Street was punishing American for being too generous to its employees, it continued to support extravagant pay for CEOs.

According to the New York Times, “in advisory votes that S&P 500 companies held for their shareholders on executive pay last year, they received average support of 91 percent.”

Referring the an AFL-CIO Executive Pay Watch report, the Times goes on to report that in 2016, CEO pay raises averaged 6 percent and that the average CEO pay in 2016 was $13.1 million.

The AFL-CIO Executive Pay Watch report shows that the pay gap between CEO’s and workers continues to grow.

The average pay in 2016 for CEOs was 347 times greater than the average pay for workers,  that’s up from 335 times greater in 2015.

The fact that Wall Street considers pay increases for CEOs to be just the cost of doing business while it sees pay increases for workers as an aberration that must be contained explains why income equality continues to increase.

“Too often, corporations see workers as costs to be cut, rather than assets to be invested in,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “It’s shameful that CEOs can make tens of millions of dollars and still destroy the livelihoods of the hard-working people who make their companies profitable.”

CA DirectTV workers stand together in solidarity to protest unjust firing

DirectTV installation and maintenance technicians in Sacramento, California refused to work on January 30 because one of their fellow technicians was unfairly fired.

The company fired Anthony Estrada, a two-year DirectTV employee, because it claimed that he lost a $300 meter used to aim satellite dishes.

According to the workers, Estrada’s firing was the first time that the company had fired someone for losing a meter or other tool of any kind.

“We have had guys lose a meter before,” said one technician. “They just made them pay the depreciation cost.”

Estrada is one of 130 DirectTV workers at the company’s McClellan Business Park office in Sacramento

The workers are members of Communication Workers of America Local 9421, a 1500 member local whose members work for AT&T in the Sacramento area.

AT&T bought DirectTV in 2015, and since then many DirectTV workers have joined CWA locals.

California and Nevada DirectTV workers, including those in Sacramento, joined CWA in 2016 and have been bargaining for their first contract.

At present, because there is no contract there is no agreed upon grievance procedure for resolving the kinds of unfair disciplinary actions that led to Estrada’s firing. As a result, the workers decided to take direct action to protest the company’s unjust firing.

The job action began on a Monday, and escalated on Tuesday when workers showed up outside the DirectTV service center and refused to go to work again.

At that point, the company said that it was locking out the workers.

The company’s action however, failed to intimidate the workers, and they showed up again on Wednesday en masse with picket signs reading, “WE ARE ONE.”

On Thursday, the company refused to allow the workers to use restroom facilities in the office, but the workers maintained their picket lines outside the office.

While the workers’ job action continued, the union and the company met to discuss ways to end the job action.

On Friday morning, the two sides announced an agreement, and the technicians resumed work on Friday afternoon.

The agreement did not restore Estrada’s job immediately; instead, the two sides agreed to bring the issue of his firing to the bargaining table.

The union and company are scheduled to meet on February 8 at which time CWA will present its case for reinstating Estrada.

“It didn’t go 100 percent the way we wanted to, but it’s still not over yet,” said Estrada to the Sacramento Bee.

In the meantime, John Miller, president of Local 9421 had high praise for the new members of the local. “I want to say I am very proud of my guys and extremely impressed with the solidarity they showed in uniting for one of their own. I’m very proud to have this group in my local,” said Miller.

Supporters of Nissan workers: “Worker rights are civil rights”

A group that included civil rights activists, clergy, local elected officials, union members and leaders, and students on January 26 demonstrated outside of a Nashville Nissan dealership to protest civil rights violations at the Nissan factory in Canton, Mississippi.

“We are proud to stand with our friends in Mississippi to call attention to civil rights abuses at Nissan’s assembly plants,” said the Rev. Ed Thompson, chair of Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), a coalition of faith leaders, community organizations, and labor unions. “We believe workers’ rights are civil rights. We’re asking Nissan to do better by its hard-working employees, and we’re asking Nissan’s dealers and customers to join us in this cause.”

The Nashville demonstration was the first of a series of planned actions being taken to raise awareness of troubling conditions at Nissan’s Canton factory, which manufactures several Nissan models including the Altima, Frontier, Murano, and Titan.

Workers at the Canton Nissan factory have become concerned about safety at the factory, a punishing production quota that exacerbates safety problems, a two-tiered wage system that pays temporary workers much less and provides fewer benefit than permanent workers, and the company’s campaign of coercion and intimidation directed at workers who want to form a union.

Workers who have been trying to form a union local of the United Autoworkers (UAW) have seen their safety deteriorate since the plant was opened in 2003.

“People get hurt too often at Nissan and these injuries can rob us of our ability to provide for our families,” said Ernest Whitfield, a 13-year Nissan employee in Canton who attended the Nashville demonstration. “We’re forced to decide if we should work with an injury, or report it and potentially lose our jobs. It strips away your dignity to feel like the company values production numbers more than the safety of the people who make it successful.”

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in July fined Nissan for safety violations at the Canton plant that that caused serious injuries to two workers. According to OSHA, both workers were hospitalized because of falls caused by slip hazards that the company failed to correct. One fall happened in October 2015; the other in February 2016.

At the Nashville demonstration, a delegation delivered a letter to the dealership’s owner from the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a civil rights coalition supporting the Canton Nissan workers.

The letter, signed by Dr. Isiac Jackson, president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi and chairman of MAFFAN, says that despite promises that Nissan would “bring quality jobs to our community for years to come, over time, Nissan has decided to take a different path. Today, the company exploits its predominately African American workforce in a number of ways.”

Speaking at the Nashville demonstration, Vonda McDaniel, president of the local labor council, criticized Nissan for the disparity between what it says are its values and the way that it conducts itself at the Canton plant.

“Nissan spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as a socially responsible car maker,” said McDaniel.. “But the reality is, Nissan is turning a blind eye toward workers’ rights and safety problems at its assembly plants. It’s time for Nissan dealers and customers to recognize that what they’re selling and buying just doesn’t fit the image of what Nissan claims it’s producing.”

Similar demonstrations are planned for Nissan dealerships in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, Charlotte, North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina, New Orleans, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Workers at two Trump hotels settle labor disputes

Union members at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas won their first union contract, and workers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC won the right to conduct an organizing campaign without management interference.

The two separate agreements with the management of the two hotels were announced on December 21.

In Las Vegas food and beverage and housekeepers, who one year ago voted to join UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Local 226, reached an agreement with hotel management on their first union contract that raises wages and provides a pension, health care benefits, and job protections.

“This agreement is the result of tremendous efforts of the parties’ leadership teams. Both the Culinary Union and the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas extend their congratulations to each other and each look forward to a mutually productive and peaceful labor-management partnership,” reads a statement issued by Local 226.

While the statement suggests that the two parties are on the road toward building a mutually respectful relationship, the history of the workers’ struggle for a union suggests that the road to enlightened labor relations at the Trump hotel may be a bit rocky.

Workers at Trump Las Vegas began talking about organizing a union in 2014. That talk quickly became a full-fledged organizing campaign, and for a year, pro-union workers with the help of union organizers talked one-on-one to other workers about the benefits of having a union.

They told their fellow workers about the 35,000 union workers at other Las Vegas hotels who were paid better wages and had pensions, excellent health care benefits, and job protections.

Some union supporters wore buttons to work to express their support for the union.

Management reacted with a campaign of its own. The Trump Las Vegas hotel, which is co-0wned by billionaire Phillip Ruffin, spent $560,000 to prevent workers from organizing a union.

In June 2014, five workers were suspended for wearing union buttons to work and talking to other workers about joining the union.

A year later, they were awarded back pay for lost wages after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that hotel management had violated their right to speak freely about joining a union.

The union filed other charges of unfair labor practices including allegations of physical assaults against union supporters, verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats.

In August 2015, the NLRB ruled that Trump Las Vegas acted illegally to prevent workers from joining a union by suppressing their free speech, illegally interrogating employees, threatening them with reprisals for supporting the union, and in one instance, physically assaulting union supporters.

Things didn’t get any easier after workers voted in December 2015 to join Local 226. Hotel management refused to bargain with the union for a first contract.

Eleven months after the workers voted to unionize, the NLRB ruled that Trump Las Vegas Hotel management violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to bargain with the union

Hotel management reacted by appealing the decision rather than negotiating.

However, management’s attitude toward the union made an abrupt and unexpected about-face, and in December, the two sides announced an agreement on the workers’ first collective bargaining agreement.

The turn around came as President-elect Trump was facing intense scrutiny about his business holdings and the potential conflicts of interest that would exist between those holdings and his responsibilities as President of the United States.

Among the possible conflicts of interest were his shares of ownership in the Trump hotels in Las Vegas and Washington DC that were both subject to unfair labor practices investigations being carried out by the NLRB.

The New York Times reports that Trump and his transition team have been working vigorously to create an image that no conflicts of interest will exist after he becomes President.

To do so they have been trying to resolve some of the most blatant examples of potential conflicts of interest, including Trump’s labor relations problems in Las Vegas and Washington DC.

As a result, the Trump hotels in these two cities moved quickly to settle their labor problems.

In Washington DC that meant reaching an agreement with UNITE HERE Local 25, which has been helping workers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC organize a union.

Local 25 announced that the agreement will allow a union organizing drive to proceed without management interference.

“(The agreement) satisfies the union’s goal to represent and ensure strong working conditions for hospitality workers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area,” said John Boardman, president of Local 25.  “We look forward to pursuing a mutually productive partnership with Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.”

Fight for $15 victory in Minnesota; airport workers choose union

Workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on November 14 became union members.

They joined SEIU Local 26 after a long organizing campaign that grew out of the national Fight for $15 Movement.

“This victory did not come easy, but it was worth the effort,” said Abdi Ali, a cart driver who has worked at the airport for eight years.”We are always there for each other, and now we will finally have a real voice at the airport.”

Ali and the 600 other new union members work for AirServ, a Delta Airline subcontractor. They are baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, cart drivers, wheel chair agents, and other service providers whose work is essential but whose wages are low.

Their organizing campaign began in 2013 at about the same time that low-wage workers across the US were striking and demonstrating for an increase in the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Airport workers in Minnesota took part in the early Fight for $15 street demonstrations. After the street actions were over, they took the fight for $15 to their jobs and began organizing a union.

AirServ workers and other low-wage Minneapolis-St. Paul airport workers demonstrated, picketed, petitioned, and testified for higher wages and better working conditions.

Their organized efforts won paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage for all airport workers. The new airport minimum wage was $10 an hour, $1 above the state’s minimum wage.

Those victories showed the power of collective action, but they fell short of the workers’ ultimate goal–a living wage and an organized voice on the job that could give them a say in determining the terms and conditions of their work.

So, the AirServ workers pressed ahead for union recognition. In June, the workers voted to strike unless the company recognized their union and took steps to improve working conditions.

The strike was averted when AirServ agreed to establish a process that would allow workers to decide whether they wanted to join a union without interference from the company.

But details about how workers would make this decision were left unclear.

For two months, AirServ and negotiators from Local 26 negotiated the details of a fair process.

In August, AirServ workers grew impatient and authorized another strike unless an agreement on a fair process could be reached.

Finally the union and the company agreed that the company would recognize the union if a majority of workers signed union representation cards and a neutral third-party verified the signatures.

In November after the signed authorization cards were verified, the company announced that it would recognize the union.

“I couldn’t be happier than I am today,” said Ali after hearing the news.

The union victory was especially important to Misrak Anbesse, an airplane cleaner and like most of the other AirServe workers is an immigrant from East Africa.

“Winning our union was a big step for us—and for everyone working to raise up people of color and immigrants in Minnesota,” said Anbesse.

“We’re all working together for a better life for our families,” she added.  “I know the community here in Minnesota will keep supporting us as we bargain a good contract and work to raise wages at the airport even more.”