Labor

Why Amazon is terrified of its U.S. workers unionizing

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just ruled that a historic union vote held earlier this year among Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) was not valid. The highly publicized vote, which took place over several weeks in February and March 2021, resulted in a resounding defeat for the union, with more than 70 percent of those voting choosing against union membership.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, accused Amazon of engaging in “efforts to gaslight its own employees,” and filed a petition in April to nullify the vote. After investigating the union’s assertion, the NLRB decided that Amazon interfered so blatantly in its workers’ ability to vote that a second election is now in order.

The ruling detailed how, in spite of the NLRB denying Amazon’s request to install a mail collection box right outside the warehouse entrance, the company did so anyway, giving workers the impression that it was involved in the vote counting. Additionally, the company distributed “vote no” paraphernalia to workers in the presence of managers, forcing them to declare their support of or opposition to the union. And, Amazon held what the NLRB called “captive audience meetings” with small groups of workers, “six days a week, 18 hours a day,” in order to blast the approximately 6,000 employees who were eligible to vote with anti-union messaging over the course of the voting period.

An NLRB regional director, Lisa Henderson, who made the decision for a second vote, denounced Amazon’s “flagrant disregard” for ensuring a free and fair election and said the company “essentially hijacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”

It’s no wonder that the election turnout was low and that ultimately only about 12 percent of eligible voters cast ballots choosing to unionize.

Anticipating the NLRB decision to allow a second vote, the company has already begun paving the way for interference once more. According to a Reuters report in early November, “Amazon has ramped up its campaign at the warehouse, forcing thousands of employees to attend meetings, posting signs critical of labor groups in bathrooms, and flying in staff from the West Coast.”

This aggressive and repeated pushback by one of the world’s largest employers against a unionizing effort at a single warehouse in the United States is an indication of Amazon’s absolute determination to deny workers a say in their labor conditions. Kelly Nantel, a company spokesperson, said that workers don’t need a union because they benefit from a “direct relationship” with their employer—a laughable notion considering the unbalanced power dynamic between the behemoth retailer and any one of its nearly 1 million U.S. employees.

So invested is the company in maintaining a union-free workplace that the NLRB in a separate decision determined that Amazon illegally fired two employees last year who were agitating against its unfair labor practices.

There is an obvious reason why Amazon has opted to respond so aggressively to unionization efforts in the United States. Its European workers are unionized and are actively demanding better wages and working conditions. For example, in Germany, unionized Amazon workers walked off their jobs for higher pay in November during the peak holiday shopping season. Last year, Italian workers went on strike for 11 days to win an extra five-minute break to ensure good hygiene in light of the pandemic. And, in the spring of 2020, French unions demanded that Amazon suspend all activity at its warehouses in the interest of worker safety during the early months of the pandemic. A French court ruled favorably, saying that the company had to suspend deliveries of all nonessential items.

Further, union leaders and unionized workers from various European nations began collaborating with one another last year in what Business Insider called an effort to “swap notes… on how to pressure the retail giant to improve their working conditions.”

This sort of European union activity and cross-border worker solidarity is exactly the type of scenario that Amazon does not want to see replicated in the United States.

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos responded to the Bessemer vote in April saying that he would ensure his company became “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” the RWDSU took it as an admission that Amazon has indeed been mistreating its workers.

Indeed, there have been numerous studies detailing mistreatment. One investigation by the New York Times earlier this year at Amazon’s Staten Island, New York, warehouse found that the company churned through workers with an extremely high employee turnover rate. The paper also found that although managers keep careful track of nearly every conceivable aspect of how quickly employees work, their efficiency and productivity, there were apparently few records, if any, of worker health including COVID-19 infections.

At the same time that the Bessemer warehouse workers were being bombarded with anti-union propaganda, the company was practically minting money with record profits from a greater dependence on online shopping during the pandemic. Profits jumped 220 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period a year earlier.

The NLRB ruling for a do-over vote at the Bessemer warehouse comes at a time when American workers are increasingly intolerant of poor labor conditions and low wages. A wave of strikes this fall and mass resignations have also impacted Amazon’s ability to hire more workers. Now, in addition to the RWDSU, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has vowed to engage in organizing efforts aimed at Amazon and passed a historic resolution this summer in response to how “Amazon poses an existential threat to the rights and standards our members have fought for and won.”

Still, Amazon’s aggressive efforts at maintaining union-free operations in the United States have continued to bear fruit. In addition to rolling out more anti-union efforts ahead of the second vote at its Bessemer warehouse, Amazon appears to have prevailed against another unionization effort—at the Staten Island warehouse that the New York Times investigated. Just two weeks ahead of an NLRB hearing on whether there was sufficient interest to form a union there, workers mysteriously withdrew their petition.

A Reuters study of 20 years of wage data for the retail industry found a clear and growing advantage for unionized workers compared to non-union workers, with the weekly wage gap between the two groups increasing from $20 in 2013 to $50 in 2019. The outlet explained that “unionized workers tend to work more hours per week and on a predictable schedule, while non-union workers often have a ‘variable schedule’ that depends on how busy management thinks the store might be.” In other words, the rights of non-union workers are subservient to the company’s well-being.

Perhaps this is what Nantel meant by the benefits of having a “direct relationship” with workers. Except, she claimed such a relationship was in the interest of workers, when in truth it is in the interest of employers like Amazon to have no collective power to wrestle against.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Amazon gets forced to give Alabama workers another shot at a union

In a victory for employees at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, a federal labor official on Monday formally directed a new union election following allegations that the company engaged in illegal misconduct leading up to an unsuccessful vote in April.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), celebrated the order from National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 10 Director Lisa Henderson, which a spokesperson for the agency confirmed to multiple media outlets.

"Today's decision confirms what we were saying all along—that Amazon's intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace—and as the regional director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal," Appelbaum said. "Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union."

After the initial union drive—which garnered national attention and support from key labor rights figures including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—RWDSU filed nearly two dozen complaints with the NLRB alleging that Amazon threatened workers with loss of pay and benefits, removed pro-union employees from trainings, and installed an illegal ballot drop box.

Henderson's directive comes after NLRB hearing officer Kerstin Meyers in August recommended that the Alabama workers get another vote because Amazon's "conduct interfered with the laboratory conditions necessary to conduct a fair election."

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told Protocol on Monday that "our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year. It's disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn't count. As a company, we don't think unions are the best answer for our employees."

The outlet noted that while no unionization push by Amazon workers has succeeded, there are two other ongoing initiatives: "The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union has committed to organizing delivery drivers and truckers as a nationwide priority, and an unaffiliated union effort in Staten Island has fought for enough employee signatures to request an NLRB election at the facilities there."

Jordan Zakarin of More Perfect Union pointed out that "election re-runs are rarely more successful than the first election, and Amazon has an astronomically high turnover rate."

"Those are high hurdles," he tweeted. "Still, the public support for this campaign and the budding worker militancy we're seeing nationwide could make things interesting."

Labor writer Kim Kelly similarly said that "it's very rare to win a re-run election, but I know the union has already been organizing for months, and some of the conditions that hamstrung that first effort have changed. Overall I am extremely interested to see what happens!"

Though the time and method of the new election haven't yet been determined, the regional director's decision against the e-commerce giant came on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year.

Last week, some progressives marked Black Friday—another major holiday shopping event—by pressuring the evenly divided U.S. Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Those calls included highlighting Amazon's opposition to its workers unionizing.

Demands to pass the pro-union legislation came as Amazon employees and allies took to the streets around the world for #MakeAmazonPay demonstrations urging the online retailer to improve labor conditions, increase wages, operate more sustainably, and pay its fair share of taxes.

Why an army of union workers and other activists coalesced around America’s infrastructure bill

Donneta Williams and her coworkers at the Corning plant in Wilmington, North Carolina, hail from different backgrounds and hold diverse views.

But just as they team up on the production floor to make top-quality products powering the internet, they banded together to push for a long-overdue infrastructure program that's destined to lift up their community and countless others across America.

They didn't fight alone. Williams and her colleagues were among a veritable army of Steelworkers and other activists from all over America whose unstinting advocacy helped to propel a historic infrastructure package through Congress and into the Oval Office.

Their rallies, letters, phone calls, tweets and visits to congressional offices provided the heft behind the bipartisan legislation that cleared the House during the first week of November, just as their steely resolve helped to deliver the Senate's vote in August.

"It unified us," Williams, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1025, said of the bill, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on November 15 and which will invest billions in roads, bridges, seaports, locks and dams, manufacturing facilities, energy systems and communications networks.

"Everyone benefits," she said, noting the infrastructure program will create and sustain millions of union manufacturing and construction jobs while modernizing the nation and revitalizing its manufacturing base. "It's not about one particular party or one particular person. It's about the nation as a whole and our future and what can be accomplished when everybody works together."

Williams and her colleagues make optical fiber, the backbone of broadband networks, a product as fine as thread that carries voice, data and video over the information superhighway at tremendous speed. Across the nation, however, the availability of high-speed broadband remains grossly uneven, and even some of Williams' coworkers can't access it for their own families.

That absurdity inflamed Local 1025's support for an infrastructure program that will deliver affordable, high-quality internet to every American's door while also bringing urgently needed repairs to school buildings, expanding the clean economy and upgrading crumbling, congested roads in Wilmington and other cities.

Williams and her coworkers sent their representatives and senators hundreds of postcards and emails championing the infrastructure legislation. And when the USW's multi-city "We Supply America" bus tour rolled into Wilmington in August to promote the bill, many of Williams' coworkers donned blue-and-yellow T-shirts and turned out for a rally to show they were all in.

"They were the wind behind everything," Williams said of the Local 1025 members, who clapped and cheered when it was her turn to speak.

Miners on Minnesota's Iron Range also pulled out all the stops to press for the legislation, knowing it will support family-sustaining union jobs for generations to come by increasing demand for the materials and components needed to rebuild transportation networks, upgrade drinking water systems and tackle other improvement projects.

"This is something that we needed. We still have pipes in this country that are made of wood. That's crazy," said Cliff Tobey, the benefits and joint efforts coordinator for USW Locals 2660 and 1938, who wrote postcards, dropped in to congressional offices and even penned a column on the bill for the local newspaper.

But he didn't stop there. Just a couple of days after the bill passed the House, Tobey was part of a USW delegation making one more visit to local congressional offices to ensure the package contained exactly what America's workers expected.

"I think we understand what infrastructure means," Tobey said, stressing the legislation's importance for workers across a giant swath of industries. "It's not just steel. It's paper. It's rubber. It's glass. They'll all gain from this."

His own advocacy was driven partly by the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis, a tragedy that sent cars and trucks, commercial vehicles and a school bus plummeting more than 100 feet. The collapse killed 13 and injured dozens of other motorists during their evening commute.

Investigators eventually attributed the collapse to a design flaw. But the span, which carried 144,000 vehicles a day, had been previously classified as "structurally deficient" and "fracture critical" because of maintenance issues.

There was no reason for that kind of neglect, Tobey said, noting how long America's skilled workers have wanted to overhaul the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Now, they'll get that chance.

"It shows that when Steelworkers put their minds to something, they fight, and they keep fighting until they get it done," Tobey observed.

The new infrastructure legislation will stimulate manufacturing and job growth all along supply chains.

That's because construction projects require not just steel, aluminum, glass and other raw materials but paint, insulation, roofing products and electronic equipment, among many other items. Builders also need trucks to transport materials and heavy equipment for use at job sites.

"They're going to be buying Bobcats," said William Wilkinson, president of USW Local 560 in Gwinner, North Dakota, noting the Steelworkers fought to include domestic procurement requirements in the infrastructure bill, ensuring the nation rebuilds with highly skilled union workers.

Wilkinson represents hundreds of workers who make excavators, skid loaders, utility vehicles and various attachments. And when the infrastructure program increases demand for those products, many other businesses, like Bobcat's suppliers and local stores, will also benefit.

"Everyone supported it," Wilkinson said of the infrastructure bill.

After the many months they spent advocating for the legislation, USW members want nothing more than to get to work rebuilding America.

"It's dear to our hearts," Williams said of the historic opportunity she and her members helped to create. "It makes you feel good knowing you did your part."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Why bosses need to get used to the 'Great Resignation'

by Ian O. Williamson, University of California, Irvine

Finding good employees has always been a challenge - but these days it's harder than ever. And it is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

The so-called quit rate – the share of workers who voluntarily leave their jobs – hit a new record of 3% in September 2021, according to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The rate was highest in the leisure and hospitality sector, where 6.4% of workers quit their jobs in September. In all, 20.2 million workers left their employers from May through September.

Companies are feeling the effects. In August 2021, a survey found that 73% of 380 employers in North America were having difficulty attracting employees – three times the share that said so the previous year. And 70% expect this difficulty to persist into 2022.

Observers have blamed a wide variety of factors for all the turnover, from fear of contracting COVID-19 by mixing with co-workers on the job to paltry wages and benefits being offered.

As a professor of human resource management, I examine how employment and the work environment have changed over time and the impact this has on organizations and communities. While the current resignation behavior may seem like a new trend, data shows employee turnover has been rising steadily for the past decade and may simply be the new normal employers are going to have to get used to.

The economy's seismic shifts

The U.S. – alongside other advanced economies – has been moving away from a focus on productive sectors like manufacturing to a service-based economy for decades.

In recent years, the service sector accounted for about 86% of all employment in the U.S. and 79% of all economic growth.

That change has been seismic for employers. A majority of the jobs in service-based industries require only generalizable occupational skills such as competencies in computing and communications that are often easily transportable across companies. This is true across a wide range of professions, from accountants and engineers to truck drivers and customer services representatives. As a result, in service-based economies, it is relatively easy for employees to move between companies and maintain their productivity.

And thanks to information technology and social media, it has never been easier for employees to find out about new job opportunities anywhere in the world. The growing prevalence of remote working also means that in some cases employees will no longer need to physically relocate to start a new job.

Thus, the barriers and transition costs employees incur when switching employers have been reduced.

Greater options and lower costs to move mean that employees can be more selective and focus on picking jobs that best fit their personal needs and desires. What people want from work is inherently shaped by their cultural values and life situation. The U.S. labor market is expected to become far more diverse going forward in terms of gender, ethnicity and age. Thus, employers that cannot provide greater flexibility and variety in their working environment will struggle to attract and retain workers.

Employers now have a greater obligation than in the past to convince existing and would-be employees why they should stay or join their organizations. And there is no evidence to suggest this trend will change going forward.

What companies can do to adapt

It has been estimated that the cost to the employer of replacing a departing employee is on average 122% of that employee's annual salary in terms of finding and training a replacement.

Thus, there is a large incentive for businesses to adapt to the new labor market conditions and develop innovative approaches to keeping workers happy and in their jobs.

A May 2021 survey found that 54% of employees surveyed from around the world would consider leaving their job if they were not afforded some form of flexibility in where and when they work.

Given the heightened priority employees place on finding a job that fits their preferences, companies need to adopt a more holistic approach to the types of rewards they provide. It's also important that they tailor the types of financial, social and developmental incentives and opportunities they provide to individual employees' preferences. It's not just about paying workers more. There are even examples of companies providing employees the choice of simply being paid in a cryptocurrency like bitcoin as an inducement.

While customizing the package of rewards each employees receives may potentially increase an organization's administrative costs, this investment can help retain a highly engaged workforce.

Managing the new normal

Companies should also plan on high employee mobility to be endemic and reframe how they approach managing their workers.

One way to do this is by investing deeply in external relationships that help ensure consistent access to high-quality talent. This can include enhancing the relationships they have with educational institutions and former employees.

For example, many organizations have adopted alumni programs that specifically recruit former employees to rejoin.

These former employees are often less expensive to recruit, bring access to needed human capital and possess both an understanding of an organization's processes and an appreciation of the organization's culture.

The quit rate is likely to stay elevated for some time to come. The sooner employers accept that and adapt, the better they'll be at managing the new normal.

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Ian O. Williamson, Dean of the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The federal poverty line struggles to capture the economic hardship that half of Americans face

by Celine-Marie Pascale, American University

Michael Chase works two jobs in southeast Ohio: one as a hotel night clerk and one as retail support – sorting through donations, setting new merchandise out, cleaning – at a nonprofit.

His schedule is not fixed in either job, and his hours are not guaranteed. Some weeks he works back-to-back eight-hour shifts. Some weeks he works fewer than 30 hours. Neither job offers sick leave, vacation time or health insurance.

Chase shares an apartment with three other people, something he finds stressful. And he is not always confident that he can make his portion of the rent. Between the two jobs, Chase earns less than US$16,000 a year. While it may not sound like a lot, that places him well above the federal poverty line for a single person: $12,760.

As a sociologist concerned with inequality, I spent one year conducting field work and interviews across the country for my recent book, which examines how Americans cope with economic struggles amid stagnant wages and rising costs of living.

Nearly everyone I interviewed worked multiple service industry jobs. Yet I didn't meet anyone who thought of themselves as poor.

More commonly they referred to themselves as the struggling class: They struggle economically and hold an often unfounded hope that things will get better. But you can't work your way out of poverty in low-wage jobs.

Low-wage jobs in the 21st century are not only the lowest rung on a career ladder, they are often the only rung.

Across the country, millions of low-wage workers like Chase struggle to pay their bills each month, despite holding multiple jobs.

Defining poverty

“I'm fine," Chase told me. “I don't consider myself poor … I guess I would say I am struggling a little bit. For me, people who don't have food are poor. Or someone who can't feed their kids, or you might not have running water or even electricity. You don't have the right things you need to even survive."

Chase was not unusual in his assessment of poverty.

The economic struggles of millions in the United States are erased by the federal definition of the poverty line and by outdated conceptions of low-wage work.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution defined low-wage work as a median hourly wage of $10.22, or $17,950 per year. By this measure, 44% of all workers in the U.S. are low-wage earners.

In 2021, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a worker needs to earn $20.40 per hour to be able to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. That's an annual salary of $40,800 – more than twice what Brookings refers to as the median wage for low-wage work.

Federal data shows that roughly 51% or workers live on less than $35,000 annually. Low wages, unreliable hours and a lack of benefits have come to dominate the U.S. economic landscape.

To understand the economic hardship that more than half of Americans face, it is critical that researchers shift their thinking away from an outdated federal measure of poverty. Instead, they should focus on measures of self-sufficiency.

Economic self sufficiency

Economic self-sufficiency is the ability to reliably meet basic needs, including food, housing, transportation, child care, medical expenses and other necessities.

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, provides a Family Budget Calculator that calculates measures of economic self-sufficiency across the country.

The organization provides a transparent estimate of what it costs to be economically self-sufficient. It is not a calculation of poverty.

The calculations are based on Department of Agriculture data such as food costs and Fair Market Rent, a measure developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine payments for housing assistance programs.

In southeast Ohio, the self-sufficiency budget for Chase provided by the Economic Policy Institute calculator is $34,545 – more than twice what he earns and nearly three times the federal poverty line.

If Chase lived in San Francisco, his economic self-sufficiency budget would be $69,072. Across the bay in Oakland, California, it would be $57,383. Keep in mind that the federal poverty line for a single person living anywhere in the U.S. is $12,760.

For families, the gap between the federal poverty line and economic self-sufficiency is even wider. Self-sufficiency for two adults with two children who live in San Francisco requires an annual income of $148,440, while the federal poverty line for this same family of four in 2020 was $25,701.

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Self-sufficiency calculations vary by region. For example, self-sufficiency for this same family of four in Athens County, Ohio, would require an income of $72,284; in the Sioux City metro area of South Dakota, this family would need $78,935 to meet all of their basic needs.

Self-sufficiency measures are not perfect.

The Economic Policy Institute calculations do not consider debt, which can be significant. Further, the calculation relies on Fair Market Rent, which designates regional rents in the 40th percentile as fair market. This means that in any area, 60% of housing is more expensive than Fair Market Rent.

For Chase in Ohio, a livable one-bedroom apartment runs $800 to $1,300 a month, but Fair Market Rent allocates only $605 for rent.

Despite these problems, measures of self-sufficiency are more effective than the federal poverty line. By delineating the costs of basic expenses, they draw a far more accurate line of where poverty begins.

It might seem like a matter of common sense that the nation needs to calculate how much families actually need to spend on basic expenses in order to understand where poverty begins. But policymakers still rely on the federal poverty line for calculating economic safety nets. A measure of self-sufficiency would enable the nation to identify levels of economic need as they exist – and therefore to establish effective safety nets.The Conversation

Celine-Marie Pascale, Professor of Sociology, American University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Republicans have a new idea to fix the labor shortage: Loosen child labor laws

Republican-controlled legislatures in several states have come up with a novel way to stem the effects of an ongoing labor shortage: loosen child labor laws governing the number of hours and times that teenagers are allowed to work.

It's not exactly a new strategy. Businesses hiring minimum-wage employees across the country have advertised their use of teenagers to plug the holes in their workforce for months, especially fast-food chains like Chipotle, Burger King and McDonalds, among others. Seasonal work in tourism-heavy industries like amusement parks have also doubled-down on the strategy.

But at least two states, Wisconsin and Ohio, are now pushing for new laws that would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work longer hours — the most brazen attempts to expand American businesses' use of teenage labor in decades.

In Ohio, the Republican-controlled state legislature took up a measure last month to allow businesses to keep teenagers under the age of 16 at work until 9 p.m., with a parent's permission. Previously, they had only been allowed to work until 7 p.m. The bill was introduced by two Republicans and one Democrat.

Likewise, the Wisconsin Senate last month also passed a bill which would allow businesses to hire 14- and 15-year-olds to work from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weeknights or 11 p.m. on weekends. The measure would only apply to businesses which run less than $500,000 in sales annually and aren't governed by a federal statute known as the Fair Labor Standards Act.

If approved by the state Assembly, which appears likely, its fate will lie with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. It remains unclear whether he will veto the measure or not.

It's just the latest attempt in a long line of Republican-led changes to the state's child labor code over the last decade, according to an analysis in The Guardian. In 2011, Wisconsin eliminated limits on the number of hours — and days — that minors aged 16-17 could work, and even replaced the phrase "child labor" in state law with "employment of minors" in 2017.

The most recent changes have attracted support from a number of powerful service-industry lobbies, such as the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, who say it will help to solve businesses' staffing issues and teach teenagers a healthy work ethic.

On the other side, the measure has attracted ire from the AFL-CIO and a number of the state's high-profile Democrats, who uniformly appear to oppose the bill.

"It's a nice workaround," state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, told WISN-TV last month. "I think in reality if those employers are looking for workers, what frankly the market should dictate is they should be raising wages, offering additional benefits."

A number of high-profile progressives have echoed those sentiments — with some even pushing back against the mainstream narrative that a widespread worker shortage exists in the first place. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said on her Instagram recently that what America is confronting isn't a labor shortage, but a "dignified job shortage."

Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist and co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, told Salon that the larger issue at play is why kids would have to work in the first place.

"A lot of families are in such dire economic conditions that they might agree to send their kids to work because of necessity." she said. "But that's the problem. If you get up and go to work every day, you shouldn't be living in poverty, you shouldn't be living in such dire situations."

The increasing reliance on American teenagers to work more hours is also leading to a number of negative outcomes for children who are forced into the labor market at younger ages — including increasing rates of substance abuse and high school dropouts, research shows.

In an op-ed for the Bucks County Courier Times, a local Pennsylvania newspaper, high school junior Darcy Leight wrote that she and her peers were experiencing burnout at much higher rates due to the increasing pressure to work longer hours in recent months.

"A job I intended to work strictly during the summer has somehow found its way into my fall schedule and has become almost equivalent to academics on my priority list. And I don't even know how it happened," she wrote. "The coupling of a job anywhere from five to 35 hours a week along with being a student is extremely stressful."

Thumbs up: Kyrsten Sinema's hometown of Tucson votes for $15 minimum wage by wide margin

Just months after her now-infamous thumbs-down vote on a similar measure at the federal level, the people of U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's hometown of Tucson, Arizona overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative on Tuesday to increase the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

According to unofficial results posted by the city, Proposition 206 passed with approximately 60% of the vote compared to roughly 32% who rejected it.

Passage means Tucson's minimum wage will incrementally bump up from its current $12.15 to $15 by January 1, 2025. Tucson Fight for $15 led the campaign in support of it.

A right-wing Democrat who's obstructed multiple progressive legislative priorities, Sinema (D-Ariz.) drew strong criticism in March when she voted, along with six other Democrats, against including a $15 federal minimum wage provision in the Senate's Covid relief budget reconciliation package. Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 is overwhelmingly supported by Democratic voters, according to recent polling by Data for Progress.


In a Monday op-ed encouraging voters to back Proposition 206, Arizona Republic columnist Elvia Díaz wrote that voting yes should be "a no-brainer" for Tucson voters. She argued that even "$15 per hour is hardly a living wage" and that critics' arguments that the wage increase would unleash a "bureaucratic nightmare" were baseless.

"Those chamber-of-commerce types will always oppose paying workers more," she wrote, "no matter what."

Why American workers want Congress to deliver an infrastructure bill

With business already strong and a national infrastructure program likely to further increase demand for its products, DuPont realized it needed a strategy to find more workers.

So it did what any sensible employer would do—turned to the union for help. DuPont approached United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12075 about the possibility of a worker recruitment campaign highlighting the availability of union jobs, which provide the benefits, security and dignity more and more Americans seek in the wake of COVID-19.

Major investments in America's infrastructure will modernize the nation and revitalize its industrial base. But an infrastructure program is about more than rebuilding roads and bridges. It's about creating more of those family-sustaining union jobs and rebuilding the middle class.

It's about creating an economy that's not only more powerful but more just.

In August, the Senate took the critical first step by passing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would pave the way for long-overdue improvements in roads, water systems, school buildings, airports, communications networks, energy systems and manufacturing facilities.

Now, the House needs to pass its own version of the legislation and set the nation on a path to shared prosperity.

"We are waiting for them to finish up, so we can move on," said Local 12075 President Kent Holsing, noting he represents hundreds of workers at DuPont, Dow and other chemical companies in the Midland, Michigan, area who are ready to handle the added business that an infrastructure program would generate.

"We make lots of products that are used in building construction," Holsing explained. "We make products that go into water-treatment plants. We make a number of products that go into cars. Investment in infrastructure is an investment in products, and investment in products is an investment in jobs."

But DuPont needs more workers to take on those jobs. Holsing said that when company representatives asked which USW benefits it ought to highlight in recruitment efforts, he and his colleagues told them "everything from worker representation to the college scholarship program."

The pandemic underscored the withered state of America's manufacturing base and marked a turning point for Americans fed up with the low-wage, nonunion jobs that proliferated amid industrial decline.

No longer willing to endure the exploitation that COVID-19 threw into sharp relief, millions of workers left employers that not only exposed them to the virus but also denied them the affordable health care, paid sick leave and other basics they needed to help their families through the crisis.

"A lot of them don't have anything to lose," Lorri Walker, president of USW Local 444L, said of Americans who ditched exploitative employers. "They can't afford to buy a house. They can't afford to buy a car."

"People have to have a pathway for a future so they can retire," explained Walker, who represents hundreds of workers at Henniges Automotive in Keokuk, Iowa. "They have to have decent wages, and they have to have a voice in the workplace. It's not going to happen without a union."

During the pandemic, unions fought for COVID-19 protections. They succeeded in preserving members' jobs, even as nonunion employers cut many more workers loose during the crisis. And because of contracts negotiated before COVID-19, union workers had greater access to health insurance and paid sick leave to help care for their families when the virus struck.

Now, a growing number of Americans want union jobs. "I think they understand the value of labor," said Walker, noting how eagerly new hires at Henniges Automotive, a manufacturer of weatherstripping products, join the USW.

A national infrastructure program is essential for creating more of the opportunities Americans now demand.

Infrastructure investments have the potential to generate quality jobs for the workers at mines, steel mills and aluminum plants who furnish the raw materials for infrastructure projects. These projects also would create work for heavy equipment manufacturers, glassmakers and producers of tires, optical fiber and numerous other products all along supply chains.

At Holophane in Newark, Ohio, for example, workers anticipate increased demand for their lighting products, which government agencies and other customers purchase for interstate highways, city streets, parks, ports, power plants and other settings.

And USW Local 525T President Steve Bishoff said the union and Holophane recently wrapped up a contract that will help recruit and retain the workers the company knows it needs to capitalize on coming opportunities.

The new agreement included improvements in the wage scale and preserved affordable health care, among other enhancements. The company, Bishoff added, "didn't try to take anything away."

"These are good jobs," he said, noting workers at other local employers vie for openings at Holophane because of the higher wages and other benefits.

America has a historic opportunity not just to emerge from the pandemic stronger than before but also to galvanize a tide of prosperity that will benefit generations to come.

It all starts with the infrastructure bill. Millions of Americans eager for better lives expect Congress to push it over the finish line.

"In my 22 years working for the union, I have not seen a labor marketplace like this ever," Holsing said, referring to the large number of workers fighting back against unfair treatment and demanding more from employers. "This is something we're going to really need to capitalize on."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Why America’s health care workers are escalating their fight for fair treatment and patient safety

So many people with COVID-19 sought treatment at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in recent months that the hospital triaged patients in a tent outside the facility and set up a makeshift ward in the main lobby.

Many workers put in 14- and 16-hour shifts to keep the Southern California facility operating during the crisis, with some comforting the dying and others volunteering to use their Spanish skills to help communicate with bereft family members over the phone.

But instead of recognizing workers who risked their lives and pushed themselves to exhaustion, the hospital compounded the strain by demanding concessions and dragging out contract negotiations for more than a year.

Around the country, hospitals continue to stretch workers to the breaking point and put the entire health care system at risk.

"The fact is that without us, the hospitals have no one," observed Alma Garzon, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 183, which represents hundreds of workers at Providence St. Mary.

"Some of them don't understand what we really do," Garzon said of hospital executives. "The higher-ups are not going to come in and take care of our patients. They're not going to get their hands dirty."

The pandemic exacerbated staffing shortages that plagued hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities long before COVID-19.

To protect their communities during the crisis, workers stepped up, put in arduous amounts of overtime and took on extra duties. Yet Garzon said that when union officials cited the need to invest in workers and take steps to boost staffing levels, management's response was: "You signed up for this."

"That was a big slap in the face," said Garzon, whose members ratified a new contract October 7, after about 15 months of the hospital's stonewalling.

More and more health systems treat workers with the same kind of disdain.

That's fueling widespread burnout and fatigue, and it's forcing a growing number of health care workers to escalate their fights for fair treatment and patient safety.

Nurses at a Massachusetts hospital began a strike seven months ago. Workers at facilities in New York and Oregon also took to picket lines in recent weeks.

California's Inland Empire is another potential flashpoint. About 7,400 members of USW Local 7600 are among tens of thousands of workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities there who recently authorized a strike because of demands by management that would impoverish their families and compromise care.

Although the conglomerate maintained a healthy bottom line during the pandemic, it wants to hold down wages for current workers and drastically cut pay scales for new hires, a one-two punch certain to worsen staffing shortages and put hospitals at risk.

Adding insult to injury, the health system intends to carry out the proposal on the backs of workers in environmental services, dietary and other behind-the-scenes departments.

All fulfill essential roles in patient care.

Yet because these workers have a low profile, health systems often treat them as expendable and try to cut corners at their expense. Kaiser Permanente's proposed pay scale would start some new workers right around California's minimum wage and suppress their earning potential for the rest of their lives.

"That's not OK. It's disrespectful and an outrage to health care workers everywhere. Everybody deserves a living wage," said Norberto Gomez, vice president of Local 7600.

Instead of urgently seeking an agreement, Kaiser Permanente retaliated against workers by threatening to withhold or cancel contractually obligated time off until the end of the labor dispute. It even stooped to harassing workers who wore union T-shirts.

Like their counterparts in California and across the country, Jackie Anklam and about 620 other workers at Ascension St. Mary's Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan, shouldered extra responsibilities during the pandemic.

Greeters repeatedly risked exposure to COVID-19 by handing out fresh masks to all of those entering the hospital. Phlebotomists conducted drive-through coronavirus tests in the facility's parking lots.

And environmental services workers put their lives on the line to sanitize the floors, walls, linens and furnishings of rooms occupied by COVID-19 patients. The hour-long cleanings—conducted in gowns, gloves and goggles—often left the workers drenched in sweat.

Yet, like Garzon and Gomez, Anklam found herself fighting to preserve workers' hard-earned benefits during contract negotiations with ungrateful executives.

"I just think they undervalue the work my members do," said Anklam, president of USW Local 9899. "I don't know why they don't get it. They don't look at the big picture."

The lack of respect only spurred Anklam and her colleagues to fight harder. They stood firm and won wage increases and benefit enhancements.

"The members spoke," Anklam said.

Workers at Kaiser Permanente want nothing more than for the health system to come to its senses and take the steps necessary to avert a strike.

But they realize that they cannot truly care for their patients without also providing for themselves and their families and holding the health system accountable. Right now, with the pandemic still raging, their commitment in the face of shabby treatment is all that keeps dozens of Kaiser Permanente facilities open to the public.

"People are sick and tired, and they've had enough, and they're ready to stand up and fight back," Gomez said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

This 3-minute video explains how a top Democrat turned paid family leave into an industry giveaway

In just over three minutes, People's Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig on Tuesday explained in a video posted to social media how a paid leave proposal put forward in the U.S. House would be a "disaster" for working families—and a boon for the private insurance industry.

Produced by the outlet More Perfect Union, the video describes how House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.)—who counts the insurance industry as his top contributor since taking office more than three decades ago—put forward a plan to replace President Joe Biden's straightforward proposal to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Democrat Gutting Biden's Paid Family Leave Plan www.youtube.com


Under Biden's plan, the SSA would provide new parents with cash benefits to cover a portion of their wages for 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child—a modest proposal considering the amount of paid time off parents have in other wealthy countries. Ten countries—including Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, and Norway—offer more than a year of paid leave.

Neal's proposal, released by the House Ways and Means Committee last month, suggests that the 16-term congressman believes even 12 weeks of partial pay is too generous for workers in the United States.

Under Neal's plan, Bruenig explains, the federal government would distribute cash benefits not directly to new parents but to employers, which would then pay insurance companies to provide paid leave to workers—if they meet certain criteria.

The proposal, Bruenig wrote in a blog post last month, "is a complicated mess riddled with design problems that could be easily fixed."

As Bruenig explains in the video, Neal's plan contains three major flaws:

  • It excludes parents who haven't worked in the three to six months prior to adoption or childbirth, allowing insurers to discriminate against new parents who recently finished school or job training, those with work-limiting disabilities or pregnancies that kept them from working, or who faced unemployment;
  • It includes no minimum benefit level, allowing workers to receive benefits equal to or less than 85% of what they earned, so "low-paid workers who cannot afford to give up 15% of their pay would not be able to access the program"; and
  • It provides 12 weeks of paid leave per parent, so two-parent households are eligible for twice as much leave as one-parent families, and single parents would be left with higher child care bills.

The proposal "needlessly [turns] Biden's paid leave ambitions into a private insurance giveaway," said Bruenig, by allowing insurance companies to reject an estimated one in three new mothers, based on the first provision, and limit the benefits offered to new parents.

"It would also be a disaster for the federal budget, because businesses that take a below average amount of paid leave would be able to extract money out of the system for their own profit," Bruenig explained in the video.

Bruenig noted that Neal's plan has won endorsements from the insurance industry, including Prudential, which praised the proposal as a "partnership between employers, employees, and benefits providers," and Sun Life, one of the nation's largest insurers.

As The American Prospect reported last month, "the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), a trade group that lobbied Neal to include private business, praised the final product... thanking Neal for 'the opportunity to partner and for continued dialogue.'"

Passing Neal's proposal instead of Biden's straightforward paid family leave plan—like other proposals put forth by right-wing corporate Democrats as lawmakers debate the president's Build Back Better agenda—is likely to harm the Democratic Party in upcoming elections, Bruenig said, as well as failing to help working families who have been demanding paid leave for years.

"Passing a poorly designed paid leave proposal is a dangerous political game for Democrats," said Bruenig. "Voters would rightly blame them for the difficult and inefficient program they've now been forced to deal with, wiping away what should have been a political winner."

"When we make voters feel that government can't deliver," he added, "it hurts the entirety of the progressive agenda."

How two economists challenged the conventional wisdom about the minimum wage

by Veronika Dolar, SUNY Old Westbury

For decades it was conventional wisdom in the field of economics that a higher minimum wage results in fewer jobs.

In part, that's because it's based on the law of supply and demand, one of the most well-known ideas in economics. Despite it being called a “law," it's actually two theories that suggest if the price of something goes up – wages, for example – demand will fall – in this case, for workers. Meanwhile, their supply will rise. Thus an introduction of a high minimum wage would cause the supply of labor to exceed demand, resulting in unemployment.

But this is just a theory with many built-in assumptions.

Then, in 1994, David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of this year's Nobel winners, and the late Alan Krueger used a natural experiment to show that, in the real world, this doesn't actually happen. In 1992, New Jersey increased its minimum wage while neighboring Pennsylvania did not. Yet there was little change in employment.

When I discuss their work in my economics classes, however, I don't portray it as an example of economists providing a definitive answer to the question of whether minimum wage hikes kill jobs. Instead, I challenge my students to think about all the ways one could answer this question, which clearly cannot be settled based on our beliefs. But rather, the answer requires data – which in economics, can be hard to come by.

Using models to study behavior

Economics studies the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. And so, like other social sciences, economics is fundamentally interested in human behavior.

But humans behave in a wide variety of often hard-to-predict ways, with countless complications. As a result, economists rely on abstraction and theory to create models in hopes of representing and explaining the complex world that they are studying. This emphasis on complicated mathematical models, theory and abstraction has made economics a lot less accessible to the general public than other social sciences, such as psychology or sociology.

Economists also use these models to answer important questions, such as “Does a minimum wage cause unemployment?" In fact, this is one of the most studied questions in all of economics since at least 1912, when Massachusetts became the first state to create a minimum wage. The federal wage floor came in 1938 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

And it's been controversial ever since. Proponents argue that a higher minimum wage helps create jobs, grow the economy, fight poverty and reduce wage inequality.

Critics stress that minimum wages cause unemployment, hurt the economy and actually harm the low-income people that were supposed to be helped.

A tale of two theories

Most students in my introductory microeconomics class can easily show, using the standard supply and demand model, that an increase in the minimum wage above the level that the market sets on its own should drive up unemployment. In fact, this is one of the most commonly used examples in introductory economics textbooks.

However, this result assumes a perfectly competitive labor market in which workers and employers are abundant and employees can change jobs with ease. This is rarely the case in the real world, where a few companies frequently dominate in what are known as monopsonies.

And so others theorized that because monopsonistic companies had the power to set wages artificially low, a higher minimum wage could, perhaps counterintuitively, prompt companies to hire more workers in order to recover some of their lost profitability as a result of the increased labor costs.

How can economists tell which of these two theories may be right? They need data.

Data trumps theory

Studying the real world is difficult, and it's constantly changing, so it is not easy to obtain all the relevant evidence.

Unlike in medicine or other sciences, economists cannot conduct rigidly controlled clinical trials, a method vacinologists used to test the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. Due to financial, ethical or practical constraints, we cannot easily split people into treatment or control groups – as is common in psychology. And we cannot randomly assign a higher minimum wage to some and not others and observe what will happen, which is how a biomedical scientist might study the impact of various treatments on human health.

And in studying the minimum wage, we cannot simply look at past times when it was increased and check what happened to unemployment a few weeks or months later. There are many other factors that affect the labor market, such as outsourcing and immigration, and it's virtually impossible to isolate and pin down one factor such as a minimum wage hike as the cause.

This is where the pioneering work of natural experiments like the ones Card and Krueger have used over the years to study the effects of raising the minimum wage and other policy changes comes in. It began with their 1994 paper, but they've replicated the findings with other studies that have deepened the amount of data that shows the original theory about the minimum wage causing job losses is likely wrong.

Their approach isn't without flaws – mostly technical ones –- and in fact economists still don't have a clear answer to the question about the minimum wage that I posed earlier in this article. But because of Card, Krueger and their research, the debate over the minimum wage has gotten a lot less theoretical and much more empirical.

Only by studying how humans actually behave can economics hope to make meaningful predictions about how a policy change like increasing the minimum wage is likely to affect the behavior of the economy and the people living in it.The Conversation

Veronika Dolar, Assistant Professor of Economics, SUNY Old Westbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Happy Holidays!