Dan DiMaggio

Workers Have Leverage. It's Time to Use It.

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The capitalist vultures are wheeling low, but they’re finding slim pickings to choose from these days.

“No one wants to work!” The bosses whine about a worker shortage—though it’s one they brought about.

Eighteenth-century British economist Adam Smith noted how common it is to hear complaints about workers coming together to fight for their interests, and how rare it is to hear about all the scheming the bosses do to plunder workers’ labor.

It was 6:30 a.m. and workers at a San Jose light rail maintenance yard were talking with their union president during shift change.

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 265 President John Courtney was there to discuss the state of the union, including a campaign for hazard pay and management’s push to squeeze more passengers onto buses and trains despite Covid. “You can’t run a union from your office,” Courtney says. “You have to get out there amongst the people. You have to hear what they have to say. They have to hear what I have to say.”

Frito-Lay workers in Topeka, Kansas, have been on strike since Monday over low pay and forced overtime.

Some workers have been forced to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, for weeks on end due to short staffing. They want to see that change.

Workers will feel the ramifications of this unprecedented year long into the future.

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed 300,000 lives, destroyed millions of jobs, busted gaping holes in public budgets, and magnified the myriad inequalities that have come to define life in the United States.

Notwithstanding a few bright spots, the labor movement struggled to find its footing in the biggest workplace health and safety crisis of our lifetimes.

As the coronavirus spreads, more and more workers who are still on the job are taking action to defend their health and safety and demand hazard pay. Here's a round-up. (For an earlier round-up, see “Organizing for Pandemic Time-Off,” Labor Notes, March 16, 2020.)

We Need More of Bernie's Spirit in Our Unions

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There’s only one living member of Congress who’s ever been invited to speak at a Labor Notes Conference (or for that matter, subscribed to this magazine), and he’s currently leading the polls for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Then-Congressman Bernie Sanders opened the 1993 Labor Notes Conference with his proposed “Workers’ Bill of Rights” to raise the minimum wage, shorten working hours with no loss in pay, divert military spending to create civilian jobs, facilitate union organizing, and create a single-payer health care system.

2018 could have been a tough act to follow. It’s not every year that a grassroots movement of teachers captures the nation’s attention.

But workers across the country rose to the occasion, making 2019 one of the most exciting years for the labor movement in recent memory.

TEACHERS KEPT AT IT

In terms of the number of workers who went on strike, 2019 is on pace to match 2018.

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