Luis Feliz Leon

Wildfire smoke muddled the New York City skyline on Tuesday. Many people experienced the eerie threat mainly by scrolling through social media. But others experienced it in their bodies.

“My eyes were burning,” said UPS package driver Matt Leichenger, who was making deliveries in Brooklyn. “My throat was scratchy. By lunchtime, I was feeling dizzy and nauseous.”

Eventually, he got himself a surgical mask, he said, pausing momentarily to cough while we spoke on the phone. “It got a little bit better, but I was still blowing snot.”

Slingshot: Children on the Killing Floor

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The first labor story I ever wrote was about the death of Juan Baten, a 22-year-old Guatemalan worker who was killed on the job at a food warehouse in Brooklyn in 2011. Baten got pulled into a mixing machine that lacked the required safety guard.

It hit me particularly hard, because I had been 12 years old when I became an apprentice baker, cooking bagels in an industrial oven. I’d recoil in a sort of dance to avoid burning myself after shoving the bagels into the furnace mouth on a wide wooden paddle and dislodging them with an upward jerking motion.

After a bruising three-year fight, workers at school bus manufacturer Blue Bird in Fort Valley, Georgia, voted May 12 to join United Steelworkers (USW) Local 697.

“It’s been a long time since a manufacturing site with 1,400 people has been organized, let alone organized in the South, let alone organized with predominantly African American workers, and let alone in the auto industry,” said Maria Somma, organizing director with the USW.

A hundred immigrant seafood processing workers in New Bedford, Massachusetts, lost their jobs March 31 when their employer abruptly terminated its contract with the temp agency that placed them. Workers say it was retaliation for organizing.

Their fight will be a test case of new protections for immigrants who organize on the job. The company invited the fired workers to apply for their old jobs, but only a handful were actually rehired.

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, commemorating those killed, sickened, or injured on the job. As part of a week of events, today the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is releasing its “Dirty Dozen” report.

UPDATED: Reform challenger Shawn Fain has won the presidency of the United Auto Workers, the federal monitor announced today. Fain will be sworn in just in time to chair the UAW's bargaining convention, which begins Monday.

The vote count had begun March 1, but the initial tallies were so close that final results hinged on a few hundred challenged ballots. The painstaking process to check which ones were valid dragged on for weeks.

The machine will churn no more. Nearly 80 years of top-down one-party rule in the United Auto Workers are coming to an end. Reformer Shawn Fain is set to be the winner in the runoff for the UAW presidency.

As of Thursday night, Fain had a 505-vote edge, 69,386 to 68,881, over incumbent Ray Curry of the Administration Caucus. Curry was appointed by the union’s executive board in 2021. There are around 600 unresolved challenged ballots. (This story will be updated with the final vote tally when we have it.)

Lakeisha Preston speaks in acronyms. Working the phones at federal contractor Maximus in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, she drops them as if they were name brands—MSP (Medicare Secondary Payee), ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease) coverage, and CMN (Certificate of Medical Necessity).

As she patiently explains these terms to callers who want to sign up for Medicare or enroll in the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange, Preston keeps an eye on the clock to move to the next caller in the queue.

Workers couldn’t wear a sticker or button, because what if it fell into the fruits and vegetables they packaged for the Anthony Marano Company, a major distributor of produce in Chicago and the greater Midwest for restaurants and grocery chains including Aldi’s, Sysco, and Pete’s Fresh Market?

They couldn’t do a red T-shirt day; the temperatures are frigid in the warehouse, and workers must cover themselves in layers to keep warm. But they are allowed to wear hats over their hairnets.

Reform challenger Shawn Fain appears poised to win the presidency of the United Auto Workers, defeating incumbent Ray Curry for the union’s top leadership spot. With more than 137,000 votes counted, Fain has a lead of 645 votes; the counting of the remaining challenged ballots will resume March 16.

If Fain wins, challengers to the ruling caucus will hold not only the presidency but also a majority on the union’s international executive board. UAW Members United ran on a platform of no corruption, no tiers, and no concessions.

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