How the war on workers is evolving
Workers are resisting oppression in its many forms, from drug testing to “soft” union busting, strike retaliation, and lobbying against safety infrastructure.
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The latest from Workday Magazine
Sarah’s investigation into a frozen food manufacturer includes the story of a worker who had to start her life over after her arm was caught in a deadly machine: She Refused To Take a Drug Test Before Getting a Workplace Injury Treated—And Was Fired. Rich Products is the 117th largest private company in the United States and is on OSHA’s Severe Violator list for a workplace death in 2021. When companies use the coercive pressure of drug testing when workers have been injured, it makes workers less likely to report injuries.
In the aftermath of the Norfolk Southern derailment and controlled burn in Ohio, Sarah spoke with two workers from Railroad Workers United (RWU), a rank-and-file union movement that has been publicly criticizing the greed of the rail industry and calling for public ownership. The workers tell us that To Prevent Future Rail Tragedies, We Need to Nationalize the Rail System. Check out an In These Times cover story on the case for nationalizing the railroads with some beautiful illustrations by Jovana Mugoša.
Speaking of railroads, the Workday Magazine team led the Labor Education Service’s Minnesota Union Leadership Program session on workers in the media. We had the honor of hosting one of our publishing partners, The Real News Network’s editor-in-chief Maximillian Alvarez, as guest speaker, and he presented a brilliant case study on media coverage of the railroad workers.
We have an update to Sarah’s story, Palestinian Worker Says UN Refugee Agency Is Retaliating Against Him for Leading Strike. According to a statement by the United Nations Relief Works Agency on February 9, the strike ended and a technical committee was formed to resolve issues. But Jamal Abdullah, general president of the West Bank’s UNRWA staff union, tells Workday that there seems to be no intent from the agency to respond to the union’s demands anytime soon, and workers may go on strike again. Abdullah said the strike was suspended after an agreement was made between the Commissioner-General and the union to stop the investigation into Abdullah and start negotiating for a period of 10 days. However, he says, the Commissioner-General is changing the agreement by entering into a 6-month survey period with the committee. A reporter with +972 Magazine shows how conditions in refugee camps are in fact labor issues too, and highlights the United States’ role in funding the agency.
Isa’s story describes a stealth war by Starbucks on its workers. Across the country, baristas are being retaliated against and even fired for union organizing. The National Labor Relations Board just decided Starbucks must reinstate two workers in Philadelphia and give them back pay. What does “soft” union busting look like?
Ethan Carlson, a barista at the 300 Snelling Ave. S location, says that it feels like his store is “always perpetually understaffed,” causing stress for workers and customers. Yet, when the Starbucks workers went on their most recent strike on December 16, the stores conveniently were able to find enough managers and corporate staff to cross the picket line and keep the store running, he says, a resource that never seems to be available when workers are facing heavy workload and short staffing on an ordinary day.
Labor news roundup
Food service workers in Hastings, Minn., school district are continuing their strike after receiving a letter from the school district informing them about the termination of their health insurance benefits.
CBS News covered how wage theft is affecting workers in Minnesota, one of the only states where wage theft is a felony. Their reporting references the wage theft by Bartmann Group, which we’ve reported on!
Remember a few months ago when the Department of Labor filed a complaint against Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation Services Inc. for violating child labor laws in meatpacking warehouses? They’ve now been found to have employed more than 100 children and fined $1.5 million. Casey Quinlan from Minnesota Reformer reported on the news, noting how a few states are considering loosening child labor laws.
What we’re reading
Our former editor, Filiberto Nolasco Gomez, who reported on prison labor, was interviewed for a column in the Minnesota Daily on recognizing inmates as workers.
In Dissent, a roundtable of workers and union leaders discuss how organized labor is addressing reproductive justice, in Reproductive Rights at the Bargaining Table. Rebekah Nelson, chair of the Governmental Affairs Commission for the Minnesota Nurses Association, mentions passing a resolution at MNA’s last convention on support for reproductive health justice, despite pushback from some members:
“Why did we do this? The MNA previously did not have a position on reproductive justice. My understanding is that former leaders didn’t want to take it up because they were afraid it was divisive. Although there were some historical barriers to getting this work done, it ultimately proved to be a popular position, and it passed without a lot of difficulty, in about six months.”
Tyler Walicek reports on the million dollar union-busting consulting industry for Truthout. Workers have always resisted many kinds of oppressive anti-union and anti-worker activities by their employers. Notice the co-optation of progressive rhetoric and marketing as employers fight against workers’ rights.
Speaking of environmental responsibility and overburdened workers, staff at the Environmental Protection Agency experiencing a staffing crisis are demanding a better promotion structure and an equity and inclusion program so the Biden administration can pursue its climate goals, according to Lylla Younes over at Grist.
Julia Rock’s reporting at The Lever shows how restaurant executives and union avoidance lawyers come together, reacting to wage theft and other unfair labor practices making headlines, as well as their own children calling them union busters.
Spring skills classes at Labor Education Service
Workday Magazine is housed in the Labor Education at the University of Minnesota, and our team is made up of some awesome labor educators! Be sure to check out our spring skills classes, all virtual, listed below. You don’t have to be part of a union for these!
Steward Training Wednesday, March 8, 2:00pm - 5:00pm
Art and Organizing Thursday, March 23, 4:30 - 5:30pm
The AFL-CIO and the Global Cold War Thursday, April 12, 3:00 - 4:30pm
Video Production for Organizers Thursday, April 25th 1:00 - 3:30pm
Labor Law for Organizers Thursday, June 8, 5:30pm - 8:30pm
Since February is the month for valentines, I wanted to share this fun fact with you: Saint Valentine is also the patron saint of plagues! Here’s a rosy postcard for you with the last stanza of the poem by James Oppenheim who was inspired by the words of textile worker and union leader Rose Schneiderman.
As we come marching, marching, we bring the Greater Days–
The rising of the women means the rising of the race–
No more the drudge and idler–ten that toil where one reposes–
But sharing of life's glories: Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses!
Sharing life’s glories! We are each other’s harvest.