A Voice for the People: The Working People Weekly List

Working People Weekly List

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

A Voice for the People: “In one sense, Liz Shuler’s journey to the AFL-CIO presidency began at the age of 11. Growing up in Gladstone, Oregon, Shuler and a friend babysat for neighborhood families—until they determined they weren’t being paid the same rate. That realization led to Shuler’s first collective bargaining experience, resulting in equal hourly wages for both sitters. Shuler, BA ’92 (journalism), brings lifelong principles of fairness and equity to her role as president of the AFL-CIO. Elected in August, Shuler oversees the federation’s 57 national and international labor unions representing 12.5 million people. ‘We use the power of our scale to advocate for a better life for all working people,’ Shuler says. ‘We’re here to make sure people have good, high-quality jobs that can support a family, to help them through their careers, and to retire with dignity.”

AFL-CIO, Nurses Unions Demand Permanent OSHA COVID-19 Safety Standard: “With rising coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, the AFL-CIO and major nurses unions on Wednesday petitioned a federal court to order the Biden administration to issue an official and permanent OSHA standard requiring employers to protect healthcare workers from Covid-19. ‘We are still in the midst of a deadly pandemic, and healthcare workers are facing dangerous exposures to Covid-19 and need the strongest possible protections in their workplaces. We must treat the surge in new cases as the crisis that it is,’ said AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler in a statement. The other petitioners are the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers, National Nurses United (NNU), New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), and Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.”

Tim Ryan’s Senate Campaign Reaches Deal on Union Contract: “U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s Senate campaign reached a union contract agreement with five staff members that includes a minimum hourly salary of $25 for full-time workers, unlimited personal time off and 100 percent employer-covered medical, vision and dental insurance. Ryan is the first U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio history to have his staff unionized. The staff members agreed in September to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1466. That union is based in Columbus and primarily represents American Electric Power workers throughout the state. The contract with Ryan’s campaign was ratified last week.”

Companies Still Aren't Hiring Black Men, Despite 10.6 Million Open Jobs in the U.S. It's Costing the Economy $50 Billion: “The unemployment rate for Black men remains high: 7.3% in November, compared to 3.4% among white men looking for work, according to Labor Department data. Roughly 697,000 Black men need employment, even as the country recorded 10.6 million vacant jobs in November.  It's the ‘the self-evident discrimination in the labor market revealing itself,’ Dr. William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University and the chief economist for the AFL-CIO told Insider in September. He added: ‘The numbers this time are just startling.’”

Renewed Support for Unions Belies Anti-Labor Laws in Most States: “Unions rarely have been more popular than they are today, but anti-union labor laws are keeping union membership numbers artificially low by making it harder for workers who want to form or join a union to do so. Indeed, a 2021 Gallup poll found that 68% of Americans approve of labor unions—the highest percentage since 1965. Support is even higher among young adults (ages 18-34), at 71 percent. That support is translating into action as workers across the country are getting organized and fighting for better wages and working conditions.”

The Women Leading Today’s Historic Labor Movement: “Among this decade’s most visible leaders are Liz Shuler, recently named the first female president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest U.S. union federation. ‘The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with our country’s prolonged shortage of jobs that provide living wages, good benefits, and adequate working conditions, has created momentum for our movement on a scale we’ve never seen before,’ Shuler tells BAZAAR. With an electrical lineman and union member father and a secretary mother, both of whom were employed by Portland General Electric (PGE), Shuler, a Gladstone, Oregon, native, was destined to be a formidable advocate in the labor movement. ‘For too long, women have been underpaid, undervalued, and expected to take on most of the unpaid care work,’ Shuler says. ‘That’s why on the national level, we’re working to pass the Build Back Better Act, which will put gender equity at the center of our economic recovery where it belongs.’”

The Year in Labor Strife: “During the second year of the covid-19 pandemic, the social side effects of the virus started to become more apparent. Amid continued mass demonstrations against lockdown measures, and worldwide civil unrest, the U.S. population broke out in hives of labor activism. Workers at corporate behemoths like Amazon and Starbucks attempted to form unions, with mixed results, and workers who were already unionized went on strike in order to demand better wages and working conditions. Employees walked out of John Deere plants in Illinois, Kellogg’s cereal plants in Michigan, Kaiser Permanente health-care clinics in California, and Nabisco and Frito-Lay snack factories in Oregon and Kansas. (The energy even found its way to this very publication, where, this summer, newly unionized employees reached a deal after two and a half years of negotiations.)”

U.S. Effort to Combat Forced Labor Targets Corporate China Ties: “While it is against U.S. law to knowingly import goods made with slave labor, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act shifts the burden of proof to companies from customs officials. Firms will have to proactively prove that their factories, and those of all their suppliers, do not use slavery or coercion. The law, which passed the House and Senate nearly unanimously, is Washington’s first comprehensive effort to police supply chains that the United States says exploit persecuted minorities, and its impact could be sweeping. A wide range of products and raw materials—such as petroleum, cotton, minerals and sugar—flow from the Xinjiang region of China, where accusations of forced labor proliferate. Those materials are often used in Chinese factories that manufacture products for global companies.”

Richard Trumka: The Labor Leader Who Told Hard Truths: “There weren’t many strikes in recent decades in which working people scored big victories, but the 1989 Pittston strike was one. Two years earlier, the Pittston Coal Company, in Pennsylvania, dropped out of a trade group that had negotiated a union contract with the United Mine Workers, and the company demanded cuts to miners’ health benefits. A standoff ensued, and for more than a year Pittston’s miners worked without a contract and therefore without any health benefits at all. Finally, in April 1989, the United Mine Workers’ 39-year-old president, Richard Trumka, called a strike. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., Trumka directed union members to adopt nonviolent protest methods such as using their bodies to block company trucks hauling coal. Mineworkers have a violent history, and Trumka’s instructions weren’t heeded by every last miner. But for the most part, the rank and file obeyed. Ten months after the strike began, Pittston reinstated full health benefits. Trumka, who died in August at 72, went on to become president of the AFL-CIO, the biggest labor federation in America, where he continued to urge working people to heed the better angels of their nature. At a time when labor’s political and economic strength were in retreat as union membership dwindled, Trumka filled the gap with moral leadership.”