Working In These Times

Tuesday, May 26, 2020, 6:32 am  ·  By Chris Brooks

The Wealthy Bosses and Right-Wing Ideologues Behind the Rush to “Reopen”

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The federal government squandered the time the states spent in lockdown. We still face a national shortage of COVID-19 test kits and PPE and there is no nationwide testing or contact tracing program. The United States has 4 percent of the world’s population, but about a third of the world's coronavirus cases. 

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Friday, May 22, 2020, 11:20 am  ·  By Leo Gertner and Shaun Richman

Yes, Unemployment Insurance and Welfare Encourage People to Quit Lousy Jobs. That’s the Point.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 13: Lay Guzman stands behind a partial protective plastic screen and wears a mask and gloves as she works as a cashier at the Presidente Supermarket on April 13, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)  

Do we have a right not to work? The answer is we don’t if Democratic leaders stubbornly try to keep the “era of big government” confined to the 20th century.

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Thursday, May 21, 2020, 10:09 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

The Case For Sectoral Bargaining Is Now Stronger Than Ever

A worker cleans Ronald McDonald, the mascot of fast-food company McDonald's, for the reopening of the outlet after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad on May 20, 2020. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)  

We are living through the economic equivalent of emergency medicine. Right now, we are focused on leaders trying (often ineptly) to triage the immediate consequences of our economic crisis. Most of us are just thinking about staying employed. But there is deeper trouble on the horizon—the future of wages. We need to talk about how we’re going to prevent the paychecks of workers from getting crushed for years even after the pandemic is over.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020, 12:25 pm  ·  By David Bacon

Hundreds of Fruit Packing Workers Are On Strike

Workers on strike in Naches, Washington, outside of Allan Brothers Fruit on May 16, 2020. Hundreds of workers at more than six fruit and apple packing plants have gone on strike in recent days, protesting working conditions made more dangerous by the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)  

This article was originally published at Labor Notes.

Since this article was written, apple packinghouse workers at two more companies have joined the strike: at Hansen Fruit and Columbia Reach. Six worksites in Yakima County have now seen production shut down. The county has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases on the West Coast. The strikes are women-led, multigenerational, and multiracial, according to Edgar Franks of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a local farmworkers' union. —Editors

Last week the COVID-related strike in Washington state’s Yakima Valley quadrupled in size, as workers walked out at three more apple packinghouses. More than a hundred stopped work on May 7 at Allan Brothers Fruit, a large apple growing, packing and shipping company in Naches, in Central Washington. On May 12 they were joined by 200 more workers, who walked off the job at the Jack Frost Fruit Co. in Yakima, and at the Matson Fruit Co. in Selah. The next day another 100 workers walked out at the Monson Fruit packing shed, also in Selah.

At the center of the stoppages are two main demands for those who decide to continue working during the pandemic: safer working conditions and an extra $2 an hour in hazard pay.

Apple sheds line the industrial streets of Yakima Valley’s small towns. Inside these huge concrete buildings, hundreds of people labor shoulder-to-shoulder, sorting and packing fruit. If someone gets sick, it can potentially spread through the workers on the lines, and from them into the surrounding towns. Although packinghouse laborers are almost entirely immigrants from Mexico, their families comprise the stable heart of these areas. Most have lived here for years. Jobs in the sheds are a step up from the fields, with year-round work at 40 hours per week.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020, 10:04 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

A Quiet Frenzy of Union Organizing Has Gripped the Nonprofit World

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“The reason we all work at nonprofits is because we support the mission of the nonprofits,” says Kayla Blado, who works at the Economic Policy Institute. It makes sense. Like many fields that involve doing something good for the world, nonprofit work tends to come with low pay and long hours. But now, more than ever before, it comes with something else: a union drive. The nonprofit union wave is rising right along with the intensity of the crises that nonprofits are dealing with in our bad, bad world.

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Friday, May 15, 2020, 10:53 am  ·  By Maurizio Guerrero

Thousands of Essential Workers Are at Risk of Deportation

Farm laborers from Fresh Harvest working with an H-2A visa maintain a safe distance as a machine is moved on April 27, 2020 in Greenfield, California. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)  

Legions of undocumented immigrants in the United States carry letters signed by their employers stating that President Donald Trump's administration considers them essential workers amid the pandemic. While these letters exempt them from being arrested by local agents for violating stay-at-home orders, these workers could still be detained and deported by federal authorities.

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Friday, May 15, 2020, 10:42 am  ·  By Shaun Richman

Kick the Boss Out of the Doctor’s Office

A Medicare for All system would finally take healthcare out of bargaining and allow workers to win so much more. (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images)  

Is the ability to negotiate healthcare benefits with employers a source of strength for unions, or an insidious trap? The Covid-19 health crisis and ensuing economic meltdown probably answers that question, but it’s still worth dissecting for those naive optimists who think there is some semblance of the old normal that we can return to when the pandemic is finally behind us.

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Monday, May 11, 2020, 11:56 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

The Year of Magical Thinking

The instinct to save capital and forget everyone else was predictable. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)  

There is a strong element of unreality to our time. Incredulousness seems the only suitable attitude towards what is happening to us. Not just the coronavirus crisis itself—a global disaster that we helplessly watch sweeping over us, like beachgoers gaping at an incoming tidal wave that is about to wash them away—but also the way members of the economic power structure imagine they will protect themselves from the devastation. They seem to believe they can build themselves a life raft to escape. It’s a fantasy. We’re going to need a bigger boat.

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Thursday, May 7, 2020, 11:25 am  ·  By Argow Wass

The Vet Techs Nursing Your Puppies Say They’re Poorly Compensated and Scared of Getting Sick

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Tana Greatorex, an emergency room technician in Seattle, is not your typical pandemic healthcare worker. The hospital she works for doesn’t see Covid-19 patients. It doesn’t have a cafeteria; there’s no gift shop and no outpatient services, at least not for humans. Like thousands of other veterinary technicians and assistants, Greatorex works demanding hours setting catheters on injured dogs and nursing sick kittens at one of the nation's 3,500 corporate-owned veterinary hospitals and specialty clinics. Designated as essential healthcare workers in states like California and Washington, vet techs are risking their lives for the nation's pets and the profits of a bloated petcare industry worth $225 billion with a slowly increasing portion of that number coming from veterinary services. In a country where 68% of households own at least one pet, vet service CEOs continue to reap record profits while the techs staffing their hospitals are struggling.

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Thursday, May 7, 2020, 9:11 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

The Long-Neglected Online Labor Organizing Space Is Getting More Crowded

Google employees stage a walkout on November 1, 2018, in New York, over sexual harassment. (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)  

A glance at the website of various unions will tell you that organized labor is not always the most tech-savvy field. It has been clear for years that organizing at scale in the modern world will require a lot of online organizing—it is, as they say, where the workers are. The coming launch of two new online organizing tools could signal a new age of healthy competition in a space that should be a hive of activity, but is not.

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