Category: From the USW International President

Unleashing Corporate Spies

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Google’s computers are spying on its workers.

Anytime a Google employee uses an online calendar to schedule a meeting involving more than 100 co-workers, management gets an alert—a great way for the anti-union corporation to sniff out union organizing efforts.

Lots of other employers also would like to put union organizing campaigns under surveillance. And they’ll have their chance if the National Labor Relations Board gives corporations a free hand to snoop on employees, as two of the board’s right-wing members, John Ring and Marvin Kaplan, evidently want to do.

Ring and Kaplan want to reconsider the longtime ban on labor spying. It’s a sleazy idea, but typical for these two. They’re part of a three-member Republican cabal that’s taken over the board and issued a string of decisions eviscerating workers’ rights and giving ever more power to corporations.

Because of them, for example, employers can change working conditions in the middle of a contract, fire employees for engaging in what was previously considered protected union activity and misclassify employees as contractors, who aren’t protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Allowing corporations to spy on workers would be one more gift the pair could give to employers that are eager to suppress wages and keep workers from organizing.

Surveillance intimidates employees. It can kill organizing efforts. If corporations get the green light to spy on workers, they’ll have an easier time ferreting out organizing campaigns and bullying employees into dropping them.

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An Accomplice To Murder

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

An Accomplice To Murder

Oscar Hernández Romero’s friends searched for him in garbage dumps, ravines and all the other places that could hide what they feared to find—the bullet-riddled body of a Mexican labor activist.

But they’ve turned up no trace of Oscar, who disappeared near the open-pit gold mine in southwestern Mexico where workers went on strike two years ago demanding to join the independent labor union Los Mineros. Anti-union thugs murdered three other men involved in the organizing effort by workers at the Media Luna mine, and Oscar is feared dead, too.

NAFTA, which siphoned a million jobs from America and mired Mexican workers in poverty, is an accomplice to murder because it incentivized the killing of labor activists.

Corporations in Mexico exploit workers and pollute the environment to slash costs, which enables them to undercut U.S. and Canadian competitors. They aggressively thwart unions because their business model requires cheap labor. That puts targets on the backs of labor organizers who work to improve conditions in Mexican factories, mills and mines. And because Mexico too frequently fails to hold anyone accountable for violence against labor leaders, corporate thugs can target these workers with impunity. 

If this situation is going to change, NAFTA must change. Strong labor standards and enforcement provisions must be written into the text of the proposed new NAFTA, including an ironclad right to organize and protection for activists, so Mexican workers can join real labor unions like Los Mineros, throw out company-controlled imposter unions like the one at Media Luna and get better wages and working conditions.

Without these safeguards in the new NAFTA, formally known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Mexican labor activists will risk death. And corporations will continue to fire American and Canadian workers and move operations to Mexico.

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American Democracy Is Not A Charity Case

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, America’s fourth-richest person, finally admitted that no one deserves to accumulate as much wealth as he has.

But hey, he says, at least he plans to give a lot of his $69.6 billion net worth to charity.

That’s nice. But it’s not enough considering the threat of concentrated wealth to the American ideal.

America’s very democracy is dying because billionaires like Zuckerberg amass ever more wealth—and thus ever more political power—while everyone else struggles with less. Less money. But, just as importantly, less clout in government.

Philanthropy is fine. But to preserve a functioning democracy, everyone, including billionaires, must pay a fair share of taxes so that America has the money it desperately needs to address shared priorities, reinvigorate the middle class and repair the social fabric torn by income inequality. And we need real limits on campaign contributions to stop the nation’s slide from democracy, where many have a voice, to oligarchy, where only the rich are heard.

The rich don’t pay anything like their proportionate share of taxes right now. Not even close.

In fact, a new study shows that the super-rich pay a lower rate than working Americans thanks to the Republicans’ 2017 tax giveaway.

Last year, the nation’s 400 richest families paid an average effective tax rate of 23 percent, compared to the 24.2 percent paid by the bottom half of U.S. households. It turns out hotel queen Leona Helmsley was right all those years ago when she said only the little people pay taxes.

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A Pregnant Target

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Those bundles of joy cost bundles of money, so Victoria Whipple, a quality control worker at Kumho Tire in Macon, Ga., had been working overtime to get ready for her new arrival.

WhippleShe also got involved in union organizing at the plant, and management decided to teach her a lesson. It didn’t matter that Victoria had seven kids ranging in age from 10 to 1. Or that she was eight months pregnant. Those things just made her a more appealing target.

On Sept. 6, the day Kumho workers wrapped up an election in which they voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW), managers pulled Victoria off the plant floor and suspended her indefinitely without pay solely because she was supporting the union. In a heartbeat, her income was gone.

“It kind of stressed me out because of the bills,” she explained.

What happened to Victoria happens all the time. Employers face no real financial penalties for breaking federal labor law by retaliating against workers during a union organizing campaign. So they feel free to suspend, fire or threaten anyone they want. Workers are fired in one of every three organizing efforts nationwide, and the recent election at Kumho was held only because the company harassed workers before the initial vote two years ago.

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Star-Spangled Knockoff

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Image by Getty ImagesAn American flag made in China is not an American flag. It’s a knockoff.

New York Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara wants a guarantee that flags flown at New York events and on New York poles are made in America. He introduced legislation last week to require that after learning millions of flags are imported annually.

Good for him. Because nothing symbolizes the weakened state of American manufacturing as much as a foreign-made U.S. flag.

America’s manufacturing sector has been decimated. NAFTA and China’s unfair trade practices are major culprits. That’s a sorry state of affairs for a superpower.

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Even the Grim Reaper Favors the Rich

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Regular exercise and an apple a day may help to keep the doctor away. But to live a long, healthy life, it helps to be rich.

Income inequality is a pox on America. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. CEO pay keeps rising while workers’ paychecks have been all but flat for decades. As a result, income inequality now rivals that of the robber baron days of the early 1900s, when labor unions were virtually outlawed while corporate monopolies thrived.

It gets worse. It turns out that low income is an actual pox, killing people before their time. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found in a study released this week that poor people live shorter lives than rich people.

This is appalling. And preventable.

Researchers at the GAO discovered that poor people are doomed to an early death. They tracked a group of people who were in their 50s in 1992—and found that that the wealthier members of the group were much more likely than the poorer ones to be alive in 2014.

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Google’s Chance to Do Good for Gig Workers

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Google is famous for workplaces called “campuses” where employees get enormous paychecks and enjoy all the perks of fancy private college campuses, including pingpong tables and other entertainment. ­

But other workers who produce for Google across the country are not so pampered. They are Google’s underclass. In this two-tier system, these workers get less money, less respect, and fewer perks.

It’s no wonder that these workers, like those at HCL, a contracting company that helps staff Google’s offices, have turned to labor unions to help fight for better conditions. Employees of HCL in Pittsburgh filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board late last month requesting a vote on representation by the Pittsburgh Association of Technical Professionals, a project of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, the union I lead.

And a union will help these workers. But Google also has a golden opportunity to change this system, to go to bat for contract workers. It wields clout over its contractors and should encourage them to do right by their employees, like those at HCL.

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Labor Day 2019: Trump Tries to Outlaw Balloons

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Giant balloons apparently terrify Peter Robb, who is Donald Trump’s hand-picked general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Big balloons shaped like rats, cats, pigs and cockroaches so frighten Robb that he has used his office to take extraordinary steps to outlaw them.

He won’t criminalize the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. The massive SpongeBob SquarePants, Mickey Mouse and Angry Bird inflatables will survive his extermination. Only the somewhat smaller balloons floated by labor unions offend Robb. He wants the NLRB to trample labor unions’ First Amendment right to buoyant protests. 

This petty attempt to deflate labor power symbolizes just how far the Trump administration will go to crush the very workers that Trump constantly pledged to protect during his campaign. In the administration’s 2.5 years leading up to this Labor Day weekend, it has refused to raise the 10-year-old minimum wage, significantly diminished the number of workers who will be eligible for overtime pay under new regulations, petitioned to decertify the immigration judges’ union, issued executive orders making it easier to fire federal workers and weakening their unions, and failed to secure for workers that $4,000 raise that Trump pledged his tax cuts for the rich would provide – to name a few betrayals. But nowhere is the campaign to trample workers worse than at Trump’s NLRB.

Just to be clear, the point of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, was to encourage unionization. This was during turbulent times. From 1933 through 1935, more than a million workers a year launched thousands of walkouts, sit-down strikes and picket lines. These actions significantly disrupted a depressed economy. 

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Gordon Gekko Gets Religion, Sort of

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Gordon Gekko found religion this week. Gekko, the lead in the 1987 movie “Wall Street” about capitalism gone corruptly amok, is most famous for his phrase: “greed is good.”

On Monday, real-world Gekkos – 181 corporate CEOs who belong to the Business Roundtable – signed a pledge saying they think greed isn’t so good, after all. 

Instead of bowing at the altar of larger corporate profits to hand out to executives and shareholders, these CEOs declared that corporations must demonstrate some reverence for other stakeholders as well: workers, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment.

If corporations actually devoted themselves to achieving this goal, it would be a return to the decades of the 20th century between 1930 and 1970 when many corporations did, in fact, abide by these values. The American middle class was more robust then, as pay rose in tandem with productivity. Unions held a stronger position in the economy. And the disparity between CEO and worker pay was dramatically smaller. But believing the country will revert to those economic times without force is naïve. The Roundtable’s announcement is nothing but a stunt.

Though the 181 Roundtable CEOs signed the stakeholder capitalism document, practicing the principles is an entirely different thing. And not even every member of the Business Roundtable came around and endorsed the document. The “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” says those who did sign “share a commitment to all of our stakeholders.” They underlined the word all. And they wrote in the present tense, as if they were already operating their corporations this way.

That, frankly, is ridiculous.

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A Tire that Inspires Fear

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Mickey Ray Williams keeps a Goodyear tire in his Gadsden, Ala., conference room. Made in Mexico and imported to Gadsden, that tire induces fear. 

It’s an Assurance All-Season tire. Those were developed at Goodyear’s Gadsden factory in 2014. Now some, or possibly all, are built in a brand-new, half-billion-dollar plant in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. And Goodyear is furloughing workers at its tire plant in Gadsden, where Williams is president of the USW local union.

This sad story is as old as NAFTA. That’s a quarter century of pain. An American corporation, GM or Nabisco or Carrier, builds a factory in Mexico. There, NAFTA will protect the company from tariffs when it imports the Mexican-made cars or Oreos or furnaces back into the United States. And in Mexico, the company can pollute freely, pay workers as little as $2 an hour, and establish company-controlled unions so workers can’t bargain for more. It’s a lose-lose for workers. American workers get fired; Mexican workers get exploited.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work

Union Matters

Labor Wins

From the AFL-CIO

On Tuesday, the labor movement drove historic wins for pro-worker candidates like Governor-Elect Andy Beshear in Kentucky and new legislative majorities in Virginia. Not only did union members come out to vote in droves, 270 union member candidates were elected to public office last night and counting. This adds to the total of more than 900 union members elected up and down the ballot in last year’s midterms, a product of the Union Member Candidate Program launched by the AFL-CIO just two years ago. The share of union members who won in the 2018 midterms is two-thirds. The program will continue through 2020 and beyond, electing even more union members to public office. 

“Our efforts recruiting, training and supporting labor candidates have led to the passage of pro-worker legislation from coast to coast and everywhere in between,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

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