Today’s News & Commentary — August 5, 2019


Published August 5th, 2019 - 08.05.1912


AT&T workers — represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) — rallied in Atlanta for a fair contract on Saturday.  Around 20,000 AT&T employees in nine Southeastern states are covered by the same contract, which expired over the weekend.  In the current round of contract negotiations, workers hope to prevent outsourcing and layoffs and to secure improved wages and lower healthcare costs.  Even though AT&T projects a free cash flow of $8.8 billion — thanks in large part to regulatory favors and the Republicans’ 2017 tax reform bill — the company has eliminated over 25,000 jobs since the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” was enacted.  CWA members have voted to authorize a strike if negotiations break down.  Vickie Grace-Brown, an AT&T service representative from Alabama who traveled to Atlanta for the rally, said, “We have to fight to make sure we can support our families and keep our health care.  If we’ve got financial stability, we can have a better quality of life.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) vetoed a bill to protect and expand public sector workers’ organizing and unionization rights — for the second time.  As I previously explained for OnLabor, the Massachusetts “Janus Fix” bill would guarantee unions the right to meet with all new employees within 10 days; to use public agencies’ email systems; to meet with workers at their job sites during the workday; and to conduct union meetings at the office during lunch breaks or non-work hours.  It would also give unions access to all employees’ contact information and would allow unions to charge non-members fees for grievance representation.  After the legislature sent the bill to the governor’s desk for the first time, Governor Baker vetoed it and proposed an amendment to limit unions’ access to workers’ contact information.  Both houses of the legislature rejected this amendment, sending the bill back to Governor Baker for a second veto.  The Massachusetts Legislature can now override the Governor’s veto with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.  Steve Tolman, president of the state AFL-CIO, said, “The legislation passed by both the House and Senate [will] ensure that public sector unions remain a strong force for economic fairness . . . We urge both branches to override Governor Baker’s veto.”

Eoin O’Carroll profiled the history and current status of worker coops and other forms of worker ownership of businesses for the Christian Science Monitor.  While 14.2 million US workers participate in Employee Stock Ownership Plans, far fewer people work for one-worker one-vote worker cooperatives.  Economist Richard Wolff explained that as large numbers of “baby boomer” small business owners retire, workers have a unique opportunity to purchase these businesses and convert them into coops.  Presidential candidates have also proposed policies to increase worker control over businesses.  For instance, Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act would require large corporations to allow their workers to elect 40% of the members of the corporate board of directors.  Similarly, Bernie Sanders proposed a rule “by which large employers would be required to contribute a portion of their stocks to a worker-controlled fund that would pay out regular dividends to workers, who could then become voting shareholders.”  Sanders also proposed a rule to require corporations to include workers on their boards of directors.

OnLabor’s own Jared Odessky writes for In These Times about how unions can bargain for workplace Green New Deals.  Noting that “American workplaces are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions,” Jared explains how workers can bargain for workplace environment committees and can secure carbon reduction commitments in their contracts.  Jared also discusses how unions in Australia, Canada, and the UK are bargaining for climate justice.  In a memo for Data for Progress, Jared writes that even though many employers would see climate issues as permissive bargaining subjects, because climate change has a clear impact on occupational health and safety, unions can argue that workplace environmental policy directly impacts “terms and conditions of employment.”

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