ArcelorMittal and US Steel have recently proven once again that no matter how much bosses squeeze us, they will never stop trying to squeeze us more. Despite extracting concessions from their workers for years and having their profits propped up by tariffs, the companies tried to limit pay increases for the United Steelworkers while at the same time forcing the Steelworkers to pay more for their healthcare. The Steelworkers, for their part, voted overwhelmingly for a strike that would have affected the steel industry across the United States, and after standing strong for months, they won. ArcelorMittal and US Steel have agreed to a 14% wage increase and an increase in pension benefits while failing to force the Steelworkers to pay more outofpocket for healthcare.
TECT Aerospace in Everett and Affordable Custom Cabinets in Otis Orchards near Spokane have hired union busting firms Kulture Consulting and LRI Consulting Services respectively. Because why spend money to improve the working conditions of your business when you can spend money to make them worse? (Thanks to unionbusteralerts.com for making this information easy to find! Check them out on the web!)
Unemployment is even lower than normal, which is worrisome to our economic overlords. The problem is if the pool of available labor dries up, and employees everywhere start to realize that our bosses need us more than we need them, we might all start demanding raises. There is no way the bosses are going to cut their own pay to increase ours, so if that happens they will jack up prices (i.e. force runaway inflation) to cover the pay increases, which will further break our already broken capitalist system. Don’t worry though, the overlords have a solution. In December, the Federal Reserve completed a year of interest rate hikes which should help keep more people unemployed and hungry for work, so those of us fortunate enough to have jobs don’t get so comfortable with our positions that we start thinking we deserve a living wage or anything. The interest rate hikes are expected to continue into next year or until we enter another recession. At which point, layoffs will commence, interest rates will be cut, and we can play this horrible game all over again.
There was an election recently that resulted in all kinds of politicians getting elected to all kinds of seats and some particularly motivated politicians just stealing their seats instead. A lot of those politicians are introducing truly bold proposals to support labor unions, raise the minimum wage, fund a green “new deal,” unshackle us from employer provided healthcare, and all kinds of other proworker things. It would be exciting if it weren’t for the fact that the election resulted in a divided Congress, which means absolutely none of it is going to pass. If history is any guide, these things will suddenly fall off the priorities list once either party actually has enough votes to make them happen. So if you want any of those things, you better get organized, because if we don’t get those things for ourselves, we won’t get them at all.
Despite earning over $4.5 billion in net income in their last fiscal year, Seattle’s own Starbucks is well underway with a plan to layoff a huge percentage of their corporate workforce, mostly in Seattle. It isn’t clear what Starbucks plans to do with the nearly $9 billion they now have sitting on their books doing nothing. They certainly seem to enjoy sticking it to their employees, so perhaps they’re saving up to cover legal fees like the ones they had to pay last summer in California after forcing their employees to work off the clock.
New York has decided to give Seattle’s Amazon upwards of $3 billion in tax breaks, credits, and incentives to build a campus in Long Island City which will “create” up to 25,000 jobs. $3 billion is enough money to provide completely free housing to all of the more than 15,000 homeless families (which includes over 22,000 children) in New York City for the next three years. And that doesn’t include the $500 million in tax breaks Virginia is going to give to Amazon. Despite this outpouring of public cash, the citizens of New York and Virginia will have no say in Amazon’s management and hiring decisions, no claim to Amazon’s profits, no votes in Amazon’s board elections, and many of the so-called new jobs created will be given to workers who are not currently residents of either New York or Virginia.
New Seasons Markets, which operates in California, Washington, and Oregon, has had a public unionization effort underway in their stores since the end of 2017. In that time, the New Seasons Workers United suffered through a virulent anti-union effort, which included their employer spending a lot of money on union busting law firm Cruz and Associates. Then the United Food and Commercial Workers, an AFL-affiliated business union, skipped out on them. Despite all that, and operating as an independent union, New Seasons Workers United recently succeeded in forcing New Seasons Markets to give a raise to over 80% of their clerks and to establish a $15 an hour starting wage for new hires.
After years of Google protecting their abusive managers, the company has finally decided to overturn their longstanding forced arbitration policy in cases of sexual harassment. CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to his employees telling them, “…Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and been moved by the stories you’ve shared.” Of course, they have been hearing the stories for years, or they wouldn’t have adopted the policy in the first place. The difference this time is that what the managers heard wasn’t individual employees complaining to human resources in ones and twos, but 20,000 Google employees around the global walking out in solidarity with each other.
In case it wasn’t already clear: Human Resources exists to protect your employer from you. Only concerted action can protect you from your employer. So contact your nearest IWW branch and learn how you can get your workplace organized!
[This post was published in the January 2019 issue of the Seattle Worker]