By James Smith
Despite making billions of dollars a year in revenue, the ambulance company AMR claimed they didn’t have the money to pay their EMTs in Seattle much above minimum wage. The EMTs, who are represented by Teamsters Local 763, were rightfully skeptical of the company’s claims and voted to strike. Because they would rather spend money on plane tickets and hotels than their employees’ wages, AMR actually flew in hundreds of scabs from out of state only to discover they couldn’t work because they weren’t licensed in Washington. Once their incompetent attempt at union busting blew up in their faces, the bosses at AMR gave their employees the raises they wanted, which includes faster wage increases in the future. And, yes, you read that right: The managers of a company that employs EMTs in Washington State didn’t understand the licensing requirements for EMTs in Washington State. Remember that next time anyone tries to convince you executives get paid a lot because they know what they’re doing or something.
The class war that the wealthy in the US have been waging on the rest of us is starting to look like the nineteenth century. Life expectancies in the US have officially been declining for several years now. The US is the only place in the industrialized world where this is happening, and the place with the highest degree of capitalist control over healthcare. But life expectancy isn’t declining for everyone in the US. The top 10% are living longer. The life expectancies of the bottom 10% are over 13 years shorter. Meanwhile, McKesson Corporation, UnitedHealth Group, and Community Health Systems, the largest pharmaceutical, health insurance, and hospital companies in the US, pulled in revenue of over $198 billion, $201 billion, and $18 billion respectively last year. And they are a small part of the $3 trillion “healthcare” industry that is literally killing people.
In Kennewick, Washington the school board offered the district’s paraeducators a dismal contract that would prevent most of them from ever making more that $17 an hour no matter how many years they worked. After the school board told the paraeducators that it was their last and best offer, the paraeducators, who are represented by Public School Employees SEIU Local 1948, decided they would strike. The mere threat of a strike was enough to force the Kennewick School Board to offer up a better deal. The paraeducators will now receive an 8% pay increase, a 1.5% increase for longevity, and a 4.1% pay increase next year.
The Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky went out on strike to defeat a terrible contract the company was offering. Although the employees of Four Roses are unionized with the UFCW and SEIU, union leadership showed little interest in the strike, so the strike was largely organized by the workers themselves. During the strike, a construction crew working on the distillery walked out in solidarity with the striking workers, and local support for the workers was high. After two weeks on strike, the company abandoned the contract they were pushing for. The most respectable thing about the entire strike was that the current employees contracts were to remain unchanged, but the company was planning to give new hires a worse deal. So the workers who organized the strike didn’t strike so much for themselves as for their future fellow workers. They rejected the two-tiered pay system to protect the livelihoods of other workers they haven’t even met yet. That’s the kind of working-class solidarity we should all take as an example.
As we reported last year, Have a Heart marijuana retailer became the first unionized marijuana distributor in the country when they organized with the UFCW, and Burgerville became the first unionized fast food chain in the country after unionizing with the IWW. They have now officially added one unionized location each, both of which are in Oregon.
In the recent Supreme Court case New Prime vs Oliveira, New Prime (a trucking company) claimed Dominic Oliveira (their employee) couldn’t sue them for wage theft, despite the fact that they were guilty of it, because they had forced him to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement. Surprisingly, the Supreme Court (a group of wealthy, unelected oligarchs whose job is to give legal support to capitalists while simultaneously acting as a break on the democratic will of the American people) actually sided with Oliveira over the corporation. Don’t start thinking that the Supreme Court is starting to become a champion of working people, however. This was a very narrow ruling on an extremely egregious case of wage theft. In every other similar case, they have ruled that theft is totally cool, as long as it’s companies stealing from workers and not the other way around. They also wear bathrobes to work, but some people actually respect their opinions anyway.
The minimum wage was increased in 20 states in January (including Washington State), and it will be 21 states for the year once the minimum wage is increased in Nevada. The majority of these minimum wage increases were not passed into law by the politicians that are supposed to be representing us. Instead, the increases were voted into law by the citizens of the respective states. No doubt, the politicians didn’t have the time to worry about their donors’ employees as they were too busy deciding how to dispose of the roughly $15 billion dollars they spent on campaigning since 2016, which is enough money to increase the pay of every federal minimum wage earner in the United States to $15 an hour for two full years.
The capitalists and the bought politicians will never willingly give you anything. If you want what’s rightfully yours, organize and force them to hand it over!
[This post was published in the February 2019 issue of the Seattle Worker]