2016: Year in Review

Here’s looking back at some of 2016’s biggest #UnionStrong moments. We stand with you Sisters and Brothers!

NATIONAL…

scalias-death-ends-friedrichs-threatScalia’s death ends Friedrichs threat
In a case known as Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, the U.S. Supreme Court was getting ready to impose so-called “right-to-work” status on all public employees in the United States — making dues strictly voluntary and thus weakening unions considerably. But the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February resulted in a 4-4 deadlock on the case. The threat to labor could return, however, if a similar case is filed after another anti-union justice is appointed.

unions-count-verizon-strike-as-a-winUnions count Verizon strike as a win
America’s biggest strike in four years took place in April and May as 39,000 members of CWA and IBEW struck Verizon’s East Coast landline operations rather than accept contract concessions at the highly-profitable company. The strike ended after 45 days with a deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez on terms the union called a win, including 10.5 percent raises over four years, and protections against outsourcing of call center jobs.

Clinton loses in the electoral college
In the general election, Hillary Clinton had the support of nearly every labor union in the country, and she won nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. But she lost where it mattered: The electoral college, thanks to narrow Trump wins in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

trans-pacific-partnership-dead-at-lastTrans-Pacific Partnership, dead at last
For the first time since NAFTA, a corporate-written trade deal died on the vine. The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnerhip (TPP) was one of Obama’s top priorities, but broad public hostility to the deal — and the defection of some Republicans over industry concerns — prevented ratification in Congress. Trump’s election sealed its fate.

IN YOUR STATE…

Top legislative win: Minimum wage
With unions prepared to put minimum wage increases on the ballot, the Oregon Legislature stepped up to do the job and put the minimum wage on track to 12.50 to 14.75 by 2022, depending on the region. That amounts to an hourly raise of $3.25 to $5.50 an hour for hundreds of thousands of Oregon workers.

Biggest ballot defeat: Measure 97
Despite $16 million in local and national union money, a proposal to raise taxes on the biggest corporations doing business in Oregon was rejected by voters. As a result, instead of new investment in schools, health care and senior services, the state of Oregon faces a budget shortfall next year, once again.

Biggest union organizing wins:

  • 886 support workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center joined AFT.
  • 793 PSU grad students joined AFT/AAUP.
  • 310 hospital technicians at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center joined AFT.
  • 165 workers at Boeing paint contractor Commercial Aircraft Painting Services joined IAM.
  • 80 DirecTV workers joined CWA Local 7906.
  • 61 alcohol and drug treatment workers at Volunteers of America joined AFSCME.

Biggest union organizing losses:

  • 205 workers at a Jeld-Wen door plant in Chiloquin rejected the Machinists union in a 52-137 vote.
  • 179 workers at Portland Specialty Baking rejected the Bakers union in a 38-123 vote.

oregon-bernie-voteOregon Bernie vote: a mandate for bolder action by Democrats?
Hillary Clinton won among Democrats nationwide, but in Oregon, Democrats showed an appetite for a bolder kind of politics — backing a candidate who rejected Wall Street money and called for universal health care, free public college tuition, and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. In Oregon, Bernie Sanders packed arenas and outpolled Clinton by over 70,000 votes, 56 to 44 percent.

Minimum wage and sick leave
Raise the minimum wage to $13.50, and give workers the right paid sick leave? Voters did it, approving union-backed I-1433 by 59-41 percent.

sound-gets-serious-transit-investmentSound gets serious transit investment
Another ballot victory was voter approval for an ambitious 25-year plan to make $54 billion worth of transit improvements in the Puget Sound region, including 62 miles of light rail and new bus and heavy rail service to King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The project will mean union jobs, less congestion, and a cleaner environment.

Madore is no more, in Clark County
Flamboyantly anti-union Clark County Commissioner David Madore — who once pushed unsuccessfully for a local “right-to-work” ordinance — lost reelection in the August primary. In the general election, union-backed candidate Tanisha Harris lost to John Blom, but local unions were still pleased to see their nemesis go.

berry-boycott-ends-with-union-dealBerry boycott ends with union deal
A three-year union boycott against Sakuma and Driscoll berries ended in September, when Skagit Valley agri-giant Sakuma Berries agreed to allow a union election and recognize and bargain a contract with the farmworkers union.

YOUR TURN

What were some of your biggest #UnionStrong moments of 2016? Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

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The Strike At Trump’s Atlantic City Casino Is a Flashpoint for the Entire Labor Movement

What those striking are now bravely confronting in Atlantic City should resonate deeply with American workers, their unions, and beyond

In Atlantic City workers at the Trump Taj Mahal casino hotel, members of UNITE HERE Local 54 wagered a struggle that should make it one of those crystallizing flashpoints that garner national attention and mobilize support from the entire labor movement, progressives, and working people at large.

Such flashpoints arise only occasionally in workers’ struggles for justice. In living memory, for example, Eastern Airlines, PATCO, Pittston, the Decatur wars, UPS, and most recently Verizon are among those that have attained that status.

Those flashpoints of national concern and mobilization occur when what particular groups of workers are fighting for and against connects with broader tendencies and concerns in workplaces and the society in general. Downsizing, speedup, outsourcing, privatization, capital flight, unsafe working conditions, profitable employers’ demands for concessions that imperil workers’ standard of living are all among conditions that have triggered those moments.

The striking Trump Taj Mahal workers are involved in precisely such a fundamental struggle now, one that should resonate far and wide among American workers and their unions.

trump-tag-mahal-casino-atlantic-city-strike

How It Started

Nearly 1,000 cooks, bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail servers and other workers there went on strike on July 1—the culmination of a twenty-month struggle to restore pay and benefit cuts that Donald Trump’s crony and notorious billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn imposed on workers after obtaining permission to do so from a bankruptcy judge. Last year, it should be noted, Trump indicated that if elected he “would love to bring my friend Carl Icahn” to his administration as Treasury Secretary.

The Trump Taj Mahal Bankruptcy Ruling’s Devastation

Following the bankruptcy ruling, Trump Taj Mahal workers lost health insurance, pensions, even severance pay. Workers have seen their average total compensation cut by more than a third. One striker with a chronic medical condition recently died alone at home without access to medical care, and there is no reason to believe that his case is unique. There are many other horror stories, including workers faced with losing their homes and apartments in addition to suffering other material and emotional hardships.

Why This Fight is Everybody’s Fight

The Trump Taj Mahal strike is an important moment for us all because these workers are on the frontline against forces that threaten us all and that lay bare what a Donald Trump presidency would have in store for millions of American workers.

trump-quotesBoth Trump, who built the Taj Mahal, and Icahn, who is the current owner, have taken millions from the property, driven it into bankruptcy, and left the workers holding the bag. Icahn, as Trump Taj Mahal’s sole debtholder between 2010 and 2014, took $350 million out of the business. Icahn has a long history—going back nearly thirty years to his takeover of TWA airlines—of bleeding companies of assets, gutting pensions and benefits, and then tossing aside the firms’ hollowed out carcasses. Manipulation of employer-friendly bankruptcy laws has also been a Trump specialty, one that he has used on several occasions to stiff contractors, going back to when he was the original “too big to fail” scamster at the beginning of the 1990s. Combined, Trump and Icahn have used the bankruptcy tool at the Taj Mahal multiple times.

Another reason we need to see the Trump Taj Mahal strike as all our fight—in addition to the outrageous injustice and hardship Icahn has perpetrated on these workers—is that this struggle in Atlantic City sheds light on some important mystifications that need to be clarified if we hope to turn the tide against the intensifying predatory assaults on American workers’ standard of living.

The Taj Mahal fight is a frontline battle in the systematic attacks on working people’s living standards in this country perpetrated by the likes of Donald Trump and Carl Icahn and their ideological affiliates Mike Pence, Scott Walker, Bruce Rauner, Pat McCrory, Paul Ryan and the Congressional Republicans, the education “reform” billionaires, the Koch brothers and ALEC, the many tentacles of the carceral state, all of whom are intent on destroying public goods and services, and good public jobs, if not the very idea of a public.  To keep the focus on Icahn and Trump, however, what better poster boys could there be for the predatory “billionaire class”?

If the Trump Taj Mahal was permitted to operate on the terms Icahn imposed, workers, the union, and the broader community understand that the result would be a local race to the bottom, as other casino operators would argue that they have to compete with Icahn’s sweatshop model to remain viable. As by far the dominant industry in the city, the hospitality and gaming sector is directly linked to the economic health and well-being not only of casino workers but of the community at large. It is decent hospitality sector jobs that enable workers to buy houses and provide the backbone for the entire local economy.

And Atlantic City is not alone. Icahn’s attack on Taj Mahal workers is of a piece with broader right-wing attempts to drive down workers’ living standards everywhere. This is what is behind the systematic attacks on teachers’ unions and other public sector unions and efforts to destroy the national postal service. Partly it stems from a desire to eliminate any organized expressions of workers’ power, to clear the way to realizing the other objective: creation of a world in which we would have no alternative other than to accept work on whatever terms employers choose to offer it.

That, of course, would be employers’ utopia and workers’ hell.

Key Takeaway

The issues at the core of the Trump Taj Mahal strike reflect the concerns shared broadly by workers in this country. The struggle presents a clear window onto the danger within the false promises Trump seems to offer some, and the strikers and their union provide a clear, practical model of the sort of movement we will need to change this country’s political direction to center on the needs of working people.

Making this fight a national issue on the order of those earlier key labor flashpoints certainly seems like a no-brainer.