Teachers unions say they’re ready to come back to schools. I’ll believe it when I see it.

coronavirus uk schools
  • The politically-powerful teachers unions say they’re ready to send their members back to work, now that the COVID pandemic is effectively over.
  • And yet as a NYC public school parent, I don’t believe my kids will have full-time, in-person, five-day-a-week learning this September.
  • Because with the teachers unions there’s always a “but” – just as there is this time.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

One of the US’ major teachers’ unions has, at long last, come around to admitting its members should be back in school, full-time, this fall. It’s a huge, albeit long-delayed, development. But as a parent of three school-aged kids, count me as still skeptical.

The shift came when American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten last Thursday gave a long-anticipated speech to members of the second-largest teachers union in the country and thousands of its local affiliates.

Weingarten said plainly: “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week.”

The fog of pandemic fear, behind which the teachers’ unions have hidden for over a year, is lifting. The miracle of the COVID vaccines have made so many questionably-effective “better safe than sorry” safety measures truly obsolete.

But as a New York City public school parent whose kids haven’t been in school in any meaningful sense since March 10, 2020 – I’ve heard these sweet-sounding words about the teachers’ unions’ commitment to “fully” reopening schools before.

Their relentless goalpost-shifting for reopening, and their gaslighting of parents with repeated claims that they have wanted to reopen schools since April 2020, have lost them the benefit of the doubt.

I’ll need to see it – full-time, in-person schooling with actual teachers in the classroom – in order to believe the teachers unions truly mean what they say this time around.

There’s always a “but”

Weingarten said all the right things in her speech, asserting that her union is “all in” on fully reopening schools. She conceded that “prolonged isolation” for young people is “harmful.” And she admitted “remote learning is not on par with in-person teaching” and “equity gaps have grown wider” as a result.

But there’s always a “but.”

The union boss said schools will need to continue to vigorously enforce social distancing, which will require schools to come up with a whole lot of additional space they don’t have. Weingarten also called for schools to reduce class size, and warned of yet-unknown risks that could complicate schools reopening or staying open next year.

And as The New York Times noted, “The devil will be in the details negotiated at bargaining tables, where local union leaders may demand additional safety measures as a precondition to a full return.”

If the past year of failed negotiations to get teachers back in schools has taught us anything, it’s that the unions get what they want without having to give much in return.

Teachers prioritized for vaccination? Done. Almost $200 billion in federal spending for COVID safety measures in schools? Done. Enormous amounts of time and resources spent on hygiene theater? Done.

The unions admitting they were wrong to hype the threat of schools becoming COVID hotspots, and thus making many Black and brown families not want to send their kids to school? Never.

We’ve seen this movie over and over again for the past 15 months

I can clearly envision the anti-reopening arguments that will begin percolating when this August rolls around:

“Too many parents don’t feel safe sending their children back into school buildings!”

“We need remote teachers to teach the remote students!”

“There aren’t enough teachers, so we’re only going to have in-person school 1.5 days a week.”

With less than four months before the next school year begins, I’m not confident that any of these concerns will be effectively hashed out in time to save kids from losing part of a third year of their education.

As vaccines proliferate in the US, the AFT and other politically-powerful teachers unions can pat themselves on the back for so successfully working the system that they keep their “essential worker” membership from going into work for the entire pandemic.

But they also should be embarrassed over the damage they’ve done.

Forget about the learning loss – which some educators say we should now refer to as “learning change” – experienced during the pandemic. The psychological tolls and stunted socialization have been devastating for children kept out of schools and away from other kids for more than a year.

And by downplaying the necessity of in-person learning for so long, they’ve recklessly undermined the value of the noble profession of teaching.

Good teachers are invaluable guides through children’s development. Pretty much all teachers work hard. The pandemic has been brutal on educators.

But teachers unions have peddled the fiction that there has simply been no reasonable compromise available to fully reopen schools many months ago. That short-sighted misstep has driven people toward private schools and out of areas with politically-powerful public school teachers unions.

There are many institutions whose pandemic comportment deserves a full accounting once we’re truly out of the COVID woods.

The intransigence of the teachers unions and the feckless government officials who bent to their will at the expense of parents and students deserves a full, independent accounting.

Denying scientific evidence in the name of members “safety” was always just a front for flexing political power.

Weingarten’s seemingly-resolute declaration that it’s time for teachers to get back into school buildings was made up of nice-sounding words, but they are only words.

I’m not holding my breath that my kids will be back in school full-time in September, because I’ve seen this movie over and over again.

Teachers unions do not deserve to be trusted on their words at this point, just their deeds.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Biden will create a task force to support strengthening unions and their membership

Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • President Joe Biden is creating a task force to strengthen unions and their membership.
  • The task force will look into existing and new policies to strengthen worker power.
  • The rate of unionization has fallen in the past 40 years, and Amazon workers recently led a failed union drive.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is creating a task force to help promote and strengthen union membership through an executive order today.

According to the White House, the task force – which will be chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh serving as vice chair – will focus on helping to bolster union membership and worker organizing and bargaining.

The task force will examine both existing policies and the need for new ones, and report back recommendations within 180 days. The group will also include Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

“Since 1935, when the National Labor Relations Act was enacted, the policy of the federal government has been to encourage worker organizing and collective bargaining, not to merely allow or tolerate them,” the White House release said. “In the 86 years since the Act was passed, the federal government has never fully implemented this policy.”

The main focuses of the task force include setting up the federal government as a “model employer,” helping to bolster worker organizing – especially by increasing power for marginalized workers, and those in industries where organizing is difficult – as well as generally upping the number of workers in unions.

Union membership has fallen

A report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank, found that the number of workers who are represented by a union declined by 444,000 from 2019 to 2020.

However, the rate of unionization – the share of workers represented by one – actually increased in 2020, to 12.1% from 11.6%. The report attributes that to the power that unions give their workers, potentially resulting in those unionized workers having more of a say in how their workplaces functioned during the pandemic and its economic impact. And industries that are less unionized – the report cites leisure and hospitality – also saw the most job losses.

On the whole, according to EPI, the unionization rate is highest for Black workers, coming in at 13.9%. Throughout the pandemic, both that rate and the number of Black workers represented by a union increased.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also found that “Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 84 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($958 versus $1,144).”

However, in a historical context, unionization rates are still very low. EPI said 2020’s rate is still below half of what it was 40 years ago. Amazon workers had a recent high-profile union loss, as workers in a Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted against forming a union. That unit would’ve been the first union for the company.

“Amazon didn’t win – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union,” the company said in a statement after the vote, over which the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has filed official objections.

But with Biden’s task force, union membership could see a boost. The president has also backed a labor-rights bill called the PRO Act.

“As America works to recover from the devastating challenges of deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and reckoning on race that reveals deep disparities, we need to summon a new wave of worker power to create an economy that works for everyone,” Biden said in a March statement on the bill.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Jeff Bezos downplays claims that Amazon workers are ‘desperate souls’ or ‘robots’ who can’t take bathroom breaks, but admits the company needs to ‘do a better job’ for employees after their failed union push

jeff bezos
Jeff Bezos, president and CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, speaks at the Economic Club of Washington DC’s “Milestone Celebration Dinner” in Washington, U.S., September 13, 2018.

  • Jeff Bezos defended Amazon employees’ working conditions in his 2020 letter to shareholders.
  • Bezos said workers are inaccurately portrayed as “desperate souls” and “robots” in news reports.
  • But after the failed Alabama union vote, Amazon needs to “do a better job” for workers, Bezos said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Bezos is on the defensive about how Amazon treats its employees following the failed union vote at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse.

In Bezos’ 2020 letter to shareholders, his final letter as CEO of Amazon, he discussed Amazon’s relationship with its employees after workers voted against forming a union last week, a vote that Bezos called “lopsided.”

The vote count, which finished last Friday afternoon, showed that 1,798 employees had voted against unionizing and 738 had voted for the union. While over 500 votes were challenged and 76 votes were voided, 70.9% of the valid votes were against the union.

In his letter, Bezos said he feels Amazon’s direct relationship with employees is strong, but that the company needs “a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success.”

“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Bezos wrote. “I think we need to do a better job for our employees.”

Read more: Jeff Bezos responds to employee question about his resignation as CEO, says Amazon can ‘out-survive any individual in the company, including, of course, myself’

Bezos also indirectly discussed the controversy surrounding Amazon’s Twitter spat last month. In response to a tweet from Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan about working conditions at Amazon, Amazon’s Twitter account wrote: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

The tweet sparked an uproar among employees, mostly Amazon delivery drivers, who said that peeing in bottles is an “inhumane” yet common part of the job. Insider also spoke with several drivers who said that they’ve had to poop in bags and struggled to change menstrual pads during their shift, in addition to peeing in bottles.

According to James Bloodworth, a British author who went undercover at an Amazon fulfillment center in 2018, warehouse employees were scolded for taking bathroom breaks. He told Insider at the time that he found bottles of pee while on the job.

In his letter, Bezos called news reports about how Amazon employees are treated inaccurate, claiming that workers are portrayed as “desperate souls” and “robots.” He highlighted the informal break time that employees are able to take during their shifts to “stretch, get water, use the rest room, or talk to a manager,” which he said don’t impact performance. These breaks are in addition to a lunch break and other break workers get during their shifts, Bezos said.

Bezos also pushed back against the notion that employees are held to unachievable performance goals, which was a main theme in the union push: Workers told Insider they were unfairly punished for taking “time off task,” or time away from their workstations.

But Bezos said that performance is evaluated over a long period of time and employees are provided with coaching if they’re not meeting their goals.

“We don’t set unreasonable performance goals,” he said. “We set achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data. Performance is evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things can impact performance in any given week, day, or hour.”

Bezos’ comments come amid increasing pressure on Amazon from all sides, particularly from lawmakers. Amazon’s Alabama union vote drew the attention of Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Joe Biden, who publicly supported the workers attempting to unionize and criticized Amazon’s aggressive campaign against the union. The company has also been the subject of antitrust scrutiny over the last year, with government leaders questioning Amazon’s power and influence.

As the pressure mounts, Bezos, who testified before Congress for the first time last year, will step aside as CEO in the third quarter of 2021 and will be replaced by AWS CEO Andy Jassy.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Amazon’s victory against a union drive in Alabama proved workers want better workplaces, but America’s labor laws are too broken to help them get that, experts say

alabama amazon warehouse unionization 2x1
Amazon faces a historic union vote in Alabama.

After one of the most high-profile union – and anti-union – campaigns in recent history, Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, voted overwhelmingly against unionizing, with the National Labor Relations Board confirming Friday that 71% of eligible ballots were cast in opposition.

But eight labor experts told Insider that focusing on the vote tally misses the bigger takeaway from this saga: that American workers are demanding better workplaces and a voice on the job, and America’s current labor laws simply aren’t designed to help them accomplish that goal.

Still, they said, Bessemer put a spotlight on how stacked the deck is against workers, and that the broad, diverse public support for the union drive showed the US labor movement is gaining more steam than it has in decades.

Amazon, which had aggressively opposed the union effort, undoubtedly won a significant battle this week (pending likely legal challenges from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union). But it may have put a target on its back that could prove costly in what’s likely to be an ongoing war over how companies treat their workers, the experts said.

The fight was never going to be fair

Amazon responded to the vote Friday by saying its “employees made the choice to vote against joining a union” and that it was glad their “collective voices were finally heard.”

But experts said that misrepresents what has happened since November, when Bessemer employees officially asked the NLRB to hold a union election.

“The result reflects the imbalance in current US labor law, rather than any genuine expression of whether workers would like to have more of a voice in their workplace,” Rebecca Givan, an associate labor and employment professor at Rutgers University, told Insider.

“This demonstrates just how hard it is for workers to gain a voice on the job when the employer has unlimited resources, full access to workers all day long, and very few legal constraints on what it can do or say,” she said.

Over the past several decades, American executives and politicians have chipped away at labor laws and workers’ right to organize, experts said. At the same time, companies have kept American workers’ pay and benefits down, and shipped jobs overseas where labor is cheaper – even as workers’ productivity, as well as corporate profits and executive pay, have soared.

In European counties, like France, where labor laws more heavily favor workers, some Amazon employees have been able to successfully unionize. That has paid dividends: in July, Amazon gave its French employees a 1.6% permanent raise following union negotiations.

In Bessemer, workers had a much tougher road to travel.

“Unions lose in 90% of the cases when management opposes the organizing effort,” which Amazon’s management did, Tom Kochan, a professor of management at MIT, told Insider.

That’s depite a surge in pro-union sentiment in the US in recent years. Kochan’s research in 2017 found that around 48% of non-union workers would join one if they had the opportunity, while a Gallup poll from August found that 65% of Americans approve of unions – the highest percentage in nearly 20 years.

But under US labor law, companies have lots of tools at their disposal to try to prevent employees from unionizing, from forcing them to listen to anti-union messaging in “captive-audience” meetings, to having a significant say over which employees are eligible to unionize in the first place. Even when companies violate those laws, the NLRB, which oversees union elections, lacks the power to issue fines, which experts said gives companies little incentive to play fair.

“The most important story is not the fact that the union didn’t win. Rather, it’s that they got as close to winning as they did,” Erin Hatton, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo whose research focuses on work and labor movements, told Insider.

“Through legal coercion and illegal tactics, employers spend a great deal of money to keep unions out and it usually works. So this outcome isn’t all that surprising. And yet the workers were incredibly successful in so many ways,” she said.

Anti-union tactics in the spotlight

One of those successes, experts said, was bringing attention to Amazon’s industry-standard, but still aggressively anti-union tactics.

“Amazon’s tactics during the campaign and voting process were successful for them but now are being questioned legally and in the public view,” Lynne Vincent, an assistant professor of management at Syracuse University, told Insider.

Even before employees started talking about forming a union, Amazon had hired private detectives known for union busting, spied on workers’ private Facebook groups, and tracked unionization risk with a heat map tool in an effort to thwart organizing efforts before they gained momentum.

Amazon also illegally fired multiple employees last year who organized demonstrations to shed light on what they said were unsafe and grueling working conditions, the NLRB found. Amazon previously said it disagreed with the board’s findings in one case, while the other case is still pending before an NLRB administrative law judge.

Once employees took their union drive public, Amazon enlisted expensive “union avoidance” consultants to help kick its union-busting tactics into overdrive. Amazon pushed its anti-union message through websites, t-shirts, frequent texts to employees, and midnight “education” meetings, which labor experts told Insider were fairly typically in union campaigns like this.

Amazon’s executives and PR team also waged an atypical attack on members of Congress who voiced support for the unions (Amazon later apologized for some of its tweets), and deployed an army of warehouse employees to respond to criticism of the company on social media.

But the company also sought to shape the voting process itself.

The NLRB has allowed mail-in voting in union elections since March 2020 due to the pandemic, but Amazon (twice, unsuccessfully) tried to get the NLRB to hold an in-person election. When that failed, it reportedly pressed the United States Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the Bessemer warehouse.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told Insider that the USPS installed the mailbox “for the convenience of our employees.”

But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – under which Amazon’s Bessemer employees would have unionized if the vote had passed – accused Amazon of using the mailbox to intimidate workers and plans to file unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB that, if serious enough, could cause the NLRB to throw out the election result.

John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University who specializes in companies’ union avoidance strategies, told Insider that the mailbox’s placement likely gave employees an impression that “Amazon was playing some kind of direct role in monitoring and even perhaps in counting the votes, which clearly creates an atmosphere of pressure and potentially unlawful intimidation.”

Vincent said that companies who use a similar anti-union playbook to Amazon “may see validation in the effectiveness of the tactics,” but that the Bessemer campaign may also cause politicians to reexamine and ultimately outlaw some of those tactics.

What’s next for American workers?

Kochan said the Bessemer union drive was “another clear indication that [US] labor law is broken, perhaps in its current form, beyond repair.”

But many of the experts who spoke to Insider said the massive amount of attention and public support it generated suggest there may finally be an appetite to begin those repairs.

Under the Trump administration, the NLRB “systematically rolled back workers’ rights,” according to an analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. President Joe Biden has already signaled he intends to be much more pro-worker than his predecessor, releasing a video in support of unionization efforts and against corporate “anti-union propaganda” – as Amazon employees were voting.

“Given the pro union sentiment in many areas, as well as the clear backing of the current administration, it would still not be surprising to see successful efforts to unionize businesses in other areas, and eventually, even at Amazon itself,” Joseph Seiner, a labor and employment law professor at the University of South Carolina, told Insider.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, voiced support for the Amazon employees’ push to unionize. The House also passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize, harder for employers to misclassify workers, and ban certain union-busting tactics – though the bill faces steep odds in the Senate.

Veena Dubal, a law professor at UC Hastings who researches how technology impacts workers’ lives, said that the Bessemer vote may push regulators to look more closely at how giant tech firms like Amazon exert power over workers.

“A lot of regulatory focus has hinged on anti-trust regulation-the need to break up Amazon because of its significant market power-but the truth is, Amazon also exerts monopsony power in labor markets. In areas where Amazon warehouses exist, wages go down, not up,” Dubal said.

The COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests following George Floyd’s death last May have also forced Americans to reckon with how race plays a role in the workplace. That became a focus in Bessemer, where the RWDSU estimated that 85% of Amazon’s employees are Black, according to The New York Times.

“The core issue in the campaign was not about specific concessions but worker power. And in this case, it can’t be distinguished from the struggle for racial equity,” Premilla Nadasen, an associate professor of history at Barnard College who researches alternative labor movements, told Insider. “Black people are being disenfranchised electorally and subject to systemic violence. So, the struggle for economic control over matters more.”

“Official union membership figures aside,” she said, “more and more working-class Americans are recognizing the need to have a collective voice.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Votes against Amazon union lead after first day of ballot counting

Amazon union RWDSU vote Bessember Alabama warehouse
Union organizers Syrena (R) and Steve (no last names given) wave to cars exiting an Amazon fulfillment center on March 27, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama.

  • The NLRB has paused its counting of Amazon employees’ votes over whether to unionize.
  • As of Thursday evening, votes against unionizing led by a margin of 1,100 to 463.
  • The NLRB expects to resume counting the votes Friday, but the results will likely be challenged.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Votes against forming a union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, lead by a more than 2-1 margin after the first day of counting ballots.

The National Labor Relations Board paused its public counting of Amazon employees’ ballots shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday with the anti-union votes leading 1,100 to 463.

The NLRB plans to resume counting ballots again on Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

While the remaining ballots are likely to be counted Friday, it could take the NLRB several weeks to announce the official outcome of the vote due to likely challenges from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – the labor group under which Amazon’s Bessemer employees would unionize if the vote passes.

“Our system is broken, Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign. But make no mistake about it; this still represents an important moment for working people and their voices will be heard,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told Insider in a statement.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

Per NLRB rules for union votes, both Amazon and the RWDSU can file objections within five days of the conclusion of the count. The NLRB then decides whether the objections are serious enough to warrant a hearing where it will determine whether the vote results should be set aside.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Amazon pushed the United States Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the Bessemer warehouse at the start of the voting period in February, which the RWDSU previously argued violates labor laws by intimidating workers and implying Amazon plays a role in collecting and counting ballots.

“This mailbox – which only the USPS had access to – was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less,” Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox told The Post.

Before Thursday’s public vote count, both Amazon and the RWDSU also had the opportunity to challenge employees’ eligibility to cast a ballot. Hundreds of ballots were challenged, mostly by Amazon, according to the RWDSU, which could potentially impact the outcome as well.

This year Amazon appealed to change the NLRB’s practices. In February, Insider reported that the NLRB had denied Amazon’s request to conduct an in-person union election, saying that the company must allow mail-in voting. And after the close of voting on March 29, the NLRB denied a request by Amazon for increased surveillance on the room where ballots were stored in the labor board’s Birmingham, Alabama, headquarters.

Read the original article on Business Insider

More than 3,200 Amazon employees at Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center cast ballots in historic union vote

Amazon workers Alabama union
  • The NLRB has counted 3,215 votes in Amazon employees’ historic union vote in Bessemer, Alabama.
  • RWDSU, the union under which employees would unionize, said Amazon challenged hundreds of ballots.
  • The public vote count could begin as early as Thursday, the RWDSU said in a statement.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A total of 3,215 employees at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, cast ballots in a closely watched vote over whether to unionize, according to a press release from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The warehouse has more than 5,800 employees, meaning roughly 55% of employees voted.

The RWDSU, under which Amazon’s warehouse workers would unionize, said the National Labor Relations Board has cleared all unchallenged ballots, but that “hundreds of challenged ballots” remain, most of which were challenged by Amazon, and that “more issues could impact the final results.”

The NLRB will likely start its public count of the votes via video conference on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning Eastern Time, according to the RWDSU.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

In the contentious union vote, Amazon has repeatedly contested aspects of the voting process to the NLRB, which denied the company’s request to install cameras monitoring the ballot room in the NLRB’s Birmingham office.

Union organizers have also complained about Amazon’s tactics, which have reportedly included enlisting local police to monitor organizers and requesting that traffic lights near the warehouse be reconfigured to limit the amount of time organizers have to speak with employees entering and leaving the facility.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Tesla is on a collision course with Germany’s biggest union and neither side is likely to back down

Tesla Berlin Gigafactory
Tesla’s Berlin Gigafactory will be the cornerstone of its European strategy.

  • Tesla is building a giant plant in Germany, but it hasn’t yet made nice with the mighty auto union there.
  • IG Metall will likely make life difficult for Tesla, which hasn’t agreed to the industry’s collective wage agreements.
  • A battle with the union could threaten Tesla’s ambitious plans for the European market.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As Tesla works to get its mammoth new factory in Germany up and running by the summer, disturbing delicate reptile habitats may be the least of Elon Musk’s worries.

After sparring with locals over everything from water supply to deforestation, there may be an even larger threat looming: Germany’s largest union.

Tesla hasn’t made many friends of labor activists in the US, and the 2.2-million-strong IG Metall isn’t likely to go down without a fight, experts told Insider. A prolonged battle over contracts with the group – which wields considerable political influence and social capital – could derail Tesla’s ambitious plans for the European market.

A standoff over contracts

Virtually every car company operating in Germany is a member of an employers’ association, and IG Metall – which represents metalworkers in the auto industry and other sectors – negotiates industry-wide contracts with the group instead of bargaining with each company individually. That system gives the country’s unions considerably more negotiating power than their US counterparts, which vote to unionize plant by plant.

But there’s a catch – joining the association isn’t required by law, it’s only customary. And Tesla has made every indication it’s not interested in following that deep-rooted norm.

Gigafactory Berlin getty 1
Tesla aims to complete Gigafactory Berlin by July.

The carmaker has caught heat for union-busting tactics in the US – the National Labor Relations Board ruled in March that Musk must delete an anti-union tweet and reinstate a fired employee who was part of an organizing drive – and it has signaled it’s not keen on working with unions in Germany either.

Tesla ignored a letter from IG Metall inviting a dialogue last year. And it went to great lengths to pacify disgruntled union members at Tesla Grohmann Automation, an engineering firm it acquired in 2016, without entering the industry’s collective agreement. Instead, the carmaker fended off a strike by giving workers a deal that was comparable to the industry-wide wage (plus stock options).

It could try to pull the same play at Gigafactory Berlin.

The stakes are high for IG Metall

But IG Metall likely wants to avoid that scenario at all costs, Stephen Silvia, a professor at American University whose research focuses on comparative labor relations, told Insider.

Allowing a massive non-union plant to build cars in Germany would set the dangerous precedent that companies don’t need to engage in collective bargaining, he said. It would also mean thousands of members would potentially go without the contractually enforced job security, wages, and benefits the rest of the industry enjoys.

Read more: The true disrupter in the auto industry isn’t Tesla – it’s Fisker

Moreover, IG Metall stands to lose bargaining power with other automakers if it can’t get Tesla to play ball, said Arthur Wheaton, an automotive industry expert at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. It’s especially crucial that IG Metall preserve all the sway it can at a time when carmakers are pivoting to EV production, which, Wheaton said, requires roughly 30% fewer workers than traditional auto manufacturing.

“It’s all about labor density,” he said. “Every plant that opens that’s not unionized hurts [IG Metall’s] power.”

The union can make life difficult for Tesla

Given the stakes, IG Metall is likely to employ a whole menu of strategies to bring Tesla to its side. And there’s no guarantee that any of it will bear fruit. Amazon, for example, has for years resisted calls from Germany’s service-sector union, Verdi, to recognize collective bargaining agreements.

Silvia, who has spoken to the union about its plans, anticipates a public relations campaign and protests to exert political and social pressure on Tesla to “be a good corporate citizen.”

“It’s very difficult to force a completely unwilling company,” Silvia said. “They’ll just have to make [Tesla’s] life as uncomfortable as possible.”

Gigafactory Berlin Getty
Tesla plans to manufacture 500,000 cars per year at the factory.

IG Metall could also organize rolling strikes, though there are restrictions on how long they can last and when they can occur. Grey-area “guerilla actions” – like slowing down work at a Tesla supplier where IG Metall might have members – may also be in the union’s playbook, Silvia said.

IG Metall may also try to influence Tesla’s leadership from within. The carmaker will be required by law to allow Gigafactory Berlin employees to form a works council – a group that represents the interests of the factory’s workforce – and IG Metall could make sure it’s stacked with members, according to Silvia.

Wheaton, however, thinks IG Metall’s main weapon for putting the squeeze on Tesla is blocking the completion of the factory altogether. IG Metall could work with environmentalist groups to slow down construction, he said.

Since beginning work on Gigafactory Berlin in early 2020, Tesla has faced setbacks from environmental activists and regulators over issues like deforestation, water usage, and the well-being of wildlife surrounding the construction site. And it has encountered delays over procedural problems having to do with work permits and deposits.

The stakes are high for Tesla, too

The carmaker likely wants to avoid any more stumbles as it looks to get the plant, which forms the cornerstone of its European strategy, online by July. Tesla aims to eventually build 500,000 European-market cars per year and produce its next-generation battery cells at the facility, and a protracted struggle with IG Metall could impede those plans.

Getting the factory up to speed as quickly and as smoothly as possible is critical for Tesla as it works to scale production worldwide and defend its market share from a growing number of EV-making rivals, most notably German automaker Volkswagen.

Tesla did not return Insider’s request for comment on whether it is open to joining the collective wage agreement.

Gigafactory Berlin
Tesla is “just another company” to IG Metall.

IG Metall, for its part, said it’s approaching Tesla as it would any other manufacturer looking to open up a facility in Germany. Union representatives did not respond to Insider’s request for an interview but the chairman of IG Metall Berlin Jan Otto told Insider in an emailed statement that he doesn’t “feel any frustration towards Tesla and the new Gigafactory in Grünheide.”

“It is our job to organize people and negotiate collective agreements once we have reached more than 60/70% of the workers. In the past, we have organized thousands of workers in new and old companies,” Otto continued. “Tesla is a big player, but for us, it is just another company.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

15 major labor unions want Biden to cancel all student debt for public service workers, report says

joe biden
President Joe Biden.

  • 15 labor unions called on the DOE to fully cancel student debt for public service workers through executive action.
  • They cited problems with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, in which 98% of applicants were rejected.
  • This follows Biden’s request for the DOE to prepare a memo on his authority to cancel up to $50,000 in debt per person.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Student-debt cancelation was a major theme of the 2020 presidential campaign, and the issue is only gaining momentum. On Thursday, 15 of the largest labor unions in the country called on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to fully erase debt for borrowers who have worked in public service for more than a decade.

According to a letter obtained by Politico, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, led 14 other unions representing more than 10 million public service workers in calling for full student debt cancelation. The letter said the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program has been so mismanaged that 98% of applicants for the program were rejected.

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for immediate action,” the letter said. “Public service workers who should have already benefited from the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program are serving on the front lines of our pandemic response – caring for patients, teaching our students, and delivering essential services in communities across the country.”

The letter, which was also signed by the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, said the federal government has “fundamentally failed” public service workers because of difficulties in navigating the PSLF program.

To qualify for PSLF, a borrower must be employed by a federal, state, local, or nonprofit organization, work full-time, and have direct loans. However, a 2020 report from The American Federation of Teachers and the Student Borrower Protection Center found that due to poor communication from the DOE, only 1% of eligible borrowers were approved for loan forgiveness.

Democratic lawmakers have criticized Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ oversight of the program, and in 2019, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with other Democratic senators, wrote a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requesting further information on PSLF oversight.

“Though one of the primary functions of the CFPB is to regulate the student loan industry, they have failed to adequately address these claims,” the letter said. “In particular, we are concerned that CFPB leadership has rolled back its supervision and enforcement activities related to federal student loan servicers. This suggests a shocking disregard for the financial wellbeing of our nation’s public servants, including teachers, first responders, and members of the military.”

Biden vowed to fix the PSLF program during his campaign, but given its mismanagement, unions want the DOE to use its emergency powers during the pandemic to carry out the loan forgiveness.

In terms of using executive authority, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on Thursday that Biden asked Cardona to prepare a memo looking into his authority to cancel $50,000 in student debt through executive action, which follows Biden’s request to the Justice Department to review his authority to do so. Warren campaigned on the issue of canceling $50,000 per person, while Biden set a $10,000 figure and he has since been repeatedly pressured to revise that upward.

Cardona has already acted to cancel debt for about 72,000 borrowers defrauded by for-profit schools, along with over 41,000 borrowers with disabilities. He also expanded the scope of the pause on loan payments to apply to 1.14 million borrowers with private loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program.

The DOE has not yet commented on the unions’ request.

Read the original article on Business Insider

82 unions and liberal groups urge Biden to go bigger on tax hikes and hold the wealthy accountable

joe biden
President Joe Biden.

  • 82 liberal groups urged Biden to go bigger on tax hikes and hold the wealthy accountable.
  • They cited Biden’s campaign proposals of reversing Trump’s tax cuts and investing in IRS enforcement.
  • Despite GOP opposition in Congress, the majority of Republican voters support tax increases.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is unveiling the first part of his multitrillion-dollar infrastructure proposal today, which could include up to $3.5 trillion in tax hikes. Some unions and progressive organizations are saying he should go even bigger.

On Tuesday, 81 national organizations, led by Americans for Tax Fairness, sent a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, commending the administration’s efforts to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and encouraging the president to go further. The letter said Biden’s tax plans were the “boldest of any major party presidential nominee in modern American history.”

The tax proposals have “received widespread media coverage and, perhaps more significant, your boldly progressive tax plan was heavily attacked by your political opponents, who spent untold millions of dollars and claimed falsely that the middle-class would pay more,” the letter said. “Yet, you won the most votes ever of any US presidential candidate, with a central promise of your campaign to make the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. You have a clear mandate to pursue your agenda.”

The letter, which was signed by AFL-CIO and MoveOn, said that even among Republicans, raising taxes is popular. For example, a New York Times survey from November found that two-thirds of respondents, including 45% of Republican voters, supported tax increases on people making over $400,000, and an Americans for Tax Fairness survey from October found that 71% of Americans supported raising the income tax rate, including 51% of Republicans.

The best way to hold the wealthy accountable, according to the letter, is to reverse the “worst aspects” of former President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), including Biden’s proposals to:

  • Lift the corporate tax rate to 28% from the current 21%;
  • Restore the estate tax to its 2009 levels, meaning that still only the richest 0.59% of estates would get taxed;
  • And return the top marginal tax rate on the highest incomes to 39.6%, from the current 37%.

Aside from the TCJA proposed changes, Biden also proposed additional tax reforms during his campaign, like investing in Internal Revenue Service enforcement of high-income taxpayers and imposing a “financial-risk fee” on large Wall Street banks.

The letter said that even along with Biden’s campaign proposals, he could implement many other reforms, including a 10-percentage-point surtax on all incomes about $2 million, a financial transaction tax on bond and stock trades, and a wealth tax on ultra-millionaires.

Biden’s tax hikes have already faced opposition in Congress. While moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said an infrastructure proposal could be as large as $4 trillion using tax hikes as funding, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that won’t win his party’s support.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any enthusiasm on our side for a tax increase,” McConnell told reporters last week. Republicans even recently introduced a bill to repeal the estate tax, which would only affect 0.6% of farm estates.

But progressive lawmakers are continuing to push for measures that hold the ultra-rich accountable. Although Politico reported on Tuesday that Biden will not use a wealth tax to fund infrastructure, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has led the effort to propose a 2% tax on households with net worths over $50 million.

“A wealth tax is critical for raising revenue, and that revenue is critical for raising opportunity,” Warren said on Twitter on March 1. “We build a future for all of our kids by investing in opportunity. This is one way we can make this government work for everyone – not just the rich and powerful.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Leaked documents reveal how Amazon built a Twitter army to defend itself in a secret project codenamed ‘Veritas’

Amazon Jeff Bezos
Amazon’s Twitter army has defended it against criticism over the company’s labor practices.

Amazon is facing a fresh round of scrutiny over the army of warehouse workers it enlisted to defend the company and CEO Jeff Bezos on Twitter against criticism of the company’s grueling working conditions.

On Tuesday, The Intercept published leaked documents detailing the program, which Amazon launched in 2018 under the codename “Veritas,” revealing how Amazon recruited and trained employees to “set the record straight – leaving no lie unchallenged and showing that people who actually know what it’s like to work in our FCs love their jobs.”

Amazon required the “ambassadors” to “have a strong performance background and clean HR record, be authentic, have a great sense of humor, and be excited about speaking their mind and rebutting our critics in a polite, blunt way,” according to the internal documents obtained by The Intercept.

In a pilot test for Veritas, Amazon employees practiced pushing back against criticism that Bezos should be taxed higher, a post by Sen. Bernie Sanders interviewing a worker who said they experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of Amazon’s working conditions, and even reporting by Insider about workers urinating in bottles because they feared punishment for being “off task.”

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Amazon’s Twitter army came back under the spotlight this week amid a landmark effort by warehouse employees in its Bessemer, Alabama, facility to unionize – the largest such effort in the company’s history.

This week, dozens of Twitter accounts, portraying themselves as Amazon warehouse employees, began responding to new reports that warehouse and delivery staff still have to pee in bottlesor, in some cases, defecate in bags.

But Twitter shut down some of the accounts after Gizmodo reported that at least one was likely not a real person. (Amazon told The New York Times’ Karen Weise that the account was fake and that it had reported the account to Twitter).

Amazon’s top executives and public relations teams have also become increasingly confrontational on Twitter recently, sparring publicly with lawmakers including Sens. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as Rep. Mark Pocan.

The tweets, which The Intercept reported were so antagonistic that Amazon’s security team even though the company might have been hacked, were sparked because “Jeff Bezos was pissed,” according to Recode.

In one instance, Amazon’s official PR account replied to Rep. Pocan, saying “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

Amazon, which has been openly and aggressively anti-union, has deployed a range of union-busting tactics, from pushing company talking points during mandatory midnight “education” meetings to changing the timing of traffic lights near its facilities. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, under which Amazon employees are seeking to organize, said the move was a ploy to stop its members from talking to workers stopped at red lights.

The company also reactivated its Twitter ambassadors to respond to a recent wave of criticism about the “pee bottles” and other complaints workers have raised about working conditions.

Read the original article on Business Insider