Working In These Times

Thursday, Apr 2, 2020, 12:51 pm  ·  By Sara Nelson

Mnuchin Is Now Trying to Destroy Airline Workers’ Job Protections

Protections for airline workers should be the standard for all workers. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

America’s aviation workers won a huge victory in the CARES Act. In the bill, Congress created a grants program that funds paychecks and benefits for two million hourly workers who were going to lose their jobs while planes are grounded. This isn’t a no-strings-attached corporate bailout for airlines. The money goes directly to flight attendants, pilots, mechanics, cleaners, caterers, and wheelchair attendants, so that we can stay on the job, on our healthcare, and out of the unemployment line. It should be a model for how we help all workers impacted by coronavirus.

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Wednesday, Apr 1, 2020, 9:13 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Here’s What a General Strike Would Take

Striking building workers raise their fists in salute during a rally in the Bois de Vincennes, Paris, 13th June 1936. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)  

You know that things are getting serious when #GeneralStrike starts trending on Twitter. It happened last week, when Donald Trump was publicly mulling the idea of sending Americans back to work by Easter, a move that would imperil countless lives. A general strike has long held a strong utopian allure. But what would it take to actually pull one off? We spoke to the experts about the reality behind the dream.

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Wednesday, Apr 1, 2020, 7:02 am  ·  By Mindy Isser

Workers Are Essential, CEOs Are Not

Workers re-stock items during special hours open only to seniors and the disabled at Northgate Gonzalez Market, a Hispanic specialty supermarket, on March 19, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama / Getty)  

First published at Jacobin.

Low-wage workers are on the front line in the battle against coronavirus. While many workers have started telecommuting — and many others have unfortunately been laid off — low-wage workers are busy cleaning our streets, making sure we have enough to eat, and, of course, nursing us back to health if we get COVID-19. Despite being linchpins of a functional society, these workers are often treated as expendable or dismissed as “unskilled.” But over the past few weeks, we’ve seen just how irreplaceable they are.

In California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and elsewhere, state governments have rolled out increasingly strict orders to enforce social distancing and close all businesses except those deemed “essential” or “life-sustaining.” While these lists vary from state to state, each includes grocery stores, laundromats, restaurants (serving takeout and delivery), factories that produce foodstuffs and other products, gas stations, pharmacies, and hospitals.

What do all of these businesses have in common? They rely on the labor of low-wage workers who, in many cases, toil without benefits, unions, and workplace protections. Public workers are still on the clock, too, cleaning our streets, delivering our mail, and making sure we have access to utilities and other social services. While many government workers have unions, they are often accorded the same lack of respect as their low-wage, private-sector counterparts.

But imagine a global pandemic without postal workers or UPS drivers getting us our messages and packages; without cashiers and stockers keeping grocery stores up and running and full of food; without care and domestic workers providing life-saving medical and emotional support to some of society’s most at-risk people; without utility workers making sure we have a supply of water, electricity, and gas; without laundromat workers enabling us to clean our clothes, towels, and sheets; without sanitation workers collecting our trash and slowing the spread of germs.

While many individuals have expressed appreciation for these frontline workers — leaving hand sanitizer out for their letter carrier; calling for an increase in teachers’ salaries after having to homeschool their kids for a few days — our society has long undervalued them, both monetarily and otherwise. That’s starting to change, thanks to the crisis and worker organizing that has turned up the heat on bosses.

Minnesota, Michigan, and Vermont have all classified grocery store employees as emergency workers, making them eligible for childcare and other services. Stop & Shop workers have received a 10 percent pay increase and two additional weeks of paid sick leave. Safeway, Target, and Whole Foods workers won a $2-per-hour increase. And unionized workers at Kroger in Washington state have been given hazard pay, a demand taken up by many grocery and other frontline workers across the country. These victories, while small, have inched us closer to a society where low-wage workers finally get the remuneration and respect they deserve.

But what does it say about our country when the jobs that are most critical to sustaining life at its basic level are also some of the lowest paid and least valued? Grocery store workers and first responders are exposing themselves to a massive health crisis in order to keep the rest of us functioning as normally as possible. Many of them work for minimum wage or close to it — and without health benefits — meaning that they could contract coronavirus and get stuck with either a massive bill or no health care at all. Meanwhile, with many school districts closed indefinitely, parents are missing the critical and challenging work done every day by nannies, childcare workers, and educators of all kinds.

These workers have a right to higher wages, full benefits, health and safety guarantees, and strong unions — just like every other worker.

Hopefully, this crisis will not only elevate the status of low-wage workers but spark a new wave of organizing to boost standards and build power across these “essential” industries. Because it’s low-wage workers — not bankers, landlords, or CEOs — who make our society run.

In These Times is proud to feature content from Jacobin, a print quarterly that offers socialist perspectives on politics and economics. Support Jacobin and buy a subscription for just $29.95.

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Monday, Mar 30, 2020, 1:33 pm  ·  By Mindy Isser

Garbage Collectors’ Lives Are Not Disposable

A trash collector works on April 20, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)  

The coronavirus pandemic is ravaging our country, manifesting both as a health crisis and a jobs crisis. While the unemployment rate could soar to 30%, many workers whose industries are generally ignored or disrespected have been deemed essential, and have been putting themselves in harm’s way to keep our society functioning.

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Monday, Mar 30, 2020, 10:47 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Fatalistic Grocery Workers Demand Hazard Pay, Saying “Infection Is Inevitable”

A sign posted in front of a Trader Joe's reminds shoppers of purchase limits as a woman wearing a facemask due to the coronavirus epidemic enters the store on March 18, 2020 in Monrovia, California. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)  

Grocery store employees find themselves the subject of widespread public acclaim for continuing to work during the coronavirus crisis. But front-line workers at grocery chains across the country say they want something more tangible than congratulations: hazard pay. And they are winning it with spontaneous organizing campaigns forged in the crucible of a national crisis.

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Thursday, Mar 26, 2020, 1:20 pm  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Working or Unemployed, Construction Workers Are Screwed

A Construction worker takes care of traffic as they build a new tower on March 26, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)  

With no firm national standards about shutting down construction projects as the coronavirus stalks the nation, building trade unions and their members are facing a grim multidimensional crisis: high unemployment, faltering pensions, lost benefits, plummeting dues revenue—and, for those who do remain on the job, the constant question of whether they should quit in order to protect their health.

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Wednesday, Mar 25, 2020, 10:52 am  ·  By Rebecca Burns

Warehouse Workers Suspect Amazon’s Promise of PTO for Part-Time Employees Is a Bait-and-Switch

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presents the company's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)  

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon has rolled out a new policy that extends paid time off to thousands of part-time operations employees.

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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2020, 10:31 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Back to Work? You First.

U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a briefing about the coronavirus outbreak in the press briefing room at the White House on March 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

“We must reopen the economy,” you say. “It is vital that we send people back to work,” you say. Well, it sounds important. By all means—you first.

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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2020, 7:19 am  ·  By Leopoldo Tartaglia

The Italian Workers Fighting Like Hell to Shut Down Their Workplaces

People wear face masks as they attend the live-broadcasting of Pope Francis' Sunday Angelus prayer during the Coronavirus emergency at Saint Peter's Square, on March 8, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)  

Italy is the Western European country where the coronavirus pandemic spread first and where its tragic effects are being felt the most. As of March 17, the official data say 26,062 have tested positive in Italy for COVID-19, 12,894 have been hospitalized—including 2,060 in intensive care—and 2,503 have died.

The epidemic exploded in the richest and most industrialized regions of northern Italy. Lombardy is the most affected, followed by Emilia Romagna and Veneto.

Lombardy and Veneto are examples of one of the fundamental issues called into question by the pandemic crisis: the adequacy of the Italian health system, in particular the public one. Italy still has one of the best public health systems in the world. The health reform of 1978 established a universal and free health system, available to all citizens, financed by general taxation.

But this reform came at a time when the Italian Communist Party still existed and the Christian Democratic governments still had to deal with unions and the political power of the workers' movement. Since then, and with particular virulence since the late 1990s, three phenomena have overlapped which have weakened the system dramatically (even if, thanks to union struggles, they have not completely destroyed it): (1) the regionalization of the national health system, driven by agitation in the Northern Regions for secession; (2) the privatization of many health services, particularly in these regions; (3) European and national "austerity" policies that produced cuts in public spending and to worker pensions, cuts which have strongly affected public health.

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Monday, Mar 23, 2020, 11:26 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Worried Call Center Workers Do Not Understand Why They Are Risking Their Lives for Customer Service

(Photo by Daniel Reinhardt/picture alliance via Getty Images)  

As the coronavirus has shuttered swaths of America’s offices, many workers in corporate call centers say they are still expected to work, risking their own health. Call centers have been deemed “essential” by the Department of Homeland Security, but employees with little paid sick leave say they feel forced to work, in constant fear of infection, in order to keep customer service lines functioning smoothly.

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