Good things are happening! In the wake of Amazon workers on Staten Island voting to form the first-ever U.S. union at the company, entrenched labor unions are rethinking their approach to organizing. Also, the top lawyer at the federal agency enforcing labor laws issued a memo that could make it easier for workers, including at Amazon, to overcome union busting. And while the Biden administration is still not using broad executive action to lower health care costs, cancel student debt, or tackle the climate crisis, the president has issued some minor orders that could help people at the margins — and make the case for more ambitious executive actions to come. Finally, an archival discovery reveals an iconic musician speaking out in support of striking teachers.
All this and much more in this week’s edition of You Love To See It, exclusively for supporting subscribers below.
NLRB MOVES TO STOP MANDATORY UNION-BUSTING MEETINGS
As President Joe Biden makes empty proclamations about his support for unionizing workers, one corner of his administration is making substantive moves that would help workers trying to form unions. Just this week, Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board — the federal agency tasked with enforcing labor law — issued a memo announcing that a standard union-busting tactic deployed by corporations violates federal labor law.
The memo takes issue with “captive audience meetings,” or meetings that companies require employees to attend in which they try to talk them out of unionizing. Amazon workers at the recently unionized Staten Island warehouse, for example, were required to attend such meetings.
“This license to coerce is an anomaly in labor law, inconsistent with the [National Labor Relations Act’s] protection of employees’ free choice,” said Abruzzo in a statement. “It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights. I believe that the NLRB case precedent, which has tolerated such meetings, is at odds with fundamental labor-law principles, our statutory language, and our Congressional mandate. Because of this, I plan to urge the Board to reconsider such precedent and find mandatory meetings of this sort unlawful.”
MOVEMENT IN THE LABOR MOVEMENT
Meanwhile, the union victory at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island is reverberating across the labor movement. In particular, more entrenched labor unions and organizers are looking to broaden their tactics and approaches to workplace organizing.
“It’s sending a wake-up call to the rest of the labor movement,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told The New York Times. “We have to be homegrown — we have to be driven by workers — to give ourselves the best chance.” Dimondstein said his union was prepared to “contribute resources to the Amazon campaign with no strings attached,” the Times reported. (You can contribute to the Amazon Labor Union’s organizing efforts here, ahead of an election at another Staten Island warehouse later this month.)
This type of unconditional support from existing unions could be a huge boon to independent unionization efforts like the one that was successful at Amazon. As two longtime labor organizers wrote for Labor Notes, “This win shows that, when it comes to a company of the size and scale of Amazon, the typical organizing tactics and strategies may not apply. We need to have an eclectic approach, recognizing that there will be many successes and failures in a long-term effort to build a strong union at Amazon.”
CORPORATE CONSULTANTS FALL ON THEIR FACES
The super PAC Penn Progress launched TV ads this week attacking Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, who is running against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Penn.) in the state’s Senate primary. Penn Progress is being run by corporate consultants with deep ties to the health insurance industry and Democratic Party establishment, The Lever previously reported.
Almost immediately after the ads were launched, a local TV station, ABC6, pulled the ads from its Philadelphia market for making false claims against Fetterman. Apparently, the super PAC was trying to cite a news story that had been corrected.
Pretty embarrassing for the seasoned operatives running Penn Progress!
BIDEN TAKES BABY STEPS ON EXECUTIVE ACTION
Biden has so far resisted using his broad executive authority to take actions that could help tens of millions of Americans who are being crushed by student debt and prescription drug costs, or that would begin to tackle the climate crisis. But he has continued to issue some minor executive actions that will not only help people, but also show just how executive power can be leveraged even as legislation stalls in Congress. These actions also prove that public pressure on the White House actually works. Here are just a few examples from the past week:
- Following a major protest by student debtors, Biden extended the pause on student loan payments to last until August 31. (Join the Debt Collective, one of the groups leading the #CancelStudentDebt movement, for a new member call next Monday if you’d like to fight for full cancellation.)
- The Environmental Protection Agency will issue new restrictions on the use of asbestos — a major carcinogen — for the first time since 1989.
- The Department of Education will erase the defaults of about 8 million federal student loan borrowers.
- The Treasury Department and IRS are moving to close a loophole in the Affordable Care Act. The move will give thousands more people access to health insurance tax credits and lower premiums for millions.
NINTH CIRCUIT REVIVES 401(k) FEE LAWSUIT AFTER PRO-WORKER SUPREME COURT DECISION
When the Supreme Court handed down a very rare 9-0 decision written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in January, it had the effect of reversing a dangerous precedent from the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that strangled the rights of workers to sue over bad investments in their 401(k) plans. Reflecting the modified precedent, the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit has revived a previously quashed lawsuit over high fees and bad investments in Salesforce’s 401(k) plan — a huge victory for the 56,000 workers employed by the company.
THIS WEEK IN DINO NEWS
We have new exciting dino news this week! In North Dakota, a fossilized dinosaur limb, complete with skin — along with other well-preserved creatures — has been discovered. As if the discoveries weren’t cool enough, researchers believe that the animals at the dig site were killed by the asteroid collision that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. What makes that truly special is the fact that fossil finds within a few thousand years of the cataclysm are exceedingly rare.
STRIKING LIKE IT’S 1970
When Minneapolis teachers went on strike last month for safe staffing and expanding mental health resources in schools, they did a beautiful rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain” at the state Capitol. Turns out their homage was much closer to home than they realized. Minneapolis’ CBS affiliate WCCO decided to go through archives of the last teachers strike in the city to see if they could find anything interesting… and lo and behold, the reporter thought he found an 11-year-old Prince saying that the teachers striking in 1970 deserved higher pay. The reporter had to confirm it, so he found some old buddies of Prince — who had no copies of videos of Prince at that age, and confirmed it was the real deal, making Prince’s friends cry.
Worth remembering that Prince had this deeply-felt movement song on his album “Musicology”: “Dear Mr. Man, we don’t understand, why poor people keep struggling, when you won’t lend a helping hand.”
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