Union Membership Resumes Its Fall

Union membership fell by almost 2% in 2021 as employment rose by over 3%. That took union density—the share of the workforce belonging to unions—down from 10.8% in 2020 to 10.3% last year, where it was in 2019. Density rose in 2020 because more nonunion workers lost their jobs in the covid crisis than their unionized counterparts, but 2021’s return to employment undid that.

For the private sector, just 6.1% of workers were unionized last year, down from 6.3% in 2020, an all-time low for a series that goes back to 1900. (Official numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics began in 1983; I’ve assembled figures for earlier years from various sources.) Public sector density also fell, from 34.8% to 33.9%, not quite a record low. But the number of government workers organized in unions fell by 2.7%, almost four times as much as private sector members. The full history is graphed below.

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Latest Data On Unionization Is A Wake-Up Call To Lawmakers

Workers essentially have two sources of potential power vis-à-vis their employers: a union or the implicit threat that they can quit and take another job. During the last year, employers have been forced to compete for workers in a way that has not happened since the end of the 1990s. Workers gained leverage because the American Rescue Plan Act has generated a strong recovery from the COVID-19 downturn with substantial demand for workers at the same time that millions of workers are out of the labor force due to health and safety concerns or pandemic-related care responsibilities. As a result of this increased leverage, workers have seen strong wage growth and have been able to quit jobs in record numbers and take jobs that are better for them.

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Supreme Court Leaves Workers Without COVID-19 Protection

The Supreme Court, in a predictable 6-3 decision, blocked OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that required employees in businesses with 100 or more employees to either be vaccinated or regularly tested and masked. Dissenting were the three Justices appointed by Democratic Presidents: Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. The majority stated that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) “plainly” does not authorize the vaccine or masking requirements.  Calling the OSHA standard no “everyday exercise of federal power” they labeled it “instead a significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees.”  The argued that in a situation where an agency is authorized to “exercise powers of vast economic and political significance,” Congress must “speak clearly.” 

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More Than 8,000 Kroger Grocery Workers Strike In Colorado

On the heels of a new report showing significant financial insecurity, including homelessness, among workers at Kroger grocery stores, more than 8,000 of the chain’s employees in Colorado went on strike Wednesday to demand fair wages and better healthcare benefits.

Amid a recent wave of successful strikes at companies including John Deere and Kellogg’s, the work stoppage is taking place at nearly 80 King Sooper grocery stores, which are owned by the Kroger Company, across the Denver metropolitan area. According to the Colorado Sun, 10 additional stores in Colorado Springs could also go on strike in the coming weeks.

The workers’ union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, rejected the company’s “best and final offer” on Tuesday, saying the $84 billion company did not offer enough for employees to afford basic necessities.

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What’s Really Causing Inflation And How We Should Deal With It

While times have been getting harder for workers, it is clear that capitalists (or “big business”) have been doing very well. It would seem as though everyone is against inflation. But the real problem is not that prices have been increasing but that wages have not kept up with this. It is important to look not only at why inflation has increased but at the very different question of why wages have not kept up with it.

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Capitalism Contributed To Factory Workers Deaths

The weekend of December 10-11, 2021, saw a reported 30 tornadoes hitting several states from Arkansas to Illinois; as of this writing, 74 people are confirmed dead and several buildings severely damaged or totally demolished.

All the cases of death and destruction are devastating; however, the most telling and unconscionable are the deaths of eight people at a candle-making factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, and six in an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois. What makes these two cases significant is that they most likely could have been avoided, but once again capitalism’s insatiable greed is significantly responsible for these people’s death.

The trade union is the most effective tool the working class has in confronting and challenging capitalism in its attack on workers’ rights and quality of life.

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#NoTrucksToColorado

Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos is a Cuban truck driver who was sentenced for 110 years in prison because of a vehicle accident on the I-70 in Denver in 2019. The brakes of the semi-truck failed and he crashed into traffic, causing a 28-car pile up, killing four people, and injuring several others. The accident occurred because the company Aguilar-Mederos worked for at the time did not properly maintain their equipment and permitted a driver to use a truck with faulty brakes. 

“I ask God too many times why them and not me? Why did I survive that accident?” Aguilera-Mederos said to the court. “I am not a murderer. I am not a killer. When I look at my charges, we are talking about a murderer, which is not me.

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Former Hunger Strikers Reflect On Their Experiences

The huelga de hambre has been used for thousands of years. It has won many struggles,” said Ana Ramirez, 42, who fasted for 24 days this spring to demand that undocumented people and other excluded workers in New York receive stimulus and unemployment money. “Esther the reina won a battle with the hunger strike.”

Ramirez is referring to Queen Esther of the Old Testament’s Book of Esther. The queen and her supporters fasted for three days in advance of going to ask her husband, Persian King Ahasuerus, for permission to have her enemies — who were trying to wipe out all Jews in the empire — killed. She prevailed. Mahatma Gandhi used the hunger strike. So too Cesar Chavez. South African political prisoners hastened the end of the apartheid era with their hunger strike.

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Amazon Warehouse Workers Walk Off The Job In Illinois

On Wednesday morning, several dozen Amazon workers at two separate Chicago-area delivery stations staged a walkout to demand raises and safer working conditions, making it the first time the tech giant has seen a multi-site work stoppage in the United States. 

Coming just three days before Christmas to ensure maximum impact, the action caps a year of intense organizing and protest by Amazon warehouse workers who have been on the frontlines of both the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather events.

Organized by the labor network Amazonians United, the walkouts occurred during the morning shifts at the company’s DIL3 facility in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood and at the DLN2 warehouse in the nearby town of Cicero. 

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Fred Meyer, QFC employees In Oregon Go On Strike

A weeklong strike is underway affecting a number of Oregon grocery stores, barely a week before Christmas Day.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, representing many employees at Fred Meyer and QFC stores, confirmed early Friday morning that it is moving ahead with a walkout at stores in Portland, Bend, Newberg and Klamath Falls. The details and specifics of a walkout are complicated. While the UFCW represents roughly 10,000 Fred Meyer employees, not all stores, departments or worker categories are participating in the strike.

The union has been in labor negotiations for months with the Kroger-owned supermarket chains. Last weekend, UFCW announced its members had authorized a strike.

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Wage Inequality Continued To Increase In 2020

Newly available wage data from the Social Security Administration allow us to analyze wage trends for the top 1.0% and other very high earners as well as for the bottom 90% during 2020. The upward distribution of wages from the bottom 90% to the top 1.0% that was evident over the period from 1979 to 2019 was especially strong in the 2020 pandemic year, yielding historically high wage levels and shares of all wages for the top 1.0% and 0.1%. Correspondingly, the share of wages earned by the bottom 95% fell in 2020.

Two features of the pandemic economy distorted wage patterns in 2020 and led to faster wage growth, especially at the top. One feature was that inflation grew at a subdued 1.2% rate, boosting the average real wage (but not affecting distribution).

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Starbucks Workers Agree To A Union In Buffalo

Buffalo, NY – Starbucks workers at a store in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize on Thursday, a first for the 50-year-old coffee retailer in the U.S. and the latest sign that the labor movement is stirring after decades of decline.

The National Labor Relations Board said Thursday that workers voted 19-8 in favor of a union at the Elmwood Avenue location, one of three stores in Buffalo where elections were being held. A second store rejected the union in a vote of 12-8, but the union said it might challenge that result because it wasn’t confident all of the eligible votes had been counted. The results of a third store could not be determined because both sides challenged seven separate votes.

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For Want Of A Dental Plan, Erie Strayer Strike Grinds On

Many people who work hard in full time jobs take a dental plan for granted. Many people who work hard in full-time jobs assume they will get more than a 25-cent-per-hour raise each year. But a group of workers at a cement plant in Erie, Pennsylvania have spent two months on strike trying to win those basic things — and their fight is far from over. 

About 40 workers at the Erie Strayer cement factory are members of Ironworkers Local 851. The company is family-owned, and has been unionized since the 1940s. The union contract expired on April 1. The union spent months at the negotiating table, seeking a fairly modest package of gains. The company refused.

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Kellogg’s Union Workers Reject New Contract

Hundreds of striking union workers at four Kellogg’s cereal plants in the US have overwhelmingly voted to reject a tentative agreement on a five-year contract negotiated between the union and the company, extending a strike that started in early October.

Roughly 1,400 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union “have spoken”, union president Anthony Shelton said in a statement on 7 December. “The strike continues.”

The union is “grateful for the outpouring of fraternal support we received from across the labor movement for our striking members at Kellogg’s,” he added. “Solidarity is critical to this fight.”

Striking employees in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Tennessee produce products like Rice Krispies, Rasin Bran, Froot Loops, Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes.

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The Ivory Tower Is Dead

Davarian L. Baldwin’s recent book, In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower, offers an insightful examination—and stirring critique—of the role of universities in the political economy of U.S. cities. In this interview, Baldwin shines a light on how institutions that define themselves as key contributors to the public good have entrenched new forms of urban inequality. Understanding the meaning of higher education in American life today requires seeing the university from the perspective of the workers it exploits, the residents it displaces, and the people it polices.

Sam Klug: You claim that many major cities have not just embraced the eds and meds economy but have actually become company towns for large institutions of higher education—what you label “UniverCities.” How do universities exercise this kind of control?

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