US Labor History

Just another UMW Blogs weblog

Just wanted to fill in some gaps in by blog…

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Wellman’s book, The Union Makes us Strong, discusses the unique case of the Longshoremen’s union as it dealt with strikes, pressures from corporate interests, and with the development of an effective and unified organization. What I found interesting about Wellman’s book is his concern with radical unionism and social activism within the union. He asserts that radical unionism was not radical at all, nor was it necessarily isolated; rather it was an outgrowth of the union’s organization framework in the sense that workers saw the benefits of solidarity and collective action to ensure a better society for all. In addition, Wellman argues that the democratic principles that formed the union’s basic structure made the policies of the union less a sign of radical/ communist politics and more a signal that the average worker wants to improve his/her lot in life through a democratic labor movement.

Dorothy Sue Cobble chooses to highlight the intersection of class with both feminist and labor activism. She argues that class differences among women, which had previously been downplayed or completely ignored by both feminists and historians, accounted for much of the rift between labor feminism and equal rights feminism. Middle class feminists/historians have long characterized working class women as anti feminist because of their opposition to the ERA, although this opposition was aimed at preserving state legislation that protected female workers from discrimination. Despite having similar goals labor feminists and equal rights feminists had differing approaches to achieve their goals, with the former preferring to rely on unions as the primary guarantor of gender equality and the later preferring legislative protections on the federal level (E.R.A.). Cobble goes on to argue that labor feminism actually dominated the feminist agenda for quite some time, and that their influence in shaping the movement has long been underappreciated both by historians and feminists alike.

For Cobble, this rift in the feminist movement between working and middle class feminists had lasting ramifications on feminist policy initiatives, including the push for equal pay and the E.R.A. She points to the debate over equal pay legislation, noting that the push for equal pay for equal work was overshadowed by a desire for equal pay for comparable work. A result of this reality is that labor feminists recognized that this unique challenge required a new approach emphasizing the practical differences between men and women as a justification for special accommodations for working women. In particular, labor feminists supported a six-hour day without a drop in wages to allow more time for household duties and child rearing. Childcare and maternity leave were also included as possible means to achieve gender parity, in effect leveling the playing field which had previously afforded special treatment only to men, in the form of a “family wage.”

Written by pdempsey

May 2nd, 2009 at 10:48 pm

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More belated Blogging

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I’m still working off of other peoples computers, so this one is going to ba a little short, but there will be more later.

In watching the movie “bLUE coLLAR” The part that stood out to me the most when the union was portrayed as not only being “organized crime” but also as being in business with other organized crime. I asm referring here to the leldger book that they “found”and find it interesting how the more that they dealt with the union the worse the truth grew to be. when they started out they were convinced that they were simply “getting their own back” but the mroe they dealt with it, they realized that the unions incompetence to it’s own was only the tip of the iceberg. Just as with other types of organized crime, the more you deal with it, the worse you find out it really is (It may not always be liek that, but that was the picture I got from reading “Vengeance Is Mine” the memoirs of Jimmy Rattianno, the gangster turned informant from the 60’s)

I also foudn the last few moments of the movie to be very moving, as the dead man’s words were spoken, and rang true for the very situation that they were in. He was killed because he was the most proactive of the group, and even though he seemed to be from a worse end of town, he was deffenitly the one with the best ideas, and the best understanding of what was realy going on with the union and everyone else. While the union viewwed him as a threat, because he eas uncontrollabel, it was his knowledge that was the biggest thereat he had against them.

Also, to compare the movie to “THe Union Makes us strong” it is important to note that not ony did the dteroit union in blue collar not have the trust of it’s members, it also had no contro over anything else. A union has to have one or the other to be worth keeping, and as soon as that was realized it should have been disbanded, or reformed. The detroit union had transformed into nothing more than the stereo typical bad-habits union that was no good to anybody, whereas the ilwu has both control over the jobs, and the support of its workers. its success justifies it’s presence.

Written by clarksasquatchcastillo

April 25th, 2009 at 6:31 pm

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Several weeks worth of Blog posting, oops.

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First I want to talk about Steven Greenhouse and his book “The Big Squeeze”. His entire book was a study of how and why the working mans life is horrible. In the words of Professor Rigelhaupt “DOOM AND GLOOM”. This however is not how I read the book, as it seems that the fact that Greenhouse went into depth as to why the blue collar work field is going down hill. If the entire book had been a basic statement of why life sucks (like some other books i have read about the economy and the American culture) then the book would certainly qualify as doom and gloom, instead he went and explained many of the causes for this state of life. He went far enough to identify the problems, which means that we can find a way to fix them overtime. Just as in alcoholics anonymous, the first part of fixing a problem is identifying it. As we discussed in class after reading this, it seems that steps have already been taken to fix some of the problems stated in the book.

Next we had  read “THe Union makes us Strong” by David Wellman, which was an awesome book (well at least thats my opinion). The depth of research done by Wellman does shows how the longshormeans union in San Francisco was not only unique in it’s control over the City, but also in it’s social practices. Now it is understandable that the unions is able to control the city because of the unique combination of physical labor and experience necessary to be a good longshoreman, however as Wellman discusses this only part of what makes them unique. Part of the rest of the uniqueness is in the social structure of the union. Many of the union members seemed to view the union as a structure to stand together independant of other corporations to do what was best for each other. This view seems to be the main reason that they were in fact able to gain so much power, as well as the comradery he discussed towards the beginning of the book. This comradery also supports the independance that allowed them to gaint he power int he first palce. It also allows them to make personal sacrifices without complaining, as they undersatand the “the Union Makes Us Strong” This is different from other unions, where the blue collared workers don’t always understand the big pictures.

In Dorothy Sue Cobbles “The other womens movement” my favorite arguement she brought up, is how it didn;t matter whether they considered themselves to be a womens union, or just a union, they were btoh effective. SOme women’s unions were specifically WOMEN’S unions, whereas others were unions, that just so happened to be composed of women. Both of these union types were effective in similair ways, however they both had slightly different reasons for forming a union, and slightly different rhetoric whithin it.  The ones that were purely labor unions still got the advantages of being primarily felmae, as well as the same disadvantages, which they overcame all the same.

Robert Rodgers Kolstad had a simialiar point in his book “Civil Rights Unionism” where some of the unions he discussed where the workers tool to find equality, whereas other seemed to be more focused on starting a union, so that it would be the answer to theire problems. it is Professor Rigelhaupts question formt he beginning of the semester “is the Union a means to an end, or is ti an end in itself?”. THis exact question was debated by kolstad, as he discussed how some unions cam out of other organizations (such as chirches, and communities) whereas others were new unions set up as answer to the problems. The book specifically discussed “local 22″ which was formed out of one of the former union ideals. The men who started htis union had tried other methods to find equality in their work, and to get a better situation for working and living.

More to come, yes i know I’m late on posting this stuff, but i am still without a computer.

Written by clarksasquatchcastillo

April 24th, 2009 at 8:21 pm

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Op-Ed

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Athlete Health and Safety on the Job/In the Game

As a baseball player and a huge sports fan this idea came easily to me because I wanted to investigate some of the issues that athletes face in regards to their health and safety. I know much of what a professional athlete does is overblown, they don’t really deserve the millions upon millions of dollars, however, they do put themselves and their bodies at risk when they are at work, just like workers everywhere. The recent safety risk in Major League Baseball is the use of maple bats. While all bats are wooden, they are not created equally. Some woods are stronger than other, and the recent issue is that these bats are breaking too equally and it is becoming dangerous for the players, fans and umpires. Just the other day an umpire was struck in the head by a flying bat after it shattered, and was taken from the field barely conscious. A natural hazard of the game, but it can be improved, and the players union and the MLB are working to try and find a solution to increase the safety of all involved, so that it is one less risk they need to worry about. In sports every where there is a growing amount of concern toward head injuries and concussions, especially in contact sports like Football. Many players are suffering from brain damage because of repeated concussions and some are forced to stop playing all together. I have recieved a few concussions due to high impact sports or being hit in the head by a batted ball, and it is no joke. Parents of children playing sports, players and organizations every where would love to see more regulations to protect athletes.

Recently in Baseball, they have required base coaches to wear protective helmets when they are standing on the field because base coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck in the head by a foul ball and died on the field. The increasing dangers of the game due to stronger athletes and less well made bats and other equipment have increased the risk factor of players. While the players on the field wear a hat and have a glove, it is their purpose to stop the ball using that glove, and sometimes they get hit in the face or other places. It is a bit of a stretch to expect players to wear face masks or helmets at all time, its just not the way the game was meant to be played and it would change too many things.
Ultimately, the purpose of this editorial and research is to lump health and safety concerns of athletes in with those of every day workers. Many will argue that if you are getting paid that much money to play a sport, that the risk of the game just comes with the territory, but there isn’t a reason that the sports governing bodies, or the United States government, should not step in to support the athletes health and safety concerns like the AFL-CIO and other unions expect the government to do for them. A pitcher on any baseball team has enough to worry about and pay attention to without having to worry about the thick end of a bat whurling towards them with a sharp jagged end from it shattering on impact. Athlete health and safety concerns are serious, and concussions and other injuries to athletes are long lasting and affect the quality of life they are able to live long after their playing days are finished.

Sources:

 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/head…

 http://blog.ingamenow.com/2009/04/10/joe…

 http://sports.espn.go.com/minorlbb/news/…

Written by zach

April 23rd, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Wal-Mart: A Different Approach to Unionizing and Safety Regulations

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Anti-union sentiment has largely constituted the policy of Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated since it’s founding in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962. Although in recent years, unions such as The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have been “ramping up organizing at Wal-Mart Stores Inc,” as well as expressing concerns over health and safety issues within the stores. Despite this effort on the part of unions, Wal-mart has initiated many different techniques to thwart union activities and general inquiry into their many safety and health violations. These violations could potentially be avoided by a union presence in the store but management is insistent on keeping them out, utilizing the slogan “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” Many workers disagree that there is nothing broken, given the many instances in the past four years indicate general neglect, malignant indifference, and lack of compliance of safety regulations on the part of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Three incidents in particular hint at Wal-Mart’s ineffectiveness in terms of workplace health and safety. The first occurred in January 2005, Wal-mart settled a lawsuit for $135,540 for charges that the company “had violated provisions against minors operating hazardous machinery.” Again, in June of that same year, the state of Connecticut fined Wal-Mart $3,300 over child labor violation that also included allegations into having minors operate hazardous machinery. Both these instances, although having cost very little comparatively to Wal-Marts profit margins, could have well been avoided through union activity. In August, 2006 when “an electrical accident injured a group of contractors working at the new Wal-Mart store” located in Bloomington, Indiana. In this instance, Wal-Mart hired independent contractors in order to hide behind a diffusion of guilt, says the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Rather than adhere to safety regulations that would have been better regulated under union supervision, store management “said the men were contractors and directed questions to their employer.” Although these incidents give a jarring look at the experiences workers face in terms of safety at Wal-Mart, there is a means of compromise through which both pro-union advocates and management may both agree upon and profit from in the long term.
This proposed solution was developed by the Occupation Safety and Health Association in 1982 and is known as the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which aims to “recognize and partner with businesses and work sites that show excellence in occupation health and safety.” This program would help to alleviate many constraints that Wal-Mart management feels a unionized business would enact on them, as well as provide a safer work environment for employees who are currently working in unsafe conditions. The VPP is a voluntary program that is offered in “all states with approved occupational and health programs,” and seeks to help the business meet “performance-based criteria” that is “geared toward each worksite’s needs.” The program, through these regular criteria and inspections, advantage the business by warranting different levels of safety and health regulation adherence.
By participating in the Voluntary Protections Programs, Wal-Mart would successfully improve their business three fold. First, they would increase their profits by re-establishing better relationships with their customers who have fallen out of favor due to their increased negative media attention. Second, the VPP “saves money by reducing the costs of injuries, accidents, downtime and safety/health related litigation.” And finally, lessened instances of workplace accidents and better conditions may lead to less action form union organizers from within their company. Not only does management benefit but so do Wal-Mart employees, because they will be exposed to fewer accidents and workplace injuries. By joining the VPP, both Wal-Mart and its employees profit tremendously.

Relevant Links:

<http://www.ibew725.org/userctl.cfm?PageContentTypeID=206&PageContentID=162

<http://walmartstores.com/AboutUs/>

<http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/news/article.html?article=2027>

<http://www.osha.gov>

<http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/news/article.html?article=2013>

<http://www.ufcw.org/press_room/fact_sheets_and_backgrounder/walmart/safety.cfm>

<http://readme.readmedia.com/news/show/Union-Responds-To-Death-of-Long-Island-Wal-mart-Worker/308889>

<http://www.troublemakershandbook.org/>

<http://www.safe-workplace.com/intro-to-vpp.html>

Written by gkimball14

April 22nd, 2009 at 4:15 pm

My thoughts on Unions Dealing with Health Insurance.

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For those who have not been following the Unions take on health insurance and medicare, or if you have been only following your own union, there are two basic stances on it. Some unions claim to aggresively push healthcare and insureance worries everytime that they go to the table to deal with their members employers. The other advertised union stance on insurance and medicare is that they have their own insurance and retirement plans. These two stances do not particularily clash, however they do seem to show how people view their unions differently.

     It would seem that people who rely on their unions as an organization would expect their union to take care of them as an organization, and that is why they would have their own health insurance plans. Logically one could assume that they view their union as the answer to their problems in itself, and as such they will rely on it for anything.  Those unions who instead make the companies provide insurance and retirement still view the union in a more traditional sense. They view their jobs as providing collective bargaining for their members, and view the company as being responsible for their employees.

     I believe that the primary job of the union is to provide collective bargaining for their union memeber, but i still believe that the unions that have their own health insurance plans have taken the best option on taking care of the members. Members should not view the union as a way to get what they want from their employers, but instead they should view it as an organization that they can use to get the best working and living decisions for themselves, but this should not limit them to using their collective powers to dealing with employeers. The fact that unions (especially miners unions) have caught onto this I believe has them in a better place than they would be if they expected their companies to take care of them (Mines are awfully dangerous places).

Written by clarksasquatchcastillo

April 20th, 2009 at 7:02 pm

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Op-Ed

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Workers Compensation- At a Crossroads

            Injured workers are sitting in hearing offices all over the country, waiting for their claims to be heard. They represent the countless number of American workers that find themselves injured on the job and in need of medical care and wage benefits. Unfortunately, in many cases, injured workers are forced to go through a long, drawn out bureaucratic process in order to have even a chance at receiving any kind of compensation. On the road to authorizing their claim, workers face arguably biased doctor’s examinations, scrutiny from their employers, and weak federal regulation. First, workers have to navigate through the endless process of filing a claim. Because workers compensation is not federally regulated, and different professions can have certain rules regarding compensation, the process can seem very confusing to the majority of workers who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the system. Then there are the state-appointed medical examiners, which claiming lawyers often cite as having a tendency to diagnose their patients in a way favorable to insurance companies. These accusations aren’t without merit. Dr. Samuel Hershel, an orthopedic surgeon and a certified independent medical examiner in New York, recently said of his post-examination reports, “If you did a truly pure report, you’d be out on your ears and the insurers wouldn’t pay for it. You have to give them what they want, or you’re in Florida. That’s the game, baby.”(1) Yea, I cringed when I heard that too. But it doesn’t stop there. Critics, some of which are doctors, also claim that some state licenses that authorize doctors to give these examinations are too lose. Sometimes, the state certifies old, semi-retired, or inadequate doctors to conduct exams. Many complain that these doctors are just not efficient enough to be making such important decisions. So if you’re a worker and you feel like you’ve had an unfair medical exam, good luck trying to rectify it. Weak enforcement of the OHSA has been a problem every since it was signed by President Nixon in 1970. However, there a few promising signs for workers that labor could be headed in the right direction starting in 2009. It is almost indisputable that the Bush Administration was a failure in improving the OHSA and putting assurance back into the hands of the workers.  As the AFL-CIO puts it, “Bush policies and actions put corporate interests above the public interest.”(2) His administration delayed and ultimately killed legislation that would strength the OHSA and more specifically workers compensation. Barrack Obama, on the other hand, brings with him into office a solid background in supporting the American worker. He has taken numerous actions to strengthen the OHSA by making violations of the act, such as when an employer threatening an employee if he or she were to make a claim, a felony. He also fought for giving more workers coverage. In terms of workers compensation, Obama supported legislation that would require out-of-state construction contractors to carry valid Illinois state workers’ compensation insurance.  Hopefully Obama will make good on his campaign promises and continue to improve the workers compensation system.  However, even if the president does come through for workers, he has a tough road to navigate.

 

  1. http://www.rsds.org/5/news/2009/April/NYTimes_1_173.html
  2. http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/bushrecord/

Written by cklalo

April 20th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

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Op-ed

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What is being done to save the lives of workers with risky jobs? The answer is, that not much is being done at all. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has over the years worked closely with unions in answering this question, but have they done so successfully? Although OSHA is successful with some of their endeavors, it seems that in this case they have been of little to no help at all. OSHA has lagged when it comes to moving quickly on setting up a “dust standard.” There is one particular incident that is reflective of the lack of on site emergency plans for workers. The incident that occurred last year in February occurred at an Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The accident occurred due to a blast that resulted in the death of twelve workers and left eleven others critically injured. Sadly, there is strong evidence that proves this accident could have been prevented. Recently, columnist “Leopold” wrote that in the past 12 years, there have been 281 dust explosions. These explosions have resulted in the deaths of 119 workers and have seriously injured an additional 781. What causes these explosions? Dust can build up to dangerous levels at industrial worksites and can in turn become a fuel for fires and explosions. Its sources include sugar, flour, feed, plastics, wood, rubber, dyes, coal, and even some metals.

            Expert William Wright, the chairman of the US Chemical Safety Board said, “These tragedies are preventable. The key to avoiding the most devastating accidents is to eliminate the basic fuel, the combustible dust that accumulates over time inside plants and awaits some event to trigger a massive explosion.” (Mike Hall, March 13,2008, Hearings Spotlight OSHA Inaction in Setting Combustible Standards to Save Lives.)

Instead of issuing a dust standard however, OSHA is relying on the corporations voluntarily policing themselves. Under OSHA, all that has been provided thus far are information sheets about combustion safety that are hung around the workplace. It seems a bit negligent of OSHA to expect a company to voluntarily comply. In fact, their organization is meant to improve these issues, not approach them in a laissez-affaire manner. After extensive reading, I agree with the many who say the Bush Administration ruined OSHA. For this specific incident, the organization failed on many accounts for instance, their failure to inspect refineries, issue new workplace rules, address ergonomic hazards, and meet deadlines.

            What needs to be done to prevent these deadly combustions? Posting bulletins on combustible dust in the work place is simply not enough. In order to prevent these explosions, the workplace needs to be kept orderly, clean, and sanitary so that combustible dust cannot accumulate. Also, key government organizations like OSHA need to become more aware of the need to prevent combustions.

            It must be added that OSHA certainly deserves some positive recognition for the good things it has done to protect the lives of workers, however, there is simply much more that needs to be done (like the development of Voluntary Protection Programs.)

Written by nicolek

April 20th, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Big Squeeze (Part 2)

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Not already having known the concept of a “temp” it was extremely interesting to me the idea that  these workers actually work against the system that unions have tried to mold much in the same way scabs have in previous years. Not only are these temps or independent contractors taking jobs away from full-time workers as the scabs did and saving the companies that hire them millions of dollars, they are also lowering the bar for both wages and health benefits especially. Not only do workers have to now contend against large corporate undercutting but because these temp agencies are passing the buck when it comes to supplying basic health benefits for their workers and “freelancers must fend for themselves on health and pension coverage.” (Greenhouse, 120). Because full-time workers are largely losing out to these temps, the temp industry has begun to inflate, giving more and more reason for companies to  turn to declining health benefits or turning to layoffs and replacing workers with these temps. It is somewhat disheartening how the companies have managed to find a replacement to the scab that actually works more efficiently against the common worker then the previous generation. Do you believe that the bar has been lowered by these contractors?

Written by gkimball14

April 16th, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Reading for April 16th

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Americans are becoming more overstressed and overworked. Although we didn’t need Greenhouse to point that out, he does explain why this is happening. We were tricked into thinking technology makes life easier, where instead it allows the workplaces to be in constant contact with its workers even off the clock. Technology allows for no escape. Another factor is the letting go of workers. Their jobs don’t disappear but the workers do. Others have to take over their jobs as well as take care of their own. 40 hour work weeks are giving into – if not completely surrendered already – to 60, even 80 hour work weeks.

Greenhouse follows the story of Jackie, an African American hotel housekeeper. In her case, the more spoiled the guest, the harder she works. (5 pillows? My head only needs one!) Hotels are willing to buy ridiculous amounts of bedding at the expense of their workers bodies. Then the hotels expect them to complete the room in 15-20 minutes, but not even miss a hair. What if you have a particularly messy guest? Also, by adding all the ridiculous extra bedding, they are making the tasks even harder for the housekeepers. Hotels even write workers up if they get an injury on the job.

A remedy for these issues is respect for workers. Workers need to unite. Today, it’s a every-man-for-himself mentality. Workers worry about themselves and their own families. It’s hard to afford to help others, but if the workplace can unite, then changes can be made.

What can be done to resolve these issues? Employers forget what it’s like to have a family. Children rely on their parents – and even though the employer craves that extra dollar, he/she, must not punish workers for simply wanting to be there when their child or relative needs them. Society pushes this image of a good mother and sets the standards that are expected to be followed, yet at the same time these working women are being punished for trying to follow these standards.

The news media needs to stop being sensational. I know, that sounds impossible, but the news needs to stop paying attention to workers only to get a story. Their issues are not a rare, monthly event. Workers face issues with their employers every day. Lastly, politicians need to help the citizens of the countries they represent. Make hiring of wage-and-hour investigators mandatory and prohibit companies from intimidating plaintiffs to seal settlements in workers’ lawsuits.

Written by Heather Greider

April 16th, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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