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Labor activism shows new spark

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by   Samuel Morris               Godwin Morris Laurenzi Bloomfield

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Labor activism shows new spark
Labor activism shows new spark


Jim Tankersley and Brian Fung of The Washington Post



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Tens of thousands of Americans skipped reporting to work today due to labor disputes, a surge that coincides with the beginnings of a renewed sense of empowerment among workers who've struggled for years to reap the gains of the current recovery.

The striking workers will include nearly 40,000 Verizon employees who walked off the job on Wednesday in search of assurances that their jobs will not be outsourced or automated in the near future, after contract talks with the company stalled.

The ranks will also include thousands of low-wage workers organized by the Fight for $15 campaign, which is pushing to increase the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Organizers said that today's strike would be the campaign's largest yet and would focus on picketing McDonald's, one of the country's largest employers of low-wage workers. The strikers will include McDonald's employees but also other workers from other fast-food chains, nursing homes and at least one university.

Advocates for workers, including some labor-union officials, said the strikes reflect the growing momentum of a movement that has won high-profile victories for higher pay and expanded benefits in California and New York in recent weeks, and which has grabbed the spotlight in the presidential campaign.

They come as several indicators suggest the economy, after years of delivering high corporate profits but low wage growth following the Great Recession, is beginning to deliver more for workers. Advocates suggested those trends, taken together, will give workers more confidence to assert their demands.

"You're seeing a level of militancy, in terms of strikes, that we haven't seen in some time," said Christian Sweeney, the deputy director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, the umbrella group for 56 labor unions nationally. "Things are starting to pick up, and I think as people have higher expectations for the economy and for their employers, we'll see increased strike activity."

Economic growth has averaged a little more than 2 percent a year, adjusted for inflation, since the recession ended officially in 2009. From the recession's end through 2014, though, the typical American household's income fell, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Census Bureau.

Working-class disenchantment has grown into a dominant issue in both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries this year. The Fight for $15 movement has won minimum-wage increases in several cities and states, capped by recent agreements in New York and California to raise their state minimums to $15 an hour over the next several years. Both states also adopted more generous paid leave requirements for workers.

The victories have yet to translate into organizing success for labor groups, which in 2015 represented about 11 percent of American workers, down from 20 percent in 1983, and which have seen states such as Wisconsin and Michigan adopt laws in recent years meant to weaken unions.

Still, "the campaign's been more successful than anyone could have ever imagined, and these workers are more emboldened than ever," Kendall Fells, the national organizing director for Fight for $15, said on Wednesday. "You're going to see a domino effect happening across the country."

Verizon's strike came after months of stalled negotiations between the company and its workers over contract terms that expired last summer. Executives said they needed more flexibility in the contract to redeploy technicians to service distant parts of their network.

"At the end of the day, what we're really negotiating here in the wireline contracts is the ability to move people to the work and moving work to the people," said Marc Reed, Verizon's chief administrative officer.

 

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50 N. Front St., Memphis TN  38103

901 528 1702    901 949 1144

 

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