Last December, The Industrial Workers of the World’s Burgerville Workers Union signed their first collective bargaining agreement with management, officially becoming the only fast food restaurant in the country covered by a federally recognized contract. This historic win comes as the culmination of three-and-a-half years of heated negotiations with management, seven strikes, and dozens of major picket lines. Over 75% of workers covered by the contract participated in the vote, with 92% in favor. The contract brings major gains to the five Portland-area stores with federal union recognition such as a grievance process, a three-month set schedule, and paid parental leave.
In recent years, cities, counties, and other localities have become innovators and leaders in standing up for working people. Responding to increased inequality, degraded working conditions, and insufficient or inconsistent worker protections at the state and federal level, localities have in many cases joined states as the “laboratories” of experimentation (as Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis described) in relation to workplace matters.1 A number of localities have come to view protecting workers and improving their conditions as part of their core municipal function. This is a joint project with the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program and Local Progress. This report provides an overview of some of the most noteworthy ways in which localities have taken action on behalf of working people in recent years.
San José, California - On Friday, June 10, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that prices for workers’ families, the so-called Consumer Price Index-Wage or CPI-W rose by 9.3% as compared to prices a year ago. This rate of inflation is near a 40-year high, only exceeded by the 9.4% increase in March. The last time that prices rose so quickly was in November of 1981. The headline number that the corporate media reported was a smaller 8.6%. This was the number for the CPI-Urban or CPI-U that includes households with managers and professionals as well as wage workers. The CPI-W inflation is higher than the CPI-U because the CPI-W puts more weight on the prices of food and transportation that have been bedeviling working families. Food prices are up more than 10% over the past year while gasoline is up almost 50%.
On Friday, April 22, thousands of workers demonstrated in major cities across Belgium protesting the worsening cost of living crisis and calling for a rise in wages. The call for the mobilization was given by major trade unions like the General Labor Federation of Belgium (ABVV/FGTB), Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (ACV/CSC), General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (ACLVB/CGSLB), and political parties including the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA). Various student/youth groups expressed support and solidarity with the workers’ mobilization. The protesting workers have called for a revision of the 1996 Wage Margin Act. The act establishes a strict procedure for the Belgian social partners to negotiate a maximum average wage increase and thus effectively prevents any real increase in wages in the country.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Set Off Nearly Unprecedented Churn In The U.S. Labor Market. Widespread Job Losses In The Early Months Of The Pandemic Gave Way To Tight Labor Markets In 2021, Driven In Part By What’s Come To Be Known As The Great Resignation. The Nation’s “Quit Rate” Reached A 20-Year High Last November. A New Pew Research Center Survey Finds That Low Pay, A Lack Of Opportunities For Advancement And Feeling Disrespected At Work Are The Top Reasons Why Americans Quit Their Jobs Last Year. The Survey Also Finds That Those Who Quit And Are Now Employed Elsewhere Are More Likely Than Not To Say Their Current Job Has Better Pay, More Opportunities For Advancement And More Work-Life Balance And Flexibility.
Caracas, Venezuela – The Nicolás Maduro government decreed a near twentyfold salary hike. In a public forum with trade unions on March 3, the Venezuelan president announced that the minimum wage would be set at half a Petro, some 126 bolivars (BsD) which amount to US $29 at the present exchange rate. The new figure represents a significant increase over the previous one of 7 BsD (roughly $1.6). The government is reportedly weighing raising public employee food bonuses o 45 BsD ($10.4). They are currently set at 3 BsD. Pensions and regular government bonuses, such as support for large households, will be updated with a similar factor. In his speech, Maduro called the new wages an effort to “salarize” Venezuelan
As the economy recovers from a global pandemic, many business owners are pointing to labor shortages caused by the “Great Resignation” as a source of frustration. The term refers to the more than 33 million U.S. workers who have quit their jobs since the spring of 2021, largely due to low wages and burnout. The restaurant and service industry is experiencing one of the largest shockwaves to its workforce, adding just 108,000 jobs in January 2022, and remains 900,000 jobs short of where it was prior to the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But restaurant workers and their allies are offering a different perspective: This is not a “Great Resignation,” but rather a Great Rejection of low-wage work.
Protests were held in several regions on Saturday 12 February to highlight the injustice of of the cost of living crisis. In Newcastle, a placard referred to “Tory tricksters”. Meanwhile another sign held next to a baby said “I can do a better job than Boris”. Laura Pidcock, national secretary of the People’s Assembly, said there’s “real anger” at what she described as a “growing crisis”. The former Labour MP added: Working people could not be working harder and yet life is getting so much more difficult.
Lansing, MI - As UPS moves out from its peak season, the company is ending market rate adjustments (MRAs) and bonus programs designed to attract workers and boost part-time employees’ pay. The negotiated part-time pay rate for workers hired since August 1, 2018 is $15.33 per hour, with a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) included. Teamsters Local 623 reports that UPS paid its members $19 an hour as part of an MRA and the workers are taking a 27% pay cut as the adjustments expire. While higher pay is a good thing, these MRAs and similar weekly attendance bonus programs have had a divisive effect on workers and have pitted new hires and higher seniority workers against each other. The wage scale in the contract represents a minimum amount a worker can be paid.
In 2022, a record number of states and localities will increase their minimum wages—10 years after fast-food workers first went on strike to demand $15 and a union. These record increases are the result of underpaid workers organizing, demanding, and winning higher wages. This movement has not only led to the adoption of higher state and local minimum wages but has helped seed new worker activism and mobilization across our economy. On January 1, 2022 (December 31, 2021 for workers in New York), the minimum wage will increase in 21 states and 35 cities and counties. In 33 of those jurisdictions, the wage floor will reach or exceed $15 per hour for some or all employers. Later in 2022, four additional states and 22 local jurisdictions will also lift their wage floors—17 of them to $15 or more.
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.
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).
Battle Creek, MI — Kellogg workers’ nearly two-month strike in Cereal City may be over soon. In a Wednesday update to members, the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union said it had reached a tentative agreement with The Kellogg Company after additional negotiations in Chicago. The five-year deal would deliver 3% raises while maintaining current worker health benefits. Cost of living adjustments would be tacked on starting in the second year of the contract, according to an overview provided by The Kellogg Company. The tentative agreement also addresses another sticking point during negotiations: Kellogg’s two-tiered system of wages, which gives newer workers less pay and fewer benefits.
Many in the media are very upset that workers at the bottom end of the pay scale feel secure enough to demand higher pay and better working conditions. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching a television anchor, who earns $6 million a year, complain that 3 percent of the workforce quit their job in August. They seemed to find the idea of workers quitting unsatisfactory jobs appalling. For those of us who think that all workers should be able to get decent pay, have decent working conditions, and be treated with respect on the job, the idea that large numbers of workers now feel they can quit jobs they don’t like is really great news. And, the increased labor market power for those at the bottom of the ladder is showing up in higher pay.
Thousands of workers at CVS stores across California are demanding better pay, increased safety standards, healthcare improvements and more security for workers in new union contract negotiations. The demands followed the drug chain’s report of record profits over the past 18 months, in part due to keeping stores open throughout the pandemic and offering Covid-19 testing and vaccines in stores. CVS reported a profit of more than $7bn in 2020 and posted a $2.8bn profit in the second quarter of 2021. CVS is ranked the eighth largest retailer in the US based on 2020 sales and its parent company, CVS Health, is the fourth largest corporation in the US by revenue. CVS has offered a wage increase of just 5 cents an hour for most workers in the contract negotiations.