After Generations Working In Coal, Young West Virginians Are Finding Jobs In Solar

Solar Holler founder Dan Conant, foreground, looks on at the beginning of a solar roof installation in Lewisburg, West Virginia.  Credit: Jason Margolis

By Jason Margolis for PRI – Nobody from his graduating class is working in coal, says Swiger. “[They’re] honestly working in fast food, or not working at all.” Not Swiger. He has a job installing rooftop solar panels. He says his family is delighted with it. “They’re excited that I’m actually doing something different,” says Swiger. “A lot of people ain’t doing this in West Virginia, a lot of people are against it actually. A lot of people want to go back to coal. “I ain’t against it, I love solar. It’s way better than coal, I think.” Solar panels can save people money on their electricity bills and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, which fuel climate change. With battery storage, found in some home set-ups, solar can also allow people to continue to power their homes off the grid during power outages. Swiger is working as an apprentice with Solar Holler, which was founded four years ago by 32-year-old Dan Conant. Conant doesn’t see solar energy and coal at odds with each other. “The way I think about it, as a West Virginian, is that West Virginia has always been an energy state, and this is just the next step. It’s the next iteration,” says Conant. West Virginia’s economy has long been reliant on coal. Metallurgical coal, which is found in the state, is used in the steel-making process.

Radical White Workers During The Last Revolution

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By Richard Moser for Counter Punch – During the 1960s and 1970s, radical activists set out to organize the white working class. They linked the pursuit of working class interest and economic democracy with anti-racist organizing. They discovered, and helped others realize, that white supremacy and racism are not a friend to white people but one of the main obstacles to fulfilling our own destiny as a free people. The context was the last revolution. The civil rights, black power, feminist, student movements and community organizing set the stage for working class whites to make important contributions to the democracy movements of the time. While these efforts were initiated by various groups, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), radicalized working class youth, and the Black Panthers, they all eventually depended on the leadership of working class communities. The organizers had been deeply radicalized by the social upheavals of the time. Yet, their own working class backgrounds often placed them on the margins of the New Left. But the activists knew the white working class had enormous untapped potential. The movement to stop the War in Vietnam, fight the bosses, and win the battle against racism needed the hard work and political vision that everyday working people could help provide.

The Cure Worse Than The Disease: Expelling Freeloaders In An Open-Shop State

"U.S. Labor Law" Carol Simpson Productions, 1991

By Chris Brooks for New Labor Forum – The United States is likely to be an entirely open- shop country in the near future. Republicans dominate over two-thirds of state legislatures, over half of all governorships, both houses of Congress, the White House, and a majority of seats on the Supreme Court. As the GOP proliferates, so does anti-union legislation. Twenty-eight states have already passed open-shop—so-called “right-to-work”—laws, which allow workers to receive the benefits of unionization without being a union member or paying fees for union representation. Over the next couple of years, the Supreme Court is likely to make right-to-work the law of the land in the public sector and it is possible Congress will pass federal legislation to do the same in the private sector. Right-to-work laws create two interlocking problems for labor unions. First, unions are legally required to represent all workers in a bar- gaining unit that the union has been certified to represent. In open shops, the “duty of fair representation” requires unions to expend resources on nonmembers who are covered by the union contract. This is known as the free-rider problem. Union activists often refer to workers who opt out of paying for the benefits of unionization as “freeloaders.”

Living Paycheck To Paycheck Is A Way Of Life For Majority Of U.S. Workers

"We all know that our economy is broken. We have seen that elected officials are just failing to do anything about it," said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project. (Photo: Wisconsin Jobs Now/cc/flickr)

By Staff of Career Builder – Having a higher salary doesn’t necessarily mean money woes are behind you, with nearly one in 10 workers making $100,000 or more (9 percent) saying they usually or always live paycheck-to-paycheck and 59 percent in that income bracket in debt. Twenty-eight percent of workers making $50,000-$99,999 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, 70 percent are in debt; and 51 percent of those making less than $50,000 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, 73 percent are in debt. “As an employer, your employees’ financial problems become your financial problems,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder. “If workers are constantly thinking about their financial struggles, their quality of work can decrease, and it can take a hit on their morale and productivity. If you do what you can to help people keep their finances under control — by doing things such as matching 401(k) contributions or hosting financial planning seminars — you’ll ease some of their financial worries and it will be less likely to have a negative impact on your business.”

Chris Hedges Visits Former Car Manufacturing City To See Impact Of Job Flight

Chris Hedges (Credit: Nation Books)

By Chris Hedges for Truth Dig – In a special edition of “On Contact,” Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges visits Anderson, Ind., formerly a center of car production. He witnesses the economic and psychological impact on workers caused by the flight of General Motors jobs overseas. The city has changed dramatically since the 1970s when, at the peak of American automobile manufacturing, a third of Anderson’s 70,000 residents worked at General Motors. Over the past 30 years, Anderson’s population has decreased as thousands upon thousands of well-paid union jobs have been lost. Watch the video above in which Hedges interviews people in what used to be “big car country” and documents what’s become of Anderson now.

Inside America’s Largest Worker-Run Business

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By Jay Cassano for Fast Company – Fifteen years ago, Clara Calvo had just left her husband and her job. Both were abusive in their own ways. Her husband beat her, while her job at a beauty salon required long, unpredictable hours for little pay. Before that, she worked in a clothing factory in midtown Manhattan, earning a pittance for each hat she sewed, having immigrated from the Dominican Republic in 1995. Today, Calvo is able to support her three children as a single mother and sits on the board of company with over 2,000 employees that does $60 million in business per year. Solving Inequality: This is part of Co.Exist’s collection of stories about rising income inequality and big and bold ideas for how society can reverse this trend. See the whole list here. But Calvo also works as home health care worker, making just $10 an hour. Her company, Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), is not like most other companies. It is a worker cooperative, an ownership structure that is somewhat rare in the U.S. but much more common in Spain, Italy, and parts of Latin America. In a worker cooperative, every worker can own an equal share of the company (and its profits) and get a say in company decisions.

The Work Lives Of Uber Drivers: Worse Than You Think

In addition to showing solidarity with immigrants, people of color, and workers nationwide, the actions will also take on Uber, a central figure in critiques of the U.S. "gig economy." (Photo: Reuters)

By Katie Wells, Kafui Attoh, and Declan Cullen for Working Class Perspectives – To be an Uber driver is to work when you want. Or so Uber likes to say in recruitment materials, advertisements, and sponsored research papers: “Be your own boss.” “Earn money on your schedule.” “With Uber, you’re in charge.” The language of freedom, flexibility, and autonomy abounds, and can seem like a win for workers. But the reality of our research shows something very different. The price of flexibility in the gig economy is substantial. Last year we conducted 40 in-person interviews and online surveys with Uber drivers in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Our project—which creates one of the first independent, qualitative datasets about the rideshare industry—found that the economic realities of precarious work are a far cry from the rosy promises of the gig economy. In exchange for flexible schedules, Uber retains near total control over what really matters for drivers, namely the compensation and costs of work. Aman bought a Lincoln Town Car in 2012 after he been approved to drive for Uber Black, the brand-new private car service. As an Ethiopian immigrant in Washington, D.C., he had supported himself by driving a taxi so he already had the chauffeur license that was then required. In 5 or 6 hours of driving, he earned what would have taken him 8 hours in a taxi.

Murphy Oil May Be The Last Workers’ Rights Case

Workers’ strike in Milwaukee in January of 2014. (Photo: Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association/flickr/cc)

By Celine McNicholas for Portside – Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed its brief in NLRB v.Murphy Oil, which will be argued in the Supreme Court in October. The case will determine whether mandatory arbitration agreements with individual workers that prevent them from pursuing work-related claims collectively are prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The brief makes clear what is at stake for workers if the Supreme Court were to rule against the NLRB in this matter. The NLRA guarantees workers the right to stand together for “mutual aid and protection” when seeking to improve their wages and working conditions. Employer interference with this right is prohibited. However, increasingly, employers are requiring workers to sign arbitration agreements that force them to waive their rights to collective actions, and handle workplace disputes as individuals. In practice, that means that even if many workers faced the same type of dispute at work, each individual employee must hire their own lawyer, and must resolve their disputes out of court, behind closed doors, with only their employer and a private arbitrator.

Why Did Nissan Workers Vote No?

Workers voted 2,244-1,307 against joining the United Auto Workers, after a 12-year campaign to organize the mile-long Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

By Chris Brooks for Labor Notes – There’s no sugar-coating a loss this dramatic: 2,244-1,307 against the United Auto Workers, after a 12-year campaign to organize the mile-long Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. After four attempts, the UAW has yet to win a plant-wide vote at a foreign-owned auto plant in the South. The August 4 loss can be laid to three factors: Nissan’s fierce anti-union campaign, the union’s failure to build a strong organizing committee that acted like a union on the shop floor, and Nissan workers’ reluctance to rock the boat and risk losing a job that pays far higher than they could expect to make almost anywhere else. UAW strategists felt that the demographics were in their favor, since 80 percent of the Nissan workforce is Black. Data shows that Black workers are more likely to vote for a union than are their white counterparts. But they also had to contend with the fact that Nissan brought well-paid jobs to an area with very few. Even though Nissan workers make less than workers at the Big Three automakers, they still take home some of the highest blue-collar wages in the state. “People drive two hours to get to this plant because they’ve never had a job like this before,” said Robert Hathorn, a pro-union frame worker.

Domestic Workers Movement Is Growing

A domestic workers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess/Flickr. Creative Commons.

By Myrtle Witbooi for Open Democracy – So the question is, how did I come from my humble beginnings to where I am now? My life in this field started in 1966, when I became a domestic worker. I was working for a family, in 1967, and I remember I was pregnant and had a baby that same year. I also remember that, during the apartheid times, there was an article in the newspaper about how some employers didn’t allow the friends of domestic workers to visit the property. The question that a came to my mind was what are we? And why are there no rights for us? So I questioned the situation. I wrote a letter and I sent it to the newspaper without thinking. I just wrote my frustration: why are we different? Why are there no laws to protect us? Why are we not seen as people? And then, three days later, a reporter from the newspaper came to the door and was looking for the maid, the servant. This reporter decided that I educated and asked me why I kept my ideas to myself, instead of speaking out. I became a spokesperson for both sides, and that is where I discovered a certain talent I have: I have the ability to speak. So we called a meeting in 1968, here in Salt River (Capetown, South Africa), in a big hall for garment workers.

How D.C. Grocery Workers Got Their Groove Back

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By Alan Hanson for Portside – In 1983, newly hired grocery workers in D.C. earned $6.95 an hour—more than twice the federal minimum wage at the time, and worth nearly $17 in today’s dollars. It took just two years to reach top pay of $10.44 an hour, worth $25.45 today. “Back then you had to know someone to get hired at Safeway,” said Jibril Wallace, a Safeway file maintenance clerk in D.C. “My sister was my ticket to getting a job.” But beginning in 1996, Local 400 agreed to create new tiers featuring lower pay and benefits in four of its next five contracts. By 2013, starting wages had plummeted to $7.60 an hour—a mere 35 cents above the federal minimum wage, and only 65 cents more than starting pay 30 years earlier. By then the union had also given up its pay progression based on months of service. Instead workers progressed up the scale based on hours worked. Most part-time workers would not see the top rate of $14.50 for 10 years or longer. This decline was hardly unique to Local 400. UFCW has done a poor job organizing regional nonunion competitors such as Food Lion and Harris Teeter and national ones such as Walmart and Whole Foods.

Charleston Workers Renew Region’s Ties To Highlander Center

Fight for $15 activists from Charleston, South Carolina, and other communities around the South recently gathered for an organizing workshop at the Highlander Center in Tennessee. (Photo by Kerry Taylor.)

By Kerry Taylor for Facing South – Seventy years ago, a group of cigar factory workers from Charleston, South Carolina, traveled almost 500 miles to the Highlander Folk School, a leadership training school founded in East Tennessee in 1932. There, the workers introduced the school’s musical director to a gospel song that had boosted their spirits during a protracted strike the previous year. Highlander staff taught the song to thousands of labor and civil rights movement activists over the years and, as its popularity spread, “We Shall Overcome” became an anthem for human rights causes worldwide. It has been sung by left-wing college students in India, anti-apartheid protesters in South Africa, and civil rights supporters from Birmingham, Alabama, to Belfast, Northern Ireland. In the footsteps of the tobacco workers, three Charleston food and hospitality industry workers attended an educational and organizing workshop at Highlander earlier this month sponsored by Raise Up for $15. Since the summer of 2013, Raise Up has been the Southern expression of the national “Fight for $15″ — the Service Employees International Union-backed movement for a livable wage and union rights for low-wage workers.

How Big Is America’s Employee-Owned Economy?

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By Thomas Dudley for Fifty By Fifty – Before we jump into EO, let’s take a look at the size of the American private sector. Each year, every business operating in our economy is counted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The results are summarized in the Statistics of U.S. Businesses (SUSB). According to the SUSB, in 2014 there were 5.8 million businesses employing 121 million Americans in the private sector. Not all of these businesses would be eligible to be employee-owned — for example companies setup by a lone freelancer. Looking at firms with at least 5 employees, we find 2.2 million businesses employing 115 million Americans. Now thinking about employee ownership, the most general notion of EO would include everyone who has any ownership stake in their place of work. There are numerous forms of ownership, but stock ownership is the core of American capitalism. After all, it is the stock owners who are entitled to a company’s profits and who elect the board of directors. If we define EO as encompassing everyone who owns at least one share of stock in their employer, we cast a wide net. This definition includes everyone from a low-level employee who owns a few shares in their 401k, to a partner at a law firm, to a CEO who owns 100% of their business. It’s reasonable to assert that over 99% of businesses in America employ at least one person who owns at least one share of stock.

Making Employee-Owned Enterprises Part Of The Income Inequality Solution

One of five banners entitled The Worker in the New World Order, painted for the founding convention of ICEM (International Confederation of Chemical, Energy, Mine & General Workers’ Unions–now merged into INDUSTRIALL). Dedicated to then-imprisoned Nigerian oil workers. Copyright © 1995.  Mike Alewitz

By Mary Ann Beyster for Democracy Collaborative – With income inequality in the United States at record high levels, employee ownership is increasingly being lauded as a potential solution to spreading wealth more broadly. Most recently, research from the National Center for Employee Ownership released in May shows that employee owners have a household net worth that is 92 percent higher than non-employee owners. They also make 33 percent higher wages, and are far less likely to be laid off. But employee ownership requires new investment in order to get to scale. A new report by Mary Ann Beyster, president and trustee of the Foundation for Enterprise Development (FED), published by the Fifty by Fifty initiative of The Democracy Collaborative, examines the investing landscape for potential opportunities in employee ownership. The report, Impact Investing and Employee Ownership, reports on the results from six months of research showing that the opportunities for impact investors to support employee ownership are limited, but that an investing infrastructure is beginning to emerge across asset classes.

There’s No Good Reason For Your Boss To Make 347 Times What You Do

(Photo: Shutterstock)

By Steven Clifford for Other Words – CEO pay at America’s 500 largest companies averaged $13.1 million in 2016. That’s 347 times what the average employee makes. So CEOs make a lot of money. But, some say, so do athletes and movie stars. Why pick on corporate bosses, then? First, because the market sets compensation for athletes and movie stars, but not for CEOs. Teams and movie studios bid for athletes and movie stars. CEO pay is set by a rigged system that has nothing to do with supply and demand. NBA teams bid for LeBron James because his skills are portable: He’d be a superstar on any team. CEOs’ skills are much more closely tied to their knowledge of a single company — its finances, products, personnel, culture, competitors, etc. Such knowledge and skills are best gained working within the company, and not worth much outside. In fact, a CEO jumping between large companies happens less than once a year. And when they jump, they usually fail. Lacking a market, CEO pay is set by a series of complex administrative pay practices. Usually a board, often dominated by other sitting or retired CEOs, sets their CEO’s pay based on the compensation of other highly paid CEOs. The CEO can then double or triple this target by surpassing negotiated bonus goals.