November 13, 2020

Strike Watch - Election 2020: Workers Redefine the Map, as Corporate Tech Pours Millions to Undermine Rights

While the public eye (rightfully) centered on the US presidency this election, worker-led organizing made tremendous waves across the country in ballot initiative, issue-based wins and get out the vote mobilization, including in closely-watched swing states. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy also pushed their agendas of racialized and gendered inequality ahead, most notably California’s anti-labor rights "gig" worker proposition. While the full significance of the election is still unfurling, the results point to the power of long-term, worker-led organizing led by unions, place-based worker organizations, and abolitionist movements. These efforts belie any easy answers from red or blue maps - but instead point to the critical ways intersectional movements build across the losses, lessons, and confrontations with corporate agendas that line the hard road to ground-breaking wins.

#RedforEd Returns, Victorious

In Arizona, voters boosted school spending and, specifically, teacher salaries through a 3.5% tax on those making more than $250,000. Proposition 208 came as a direct response to teacher labor organizing, especially the 2018 Red for Ed strikes in Arizona, a wave of teacher’s actions that started in anti-labor states like Arizona and eventually reached Democratic-led, but austerity-stripped cities. The 2018 Arizona strike brought a 20% raise for teachers but did not meet demands for school staff funding, guarantees for raises or spending to meet national standards. But organizing among teachers did not flag, including a more recent set of strike actions to challenge early re-opening of schools in the COVID-19 crisis and the fight for Proposition 208, accompanied by a jump in teacher union membership 10%. Similar measures to increase taxes (including via cannabis legalization) to boost school spending won across Wisconsin localities and in other states, including a new tax measure to fund Universal Pre-K in Colorado. 

Fight for 15 Breaks Through in the South

Florida surprised many when it passed a minimum wage of $15, with a significant 60% of the vote and a transformative bump from the current minimum of $8.56. While actively challenged by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the wage hike was advanced by an extensive door knocking this election season and long-term campaign of strikes and actions since 2012 by the Fight for $15 coalition. Spearheaded in part by SEIU and including the Sierra Club Florida, Florida Immigration Coalition, the Poor People’s Campaign, and Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) chapters, the Fight for $15 had recently been an active part of the Strike for Black Lives, featured in our recent Strike Watch.  Get Out the Vote efforts by the multi-racial, multi-issue New Florida Majority coalition, tied to national Seed the Vote 501(c)(4) and PAC networks in swing states, also pointed voters to the amendment, part of the latest in the NFM labor-community coalition’s efforts on worker’s rights. The Florida win tiptoe on the heels of two voter-approved Southern minimum wage hikes in 2018 in Missouri and Arkansas, that won by more than 62% and 68% respectively.

Making Paid Sick and Medical Leave a Public Good

Colorado residents turned out at 57% to support paid family and medical leave for 12 weeks through Proposition 118. Voters pulled off what legislators had failed to do in multiple sessions, with lawmakers having faced some of the most expensive lobbying efforts in 2019 in Colorado against the bill by local Chambers of Commerce and corporate interests. Through a pay-in system by workers and businesses, the new measure covers up to 12 weeks for childbirth, adoption, medical emergencies in their families, a family member’s active-duty military service, and reasons related to abuse and sexual assault – with a higher pay rate coverage for lower-wage employees. The structure shows the influence of growing, more comprehensive organizing on this issue, in that the policy is inclusive of all workers and publicly-managed, in ways prior state-level bills have not been.

Proposition 22 and the Challenge of Corporate Tech Spending

Speaking of expensive measures, there was also devastating news on the ballot initiative front for workers – most notably with the passage of Proposition 22 in California. The $200 million dollar effort by Uber (now merged with Postmates), Lyft, Doordash and other tech corporations that rely on vulnerable low-wage service labor was the most expensive ballot measure in California history. The law now excludes app-tied workers from the state minimum to a pay guarantee that only amount to $5.64 an hour, limited health benefits based on hourly requirements, and exclusion from NLRB collective bargaining, worker’s compensation and other rights. It is also sealed with an unprecedented provision requiring 7/8th legislative majority to overturn. Researchers and organizers have noted the dangerous move to create a permanent “third category” exemption to labor law will most hurt mostly older Black, Latinx, indigenous, immigrant and women workers  for generations to come – similar to the 1930s New Deal exclusions of domestic and farm labor. While Lyft and other companies are signaling an interest in a vaguely-defined relationship with bigger labor unions  via “sectoral bargaining,” organizers have pointed to this as a trojan horse that would further undermine worker’s voice, and usher in another era of labor suppression similar to company unions of the pre-New Deal era and the 1947 post-Taft Hartley “business unionism” era targeting labor power.

In initial assessments, the lack of restrictions on corporate proposition spending opened the door for massive spending on a deceptive Yes on 22 campaign. Expensive, constant TV and radio ads included groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the manipulation of racial justice language and data (via spurious groups like the “Berkeley Research Group”) - not to mention the gig companies’ looming threat to leave California after courts enforced AB 5 this Fall. Some analysis points to the fact companies manipulated the app itself to make it appear that the workers picking up passengers or dropping off deliveries were supporting the corporate measure. Pro-22 ads had to be clicked through to access app functions – also questionable given the use of this private data for political purposes. (And in the middle of a pandemic-fueled food and restaurant delivery surge, Door Dash and others even offered stamped bags “Yes on 22.”)

Yet undeniable is the importance of continued organizing by Rideshare Drivers United, Gig Workers Rising, Gig Workers Collective and others – who have gained ground creatively in a terrain where they face the deep challenges reaching workers invisibly scattered across cities and rural regions. These groups’ effect on mobilizing the public in the Bay Area of California led to vote totals decisively against Prop 22 in tech stronghold Silicon Valley. Far from done fighting, gig worker-led organizations are now gearing up for battles across the US for the future of work that centers workers.

The Future Defined by Workers

Across the US this election, simplified mappings of red and blue fell apart in the face of investment in long-term deep, “ground game” organizing across labor and community organizations – from Black-women led groups like Georgia STAND-UP to Navajo and Latinx-youth led organizing by groups like LUCHA in Arizona. Often-invisible networks of non-funded grassroots organizing groups, including those tied to the Black Lives Matter uprisings, also mattered in building the energy and momentum among youth and marginalized voters. Cutting across these, too, was a massive in-person effort by labor unions like UNITE HERE (including numerous unemployed Black and brown hospitality workers) in key states where unions have ground presence.

Tweet from Isaac Bryan, @ib2_real, Director of Public Policy at UCLA's Ralph J Bunche Center, and Co-Chair of the Reimagine LA coalition that sponsored LA's succesful Measure J

If there is a consistent theme among the ballot struggles discussed above, it is that worker-led organizing that cuts across community and labor organizations - and the willingness to step up actions, from teacher’s to fast food strikes - can pay off big. Direct confrontation with corporate or legislative actors is an inevitable part of this process, as McDonalds' workers in Florida or teachers in Arizona can also share. And there are no campaigns that don’t face losses and setbacks. Much of the above organizing faced (well-funded) roadblocks and lost policy fights at times but kept building and learning – much as the gig worker movement is now doing.

This lesson was also reinforced by powerful gains in local measures on other intersecting issues of racial and economic justice, such as the significant Measure J in Los Angeles County supported by Black Lives Matter-LA, Justice LA coalition, Youth Justice Coalition and a wider network created called Reimagine LA. (The tweet featured to the left is from Reimagine LA co-chair Isaac Bryan, Director of Public Policy at UCLA's Ralph J Bunche Center.) Measure  J- part of a local progressive sweep - now permanently sets aside 10% of the County budget for alternatives to incarceration, including job programs serving Black and brown communities. Cities as varied as Columbus, Ohio and Portland, Oregon passed police oversight measures, while Philadelphia banned stop-and-frisk decisively. At the state level, California abolition movements including Communities United for a Responsible Budget stopped algorithmic bail calculations, prison spending, and other attempts to scale back decarceration, while also advancing rights for parolee voting (legislation written by formerly-incarcerated residents). Needless to say, none of these shifts - like the multi-year battle to oust District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles - were won overnight, or without tensions and confrontations.

Georgia STAND-UP Director Deborah Scott's call in a recent Vox interview speak volumes to the nature of long-term organizing that is transforming the political landscape – and tangibly shifting workers’ lives: “Everything can’t be online for us because there’s a certain level of our population that does not respond there,” Scott said, describing a tactics that included safe door-knocking, protests, and reaching those seeking direct services. Building strategy means “making sure people really listen to the wisdom that we have because we’ve lived it.”

September 13, 2021

Welcoming IRSG's Movement Advisors

NFG's Integrated Rural Strategies Group (IRSG) launched its inaugural committee of Movement Advisors in August 2021. These Advisors will deepen IRSG's work to increase philanthropy's accountability to rural movement leaders. These seven rural leaders reflect the powerful and broad diversity of rural communities, representing a range of geographies, issues, races, cultures, and more. What these leaders and their organizations all have in common is that they are organizing and building power in rural areas. Their work is core to building and preserving a true multiracial democracy and protecting the health, safety, economic opportunity, and ability for rural communities to thrive.

While IRSG and our partners hold existing relationships with each of these seven leaders, we are honored to formalize this year-long engagement by supporting these leaders with honoraria and providing a platform to lift up their work before philanthropy. IRSG will follow the Advisors' lead and center their priorities and strategies as we design our program offerings and resources. We look forward to opportunities to build relationships among the IRSG Movement Advisors and between the Advisors and funders in our network over the twelve month duration of this engagement, and in our shared work for years to come.


  

Angel Garcia (he/him/his)

California for Pesticide Reform & CAPS (Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety)
Agro-Citrus Lands of  Tulare County, CA

Email: Angel@pesticidereform.org 
Website: https://www.pesticidereform.org/

Angel is the Organizing Director with Californians for Pesticide Reform and founder of the Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety. Born and raised in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Angel also has deep ties to the Mixtec village of San Jeronimo nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Madre in southern Mexico. His previous experience includes working with transnational indigenous communities, farmworker families and rural families in the San Joaquin Valley. Angel holds a B.A. in Latin American & Latino Studies and Politics from University of California, Santa Cruz. He is based in Tulare County and is the proud parent of two kids – Anuri and Urian.


  

Eowyn Corral (they/she)

Dakota Rural Action
Dakota/Plains Region

Email: eowync@dakotarural.org
Website: www.dakotarural.org 

Eowyn Corral, director of development and programs at Dakota Rural Action and the current chair of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, has focused on local and regional food & ag policy for the last 10 years. Based in the Dakotas, the occupied lands of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate (the Great Sioux Nations), and utilizing grassroots community organizing as the foundation, Dakota Rural Action works on agricultural policy at the local, regional, national, and tribal arenas. Eowyn comes to this work via a love for fiber animals, seasonal foods, and textile arts. Originally from southern California and of Michoacán descent, Eowyn plans to find their way back to the west coast to raise animals on pasture on a multigenerational farm for the golden years of life.


  

Jaime Arredondo (he/him/él)

CAPACES Leadership Institute
Oregon

Email: jaime@capacesleadership.org 
Website: https://capacesleadership.org

Jaime is a proud immigrant from Las Ranas, Michoacan, Mexico. He has over 16 years of experience working in movement building community-based organizations. Some of his favorite roles have included: tour guide, smiles provider, peace maker, convener, agitator (with a smile), storyteller, and wannabe graphic designer and handy person.


  

Janssen Hang (he/him/his)

Hmong American Farmers Association
Midwest/Minnesota

Email: janssen@hmongfarmers.com
Website: https://www.hmongfarmers.com

Janssen Hang is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Hmong American Farmers Association. Janssen grew up growing, harvesting and selling vegetables for the local food economy and currently runs his family-owned value-added business making spring rolls and egg rolls at the downtown Saint Paul Farmers Market. A 2001 Saint Olaf graduate in Biology and Asian Studies, Janssen has over 20 years of experience in agriculture, 12 years in small business management, and 7 years as a licensed-real estate agent. Janssen is also one among just a few certified Hmong Mekongs (cultural broker). Janssen likes to spend his free time with his family in the outdoors.


  

Brandi Mack (she/her/we)

The Butterfly Movement
Sonora/Tuolumne County and Oakland, CA

Email: bhealthybholistic@gmail.com
Website: www.thebutterflymovement.com / www.brandimack.com

Brandi is a mother of three beautiful daughters, a Holistic Health Educator, Therapeutic Massage Therapist, Trauma-Informed Youth developer, Powerful Presenter, and Permaculture Designer. She holds a bachelor's degree in Human Service Management, and a certification from Star Hawk's Earth Activist Training. Brandi has worked and trained in holistic health and ecological sustainability with youth and adults for over 15 years. Brandi is currently the National Director of The Butterfly Movement which is committed to healing the wounds of our Soul (through Rebuilding and Re-Framing our emotional selves), planting a Seed of faith as we Regenerate and Reconnect our hearts and our hands to the earth, leading ultimately to manifestation in the Soil of our Reactivated lives!  

Currently, Brandi serves on the following boards: The North America Permaculture Magazine, Northern California Resilience Network and the Northern California Women in Permaculture.


  

Fabiola Ortiz Valdez (she/her/ella)

Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA)
Syracuse, NY

Email: fabiola@foodchainworkers.org 
Website: https://foodchainworkers.org

Fabiola is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. She worked as an organizer in her home country supporting the work of Zapatista communities in Chiapas. Fabiola has worked with migrant farmworkers in the U.S. since 2009, first as a health case manager and researcher in the egg, dairy, Apple, and blueberry industries in Maine. Later she worked as a researcher and labor organizer with dairy workers in New York at the Workers Center of CNY. She has also participated and led research projects with different immigrant communities across the country. Fabiola is currently the Lead Organizer for the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), a coalition of worker-based organizations whose members plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food, organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain. Before joining FCWA Fabiola was an organizer for the New York immigration coalition (NYIC), an organization that advocates for immigrants rights in your state.  Fabiola currently lives in Syracuse, NY, she has a MA in Cultural Anthropology and is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology from Syracuse University. 


  

Julianne Jackson (she/her/they/them)

Partnership for Safety and Justice
Oregon

Email: julianne@safetyandjustice.org
Website: https://safetyandjustice.org

Julianne is a mom, survivor, and racial justice advocate who uses her voice to speak up for change. She is the founder of Black Joy Oregon, a grassroots advocacy group that promotes Black joy, female leadership development, and culture throughout Oregon. Prior to joining Partnership for Safety & Justice, Julianne worked in social services, mental health, and community education. She also has experience as an organizer in the labor movement, and she has served as committee chair for the Salem-Keizer NAACP. In her role at PSJ, she will continue to work tirelessly to advance racial and economic justice locally and across the state. In her off-time, you can find her performing as a singer songwriter and traveling Oregon.
 

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September 5, 2021

Reflections on Labor Day with Larry Williams, Jr. of UnionBase

This Labor Day, NFG’s Director of the Funders for a Just Economy program, Manisha Vaze, met with Larry Williams, Jr., Cofounder of UnionBase, and formerly a Labor and Just Transition Coordinator at the Sierra Club and President of the Progressive Workers Union. In this interview, Manisha and Larry talked about Larry’s work and his vision for the labor movement and for building worker power.  


 
Can you start off by sharing the story of why you started UnionBase? What is the central issue you are hoping to address with Unionbase?

UnionBase is a company and tech platform focused on improving the labor movement and accelerating it’s growth. We’ve been around since 2015 and started as a search engine for unions. Based on user feedback we pivoted to becoming a communication and education platform, building the tools workers need to build power in their workplace. As we started supporting workers we realized there is a serious need for educational content on how to organize and build power in the workplace. As a result we started a magazine that now serves union locals around the United States and Canada, as well as relationships with some of America’s largest unions. 

We see our mission as not only helping people join unions but also helping unions to become better partners to the communities where they work and their members live. We’re also trying to educate people about the history of work, the future of work, and our shared responsibility in directing that future. I want to share how we can make our community and our lives better by organizing our workplaces. 

It feels like there’s a resurgence of energy around worker organizing, collective bargaining, and the labor movement. What are some issues that come up as we garner more support for the labor movement?

I want to share how we can make our community and our lives better by organizing our workplaces. 

The organized labor movement can be hard to understand but is key to empowering communities, workers, and fighting climate change. For labor to continue to grow and evolve into a more diverse and powerful movement it needs to start looking outward and engaging young people. It is more likely now than anytime before that young people do not know about the history of the labor movement and its achievements. 

Though they may come from a working class family, young people may not relate to the traditional message of pride in being a worker or even identify as a “worker”.  As some employers are having trouble finding people to do in-person jobs because of COVID-19, young people are saying, “Why would I want to be a waitress or work in an office and risk my life to make a very low wage when I can work for myself?” 

Simultaneously, some young people are excited like never before to build power for themselves and their community starting in the workplace and we see that in the increasing number of organizing campaigns happening across the United States.

Can you talk more about the experience of organizing your own workplace? What did you learn and what were some challenges?

I had the blessing of experiencing first hand what can happen when workers build for a better future but forming a union. I was the first President of Progressive Workers Union (PWU), a decentralized, independent union that was started by workers employed at the Sierra Club. PWU’s organizing efforts captured the imagination of many nonprofits workers around the country when we won what has become the model for how to represent staff who work at nonprofits. 

There are many notable victories in the contract that make Sierra Club a better organization and allowed for a much better relationship between all staff and the organization’s leadership. The first contract includes many important improvements but a few worth naming are Compensatory Time, Family Sustaining Wages and improved Paid Family Leave.

Also, the entire organization now does a yearly pay review which allows the union to ensure that there is parity amongst staff across the organization and its affiliates. Every year, the union compares salary with the MIT wage scale. Through this analysis, pay inequality impacting women and people of color can be addressed. This was a unique solution we were able to negotiate through the union contract and was a victory for both the employer and employees.

What are the benefits for major organizations when they have a unionized workforce?

In all of the places where the organization was falling down the union was stepping up to support these workers.

There are several ways that unionized workers create more value for the organizations where they work. Most people think unions only care about wages. While fair pay is important, what people don’t realize is the respect that union workers have for the work that they do. Workers in a union are more secure in their jobs and produce better work. One thing that is core to why PWU works is that most workers come to nonprofit organizations as young people hoping to change the world. Nonprofits have an unintended habit of exploiting young workers until they burn out, then replacing them with another young person. In PWU all of the unit representatives, bargaining teams, and union leadership saw a vision for changing this paradigm, and believed that forming a union was the place to achieve a vision of changing this reality and we did it. For example, recently the Intercept wrote about how the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Micheal Brune, was stepping down. All throughout that media’s reporting, and in the internal report, you can see how many ways the union took on sexual assault cases. In all of the places where the organization was falling down the union was stepping up to support these workers. 

Over the past several years and throughout this pandemic, workers have been in motion – striking and demanding better wages, health protections, working conditions and benefits in solidarity with the larger community. These campaigns have also been connecting worker justice to other social movements, like the movements to divest from policing and ICE, climate justice, and disaster recovery and relief. What do you think about these new unionization and collective bargaining efforts and what are the opportunities you see for the labor movement overall?

This is a make it or break it moment. While there is infinite opportunity for labor, success in the future is by no means guaranteed.

This moment has the potential to be a new golden age for labor and we’ve been preparing for it for the last ten years. Even prior to the pandemic, the working conditions of millions of Americans were revealed to be unbearable, and their income, which has stagnated in the face of skyrocketing living costs, is unsustainable. The pandemic has shined an even brighter light on this issue as many frontline workers lauded as heroes have been, in reality, treated as disposable. Without the protections and voice that comes with being in a union, frontline workers have been incapable of getting the hazard pay, protections, and living wages they have more than earned. Also, the labor movement has struggled to address issues of police brutality within its own membership. This is a make it or break it moment. While there is infinite opportunity for labor, success in the future is by no means guaranteed. The only answer is that people from underrepresented and impacted communities must be supported as legitimate leadership of unions. That means not just being in the room but making sure they are leading the decision making process. 

You mentioned that we’re in a make it or break it moment. What do you see as the best path forward? How might funders be supportive?

Funders should look for the people who are building relationships and doing organizing work, who have success doing it, and then figure out what is the quickest path to get the money to them with reasonable accountability but maintaining the least amount of control possible. Then they will see what their investment can do a lot better than if they request endless reports that may not reflect the value of the work being done. The people who are doing the work often have a difficult time connecting with funding opportunities despite their record of success.

I recognize the challenge for funders: they have a lot of rules and organizational things [to consider]. But, I think that there needs to be a more light weight process for making the connection between the people who need the money and the people who have the money.

Cover of Workplace Leader, a magazine for workers by UnionBase.

Also, funders should be setting an expectation that employers follow labor law and normalize unionization. Funders can take an active role in supporting workers by setting standards for their major funding recipients. For example, funders can use the MIT family sustaining wage calculator and other normative standards that help employers and workers find agreement. That way we're all on the same side and able to seek labor peace. It's about smarter decision making, engaging employers, the employees, and funders in productive conversations.

What’s next or upcoming for you and UnionBase?

UnionBase is scaling up to continue helping workers transform themselves for a new era of work. Meanwhile, we will continue to push the organized labor movement to expand outside of its comfort zone. Many workers are asking themselves, “How do you start and run a union with values centered around justice and equity?” UnionBase will be engaging in conversations with interested unions and funders to directly support the education of workers who want to organize traditional, independent and decentralized unions. 

Thank you so much, Larry! I'm really excited to see how UnionBase will continue to bloom.

 
More resources to learn about UnionBase: