May 21, 2020

Strike Watch: From Food to Fashion, Workers are Countering Corporate Talking Points with Organizing for Economic Security and Protection

Updates from the Front Lines & How Funders can Support Growing Movements

As mostly-conservative state governors and the federal government enforce rapid re-opening and block closures in some sectors like meatpacking, workers continue to put their livelihood on the line to protect themselves through strikes and other actions. Employees are coalescing under the banners of established labor (including in the first union election since the pandemic), worker advocacy and organizing non-profits and a new crop of grassroots unions. These endeavors are exposing the hollowness of multinational companies like Walmart’s public relations campaigns thanking workers or making conspicuous donations, while ignoring their own worker demands for basics like paid sick leave. Even marketers are taking notice and asking if, in one industry analysts’ commentary, “employees and these coalitions, specifically, will become just as influential as shareholders on some levels.”

In some manufacturing sectors, the benefits of strong organizing and early strikes are showing. In GM plants, strikes and United Auto Worker pressure have meant a total reorganization of production towards manufacturing protective equipment, and the company has responded to worker and union demands for sanitized, safe, streamlined conditions. But such measures are going to be tested as thousands go back to auto work in the next week (even while the global supply chain stutters due to closures in Mexico and other areas).  

The fight is only growing in a range of other production sectors, including apparel factories from Selma, Alabama to Bangladesh. The clothing manufacturer Everlane saw it’s progressive brand image focused on an ethical supply chain vaporize when it fired 300-plus workers in the midst of the crisis, targeting most who were trying to unionize via the Communication Workers of America.

In the service sector, the SEIU-led Fight for $15 has continued actions that include one-day strikes, protests and lawsuits targeting McDonalds and other fast-food companies – the latest held in 20 cities on Wednesday, May 20th. In dozens of states, workers are falling sick in these restaurants, but neither workers nor communities are being informed. Workers are calling for “$15 x 2” hazard wages, protective gear, and paid 2-week work-site closures when there is illness. Companies are falling back on the same excuses of franchising, while instituting almost-comedic “incentives” like a free meal or, even worse, themed days like “crazy sock days”.

Receiving most media attention has been logistics and grocery workerslike Amazon, Instacart and Whole Foods workers who have staged many recent strikes, including a walkout May 1st. Part of this is in response to the limited nature of reforms instituted – including the planned expiration of hazard pay in early May – that have become even more glaring with Jeff Bezos’ soon-to-be-trillionaire status.

Multiple warehouse work sites in at least four states continue to organize under a new umbrella, Amazonians United. These are linked to both a global Amazon Workers International and the tech-worker led Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. The Amazonians United organization has released an article detailing its approach: they note their work in fact predates COVID-19, when workers organized in Summer 2019 in Chicago for water during the hot summer, and that their strategies include bottom-up worker committees that are the hallmark of a solidarity unionism model.

Meanwhile, when major grocery chains like Kroger (which owns Ralphs, Fred Meyer and QFC) also attempted to roll back their $2-hazard pay on May 17, unionized workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 in Los Angeles struck across grocery sites in Southern California – including in stores where several workers lost their lives. They were able to get additional $400 bonuses nationally, now labeled “thank you” pay,” with continued organizing planned by the union. UFCW scored another striking win when cereal packing workers for the private-equity created Hearthside Food Solutions in Memphis voted to unionize this week in the first union election since the pandemic, frustrated with issues including the reliance on temp employees and a lack of pay increases (except for management) post-COVID-19.

Newer to the supply-chain strike lines are truck drivers – who have blocked roads and held caravan protests. Among the first industries deregulated in the 1970s, they have challenges including fragmentation and independent status, yet coordinated grassroots protests in at least 8 states are showing signs of new worker-led integration. Such efforts open up the question of how independent workers can be better represented in now-growing labor movements. Some aren’t waiting for the answer: the budding home-based childcare union in California that gained recognition last November has shifted its organizing on a contract to helping the small business owners it represents survive, as its’  caregivers advocate in support of shifting their state-subsidized services to support other essential workers.

Agriculture and meatpacking continue to expose the areas of production that are often invisible from an urban lens. In the rural Yakima Valley of Washington (an area that has seen significant Latinx demographic shifts in the state), new independent farmworker unions like Familias Unidas por la Justicia  - led by mostly by women – have shut down at least six apple picking sites. With the rural area now hardest-hit with COVID-19 in the state, workers are asking for testing, paid sick leave, and protective equipment, and have already secured additional pay after a walkout at one company.

Meatpacking workers are organizing in response to massive outbreaks in US and Canadian factories, facing down sustained lobbying and advertising campaigns by billion-dollar global food conglomerates JBS (and subsidiaries like Pilgrim’s Pride), Smithfield, Cargill and Tyson. Following massive walk-outs, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 in Greeley, Colorado and other sites are pushing the state government to enforce measures, with some success in securing massive cleanings. Organizations like the Rural Community Workers Alliance (RCWA) are turning to legal avenues to sue Smithfield for its continued unsafe conditions, like scheduling breaks at once that cramp workers into one location.  The sporadic closure of other plants has led to speed ups at others, like the Milan, Missouri plant under the RCWA suit, with employees receiving short breaks totaling 60 minutes for 11-hour shifts. Unfortunately, the case was recently thrown out by a federal judge of the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Packing plant workers are pushing for a re-organization of work, including staggered starts, shifts and breaks, as well as physical investment in partitions and expanded meal and break space. Like many sectors, employees are also calling for full pay for vulnerable and sick workers. Farm work and meatpacking have historically seen vehement anti-union efforts by companies, while relying upon a multi-racial (Latinx, indigenous, Black, and Asian) mostly-migrant workforce. Successive migration laws criminalizing workers and new waves of raids terrorizing work sites have added to a climate of fear and exacerbated existing labor shortages. These realities converge to create a disastrous situation for immigrant and/or Black workers who, via growing women-led multi-racial organizing, are refusing to let their market and policy-created vulnerability be confused for expendability.

Over 200 strikes have occurred since March 2020. Although the increase in strikes is significant and specific to the coronavirus crisis, it’s important to note that it follows a surge trend in strikes since 2018, as reported on by the Economic Policy Institute, showing that even before the public health crisis workers have been escalating their tactics to win improved rights, standards and job quality.

The Coordinating Committee of NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy is calling on its members to proactively respond to the growing demands of workers. We’ve developed a set of responses that you can take to support workers in this moment, including:

  • Support organizing and power building efforts and infrastructure, specifically among Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities and worker-led organizations, as they are hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Support, strategize and collaborate with labor unions and worker centers. To learn more about how, save the date for the FJE co-hosted labor and funder strategy call on June 10th at 10am PT.
  • Move resources to organizations educating and advocating for specific federal policies that will permanently impact and protect workers, like: unemployment insurance for all, permanent paid family and sick leave (not just as an emergency measure), pay guarantees for all, PPE for all workers, and negotiated protections and worker voice through stimulus funds that go to particular industries. FJE will be coordinating with you and other philanthropic affinity groups to share specific strategies to support workers in particular industries.
  • Support workers on strike through direct relief and general operating grants to community and worker-led organizations and/or union collaborations. Check out NFG’s COVID-19 relief resources page for the latest information about how funders can support groups and the JustFund Portal to learn about the resource needs of community groups.

For more information and/or to join NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy network, please email Robert Chlala, Program Manager of Funders for a Just Economy: robert@nfg.org, and follow us on Twitter: @FundJustEconomy

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June 26, 2020

Strike Watch: Workers refuse to relent for Black lives, as COVID-19 workplace dangers expand

If there is an image that encapsulates the continued expansion of worker-led direct action in the last few weeks, it is Angela Davis on Juneteenth. With her fist raised high and face mask tight, Dr. Davis stood strong out of a roof of a car moving through a massive strike linking dockworkers and community to shutter the Port of Oakland for 8-plus hours. Led by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shipping and transport workers, 29 ports were shut down as tens of thousands came together, and drew connections by featuring speakers such as fired Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls between the racial violence of police and that of powerful corporations.

Payday Report tracked more than 500 strikes from the first protest for George Floyd at the end of May to a nationwide day of action on Juneteenth. In Minneapolis in the days after the murder of George Floyd, workers showed solidarity in ways ranging from unionized bus drivers refusing to transport police to direct action by teachers to remove police from schools. Journalists also have confronted racism in their institutions, such as the 300-plus sickout at the New York Times to challenge Arkansas Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for military action against protestors. Workers, small businesses and community collaborated on a Washington State-wide day of action where dozens of businesses shut down and employees skipped work to support of Black Lives Matter and confront white supremacy. 

Unions are also taking strong stances on the efforts to divest and defund from police (see our NFG resource for funders here) and invest in real community need and safety, including a wide ranging set of locals in the Bay Area supporting this call directly. Locals like UNITE HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles have confronted recent police killings such as the murder of 18-year old Andres Guardado (whose father is a union member) by the LA Sherriff Department (LASD) in Compton. The local joined street protests and signing on to BLM and abolitionist-led calls for a #PeoplesBudgetLA and a Care First budget defunding the LASD.

Using one’s workplace power to support anti-racism has also morphed among professional class workers “at home.” Dozens of scientific institutions, from journals to university departments, also #ShutDownSTEM to force reflection on entrenched racism in the US and support for Black lives.  #Sharethemic days where white women-identified influencers ceded space to Black women anti-racist leaders like #metoo founder Tarana Burke also offered new ways to consider not only walking out, but handing over resources, space and power.

Like the ongoing strikes responding to COVID-19, workers are exposing the hypocrisy of the endless barrage of corporate statements professing #BLM while taking actions that are quite literally killing their Black and brown workers. Under the cover of slick marketing, trillion-dollar companies like Amazon and Whole Foods are cutting back low-wage worker hazard pay and other protections (won by protests), even as COVID-19 cases spike in their worksites, and even seeing BLM masks banned on the job.

Global Essential Organizing in the Age of COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases (and unemployment claims) continue their ascent in the US, and other regions of the world see dangerous resurgences, mostly Black-, Latinx- and API- (including and especially migrant)-led worker organizing for basic protections has not let up either. The latest waves of strikes organized by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) among dozens of apple picking and packing sites in Washington state’s Yakima Valley saw a significant victory with a signed collective agreement for safety and hazard pay among dozens of different apple picking workers earlier this month.

Mosty-migrant meatpacking workers globally – from Germany’s hinterlands to Hyrum, Utah – continue to demonstrate n the face of outbreaks in plants. Unionized nurses represented by National Nurses United and different SEIU affiliates are striking nationwide against the large US corporate hospital chain HCA Healthcare for still failing to provide Personal Protective Equipment (while cutting staff) starting Friday, June 26. Disney workers, meanwhile, attempt to stave off a disaster at their multi-billion dollar company seeks to re-open its theme parks in July.

Months of essential worker strikes are becoming entwined in an even broader sea of actions for Black lives and calling, in many cases, for police and prison abolition. Angela Davis reflected in an interview on the same day as the Juneteenth strike: “Activists who are truly committed to changing the world should recognize that the work that we often do that receives no public recognition can eventually matter.” The power reflected in ongoing strikes has been built at the grassroots through base building and other work for numerous years. Dr. Davis’ words are in many ways a call to action for philanthropy: how will funders fully recognize and support the immediate and long-term building necessary for worker-led organizing and power? And as major institutions like universities look inward, will foundations reflect on their own perpetuation of racism and corporate power - from external investments to internal practices?

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

June 25, 2020

$50million for M4BL - See You There

Dear Donors, Funders, and Resource Mobilizers: 

The Movement for Black Lives mounted a significant SixNineteen Juneteenth weekend of actions in a matter of weeks. Virtually, over 185,000 people viewed M4BL-TV to celebrate, mourn, and learn. Over 650 in person and online actions took place in cities and communities across the nation, and globally. For context on the strategy behind this weekend of action we recommend the first episode of the People's Action Podcast The Next MoveMaking Meaning with Maurice Mitchell

We are deeply moved by Black Leadership and now we are getting closer to a world where defunding police and building new visions of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery are not just possible, but are inevitable.  This month alone, we’ve seen:

·  A veto-proof majority in the Minneapolis City Council pledged to take steps to eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a community alternative.

·  The mayor of Los Angeles announced that the city’s police budget would be cut by $100-150 million to reinvest it in programs to create better conditions for Black residents,

·  The public perception of policing and racism has shifted dramatically, with 54 percent of Americans supporting the uprisings.

·  And dozens more victories listed here.

We asked you to meet the courage of M4BL’s Juneteenth action by moving resources with integrity and speed. We asked you all to resource our movements working to Defend Black Lives by breaking the rules: give more than 5% from your endowments, trust Black leadership, and remove habitual philanthropic red tape. We responded to M4BL’s call to philanthropy and stated that $50M is the floor, and it is more than possible if we are prepared to fund the Movement for Black Lives like we want them to win. Your commitments so far is the proof point - you were listening! We are grateful for the ways you have shown your solidarity so far. 

Our first goal was to raise half of it by the end of June - $25M. We need your support and solidarity over these next seven days and beyond.  

In 14 days we have raised $18M in commitments, pledges and cash on hand. We have $7M to raise in 7 days and a week to make our first goal.  Solidaire Network and Resource Generation have both pledged to organize their members, and we’ve had contributions come in from the $10,000 to $5M range. Some of you have even pledged for 10 years, demonstrating your commitment not just to the moment but to the long term movement that’s needed to win. 

As a reminder, here are the four ways we need you to show up for Black lives: 

  1. FIRST: COMMIT. If you haven’t done so yet, complete this survey with your own pledge today.
  2. SECOND: ORGANIZE. We need you to organize your institutions, boards, friends, family, funder affinity groups -- the communities you can and have organized to move resources.
  3. THIRD: GIVE. We ask that you make a generous one-time donation and a sustainable recurring donation to M4BL and its ecosystem here.
  4. FOURTH: FOLLOW THROUGH. Get ready to share with us what you are prepared to do, and what philanthropic “rules” you are prepared to break to Defend Black Lives today.

In struggle, 

Funders for Justice and our donor-organizing partners for the Movement for Black Lives 

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