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Bay Area Transit Unions Join Forces to Win Safety Protections and Beat Back Layoffs

By Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, January 12, 2021

Transit workers have been hit hard by the pandemic. Last year at least 100 from the Amalgamated Transit Union and 131 from the Transport Workers lost their lives to Covid-19.

Before Covid, transit unions in the Bay Area—six ATU locals, and one local each of TWU and the Teamsters—often faced their individual struggles in isolation. But during the pandemic, these locals united across the region and came together with riders to demand protections for all.

That unity forced reluctant politicians to make Covid safety a priority. It also set the stage for the unions and riders to team up again to stave off layoffs. And there are more fights ahead.

PUBLIC TRANSIT STARVED

More than two dozen public transit agencies serve the Bay Area. They include MUNI in San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit, AC Transit in Oakland, Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, and Golden Gate Transit, which links San Francisco with counties to the north.

As a public service, transit depends on government funding. Yet federal support for operations—keeping the buses and trains running—was eliminated in 1998. Since then, federal funding has been restricted to capital projects, like buying buses or building light rail.

This austerity led many transit systems to cut service and raise fares. With each new round of cuts, union jobs were eliminated and vacancies left unfilled. A “death spiral” set in: cuts and fare hikes drove riders away; fewer riders meant less revenue.

With the onset of the pandemic, transit ridership plummeted, most dramatically on commuter systems that carry white-collar workers to downtown offices. But local service became more important than ever. Today over a third of transit riders are essential workers.

In March, the CARES Act earmarked $25 billion for emergency transit funding. Departing from past federal policy, this funding was eligible for operating expenses to keep workers on the payroll.

A new regional coalition called Voices for Public Transportation had been taking shape in 2019, bringing together unions and riders to push for more transit funding. When the pandemic hit, this coalition turned its attention to the urgent organizing for safety measures, and participation continued to grow.

Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia and Clean Energy Transition Programs for Pennsylvania: Job Creation, Economic Recovery, and Long-Term Sustainability

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk - Political Economy Research Institute, January 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in Pennsylvania, as with most everywhere else in the United States. The pandemic is likely moving into its latter phases, due to the development of multiple vaccines that have demon-strated their effectiveness. Nevertheless, as of this writing in mid-January 2021, infections and deaths from COVID are escalating, both within Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S. Correspondingly, the economic slump resulting from the pandemic continues.

This study proposes a recovery program for Pennsylvania that is capable of exerting an effective counterforce against the state’s ongoing recession in the short run while also build-ing a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term recovery. Even under current pandemic conditions, we cannot forget that we have truly limited time to take decisive action around climate change. As we show, a robust climate stabilization project for Pennsylvania will also serve as a major engine of economic recovery and expanding opportunities throughout the state.

Read the text (PDF).

Unions and Youth together: A Just Transition for climate ambition

People Power in the Coronavirus Depression

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, November 4, 2020

As we enter an era of constitutional crisis, contested government, intensifying pandemic, and mass economic disruption, the future of democracy will depend on popular mobilization. The earlier commentary “Fighting the Great Depression – From Below” described the grassroots unemployed, self-help, labor, and other movements of the early years of the Great Depression. “The Unemployed vs. the Coronavirus Depression,” “Self-Help in the Coronavirus Depression,” “Striking in the Coronavirus Depression,” and “Workers vs. the Coronavirus Depression” described the recent stirrings of grassroots action for health and economic protections in the coronavirus era. This commentary examines the grassroots response to the coronavirus as a whole. An upcoming commentary will examine the role of people power in the period of turmoil that lies ahead. The latest from Jeremy Brecher. To read this commentary, please visit this page.

Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia & Clean Energy Transition Programs for Ohio: Job Creation, Economic Recovery, and Long-Term Sustainability

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk - Political Economy Research Institute, October 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in Ohio, as with most everywhere else in the United States. This study proposes a recovery program for Ohio that is capable of exerting an effective counterforce against the state’s economic collapse in the short run while also building a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term recovery. Even under current pandemic conditions, we cannot forget that we have truly limited time to take decisive action around climate change. As we show, a robust climate stabilization project for Ohio will also serve as a major engine of economic recovery and expanding opportunities throughout the state.

The study is divided into five parts:

  1. Pandemic, Economic Collapse, and Conditions for Reopening Ohio
  2. Clean Energy Investments, Job Creation and Just Transition
  3. Investment Programs for Manufacturing, Infrastructure, Land Restoration and Agriculture
  4. Total Job Creation in Ohio through Combined Investments
  5. Financing a Fair and Sustainable Recovery Program

Read the text (PDF).

Labor, Environmental Groups Urge Emergency Action to Protect Frontline Workers From COVID-19

By Various - Center for Biological Diversity, et. al., August 11, 2020

Legal Filing Demands Trump Administration Use Defense Production Act to Provide PPE, Prevent More Deaths, Illness

WASHINGTON— Labor unions representing health care workers, teachers, transit operators and millions of other frontline workers joined with environmental groups today to demand that the Trump administration take emergency action to provide adequate masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment to these essential workers.

The legal petition demands that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf act immediately to ensure the manufacture and distribution of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). The Trump administration has refused to properly manage PPE production and distribution, leaving states and industry to compete and frontline workers short of supplies.

“It’s terrifying to risk your life every day just by going to work. It brings a lot of things into perspective,” said Rick Lucas, a registered nurse at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and president of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization local of the Ohio Nurses Association. “I’m not going to give up on protecting my patients, even though it’s clear the federal government has basically given up on protecting us. More than 100 of my coworkers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and many of those positive tests were due to occupational exposure because of lack of PPE. This is inexcusable.”

Today’s petition was submitted by some of the nation’s largest labor unions — representing essential workers in healthcare, education, transportation and service sectors — including the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, National Nurses United, American Federation of Teachers and Amalgamated Transit Union. The groups collectively represent more than 15 million workers in frontline industries that have suffered thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of illnesses from COVID-19.

“The Trump administration is AWOL on safety and refuses to help the front-line workers who are still in desperate need of more PPE,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “It is unconscionable, it is costing lives and in this petition America's essential workers are demanding answers, and most of all, action.”

In March President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders declaring a national emergency due to COVID-19 and delegating broad powers to Azar and Wolf under the Defense Production Act. The act is designed to ensure the provision of essential materials and goods during public health emergencies. The secretaries have failed to fully utilize their authority, leading to a shortage of PPE.

Southern Struggles in Transit During Covid-19: Safe Jobs Save Lives Campaign

By various - Southern Workers Assembly, July 12, 2020

Transit workers, particularly in the public sector, have been on the frontlines of struggle in the midst of both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprising. Numerous successful job actions, work stoppages, and strikes have been held by workers in Birmingham, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia, among many other cities throughout the South and the U.S.

These struggles have largely elevated health and safety demands for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), better sanitizing of buses and transit centers, and social distancing - for transit workers and passengers alike - alongside calls for hazard pay. Many frontline essential workers rely on public transit to get to and from their jobs, a reality that has been reflected in many of the fights that have broken out in transit during this period.

Because of the failure of reactionary state governments that have capitulated to the demands of capital and other right-wing forces who have called for a quick return to business as usual, alongside the woefully inadequate for profit healthcare system in this country, COVID-19 cases are once again spiking across the U.S. and particularly in the South.

In April, the Southern Workers Assembly launched the Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign to advance the organization of workers at the workplace and to build solidarity formations such as local workers assemblies, particularly in light of the many struggles breaking out in response to the crisis and a system that values profit above all else. The SWA views the development of this type of organization as critical to confront the two pandemics facing workers, particularly Black workers - COVID-19 and racism.

What can all workers learn from the struggles waged by transit workers during this period? How can we continue to build a regional Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign, alongside the formation of workers unity council and workers assemblies? Join us for the discussion that will take up these and other questions.

Putting California on the High Road: a Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030

By Carol Zabin, et. al. - University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, June 2020

Over the last 15 years, California has emerged as a national and world leader in the fight to avoid climate disaster, passing a comprehensive and evolving suite of climate measures to accelerate the transition to a carbon- neutral economy. The state has also emerged as a national leader in embracing economic equity as a goal for state policy, charting a path towards a new social compact for shared prosperity in a rapidly changing world. Meaningful commitment to both of these goals—ensuring that all Californians thrive in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy—requires the development and implementation of a bold agenda that aligns California’s ambitious climate and workforce action plans. This report presents a framework for California to advance that agenda.

Assembly Bill 398 (E. Garcia, Chapter 135, Statutes of 2017) required that the California Workforce Development Board (CWDB) present a report to the Legislature on strategies “to help industry, workers, and communities transition to economic and labor-market changes related to statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.” To fulfill this mandate, the CWDB commissioned the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, to review the existing research in the field and prepare this report. The summary presented here describes the key concepts, findings, and recommendations contained in UC Berkeley’s full work.

The statutory language of AB 398 makes clear that this report should address workforce interventions to ensure that the transition to a carbon-neutral economy:

  • Creates high-quality jobs;
  • Prepares workers with the skills needed to adapt to and master new, zero- and low-emission technologies;
  • Broadens career opportunities for workers from disadvantaged communities; and
  • Supports workers whose jobs may be at risk.

This report presents a comprehensive strategy that identifies roles for state and local climate, economic development, and workforce development agencies in achieving these goals, alongside key partners such as business, labor, community, and education and training institutions. All recommendations align with the CWDB’s Unified Strategic Workforce Development Plan, which has put forth a set of actions to leverage and coordinate the state’s myriad workforce and education programs to support high-quality careers for Californians. In keeping with the statutory directive, the report discussion is further enriched by comments provided to the CWDB through a series of stakeholder meetings held in July and August 2018.

This report builds upon the framework established in California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan (Scoping Plan), which presents a roadmap of policies and programs to reach the climate protection target in Senate Bill 32 (Pavley, Chapter 42, Statutes of 2016) of a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels. The Scoping Plan is organized into sectors based on the state’s major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and corresponding climate action measures: Transportation, Industry, Energy, Natural and Working Lands (including Agricultural Lands), Waste, and Water. This report organizes the available information from existing academic research, economic models, and industry studies for the Scoping Plan sectors and presents for each of them:

  • Information about current labor conditions and the impact on jobs of the major climate measures;
  • Guidance for policymakers, agencies, and institutions that implement climate and/or workforce policy on how to best generate family-supporting jobs, broaden career opportunities for disadvantaged workers, deliver the skilled workforce that employers need to achieve California’s climate targets, and protect workers in declining industries; and
  • Examples of concrete, scalable strategies that have connected effective climate action with workforce interventions to produce good outcomes for workers.

Reimagined Recovery: Black Workers, the Public Sector, and COVID-19

By Deja Thomas, Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, and Saba Waheed - Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at Work - June 2020

This report highlights the validity of public sector work as a solution in the response and recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic on Black people across communities in Los Angeles County. Covid-19 disproportionately impacts Black workers and communities. History shows that even once a disaster is over, Black workers and Black people across communities continue to disproportionately feel its impact far longer than other communities.

Through the most recent government data and relevant literature, this report demonstrates why and how public sector jobs should be a tool used to address the Black jobs crisis and the recovery from Covid-19, particularly in Los Angeles County.

Download (PDF).

Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress - May 13, 2020

Canada is in the midst of the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and now face an uncertain future.

Canada’s unions are proposing a set of ambitious initiatives in order to achieve a strong, sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. It is a recovery that places workers directly at the centre of every policy and strategy going forward.

COVID-19 has laid bare the underlying inequalities of our society. The labour movement has been witness to the growing divide between the have and have-nots and is ready to advise on ways to narrow the gulf to ensure fairness for everyone.

By fixing what has long been broken, we can ensure that no one is left behind in the coming phases of recovery.

The guiding principles we propose build on current government efforts to respond to economic disruptions wrought by the pandemic. These priorities aim to ensure that the economic recovery:

  • Focuses on getting Canadians back to work and fully employed in decently paid, productive jobs. As we learned from the Great Recession in 2008, joblessness and labour underutilization will persist without labour market planning, coordination and concerted action by governments.
  • Focuses on public investment in infrastructure, and on renewal and expansion of public services. Amidst general uncertainty, weak consumer demand and high levels of indebtedness, business investment will not, by itself, be the engine of recovery. Strong public investment can lift incomes and economic activity that will, in turn, stimulate business investment.
  • Focuses on being gendered, inclusive and committed to reducing inequality. The pandemic and economic shutdown have worsened insecurity and inequality, which will further slow the recovery if left unchecked. It is time to address the precarity, poor working conditions and wage discrimination in sectors dominated by women, including care work, retail and health services. This work is essential to the health and well-being of our communities and economy.

Canada’s unions reject the failed thinking and economics of austerity. Canadians remember how the Conservative Party of Canada cut spending to balance budgets in 2010, just months after the worst depths of the Great Recession. The government prioritized financial support for banks and corporations, instead of investing in people and communities. Those decisions led to years of sluggish economic growth, persistently high unemployment, growing precarity and insecurity, and rising inequality.

Read the report (PDF).

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