Category Archives: Labor Organizing

Unions are Feeling the Love, While Weaker

Pearl River     Even here along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River, the temperature has edged down a couple of degrees, signaling Labor Day’s arrival.  In my time this meant school was starting and no matter what the thermometer read, it was fall, doggone it, and time to pull out the long-sleeved shirts and get ready to hump it for another year.

Labor Day now means union-time for me, not school days.  At the Regional Transit Authority where we represent workers along with the Amalgamated Transit Union and the electricians, they are grilling hot dogs and hamburgers under the breezeway at the A. Philip Randolph RTA building.  Maybe the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO will try to have its picnic in City Park, a tradition we restarted when I was Secretary-Treasurer of that body, but given social distancing and Covid-19, maybe not?  Riding bikes in the evenings along the Mississippi Sound between Waveland and Bay St. Louis over the weekend, we saw lots of picnics, but no union banners.

For unions, these are contradictory times.  According to the new Gallup poll, we’re feeling the love with 65% public support, the highest in seventeen years.  Their poll shows that,

Democrats’ current 83% approval of labor unions is the highest on record since then. At the same time, 45% of Republicans and 64% of independents approve of unions.  In 2009, 66% of Democrats, 29% of Republicans and 44% of independents viewed labor unions favorably. Since the Great Recession, union approval has recovered among all three major party groups.

With huge unemployment underlining the fact that job security means almost nothing whether you are table server, an airline attendant, or a school worker, more workers are at least wishing that they had a union, and that’s good news.

On the other hand, 30 million on unemployment benefits with a lot of those union members as well, means unions are facing cutbacks in many cases as dues income drops.  Workers could be ringing the phones at union halls and find more answering machines and less follow-up on organizing plans.  Unionized janitors, casino workers, and a pile of manufacturing workers have found themselves on the unemployment line.  Salaried, professional, and office-based workers have largely been able to return to work, even if remotely, but service, industrial, and other workers remain on the bench as the economy still struggles with the pandemic and reopening.

We’re hardly in shape to muster the resources for great drives, even if workers were clamoring for help.  For all his faults, there are also no John Lewis-types out there ready to rally either the institutional unions or the unorganized to wave our flags.

Certainly, there are opportunities.  Teachers are standing up over health-and-safety concerns, but given the way the administration and OSHA have walked away from the issue, the same need – and demand – for collective action exists in all workplaces.  Joining with the unemployed, many of them union members, to demand more benefits and security, and leading the way is another obvious path we could pave.

Or not.

It’s unclear if hunkering down and hoping for the best is a winning strategy.  Certainly, it hasn’t proven to be over recent decades, so it’s unclear how well it will work in the current crisis we face now.

The good news is that people love us again.  The bad news is we may be in no position to return that love.

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Navigating the Eviction Relief Labyrinth

Pearl River     All of the headlines read that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had directed no evictions for the rest of the year.  Before we do the happy dance, it’s best to read the fine print, because there is a lot of it.  For those force fed the biblical traditions in their youth, you might remember, and for others welcome to the story, how difficult it is for a rich man to get to heaven, another story in that tradition.  Reportedly, it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle.  That’s a mental picture not soon forgotten!  Remember that as you read the details on not being evicted, because you may come to believe it might have been easier to crawl through the eye of a needle as well.

Income at first glance seems not to be the issue.  Couples can make less than $200,000 and individual’s less than $100,000 in something called “expected income.”  If you’re waiting at the dock for your ship to come in, make sure the load is less than these figures.  If you received a stimulus check with a letter from President Trump earlier in the year, you should qualify on this score automatically.

Initially, I read that you had to have lost income because of Covid-19.  It seems that if you can establish “substantial” decrease in household income or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical bills, defined as over 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, you’re good to go on this count.

Here’s a kicker though.  The CDC order is not a rent relief, amnesty, or a moratorium.  It claims to be eviction relief, which is a big difference.  You have to be making your best effort to pay your rent in a timely fashion with partial payments as near the full bill as your fixed expenses will allow.  I can already hear the office phones ringing off the hook in a couple of weeks when tenants are being evicted for nonpayment and didn’t understand they needed to treat the landlord like a layaway and put something down every month and on the due date.

That’s not all of course.  Even if you hit the marks so far, you also have to prove that you would be homeless, forced into a spot even more expensive and past your budget, or squeezed into an overcrowded situation where Covid-19 might be your roommate.

Make it through all that and maybe you might be in the clear, but your landlord can be the devil in these details, given how subjective many of them are, and toss you out, claiming you aren’t qualified.  At that point, heaven was a dream, and you are now in housing hell.

The CDC suggests you write a declaration of sorts, kind of a self-certification so you will be ready for war.  Advice in the Times suggests you get ready for housing court or find a lawyer.  We must be talking about some high-end evictions in some fine cities, because most of this advice won’t make it for the vast majority of tenants being pushed towards the street.

Oh, and just to be crystal clear, come January 2021, if you managed to make it with your landlord through this year, you will still owe all the rent that you didn’t pay, maybe with interest and penalties.

The landlord who violates the CDC order, technically, could be subject to up to $100,000 in fines and one year in jail or both, and that’s if no one dies from the virus in which case the fine could be $250,000.  I’d have to see that to actually believe it.

Might be easier to watch that camel try to crawl through the eye of a needle.  Good luck!

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