Category Archives: Organizing

Firing Workers for Off-the-Job Protests

New Orleans      A small notice in an email caught my eye.  A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) attorney in a newly released guidance letter wanted to make sure that employers knew that it was alright to fire workers who are involved in advocating for police reform or racial justice outside of the workplace, unless the political or social causes for their protests are directly tied to the workplace.

Was this really necessary?  Or, was it simply the fact that the NLRB now, with nothing but Trump-appointed Republicans, felt it important to do their part in joining the Trump team in pushing back during this election season on any effort to curb police abuses or stop racial profiling and attacks?  Lawyers refer to this kind of thing as “chilling,” an attempt to act preemptively to discourage workers from getting involved in protests.

All of this harkens back to the times in the South – and elsewhere — when Black workers were routinely fired for being involved in civil rights protests or boycotts against businesses that wouldn’t serve or hire Black workers.  Bosses wanted to rule the private and political life of their workers because it reflected on them and their position in a racist social structure where they couldn’t control “their” people.  With long memories, we can also recall workers fired for demonstrating against the war in Vietnam.  The examples are endless, but is this the American way?

Not really.  Read closely this NLRB advisory and note that protests by workers are still protected if they are tied directly to the workplace or its issues.

In fact, a 2018 NLRB’s counsel memo  in a Detroit case involving a company called EZ Industrial that fired eighteen of its Mexican workers for joining the Day Without Immigrants protest in 2017 was clear on this issue. The General Counsel for the Trump NLRB, as a Maine law firm described it,

…found that the Mexican employees’ participation in the “Day Without Immigrants” fell squarely within Section 7 of the NLRA’s protection of “concerted activity” for the purpose of “mutual aid or protection” to improve working conditions or terms of employment.  The NLRB further found that Section 7 protection “extends to concerted political advocacy” when the subject matter of that advocacy has a direct nexus to employees.  Translation?  Since the Mexican workers were protesting for “mutual aid and protection” of themselves and other immigrant workers subject to possible raids and discrimination in the workplace, the “Day Without Immigrants” was protected activity under the law.

In short, there’s a way for workers to take these actions, but you have to be careful.  The whole point of the latest NLRB advisory is to discourage workers being involved in reform movements.  The whole point of unions is advising workers on how they can participate in such movements and still be shielded by the Act.

It is also worth advising workers and everyone else that, despite the machinations of the current president and attorney general, freedom of assembly is still firmly planted in the constitution.  In fact, those freedoms are the origins of the NLRB’s section 7 protections.  Most state constitutions also underscore those protections and, in some cases, expand the ability of workers to organize even while trying to keep them out of unions.

We need to make sure we’re ready to protect everyone’s rights in this fight both at work and in the streets, no matter how many ways obstacles are put in our way.

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Where’s the Health and Safety Plan?

New Orleans      Leaders and members of Local 100 United Labor Unions finally had enough of working on the frontlines without proper protection against the coronavirus in nursing homes, supported living centers, human development centers, transportation, sanitation, cleaning, schools, head start centers, and public-facing offices.  OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, requires every workplace to contain a copy of the company’s health and safety plan.  Local 100 members working for sixty different employers, public and private, came together on one day to go into their employers’ offices and demand to see the plan.

None of this came out of the blue, given the shutdown, CDC regulations, and nature of the services provided by the daily labor of Local 100 members. This concern had been a matter of constant discussion in the workplace between Local 100 stewards and supervisors, Local 100 representatives and employers.  Early in the pandemic when clients of ResCare turned positive and workers were unprotected, Local 100 filed a formal complaint with OSHA.  We’re still waiting for action.

Some workplaces have been better than others, certainly, while others have pretended that they needed to do little, slow walking everything from clear policies to protect workers and clients to inadequate personal protection gear.  Local 100, working with #NOLAPPE-Last Mile, has distributed literally thousands of face masks, shields, and isolation gowns to our workers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.  As one of our Shreveport stewards working at Caddo Head Start told the press on all-union-action-day, “We are constantly cleaning, and I’ve purchased my own masks and my own shoe covers.”

Local 100 sent requests to all their employers in recent weeks formally requesting a copy of each employer’s OSHA mandated health and safety plan.  The response was underwhelming.  One of the nursing homes in Shreveport responded.  A couple of head start companies complied in Houston and Shreveport.  At best it was a smattering at the headquarters level.  At the workplace level, Local 100 members reported never having seen the plan or informed of its existence.

Enough.

Local 100 members in a coordinated multi-state, multi-city action in full-PPE confronted supervisors in hundreds of our workplaces with all of our employers demanding to see a copy of the plan, while alerting the public and media about the action.   We’re still getting reports back on how many of workers successfully accessed reports.  We’ll count them up, and file more complaints with OSHA on the unavailability of the reports.  We will get them.

Once we have them, then the next step in Local 100’s Health & Safety Campaign, will be making sure the plans actually make workers’ health and safety a priority in the guidelines and a reality in practice.  This should have been the easy part, the harder parts are still to come.

Local 100 members are fed up.   Local 100 members are in it to win it.

It’s a fight that needs to happen everywhere.

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