Information Digest – March 2024

This month’s focus is on union victories and campaigns in the US, Sweden, Tesla, and Finland. Plus, more on transitions into AI.

Summaries of closing loopholes and gender inequality data analysis, post COVID; before the recent WGEA report on large employers’ pay gaps.

Resources

How Union Solidarity Showed a Homeless Veteran a Path Forward

David McCall

Christopher Betterley arrived at the Altamont Veterans Facility in Buffalo, New York, a few years ago needing a home, a haircut, and a fresh start after treatment for alcohol use.

He saw a sign tacked to the shelter’s dining room wall advertising jobs at the nearby Sumitomo tire plant, so he cleaned himself up, went for an interview, and quickly impressed both management and leaders of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 135L.

But while the new job opened doors for Betterley, it was really union solidarity that saved him. He learned the trade from longtime union tire builders, leaned on the USW family that rallied around him, and pieced his life back together.

As Betterley discovered, unions lift up all workers. They fight for fair treatment and look out for the most vulnerable. They provide a path forward.

Read the article here.

Ten Victories for the US Working Class in 2023

Sarah Anderson

Consider lifting a glass to the hardworking people behind these inspiring victories of 2023:

  1. The ‘Year of the Strike’
  2. Black worker organizing in the south
  3. A crack in the anti-union tech sector
  4. New trifecta states Michigan and Minnesota, pro-worker state legislators hit the ground running after Democrats won state trifectas in 2022.
  5. Cities lead the way on low-wage worker protections
  6. College campuses as labor hotbeds
  7. Stock buyback blowback
  8. Collective bargaining requirements on federally funded construction projects
  9. Trashing “junk” fees
  10. NLRB rulings on Amazon and Starbucks

Read the full article here.

The AFL-CIO Can Be Reformed, Locally and From the Bottom-Up!

Steve Early

or the past 65 years, the main locus of union democracy and reform struggles in the U.S. has been local unions, which hold leadership elections every three years and are closest to the membership. Thousands of rank-and-file workers have campaigned for more militant unionism by running for and winning local office.

Very few modern-day reformers have mounted similar challenges to the status quo in city or state labor federations chartered by the national AFL-CIO. Representing workers from different AFL-CIO affiliates, these central labor councils (CLCs) may be just as bureaucratic or dysfunctional as the individual unions that belong to them. But, structurally, most are too far removed from workplace struggles to generate many electoral challenges to incumbent AFL-CIO officials, at the local, regional, or state level.

Read the full article here.

What Swedish Mechanics Remind Us About Labor Justice

Andrew Moss

When Swedish mechanics working for Tesla walked off the job in late October, their action may not have seemed consequential to most Americans. But, by way of contrast, these workers now powerfully remind us not only of some of the most glaring defects of American labor relations, but also of pathways that can return the U.S. to a greater measure of economic equality and labor justice.

The Swedish mechanics struck because they wanted a collective agreement with Tesla, posing the first such challenge to that company in its 20 years of existence. Represented by the union IF Metall, they understood such agreements as foundational to a social fabric defined by a strong social safety net and a relatively low level of economic inequality. Despite recent declines, Sweden has one of the highest levels of union density in the world, with approximately seven out of ten workers represented by unions.

Once the Swedish mechanics took the initiative, workers in other unions and other countries soon followed suit.

Read the full article here.

Swedes Are United Against Tesla’s Union Busting

Elizabeth Braw

Telsa has also been hit by at least 12 unions in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, all refusing to service Tesla, refusing to deliver their mail, refusing to take their garbage, refusing installation of charging stations. The cars won’t be painted by the painter’s union, customs won’t clear deliveries, carpenters are not working on repair and maintenance. Musk is finding that workers are humans, and are organised and ready to resist.

Read the full article here.

A snapshot of workers in Wales’ understanding and experience of AI

Ceri Williams

Key themes from research conducted by Wales TUC on how trade unionists in Wales understand and are engaging with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their workplaces.

The research found that there is a high degree of general awareness by workers that AI is already impacting or will impact their working lives. However, the level of engagement with AI is specific to context, technology and sector. There are cross-cutting concerns spanning this varied experience, including implications for equalities.

While efforts are underway, trade unionists reported that they are generally not yet sufficiently empowered with accessible, contextualised, and detailed information to understand these specific forms and effects of AI they encounter. This is a barrier to an effective response by trade unionists.
This is compounded by widespread frustration with the limited means and tools workers have at their disposal to ensure that the AI and digitalisation transition is fair and worker-centric.

AI presents novel technical, legal, and operational challenges that threaten to deepen power asymmetries in the workplace and wider economy.

However, this dynamic should be seen in a general context of some of the harshest laws governing industrial relations in western Europe, and employment rights that are not designed to empower workers to be active stakeholders in their workplaces, regarding AI or any other issue.

AI then requires specific responses from the trade union movement within a wider project to elevate the power of workers to shape technology in their workplaces and the economy at large.

Read the full article here.

Trade union tools for local climate action

Sofie Rehnström and Johan Ha

The Swedish LO recently produced a publication mean to act as a tool for trade union clubs and elected representatives who want to work to reduce the climate impact of their workplace, secure jobs and strengthen their position in the labour market.

To make workplaces climate smart and employment proof, clubs and elected representatives should at least be aware of the following three questions. The first two questions concern what is required to reduce climate impact and the third aims to ensure that employees have the appropriate skills even after a transformation into climate smart operations.

  1. What emissions do operations cause in our workplace?
  2. What technologies or options are available to avoid these emissions?
  3. What skills are required of workers to implement this transformation and how are workers guaranteed to receive appropriate skills development?

It is of the utmost importance that the trade union movement is active in the transition to a sustainable society that will inevitably take place.

Read the full article here.

We Need a Worker-Led EV Transition That Serves the Common Good

Toly Rinberg, Martha Grevatt, Chris Viola

The same month the United Auto Workers (UAW) concluded its strike against the Big Three automakers and won its strongest contract in decades, it announced its intention to organize 150,000 workers at thirteen nonunion automakers, from Toyota to Tesla. Already, several organizing drives have gone public, with UAW announcing that 30 percent of workers at Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai plants have signed cards calling for an election, and Volkswagen workers just reporting they crossed the 50 percent threshold.

UAW president Shawn Fain has rightly focused on class politics as an explanation for the weakening of labor’s power: “The billionaire class has been taking everything, and the working class has been left scraping, paycheck to paycheck, just trying to survive.”

The UAW now has to answer an existential question looming over the auto industry: Will the electric vehicle (EV) transition be led by, and ultimately serve, the corporate class or the working class? Workers will justifiably resist the EV transition if it comes with worse pay, working conditions, and forced relocation — all of which are likely if EV plants remain largely non union, as they are now. The UAW will have to pursue an aggressive EV transition strategy that is not only worker-led and democratic but also sets class-wide organizing goals.

Read the full article here.

SAK and STTK labour confederations: Thousands in Finland say STOP! to cuts in working conditions and welfare

The Finnish SAK and STTK labour confederations today arranged a mass demonstration protesting against planned Government cuts in employee rights and social welfare, with an estimated 13 000 protestors taking part in a rally at Senate Square in Helsinki.

SAK President Jarkko Eloranta views the latest Government policy proposals as an assault on employees in many ways.

“The world of work in Finland is now being bullied in an unprecedented way, with legislative changes directly dictated in a Government programme that seeks to undermine employment conditions and social welfare. Implementation of this programme will make people increasingly insecure and powerless at work,” Eloranta insists.

Read the full article here.

Commentary on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023 (Cth)

Dr Gabrielle Golding

Prepared for www.workplaceexpress.com.au.

Dr Golding has prepared an excellent summary of the major changes in the Federal Governments closing loopholes legislation.

The summary covers:

  1. The right to disconnect
  2. Casual conversion
  3. Determining a worker’s status: a return to the ‘reality’ of the parties’ relationship

Read the full article here.

QANTAS pays women 37% less, Telstra and BHP 20%. Fifty years after equal pay laws, we still have a long way to go

Angela Jackson and Leonora Risse

Men continue to outstrip women in the salary stakes, with men’s median annual salary $11,542 greater than women’s, according to newly released data for Australian private companies. It’s a gap of 14.5%, down from last year’s 15.4%.

Men’s median annual base salary in 2022-23 of $79,613 compares to $68,071 for women.
When bonuses and overtime are added – common for high-paying jobs mostly held by men – the gap in total remuneration widens to $18,461, equivalent to 19% and hardly budging from the previous year’s 19.8%).

This is the first time that the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which annually reports gender pay gaps by industry, has released the names of actual companies and the differences in what they pay male and female employees.

In this year’s snapshot released on Tuesday, the difference is largest in male-dominated industries (including mining, construction and utilities), with a gender gap in base salaries of 17.5%.

Read the full article here.

Women still face gender inequalities at work post-pandemic

Claudine Mangen

The most recent data from Statistics Canada shows that, while gender inequalities remain fairly large between women and men, there are also some exceptions.

What accounts for this gender gap? Women’s absence in the labour force is often referred to as a personal choice for taking care of children. Many couples, faced with high childcare costs, decide that one parent should stay home. Given that men’s take-home pay exceeds women’s, this parent usually ends up being the mother in heterosexual relationships.

However, what is sidestepped in framing this as a choice are the broader societal conditions that contribute to this choice. Women’s absence from the labour force is often not a choice, but the result of factors outside their control. Child care costs and undervaluation of female dominated professions are examples here.

The report also looks at part time v full time employment and the burden of childcare falling on women.
Policy interventions, workplace reforms and community support are pivotal in creating an environment that empowers women to participate in the workforce and men to participate in carework at home.

Initiatives that address the root causes of gender disparities, such as affordable childcare, can contribute to levelling the playing field.

Read the full article here.

HILDA data show women’s job prospects improving relative to men’s, and the COVID changes might have helped

Roger Wilkins

The latest HILDA survey shows Australia’s gender gap in employment continuing to close, with progress beginning on the earnings gap.

Remarkably, the progress has continued notwithstanding the disruptions caused by COVID; there are indications they may even have helped.

The full span of the surveys through to the results for 2021 shows the proportion of women aged 18 to 64 in paid employment climbed from 64.3% in 2001 to 74.1% in 2019 before dipping during COVID and then bouncing back.

Separate labour force figures collected by the Bureau of Statistics suggest it might be as high as 76% by now, indicating that COVID may have merely dented rather than turned back progress.
Male and female earnings have been converging slower than male and female employment, but the pace has picked up.

In 2001, women employed full-time earned on average 79% of what men earned. As recently as 2016, they still earned only 78% of what men earned.

But, since then, their earnings relative to male earnings have shot up, hitting 86% in 2021.

Providing a glimmer of hope for closing the gender gaps in the labour market is that, among parents with children, we’ve seen an increase in the time men have been spending on household chores and looking after the children.

Read the full article here.

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