On the picket line

Chicago

Racist, anti-worker Acosta to head Labor Department

Alexander Acosta became secretary of Labor on April 27, the last member of Trump’s cabinet. The son of anti-Cuba reactionaries, Acosta clerked for archconservative judge Samuel Alito before his appointment to the Supreme Court and was a blatantly anti-worker member of the National Labor Relations Board. His actions as assistant attorney general in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush also exposed him as a virulent racist. In an Ohio voting rights case in 2007, Acosta sided with Ohio Republicans who engaged in a racially motivated, illegal tactic known as “vote caging” — challenging the credentials of 23,000 mostly Black voters.

Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, was “astonished” that Acosta would “lead a federal agency tasked with promoting lawful hiring practices and safe workplaces,” since a 2008 federal report “found actions taken during Acosta’s tenure politicized hiring decisions and violated Justice Department policy and federal law.” (Rewire, Feb. 16) But Acosta fits right in with other Cabinet members who head departments they ideologically oppose and want to destroy.

However, Aiesha Meadows McLaurin, a Burger King worker and Fight for $15 campaign member, was quoted by Rewire as saying that activists will continue the fight to raise the minimum wage. “We’ll keep taking to the streets, standing up and speaking out until we win $15 [per hour] and union rights for all.”

Fight at Charter Spectrum continues

Over 300 members of the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 picketed outside Charter Spectrum offices in Stamford, Conn., on April 25 in an effort to maintain health care and retirement benefits in their pending contract. The workers say Charter Spectrum’s proposed wage increases do not offset cuts in health benefits — a new $3,000 deductible — and ending employer contributions to the pension plan. As Lance Van Arsdale, Local 3’s business manager, told the Stamford Advocate on April 25, Charter Spectrum is also penalizing workers for its own faults — disciplining workers for service problems caused by the company’s “old and faulty” equipment. These are among the many reasons why 18,000 in-house cable technicians have been striking since March 28.

NY unions behind state ‘Medicare for All’ system

With Trump’s second attempt to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act already sliced and diced from both left and right, unions in New York state are supporting the New York Health Act, which would be a state-run, Medicare-style, single-payer system. It now has 30 co-sponsors in the state Senate and endorsements from more than 40 unions and labor groups, including the state’s largest health care union, 1199SEIU, and the New York State AFL-CIO and Western N.Y. Labor Federation. The New York State Nurses Association has been campaigning for such a system for more than 25 years.

Richard Gottfried, Assembly Health Committee chair and the bill’s sponsor, said the major reason that labor is behind the bill is that health care has increasingly become a flashpoint in union bargaining — the Charter Spectrum strike is a prime example. Being forced to focus on that, he noted, doesn’t allow enough leverage to negotiate for better wages and pensions and often results in larger deductions, higher copays and narrower networks. ”As nurses, we look at the health outcomes. As union members, we look at the costs. On both sides, [the New York Health Act] is a much more effective and rational solution,” said Steven Toff, NYSNA director of state campaigns.

A similar bill was introduced in California on Feb. 16. (LaborPress, April 18)

New York City agrees to pay

A crowd in red plastic raincoats cheered on April 4, Equal Pay Day, on City Hall steps at the news that the city had finally settled the Communications Workers Local 1180 lawsuit charging wage discrimination. Though the agreement must still be reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department, the case covers more than 1,000 women and people of color who hold the civil service title of administrative manager and 300 retirees. The settlement, upwards of $250 million, will bring current employees in line with the $93,000 salary target and compensate retirees for many years of wage discrimination. (Chief-Leader, April 14)