Senate to Interrogate Schultz on Starbucks’ Union Busting / by Starbucks Workers United

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“After over a year of pressure from our campaign and allies, Howard Schultz is expected to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders. Schultz will be questioned under oath about the company’s anti-union behavior, with additional testimonies from unionized Starbucks workers. Join us tomorrow, 3/29, starting at 10 AM ET as we livestream the event at the link below with Starbucks worker commentary!” ~ Starbucks Workers United


Starbucks Workers United:

What’s Fueling the Graduate Worker Union Upsurge? / by Dave Kamper

The University of Minnesota’s Graduate Labor Union gathered union authorization cards representing nearly half the bargaining unit in the first 24 hours of the drive. Photo: Nolan Ferlic.

Originally published in Labor Notes on March 22, 2023

The Twin Cities saw one of its biggest-ever snowstorms the week of Presidents Day. But for labor activists the snow was overshadowed by the launch of the University of Minnesota Graduate Labor Union.

In its first 24 hours, the new union—affiliated with the United Electrical Workers (UE)—gathered more than 1,700 authorization cards representing nearly half the entire bargaining unit. Eight days in, they had a strong majority. And this week they filed for election with 65 percent support.

Such a first day bodes well for the success of the campaign, despite five—count ’em, five—previous election losses in graduate union drives at the University of Minnesota.

The timing couldn’t be better. In a space of just a few months, graduate employee unions across the country have won tremendous victories, by margins that would be the envy of dictators holding sham elections.

In December, graduate workers at Boston University, affiliated with SEIU, won 1,414-28. In January, Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization, Local 33 of UNITE-HERE, won 1,860-179, the culmination of a campaign that has lasted 30 years.

Grads at Northwestern, affiliated with the UE, won 1,644-114. At Johns Hopkins another UE affiliate, Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), won 2,053-67. In February the West Coast chimed in: the grads at the University of Southern California, affiliated with the Auto Workers, won 1,599-122.

Grad workers at the University of Chicago (also UE) voted early this year but had to wait for their vote count. The numbers finally came out this week: 1,696 yes to 155 no.

In those six elections, 10,266 workers voted yes and only 665 no—94 percent in favor, representing bargaining units covering more than 19,000 workers.

Any one of those results looks just short of miraculous. But talking with graduate employee members and leaders on several campuses, it’s clear there’s no secret strategy—just solid, old-fashioned organizing. What’s changed is that the workers are more ready than ever to fight the boss and build the union.


Graduate employees, an essential part of today’s higher education labor force, are graduate students who work for the university in return for a wage and usually a waiver of their tuition. The two largest categories are Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Research Assistants (RAs).

TAs perform instructional duties, whether leading discussion sections of a large undergraduate lecture class or teaching their own courses. They can be found in nearly every department but predominate in the humanities and social sciences. RAs are overwhelmingly concentrated in the pure and applied sciences and engineering, often working with other RAs in big labs where faculty members oversee research projects.

Most TAs and RAs have half-time appointments and are therefore supposed to work 20 hours a week, though in reality they are often working far more hours, a strong motivating factor for organizing.

The first graduate employee unions formed at public universities, mostly represented by the UAW and the Teachers (AFT), but many other unions have since gotten involved.

Grad workers at private universities won the right to organize in a 1999 National Labor Relations Board ruling, then lost it a contrary ruling in 2005, and got it back again in 2016. So they have only had a dozen years when NLRB-sanctioned organizing was possible—and they’re making up for lost time.

The big wins of the past few months have all been at private universities. Most of the new organizing drives that have yet to reach the election stage, like at Princeton and Dartmouth, are also private universities.

The grad union at Duke University in North Carolina (affiliated with SEIU) filed cards at the beginning of March for an election. If these workers win, they will be the first private-sector graduate union in a right-to-work state. Duke has responded by challenging their legal right to unionize, seeking to reverse the 2016 ruling by the NLRB.

While the crescendo of election wins may sound like it happened overnight, these campaigns have taken time. Cal Mergendahl, a chemistry TA at the University of Minnesota, said that grad workers are using “the same hallmarks of good organizing that we’ve seen elsewhere… talking to your co-workers to see what the problems are.”

Many of the campaigns we’re seeing now started in the early days of the pandemic, when, as Caleb Andrews of TRU puts it, “so many people had been told they were essential, but treated very poorly.” RAs were made to return to work without adequate Covid precautions, and efforts to get Johns Hopkins to take their safety concerns seriously were rebuffed.

Grad workers (at Johns Hopkins and everywhere else) set up organizing committees that sought leaders in every academic department, a classic structure that has served graduate unions well for decades. They found that co-workers responded best when they knew the person who was asking them to join the union.

Promise Li says Princeton University’s Graduate Students United (UE) “built a rigorous core layer of people” who “assigned people and divvied up the lists.”

“We were doing walkthroughs” of the big laboratory groups “two, three, four times a week,” says Andrews. The lab groups are so large they would find new workers to talk to every time, he said, and walkthroughs proved more efficient than trying to schedule one-on-ones with workers in advance.

Thoroughness and repetition paid off. Rendi Rogers, one of the founders of the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth (UE), estimated the group had solid organizing conversations with 70 percent of graduate employees before collecting cards, and more than 90 percent of those supported the union drive, with no more than 2 percent actively against it.


A key event at most of these campuses was the campaign launch rally. TRU had RSVPs in the “high hundreds,” said Andrews, and collected more than 1,600 cards that first day. Li recalls seeing the first authorization cards coming in at 6 a.m. on the day of the Princeton rally, which ended with more than 1,000 cards signed.

These large opening-day numbers may explain why, compared to union drives a few decades ago, universities don’t seem to be as aggressive in their anti-union propaganda. Andrews says Johns Hopkins didn’t do much unionbusting because workers had demonstrated so much unity that first day.

On every campus, pay is the top issue. “We’re really not paid enough to live here,” said Rogers. Dartmouth doesn’t offer dependent health coverage, so workers with children rely on having a partner who has a job with dependent insurance. Graduate employees are spending “half of their stipends towards housing,” said Li.

At Minnesota, according to Noah Wexler, a Ph.D. candidate at the Humphrey School for Public Policy, the grad workers “often pay back their first paycheck in student fees… Nobody here is earning a living wage.”

The union demonstrated the breadth of its support more than a year ago with a petition calling for something more than the token wage increases grad workers had been getting. When the university ignored that petition, Wexler says, workers realized “nothing will happen unless we have a real bargaining union.”


This recognition that a union was the only realistic avenue for change was a theme with all the workers I talked to. The subtle deference to authority I remember from grad worker organizing 25 years ago doesn’t seem to be much of a factor anymore.

“We’re all children of 2008,” said Andrews at Johns Hopkins. “We saw the banks failing.” With the collapse of the banks went any faith that the people in charge knew what they were doing.

Higher education is “completely failing… we need to rethink how higher education is run,” said Li. The administrators at Dartmouth, where the union filed for an authorization election at the end of February, are “cartoonishly out of touch,” according to Logan Mann, an RA in engineering.

While Dartmouth is known to most of us as an Ivy League liberal arts college, its graduate programs are all in STEM fields. This marks a change: grad unions in the 1990s and 2000s drew their base of support from the humanities and social sciences, often organizing TA-only bargaining units because there was little confidence that enough RAs would vote yes. But when MIT’s grad workers (UE) voted yes in 2022 (by 2 to 1), it sent a clear signal that RAs needed a union too.

RAs, says Princeton’s Li, “have more ‘traditional’ working conditions,” in that they are “physically concentrated all in one place,” and under the direct gaze of their supervisor—who doesn’t just control their employment, but whose support can also determine future funding, job prospects, and opportunities to publish.

In the past, that power dynamic may have cowed workers, but the RAs I talked to were motivated to fight for their rights. “So many people are struggling with advisors that don’t always act in a way that furthers their students’ interests,” said Mergendahl in Minnesota. “A lot of student workers have negative experiences with advisors on campus,” echoed Li.

Sasha Brietzke was one of nine women in the department of psychological and brain sciences who sued Dartmouth after three professors allegedly sexually assaulted and harassed them, threatening their professional futures. “It would have been nice to have had the support of a union,” she says, “to negotiate these workplace dynamics.”

Three key leaders of Harvard’s grad worker union (UAW) also filed suit against their university for violating Title IX, which requires universities to institute processes to protect students and workers from sexual harassment. “It can be really unregulated and toxic,” says Brietzke. “People are aware of the hierarchical structures and people are angry about it.”


Courage and confidence are perhaps the most notable features of these drives. Everyone I talked to spoke like someone with the wind at their back. It wasn’t cocky braggadocio—it was the confidence that comes from knowing your fellow workers and feeling they are on your side.

“We have a common language,” said Andrews, “and a common understanding of what the stakes are. I don’t think there’s anything that united labor can’t do.” The impressive results so far may just be the tip of the iceberg.

The graduate employee union movement is experiencing the kind of upsurge that labor activists dream of, when some switch flips and workers rise up as one. Even so, it’s not some kind of instantaneous reaction—it still takes organizing, by workers who can see the path to a better university

Dave Kamper is a labor organizer and writer in Minnesota. He helped form the Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Illinois in 2002.

How 250 young workers on food stamps brought a billion-dollar institution to heel / by Raegen Davis


Originally published in the People’s World on March, 24, 2023

PHILADELPHIA—Last week, the Temple University Graduate Student Association (TUGSA) ended a historic 42-day strike by overwhelmingly ratifying a contract which included far more than the Temple administration ever insisted it would give.

The union faced unprecedented retaliation, persevering as members’ healthcare was manually shut off by their employer twice and tuition fees were charged to members totaling thousands of dollars.

As an institution which consistently markets itself as Philly’s “diversity university,” Temple is an alluring place for young people looking to find an education that caters to the poor and marginalized. That made its actions against striking student workers particularly appalling.

Keeping with the Temple University tradition of students fighting for social justice in spite of their administration, graduate student workers established the first and only graduate student union in the state of Pennsylvania here in 1997.

TUGSA has since been bargaining with the university in contract negotiations every four years, and its membership has grown steadily. It presently represents over 60% of graduate workers, which is no small feat when approximately 20% of your bargaining unit leaves at the end of each year.

A few of the notable wins TUGSA enshrined in the new contract include:

  • The elimination of tiered wages.
  • An immediate pay increase to $24,000 for employees with nine-month appointments (which, for full-year employees, becomes the $32,000 the union had as its goal wage). Additionally, graduate workers will receive a $500 return to work bonus and a $1,000/year raise for each of the four years this contract covers, an impressive precedent to set.
  • Parental leave was increased from five days to three weeks.
  • The creation of a workload review committee to guard against overwork and major changes to the grievance procedure which should increase speed and improve outcomes.
  • “Funeral leave” becoming “bereavement leave,” meaning workers no longer have to provide evidence that some part of leave was specifically a funeral. Leave has increased from three to four days, and it now covers the passing of grandparents and allows for an extra five-day extension for workers having to travel internationally.
  • Dependent healthcare, which was previously not covered, is now partially subsidized, creating a foot in the door for future expansion and taking the costs down from 30% of the average salary per dependent to 13%.
  • Guaranteed access to the list of bargaining unit members before the semester begins, as opposed to the previous amorphous deadline which frequently hindered union recruitment.

As the TUGSA strike winds down and the strike wave at other employers across the country ramps up, it is worth examining this fight to see what others can glean from this strike’s success. Having been on the ground for its entirety myself, I saw a number of practices and strategies TUGSA employed which others will hopefully replicate.

Fostering leadership

TUGSA’s Contract Negotiations Team included multiple former presidents of the organization. The current president is a second-year PhD student, meaning he will be in a position to have both seen this round of contract negotiations and participate in the next one, as will his vice president. My strike captain was not the only first-year student in that position and even more first-years served as strike coordinators. This leadership structure, which engages and fosters talent early, set up TUGSA’s success from the beginning.

Strategic timing

Over two months passed between TUGSA’s strike authorization vote and the beginning of its strike for numerous reasons. As mentioned in my previous People’s World article on the strike, one of Temple University’s first strikebreaking measures was to threaten international workers’ visas. By avoiding a strike during the winter break, not only was TUGSA able to ensure international students were granted re-entry into the U.S. but also maximize picket visibility.

Additionally, unlike in most other industries, graduate workers are paid once on the final day of the month, rather than weekly or biweekly. By waiting until Jan. 31st specifically, TUGSA set up its strikers to have a month’s worth of pay in the bank, with the added benefit that Jan. 30th was Temple University’s final day to drop classes, a significant date for teaching contracts.

What “strategic timing” means for a workplace varies by industry and circumstance. TUGSA was able to adapt to the specifics of its conditions and this facilitated a more successful strike.

Radical transparency

Unions are supposed to be democratic institutions by definition, but TUGSA’s leadership was uniquely transparent with its members from the beginning. This paid dividends.

Leadership fought for open negotiations prior to the strike to ensure rank-and-file members were present to witness everything that happened and, when the administration demanded closed negotiations, diligently recounted everything they possibly could to rank-and-file afterward.


Leadership’s continued honesty with goals and expectations, sharing their perspectives and concerns, and managing the union as horizontally as possible built so much trust that when those inevitable times came that leadership was barred from sharing information with rank-and-file, we knew they were competent and respected their judgement. In return, information and rationales for decisions were shared after the fact if they could not be shared beforehand.

Solidarity between unions

From Unite Here showing up to reinvigorate the pickets with food and chants to the AFL-CIO hosting a rally for all locals despite the wind and rain, the solidarity that characterized this strike was palpable.

From the beginning, the American Federation of Teachers sent out fundraising emails to all other branches to raise money for the strike fund, and the recent Philadelphia Museum of Art Union, which had just come off strike, sent members to share information from their experiences. In fact, knowledge-sharing was one of the core facets of the inter-union relationship that benefitted TUGSA benefitted.

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The union was in near-constant communication with other academic unions around the country which had been in similar positions, sharing ideas and strategies. TUGSA even directed its members to other unions’ demonstrations during the strike and, in the days since, has made it clear that this will be the norm moving forward.

Temple University is home to nearly a dozen unions, as well as an organizing committee for undergraduate service workers, TUUWOC, that is presently fighting to unionize. TUUWOC put much of its own organizing on hold to stand with TUGSA. Meanwhile, TAUP, the union for professors at Temple, called for a vote of no confidence against the president, provost, and chairman of the board, which is presently scheduled for April 10th.

Utilizing political resources

50 TUGSA members hit up legislators for support at the state capitol on March 6. | via TUGSA

It is not abnormal for unions to send delegates to lobby state senators and representatives. It is abnormal, however, to rent a charter bus and bring 50 neon-clad strikers to the state capitol all at once to canvass virtually every office there.

TUGSA was uniquely tactful in its use of its political resources. From enlisting electeds to draw the press while strikers signed up for food stamps to networking with state officials to work as go-betweens with the administration, TUGSA effectively walked a delicate line. It managed to avoid rejecting aid from potential allies while also never leaving the workers’ fate solely in politicians’ hands.

Innovative social media usage

Going viral on Twitter is not always a guarantee of success, but TUGSA rode its luck to a fair contract. By parlaying views into donations, endorsements, and alliances, TUGSA managed to spend 42 days on strike without ever getting lost in the news cycle.

The tone of TUGSA’s social media presence was informative yet personable. Meanwhile, because rank-and-file members were not policed in their online communications, the result was a parallel set of social media accounts under the name of “TUGSA Strike Crush.” While the official accounts kept their distance and provided information, the Strike Crush accounts not only engaged the talents of social media-minded members but also provided a space for informal communications and jokes.

While other types of leaders may have been concerned about this renegade account, TUGSA embraced it, taking it as a sign of member engagement and folding it into the union as an informal, autonomous social committee.

Amplifying members’ talents

TUGSA’s response to the Strike Crush phenomenon is a microcosm of the larger strategy TUGSA utilized: giving its members space to explore and utilize their talents for the cause.

One member who’s passionate about graphic design joined together with workers from the printmaking MFA program to produce T-shirts at rallies to fundraise. Prior to the strike, one union leader with programming talents used Python to generate mass emails for the union. (Mass emails would be part of the strategy throughout the strike.)

Speaking personally, I am a political scientist who at one point conducted preliminary research for a book on protest music; they handed me a megaphone and I taught the strikers my favorite union songs. On the musical front, our picket saw everything from electric guitars to accordions to an eventual entire brass section.

The union allowed space for and encouraged members to bring their passions to the picket line. By the end, professional dancers performed in the middle of our picket lines wearing TUGSA beaded bracelets and knitted TUGSA hats. Everyone had space to bring something to the table and, when given the opportunity, they did.

Adjusting to advice

Regarding everything from how frequently to take breaks to masking guidelines, TUGSA remained unafraid to adjust to good faith criticism. Leadership and members resisted the urge to “feed the trolls,” coming with critiques from without, while simultaneously listening to and adjusting to critiques from within.

The results are palpable in the contract ratification vote—344 to 8. This does not happen without members who feel comfortable voicing their concerns and leadership which takes those concerns into account.

The parameters of a successful proposal were determined not by the negotiations team alone but by polling members and large group deliberation. Under those conditions, a successful vote was inevitable.

Collaborating with undergraduates

Neoliberal institutions like Temple view undergraduate students as “customers” of education. TUGSA was able to utilize this relationship the undergraduates had with the administration to apply pressure.

Temple treats undergrad students like customers, so those customers went on a retail revolt, refusing to cross picket lines. | via TUGSA

Learning loss caused by the hiring of unqualified scab teachers brought students to file an ongoing class action lawsuit. They risked their grades not to cross our picket line and instead held multiple walkout demonstrations, one of which included approximately 2,000 students.

On their own accord, the students formed a TUGSA solidarity committee which is continuing to operate even after the strike, rallying to ensure students who stood in solidarity with the union are not penalized for assignments they missed in scabbed classes.

Prioritizing joy and community

Burnout looms large over activist communities across the capitalist world, and unions are no different, but strike teams for TUGSA diligently guarded against fatigue by foregrounding camaraderie.

Unlike in other situations, where organizers must plan for the long-term while managing the short-term, strikes are ephemeral. They demand an “unsustainable” amount of effort because they are not meant to be sustained, and adjusting to temporary, high-level organizing can be a source of shock and overwhelm, even for seasoned organizers. TUGSA recognized this from the beginning and made sure that pickets, rather than adding stress, became the place strikers went for stress relief.

The strike fund was strategically used for communal lunches each day and healthcare costs to guarantee no one was left behind. Pickets were characterized by art, music, dancing, and banter between comrades. Strike teams became tight-knit families, and the union held more social events than before the strike, both formal and informal.

TUGSA never took itself too seriously, leaving space for jokes between chant leaders and witty slogans on friendship bracelets. The union understood that the best guarantee of longevity in an organizing space is the community it builds.

TUGSA balanced between the serious task of striking and the solidarity that can come from just having fun together. By the end, we weren’t on the picket line every day just for the wages, the healthcare, or the benefits—we were there every day because the picket line was where all our best friends were.

It was the place to cry when the administration retaliated against us, with people who understood. It was the place to catch up with one another while walking in circles for hours. It was the place where we could vent or laugh or celebrate or scream—whatever we needed, we became for each other.

Through solidarity, as the saying goes, the union made us strong. That is why we won.

Raegan Davis is a community organizer based in Philadelphia. She serves as archivist for the Philly YCL and organizes with the Temple University Graduate Student Association while working on her MA in Political Science. You can find more of Raegan’s work on Twitter, @RaeReadsTheory.

Starbucks workers take nationwide coffee break and walk off the job / by

Striking Starbucks workers took the lovable skeleton mascot out of the closet where their bosses had confined it, saying the skeleton was treated as badly as the workers. | Roberta Wood/PW

Originally published in the People’s World on March, 23, 2023

CHICAGO — How did Marvin, a lovable skeleton, become the mascot of striking Starbucks workers in this city’s historic Greektown neighborhood? This location is blocks north of the giant University of Illinois campus. It is one of more than a hundred stores in the country where the workers filed for union representation and voted to join today’s strike, even before the NLRB had a chance to schedule their union recognition vote.

According to the baristas here, management’s treatment of Marvin corresponds to their treatment of the workers and their community. Marvin “came to life” one year during the Halloween season when workers hung Marvin in the window, and he became a neighborhood fixture, decked out to celebrate whatever holiday was going on, bringing smiles to the faces of both staff and community.

“But then Starbucks District Manager Lesley Davis said we couldn’t have him,” explained Chris Allen, 22, a shift supervisor. Davis banished the beloved Marvin to the back of the house, out of sight.

“It sucks having someone else make all the decisions when you’re doing all the work daily,” Lily Haneghan, 23, told People’s World. Haneghan admitted when co-workers first discussed forming a union, she was scared. “I had no idea what a union was, and then my boss said, ‘If you unionize, you will get fired.’” That was a big threat to someone who had invested the last five years of her young life working for the company. But then she reflected, “They think of us as coffee robots. There’s no concern for our physical and emotional well-being.” Haneghan and Allen were co-strike captains.

Striking Chicago Starbucks workers let everyone know what their story is. | Roberta Wood/PW

Colin Feeley, a Communist Party member who lives nearby, didn’t come empty-handed to the demonstration. “Last night our comrades had a poster party making signs for the picket line, like ‘no contract, no coffee,’” he related. Feeley also brought a stack of fliers urging folks to “adopt a store” for ongoing solidarity. “To support workers I would have gone all the way to Buffalo Grove,” he told People’s World, but it was great to come out “right here in my community.”

The national Starbucks strike on March 22, at more than 115 stores from Anchorage and Arkansas to Seattle and Phoenix, preceded the showdown at the firm’s annual meeting over whether its union-busting is hurting the so-called progressive coffee chain’s brand.

The baristas and their allies walked out to protest the firm’s rampant labor law-breaking, orchestrated and directed by longtime CEO Howard Schultz.

The labor law-breaking prompted union pension funds and pro-stockholder investors to demand an independent audit of the impact of the law-breaking, which also defies the firm’s proclaimed standards. The proposal came up at its Zoomed annual meeting on March 23.

“The faux progressivism of Starbucks is being exposed for what it is: A marketing ploy,” said Starbucks Workers United (SWU), the union-sponsored group aiding the grass-roots organizing drive nationally.

The National Labor Relations Board filed federal charges against Schultz personally and over 500 charges it levied against the company. The number of complaints from exploited Starbucks workers to the NLRB is 1,200 and counting.

“The One Day Longer national unfair labor practices (ULP) strike demanded Starbucks fully staff all stores, give partners a real seat at the table, not an empty chair, and negotiate a contract in good faith,” SWU said.

That’s exactly what Schultz, his union-buster lawyers, and his managers haven’t done. The only two bargaining sessions the two sides ever had—after pressure on Schultz—lasted five minutes each, with the bosses, led by the union buster, walking out.

On their nationwide “coffee break,” Starbucks workers let the public know what it’s all about. | Starbucks Workers United/Twitter

That left the workers, both those on the bargaining team and hundreds more who Zoomed in, with no one to present their proposals to, said SWU, the union-funded organization aiding the grass-roots workers’ movement.

Workers walked out at ten or more stores in metro New York, four more upstate, and at least three in the Chicago area, including one in the Loop at 201 East Randolph St.

More than six years with Starbucks

Sean Plotts has worked six and a half years for Starbucks, including two and a half years as a shift manager at the Lincoln Village location in Chicago. A recent graduate, he holds an associate in arts degree from McHenry County College.

“They were once cutting edge in the fast food industry, but other companies have caught up. They are brutally cracking down on stores going union,” said Plotts.

Less than 300 stores are unionized out of 28,000, and 900 unfair labor practices are already filed with NLRB. “All we’re asking,” Plotts said, “is to be treated fairly, paid well for our services, and given the resources to serve the public. We love this job, but it’s stressful when they’re cutting hours and cutting floor coverage to save a couple of extra bucks at the end of the day.”

Plotts described this as a “union-busting” tactic, adding, “They want to flush out many tired employees. We’re all tired. People shouldn’t have to work as long as they do for little pay just so the stores can get a couple hundred more dollars at the end of the day.”

So far, Starbucks refuses to recognize the union at the Lincoln Village location. “We’ve had one bargaining session which lasted eight minutes, including introductions,” said Plotts, who expressed gratitude for public support for the strikers.

Shot the hours back

Another Lincoln Village worker, Autumn Graham, who sports shoulder-length hair, has been with Starbucks for five years. He started in St. Louis and moved to Chicago because of a toxic work environment at the store there.

“I worked at a store on Bryn Mawr Avenue (in Chicago),” he said. “We unionized in May, and they shut us down in October. We and the Clark and Ridge store were the first to organize in Chicago. They just stonewalled us. Cutting our work without telling us anything and then shutting it down and assigning us to other stores.

Graham depends on Starbucks’ health benefits, as meager as they are, and needs to work full-time to pay his bills. The company has slashed his hours, making life difficult.

“If you work 20 hours, you get benefits. Many workers struggle to get to 20, only get 17, and are denied benefits. When we unionized, they cut our hours from 20-25 to 15 hours and denied us benefits,” he said.

“Recently, they shot the hours back up because we’ve lost a lot of staff. They say business is slow, but I know from the receipts that we’re as busy as before. They ask us to do more with fewer people,” said Graham.

“If you’re a Starbucks customer, just fill out the review on your receipt and write ‘support the union, come to the negotiating table,’” he said. “They need to quit making excuses.”

Across the country, workers in 24 stores in California—including two in Sacramento and one each in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Francisco—joined them. Back East, so did workers in Boston, six stores in metro D.C., three in the Baltimore area, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Flint, Mich., Buffalo, St. Louis, and St. Paul, Minn., among others.

“As Starbucks celebrates their provenance and record profits this week, my partners have to deal with the reality that we are being nickeled and dimed to extract as much labor as cheaply as possible,” said Maria Flores of Queens, N.Y. “Our shift supervisors, who make maybe $4 more an hour than baristas, are being met with resistance when picking up barista shifts or working with other shift supervisors, and they’re struggling. Where is the disconnect?

“I’m striking because the power of workers can save the world. Our union is small but now unstoppable, and we’re ready to start making moves. The walls are closing in on Starbucks and when we negotiate I think the flood gates might open!”

“Workers unite!” her Queens colleague James Carr predicted. “I’m excited to get out onto the streets with the people, enjoy the weather, and withhold my labor from Starbucks.”

“I’m excited to join the national effort in striking! It’s so reassuring and reaffirming to be a part of something that’s bigger than just Long Island. I hope Starbucks corporate starts accepting and joining us in solidarity,” said Lynbrook, L.I., worker Liv Ryan.

The workers and SWU have won union recognition elections at 294 Starbucks stores and file daily for votes at more stores. The latest unionized stores are in Oak Park, Ill., at Lake St. and Euclid, plus Pleasanton and Sunnyvale, Calif., Ashland and Portland, Ore.—at Portland State University, and Cameron, N.C. Its latest wins were in Portland, at the Pioneer Courthouse, at 10th and Market Streets in downtown Philadelphia, at Litchfield Park, Ariz., and in Hillsboro, Ore.

Many folks supported striking Starbucks workers in Chicago on this national day of action, including Communist Party Illinois Chair Shelby Richardson and member Scott Marshall. The workers got great support from cars and trucks blasting their horns as they drove past. No one crossed their picket line to scab. Many people walking by also stopped to talk and show support. | Roberta Wood/PW

Even as Starbucks workers walked out from coast to coast this week, the NLRB caught the monster coffee chain in another anti-union tactic, literally right on its own doorstep, at Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market, home to three Starbucks stores. Starbucks created a new “’Heritage District’ to try to union-proof Pike Place, including the first ever Starbucks store,” SWU reported.

“Starting in May, Starbucks forced baristas and supervisors at those three Seattle stores to reapply for their existing positions under the premise of organizing the three stores into their own mini-district, where partners would be expected to work shifts at all three locations.

“Workers had no chance to say goodbye to coworkers and lost the sense of stability they had been counting on. They were also subjected to multiple meetings where managers illegally solicited grievances and promised improvements to prevent unionizing.

“The NLRB has filed a consolidated complaint for these three stores, and included in the remedy is the requirement that the company stop holding these meetings to solicit grievances and to ‘make whole’ the employees who were not rehired, and were functionally pushed out of their own stores.”

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People’s World. He served as national chair of the CPUSA from 2014 to 2019. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

Roberta Wood is a retired member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Wood was a steelworker in South Chicago, an officer of Steelworkers Local 65, and founding co-chair of the USWA District 31 Women’s Caucus. She was previously Secretary-Treasurer of the Communist Party. Currently, she serves as a Senior Editor of People’s World.

Scott Marshall has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and ’80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.

The fight against Starbucks law breaking goes to the shareholders tomorrow / by Mark Gruenberg

Montclair, N.J., Starbucks workers on strike today. | video screenshot via Twitter

Originally published in the People’s World on March, 22, 2023

SEATTLE—Union pension funds and pro-shareholder investment advisors are taking the fight over Starbucks’ rampant labor law-breaking to its stockholders.

At the Seattle-based monster coffee company’s virtual annual meeting on March 23, they’ll demand Starbucks name an outside auditor to determine if, or, more likely, how much the anti-union drive has hurt Starbucks’s reputation, share price and profits—and what to do next.

The firm’s answer, in a recent earnings call and in its proxy statement, where it opposes the demand, is “none at all.” Just before he retired early, effective March 20, virulent anti-union CEO Howard Schultz reported record profits in the U.S.

Schultz has orchestrated and overseen expensive opposition, complete with law-breaking, to the grass-roots drive his firm’s “partners,” as he calls the workers, have conducted with the aid of Starbucks Workers United (SWU), which in turn the Service Employees funds.

Schultz’s actions include cases where he’s been held personally responsible for labor law-breaking—formally, unfair labor practices. They feature captive audience meetings, one-on-one middle-management intimidation and verbal browbeatings of pro-union workers, denial of benefits to workers at stores that vote union, and dozens of illegal firings.

They’ve also produced at least 509 labor law violations, a nationwide National Labor Relations Board injunction—later reduced by a federal judge to cover just the Buffalo area—and five more injunctions.

One mandates Starbucks rehire the illegally fired “Memphis 7.” Another returned a barista to work in Kansas City. A separate New York City court order, saying Starbucks violated a city ordinance, sent a Queens staffer back to his job, to cheers from colleagues and bystanders.

Workers at 290 Starbucks stores have voted union, with hundreds more being organized. Its actions also hurt Starbucks’ carefully cultivated reputation for being a progressive place to work. And that’s hurt its bottom line, the shareholders resolution says. It’s also “a legal and financial risk” the pension and investment funds co-sponsoring the measure say. They demand the independent audit to document the damage, and recommend changes.

Schultz, under pressure, condescended to have his bargainers meet the workers and SWU. But his team saw workers had zoomed in from around the country to attend, and walked out of talks after five minutes, twice. The firm’s union-buster led them out.

Led by New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, whose office represents five worker pension funds which own $155 million in Starbucks stock, and two longtime shareholder advocates, Trillium and Institutional Shareholder Services, they contend Shultz’s union hate hurts Starbucks—and them.

“As shareholders, we expect and demand better from a company that claims to promote a positive work environment. The onus is on Starbucks’ board of directors to ensure that management is complying with applicable law as well as with company policy,” said Lander.

“When companies blatantly disregard and oppose their employees’ fundamental right to organize, they put their reputation on the line,” he added. “For a company as focused on the customer experience as Starbucks, continued interference with worker organizing undermines the brand, which is essential to its success.

“Workers have boldly stood up to company leadership and fought for real representation over the course of just two years, yet rather than treat them as partners —as the company calls its employees—Starbucks has taken actions inconsistent with its own stated values.

“A new standard is emerging across the U.S: any company that wants to be considered a responsible employer must genuinely remain neutral when workers organize.”

Added Jonas Krom of a second fund, Trillium: “Whether the vote is in the 30%, 40%, or 50% range, an unignorably large group of investors will be sending a message to incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan and board chair Mellody Hobson” to change. Narasimhan unexpectedly succeeded Schultz, but Schultz will still testify to the Senate Labor Committee on March 29.

The pressure on Starbucks and Schultz won’t be just inside, where everyone will meet via zoom. Schultz and the other executives will be in Seattle—and pro-worker advocates and partners will be out in the streets, where a celebration of Schultz’s long reign is scheduled.

“Starbucks, which posted $3.3 billion in profits last year, responded with a brutal, bullying anti-union campaign of threats, intimidation, firings, store closings and refusing to meet workers at the bargaining table–becoming the most prolific union-buster in U.S. history,” organizers of that event, plus walks elsewhere, said.

“Workers and their allies will converge on downtown Seattle to make it an accountability day and call on Howard Schultz and his board of directors to STOP UNION BUSTING and come to the table to bargain with workers,” they concluded.

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

New York City Retirees Fight Their Own Unions to Stop Catastrophic Health Care Cuts / by Jenny Brown

Union retirees protested the mayor’s and the the Municipal Labor Committee’s effort to change a city law protecting their health care benefits in January. The law is unchanged but on Thursday the MLC voted to shunt up to 250,000 city retirees into a for-profit Medicare Advantage plan anyway. Photo: CROC.

Originally published in Labor Notes, on March 10, 2023

Defying two years of protests and lawsuits by union retirees, New York City’s Municipal Labor Committee voted March 9 to scrap some of the best retiree health care coverage in the country. The change would put 250,000 city retirees into a for-profit Medicare Advantage plan run by Aetna.

Twenty-six unions in the MLC voted no, while others abstained. But their votes were swamped by the votes of the largest unions on the committee, AFSCME District Council 37 and the New York United Federation of Teachers.

Retirees and active members protested during the MLC vote and marched to City Hall. They are asking the city council to strengthen the law protecting retiree health care. The NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees promises to sue.

The New York City fight has wider implications as for-profit Medicare Advantage insurance companies come under fire for second-guessing doctorsblocking patient care, and ripping off the public while they reel in record profits.

What is Medicare Advantage?

In traditional Medicare, available when you turn 65, you present your card, get care, and the government pays for it.

With Medicare Advantage, a for-profit insurance company gets money from the government to cover you. But they get to take a fat cut—Medicare Advantage is now the most lucrative sector of an already-lucrative health insurance industry. And they get to say what care you can get.

Medicare Advantage plans negotiated by employers and unions do provide worse coverage than traditional Medicare. But they are generally better than the individual Medicare Advantage plans that seniors may sign up for themselves and which are advertised on late-night TV.


Medicare Advantage plans that individuals buy on the private insurance market may work out to have cheaper premiums than traditional Medicare because they wrap in a drug benefit and may cap out-of-pocket expenses. But they are notorious for denying expensive care, imposing narrow networks of doctors and hospitals, and ripping off the government.

On the other hand, union-negotiated Medicare Advantage plans are the result of insurance companies having to negotiate with unions and employers to sign up large groups of retirees, and that may restrain the most egregious abuses. Still, some retirees in negotiated plans report that they were denied care at the most difficult time in their lives.

In both cases, the for-profit insurance companies that run the plans have a strong incentive to deny care. Every dollar they don’t pay for your care is a dollar earned by shareholders and CEOs, who often take most of their compensation in stock. Stock prices are based on how little care the company can pay for.


Traditional Medicare (part A & B) costs $164.90 a month, and covers hospital costs and 80 percent of non-hospital costs. But medical costs are such that the 20 percent gap in coverage can quickly become ruinous. So the government set up a regulated market of Medigap supplements. Retirees can pay additional premiums to private insurance companies to cover the final 20 percent, and cap out-of-pocket costs.

Medigap plans can cost as little as $75 a month, but can cost hundreds more, depending on the plan, your age, gender, and whether you smoke. Unlike Medicare Advantage, however, these Medigap plans are heavily regulated.

It is this gap for which New York City union retirees over age 65 are covered by the city’s Senior Care plan. The city also pays the monthly premiums for traditional Medicare, so retirees get premium-free coverage.


States and municipalities have increasingly tried to put retirees into Medicare Advantage plans once they reach age 65. Where unions have fought the change, as in Washington state and Vermont, they have been able to prevent the switch. But in New York City, retirees have been fighting not just the city but also their own unions to keep from being shunted into a for-profit plan.

Public employees in New York City have given up a lot over the years to keep their ironclad retiree health care coverage, and it paid off until now. Along with paying traditional Medicare premiums, the city pays for a wrap-around supplement called Senior Care that picks up nearly all costs not covered by Medicare, along with drug benefits.

Leaders of District Council 37 and the UFT claim the Medicare Advantage plan will save money and provide the same coverage. But the numbers don’t add up, said Len Rodberg, a retired City University of New York health policy expert who will be affected by the change. “Medicare Advantage starts out 20 percent below what Medicare does, in terms of actual money available to spend on health care,” Rodberg said.

Traditional Medicare pays 3 percent overhead. By contrast, Medicare Advantage plans have to make a profit for shareholders, and they also pay huge executive salaries and maintain enormous staffs to protect their profit margins by delaying and denying care. In these for-profit plans, Rodberg said, “basically anything that costs money would need pre-approval.”

MLC leaders said their consultants told them the difference would be picked up by the federal government, Rodberg said. But while the federal government used to subsidize for-profit Medicare Advantage plans 20 percent over what they paid out for traditional Medicare patients, that subsidy is now down to 2 percent.

Medicare Advantage plans also cut costs by contracting with certain providers. This means the insurance company will only pay for care provided by certain doctors or hospitals. For retirees who move to states with spotty coverage, Rodberg said, “suddenly their Medicare card won’t work, cause they’re in Medicare Advantage, not Medicare.”


Retired teacher Gloria Brandman heard about the change in 2021 from friends in PSC-CUNY, the union of faculty and staff at the City University of New York. She and other teacher retirees swung into action, holding a webinar that drew 400 people. The recording of the webinar circulated widely, leading to a whirlwind of protest which forced UFT’s president, Michael Mulgrew, to hold a town hall where he tried to sell the change.

Retirees from the teachers, AFSCME, and several uniformed service unions formed a Cross-Union Retirees Organizing Committee to fight. Brandman and other CROC activists hounded newly elected Mayor Eric Adams at every opportunity.

They rallied when the MLC met: “We marched on the hottest day of the year,” Brandman recalled. They held a Valentine’s Day “Don’t Break Our Hearts, Mayor Adams” event.

In October they held a “Halloween Horror” press conference, saying “Mayor Adams, You’re Scaring Us to Death.” (“Death masks optional,” said the invitation flier).


A city law requires that all the health care options the city provides be premium-free. That law turned out to be an important backstop, and the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees sued to get it enforced. A judge agreed that it was against the law for the city to charge seniors an extra $191 per month to stay in original Medicare.

So Adams and the MLC leadership asked the City Council to change the law. They walked into a buzz saw. After vigorous protests and reams of testimony from retirees and active union members objecting to the change—which could have undermined active members’ health care as well—the City Council declined to alter the law.

In her testimony before the council, Jen Gaboury, PSC chapter chair at Hunter College said, “We know these ‘savings’ don’t come from some brand of private business magic. If you get this money, you’ll be denying care and/or delaying treatment to your own people, older city workers.”


Part of the problem is that the unions created a $600 million hole in the last round of contracts and they’re trying to plug it now. They negotiated to use a health care stabilization fund, designed to equalize costs between health plans for active members, to bolster wage increases. Now the fund is broke and that threatens to raise health care costs for active members.

At the City Council hearings, PSC-CUNY proposed a way out of this mess. Retired professor James Perlstein described it in his testimony: “(a) Redirect funds the City holds in reserve to bridge the Municipal Labor Committee Stabilization Fund for three years, (b) Create a stakeholders commission charged with finding a path to control health care spending, with hospital pricing as a priority, and (c) Develop a sustainable mechanism for funding City health insurance.” PSC also suggested that New York City’s very profitable non-profit hospitals contribute, since they don’t pay taxes.

None of these steps have been taken, so far. Instead, city administrators continue to push Medicare Advantage. “The city’s taken a hardball position that it won’t negotiate new contracts until the unions save them $600 million by moving forward with Medicare Advantage plan,” said Rodberg in February. The city promises to replenish the stabilization fund with the estimated $600 million it will save from the switch.

AFSCME DC 37 members have been working for 18 months without a contract. Recently the city and the union inked a tentative agreement with raises that don’t even keep up with inflation. Other city unions object that this low bar will harm their negotiations, since the city expects the first agreement settled by a major city union to set a pattern which the other municipal unions will largely follow.

And while members will get to vote on the agreement, they won’t be able to vote on the retiree health care concession their union agreed to behind closed doors. It seems that as a condition for settling, the dominant MLC unions agreed to impose what the retirees call “the nuclear option,” deliberately misreading the city law they tried to change, and making Medicare Advantage the only option for retirees.

Any retiree who wants to stay in traditional Medicare would have to pay for all of their coverage, as if they had no union at all.

Head shot of writer

Jenny Brown is an assistant editor at Labor Notes.

Dictator? French Communists slam Macron for imposing pensions bill without a vote / by Roger McKenzie

French Communist Party (PCF) members march in support of workers and against the pension bill of President Emmanuel Macron. At center is party General Secretary Fabien Roussel. | via PCF

Originally published in the Morning Star, March 16, 2023

French communists have slammed the decision of President Emmanuel Macron to impose his highly unpopular bill that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron shunned parliament Thursday by opting to push through his controversial plans by triggering a special constitutional power known as Section 49.3.

The rarely used maneuver will likely spark a vote of no confidence in Macron’s government. The pensions bill had already completed its passage through the Senate earlier in the day but still required support from the National Assembly before becoming law.

The front page of the Wednesday, March 15, edition of l’Humanite, the newspaper of the French Communist Party. The headline: ‘Determined!’

But the government changed course just before the vote was scheduled in the Assembly because it was unsure whether it had enough votes to pass the bill. That’s when Macron decided to go over the head of parliament and make the bill law by presidential decree.

The pensions bill is the flagship legislation of Macron’s second term, but the deeply unpopular plan has sparked major strikes, and millions of people have taken to the streets in protests across the country since January.

As lawmakers gathered in the National Assembly to vote on the bill, left-wing members of the parliament—including deputies from La France Insoumise, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and others—broke into a boisterous rendition of “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.

The impromptu sing-along prevented Macron’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne from speaking and prompted the speaker to suspend the session.

Once the session was back underway, Borne announced the plan to invoke 49.3, saying: “We cannot take a gamble on the future of our pensions system.”

A poster issued by the PCF portrays Macron in the outfit of Napoleon with the slogan, ‘Macron scorns the Republic.’ | via PCF

Amid chaotic scenes and calls for a vote of no confidence in Macron’s government, French Communist Party General Secretary Fabien Roussel said Macron was “not worthy of our Fifth Republic.” He added, “Parliament has been flouted and humiliated to the end.”

Roussel called for a referendum vote on the pension plan. “Let’s engage in a great popular battle alongside the unions.”

Meanwhile, police in Paris “requisitioned” sanitation workers in the capital and threatened them with prosecution if they continue their week-long strike action against the pension plan.

Roger McKenzie is the International Editor of Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper.

Michigan makes history, first state to repeal Right-to-Work (for less) in 60 years / by Mark Gruenberg

Thousands of workers protest right-to-work on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich. | Carlos Osorio / AP

Originally published in the People’s World, March 16, 2023

LANSING, Mich.—Michigan’s pro-worker Democratic sweep last November swept out the Wolverine State’s corporate Republican-passed right-to-work (for less) laws in March.

Democratic legislative leaders, who took “trifecta” power in the election, made RTW repeal their #1 priority and won it 56-53 in the state House and 20-17 in the Senate on party-line votes.

Then lawmakers, also on party-line votes, restored project labor agreements, too.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), whose landslide win over a Trumpite foe produced the coattails that created the first completely Democratic control in Lansing in decades, is expected to sign both measures. The RTW repeal would be the first in a state in 60 years.

Workers jammed the capitol rotunda in Lansing before the House votes, chanting “We are union, the mighty, mighty union,” and erupted into a minute-and-a-half of constant cheers, raised fists, and whoops in a corridor outside the state Senate chamber after the votes there.

Right-to-work is a favorite Republican, radical right, and corporate cause, which seeks to strip workers and their unions of money and political power. PLAs set up both deadlines and worker protections on construction projects. Banning them is the top goal of the anti-worker Associated Builders and Contractors, an ersatz “grassroots” association of cut-rate non-union contractors.

A button issued by the Michigan District of the Communist Party urging the repeal of the state’s right-to-work law.

Started in the 1940s as a racist way to divide white from Black workers in the South, right-to-work spread to Michigan in 2012 after the 2010 Republican legislative sweep there and elsewhere. Given unions’ prominent role in Michigan, the RTW win particularly hurt there.

So its repeal was especially gratifying to the state AFL-CIO and Michigan workers. And just to make sure the repeal sticks, lawmakers added some unrelated appropriations for education programs. Laws with money in them can’t be pushed into referendums. Others can.

“Today, our pro-worker Democratic majority in the state House took historic action to undo the devastation caused by decades of attacks on workers’ freedom,” state AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said after House passage.

“Since 2012, thousands of Michigan workers, labor leaders, and organizers across the state have been mobilizing and laying the groundwork for this moment. We applaud the House’s swift action to undo the damage caused by Betsy DeVos”—a major Republican campaign cash contributor who became Donald Trump’s Education Secretary—and Republican Govs. “John Engler, Rick Snyder, and their worker suppression agendas.

“Our legislative leaders are delivering on the promises they made and putting power back into the hands of Michigan workers.”

“What choice do you have when the greedy corporations try to put employees against one another in a race to the bottom?” House Majority Leader Abraham Alyash, D-Hamtramck, asked his colleagues.

“Why do folks in here sometimes get so angry that we’re trying to push people out of poverty?”

“Union dues are an important stream of revenue that help pay for critical contract negotiations, staff, and support of members,” said Rep. Regina Weiss, D-Detroit, sponsor of RTW repeal. “When unions have decreased dues, they have less power to improve working conditions.”

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

Striking workers bring France to standstill to protest rise in retirement age / by Roger McKienzie

Protesters march, with the Pantheon monument in background, during a demonstration in Paris, Tuesday, March 7, 2023. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across France took part Tuesday in a new round of protests and strikes against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64, in what unions hope will be their biggest show of force against the proposal. | Aurelien Morissard / AP

Originally published in Morning Star | The People’s Daily on March 8, 2023

France came to a standstill Tuesday when protesters marched nationwide during the latest round of strikes against a planned rise in the retirement age to 64.

Unions described the protests as their biggest show of force against the deeply unpopular proposal from President Emmanuel Macron’s government. According to the AEF news agency, 63% of French people oppose the government proposal.

Garbage collectors, utility workers, train drivers, and others took action Tuesday to show their anger at the attack on their retirement and pension rights.

More than 250 protests took place across France. In Paris, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, and massive demonstrations were also reported in other major cities, including Marseille, Nice, Nantes, and Lyon.

French Democratic Confederation general secretary Laurent Berger said that the number of demonstrators nationwide was the greatest since the beginning of the protest movement in January.

Philippe Martinez, who heads the left-wing General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union alliance, told FranceInfo: “The goal is that the government withdraw its draft reform. Full stop.”

Some unions have called for open-ended strikes in sectors such as refineries, oil depots, and transport.

Workers at Paris’s Gare de Nord railway station have already voted to continue the strike into Wednesday.

The CGT reported that all oil shipments in France were halted by strikes at the refineries of TotalEnergies, Esso-ExxonMobil, and Petroineos groups. Truck drivers, meanwhile, have sporadically blocked major highways in go-slow actions.

In Paris, garbage collectors have started an open-ended strike and blocked access to an incineration plant at Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris, which is Europe’s biggest such facility.

A fifth of flights were canceled at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, and about a third of flights were scrapped at Orly airport.

Trains to Germany and Spain came to a halt, and those to and from Britain and Belgium were reduced by a third. Most high-speed and regional rail services were canceled as well.

Public transport and other services were disrupted in most French cities. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was closed, as was the Palace of Versailles, west of the capital.

Paris train driver Xavier Bregail said, “We held strong demonstrations earlier, but it’s time to take the movement one step further.”

Bregail voiced hope that the protests would turn into a broader movement against economic injustice.

France’s eight main union confederations and five youth organizations were set to meet Tuesday night to decide on their next steps in defense of pension rights.

Roger McKenzie is the International Editor of Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper.

The PRO Act is back, and Senate leadership vows to push it / by Mark Gruenberg

WASHINGTON—Key lawmakers on worker rights’ issues—Senate Labor Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.—introduced the newest version of the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act on Feb. 28.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed to push it on the Senate floor once Sanders’s committee finishes its hearings and work on the measure.

“Joining a union should be a right, not a fight,” said Scott, alluding to the roadblocks bosses erect against organizing drives, almost all of which the PRO Act would outlaw.

But even with one House Republican co-sponsor, Pennsylvanian Brian Fitzpatrick, and more than 200 Democrats signed on, it faces an uphill battle in that GOP-run chamber.

Notorious union hater Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., denounced it as written by “Big Labor.” She vowed “the demands of Union Bosses will stop” in her House Education and the Workforce Committee. Both phrases are Republican anti-worker staples. And speakers at the kickoff event warned of intense loathing, backed by money, from the corporate class.

That didn’t faze Scott, Sanders, Schumer, or AFL-CIO President Liz Schumer, who spoke at what was officially a press conference but sounded more like a pro-worker rally. Listening to the predicted reaction, Shuler stated, “It tells me they’re scared of us. They can’t stand a world where workers get a fair share of the profits” of their labor.

“The American people are sick and tired of unprecedented corporate greed and union-busting” added Sanders, whose committee, with a one-vote Democratic majority, is expected to approve the bill. “The average CEO makes 400 times what the average worker makes.” The PRO Act, he predicted, is the most-effective way to reduce that gap.

By contrast with the PRO Act, given today’s weak labor laws and corporate hate, “taking a risk” to unionize “is an act of courage,” explained Shuler. “It shouldn’t be.”

“But if you look at Starbucks, at Amazon, and at Tesla, what you see is threats and retaliation,” she said.

All of those would be illegal, hit with heavy fines—$50,000 for a first offense, $100,000 for subsequent offenses, plus awarding illegally fired workers full back pay plus expenses, and giving them their jobs back as soon as they get a favorable National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling.

Making organizing and unionizing easier is especially vital in so-called right-to-work states, such as Oklahoma, said Shuler. A Communications Worker from Oklahoma City told the press conference about bosses’ tactics and lies during an organizing drive at an Apple store there. This version of the PRO Act would repeal the 1947 Republican-engineered legal basis for right-to-work laws, the Taft-Hartley Act.

Many speakers described the benefits of unionization, not just for workers in terms of higher wages, better working conditions, safer workplaces, and voices on the job, but for the economy as a whole.

Citing her predecessor, the late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka—whose name is attached to the PRO Act—Shuler said he “knew we could not build an equitable economy without changing the law.”

The legislation drew an enthusiastic reception from the crowd of Service Employees, Communications Workers, and United Food and Commercial Workers at a press conference turned rally. The Republicans, as Foxx’s statement shows, are another matter.

Besides overriding right-to-work laws and imposing higher fines, the new version of the PRO Act would mandate instant recognition and a quick start, within days, to bargaining when the union wins a National Labor Relations Board recognition election. Bosses who stall on reaching a first contract would be forced into mandatory mediation and arbitration.

It also says if the union turns in election cards from a verified majority of workers before the vote, but loses anyway after bosses’ anti-union campaigns, the cards control the outcome. And it outlaws a key weapon bosses use in economic strikes, hiring scabs.

Any illegally fired worker would have an immediate right to return to her job if the NLRB rules for her. And the new PRO Act would make it easier for the board to go to court for injunctions against law-breakers. If the board can’t or won’t, workers could sue for enforcement.

The measure would also make illegal the captive audience meetings bosses and their union busters now use to harangue workers. And it would let union recognition elections be off-site, by mail, or electronically, not just at the plant, office, or shop, where bosses can illegally spy.

Also outlawed: Bosses’ gerrymandering union elections—the Democrats’ words—by either challenging who could vote and/or stuffing the rolls with anti-union workers in advance.

The measure, HR20 in the House, also writes into law the NLRB’s definition of a “joint employer,” where both the headquarters and a local franchise-holder are responsible for obeying, or breaking, labor law. Bosses, supervisors, CEOs, and line managers would all be liable for the fines for labor law-breaking. So would so-called “persuaders,” a.k.a. union-busters.

And it curbs or bans dodges bosses use to throw people out of unions, such as misclassifying them as “independent contractors” or arbitrarily promoting workers to be “supervisors” but without hire-and-fire and other key responsibilities. It narrows who’s a supervisor, too.

Besides outlawing scabs, the new PRO Act restores the right to secondary boycotts. The GOP’s Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 outlawed that, too, while legalizing right to work. And the new bill overturns a recent Supreme Court GOP-majority ruling allowing bosses to force workers to sign mandatory arbitration agreements which override even union contracts.

The video of the event is here:

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

People’s World, March 2, 2023