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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Category: Labor unions
December 10, 2014 at 10:06 AM

Amazon workers have an answer: a union

It was always a stretch, Amazon workers suing to be compensated for waits to go through security screening at the end of their shifts. And, sure enough, a unanimous Supreme Court turned them down, citing a 1947 law. The case involved 400,000 plaintiffs. Sure, the high court especially and lower courts generally have favored business in…

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May 15, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Fast food ‘strikes’ set to spread

I’ve been receiving emails from the PR outfit Berlin Rosen, based in New York and D.C., promising that fast-food workers will “strike” in 150-plus American cities today for a $15 base wage and “a union without retaliation.” Also, “workers protested in 33 countries on six continents at restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC. In…

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Comments | More in Labor unions | Topics: $15 wage campaign, minimum wage

May 30, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Fast-food strikes point to problems in economy

Fast-food workers have walked off the job in six cities over the past eight weeks, protesting low pay, poor working conditions, lack of hours and “wage theft.” The action spread to Seattle late last night at a Ballard Taco Bell and will continue today at selected McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco del Mar, Arby’s, Chipotle, Subway, Jack in the Box and Qdoba, among others. A rally is set for 4:30 pm, at Denny Park (100 Dexter Ave N.), followed by a march to nearby fast food locations.

A statement from the organization Good Jobs Seattle said the goal was “to build a sustainable future for Seattle’s economy from the bottom up — by turning poverty-wage jobs in fast-food and other industries into good jobs that offer opportunities for a better future and pay enough for workers to afford basic necessities like food, clothing and rent.” Fast-food businesses offer the lowest-paying non-agricultural jobs in the nation. According to the group, “The median hourly wage for Combined Food Service and Preparation Workers, Including Fast Food, is $9.50 an hour in the Seattle metro area. That is one of the lowest of any occupation in the region—lower than home health aides ($11.63 an hour), maids and housekeepers ($11.30 an hour) and child care workers ($10.74 an hour). Nationally, the median wage for fast food jobs is $8.78 an hour, lower than all other reported occupations.” Working 24 hours a week, a common threshold, an employee makes wages below the poverty line.

“It’s fast-paced, hard work, but at the minimum wage of $9.19 per hour and only 27 hours per week, I don’t earn enough to make ends meet,” blogged one worker from Ballard. “When I ask for more hours, my boss always says the same thing: hours are competitive – the harder you work, the more hours you’ll get. But I work hard, and I haven’t gotten any more hours.”

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September 6, 2012 at 10:28 AM

Boeing and the race to the bottom

As a manager, I supervised union employees for years. It’s easy, especially with professionals. Unless, of course, you are determined to continue redistributing income from the middle class to the very rich while rubbing the union’s face in it. And that appears to be Boeing’s strategy in dealing with the Society of Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA). The savage spirit of Jack Welch is alive and well in Chicago.

There are two sides in any negotiation and it’s impossible to know all the details and nuances unless you’re sitting at the table. Still, based on the reporting of the Seattle Times’ Dominic Gates, it seems Boeing wants to pick a fight with its engineers. Put them in their place. This is odd coming from a company that croaks so much about the value of “labor peace.” Such peace requires two sides working together.

Boeing is offering only a 3 percent raise, down from the 5 percent won in 2008. Also, “a key Boeing proposal would switch new hires from the pension plan that current employees have to a 401(k)-type plan that SPEEA says will deliver up to 40 percent less upon retirement than the current Boeing pension.” This from a company that posted $4 billion in profits and has a vast backlog of orders.

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Comments | More in Aerospace/Boeing, Labor unions, Pacific Northwest economy

August 9, 2012 at 10:15 AM

‘Generation screwed’ isn’t alone

Much is being written about “generation screwed,” the younger people in our slow-growth, high-debt, low-wage, winner-take-all new hard times. And the data are compelling. For example, according to the Pew Research Center, the median net worth of households headed by an adult under 35 was $3,662 in 2009, down 68 percent from 1984. For households headed by someone 65 and older, the net worth was $170,494, 42 percent higher than in 1984.

According to the Census, the median net worth of people under 35 fell 37 percent between 2005 and 2010, while for those over 65 it declined 13 percent. Younger people without college degrees are especially hard hit by unemployment. But college brings its own pain, with the average student carrying $27,000 in college debt, all as part of a record $1 trillion in student-loan debt (bubble). On top of that, according to Forbes, the average student also has amassed $12,700 in credit-card and other kinds of debt.

No wonder it’s so difficult for younger people to get started on the own. In 1980, only 11 percent of adults between 21 and 34 years old lived in “a multi-generational household” — essentially staying or moving back in with parents or grandparents. Now 21.6 percent do.

The U.S. birth rate is at its lowest point in 25 years. It would be lower if not for the higher birth rate of immigrants.

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Comments | More in Inequality, Jobs/Unemployment, Labor unions

June 21, 2012 at 9:45 AM

A ‘Boeing moment’ for Puget Sound ports || Jon Talton

The other shoe dropped for the Port of Seattle on Wednesday when Hamburg Sud said it would move its container business to Tacoma. This wasn’t unexpected after the Grand Alliance lines announced earlier this year that it would take a sweet deal and shift to the Port of Tacoma, which has direct rail-to-dock access and plenty of excess capacity.

But the big story remains the same: Puget Sound ports are losing container market share, however much they play Battleship with each other. This is happening even before the wider Panama Canal opens or Prince Rupert, B.C., really gets its footing as a straight shot for cargo to the American Midwest. This reality doesn’t really care whether Tacoma feels vindicated after supposed and real Seattle slights, or whether Seattle risks taking for granted a seaport that is a foundation of the blue-collar middle class. It doesn’t care whether organized labor risks destroying its own jobs in a battle for short-haul truckers where morality and fair play are on its side.

Behind this is a Boeing moment, as in when the company set up a Dreamliner assembly in South Carolina and the future of aerospace in the Puget Sound region seemed dangerously close to slipping. Leaders across a spectrum of interests came together to save this critical economic cluster and put it on a new competitive footing.

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Comments | More in Labor unions, Pacific Northwest economy, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Trade

February 13, 2012 at 9:40 AM

Stalemate as port labor fight continues

Non-union short-haul truckers are entering their third week of an action to get better working conditions at the Port of Seattle. According to Sage Wilson of the activist group Working Washington, a rally was to be held at 9 a.m. today at Harbor Island to show support for the drivers, organized by the Seattle Port Truckers Association and Puget Sound Sage. The Teamsters are also supporting the action.

The drivers, primarily immigrants, haul containers from the port to rail yards. They complain of poor working conditions and wages, as well as being held liable for safety violations over which they have no control. Last week, they were largely successful in shutting down movement of freight. Wilson claims “Container ships continue to back up on Elliott Bay as the movement of goods has slowed to a virtual halt. Running on Alki (Sunday), I counted at least 4 freighters floating listlessly in the bay.” (Actually, two are grain ships that have nothing to do with the truckers and today is a Longshoremen’s holiday). Last week, the truckers successfully rallied for back pay from Edgmon Trucking, one of the short-haul (drayage) companies that employs the immigrant drivers.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, the House passed HB 2395, which would grant short-haul truck drivers more of the rights of employees under state law. Currently, they are treated as independent contractors. Still, a meeting involving port officials last week produced no resolution.

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Comments | More in Jobs/Unemployment, Labor unions, Occupy Seattle, Port of Seattle drivers shutdown, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Railroads, Trade

February 8, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Boiling point at the port

I cover the waterfront, but today I was out at the Teamsters hall in Tukwila giving a speech to a group of retirees. Meanwhile, the Teamsters are supporting an effort by non-union drayage (short-haul) truckers to shut down the Port of Seattle. These drivers haul containers from the port to rail terminals. They make low wages, complain of poor working conditions and are responsible for such things as safety violations in their trucks. They’re targeting discretionary cargo that must move on specific days to make rail schedules.

The Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom reported on the issue last week. Today, cargo is barely moving. It’s a compelling human story. I listened to a Teamsters organizer talk about the plight of these drivers, many of whom are immigrants, trapped in low-wage jobs. Many walked off the job in protest and the trucking companies allegedly withheld their paychecks. The Teamsters and the port have been at odds over this for years, port officials saying they have limited ability to micromanage the private drayage companies on wages. Of course, the Teamsters would love to organize these drivers.

But it’s also a regional competitiveness story. Without the ability to move cargo quickly from dockside to rail container terminals, Seattle is sunk (Tacoma has dockside rail access and is less dependent on drayage truckers.

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