A New Surge In Labor Organizing with Marty Walsh | Crooked Media
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December 09, 2021
What A Day
A New Surge In Labor Organizing with Marty Walsh

In This Episode

  • Today, votes will be counted in the effort to unionize three Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York, with the result expected this afternoon. If that vote is successful, they would be the first unionized Starbucks in the country. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joins us again to discuss labor movements like this one and what’s driving them.
  • And in headlines: Pfizer said its vaccine booster shot can protect against the Omicron variant, Germany swore in Olaf Scholz as its new chancellor, and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin apologized for going clubbing after being exposed to coronavirus.

 

 

 

 

Transcript

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, December 9th. I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson, and this is What A Day, where we were hoping to appear on a gift guide of best podcast to buy your spouse or partner.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes. This podcast is free, but you could print it out and laminate it. And I guess that would make a decent gift.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: If you happen to be really, really, really short on time.

 

Gideon Resnick: But long enough on time that you could find a printer, because I don’t know that a lot of people have that. On today’s show, Pfizer says a booster of its own vaccine can protect against the Omicron variant. Plus Germany has a new chancellor.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: But first, today we talk about one of the defining stories of the past year: the American labor movement.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes, so Tre’vell today, votes are going to be counted in the effort to unionize three Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York, with the result expected this afternoon. If that vote is successful, that would be the first unionized Starbucks in the country. And on Tuesday, 1,400 unionized workers at Kellogg’s plants across the country rejected the latest contract with the cereal company. That means that the strike that started on October 5th is about to go even longer. The company has responded by saying they intend to permanently replace those workers.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Which is very yikes energy. OK. And you’ve said this before, but the amount of worker organizing we’ve seen this past year alone has been staggering.

 

Gideon Resnick: It really has. There are workers all across the country exercising their power in so many different ways, that’s organizing, too strikes to unionizing and a lot more. Because really, the pandemic exposed, I think, exacerbated wealth inequality. Many workers have sort of reimagined these power dynamics that have been traditional in workplaces, and rallied around collective bargaining.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And before people forget, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes. So in the past year alone, workers at Amazon warehouses have been trying to unionize, museum workers in places like Chicago. We’ve seen significant strikes at John Deere, the threat of one among film and TV employees, among many, many more. And even as recently as last Friday in California, the union that represents Disneyland employees successfully negotiated a new contract that includes things like a 19% pay hike over three years and bonuses for longtime workers. So Tre’vell, when he was in studio I got a chance to talk more with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh last week about the labor movement and what is driving all of this.

 

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh: Well, I think in some ways there’s a resurgence in the labor movement. I think some of those strikes, when you talk about John Deere or some of the places where they’re striking, a lot of workers are striking potentially over safety in the workplace. And I think a lot of it’s driven by the experience they’ve had over the last year and a half with COVID-19. I think in the case of Amazon and some of these other places you have for the first time in a long time, the polling data shows younger people are very pro-organized labor, and labor hasn’t always had that ability to have people paying attention to them. And I think a lot of it is driven by the pandemic and a lot of it’s driven by, you know, worker power and fear and understanding that workers want power but how do you have it? And unions have historically been that way of putting the power in the worker’s hands. So I think there’s a lot of that going on. Labor movement’s also changed, and when you think about, the faces of the labor movement are looking different. It’s not all white guys that look like me in certain parts of the country—the building trades have pathway programs into the trades to get more women and people of color into the building trades. So you’ve seen a shift in the way business operated to keep up with the changing times, and labor kind of organize the same old, same old way. And I think Labor is now realizing, Wait, this is not working for us or hasn’t worked for us in the last 10, 15, 20, 25 years. And there’s a shift there that’s happening. So I think it’s kind of almost like a perfect storm for organized labor.

 

Gideon Resnick: And what do you think to the point of differentiating between folks that are unionized and those who aren’t—what is this movement overall going to mean for, you know, broader things that we’re talking about, the country’s wealth gap, improving workers rights and conditions?

 

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh: Well, yeah. $7 and 25 cents an hour doesn’t cut it for a person or a family anymore. President Biden, when he got elected president, one of the first things he did was—or when he got sworn in as president—he filed the PRO Act to allow people the opportunity to organize. And he feels in his heart that if people want to organize, they should have the right to organize. Now, if they decide to vote a union in, then it should be unionized. If they decide not to vote the union in, it shouldn’t be unionized, but they should have that right without interference. And I think that the president’s been very clear on that. You know, he wants to make sure, you know, when you think about our country, if you look at a graph and look at the decline of a labor movement from the 1950s to today and you look at the same graph, the decline in the middle class to today, that pretty much graphs, lines up pretty closely together. As a country, you know—listen, I served as mayor of Boston for seven years and you know, we have some people in Boston doing really well, and good luck to them and God bless them for doing it, and we are people that are in the middle class—good luck, and God bless them. But people that don’t, don’t have the means and don’t make, aren’t making good money and that a poor, not only are they struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head, they’re just struggling every day with economics. And we should do more to get people into the middle class, to get that American dream. That’s the goal.

 

Gideon Resnick: And going back to interference, for lack of a better word, from companies—recently, the National Labor Relations Board ordered this redo in the prior union drive at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. They said that the company used several different shady tactics to discourage voting in Buffalo. There were also some reports that Starbucks executives showed up to stores to basically, according to some of the reporting, try to put a stop to those efforts. How do you make sure that these elections are done fairly?

 

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh: Well, first and foremost, I would just ask anyone listening today that’s a part of a company. If people get the signatures to form a union and they have a vote, allow them the opportunity to vote, number one, and sit down and negotiate with them. And secondly, you know, the PRO Act takes care of a lot of this, the issue with the Pro Act is that you have to—according to the parliamentarian, I believe in the Senate—we have to get 60 members of the Senate to be able to vote to pass te PRO Act. But there are some provisions of penalties inside the Build Back Better agenda reconciliation package that is now in front of the Senate that would penalize companies for interfering in union elections. Now we’ll see if that lasts and stays to the Senate negotiation, but that piece of it is in there. I think ultimately, you know, President Biden and myself have been very clear on allowing people the opportunity, if they choose to join a union, let them that opportunity and sit down and negotiate.

 

Gideon Resnick: And I want to talk about gig workers for a second. I think both you and the president have talked about how they should be classified as employees, if I’m not mistaken in that assumption, or at least exploring that conversation. So what role do you see the federal government having in regulation for companies that are reliant on these kind of workers? Where do you see that going next?

 

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh: Well, a lot of times when people talk about gig workers, they automatically assume the rideshare companies, and I’ve had several conversations now with rideshare companies, with the leadership of those companies. I’ve spoken to worker rights groups about those, companies that are saying we’d like to have more powers as employees and other people saying, I love the style we have here. So we’re kind of working through that. But I’m also concerned about workers, that misclassification. When you think about people that working in a restaurant, sometimes dishwashers are deemed independent contractors when in fact they’re employees. Independent contractors shouldn’t be used to skirt the law and say, OK, you’re not an employee when in fact people do go to work every night and they do their thing. So I think that that’s a problem. So I think we still have some work to do there to see. And out here in California, you know, in my conversations with some of the rideshare companies, they’ve said that they’re looking, exploring, you know, creating benefits for their drivers and things like that. Hasn’t happened yet, but hopefully they’ll stay true to their word.

 

Gideon Resnick: I want to ask a sort of broader question. It seems like the story of 2021 in terms of labor was this kind of activity that we’ve seen—you know a lot of people were calling it Striketober for the month of October. What do you kind of think that the story of labor is going to be in 2022?

 

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh: You know, I think a lot of it’s going to depend on the pandemic. You know, you think about, you know, the numbers as of today—5.6 million Americans have gone back to work since President Biden has taken office. The recovery is two years ahead of where we thought it would be, but yet we still have millions of jobs unfilled. There’s reasons for that, partly because of people concerned about their health and the virus, issues around lack of strong quality child care, lack of adult care for their parents. You have people that will never enter the workforce again because they were working when they died of the coronavirus and, you know, unfortunately, those families have lost their loved ones. And I think that, you know, another issue I’m concerned about is substance use disorder. When you think about it, we had 100,000 deaths last year in the United States of America—the highest number in quite some time. And if you take that and just use a multiplying factor of 10 people that are addicted to substances that probably can’t enter the workforce, and lack of programing—lot of these programs were shut down or cut down to half capacity, 25% capacity—we still have a lot of work as a society to do on the social side to help people back in. So I’m hoping 2022 is a stronger year. But it’s also going to depend upon making sure that we in the federal government, local government, state government make the investments in workforce development jobs as well. I think that’s going to be a key.

 

Gideon Resnick: That was my conversation with Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh last week. We’ll keep an eye on all of the labor issues that are out there, including the results from today’s count of the unionization votes at Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York. But that is the latest for now. We will be back after some ads.

 

[ad break]

 

Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.

 

[sung] headlines.

 

Gideon Resnick: Pfizer and BioNTech announced yesterday that people who get their vaccine have significant protection against the Omicron variant. In a news release, the vaccine maker said that early data shows two shots may not quote, “be sufficient to protect against Omicron” but lucky number three seems to do the trick. But before you get too excited or sad that you got the Moderna booster, the experiments that were conducted by Pfizer and BioNTech were performed on blood samples in a lab. These limited trials can’t fully reveal how vaccines will actually perform against Omicron in the real world. And scientists say it could take a month or longer to really understand this new variant.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Social Democrat Olav Scholz was sworn into office as the chancellor of Germany yesterday after his predecessor, Angela Merkel, retired after four terms. Scholz was voted in by the German parliament after a long and difficult campaign during which he had some of the lowest poll numbers in German history. His victory brings an end to the country’s 16-year long stretch of conservative leadership under Merkel, who was just two weeks shy of breaking the record for the longest German chancellorship. Scholz is now Europe’s most powerful leader and has a myriad of social issues to tackle as chancellor, including a nationwide nursing shortage and homelessness. Social Democratic Party Representative Lars Klingbeil celebrated shoulders win on Tuesday, tweeting quote, “We got going back when almost no one believed in us. What an honor. What a time. What a race.”

 

Gideon Resnick: And What A Day to continue talking about European countries: the nation of Finland proved that it really is the worry free winter wonderland of our dreams when its prime minister went clubbing all night after being exposed to the coronavirus. 36-old Sanna Marin stayed out until 4 a.m. in Helsinki this weekend, despite the fact that her foreign minister had just tested positive for COVID. Per her account, she had been told by an official that the nation’s guidelines did not require her to isolate. Later, that guidance was corrected in a text message sent to her government cell phone, which she didn’t have with her at the club—because it is work from home, not work from the dance floor that you’re destroying with your girlies. I think that’s very clearly understood. Marin has since apologized. Finland has seen some of Europe’s lowest COVID infection rates throughout the pandemic, though cases there are currently at an all-time high.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: She was like, I got a drop it low real quick. It doesn’t matter if somebody tested positive for COVID.

 

Gideon Resnick: Exactly. You know, again, people have said it, but being 36 and alive after being up until 4 a.m., just impressive on its own. Those are the headlines.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: One more thing before we go: if you weren’t able to watch our What A Year live stream on Tuesday, check it out now on the Crooked YouTube channel. We joined a lineup of your favorite Crooked hosts from Pod Save America, Keep It, X-Ray Vision, and more for a night of sketches, audience games, and holiday carols. Give 2021 a proper send off and check out What A Year now on the Crooked Media YouTube channel.

 

Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, destroy the dance floor with your girlies, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading, and not just gift guides like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And we’ll see you all in Finland!

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Oh yes, for a party. 4 am parties.

 

Gideon Resnick: I will be out for some of it.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I won’t be out at all.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. OK. Good. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.