The Latest from the Prospect
 ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌
MAY 16, 2023
Meyerson on TAP
A Great Week for American Labor
Doctors in Philly and auto (well, actually, bus) workers in rural Georgia both go union big-time.
Two signal union victories last week suggest that, against all odds, the American labor movement may have a future. The first confirmed a new trend in worker organizing; the second could mean that the government has finally found a way to help workers to join a union.

Residents and fellows at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Med hospital voted 892 to 110 to join SEIU’s Committee of Interns and Residents. The election was further validation that workers who can’t easily be replaced (in this case, doctors) are flocking to unions these days. Just on the U of P campus, museum workers unionized recently, and TAs and RAs are expected to during the spring term.

Ever since employers realized in the 1970s and ’80s that they could fire replaceable (chiefly, nonprofessional) workers who sought to go union, successful organizing campaigns, even in a relatively pro-union city like Philly, have ground to a halt. But independent professionals like physicians are responding to the corporatization of medicine by acting like the proletarians of yore (i.e., going union). The victory for 1,400 residents and interns was the largest unionization of any kind that had taken place in Philadelphia in the past 53 years.

The second of last week’s union victories is even more astonishing. Last Friday, largely African American workers at a rural school bus factory in Southwest Georgia joined the United Steelworkers by the decisive margin of 697 to 435. As a New York Times report noted, the landmark legislation and agency rulings of the Biden presidency have tilted the playing field just a bit in the workers’ favor.

Alex Perkins, who’d worked at a unionized Georgia paper mill, was such a fervent union champion that the Steelworkers had put him on staff several years ago. (The paper workers’ union had affiliated with the Steelworkers in 2005.) In 2019, Perkins helped organize 300 workers at a tire factory in Macon. Even while that campaign was still ongoing, he was approached by workers at Blue Bird, and began regularly meeting with them.

“When we started, we’d meet in the local library,” Perkins says. “Then the meetings got too big for the library.” The pandemic curtailed much of the organizing, but it started up again in 2021, and grew to the point that the union sent in more organizers to join Perkins. “By 2022,” he says, “we had an organizing committee in every department.”

As Perkins recounts, Blue Bird did hold “captive audience” meetings that it compelled its employees to attend, in which plant officials delivered the customary anti-union diatribes. “I don’t know if they hired [anti-union] consultants,” he says, “but their managers used the same scripts the managers at the tire factory had used.”

It’s important to realize that most of this activity took place before the Biden administration passed its agenda. But Blue Bird received a $40 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program, funded through the infrastructure bill. That bill stipulates that contractors can’t use federal funds to thwart union elections; the EPA specifically says that recipients must “remain neutral in any organizing campaign and/or to voluntarily recognize a union based on a show of majority support.”

When the company issued the standard complaints about not being able to afford unionized workers (starting pay for the current workforce starts at about $16 an hour), however, the union pointed out to members that it was getting millions from the government for building electric buses—so much so that its stock had recently risen by 37 percent—and that it had a $120 million backlog in deals with municipalities seeking to buy an electric bus fleet.

This green spending, then, made it all but impossible for Blue Bird to argue it couldn’t afford a unionized workforce. And the Steelworkers’ unfair labor practice claims against Blue Bird cited how receiving government funds committed the company to neutrality. This helped to diminish the anti-union campaign and helped lead the Steelworkers to victory. Such pro-union leverage may loom large as the projects authorized by the Biden bills roll out.

Whether the victory at Blue Bird portends union successes in the historically anti-union South remains to be seen. While the pro-labor policies of the administration will not in themselves suffice to rebuild unions among blue-collar workers, these governmental laws and policies can contribute to labor success.

All in all, it was a great and potentially important week for American workers.

The Budget Farce: A Travesty in Two Acts
On today’s X-Date: Watch out for Act II, the annual budget process for the new fiscal year that begins October 1, when Democrats will be playing a weaker hand. BY ROBERT KUTTNER
Economists Hate Rent Control. Here’s Why They’re Wrong.
Half of Americans, namely homeowners, already have rent control. It’s time to expand it to everyone. BY MARK PAUL
The Fake ‘Left-Wing Attack on Science’
The supposed mistreatment of an article that criticized leftist assaults on scientific objectivity was itself a fake. Why did the editors of The New York Times take this fraud seriously? BY PETER DREIER
Click to Share this Newsletter
The American Prospect, Inc.
1225 I Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005
United States
Copyright (c) 2023 The American Prospect. All rights reserved.

To opt out of American Prospect membership messaging, click here.
To manage your newsletter preferences, click here.
To unsubscribe from all American Prospect emails, including newsletters, click here.

Email Marketing by ActiveCampaign