DC LERA members enjoy lively session on AI and Jobs at ILO Office for US and Canada

By Mindy Reiser, Ph.D. Consulting Sociologist and Board Member, DCLERA

Just wanted to let you know what a lively and stimulating session fellow Board member, Amber Barth, the Director of the ILO Office  for the United States and Canada, along with Andrea Cuba Sanchez, her Communications and Information Assistant, organized on April 9, 2024 for DCLERA.

L to R — Pawel Gmyrek, Janine Berg and Amber Barth

The session, focusing on the recent ILO Working Paper on Generative AI and Jobs: A global analysis of potential effects on job quantity and quality (available here) brought to the gathering two of the study’s authors, Pawel Gmyrek and Janine Berg, who deftly summarized the report’s highlights. A lively discussion followed. Those of us in the ILO office for the session, also enjoyed a delicious lunch, courtesy of the ILO.

Asha Ault of DC OLRCB highlights importance of mutual respect between management and unions in DC

By Aekrama Ahmed, American University – Class of ’25

On October 26, 2023, the Washington, DC chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations (DC LERA) and the Women’s National Democratic Club (WNDC) co-sponsored a sit-down conversation with Asha Ault, Chief of Staff of the District of Columbia Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining (OLRCB), to discuss her perspective and experiences on workplace laws and labor relations in the District.

Moderated by Dr. David Jacobs, a professor at the American University Kogod School of Business, the conversation started off with a discussion of the fundamental elements of DC workplace laws and policies. Ms. Ault shared a simple truth: getting along in the workplace helps everyone achieve more. She expressed the opinion that when management and unions see each other as partners, they often find they are aiming for the same goals. “The more we fight, the less we get done,” she observed, pointing out that cooperation is key. For Ms. Ault, it’s about more than just working together – it’s about making sure everyone is treated fairly and with respect at work. She made it clear that success in the workplace comes from everyone pulling in the same direction.

Ms. Ault went on to describe the primary function of the OLRCB. She explained that the goal of the OLRCB is to represent the mayor and city agencies when they engage in negotiations with unions and address disputes about workplace issues. But what is really important, she pointed out, is that they focus on creating and keeping a good relationship with labor unions. For Ms. Ault, this is about making sure that there is a strong, cooperative, and lasting connection with the unions that represent the District’s public workforce. In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and City Administrator Kevin Donahue are committed to partnering with the City’s labor leaders and engage with them to identify, address and resolve workforce concerns before they become major issues.

When asked by Dr. Jacobs how the District of Columbia’s labor laws and policies differ from other jurisdictions, Ms. Ault outlined the distinct legislative framework that governs labor relations in the District. She pointed out that DC relies heavily on the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act, a set of laws specific to the city, which is bolstered by actions of the Council of the District of Columbia and Mayoral orders. These form the backbone of labor laws in Washington, DC. These labor laws and regulations are guided by the District Personnel Manual and collective bargaining agreements that dictate workplace conditions and compensation.

Dr. Jacobs brought up the topic of Paid Family Leave, and Ms. Ault explained that in the District of Columbia, getting this benefit for workers was fairly straight-forward thanks to the DC Council. Ms. Ault emphasized the forward-thinking stance of law makers in DC, noting that such progressive policies are not as easily enacted or even entertained in other jurisdictions. DC Law establishes certain requirements in order to qualify for Paid Family Leave, but for the most part if you work in DC for a certain amount of time you will qualify for the benefit.

Dr. Jacobs and Ms. Ault also discussed bargaining over women’s issues. Ms. Ault explained that in DC, fighting for women’s rights in collective bargaining is not as tough as it might be in other jurisdictions because of the city’s progressive stance on working women’s rights. Ms. Ault also reflected on her personal experiences, noting a welcoming culture in the OLRCB.

When asked about sexual harassment law and collective bargaining in DC, Ms. Ault explained that under the DC Human Rights Act, all claims of sexual harassment and discrimination go through specific channels (for example, the DC Office of Human Rights) and are not subjects for negotiation in the collective bargaining process. Ms. Ault emphasized the strong influence of women within DC public unions. She also noted the high level of unionization in DC government, where about 70% of the 37,000 strong public workforce is unionized.

Ms. Ault wrapped up her remarks with a pivotal piece of advice that could serve as a model for other jurisdictions. The best practice in DC government labor relations is to see labor as a partner. Building a strong relationship and fostering open communication with labor unions are cornerstones of this approach. Ms. Ault stressed the importance of this partnership and urged other jurisdictions to consider adopting a similar collaborative mindset.

ILO hosts DC LERA panel on Trade & Policy Tools to Address Forced Labor

On June 27, 2023, the ILO Office for US and Canada hosted a DC LERA panel on Trade & Policy Tools to Address Forced Labor in Global Supply Chains. The featured speakers were Allison Gill of GLJ-ILRF, Dean Pinkert of the Corporate Accountability Lab, and Kevin Willcuts of the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Kevin Cassidy, Executive Director of the ILO Office for US and Canada, gave opening remarks and hosted a reception afterward. The event brought together labor professionals, academics, government officials, internationalists, students, community activists, human rights advocates, and trade attorneys to learn the latest about trade and policy tools to address forced and child labor in global supply chains.

Kevin Cassidy of the ILO gave a broad overview and update on the ILO’s efforts in developing resources and issuing reports on the growing area of international, bi-lateral, and multilateral trade agreements containing labor provisions.

Allison Gill of GLJ-ILRF used a number of case studies to show how worker rights advocates and broad coalitions of labor, business, human rights, and community activists utilize trade and other mechanisms to eliminate forced labor from global supply chains. The case studies she discussed included: the Cotton Campaign, the Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labor, and the Dindigul Agreement. Some of the legal and policy mechanisms utilized to eliminate forced labor include GSP, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, ILO supervisory mechanisms, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The Dindigul Agreement is an enforceable global supply chain agreement negotiated by the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union in India, clothing manufacturer Eastman Exports, global brand H&M, and other social partners.

Dean Pinkert of Corporate Accountability built on Ms. Gill’s overview by delving more deeply into the use of legal provisions in the 1930 U.S. Tariff Act (the U.S. Forced Labor Ban in Sec. 307) and in the 1974 U.S. Trade Act (the Relief From Unfair Trade Practices in Sec. 301). Advocates and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have made inroads in excluding goods made under forced labor excluded from the U.S. market. Use of Sec. 307 Relief From Unfair Trade Practices is still cutting edge and in its infancy.

Kevin Willcutts of U.S. DOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs spoke about non-trade mechanisms like assistance and training programs and the adoption of industry-wide standards and certification programs to eliminate child labor and the worst forms of child labor in cocoa supply chains in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Mr. Willcutts noted that the informality of cocoa farming and production are barriers to progress in eliminating forced and child labor in the cocoa sector.

RESOURCE LIST: Trade & Policy Tools to Address Forced Labor in Global Supply Chains: 2023.06.27 DC LERA Forced Labor Resources List

Event background and speaker biographies: 2023.06.27 01 Intro DC LERA Trade & Policy Tools Forced Labor

Stephen Silvia of American University gives book talk on Organizing Foreign-Owned Auto Plants in the U.S. South

By Amaury Pineda, Policy Analyst, Jobs with Justice

On May 24, 2023, Dr. Stephen Silvia of American University School of International Service gave a book talk on his recently published book, The UAW’s Southern Gamble: Organizing Workers at Foreign-Owned Vehicle Plants. The book talk was hosted by Jobs with Justice and catered by Moby Dick.

Using archives, newspapers, and interviews, Dr. Silvia shared some lessons from UAW organizing efforts in foreign companies in the US South. His findings indicate that while it is still possible to organize in the South, it has become harder. His research encompassed 16 organizing drives that took place in nine plants of four vehicle manufacturing companies – Nissan, Daimler Trucks North America, Mercedes US International, and Volkswagen – from 1984 to 2019.

First, Dr. Silvia unpacked the cases of two Nissan plants in Smyrna, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi, where the UAW failed to win a union, but for different reasons. In the case of Smyrna, TN, the UAW was unsuccessful mainly because of a set of anti-union innovations oriented at creating the idea that managers and the rank-in-file were all one. For example, they all wore the same uniform, and the company eliminated the executive cafeteria. The company also engaged in more aggressive tactics. For example, the company gave workers reduced-rate rental cars, screened workers to identify union sympathizers, installed monitors in the workplace through which they ran negative information about the UAW, and had one-on-one meetings to check on workers’ satisfaction. These tactics were part of the ‘Union Avoidance Playbook’ devised by Nissan’s Head of Operations, Marvin Runyon, and were key to preventing organizing efforts in this plant.

At the Canton, MS plant, the UAW used a new strategy that aimed to blend union organizing efforts with the civil rights movement. Nevertheless, the union failed to organize this plant. In Canton, workers had experienced considerable poverty before Nissan’s arrival and did not want to risk job security for the potential of better working conditions.

Dr. Silvia also explained how international cooperation can help in organizing efforts, highlighting the UAW’s success at Daimler Trucks North America in Mount Holly, North Carolina. After winning the union election and negotiating for their first contract for almost two years, the UAW realized they would have to strike. However, before doing so, a few of the union representatives traveled to Germany and managed to get the head of the Daimler Group Works Council, Karl Feuerstein, to support their cause. The UAW got its first contract about two months after Feuerstein phoned the American executives.

The case of the Mercedes US plant in Vance, Alabama, illustrates how a ‘split workforce’ diminishes organizing efforts. Dr. Silvia used the term ‘split workforce’ to refer to situations where half or so of the workers are temporary employees, and the rest are permanent workers. Notwithstanding UAW’s many efforts to organize Mercedes-Benz workers in the Alabama plant, their campaign never picked up steam because Mercedes’ permanent employees were paid above the UAW’s contract rate and also received many benefits.

In other words, permanent employees did not care to organize because they already had a good deal vis-à-vis their temporary colleagues who received low wages and no benefits. Although temporary workers had all the reasons to organize, they were kept in line under the promise of a permanent position, yet only a handful ever made it.

During the discussion, a DC LERA member mentioned the report “Job Quality and Community Well-Being in Mississippi and Alabama’s Manufacturing Facilities,” where the authors found that non-unionized workers face many other issues besides wages, such as work-family balance due to rotating shifts. When asked whether unions pay attention to these issues, Dr. Silvia noted that yes, he saw this phenomenon at different plants. For example, in Volkswagen Chattanooga, the main discussion still is paid time off, and at Nissan, itis workplace injuries. The UAW paid attention to issues that resonate with workers to make the case for organizing.

See HERE for a more detailed version of this report.

DC LERA holds event on Collective Bargaining in Baseball at GWU

By Frank Fasi III, Teaching Assistant and Student of Business and Finance, George Washington University

On May 4th, 2023, a DC LERA panel was held at the George Washington University School of Business to discuss the labor-management relations in professional baseball, with a focus on the minor leagues. Speaking that day was Brad Snyder, a Professor of Law at Georgetown University who has published numerous books relating to sports and the legal environment. Joined by him was Simon Rosenblum-Larson, an organizer and former minor league baseball player drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays, and program director for “More than Baseball,” a non-profit working toward the betterment of working conditions for minor league players, as well as the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center. Moderating the discussion was Mark Hyman, Director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland and co-director of The Great China Baseball Hunt, an upcoming documentary exploring the world of baseball in China.

In attendance were members of DC LERA and baseball fanatics. Guests ranged from current university students simply interested in sports to foreign dignitaries from various embassies. All were intrigued to learn about the unspoken complexities of labor relations within the minor league, a topic the MLB too often attempts to hide from the public eye.

Topics covered varied from player salaries being below the poverty level to conditions of baseball academies in Latin America. Mr. Rosenblum-Larson had much to share regarding the process of unionizing the minor leagues and the integration into the MLBPA, the union representing all major and minor league athletes. He went into great detail about the first ratified minor-league collective bargaining agreement discussing both the huge improvements in the agreement and the areas where progress is still needed. Professor Snyder spoke about past instances of players being too afraid to speak-out against Major League Baseball due to concerns for retaliation, relating to Rosenblum-Larson’s own story of being released from the team after revealing sub-optimal working conditions in a Washington Post article. All panelists were knowledgeable and passionate about their expertise, engaging the audience and propelling the discussion of what goes on behind-the-scenes of major and minor league baseball.

The event was co-sponsored by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism of University of Maryland, the American Constitution Society DC Lawyer Chapter, and the Masters of Human Resources Program, Department of Management, GW School of Business.

DC LERA hosts Betony Jones of Department of Energy for talk on Green Energy Jobs

By Mohamed El-ZeinResearch Associate, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office

On March 15, 2023, the Washington, DC Chapter of Labor and Employment Relations Association (DC LERA, dclera.org) hosted a roundtable discussion with Betony Jones, Director of the Office of Energy Jobs at the U.S. Department of Energy. The event was held at the Embassy of Sweden.

Betony’s team at DOE supervises the adoption and implementation of Community Benefits Plans with groups that receive funding and loans under recently created infrastructure programs Community Benefits Plans are based on a set of four core policy priorities: investing in America’s workforce; engaging communities and labor (including through project labor agreements); advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; and implementing Justice 40. These key principles, when incorporated comprehensively into project proposals and executed upon, will help ensure broadly shared prosperity in the clean energy transition. These programs help create clean energy jobs that are stable, just, and equitable for American workers.

The passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act is bringing about massive investments and public funding through both direct investments and tax credits for advanced manufacturing and climate and energy infrastructure. The laws demonstrate on-the-ground to American workers that addressing the climate crisis can be done with investments that create good jobs and economic opportunities. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions can help American workers get into and remain in the middle class while helping the U.S. economy grow.

Applicants for funding create Community Benefits Plans and submit them to DOE for review in order to compete for funds to support the commercialization of particular technologies. Applicants must make commitments to creating quality jobs with a plan for attracting, investing in, and retaining the skilled workforce necessary to achieve project success. These plans must focus on relevant workplace issues such as wages and benefits, health and safety, investments in training, and affirmative support for worker organizing and collective bargaining. In addition, these plans need to detail efforts to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and access such as providing childcare benefits to get more women in the workplace, ensuring better access for workers who have had trouble within the legal system in the past, supporting pre-apprenticeship programs that allow for access into the middle class without a college degree, and breaking barriers to entry to work for individuals in underserved and marginalized communities. These are examples of pathways for American workers to the middle class.

The implementation of Community Benefits Plans, including through the use of collective bargaining agreements and other legally-enforceable community benefits agreements has enabled proactive outreach from companies to labor unions fostering dialogue and signing MOUs and neutrality agreements, which unions report is unprecedented.

The open dialogue discussion allowed the audience to raise concerns regarding this transition to clean energy and its effects on well-established communities that have relied heavily on the fossil fuels industry. Betony emphasized that these policies aim to include, not alienate, these communities and enable them to transition from the traditional energy sector with economic diversification and equally good jobs in the clean energy sector. Some of these clean energy policies are driving investments to fossil fuel dependent communities to support the economic and energy transition.

The goal of the Office of Energy Jobs is to support the transition to a more resilient, cleaner, reliable energy system by focusing on improved job quality in the energy sector.  By focusing on attracting and retaining skilled workers with good-quality jobs, plans for diversity and inclusion, benefits to underserved and marginalized communities, and accountability to the community and the workers. the U.S. can create an equitable energy system while revitalizing the middle class. You can learn more about these programs and other initiatives to create an equitable and just economy for American workers in the hyperlinks below.

References

Community Benefits Programs 

Creating Green Economy through Union Jobs

Bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment and Jobs Act

Inflation Reduction Act

DC LERA makes successful transition from Virtual to Live events in 2022

The Washington, DC chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association (DC LERA) benefits from the participation of a very rich community of practitioners, policymakers, academics, and labor attaches from a number of embassies (including France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and Taiwan) in Washington DC.

In 2022, DC LERA continued to host and co-host several events featuring members of this community – all while making the not-so-easy transition from virtual to live and hybrid events. We organized sessions on the future of work, global labor rights, the gig economy in Europe, labor issues at the USPS, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the legacy of slavery and construction and deconstruction of racism in the US, Europe and South Africa, the history of 925 and equal pay for women in the US, the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, the concept of “dirty work,” and an update on the NLRB.

Our speakers were leading thinkers and practitioners on all of these topics, including Karen Nussbaum of Working America, Lane Windham of the Kalmanovitz Initiative at Georgetown University, Ernie DuBester of the FLRA, Thea Lee of US DOL, Sunnie Rucker-Chang of Ohio State University, Mark Clark of the Kogod School of Business at American University, Randolph McLaughlin of Pace University in New York, Anton Hajjar of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service, Rebecca Dixon of the National Employment Law Project, Mark Pearce of the Georgetown Law School Worker Rights Institute, Richard Bock of the NLRB, and Melissa Fisher of the NYU Institute of Public Knowlege.

In addition, we hosted several international experts on workplace issues, including Annamaria Westregård of Lund University, Kgomotso Mufamadi of the University of Johannesburg, Mijke Houwerzijl of Tilburg University Law School, and Roman Kormann of the German Trade Union Federation.

As we transitioned from purely virtual to live, hybrid and some virtual events, we met at the ILO, the Kogod School of Business at American University, and Georgetown Law Center in order to reach out to our publics – especially students. Our partners included the Worker Rights Institute at Georgetown Law School, the American Constitution Society DC Lawyers Chapter, the Workplace Prof Blog, and the African Labour Law Society.

It is the hope of 2022 DC LERA President, Dr. David Jacobs, that we inspired some students to think about the field of labor and workplace relations for their careers – and that our events and activities gave participants and attendees a bit of hope as the pandemic continued to shape our lives.

In 2023, we plan on continuing the DC LERA tradition of bringing professionals and students of all stripes to the table to discuss topical and timely workplace matters.

DC LERA hits the ground running with great in-person event on Nonprofit Union Organizing

DC LERA started 2023 off with a great event organized and moderated by incoming Membership Secretary Ben Kreider, All Workers are Workers: Union Organizing at Nonprofits. The event was held at the Economic Policy Institute. Many thanks to outgoing DC LERA President David Jacobs for organizing all the logistics.

Our guest speakers were Katie Parker and Justin Schweitzer, both of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU), International Federal of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 70. Both Katie and Justin gave eloquent presentations discussing both the need for and the complexities of organizing workers in nonprofit organizations – not to mention negotiating collective bargaining agreements. An active and engaged audience posed several questions.

Thanks everyone for turning out! Stay tuned for more DC LERA events this year, and please reach out