By Lulit Shewan
On September 15, the United Auto Workers made history by igniting an unprecedented simultaneous strike against the formidable Big Three automakers. Over 45,000 autoworkers went on strike for 46 days before securing sweeping agreements with all three auto giants. The ratification of this historic deal is the culmination of the UAW’s intense and dedicated collective efforts. Following a successful summer of strikes, the UAW has shown labor movements across the country that the tide is indeed turning.
The UAW’s newly elected leadership, chosen by members after the success of the union’s “One Member, One Vote” grassroots movement, sought to improve working conditions through significant contract changes. The new contracts are projected to result in top wages, which are currently set at $32/hour, receiving a substantial increase of over 25 percent by April 2028. Starting wages, which currently average $16.67/hour, will also see a 68 percent boost. This increase is structured as an initial 11 percent pay boost upon ratification, followed by three annual raises of 3 percent each, and a final 5 percent increase. The restoration of cost-of-living adjustments, suspended in 2009, can increase to 30 percent over the contract’s life. This is a key win for autoworkers who have seen their average wages steadily fall 19.3 percent since the 2008 recession.
The union’s success follows a recent run of labor victories. In August, UPS averted what would have been a historically large strike when more than 300,000 drivers and warehouse employees represented by the Teamsters agreed to higher wages and protections for workers like air-conditioning in delivery trucks. In September, the Writers Guild of America ended its five-month strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers with a new contract that included significant gains for writers. Artists, sanitation workers, health care workers, and more members of the working class are among those who have joined an overarching U.S. labor effort to contest excessive corporate profit-seeking.
The UAW’s achievement can undoubtedly be credited to its aggressive and unwavering strike tactics. Led by president Shawn Fain, the UAW used a “rolling strike” approach in which autoworkers in factories across the United States walked off the job on different days and without warning, an approach that the UAW claimed would give the union the ability to gradually escalate the strike with the threat of an all-out work stoppage. The union also relied on several hard-bargaining strategies such as bold demands, credible threats, and maintaining unpredictably of strikes at the plants of all three companies.
While Big Three executives said the union’s demands were too unrealistic, workers simply wanted a fair return on their work and sacrifice within the auto industry. They were not willing to accept the status quo, where the top executives and shareholders reaped the reward of high profit while workers faced stagnant wages, unsafe working conditions, and uncertain challenges around automation, electrification, and globalization, all of which threaten the industry and displace workers. And union members were also unwilling to let the Big Three exploit the growing use of temporary workers, who are paid less, receive fewer benefits, and have no job security. The union’s goals speak to the importance of prioritizing a future of work where worker-centered contracts are the priority, and strikes are not the only means for executive leadership to understand the rights to which their employees should be entitled.
The UAW’s Big Three contracts have all been recently ratified, marking a pivotal moment in the history of labor movements not just for autoworkers, but for the entire working class. These agreements have the power to provide significant advancements for job quality in the auto industry and serve as a catalyst for change amid the elevated momentum and wins of the labor movement. The UAW is now hoping to use this success to organize other automakers’ plants and related industries. Union leaders are planning to channel increasing public support, a tight labor market, and the success of the strike to organize non-union automakers. There are high hopes that the significant wage and benefit gains in these agreements will fuel efforts to organize auto workers across the country, who work in an industry with a long history of labor violations and anti-union efforts.
This year has seen a significant increase in labor activism and a genuine desire to extend the power of unions to all workers who can benefit from them. The UAW has also been diligent about organizing graduate students and can be one of the leaders of a newly unionized generation of Americans. Since October, the UAW deal has already begun setting new industry standards for non-union auto plants, an effort that is expected to continue. The victory of the Stand-Up Strike is inspiring on its own, but more thrilling is the conviction that this achievement is just the beginning of a much larger battle. The pendulum can only swing away from inequality if it gets a solid, collective push.
Lorena Roque, senior policy analyst, testified before Massachusetts legislature on behalf of CLASP to strongly back H. 1158/S. 627, which seeks to enhance protections for TNC and DNC workers, establish minimum wage guarantees for their entire working time, and provide equitable labor protections. The legislation affirms these workers’ rights as employees, ensuring they receive benefits such as minimum wage, overtime, unemployment insurance, antidiscrimination measures, worker’s compensation, and paid family and medical leave. It also promotes corporate accountability by requiring data reporting. The legislation addresses the challenges faced by TNC and DNC workers, ensuring fair compensation and labor protections while advancing economic equity in Massachusetts.
On November 8, CLASP submitted this statement for the record after the Senate Finance Committee full committee hearing on October 25, 2022.
The U.S. remains the only Organization for Economic Development (OECD) member country without a paid parental leave program. While 14 states have stepped in to provide paid leave to working people, it’s critical Congress create a federal paid leave program to provide all workers with paid leave to care for a new child, a seriously ill loved one, or their own serious health condition.
CLASP policy senior policy analyst, Lorena Roque testified in Massachusetts on behalf of The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) to strongly oppose H. 961, an Act establishing portable benefit accounts for app-based delivery drivers in Massachusetts. This legislation seeks to classify delivery workers as independent contractors, denying them employee benefits, and creating a two-tiered employment system. The bill also offers portable benefit accounts, but they do not adequately replace existing state benefits like paid family and medical leave and paid sick leave. H. 961’s definition of independent contractors contradicts Massachusetts labor law, and the legislation lacks mechanisms for holding companies accountable for discrimination against delivery workers. CLASP urges the committee to reject this bill, emphasizing that it undermines the state’s history of advancing workers’ rights and economic security.
On November 7th, CLASP submitted a comment in strong favor of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule to update the salary threshold for overtime protections.
The FLSA ensures overtime protection for most hourly workers, but eligibility for salaried workers depends on their pay and job type. The current salary threshold for hourly workers is too low, and has not kept pace with inflation. CLASP supports raising the salary threshold.
CLASP’s Lorena Roque will testify at a hearing to advocate for employment protections for app-based workers and hold Big Tech accountable.
The hearing will take place on November 6th before the Joint Committee on Financial Services, where they will discuss bills H.1158 & S.627, titled “An Act establishing protections and accountability for TNC and DNC workers, consumers, and communities.” These bills aim to affirm employee status for drivers, require companies like Uber and Lyft to report comprehensive data, and implement regulations for delivery network companies like DoorDash and Instacart.
CLASP policy analyst Lorena Roque gives testimony before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Joint Committee On Labor And Workforce Development, on behalf of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
CLASP stands in strong opposition of H.B. 1848, An Act Establishing Rights and Obligations of Transportation Network Drivers and Transportation Network Companies, which carves out workers’ rights for Transportation Network Drivers by classifying them as independent contractors.
CLASP also seeks to improve job quality for workers earning low incomes. That includes increasing wages and providing access to paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and stable work schedules. Quality jobs enable individuals to balance their work, school, and family responsibilities – promoting economic stability as well as career advancement. All working people have a right to a good, stable job that pays them a living wage and treats them with respect.
Throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, hundreds of thousands of hourly workers – disproportionately women and people of color – struggle to earn a stable income because of low wages and the inability to access employee benefits. H.1848 strips workers of being considered employees in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, allows corporations to skirt accountability and avoid paying into Massachusetts’ social safety net, and forces the taxpayers of the Commonwealth to subsidize wages of workers to whom these corporations refuse to pay a living wage.
By Katherine Knott, Inside Higher Ed
Some committee members pointed out how student loan debt disproportionately impacts Black families and exacerbates inequities. “Pursuing higher education can negatively impact Black families’ wealth because of the debt burden,” said India Heckstall with the Center for Law and Social Policy, a nonprofit, and a negotiator for civil rights organizations.
By Jessica Blake, Inside Higher Ed
Christian Collins, a researcher at CLASP and co-author of the report, said although the national conversation on student parents has rightly been focused on mothers, “at the same time, our findings show that student fathers, and specifically Black student fathers, have additional barriers to accessing and completing a postsecondary education that aren’t really highlighted.”
By Rricha deCant
The federal government teetered toward a full shutdown on September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. However, at literally the 11th hour, a shutdown was averted with a continuing resolution (CR) signed into law by President Biden. The bill keeps the government funded until November 17, 2023, by which point Congress will have to pass all of its appropriations bills or pass another CR to keep the government funded. While the millions of Americans who are impacted by federal programs and regulations won’t lose access to benefits and services for the next 45 days, Congress must act swiftly to avert another potential shutdown. Policymakers must prioritize families and children with adequate resources to avoid adding more harm to what the loss of pandemic relief programs already caused.
How Did We Get Here?
A divided Congress always presents challenges for House and Senate leadership. Lawmakers must compromise to reach a policy solution that can be passed by each chamber and ultimately signed by the president. The 118th Congress has faced significant challenges in passing any legislation due to factions within the parties and difficulties for both House and Senate leadership to find consensus within their caucuses. In the House, Republicans hold an extremely slim majority over the Democrats with a small nine-seat margin. In the Senate, Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 majority.
This year has already seen a showdown in Congress over suspending the debt limit. The Fiscal Responsibility Act was passed on June 3, 2023, as a compromise measure between then-Speaker McCarthy and President Biden. The bill lifted the debt ceiling until January 1, 2025, but it also froze spending for non-discretionary programs for fiscal year 2024. Unfortunately, the bill put additional burdens on some individuals and families who are eligible for benefits such as cash assistance and nutrition programs by expanding work requirements. Even still, the bill was not conservative enough for some House Republicans, and then-Speaker McCarthy had to rely on Democrats to pass the bill in the House.
However, House Republicans chose not to honor the deal and pushed for deeper cuts of up to 30 percent in their appropriations bills. They also tried to use migrants at the border as bargaining chips by seeking to decimate the asylum system in exchange for keeping the government open. However, when House leadership brought a CR paired with a border security bill to the floor, it did not pass. In the end, House leadership had to put a clean CR on the floor that included money for disaster relief yet excluded money for Ukraine. The bill eventually passed 335-91 with support from Democrats, but it came at a cost. Just three days later Kevin McCarthy was ousted as Speaker of the House through a Motion to Vacate, brought by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) because, once again, McCarthy had to rely on Democrats to pass the bill, which did not include any major conservative victories in the process.
What’s at Stake?
The chaos in Congress is putting many programs at risk. For example, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is facing significant funding shortfalls in both the House and Senate bills. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates that 4.6 million people could be turned away from WIC under the step cuts in the House bill, and up to 800,000 people could be turned away from accessing the benefit under the Senate proposal. The CR permits the Department of Agriculture to move funds into the WIC program, but additional funding is needed to ensure participants don’t lose their benefits.
Access to affordable child care is also threatened without additional funding appropriated soon. Discretionary funding for child care is appropriated through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The House Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriations bill flat funds this program, while the Senate bill increases funds to CCDBG by $700 million. However, these amounts still fall woefully short of demonstrated need. Additionally, most of the billions of dollars invested in child care during the pandemic expired on September 30—including approximately two-thirds of the more than $50 billion allocated. The remaining $15 billion has to be spent by next September 2024. We estimate that $16 billion is needed per year to make up for the shortfall expected in the coming months. This means that if Congress passes further CRs or does not significantly increase funds for CCDBG through an end-of-the-year budget bill or otherwise invest in child care, families, children, and providers will face the consequences. The Administration for Children and Families estimates that the child care stabilization resources that just expired reached more than 220,000 providers and 9.6 million children. Without additional resources, our nation’s economy will suffer as less care will be available, care will be more expensive, and more parents may have to drop out of the workforce if they don’t have access to reliable child care.
Additionally, American workers are at risk if labor agencies aren’t fully funded to protect their rights or aren’t able to enforce laws that promote their well-being and safety. For example, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing the federal minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor laws, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, has requested an additional $81 million and is at risk of losing close to 1,000 full-time employees if the House Appropriations bill were passed, which cuts $75 million from FY23 levels. Another agency that helps ensure the safety of workers is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The House Appropriations bill cuts the workforce of OSHA by $85 million, which would leave the agency with hundreds of fewer workers than it needs by the end of the year. This means more worker injuries and possibly deaths due to the lack of enforcement.
Inaction by Congress and delays in ensuring that federal programs and agencies are fully funded means that more families with low incomes and children are at risk of losing benefits and protections. This is not good for the U.S. economy, reverses progress in reducing poverty, and reduces inequities in the workplace. Passing a budget has become more complicated, as the House does not currently have a Speaker and cannot bring bills to the floor for votes. Congress should end its brinkmanship and fully fund the programs and agencies that millions rely on to provide support in times of need.