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Verizon CEO Visits Striking Workers, Tells Them ‘I’m Not Sure Why You’re Out Here’

This piece originally appeared on Alternet.

A video uploaded to YouTube by a striking Verizon worker shows Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam addressing workers at a picket line in DeWitt, New York.

McAdam made an unannounced stop in DeWitt, where he spoke with the workers for 15 minutes before attending a meeting with managers at the Verizon office. McAdam told the striking workers he didn’t understand why employees had walked off the job Wednesday, in the largest U.S. work stoppage since 2011.

“I don’t know what you’re being told about why the union leadership didn’t accept mediation,” McAdam said. “For me, if there’s a disagreement and after 10 months you can’t get there, mediation makes a lot of sense.”

When workers questioned the CEO about Verizon transferring jobs overseas, McAdam claimed he wasn’t aware of such changes. “At 178,000 employees, you think there might be things going on around the business I don’t know about?” he said. He told them he would look into the claims of outsourcing.

McAdam made headlines last week when he referred to Bernie Sanders’ economic views as “uninformed” and “contemptible.” McAdam posted the comments shortly after Sanders visited a group of striking workers to pledge solidarity and call out McAdam for his labor policies.

Watch the video of McAdam’s comments at the picket line below:

Michael Arria is an associate editor at AlterNet and the author of Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC. Follow @MichaelArria on Twitter.

Photo: Lowell McAdam, President of Verizon, at Fortune Brainstorm TECH at the Aspen Institute Campus. Sam Churchill/Flickr

For Better Or Worse, The Labor Movement Is Reinventing Itself

Haltingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years — of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Walmart employees — have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven’t done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future, do unions anticipate that they will.

Blocked from unionizing workplaces by ferocious management opposition and laws that fail to keep union activists from being fired, unions have begun to focus on raising wages and benefits for many more workers than they can ever expect to claim as their own. In one sense, this is nothing new: Unions historically have supported minimum wage and occupational safety laws that benefited all workers, not just their members. But they also have recently begun investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members. Some of these campaigns seek to organize workers who, rightly or wrongly, aren’t even designated as employees or lack a common employer, such as domestic workers and cab drivers.

The decision of Seattle’s government to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 resulted from just such a campaign. Initially, the city’s fast-food workers’ campaign, backed by the Service Employees International Union, sought simply to unionize the 4,000 food service workers at Sea-Tac, the city’s airport. When the airport’s employers refused to bargain, the SEIU put an initiative on the ballot in Sea-Tac, the small Seattle suburb that is home to the airport, which proposed to raise Sea-Tac’s minimum wage to $15. The SEIU had assumed that, when confronted with such a measure, the airport would begin bargaining in exchange for having the measure withdrawn. It didn’t. Instead, Sea-Tac voters approved the measure, and the cause of the low-paid workers so dominated the local media that the following year, the city of Seattle raised its minimum to $15 as well, increasing the incomes of 100,000 workers. In America today, it is becoming easier to win a law raising wages for 100,000 workers than to unionize 4,000.

Wage increases are just some of the gains that unions are winning in the legislative and electoral process. The Taxi Workers Alliance has won more favorable regulations from municipal taxi commissions, although fewer than a quarter of its members pay dues. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has won legislation in four states, including California, that entitles domestics to overtime pay; yet none of its members pay dues (the organization is largely foundation supported). In San Francisco, retail workers, the vast majority of whom are nonunion, have prompted the city to adopt an ordinance requiring retailers to regularize part-timers’ hours.

For better or worse, the new labor movement is beginning to look a little like the 19th-century Knights of Labor, a workers’ organization that didn’t seek contracts between workers and their employers, but rather worked to advance workers’ interests through legislation. The problem with that model is that the Knights fell apart after two decades, unable to financially sustain itself, while the unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, which did have workplace contracts and dues-paying members, managed to survive. This is a problem that today’s unions are compelled again to confront: SEIU’s fast-food campaign is the prime mover of the minimum-wage momentum sweeping much of the nation, but how many resources can the union afford to spend on a campaign unlikely to generate any new members for the foreseeable future?

Los Angeles could well become the place where this new model of unionism gets its most extensive tryout. Should the City Council establish a municipal minimum wage higher than the state’s, more than half a million local workers will see their incomes rise. Some of the city councils in the county’s 80-plus other cities will doubtless match that standard, too, but many won’t. At that point, the L.A. labor movement — the most strategically savvy in the nation — could put initiatives on the 2016 presidential ballot to raise the municipal minimum in scores of L.A. County cities, and build an organization of thousands of nonunion workers to campaign for those measures. That organization could provide the nucleus for a union of low-wage workers — whether or not they have unions in their workplaces or contracts with their bosses — that this city, the capital of poverty-wage work, clearly needs.

Is such an organization possible? Sustainable? If it is, L.A.’s the place where it’s most likely to take root.
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Harold Meyerson is editor at large of the American Prospect and an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Annette Bernhardt via Flickr

U.S. Drone Strikes Came Despite Yemen’s Hopes To Limit Them

By Adam Baron, McClatchy Foreign Staff

SANAA, Yemen — A series of U.S. government drone strikes in Yemen over recent days has brought into sharp relief divisions among the country’s rulers over how to rein in a program that they’ve long supported.

Only last week, a top Yemeni military official told McClatchy the government had placed the drone program “under review” in hopes of persuading the United States to limit strikes.

The most recent strikes — one Saturday morning in the central province of al-Bayda that hit a vehicle carrying more than a dozen suspected militants from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, another roughly 24 hours later in the reputed AQAP stronghold of al-Mahfad in the southern province of Abyan and a third Monday that killed three in Shabwah province — show that such a review has yet to limit the attacks.

Yemen’s government has long assented to the strikes — privately, in the case of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but openly under the country’s current leader, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who took power in February 2012.

But a rising number of civilian casualties, particularly the December bombing of a wedding party that left 15 dead, has unnerved some Yemeni officials.

“We’ve told the Americans that they’ve been going about things the wrong way,” the high-ranking Yemeni military official said last week, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “When it comes to the current drone policy, there have been too many mistakes.”

The first American drone strike in Yemen is thought to have occurred in November 2002, killing senior al-Qaida leader Qa’id Sinan al-Harithi and five other suspected militants, including American citizen Kemal Darwish. The strikes continued to occur sporadically until late 2011, when they increased. According to estimates published by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based research center, there were at least 47 U.S. drone strikes in Yemen in 2012, and at least 25 the following year.

The strikes have long been controversial here — many Yemenis view them as violating their nation’s sovereignty — and popular opposition has only grown in the two years since the start of Hadi’s presidency. While American and Yemeni officials have defended them as key tools in the battle against AQAP, their frequency has left many Yemenis aghast. Local political analysts and tribal leaders in the provinces where they occur most often argue that the telltale buzz that precedes them terrorizes the local population, spurring many to sympathize with al-Qaida.

Such sentiments have only heightened in the wake of a spate of civilian casualties. After the December attack on the wedding party, Yemen’s Parliament voted unanimously for the drone strikes to halt.

That’s prompted Yemeni officials to open discussions with their American counterparts on how to limit attacks, said the high-ranking official. Yemeni officials familiar with the discussions have told McClatchy that they hope things will lead to the strikes focusing on higher-level targets, while Yemen would increase operations by elite military units. Yemen is also hopeful that the U.S. will increase assistance to its under-equipped air force, the officials said.

Still, the three days of attacks show the fragility of such goals. Saturday morning’s strike, for example, accurately hit an AQAP vehicle, according to government statements. Unfortunately, three civilian laborers who happened by in a separate vehicle were also killed.

“It would have been the perfect strike,” said another Yemeni official briefed on security matters, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He said the militants targeted by the attack had long been under surveillance. “Those poor laborers (drove in) just after the bombs were dropped.”

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb