Some Workers Seek to Unionize Brooklyn Food Co-op

(p. 29) Had you found yourself with nothing to read at any point this summer, the letters section of The Linewaiters’ Gazette, the bi-weekly newsletter of the Park Slope Food Coop, might have sated a certain narrative hunger. Serving a community of 17,000 members, The Gazette is a forum for news, grievance, debate, inquiry and perhaps above all, the expression of principle.

. . .

Given the seriousness with which the co-op takes matters of equity and justice, it surprised many members to learn that an effort on the part of some paid workers to unionize had not been going smoothly. Member owned and operated since its founding in the 1970s, the co-op permits only those who work a certain number of hours per month (behind the cash register, unloading delivery trucks, stocking oranges and so on) to shop there. It also employs about 75 people, all but 11 or so of whom receive an hourly wage.

How was it possible that these workers in an institution so famously aligned with the left were not already unionized? It was like imagining the Catholic Church without baptism. As one stunned member pointed out in his letter to The Gazette, the co-op is “literally on Union Street.”

Money is not what has motivated the movement. Many workers receive upward of $27 an hour, and health-insurance fees are not deducted from that pay. Instead, as Marc Thompson, who has been behind the effort to organize, told me, the problems have had more to do with strained dynamics between workers and supervisors and poor communication generally.

Another big issue is that the co-op is an “at will” shop, meaning that workers can be let go at any time for any reason, without managers having to offer cause. Although it rarely happens, the notion that such a scenario could play out has troubled certain employees. The last time someone was abruptly fired, it was because of theft, Mr. Holtz explained, and that was three years ago.

. . .

In a letter to The Gazette that appeared in May [2019], a group of workers representing the majority who oppose the union said they had “doubts that the traditional union model is the right fit for our very nontraditional workplace.” They were pro-union as a matter of political belief but thought that the co-op had “a rich history” of solving its own problems. Whatever was wrong could be handled within the family, in essence.

For the full story, see:

Ginia Bellafante. “BIG CITY; A Labor Rights Rift? Say It’s Not So, Park Slope Food Coop!” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, September 22, 2019): 29.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated on Sept. 30 [sic], 2019, and has the title “BIG CITY; They Tried to Unionize the Park Slope Food Coop. Guess What Happened.” Above, I cite the title, section, and page number from my National print edition. Those may have been different in the New York print edition. Where there are differences in wording between the online and print versions, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

Disneyland Opened in “Confusion,” “Disorder,” and “Chaos”

(p. B11) On the mid-July day in 1955 when Disneyland opened in Anaheim, Calif., confusion reigned. More people stormed its grounds than expected, rides broke down, food and beverage supplies ran short, and a plumbers’ strike limited the number of working water fountains.
Out in the park that afternoon, amid the disorder, was Marty Sklar, a 21-year-old college junior who was editing the theme park’s 10-cent newspaper. At one point Fess Parker, in full costume as Disney’s television and big-screen Davy Crockett, complete with coonskin cap, approached him on horseback.
Spotting Mr. Sklar’s name tag, Mr. Parker called out for help.
“Marty,” he said, “get me out of here before this horse hurts someone!”
Disneyland recovered well from the early chaos. And Mr. Sklar went on to spend more than a half-century at the Walt Disney Company, as a close aide to Walt Disney himself and eventually as the principal creative executive of the company’s Imagineering unit, made up of the innovators who blend their imaginations and their technical expertise in devising every element of the company’s theme parks.
. . .
He soon became Mr. Disney’s chief ghostwriter for publicity materials, dedications, souvenir guides, speeches, slogans, presentations and short films, like the one that helped the company win approval to build Walt Disney World and Epcot in central Florida. He also collaborated with Walt and his brother, Roy, on Disney’s annual reports.
“It was pretty heady stuff for someone just closing in on his 30th birthday and only six or seven years out of college,” Mr. Sklar wrote in his autobiography, “Dream It! Do It: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms” (2013).

For the full obituary, see:
Richard Sandomir. “Marty Sklar Dies at 83; Became Trusted Aide And Executive at Disney.” The New York Times (Friday, Aug. 4, 2017): B11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 3, 2017, and has the title “Marty Sklar, Longtime Disney Aide and Executive, Dies at 83.”)

Sklar’s autobiography, mentioned above, is:
Sklar, Martin. Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms. Glendale, CA: Disney Editions, 2013.

Union Slows UPS Automation

(p. B1) As UPS tries to satisfy America’s 21st-century shopping-and-shipping mania, parts of its network are stuck in the 20th century. The company still relies on some outdated equipment and manual processes of the type rival FedEx Corp. discarded or that newer entrants, including Amazon.com Inc., never had.
UPS says about half its packages are processed through automated facilities today. At FedEx, 96% of ground packages move through automated sites. UPS workers are unionized; FedEx’s ground-operations workers aren’t.
. . .
(p. B2) UPS is negotiating with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to renew a five-year contract, which expires July 31. Representing 260,000 UPS drivers, sorters and other workers, the union wants UPS to hire more full-time workers to help handle the surge in packages. It has opposed technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones and is wary of projects that do work with fewer employees.
“The problem with technology is that it does ultimately streamline jobs,” says Sean O’Brien, a Teamsters leader in Boston. “It does eliminate jobs. And once they’re replaced, it’s pretty tough to get them back.”
FedEx, with no unionized workforce in its ground network, doesn’t have to worry as much about labor strife. And because it built its ground network more recently, it hasn’t had to retrofit older facilities with automation. “For an older hub, automating is like heart surgery,” says Ted Dengel, FedEx Ground’s managing director of operations technology. “We can drop automation in before a package hits a facility.”

For the full story, see:
Paul Ziobro. “UPS is Running Late.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018, and has the title “UPS’s $20 Billion Problem: Operations Stuck in the 20th Century.”)

Reporters Celebrate Union Before Losing Jobs

(p. A23) A week ago, reporters and editors in the combined newsroom of DNAinfo and Gothamist, two of New York City’s leading digital purveyors of local news, celebrated victory in their vote to join a union.
On Thursday [November 2, 2018], they lost their jobs, as Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade who owned the sites, shut them down.

For the full story, see:
ANDY NEWMAN and JOHN LELAND. “DNAinfo and Gothamist Shut Down After Workers Join a Union.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 3, 2017): A23.
(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 2, 2017, and has the title “DNAinfo and Gothamist Are Shut Down After Vote to Unionize.” The online version says that the page number of the New York edition was A21. The page number of my edition, probably midwest, was A23.)

Some Elevator Operator Jobs Remain

(p. 10) There are 69,381 passenger elevators in this vertically obsessed city, and nearly all of them promise a journey about as exotic and exciting as making toast. You get in, you push a button, the doors open a few seconds later at your destination.
But there remain quite a few machines, manually controlled and chauffeur-driven, where climbing aboard is more like taking a short trip on the Orient Express.
. . .
Most of the elevators are in residential buildings, but a few war horses serve heavy duty in commercial complexes.
Collectively they form a hidden museum of obsolete technology and anachronistic employment, a network of cabinets of wonder staffed round the clock. No one knows how many there are, exactly. The city Department of Buildings offered a list of more than 600, but spot checks indicated that most had gone push-button long ago. On the other hand, officials at Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, to which most doormen and elevator operators belong, said they knew of only one or two.
A non-exhaustive field survey this fall turned up 53 buildings with manual passenger elevators. There are undoubtedly dozens more, but probably not hundreds.
Why they still exist in such relative profusion, when the city is down to its last few seltzer men and its final full-time typewriter repair shop, when replacement parts are no longer made and must be machined by hand, is a question with many answers. But sentiment plays a large part.
. . .
Push-button elevators had actually been around since the 1890s, but were not practical for larger buildings. They were slow. Initially they could make only one stop per trip. Later, they could make multiple stops, but only in the order the buttons were pressed.
It took until 1950 for Otis to perfect a push-button system smart enough to handle the traffic and shifting demands for service over the course of the day in a multi-elevator building. The company’s Autotronic system, Otis boasted in advertisements, “minimizes the human element” and “gives tenants a sprightly feeling of independence.”
The elevator man’s fate was sealed.
Almost.

For the full story, see:
ANDY NEWMAN. “Riding a Time Capsule to Apt. 8G.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 17, 2017): 10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 15, 2017, and has the title “Riding a Time Capsule to Apartment 8G.”)

Union Blocks Firing of Teachers Who Do Not Teach

(p. A1) Francis Blake has not held a permanent position in a New York City public school in at least five years. At his last job, in a Bronx elementary school, records show he was disciplined for incompetence, insubordination and neglect of duties — he had been caught sleeping in a classroom when he was supposed to be helping with dismissal.
Felicia Alterescu, a special-education teacher, has been without a permanent post since 2010, despite high demand for special education teachers. According to records, in addition to getting a string of unsatisfactory ratings, she was disciplined for calling in sick when she actually went to a family reunion. She also did not tell the Education Department that she had been arrested on harassment charges.
This month, Mr. Blake, Ms. Alterescu and hundreds of other teachers who are part of a pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve could be permanently back in classrooms, as the city’s Education Department places them in jobs at city schools.
The reserve is essentially a parking lot for staff members who have lost their positions, some because of school closings and budget cuts, others because of disciplinary problems, but cannot be fired. It grew significantly as a result of a 2005 deal between the Bloomberg administration, which wanted to give principals control over hiring, and the teachers’ un-(p. A17)ion. Since then, the union has fiercely protected the jobs of teachers in the reserve, resisting attempts to put a time limit on how long a teacher can remain there.

For the full story, see:
KATE TAYLOR. “Caught Sleeping or Worse, Idled Teachers Head Back to Class.” The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 23, 2017): A1 & A17.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 22, 2017, and has the title “Caught Sleeping or Worse, Troubled Teachers Will Return to New York Classrooms.”)

Federal and State Mandates Constrain “Creativity in the Classroom”

(p. A11) Mrs. DeVos sees choice as a means to the end of promoting educational innovation–including within traditional public schools. “Instead of focusing on systems and buildings, we should be focused on individual students,” she says. That means encouraging young people “to pursue their curiosity and their interests, and being OK with wherever that takes them–not trying to conform them into a path that everybody has to take.”
What stands in the way? “I think a real robust defense of the status quo is the biggest impediment,” Mrs. DeVos says. She doesn’t mention teachers unions until I raise the subject, whereupon she observes: “I think that they have done a good job in continuing to advocate for their members, but I think it’s a focus more around the needs of adults” rather than students.
Many of the adults are frustrated, too. Recently I met a veteran middle-school teacher who said his creativity in the classroom has been increasingly constrained by federal and state mandates on curriculum and testing. Another teacher I know, who wants to start a charter, complains that “it is getting harder and harder to work for the idiots in traditional schools.”
That sounds familiar to Mrs. DeVos. “I do hear sentiments from many teachers like that,” she says, “and particularly from many teachers that are really effective and creative themselves. I’ve also heard from many teachers who have stopped teaching because they feel like they can’t really be free to do their best, because they’re either subtly or not subtly criticized by peers who might not be as effective as they are–or by administrators who don’t want to see them sort of excelling and upsetting the apple cart within whatever system they’re in.”
She continues: “I talked to a bunch of teachers that had left teaching that had been Teachers of the Year in their states or their counties or whatever. I recall one of the teachers said he just felt so beaten down after being told repeatedly to have his class keep it down–that they were having too much fun, and the kids were too engaged. Well, what kind of a message is that?”

For the full interview, see:
James Taranto, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Betsey DeVos; The Teachers Union’s Public Enemy No. 1.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 2, 2017): A11.
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 1, 2017, and has the title “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; The Teachers Union’s Public Enemy No. 1.”)