Labor, Community, and Faith Organizer Jonathan Rosenblum will be at Book Beat on Thursday, April 27th from 7:00-8:30 PM to discuss his book Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement. Books will be available for signing and purchase at the event. If you have any questions or would like to reserve the book, please call Book Beat (248) 968-1190. This event is free and open to the public. Book Beat is located at 26010 Greenfield Rd, Oak Park, MI 48237.
Rosenblum was director of the Sea-Tac campaign for the Service Employees International Union, and in Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement, he documents the inside story of the first successful $15/hour minimum wage ballot initiative in the nation. In light of a Trump presidency, Rosenblum, a labor journalist with more than thirty years of organizing experience, offers a blueprint for a new kind of labor movement, called a “social movement union.” To create this newly empowered movement, Rosenblum argues that unions must:
- Aim higher with a bolder vision of a just society that stands as a stark counterpoint to capitalism
- Reach wider by redefining who constitutes the “labor movement” to include all workers, not just those holding union cards
- Build deeper by cultivating the ideas and leadership of ordinary workers
The book, he argues, is an “examination of power in our society today—how it got so imbalanced, the devastation this imbalance has wrecked, and what working people can do and must do to reclaim power and voice in our society.” This battle between labor and big business inspired similar $15/hour fights around the country.
Rosenblum analyzes the steady decline in quality jobs at Sea-Tac and airports around the country beginning in 1978 after big business pushed through new federal laws that stripped worker protections and made it easier for companies to contract out work and walk away from union agreements. Following 9/11, most U.S. airlines declared bankruptcy as a means of breaking union contracts and forcing billions in worker concessions. “They used the power provided them in the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 to force concessions from workers,” he writes. “Power shifted in favor of the airlines and allowed executives to skew income in their direction, away from the workers.” When the Sea-Tac campaign got underway in 2011, organizers needed to step back and assess who at the airport held power, he writes, “and could give workers the recognition, rights, and improvements that they wanted.” To do this, the group knew they needed to take on Alaska Airlines, the dominant airline at Sea-Tac.
In November 2013, the campaign assembled a ballot initiative for $15/hour minimum wage for all workers in and around the airport. The wage initiative also included paid sick leave, rights to full-time hours, a worker retention provision, and collective bargaining power. Alaska Airlines contested the initiative in court, and it was initially removed from the ballot. But the campaign successfully appealed and restored the measure to the ballot, where it won by a mere seventy-seven votes. Alaska Airlines continued the fight, challenging the voter-approved initiative in court until finally in August 2015 the state Supreme Court ruled that the initiative was valid in its entirety. Rosenblum describes how events unfolded with watershed results after the airport victory.
The Sea-Tac experience and the national movement that has flourished since 2013 point towards the greater possibilities in a reimagined labor movement and the changing nature and role of unions today. “What unites workers in these varied efforts is the common belief that the fight doesn’t stop at the workplace,” he writes, “and that, through unity and struggle, a better world is possible.”
“Readers interested in labor activism, history, economics, industrial relations, or immigration studies will find this book to be compelling and captivating, as Rosenblum captures the story of this unifying, important, and successful fight for economic equity.”
Jonathan Rosenblum has been a labor, community, and faith organizer for more than thirty years, playing key roles including SeaTac Airport campaign director. His writing has been featured in Tikkun, In These Times, and Yes! Magazine. He lives in Seattle, WA.