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Teacher, Activist Runs for Mayor — Now is the Hard Part

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Wesley Lowery

A few times each month, for the past four years, Brandon Johnson has made a 25-minute trip downtown to attend Cook County Board of Commissioners meetings — and today is his final one.

The next time he makes this Green Line commute, he’ll be headed to the other side of City Hall, to his fifth floor office, as mayor of the nation’s third-largest city. “It’s like going into high school, or going into college,” he tells me, beaming as we grip a pole for balance. “You kind of feel this excitement.”

Our crowded train makes its way through the West Side from Austin, one of the city’s most underserved communities, where Johnson, 47, and his wife have lived and raised their family for the past decade and a half, and where they once had to replace a window shattered by a stray bullet.

“You think about what the neighborhood represents and what the neighborhood could be,” Johnson tells me. “You don’t think about, necessarily, the current conditions. You think about the promise.”

Johnson is unlike any other Chicago mayor in memory. He’s the first in almost a century from this part of the city. The son of a minister, he is unabashed about his faith in a way often absent in leftist politics. He has taught in some of the city’s most challenging environments and found his political identity within the city’s grassroots labor and progressive movements, not its downtown establishment.

After the administrations of Richard M. Daley, Rahm Emanuel and Lori Lightfoot — mayors known, respectively, for cronyism, profanity and frostiness — Johnson is handsome, charismatic, even funny, and arrives with the reputation of a coalition builder.

“Not every middle school teacher and union activist can run and win for mayor in a major city in America,” says Randi Weingarten. Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.

She has known Johnson for years. She was one in a succession of progressive luminaries that included Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) to parachute into Chicago to aid his campaign.

“When he talks about hope — and contrasts that with fear — and talks about investment in people and in helping people become the best of who they can be . . . people want to follow him.”

But before his first day in the new gig, Johnson must graduate from his current one. His Board of Commissioners send-off is a jubilant affair. Even opponents offer tributes to his collegiality, willingness to collaborate and love of family, as allies gift his favorite snacks — chocolate-covered almonds and Kind bars — and jockey for his office furniture.

“You are the same age that [my brother] Rich was when he assumed the office,” said Commissioner John P. Daley, whose father and brother were the city’s two longest-serving mayors. “I know . . . you’re not just preaching, you believe what you’re saying. You want to unite the city. You want a city that is the same for all. Whether you’re in Austin, the South Side of the city, the North Side — everyone.”

About the Author: Wesley Lowery is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on June 21, 2023. Republished with permission.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about workers’ rights.

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Unions Can Still Strike — Even After Supreme Court Ruling

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Alexandra Bradbury

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Glacier Northwest v. Teamsters Local 174 is outrageous — valuing property over workers’ rights. But it could have been much worse.

Unions still have the right to strike. Employers still can’t generally sue unions in state court for losses caused by strikes. But the decision does open the door to whittling away those rights more in the future.

The practical impact of the Court’s decision is that employers will be suing unions more often for alleged property damage caused by strikes — and that therefore unions (and their attorneys) are likely to be more cautious.

But the Court did not do what many had feared it would do in this case: overrule longstanding precedent that employers generally cannot sue unions in state court over activities — like strikes — covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

Instead, it found that this case fell under an already-existing exception for failure to take reasonable precautions to prevent foreseeable, imminent, aggravated damage to employer property.

Workers and unions are right to be furious at this ruling. But we should be careful not to sensationalize or overstate it—which could do more damage to the right to strike than the ruling itself does, by making workers scared to exercise it.

“American workers must remember that their right to strike has not been taken away,” said Teamsters President Sean O’Brien in response to the ruling. “All workers, union and nonunion alike, will forever have the right to withhold their labor. “His statement went on:

The Teamsters will strike any employer, when necessary, no matter their size or the depth of their pockets. Unions will never be broken by this Court or any other.

Today’s shameful ruling is simply one more reminder that the American people cannot rely on their government or their courts to protect them. They cannot rely on their employers.

We must rely on each other. We must engage in organized, collective action. We can only rely on the protections inherent in the power of our unions.

Hardened Concrete

The question the Supreme Court considered in the Glacier case was whether the employer could sue Teamsters Local 174 in state court over the allegedly intentional destruction of the company’s concrete when striking drivers who had set out with deliveries of ready-mix concrete returned their loaded trucks, requiring the company to dispose of it before it set.

Prior court cases say that an employer can’t sue a union in state court over activity arguably covered by the National Labor Relations Act. Instead, the employer has to go to the National Labor Relations Board.

There is an exception, though, if striking employees don’t take reasonable precautions to protect employer property. For example, in one case, employees walked out of a foundry when molten iron was ready to be poured — which the court found could have caused substantial property damage.

This exception is narrow: failure to take reasonable precautions to prevent foreseeable, imminent, aggravated damage to employer property. It doesn’t include things like economic losses due to temporary closure of a store or factory, strawberries rotting in the field because farmworkers are on strike, or milk going sour in the fridge because baristas have walked out.

The trial court in Washington state dismissed Glacier’s claim because it found that the Teamsters’ strike action was arguably protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The Washington State Supreme Court affirmed.

The United States Supreme Court has now overruled that decision and sent the case back to the trial court, because it says that — assuming the facts alleged in the employer’s complaint are true — the union did not take reasonable precautions to prevent concrete from hardening.

The Supreme Court did not order the trial court to decide against the union, just that the case be allowed to proceed. And it left open the possibility for the state courts to dismiss the case again, depending on what the NLRB does about a pending unfair labor practices complaint against Glacier related to the same strike.

The NLRB issued its complaint against Glacier after the Washington State Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the state court case. The U.S. Supreme Court explicitly did not rule on whether the lawsuit would have been preempted if the NLRB had issued the complaint earlier.

Chipping Away

Depending on how future cases play out in state and federal court, Glacier could end up being a relatively small change to labor law or another in an escalating series of court decisions chipping away at the right to strike.

Already the laws are stacked against powerful strikes. Employers routinely obtain injunctions limiting where and how many strikers can picket; economic strikers can be permanently replaced; secondary targets often can’t be picketed; and so on.

Comparisons to other areas of law, like abortion rights, are useful. Roe v. Wade was not overturned in one night. It took nearly 50 years of legal battles in which courts questioned and undermined Roe v. Wade, until a conservative majority finally overruled it.

Similarly, right-wing attorneys and judges will try to build on Glacier to expand employers’ ability to sue unions. But for the moment, the labor movement may have dodged a bullet.

About the Author: Alexandra Bradbury is the editor of Labor Notes.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on June 1, 2023. Republished with permission.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn more about your rights.

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Workers Need to Organize Together

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I spent a number of weekend mornings in small rooms attending workshops across downtown Chicago in my early 20s around 2015.

In one, abolitionist Mariame Kaba taught some two dozen participants about the legacy of the women in Marcus Garvey’s Black Nationalist movement, connecting their organizing in the 1920s with the framework Black feminist abolitionists were creating a century later.

Learning that history was valuable in itself. Equally important was Kaba’s assurance that we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel — there was no analysis or strategy we were considering that hadn’t been used in the past. That might sound like reason for despair, but for me it was immediately empowering; white supremacy doesn’t want abolitionist organizers to know how close we’ve gotten to a common goal.

As a Black feminist, it was a lightbulb moment: “We been doing this s—!” For once, I felt ok not having an original thought. There is a deep well of organizing history to draw on for the questions of today. 

Bring Back Tradition

That tradition of political education, of learning together, is something our movements dearly need to recover. 

Over the past two years, parts of our movements have become stagnant as organizers contend with burnout and groups struggle to replenish their ranks. It often feels like we’ve forgotten the importance of political education, for both new and existing members.

Some of us have also forgotten that our work includes a lifelong commitment to learning — not just from texts, but from study groups and book clubs, workshops and teach-ins, discussions around dining tables or tucked in library corners. 

Creating these shared learning moments allows us to sharpen our analyses, evaluate strategies and see how the landscape is changing. As my fellow organizer Santera Matthews says, it “helps us dream bigger.”

Without those opportunities, organizing spaces can fall into bad habits. The knowledge of political theory, organizing histories and essential contexts can become a tool for gatekeeping. The work can come to feel transactional. Opportunities for collaboration are lost when curious people are told they don’t need to know X to do Y and Z. Ultimately, members search for new political homes. 

This absence isn’t just about in-person gatherings. The pandemic undoubtedly hindered our ability to gather, but it also created ways to find comrades from livestreams and virtual whiteboards, to join in from the road or while an infant naps. Today, many new discussion forums are short-lived due to a seeming lack of interest, external obligations, internal strife or changes to discourse wrought by social media.

Fortunately, there are projects trying to withstand these challenges.

Founded in 2019, rapper Noname’s eponymous book club and worker cooperative uplifts work from BIPOC authors, sends books to incarcerated people each month and aims to build community through political education. 

“Something Special”

Mariame Kaba can now be found sharing wisdom through Interrupting Criminalization, a research initiative she created with fellow abolitionist Andrea Ritchie, to foster cross-movement learning and build organizing capacity. The resource hub serves as one model for keeping our organizations flexible, intact, healthy and — most importantly — places where curiosity can thrive.

There remains something special about being in a room with a dozen other people who choose to be there. I miss it all deeply: post-workshop discussions and arguments on the L train home. Crowding a cafĂ© table to pass around a legendary essay that illuminates everything. New comrades who start their sentences, “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about [fill-in-the-blank].”

But the most important lesson I learned from those workshops is that community is at the heart of all we pursue.

Regardless of platform, we can and must find ways to recreate that vital organizing space where humility and lightbulb moments can flourish.

As Kaba reminds us, “Everything worthwhile is done with other people.”

This blog was originally posted to In These Times on May 31, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Keisa Reynolds is a freelance writer and a member of In These Times’ board of directors.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ pages on unions and collective action.

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The War Over No Strike Clauses Has a New Front Line

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Hamilton Nolan

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains,” philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said in the 18th century. Likewise, the right to strike is the fundamental source of a union’s power, and everywhere they have signed that right away

“No strike clauses,” which ban workers from striking during the course of a union contract, have been ubiquitous for decades. They are the price, companies argue, of having a contract at all.

Breaking out of this power-sucking bargain is a vital task for the labor movement, if it ever wants to be able to stand up to corporate America in a meaningful way.

Erie Union Making an Effort

The good news is that at least one union is actively trying. 

In Erie, Pennsylvania, more than 1,000 workers who build locomotives at the Wabtec factory are members of UE Local 506. The plant was owned by GE for more than 80 years before Wabtec took it over in 2019. Under GE, the union had the right to strike over grievances: If grievances were not resolved after a three-step process of meeting with progressively more senior managers, workers could strike to force a resolution. UE says that they used that right sparingly — only four times in the 15 years before Wabtec took over, and for just hours on each occasion.

The average management-side lawyer would have you believe that such a right would make the union greedy and enthusiastic to constantly throw sand in the company gears, but that was not the case. Instead, the union says, that right to strike maintained the balance of power between workers and management, and by doing so encouraged a good working relationship, and labor peace. 

As soon as that right went away in UE’s first contract with Wabtec in 2019, things deteriorated. Speaking on a conference call Wednesday, Leo Grzegorzewski, Local 506’s chief steward at the plant, said that annual grievances have more than doubled under Wabtec.

Even worse, the company appears to be blowing them off: Only 3 percent of grievances are settled in the first two meetings with the company, according to Grzegorzewski, and the company proceeds to reject 95 percent of the ones that reach the third and final step. After that, the only remaining tool now is to go to arbitration, which costs the union about $9,000 per case. And there are more than 30 cases in a typical month. The system is broken.

Stalling the Process

Researchers at the Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations published a study of the Wabtec plant just last week that confirmed everything that the union said: Under Wabtec, there are more grievances, they are less likely to reach closure, and the process drags on longer than ever before. 

“Stall, stall, stall,” Grzegorzewski said, summing up the company’s approach. “Delay, delay, delay.” 

Anyone with an iota of common sense can see what is happening here. GE knew workers could strike if it did not take the grievance process seriously, so it did. Wabtec knows the union has little recourse if it does not take the grievance process seriously, so it doesn’t.

It’s a textbook example of how a no strike clause can make the day-to-day experience of workers on the job dramatically worse.

As anyone who has been in a union knows, winning a contract is only half the battle. The other half is enforcing it. Just as companies understand that it’s in their interests to violate laws during organizing campaigns because the penalties for illegal union-busting are paltry, they also understand that they can feel free to interpret the contract in the most hostile way imaginable if all they have to fear is the remote possibility of an arbitration case months or years down the road. The workers at Wabtec are living proof that the deal that has been implicit in almost every union shop for decades — a contract in exchange for a no strike clause — is a losing proposition. 

My First Union Contract

When my colleagues and I at Gawker Media got our first union contract, it did not have a no strike clause (purely because the lawyer we were negotiating with was a media lawyer, not a labor lawyer, and didn’t know any better). Our newly unionized company was sold to Univision, and soon, we got word that our new owners were planning drastic, across-the-board layoffs. Every division was getting slashed.

But us? No. We agreed that we would all walk out unless Univision sat down and negotiated with us. Which they did. We managed to score far fewer layoffs than the rest of the company, and fatter severance packages. That only happened because we held onto our right to strike.

When we were forced to accept a no strike clause in later contracts, owners proceeded to disrespect the union with a smirk. They had lost their fear. 

Striking for the Right to Strike

The UE contract at Wabtec expires on June 9. The union will take a strike authorization vote this weekend, and they expect it to pass overwhelmingly. If they are forced to strike — in part to secure, once again, the right to strike over grievances — they will be doing a heroic service for the entire labor movement.

As important as it is to erase the idea that contracts must preclude strikes, it is hard as hell to find unions willing to take the enormous risk of striking over the issue of the right to strike itself. Money, yes. Benefits, yes. But a right that can seem theoretical? It’s not easy to find the people who will put their own jobs on the line to blaze that trail. Because of that, the entire union world must be ready to throw its support behind the workers in Erie who may have a chance to prove that this can be done. 

Expanding the right to strike makes workers stronger. Period. Always and everywhere. Today’s automatic inclusion of no strike clauses in contracts “should be something that is off the table for all of labor,” Nelson said. 

That will take a while. But in Erie, workers may be poised to take a big step towards the promised land.

This is an abbreviated blog that was originally published in full at In These Times on June 1, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. More of his work is on Substack.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ pages on unions and collective action.

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How Empowering Employees Leads to Workplace Growth

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Katie Brenneman

A healthy, positive workplace can bolster your productivity and improve the ROI on all of your initiatives to improve wellness and well-being. 

However, creating this type of workplace culture can be tricky. 

Support your staff by investing in culture and mental health resources. Meaningful resources — like support systems and scheduling accommodations, among others — can empower employees who need help and will show staff that you’re serious about their personal health and career growth. 

Empowerment and Culture

The best workplace cultures empower employees and promote peer-to-peer support. This is great for the productivity of a business and can lead to long-term workspace growth. Healthy company culture can also improve the profitability of a business by:

  • Reducing Staff Turnover: folks who feel valued at work will hang around and seek internal promotions rather than jump ship when lucrative opportunities come their way. 
  • Increase Engagement: Staff who buy into the brand are far more likely to embrace your initiatives and give every project their all. 
  • Attract Talent: Everyone wants to join a workplace where they feel valued. If word gets around that your business has a supportive, people-first culture, you will likely find that more highly qualified candidates applying for openings. 

Prioritizing company culture can reduce human error and increase accountability at work, too. Folks who feel safe within their peer-to-peer support network are far more likely to come forward than employees who are afraid to own errors.

A supportive peer-to-peer network can help improve mental health in the workplace, too. By creating times to socialize, you give staff a chance to blow off steam and strengthen their bonds. Even small events, like cookie-baking competitions and happy hours on a Friday, can decrease social isolation and improve employee well-being. 

Employee Support Groups

The widespread decline of unions may leave some employees feeling like a small cog in a big wheel. As recent research demonstrates, being part of a collective voice can improve worker well-being and encourage fairer policies at work. 

If your employees aren’t part of a union, consider starting employee resource groups (ERG) at work. Ideally, these support groups should be assembled by the most trusted managers and staff. According to research conducted by McKinsey, an effective ERG program can improve inclusion in the workplace, too. Folks from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds are far more likely to join companies that have a clear commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This can spark a profitable period of workplace growth as new insights and ideas will add real value to your firm. 

An employee support network is particularly important if you have recently hired younger workers at your business. Gen-Z’s approach to well-being at work is a little different than previous generations. Gen-Zers are socially conscious, open-minded, and entrepreneurial. However, without the right support, young employees can feel as though they are being taken advantage of. Offering employee assistance programs (EAPs) at work can go a long way toward supporting Gen-Zers, as well as employees of all age groups. 

Final Notes

Empowering your employees is the key to securing a positive work culture and long-term growth for your business. Employees that feel secure are far more likely to support one another and will come forward with issues without fear of reprisal. You can build a more compassionate culture at work by founding an Employee Resource Group in your workplace. This group will increase uptake in EAP initiatives and ensure that all employees know how to find the assistance they need. 

This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.

About the Author: Katie Brenneman  is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and education When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.

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New 2023 Technology Streamlining Return to Office Experiences

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Despite a wealth of available research indicating that the great shift towards hybrid and remote work has been, for the most part, a positive experience for employees, increasing numbers of businesses and organizations are seemingly determined to return to a more traditional workplace environment.  

Recently published data shows that 68% of American employees prefer remote work over in-person schedules, 64% would consider quitting if forced to return to the office and only 56% feel comfortable shifting back towards traditional work models. In addition, some reports state that as many as 77% of remote workers have increased their productivity since leaving the office, so why are we returning? 

Of course, every business will be experiencing a different combination of factors guiding management teams towards this final decision, and in most cases, employees are unlikely to be given much say in reversing such a call. However, workers should be prepared to request a few significant changes to outdated working environments to ensure that returning to the office can come with some benefits.  

Touchless Access Control 

One aspect of returning to in-person working environments that often frustrates modern employees is the inefficiency of outdated building management systems that so frequently contribute to a significant amount of wasted time. When working from home, staff were given an almost unprecedented degree of control over their daily schedules, allowing for increased productivity in a much shorter time frame. 

Though that same level of freedom cannot be matched in a traditional office environment, employers can help to streamline the return to office experience by choosing to install and operate touchless access control, providing employees with a quick and convenient way of traveling through the office. 

Modern solutions like mobile access control systems allow employees to manage their own property access using unique credentials sent directly to their phones, removing the need for workers to carry around easily lost key cards and enabling staff to access amenities without any physical interactions. 

Operating such systems can also help to facilitate a much more hygienic workplace. With no need for employees to interact with high-touch surfaces like door handles and switches, the spread of germs, bacteria and communicable diseases can be reduced to the benefit of all workers’ health and safety. 

Smart Security Cameras 

Physical security can also be a major concern for employees preparing to return to traditional office environments. When working remotely, staff only needed to protect themselves from cyber threats using company-issued software tools, but in-person workplaces require the use of reliable physical hardware. 

Thankfully, modern smart technology devices can be deployed to dramatically improve existing office security systems, primarily through the integration of AI-informed software to better detect and respond to potential threats. Object and facial recognition systems can be used to detect possible weapons or intruders and be programmed to automatically lock all access points to ensure the safety of workers. 

Additionally, offices situated in multi-level properties should choose to carry out an elevator camera installation to ensure that unauthorized individuals from nearby offices and potential intruders can be easily detected by security teams and prevented from accessing private locations without credentials. 

Finally, exterior commercial grade security cameras can be equipped with license plate recognition software to both streamline employee parking management and alert security staff to the presence of suspicious vehicles. Workers can register their own cars within the system to book parking spots, streamlining their morning schedules and assisting security guards in better monitoring access to commercial properties. 

IoT Occupancy Management Systems 

Many modern offices now choose to operate a wide variety of Internet of Things (IoT) devices to streamline essential building management systems and help employees make more efficient use of their time. IoT occupancy sensors in particular can be an incredibly useful tool, allowing for the development of automated HVAC, scheduling and amenity booking systems in office environments. 

Sensors can be programmed to automatically switch on heating, lighting and ventilation systems as soon as workers enter certain rooms, removing the need for staff to manually adjust these devices and ensuring that all workspaces are adequately conditioned and suitably comfortable to work in. 

IoT occupancy sensors can also be integrated alongside existing scheduling software to provide staff with real-time data regarding facility use. Workers can see which meeting rooms or on-site amenities are currently in use as well as access internal scheduling systems to book such facilities themselves. 

These programs and devices can also be linked to the office’s mobile access control system meaning employees can use their unique digital access credentials to log into and adjust hardware devices or view software programs without needing to remember complicated passwords and personal log in details. 

Though many workers may prefer to continue working remotely, returning to the office doesn’t need to mean returning to outdated traditional work environments. By making use of modern technologies and intelligent management systems, in-person work can be made much safer, more comfortable and less frustrating for the average employee, ultimately helping to streamline the return to office experience. 

This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.

About the Author: Marian Domingo is a contributor to Workplace Fairness.

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How To Balance Travelling With Working Remotely

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Stuart Cooke

The ability to work anywhere you can bring your laptop and locate a secure internet connection is one of the advantages of remote work.

With this capability, remote employees can travel more regularly, and digital nomads can stay as long as they desire in new cities by blending in with the natives. But to work productively the whole time you travel you need a plan.

It can be difficult to work remotely while traveling, regardless of whether you’re taking a bucket list vacation,  an impromptu trip or living the digital nomad life. You will not have the signals of your regular routine and workspace to put you in a productive state of mind. The novelty of a new location and all of its distractions can easily hinder your concentration.

You may be tempted to adopt a laissez-faire approach to your time away. However, if you fail to plan for the nuances of travel and work in advance, you may not be able to enjoy as much sightseeing, exploring, or memory-making as you would like.

Traveling while working remotely is simple if you plan like a boss. Utilize these tried and tested strategies to work remotely while traveling locally or internationally, and you will be able to maximize your work day and your time off.

Create a work / life balance

You have 16 hours per day at your disposal, excluding eight hours for sleep. How you utilize this time depends on how well you organize your schedule. Start logging your work hours now to determine how long it takes you to perform common work-related duties. Toggl and similar platforms track your work hours by client, project, or activity (such as debugging or answering emails). When you know the average duration of specific duties, you’ll have a general idea of how much time you should allocate in your schedule to complete them. 

Check the operating hours of all locations, attractions, etc. that you wish to visit. It is helpful to create a spreadsheet with all of the open hours during the week for popular destinations such as museums, amusement parks, aquariums, etc. Determine the average amount of time individuals spend there as well as the busiest days and times.

Create a calendar or planner for the week. Now that you know what is on your to-do list and the average duration of your duties, it is time to pull it all together. First, determine which days and times you will be “off-duty”, then divide your work assignments into blocks and fit these in around your travel itinerary. Stick all of your tasks to post-it notes and rearrange them on your calendar or planner to experiment with a travel itinerary and work schedule.

Find Your Space

Even though you can carry your laptop anywhere, not every workspace is created equal. Regardless of how long you intend to work while traveling, you must have an ergonomic space that allows you to work in comfort and without interruption. This means that the desk in your hotel room or the tables in the local café or restaurant may not suffice.

Try to identify a place that energizes and motivates you while maintaining mental concentration. Some people thrive in the buzzing background noise of a crowded, bustling coffee place, others find them too distracting to concentrate on their work or too noisy to make phone calls.

So, which scenario works for you? When unsure, opt for a coworking space. You will have a guaranteed workspace and will never have to compete for a power outlet when your laptop runs out of juice. Many permit daily, weekly, and monthly rentals. Coworking spaces are ideal for solitary travelers and digital nomads staying for a few weeks in a new location. You’ll connect with others in the same position, exchange travel advice, and discover a community. 

Stay Safe and Secure Online

It is a fundamental essential that you verify your internet requirements and your organization’s security policy!

You shouldn’t rely on anyone else’s Wi-Fi, including the free Wi-Fi at your hotel or Airbnb, as well as the Wi-Fi in cafĂ©s and public spaces. These may not be fast enough to enable you to be productive but on a more serious note they are notoriously susceptible to malware and some businesses prohibit their employees from using them. Before you travel, you should therefore double-check your organization’s online security policies. 

Consider a VPN, particularly if you require Wi-Fi for data-intensive duties. A VPN conceals your IP address, encrypts your traffic, and increases your Wi-Fi security. Many remote companies require their employees to use a VPN when they are not connected to their secure home Wi-Fi network. Or you could purchase a portable hotspot., allowing you to bring your own Wi-Fi network with you wherever you go. You can connect multiple devices to your hotspot, experience rapid download speeds, and explore for global unlimited data plans.

You may be thinking “Couldn’t I just turn on the personal hotspot on my smartphone?” The answer is “Yes”, but you will deplete your phone’s battery, consume your data, and experience slower speeds. 

Have office will travel

Packing a portable office in addition to your other luggage is most likely the only disadvantage of working remotely and traveling. While traveling, essential office supplies include:

  • Laptop and a slipcover or case for protection
  • Tablet and carrying case
  • Wireless mouse
  • External keyboard
  • Headphones with noise-canceling technology
  • Foldable laptop support
  • Planner, notebook, pens and markers

You should always have a backup option to work on in case a device fails, is lost, or inadvertently ends up in a hot tub. Don’t neglect to pack at least one shirt or outfit that is webcam-friendly.

It is impossible to predict when an impromptu Zoom meeting with your boss or best client will occur. And you do not want to be limited to wearing only beachwear! 

Stay in the zone

Be mindful of time zone differences! Your employer or clients may still expect you to check in and meet deadlines on their time if you will be working in a different time zone.

There are handy apps available ie. World Time Buddy that displays the current time in your time zone and in other time zones. Beginning remote work is an ideal time to review how you use online tools and apps to make the most of your work time, maximize your leisure time and improve your interactions with colleagues to be more productive and collaborative (with less miscommunication) while you’re away.

So, the only thing left to organize is where you will be traveling too while remotely working — will you be city hopping, trying a bit of rural living, experiencing beach life or mixing it up?

Remote work and travel complement each other. You will be productive and get to see all the locations and people on your bucket list if you organize a game plan, coordinate with your team, and locate the ideal workspace.

Now that you understand how to work remotely while traveling, you’re undoubtedly itching to explore.

This blog was originally contributed to Workplace Fairness on June 1, 2023. Published with permission.

About the Author: Stuart Cooke Stuart is the Marketing Manager at My Baggage, which is a luggage shipping service that helps people relocate and work remotely all around the world.

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Norfolk Southern Railroad Needs to Clean Up Its Mess

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Maximillian Alvarez

It’s been over 100 days since the catastrophic derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying over 100,000 gallons of toxic materials occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb 3.

Since then, residents of East Palestine and the surrounding area in Ohio and Pennsylvania have had their lives turned completely upside down.

Entire families have been uprooted from their homes, with many having to live in hotels or wherever they can find shelter, unable to return home out of fear of exposure to chemicals that were spilled into the water and soil from the derailment and spewed into the air from Norfolk Southern’s “controlled burn” of the vinyl chloride contained within multiple derailed train cars.

Even though government and company officials have claimed the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink, residents have continuously reported negative health effects from skin rashes, headaches, and dizzy spells to nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and mouth numbness. Farm animals, pets, and crops have been contaminated, property values have plummeted, local businesses have shuttered or are barely surviving.

All the while, frustrated residents report feeling lied to, misled, disregarded, and abandoned by Norfolk Southern and by their state and federal governments, and their ongoing nightmare has been gradually forgotten by the national media.

In this urgent episode, we speak with Ashley McCollum, Kayla Miller, and Christina Siceloff — three residents of East Palestine and the surrounding area in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and members of the East Palestine Unity Council. We discuss what they, their families, and their communities are going through, how they are banding together to provide mutual aid for one another, and what we can all do to help.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 30, 2023 along with a podcast and transcript that are available at the same post.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InTheseTimes.com.

Visit Workplace Fairness pages on workplace injuries, health, and safety to learn more.

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Financial Literacy in the Workplace: Empowering Employees

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Financial literacy is a vital skill to have and understand, as it can dictate the way that you live your life.

If you’re stressed about your finances or are living paycheck to paycheck, it can be difficult to think about the possibility of saving money. Learning how to navigate your financial state and understanding how to manage your money can help you better your current financial situation, allowing you to work towards a more secure future. 

When people become educated about their finances, it can help to improve their overall quality of life, as well as give them more confidence in both their personal and professional lives. Follow along as we discuss the importance of empowering employees to become more educated on financial literacy.
The Importance of Financial Literacy

Financial literacy is the ability to understand and use different financial skills, such as knowing how to save and invest your money, as well as how to budget your money to create a more secure future for yourself. Financial literacy is an essential skill to have, and one that takes practice. Many people stress about their finances, and the root cause of that is due to a lack of understanding. 

Impact of Financial Resources for Employees 

Many companies have resources and educational tools available to their employees that they can use to learn more about money management and financial literacy. By encouraging employees to take steps towards utilizing the financial resources available to them, it can instill confidence in them as they will have the tools to understand their current financial situation, as well as how to work towards financial freedom.

Some resources that companies can implement include employee assistance programs (EAP) which can range from retirement planning guidance, debt counseling, and even providing access to financial planners. Retirement planning is essential to understand, as it allows employees to plan for their future and provide them with money to live off of after they retire. Understanding how to best invest into their retirement can put them on a better path, as they’ll learn how to invest and have more control over their investments as well. 

In addition to that, employers can offer debt counseling through online learning or through personal financial planners as a way to teach employees how to manage their money and decrease their debt. Learning about different types of loans to improve debt management can alleviate the overwhelming stress resulting from numerous expenses to be paid off.

Debt consolidation loans, in particular, offer a promising solution for employees grappling with multiple debts, as it combines all their outstanding balances into a single monthly payment, streamlining the repayment process and enhancing manageability.

Offering financial resources to employees to encourage them to learn about their financial health and work to improve it can help employees decrease the everyday stress they may feel, and help them feel more supported by their employer.

When employees feel supported, they are more likely to work harder and stay at the company longer than someone who doesn’t feel supported. When there is an effort to improve the life of employees coming from employers, it increases the overall retention a company has because that is seen as a company that cares about their employees.

How to Improve Money Management

A large part of understanding finances is knowing how to manage money. It’s important that when employees get their paycheck, that they break it down into needs, wants, and savings. Being able to create and stick to a budget can help to better improve money management, as well as create structure for them in their daily life.

Consider the 50/30/20 rule as a guideline for budgeting. This rule consists of setting 50% of monthly income into needs, 30% into wants, and 20% into savings. 

When it comes to needs, this can include expenses such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, and healthcare. These are essential expenses that should be expected to be spent each month. These expenses may fluctuate each month depending on the situation, but it’s important to write down all the essential bills so that when it comes time to pay, they’ll have the money to do so.

In addition to that, wants should also be factored into the budget. This can include anything that is nonessential, such as going out to eat, self-care, gym memberships, or even clothes shopping. 

When considering a budget for wants, make sure that the plan is realistic, so it’ll be easy to stick to it. Oftentimes people get strapped for money as a result of overspending on their wants without realizing it until it’s too late. In order to avoid that, it’s important to stay diligent about a budget and spending habits, and adjust those habits as needed to work for their lifestyle. The remainder of an employee’s paycheck, the 20% part of the budgeting rule, should be allocated to savings. 

Setting aside money strictly for savings can help pay off any debts, as well as serve as an emergency fund or can be put towards retirement planning. By establishing and following this budgeting guide, it can help employees to properly allocate their paycheck in order to ensure they’re not spending too much, and also are able to still have a liveable wage. 

It’s important to not only understand one’s finances, but also have the resources available to do so. Employers are now taking more measures to encourage employees to learn how to manage their money, how to invest their money, and how to reduce their debts through various educational resources.

As employees, it’s important to take advantage of any learning opportunities as it can improve the knowledge and skills one has, setting them up for a more secure future.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness on May 31, 2023. Published with permission.

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Leveraging Federal Funds for Employment

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Ever since the passage into law of the American Rescue Plan, Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, CHIPS Act and Inflation Reduction Act, here’s what I say to friends and family whenever they bring up a problem we all know needs to be fixed right now.

“Do you know there’s money to fix that problem?”

That’s because there is $4 trillion on tap for communities through these programs.

$4 Trillion. On the table. Right now.

That’s more than four times the size of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that led the country out of economic ruin in the 1930s. It’s also eight times the size of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, which fought racial inequities with jobs and education and offered universal healthcare to the poor and elderly in the 1960s.

Achieving goals on this scale won’t be easy, but at People’s Action, we believe it is worth it. Our Executive Director, Sulma Arias, recently shared why she feels this is one of the best times to be an organizer. I agree.

Unlike during the New Deal, when federal agencies such as WPA & the CCC would show up in towns ravaged by the Great Depression to create jobs, build bridges, and plant trees, it’s now up to communities to claim these opportunities and overcome roadblocks thrown up by Red-State legislatures.

This moment will only become our New Deal if we make it so. This moment needs organizers like us.

That’s where People’s Action comes in, through our Leveraging Federal Funds work. We are well-positioned to help member groups cut through red tape so they can identify and make the most of federal opportunities.

We want to elevate how each opportunity can lead to the next. Together, we advance towards our long-term goal of a democracy that works for all of us, with sustainable jobs in a clean economy.

These federal funds will only reach and make an actual difference in people’s lives if they are administered through local initiatives created by trusted and knowledgeable local organizers.

Fortunately, that’s exactly who People’s Action and our member groups are known for: building trust and laying the foundation for moments such as this one.

This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at Our Future on March 10, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Ann Pratt is the senior campaign strategist for leveraging federal funds at People’s Action.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions and collective action.

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