Collective action by federal workers might now be the only realistic way to end the now-monthlong impasse that’s left nearly a million federal employees furloughed our working without pay.
So argues Joe McCartin, labor historian and professor at Georgetown University.
Federal workers have no right to strike; as Joe pointed out recently in The American Prospect, “the last significant national collective action by a group of federal workers ended disastrously when the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization defied the strike ban and walked off their jobs on August 3, 1981, only to be fired by President Ronald Reagan and permanently replaced.”
But a spontaneous sickout is a different story. As Joe notes, “Sickouts have long played an important role in the history of public sector labor relations. Because most state governments, like the federal government, prohibit strikes, public workers of all sorts have repeatedly turned in the past to sickouts when no other means of protest was available.”
Indeed, there’s evidence this is already happening, although not nearly on the scale necessary to end the lockout.
“A wave of illness among federal workers would not be an act of selfishness,” Joe writes, “but a patriotic gesture in defense of the common good and in solidarity with less fortunate workers. By falling ill, federal employees would be standing up not only for their furloughed colleagues but for suffering contract workers, including janitors, cafeteria workers, and others with low wages, who will get no back pay when this crisis ends.
On today’s labor calendar, find about the “Impact of Amazon HQ2 on Workers” at tonight’s Bread & Roses program at the Shirlington Busboys and Poets, starting at 6pm; for details, go to dclabor.org, and click on Calendar.
In today’s labor history, on this date in 1826, Indian field hands at the San Juan Capistrano mission refused to work, engaging in what was probably the first farm worker strike in California.
Today’s labor quote is by Terence V. Powderly, leader of the Knights of Labor, born on this date in 1849. Terence V. Powderly, who said:
“An injury to one is the concern of all.”
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