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Mayor Eric Adams' remarks about "low-skill" workers set off a firestorm of responses.

Sometimes it's surprising how quickly politicians can step in it, even when they're trying to say something legitimately important or helpful.

In trying to convince the public that people who can't work remotely need the support of other New Yorkers during the current wave of COVID-19 infections, New York City Mayor Eric Adams artlessly referred to cooks, messengers, shoe shiners and Dunkin' Donuts employees as "low-skill workers" who "don't have the academic skills to sit in a corner office."

To be fair, he was trying express support for the workers he seems to insult, but it came across all wrong. His remarks set off a firestorm of responses from people who have worked as service workers and who took issue with the idea of those jobs being "low-skill."


"There’s no such thing as a 'low-skilled' worker."

Naturally, different jobs require different skills, and "academic skills" could mean a lot of different things. But "low-skill" has an insulting ring to it

Adams tried to clarify his meaning in an interview on CBS This Morning, saying, “The goal is we need to open the city so low-wage employees are able to survive."

If he meant "low-wage," he probably should have said so. And that correction doesn't really address the "lacking-the-academic-skills-for-a-corner-office" thing.

Some people pointed out that "low-skill" or "unskilled" jobs are an actual category of work, meaning that they don't require any specialized education or long-term training. However, that wording minimizes the skills that are required to succeed in many of those jobs, so perhaps we should reconsider that wording altogether.

What Mayor Adams really meant was that people who work in jobs that can't be done remotely still need to be paid during the pandemic. Is encouraging office workers to go into the office in the middle of a raging pandemic so they can help keep those people employed the way to go? Questionable, but everything is questionable right now.

What's clear is that while his intentions may have been good, his delivery definitely needed some polishing. Don't insult a large swath of your constituents by saying they don't have the brains for a corner office. Not a good message, not a good look.

Have you ever felt like you're being watched? It's creepy.

Image by PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay.


Now imagine it's happening at work, and it's your boss who's watching. So is their boss. And their boss' boss. And the company lawyers. And probably the board of directors.

They're all tuned in to you.

It's not because of your job performance. I mean, let's be real: You obviously deserve a raise. Or a trophy, at the least.

Strangely, they're watching you because of your valuesspecifically those having to do with what you believe makes a "fair" workplace.

If you work at Walmart, it may not be in your imagination.

In 2012, as Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, prepared for the holiday shopping bonanza, activists across the country, including some of the company's front-line employees, geared up for protests.

Their goal was (and still is) to pressure the company for non-poverty wages and benefits — you know, the typical signs of work with dignity.

Walmart: Always low. Photos by Matt Hamilton/Neon Tommy/Flickr.

They also want Walmart management to stop intimidating employees who speak up on workplace issues. The company, in case you weren't aware, is a notorious union-buster.

Walmart's alleged "retaliatory" acts against employees who protested has become the subject of a labor law inquiry.

The initial details, assembled for a National Labor Relations Board hearing, have been revealed in a more than 4,000-word exposé by Bloomberg Business.

No decision has been reached yet, but a lot of information has been uncovered on how Walmart handles situations in which workers attempt to exercise their right to organize for a reasonable voice in their work lives.

Here are six discoveries:

1. They have a hotline for managers to report union activity.


Image by PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay.

In an interview with CBS Evening News, Walmart spokesman David Tovar called the protests "another union publicity stunt," implying the company didn't see the protesters as a threat.

Despite that, Walmart beefed up staffing for a dedicated labor hotline for store managers to report activity so executives could pre-empt organizing efforts among unsatisfied workers.

2. They created a "playbook" for stopping union drives.


This is not from Walmart's union-busting playbook. But it makes just as much sense. Image by opensource.com/Flickr (altered).

The document, creatively titled "A Manager's Toolbox To Remaining Union Free," psychs up managers with lines like, "As a member of Wal-Mart's management team, you are our first line of defense against unionization."

To be clear, it's not because the company has a problem with unions: "We are not anti-union; we are pro-associate."

(Unless, of course, their associates want a union.)

3. They form special teams to deal with disgruntled workers.

Image by RadioKirk/Wikimedia Commons (altered).

At the faintest whiff of workers uniting in common purpose, Walmart mobilizes special "Delta teams" to stop union activity in its tracks.

Members of the labor rights group OUR Walmart have reported executives from the company's Bentonville, Arkansas-based headquarters showing up at stores on a moment's notice, armed with talking points and legalese to derail organizing efforts.

4. They hired a defense contractor to spy on activist workers.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

Walmart hired defense contractor Lockheed Martin to gather intelligence on activist workers. Specifically, they use the contractor's data analysis tool LM Wisdom.

According to Lockheed Martin's website, the tool "monitors and analyzes rapidly changing open source intelligence data … [that] has the power to incite organized movements, riots and sway political outcomes."


Emails produced in discovery for the NLRB hearing include social media monitoring updates from Lockheed Martin. Favianna Rodriguez, an artist and activist (not a Walmart employee) whose tweets were among the LM updates, told Bloomberg, "We're artists, not ISIS."

5. They paint protesters as terrorist threats to gain access to federal resources.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

In 2013, protests were planned at the company's headquarters to coincide with a high-profile shareholder meeting. 14,000 people were expected to attend the meeting, including shareholders, investors, the Walton family, and even Elton John.

When company executives heard members of the Occupy movement were expected to join the protests, they enlisted the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. No details have been released on the nature of the collaboration.

But in a show of how cozy Walmart may be with the feds, they a hired former FBI officer as their head of global security.

6. They will hurt many for the rightful actions of a few.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

In 1999, a small group of butchers at a Walmart location in Jacksonville, Texas, voted to unionize — it was their legal right, and they democratically decided it would serve their best interests.

Walmart's response didn't just hurt the newly organized meat cutters. They shut down every meat counterin every U.S. store and switched to only pre-packaged cuts.

Of course, the company wouldn't admit that it was about the union. Walmart spokeswoman Jessica Moser told the Associated Press, "Our decision to expand case-ready meat has nothing to do with what went on in Jacksonville."

This isn't just a problem for Walmart workers.

Again, we're talking about the largest private employer in the United States. Low-wage retail workers are the most common workers in the nation, and Walmart sets the tempo for how they're treated.

Not terrorists. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

The nation is at a crossroads, and our choice is between corporate domination or economic freedom for millions of people. It's a David and Goliath story if there ever were one. Who are you rooting for?

If you stand with Walmart workers, sign OUR Walmart's petition calling for consistent full-time scheduling and a $15 minimum wage.

Labor unions have been on the decline for decades after reaching their high-water mark in 1955, when they represented nearly 35% of the workforce.

Some (like my father-in-law) say that because they bargain for fewer and fewer people, they should just go away. Or that “they had a purpose at one time, but not anymore."

But others say the decline of unions is one of the primary reasons that income inequality in the U.S. is so extreme.

For example, economist Robert Reich shows in his movie “Inequality for All" how the ascent of labor unions decreased the income gap and grew the middle class. You can see the correlation pretty clearly here:


Almost like a mirror image, eh? Hmmm... Graphic from the Economic Policy Institute, used with permission.

Here are a few things to think about.

Agitators gonna agitate: the early days of the UAW. GIF via "Do Labor Unions Still Matter?"

1. Labor unions began as a way for working people to get fair wages, working conditions, benefits, and more.

One of the original demands of labor unions was for the eight-hour workday. This was at a time when many people were working 10- to 16-hour days, every day of the week. It was eventually won, shop by union shop. And during the golden years (post-World War II through about the mid-1960s), it was the norm: Only one parent needed to work to support a family, and the working parent was home for dinner and the weekends.

That's fallen apart as unions have lost power. Now, some folks work three or more part-time jobs just to keep a roof over their head, and mandatory overtime — frequently with no days off for weeks at time — is common. It's time to turn that back around.

Let the dollahs roll!

2. Union jobs pay an average of at least $6,000 more per year than non-union.

That's almost $500 per month, or about two car payments. Whoa.

GIF via "Arrested Development."

3. Union jobs almost always have better benefits (health insurance, retirement savings, time off) than non-union jobs.

Hmmm ... is HAL about to open the pod bay doors? GIF via Prosthetic Knowledge's Tumblr.

4. The kinds of work we do have changed dramatically in the time since unions began.

This is one argument against labor unions — that factories and such are disappearing from our landscape, so those old unions should follow suit. However, many unions are expanding their membership to hospital workers, service industry folks, fashion models, restaurant workers, writers, adjunct professors, nursing assistants, and other professions. Some of these workplaces are clearly vulnerable to abuses, and they're ripe to be unionized. In all cases, working people deserve a fair share.

GIF by Reino Baptista/Wikimedia Commons.

5. A rising tide floats all boats higher.

What do I mean? In most sectors, union representation raises the wages and working condition standards for everybody. Without the union jobs setting the bar higher, economic compensation industry-wide goes down, not up.

That's likely why in some of the largely non-union South, auto companies that are not unionized still pay and treat people pretty well. That would not be the case if some of the other automakers in that part of the country were not unionized, with superior contracts.

Finally, unions offer people a little bit of power on the job — frequently something that, in a still-anemic economy, we're losing more and more of.

It doesn't have to be just about wages and benefits — many jobs come with those. But it's also about not being afraid to say something when management is behaving in ways that are negatively affecting lots of people, or when a supervisor has it in for an employee and is targeting them unfairly, or when work rules are changed arbitrarily and it makes everybody's job a nightmare.

The video below, by the channel TestTube News, will point you to some places to look further if you want to research a bit more, including some of the other side in this conversation.

True
SEIU

Around the country, people are marching to raise wages.

The federal minimum wage is just $7.25. Protesters are pushing to more than double it to $15 an hour.

A popular misconception is that minimum-wage employees are just college kids looking for extra spending money. But 89% of people who would benefit from an increased minimum wage are age 20 or older.


Upworthy asked people at the 2015 New York #FightFor15 protest why it's so important to them that we raise the minimum wage. Their responses remain true today.

Like this man, many others believe that people who work full-time shouldn't still end up in poverty.

It reads: "I'm fighting for $15 and a union because no one should work full-time and still live in poverty."

Another common concern was the rising cost of living. This woman puts it clearly:

It reads: "I'm fighting for $15 'cuz the rent won't wait."

Others, like this woman, want to help make the world a better place for future generations.

It reads: "My son just graduated from college. He and all the sons and daughters need a living wage. I hope this movement jump starts a new, vital labor movement."

And to this woman, it's about respect.

It reads: "I'm fighting for $15 to raise America and the economy. I believe we can win for us all. Workers just want to be respected. #FightFor15 #RaiseAmerica"

Home health care workers, adjunct faculty, child care professionals, and others joined in solidarity.

It reads: "We're home health aide workers and we're fighting for $15 because life is expensive."

And like this man says, paying a living wage is the humane thing to do.

It reads: "I'm fighting for $15 because people deserve to live like people, not like animals!"

This home care worker knows how rough it can be trying to support your family on low wages.

It says: "I'm a home care worker. I'm here to fight for a better salary because life is difficult at $10 an hour. I cannot pay all my expenses. I'm a single mom, and it's hard every single day. I think it's very good to be a union member cause I feel support in my life. Thanks."

A plumber chimed in, echoing the comments about supporting a family.

It reads: "I'm a union plumber. I'm here supporting workers for a fair wage of at least $15 per hour. We all have families to support."

And this group from Belgium doesn't think $15 is so much to ask.

It reads: "I'm from Belgium, and the American people deserve $15!"

For many, however, it's as simple as wanting to be able to take care of your family.

It reads: "I #FightFor15 for me and my 6 kids."

It's no surprise that workers everywhere are asking for a living wage. When you adjust for productivity, the minimum wage has actually decreased by 23% since 1968.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, if the minimum wage kept up with the rate of worker productivity, the minimum wage should actually be closer to $18 an hour.

But these protests can't really change anything, right? Wrong.

If it weren't for these efforts in cities like Seattle and San Francisco, it's likely that things would have stayed how they always were. Both cities have recently boosted their minimum wages to $15 an hour — and on April 4, 2016, the governors of California and New York followed suit by raising their states' minimum wages to $15. Because people got out there and made their voices heard, two of the most populous states now sport two of the best worker wages in the country!

Who's to say we can't make this happen nationwide?

Have your own reason to #FightFor15? Tweet your own signs at @Upworthy and share this post to let us know why!