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    John Deere Workers Strike After Failed Contract Talks

    About 10,000 unionized employees walked out, as worker activism rises during nationwide labor shortages.Employees of Deere & Company formed picket lines after some 10,000 unionized workers went on strike to demand better pay and benefits at a time when the agriculture equipment maker was on track for a year of record profits.Meg Mclaughlin/Quad City Times, via Associated PressSome 10,000 unionized workers at the agriculture equipment maker Deere & Company went on strike early Thursday after overwhelmingly rejecting a contract proposal worked out with the company by negotiators for the United Automobile Workers union.“Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” Chuck Browning, the director of the union’s agricultural department, said in a statement. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved.”Deere said it was “determined to reach an agreement” that would benefit workers. “We will keep working day and night to understand our employees’ priorities and resolve this strike, while also keeping our operations running for the benefit of all those we serve,” Brad Morris, the company’s vice president for labor relations, said in a statement.The strike deadline was announced on Sunday after the union said its members had voted down the tentative agreement reached on Oct. 1 with the company, which makes the John Deere brand of tractors. Union negotiators had said the proposal would provide “significant economic gains” and “the highest-quality health care benefits in the industry.”But workers, who are spread out across 14 facilities, primarily in Iowa and Illinois, criticized the deal for insufficiently increasing wages, for denying a traditional pension to new employees and for failing to substantially improve an incentive program that they consider stingy.“We’ve never had the deck stacked in our advantage the way it is now,” said Chris Laursen, a worker at a John Deere plant in Ottumwa, Iowa, who was president of his local there until recently.Mr. Laursen cited several sources of leverage for workers: the profitability of Deere & Company — which is on a pace to set a record of nearly $6 billion this fiscal year — as well as relatively high agricultural commodity prices and supply-chain bottlenecks resulting from the pandemic.“The company is reaping such rewards, but we’re fighting over crumbs here,” he said.Deere, long known to farmers for its green-and-yellow product line, is a publicly traded company valued at more than $100 billion. After a brief plunge early in the pandemic, its shares have tripled, far outpacing the overall market. They rose slightly on Thursday.Steve Volkmann, an analyst with the investment bank Jefferies, acknowledged that Deere was doing well. “Crop prices have increased with every other commodity,” he said, “and when farmers make money, they tend to buy equipment.” And he said Deere’s leadership in agricultural technology had helped make it more profitable.Mr. Volkmann said the financial damage from the labor dispute, if it was settled quickly, would be limited. The company’s bigger challenge, he said, comes from the pandemic’s disruption to the worldwide supply chain, which has caused shortages and raised prices for some components.“Deere is already under some stress,” he said. “They’re not producing at full capacity anyway — they just don’t have the parts.”As many employers grapple with worker shortages, workers across the country appear more willing to undertake strikes and other labor actions.Last week, more than 1,000 workers at Kellogg, the cereal maker, went on strike, and Mondelez International, which makes Oreos and other Nabisco snacks, experienced a work stoppage this summer. Coal miners in Alabama have been on strike for months. Workers have also waged prominent union campaigns at Amazon and Starbucks.Those on strike elsewhere in the country have raised similar complaints as the Deere employees, pointing out that they put in long hours as essential workers during the pandemic but are not sharing much of the profits that their companies reaped during that time.“There was no reprieve — everyone was working seven days a week,” said Dan Osborn, the president of a Kellogg workers local in Omaha.Mr. Osborn said his members were upset over a two-tier compensation system that they worry puts downward pressure on the wages and benefits of veteran workers. “Divide and conquer, it’s an age-old adage,” he said.The Facebook pages of some U.A.W. locals on Thursday encouraged workers to turn out for picketing, which one said would qualify them for strike pay and health insurance.Union members at General Motors walked off the job for almost six weeks in 2019 before agreeing to a four-year contract that included substantial wage increases and closed disparities in a two-tier wage structure.Under the tentative deal at Deere, wages would have increased 5 or 6 percent this year, depending on a worker’s pay grade, and then an additional 3 percent each in 2023 and 2025.Pension benefits would have increased but would have remained substantially lower for workers hired after 1997, and many workers were disappointed to see benefits eliminated for new hires, Mr. Laursen said.Other workers are perturbed about the lack of health care benefits for retirees, which also ceased for workers hired after 1997.Analysts suggested that Deere might be wary of taking on additional long-term obligations because its current level of profitability is unlikely to last.“It’s a very cyclical business,” said Ann Duignan, an analyst with J.P. Morgan. “They may be having record profits this year, but we believe we are close to a peak.”Many workers were frustrated with similar elements of the last contract that the union negotiated with Deere, in 2015, and had been anticipating a showdown ever since.“I’ve been saving since the last contract,” said Toby Munley, a Deere electrician in Ottumwa, where U.A.W. members voted to reject the previous contract, as did another local in Iowa. “People were feeling it then.” That contract was narrowly approved overall.Looming over the negotiation is suspicion among rank-and-file workers toward the international union after a series of scandals in recent years involving corruption in the union and illegal payoffs to union officials from executives at the company then known as Fiat Chrysler.The scandals led to more than 15 convictions, including those of two recent U.A.W. presidents.Mr. Munley said he had worried that the U.A.W. would try to negotiate a marginally better deal and sell the membership on it before the strike deadline Wednesday night, but said he was encouraged that the union had held firm.“I was happy to see we didn’t come back with a tentative agreement,” he said. “It restored some of my faith in my international.”Nelson D. Schwartz More

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    What Will It Take for Electric Vehicles to Create Jobs, Not Cut Them?

    A report by a liberal think tank tries to quantify the potential employment gains and losses, concluding that subsidies will be crucial.When President Biden announced his multitrillion-dollar jobs plan in March, it included nearly $175 billion in spending to encourage Americans to buy electric vehicles.The money would help ensure “that these vehicles are affordable for all families and manufactured by workers with good jobs,” the White House wrote at the time.Now, as Mr. Biden’s plan wends its way through Congress, a liberal think tank has tried to flesh out the number of jobs to be gained or lost in the transition away from internal-combustion vehicles.The report, released Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute, concluded that it would take government subsidies focused on developing a domestic supply chain and increasing demand for U.S.-made vehicles to avoid job losses.It found that without additional government investment, the industry could lose about 75,000 jobs by 2030, the year by which Mr. Biden wants half the new vehicles sold in the country to be electric.By contrast, the report said, if government subsidies were targeted to increase the portion of electric vehicle components that are manufactured domestically, and to increase the market share of U.S.-made vehicles, the industry could add about 150,000 jobs by the end of the decade.“That’s the payoff — making the sector a center of good jobs again,” said Josh Bivens, an economist who is one of the report’s authors. “If we don’t try to react proactively with good policy we’ll see continued downward pressure on the number of good jobs.”Looming over the transition to electric vehicles is the fact that they have substantially fewer moving parts than gasoline-powered ones and require less labor to manufacture — about 30 percent less, according to figures from Ford Motor. The vehicle-manufacturing industry employs a little under one million people domestically, including suppliers.The cab of an all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning truck prototype. Ford and General Motors have said they are taking on a greater role in battery production.Rebecca Cook/ReutersThere are essentially two ways to offset the projected job losses: to increase the proportion of each vehicle’s parts that are made domestically — specifically in the powertrain, the key parts and systems that power a car — and to sell more vehicles assembled in the United States.Mr. Bivens and his co-author, James Barrett, an economic consultant, examine the effects of doing both. They note that roughly three-quarters of the parts in the powertrain for a U.S.-made gasoline vehicle are produced domestically, versus less than half of the parts in the powertrain of a U.S.-made electric vehicle.Raising the proportion of domestic content in electric vehicles so that it mirrors gas-powered ones could save tens of thousands of jobs a year, they estimate — potentially more than half the likely job losses that would arise without additional government action.But to transform likely job deficits into job gains, Mr. Barrett and Mr. Bivens find, it is necessary to increase the market share of vehicles made in the United States. According to the study, the percentage of vehicles sold in the United States that are made domestically has hovered around 50 percent over the past decade. If it were to rise to 60 percent, the authors conclude, the industry could gain over 100,000 jobs in 2030.If market share were instead to drop to 40 percent by the end of the decade and there were no increase in the domestic content of electric vehicle powertrains, the industry could lose more than 200,000 jobs, the report finds.Under the Democratic plan circulating in Congress, a current $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of a new electric vehicle would rise as high as $12,500. An extra $4,500 would apply to vehicles assembled at unionized factories in the United States. Consumers would receive the final $500 if their vehicle had a U.S.-made battery. The details could change in the face of opposition from automakers with nonunion U.S. plants.Democrats are also discussing subsidies to encourage manufacturers to set up new factories or upgrade old ones.Sam Abuelsamid, an auto industry analyst at Guidehouse Insights, said that domestic automakers had an opportunity to increase market share as the industry electrifies and that an expanded consumer tax credit would help.“They are targeting a lot of the market segments that are particularly strong-selling — crossovers, pickups,” Mr. Abuelsamid said. “There is definitely potential for them to claw back some market share from Asian brands.”Still, he warned, the window for seizing the opportunity could be relatively narrow as Asian automakers like Toyota and Honda, which have lagged somewhat in their electric vehicle planning, introduce more electric offerings.The question of whether manufacturers will locate production of electric vehicles and their components in the United States as demand grows, and the extent to which government subsidies can help ensure that this happens, has been a subject of debate in recent years.Dale Hall, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, a research organization, said in an interview that electric vehicles tend to be manufactured in the region where they are sold, both to save on transportation costs and to be more responsive to consumers’ needs. 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    Liz Shuler Is Named President of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

    Ms. Shuler was the No. 2 official before Richard Trumka’s death. A vote to fill the top post for a full term will be held in June.The A.F.L.-C.I.O. has chosen Liz Shuler, its acting president since the death of Richard Trumka this month, to lead the federation until it holds elections next year.Ms. Shuler had served as secretary-treasurer, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s second-ranking official, since 2009.The decision to name Ms. Shuler president came at a meeting of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. executive council on Friday, which Ms. Shuler was obligated to call within a few weeks of Mr. Trumka’s death under the federation’s constitution. Ms. Shuler is the group’s first female president.“I believe in my bones the labor movement is the single greatest organized force for progress,” Ms. Shuler said in a statement. “This is a moment for us to lead societal transformations — to leverage our power to bring women and people of color from the margins to the center — at work, in our unions and in our economy, and to be the center of gravity for incubating new ideas that will unleash unprecedented union growth.”Before becoming the federation’s secretary-treasurer, Ms. Shuler held a variety of roles with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. She said in an interview the day after Mr. Trumka’s death that she had been preparing for years to lead the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and that she expected to be a candidate for a full four-year term next June.“You don’t just show up one day and ask for support — the groundwork has been laid for years,” she said. “I studied under the best, and I am ready to lead.”Union presidents and senior A.F.L.-C.I.O. staff members have spent years debating the proper role of the federation, with some arguing that it should mostly coordinate among its member unions and help advance their shared priorities in Washington and state legislatures. Others argue that the federation should play a leading role in organizing new workers and building alliances with progressive groups, like those promoting civil rights.Mr. Trumka, known for his close relationship with President Biden, was primarily associated with the first view during his later years as A.F.L.-C.I.O. president. Ms. Shuler is also identified with this approach, although she stressed in the interview that adding union members was a priority and has supported organizing initiatives in the past.Some officials who favor more emphasis on organizing want Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, to lead the federation.But few sought to challenge Ms. Shuler at a moment when the stakes are high for organized labor. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. is pushing for the large jobs and infrastructure measure proposed by Mr. Biden, as well as for legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions.“There is a need to unify the labor movement to get where we need to go,” Ms. Shuler said in the interview. “My job would be to promote unity and solidarity around a common agenda.”The executive council also voted Friday to name Fred Redmond, a top official of the United Steelworkers, to fill the opening for secretary-treasurer that Ms. Shuler’s elevation created.Mr. Redmond, who is the first Black official to serve in one of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s top two positions, has been a vice president of the steelworkers’ union since 2005 and coordinates bargaining for members in the health care, pharmaceutical and shipbuilding industries, as well as those in the public sector. He also oversees the union’s civil rights department and has worked with other progressive groups to campaign for voting rights.The steelworkers’ president, Tom Conway, is close to Mr. Biden and has been outspoken in support of his jobs and infrastructure plans. More

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    After Trumka’s Death, A.F.L.-C.I.O. Faces a Crossroads

    For years, influencing political outcomes has been the priority. Some are calling for more emphasis on basic organizing.Richard Trumka’s 12 years as A.F.L.-C.I.O. president coincided with the continued decline of organized labor but also moments of opportunity, like the election of a devoutly pro-labor U.S. president. With Mr. Trumka’s death last week, the federation faces a fundamental question: What is the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s purpose?For years, top union officials and senior staff members have split into two broad camps on this question. On one side are those who argue that the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which has about 12 million members, should play a supporting role for its constituent unions — that it should help build a consensus around policy and political priorities, lobby for them in Washington, provide research and communications support, and identify the best ways to organize and bargain.On the other side of the debate are those who contend that the federation should play a leading role in building the labor movement — by investing resources in organizing more workers; by gaining a foothold in new sectors of the economy; by funding nontraditional worker organizations, like those representing undocumented workers; and by forging deeper alliances with other progressive groups, like those promoting civil rights causes.As president, Mr. Trumka identified more with the first approach, which several current and former union officials said had merit, particularly in light of his close ties to President Biden. Liz Shuler, who has served as acting president since Mr. Trumka’s death and hopes to succeed him, is said to have a similar orientation.But as the federation contemplates its future, there is one inescapable fact that may color the discussion: Mr. Trumka’s approach did not appear to be resolving an existential crisis for the U.S. labor movement, in which unions represent a mere 7 percent of private-sector workers.“American workers’ level of collective bargaining coverage is not comparable to that of any other similar democracy,” said Larry Cohen, a former president of the Communications Workers of America. “If you’re not there to grow, you’re in trouble. You’re just playing defense. You’ll be here till someone turns the lights out.”Funding for a department specifically dedicated to organizing dropped substantially during Mr. Trumka’s presidency, to about 10 percent by 2019, according to documents obtained by the website Splinter. Ms. Shuler said in an interview on Friday that the department’s budget did not reflect other resources that go toward organizing, like the millions of dollars that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. sends to state labor federations and local labor councils, which can play an important role in organizing campaigns. Although the rate of union membership fell by about 1.5 percentage points during Mr. Trumka’s tenure to under 11 percent, his influence in Washington helped lead to several accomplishments. Among them were a more worker-friendly revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement, tens of billions of dollars in federal aid to stabilize union pension plans and a job-creating infrastructure bill now moving through Congress.The economic rescue plan that Mr. Biden signed in March sent hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to state and local governments, which public sector unions, increasingly the face of the labor movement, considered a lifeline.But the cornerstone of Mr. Trumka’s plan to revive labor was a bill still awaiting enactment: the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. The legislation would make unionizing easier by forbidding employers from requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings and would create financial penalties for employers that flout labor law. The federation invested heavily in helping to elect public officials who could help pass the measure.During an interview with The New York Times in March, Mr. Trumka characterized the PRO Act as, in effect, labor’s last best hope. “Because of growing inequality, our economy is on a trajectory to implosion,” he said. “We have to have a way for workers to have more power and employers to have less. And the best way do that is to have the PRO Act.”Ms. Shuler echoed that point, arguing that labor will be primed for a resurgence if the measure becomes law. “We have everything in alignment,” she said. “The only thing left is the PRO Act to unleash what I would say is the potential for unprecedented organizing.”But so far, placing most of labor’s hopes on a piece of legislation strongly opposed by Republicans and the business community has proved to be a dubious bet. While the House passed the bill in March and Mr. Biden strongly supports it, the odds are long in a divided Senate.When asked whether the A.F.L.-C.I.O. could support Mr. Biden’s multitrillion-dollar jobs plan if it came to a vote with no prospect of passing the PRO Act as well, Mr. Trumka refused to entertain the possibility that he would have to make such a decision.Airport workers protested for a minimum wage of $15 in Newark in 2016. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. has supported the Fight for $15 but not provided direct financial backing for it.Chang W. Lee/The New York Times“I don’t see that happening,” he said in the interview. “This president and this administration understand the power of solving inequalities through collective bargaining.”An alternative approach might have made building power outside Washington more of a priority by expanding the ranks of union members and increasing the leverage of workers who are not union members.In the view of Mr. Cohen, the former communications workers leader, one advantage of a large investment in organizing is that it allows the labor movement to place bets in a variety of industries and workplaces where workers are increasingly enthusiastic about unionizing, but where traditional unions don’t have a large presence — like the video game industry and other technology sectors.Such funding can help support workers who want to help organize colleagues in their spare time, as well as a small cadre of professionals to assist them. “You have 100 people who you pay $25,000 per year, and 15 people full time, and the people can build something where they live,” Mr. Cohen said.Stewart Acuff, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s organizing director from 2002 to 2008 and then a special assistant to its president, said the federation’s role in organizing should include more than just directly funding those efforts. He said it was essential to make adding members a higher priority for all of organized labor, as he sought to do under Mr. Trumka’s predecessor.“We were challenging every level of the labor movement to spend 30 percent of their resources on growth,” said Mr. Acuff, who has criticized the direction of the federation under Mr. Trumka. “That didn’t just mean organizers. It meant using access to every point of leverage,” like pressuring companies to be more accepting of unions.Mr. Acuff also said that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. must be more willing to place long bets on organizing workers that may not pay off with more members in the short term, but that help build power and leverage for workers.He cited the Fight for $15 and a Union, a yearslong campaign to improve wages for fast-food and other low-wage workers and make it easier for them to unionize. The campaign, which has received tens of millions of dollars from the Service Employees International Union, has succeeded in many ways even though it has produced few if any new union members. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. has supported the Fight for $15 but not provided direct financial backing.Mr. Cohen and Mr. Acuff both cited the importance of building long-term alliances with outside groups — like those championing civil rights or immigrant rights or environmental causes — which can increase labor’s power to demand, say, that an employer stand down during a union campaign.A protest for racial and economic justice organized by the A.F.L.-C.I.O. last year. Mr. Trumka tried to throw the federation’s weight behind civil rights causes like Black Lives Matter.Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesAt times during his tenure, Mr. Trumka sought to cultivate such alliances, but he was often stymied by resistance within the federation.Amid the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, Mr. Trumka tried to throw the weight of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. behind civil rights causes, including a speech he made in Ferguson, Mo., after a young Black man, Michael Brown, was shot to death by a police officer there in 2014.But Mr. Trumka faced a backlash on this front from more conservative unions, who believed the proper role of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. was to focus on economic issues affecting members rather than questions like civil rights.“There were some unions — not just the building trades — who felt like that work was not what we should be focusing on,” Carmen Berkley, a former director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department, said in an interview last year.Since Mr. Trumka’s death, labor leaders have begun to discuss what the federation’s organizing and political challenges mean for the choice of a successor. Under its constitution, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. executive council will meet within three weeks to choose a successor to serve out Mr. Trumka’s term, which expires next year.A leading candidate will be Ms. Shuler, who as secretary-treasurer became acting president on Mr. Trumka’s death. If the council selects Ms. Shuler to fill out Mr. Trumka’s term, it could propel her to the presidency next year and cement the federation’s direction, a prospect that some reformers within the labor movement regard with concern.A number of these reformers back Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, as the federation’s next president. Ms. Nelson has argued for diverting much of the tens of millions of dollars the labor movement spends on political activities to help more workers unionize.But Ms. Shuler insists that deciding between investing in organizing and the federation’s other priorities is a false choice.“I don’t think that they are mutually exclusive,” she said. “The way modern organizations work, you no longer have heavy institutional budgets that are full of line items. We organize around action. We identify a target where there’s heat.” Then, she said, the organizations raise money and get things done. More

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    Amazon Faces Wider Fight Over Labor Practices

    A second union vote may be held at an Alabama warehouse, and new tactics by the Teamsters and other groups aim to pressure Amazon across the country.Since the start of the pandemic, Amazon has ramped up its hiring, bringing on hundreds of thousands of employees worldwide. But challenges to the company’s labor practices are growing quickly, too.Those challenges were underscored when a hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board recommended a new union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company’s conduct during the organizing campaign had precluded a fair vote.The board’s regional office will rule on the recommendation in the coming weeks. If it leads to a new election, as seems likely, the union would face long odds of victory. But Amazon faces a widening campaign to rein in the power it wields over its employees and their workplace conditions.Those efforts include a campaign by the Teamsters that would generally circumvent traditional workplace elections and pressure the company through protests, boycotts and even fights against its expansion efforts at the local level. Legislation in California would force Amazon to reveal its productivity quotas, which unions contend are onerous and put workers at risk.Throughout the pandemic, Amazon warehouse workers have protested what they consider unsafe conditions, sometimes resulting in embarrassment for the company, as with the disclosure of notes from an internal meeting in which an Amazon executive called a worker-turned-protester “not smart, or articulate.”In April, the general counsel of the labor board found merit to charges that Amazon fired two white-collar workers who had raised concerns last year about the conditions facing the company’s warehouse workers during the pandemic. The election in Alabama brought intense scrutiny of the company’s labor practices, with even President Biden taking it as an opportunity to warn employers that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda” during such a campaign.In a statement after the hearing officer’s recommendation was reported on Monday, Amazon said, “Our employees had a chance to be heard during a noisy time when all types of voices were weighing into the national debate, and at the end of the day, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers.”Since the results were announced in early April, showing that Amazon won by more than two to one, many unions and union supporters have argued that the outcome points to the need for new tactics to organize the company.Perhaps the most prominent voice in this discussion is the more than one-million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which approved a resolution at its convention in June committing the union to “supply all resources necessary” to organize workers at the company and help them win a union contract.The Teamsters argue that holding union votes at individual work sites is typically futile at a company like Amazon, because labor law allows employers to wage aggressive anti-union campaigns, and because high turnover means union supporters often leave the company before they have a chance to vote.Instead, the Teamsters favor a combination of tactics like strikes, protests and boycotts that pressure the company to come to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract covering wages, benefits and working conditions. While the union hasn’t laid out its tactics in detail, it recently organized walkouts involving drivers and dockworkers at a port in Southern California to protest the drivers’ treatment there.They hope to enlist the help of workers at other companies, sympathetic consumers and even local businesses threatened by a giant like Amazon, partly to mitigate the challenges presented by high employee turnover.“Building our relationships within the community itself is the way to deal with that,” Randy Korgan, a Teamsters official from Southern California who is the union’s national director for Amazon, said in a recent interview. “We could have filed for an election in a number of places in the last more than a year, gotten into that process, but we realize that the election process has its shortcomings.”The union believes that it can pull a variety of political levers to help put the company on the defensive. Mr. Korgan cited a recent vote by the City Council in Fort Wayne, Ind., denying Amazon a tax abatement after a local Teamsters official spoke out against it, and a vote by the City Council in Arvada, Colo., to reject a more than 100,000-square-foot Amazon delivery station. While the Arvada vote centered on traffic concerns, Teamsters played a role in drumming up opposition.In California, the Teamsters have joined forces with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, an advocacy group, to back a bill that would require certain employers to disclose the often opaque productivity quotas applied to workers, which they can be disciplined or fired for failing to meet. The legislative language makes it clear that Amazon is the main target.The bill, offered by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the author of a 2019 law effectively requiring gig companies to classify workers as employees, would also direct the state’s occupational safety and health agency to develop a regulation ensuring that such quotas don’t put workers at high risk of injury. It passed the State Assembly in May and will be considered by the State Senate later this summer.Other labor groups are pressing ahead with less orthodox efforts to increase the power of Amazon workers. Over the first six months of this year, a group called the Solidarity Fund, which raises money from individual tech workers, distributed over $100,000 in grants to workers seeking to organize their colleagues to push for workplace improvements.About half the money, in $2,500 increments, went to workers at Amazon. It funded a laptop to assist with organizing, as well as hiring a freelance graphic designer to help make pamphlets, among the varied efforts. Later this month, the fund will begin accepting applications for a second round of grants.The group’s sister organization, called Coworker.org, is putting together a detailed report on workplace surveillance measures, including a number of technologies that it says Amazon either developed or pays other companies to use. Along with these efforts, the company is likely to face another high-profile election at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. Labor law experts said that in such cases a regional director typically accepts the recommendation of the hearing officer, who argued for setting aside the results.The officer recommended the dismissal of many of the union’s objections to the election, including the contention that Amazon illegally threatened workers with a loss of pay or benefits if they unionized. But she found that a collection box that Amazon pressured the U.S. Postal Service to install near the warehouse entrance gave workers the impression that the company was monitoring who was voting, thereby tainting the outcome.A union brief described how Amazon surrounded the collection box with a tent, on which it printed a company campaign message (“Speak for Yourself”) and the instruction “Mail Your Ballot Here.” The union noted that Amazon’s surveillance cameras could record workers entering and leaving the tent. The company did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.If the labor board’s regional office accepts the recommendation to order a new election, Amazon has vowed to appeal to the five-member board in Washington. A recent shift there may affect the outcome: Democrats were assured control of the board in late July, when the Senate confirmed two of President Biden’s nominees.Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which oversaw the union campaign at the Amazon warehouse, acknowledged in an interview after the first election that high turnover at Amazon and the company’s ability to hold mandatory anti-union meetings made winning a vote difficult. But he said that a long-term campaign could be victorious.“I think that we’re going to be able to build on this,” Mr. Appelbaum said. “We pushed the ball downfield. Maybe it’s not the first election. Maybe it’s the second or third election.”Workers have long complained that one of the most fundamental features of an Amazon warehouse is the amount of control the company exerts — over the pace of work, the way workers perform it, the frequency of their breaks, the time they must spend waiting at metal detectors on their way home.In its objection to the election results, the union argued that Amazon had tried to assert a similar level of control over the voting itself, through measures like the collection box. Now the labor board appears on the verge of clawing some of that power back.The board’s role in administering union elections was “usurped” by Amazon’s conduct in obtaining the box, the hearing officer said. That conduct, she said, “justifies a second election.” More

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    Covid Variant Adds to Worker Anxieties

    Some see an undue rush by employers to get workplaces back to normal, whether by dropping precautions or imposing new rules.When Kelly Harris, a personal grocery shopper in Steubenville, Ohio, was vaccinated in March against Covid-19, it was a huge relief. “I felt the weight of the world off my shoulders,” she said.Her sense of relief has turned to dread. After most supermarkets eased masking requirements in May, mask wearing plummeted in her area. She worried about bringing the virus home to her school-age children.Then, as the Delta variant proliferated in recent weeks, her anxiety levels spiked again. “I try to stay away from everybody and use self-checkout,” she said. “It has me pretty stressed out.”Judging from the policies of the stores Ms. Harris frequents, many employers appear to regard the recent increase in Covid infections as a mere blip on the long-awaited road to normal.Some companies have intensified their efforts to return to a pandemic before-times, easing safety protocols while expecting employees to return to previous routines.But for many workers, the perception is quite different: a sense of rising vulnerability and frustration even for the vaccinated, who find themselves inundated with stories of breakthrough infections and long Covid.The gulf between employers’ actions and workers’ concerns appears to foreshadow a period of rising tensions between the two, and unions appear to be positioning themselves for it. Some unions are calling on companies to do more to keep members safe, while others are questioning new vaccination requirements. The two positions may seem at odds, but they send a common message: Not so fast.“I think we’re rushing to return to normal,” said Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has over one million members in industries like groceries and meatpacking.Many workers complain about a mismatch between plans their employers appear to have made before the rise of the variant and the reality of the past few weeks.For much of the pandemic, Amazon has offered free on-site Covid testing for employees. It incorporated a variety of design features into warehouses to promote social distancing. But a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Oregon, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, said there had been a gradual reduction in safety features, like the removal of physical barriers to enforce social distancing.Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said that the company had removed barriers in some parts of warehouses where workers don’t spend much time in proximity, but that it had kept up distancing measures in other areas, like break rooms.“We’re continuously evaluating the temporary measures we implemented in response to Covid-19 and making adjustments in alignment with public health authority guidance,” Ms. Nantel said. She added that the company would “begin ramping down our U.S. testing operations by July 30, 2021.”At REI, the outdoor equipment and apparel retailer, four workers in different parts of the country, who asked not to be named for fear of workplace repercussions, complained that the company had recently enacted a potentially more punitive attendance policy it had planned to put in place just before the pandemic. Under the policy, part-time workers who use more than their allotted sick days are subject to discipline up to termination if the absences are unexcused. The workers also said they were concerned that many stores — after restricting capacity until this spring — had become more and more crowded.Halley Knigge, a spokeswoman for REI, said that under its new policies the company allowed part-time workers to accrue sick leave for the first time and that the disciplinary policy was not substantively new but merely reworded. The stores, she added, continue to restrict occupancy to no more than 50 percent capacity, as they have since June 2020.Workers elsewhere in the retail industry also complained about the growing crowds and difficulty of distancing inside stores like supermarkets. Karyn Johnson-Dorsey, a personal shopper from Riverside, Calif., who finds work on Instacart but also has her own roster of clients, said it had been increasingly difficult to maintain a safe distance from unmasked customers since the state eased masking and capacity restrictions in mid-June.“You have whole families who are picking out a pound of ground beef,” she said. “Children who are not vaccinated because of age are touching everything, not masked, either.”Amazon’s warehouse on Staten Island. Workers at Amazon have become concerned in recent weeks that the company is overly eager to wind down safety measures.Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesMs. Johnson-Dorsey, who had Covid last year and was vaccinated in March, said that what she was encountering in stores had become a major source of worry as the Delta variant spread. “I think it’s just showing that maybe we jumped too quickly to try and beat this imaginary deadline,” she said.On Tuesday, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided new guidance on masking, some employers said they would adjust their policies as warranted.“We’d always defer to state and local ordinances on capacity and masking mandates,” said a spokeswoman for Albertsons, which also owns Safeway and Jewel-Osco. “We don’t have a national mandate on capacity at this time.”Ms. Harris and Ms. Johnson-Dorsey, the personal shoppers, do not belong to a union, but Bob O’Toole, the president of the food workers local in Chicago, which represents more than 15,000 workers in the grocery, meatpacking and food-processing industries, said many of his members shared their sentiments.“The employees don’t feel as though the employers are doing anything to enhance safety after so many precautions were relaxed,” he wrote in a text message..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}Mr. Perrone, the international president for the food workers union, said in a statement on Tuesday that the new C.D.C. guidance wasn’t sufficient and urged a national mask mandate.Public-sector workers, too, have expressed safety concerns as officials move to get government services back to prepandemic norms. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently brought back office-based city employees who had been working remotely during the pandemic.But one of the unions representing them, the Illinois council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has argued that more needs to be done to space workers apart and improve ventilation.“The workplaces where those people work could be sources of transmission because we live in a cubicle world where people are often very close together,” said Roberta Lynch, the union’s executive director in the state. “We want to ensure that people who have high-risk work locations are able to work safely.”A spokeswoman for the mayor did not respond to a request for comment.The Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents nurses who are increasingly subject to vaccine requirements around the country, is unlikely to take a position on the mandates per se but will seek to have a voice in setting policy to guarantee that employees are treated fairly, said Sandy Pope, its bargaining director. For example, the union wants to ensure that no workers are disciplined or fired for refusing the vaccine if they have legitimate reasons for doing so.“We will demand to be consulted on these things,” Ms. Pope said. “I know a couple of members who have legitimate health issues that have prevented them from being vaccinated.”The union, which also represents clerical workers at insurance companies, credit unions and universities, has employee-management committees pushing to arrange adequate ventilation systems for workers, with mixed results, she said. She added that the union was preparing for a potential standoff in September, when many employers have said they will end hybrid work arrangements and require full-time attendance.“I think that’s going to be the big fight,” Ms. Pope said. “A number of employers had September as the target date.”The Culinary Workers Union, which represents casino workers in Las Vegas, has been calling for the return of a mask requirement for all customers indoors since Nevada relaxed the rule in May.John Locher/Associated PressBy contrast, the United Automobile Workers union said it was working with major automakers through a Covid task force to help make safety decisions. General Motors and Ford Motor both recently reinstituted masking for all employees at separate sites in Missouri, and Ford reinstituted masking at offices in Florida, after the companies assessed virus-related data in those regions. And a number of employers, including Amazon and the meat processor JBS, have had vaccination facilities for workers on site.Some unions may have been spared a fight by the C.D.C.’s move on Tuesday. In Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers Union, which represents casino workers, has been calling for the return of a mask requirement for all customers indoors since Nevada relaxed the requirement in May. The casinos had not heeded the call, but after the C.D.C. announcement, the state said it would reimpose an indoor mask mandate.In other cases, a reckoning still looms. The federal government’s mask mandate on airplanes is set to expire after Sept. 13, and unions representing airplane personnel are uneasy about the possibility that it will lapse, though Tuesday’s C.D.C. announcement suggests it may be more likely to be extended. The unions have applauded the airlines for moving to stop the spread of the coronavirus on airplanes by installing more sophisticated air filtration systems, but maintain that they are not sufficient.“Filtration is helpful for circulated air in the cabin,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “But it doesn’t stop the general spread from one person to another sitting six inches apart.” More

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    The National Labor Relations Board grants a reprieve to inflatable rats.

    It turns out that inflatable rodents may be as unstoppable as their living, breathing cousins.On Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that unions can position large synthetic props like rats, often used to communicate displeasure over employment practices, near a work site even when the targeted company is not directly involved in a labor dispute.While picketing companies that deal with employers involved in labor disputes — known as a secondary boycott — is illegal under labor law, the board ruled that the use of oversized rats, which are typically portrayed as ominous creatures with red eyes and fangs, is not a picket but a permissible effort to persuade bystanders.Union officials had stationed the rat in question, a 12-foot-tall specimen, close to the entrance of a trade show in Elkhart, Ind., in 2018, along with two banners. One banner accused a company showcasing products there, Lippert Components, of “harboring rat contractors” — that is, doing business with contractors that do not use union labor.Lippert argued that the rat’s use was illegal coercion because the creature was menacing and was intended to discourage people from entering the trade show. But the board found that the rat was a protected form of expression. “Courts have consistently deemed banners and inflatable rats to fall within the realm of protected speech, rather than that of intimidation and the like,” the ruling said.The rise of the rodents, often known as “Scabby the Rat,” dates to the early 1990s, when an Illinois-based company began manufacturing them for local unions intent on drawing attention to what they considered suspect practices, such as using nonunion labor. The company later began making other inflatable totems, like fat cats and greedy pigs, for the same purpose.The labor relations board had previously blessed rats in a 2011 ruling. But seven years later, its general counsel, Peter B. Robb, sought to reopen the debate.Mr. Robb, a Trump appointee, issued an internal memo in 2018 arguing that erecting a rat near an employer that was not directly involved in a labor dispute amounted to “unlawful coercion” — an attempt to disrupt the business of a neutral party. His office subsequently intervened on behalf of the companies in a handful of cases in which firms sought to block unions from deploying large inflatable paraphernalia close to their facilities.One of those cases was dismissed, while a successor to Mr. Robb sought to dismiss another. (A judge has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss that case.)In the case brought by Lippert, an administrative law judge ruled against the company in 2019, arguing that the rat did not amount to a picket or illegal coercion.The judge noted that the rat and banners, which were erected by members of a local branch of the International Union of Operating Engineers, were stationary and did not create confrontation with passers-by. There was no evidence that the two union representatives present marched in front of the trade show or blocked people from entering, the judge wrote. They appeared to merely sit beside the rat.The company appealed to the labor board in Washington, which solicited public comment last fall on whether it should modify or overturn the precedent.But the board’s chairman, Lauren McFerran, a Democratic appointee, concluded that precedent required dismissing the complaint. Two Republican appointees indicated that they considered the precedent flawed but that banning inflatable rats would violate the First Amendment.A lone Republican appointee, William J. Emanuel, argued that the precedent should be overturned. More

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    Building Solar Farms May Not Build the Middle Class

    To hear Democrats tell it, a green job is supposed to be a good job — and not just good for the planet.The Green New Deal, first introduced in 2019, sought to “create millions of good, high-wage jobs.” And in March, when President Biden unveiled his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, he emphasized the “good-paying” union jobs it would produce while reining in climate change.“My American Jobs Plan will put hundreds of thousands of people to work,” Mr. Biden said, “paying the same exact rate that a union man or woman would get.”But on its current trajectory, the green economy is shaping up to look less like the industrial workplace that lifted workers into the middle class in the 20th century than something more akin to an Amazon warehouse or a fleet of Uber drivers: grueling work schedules, few unions, middling wages and limited benefits.Kellogg Dipzinski has seen this up close, at Assembly Solar, a nearly 2,000-acre solar farm under construction near Flint, Mich.“Hey I see your ads for help,” Mr. Dipzinski, an organizer with the local electrical workers union, texted the site’s project manager in May. “We have manpower. I’ll be out that way Friday.”“Hahahahaha …. yes — help needed on unskilled low wage workers,” was the response. “Competing with our federal government for unemployment is tough.”For workers used to the pay standards of traditional energy industries, such declarations may be jarring. Building an electricity plant powered by fossil fuels usually requires hundreds of electricians, pipe fitters, millwrights and boilermakers who typically earn more than $100,000 a year in wages and benefits when they are unionized.But on solar farms, workers are often nonunion construction laborers who earn an hourly wage in the upper teens with modest benefits — even as the projects are backed by some of the largest investment firms in the world. In the case of Assembly Solar, the backer is D.E. Shaw, with more than $50 billion in assets under management, whose renewable energy arm owns and will operate the plant.While Mr. Biden has proposed higher wage floors for such work, the Senate prospects for this approach are murky. And absent such protections — or even with them — there’s a nagging concern among worker advocates that the shift to green jobs may reinforce inequality rather than alleviate it.“The clean tech industry is incredibly anti-union,” said Jim Harrison, the director of renewable energy for the Utility Workers Union of America. “It’s a lot of transient work, work that is marginal, precarious and very difficult to be able to organize.”The Lessons of 2009Since 2000, the United States has lost about two million private-sector union jobs, which pay above-average wages. To help revive such “high-quality middle-class” employment, as Mr. Biden refers to it, he has proposed federal subsidies to plug abandoned oil and gas wells, build electric vehicles and charging stations and speed the transition to renewable energy.Industry studies, including one cited by the White House, suggest that vastly increasing the number of wind and solar farms could produce over half a million jobs a year over the next decade — primarily in construction and manufacturing.David Popp, an economist at Syracuse University, said those job estimates were roughly in line with his study of the green jobs created by the Recovery Act of 2009, but with two caveats: First, the green jobs created then coincided with a loss of jobs elsewhere, including high-paying, unionized industrial jobs. And the green jobs did not appear to raise the wages of workers who filled them.The effect of Mr. Biden’s plan, which would go further in displacing well-paid workers in fossil-fuel-related industries, could be similarly disappointing.In the energy industry, it takes far more people to operate a coal-powered electricity plant than it takes to operate a wind farm. Many solar farms often make do without a single worker on site.In 2023, a coal- and gas-powered plant called D.E. Karn, about an hour away from the Assembly Solar site in Michigan, is scheduled to shut down. The plant’s 130 maintenance and operations workers, who are represented by the Utility Workers Union of America and whose wages begin around $40 an hour plus benefits, are guaranteed jobs at the same wage within 60 miles. But the union, which has lost nearly 15 percent of the 50,000 members nationally that it had five years ago, says many will have to take less appealing jobs. The utility, Consumers Energy, concedes that it doesn’t have nearly enough renewable energy jobs to absorb all the workers.Joe Duvall, the local union president at the D.E. Karn generating complex in Essexville, Mich. The plant, about an hour away from the Assembly Solar site, is scheduled to go offline in 2023.Erin Schaff/The New York Times“A handful will retire,” said Joe Duvall, the local union president. “The younger ones I think have been searching for what they’d like to do outside of Karn.”While some of the new green construction jobs, such as building new power lines, may pay well, many will pay less than traditional energy industry construction jobs. The construction of a new fossil fuel plant in Michigan employs hundreds of skilled tradespeople who typically make at least $60 an hour in wages and benefits, said Mike Barnwell, the head of the carpenters union in the state.By contrast, about two-thirds of the roughly 250 workers employed on a typical utility-scale solar project are lower-skilled, according to Anthony Prisco, the head of the renewable energy practice for the staffing firm Aerotek. Mr. Prisco said his company pays “around $20” per hour for these positions, depending on the market, and that they are generally nonunion.Mr. Biden has proposed that clean energy projects, which are subsidized by federal tax credits, pay construction workers so-called prevailing wages — a level set by the government in each locality. A few states, most prominently New York, have enacted similar mandates.But it’s not clear that the Senate Democrats will be able to enact a prevailing wage mandate over Republican opposition. And the experience of the Recovery Act, which also required prevailing wages, suggests that such requirements are less effective at raising wages than union representation. Union officials also say that much of the difference in compensation arises from benefits rather than pay.A Different Kind of OwnerUnion officials concede that some tasks, like lifting solar panels onto racks, don’t necessarily require a skilled trades worker. But they say that even these tasks should be directly supervised by tradespeople, and that many others must be performed by tradespeople to ensure safety and quality. “If you hire people off the street at $15 per hour, they’re not skilled and they get injuries,” Mr. Barnwell said. “We would never let a bunch of assemblers work together alone.”One potentially dangerous job is wiring the hundreds or thousands of connections on a typical project — from solar panels to boxes that combine their energy to the inverters and transformers that make the electricity compatible with the rest of the grid.Mr. Barnwell’s union has developed a contract that would employ far more skilled workers than the industry norm so that two-thirds of the workers on a project are tradespeople or apprentices. To be more competitive with nonunion employers, the contract offers tradespeople only $18 an hour in benefits, roughly half the usual amount, and a wage of slightly under $30 an hour. Apprentices earn 60 to 95 percent of that wage plus benefits, depending on experience.So far, there have been relatively few takers. A key reason is that while utilities have traditionally built their own coal- and gas-powered plants, they tend to obtain wind and solar energy from other companies through so-called power purchase agreements. That electricity is then sent to customers through the grid just like electricity from any other source.Once construction is completed, many solar farms often operate without a single worker on-site.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesWhen utilities build their own plants, they have little incentive to drive down labor costs because their rate of return is set by regulators — around 10 percent of their initial investment a year, according to securities filings.But when a solar farm is built and owned by another company — typically a green energy upstart, a traditional energy giant or an investment firm like D.E. Shaw, the owner of Assembly Solar in Michigan — that company has every incentive to hold down costs.A lower price helps secure the purchase agreement in the first place. And because the revenue is largely determined by the purchase agreement, a company like D.E. Shaw must keep costs low to have a chance of earning the kind of double-digit returns that a regulated utility earns. Every dollar D.E. Shaw saves on labor is a dollar more for its investors.“For third parties selling power to utilities, they are competing to get the contract,” said Leah Stokes, a political science professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies utilities. “And the difference between what they’re paid and what their costs are is profit.”Union Labor, ‘Where Possible’In mid-2019, the electrical workers union in Flint elected a trim and tightly coiled man named Greg Remington as its business manager and de facto leader. Around the same time, Mr. Remington ran into an official with Ranger Power, the company developing the project for D.E. Shaw, at a local planning commission meeting.“He was all smiles — ‘Oh, yeah, we look forward to meeting,’” Mr. Remington said of the official. “But he never returned another phone call. I sent emails and he never got back to me.”Development is the stage of a solar project in which a company buys or leases land, secures permits and negotiates a power purchase agreement with a utility. After that, the developer may cede control of the project to a company that will build, own and operate it.But the two companies often work in tandem, as in the case of D.E. Shaw and Ranger Power, which are joint-venture partners “on certain Midwest projects and assets,” according to a Ranger spokeswoman. D.E. Shaw helps fund Ranger Power’s projects, and its involvement provides the resources and credibility to get projects off the ground.Greg Remington, the business manager at the electrical workers local in Flint, Mich. “A lot of this stuff, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot,” he said of getting a union foothold in green energy construction projects.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesWhen a lawyer for Ranger Power appeared at a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing in Indiana to help advance a Ranger project there in 2019, he emphasized that “the development backing is from D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments,” adding that “they own and operate 31 wind and solar projects across the nation, and they have over $50 billion in investments.” (The firm’s project portfolio is now much larger.)Still, given the sometimes messy maneuvering that goes into obtaining land and permits, it can be helpful for a prominent firm like D.E. Shaw to stand at arm’s length from the development process.In a 2018 letter to a local building trades council in Southern Illinois, known as the Egyptian Building Trades, a Ranger Power official wrote that a solar project the company was developing in the area was “committed to using the appropriate affiliates of the Egyptian Building Trades, where possible, to provide skilled craftsmen and women to perform the construction of the project.” The letter said any entity that acquired the project would be required to honor the commitment.But the project mostly hired nonunion workers to install solar panels. According to a complaint filed by a local union last fall with the Illinois Commerce Commission, the construction contractor has used workers who are not qualified and not supervised by a qualified person “to perform electrical wiring and connections” and paid them less than the union rate.Prairie State Solar, an entity owned by D.E. Shaw that was created to oversee the project, has denied the claims. Prairie State has hired union tradespeople for a portion of the work. Ranger officials likewise played up the construction jobs that the Assembly Solar project would bring to Michigan. But by the time Mr. Remington got involved, the county had approved the project and he had little leverage to ensure that they were union jobs. “A lot of this stuff, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot,” he said.County officials say that the project is bringing large benefits — including payments to landowners and tax revenue — and that they have no say over organized labor’s involvement. “I don’t think it’s our responsibility in any way to intervene on behalf of or against a union,” said Greg Brodeur, a county commissioner.‘Like a Moving Assembly Line’On an afternoon in mid-May, several laborers coming off their shift at Assembly Solar said they were grateful for the work, which they said paid $16 an hour and provided health insurance and 401(k) contributions. Two said they had moved to the area from Memphis and two from Mississippi, where they had made $9 to $15 an hour — one as a cook, two in construction and one as a mechanic.Jeff Ordower, an organizer with the Green Workers Alliance, a group that pushes for better conditions on such projects, said that out-of-state workers often found jobs through recruiters, some of whom make promises about pay that don’t materialize, and that many workers ended up in the red before starting. “You don’t get money till you get there,” Mr. Ordower said. “You’re borrowing money from friends and family just to get to the gig.”The Assembly Solar workers described their jobs installing panels: Two workers “throw glass,” meaning they lift a panel onto the rack, while a third “catches it,” meaning he or she guides the panel into place. Another group of workers passes by afterward and secures the panels to the rack.One of the men, who identified himself as Travis Shaw, said he typically worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week, including overtime. Another worker, Quendarious Foster, who had been on the job for two weeks, said the workers motivated themselves by trying to beat their daily record, which stood at 30 “trackers,” each holding several dozen panels.“Solar is like a moving assembly line,” said Mr. Prisco, the staffing agency leader. “Instead of the product moving down the line, the people move. It replicates itself over and over again across 1,000, 2,000 acres.”The solar industry is shaping up to look less like a workers’ paradise than something more akin to an Amazon warehouse: grueling work schedules, middling wages and steady profits for wealthy investors.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesMr. Prisco and other experts said meeting a tight deadline was often critical. In some cases, project owners must pay a penalty to the electricity buyer if there are delays.Elsewhere on the site, Mr. Remington pointed out a worker whom he had seen splicing together cables, but she declined to comment when approached by a reporter. Mr. Remington, who visits frequently and has the moxie of a man who, by his own accounting, has been chased around “by some of the finest sheriffs” in Michigan during hunting season, said he had asked the worker the day before if she was a licensed journeyman or if a journeyman was directly supervising her work, as state regulations require. The worker indicated that neither was the case.A spokeswoman for McCarthy Building Companies, the construction contractor for D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments, said that all electrical apprentices were supervised by licensed journeymen at the state-mandated ratio of three-to-one or better and that all splices involved a licensed electrician.During a brief encounter on site with a reporter, Brian Timmer, the project manager who had exchanged a text with a union organizer, said, “That’s the reason I can’t talk to you” when he was asked about union labor. “It gets a lot of people upset.” (Mr. Remington said he was later told by McCarthy that it might use union electricians for a limited assignment — repairing some defective components.)The county electrical inspector, Dane Deisler, said that McCarthy had produced licenses when he had asked to see them, but that he hadn’t “physically gone through and counted” the licenses and didn’t know how many licensed electricians were on site.Mr. Remington is convinced there are far fewer than a project of this scale requires. “That’s a high-voltage splice box right there,” he said while driving around the perimeter, alluding to potential dangers. He pointed to another box and said, “Tell me if you don’t think that’s electrical work.”Later, explaining why he invested so much effort in a job site where few of his members are likely to be employed, Mr. Remington reflected on the future. “Well, this is going to be the only show in town,” he said. “I want us to have a piece of it.” More