Steven Greenhouse

Steven Greenhouse was The New York Times labor and workplace reporter for 19 years. His new book is Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor

Recent Articles

The Worker’s Friend? Here’s How Trump Has Waged His War on Workers

A Labor Day look at the president’s continual attacks on America’s working men and women

Evan Vucci/AP Photo
When it comes to wowing workers, Donald Trump is an absolute magician. Through some mysterious sorcery, he has convinced millions of American workers that he is their true friend, fighting hard for them, even though he and his appointees have taken one anti-worker action after another—dozens of them. Yes, it is perplexing to many of us that so many workers are still wowed by President Trump even when his administration has rolled back overtime protections for millions of workers and made it easier for Wall Street firms to rip off workers’ 401(k)s (to cite just two of many such actions). A labor leader recently explained to me, with considerable dismay, how Trump performs his magic on workers. Day after day, Trump pounds and pummels China over trade, and his macho trade war often dominates the headlines. That, this labor leader said, convinces many workers that Trump is their guy: While previous presidents refused to stand up to China, he alone has bravely launched this...

A Great Labor Leader Gone

Hector Figueroa, 1962–2019

Far more than I would have liked in my years writing about labor, I found myself writing articles about corrupt union leaders, including one who embezzled $1.7 million and one who built himself an extravagant penthouse atop his union’s headquarters with two marble-walled bathrooms. And then there were the many uninspired and uninspiring union presidents who seemed allergic to doing any organizing even as the union movement continued its decades-long slide. But when I went this past Wednesday to a packed memorial service at cavernous Riverside Church for Hector Figueroa, president of the 175,000-member SEIU Local 32BJ, I found myself deeply moved as one eulogy after the other talked of how many workers’ lives Figueroa had lifted, how many new union members he had organized, and how many people he had inspired. At least half a dozen times, the eulogists used a word rarely employed to describe today’s labor leaders: “visionary.” Figueroa, who headed the...

New York Labor Didn't Shrink from Confronting Amazon

But unions were sharply divided about how to deal with the tech giant. 

Ever since Amazon’s plans to open a second headquarters in New York were announced last November, two things have become clear about organized labor and Amazon. First, labor is eager to unionize Amazon, or at least parts of Amazon, a fiercely anti-union company that doesn’t have a single unionized facility in the United States—none of its “fulfillment center” workers, Whole Foods workers, or drivers are unionized. Second, labor is seriously divided about how to achieve its ambitious goal of unionizing Amazon. Days after Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio trumpeted the deal in which Amazon promised to create 25,000 jobs in Queens and would receive $3 billion in subsidies, New York’s building trades unions announced that Amazon had given its blessing to letting the project’s construction work, involving an estimated 5,000 workers, be unionized. Moreover, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union said that Amazon and the...

How the Public Employee Unions Refused to Die

Confronted with a Supreme Court ruling designed to hobble them, the nation’s public-sector unions have increased in size and grown more militant.

When the Supreme Court ruled last June in the Janus case that government employees can’t be required to pay any fees to the unions that bargain for them, the common wisdom was the nation’s public-sector unions would be thrown hugely on the defensive. Evidently, the leaders of those unions didn’t get the message. To the contrary, they have gone on the offensive. As leaders from the nation’s four largest public-sector unions made clear at a forum last weekend in Washington, not only are their unions seeking to staunch the loss of fee-payers, they’re pushing mightily to add members. Saying that Janus was just one step in a 40-year assault on unions, Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said, “One of the most important things, if not the most important thing we should be working toward, is organizing workers. ... That has to be priority No. 1. We will always have to fight defensively against the attacks that...

The Return of the Strike

This year, thousands of teachers, hotel workers, Google employees, and others walked off the job and won major gains. Which raises two questions: Why now? And will this continue?

This article appears in the Winter 2019 issue of The American Prospect. Subscribe here . For years, many labor experts seemed ready to write the obituary of strikes in America. In 2017, the number of major strikes—those involving more than 1,000 workers—dwindled to just seven in the private sector. Indeed, over the past decade, there were just 13 major strikes a year on average. That’s less than one-sixth the average annual number in the 1980s (83), and less than one-twentieth the yearly average in the 1970s (288).In 1971 alone, 2.5 million private-sector workers went on strike, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—that’s 100 times the number, 25,000, who went on strike in 2017. But then came 2018 and a startling surge of strikes in both the private and public sectors. More than 20,000 teachers and other school employees walked out in West Virginia in February, followed by at least 20,000 more in Oklahoma. Probably the biggest educators’...

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