Big meeting in #Detroit #1u #union #IBEW (Taken with Instagram at I.B.E.W. Local 58 Union Hall)
Big meeting in #Detroit #1u #union #IBEW (Taken with Instagram at I.B.E.W. Local 58 Union Hall)
When I say that strikes work, I don’t mean that unions get each and every last thing they ask for. That’s an unrealistic goal in any negotiation. I mean that strikes allow unions to get things that they would not get without a strike. This is primarily because a strike adds a very powerful stakeholder to the outcome of the negotiations: the public. When negotiations involve only workers and management, management is often able to simply say “fuck off.” Management can wait them out—workers will run out of money and start starving long before their managers do. If managements feels that they can save money in the long term by telling workers to fuck off with their contract demands, they will do it, even if it means taking a financial hit in the short term. This is the cold logic of capitalism. Absent any direct incentive, management will always take a dollar out of workers’ pockets and put it into their own, if they can.
A strike, though, acts as a check on that imbalance of power by inviting a very powerful third party to the table. Rahm Emanuel, perhaps, would be happy to tell teachers to fuck off. When Rahm Emanuel has a million angry parents calling his office demanding that he fix the god damn teacher’s strike so their kids have somewhere to go all day, things change. Mike Bloomberg, perhaps, would be happy to tell the NYC subway employees to fuck off. But when they go on strike and the subways stop running and the entire commuter-driven metropolis grinds to a halt, eight million people collectively demand a solution, and fast. Verizon would surely be happy to tell its employees to fuck off and take what it gives them. When nobody can get their cable fixed in time to watch the game, Verizon will feel the wrath of the world, pressuring it to find a solution. The public is awesomely powerful, and self-interested. The public wants things to work. The details of how that’s accomplished usually get drowned out in the primal scream of “fix it now!” This pressure mostly falls on management. Sure, people get angry at the unions, but unions, excluding corrupt ones, are not primarily concerned with PR (at least not to the extent that corporations or politicians are, by necessity). They’re concerned with improving the lives of their members. They are the only thing standing between workers and the “good will” of management, which is often the same as oblivion.
Are strikes an inconvenience for the public? Yes. That is why they work. And that inconvenience, in the long run, is a small price to pay for living in a country that respects freedom enough to allow its workers to organize. Strikes are the pinnacle of workers exercising their freedoms in this capitalist system of ours; conservatives should love them. On principle, it scarcely matters whether the workers are public or private. As John Cook wrote about Chicago’s teachers, they are “participants in a labor market. They are free to organize and to withhold their labor if they don’t like the deal they’re getting. They will either get what they want, or they won’t. This is how things work.”
Restricting the right to strike is tantamount to forcing people to work against their will. That’s an even more onerous government demand than taxes. You would think the Republican party would be protecting workers’ rights to strike at all costs.
Some countries with far more radical economic histories than ours can find themselves paralyzed by frequent strikes, to the detriment of the nation. We’re not them. We’re not Greece, and we’re not Venezuela. We’re not even close. We’re America, where “socialism” is still considered a pornographic word in politics. The working people of America—which is to say the majority—would be better off with more strikes, not fewer. Because they work.
Of course, in order to have strikes, we need unions. That’s another thing to work on.
Look no further than the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to measure the price that Democrats are paying for the decision to hold their national convention in union-hostile territory without labor’s input.
Traditionally a generous supporter of Democratic conventions, IBEW contributed $1 million to fund the festivities in Denver in 2008. This year, it will instead be writing its check for a “Workers Stand for America” rally in Philadelphia on Aug. 11.
The rally, financed in part by money from IBEW and other unions that would otherwise be going toward the Sept. 3 convention in Charlotte, N.C., will showcase a “second bill of rights” intended to refocus attention on middle-class concerns—jobs, living wages, energy, and educational opportunity. At a Thursday afternoon press conference announcing the initiative, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said both President Obama and top Republican candidate Mitt Romney will be asked to sign the document, along with other elected officials and candidates as a barometer of where they stand on worker’s issues.
The road to the rally began almost a year ago, when IBEW President Ed Hill requested a meeting with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and other top DNC officials about their choice of Charlotte.
It wasn’t just that North Carolina was a right-to-work state with the lowest rate of unionization in the country, Hill said. Nor was it the fact that delegates, lobbyists, and bigwig Democrats would be hobnobbing at nonunion hotels and listening to speeches at the nonunion Charlotte Convention Center.
For Hill, it went beyond that. “There was no discussion really with the leadership of the AFL-CIO or with the building trades,” he told National Journal. “Maybe it was just a wake-up call to the fact that no one was really asking us, no one was really talking to us, no one was really discussing our issues that have been laying out there for a long time and eating at people.”
Had labor’s concerns fallen so far off the radar that they were an afterthought for the party? That was the impression Hill left with after his July 25, 2011, meeting with Wasserman Schultz, DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard, and aide Jason O’Malley.
“It didn’t seem to bother her any, frankly,” Hill said of Wasserman Schultz’s reaction to his grievances. “There was no offer of solution; there was no discussion of much of anything else—we said what we were planning to do, and we excused ourselves.”
At Thursday’s press conference, Hill said he had met with Wasserman Schultz earlier in the day and that she had agreed to participate in the rally in Philadelphia and sign on to the worker’s bill of rights, as well as attempt to incorporate pieces of it into the Democratic platform.
“We had a very good meeting,” Hill said.
The rift was never with Obama—Hill for one says he’s an avid supporter, and unions will play their customary key role in turning out Democratic voters this fall. But the sour state of relations between convention organizers and labor has had some concrete ramifications. Like IBEW, other unions have scaled back or zeroed out their financial contributions to the convention, citing unease with the location, changes in their internal strategy, or their own strapped finances.
Earlier this week, in a memo to member presidents and the executive council, Trumka indicated that the AFL-CIO would proceed in a similar manner. He encouraged them to support the Philadelphia rally and laid out the thinking on Charlotte.
“This year, we will not be making major monetary contributions to the convention or the host committee for events or activities around the convention,” Trumka wrote. “We won’t be buying skyboxes, hosting events other than the labor-delegates meeting, or bringing a big staff contingent to the convention.”
An AFL-CIO official said that the decision was motivated solely by the organization’s strategy of focusing on grassroots efforts this election cycle, and the outcome would have been the same regardless of where the convention was held. In 2008, the AFL-CIO contributed a relatively modest $100,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Laborers’ International Union of North America, by contrast, kicked in $1.5 million—making it the second-largest contributor to the Denver convention. This year, the organization is significantly pulling back.
“We saw Denver as a significant opportunity at a very historic time to raise the visibility of the work of LIUNA and all men and women who build this country,” LIUNA spokesman Richard Greer wrote in an e-mail. “This cycle, we’re focusing our resources on informing, organizing, and mobilizing our members and their families to reelect President Obama and progressive candidates at the state and federal level.”
The list goes on: The Communications Workers of America will only be offsetting the costs of members attending the convention, not contributing directly as it did by giving $52,000 in 2008. Unite Here told The Wall Street Journal in May that it will be keeping its $100,000 this time around. A dozen other labor organizations are boycotting the convention altogether, although many others are still planning to send delegates.
While the idea for the Philadelphia counter-rally was born initially from dissatisfaction with the Charlotte decision, Hill insists that the event is not meant to challenge or distract. Instead, organizers said they hope their bill of rights becomes a subject of discussion at both the Republican and Democratic conventions in the weeks following.
“We’re disappointed in not necessarily the way the campaign is going or any one individual or party. We’re disappointed that the middle class is being decimated,” Hill said. “There’s all kinds of issues laying out there that we can’t seem to wrap our hands around because of all of the infighting, and we need to get back on track.”
Trumka, too, downplayed the connection between the Charlotte convention decision and the Workers Stand for America rally.
“They’re two separate things,” he said. “This is a campaign to focus on the needs of working people.
“I can’t think of a single convention where there weren’t issues that had to be dealt with,” he added.
Democratic National Committee press secretary Melanie Roussell said that the convention committee was happy to have broad support from organized labor, but declined to comment on the rally in Philadelphia, IBEW’s decision to redirect its convention money, or Hill’s characterization of the meeting.
Democrats’ struggles to raise money for their Charlotte soiree have been widely publicized. Bloomberg News reported in late June that Democrats have only managed to lock in less than $10 million of their stated $36.6 million goal. Perhaps the shortfall is not all too surprising when you consider that unions put up $8 million for the convention in Denver.
“The trade-union movement has always been of the principle that we reward our friends,” Hill said. Something that the Democrats might want to keep in mind in 2016.
It seems like Obama does not want me to vote for him, WTF is this shit!?!?!
Last year, In These Times detailed how the Obama’s Administration Department of Energy was helping one of its contractors, Honeywell, force concessions on unionized nuclear weapons workers in Kansas City. Now it appears that the Department of Energy for the first time is removing successor contract language that protects unionized workers as a contract shifts from one contractor to another.
Currently, more than 2,400 nuclear weapons workers employed as contractors in both Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Amarillo, Texas, are represented by the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department. “These two plants have been in existence since the 1940s. Many of the employees are second- and third-generation people who have worked there over the years for different contractors,” says IBEW Government Employees Director Chico McGill.
However, for the first time in their over 60 year history, the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration plans to consolidate the contracts for the two facilities into one contract which will begin at the end of 2012. And for the first time, the bid language given out to contractors does not include guarantees that require the contractors to rehire the same unionized workers at similar rates.
According to a letter sent by AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department to the Department of Energy, “The NNSA has drafted a final Request for Proposal that does not contain the provisions that would require the successor contractor to employ the existing workforce. The final Request for Proposal also does not contain the provisions that require the successor contractor to maintain the wage rates and fringe benefits that have been provided to all employees in their collective bargaining agreements.”
The Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment about why it would not include these provisions in writing. However, union leaders are worried that the absence of these provisions could open the door to contractors seeking to union bust at these facilities. AFL-CIO Metal Trade Department President Ron Ault says that he and other union leaders have met with Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu to discuss their concerns, but that the Department has failed to listen to them and address their concerns.
“They have [completely changed] 63 years of procurement history. They just threw everything in the trash,” says Ault. “They are claiming to us that they are telling the contractors that they have to offer protections, but they won’t put it in any kind of writing. They are telling us they will chop the hell out of management, but will leave most of our employees alone. It is insane. They are telling us none of our fears will come to realization, but they will give us no protection in writing.”
Ault is baffled as to why a Democratic Department of Energy would fail to give assurances to protect the livelihood of workers at this nuclear weapons plant.
“Our question is why, after 60-some years of practices—why now? Why are we doing something that gives no written protection? These people … what they do is not making McDonald’s Chicken. They are building, remodeling, and refurbishing nuclear weapons.”
Ault feels that this move is yet another sign that the Obama administration’s Department of Energy is not protecting union workers employed by its contractors. As Ault told me in an interview last November, “Nobody can screw you like your friends. We had better labor relations under [Bush appointed-DOE Secretary] Sam Bodman than Chu.”
by Mike Elk
After nearly two decades of Cablevision workers attempting to organize in New York City, it suddenly appears that they’re meeting success. This story perhaps precipitates a broader trend about how, given the hope of the Wisconsin Uprising and Occupy Wall Street, workers are reinvigorated to fight back against slashed wages and poor working conditions.
In January of this year, in a campaign involving a massive training of shop stewards, political support from elected New York City officials, and community outreach with groups like Occupy Wall Street, 282 Brooklyn-based Cablevision workers voted to unionize with CWA (for more on the dynamics of this incredible campaign, read my story here). Then a group of 120 from the Bronx—employed by Corbel, a Cablevision subcontractor—went out on a wildcat strike to protest cut wages. Last month, those Corbel workers voted to join the IBEW.
“Any organizing win is big, but after three years of facing down adversity, this one shows a lot of character for workers at Corbel and for Local 1430,” said Joe Mastrogiovanni Jr., IBEW region 1 lead organizer, in a statement.
Now the fire that started with those victories is spreading to three other Cablevision locations throughout New York City. CWA currently has two separate union elections scheduled for two different bargaining units of Cablevision workers in the Bronx, the first in connection with 172 field technicians and the second involving 30 outside plant technicians. The election there will be held June 28.
At a third Bronx facility, 65 workers employed by Falcon—another Cablevision subcontractor—went on a wildcat strike June 6 after a co-worker was fired for handing out CWA flyers. Two hours later, the once-fired worker was back on the job. According to CWA organizer Erin Mahoney, Falcon also hired back another worker who was fired the week before for refusing to perform an unsafe job. The workers there filed last Friday to have a union election with CWA, though it has not yet been scheduled.
In response to the union drives, Cablevision has already started to change its workplace behavior. Workers in many locations have seen raises as well as more flexibility in scheduling their shifts. Some say that managers have also been nicer to them in an effort to sway them toward not joining a union, because the company will respond to their needs. But others say they have seen this routine before during union drives, and this time they are not buying it.
“Since we started organizing, things have been good, real good,” says Alan Richardson, a Bronx-based Cablevision worker. “They have lightened the workload. They gave out raises and promotions. They made some changes with the benefits and the co-pays. The whole management staff has been changed out. We still want a union and contract, though. Everything that they have done this time around they have done before when we tried to get a union. A lot of guys have been around for a while and have seen this. They know once the smoke clears things will go back to the way they were, if not worse, because that’s what happened the last time.”
Workers say this time they are determined to get a union to solidify the quality of their working conditions, as opposed to simply relying on their employer’s digression. The reason workers say this time that they haven’t given up their quest is the fact that, in the last year, they have seen other Cablevision workers win.
“Brooklyn helped us a lot,” says Richardson. “We actually started pushing for the union before them, but we had trouble organizing because of fear. Nobody wanted to get put on the radar by management. It took us a little longer to get everyone together. Once Brooklyn organized, people started to believe it could actually happen. Just by them taking that first step, they opened the door for us and made it a little bit easier.”
“(Brooklyn) gave everyone else hope,” says Erin Mahoney, CWA organizer. “I think credit goes to the group that had the courage of their conviction to unionize. I think it’s a perfect combination about anger over lack of respect and poor working conditions and hope of what happened in Brooklyn. I think you need both: You just can’t just have anger in order to organize. You have to hope as well that you can make some sort of change.”
by Cory McCray
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to aid the workers of a sub-contractor that Comcast employs. The workers goal was to organize to have a voice at the workplace and obtain a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). On Election Day the final result was 58 Votes No to 40 Votes Yes, with 12 Challenged Votes. How could these results happen if over 65% of the 87 technicians signed authorization cards for representation?
Before discussing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process, I would first like to discuss the campaign. The campaign started when one of the sub-contractor’s former workers decided that he wanted to better the cable industry and strengthen the wages and working conditions. This former worker was able to gather 12 of his co-workers to join a conference call and discuss the issues within the company. The issues within the company were:
1. Wages – The wages have decreased for the workers, since the beginning of the decade. The triple play package, (installation of telephone, internet, and cable) which is something they often referred to, use to gross $80.00 to $90.00, but they were currently receiving half of that ($40.00 to $45.00).
2. Gas – The workers were given a $10.00 stipend each morning for gas. They were currently being charged with filling up the gas tanks past the $10.00. Many other companies have different gas policies, permitting the use of gas cards because they are all W-2 employees, not 1099.
3. Deductions – Workers had funds deducted from their checks without notifications. These deductions ranged from faulty equipment, logging equipment (dispatcher), or administrative error (administration) just to name a few. Once the worker noticed the deduction they could argue their case and then receive a refund check for the deduction. This happened on a regular occurrence and was a very frustrating system for the workers.
4. Performance Pay Rate – Every job was judged and based off of accuracy and efficiency. If the customer of Comcast called the operations office and complained that their cable, telephone, or internet was inoperable, the worker could receive a demotion in his performance rate pay and may not receive pay for the recall job that he was sent out to do. The problem with this system was that even if it was a customer error, they were still penalized.
• What is a customer error?
If the customer moves the station from channel 4, when it is suppose to be on channel 3, than that system can be considered inoperable, but that is a customer error, not a technician error.
5. Hours – Cable technicians work 6 days a week, and sometimes 12 hours a day. Many of the workers were intimidated to ask off on Sunday for personal reasons, in fear of retribution or that they may not have a job on Monday when they returned.
6. Insurance Policy – If a technician was in an “at fault” accident or even a “non at fault” accident, the technician had $1,000.00 deducted from their check. They had to prove they were not at fault in order to halt the deduction, even though these were company trucks, not their own trucks. Some workers only make $800.00/bi weekly, so that may mean their entire check was deducted.
7. Parking Ticket – Technicians utilize a great amount of equipment including pocket tools, meters, extension ladders, and etc. Many of these jobs require them to park close to the job site. If there isn’t any parking available for three or four blocks, sometimes they have to park illegally to drop off the equipment and can acquire parking tickets. The company policy is that the technician is solely responsible for all parking tickets.
These were some of the main issues that the workers organized around. The aforementioned reasons are why over 25% of the 80 plus technicians came out on Sundays at 8pm over a 12 week period to be involved in the Volunteer Organizing Committee (VOC). This is why over 65% of the technicians decided to sign authorization cards for representation. After developing an education for the NLRB process, understanding what Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) are, becoming prepared for company retaliation and intimidation, the VOC decided that it was time to file a petition to have an election.
The election process started off great and the workers were motivated and encouraged that they had organized and unified their forces to have a voice in the workplace and bargain collectively to fix some of the issues. After the first week, the company returned with a vengeance and swift action to break up the VOC’s momentum.
The first action by the company was to water down the bargaining unit. For those familiar with the NLRB process, before an election date is set, a bargaining unit has to be established. This was also discussed at the VOC meetings, so the workers were very aware of the delay tactic that the company would try to utilize in order for the workers to lose momentum and it gives time to intimidate workers. For those that are not familiar with this part, here is a breakdown:
1. If the bargaining unit isn’t established, a hearing date is established 7 – 10 days after the petition is filed.
2. At that time the company can ask for a postponement which buys the company another 7 – 10 days.
3. Next the hearing could possibly begin.
4. After that time the hearing judge will deliver a verdict which could be a few days later.
During this course of time the company delays the election process by fourteen or more days. If they are experienced with the process and brought in a union buster or Lawyer that practices in Union Avoidance, the process just explained would be strongly encouraged.
So now that the VOC understood what they were up against, they had two decisions which were:
A. Accept that the company wanted to add 23 dispatchers, 6 warehouse workers, 4 administrators, and 1 router. Note: All of these positions worked in the office or at the headquarters, and do not have to endure the same conditions that the technicians had to work under.
B. To go to a hearing and face intimidation by the employer, constant captive audience meetings, work place threats, and lose the momentum that they were building as a unified force.
Well, the VOC decided to choose option A because they had more cards signed, then people that were being added, and they were under the assumption that some of the classifications may be sympathetic to their issues, even if it was only two or three workers.
The date was agreed upon, and it was three weeks away. The momentum was building because they felt as though they had just gotten a victory with a 21 day election, instead of the company flexing the use of a 45 day waiting period for the election to happen.
After the election date was set, the Union Avoidance lawyer that the company brought on staff went into full force. They pulled all of the supervisors into a closed door meeting and discussed the strategy for the election. Over the next few weeks, there were captive audience meetings held every day until 48 hours before Election Day. Rumors were spread amongst the workers that the company was going to close down the day after the Union won. One rumor was started that Comcast had a clause in the agreement where if a sub-contractor’s employees unionize, then the contract goes void. The employer immediately started giving out checks for the mistaken deductions and trying to correct their errors. Several employees informed me that there pay rate was bumped up from a C Pay Rate to an A Pay Rate. Another rumor was that if the company closed, the technicians would be able to find jobs with other companies, but the dispatchers would not be able to find jobs as easily. Days before the election, the workers were scared that they were going to lose their jobs, instead of feeling as though their employer was responsible it was now Comcast that mandated the unrealistic policies. Some workers even talked about not voting because they believed or theorized that if they didn’t vote, then the company wouldn’t be able to blame them if the workers were successful in organizing. Even though the momentum was lost with some, the VOC still felt as though they had their core.
During the 21 day period leading up to the election, the company not only used the tricks of rumors, fear, and temporarily correcting their actions, they also transferred five employees that could be “yes” votes to another location and allegedly told those employees that their votes would not count and that they couldn’t vote in the upcoming election. The employees at that other station organized and got 65% of their cards signed and filed a petition to hold an election two days before the first location was scheduled for theirs.
The last ploy of the company was to email the NLRB and let them know that they inadvertently left a name off of the excelsior list. An excelsior list is a list of employees that the company has to submit to the NLRB in order for them to recognize who is eligible to vote in the election. The names are usually submitted with a recognized pay period as a cutoff date.
So, the big day comes, and the workers are ready to vote. The VOC would challenge 6 of the workers, the Router and administrators, on the basis that they held supervisory positions. The company challenged the five workers that they transferred to a new location. The NLRB challenged the 1 worker that was left off of the excelsior sheet, and three other people that would come into the voting facility, but their name wouldn’t appear on the excelsior list. Two out of the five workers that the company transferred were brave enough to exercise their right to participate in the election. One of the supervisors would harass the observer representing the VOC during the election process. Ultimately the VOC would endure a tough, but hard fought loss of 40 people that voted yes, and 58 people that voted no, with 12 challenges.
Following the election, there would be a brave worker that would file an Unfair Labor Practice Charge on the basis of the following:
On or around January 2012, and at all times thereafter, the above-named employer, by its officers, agents and supervisors, by the following conduct and by the other acts and conduct, has interfered with, restrained and coerced its employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the Act:
• Soliciting grievances from employees;
• Interrogating employees about their support for the Union;
• Telling employees that the Employer would lose contracts or work if employees voted for the Union;
• Implying that supporting or engaging in activities on behalf of the Union was futile;
• Telling employees that they were not eligible to vote in the election;
• Advising employees to remove union paraphernalia; and
• Intimidating employees because of their support for and activities on behalf of the Union.
The petition for the second location would be extracted, after the company postponed the union determination hearing and the workers viewed the loss from the first location. They were already subjected to captive audience meetings before the organizing drive and NLRB process initiated. In so many words these workers were more fearful than the workers at the first location and decided against having a voice at the workplace and bargaining collectively. They settled for having a job and less employer intimidation.
The reason for this blog wasn’t to have people sympathize for the workers, but to understand that organizers and workers are going to have to work twice as hard to defeat or overcome because the NLRB process is an arduous undertaking. Often times it is hard to find workers that will stand up and risk job loss to confront the injustices against workers. Over time the companies have figured out ways to manipulate the NLRB process without inquiring real penalties that will hold them accountable for their actions. This brings me to the importance of passing legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act, yes the card check was the important part of the bill, but there were also other critical pieces that should be entertained, such as:
Quicker election dates, instead of 30 – 45 day election dates there should be 7 – 10 day election dates
Tougher fines for companies that commit Unfair Labor Practices, the reason why they commit the offense is because the fines aren’t handed out enough or they aren’t steep enough
First Contract Negotiations would be more obtainable with mandatory arbitration
My advice for my fellow organizers and workers is that sometimes we have to play the cards that we are dealt. I personally know that this is a David versus Goliath story. So make no mistake, we have no opportunity to miss a move or be careless because our industry needs us, workers need us, and America needs us. For corporations and companies that treat their workers unfairly, I would like to leave you with a quote from Elizabeth Warren “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. You built a factory out there? Good for you, But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
Cory McCray is a member of IBEW Local 24 and a founder of the Young Trade Unionists of Baltimore. Check out his website.
(Click the link to see the video)
—These days, Mitt Romney can hardly find enough hours in the day to bash unions enough. But as the video above shows, it was a different story in 2002, when he was thanking the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for making a 500-foot mountainside light sculpture of the Olympic rings possible:
We thought it was going to take three weekends with 20 people. Instead it took 20 weekends with several hundred people. And the work was done by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. They worked up there, they put on the snow shoes, they treaded up there to help us.
Romney’s reference to snow shoes gives a small hint of the project’s challenges—the workers involved had to be trained in avalanche duty.
The IBEW’s work on the rings was not the only way a union made the success of the Salt Lake City Olympics possible. Before the Olympics started, a stretch of highway in the Salt Lake Valley had to be reconstructed. That work was completed ahead of schedule under a Project Labor Agreement involving six unions as well as nonunion contractors and ensuring that most of the workers involved were hired locally. The American Society of Civil Engineers named the project the top civil engineering achievement of the year.
Project Labor Agreements, by the way, are one of the things Romney told the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors he’d “curb” as “giving union bosses an unfair advantage” if he’s elected president. But if that stretch of highway hadn’t been completed on time, and the Salt Lake City Olympics had been a disaster at which athletes, media, and audience spent all their time stuck in traffic, would Mitt Romney have that important entry on his resume to make him a viable candidate for Massachusetts governor then and president now?
February 21, 2012
Despite their 112-91 majority in the state House of Representatives, Republican leaders couldn’t bring the bill – which would have squeezed construction workers’ paychecks – to the floor after more than a dozen pro-worker GOP representatives broke with their party on the issue.
Prevailing wage laws mandate minimum wage and benefit levels on all government-funded construction projects above a certain cost threshold. Currently it is $25,000, which the GOP wanted to jack up to $185,000.
Weakening the prevailing wage law would have had a negative impact on not only construction workers’ wallets, but on the quality of the projects, says Allentown, Local 375 Business Manager Brett Helfrich:
We do more than 90 percent of prevailing wage work in the area, and this bill would have opened the floodgate to cheap nonunion contractors, whose workers lack the training and experience our folks do. We would see fewer projects done on time and more accidents, creating a race to the bottom.
Data from the Keystone Research Center, a pro-worker think tank, backs him up. In a report on the effects of prevailing wage that was released last year, the center found.
Consistent with the original rationale for establishing prevailing wage laws, a rigorous body of economic research shows that efforts to repeal these laws leads to:
- less work force training;
- a younger, less educated and less experienced work force;
- higher injury rates;
- lower wages; and
- lower health and pension coverage.
Research also reveals that prevailing wage laws do not raise costs, suggesting that the positive effect of higher wages on productivity compensates for higher labor costs.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Bloom, says he has not given up on efforts to try move the legislation later this session.
If you scan the resumes of corporate executives on LinkedIn, you can identify who has attended General Electric’s union avoidance courses. GE’s Union Avoidance Department, headed by Mark Guthrie, is known to be one of the most effective anti-labor departments in American. Unions almost never win elections at the company.
So it’s surprising that a group of workers at GE Transportation in Kansas City, Mo., recently voted 44-41 to join IBEW Local 1464. It was the first time that a union had organized a GE bargaining unit in 10 years; the last was a small service shop in Florida containing a dozen workers. According to the IBEW, it was the first time anyone has organized a large-scale GE facility in 20 years.
The key to this success seems to be workers’ perseverance. Despite three previous failed attempts in four years to organize the plant, workers strategically countered the talking points of GE’s anti-union campaign. In 2010, workers at the Kansas City plant attempted to organize a union with IBEW after seeing a worker die on the job in a horrific accident. But in a December 2010 election, pro-union workers lost by a mere 11 votes.
Organizing a union is tough enough, given the power employers have over workers and the myriad ways they typically use it to intimidate workers who want to join a union. But organizing workers who don’t spend most of their working hours together building community and trust, but are out in separate locations working on their own, is even more difficult. That makes this successful drive to organize Sears technicians in Illinois all the more impressive.
Workers reached out to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) after being pushed to the breaking point by a new district manager. Sears ran the usual anti-union playbook, holding captive audience meetings and spreading misinformation about the union while simultaneously improving working conditions slightly in hopes of making some workers think a union wasn’t necessary. The workers and IBEW fought back with a campaign that blended traditional tactics—in-person conversations and meetings—with online organizing:
Local 134 Organizer Abe Rodriguez says the Illinois campaign “blended old and new technologies.” Postcards were sent out to prospective members, but the Web site, www.unitedtechsgreatlakes. webs.com was there for younger techs who “live off their laptops and cell phones.” […]
As a symbol of the volunteers’ commitment, Rodriguez remembers an organizing meeting that was called during a snowstorm when techs might have preferred to stay home to watch a big football game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. Fifty technicians showed up.
In-person organizing is hugely important, especially when the stakes are as high as they are during a union organizing campaign, with people’s jobs on the line. But increasingly unions are finding ways to spread information and connect with workers online to supplement in-person organizing, especially in cases like this where workers are geographically dispersed.