Union workers aren’t overpaid, you’re underpaid! #organize
Awful firefighters, bloating gov’t budgets, slowly dismantling capitalism, and saving people. Don’t they know that saving people from fires is socialism!?! Fire stations should be privately run enterprises! If you can’t pay, you can burn! For serious though: Firefighters are awesome, and unions are awesome.
Workers at Palermo’s Pizza have been on strike for two weeks. They say they chose to strike after Palermo’s met their efforts to form a union with threats and retaliation, including the use of immigration enforcement as a weapon. Slogans include “No Justice, No Piece.” On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) set a union election for July 6.
“We want Palermo’s to treat us as a person,” striker Orlando Sosa said as he picketed Palermo’s Milwaukee factory.
In interviews last week – some on a picket line, others following a Get Out the Vote Rally led by Jesse Jackson – Palermo’s workers said the strike was caused by years of abusive work conditions and weeks of anti-union intimidation.
“From my point of view, there’s been a lot of exploitation,” says Roberto Silva (he and other Palermo’s workers were interviewed in a mix of English and Spanish). He described being forced to work 70 to 80 hours a week, even while sick, and being threatened with job abandonment when he asked for a break. “You have to work until you can’t,” says Silva.
Jose Ramirez sums up his life as “Just eat, sleep, and work.” In a video posted on the website The Uptake, a worker described being told he had to work the day after he was sent to the emergency room because his fingernail was ripped off by a machine. For years, says Alicia Garcia, workers would blame individual abusive managers, and every time one left, “We would say the next would be better.” Now, she says, they blame Palermo’s itself.
Palermo’s employs nearly 300 workers, and its frozen pizzas are sold by major chains, under multiple labels, across the United States. The company did not respond to a request for comment, but Director of Marketing Chris Dresselhuys told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “The allegations that have been leveled against Palermo’s are categorically false.” Dresselhuys said that immigration enforcement was unrelated to unionization, that some workers had “abandoned their position” by striking, and that if workers win the union election, “we will work it out.”
Palermo’s workers began organizing in 2008. Throughout the campaign, they’ve worked closely with Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights organization and low-wage workers’ center.
“Most of those workers are our members,” says Voces Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. “We definitely have their back.”
Last November, some Palermo’s workers decided it was time to form a union. “We just wanted a voice,” says Silva. “Simply that they listen.”
A month later, workers presented management with a petition addressing issues with safety and discrimination. In April, workers and Voces staff met with staff from the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers. (Full disclosure: the USW is an In These Times sponsor.)
Palermo’s workers say they were also inspired by the past year’s uprising at Wisconsin’s Capitol in Madison. “I hadn’t seen that in years,” says Daniel Camano. “Every single advertisement you see for how other people are fighting for the same reason,” says Sosa, “that inspires you to do the same, to work for your rights…That helped us a lot.”
In a letter to the NLRB, union attorney Richard Saks noted that by last month, Palermo’s was engaged in an anti-union campaign: an anti-union poster went up, a manager told a worker not to talk about working conditions, Palermo’s hired notorious anti-union firm Jackson Lewis, and workers heard that the company would require immigration authorization verification of its employees.
On Sunday, May 27, workers decided to formally sign their co-workers up to form a union. Two days later, they submitted signatures to management and asked the company to immediately recognize the union (“majority sign-up”). The company refused. The same day, Palermo’s instructed employees to begin training replacement workers from a temp agency, and gave employees a letter stating that they had 28 days to verify their authorization to be working in the United States. Some workers went on strike that day.
“The company is retaliating,” says Daniel Camano, “using ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to be able to get rid of all of us that have the most years at the company.” Camano, an employee for nine years, says he was targeted and fired over alleged immigration issues. “This is motivating us to get more involved in the union.”
“The company has used the issue of an ICE audit and the process involved in that as a means to bust the union organizing drive,” says Neumann-Ortiz, “in addition to other forms of retaliation.”
On May 30, workers filed a petition with the NLRB seeking an election to form an independent (unaffiliated) union. According to Voces, a work stoppage the previous day won a three-day hiatus on the hiring of new replacements. But in a meeting with some workers, Voces staff, politicians and clergy, Palermo’s announced that workers would have 10 days, rather than 28, for re-verification of their work authorization. In response, more workers decided to strike the next day. By then, Silva says, “We were organized…We were almost ready.”
That led to a dramatic confrontation on June 1. Workers had planned to mass outside the factory, with those whose shifts ended at 8 AM streaming out of work to meet those already picketing. Having heard about this plan, workers say, Palermo’s barred employees from leaving the building, physically blocking the doors and telling workers they would be fired if they left. Some workers escaped through emergency exits, while others contacted Voces, who called the police. Police collected testimony when they arrived.
The same day, Sacks filed charges of illegal anti-union retaliation with the NLRB, and requested a federal court injunction to force a quick resolution prior to next month’s election. On June 2, according to Neumann-Ortiz, Palermo’s sent the first of multiple waves of letters terminating some strikers.
“People have been explicitly told they’re being fired for participating in the strike,” Neumann-Ortiz says. She says some letters told workers they were being fired for participating in a legally unprotected work stoppage, others told temp workers they were being cut off for participating, and others took the form of “resignation” letters written on behalf of striking workers.
The most recent termination letters, dated June 8, told workers they were being terminated for failure to comply with the 10-day immigration verification deadline announced May 30. Voces alleges that Palermo’s created the 10-day deadline to break the union, and falsely pinned it on ICE. Neumann-Ortiz says that the company “claimed that they were just abiding by this new mandate on the part of ICE, and yet the local ICE confirmed with a representative of the Steelworkers that it wasn’t coming from them. It was coming from the company.” She says workers began receiving these letters Monday, even though the Department of Homeland Security “has informed the company that the verification process has been suspended.”
Workers who were on Palermo’s payroll as of June 2 will be eligible to vote in the NLRB election, even if they’ve since been fired, while temp workers will not. Workers will begin testifying on their injunction request today.
“We need your help to win this fight,” Ramirez told the crowd at the recall GOTV rally June 3. He asked them to call Palermo’s “to tell them that you won’t buy their pizza ’til they negotiate with the workers and respect their right to organize.”
Workers have since called for a formal boycott of Palermo’s, and have been joined on the picket line by local activists and union members. Their cause is being promoted by the AFL-CIO and others. The strike, which had been focused on demanding the company voluntarily recognize the union, is now focused on demanding that Palermo’s reverse the firings, end the use of temp workers and honor the NLRB election process.
Neumann-Ortiz said last night that given the scheduling of the NLRB election and ICE’s statement that there is no 10-day deadline, Voces had reached out to Palermo’s to discuss negotiating to bring back the fired workers and end the strike. But “the company has refused to negotiate in any way.”
Workers estimated that 60 to 80% of Palermo’s workforce went on strike. “There’s still a lot of fear,” says Silva.
“We try to talk them into coming together with us,” says striker Juan Jasso. “Some of them are scared, that’s why they’re not here. But most of them are out fighting.”
Silva says the strike is showing Palermo’s “that we’re not machines. After so many years, we’re not part of the machinery.” After ignoring workers for years, he says, “Now they’re paying attention.”
Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer and a contributor at In These Times, The American Prospect, Dissent, and Alternet. After receiving his MA in Political Science, he worked as a union organizer for five years. His website is http://www.josheidelson.com. This post first appeared on Working In These Times,
Disabled workers responded to the government’s dramatic escalation of the Remploy dispute by occupying five factories today.
Nearly 400 workers and supporters took over the canteens and downed tools in protest at the Con-Dems’ shock decision.
Circulars have been sent to the 36 factories under threat of closure or being sold off to privateers saying if they were sold to private companies any redundancies would be paid for by the government.
This ignited anger at Remploy factories in Leeds, Pontefract, Chesterfield, Oldham and Birkenhead where GMB union members took action.
Over recent months there have been protests, mass rallies and demonstrations across Britain in support of 2,000 at risk Remploy workers, 1,500 of them disabled.
The remaining 18 Remploy factories are also believed to be in the firing line in what has been called the government’s most vicious cut yet.
GMB national officer Phil Davies told delegates at the union’s annual congress in Brighton that the workers had occupied canteens.
He told the Morning Star the dispute may escalate to walk-outs right across the country.
Mr Davies said the new move was in effect a “cleansing” of the factories because people lined up for the axe would be selected on disability.
Papers will go out next week in a ballot over industrial action with results expected within a couple of weeks.
Mr Davies said: “This will more than likely tip the scales towards it being successful.
“This is a very serious escalation and just shows the utter contempt for our workers. It is to encourage asset strippers.
“They are targeting the most vulnerable in general and the most vulnerable within the disabled.”
Mr Davies told the Star that details were still coming in but 60 had occupied the Leeds canteen, 25 in Pontefract, 150 in Chesterfield, 115 in Oldham and 40 at the Birkenhead site.
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, when he launched an attack on public employees’ bargaining rights in February 2011, provoked a mass movement in defense of workers’ rights that spread across his state and across the country. UE members have been part of that resistance. Every UE local in Wisconsin sent members to Madison during the worker occupation of the state capitol, and UE locals across the country have taken part in “We Are One” protests and built links to the anti-corporate “Occupy” movement. This renewed momentum against corporate greed and for worker rights is growing, and it’s not going away.
But for union members and all who are concerned about human rights in the United States, the results of the Wisconsin recall election on June 5 were a big disappointment and setback. Walker, who in the past 16 months has become the symbol of the attack on workers’ rights, deserved and needed to be removed from office. The failure to recall Walker is a serious blow to labor which will embolden our enemies on the state and federal levels to launch more attacks on working people and unions. This will require us to work even harder to resist those attacks.
We need to recognize that Wisconsin workers did win a victory on Tuesday, June 5. Thanks in large part to the efforts of unions and their allies to mobilize urban voters, particularly African American voters in Milwaukee and Racine, the people of Racine successfully recalled a Republican state senator and thereby flipped majority control of the state senate from the Republicans to the Democrats. We hope that this win will prevent Walker from doing further legislative damage.
We also need to understand the reasons why the Wisconsin workers’ movement, and the widespread sympathy for public workers that it evoked, did not result in Walker’s defeat. The reasons include the corruption of the electoral system by unlimited corporate money, as well as the shortcomings of the Democrats.
Scott Walker amassed a campaign war chest of over $30 million - more than any candidate in Wisconsin history. Walker had about a 9 to 1 money advantage over his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and while 34 percent of Barrett’s money came from outside Wisconsin, Walker raised 67 percent of his money from out of state. The national corporate elite put up the money to save Scott Walker from the wrath of Wisconsinites. The result teaches us that, in wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case - which allowed unlimited corporate political spending - it will be much harder for labor and progressives to win electoral battles.
But the Democrats must bear significant blame for the failure to defeat Walker. President Obama has stayed out of Wisconsin since the labor rights battle started there last year, to avoid taking a stand on the issues involved. His administration and the national leadership of the Democratic Party said and did next to nothing to help labor and the Wisconsin Democrats in this fight. The Democratic National Committee refused to put any significant money into this fight, or to mobilize its national fundraising resources to help Wisconsin.
Obama is already paying a price for his inaction. Since the recall results, Wisconsin has moved from column of “safe” states for Obama’s reelection, and political experts now consider it a “battleground” state in which he must spend money and time to prevent Romney from winning.
There were great weaknesses in Tom Barrett’s campaign. He made no effort to appeal to the mass sympathy for public workers - the neighbors and acquaintances of most Wisconsinites - which had been stirred and mobilized last year. In the recall campaign neither Barrett, the Democratic Party, nor the unions spent time or campaign money making the case for collective bargaining rights and why it was necessary to remove Walker in order to restore fairness. Instead, Barrett ran a conventional Democratic campaign and allowed Walker to set the terms of the debate with his boast that he held down taxes.
Let’s not forget the lessons of Ohio - a state with a less progressive political history than Wisconsin. There, last November, voters were given a straight choice to approve or reject union-busting legislation. By a 61-39 margin, they repealed the bill. This was the only time in U.S. history when the electorate of an entire state has voted directly on the question of whether workers should have union bargaining rights, and we won in a landslide.
Why did we win in Ohio but lose in Wisconsin? One reason was voter unfamiliarity and discomfort with the recall process. Exit polls in Wisconsin showed 60 percent of voters thought it was unfair to recall a public official who had not been charged with high crimes - a theme that had been hammered in Walker’s ads, with no direct answer from the Democrats or labor. To vote to recall Walker, voters probably also had to believe that Barrett would be a substantially better governor. In Ohio, none of those complications were present.
The lessons of June 5 in Wisconsin are that the fight for justice and workers’ rights will continue to be very hard, and it may get harder, but also that we can win and we can’t quit. Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Wisconsin statewide firefighters union and the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, managed to re-energize a depressed election-night gathering when he told them, “This is a fight we have to keep up. This is not just a movement, but a way of life. We got to keep together and keep going.”
BRUCE J. KLIPPLE, General President
ANDREW DINKELAKER, General Secretary-Treasurer
ROBERT B. KINGSLEY, Director of Organization
Today in labor history, June 11, 1969: Labor leader John L. Lewis dies. Born in Cleveland, OH, in 1880 to Welsh immigrant parents, Lewis went to work as a miner when he was a teenager. He worked as a mine workers’ organizer for the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and went on to serve the president of the United Mine Workers of America for 40 years. A firm believer in industrial unionism, Lewis formed the predecessor organization to what would become the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
RECALL THE CHEESE EATING UNION BUSTING RAT! Solidarity with my union sisters and brothers in Wisconsin!
Aside from union-busting, Walker also enjoys tanking the Wisconsin economy:
“Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also lost more private-sector jobs than any other state.”
Let’s not forget another Walker past-time: corruption.
“The two-year-old corruption investigation into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reached a major inflection point just days before his recall election next week when it came out that Walker had transferred $100,000 of campaign money to his legal defense fund and seemed to acknowledge that he is the center of the probe.”
If you’re in Wisconsin, vote the champion of the 1% out, fuck the bosses!