IWW organizing gets the goods!
There is No Substitute for Organizing: How Unions Might Help Win Future Battles
By Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Jane McAlevey, The Nation
Before Wisconsinites voted down the attempt to recall Governor Scott Walker, and certainly since, principled progressives inside and outside of unions have disagreed on whether or not the campaign should have happened. In fact, between the two of us, we don’t fully agree about whether or not the recall was the correct tactic. But with the defeat in the rear view mirror, two clear lessons can be drawn from Wisconsin: unions need to reinvest in mass participatory education—sometimes called internal organizing in union lingo; and, unions need to stop focusing on “collective bargaining” and actually kick down the walls separating workplace and non-workplace issues by going all-out on the broader agenda of the working class and the poor.
Once you get past the reports that Walker outspent the Wisconsin workers by 7:1, the next most startling fact is that 38 percent of union households voted to keep the anti-worker Governor. That’s slightly more than one third, and had the pro-recall forces held the union households, Walker would no longer be Governor. With major media outlets drubbing us with the 38 percent number, the liberal political elite seem stuck on a rhetorical question: why do poor people and workers vote against their material self-interest? Actually, in our own experience, the poor and working class don’t vote against their self-interest—but there’s a precondition: we have to create the space for ordinary people to better understand what their self-interest is, and how it connects with hundreds of millions in the US and globally.
Participatory education can best be carried out within unions through an on-going organizing program. We know from years of experimenting that adults learn best through taking direct action. Actions themselves are often transformative. And how to calibrate the learning and action dialectical is the work of good organizers—paid and unpaid. But today’s unions have all but abandoned organizers, educators, organizing and radical, participatory education. Why?
First off, many union leaders, despite their rhetoric, do not believe in the critical importance of worker education. Instead they believe in “PowerPoint.” They invest truckloads of money into pollsters who perfect their quick and fancy presentations with graphics which all too often aim to dazzle rather than educate. They believe that worker education cannot be quantified and does not necessarily translate into a specific, tangible outcome, thereby making it worthless.
A second reason for the anemic internal education is the legacy of the Cold War and McCarthyism. “Big Picture” education that truly examines the roots of the current economic crisis and the nearly forty year decline in the living standards of the average US worker leads to a fundamental critique of capitalism. This conclusion scares many leaders who fear being red-baited, or may even harbor a fantasy that that they will at some point be re-invited to the ruling circles of the USA.
A third reason is that an educated and empowered membership can be unpredictable. They may start asking questions that many leaders wish to avoid. They may start suggesting different directions. And, horror of horrors, they may actually run for office in the unions themselves.
The second big lesson from Wisconsin is that we can’t do it alone. While the attack by Walker was a frontal assault on women, people of color, workers, the poor and more, unions all too often kept the focus on collective bargaining. When unions allowed the battle in Wisconsin to go from mass collective rage over the excesses of the One Percent to a battle for union rights, it was all but game over. Criticism of Democratic candidate Barrett’s refusal to go along with labor’s messaging on collective bargaining is beside the point—in our opinion, the campaign was lost before the May primary. Reassured by polls showing a majority of Americans (61 percent) support the “right” to collective bargaining, union leaders failed to anticipate the power of a barrage of wedge messages about over-paid government bureaucrats, taxes, union bosses, the unfairness of why public sector workers get pensions and so-called private sector ones don’t and much more. Walker had the apparatus of the state and he had bought the media—he essentially turned Wisconsin into one big captive audience meeting, subjecting Wisconsites to the kind of unbearable pressure that workers in private sector union elections are all too familiar with. We don’t poll in elections where workers are going to vote as to whether or not to form a union because we understand polling is useless in a hotly contested, deeply polarized fight.
In union elections, the sophisticated union busters want to ratchet the tension up so high that everyone associates the new tension in their life with this thing called “the union.” And the boss drives a message that if the union goes away, everything will go back to normal. And normal, which wasn’t OK before the campaign, suddenly sounds good because the venom and hate feel much worse. To have any chance of beating these kinds of campaigns, the campaign can’t be about “collective bargaining” or “the union.” It has to be about a bigger fight for dignity and economic justice that can deeply appeal to a much wider audience.
It is true there’s been an uptick of unions declaring the importance of building allies and “working with the community,” but still the community is too often treated as if it’s a separate species from “the workers.” The workers are the community, and yet union leaders act like ‘the community’ is some foreign land that requires visas, formal paid ambassadors and a Rosetta Stone language learning kit. The reason most labor leaders don’t understand the community is because they stopped trying to understand their members and the unorganized workers who live side by side in every union member’s house. The way back to winning big majorities of Americans to the cause of labor is for labor to take up the causes of the majority. This isn’t rocket science, it doesn’t require pollsters or power point—it requires thousands of meaningful conversations with tens of thousands of people. It requires rebuilding our organizing muscle.
But the phrases, “organizing doesn’t work, it’s too slow,” or the variant, “organizing doesn’t work, it’s too expensive,” have become like a mantra in union headquarters (and the offices of foundations). And yet for our entire adult lives, almost every time we have seen workers and poor people given the opportunity to stand up and fight back, they did.
What about the recall? Wisconsin was a wicked short timeline—unions and their supporters were trying to overcome forty years of no real education or organizing among the rank and file. The recall failure has led to an open season on unions, but this isn’t just a problem with unions. Multiple institutions have failed workers for decades, starting with the Democratic Party. And if that’s not enough, there’s our public school system—including universities and legions of intellectuals—that fail to teach students how to understand the actual power structure in our country or what unions are or have done. And, corporate owned media that have long distorted the real story of unions.
The reason that unions themselves, not front groups, need to take up the key issues facing their base when they aren’t at work is because this model of community work helps to develop even more worker leaders—it provides an ongoing action-learning program for the members when their contract has been settled. And, pedagogically, it helps the members to better understand all the forces keeping them down. “The boss” becomes the economic and political system rather than simply the swing shift supervisor or the foreman or the CEO.
There are plenty of important structural issues that the rank and file could be engaging, including the on-going housing, credit, climate, public transportation, and child care crises. And there’s the matter of bringing the worker’s sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters home from unwinnable wars of aggression. The very best way for unions to build real alliances with non-union groups is via their own members—the very people who make up “the community.” If unions expanded their issue work by engaging their own rank and file, we could develop even more skilled leaders, not simply ‘worker faces’ for a press conference. The organizing-education model assists people in creating better lives for themselves, rather than relying on paid professionals to do the work for them. And the results are that we build mini social movements, not special interest groups.
Organizing is incredibly hard work. And it’s messy work. And the liberal elite, including most union leaders, are constantly investing in everything but deep organizing. The real reason we lost in Wisconsin is the same reason that progressives have been on a four decade decline in the US: it’s because of a deep and long-term turn away from organizing and education and towards something that more resembles mobilizing. Organizing expands our base by keeping our energy and resources focused on the undecideds, and on developing the organic leaders in our workplaces and communities so that they become part of an expanding pool of unpaid organizers. Mobilizing focuses on the people who are already with us and replaces organic leadership development with paid staff. That and the split between “labor” and “social movements” account for the failure of progressive politics, the loss in Wisconsin, the ever shrinking public sphere, and the unabashed rule of the worst kinds of corporate greed.
The work we are describing isn’t an election 2012 program, it’s not a 12 month program; it must happen every day, every month and every year. It’s ongoing. Workers are every bit courageous enough and smart enough, but they experience a lifetime of being told they are not worthy, not smart, and not deserving. In other words, sit down, shut up and listen. Unions have to challenge this paradigm, not reinforce it. When conservatives suffered their own strategic defeat and lost the election in 1964—by much larger margins than the recall in Wisconsin—they didn’t say, “well, no point trying.” They instead built for the long haul and in 1980 it paid off with Reagan.
And with the Supreme Court edging eerily close to a ruling that will make all of America governed by “Right-to-Work” laws, unions have to start acting like they are already operating in a “right-to-work” environment. The education-organizing program outlined here is the very same program unions will need to survive let alone thrive under the current Roberts Court. The sooner unions stop acting like a special interest and start behaving like a social movement; the closer we will be to making lasting, positive change.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He was a co-founder of both the Center for Labor Renewal and the Black Radical Congress. He is the co-author of “Solidarity Divided” (University of California Press, 2008).”
Jane McAlevey, a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center, spent two decades as an organizer in the labor and environmental justice movements.
Posted on July 2, 2012, Printed on July 7, 2012
The following article first appeared in the Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their email newsletters.
Reprinted with permission.
Also; See Bill Fletcher and Steve Lerner on Bill Moyers this week.
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.”
Members of the Twin Cities IWW take on a creepy boss through solidarity network-type tactics.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
In the IWW, we sometimes have to deal with two different problems: How do we approach situations where we have left our job (but still have a problem with our employer) and how do we deal with harassment and assault in the workplace?
Wobblies in Seattle have taken on the first question. Wanting to build organizing skills and fight back against bosses and landlords in their area, they started the Seattle Solidarity Network (‘SeaSol’).
SeaSol is a network of volunteers, open to workers both employed and unemployed, that takes on workplace and housing fights through a strategy of escalation of tactics. For instance, a tenant is denied their security deposit. Attempts to contact the landlord are ignored or delayed. SeaSol will march in with 30 people and hand the landlord a demand letter telling them to give the renter their deposit in a certain amount of time or else. If the landlord doesn’t give in, pickets will follow, and so on.
Harassment and assault in the workplace is something that has been less thought about by union organizers or the left in general, even less than the fights SeaSol typically takes on. Some of us in the union have briefly addressed sexual harassment on shopfloor, but it’s still an ongoing conversation. Seemingly not talked about at all is the issue of assault, sexual or otherwise. During the 1990s (the latest period with statistics I could easily find), there was an average of 35,000 incidents of workplace sexual assault each year.
What should be our response when this happens? What can our response be? In the following situation, these two problems intersected, and Wobblies came up with a way to address it.
In October, a fellow worker was working as a bike delivery person at a local restaurant in Minneapolis. It was only his third week on the job and as was apparently the custom with new employees, the manager invited him out for drinks. At the bar, the manager continued to buy the Fellow Worker drinks for a while, until a certain point, the manager placed him in a cab bound for the manager’s apartment.
They took a cab back to the manager’s apartment, where he turned on music and made some drinks. At some point, the manager brought over and stuck under the nose of the FW a jar of some chemical. At this point the manager sexually assaulted the FW. The FW managed to leave the apartment before it went any further.
Understandably, after this experience, he did not feel comfortable working at this restaurant or with this manager anymore, and so stopped going to work. A couple of days later, after depositing his last check, it bounced, resulting in overdraft fees and charges.
This story, so far, is not unique, sadly. Wage theft and sexual harassment are widespread in the workforce and even sexual assault is not uncommon. All three go chronically unreported and when reported, penalties for the perpetrators often range from a slap on the wrist to no consequences at all. Direct action on these issues seem even more rare. However, this fellow worker refused to let this slide.
He met up with some of his former co-workers and IWW members from the Twin Cities branch and they decided they was going to march on the manager, demanding the money from the bounced check, reimbursement for the overdraft fees, and two weeks severance pay (including tips). The next day, he and around 15 Wobblies carefully planned a march on the boss, then walked into the restaurant and executed it and delivered a letter with the demands, noting that they needed to be met within 24 hours.
After some back and forth through text messages, in which the manager asked the FW to come pick up the check “without all those people” (this request was refused), the demands were met in less than 24 hours. The FW received a check for around $400.
This situation, while inspiring because of its end result, brings up very important questions for our union. How do we deal with wage theft, sexual harassment and sexual assault? What does a collective response to an often individualized, “personal” situation look like? This isn’t an isolated case. Much of our class shares these experiences. These are discussions I don’t have the answers to, but this story may reveal some insight into dealing with the various forms of oppression we face in our experience as waged workers.
Originally posted: June 8, 2012 at The Organizer
The following article was written in part for a convening of southern worker organizations and labor unions on the topic of expanding the right to organize in the right-to-work South.
“Right to Work,” since first authorized by the Taft-Hartley Act, has served as a slow-acting poison in the veins of the US working class. It has had a particularly devastating impact on workers in the South and Southwest, but has spread to other regions as part of an on-going right-wing effort to annihilate labor unions.
Right to Work has weakened the ability of organized labor to develop significant base areas in the South. If, hypothetically, Right to Work co-existed with a firm exclusion of the employer from interfering in a worker’s right to join or form a union, it might not be a particularly significant factor. But combined with vicious anti-unionism, Right to Work undermines the financial vitality of unions, including their abilities to contribute to other progressive social movements.
Organized labor has largely stayed away from attacking Right to Work, seemingly based on the assumption that it would either be a waste of time or that the obstacles would be insurmountable. Rarely has there been a serious discussion of the possible strategies that could be entertained to take it on and the constituencies that could conceivably be mobilized as part of such a campaign. This paper will make such an argument.
It never makes sense to carry out a frontal assault on a formidable opponent even if there is an equivalent match of force. In the case of the labor movement we simply lack the strength to make a direct assault on Right to Work, at least as a solo target. Instead, labor—defined as including but not limited to trade unions—should consider reframing the entire issue. Borrowing from thinkers such as Barbara Ehrenreich and those associated with “American Rights At Work”, the struggle must be understood as a struggle for economic justice and rights at work. Think about it for a moment: most workers in the USA never stop to consider the rights that they automatically lose when they enter a workplace. They rarely think about the constraints on their Constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Workers are actually entering into an authoritarian environment, one that they are told that they should expect and one that is in complete contradiction with the society in which they are supposed to believe.
A campaign for rights at work should begin with this basic issue of justice. It needs to raise questions in the minds of the public as to why authoritarianism should be acceptable under any conditions. That means thinking at the level of a variation on President Franklin Roosevelt’s proposed “Economic Bill of Rights” (from 1944), but one that focuses on the conditions of the workplace. Labor should be fighting for a democratic workplace, but it should be framed in essentially Constitutional terms. We should be demonstrating the paradox between what the Constitution says and what workers experience on a daily basis. FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights”, while not directly applicable, gives one the sense of a jumping off point rather than an end point. The idea here is that FDR understood, better than most, that rights had to enter the economic sphere. The labor movement needs to be organized to make it so. It is in that context that we can actually take on Right to Work.
Our labor movement needs to use a rights at work framework as a means of mobilizing. First, we need to think in terms of active, mass campaigns for rights at work. We should be submitting national, state and local legislation as well as moving electoral initiatives to bring the matter before the public. We need to create “echo chambers” in the targeted states so that the media finds it difficult to avoid the issue and so that we can ‘mainstream’ the economic justice message.
Second, we need to think about potentially key constituencies. The African American community in the South and Chicanos in the Southwest should be seen as key groups. In order for this to happen, economic justice and social justice will need to be joined so that there is a clear understanding that these go hand in hand. These communities have a long history in the struggles for economic justice, so we should build upon that history, level of activism, and social organization.
Third, campaigns around rights at work can be an excellent means to inspire our bases to turn out on election day. This is something that the political Right has demonstrated time and again. Give people a reason to vote and they will turn out, at which time they may cast other important votes.
Fourth, a rights at work framework needs to be integrated into the totality of the work of the broad labor movement. For unions, this framework needs to be part of our basic message in organizing campaigns. Yes, of course we are organizing unions (and recruiting members) to improve their living standard. But unionization is also about democracy, both in the workplace and in the broader society. That means means highlighting for workers that unions stand against authoritarianism.
This framework needs to be integrated into the rest of the labor movement as well. Community-based worker organizations, e.g., worker centers, need to be involved in supporting worksite litigation that challenges authoritarian workplaces, supporting workplace organizing efforts, as well as play a central role in broader legislative and electoral initiatives that challenge the selfish-based, anti-union system of Right to Work and instead fight for a consistent rights at work approach.
The political Right has, on any number of occasions, mounted initiative campaigns that have absolutely no chance of winning or in some cases a minimal chance of winning. Nevertheless they scare liberals and progressives to the point that these latter groups devote considerable resources to opposing the Right, resources that could be used elsewhere. Let’s borrow a page from their songbook and mount such campaigns as a means of creating organized mischief within terrain that they have, hitherto, believed to have been safe.
Here’s a military analogy. In 1942 the US launched a surprise air attack on several Japanese cities from the USS Hornet. Known since then as “Doolittle’s Raid,” this attack had limited military impact but psychologically it shattered the sense of invulnerability that the Japanese had (in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor) and demonstrated that the USA was able to strike the Japanese homeland. Doolittle’s raid provoked the Japanese to move on Midway, a very big mistake that many people believe cost the Japanese the war in the Pacific.
Organized mischief can provoke an opponent to panic, thereby undermining their own strategy. As part of a counter-offensive it can be a very effective approach. Therefore, it should be considered in the context of the longer term efforts to derail corporate America and to organize the South and the Southwest. Not only can we force our opponents to use badly needed resources to fight campaigns where they would otherwise not plan on doing so, but we can also build up our fighting capacity in those areas through the development of new alliances, a mix of tactics, and the growth of creative electoral work. Our aim should be to create significant base areas in Right to Work states which will ultimately lay the basis for our being able to ‘flip’ these states.
This preface was written by Bill Fletcher, Jr., who is the Director of Field Services & Education for the American Federation of Government Employees. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided.
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.
Wrenching testimonies from laid-off workers are overflowing the internet, crying out from the pages of policy reports, and popping up in commercial media. But unions are still grappling with how to organize the unemployed, including their own ex-members, into a political force.
Department of Labor figures for December showed 13.1 million unemployed and actively looking for work, almost half of them for more than six months. Another 8.1 million were working part-time involuntarily, and 2.5 million were too discouraged to look for work.
Unfortunately, unions don’t do a good job of organizing this vast pool said Tom Lewandowski, who spent nine years on layoff from GE starting in 1975.
Now, as president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council in Fort Wayne, he’s leading an effort to survey unemployed workers, watchdog the county’s economic development, and demand accountability from the unemployment office for laid-off workers struggling to navigate the system.
Jobs with Justice chapters have been experimenting with organizing the unemployed, but at a recent conference activists expressed frustration. The model of “unemployed” as an identity group (like race or sex) hasn’t worked, many said.
“How do you organize the unemployed when people don’t want to identify themselves as unemployed?” asked Susan Hurley, executive director of JwJ in Chicago.
Hurley said she tries to communicate that there’s no shame. “These are structural problems in our economy, it’s not about personal failings of anyone who’s out of work right now—14 million people can’t be wrong,” she says. The group has set up an Unemployed Action Center, open one day a week with computer resources, action-planning meetings, and free lunches.
“The isolation and shame is really tough,” said laid-off Chicago electrician Carole Ramsden. “Especially union members, you have a lot of pride of working at your job, and all of a sudden you lose that.” When she was laid off three years ago, 2,000 members of her local were ahead of her on the list waiting for work.
Some unions have reacted with help for laid-off members. The Transport Workers in New York City voted to pay $5 in extra dues for six months to maintain health insurance for unemployed members. Many of them are now back at work.
A Sheet Metal Workers local in Philadelphia voted several extensions for supplements to unemployment benefits for their members, and in April they voted overwhelmingly to divert an additional 50 cents per hour worked from their welfare fund to support those who’ve run out of unemployment benefits.
In construction trades like sheet metal, unemployed workers are still dues-paying members and can retain a connection with their union, attending meetings and brushing up their skills with training programs.
But other laid-off union members are harder to track.
The Chicago Federation of Labor has given Jobs with Justice lists of members from plants with mass layoffs, Ramsden said.
Latoya Egwuekwe of the Machinists said 35,000 IAM members had been laid off nationwide by January 2010. In response, the union set up Ur Union of the Unemployed (U Cubed), a website designed to connect the unemployed to each other. Fourteen months later, 4,000 had signed up.
The idea was to have unemployed folks get together in person, but the result so far has been largely to generate advocacy emails to politicians.
The AFL-CIO’s community affiliate Working America set up a similar networking site in 2009, Unemployment Lifeline, and on Labor Day last year launched “America Wants to Work” to lobby for the Obama administration’s jobs bill.
The effort focuses on sending postcards and online petitions to politicians, although some efforts, like New Mexico Wants to Work, have produced organizing meetings.
But you can’t organize the unemployed “at 10,000 feet,” said Lewandowski of the many internet networks set up for the purpose.
Unemployed Action Center members in Chicago have been rallying the first Friday of each month, the day the Department of Labor’s jobs report comes out. They draw press coverage when their colorful signs and personal stories compete with dry jobs numbers.
Following Chicago’s example, Jobs with Justice in Atlanta held press conferences the last three months of 2011, highlighting Georgia’s miserable rankings in national jobs statistics. They’ve also been fighting state legislation that would cut benefits by $30 a week and force the unemployed to work 24 hours a week as “volunteers,” said Charmaine Davis of Atlanta JwJ.
Still, activists agreed, it’s hard to make political activities feel worthwhile to people who expect to be evicted next month. “When you’re unemployed, you’ve got to be doing something, but at the same time, you’ve got to figure out how to survive,” Ramsden said.
Pushing for a jobs bill in Washington may seem too distant, while the computer access and resume coaching provided by many unemployed projects can only help workers compete against other workers for scarce jobs.
“When we say ‘jobs,’ the corporate class says ‘economic development,’” said Tom Lewandowski of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council. But, Lewandowski said, governments’ policy of delivering big subsidies to create jobs is “pretty much fraudulent.”
The unemployed initiative in Fort Wayne has been uncovering abuse and confronting public officials. It’s following the lead of Good Jobs First, a policy center in Washington, D.C., that tracks the sweetheart deals that pass for job creation in many cities and states.
The Indiana group discovered that the state’s Economic Development Corporation regularly exaggerates its success at job creation. A company may have claimed it would hire people full-time at $15 an hour, but when group members investigated, they found temp jobs at minimum wage, or empty cornfields receiving tax breaks for “job creation.”
They fed the info to an Indianapolis TV station, which produced an award-winning report.
Public subsidies even go to contractors that are undermining union jobs. Gayle Goodrich, an Auto Workers benefits rep at Navistar in Fort Wayne, said that after layoffs in 2007, workers sent to the unemployment office were directed back to their own plant under contract to another company, at lower pay and no benefits. They learned that the contractor had been subsidized by economic development funds.
In December the plant closed, and the union won $7 million in job training and relocation assistance for 400 laid-off Navistar workers, when it was able to prove that many of their jobs were being sent overseas and not to Illinois as the company had claimed.
Local campaigns on unemployment often veer towards a more manageable and familiar fight, against discrimination in hiring.
A December 1 report by USAction, a Democratic policy group, collected 700 stories from the unemployed to pressure Congress for jobs spending and extended unemployment benefits.
Age discrimination was mentioned by dozens of participants, as was discrimination against workers simply for being unemployed.
A 61-year-old in Pinellas Park, Florida, said, “There are no openings for mature women when there are so many people available to do entry level work.” The report also noted that recent high school and college graduates are unable to find jobs.
Legislation to stop discrimination against unemployed applicants has been introduced in California, and New Jersey adopted a law to ban job ads that specify “employed only.”
UNITE HERE, the hotel union, has joined with civil rights groups and the National Organization for Women to target TransUnion. That company sells credit reports to employers, creating another Catch-22 for those trying to get back on their feet. The groups say the practice disproportionately affects African Americans, Latinos, and women—and anyone without a job.
In Atlanta, an unemployed speak-out organized by JwJ exposed discrimination faced by the formerly incarcerated, a group facing 25 percent unemployment in Atlanta, Davis said.
The effort looks to follow a successful campaign in Massachusetts to “ban the box.” The check-box on applications where ex-felons must disclose their status often means they can’t even secure job interviews. When they are able to get in the door and explain their situation, their chances of getting hired go up dramatically, Davis said.
An energetic ban-the-box campaign in Atlanta has been led by the people affected, Davis said, whereas more general unemployed organizing has not gained much traction.
“It’s easier to organize on issues versus problems,” she said. “Lack of jobs is a huge problem, there are so many factors that contribute to it. It’s easier to say ‘this group is dealing with high unemployment’” because of discrimination, and try to fix that.
Lewandowski said central labor bodies should think of themselves as representing unemployed workers, and should consult them like a union would, “in preparation for bargaining.”
The Indiana initiative has been distributing surveys at food banks, on public transit, and at unemployment offices. Complaints about the unemployment office on surveys last year led to a meeting between unemployed workers and the office’s directors. The unemployed workers confronted them about aggravating run-arounds and lack of information on job-training money.
Recently, Occupy Fort Wayne members hit the buses with this year’s version of the survey, listening to the unemployed, starting conversations about the economy, and explaining Occupy to the curious.
“Once you’ve heard someone’s story,” Lewandowski said, “you have a burden of representation.”
Link to original article from Labor Notes
Click the link for a great article. Go NNU!
If NNU’s only purpose were to increase dues-paying membership, as some critics suggest, that is not necessarily a grand deception on its part, and it does not explain their success. Nor is it explained by the suggestion that unions now hold some momentary advantage thanks to a temporarily pro-labor tilt on the National Labor Relations Board.
The explanation is simple. NNU is succeeding because many nurses—like many workers in many sectors—believe that nobody else in a position of power and influence is looking out for them. The only difference is that nurses are in a position to do something about it.
UNLESS something changes in Washington, American workers will, on New Year’s Day, effectively lose their right to be represented by a union. Two of the five seats on the National Labor Relations Board, which protects collective bargaining, are vacant, and on Dec. 31, the term of Craig Becker, a labor lawyer whom President Obama named to the board last year through a recess appointment, will expire. Without a quorum, the Supreme Court ruled last year, the board cannot decide cases.
What would this mean?
Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions.
If this nightmare comes to pass, it will represent the culmination of three decades of Republican resistance to the board — an unwillingness to recognize the fundamental right of workers to band together, if they wish, to seek better pay and working conditions. But Mr. Obama is also partly to blame; in trying to install partisan stalwarts on the board, as his predecessors did, he is all but guaranteeing that the impasse will continue. On Wednesday, he announced his intention to nominate two pro-union lawyers to the board, though there is no realistic chance that either can gain Senate confirmation anytime soon.
For decades after its creation in 1935, the board was a relatively fair arbiter between labor and capital. It has protected workers’ right to organize by, among other things, overseeing elections that decide on union representation. Employers may not engage in unfair labor practices, like intimidating organizers and discriminating against union members. Unions are prohibited, too, from doing things like improperly pressuring workers to join.
The system began to run into trouble in the 1970s. Employers found loopholes that enabled them to delay the board’s administrative proceedings, sometimes for years. Reforms intended to speed up the board’s resolution of disputes have repeatedly foundered in Congress.
The precipitous decline of organized labor — principally a result of economic forces, not legal ones — cemented unions’ dependence on the board, despite its imperfections. Meanwhile, business interests, represented by an increasingly conservative Republican Party, became more assertive in fighting unions.
The board became dysfunctional. Traditionally, members were career civil servants or distinguished lawyers and academics from across the country. But starting in the Reagan era, the board’s composition began to tilt toward Washington insiders like former Congressional staff members and former lobbyists.
Starting with a compromise that allowed my confirmation in 1994, the board’s members and general counsel have been nominated in groups. In contrast to the old system, the new “batching” meant that nominees were named as a package acceptable to both parties. As a result, the board came to be filled with rigid ideologues. Some didn’t even have a background in labor law.
Under President George W. Bush, the board all but stopped using its discretion to obtain court orders against employers before the board’s own, convoluted, administrative process was completed — a power that, used fairly, is a crucial protection for workers. In 2007, in what has been called the September Massacre, the board issued rulings that made it easier for employers to block union organizing and harder for illegally fired employees to collect back pay. Democratic senators then blocked Mr. Bush from making recess appointments to the board, as President Bill Clinton had done. For 27 months, until March 2010, the board operated with only two members; in June 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that it needed at least three to issue decisions.
Under Mr. Obama, the board has begun to take enforcement more seriously, by pursuing the court orders that the board under Mr. Bush had abandoned. Sadly, though, the board has also been plagued by unnecessary controversy. In April, the acting general counsel issued a complaint over Boeing’s decision to build airplanes at a nonunion plant in South Carolina, following a dispute with Boeing machinists in Washington State. Although the complaint was dropped last week after the machinists reached a new contract agreement with Boeing, the controversy reignited Republican threats to cut financing for the board.
In my view, the complaint against Boeing was legally flawed, but the threats to cut the board’s budget represent unacceptable political interference. The shenanigans continue: last month, before the board tentatively approved new proposals that would expedite unionization elections, the sole Republican member threatened to resign, which would have again deprived the board of a quorum.
Mr. Obama needs to make this an election-year issue; if the board goes dark in January, he should draw attention to Congressional obstructionism during the campaign and defend the board’s role in protecting employees and employers. A new vision for labor-management cooperation must include not only a more powerful board, but also a less partisan one, with members who are independent and neutral experts. Otherwise, the partisan morass will continue, and American workers will suffer.
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.