Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Struggling Through Tough Times

August 7th, 2009 | Richard Negri

It is not always easy to be a cheering squad for organized labor in these times. Unions across the country are cracking into contracts to give concessions, bargaining away rights to keep jobs and, really, it is pretty messy out here for workers and the unions that represent them. I am getting a lot of email and phone calls from a lot of
disgusted people and everyone is asking in one way or another the same question … why? I don’t know specific answers, but I feel it, too.

The economic crisis gave a sense of militancy to employers for their demands in give-backs. The same militancy, unfortunately, the union movement lacks. The Employee Free Choice Act, the one piece of legislation that the workers’ movement is NOT divided on, is taking a beating from the right wing Capitalists who fear fines if a first contract is not signed within a given time frame, who fear majority sign up, who fear that working people might just have a voice in their workplace and threaten their bottom line. The millions of dollars that are spent on fighting the Employee Free Choice Act is working, and it is a shame. Working people deserve the right to organize a union
without fear and retribution, without the harassment the other side says it fears will come from the organizing unions.

There is not a day in the week that another article pops up from somewhere in the  country spilling lies or exaggerations about EFCA – online articles that allow for comments, and all of the comments are against the unions and working people. The sad stuff is that the comments are probably written by people who carry union cards! There
is so much misinformation and lack of union-to-rank-and-file communication that, well, it is pathetic. It needs to change.

I am of the opinion that one of the ways to counter the negative perception of unions is through education, and doing it online more so than anywhere else. Online organizing and mobilizing just happens to be where my skills (and my trade) are, but lately I find it hard to spread out any news but bad news. But that’s how it goes, labor is riding a weird wave right now, it seems. My biggest concern is that our failure to resist the endless concessions is lowering the standards of all workers – organized or not.

While the news of the day might appear more bleak than usual, there is definitely a ton of good stuff to embrace. The problem is that not a lot of people are forwarding that stuff anymore because we are absorbed with the negative. I do try to promote the good stuff on UnionReview.com and on other sites to do my part in changing the
perception of labor unions. And, if there is anything that the online community has taught me is that I am not alone. We are a growing community of workers concerned about our rights, our unions and each other. While labor leaders and Washington politics at times appear to be leading us astray, we stay firm in our own militancy and mindset to right the wrongs that affect us in a struggle we’d been fighting a
long time.

I continue to see the good fight being fought and won with campaigns driven by workers for workers and won for workers. And I will continue to spread as much of that around, it is just impossible today to not acknowledge the other realities we are all facing in these times.

Richard Negri: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

This article originally appeared on Union Review on August 1, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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