Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for December, 2011

Unemployment Benefits Recipients Do More, Not less, to Look for Work

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Laura ClawsonHere’s a picture that’s worth a thousand words. Unemployed people who were receiving unemployment insurance benefits were more likely to have engaged in five out of six ways of looking for work, according to a study (PDF) by Carl Van Horn and Cliff Zukin of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

UI_job_search-3

From August 2009 to August 2011, Van Horn and Zukin tracked a group of people who had been unemployed at some point between September 2008 and August 2009, surveying them repeatedly to find out whether they were still unemployed, whether and how they were looking for work, and whether they were receiving or had received unemployment benefits, among other things. They found that people were looking hard to find jobs:

In the month before the survey was conducted, 76% of these unemployed workers applied for a job with an employer, 68% scoured newspaper job advertisements, 66% examined online job boards, 59% contacted friends or family members about a job, and 57% sent an e-mail to a potential employer. Finally, 54% called a potential employer about a job. Six in ten unemployed workers reported that they had spent at least two hours looking for a job on three days of the previous seven-day week. One in four said they spent at least two hours looking for work on five days of the previous week. Despite their efforts to find employment, only 56% made it to a job interview. Of those who were interviewed for a job, the majority
had at least three or more interviews.

And, as the chart shows, people who received unemployment insurance were more, not less, likely to have called or sent an application or email to an employer, used an online job board, or looked at classified ads, while people who did not receive unemployment benefits were more likely to have contacted a friend or family member about a job. Add that to the pile of evidence weighing against Republican claims that jobless people are slackers and that unemployment benefits make people want to stay unemployed.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on December 14, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

HERvotes Turns Focus to Top Issues For Women in 2012: Health Care and Economy

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

adele_stan_140x140Listen to the conventional wisdom, and you’ll hear that women have fared better than men in the recent recession. In reality, women are not only shouldering the burden of being the sole breadwinner in more families than ever before, they also account for the majority of public-sector layoffs. Single mothers and women in communities of color continue to suffer rising unemployment of more than 12 percent.

Against that backdrop, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), as part of a coalition of 40 national organizations, is launching HERvotes, a nonpartisan campaign to mobilize women around the pressing issues of health and economic rights.

While it’s true that the initial rounds of layoffs after the housing bubble burst in 2007 and the stock market crashed in 2008 hit men harder than women, men have now benefitted significantly from the jobs added to the economy in the ensuing years. As CLUW Executive Director Carol Rosenblatt notes in a post on the HERvotes blog:

According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, women lost 46,000 jobs from December 2007 – June 2009 while men gained 1.26 million.

She also notes that women comprise nearly 64 percent of laid-off public-sector workers — a number disproportionate to their 57 percent representation in the public-sector workforce. (See our report, here.)

Drawing from the stories of unemployed people that appear on the AFL-CIO
site where jobless workers are relating their stories, Rosenblatt highlights the comments of two women among those ranks, including a poignant entry from a Pennsylvania woman named Juli, who writes:

Without unemployment, I have no way to feed my two sons, to pay our rent, to try and find another job.

Rosenblatt’s post appeared in a HERvotes blog carnival, part of a campaign to get Congress to extend federal unemployment insurance benefits to those whose benefits are about to expire in January.

One way you can participate, via Twitter, is to retweet these, which both HERvotes and MomsRising have been sending from their Twitter accounts:

Call Congress: 888-245-3381 Tell your Rep to oppose @RepDaveCamp bill #HR3630 to slash unemployment ins. #extendUI #HERvotes PlsRT

#Unemployment Insurance=critical 4 #women! TAKEACTION:EZ Click-to-call: http://j.mp/uZOqhp Tell Congress #ExtendUI Oppose HR 3630 #HERvotes

#ExtendUI#Women speak up 4 #unemployed workers #HERvotes blog carnival http://t.co/kfQlC0qA

The HERvotes actions also included taking part in last week’s prayer vigil for jobless workers and a Friday gathering on Capitol Hill focusing on unemployment that featured Eleanor Smeal, president, Feminist Majority; Linda Hallman, executive director, American Association of University Women (AAUW); Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president, National Women’s Law Center (NWLC); Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW); Gloria Lau, CEO, YWCA USA; Donna Norton, national campaign director of Mom’s Rising; Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and CLUW President Karen See. After the event, many of the participants joined in a prayer vigil that took place outside the U.S. Capitol Building.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on December 13, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Adele Stan is a journalist and lifelong member of the labor movement, reports on a timely forum on inequality and jobs at Georgetown University today.

Massey CEO Set to Open More Coal Mines

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Don Blankenship was head of Massey Energy when 29 coal miners lost their lives in a massive explosionForced to resign, he has been largely invisible since.

Now he’s filed papers to start another coal mine venture. According to BusinessWeek:

Public records show that Blankenship has incorporated a new venture in Kentucky. Paperwork for McCoy Coal Group Inc. of Belfry, Ky., has been on file since January, though, and it has yet to seek a single mining permit, says Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman Dick Brown.

Following the April 2010 the explosian at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine, a Mine Workers (UMWA) report on the disaster summed up the tragedy in its title: Industrial Homicide. An independent report on the disaster commissioned by former Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) concluded the responsibility for the explosion “lies with the management of Massey Energy…[B]y frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices….Massey exhibited a corporate mentality that placed the drive to produce coal above worker safety.” And an investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found the company kept two sets of books to hide safety problems.

Prior to the disaster, MSHA had filed more than 450 safety citations at Upper Big Branch, which wasn’t the only Massey mine with safety problems. MSHA records show that in at least six of the 10 years prior to the explosion, Massey mine’s injury rate has been worse than the national average for similar operations. In 2009, Massey and subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to pay $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties related to a January 2006 fire that killed two miners at the Alma No. 1 mine.

But far from taking responsibility, Blankenship has implied the deadly blast was God’s fault and told the government to keep its hands off patriotic business like Massey. A business so patriotic that the Mine Workers’ report described it as:

A rogue corporation, acting without real regard for mine safety and health law and regulations, that established a physical working environment that can only be described as a bomb waiting to go off.

Blankenship has made a career of busting unionsviolating mine safety laws, attacking environmentalists and shilling for the far right and corporate America. The workers at Upper Big Branch were not in a union. A report following the tragedy found that unionized coal mines are far safer.

Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy for $8.5 billion, last week reached an agreement with the federal government to pay $210 million, which does not bar any future criminal prosecutions of individuals connected to the deadly explosion.

Let’s hope not. Because as UMWA spokesman Phil Smith puts it, at least 18 Massey managers should be prosecuted, including its former CEO.

Don Blankenship belongs in jail, not in a position to put yet more miners’ lives at risk.

(Blankenship is among 30 of the worst 1 percent—bankers, politicians and corporate big wigs—highlighted by Brave New Films. You can vote for the worst of the worst here.)

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on December 12, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

NLRB Drops Boeing Case as Machinists Requested

Friday, December 9th, 2011

adele_stan_140x140After months of contention that drew the attention of presidential candidates and members of Congress, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) today announced that the Machinists (IAM) District 751 dropped its charge against the Boeing Co. after negotiating agreeable terms with the company.

Lafe Solomon, the NLRB’s acting general counsel, announced the closing of the case after Machinists in Washington State voted to accept a four-year contract extension and commitments from Boeing to expand manufacturing operations in the state.

Earlier this year, the NLRB agreed to hear the union’s complaint that claimed Boeing’s decision to produce its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft in South Carolina, an anti-union state, was made in retaliation for the union’s 2008 strike against Boeing. A Republican NLRB threatened to quit the board—which would have prevented the case from going forward—and Republican presidential candidates made the labor board a campaign-trail target.

District 751 also won raises described as “substantial” for its members, as well as job security measures deemed “unusual by the New York Times.

From the statement issued today by the NLRB’s Solomon:

This is the outcome we have always preferred, and one that is typical for our agency. About 90% of meritorious NLRB cases are resolved as a result of agreements between the parties or settlements with the agency before the conclusion of litigation.

One of the stated goals of the National Labor Relations Act is to foster collective bargaining and productive labor-management relations. From the beginning of this case, and at every step in the process, we have encouraged the parties to find a mutually-acceptable resolution that protects the rights of workers under federal labor law.  The parties’ collective bargaining agreement, ratified this week, does just that…I am pleased that the collective bargaining process has succeeded and that the parties have begun a promising new chapter in their relationship.

IAM members ratified the new contract 74 percent.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on December 9, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Adele Stan is a journalist and lifelong member of the labor movement, reports on a timely forum on inequality and jobs at Georgetown University today.

'I'll Be Fired Instantly'-Company Policies and Results

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Robby SlaughterThe other day, I was chatting with a group of people at a networking group. These are almost all small business owners who are scratching out a living by pounding the pavement, chasing opportunities, and working hard to generate results. Most of them work from home, from coffeeshops, or from small offices. The monthly networking group is a chance to discuss issues and connect with others since these people are truly focused on results all the time.

Except for one woman, who works at a bank. More on her later.

Anyway, the discussion turned to listening to music. Several people noted how much they love listening to music for certain kinds of tasks. They explained how particular songs would motivate them. They mentioned how much they enjoy the chance to work in private and not run the risk of distracting other co-workers with their musical tastes. And then someone in the group suggested a brilliant idea:

“Why don’t we all do a weekly song share? We can each send out a piece of music we’re listening to at that moment. It will be a great way to motivate and support each other. In fact, we can just email a link to a music video on YouTube!”

Everyone loved the idea. It was a great way that results-only people could help each other stay motivated. It was fun and social, but didn’t dominate people’s time. And if you were too busy to listen, you could just delete the email without looking at it.

All except the banker. She muttered, Don’t include me. I can’t click on YouTube at work. I’ll be fired, instantly.”

I am not kidding. She actually told a few of us that she would lose her job by trying to watch a video at work.

There might be all kinds of explanations for this story. Maybe somebody was watching videos excessively, and a rumor developed at her bank about being “instantly fired” for watching one video. Maybe the IT folks have identified a security issue with YouTube, although that seems unlikely. Maybe there are legal issues about accidentally accessing content not licensed to the bank.

But ultimately, no one should work for a company that has either a written policy or an established culture that explains what you cannot do. Work should be about working. It shouldn’t be about trying to identify all of the possible ways in which someone could be at their desk and not be working.

If your policy is that people aren’t allowed to use their work computers for non-work activities that’s like measuring the success of a chef in the kitchen by monitoring other rooms in the building. It’s crazy.

Listen to what people say. Listen to what you are saying. If it’s not about results, it’s not about work.

And, if you want to increase your productivity by 40%, listen to Journey.

This blog originally appeared in ROWE on November 28, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robby Slaughter is a guest contributor at ROWE. He runs a process improvement consulting company in Indiana called Slaughter Development, LLC.

Alabama Agriculture Advances Plan to Replace Immigrant Workers with Prisoners

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

DiamondMarie1ThinkProgress has been reporting on the catastrophic economic consequences of Alabama’s harshest-in-the-nation immigration law. Undocumented workers are the backbone of Alabama’s agriculture industry, and their exodus has already created a labor shortage in the state. Farmers say crops are rotting in the field and they are in danger of losing their farms by next season.

GOP politicians have crowed that driving immigrants out of the state will reduce unemployment by letting native citizens fill those jobs. But they’ve quickly discovered that Americans are simply unwilling to do the back-breaking labor of harvesting crops.

To stave off the disastrous collapse of state agriculture, Alabama officials are seriously considering replacing immigrant workers with prison laborers who they could perhaps pay even less than immigrants. Earlier this year, the head of Alabama’s agriculture department floated this idea. Now, the department is actively promoting it to the state’s farmers:

Alabama agriculture officials are considering whether prisoners can fill a labor shortage the agency blames on the new state law against illegal immigration.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries is meeting with south Alabama farmers and businesses in Mobile on Tuesday. Deputy commissioner Brett Hall says the agenda includes a presentation on whether work-release inmates could help fill jobs once held by immigrants.

Georgia implemented a similar scheme to deal with its post-immigration-law exodus, but the program had mixed results, with many inmates walking off the job early. In fact, some in Georgia were amazed Alabama did not learn from their mistakes before implementing an immigration law that jeopardized agricultural and construction industries. “It was like, ‘Good Lord, you people can’t be helped. Have you all not been paying attention?’” said Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

Replacing skilled workers with virtually free (and sometimes actually free) prison laborers has become a trend in Republican-led states. Under Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) anti-collective bargaining law, at least one Wisconsin county replaced some union workers with prison labor. And Georgia is considering replacing firefighters with prisoners to save money.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on December 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Marie Diamond is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org. She hails from the great metropolis of Temple, TX. She holds a B.A. in political science from Yale and was a Yale Journalism Scholar. Before joining ThinkProgress, she worked at West Wing Writers, a speechwriting and communications firm. She has also interned for The American Prospect and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and has done development work in South Africa and Kazakhstan.

A String of Slaughterhouse Successes for UFCW

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

kari-lydersenWorkers at the Farmland Foods meatpacking plant in Carroll, Iowa, make a starting wage of $11 an hour. Workers at a similar plant owned by the same company 25 miles away in Denison, Iowa, make $14.60 an hour, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. That’s one of the reasons, according to UFCW spokesman Marc Goumbri, that in October a majority of the about 125 workers at the Carroll plant voted to join the UFCW Local 440.

Wage disparity with a nearby union plant was also a driving force behind another vote in a string of union election victories for the UFCW this fall. In an early November election, a majority (1292 to 824) of  around 2,500 workers at a National Beef slaughterhouse and packing plant in Dodge City, Kansas, decided to join the UFCW Local 2. The union has long represented workers at a Cargill plant nearby. Goumbri told In These Times:

When you have a union facility that’s not far away, what you see is workers know from the get-go what having a union can mean for them and their families and the community—the wages at the union plant are much higher.

Goumbri said the National Beef election along with an October election at a JBS beef slaughterhouse in Plainwell, Mich., helped the union significantly bolster its “density” in the beef industry. The Michigan workers brought the UFCW’s total membership at JBS plants to about 28,000. Additionally, in September, about 300 workers at a Nebraska Prime kosher beef plant in Hastings, Neb., voted to join the union’s Local 293.

Now, Goumbri said, the UFCW represents about 60 percent of beef and about 72 percent of pork slaughterhouse and packing house workers nationwide. He told In These Times:

When a lot of workers are represented by a union in a particular industry, they use the strength they have in numbers to raise the floor for everyone… These are well-paying union jobs that come with wages and benefits – in the current economic state our communities are in desperate need of such jobs.

A 2008 article by Cornell University professor Richard Hurd about UFCW retail food (grocery) organizing notes that even when the union has a high concentration in a given sector, it needs a unified national bargaining strategy in order to effectively advocate for its members in changing, consolidated industries.

In the above four campaigns, the union said the employers agreed to remain neutral and allow a fair vote free of intimidation or other interference. Goumbri said this is not the norm in the industry or in general, but that in these cases the employers understood there was widespread support for unionization and that the employees were determined.  He told In These Times:

Companies are still hell-bent on preventing workers from having a free and fair process. (Fair elections) come when companies see workers are really united and the workers just take a stand, and the company knows workers are determined to make that choice. These were workers who knew exactly what they wanted and knew what their rights were.

Slaughterhouses and packinghouses are significant targets for unionization, since the jobs are typically grueling and dangerous and often employ a high percentage of Latino immigrants and African refugees.

(Denison, site of the two Farmland Foods plants, made national news in 2002 when the skeletal remains of immigrants were found in a boxcar. Horrified and sympathetic residents noted the quickly growing Latino population drawn by the slaughterhouses, though it’s not clear the people in the boxcar were specifically bound for Denison.)

Goumbri said wages, benefits and conditions will all be the focus of contract negotiations at each workplace, with workers at the kosher slaughterhouse also prioritizing Sundays off (the plant is closed on Saturdays).

Goumbri said the National Beef unionizing campaign built momentum this year after workers attempted to organize last year in an effort that didn’t result in an election. The JBS election came after just several months of organizing, he said.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on December 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About this Author: Kari Lydersen is an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.

Jobless Rate Drops, But Pain, Despair Persist in Weak Economy

Monday, December 5th, 2011

David MobergThe headline news on Friday that the unemployment rate in November dropped 0.4 percent to 8.6 percent may help President Obama avoid losing his job next year. But the reality behind the figures will not—and that reality includes a big dose of stress, anger, despair and insecurity even beyond the ranks of the unemployed, according to two new reports.

The number of jobs in the country grew by 120,000 in November, slightly below the rate of the past year (though it could be revised upwards as the Labor Department just did for the previous two months). That’s barely enough to cover the growth of the labor force, and it reflects the loss of 20,000 public sector jobs–a continuing erosion of anemic private sector growth as a result of budget-cutting.

The bad news behind the lower unemployment rate is simply that the labor forcce last month shrank by 315,000 workers, who presumably have given up searching for a job. Although the Great Recession has been particularly rough for men, women–unmarried and disproportionately African-American–more than accounted for November’s labor force decline.

Other trends reinforce the bad news:

* long-term unemployment as a share of joblessness rose, approaching record levels, and the average duration of unemployment reached a record 40.5 weeks;
* underemployment remains fairly steady and high;
* wages are declining for those who have jobs;
* although health care continues to add jobs, most of the new jobs are low-wage, insecure openings in retail and services.

Since the 1980s each recovery from a recession has been slower and more “jobless” than its predecessor. This much deeper recession is no exception; at the current growth rate, economist Dean Baker projects it will take 16 years to return to the less-than-fabulous pre-recession state of the job market.

But the hardships of the recession extend beyond the ranks of the jobless.

Wider Opportunities for Women, just released a report, Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and America’s Families. The “line” defines an “economic security” budget level for different households that is higher than the official poverty line but far short of what most Americans might describe as a middle-class standard. (For example, the budget assumes a family of four rents an apartment for $821 a month and has no immediate prospects for buying a house.)

WOW’s study finds that 45 percent of U.S. residents live in a household that lacks economic security. Women, especially single mothers, and then particularly African-Americans and Hispanics, are  most likely to live in economic insecurity. But the study concludes that although it does not directly address the condition of the middle class, there are “fundamental financial weaknesses in the ‘middle’ and problems with the very conception of a middle. That nearly 40 percent of the nation’s adults and 45 percent of adults are their children lack basic economic security incomes suggests that the nation’s economic middle is not very broad and may not, in fact, exist.”

Losing a job is extreme economic insecurity, especially when Republicans are playing “protect the rich” games. In response to the Democratic proposal to finance programs that extend the duration of unemployment compensation through a surtax on millionaires, for example, Republicans reportedly advocate instead funding it by continuing to freeze federal workers’ pay and eliminating many of their jobs.

USAction, a national coalition of citzen groups, captures some of the suffering of the unemployed in a new report based on stories from nearly 1,200 of its laid-off members, “Hardly Working; Stories From Un- and Under-Employed Americans.”
They found three broad themes: frustration at discrimination in hiring (with discrimination on age and against the unemployed standing out, in addition to the usual discriminations; emotional and financial distress; and despair about their futures and the future of the country.

For example, 59-year old Wayne Persons of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, had a successful career as a sales manager until his company went out of business two years ago. “Between the fact that we were in a bad economy with too many people out of work with not enough jobs to go around, combined with my age, combined with the fact that I was unemployed, it became almost impossible for me to get a job interview, let alone get a job,” he said at a teleconference on release of the report, “and I was looking very hard for over two years.”

“I just don’t understand what happened to this country,” says Molly Wasserman, who lost her successful job track when she moved from New York to Ohio to care for her mother, who was ill with cancer. “I don’t recognize my place in it any more. More and more of us are marginalized, ignored or happily forgotten because we’re not working….What exactly is a person supposed to do who is not being hired? Are we just supposed to die? Are we supposed to commit suicide? Are we supposed to die, homeless in the streets?”

Steve Hanken, 61, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told In These Times his career has felt like “a steady roll downhill.” Now he has a temporary, part-time job at the local office of the state Department of Human Services where he watches a shrinking staff deal with increased demands as the recession’s toll accumulates. A college drop-out, he moved from one skilled machinst job to another as employers downsized, then switched to an unpredictable career executing archaeological digs, often supervising large crews and doing lab work.

Hanken, a former Democratic party central committee member, now feels like a man without a party—until a third party emerges. “Obama promised to do a lot and did nothing,” he laments. “The other side says they want to do nothing and they will. They’ll protect the wealthy and the rest of us can go to hell.”

“I don’t know where democracy went to in this country,” says Hanken, who wants to see banks more regulated, more bankers and CEOs in jail, and more of the nation’s wealth shared with those who need it and will spend it. “I used to think people in government were looking out for me,” he says. “Now it seems they’re looking out for themselves and their friends. I’m baffled. I don’t know what to do. I think  it’s a matter of time before we little people are all under the bridge.”

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on December 2, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

Occupy the Hood: Fighting for Those at the 'Bottom of the Bottom'

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Roger BybeeMILWAUKEE—The “We are the 99%” message of the Occupy movement has provided a unifying umbrella under which people of widely-varied backgrounds can connect their experience of America’s appalling economic and social inequality.

One of the most interesting offshoots of the Occupy movement has been the national emergence of the “Occupy the Hood” movement composed of young African-American and Latino activists. They have expanded the movement’s range of concerns beyond the politically-safe theme of the shrinkage and downward mobility of “the middle class,” by addressing the issues of “working-class and poor people,” explained Kahlil Coleman, 25, a leader of Milwaukee’s “Occupy the Hood” chapter.

“You look at cuts in jobs, schools, services, and it’s mainly affecting the bottom of the bottom of the 99%,” Coleman declared.

Exemplifying its focus on empowering the poor and pushing for new family-sustaining jobs, Occupy the Hood led a multi-racial crowd of 400 mostly young people on October 29 to the site of the former AO Smith (later Towner Automotive plant) to protest the flight of family-supporting jobs from Milwaukee and to simultaneously spotlight SB 207, a repressive piece of new state legislation that , in the words of Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller, “gives employers the right to legally discriminate against over 62,000 Wisconsin residents.”

MORE JOBS WOULD BE CLOSED OFF TO PEOPLE OF COLOR

“The bill would enable employers to reject job applications of convicted felons even if there was no connection between the offense and the responsibilities of the job, and would further allow them to fire current employees with felony records, Coleman said.

Despite its progressive reputation, Wisconsin’s jails and prisons contain a proportion of African-American males that is among the nation’s very highest. The proposed law would add new barriers to employment for African-American males, when unemployment of 60 percent or more prevails in Milwaukee.

The former AO Smith plant—a giant wasteland of ghostly, empty buildings and vast, weed-grown parking lots—symbolizes the destruction of opportunity on a massive scale.

The site holds enormous significance for the African-American community. At one point, the unionized auto-frame plant supplied 7,800 high-paying jobs, providing incomes that lifted thousands of African-American families into “middle class” living standards.

But beginning in the 1980s, AO Smith began shifting more and more of these family-supporting jobs to Mexico, converting them into mere subsistence-level jobs for desperate Mexican workers in cities like Ciudad Juarez. By 1991, Smith employed more workers in Mexico than its home base of Milwaukee. Tower Automotive bought the Milwaukee plant, and it shipped the last 500 jobs to Mexico in 2004.

“It left behind a giant ‘Dust Bowl’ in the middle of the community, with the result being much more youth violence, high infant mortality, and the closing of many other factories, shops, and restaurants,” said Coleman. (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently  ran a major article focused on the Third-World level rate of infant mortality in the area, called “Where city factories, and now babies, die.“ However, theJournal Sentinel refrained from drawing the obvious conclusion that the factories and their jobs were killed off through conscious decisions by the top 1 percent, rather than just mysteriously disappearing.)

The vacant factory space held promise a year ago as the new site for manufacturing mass-transit rail equipment by the Spanish firm Talgo for a new fast-rail route between Milwaukee and Madison. But ultra-reactionary Gov. Scott Walker, now the target of a fast-growing recall campaign that has already gathered 300,000 petition signatures of the 540,000 needed to call for a new election, turned down more than $800 million in federal funding for the route, crushing the dreams of Milwaukee residents desperately hoping for an upturn in job opportunities.

The building and maintenance of the rail plan and its equipment would have generated between 5,000 and 13,000 jobs.

READY FOR THE LONG HAUL

For Occupy the Hood, the march to the Smith site and subsequent activities have illustrated its mission of both fighting concrete legislative battles of immediate importance to the African-American and Latino communities and performing educational outreach about the root causes of widespread misery in these communities.  The deindustrialization of Milwaukee—which has lost 80 percent of its factory jobs since 1977—has had a devastating impact particularly on people of color.

Occupy the Hood envisions a long-term strategy in educating and activating the African-American and Latino communities as full partners in the broader Occupy movement, Coleman stressed. “We want to be reaching more of the masses. How do we galvanize those people who won’t show up a mass meeting?”

Milwaukee’s communities of color, already in desperate shape before the last four years of ongoing high unemployment and wage-cutting, are hungry for fundamental reforms that improve their lives, but need to see proof that the Occupy movement is serious and does not serve as a political vehicle for any politician. “People want to be part of something where they can say, this really represents my interests,” observed Coleman.

“In some ways, the {African-American] community is more solid than Occupy movement itself” in its readiness for a massive movement challenging inequality, Coleman said. “People are so eager for change, but they’re not sure if this is going to be the movement that will represent them. For example, how do you keep it from being something traditional run by a politician?”

These are questions that will have to be answered over the long haul, Coleman readily admits. “The main thing is to build something long-term. After all, we are up against a system that runs most of the world,” a reflective Coleman stated.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on December 1, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. Bybee edited The Racine Labor weekly newspaper for 14 years in his hometown of Racine, Wis., where his grandfathers and father were socialist and labor activists. His website can be found here, and his e-mail address is winterbybee@gmail.com.

Electrical Workers Use Traditional and Online Organizing in Illinois Sears Win

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Laura ClawsonOrganizing 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.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on December 1, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog