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Forget Elections—Labor Needs To Get Back to Its Roots

Friday, November 16th, 2018

With the midterms behind us, we have Nov. 4, 2020, to look forward to—labor’s next morning after. On Nov. 5, 2008, we were euphoric and full of delusional hope over the imminent passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and the restoration of labor. On Nov. 9, 2016, we were paralyzed by despair and denial.

At this point, betting our future on the next brutal mating ritual of Republicans and Democrats is not a bet most workers are willing to take. Since the 1950s, union membership decline has been a straight line downward, regardless of which political party is in power. Only 10.7 percent of workers are unionized; an enormous 89.3 percent are not. That’s too low to make much difference for most people in most places—more molecular level Brownian motion than labor movement. No threat to wealth, the wealthy, or powerful. Much worse, no voice or power of, by, or, for workers. Instead, organized labor has become so marginal Donald Trump has been able to usurp its role as the emotional voice for workers.

The economy is doing great—apart from workers. Wages remain stagnant. Forty percent of adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense such as a car repair or medical crisis. Forty-three percent of families aren’t making enough to cover monthly living expenses. Uncertain work, unpredictable work hours, mandatory overtime, dictatorial bosses, miserable job standards, create day-to-day desperation with psychological and social tolls. The labor market is ripe for an organizing explosion, but it isn’t happening.

Blaming the rich and the Republicans is great sport. The income inequality research industry is booming and there is no need to catalog Republican offenses—they campaign on them. Long ago, labor outsourced its representation in the public sphere to the Democratic Party, and in the process become a dependent franchise and an easy target. But the truth is that the Democrats patronize labor on a good day, sell us out on a bad day, and ignore us on most days. (I speak as a recovering politician, a Democrat who ran and was elected four times to city council in my heavily Republican small town.)

Partisan and competitive thinking insidiously affects behavior. Fifty percent plus one passes for solidarity. Unionists succumb to political speak, sounding like Washington rather than “folks ‘round here.” We blame workers for voting for Republicans. If they’d only voted how we told them, then we could get things done. We estrange ourselves from large chunks of workers while giving ourselves an excuse for failure. We don’t have to do the hard work of building a movement, we only need to win an election.

Maybe we should rethink that.

Instead, start today from where we are and who we are. Simple collective self-representation without institutional, ideological, partisan or monetary artifice. Understanding who and where we are by our own compass; by our own position, not opposition. This requires radical respect for our fellow workers. For lack of a better term, this unadorned organizing is social organizing.

Abundant example are scattered across the globe and buried in history. I witnessed a jarring worker tutorial in social organizing in Poland in 1995, when AFL-CIO desperation over labor’s decline and my good luck resulted in a leave of absence from my elected Central Labor Council job to work in those early post-revolutionary years with Solidarnosc leadership and membership. Ironically, at one point, I was tasked with organizing a conference on American union organizing for Solidarnosc activists. Just as the accomplished, well-educated American organizer sent over by the union began his presentation, one Solidarnosc members interrupted to ask, “What do you mean “organize?” A moment of awkward silence followed. Then, charitably, another Solidarnosc member suggested, “Do you mean, join our organization and we’ll represent you?” The original questioner jumped in, “we had 45 years of that with the Communists.” The workers then came up with their own definition of organizing, “co-creating our own future.” Workers, not the organization, were the of, by, and for.

Post-revolution, the solidarity of Solidarnosc dissipated into political and institutional factions. Still, this incident illuminates the commitment to social organizing that helped spark this transformational worker movement.

When all we have is each other, social organizing is where we start.

Back to basics

Social organizing built the labor movement. When 19th-century American workers had virtually no institutional or political voice or power, they developed both by caring about and for each other. In nearly every inch of America, now-forgotten workers came together with that definition of solidarity.

In 1894, Coxey’s Army of unemployed workers marched on Washington, D.C., to press for defined jobs and meaningful work. As branches passed through cities and towns—including Fort Wayne, Ind., where I work—the Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that local residents lavished them for days with food and social support. That same year the Sentinel reported, during the 1894 streetcar workers strike, housewives directed garden hoses at scabs, horse drawn wagons inexplicably unhitched on the tracks, and riders boycotted the streetcars. Returning the solidarity, striking workers went back to work without pay for one day, Memorial Day, so citizens could visit the graves of their departed. Streetcar workers and the community won that strike.

Thousands of lost histories such as this were the roots of community-based solidarity in industrial America. This populist industrial solidarity spawned and supported Workingmen’s Associations, Knights of Labor chapters, Trade and Labor Councils. In turn, these organizations incubated worker organizing in workplaces and by trades. Local solidarity in railroad towns and company towns built the institutional, political and legal foundations for our now diminished labor movement. The gravity of solidarity drew workers into the inextricably intertwined labor market and community. This culture of solidarity included direct actions such as strikes and boycotts but, more consistently and importantly, direct education of, by, and for workers. Apprenticeships,“lectors” who read news and literature aloud to workers on the job, and intentionally educational union meetings with guest speakers were part of the culture. Railroad and industrial activities were regularly covered in newspapers, with the reporting focused more on workers than bosses or business. Journalists, whether Knights of Labor or just solid reporters, would commonly cover union federation meetings. Union leaders understood their role as representative in the community meant talking to reporters, not hiding from them. Everybody had something to teach and everybody had something to learn and an obligation to do both. A culture of solidarity meant educate to organize and organize to educate.

We could take solace and avoid the hard work of organizing by saying America and the world are different now. Our mid-twentieth century institutions, economy, and democracy have decayed or been hijacked. Our social divisions can feel insurmountable. We’ve been sliced, diced, monetized, politicized and controlled. But are we so special that we now believe we are the first ones to have ever been so seemingly screwed? Or do we try to work through it, experiment based on what we can learn from other times and places and most importantly, each other?

Social organizing after the 2008 Recession

Since 1996, the folks I’ve been working with at the Workers’ Project, a research and education nonprofit, have experimented scores of times with worker representation through social organizing. We are confident and hopeful various configurations of workers have been experimenting elsewhere. We have learned some lessons from our successes and failures.

One instructive experiment focused on unemployed workers’ social organizing for voice and power during and after the Great Recession. A torrent of mostly non-union workers, newly jobless after the economic crash, were overwhelming Indiana’s unemployment offices. The state offices were disinterested or actively hostile toward unemployed workers. Meanwhile, a union foundry in Kendallville, Ind., was closing. Busted up from years of foundry work, the union president, the late Leonard Hicks, was ready to quit working but unwilling to stop representing his folks as their lives became even tougher.

To address both problems, we brought together union and non-union unemployed workers to bargain with the state through a social organizing movement, Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers’ Initiative (UAEWI).

First, we listened as workers talked about problems and possibilities. We developed a survey. In the unemployment office parking lot, we surveyed unemployed workers about how the office was doing, giving them a report card style survey to fill out, with a voluntary contact information form. The state immediately called in the police to stop us—claiming that we were trespassing on private property, because the public office was housed on private land. We alerted the media and the state received reams of bad press.

The media coverage revealed to unemployed workers they could have a voice and some grit. They began coming to UAEWI meetings, along with the union foundry workers in Kendallville and other union shops experiencing mass lay-offs.

Our ranks of unemployed included workers with education and experience in sociology. With their assistance, the UAEWI members developed and collected a broader survey. The survey was not for academic publication, or for an institutional or partisan agenda, but instead for collective self-representation. It had real value for public policy discussions. While the political class talk about or for unemployed workers, UAEWI represented themselves.

Membership was determined solely by a worker’s decision to participate in the survey—to voluntarily add their voice to the collective voice. We conducted education and training classes as well as group talk sessions. Within a few months, the State’s unemployment office management found themselves in a union hall across a bargaining table with the UAEWI members. Unemployed workers gained improvements in services including increased staffing and training but most importantly, a change in attitude. Most UAEWI members had never been union members; they learned how collective representation worked.

For seven more years, we continued and broadened annual UAEWI surveys. We gathered responses wherever we found voiceless workers: from folks leaving food banks, township trustee office, social service agencies, a mobile Mexican consulate. Our sampling exceeded 500 workers in 2012 and was conducted in English, Spanish and Burmese. We asked more wide-ranging public policy questions about issues such as economic development.

UAEWI members bargained in the public sphere. They provided local, state, national, and international journalists with reliable data, context, and access to socially organized workers willing to tell compelling stories. Some of the stories supported Peabody and Murrow investigative journalism awards. UAEWI members presented survey report results to other members and the public in very public formats ranging from traditional research reports to semi-theatrical presentations and even cinematic effort. UAEWI members attended and spoke before the local and state Workforce Investment Boards, Fort Wayne City Council, Indiana Economic Development Board meetings.

Just the modest act of asking drew workers out of their isolation and into solidarity. Many UAEWI members were personally transformed as they shaped public policies from the unemployment office to well beyond. They were co-creating their own futures. This was bargaining in the public sphere, bargaining with the state over the terms and conditions of our lives. Bargaining with state is foundational for worker representation in the 21st century, just as it was with Coxey’s Army in the 19th century. The UAEWI effort only updated representation with a bit of worker-driven social science.

In the last four years, learning from UAEWI effort, we have experimented with applying worker-driven social science and applying it to original NLRA intent in workplaces. In labor speak workers develop “non-certified minority status bargaining” with so-called private employers. (This less legalistic, institutional and technocratic organizing was envisioned when the NLRA was first implemented—the work of labor law scholar, the late Clyde Summers, as well as Charles Morris’s in Blue Eagle At Work documents this well.)

We helped workers develop their collective understanding and identity to, from the worm’s eye view, make things better at work. In each case, their self-organizing grew from “solidarity selfies” and a survey of co-workers’ thoughts on the terms and conditions of their employment. It is simultaneously concerted activity under the NLRA and, more importantly, intellectual property owned by the workers. We provided supportive research and education for Latina workers at a manufacturing plant; sub-contracted workers at a retail outlet; and Burmese workers at a manufacturing plant. One group faced unsafe work conditions causing miscarriages. The second faced a classic bullying boss culture. The third faced systematic ethnic and language discrimination.

We provided them access to social science, legal support, and social organizing talent, as well as a place in our community of solidarity. We supported their conversations to develop strategies to negotiate with the boss. They succeeded on their own terms. First the survey process overcame employer-imposed isolation. Workers experienced their own workplace “me too” revelations which led to collective voice. They built their representational power by developing a research report on their work lives that became collectively owned and copyrighted intellectual property with real bargaining value. Each unit could choose to share the findings with whoever they decide in the public-private spectrum: media, government regulators, elected officials, customers, suppliers, competitors, stockholders or, if willing, across the table with the boss.

The Latina factory workers met with the plant owner to present their findings. Safety conditions improved, maternity leaves were granted, healthy babies were born, and little Jose Manuel now attends our events. Some of the workers were fired, most moved on to other jobs, some won legal settlements. Most remain active in the Hispanic Workers Circle.

The subcontracted retail workers successfully confronted top national corporate management. They ended the bullying management culture and maintain an ongoing social “solidarity union” collecting no dues and participating in all Workers’ Project activities.

The Burmese factory workers efforts are ongoing. They constitute a significant portion of our Burmese Workers Circle which is developing as a workers’ and civil rights organization.

Stay tuned for more news: All groups continue full-throated participation in Workers’ Project activities and Fort Wayne’s huge annual Labor Day picnic.

We think collective intellectual property is an intriguing innovation. As workers we are robbed of our intellectual property as employers pick our brains, pick our pockets, only to pick up and leave us jobless. As consumers, our data has collected by others, monetized and politicized at our expense to benefit wealth. Intellectual property we own collectively can help us bargain with anyone in the power spectrum, from private employer to the state.

Owning our own voices and power, collective human agency, is our democracy where we work and where we live. Valuing each other, sharing our experiences, information, ideas, and respect seems a great place to start especially when you are starting at scratch. Social organizing, old school or innovative, is still solidarity.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on November 16, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Lewandowski is co-founder and director of the Workers’ Project in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Democrats have the House. They should use it to show how they'll fight back in the war on workers

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Winning the House doesn’t just let Democrats block some of the worst things Donald Trump wants from Congress. It also offers a chance to show what Democrats would do if they had the chance. For years Democrats have been introducing great legislation that Republicans would never allow to even come to a vote. Now is the chance to pass some of that in the House and let Senate Republicans explain why they’re not taking action.

Let’s start with the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, while red states like Missouri and Arkansas (most recently) have voted to increase it, showing how deep and broad voter support is. Democrats should be able to pass a substantial minimum wage increase in the House quickly.

Democrats should pass a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to strengthen protections for pregnant women and prevent abuses like these.

Paid family leave. Sick leave. Protections for Dreamers. These are all obvious, necessary things with widespread support.

But you can go deeper: “Workers should not be forced to sign away their rights as a condition of employment,” Celine McNicholas and Heidi Shierholz write. Democrats should undo one of the worst recent Supreme Court decisions with the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, which allows workers to have their cases against employers heard in a real court, not a rigged arbitration process.

No, this stuff isn’t going to get through the Senate or Donald Trump. But Democrats, show us what you would do if you could. Let the country know that while Republicans use Congress and the presidency to dismantle health care and give big tax breaks to corporations, Democrats would use it to raise the minimum wage and protect pregnant workers and let workers have their day in court.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on November 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Labor-Backed Candidates Win Big in Tuesday’s Elections

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

It was a big night for labor’s agenda as pro-worker candidates won election from coast to coast Tuesday.

In Virginia, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam handily defeated Ed Gillespie as AFL-CIO-endorsed candidates won throughout the commonwealth. Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays hailed the victories:

“Today, Virginia’s voters turned out in record numbers to stand with working people and reject the hateful, divisive rhetoric that has taken over the airwaves throughout the campaign. Virginia voters have spoken—we must work toward a commonwealth that puts working families first and prioritizes real issues that impact our lives each and every day. All students must have quality public education and job-training opportunities. All workers must be guaranteed fair wages, safe working conditions and the freedom to join in union. And all Virginians must have access to quality, affordable health care no matter where they live.

“We are proud to stand with you all and elect Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax, Mark Herring and a host of delegates in districts from Blacksburg to Hampton and so many places in between. Voters came together to enact real change in our commonwealth by flipping control in at least 15 house districts despite our heavily gerrymandered lines.”

In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy defeated Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, one of several key victories for labor in the state. New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charlie Wowkanech said union solidarity made it possible:

“The results of New Jersey’s critical gubernatorial election are in, and the election of Phil Murphy as governor and Sheila Oliver as lieutenant governor speaks to the unmatched mobilization efforts of organized labor and the New Jersey State AFL-CIO’s political program that is unparalleled by any other in our state or nation.

“Let’s be clear: what made the difference tonight was our unified labor voice, comprised of support from thousands of union volunteers, national, state and local affiliates, central labor councils and Building Trades councils. We had an opportunity to show strength and solidarity and we did. We joined together every Saturday for labor walks, made calls at evening phone banks and delivered thousands of mail pieces around the state. There is no question that our 1-million-member-strong state labor movement determined the outcome of this election.

“Working people needed a victory and organized labor delivered. The results of this election make clear that the New Jersey labor movement will lead the way forward for the rest of the nation, securing needed reforms that promote job creation, quality education, skills training, modernized infrastructure, affordable health care, equitable taxation, and a sustainable and secure retirement future for all New Jersey families.”

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tim Schlittner is the AFL-CIO director of speechwriting and publications and co-president of Pride At Work

U.S. Pressure Needed to Make Honduran Elections Free and Fair

Friday, November 15th, 2013

On Sunday, Nov. 24, Hondurans will vote in national elections for president, legislators and local governments. The last elections in Honduras, in November 2009, were run by the de facto government that took office after the June 2009 coup and the electoral process was tainted by severe limits on civil liberties and low levels of participation. Candidates from diverse parties withdrew before the election, stating that the ruling party made fair campaigns and elections impossible. As a result, many Honduran and international groups questioned the legitimacy of the elections and the government that took office in early 2010. Numerous governments in Latin America explicitly rejected these elections.

Since the 2009 coup, those who resisted the coup have built a progressive alliance in which unions are a key partner and one of the founders of the resulting LIBRE party. Its candidate for president, Xiomara Castro, has been leading in the polls for more than nine months. Labor has presented numerous LIBRE party candidates, including one for vice president. At the same time, LIBRE members, activists and candidates have suffered violent attacks, threats and intimidation when attempting to exercise their rights and build a movement for social justice. Eighteen LIBRE candidates and immediate family members of candidates were murdered between May 2012 and Oct. 19, 2013, and 15 more suffered armed attacks. Countless more members of LIBRE have been victims of this violence, which observers say has been both increasing and more focused against the LIBRE party. U.S. citizens and taxpayers should insist that the U.S. government play a positive role in the Honduran elections, advocating for full rights and democratic freedoms for all Hondurans.

At the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, delegates passed a resolution to support free and fair elections in Honduras by having local labor councils ask their members of Congress to insist that the U.S. Embassy call on the Honduran authorities to run the elections free of threats, coercion or intimidation of candidates, their supporters or voters. As the resolution urged, the AFL-CIO is sending a delegation to witness the elections, along with regional unions from Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere in Central America that are also affiliated to the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas.

Since the 2009 coup, the ruling government has failed to respect human rights, advance economic development or provide security to citizens. In this context, labor rights in Honduras have been violated consistently and recent reforms have reduced job stability and workers’ income. As a result, the AFL-CIO filed a complaint in 2012 under the terms of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). In March 2012, 94 members of the House of Representatives wrote to the U.S. State Department to insist that U.S. policy follow laws that link foreign assistance to respect for human rights. Meanwhile, poverty, unemployment and inequality all have increased over the past four years. Lastly, Honduras remains one of the most violent countries in the world outside of war zones.

While some members of the U.S. Congress have properly expressed concern recently about the role of the United States in Honduras and strong concerns about the upcoming elections, the State Department and its embassy in Honduras have not sent a sufficiently clear and public message denouncing the violence faced by opposition candidates and their supporters. Along with others, the United States has called on the current government to respect the democratic process, yet more vigilance will be needed to defend the rights of all Hondurans in the upcoming elections. The Nov. 24 election presents a great opportunity for Honduran citizens and workers to change course toward a more just and peaceful society. They must be allowed a chance to exercise their rights and seize that opportunity in free, fair and fully inclusive elections.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on November 15, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Brian Finnegan is a Global Worker Rights coordinator for the AFL-CIO.

Wal-Mart Warehouse Workers Fight for the Future of Work

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Workers responsible for moving an estimated $1 trillion worth of goods a year through the global economy are paid low wages, often denied breaks and basic protective gear, and are employed primarily through temp agencies.

Outside the largest Walmart distribution center in the country, moving the products of the world’s largest private employer, a group of striking workers are asking for small changes they say will make an immeasurable difference to their working conditions. Warehouse workers in Elwood, Illinois, have been on strike for more than two weeks, calling for the subcontractors that employ them on behalf of Walmart to provide shin pads and dust masks – and to listen to their grievances around working conditions.

Early this week, workers forced the warehouse to close early after more than 200 people rallied around the suburban distribution center. A planned civil disobedience action took a surprising turn for many of the assembled protesters when riot police equipped with a sound cannon came to arrest the 17 clergy and warehouse workers blocking a road near the distribution center.

The majority of jobs created since the recession first hit mirror those the warehouse workers do: temporary, low-wage, no-benefit and high-risk. But the strike is also part of a larger trend of workers standing up to the Walmart behemoth – from the California warehouse workers on strike earlier this month to the three women that filed the latest sexual discrimination lawsuit against the company this week.

“The whole warehouse industry is built on temp poverty jobs. Every day, workers tell their sad story of getting ripped off in these warehouses, of sexual discrimination, of racial discrimination,” said Father Raymond Lescher, priest at Sacred Heart Church in Joliet, Illinois, and a member of the Warehouse Workers for Justice Board. “We’ve tried to work with politicians at the county, state and local level, but we haven’t gotten to first base. So, we said we’ve got to escalate this.”

Walmart Warehouse Workers.(Photo: Yana Kunichoff)

“There are rat feces, bat feces … it’s unbearable”

The windowless Elwood warehouse about two hours outside Chicago sits surrounded by chain link fence and empty fields. Warehouse Workers for Justice, the group helping to organize the workers, says Chicago transports half the nation’s rail freight, and seven interstate highways cross the Chicago region. It is the third-largest container port in the world, and almost $1 trillion worth of goods pass through the area annually.  It has the additional distinction of being home to one of the largest concentrations of warehouses on the planet

“If you didn’t make it yourself, it probably came through one of these warehouses,” says Leah Fried, an organizer with Warehouse Workers for Justice. Fried told Labor Notes that the Elwood location is the largest warehouse by far – 70 percent of imported products that Walmart sells make their way through its doors.

While the logistics industry working the warehouses is becoming increasingly lucrative, workers on the ground face a different reality.

Walmart Warehouse Workers.(Photo: Yana Kunichoff)

Chris Tucker, a 22-year-old resident of the neighboring suburb of Joliet, pays more than half of the income he earns as a warehouse worker on rent. With only $1300 dollars a month coming in from his job, the $850 a month to keep a roof over his head “isn’t going to cut it” for a living wage, said Tucker.

But that is only one of the reasons Tucker joined 29 other workers in walking off the job on September 15. He also says that the lack of dust masks isn’t good for his lungs, working without shin pads leaves him and others with constant bruises, and the lack of breaks during work makes the conditions dangerous.

Tucker was employed by RoadLink, the “largest private, independent North American Intermodal Logistics service provider,” according to its web site, during the three months he was at the Elmwood warehouse. Though the strikes are targeting Walmart, whose products they move, most people are employed by a series of subcontractors. Tucker has been working in warehouses for two years – along with RoadLink, he says he has worked under Velocity Logistics Inc., PLS Logistics Services, Staffing Logistics and Shamrock Logistics Operations.

Walmart Warehouse Workers.(Photo: Yana Kunichoff)

Warehouse Workers for Justice estimates that 70 percent of warehouses in the Chicago land area employ temporary labor. The group also says that Will County, where Elmwood is located, has the highest concentration of temp agencies in Illinois

The workers have filed 11 lawsuits in the past three-and-a-half years, according to Father Lescher. Most recently, a lawsuit filed against RoadLink on September 20 in the US District Court of Northern Illinois accused the company of wage theft and not paying overtime.

A class action lawsuit filed by California Walmart warehouse workers against Schneider Logistics sheds light on the role that contractors play, showing that they set payment rates and, in the case of Schneider, set work quotas for the warehouse.

RoadLink and Walmart did not respond to requests for comment from Truthout, but Walmart told the Huffington Post it took the workers allegations “very seriously” but the complaints where “unfounded.

Walmart Warehouse Workers.(Photo: Yana Kunichoff)

On the Picket Line 

Joining the Walmart strikers on the picket line were workers from Sensata Technologies Inc., a company owned by Bain Capital and now in the final stages of moving its production to China. Workers have set up a tent camp outside the factory to protest the closings and the fact that many of them may not get their full severance packages.

Bonnie Borman worked with Sensata for more than 20 years in Freeport, Illinois, as a production technician. Now she’s not sure what she’ll do next. “All that’s left here is just minimum-wage, low-paying jobs that you can’t support a family on,” said Borman, who has already begun training her Chinese replacement. At her current job she makes $15 an hour, a wage she is worried she won’t be able to find wherever she goes to work next. “I’m kind of in that limbo place where I keep thinking: What am I going to do?”

Walmart Warehouse Workers.(Photo: Yana Kunichoff)

The world’s biggest private employer isn’t very appealing to Borman, she said.

It took Jerome Synowicz, a Walmart worker from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, eight years to move his salary from $7 an hour to his current $12. “They get you a check and it’s nothing. It’s very hard to make it go around,” he said.

Copyright, Truth-Out. May not be reprinted without permission. Originally posted on Truth-Out on October 3, 2012. 

About the Authors: Jesse Menendez is the host of Vocalo on Chicago Public Radio’s WBEZ. He is also host of The Music Vox on Vocalo radio, which airs Monday-Friday from 6 PM-8 PM Central, and Live From Studio 10, which airs every Wednesday at 8 PM Central. Yana Kunichoff is an assistant editor at Truth-Out.

President Of Florida-Based Company Threatens To Fire Employees If Romney Loses

Monday, November 5th, 2012

 With fewer than 72 hours before polls begin to close, another report has emerged of a company owner strongly urging his employees to vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, claiming that their jobs are potentially on the line if Obama wins re-election.

Cliff Otto, president of the Florida-based Saddle Creek Corporation, circulated an email to staff this week explaining that, while “we do not support candidates based on their political affiliation,” Romney’s positions are in “the best interest of our company, and therefore our jobs and our future”:

In the past, Saddle Creek has not felt it imperative that we communicate with our associates regarding the political issues that affect our business. This year the positions taken by the two presidential candidates with regard to these issues are starkly different. As such [we] feel it would be wrong for us not to share with you the company’s position on just a few of the critical issues and, at the same time, how each of the two candidates compare to our position. … We do not support candidates based on their political affiliation. We do support candidates that share our positions with regard to the key issues facing our company and our country. Thank you for considering what Saddle Creek believes is in the best interest of our company, and therefore our jobs and our future.

An accompanying flyer, obtained by MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes, highlights by position — not candidate — which would be more beneficial for Otto’s employees’ jobs:

Otto is not alone in his effort to sway his employees’ votes by insinuating that they might lose their jobs should Obama win. Similar tactics have been used by other CEOs across the country who warn of “consequences” should Romney lose on November 6th. One CEO likened the threats to telling employees to “Eat your spinach.”

Indeed, it may be a concerted intimidation effort by right-leaning CEOs that is orchestrated from the top. Just a month ago, leaked audio captured Romney urging conservative business owners to tell their employees who to vote for.

This article was originally posted on November 4, 2012 at Think Progress

About the Author: Annie-Rose Strasser is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress. Before joining American Progress, she worked for the community organizing non-profit Center for Community Change as a new media specialist. Previously, Annie-Rose served as a press assistant for Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Annie-Rose holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the George Washington University.

AFL-CIO Head Trumka: Romney 'sure doesn't know anything about coal mining'

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

The United Mine Workers of America is sitting out this presidential race as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama battle over parts of coal country. But former UMWA president and current AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke to the press Monday not just as an advocate for all workers but from the perspective of a third-generation coal miner.

While Romney has centered his coal country campaign on inaccurate claims that overregulation by the Obama administration has weakened the coal industry (Romney’s beloved free market is the real culprit), Trumka pointed to how workplace safety is enforced in this dangerous industry:

[President Obama] has appointed people who are enforcing safety laws, these are the real regulations coal operators don’t want enforced….MSHA [Mine Safety and Health Administration] is enforcing the laws and now coal operators are not able to get away with violations like they did before, especially high violators.

Among the regulations and oversight that Romney would weaken or abolish are those that save miners’ lives. So it’s important that Romney’s “Obama’s war on coal” rhetoric not be allowed to cloud the picture, obscuring that coal’s recent struggles aren’t due to regulation, and that when he talks about regulations, he’s talking about people’s lives. Beyond that, Trumka drove home the distance between the coal miners Romney pretends to care about and Romney’s own life:

Mitt Romney says coal country is his country. Well, he’s wrong—it’s ours….Mitt Romney doesn’t know about getting his hands dirty, and he sure doesn’t know anything about coal mining.

This article was originally published by The Daily Kos on Monday, October 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006, and a Daily Kos Labor editor since 2011.

In Conference Call, Romney Urged Businesses To Tell Their Employees How to Vote

Friday, October 19th, 2012

In a June 6, 2012 conference call posted on the anti-union National Federation of Independent Business’s website, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney instructed employers to tell their employees how to vote in the upcoming election.

 

Romney was addressing  a group of self-described “small-business owners.” Twenty-six minutes into the call, after making a lengthy case that President Obama’s first term has been bad for business, Romney said:

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees.

The call raises the question of whether the Romney campaign is complicit in the corporate attempts to influence employees’ votes that have been recently making headlines. On Sunday, In These Times broke the news that Koch Industries mailed at least 45,000 employees a voter information packet that included a flyer endorsing Romney and a letter warning, “Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences [of a bad election result], including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills.” Last week, Gawker obtained an email in which the CEO of Westgate Resorts, Florida billionaire David Siegel, informed his 7,000 employees that an Obama victory would likely lead to layoffs at his company. This week, MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes unveiled an email by ASG Software Solutions CEO Arthur Allen in which he, too, warned employees that an Obama second term would spell layoffs.

In the June call, Romney went on to reassure his audience that it is perfectly legal for them to talk to their employees about how to vote:

Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.

He’s correct that such speech is now legal for the first time ever, thanks to the Citizen United ruling, which overturned previous Federal Election Commission laws that prohibited employers from political campaigning among employees.

In the post-Citizens United era, “there is not much political protection for at-will employees in the private sector workplace,” explains University of Marquette Law Professor Paul Secunda, a pro-union labor lawyer. “It is conceivable, under the current legal regime, that an employer like Koch could actually get away with forcing his employees, on pains of termination, to campaign for a given candidate or political party.”

Romney provided his call audience with a number of talking points to relay to their employees:

I particularly think that our young kids–and when I say young, I mean college-age and high-school age–they need to understand that America runs on a strong and vibrant business [sic] … and that we need more business growing and thriving in this country. They need to understand that what the president is doing by borrowing a trillion dollars more each year than what we spend is running up a credit card that they’re going to have to pay off and that their future is very much in jeopardy by virtue of the policies that the president is putting in place. So I need you to get out there and campaign.

Beyond Romney’s statements on the call, it’s unclear whether his election operation is actively coordinating workplace campaigning by businesses. Romney press secretary Andrea Saul did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment.

However, the conference call raises troubling questions about what appears to be a growing wave of workplace political pressure unleashed by Citizens United.

This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on October 17, 2012.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

Election About Jobs, Not Republican Mandate

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Image: Mike HallLast night’s election, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters today in a conference call, “was about jobs, plain and simple. It was a mandate to fix the economy and create jobs. But here’s what it wasn’t”:

It wasn’t a mandate for the policies most Republicans campaigned on.

An election night survey of voters in 100 swing congressional district bears that out. That survey, Trumka says:

shows clearly that the election wasn’t an endorsement of tax cuts for the wealthy—or for undermining Social Security or the minimum wage. It wasn’t a rejection of building a middle class economy. And it wasn’t an ideological purge—as many Blue Dogs lost as progressives.

Overall, union members voted for the union-endorsed candidate by 64 percent. The union movement’s mobilization included 200,000 union volunteers who distributed 19.4 million fliers while talking with workers one on one at the workplace. They knocked on 8.5 million doors and made millions of  phone calls.

Members of Working America, the AFL-CIO community affiliate for people without a union, was in 13 cities, nine states and more than 80 electoral races around the country and knocked on nearly 800,000 doors and made half a million phone calls to voters around the country.

While Republicans today are claiming a mandate for their “Pledge to America” agenda—more or less a return to Bush-era economic policies—the survey numbers show a different story. When asked about specific Pledge to America agenda items, just 34 percent of all voters and 49 percent of Republicans support extending the tax cuts for the wealthy. By almost the same small numbers, they support rolling back Wall Street reform.

Among other proposals from Republican candidates this fall, only 29 percent of all voters and 35 percent of Republicans back raising the Social Security retirement age, while only 28 percent of all voters and 45 percent of Republicans back privatizing Social Security.

Reducing or eliminating the minimum wage draws the support of just 18 percent of all voters and 25 percent of Republicans.

Instead, the voters surveyed are big supporters of many of the economic proposals the AFL-CIO and most Democrats have called for and want Congress to invest money in job creation and help for the unemployed. Voters say they want:

  • A major job creation tax credit for business to create jobs in the United States—89 percent of all voters and 87 percent of Republicans.
  • Job creation by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure of roads, bridges, schools and energy systems—77 percent of all voters and 63 percent of Republicans.
  • Job investment to maintain U.S. competitiveness with China, India and Germany—77 percent of all voters and 74 percent of Republicans.
  • Federal unemployment insurance benefits extended for those who have lost their jobs and are unable to find new ones—65 percent of all voters and 47 of Republicans.

Trumka also said voters were angry and rightfully so because, “They’ve felt the pain of economic collapse, and paid for it with their jobs, their homes and often their hope.”

That anger is directed at everyone in Washington. Our election night survey showed that, quite frankly, voters don’t make a distinction between Democrats and Republicans on having a plan to strengthen the economy.

The survey shows that just 35 percent of the voters believe the Republicans have a clear economic plan to rebuild the economy and create a jobs plan. Those numbers are just slightly better than the 30 percent who believe Democrats have an economic fix it plan.

While Republicans picked up huge gains in the House and some Senate seats, Trumka told reporters:

The months of intense, grassroots organizing on the ground by working people and their unions prevented yesterday from being even worse—particularly in places like Nevada, West Virginia, and California. In those states and many House districts, union members voted for our endorsed candidates by huge margins—40 percent in Nevada, for example—and we were the firewall.

Trumka also pointed to the huge amount of corporate money that played a major influence in the election.

According to Open Secrets, 74.2 percent of ALL money spent in the elections was spent by corporations—and their spending started well before the elections. In 2009 alone, the top three business industries—the health care and pharmaceutical industry, business associations like the Chamber of Commerce, and the oil and gas industry, spent $626 million on lobbying to defeat and distort President Obama’s agenda.

But, despite last night’s outcome, Trumka promised the fight

begins all over again for working families—for jobs, for building the middle class, for protecting retirement security and more.

That includes stepping up efforts to end corporate outsourcing of U.S. jobs, strengthening Social Security and Medicare, fighting to help jobless workers, asking multimillionaires to pay their fair share in taxes and investing in a 21st century infrastructure.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Which Side Are You On: Election Edition?

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerOkay, the election is right around the corner. The purpose of this column is not to tell you who to vote for, or even what to vote for. It’s simply to try to help you to clarify what is important to you. If I do a good job, you won’t even know my political leanings.

Foreclosures — Do you think that the cash support should go to the bankers or the people being foreclosed on? Ironically words like responsibility can be applied or not applied to both sides of this equation.

Sure we’re all mad at the banks. They took huge risks, kept their profits and stuck us with their losses. Which candidates are most inclined to hold the banks accountable? And which candidates are inclined to take contributions from said bankers? The rhetoric isn’t as important as the money flows, in my humble opinion.

Health Care — Health care is another popular political piñata today. Do you long for the old system of health care? Or do you think it makes sense to have someone looking over the insurance companies’ shoulders?

The wars — Is this a question of pride and winning or is it more of an issue of cutting our losses?

Unemployment assistance — 99 weeks does seem like a long time to get help for being unemployed. Too many too long. But if you know people who’ve been out of work that long, you know the struggle that they’re facing.

Political theater or political action — Which candidates are inclined to roll up their sleeves and work to get things done?

This shouldn’t be done from the hip. Definitely take out your voting pamphlets and  do some research on your options. Your steady hand is needed on the ship of state’s rudder.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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