Archive for the ‘unions’ Category
Sunday, October 4th, 2015
After years of concessions, auto workers at Fiat Chrysler have had enough. They’ve voted to reject a contract recommended by UAW leadership that would have offered raises, but left in place the tier system in which some workers make significantly more than others. The Detroit Free Press reports that
this is the first time since 1982 that UAW workers have voted down a national agreement. It wasn’t close either: 65 percent of workers voted against the contract. Alexandra Bradbury writes at Labor Notes that
Probably the top reason workers voted no was indignation that the agreement broke the union’s longstanding promise to cap the lower-paid tier at 25 percent of the workforce this fall. Since 45 percent of Chrysler workers are in Tier 2, many expected a raise to $28 an hour. With no cap, it’s only a matter of time before there’s no first tier left.
Amplifying the anger were Chrysler’s high profits and the revelation that the company plans to move car production to Mexico.
UAW president Dennis Williams said the union would seek further discussion with Chrysler.
This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.
Thursday, October 1st, 2015
Detroit 90/90, the charter school management group that operates University Prep, the city’s largest charter school network, furthered its challenge of ongoing union organizing by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), recently appealing a ruling made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last month that stated that Teach for America (TFA) members should be in the same bargaining unit as professional teachers.
AFT members and organizers say that its effort to organize charter school teachers in Detroit has seen the same kind of anti-union animus that runs throughout the corporate education reform movement. Patrick Sheehan, a former University Prep teacher and TFA member involved with organizing, wrote about the conflict last month, saying “[Detroit 90/90] hired union-busting consultants, held captive-audience meetings, intimidated teachers and ultimately threatened that if teachers voted to unionize, it wouldn’t renew its management contract—which would force UPrep schools either to find a new management company or to shutter.”
But beyond typical union-busting, organizers say Detroit 90/90 went as far as to challenge 14 TFA service members’ ballots (including Sheehan’s) before the union vote that occurred in May, sequestering them as “challenged ballots.” A later NLRB hearing determined that the ballots should be included in the unit.
The management group asked the NLRB to consider TFA members “temporary service workers,” arguing that TFA members were not professional educators and therefore ineligible to be a part of any bargaining unit. The NLRB ruled against Detroit 90/90 last month, making it clear in their ruling that TFA members could join the union being organized.
But TFA bargaining rights are still being challenged by Detroit 90/90. Detroit 90/90 appealed this NLRB ruling on August 14, arguing that Teach for America contracts include prohibitions on union activities. The union counters that Detroit 90/90 ignores the fact the contract actually states that “a TFA member may engage in any [union organizing] ‘on their own initiative” when they are not not working.
In a statement to In These Times, AFT president Randi Weingarten says Detroit 90/90’s resistance to TFA member bargaining rights is reflective of their anti-teacher sentiments:
University Prep is teaching the country a lesson in hypocrisy: it tells students and parents that TFA members are qualified to teach but are not qualified to have rights or a voice. They claim that TFA corps members— who’ve participated in union elections for years—shouldn’t be allowed in a bargaining unit with other teachers. Now, after the National Labor Relations Board rejected that claim, University Prep management has decided to appeal, using resources that should be devoted to classrooms to intimidate and silence the very teachers it says it values.
TFA has become synonymous with the charter school movement, with one-third of its members serving at charter schools, according to the organization. TFA’s close relations with charter schools has brought criticism from activists and teacher unions who say that charter school operators use the organization as trojan horse for corporate education reform and teacher displacement. As Alexandra Hootnick put it in April 2014, “TFA has funneled a growing constituency of brand-new recruits into charters in large urban districts that have recently laid off hundreds of experienced teachers, including Philadelphia (where 99 percent of corps members teach in charters), Detroit (69 percent) and Chicago (53 percent).”
In response to a request for comment, Annis Stubbs, a TFA staffer who is on the University Prep Board of Directors, directed me to TFA spokesperson Takirra Winfield, who offered a statement that been previously released to other media outlets:
[TFA is] pleased that the National Labor Relations Board acknowledged that our teachers are professional, qualified educators who are deeply invested in their school communities and are able to make individual choices about their union membership. As a TFA network, we know there is tremendous strength in the diversity of perspectives among our talented corps members and alumni as they work to help make certain that every child has access to an excellent education.
With charter school union organizing on the rise and TFA members making up a large number of charter school teachers, union defense of TFA members’ bargaining rights may become more prominent if charter school operators elsewhere follow Detroit 90/90’s charges here.
“How is it that you’re going to expect the same work but yet still not give us the same rights as other teachers?” asks Xochil Johansen, a TFA member currently participating in union organizing at Alliance charter schools in Los Angeles. “We’re invested in our classrooms and we’re invested in our schools, and it’s infuriating that [Detroit 90/90] would demean our work and our profession in that way.”
Despite being given a different (though opponents have said ill-prepared) avenue to get into the profession, Johansen says of TFA members, “We teach, we’re in front of kids, we have our own classroom… we are still teachers.”
On the campaign trail for the 2016 Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley have both called for an expansion of funding for Americorps, a national service organization currently made up of 75,000 members, spread out throughout a variety of different non-profit organizations that it currently funds. One of the beneficiaries of any potential funding increase will be Teach for America (TFA). If an increase in membership is to come, charter school operators’ resistance to TFA members’ attempts to unionize may again be on the table.
This blog was originally posted on In These Times on September 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Mario Vasquez. Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at [email protected]
Saturday, September 26th, 2015
Last night, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in cities all over the world to stand in solidarity around global goals to alleviate poverty, economic inequality and climate change. Even though people were in separate continents, countries and cities, from Australia to South Korea to the United States, they all gathered “Under One Sky”
to come together for these common aspirations.
Lorraine Barcant, a member of AFSCME Local 375, AFL-CIO Next Up and the Young Worker Advisory Council, made the following speech at the Under One Sky rally in New York City last night:
Fifteen years ago, when the U.N. Global Development goals were made, a lot of us were just kids. As we grew up, the inequality around us deepened, dividing us, holding us back. We can’t wait another 15 years to fix the inequality and racial injustice that’s ripping this country apart. What will we tell our kids then? That we didn’t organize, that we didn’t demand action from our leaders? That we’ve only made a little bit of progress?
That’s not enough. It’s not enough to have opportunities, if those opportunities belong to only a few. It’s not enough to have jobs, if those jobs don’t provide security or dignity. It’s not enough to have freedom of speech, if your voice can be drowned out by money.
And that’s why the labor movement is here: To bring people together in solidarity, and demand change. The labor movement says loudly that a little bit of progress is not enough, not here in New York, not anywhere in the world.
Tonight, young workers across the globe demand a future where no one is left behind. We can’t wait, we won’t wait, and starting tonight, things are going to change. Thank you.
This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.
Monday, September 14th, 2015
Study after study, report after report, and of course common sense and our own eyes are telling us that unions help people and the economy do better. It’s obvious. But the billionaires and big corporations want to keep pay and benefits low, and pay politicians to keep it that way.
Which Democratic presidential candidates will come out in favor of strong labor rights and the laws and regulations that protect and encourage this?
A new report presented by the Center for American Progress co-authored with economists Richard Freeman and Eunice Han is only the latest look at how labor unions enable working people to do better. The report, “Bargaining for the American Dream: What Unions do for Mobility,” looks at “economic mobility” and “intergenerational mobility” and finds that mobility is better where unions are strong.
Big words, but what does this mean for real people? The study found that areas with higher union membership demonstrate more mobility for low-income children:
? Low-income children rise higher in the income rankings when they grow up in areas with high union membership.
? An increase in union density is associated with an increase in the income of an area’s children – as much as or more than high school dropout rates.
? Children of non-college-educated fathers earn more if their father was in a labor union.
Previous studies had looked at how other factors affected mobility: single motherhood rates, income inequality, high school dropout rates, social capital and segregation. But they had not looked at union membership. This study did look at this and found that the effect of union membership is close to the effect of inequality; only single motherhood has more of an effect.
At an event about the report, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers (starting about 12:35 in the video) was rather pro-labor. He congratulated the authors for the study, but warned not to necessarily interpret the results as causal. He said the data used could also show that it’s the policies of the old Confederate states that cause lower mobility. Those states “are set up to produce a lot of immobility.” Are unions a cause or a symptom of that? The data show that holding all other factors constant, being in a union does appear to mean your children and grandchildren will do better.
Summers said private sector unionism by its nature goes hand-in-hand with private sector monopoly power and monopoly profits. Unions make sure that workers share in it. But government policies have assisted in making union organizing difficult, thereby decreasing membership.
The report suggested ways that unions might promote increased mobility. Union jobs pay more, which can lead to better outcomes for the kids in union families. Union jobs are often more stable, leading to a stable living environment for children to grow up in. Union jobs tend to come with family health insurance.
These gains show up in children who are not from union families but come from more densely unionized regions. This could be because unions push up wages generally, not just union members, and fight for programs that benefit everyone, especially low-income people.
What Can We Do?
While studies, reports, common sense and our eyes show us that people and our economy do better when workers are able to organize to fight the power of organized wealth, organized wealth is winning. Public policy increasingly supports wealth over working people. Unions are in decline, public investment is in decline, income inequality is rising. Even in times of political domination by Democrats, such as the early years of the Obama administration, little is done to reverse these policies and help working people.
In this presidential campaign Republicans are overwhelmingly speaking out for the interests of the billionaire class that funds them. For example, “Jeb!” Bush has introduced a plan to dramatically cut taxes for the rich. The Republican frontrunner is an actual billionaire.
On the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton largely avoids championing specific policy proposals, and in spite of populist language is suspected of supporting the wealth/corporate-owning class. Opponent Bernie Sanders initiated his campaign in an attempt to “move Clinton to the left,” to get her to endorse specific policies that could address the problems of increasing inequality and the decline in pro-worker, pro-labor policies that worsen inequality. Interestingly, he is rising in the polls and even overtaking Clinton in some states as a result of his message.
Will the Democratic Party at large see this and rally for stronger labor laws as part of their plan to fight inequality and raise wages? If Bernie Sanders gets the votes to win the nomination and become the candidate, will the party apparatus fall in line? Or will they continue to provide only lip service – and lose elections?
This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on September 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.
Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
There’s a stereotype of union members as, well, men. You know: The sweat-stained, blue-collar guy toiling at the construction site, or sweating in a factory. To be sure, it’s a stereotype that’s grounded in reality. Historically, unions have been a powerful conduit that enabled blue-collar men to enter and then build the American middle class. Labor unions succeeded in limiting their working hours, improving the safety of their workplaces, and raising their pay. But that’s only a small piece of the overall union movement.Take women, for example. In 2014, women made up 45.5 percent of all union members, up from 33.6 percent in 1984, according to a new report on women in unions
from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
And being a union member can make a big difference for women, raising wages and shrinking the gender wage gap. Keep reading below to see just how stark these differences can be.
- Among full-time workers ages 16 and older, women represented by labor unions earn an average of $212, or 30.9 percent, more per week than women in nonunion jobs (Figure 1). Men of the same age range who are represented by unions earn, on average, $173, or 20.6 percent, more per week than those without union representation (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015c). Earnings data in this section are not controlled for age, education, or industry; when controlled for these factors, the union advantage is smaller but still significant, especially for women and minorities (Jones, Schmitt, and Woo 2014).
- Union women experience a smaller gender wage gap. Women who are represented by labor unions earn 88.7 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, a considerably higher earnings ratio than the earnings ratio between all women and men in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015c).
- Women of all major racial and ethnic groups experience a union wage advantage. The difference in earnings between those with and without union representation is largest for Hispanic workers. Hispanic women represented by labor unions have median weekly earnings that are 42.1 percent higher than those without union representation. Hispanic men with union representation have earnings that are 40.6 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts.
Women represented by a union are also more likely to get health insurance and a pension. The overall effect is that unions are helping to lift women into financial security and move workplaces toward equality, just as they helped create the middle class during the 20th century. It’s one more thing to think about as we continue to watch Republicans attack unions and everything they stand for.
This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 7th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.
Sunday, August 30th, 2015
You’d have to live under a rock to not be somewhat familiar with the Boy Scouts of America program. The Boy Scouts work to instill values in its young members and one of those values is workers’ rights on the job. Mainly, the ability to join and form unions.
Lanette Edwards of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1625 has stepped up to make sure that the next generation of young leaders to emerge from the Boy Scouts in Central Florida will be well-versed in the rights and challenges that America’s working families face. While the American Labor merit badge has been around since 1987, it isn’t one of the more well-known badges boys can earn. Edwards wanted to change that and started teaching classes in Tampa and Orlando. The response from Scouts, leaders and parents was overwhelming, with more than 150 attending the Tampa class (with 50 more being turned away because of space limitations) and another 75 in Orlando.
Edwards spoke to the importance of teaching labor to the Scouts:
“These boys are our next generation. We need to start early because there is already so much influence on them from big corporations and the news. These youth…need to know how it is with the middle-class workers. As we know, a lot of them will be in the workforce soon. Union jobs pay more. Or when they get their business degree and happen to be in management or own a business, they will be aware of unions and have more sympathy for their workers.”
Learn more about the curricula that Scouts must complete to earn the American Labor merit badge.
This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on August 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
BALTIMORE—Boosters of the Maryland horse racing industry cheered earlier this year when Baltimore’s annual Preakness Stakes attracted a record-breaking crowd of more than 130,000. The huge crowd thrilled to the victory of the bay colt American Pharaoh, who would go on to win the Triple Crown, and a place in thoroughbred racing history. At the betting windows, a total of $85.161 million was wagered, another record breaker in the 140-year history of the race.
But there’s a dark side of Baltimore’s sports and entertainment complex: Local residents toil at low-wage jobs to support the huge venues and the extravagant incomes of out-of-town performers, whether those performers are football players, rock stars, or even horses (who, of course, don’t pocket their own pay).
That disparity was on full display on August 4 as union members and their supporters rallied at a gritty Baltimore street corner to protest union busting by Maryland Turf Caterers, a unit of the horse racing empire of Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach, which owns the Preakness track, as well as other tracks in Maryland, Florida, Oregon and California.
Union workers at the company are fighting off concession demands in contract bargaining that would make most workers ineligible for company healthcare coverage (and raise costs for the rest), end retirement benefits and cut back on overtime pay, says Margaret Ellis, an organizer for UNITE HERE Local 7.
Those workers are a group of about 40 cooks, servers, bartenders, porters and concession-stand attendants who alternate between assignments at the Preakness’ Pimlico Race Course and nearby Laurel Park, both owned by the Stronach Group.
Louis Jones, who works as a porter for Maryland Turf Caterers for over 20 years, says his job quality has declined, with his hourly wage stuck at $9.35 for seven years and Maryland Turf Caterers doing away with the periodic bonuses that once made the job more livable. The workers typically earn $9 to $11 an hour and have not seen any negotiated pay raises since the old contract expired in 2008, Ellis says.
“In some ways, it’s the same old story,” remarks Roxie Herbekian, President of Local 7. Local governments shower benefits on businesses like Stronach with the promise of creating jobs and economic prosperity, yet many of the jobs pay so poorly that they trap workers in a cycle of near-poverty, or worse. In Stronach’s case, the company benefits from elaborate state-sponsored schemes to subsidize the Maryland horse racing industry, with little or no benefit trickling down to the low-income workers who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the racecourses, Herbekian says. The Maryland Racing Commission, for example, collected about $48 million last year in a special gambling tax to distribute to the state’s racetracks, with the money dedicated to plumping up purses, or for improvements to track properties.
The site of this week’s demonstration provides a case in point. The sprawling Pimlico complex borders several of Baltimore’s segregated residential neighborhoods. At one end is the affluent Mt. Washington neighborhood, a leafy, mostly-white enclave where few track workers can afford to live. At another end is Park Heights, a dreary and economically depressed area populated by low-income African Americans, including some of the track workers. Tuesday’s demonstration took place at the corner of Park Heights Ave. and Belvedere, with the gigantic Pimlico grandstand dominating the view to the east, and boarded-up storefronts, run-down residences and dirty streets spreading out to the west.
“They think this is a hoodlum neighborhood, a ghetto neighborhood,” says Jones, who tells In These Times that the quality of life in Park Heights has declined steadily even as billions of dollars in horseracing money has passed though the race track. The neighborhood is desperate for an infusion of decent jobs, Jones says, but has been continually disappointed at lack of action on job creation from elected officials. A plan floated several years back to open a slot machine gambling parlor at Pimlico seemed to offer the promise of local jobs, he says, but the plan was abandoned in favor of a new Caesars Entertainment Corp. casino in the downtown tourist district
For Maryland Turf Caterers, the plan seems to be not to promote good jobs, but to turn them into bad ones by bullying the union workers, Ellis says. “They put me off the property” at the Laurel Race Course earlier this year, she says, which she believes was retaliation for her role as a union organizer. The union is seeking the intervention of the National Labor Relations Board in that incident, and is weighing other actions at the labor board.
Stronach Chief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo defended the company’s labor policies, insisting that the Maryland race tracks were losing money and cuts in labor costs were necessary if the tracks are to remain open at all. “Listen, it’s true the Preakness makes a ton of money. The problem is that we lose money the other 355 days of the year. We lost $5 million last year [in Maryland],” he tells In These Times.
“I’m originally a Democrat from Boston, so I don’t have a beef with unions,” he says. “We have a race track in Hallandale [Florida] where we have UNITE HERE and we don’t have any problems. That’s because it is profitable so we have the money to pay people. We have a hell of a lot more union members in Florida than we do here [in Maryland].”
“We take responsibility—we are not going to take our financial problems out on the workers,” he says. “We only want [the union members] to have the same medical and pension that all of our other workers have. We treat our workers as well as any other company in the same [catering] businesses around here, and a hell a lot of better than most restaurants,” in the area, Rivko says.
“They get a tremendous amount of money from the state,” retorts Local 7’s Herbekian. “So I don’t think the Stronach Group is going to miss a beat if they just pay those workers for healthcare, and a decent raise. These workers are not making some huge salaries that are going to break the bank.”
This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on August 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
In the pre-dawn chill of Black Friday 2012, a half-dozen yellow school buses pulled up at a South Side Chicago Walmart store, disgorging a small group of striking Walmart workers and nearly 250 supporters.
Along with strikers and allies in 100 other cities around the country, they had come out that day under the aegis of the year-old Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), created to give Walmart workers a vehicle to protest their mistreatment—including low wages, skimpy benefits, erratic scheduling and aggressive management suppression of employees’ voices at work.
“Somewhere, somehow, down the line, it’s going to make a big difference,” said Tyrone Parker, a striking night-shift stocker, at that first Black Friday action.
“If you weren’t excited after some of those Black Fridays, you were dead,” says formerUnited Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) President Joseph Hansen, who started OUR Walmart and the labor-community coalition Making Change at Walmart in 2005. “It was going to be a long haul, but I thought we had no choice.”
After Hansen’s retirement last fall, the union’s 55-member executive board elected Secretary-Treasurer Anthony “Marc” Perrone as the next president. Leading up to the vote, Perrone had questioned the amount of money that had been devoted to the Walmart campaign without gaining any new members for the union, whose membership has declined in recent years. Several sources close to the campaign, not named because they are not authorized to release financial information, estimate that the overall cost had been about $7 million to $8 million a year.
In April, four months into Perrone’s tenure, the Washington Post reported rumors of potential cutbacks to OUR Walmart. In These Times’s sources say the union plans to cut the campaign’s budget by as much as 65 percent.
Sources close to the new leadership say no cuts are planned, only realignments, such as spending more money on advertising and public relations campaigns to highlight Walmart’s faults. At the same time, UFCW will try to parlay the Walmart efforts into “a broader retail campaign,” according to new Executive Vice President Stuart Appelbaum, regarded as an ally of Perrone. This probably will encourage more organizing at other retailers to win contracts and dues-paying members.
As Buzzfeed reported in June, the union also removed two directors of the Walmart effort, Dan Schlademan and Andrea Dehlendorf, in May. Meanwhile, the board of OUR Walmart—five worker-members and the two directors—has sought and received new funding from two progressive donors, according to the director of a funders’ group to which both belong.
Most key labor leaders, whatever their view of OUR Walmart, are unwilling to talk very much, because they hope to continue to work with UFCW on the Walmart campaigns, if possible.
Although OUR Walmart and the Fight for 15 (the Service Employees International Union-backed fast-food workers’ campaign, which has targeted McDonald’s) have been expensive for the unions, they’ve stoked worker and public fervor against two of the mightiest global corporations.
“The union’s biggest accomplishment is the development of OUR Walmart,” says an ally in the campaign who feels that new spirit may be lost in the reshuffling.
How big is too big?
The UFCW largely ignored Walmart when it was a small-town, Southern five-and-dime chain. But as Walmart moved north and west and into groceries, the union had to challenge the mega-retailer to protect its contracts. A massive array of strategies has been tested, with little success: organizing department by department (when butchers at a Texas store voted for the union, Walmart eliminated all its butchers); organizing in Quebec, where laws favor unions (Walmart closed the store); organizing in strong union towns, like Las Vegas (several campaigns failed after supervisors intimidated a majority of workers out of unionizing).
UFCW has also tried educating the public about the high costs of Walmart’s low prices. In 2005, both SEIU and UFCW began publicity campaigns about the corporation’s misbehavior (called, respectively, Walmart Watch and Wake Up, Walmart). Walmart Watch revealed a 2005 internal company memo on how Walmart might cut its already low pay and benefits without incurring bad publicity by increasing the number of part-time workers. Such well-aimed, sharp darts wounded the company’s reputation and may have been a factor in declining profits, although customers have also faulted Walmart for badly stocked, disorganized stores, unattractive produce and poor service.
But these campaigns did not yield union members. By failing to organize the retail behemoth, which provides 8.9 percent of jobs in the sector (which in turn employs nearly 1 in 9 U.S. workers), unions lost power to set wage and labor standards. Since 1983, the percentage of retail workers who belong to unions has declined by half—to 4.4 percent.
When Schlademan started work at the UFCW in 2010 on what would become the new Walmart strategy, he tried to learn from workers and organizers in past campaigns, as he explained in an interview with In These Times in December. First, he concluded, the campaign had to break down the barriers isolating workers from each other, both within and among stores. Second, Walmart workers wanted to be “front and center” in the campaigns and in solving problems. Third, workers had to discover the power of collective action, primarily through strikes, which Schlademan called “probably one of the most liberating things labor does. Striking—just [the act of] striking—helps build leaders.”
Over the next three years, OUR Walmart’s key achievement was mobilizing workers to take direct action against the company. OUR Walmart members challenged management at both their workplaces and at shareholder meetings in Bentonville, Ark., often with work stoppages, sit-ins or similar protests. In the process, effective and committed rank-and-file leaders emerged.
The campaign also won praise for its effective use of online organizing. Organizers and members used the web to move workers into reallife collective protests, build small groups of leaders at individual stores, and arrange local and national direct actions. The online connections produced more direct, horizontal relationships between Walmart workers than in most unions, which have a more hierarchical organization.
OUR Walmart said the campaign was just trying to make Walmart a better corporate citizen, not organize a union. Technically that was true (and tactically necessary, given labor law restrictions on picketing employers for long periods). But in spirit, OUR Walmart resembled a strong minority union, without enough votes to win a formal union and collective bargaining, but with other tools that could be used to solve workers’ problems.
The campaign wrung several concessions from Walmart. Workers won a few pilot programs to reduce inconsiderate scheduling, and a worker-led campaign to “Respect the Bump” yielded better pregnancy accommodations. Accompanied by publicity campaigns attacking the company’s stinginess and its owners’ extreme wealth, worker actions undoubtedly helped prompt Walmart’s decision in April to raise its lowest wages to $9 an hour this year and $10 next year.
Hopes for transforming Walmart—and thereby the whole low-wage economy—rose among supporters.
OUR Walmart is “a little IWW-ish,” Schlademan said in December. In their early 20th-century heyday, the Industrial Workers of the World eschewed contracts in favor of direct action at work. In OUR Walmart, Schlademan sees a similar appetite for militant action and a more vigorous involvement in the collective, horizontal conversation.
At the time, Schlademan said, OUR Walmart was preoccupied with securing its right to exist without being attacked all the time: “Walmart must realize OUR Walmart is not going away.”
But sustaining an expensive campaign like OUR Walmart is difficult with voluntary dues of $5 a month per member. Schlademan has since been cut from the UFCW payroll but is still working with OUR Walmart. And rumors of UFCW withdrawing funds have begun circulating, although a network of progressive donors recently pledged money for OUR Walmart to maintain its work.
If UFCW, the organization’s sponsor, cuts back on OUR Walmart, how will managers—and workers—interpret the move?
Critics of the union’s focus on OUR Walmart believe that broadening the agenda to all retail will spread around organizing dollars more effectively, yielding more unionized shops and more dues-paying members. No organizing is easy, but looking beyond Walmart may provide more realistic targets. In New York—the historic stronghold of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (now a department within UFCW)—UFCW Vice President and RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum has overseen successful organizing of clothing boutique workers, such as clerks at the Swedish-owned “cheap chic” H&M stores.
Victory at such companies will bring new members but will not necessarily transform the retail industry the way success at a major chain like Walmart or Home Depot could.
The union will almost certainly maintain some special focus on Walmart. “Nobody wants to walk away from or abandon effort on Walmart,” says one union staffer, who was not authorized to speak with reporters. But the union’s Walmart project “will be a more media-focused campaign,” relying on print and television ads, says the staffer.
Media buys can be very expensive, however. Forbes reported that UFCW “spent six figures” on a Fourth of July ad blitz portraying Walmart as unpatriotic for stashing $76 billion in 15 foreign tax havens. And if past attacks haven’t altered Walmart’s stance on unions, will more exposés do the trick?
On the other hand, the sweeping victories of the 1930s and 1960s in industries from automobiles to healthcare suggest the value of a sector-wide strategy for retail. But can one union take on a sector with 16 million workers?
It starts with the workers
Stephen Lerner is the architect of SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, one of the most successful sector-wide organizing efforts of the past three decades. He argues that, with labor hanging by a thread, most U.S. unions have gone into defense mode—which only occasionally delays further slippage—rather than playing offense using creative, large-scale campaigns.
Though most analysts see the evershifting Walmart campaign as a defensive effort to keep Walmart from driving down labor standards at other, unionized grocery chains, Lerner believes OUR Walmart is an example of a sweeping, innovative effort. “It’s pretty impressive what workers in OUR Walmart have achieved so far,” he says. He notes that strikes have yielded concrete victories and that creative online organizing has allowed workers to help move people into action, not simply to “scream into the void.”
For workers to form a union against the will of an industry or a big company like Walmart requires “an enormous amount of time” to understand the issues, overcome fears, develop leaders, and formulate a “theory of how to beat the company,” which may vary from target to target, Lerner says. Justice for Janitors’ big breakthrough, in a 1988 organizing campaign in Denver, came in part from understanding that targeting building owners, for whom janitorial costs are minuscule, was essential to organizing the small, costsensitive cleaning companies. “There’s not one tactic or secret sauce to take on an entire industry,” he says.
As UFCW revises or expands its organizing mission, it would seem smart to look for ways to apply the strategy and style of work of OUR Walmart—that is, educating and empowering member-organizers and leaders—throughout its retail organizing. That includes recognizing the utility of the internet for real organizing, breaking barriers and building solidarity and expanding open, direct, horizontal lines of communication among members and workplace leaders. It also includes realizing the crucial role of strikes and direct action in building a sense of collective power and communicating with supporters and the public.
OUR Walmart member Tyfani Faulkner, 32, a high school graduate from Sacramento who knew nothing about the labor movement when she took her job, now loves going online to answer questions or solve others’ problems, or to work for legislation or a candidate she favors (most recently, Bernie Sanders). Her “proudest moment,” she says, was participating in a two-hour sit-in at Walmart this past November. OUR Walmart has produced many powerful worker-leaders and vocal progressives like Faulkner who organize effectively—and at no cost.
The emergence of leaders like Faulkner reinforces the urgency of taking seriously Lerner’s key advice, which is as simple as it is often ignored: “You can’t win without the workers.”
This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.com on August 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
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 [email protected]
Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
Lacie Little won back last week everything Indiana University Health Inc. took from her – except her job. Her beloved nursing job.
She got back wages and a formal public statement by the hospital corporation saying that it removed the firing from her work record. So she’s un-fired.
But she’s not rehired. The hospital behemoth refused to consider restoring Lacie to her nursing job for seven years, long enough, it hopes, to prevent her from helping form a union there. Despite everything that has happened to her, Lacie hasn’t given up that goal. Now, she’s working for my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), trying to organize nurses.
Indiana University (IU) Health fired Lacie on March 30, three days after she began trying to persuade her fellow nurses to unionize. Lacie wanted her co-workers to join together to collectively bargain with IU Health for the same reason many nurses want to negotiate with their hospitals. They love their profession; they’re devoted to their patients, and they want to help their hospitals be the best that they can be.
IU Health Inc. believed it knew what was best for the bottom line of the hospital system – and that wasn’t a nurses union. So like many employers, it took action to squash the nascent effort by employees to gain a voice at work by organizing. Firing workers for trying to form a union is illegal. But institutions – even ones supposedly dedicated to restoring health or to Catholic theology – do it all the time anyway because the penalties are so very paltry and the fear instilled is so very profound.
Corporations know they can stall an organizing campaign with just the threat of firing. Duquesne University in Pittsburgh recently used this tactic in a startling way. It included in a pleading to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) a threat to refuse to rehire for future semesters two adjunct professors who had testified at an NLRB hearing about efforts to organize at Duquesne, which holds itself out as a religious institution. One of the adjuncts described Duquesne’s written threat as bone chilling.
Lacie felt both unnerved and betrayed when the hospital corporation fired her. Her partner was five months pregnant with their second child. She had responsibilities, and the termination left her unsure how she would fulfill them. She could not believe the hospital system she so loved had done this to her.
The doctors and nurses and staff at Indiana University Health endeared themselves to Lacie when her grandfather, Robert Little, was hospitalized at Methodist, an IU institution, just after she graduated from high school. He was admitted to the cardiovascular critical care unit, where Lacie would later work.
Robert Little was having trouble breathing. To distract him, the nurses joked with him. They held his gargantuan hands. The doctor took the time to find out about Robert Little as a person. The physician learned that Robert Little was a union bricklayer who had worked hard all his life and who continued chopping wood as he fell increasingly ill in his 70s. Robert Little would not be happy bedridden, tube invaded, machine dependent.
At that time, Lacie’s mother was a nurse at IU Health. She had worked in its bone marrow transplant unit in the very early days when many patients did not survive. Lacie says her mother taught her an important lesson about that:
“She told me that taking care of someone in their last days and hours of life is an honor. You usher them out. And you can make it a great experience or an awful experience. You can truly take care of the patient and the family. I feel Methodist really did that for my family, took the time to get to know my grandfather and explain things to us. They were able to let him die with dignity. He was clean and warm and not in pain and had his family around him. Everyone has to die. It might as well be in a good way.”
Lacie started work at IU Health when she was just 19 years old. She earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and biology. Then, while working as a secretary for the hospital system, she returned to college to get her nursing degree. She says she learned: “Nursing is caring for people. Great nurses care for their patients. They don’t just take care of them.”
In 2009, she launched her nursing career in the cardiovascular critical care unit where her grandfather had died. Every day, she challenged herself to care for her patients like they were her grandfather.
The stories she tells show that she reveled in accomplishing that. She talks about caring for an older farmer who had been injured in a tractor accident. At one point as he began to get better, he kept motioning toward his face. Still connected to a breathing tube, he could not talk. She knew he was trying to ask for a shave. Lacie recounts:
“I got some hot water and put some wash cloths in there. I sat him in a reclining chair and leaned him back and said, ‘Here we are at the barber shop’ and gave him a really good shave. He kept touching his face and giving me thumbs up. The shave wasn’t necessary to get him better, but we had fixed all of the acute things, and this was important for helping him feel better. We have to do some things to help them feel good mentally.”
When Lacie began in nursing, the hospital system enabled nurses to help patients feel better. But that changed.
In the fall of 2013, the hospital corporation laid off 800 workers, including Lacie’s mother, who had worked there 25 years. At about the same time, IU Health instituted a management method described as “going lean.” What that meant to Lacie was that the hospital system had the best doctors and nurses and staff but was setting them up to fail at meeting goals like treating their patients like their grandfathers.
“They wanted us to do more with less. And they would say that. Everything was about cost, cost, cost. But we care about patients over profits,” she said. It meant there was rarely time to give a farmer a shave.
Lacie says nurses began talking about being in moral distress, “People were leaving the hospital and going home and crying because they felt they did not take good care of their patients.” They did all the basics. They gave patients all of the medications but had no time to talk to them like they were human beings. “If you are not spoken to, you feel like a specimen, not a person,” Lacie explains. Feeling like a specimen does not help heal.
That’s when the union talk started. Because her father and grandfather were union men, Lacie said family experience had taught her that unions could put workers in a position to get CEOs to listen. “I knew unions were a way to stack up enough people so they were on a level playing field with the CEO,” she said.
Earlier this year, the IU nurses chose the USW to help them organize and began holding informational meetings, three a day, twice a week. Lots of nurses attended. They discussed problems at work and how organizing could be a solution. “People were encouraged because they wanted to do something, not just talk about it,” Lacie says.
In March, Lacie and several other nurses began asking co-workers if they were willing to sign a card petitioning for an election that would determine whether they could form a union.
Lacie was careful to do this only while she was on lunch and other breaks. She cautioned co-workers not to sign unless they too were on a break. She chatted with on-duty nurses but did not take their signatures. Even so, on her third day of doing this, IU Health Inc. officials accused her of accepting signatures from nurses who were on duty.
The hospital corporation suspended her, then fired her just days later. “I was dumbfounded,” she says, “I felt betrayed because I had given my loyalty to IU Health.” She had worked there a decade.
Not long after the hospital system terminated Lacie, the state Health Department issued a report saying the hospital was short staffed and that it adversely affected patient care.
The USW hired Lacie immediately after the firing, but the termination imperiled renewal of her nursing license. She knew if she fought the hospital corporation through the NLRB process and the courts, she would win. But that could take years. And she’d be unable to work as a nurse in the meantime.
So she took the settlement deal. It requires IU Health Inc. to post notices at its hospitals saying that it had rescinded Lacie’s firing and discipline against her and that federal law forbids the hospital corporation from threatening, interrogating, surveilling, disciplining, suspending or firing anyone for attempting to form a union.
Lacie’s firing steeled the commitment of some, who started a Facebook meme saying, “I’ve got a Little fight in me.” But for many others, the firing had the effect the hospital corporation intended. Nurses were fearful, and turnout at union meetings declined.
Studies show the number of illegal firings of union activists increasing and the number of union members in the United States dwindling. Workers like Lacie need legislation to stop it. This time last year U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) introduced the Employee Empowerment Act, which would do just that. It could be called Lacie’s Law. But that wouldn’t be fair to the thousands of other workers who suffered as a result of the same illegal corporate union-busting practice.
Lacie insisted on a provision in the agreement allowing her to apply to return to IU Health in seven years because, she said, “I still love the IU Health nurses and doctors and staff.”
This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on August 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.
Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
New York’s State Assembly in May overwhelmingly passed a bill to establish a single-payer-style health care system.
The bill isn’t expected to pass the Senate or be signed into law anytime soon. But getting it through, with unprecedented support from big unions, shows that state-level campaigns are still a fertile ground for health care justice organizing, despite the recent setback in Vermont.
The New York Health Act would eliminate private health insurance and cover all New Yorkers in a publicly financed, universal plan with no patient premiums, deductibles, or co-payments.
“We should be able to go to the doctor when we need to, without worrying whether we can afford it,” said its sponsor, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. “We should choose our doctors and hospitals without worrying about network restrictions.”
Gottfried has led a decades-long effort in the Assembly for universal care. But the difference this time was the number of major unions actively supporting it. They gave the bill a big boost.
More unions onboard
Traditional single-payer advocates like the New York State Nurses (NYSNA) and the New York City stagehands’ union, IATSE Local 1, have backed Gottfried’s bills before.
This year marked the first time they were joined by such influential statewide unions as Service Employees (SEIU) 1199 and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT/AFT).
Those unions’ lobbying efforts helped convince legislators the bill was politically viable. And their financial support was crucial to hiring community organizers in key regions.
The unions also participated in statewide hearings in January and mobilized members for Albany lobby days in May.
“The employer-based system of providing health care is eroding, covering a smaller percentage of New Yorkers each year,” said 1199 SEIU member Malcolm Olaker, a Poughkeepsie nursing home worker, at a lobby day.
“In a just society, all people are entitled to basic health care. That’s why we are all here today from different walks of life: patients, health care providers, caregivers and community members, supporting single payer health care.”
Advocacy groups Healthcare NOW, Single Payer NY, and Physicians for a National Health Program were able to capitalize on the momentum to play much larger roles than in previous years.
Obamacare didn’t fix it
Labor support for the initiative grew so strong because of how the Affordable Act has panned out. The much-heralded federal law has done little to ease bargaining-table pressures for health care concessions.
“Our members working in schools and college campuses want our state’s poorest students and their families to have access to quality health care services, so they arrive at school each day healthy and equipped to learn,” said Anthony Pallota, NYSUT executive vice president, at the January hearing.
“Our retirees, who tend to be our most medically vulnerable and fragile members, want affordable prescription medication and access to immediate health care.”
Despite the federal mandates, employers are still trying to offer less coverage and shift costs onto the backs of workers and retirees.
Public sector health benefits are a particularly tempting target, as states and municipalities wrestle with budget shortfalls. Politicians exploit a “politics of resentment” among private sector workers who’ve already seen their own benefits cut.
Another factor spurring unions to action is the looming 2018 implementation of the ACA’s “Cadillac tax.” This 40 percent excise tax will apply to all health insurance plan charges over $10,200 per year for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage.
These caps are set to rise at a much slower rate than the costs of health insurance, which means nearly all union-negotiated plans will eventually face the choice between radical cuts to coverage or paying the hefty tax.
Already, the tax has been a major issue in recent union negotiations with Boeing, oil refiners, and port operators.
State by state
While most health care justice activists would prefer a national, Medicare-for-All reform along the lines of Rep. John Conyers’ H.R. 676, in recent years the momentum has been growing for single-payer-style reforms at the state level.
At a time when any path to sweeping federal action appears closed, groups like the Labor Campaign for Single Payer and Healthcare NOW have supported state campaigns as a way forward.
The ACA may help facilitate these efforts—because, beginning in 2017, the federal government is authorized to grant states “innovation waivers.”
Such a waiver frees the state from the requirement to establish a private insurance exchange. Instead, it can reallocate federal subsidies for private insurance and Medicaid into funding its own plan.
To be approved, the state’s plan must meet the law’s minimum requirements for coverage and cost-sharing, and cover at least as many residents at a cost no higher than what the federal government would have assumed.
“We believe that a victory for a publicly financed, universal plan in one or more states can provide a powerful impetus to the movement for national health care,” said Ben Day, executive director of Healthcare NOW.
State efforts suffered a setback when Vermont’s governor announced in December that he was suspending plans to implement Green Mountain Care, the single-payer-style program to realize the 2011 law that made health care a right.
Shumlin was scheduled to submit a financing proposal to the legislature in advance of the plan going into effect in 2017. Instead, he announced the health care for all was “just not affordable”—despite the fact that even his own economic estimates showed Vermonters would spend less for health care than they currently do.
Gerald Friedman, a University of Massachusetts economist, called Shumlin’s decision “political, not economic.” Nonetheless, single-payer opponents seized on the Vermont debacle as proof that universal health care at the state level is unworkable.
But the book isn’t closed. The law is still in effect, and hundreds have taken to the streets to demand its implementation.
The Vermont Workers’ Center—which maintains that the state still has an obligation to implement the law—issued its own financing plan, which it submitted to the legislature for consideration.
All health care justice campaigns, if they get far enough, will be forced to wrestle with the same conundrum Vermonters are facing. The closer they come to victory, the greater the resistance from the medical-industrial complex and free-market fundamentalists who viscerally oppose any form of social insurance.
In California, the legislature twice passed single-payer bills in the 2000s, only to have them vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once Democrat Jerry Brown was elected governor, the movement couldn’t even find a bill sponsor.
California activists are gearing up for a multi-year project to muster the substantial funds and organizers it will take to win (and then defend) a single-payer-style system through the state’s initiative process.
Organizers in the strong, labor-backed campaigns in Oregon and Washington are also looking to use the initiative process if pending legislation founders. Oregon passed a bill to fund a study of alternative plans to ensure universal coverage.
New York will surely experience the same political challenges as Vermont and California. Nonetheless, the bill’s passage with such a big majority and the outpouring of labor and community support have given the national movement a welcome shot in the arm.
“This is a great victory, but now the hard work begins,” warned Joel Shufro, a longtime occupational health and safety advocate who worked to recruit unions to support the bill.
“Getting the bill through the Senate and getting the governor to sign it will be a long and difficult struggle. We must keep on building the grassroots movement if we ever hope to win the right to health care for everyone in New York.”
Activists will discuss and debate how to build this movement when they meet in Chicago, October 30-November 1, for thelargest-ever single-payer national strategy conference.
“Our movement continues to grow, as people realize that the Affordable Care Act does not do enough to solve the health care crisis afflicting almost everyone in America,” said NYSNA Vice President Marva Wade. “We need to come together to finish the job and make health care a right for everyone.”
This blog originally appeared in InTheseTimes.com on August 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Mark Dudzic is the national coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. He can be reached at [email protected]