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Unionized Scientists March in Protest of Attacks on Science and Jobs

Friday, April 21st, 2017
Of all the attacks on our civil society, the attacks on evidence-based science pose perhaps the greatest existential threat. Decisions being made about climate science and environmental protection at this critical time will shape the future of our planet.

Advances in research are produced by the twin pillars of dedicated scientists and an activated citizenry who demand that the best science be applied to today’s most pressing problems. Because scientists produce the facts that expose the lies currently being purveyed, the tip of the spear is pointed at the heart of science-based policy and research.

But the imminent threat also presents an extraordinary opportunity for the scientific community to unify around a message of resistance, one in which organized labor has a critical role to play. Unionized scientists are well-positioned to fight back against the false narratives being pushed by the administration and to advocate collectively for continued funding of crucial basic research. Science professionals need a workplace free from fear of corporate power and political malfeasance influencing their results. We are the protectors of truth and facts, and in that way we all are in service to the public. With scientific integrity, we speak truth to power.

Budget cuts are the beginning of the attack. For example, the Donald Trump administration is proposing a 31% cut in funding and 21% cut in workforce at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on top of less-heralded budget cuts over the past three years. Such low funding levels have not been seen since the 1970s, prior to the enactment of most of our national environmental laws. Enforcement is also targeted, crippling the EPA’s ability to protect human health.

Is this a good way to save money? Investments in environmental protection pay huge dividends for the country. For example, air pollution reductions will avoid 230,000 premature deaths and produce total benefits valued at $2 trillion in 2020, according to a 2011 study. This benefit exceeds costs by more than 30-to-1, to say nothing of the human suffering.

Scientists have long held the view that with enough data and evidence we will be able to convince skeptics that climate change is real, that humans are responsible and that immediate action must be taken. It is increasingly clear that this approach has not worked.

For the nearly 7,000 postdoctoral researchers at the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab represented by UAW Local 5810, having a union ensures strong workplace protections as well as a powerful, nationwide platform for advocacy when research comes under threat. And the collective power of the union is not limited to the workplace.

Kathy Setian and other members of IFPTE Local 20 march at the Inauguration protest on January 20th in San Francisco.

With a diverse membership that includes both higher education and the manufacturing sector, the UAW has been a leading advocate for climate change policies that both create healthy communities and address economic and racial inequities. And at the EPA, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 20/Engineers and Scientists of California (ESC) has rallied in opposition to the cuts and will continue to speak out, including in San Francisco at the March for Science.

Make no mistake. As organized scientists, we are in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters who have lost jobs and real income steadily over the past several decades. We support the creation of jobs in clean energy sectors and in green infrastructure projects.

It is time for scientists and the citizenry who depend on science to embrace our responsibility to advocate for sound policies. Our very lives and livelihood are now dependent on stepping collectively forward into the realm of political advocacy and action.

Together we will March for Science on April 22, in opposition to the damage that the current administration seeks to do to research and in solidarity with scientists, researchers, and concerned citizens who remain resolved, undeterred, and organized in the face of these threats.

This blog was originally posted on aflcio.org on April 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Carly Ebben Eaton is a postdoctoral scholar and executive board member of UAW Local 5810.

Kathy Setian was a project manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a steward of IFPTE Local 20, Engineers and Scientists of California. She will be a speaker at the April 22 March for Science in San Francisco.

Nestlé’s Makes the Very Best? Georgia Workers Vote To Unionize

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Your Nesquik may now be shipped by union workers, thanks to a powder-thin union election at a distribution center just south of Atlanta.

Workers at Nestlé’s facility in McDonough, Georgia, voted 49-46 Wednesday in favor of representation by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), said labor organizer Greg Scandrett. The campaign was tough, so the victory is sweet.

“They [Nestlé] fought this from Day 1. They brought in people from HR from all around the country,” Scandrett said.

He expects negotiations around a first contract will be difficult.

The workers at Nestlé’s distribution center are at one of the choke points of a global logistics chain that produces billions in profits for the Swiss company. Nestlé spokeswoman Liz Caselli-Mechael tells In These Times that the company has more than 400 factories in 86 different countries. It employs 330,000 people globally, she says, with about 51,000 of those workers in the United States.

Caselli-Mechael did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the union election.

The distribution center in McDonough handles many different Nestlé products. Nesquik, the wildly popular chocolate milk powder, and candy are the most famous, but baby formula is also handled there, Scandrett said. The work site is at a key railroad intersection with Interstate 85, so much of Nestlé’s profits from the southeastern United States flow through the facility, he said.

According to Scandrett, management-labor relations on the shop floor are not good. Many workers feel disrespected by the managers. Favoritism in assignments and promotions is a huge complaint, he says. And racial tensions, with the vast majority of black workers pitted against the overwhelmingly white managers, are high, Scandrett says.

Hourly pay is not a big issue, according to Scandrett. Pay starts out at around $17 an hour, but there is little room for growth, with pay topping out at around $19 an hour, he says.

Labor relations at Nestlé’s operating units have been a perennial source of dismay at the IUF, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations. IUF’s special Nestlé organizing center reports on problems with the company in countries like Turkey, South Korea and Finland.

“It’s not really about the pay. It’s about how you are treated. Nobody should have to stand for being disrespected all the time,” Scandrett said.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on April 7, 2017. 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.

BREAKING: Iowa Lawmakers Pass Sweeping Anti-Union Bill

Friday, February 17th, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa – Lawmakers in Iowa have voted to dismantle the state’s 40-year-old collective bargaining law, dramatically weakening the power of public sector labor unions and leaving some 185,000 public workers unable to bargain over benefits, healthcare, vacations, retirement, and nearly all workplace issues outside of wages.

Iowa is a right-to-work state, and the new law would prevent voluntary union dues from being deducted from a public employee’s paycheck. It would also require regular recertification votes. Police officers, firefighters and transit workers are exempt from most of the bill’s provisions.

Republican lawmakers introduced their union-busting bill on February 7 and fast-tracked it through the legislative process. Both the House and Senate, which are controlled by the GOP, approved the bill Thursday, passing the most sweeping and impactful changes to Iowa law in decades. Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign the bill soon.

During the 10-day stretch before lawmakers voted, Iowa saw its largest labor mobilization in years, with thousands of union members standing up, speaking out and taking action. The weekend before Valentine’s Day, workers and their families packed legislative forums and town hall meetings in districts across the state. Teachers and their allies rallied and marched at the state Capitol.

A union rally and public hearing Monday drew scores of demonstrators so dense that the Iowa Capitol was packed shoulder-to-shoulder on every floor. Firefighters wore their iconic helmets. Nurses showed up after their shifts in scrubs. Workers continued to pour into the Capitol for hours after the event started, with lines of people spilling out of the statehouse entrances. More than 4,600 people went through the Capitol security checkpoints, Radio Iowa reported. Thousands more Iowans flooded statehouse switchboards and lawmakers’ emails.

Minority Democrats in both chambers managed to briefly slow down the bill’s passage, extending debate over three days of marathon sessions and raising important questions about outside influence by corporate interests like the Koch Brothers, ALEC and Americans for Prosperity.

“We’re talking about people’s lives, their kids, and their homes,” said Candace Acord, an AFSCME member and community-based corrections officer from Iowa City. “I don’t understand what the problem is here when we just want health insurance for our families.”

“My main concern is insurance may now become so unattainable due to the cost that I may not be able to afford healthcare for me and my family,” said Lynette Halsted, an SEIU member and emergency room nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “Staffing ratios are no longer permissible subjects of bargaining, but evidence-based practice shows that the more patients a nurse has the worse the outcome can be for patients.”

The nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project weighed in with a report on the impacts of the new law, stating it will:

“exacerbate existing trends—low and stagnating wages, growing uncertainty about access to affordable health care, and increasing income inequality—that are already accelerating downward mobility for many Iowa households. And these effects are likely to disproportionately harm rural communities, low-income workers, and to threaten the quality of the health care, public safety, and public education systems upon which all Iowans depend.”

Thousands of people also submitted written comments opposing the union-busting bill.

Carrie Dodd, a junior high English teacher from rural Madrid, wrote: “My husband and I both work in school districts and we will be financially devastated if we lose our insurance, receive lower pay, and have to work more for less.”

T.J. Foley, a senior at Valley High School in Des Moines, wrote: “Union power is key to effective teachers, and effective teachers mean Iowa’s students are successful and our future as a state is secure.”

The recent demonstrations highlighted the power, however diminished, that labor still has to educate, organize, and mobilize workers and their families, and the critical role unions play in bringing every day, regular people into social justice movements.

But the future of organized labor is now more uncertain than ever, and the path forward is unclear. Many workers at the demonstrations said they believe the next step is to re-elect Democrats into the majority in 2018. That task will be even more difficult now that Iowa’s public sector unions have been severely weakened, arguably the real purpose of the new law.

There is also no guarantee a Democratic majority would restore collective bargaining rights. Democrats controlled the Iowa Senate in 2013, and collaborated with a Republican governor and House Republicans to pass the largest corporate property tax cuts in state history, cuts which caused a budget shortfall that Republicans are now using to justify their attacks on labor. Unions were unable to expand their collective bargaining rights even when Democrats held a trifecta of political power in 2008.

But workers aren’t giving up.

“We will resist and persist in the face of these neoliberal attacks,” said Naoki Izvmo, a teaching assistant and UE-COGS member at the University of Iowa. “Workers are the true source of power in society, not the law.”

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 16, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

David Goodner is a writer, organizer and Catholic Worker from Iowa City. Follow him on twitter @davidgoodner.

Working People and Their Unions Rally to Support Members Affected by Travel Ban

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

“I was fortunate enough to have the support of a union, and I was a member of a union. And I think in this situation, I’m convinced more than ever how important the unions are. And I just wanted to mention that I know here in New York there are so many students from private universities who have been trying to and fighting to get their right to have a union, and the administration of the universities are denying them this right.” – Saira Rafiee

Faculty, staff and students studying and teaching in the United States have been scrambling since Donald Trump barred entry into the country for foreign nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries. Although the executive order has been temporarily blocked by court order, the matter remains a moving target as the White House challenges the rulings — and the legitimacy — of the courts.

The AFT has many members who have been and could be shut out of the country or prevented from traveling under the Jan. 27 executive order. For example, Saira Rafiee (pictured), a doctoral student of political science at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and member of the Professional Staff Congress/AFT Local 2334, was among those who were blocked from entry during the chaotic initial week of implementation. While attempting to return from vacation in Iran to visit her family during winter break, she was detained for 18 hours in Abu Dhabi before being sent back to Tehran.

Despite the uncertainty about her own future, Rafiee conveyed on Facebook that her main concern was for others, including a student in the United States who had to cancel a last visit with a sister who has cancer in Iran. Her sister has since died. There also are students doing fieldwork for dissertations that have taken years to research; whether they will be able to return to their work is undetermined. “These stories are not even close in painfulness and horror of those who are fleeing war and disastrous situations in their home countries,” wrote Rafiee, whose CUNY colleagues rallied to #GetSairaHome at the Brooklyn courthouse Jan. 30.

Read Rafiee’s Jan. 29 Facebook post:

Rafiee returned to the United States Feb. 4 to a rousing welcome from CUNY student activists, lawyers from CUNY’s Citizenship Now program, family members and others who had worked to make her return possible. “Union support matters,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “Hundreds of PSC members responded to the union’s call for messages urging action on Saira’s case, helping to focus public attention on her case. Collective action worked.”

If reinstated, the executive order would temporarily ban entry to the United States for all citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somali, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The ban is widely seen as an attempt to ban Muslims from the U.S., a religious ban that would be constitutionally prohibited. Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates was fired for refusing to enforce the ban, which she determined was illegal. Courts have challenged the new policy, but border agents reportedly ignored court orders. Details of enforcement have been confusing at best.

In addition to the turmoil academics and other travelers have experienced, another aspect of the order would suspend all refugee admittance for 120 days and turn away desperate families seeking safe haven from war and violence. These refugees already have gone through extensive, often years-long approval processes, yet these families risk being sent back to refugee camps.

The AFT is distributing information and resources on these executive orders and offering some legal advice for foreign nationals from the affected nations.

Rafiee wrote:

The first quote above from Saira Rafiee was provided via an interview with Democracy Now.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 10, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Virginia Myers is a writer/editor for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Republican Victory in Missouri Means “Right-to-Work” For Less

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Missouri’s House of Representatives passed a so-called “right-to-work” law this month, marking the end of a decades-long campaign for the adoption of the anti-union legislation in the state.

The measure had already been passed in Missouri’s Senate and newly-installed Gov. Eric Greitens has pledged to sign the law soon. Once he does, Missouri will become the 28th state to have such a law on the books.

The likelihood the law would be passed after years of lobbying by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry became clear on Election Day, when Greitens defeated a union-friendly Democratic Party candidate for governor. Greitens and his opponent had been vying to replace retiring Gov. Jay Nixon, an eight-year incumbent who had staunchly resisted the advance of right-to-work legislation during his two terms in the state capital.

The Kansas City Star reported a lopsided House vote on Thursday of 100-59 in favor of the legislation. The Senate had passed the same measure 21-12.

The new law follows the pattern of similar legislation passed recently in Kentucky and West Virginia. (A nationwide right-to-work law was also introduced in Congress last week.) It prohibits any requirement that a worker be a union member as a condition of employment, and prevents unions from collecting membership dues from the workers it represents unless the worker specifically authorizes the payment. The effect is to impair the ability of unions to maintain effective recruiting operations and financial management, labor advocates say.

Efforts by the Missouri AFL-CIO to prevent passage of the right-to-work law were a long shot ever since the results of 2016 election became known, says the labor federation’s president, Mike Louis.

“This has been a long fight. We lost the Senate in 2002 and then we lost the House in 2006. But Gov. Nixon always supported us,” he tells In These Times.

Louis adds that that the efforts of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce were given a major boost by wealthy Joplin, Missouri, businessman David Humphreys, who donated generously to promote right-to-work.

“These big corporate types like David Humphreys pay millions to buy these seats,” in the legislature, Louis says.

But Missouri unions are not accepting defeat, and have already developed a counter-campaign to neutralize the law, Louis continues. The AFL-CIO will lead an effort to collect enough signatures to place an initiative on the 2018 state ballot to reverse the right-to-work law, he says.

“Missouri law says we need 250,000 signatures to get our initiative on the ballot. We will absolutely be able to get this number, and I’m convinced we can win an election when the people of Missouri are presented with a plain choice,” Louis says.

In the meantime, individual unions will struggle to convince union members to maintain their membership. Philip Dine, a journalist and author who spent more than two decades as a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, says the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are the two unions that are likely to feel the most immediate impact of the new law.

“UFCW and Teamsters are pretty strong in the St. Louis area. But the grocery store workers in the UFCW are going to come under a lot of pressure. A lot of those jobs don’t pay all that well to start with, so it’s not going to be easy to convince workers that union dues are worth the money,” says Dine, author of the widely-acclaimed State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve our Economy, and Regain Political Influence. Also coming under pressure to quit their unions will be aircraft production workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and assembly line workers represented by the United Auto Workers, Dine says.

“Sure, there will be a touch—absolutely. But I think it is going to be de minimis,” says David Cook, president of 10,000-member UFCW Local 655 in St. Louis. About 85 percent of the local membership is in the retail grocery sector, he says, so “we are going to have to do a better job of communicating union value to our members. This is something we have been doing already, but we’ll need to do more.”

UFCW will throw its full weight behind the AFL-CIO effort to amend the state constitution to protect workers’ union rights, Cook says.

“We’ve been fighting the right-to-work fight here [in Missouri] on an almost daily basis for the last five years. We are already geared up and I think Missouri is ahead of a lot of other states that have thought about an electoral initiative over right-to-work,” he says. “We’ve communicated with voters. We have a head start.”

“Mega-donors like David Humphries have figured out how to buy politicians. But when the issue of better wages and better worker safety are put directly to the voters, we’ll do well,” Cook predicts.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 6, 2017. 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.

This week in the war on workers: Union membership keeps dropping in 2016

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
There’s bad news and … well, there’s bad news. Union density continued its long decline in 2016:

In 2016, the share of workers who were members of a union decreased 0.4 percentage point to 10.7 percent, continuing a downward trend that has occurred since at least the early 1980s, when directly comparable data became available[.]

It’s not just the union membership rate, it’s also the raw numbers:

In addition to a 0.4 percentage-point drop in membership rate, there were also 240,000 less union workers in 2016 than in 2015[.]

And that’s before Donald Trump gets his hands on things. Although plenty of other Republicans and their corporate bosses have been at work on this for years.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

What the BLS Union Numbers Don't Tell You About People Organizing and Collective Action

Friday, January 27th, 2017

There are millions of working people who want and need a union but who are being prevented from forming one by their employer. And instead of penalizing bad actors, our outdated labor laws have made union avoidance nothing more than the cost of doing business. This must change.

“The truth is, collective action in America is stronger than ever,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “We’ve seen the source of our power in defeating the TPP, even when most people told us we couldn’t. We’ve seen it in successfully raising wages at the state and local levels against great political odds.”

http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/Working-People-Give-a-Bold-Union-Yes-in-Las-Vegas

We see this desire for collective action every day from coast to coast, in industries far and wide. Below, we have detailed just a sampling of amazing organizing wins and what happens when people come together to make changes on the job:

Working people at Verizon who went on strike last year made huge gains, including getting a raise and adding 1,300 new call center jobs on the East Coast.

In August, members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA at United Airlines voted to ratify a new contract, which provides immediate economic gains, sets a new industry standard and ensures flight attendants can achieve the benefits of a fully integrated airline. The five-year agreement includes double-digit pay increases, enhances job security provisions, maintains and improves health care, protects retirement and increases flexibility.

Also in the month of August, working people at eight Zara locations in New York chose to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW. Zara is owned by Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer, and the company did not oppose the union drive. More than 1,000 employees now will be represented by RWDSU/UFCW Local 1102. RWDSU/UFCW represents workers at such retail stores as Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, and supermarkets, drugstores and car washes.

Hotel workers in Las Vegas took on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and won a fair contract with their union Culinary Workers Union Local 226 after a high-profile fight in 2016. Watch the video to hear Celia Vargas’ story about what it was like to work at the Trump hotel without a contract.

Also in Las Vegas, working people at the Boulder Station Hotel & Casino voted “union yes!” “It is very simple: We voted for the union because we want to have a union at Boulder Station,” said Rodrigo Solano, a cook at the casino, which opened in 1994. “After all these years of fighting to make our jobs better, it is time for management to listen to us: We want to have fair wages and good health benefits like tens of thousands of other casino workers in Las Vegas.”

In Cleveland, teachers won a historic union charter school organizing victory when educators and support staff at the University of Cleveland Preparatory School joined the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the AFT to address high turnover and improve education for their students.

Working people who are members of AFSCME saw a net gain of 12,000 new members added to their ranks. AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement:

“AFSCME has made a commitment to getting back to organizing basics, building power at the grassroots level and hearing the unique concerns of every public service worker in one-on-one conversations…. So even in the face of an anti-labor onslaught, despite efforts to manipulate laws against working people, it’s clear that organizing works.”

In Baltimore, more than 1,400 working people at BG&E gained a union voice with IBEW. And in Memphis, Tennessee, a “right to work” state, hundreds of working people at Electrolux voted to join IBEW.

By a nearly 3-to-1 margin, Columbia graduate student employees voted  yes for their union—the UAW—in an NLRB election. Many of the 3,500 student workers who will be represented say they chose the union to bargain on their behalf for better health care, benefits for dependents, payment procedures, housing opportunities and grievance procedures. Students who work as teaching and research assistants won the right to join a union after an August ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. Columbia University is challenging the election results, and critics have called the appeal baseless.

In California, after four years of instability and threats of hospital closures or major cuts in patient services, registered nurses voted to approve a new contract covering nearly 1,500 RNs at four former Daughters of Charity hospitals in Los Angeles and the Bay area.

And in the growing digital media field, more than 90% of 70 digital journalists at Fusion Media Group voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East. WGAE also represents several hundred digital journalists at Salon Media, The Huffington Post and ThinkProgress.

Trumka said in a statement today:

“Even though collective action remains strong, we recognize that the labor movement has challenges. The biggest challenges have been put in place by corporations and their hired politicians who have been at the throats of workers for years. The ugly truth is, because of these attacks, we live in a country where working people are constantly denied our right – our constitutional right – to join a union in the first place. With the way the deck is currently stacked, it’s a miracle that brave workers continue to find new ways to organize and that today’s numbers aren’t even worse. But we also recognize our own challenges. We must be a better movement for a changing workforce. We must adapt our structures to fit the needs of today’s workers. We must not be afraid to challenge ourselves to better serve working families. And we know we will succeed because we are committed to doing just that, inspired by the spirit we see in working people every day from coast to coast, in industries far and wide.”

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on January 26, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.
Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at AFL-CIO.

How the American Postal Workers Union Scored One of its Biggest Wins Ever

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Members of one of the largest labor unions for post office workers are celebrating the success of a three-year campaign to roll back a commercial alliance between the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and office supplies retailer Staples that threatened a major advance in the privatization of the national mail system. Coming just before the accession of Donald Trump to the White House, the victory marks one of the most successful corporate campaigns by any labor union during the Obama era.

The success also marks the rejuvenation of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) under the leadership of Mark Dimondstein. First elected as president in 2013, Dimondstein promised union members a more aggressive attack on USPS privatization initiatives and a more progressive union overall. He delivered on those promises with the Staples campaign, and stood out in 2016 as one of the few union leaders to back insurgent Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the White House.

APWU President President Mark Dimondstein

In an interview with In These Times, the union leader credits the success of the campaign to the thousands of hours of unpaid volunteer work by union members, and also to impressive demonstrations of solidarity by other unions, particularly teachers unions. Launched in 2014, the campaign gained early momentum, he says, and landed some of its most effective blows in mid-2014 and early 2015. Over the course of 2016, executives at USPS and Staples were in a slow retreat and formally caved in a letter to the union announcing the cancellation of the privatization effort earlier this month.

Union members were immediately galvanized in opposition when the USPS-Staples deal was announced as a “pilot program” in 2013. The pilot called for Staples to open “postal counters” in its existing retail stores where most standard post office services would be available. Such counters would be introduced in a number of select test markets, and gradually expanded to more than 1,000 Staples outlets nationwide. The workers at these counters would be non-union Staples employees, effectively replacing APWU members.

“It was obvious from the start that they were not being honest about the intentions of this program. If these Staples outlets were successful, then the next step would have been to close the regular post offices in those markets, and eliminate the union workers. It was a backdoor privatization. Our members are not stupid, and they saw it for what it was right from the beginning,” Dimondstein says.

The first order of business for the corporate campaign against USPS-Staples was to energize other unions, Diamondstein says, and this ultimately proved critical. Oher postal unions—notably the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union—were eager partners, he reports. Their call for a national boycott of Staples was endorsed by AFL-CIO in June 2014.

But the act of solidarity that carried the most powerful punch was the decision by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) to support the boycott. According to Dimondstein, “There are 3 or 4 million teachers in this country, and in a lot of cities and towns the teachers are given the power to go out and buy school supplies. For Staples, these are customers who come back year after year. This is market power that has real meaning to corporations like Staples.”

 AFT President Randi Weingarten even encouraged the APWU to stage a public demonstration against Staples at the same time as the AFT’s 2014 convention in Los Angeles. Weingarten personally led a large group of teachers from the convention to an APWU rally, held at the Staples Center sports arena, and delivered a fiery speech in support of the postal workers. She backed up the rhetoric, according to Dimondstein, with active efforts to get AFT affiliates to back the boycott nationwide.

“It was at that moment,” that the balance of power shifted in favor of the union, says Dimondstein. Other elements of the corporate campaign—public demonstrations, a legal attack at the National Labor Relations Board, nationwide publicity efforts, etc.—were beginning have an effect, but the teachers’ efforts seemed to pull it all together in the public mind, the union leader says.

Even so, it would take massive overreach by the corporate managers of Staples to drive a final stake through the heart of the USPS-Staples deal. In February 2015, Staples announced it would buy retail competitor Office Depot in a deal valued at $6.3 billion. But the combination of the two large office supply retailers raised obvious anti-trust issues. (A similar merger was blocked in 1997 by the Federal Trade Commission.)

The APWU jumped into action to oppose the merger, mobilizing other potential opponents and meeting with anti-trust regulators at the trade commission.

“Our research team did a just fantastic job. It’s hard for me to see how the merger could possibly have ever been approved after looking at their work,” Dimondstein says.

Sure enough, the trade commission ruled against the Staples-Office Depot deal, embarrassing Staples CEO Ronald Sargent and later costing him his job. The company was also forced to pay Office Depot about $250 million in a “break-up fee” for the failed merger, Dimondstein says.

“We opposed the merger and that put us squarely on the side of the consumer. As a union, we always want to be on the side of the consumer and that drives a lot what we do,” the APWU leader says.

Asked about the cost of the campaign, Dimondstein declines to answer directly. He insists, however, that the union spent less than $5 million and much of the cost was borne by unpaid volunteers from the membership.

“We were willing to spend whatever it took. But it doesn’t take as much as you’d think when you have a united membership willing to pitch in. We put in substantial resources, but our feeling [is] that this is precisely the kind of thing that union dues are for,” he says.

If the campaign presents a single overriding lesson, then it is the importance of labor union solidarity, Dimondstein concludes. Within USPS, there are multiple unions so “it is always divide and conquer with them.” But APWU was able to spearhead an effective coalition with other unions and also enlist the AFL-CIO in the boycott.

“The staying power of our own members is really what carried us and our allies forward,” Dimondstein says. “They had the confidence that workers can win—and will win.”

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on January 18, 2017. 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.

DOJ: To Address “Defective” Accountability System, Chicago Must Renegotiate Police Union Contracts

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Now we know what the Department of Justice (DOJ) found in Chicago after a 13-month investigation of the Chicago Police Department: a “defective” police accountability system whose failures are tied to public distrust in police and Chicago’s murder spike. Among the roadblocks to reform noted in the report were police collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), including the three agreements for police supervisors, currently in negotiations, and the contract for rank-and-file cops, which expires on June 30.

The DOJ report, released Friday, “found reasonable cause to believe that CPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the deficiencies in CPD’s training, supervision, accountability, and other systems have contributed to that pattern or practice.”

The report continues:

We found that officers engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits, and that these foot pursuits too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone—including unarmed individuals. We found that officers shoot at vehicles without justification and in contradiction to CPD policy. We found …that officers exhibit poor discipline when discharging their weapons and engage in tactics that endanger themselves and public safety, including failing to await backup when they safely could and should; using unsound tactics in approaching vehicles; and using their own vehicles in a manner that is dangerous.

The DOJ noted that CPD uses force against blacks almost ten times more than against whites and called on the city to tackle serious systemic deficiencies whose consequences disproportionately impact black and Latino communities. In a release following the report, Black Lives Matter Chicago called for “the immediate reopening of all closed police shooting investigations within the last four years.”

The report was released a week before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, whose incoming administration is expected to lean less on the 1994 civil rights laws that enables the feds to compel reforms of local police departments when they find a pattern or practice of constitutional violations. The law allows for agreements between cities and the feds known as consent decrees, which are filed in and enforceable by federal courts, in comparison to less stringent measures, such as technical assistance letters or memorandums of agreement.

The findings come as no surprise, says Ed Yohnka of ACLU Illinois. “What it really did is confirm what residents in Chicago have known for years, which is the system itself for policing is simply broken,” he said.

The report also affirms a critique offered last April by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task force: Union contracts are a major piece of the police reform puzzle in Chicago.

Contracts as roadblocks

Any perceived attack on public employee contracts and labor protections can raise hackles, especially in a heavily Democratic state like Illinois. Yet activists, policing experts and politicians have increasingly targeted the FOP contracts as a fundamental barrier to police reform and demanded that certain provisions be stripped in the next round of negotiations.

In April, the accountability task force found that police contracts institutionalize the code of silence in the police department that shield cops from accountability. “The collective bargaining agreements between the police unions and the City have essentially turned the code of silence into official policy,” the task force report read.

Friday’s DOJ report echoed many of the criticisms of police union contracts raised in the task force report. The DOJ highlighted the myriad ways the agreements hinder how police are monitored, investigated and disciplined for misconduct. People issuing complaints against the police, for instance, must sign sworn affidavits under threat of perjury. Legal experts have said such rules intimidate victims of misconduct and discourage reporting.

Here’s a list of other CBA provisions that the feds said hamper investigations of police misconduct and should be change:.

  • The contracts allow officers accused of misconduct or involved in shootings to delay interviews.
  • The agreements mandate disclosure of a complainant’s identity to an accused officer before questioning, which is problematic because many complainants fear police retaliation.
  • The agreements limit investigations into misconduct complaints filed more than five years after an incident, and requires the destruction of most disciplinary records older than five years.

“The City fails to conduct any investigation of nearly half of police misconduct complaints,” the report said. “In order to address these ignored cases, the City must modify its own policies, and work with the unions to address certain CBA provisions, and in the meantime, it must aggressively investigate all complaints to the extent authorized under these contracts.”

The DOJ report called the city’s failure to investigate so many complaints a major blow to police accountability, saying, “these are all lost opportunities to identify misconduct, training deficiencies, and problematic trends, and to hold officers and CPD accountable when misconduct occurs.”

The city also shares some of the blame for rarely using override provisions in the contracts that would help investigators circumvent the affidavit step, said the report. The report said DOJ staff interviewed investigators with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which investigates allegations of police misconduct along with CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA), and that they relayed that using overrides is not encouraged at IPRA. The DOJ also alleged that IPRA fails to provide training on how to use the process.  “Not surprisingly,” said the report, “this override provision was used only 17 times in the last five years.”

However, the override option contained in the contract is still problematic, according to the report. For investigators with IPRA or BIA to use the override, they have to obtain an affidavit from the other agency’s director verifying that he or she has reviewed “objective verifiable evidence” and concluded an investigation should ensue. “Not only does this process undermine the independence of IPRA, and create an additional procedural barrier to investigating misconduct, but requiring that objective verifiable evidence exists before an investigation can be undertaken puts the cart before the horse,” said the report.

The report also notes that the provision to destroy records after five years “not only may impair the investigation of older misconduct, but also deprives CPD of important discipline and personnel documentation that will assist in monitoring historical patterns of misconduct.” Similarly, the CBAs prevent CPD’s Behavioral Intervention System and Personnel Concerns Program, both programs meant to flag problem officers, from considering misconduct allegations older than five years and limits how “not sustained” complaints (how complaints are classified when investigators claim allegations can’t be proven true or false) are used to determine if an officer should be placed in the programs.

The DOJ also recommended changes to the “command channel review” process, outlined in the union contract and embedded in department policy, that allows various supervisors above an officer to review and comment on disciplinary decisions. The process undermines accountability, said the DOJ report.  The DOJ agreed with the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force that the process “provides a platform for members who are potentially sympathetic to the accused officer to advocate to reduce or eliminate discipline.”

“We recommended to the City during the course of this investigation that it modify the CCR process, and instead have discipline decided at a disciplinary conference headed by a single individual whose decision is reviewed directly by the Superintendent,” said the report, which named the command channel review as one of numerous factors undermining police accountability in Chicago.

The report claimed that these failures of the city’s accountability systems contributes to distrust of police and erodes the relationship between communities and law enforcement, which in turn makes it harder for police to solve murders and other crimes.

The FOP’s response

On Friday, minutes before the report was released, FOP President Dean Angelo issued a press release decrying the 13-month  investigation as “lightening speed.” The release expressed concerns that the DOJ rushed the report ahead of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration:

In all practicality, to have completed this investigation in LESS than one year’s time brings to surface several concerns: the main one being timeliness. Completing an investigation into the 12,000 member Chicago Police Department, and in a City with over 2 million citizens in less than one year clearly brings to light that the outgoing DOJ wanted to issue a report before the new Administration takes over on January 20, 2017. What also remains to be seen is whether or not the Report might be considered compromised, or incomplete as a result of rushing to get it out before the Presidential Inauguration. Everyone who reads this document should be as concerned about the timeliness of this Report as the FOP.

Attempts to reach Angelo after the report was released were unsuccessful. But in past interviews with In These Times, Angelo has insisted that the DOJ probe could be a boon for the union, whose members could benefit from better training and equipment as part of reforms. But he has defended the “Police Bill of Rights” section in the union contract, which contains the affidavit rule and heavily influences misconduct investigations. Angelo has said such protections are necessary to discourage frivolous complaints and unfair interrogation techniques that could endanger cops’ jobs.

The DOJ probe was sparked by the killing of a black teen named Laquan McDonald, who was walking away from police when officer Jason Van Dyke shot him 16 times. In November 2015, the release of a video the city fought to keep under wraps spurred public outcry, mass protests and calls for federal intervention. The incident also put the FOP under increased scrutiny and accusations that the union uses its influence to protect bad cops at all costs. A supposed account from numerous cops at the scene of the shooting, relayed through an FOP spokesman, turned out to be false. And the FOP hired Van Dyke as a janitor after he was suspended without pay. Amid this increased visibility for the FOP, the FOP’s contract with the city was thrust into the spotlight like never before.

In the aftermath of the McDonald video, calls for contract changes rang out from city hall, propelled by allegations from activists and politicians that the agreement makes it hard to conduct effective investigations of police misconduct and sets the bar too high for flagging or firing cops like Van Dyke whose encounters with civilians had already led to several lawsuit settlements and more than 20 complaints before he killed McDonald. The CPD is currently trying to fire Van Dyke, who is facing trial on murder charges. CPD is also trying to fire other cops who allegedly lied about the shooting—but the FOP is trying to block their dismissal.

The Chicago Urban League, an organization that has advocated for African Americans since 1916, took aim at the FOP in a statement released Friday.

“We know that reactions to this report will vary from anger and disgust to, unfortunately, but quite probably, repudiation from the Fraternal Order of Police,” said the statement. “But the Chicago Urban League believes that the report must be viewed as a milestone. It is verification of the worst of what we’ve been and continue to be, but offers a viable path to what we want to become.”

Negotiations ahead

NBC News reports that the city has already begun negotiations over reform measures, which a judge will oversee. What’s less clear is how Trump’s administration will enforce those measures. Yohnka said the city needs a sustained reform effort with independent oversight, and that signing a consent decree before Trump gets keys to the White House would help ensure that.

“With the political instability, what they’d be better off doing is signing a consent decree—and doing it by next week,” Yohnka said.

Trump’s nominee to replace Lynch as U.S. attorney general and lead the DOJ, Jeff Sessions, has sent strong signals that he isn’t a fan of consent decrees. He said at a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the DOJ probes undermine the public’s respect for cops. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong, and those individuals need to be prosecuted,” Sessions said.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s statement acknowledged the city has a lot of work to do, he touted reform measures his administration has already initiated, including an updated use of force policy, training initiatives and plans for a new independent civilian agency that would investigate allegations of police misconduct. He also acknowledged—and sought to dispel—fears that the reforms will lack teeth without backing from the next presidential administration.

“As we move forward, there are questions about what the next administration in Washington will do, but we know with certainty what we will do in the City of Chicago,” Emanuel said. “We will continue on the path of reform because that is the path to progress.”

Early Friday evening, activists with Black Lives Matter Chicago help a press conference with relatives of Rekia Boyd, Ronald Johnson and other Chicagoans killed by police officers. Activist Kofi Ademola led the press conference, which was captured on video and posted by DNAinfo Chicago, and blasted the mayor’s reforms as hollow, including a new civilian oversight agency that Ademola said still leaves too much power in the hands of city officials and the FOP.

Ademola also accused the mayor of trying to coverup the McDonald killing, and cast doubt on the prospect of Emanuel and the city steering Chicago toward serious reform without federal enforcement.

“The so-called reforms they have been making since the investigation are empty and hollow and ceremonious at best,” Ademola said. “We know that they don’t want community control of the police.”

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on January 14, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Adeshina Emmanuel is an independent Chicago-based journalist and an Ida B. Wells Fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. He is a former reporter for DNAinfo Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reporter.

Texas Bill Would Require Workers Under 18 to Get Their Parents’ Consent to Join a Union

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Last month, the highest-ranking member of the Texas Senate, Jane Nelson, pre-filed 11 bills to be considered in the legislative session that begins on January 10. A former teacher, Sen. Nelson has often focused her legislative attention on protecting children, and her new bills are no different—with five of the 11 bills dealing with children. However, nestled between SB 74, which affects children with high mental needs in the foster system, and SB 76, which allows municipalities to prohibit sex offenders from living near a “child safety zone,” is SB 75, which seeks to protect children from labor unions.

The bill would prohibit unions from accepting as a member anyone under 18 years of age unless the union first procures a signed consent form from the minor’s parent or guardian. According to a statement from Sen. Nelson’s office, the bill “protects parental rights by requiring consent before a minor may join a union, and it protects minors from entering into a contract they may not fully understand.” (Nelson’s staff initially responded to a request for an interview with the senator by asking questions about specifics, but then ignored attempts to schedule one.)

If the bill passes, children as young as 14 will be able to enter into an employment agreement with most employers without parental consent, but they will not be permitted to join a union without a signed parental consent.

The purpose of such a bill is not immediately clear. There appears to be no problem for which this bill is a solution. Texas has long been a right-to-work state, which means that any worker who is represented by a union can choose to pay no dues. It is also not clear how many unions even have minors as members in Texas.

Still, the proposed bill may be both symbolically and practically important, and could represent a new front in state-level attacks on unions. Symbolically, the bill positions unions as something that children need to be protected from. It hardly seems coincidental that the bill “protecting” children from unions is in the same packet as bills protecting children from sex offenders or a parent who sexually assaults the other parent. The bill treats unions not as organizations that represent and work on behalf of workers, but as something that preys on innocent children.

Practically, the bill may also have a significant effect. The number of workers between the ages of 16 and 24 that are represented by a union has increased steadily each year since 2013. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not measure union membership for the subgroup of those between 16 and 18 years old). Furthermore, in the past few years, some of the major labor campaigns—from Fight for 15 to a push for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to treat franchisors and franchisees as joint employers—have involved industries where younger workers represent a significant percentage of the workforce. Though workers at most fast food chains may still be far off from joining a union, a proliferation of bills such as the one being pushed in Texas would provide yet another roadblock in organizing.

Unfortunately, labor may be in a bind in terms of how best to respond to this bill. If it does not fight it, then the bill will likely become law in Texas and serve its onerous purposes. It may then spread to other states and become one more general state-level hurdle that labor has to contend with. However, if it does fight it, then it may serve to publicize the bill, and place itself in the loaded position of having to argue publicly that unions pose no harm to children.

The best approach may be to push a poison pill amendment that would either silently kill the bill, or, if passed, make the bill, on balance, a net positive. Such an amendment should similarly seek to protect young workers in the workplace, but from employers’ unscrupulous practices. It could take any number of forms, such as a just-cause provision for all workers under 24 years of age in order to protect young workers who may feel less confident in asserting their rights for fear of losing their jobs. A bill with such an amendment would have little chance of passing in Texas, but it would reframe the debate without publicizing the original bill’s faulty premise.

Conservatives have long tried, with some success, to portray unions as exploitative enterprises. Right-to-work laws position unions as organizations that stand as a barrier to work, while unfairly assessing dues. This proposed parental consent bill is of a similar vein—treating unions as something that harms or exploits workers, rather than as the representative of workers that they are.

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on December 14, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.

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