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IKEA Workers in Massachusetts Walk Out on One Day Strike Amidst Drive to Unionize

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015


in these times

Yesterday morning in Stoughton, Massachusetts, 14 IKEA workers walked out on a one-day strike—the first ever in the furniture giant’s U.S. stores.

“I’m fighting for my rights,” said striker Veronica Cabral, a 36-year-old single mother and immigrant from Cape Verde. “I want better for me, my family, and my co-workers.”

The union would consist of the 32 people who work in the “Goods Flow In” department, where workers receive shipments and stock the store. Last week they delivered a petition demanding union recognition, signed by 75 percent of the department.

They would form a so-called “micro-bargaining unit,” affiliated with the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—following in the footsteps of retail workers at Target and Macy’s who have formed small bargaining units since a 2011 National Labor Relations Board decision, Specialty Healthcare, opened the door.

“It’s been a long fight. Three years ago we started with the Teamsters and we had 70 percent since then,” said Chris DeAngelo, 45, who’s worked at the store for eight years. “What changed is that we can have a micro-unit now.”

Ultimately, DeAngelo said, “our plan is to unionize the whole store. But it is difficult with the different shifts and different parts of the store. We are working up to getting everyone else.”

Fears and reprisals

The same day the workers delivered their petition, Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders sent letters to IKEA U.S. President Lars Peterson, urging the company to recognize the union.

Sanders castigated the company for “blatant intimidation coupled with subtle yet effective psychological warfare against workers who wish to unionize.”

“We had a ‘code of conduct’ training that seemed routine until we were asked to go around the room and talk about our union sympathies,” said machine operator Shawn Morrison, 28. “That was routine, just a part of the training, until someone called it out. Another time the store manager called us up to the H.R. office. He dropped union literature on the table and asked us how we felt about it.”

“IKEA has team leaders on the floor trying to scare everyone about what will happen if there is a union,” Cabral said. “They tell us we will be fired.” She’s been urging her co-workers not to get scared off.

But managers have begun targeting pro-union employees for arbitrary discipline—which made the petition and strike urgent, workers said.

“We couldn’t wait any longer. We had to make some sort of decision,” DeAngelo said. “We know that we all have targets painted on us, especially those of us who have been there longer and are making more than the new recruits.

“This store has been open 10 years and I have been there eight, and there has been no improvement. There is all this tension, all this instability, all this insecurity. You never know when the other shoe is about to drop.”

At the end of their shift November 14, workers in the Goods Flow In department were called together to hear the store manager and head of H.R. give the company’s official response to their petition.

The letter from IKEA management said that “by recognizing the UFCW as the representative, we would be taking away the chance for each individual co-worker to make a choice” and that a secret-ballot election supervised by the Labor Board would be “more consistent with the approach we have taken in our U.S. distribution centers.”

Workers were livid. “Their excuse for denying the petition is ridiculous and disrespectful to the 75 percent of people who signed their names,” DeAngelo said. “That is why we are going on strike. It is a slap in the face. It is absolutely disgusting.”

The American model

IKEA, a Swedish company headquartered in the Netherlands, touts its commitment to social responsibility and worker rights. In Europe its retail workers are overwhelmingly unionized.

But like pro-union workers in Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant, the Stoughton IKEA workers are realizing that their employer is not so much a socially responsible European company doing business in the U.S. as an American-style company that just happens to be headquartered in Europe.

“The American Model—that is what they are calling it,” said DeAngelo. He points to IKEA’s hiring of the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis to bust the organizing campaign. “A truly socially responsible company wouldn’t do that.”

Morrison traveled to Milan, Italy, last month to attend the IKEA Global Alliance meeting, which brings together unions representing the company’s retail and warehouse workers from all over the world.

“One of the things that our European co-workers felt was that the company was shifting more and more towards the American model and that their labor unions would be in danger,” he said.

“In Europe they kind of believe that the United States does not want unions,” Morrison said. “Europe has gone such a long time thinking that the U.S. is just a barren wasteland of union activity, but we are showing them that that is not true.”

This article was originally printed on InTheseTimes.org on November 17, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Chris Brooks is a graduate student in the Labor Studies program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an organizer living in Chattanooga.

D.C. labor activists blast fruit grower over alleged worker abuse

Friday, November 6th, 2015

John Lett

As early afternoon shoppers strolled sidewalks outside a Whole Foods market in an artsy, eclectic section of Washington, D.C., dozens of labor activists broke mid-day monotony by loudly calling attention to alleged injustices 2300 miles away in Washington state. “If they’re abusing workers in one place than they will abuse workers in another. An injury to one is an injury to all,” says Maria Parrotta, a young bespectacled brunette who enthusiastically joined protesters on the busy city block. “You must be concerned because they’re people just like you. You need to understand the broader picture.”

The picket was organized by the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, a self-described militant tinged labor union with outspoken socialist views that was founded in 1905. The organization says it’s extremely concerned about the treatment of Mexican guest workers who are currently deadlocked in a labor dispute with management at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Washington state. The laborers there, a tightknit group of 400 berry pickers who call themselves Familias Unidas por la Justicia (United Families for Justice), became an independent union in 2013. But according to the IWW, managers at the farm have used hardball tactics to intimidate the fruit pickers, and thus, upending contract talks. “The negotiations ended up breaking down and Sakuma Brothers sent armed security guards to forcibly breakup the labor camps where the union supporters were staying, as well as their families,” says James Colgan, an energetic 27-year-old man wearing a newsboy cap, who serves as a communications representative with the Industrial Workers of the World. “They have been the subject of racist harassment, sexual assault in the fields and very serious labor conditions by working very long hours for very little pay.”

IWW chose to picket Whole Foods market because the grocery chain sells berries that are grown and picked by workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms. Once harvested, the sweet fruit is shipped to Driscoll Berries and then sold on shelves at Whole Foods. “We’re hoping that this information picket will raise awareness to the liberal customer base and get them to be sympathetic to the worker’s plight and hopefully urge businesses to drop the sale of the berries,” says Colgan. Armed with homemade signs, demonstrators marched in a circular motion on the sidewalk and chanted: “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now,” as a curious onlookers sipped coffee and stared at the scene. “Farm workers are often the most poorly treated workers in the United States. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration,” says Colgan.

In response to the labor dispute, senior management at Whole Foods says the company is committed to a pro-working class culture and expects its supply chain to comply. “We seek supplier partnerships that share our concern for social responsibility and the environment.” Down the labor ladder, Sakuma Brothers Farms says it’s committed to ending the dispute. “We both want stability, we both want all employees to have the legal right to work, and we both want a fair wage and a positive work environment,” according to a Sakuma family spokesperson. Management at Driscoll Berries have adopted a similar position and says: “It is our commitment that people are treated with consideration and respect, that their workplaces are clean and healthy, and that employment within the Driscoll’s system provides income opportunities that meet or exceed the local standards.”

But the Industrial Workers of the World stands by its strong accusations of worker abuse at Sakuma Brothers Farms and pledges support for Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Colgan says the IWW plans to keep the heat on the berry supply chain by continuing to place public pressure on the farm’s managers, Driscoll Berries and Whole Foods. “Our organizing committee will reconvene and decide next actions,” says Colgan. “We will probably have larger pickets and bigger actions.”

This article was originally printed on Examiner.com on October 28, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: John Lett. Since 1996, John Lett has worked as a news reporter and field producer for several local broadcast stations around the United States. He currently serves as a web video producer covering labor news for an AFL-CIO affiliated union headquartered in suburban, Washington, D.C. On weekends he routinely manages production of archival footage that focuses on geopolitical rallies and protests in the District of Columbia. Some of his most recent assignments include Arab American protests of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, international HIV activism on the National Mall and local immigrant outrage over African political unrest.

In Historic Ruling, NLRB Says Tucson Taxi Drivers are Employees

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

afl-cio-logo__140430233329[1]In a groundbreaking ruling, the National Labor Relations Board in Tucson, Ariz., has determined that more than 200 taxi drivers employed by AAA Transportation/Yellow Cab are employees and therefore eligible for union representation.

The ruling is the first of its kind for taxi drivers, following a number of cases in which they were found to be independent contractors, and is in line with new analysis used in the FedEx Home Delivery, Inc. decision that found those drivers qualified as employees. The key clarification in that ruling was a consideration of whether the individuals have an “actual entrepreneurial opportunity for loss or gain” when determining whether they are independent contractors. In both the FedEx and Tucson drivers’ cases, it was determined that the opportunities for loss or gain were not “real or feasible,” and therefore, the drivers couldn’t be classified as independent contractors.

In his Oct. 23 decision, NLRB Regional Director Cornele A. Overstreet found that the employer, AAA Transportation/Yellow Cab, exerts significant control over the drivers in a number of ways, particularly by controlling the majority of business through its dispatch system—a system that the employer can modify at will and which directly affects the drivers’ income.

The case began more than two years ago when representatives of the Tucson Hacks Association petitioned the NLRB, challenging drivers’ status as independent contractors. At that time, the NLRB ruled against the THA. After filing a Request for Review, which the NLRB granted, the drivers sought assistance from the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents more than 4,000 taxi drivers in Las Vegas and San Diego.

“This group of drivers did as much as they could on their own,” said OPEIU International President Michael Goodwin. “Within three months of turning to OPEIU, we’re pleased to see a favorable decision from the NLRB and are now preparing for an election.”

The regional director has ordered an election, which is expected to take place before the end of the year.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO.org on October 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

The Complicated Story Behind Those Images of Terrified Air France Executives Fleeing Workers

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

in these times“A picture has held us captive. And we cannot get outside it, for it lay in our language about France and it has been repeated inexorably.”

Well, this is not what Ludwig Wittgenstein precisely said. Nor did the 20th century’s most enigmatic philosopher have in mind the photos of shirtless Air France executives scrambling up a fence to escape an irate crowd of employees earlier this month. Nevertheless, his observation about the power of images is du jour. While they will not be turned into key chains or postcards, these images have become emblematic of a certain idea of France and French working class militancy in the minds of many around the world.

And yet, the undeniable violence of this event obscures a different form of violence. It is a kind of violence less striking and more resistant to being struck as an image, but equally grim and despairing: the slow, incremental, and deadening violence done to workers whose livelihoods are under constant threat, whose options are increasingly limited and whose traditional parties seem either incapable or unable to help.

One could foresee the collision between Air France management and workers on October 5. First, there were the recent strategic errors made by Air France, failing to foresee the challenge posed by low-price carriers like Ryan Air for short-haul runs across Europe and rise of money-rich Gulf airlines over the growing and profitable longer routes. While Air France showed something of a rebound by 2013, a prolonged strike by the pilots union in 2014 sent its finances into yet another nosedive. The company hemorrhaged more than 600 million euros in the first half of 2015, with little prospect of lessening the hemorrhage in the second half.

A second cause was the intransigence of the Air France pilots. In the negotiations that flamed out in early October, the pilots’ union refused to compromise on a series of labor practices that would align them, both in terms of hours flown and the length of layovers, with other European carriers. Though pilots constitute 8% of Air France’s workforce, their pay makes up more than 25% of the company’s salary costs. On average, Air France pilots fly 630 hours, while Lufthansa and British Airway pilots average 750 hours, and Ryan Air upwards of 850, while their salaries are roughly equivalent.

In effect, the pilots were asked to increase their cockpit time by 10% without an equivalent wage increase. The KLM pilots union—the more profitable Dutch carrier merged ten years ago with Air France—urged their French colleagues to “take this step so that we can all move forward.”

The Dutch appeal for moderation went unheeded. When talks with the pilots union stalled, management abruptly ended the negotiations and unveiled its “Plan B.” The company would drastically reduce its freight business—retiring fourteen of its cargo planes—and eliminating five of its routes. No less drastic are the human consequences. To carry out the necessary restructuration, nearly 3,000 jobs would be slashed by 2017, the sickle slicing almost entirely through the ranks of the support and ground crews.

When the negotiations between the pilots and management broke off, the ground-workers unions were as furious at the one as the other. The union’s claim that this provides a higher guarantee of safety struck them as both false and self-serving. Laurent Berger, the leader of France’s largest trade union, the Confedération française démocratique du travail, denounced the pilots’ refusal to compromise. By refusing “to consider the predicament of their fellow Air France workers,” he exclaimed, the pilots had “torpedoed the trade unions.”

Torn between bewilderment and bitterness, he declared that the pilots could have avoided this showdown, but instead decided to leave the ground-workers holding the bag: “It’s detestable!” Jean-Claude Mailly, the leader of a second union, Force Ouvrière, echoed Berger’s frustration. Urging the pilots to maintain labor solidarity, Mailly pleaded with them “to communicate with the other unions.”

On October 5, Air France’s division of human resources convened a meeting at its corporate headquarters to discuss the implementation of Plan B. Already battered by earlier restructuring efforts, hundreds of Air France ground-workers gathered outside the building to protest the purpose of the meeting. Unnoticed by security personnel, a few dozen workers made their way into the building by a side entrance and burst into the meeting room.

The confrontation turned into a scrum, during which workers tore off the jackets and shirts of two executives, Xavier Broseta and Pierre Plissonier. With the help of security personnel, as well as other workers, the two frightened men managed to leave the building and scale the parking lot fence to safety.

While the international media feasted on images of this event, the French government reacted immediately. On an official visit in Japan, Prime Minister Manuel Valls assured France—not to mention Air France, nearly one fifth of which is owned by the French state—that the voyous, or thugs, responsible for the scuffle would be “harshly punished.” In a tweet, the economy minister Emmanuel Macron, also in Japan, relayed his shock over the event, denouncing the “unacceptable violence” shown by the Air France workers. The government made good on its vow of swift justice: at dawn on October 12, five workers suspected of leading the scuffle were arrested at their homes and charged with assault and battery.

While most of the political class applauded the arrests, there were also discordant voices. In a televised interview, Jean-Luc Mélechon, the fiery former Socialist who now leads the Parti de gauche, urged Air France workers not to be intimidated by the arrests.

“Start again,” he encouraged them: “Don’t surrender, and don’t be afraid.” As for the arrested workers, Mélenchon grandly declared: “I’d be glad to take their place in prison.” Even Mélenchon’s allies rolled their eyes over their colleague’s offer. As Julien Dray, a leader of the leftwing dissidents within the Socialist Party, drily noted: “It’s easy to say that you would willingly go to prison, all the while sitting in a television studio and knowing full well you will not go there.”

But Dray, along with several other leftwing politicians and observers, has also underscored the odd and discomfiting sight of a Socialist government mobilizing its rhetoric and resources to support Air France’s executive board and slam its employees. Laurent Bouvier, a columnist with Slate France, remarked that the violence of political reactions to the events at Air France was equally shocking.

“To side entirely with Air France executives without a word for the workers whose jobs are now threatened by the company’s flawed decision-making reflects a tragic divorce from social realities.” More laconically, a columnist with Le Parisien, Jean-Marie Montali, noted that the scuffle “makes us lose sight of another act of violence: the loss of 2,900 jobs.”

Tellingly, in a survey published last week by the French polling institute IFOP, while 38% of the respondents condemned the workers’ violence out of hand, 54% replied that though they did not approve of the violence, they nevertheless “understood” why it happened. How could it be otherwise, given the seemingly irresistible rise of unemployment in France—the toll of those who cannot find jobs now hovers at 10.3 percent—and the impotence of the Socialist government to reverse the trend?

A video revealing this tragic side to the events of October 5 has since gone viral in France. It depicts a young Air France employee, Erika Nguyen Van Vai, who had wandered into another meeting room at corporate headquarters during the confusion of that day. Finding herself face to face with several Air France executives, Van Vai, a single mother, tries to engage them in a dialogue. Repeatedly asking them for the criteria they were using for Plan B, repeatedly emphasizing the sacrifices she and her fellow workers had already made, and repeatedly stating her pride to wear an Air France uniform, she is met with silence and frequent sardonic smiles. As Van Vai later observed, “I felt humiliated by their response.”

It may well the image of this worker’s tears as she failed to elicit a response from Air France executives, which elicited a new response from the president of Air France, Alexandre de Juniac. On Sunday, he announced that just 1,000 positions would now be cut through voluntary retirements in 2016. Whether this reflects a change in the adversarial relations between management and workers at Air France, or simply a tactical retreat, remains to be seen.

This blog was originally posted on InTheseTimes.org on October 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert Zaretsky is a Professor of History at the University of Houston in the field of modern European intellectual and cultural history. He is the author of A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning and Boswell’s Enlightenment, and is at work on a book on the friendship between Catherine the Great and Denis Diderot. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Chronicle of Higher Education, and the London Times Higher Education Magazine. He is the history editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books and a monthly columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward.

Campbell Brown’s Dark Money And The War On Teachers’ Unions

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Our Future Campaign for AmericaBefore Democratic Party presidential candidates readied for their first debate on CNN, they turned down an opportunity to meet at another forum.

That meeting was to be hosted by ex-CNN anchorwoman Campbell Brown who now operates a media outlet, The Seventy Four, that promotes charter schools and other public education policies favored by wealthy foundations and individuals. Brown’s financial backers include the philanthropic organization of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the foundation of the family that owns Wal-Mart.

As Politico reports, Brown’s group and another charter advocacy organization had already brought six Republican candidates together in New Hampshire in August to talk about education policy. Next, in conjunction with the Des Moines Register, the two organizations wanted Democratic candidates to gather in Iowa. None of the candidates would commit to attend even in principle.

Politico reporter Michael Grunwald was quick to frame the candidates’ snub, with obvious help from Brown herself, as proof of the political might of teachers’ unions.

For sure, Brown has a history of fighting with teachers’ unions. As an article in The Washington Post last year reported, she led an effort to cast the New York City teachers’ union as a protector of sexual predators.

After that venture, Brown launched a group that filed a lawsuit in New York State to dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.”

So she is clearly at it again. Grunwald quotes her, “The teachers unions have gotten to these candidates.”

“It’s shameful how my party is being held hostage by the unions,” Grunwald quotes Kevin Chavous, the head of American Federation for Children, the other organization sponsoring the event. “I see no difference between their strong-arm tactics on the Democrats and the gun lobby’s tactics on Republicans.”

This is not the first time a proponent for charter schools has compared an organization representing classroom teachers to an extremist group that responded to the gun deaths of school kids and educators in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school by blaming the teachers for not packing heat.

Comments like these show how hyperbolic people have become who back charter schools, high-stakes testing and a crackdown on teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

Trolling For Education ‘Reform’

But aside from that offensive remark, Brown and Chavous also took to The Daily Beast to accuse the teachers’ unions of “bullying” them and being “anti-democratic.” They warn the Democratic Party presidential slate, “Voters have demonstrated time and again that candidates who buck the teachers’ union are rewarded.” (Uh-huh, tell that to ex-Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett or failed California state education superintendent Marshall Tuck, who both lost elections, in large part, for bucking unions.)

Charter school proponents in other corridors of the education reform echo chamber offered similar counsel to the candidates.

On the blog site EducationPost – a media outlet funded with $12 million by some of the same wealthy foundations and individuals who back Campbell Brown – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the rest of the candidates were called “pathetic. … They’re afraid of the unions who warned them not to attend the event.”

In an op-ed appearing in USA Today, Richard Whitmire – a routine commentator at The Seventy Flour and author of a “worshipful portrait,” according to education historian Diane Ravitch, of former Washington, D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee – wrote, “The party of Hillary Clinton must decide: Support teachers’ unions or fight for low-income, minority children.”

This overheated rhetoric sounds a lot like concern-trolling coming from conservative Republicans. One of those, Fox News contributor Juan Williams, noticed the candidate no-shows for Brown’s event and wrote for The Hill, “Clinton and her Democratic rivals have shunned an invitation to an education reform forum because it was sponsored by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown … out of apparent fear of antagonizing the unions. The price of a union endorsement is too high for school children.”

All this bloviating over a botched attempt by charter school proponents to stage an event allowing them to frame issues for their own end is not only rhetorical overload, it’s really bad political advice.

It’s The Parents, Stupid

First, opposition to rich people’s agenda to convert more public schools to charters and attack teachers’ job protections is not confined to teachers unions.

In communities such as Nashville, Tennessee and Jefferson County, Colorado, parents, not teachers unions, are leading the opposition to the takeover of public schools by self-proclaimed reformers.

The successful mayoral campaigns of Bill de Blasio in New York City and Ras Baraka in Newark, New Jersey drew their strength from coalitions of voters who, yes, supported public school teachers, but also wanted solutions to the growing inequities in their cities, such as raising the minimum wage and big changes in the criminal justice system.

There is a reason, after all, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made his now infamous remark about “suburban moms” being the main opposition to the rollout of his high-stakes testing agenda for schools. Those really were suburban moms, and not the teachers’ unions, speaking out in defiance.

Unions Are Good For Low-Income Kids

Also, if Brown and her fellow education activists were really so concerned about the future of kids who live in low-income communities, they would be advocating for labor unions rather than opposing them.

My colleague Dave Johnson at the Campaign for America’s Future recently came across a new study conducted for the Center for American Progress, which found in places where union membership is higher, low-income children, in particular, benefit from “economic mobility” and “intergenerational mobility.” In plain English, this means union strength correlated with low-income children being more apt to rise higher in the income rankings – and for their children in turn to be better off.

Reporters at The New York Times looked at the study as well and noted, “There aren’t many other factors that are as strongly correlated with mobility” as the presence of unions. “A 10-percentage-point increase in the rate of unionization in an area coincided with a rise of an additional 1.3 points on the income distribution as the average child becomes an adult,” they wrote.

Combating unions is not only a strategy unlikely to result in good outcomes for low-income kids, it also seems completely out of step with the political zeitgeist of the times.

Missing The Populist Bandwagon

Robert Borosage, another CAF colleague with over three decades of experience as a political strategist, observes that among presidential candidates in the Democratic Party, “The growing populist movement in this country is driving this debate.”

“Populist,” as Borosage uses the term, is stridently pro-union and opposed to the agenda of the big-moneyed interests – the same folks who are typically behind charter schools, and the crackdowns on teachers’ rights, and parent and student voice, in school governance.

Likely sensing the populist uprising, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, after turning down the invitation to Brown’s klatch, made a surprise appearance at a union rally in Las Vegas where boisterous protestors were demanding higher wages and better treatment from their employer, a hotel bearing the name of Republican presidential primary frontrunner Donald Trump.

The wave of populism washing across the country is not lost on Republican candidates. Tellingly, two Republican candidates currently leading in polls who did not show for Brown’s event in New Hampshire, Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, are arguably the most populist candidates in that field.

Also, the two Republican Party presidential hopefuls who are most aligned with the anti-union, pro-education reform advocacy stances of Campbell Brown and her fellow advocates have not fared well.

Bad Political Advice

The fate of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the most obvious example of how union-bashing is not a sure-fire strategy for political gain. As another CAF colleague and veteran political observer Bill Scher observed upon witnessing Walker’s withdrawal from the presidential race, “Scott Walker proves you can’t union-bash your way to the White House.”

Walker, who had made a political career out of “his glorious union battles,” in Scher’s words, “became pathetic. … In the waning days of his campaign, he offered his one big idea:eliminate federal worker unions and abolish the National Labor Relations Board. Nobody cared.”

The other Republican candidate most aligned to the pro-charter, anti-union agenda of education reform proponents, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is still in the race but has faltered severely in polling results.

More than any other candidate, Bush has made his battle for charter schools and punitive education policies in the Sunshine State a centerpiece of his campaign. This strategy hasn’t done him any good, most notably because those policy ideas are now widely held in contempt in his own state.

“The Bush-era reforms have failed,” writes a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, noting the state’s school accountability system established during Bush’s regime has collapsed in ruins, and the system of testing put into place “turned schools into sweatshops.”

Investigative reports conducted by this author for the Alternet news outlet have found Bush’s expansions of charter schools have done little to advance the academic and life achievements of low-income kids and have instead opened up the state’s education system to widespread corruption and fomented chaos in communities.

Given what has happened to Walker and Bush, no candidate in his or her right mind should embrace the strategy promoted by Brown and her cohorts.

An Authentic Movement, If Democrats Want One

Many people leading the effort to stifle classroom teachers and do damage to public schools so charter schools can be presented as an attractive alternative like to believe they are leading a movement. But it’s far from certain their movement is catching on.

As the dust settles after the first debate among the Democratic Party presidential candidates, it became clear none of the issues charter school advocates care about came up in the discussion. While that’s not a good thing, necessarily, it shows despite all the money the Wal-Mart foundation and other rich folks can bring to bear, the return on their investment so far is pretty poor.

In the meantime, a grassroots constituency that sees big money pouring into campaigns for closing neighborhood schools and opening up more charters is increasingly unconvinced wealthy white people have the best interests of low-income black and brown children in mind.

This from-the-ground-up movement has also yet to influence the presidential debates, in either party. But should Democratic candidates decide to pay attention, it will be obvious to them which of these two education “movements” really represents an authentic voice for positive change.

This blog originally appeared in Salon on October 19, 2015 and Ourfuture.org on October 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Bryant is Director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Jeff owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has written extensively about public education policy.

Bosses Must Keep Up Dues Checkoff after Contract Expires, Says Labor Board

Friday, October 16th, 2015

in these timesIn a landmark decision called Lincoln Lutheran, the National Labor Relations Board has overruled 53 years of pro-employer precedent. By a 3-2 vote, the Board said that like most other contract terms, dues checkoff must be continued after contract expiration unless the parties agree on a new contract or the employer declares impasse and implements its last best offer.

Dues checkoff must be maintained even if workers are conducting an aggressive inside campaign.

The NLRB ruled in favor of dues checkoff in 2012, but the Supreme Court invalidated the decision, along with many others, when it declared that two Board members had been illegally appointed by President Obama. The matter had to be heard again once new members were properly appointed.

Lincoln Lutheran removes a major impediment to working-without-a-contract campaigns, where the union uses on-the-job actions to pressure an employer for a contract, while avoiding the risks of permanent replacement and decertification associated with a strike.

Under the old rules, an employer could cease transmitting union dues as soon as the contract expired and the union called its first demonstration or informational picket line. The prospect of losing all its income was a strong disincentive for many unions.

The working-without-a-contract strategy is being pursued right now by the Communications Workers and Electrical Workers (IBEW) in their contract fight with Verizon, and by the CWA in its battle with AT&T in the Southeast (see page 12). The Steelworkers are also working without a contract at Arcelor Mittal and U.S. Steel.

With a no-strike clause no longer around its neck, a union that stays on the job after the contract expires can call short-term warning or grievance strikes to throw the employer and its customers off balance. And the union can time a protracted strike for the moment it will be most damaging.

Moreover, no longer constrained by a management-rights clause, the union can demand bargaining on day-to-day decision making, and can file streams of unfair labor practice charges.

What’s ahead

As the Republican dissenters in Lincoln Lutheran ruefully warned, employers are not likely to take this decision lying down. They can be expected to come to future negotiations with artfully designed language insuring that dues checkoff will die with the contract. Sticking to their position, they will include the demand in their final offer, to be implemented after declaring impasse.

Unions will have to find ways to overcome these stratagems—for example, stretching out meetings and filing multiple information requests to prevent the employer from lawfully declaring impasse. Time will tell who will prevail in the long run.

But for now, unions involved in inside campaigns can relish the discomfort employers will undoubtedly experience when sending in their weekly dues checks.

This blog originally appeared on Public Justice on October 14, 2014. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Authors: Robert Schwartz is a union-side labor lawyer and author.

Sanders’ Workplace Democracy Act And The White House Worker Summit

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

Dave JohnsonSetting the stage for The White House Summit on Worker Voice, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) today introduced The Workplace Democracy Act. According to Sanders’ office, this legislation “would make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

The Workplace Democracy Act allows the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a simple majority of eligible workers sign valid authorization cards, also called “card check.” Companies must begin negotiating within 10 days after certification. If no first contract is reached after 90 days, either party can request compulsory mediation. After 30 days of mediation, the parties will submit the remaining issues to binding arbitration.

From the Workplace Democracy Act summary:

According to data released in early 2015 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers’ wages are 27 percent higher than for nonunion workers. 79 percent of unionized workers receive health insurance from their employers, compared to only 49 percent of nonunion workers. 76 percent of union workers have guaranteed defined-benefit pension plans, compared to only 16 percent of nonunion workers, and 83 percent of union workers receive paid with sick leave compared to only 62 percent of nonunion workers.

The Workplace Democracy Act is similar to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that had majority support but was filibustered by Republicans in 2007. It was dropped in 2009 after “centrist” Democrats would not support it, thereby ensuring the success of another Republican filibuster, again despite majority support.

The White House Summit on Worker Voice

With labor under increased attack from the corporate right, the White House convened an all-day “summit” Wednesday, called “The White House Summit on Worker Voice.” (Note the choice of “voice,” not “power.”)

For the summit, the Council of Economic Advisors released an issue brief titled” Worker Voice in a Time of Rising Inequality,” that begins:

The rise of wage and income inequality in the United States over the last 40 years has been well-established. However, the factors that may have contributed to the fall of earnings at the bottom of the wage distribution relative to the top continue to be the subject of research and debate.

Research suggests that one important factor may be institutional changes in labor markets, perhaps the most notable being declining union density. … in the middle of the 20th century, as union membership rose and remained high, lower-wage workers earned a larger share of total income. However, in recent years this trend has reversed, with union membership falling and the share of income going to the top 10 percent increasing at the expense of lower- and middle-income groups. In the 21st century, the decline in the number of unionized workers has coincided with overall rising inequality.

The brief cites research showing that union members get higher pay, have better working conditions, job training and higher safety standards, are much more likely to get benefits like health insurance and that these gains spill over to nonunion workers in the same workplaces.

The summit continues through the day and can be viewed online here.

In honor of today’s White House summit, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka penned an op-ed, “No PR campaign will save Walmart from being ‘exhibit A’ of bad worker policies“:

Americans are increasingly fed up with an economy that rewards wealth over work, a message that’s made it all the way to the top. That’s why when the White House hosts a Summit on Worker Voice on Wednesday to highlight the power of working people standing together to demand better jobs and better lives, one notable corporation has been excluded – Walmart.

Walmart is the embodiment of our broken economic system. The company pays poverty wages, has discriminated against women and minorities, harms our environment, wreaks havoc on the global supply chain and continues to lead a race to the bottom where workers are treated like numbers on a balance sheet instead of human beings with families to sustain. Walmart’s motto: “Save Money. Live Better” seems only to apply to its heirs, who haveamassed more wealth than 42 percent of the poorest American families combined.

Trumka listed some of the things Walmart is still doing to suppress worker rights, including closing stores for “plumbing issues” when workers in those stores begin organizing. Trumka called this just “the latest in a long line of incidents to silence the voices of workers.”

Time For Everyone To Get On Board For Labor

Labor is under attack by the corporations and the conservatives and Republican party they fund. It is important for all Democrats and progressives to get behind the Workplace Democracy Act, and not let it disappear without the public at least being fully informed of its benefits and who is blocking it.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on October 7, 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 comput

Adjuncts Win Union Contract at Maryland Institute College of Art

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Bruce VailThe national movement to unionize part-time faculty at U.S. colleges and universities has secured an initial beachhead in the Baltimore area with ratification of a first contract between Service Employees International Union Local 500 and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Voting on the ratification concluded in mid-September and a formal signing ceremony for the pact is set for October 8, labor representatives report.

It’s the first union contract for any bargaining unit of part-time faculty, or adjuncts, in the city’s greater metropolitan area, where thousands of such workers are employed at about a dozen similar private and public educational institutions. The overwhelming ratification vote of 91-7 came following a protracted contract negotiation initiated when a union organizing drive won collective bargaining rights for about 300 MICA adjuncts in April of last year.

But the strong vote in favor of ratification probably came from union members “more excited about finally having a contract than the specific terms of the contract itself,” comments Joshua Smith, a MICA adjunct who served on the union negotiating committee. The three-year contract falls short of member expectations in several key areas, he concedes. Yet many members also recognize that settling on a first contract is a “vital step forward” to realizing the union’s long-term goals.

A desire for an across-the-board wage increase was frustrated, for example, by MICA administrators who would only agree to an indirect approach to a modest raise in pay, Smith says. The new contract adapts an existing pay scale—ranging from a low of $3,329 for a three-credit course to a high of $5,040—to allow adjuncts to more easily advance up the scale, while also providing an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), Smith says.

“The pathway to advancement is easier, plus the COLA, so there is something for almost all the members. But the base is still too low and [the union has] to attack the pay inequity between veteran, part-time and full-time faculty” in the future, says Smith. (The full text of the agreement is available online at the SEIU Local 500 web site.)

A statement sent out under the name of MICA President Sammy Hoi glossed over the pay issue and stressed the non-economic features of the contract:

The agreement covers a wide range of subjects including changes to compensation, creating a professional development fund, establishing standards governing the appointment and re-appointment of part-time faculty, and creating an evaluation process that will foster continued excellence in teaching. …

As an important step in promoting sustainability in higher education, this contract reflects MICA’s commitment to leadership and to the part-time faculty in the MICA community. MICA and Local 500 look forward to continuing to work together in the implementation of this agreement and building a strong, professional relationship that will advance the interests of our students and the MICA community as a whole.

Debra Rubino, MICA’s Vice President of Startegic Communications adds: “President Hoi, along with all of the senior administration, are very satisfied with this agreement.”

Hoi’s emphasis on the inclusion of adjuncts in the broader academic community is a reflection of union demands that part-timers be treated as professionals, Smith adds, and has been a consistent theme of adjunct organizing throughout the country. Locally, the demand is a feature of an ongoing organizing campaign at nearby Goucher College, where part-time faculty are awaiting a National Labor Relations Board decision on the outcome of a closely contested union election there in late 2014.

Assumedly addressing the Goucher union fight, the MICA organizing committee said in a statement, “This MICA contract should cause other institutions of higher education in Baltimore to think twice about their opposition to collective bargaining process. The time for formal negotiations on the status of adjuncts at MICA was long overdue, and, now that they have taken place, the college is better for it. … A strong, active Part Time Faculty Union is a platform for involvement in the future of MICA and the education of its students. Any administration should welcome that.”

The statement can also be read as a message to other colleges and universities in the region. Stirrings of union support for an adjuncts union are evident at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, and also at the University of Baltimore, Smith says. Furthermore, a coalition of unions including the Maryland State Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and SEIU Local 500 is agitating for legislation to ease unionization of the state’s community college system.

Finalizing a first contract at MICA is important to these efforts as well as to the MICA instructors themselves, Smith concludes, by demonstrating that adjuncts can establish new collective bargaining units despite official opposition. Baltimore’s culture of treating adjuncts as second-class academic citizens needs to come to an end, he says, and the MICA contract is a hopeful sign that the end is coming in to sight.

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on October 5, 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.

This week in the war on workers: UAW workers reject contract with Chrysler

Sunday, October 4th, 2015
Laura ClawsonAfter 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.

Charter School Network Challenges NLRB Ruling Allowing Teach for America Members To Unionize

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

Mario VasquezDetroit 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]

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