Posts Tagged ‘AFL-CIO’
Friday, October 7th, 2011
Finally, anger at the abuses of the rich against the other 99 percent of Americans is bubbling up, giving energy to the Occupy Wall Street protests and their progeny around the country and fueling other actions. And just as unions are throwing their support behind those demonstrations, they hope the populist upsurge on the left will energize their own planned public demonstrations demanding jobs, many of them starting next week.
Minnesotan Kim Watkins, 40, single mother of a 16-year old daughter, is one of those who wants to see action on jobs. A member of the AFL-CIO community affiliate, Working America, she has worked since she was 15. Now she is employed only part-time at a local Walgreen’s, going to school to help her job-hunting prospects, and “really struggling.“
“I feel very much under attack,” she says. “I see people being fired, wages being reduced, instead of doing things that are really common sense, like creating jobs by building infrastructure. While the top 1 percent are getting all the gains, the 99 percent of us are really suffering, and there aren’t any jobs being created.” Next week she plans to join a tongue-in-cheek “fundraiser for the struggling rich” featuring nickel hot dogs.
Joblessness continues to be “devastating” to over 16 percent of the workforce and many communities and is “absolutely brutal” to people of color, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Wednesday as he announced the kick-off next Monday of hundreds of events for the federation’s America Wants to Work campaign.
But on Wall Street, he said, “the bonuses keep flowing,” CEO pay was up 23 percent last year, and business as usual prevails—except that corporations and banks are sitting on more than $3 trillion in cash they won’t invest to put Americans back to work and rejuvenate the ailing economy.
The labor actions will push Congress to pass job-creating legislation—especially Obama’s American Jobs Act–and other economic reforms, many of which aim to better regulate the financial sector and make it pay for the damage it inflicted on the real economy and for creation of new jobs.
Trumka also endorsed the Occupy Wall Street protests, as the federation’s executive council did on a Wednesday conference call. Many local unions in New York had already joined the protests or offered support, but more national unions have issued statements of enthusiastic support, including the Service Employees (which has long had a campaign focused on the financial sector), the Teamsters, the Bakery Workers and others.
“We will support them in every way we can,” Trumka says, noting that unions had mobilized 15,000 marchers on Wall Street a year and a half ago. “We believe as they do that the economy is shutting out 99 percent of the people. It works for the top 1 percent marvelously…But the rest of us with stagnant wages, lost jobs, home foreclosures, kids that can’t go to school, lost health care, pensions taken away and retirement security destroyed, we think there’s a different and better way….We aren’t going to try to usurp them in any way but support them. And we certainly hope they support us on our America Wants to Work campaign.”
Organized labor has three demands that are shared by most Wall Street occupiers, Trumka says. First, corporations and banks should invest their cash in America, creating good jobs. Second, banks and other holders of the 14 million foreclosed or “under water” mortgages and then ten million more expected to go sour should be forced to write down the mortgages to reflect the real, post-bubble value. Finally, the government should impose a “speculation tax,” or financial transactions tax, of one-tenth of one percent. Researchers in Europe figure a similar tax would generate $78 billion a year, and with its larger financial markets, the U.S. could gain as much or more.
A similar campaign by a labor-community coalition, Stand Up, Chicago, will direct actions towards two major financial sector conventions being held next week in Chicago—one of mortgage bankers, the other futures traders—and towards local institutions. Spearheaded by the Service Employees Union and involving only the Teachers union from the AFL-CIO, the actions nevertheless parallel the AFL-CIO protests.
A study prepared by the Chicago Political Economy Group and released prior to the protests by Stand Up, Chicago, concluded that a twenty-five cent speculation fee paid by both buyer and seller of futures contracts would generate $1.4 billion that could fund creation of 40,000 new jobs. The report proposes a variety of public service jobs, including a community schools corps (rehiring laid-off teachers and other workers, refurbishing and increasing energy efficiency of schools, and making other upgrades) and other worker corps focused on community health, child care, jobs for youth, and neighborhood improvement.
“There’s anger and outrage,” Trumka says, although so far the anger from the right has been better organized along Tea Party lines. “We want to put that outrage to work to create jobs and restore balance to our economy.”
This post originally appeared in Working in These Times on October 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, August 26th, 2011
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a new and simple rule today. It says employers must display an 11 by 17 inch poster informing workers of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, where they usually post notices to let workers know their rights.
Saying he applauded the new rule, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says:
Just as employers are required to notify their employees of their rights around health and safety, wages and discrimination on the job, this rule gives clear information to employees about their rights under this fundamental labor law so that workers are better equipped to exercise and enforce them.
Yet from the reaction of the Big Business, the notice is just a step away from the NLRB giving workers the right to drag employers into the street and beat them severely about the head and shoulders.
Keep in mind, this is a just a poster.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) calls it an “unprecedented overreach of its authority… a punitive new rule…a new low…a trap for millions of businesses.”
It’s just a poster.
Peter Schaumber, a former NLRB chairman appointed by former President George W. Bush, told Bloomberg News, “It’s arbitrary, it’s capricious.”
It’s just a poster.
On the right-wing website GOPUSA the new rule is “another disgusting government intrusion into private business.”
It’s just a poster. Just a poster similar to the ones the Department of Labor requires the thousands and thousands of federal contractors to post.
The NLRB says employers will not be required to distribute the notice via e-mail, voice mail, text messaging or related electronic communications “even if they customarily communicate with their employees in that manner and they may post notices in black and white as well as in color.”
All it needs to say is that employees have the right to act together to improve wages and working conditions, to form, join and assist a union, to bargain collectively with their employer. It also must say, “employees may refrain from any of these activities.” Pretty even handed, huh?
BTW, it won’t cost employers a penny because the NLRB will provide copies for free or employers can download it.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on August 25, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall- I’m a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.
Monday, August 22nd, 2011
Image: From AFL-CIO
The 45,000 striking Verizon workers, represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Electrical Workers (IBEW), will return to work Tuesday under the existing contract as bargaining resumes.
The CWA and IBEW announced:
We have reached agreement with Verizon on how bargaining will proceed and how it will be restructured. The major issues remain to be discussed, but overall, issues now are focused and narrowed.
We appreciate the unity of our members and the support of so many in the greater community. Now we will focus on bargaining fairly and moving forward.
Verizon, which amassed more than $20 billion in profits in recent years and paid its top five executives more than $258 million in the past four years, forced workers in Northeast states into a strike by demanding $1 billion in concessions. Seen as an attack on middle-class jobs and workers, the move prompted massive shows of support by working families across the country.
This post originally appeared in AFI-CIO Blog on August 20, 2011
About the Author: Donna Jablonski is the AFL-CIO’s deputy director of public affairs for publications, Web and broadcast. Prior to joining the AFL-CIO in 1997, she served as publications director at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund for 12 years. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Southwest Florida, and since have written, edited and managed production of advocacy materials— including newsletters, books, brochures, booklets, fliers, calendars, websites, posters and direct response mail and e-mail—to support economic and social justice campaigns. In June 2001, she received a B.A. in Labor Studies from the National Labor College. Most important: she’s the very proud mom of a spectacular daughter.
Thursday, May 19th, 2011
Members of the UAW and Puerto Rico’s Servidores Públicos Unidos (SPU)/AFSCME Council 95 and other public employees celebrated May 17 when Gov. Luis Fortuño signed into law a bill reinstating collective bargaining for public employees.
Unlike legislatures in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, which are trying to take away workers’ rights, Puerto Rico’s House and the Senate passed this bill unanimously.
Gov. Luis Fortuño signs a bill restoring collective bargaining rights to Puerto Rico’s public service employees.
Says SPU President Annette González:
This law is very important for workers since in essence it includes two clauses that allow us to attain two fundamental goals: Restore the acquired rights through the restitution of collective bargaining contracts [and] negotiate the economic aspects that will do justice to workers and their families.
The law ends a policy imposed in March 2009 when the administration enacted a fiscal emergency law that mandated a two-year freeze on the economic clauses of all collective bargaining agreements. The new law extends the non-economic clauses of the contracts until 2013 and allows workers to negotiate for salaries, benefits, bonuses and other economic aspects.
This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on May 18, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.
Friday, May 13th, 2011
Nationwide, millions of domestic workers—largely immigrant women—labor long hours cleaning, cooking, taking care of other people’s children and otherwise performing necessary tasks for wealthier people whose own jobs or lifestyles don’t leave them time or energy for this work.
The work is frequently off-the-books and rarely covered by binding labor agreements or even individual contracts. They are not included under the National Labor Relations Act. There are ample horror stories of domestic workers being abused or even held captive by their employers.
On Tuesday, May 10, the AFL-CIO formally recognized domestic workers as members of organized labor, as an agreement was made between the AFL-CIO and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which includes 33 groups representing about 2.5 million domestic workers in 11 states and 17 major cities.
The NDWA has long been pushing for the strengthening of labor rights nationally for domestic workers and domestic workers bills of rights in individual states, including California. They claimed an historic victory last summer when New York passed a law granting domestic workers formal labor rights. The alliance is also calling for a convention on domestic workers’ rights under the International Labor Organization, which is part of the United Nations.
The agreement between the AFL-CIO and the NDWA says:
Through explicit and implicit exclusion of domestic workers from most labor and employment laws, domestic workers’ contributions to our nation’s and individual families’ household economies have gone hidden, devalued, and little understood.
This history of exclusion can be traced to the specifics of the industry and race politics. Primarily working in isolation in private homes, domestic workers who were predominantly African-American women were subjected to discrimination, unsafe working conditions, stolen wages, intimidation, and a long list of other abuses.
Although the demographics of domestic workers have changed to a mostly immigrant women workforce, the working conditions in the industry have changed very little.
Some of the rights sought by the NDWA are things so seemingly basic that they are not even an issue for almost every other profession—for example, the right to five hours of uninterrupted sleep per night and the right to cook their own food. The Alliance’s website says:
Domestic workers often labor around the clock, placing themselves and the people they care for at risk of sickness and unintentional mistakes caused by exhaustion.
The alliance also seeks—and in New York has obtained—the same things that workers are either guaranteed or seeking in other fields: paid sick days and paid vacation days, overtime, workers compensation.
The partnership could help further these goals on multiple levels, emphasizing that domestic workers are indeed “workers” entitled to the same rights as people in other jobs; and the aforementioned rights are things that all people should have access to. (People in other professions—including restaurant work, farm work and construction—are, of course, also typically denied paid sick days, vacation days and overtime.)
The partnership’s goals, as spelled out in the agreement, are:
—Local City and county level campaigns to enact ordinances or laws to expand protections and promote the rights of domestic workers;
—Statewide campaigns to establish labor standards for domestic workers;
—Campaigns to create administrative and regulatory changes at state and federal Departments of Labor;
National campaigns to establish labor standards, expand collective bargaining rights, create dignified jobs and support quality care for all, such as the Caring Across Generations campaign;
—International collaboration to bring visibility and dignity to the global domestic workforce, including the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention at the International Labor Organization.
The AFL-CIO and the domestic workers groups plan to accomplish these goals and generally increase the diversity and strength of the labor movement by fostering cooperation between state federations and local labor councils and domestic workers’ groups, in furtherance of both specific campaigns and general labor rights. This is part of a larger move to widen the scope of “organized labor” to include workers not traditionally represented by unions.
The agreement says:
Until these communities know each other, work with each other, and have an institutional connection to each other, it will be much more difficult to plan and strategize together, and to build a level of trust necessary to work effectively together in pursuit of our common goals and objectives.
The agreement also describes how domestic workers groups can affiliate with a local union, in keeping with the AFL-CIO’s National Worker Center program launched in 2006. The agreement also stipulates that the AFL-CIO and members of NDWA won’t compete with each other in situations where unions or domestic worker groups are organizing, and won’t undermine each other’s efforts.
While the agreement could have great concrete and symbolic effects for millions of domestic workers, it is limited to workers who are connected with domestic workers organizations. That means scores of domestic workers won’t be part of the partnership, likely including the most vulnerable workers in rural areas and/or in situations where they are highly isolated or exploited by their employers.
Hence continued outreach and organizing among domestic workers, continued strengthening and enforcement of labor laws, and even basic human rights protections—plus comprehensive immigration reform, as Michelle Chen noted yesterday—will be key to making sure domestic workers nationwide are truly empowered and protected.
This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on May 12, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011
Some might call it gall, others might say chutzpah. I’m leaning toward calling it two-faced with several words preceding it that got me into a lot of trouble with my mother when I was a kid.
But whatever you decide to call Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s announcement that he has launched a series of state employee recognition awards rewards just weeks after his long and bitter fight to eliminate their collective bargaining rights, it’s hypocrisy at its worst. (Speaking of hypocrisy, check this out from Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich.)
Walker’s action comes just days after he appointed the partner in a union-busting Milwaukee law firm as the new commissioner and chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC). That’s the state body that decides disputes between state workers and management and now with Wisconsin workers’ rights eroded is even more important.
First the “coveted” awards and then a word about the new labor commish.
Walker says that his new State Employee Recognition awards program is his way of saying “thanks” for the hard work and dedication of state workers and to “highlight the most outstanding employees with recognition. ” Walker’s sincerity just oozes out of that quote. Brings the word “smarmy” to mind, doesn’t it?
Meanwhile, Walker’s new WERC chair, James R. Scott, comes to his post straight from the law firm Linder & Marsack S.C. which tells prospective clients:
Since our founding, we have aggressively represented our non-represented clients in pursuit of their goal to maintain a non-union status in furtherance of these goals.
Read more from Judd Lounsbury at the Uppity Wisconsin blog, including cases where Scott “specifically fought against government workers.”
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 12, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.
Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Many in the labor movement objected to President Barack Obama speaking at the Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Yet there was little protest from AFL-CIO leaders to the president’s speech.
For the first time, President Obama ventured over to the Chamber of Commerce to speak. While the speech was full of the usual platitudes of most Obama speeches, what mattered most was not what he said, but the speech’s symbolism. By speaking at the Chamber, President Obama was offering an olive branch to the very organization that has led attacks against him.
President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on February 7 in Washington, D.C. He talked about the importance of working together on job creation and growing the economy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The president defended some of his regulatory agenda and tax policies. He also called on CEOs to create more jobs in America. But he made no mention of the Chamber’s tolerance of unionbusting policies that lead to nearly 30,000 reported cases of unfair labor practices against U.S. workers by companies every year.
The symbolism of the speech upset many in the labor community. Ralph Nader wrote an open letter to the President suggesting “What about walking next door and visiting your political friends at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, whose member unions represent millions of working Americans? You can discuss with Richard Trumka, a former coal miner and the new president of the AFL-CIO, your campaign promises in 2008. Repeatedly you said to the American people that you supported the “card check” and a “federal minimum wage of $9.50 in 2011.”
The AFL CIO neither organized a protest of the president’s speech nor extended an invitation for the president to cross the street and speak at the AFL CIO headquarters (where Obama has never given a speech).
Two unions—the National Nurses Union/California Nurse Association (CNA) and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), though, did organize a protest of the president’s speech at the Chamber. Both unions, it should be noted, have traditionally been more politically independent of the Democratic Party. Both unions endorsed Ralph Nader in his 2000 presidential run (At that time the CNA hadn’t merged with other unions).
The AFL CIO refused requests to endorse the protest. Still, 75 union members and allies picketed the president’s speech, chanting “Hey Hey, Hoo Hoo, Union Busting Got To Go”! One labor union member, who wished to remain anonymous, told me afterward that “I feel like by protesting today, we at least salvaged the dignity of the labor movement.”
Following his mantra “The President doesn’t communicate well with me in the press,” AFL-CIO President Trumka refused to denounce President Obama in remarks on MSNBC. In fact, Trumka disagreed with IAM (machinists union) President Thomas Buffenbarger‘s remark that “this isn’t a truce with business. I think he capitulated.” Instead, Trumka defended the president’s speech. He also praised the selection of former JPMorgan Chase Director William Daley as Chief of Staff, suggesting his selection might make things better for organized labor.
Why is organized labor’s top leader so unwilling to criticize the Chamber of Commerce appearance?
One CNA official told me that the AFL CIO was hesitant to protest the Chamber as a result of their rare joint statement last month in which they endorsed increased spending on infrastructure program. The AFL CIO, it seems, is hoping that by teaming up with the Chamber, it has a better chance of seeing Congress pass funding to keep its members employed and its unions financially solvent and vibrant.
But I can’t help worrying that by teaming up with the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO is undermining energy the labor movement needs to win the war against the country’s business class.
*This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on February 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout.
Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Union members from all parts of the world today joined with community activists in a Day of Action for Democracy in Egypt. In actions outside Egyptian embassies and government buildings, they pressed their governments to demand a democratic transition in Egypt and guarantee that those responsible for the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations be brought to justice.
In the United States, AFL-CIO union members will join the Egyptian American community and human rights organizations in a demonstration in Washington, D.C. The AFL-CIO and the Metropolitan Washington Council are calling on union members in the area to demonstrate their support for the people of Egypt at 6:30 p.m. in front of the White House (Lafayette Park side).
The desire of Egyptian workers to make their voices heard through their unions played a key role in laying the groundwork for the protests. Click here to see video messages of support for Egyptian citizens and workers from world union leaders.
In other actions today around the world:
- In Brussels, Belgium, an international trade union delegation led by Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and including Jan Eastman, deputy general secretary of Education International, together with representatives of three Belgian trade union organizations held a protest at the Egyptian Embassy.
- In Dakar, Senegal, TUC-Africa General Secretary Kwasi Adu-Amankwah and TUC-Africa President Mody Guiro led an international trade union delegation to the Egyptian Embassy.
- Union members also are taking part in protests in Australia, Korea, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, France, Tunisia, Canada, Sweden and Italy.
“The demands of the Egyptian population are legitimate,” said the ITUC’s Burrow.
After years of dictatorship, the Egyptian people, including the country’s trade union movement, yearn for a change of regime and democratic transition. The violent response of Hosni Mubarak’s regime is totally unacceptable. Those responsible for the killings, attacks and intimidation must be brought to justice without delay. The impunity must end!
*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on February 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: James Parks – My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.
Monday, January 31st, 2011
Representatives of the Egyptian union movement announced they are forming a new labor federation, the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, which will represent workers in more than a dozen industries and enterprises. The federation also plans to set a date for a nationwide general strike for democracy and fundamental rights. Many people believe the labor demonstrations in the past two years played a significant role in giving Egyptian citizens courage to stand up to the government.
In a letter today to Egyptian union leaders Kamal Abbas and Kamal Abu Eita, recipients of last year’s George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the workers’ “extraordinary courage and defiance of a ban on free and independent unions.”
Yesterday we learned that your organizations joined with retirees, the technical health professionals and representatives of workers in the important industrial areas to announce the organization of a new labor federation to represent workers in a new era of democracy in Egypt. We salute you in this brave endeavor and join the international labor movement in standing with you.
The people’s movement for democracy in Egypt and the role unions are playing for freedom and worker rights inspires us and will not be forgotten.
Abbas is general coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) and Eita heads the Real Estate Tax Authority Workers (RETA), the first independent trade union in Egypt in more than 50 years. The Egyptian government has not formally recognized RETA, but has ignored its application for recognition.
The Egyptian government tried to silence the CTUWS, closing down two of its regional offices and its headquarters in 2007. Bowing to an Egyptian court decision and international criticism, the government allowed CTUWS to reopen in July 2008.
RETA was formed after municipal tax collectors held an 11-day sit-in strike in front of the Ministry of Finance, gathered 30,000 signatures and elected local union committees in the provinces.
Read a statement from the CTUWS here about the situation in Egypt and workers’ demands.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) joined in congratulating the Egyptian unions and supporting the call for a general strike. In a statement, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:
The union actions will increase pressure for genuine democratic change and respect for human rights. Just as in Tunisia, where the ITUC-affiliated UGTT has been at the forefront of the democracy movement, we salute the courage and determination of Egypt’s working people in standing up to an autocratic and illegitimate regime.
This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on Jan 31, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author, James Parks: My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.
Thursday, January 27th, 2011
Since the November elections attacks on public employees and their unions have exploded. Everywhere you turn you read of attacks on public sector workers, from teachers to janitors, firefighters to administrators. Wealthy right-wing corporations and their political pawns and media enablers have tried to make public employees into public enemies.
Even in union-dense states like California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Ohio, public employees and their unions are suddenly in the crosshairs of right-wingers hell-bent on starving state budgets along with public employees and their unions. Attacks on public employees and their unions are nothing new. For decades public employees have been scapegoats for right-wing government haters who have accused them of doing nothing while falsely claiming that they make considerably more money than their private sector counterparts.
To fully appreciate the significance of the present attack on public employee unions it must be considered in the context of the four decade war being waged by corporate America against the American labor movement. Over the past forty-plus years corporations and their political pawns have systematically attacked unions in each economic sector having significant density as well as political and economic power. In the late 1960s large corporations, working in concert, decided the time was right to wage a serious, well-organized and well-financed war on the American labor movement. The era of cooperation, conciliation and collective bargaining of the 1940s, 1950s and part of the 1960s was tossed on the proverbial ash heap of history.
We can look back and see the carnage that the corporate war on workers and their unions has wrought: a decline in wages, benefits, unions and jobs–while corporations and the wealthiest one-percent have amassed the largest concentrations of wealth in history.
It may come as a surprise to many that the current assault on public employee unions has its roots in the late 1960s when a deliberate, well-organized and financed effort by 200 of America’s largest corporations to destroy the building trades unions got underway. With the organization of the Construction Users’ Anti-Inflation Roundtable, chaired by U.S. Steel’s Roger Blough, the largest U.S. industrial corporations dependent upon the skilled union trades organized around the desire to have their projects built and maintained without having to pay union wages and benefits. The “Roundtable” commissioned a series of studies designed to provide cover for their efforts to undermine the building trades unions and began giving unwarranted competitive advantages to nonunion contractors.
This original “Roundtable” later merged with another corporate backed anti-labor organization known as the Labor Law Study Committee to form the Business Roundtable. Of the many schemes hatched by the Business Roundtable was the conspiracy to award billions of dollars of industrial construction work to the largest nonunion contractors in the nation. To make this a reality they helped establish the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) as the counterpoint to the well organized labor/management committees among the union sector of the construction industry. The ABC became the mechanism for challenging the supremacy of union construction in every market in the nation and one of the most vehemently anti-union organizations in the nation.
In May 1979, J.C. Turner, President of the International Union of Operating Engineers, made the following observations:
“It has become apparent that a systematic and well planned campaign is being conducted to totally destroy the building trades… the current attack is the result of a decade of planning and groundwork by the Business Roundtable acting in concert with regional and local construction user associations, the contractor associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pro-business academic institutions and their allies in government… Our real enemy is clearly these large industrial concerns, organized as the Business Roundtable, who are using the contractors and their associations as soldiers in the battle. Their purpose is to put the lid on costs by pressuring their construction contractors to slash wages… The Business Roundtable represents a threat not just to the building trades unions but to the trade union movement as a whole… If corporate America can weaken the hard-won gains of this country’s construction unions, the ultimate target will be the entire trade union movement…”
Double-breasting, where union contractors establish so-called alter ego nonunion firms to compete with and undermine their own union companies became rampant. The federal government purposefully failed to enforce federal prevailing wage and workplace safety laws. Legal restrictions, such as repeal of common situs picketing further restricted building trades’ efforts to maintain or expand market share and membership.
While the corporate assault on the building trades unions was in full swing, it gained a powerful ally when Ronald Reagan became President on January 20, 1981. Following his election Reagan wasted no time and quickly met with the president of the ABC and signaled his strong support for the war on the building trades unions.
Reagan’s alliance with the Business Roundtable and the ABC was certainly not his only contribution to union busting. On August 5, 1981, in the single most infamous act of anti-unionism in memory Reagan fired striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO).
PATCO was a good target for Reagan since PATCO was a “professional” organization and was not affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Lacking critical relationships necessary for support and solidarity in times of crisis it was unlikely that the rest of the labor movement would rise up and defend this small, professional, independent organization that may have made a grave tactical error by calling a prohibited work stoppage. PATCO had endorsed and supported Reagan in his campaign for president, adding to its outsider identity and alienation from the rest of the labor movement.
It is universally agreed that by firing and decertifying PATCO, Reagan signaled to employers that his administration would be complicit in the corporate war on workers and their unions. Reagan’s actions were just the opposite of what FDR had accomplished for unions when he declared, “If I went to work in a factory the first thing I’d do is join a union.” FDR, through his words, deeds and legislation did more to spur the growth of unions in America than any single political leader in history. Reagan’s actions accomplished just the opposite and began an era of union busting in which high paid consultants used every legal and illegal trick in the books, with the assistance and cooperation of the Reagan NLRB and DOL, to harass unions and thwart organizing at every turn.
Reagan’s action ushered in an era in which the use of permanent striker replacements became the norm, effectively nullifying labor’s most powerful weapon – the strike. In disputes where workers engaged in work stoppages to pressure employers into negotiating reasonable terms and conditions, employers emboldened and encouraged by Reagan’s treatment of PATCO, simply hired permanent striker replacements and eliminated the persuasive impact of work stoppages as a means of pressuring employers to bargain in good faith.
The extent to which the use of permanent replacements became the favored method to undermine the effect of strikes is borne out by the fact that strikes have become virtually non-existent and are no longer considered a very useful weapon. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2009 (the latest year available) the number of work stoppages reached it lowest level since 1947, when they first began collecting data on work stoppages.
With the building trades unions on the defensive, PATCO busted and the use of permanent striker replacements widespread, the next major assault on organized labor focused on industrial unions like the United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, Machinists, IUE, etc. It came in the form of so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA and provided employers with another mechanism to undermine unions by placing American workers directly in competition with much lower paid workers in other countries. With unionized workers in industries like auto, steel and aerospace making the highest wages and benefits they became primary targets of employers wanting to lower labor costs and the most vulnerable to foreign outsourcing.
Under not-so-free-trade agreements corporations can simply close down factories and move them to Mexico, India, China or wherever. Corporations pay little or no tariffs on the products they export back to the U.S. On top of that they can get tax breaks for moving good-paying union jobs to foreign countries. What a great deal! Also, foreign corporations that agree to operate non-union factories in America, like large auto assembly plants, receive huge tax breaks, incentives and other competitive advantages over the unionized domestic producers and you get the same result–workers pitted against each other between unionized and non-union employers.
Not-so-free-trade-agreements, which facilitate the movement of factories to foreign countries, are an extension of the old “runaway shop” used by corporations for more than a century to run away from union shops in the heavy unionized industrial northeast and Midwest. Prior to the not-so-free-trade agreement era corporations ran away to southern states where adherence to Jim Crow, right-to-work-for-less and other traditions kept unions from expanding and gaining political and economic power.
Not-so-free-trade can be thought of as the runaway shop on steroids and has become an effective and widespread tool for getting rid of American unions and cowing those that remain. Corporations don’t really have to get their hands dirty either. They really don’t have to hire high priced union busting attorneys. They really don’t have to deal with the NLRB or DOL. All they have to do is close the plant and move it to a foreign country where unions are weak, compliant or nonexistent and cooperative governments keep workers in line and union power to a minimum. Not-so-free-trade agreements have wiped out millions of good-paying American manufacturing jobs–a disproportionate number of these union jobs.
Now it is the public sector unions that are in the crosshairs of anti-union politicians and their corporate bosses. Given the history of anti-unionism in America over the past forty years it should come as no surprise they are now the target of large scale coordinated union busting. Just as the building trades and industrial unions have been targeted for destruction, public employees are now facing a gauntlet of anti-unionism aimed squarely at them. With more public sector employees belonging to unions than those in the private sector (7.9 million v. 7.4 million) and union membership rates for public sector workers substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (37.4% v. 7.2%) it should come as no surprise that public sector unions are now the primary targets in the corporate war on workers and their unions.
The preceding condensed version of the last forty years of the corporate war on America’s workers and their unions brings to mind one of the most moving and incisive quotations over the consequences of being divided against a common enemy. It is from Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) referring to the rise of Nazi power in Germany and the complicity of those who failed to act to prevent the spread of the Nazi plague:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me –
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Using Pastor Niemoller’s words as a template and with profound respect, I would submit the following requiem for American workers for their complicity in or ignorance of the corporate war on America’s workers and their unions:
Requiem for The American Worker First they attacked the building trades unions,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a member of the building trades;
Then they fired the air traffic controllers,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not an air traffic controller;
Then they shipped millions of union manufacturing jobs overseas,
and I did not speak out –
because I did not work in a union shop;
Then they vilified and attacked public sector unions,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a member of a public employee union;
Then I needed a union –
and there were none left to speak out for me.
*This post originally appeared in Union Review on January 26, 2010.
About the Author: Bill Londrigan is President of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.