Ai-jen Poo National Domestic Workers Alliance wins McArthur Genius Award for 2014.

Ai-Jen Poo

Ai-jen Poo is a labor organizer whose compelling vision of the value of home-based care work is transforming the landscape of working conditions and labor standards for domestic or private-household workers. The estimated 1–2 million domestic workers—housekeepers, nannies, caregivers for the elderly or disabled—in the United States today are excluded from most federal and state labor laws, including collective bargaining; occupational safety and health protections; sick and vacation pay; and protection from discrimination and sexual harassment.

Combining a deep understanding of the complex tangle of human relations around domestic work with keen strategic skills, Poo has created a vibrant, worker-led labor movement and spearheaded successful legislative campaigns at the national and international levels. As lead organizer of the New York City–based Domestic Workers United (2000–2009), she spent countless hours in parks, buses, and other gathering places for domestic workers, creating opportunities for these largely isolated women to share their experiences, guiding mistreated workers to appropriate legal channels, articulating the vital economic role of domestic workers, and developing with workers a framework of legal standards for the industry. In 2010, New York enacted the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights—which entitles workers to overtime pay, one day of rest per week, protection from discrimination, and three days paid leave per year—after a hard-fought seven-year legislative campaign led by Poo and a dedicated group of workers and advocates. The bill also drew support from an unlikely coalition of domestic workers, their employers, and other unions forged by Poo’s ability to leverage common interests across diverse groups. Continue reading

Suspenders and Solidarity in Sacramento

by David Roddy,

SunderlandedThe annual Sacramento Central Labor Council Labor Day Picnic on Sept. 1, was divided over the removal of executive secretary Bill Camp, with his supporters wearing suspenders bearing a sticker declaring “L NO!,” in reference to Measure L, the latest attempt by Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand the executive power of the Sacramento Mayor’s office.

The suspenders were worn in solidarity with the recently ousted SCLC executive secretary Bill Camp (known for his folksy attire), whose abrupt firing by a group on the executive board led by council President Lino Pedres of SEIU 1877 is suspected by Camp’s supporters to be due to his opposition to Measure L, having led the effort to defeat a similar bill in 2010. Measure L, an initiative for the November ballot, plans to transition City Hall from a council-manager form of government to a mayor-council form, giving the mayor the power to appoint and unilaterally fire a city manager (now done by the entire council), oversee the creation of the city budget, and the ability to veto any changes to the budget and ordinances passed by the council.

The termination notice, taped to Camp’s door on August 29, has been rescinded after Camp’s union representative–Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 29–protested that Camp’s firing lacked due process. Camp is now on administrative leave and was told not to speak about his firing, which has led OPEIU 29 to file a grievance arguing Camp’s leave is without just cause and the gag order violates his free speech rights. Continue reading

Egyptian Union Organizes with Global Support

by Paul Garver

Mondelez

Update:

Following the reinstatement of all 5 executive members of the Cadbury Alexandria Union under their former conditions, elections were held on August 29 for the executive council of the union.

The leaders were once again elected as the principal officers of the union and supporters of the leadership fill all 9 positions on the executive.

160 members attended the meeting where the elections took place including 48 members from the other Mondelez factory in Alexandria at Burj el Arab. 3 of the elected executive members work at this factory where membership continues to grow.

Background
In July 2012, more than two years ago, the Egyptian division of Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods International) suspended five members of the executive committee of a union in Alexandria that dared to declare itself independent. The same American-owned and managed global food company also disciplined union activists at Mondelez plants in Tunisia and Pakistan for similar reasons.

In response the IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide) organized a global “Screamdelez” campaign joined by its member unions on every continent. From Pakistan and Tunisia, through North America and Western Europe to Eastern Europe, Mondelez workers and their unions demonstrated to support their Egyptian counterparts. Hundreds of supporters around the world sent protest messages through the LabourStart international website to Irene Rosenthal, Mondelez CEO.

As a result of this campaign, Mondelez agreed to negotiate with the IUF, and following a meeting in Alexandria on July 9th the five executive board members were reinstated to their jobs with full retroactive back pay and benefits. Elections for the new term of the union executive committee at the plant will take place shortly. All five former union executive committee members will be entitled to stand.

In a last effort to avoid reinstating the union officers, local management argued:”But we don’t know how to reinstate them since no company has ever had to do that in Egypt before!” But the Egyptian result may become a precedent for Mondelez workers in other countries. The IUF and Mondelez International jointly stated that:

“This brings the long-running labour conflict in Alexandria to an end. Both local parties have committed to seek to resolve future challenges in a good-faith and constructive manner and, beyond Egypt, Mondelez International and the IUF have agreed “to discuss the lessons learnt from this conflict.”

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One lesson for all trade unionists is the power of global worker solidarity, in winning campaigns that can even transcend sharp national conflicts.  During the Screamdelez campaign delegates at the IUF EECA regional meeting, held in Kyiv {Kiev} on November 4-5, 2013 concluded their discussion on trade union development by a symbolic action in support of the struggling Mondelez workers in Egypt, Pakistan and world-wide. The participants included union leaders and activists from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Free Riding On The Labor Movement

by Amy B. Dean 

Amy B. Dean

Amy B. Dean

We all benefit from what organized labor has accomplished .

American communities depend on collective action. Fire and police departments are great examples: They can function successfully because all of us pay in — not only those whose houses have burned down or been burglarized. 

These institutions work on the principle that the most effective way to protect individual interests is for all to contribute a little for the common benefit. When someone doesn’t contribute, everyone suffers. If someone didn’t want to chip in for firefighters or police officers but still expected the benefits of these collective protections, they would be considered freeloaders, and their behavior would be rightly vilified.

Yet when it comes to the labor movement, free-riding is exactly the response that conservatives are encouraging.

Throughout the country, Republicans have been pushing to expand “right to work” laws, which force unions to represent employees who do not pay to receive these benefits. It’s as if people were allowed to avoid paying in for firefighters yet the fire department were still required to serve them. Continue reading

Global Worker Solidarity Gets Real

 

by Paul Garver

Fast Food for 15 Labor activists have long called for international solidarity to confront global corporations, but sentimental and rhetorical appeals to the workers of the world to unite failed to produce lasting results throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, recent global organizing campaigns in fast food, which employs millions worldwide, and telecommunications show promise.

Fast Food

The international coordinated actions of fast-food workers on May 15, 2014, took place in 158 U.S. cities and 93 other cities across 36 countries. More than 10,000 workers and their supporters participated. This represented an unprecedented level of global labor solidarity.

Organizing fast-food workers on a global scale poses enormous challenges. There are relatively few workers in any outlet, and they are mostly precariously employed by third parties other than the global corporations. Labor law in the United States and most other countries is ill-adapted to facilitate worker representation and collective bargaining for such an atomized work force. Fast-food unions have gained small toeholds in only a few European countries that have collective bargaining by sector. Only in New Zealand has a determined union membership been able to conduct repeated, if brief, strikes to raise wages.

After the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) began putting significant resources into community-based organizations and worker centers, fast-food worker organizing has taken off into a powerful movement for raising the minimum wage for all workers.

Global coordination to raise the minimum wage by raising public consciousness rather than through sector or workplace organizing is done through the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF). The IUF, using funding from its own member unions, including the SEIU, held a global meeting of 80 fast-food workers and union representatives from 26 countries in New York in the week prior to the May 15 actions. Many of the foreign delegates remained in the United States to help organize the protest actions in U.S. cities. IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald notes that “The Fight for 15” is “just the beginning of an unprecedented international fast-food worker movement.”

Telecommunications Organizing

Another major global organizing campaign is talking place within Deutsche Telecom (DT), parent of T-Mobile U.S., which the Communication Workers of America (CWA) has been trying to organize. The large union ver.di, which represents DT workers in Germany, has been supporting the CWA organizing drive, trying to compel DT to apply higher worker rights’ standards to its operations in the United States. In May 2014, ver.di sponsored a thousand-strong rally at DT’s Berlin headquarters that included hundreds of international trade unionists in Berlin for an International Trade Union Confederation World Congress, CWA President Larry Cohen. and fired T-Mobile U.S. union activist Josh Coleman. Because of ver.di’s tireless media campaign, Coleman has become well known in Germany as a symbol of DT’s anti-union conduct in the United States.

This was not a one-off event. Ver.di members on the DT works council have visited several Southern U.S. cities where CWA is trying to organize at T-Mobile, and the two unions have formed a joint organization called T-Mobile Workers United (TU) to encourage contacts between German and U.S. workers, including an online discussion forum.

To be effective, global labor solidarity must be mutual and long-term, built around the common interests of workers in particular sectors and transnational companies. Global campaigns like these are moving in the direction of deeper practical organization and strategic planning.

Paul Garver is a retired organizer for the IUF and for SEIU and has been active in DSA for more than three decades. This article also appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Democratic Left.

Open Shop Trend Makes Organizing “the Organized” Top Union Priority

by Steve Early

Steve Early

            For many years, American unions have been trying to “organize the unorganized” to offset, and, where possible, reverse their steady loss of dues-paying members. In union circles, a distinction was often made between this “external organizing”–to recruit workers who currently lack collective bargaining rights–and “internal organizing,” which involves engaging more members in contract fights and other forms of collective action aimed at strengthening existing bargaining units.

Thanks to the growing success of corporate-backed “Right-to-Work” campaigns, these two forms of union outreach now greatly overlap.  Virtually all labor organizations face the expanded challenge of recruiting and maintaining members in already unionized workplaces where the decision to provide financial support for the union has, for better or worse, become voluntary. (Some left-wing critics of “contract unionism” have long argued that automatic deduction of dues, by employers for their union bargaining partners, makes the latter overly dependent on management and less responsive to rank-and-file workers.)

Throughout the country, labor foes have succeeded in limiting the ability of unions to collect dues, or the equivalent in “agency fees,” from more of the 16 million workers they are legally certified to represent.  In the private sector, 24 states now have an “open shop,” which means that union membership or fee paying by non-members cannot be required in contracts with employers, including, most recently, those operating in Michigan and Indiana.

In the public sector, the parallel legal/political assault on “union security” agreements and automatic deduction of dues or fees from government employee paychecks has unfolded in those two states, neighboring Wisconsin, and every state with recently created bargaining units for home-based direct care providers.

With adverse ramifications for 700,000 similarly situated union-represented workers in other states, the Supreme Court ruled, in June, that publicly funded home health care aides in Illinois were only “quasi-public employees.” According to the Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn, they are no longer subject to the requirement, under local public sector labor law, that non-members pay their “fair share” of the cost of union representation and services which unions must provide to everyone in their bargaining units.

Membership Exodus

When Service Employees organizer Rand Wilson and I wrote about this emerging trend two years ago, in an essay for Monthly Review Press entitled “Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America,” we noted that there were already more than 1.5 million Americans covered by union contracts, who had declined to become members. Based on developments then underway in the mid-west, we predicted that the guaranteed revenue stream that many U.S. labor organizations had long enjoyed–and used to pay for their large complement of lawyers, lobbyists, full-time negotiators, and field staff–would soon be interrupted.

For example, in Wisconsin, where public employees had just been battered by contract concessions and then stripped of meaningful collective bargaining rights, most of their unions had not functioned as voluntary membership organizations for three decades or more. We expressed the concern that a new, more intimidating workplace environment might combine with rank-and-file resentment over wage and benefit give backs to send dues receipts plummeting–if unions did not move quickly to strengthen their shop-floor presence.

In Indiana, from 2005-11, a similar Republican revocation of “dues check off” and more limited bargaining rights caused state worker union membership to drop from 16,400 to less than 1,500. In Michigan, after legislators excluded home care workers from their state’s definition of public employees and stripped them of bargaining rights granted by a previous Democratic governor, membership in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) declined by 80%–from 55,000 members to less than 11,000 in a single year.

Painful Transition 

As The New York Times reported last February, the forced transition to a new model of functioning has been no less painful in Wisconsin. Since Republican-backed Act 10 “severely restricted the power of public employee unions to bargain collectively,” the state worker membership of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) “has fallen by 60 percent; its annual budget has plunged to $2 million from $6 million.”

Founded in 1932 as a pioneering AFSCME affiliate, Madison-based Local 1 went from 1,000 to 122 members. To keep the union alive, “99 percent of what the staff does is organize,” explained AFSCME council director Marty Bell. “Without the ability to bargain, Bell’s union mostly represents members and engages in collective action,” according to The Times. Local affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have been similarly decimated—in part because of official resistance to lowering dues—while their counterparts in the National Education Association (NEA) had done better maintaining Wisconsin membership.

Now comes Michigan again, where the most recently enacted state “right to work” law is going into effect for 112,000 public school teachers, who represent one out of every six union members in the state. During all of August, they’ve had a chance to “opt out” of paying for their union representation. In a previous “opt out” period last year, only 1,500 or 1% did. But this summer, teachers have been bombarded with anti-union mailers and newspaper ads–the latter purchased by Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers creation. These have urged them to withhold annual payments of up to $822 to the Michigan Education Association and its parent organization, the NEA.

Other major unions in Michigan, including the United Auto Workers (UAW) have multi-year contracts that are in effect until 2015 or later. When those expire, more private sector union members will have the same choice as teachers this summer. As the Associated Press reported August 25, “a significant number of drop outs would deliver a financial blow to labor in a state where it has historically been dominant”—or, at least, far more influential in the past than today.

When a cash-strapped UAW hiked its dues earlier this year, opponents of that measure warned that higher dues might encourage more of the union’s 50,000 Michigan-based autoworkers to drop out next year. Of particular concern is the simmering resentment of more recently hired UAW dues payers, who are demanding changes in the Big Three’s two-tier wage structure that leaves them far below the hourly pay of higher seniority workers. If that issue is not satisfactorily resolved in the next round of auto industry bargaining, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity may even gain traction in a few auto plants.

Pre-Emptive Organizing Needed

In an anticipation of an unfavorable ruling in Harris v. Quinn, some SEIU and AFSCME locals, with large numbers of home-based workers paying agency fees rather than dues, stepped up their efforts to convert them into actual members, who would stick with the union when and if “free riding” became possible. These efforts have paid off, in some places, but still have a long way to go in SEIU affiliates like United Long Term Care Workers in California. SEIU-ULTCW has publicly claimed to have 170,000 “members” at the same time its U.S. Department of Labor filings showed that 80,000 or more were, in fact,  just “agency fee payers,” with little apparent connection to the union.

Newer additions to the nation’s unionized homecare workforce—like the statewide unit of 27,000 personal care attendants in Minnesota who won union recognition August 26—will need continuous internal organizing, to boost their post-election membership levels. In that new group, only one fifth of the workers eligible to vote actually cast a ballot for or against SEIU, which won by a margin of 60-to-40%. In an open shop environment, under a less friendly governor, the other 21,000 could easily go the way of SEIU’s now lost dues paying majority in Michigan home care.

As former SEIU organizer Jane McAlevey has argued, based on her past union experience in open shop Nevada, “even in the face of campaigns by employers to get workers to drop their membership, workers will continue to be members and contribute from their paycheck when they experience their union as their union.”

Ironically, some of the best examples of what McAlevey calls the “high participation model” of union building can be found in southern “right-to-work” states.  As Wilson and I reported in our “open shop” organizing chapter in Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (Monthly Review Press, 2010), “non-majority” unions have been constructed by public sector members of the Communications Workers of America in Tennessee, Texas, and Mississippi and the United Electrical Workers in North Carolina—all in the absence of formal collective bargaining and any mandatory payment of dues or fees.

These member-driven labor organizations have devised more reasonable dues structures, ways of collecting dues voluntarily, and, most important of all, a workplace and community presence not defined by employer recognition or statute. Their survival and effectiveness depends on worker activity–the kind of member mobilization around job-related and legislative/political issues that labor needs, in many other states, to remain “organized” without the legal props of the past.

 (Steve Early worked for 27 years as an internal and external union organizer for the Communications Workers of America. He is the author, most recently, of Save Our Unions (Monthly Review Press, 2013). For more on his work, see http://steveearly.org/ or contact him at Lsupport@aol.com).  This article is reposted from the blog classism.org

 

Triangle Shirtwaist and Rana Plaza- Same Struggle

 by Brian Finnegan

What-the-Triangle-Shirtwaist-Factory-Has-to-Do-with-the-Protest-Outside-the-Ralph-Lauren-Shareholders-Meeting-Today_blog_post_fullWidth

 

Protesters gathered today in front of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City to call on Ralph Lauren to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to improve workplace safety for garment workers. The protest preceded Ralph Lauren’s annual shareholders meeting where the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund (its investments) had a proposal on the ballot related to human rights reporting.

At today’s shareholder meeting, Nazma Akter, president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, representing 70,000 workers, spoke to the protesters and called on Ralph Lauren join with more than 180 brands that have agreed to participate in the Accord.  The Accord is a binding and enforceable agreement that represents a new model in supply chain accountability and risk management. Other programs to audit and monitor for workers’ safety follow the same model that has failed the hundreds of workers who have died in preventable garment factory fires and building collapses over the past 20 years.

Akter spoke in the name of “women like me, who produce goods for Ralph Lauren in Bangladesh.”  Young women are 80% of the garment workforce in Bangladesh. Most of the more than 3,600 workers killed and seriously injured in the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse were young women. Hundreds of children were orphaned when their parents were killed in the collapse.  But Rana is only the most notorious of recent deadly workplace disasters in factories along the global supply chains of major U.S. and European brands and retailers.

Rana Plaza reminded many of the Triangle factory fire in New York more than 100 years ago that killed more than 100 workers yet eventually led to improved workplace safety laws and enforcement and innovative collective bargaining agreements. The changes after the Triangle factory fire helped make what was once sweatshop labor into good jobs and a way into the middle class.

Following the protest, Akter participated in the Ralph Lauren shareholders meeting where she presented the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund’s shareholder proposal, urging the company to report to stockholders about how it assesses human rights risks. The AFL-CIO Reserve Fund submitted the proposal after the company failed to acknowledge or respond to written requests to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

Ralph Lauren has bought thousands of tons of goods from at least 15 locations in Bangladesh since 2007.

At the shareholders meeting, Akter asked: “So why has a company that has always stood for the highest quality not joined the accord?” She also pointed out that workers in factories that have signed the accord are in a better position to exercise other workers’ rights. “There are over 4,000 garment factories in Bangladesh. So far, 1,600 are covered by the accord and workers in these are better protected. Workers have a union at only 160 of those thousands of factories. Workers at factories covered by the Accord and those who have a union could have refused to enter Rana Plaza when they saw cracks. Workers must have Freedom of Association to protect themselves and claim their full human rights.” Unfortunately, workers who organize unions in Bangladesh are often fired, harassed or violently attacked.

Rana Plaza should help major corporations realize that the current model of cheap goods at any price through vast and unaccountable global supply chains is often inhumane and unsustainable.  Brands that want to act responsibly must take concrete measures to improve respect for human rights in the workplace.

This has been reposted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog, an indispensable source of information for worker activists.

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