Support Fired Tobacco Farmworkers

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Two farmworkers were harassed, abused and later fired unjustly after speaking out about violations on Randy Blalock’s tobacco farm in North Carolina.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee [FLOC AFL-CIO] wants your support.

Send an email to their grower, his anti-union lawyer, and tobacco giants Reynolds and Alliance One to let them know that this type of worker abuse will not be allowed. Join us in demanding that the grower pay the workers thousands of dollars of stolen wages and compensate them for their unjust and retaliatory termination. We are also calling on tobacco companies to work with FLOC to guarantee freedom of association to all tobacco farmworkers to end the abuse in the tobacco fields.  Use link below:

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/two-tobacco-farmworkers-fired-for-speaking-out-tell-their-grower-blalock-and-the-tobacco-companies-that-we-want-justice-and-freedom-of-association?source=direct_link&

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A Call Center Coup: Ex-Teamster Boots Riley Tackles Telemarketing And its Discontents

by Steve Early

When I was a union rep, one of my most challenging assignments was assisting a Communications Workers of America (CWA) bargaining unit at a Boston-area telemarketing firm. Most CWA members in New England had call center jobs at the phone company, with good pensions, health insurance, and full-time salaries. As service reps, they fielded in-coming calls from customers with problems, questions, or new orders to place. In contrast, the telemarketing staff only interacted with the public, on behalf of various clients, via out-bound calling. Like the workers depicted in Boots Riley’s hilarious new film, Sorry to Bother You, they made cold calls to people who did not want to bothered, at dinner time or anytime, with a pitch for a new product, service, or donation to a political cause.

            Even with a union contract, CWA’s telemarketing members in Somerville, Mass. were an unhappy lot—and for good reason. Their work was machined-paced by a “predictive dialer.” The quality of the lists they called, for fund-raising purposes, varied widely. Their base pay was low and earning more required navigating a byzantine bonus system.  Benefit coverage was skimpy compared to the phone company. Yet, when we tried to negotiate improvements, a company whose clients included major environmental groups and Howard Dean’s presidential campaign hired Jackson, Lewis, a leading anti-union law firm to drag out bargaining for months and soak up money that could have been spent on its workers.

This particular call center was filled with “over-educated” part-timers, juggling other jobs or careers, because it did offer flexible hours. Nobody planned to stay long, however, because who wants to spend all day enduring rejection—hang-ups, name-calling, cursing, or long conversations with lonely people who end up giving or ordering nothing, because they are short on cash too.

            Amid such shop-floor frustration and discontent, the telemarketing industry does produce stars–brilliant phone conversationalists who can charm almost anyone out of a few bucks for a magazine subscription, a charitable organization, political cause or candidate. Now 48 years old, Boots Riley was briefly one of those top performers when a mid-1990s downturn in his music career forced the founder of The Coup to seek employment in what is now a $24 billion industry.  He had already done a stint, as a Teamster part-timer, loading packages for UPS in Oakland; this time, to pay the rent, he picked up a headset instead, at a call center in Berkeley. As Riley’s hometown alternative weekly, The East Bay Express revealed last week, he toiled under “a punk manager with an anarchy tattoo who enticed workers with cash bonuses to ‘make the grid,’ office parlance for raising money. “

            A co-worker familiar with his rap albums recalls hearing Boots use “the same gravely, raspy voice, I knew from Genocide & Juice going, ‘Sorry to bother you, ma’am, but…’” Riley put his past experience as a door-to-door salesman to good use, carefully calibrating his pitch for each assigned fund-raising project. “It was me using my creativity for manipulative purposes,” he confessed to the EBE. “Like an artist who could make a cultural imprint instead figures out what font makes you buy cereal.”

Manic Energy

            Fortunately, for millions of potential viewers of Sorry to Bother You, Riley has also found a way to turn his call center experience—shared by millions of other U.S. workers—into a rare Hollywood film dealing with race, class, and the tension between personal ambition and collective action in the workplace. The first-time director employs the manic energy of a Spike Lee movie, rather than the slow, last century pacing of Jon Sayles, to produce one of the best depictions of labor organizing since Matewan (or Norma Rae and Bread and Roses, for that matter).

The workers involved aren’t the usual blue-collar union suspects—i.e. mill workers, coal miners, or immigrant janitors. Instead, they’re Bay Area denizens of the “new economy,” multi-racial millennial office workers stuck on the lower rungs of a regional job market offering tantalizing riches (and even affordable housing) for some, but a far more precarious existence for many others.

In Riley’s film, which opened nationwide last week, his fictional alter-ego is Cassius (“Cash”) Green, a struggling young native of Oakland played by Lakeith Stanfield. Cash is behind on his rent and living with his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) in the converted garage of his uncle, whose home is facing foreclosure. “I just really, really need a job,” he desperately informs his soon-to-be-boss at Regal View, an Oakland telemarketer. Instructed, as all new hires are, to “stick to the script,” Cash stumbles through his first days of toil in a grim, crowded room full of partitioned workstations. Before being sent to their cubbyholes to dial for dollars each morning, Cash and his fellow “team members’ are subjected to a pep rally, led by managers who range from the moronic to demonic. (One urges them to employ their “social currency” to better “bag and tag” customers.)

Cash does poorly, with his phone contacts, until an older African-American colleague (Danny Glover) offers him some elder wisdom. “Hey, young blood. Let me give you a tip. Use your ‘white voice.’”  Once any hint of Cash’s race or class background is scrubbed clean from his delivery, he starts making powerful connections with his telemarketing targets, zooming quite literally into their living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, and even bathrooms to make sales.

 His reward, before long, is promotion to “power caller.” He becomes part of the Regal View elite, working many floors above the low-dollar calling room floor,  in office splendor of the Silicon Valley corporate campus sort. Cash now wears a suit and tie to work, carries a brief case, and makes marketing calls to potential multi-million dollar clients of Worry Free. The latter is a global manpower agency led by Steve Lift, a tech industry titan with adoring fans and a new book entitled I’m On Top. Played by Arnie Hammer, the charismatic Lift is a cross between Steve Jobs and Hugh Hefner. Among Cash’s rewards for being a top “power caller” is the chance to party with Lift at his Playboy-style mansion; there he gets offered an even more lucrative but truly compromising position at Worry Free.

Revolt of the Precariat

Meanwhile, down in the lower depths of Regal View, a revolt of the precariat has been brewing—and before his personal ambition got the best of him Cash was part of it. Led by Squeeze, a young Asian-American caller (Steven Yeun), the “lowly regular telemarketers” are secretly planning to unionize. On an agreed upon day, all head sets are downed, fists get thrust into the air, and the telemarketers

stage a 20-minute work stoppage, chanting “Fuck you, pay me” (no messaging confusion there).

As this labor-management dispute escalates into a full-blown strike replete with mass picketing and police brutality reminiscent of Occupy Oakland, Cash crosses the picket-line, only to become increasingly distraught by the choice he has made and ambivalent about its material rewards (a fancy car and swank new downtown Oakland loft!). “I’m doing something I’m really good at,” he tells one striker. “I’ll root for you from the sidelines.” But that’s not good enough for his feisty and creative girlfriend who threatens to leave him.

In the end, faced with the loss of Detroit and permanent estrangement from his own community and former co-workers, Cash becomes a fellow rebel against the worldview represented by Regal View and Worry Free. He blows the whistle on the latter’s sci-fi scheme to bio-engineer greater labor productivity and enslave workers, under the guise of providing them with “lifetime housing and jobs.”

            The movie has a happier ending for the employees of Regal View than Riley’s real life co-workers experienced several years after the director left Stephen Dunn & Associates, the telemarketing firm that employed him in Berkeley more than two decades ago. In 1999, the East Bay Express reports, staff members there began a four-year struggle for union recognition, aided by Local 6 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Their long legal battle, against blatant union-busting, only ended when management moved the whole call center to Los Angeles.

            In Sorry to Bother You, Steve Lift, the evil CEO of Worry Free, ends up reaping what he sowed. If only more workers struggles had a similar denouement, we’d all be better off. In the meantime, Boots Riley—Oakland activist, musician, and now film-maker extraordinaire—has made labor organizing in an almost entirely non-union industry seem doable and definitely worth the bother.

(Steve Early was a telecom industry organizer and union representative for 27 years. He is the author of four books on labor and politics, including Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of An American City, published by Beacon Press last year. He can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com)

How Corporations Plan To Use Janus/ To Turn Workers Against Their Own Unions

Source: How Corporations Plan To Use emJanus/em To Turn Workers Against Their Own Unions

In Spite of Janus: Don’t Count Us Out

The Supreme Court may have ruled against us , but don’t count us out.

The right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court showed their true colors today. Their thirst for rigging the economy toward the powerful trumped the aspirations and needs of communities and the people who serve them. But, despite this decision, workers are sticking with the union because unions are still the best vehicle working people have to get ahead.

Our union comprises some of the hardest-working and most compassionate people in the country. Every day, we care for patients, educate and support America’s children, ensure high-quality public services, and provide a world-class system of higher education. Together, through our union, we fight not just for ourselves but for the people we serve. When the Supreme Court overturns 40 years of precedent in an effort to weaken our ability to bargain for what we need, then we have to recommit ourselves to standing together in solidarity.

Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, the Koch brothers and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner are celebrating right now. The best way to take the wind out of their sails is to show the world that, despite their attacks, we’re sticking together. Let them know you’re sticking with the union.

Let’s be clear, the Janus case was about defunding unions. It was about who will have power in our country—working people or big corporate interests. That’s why the case was being funded by wealthy donors and corporate interests. First, they pledged $80 million to “defund and defang” unions. Then, the Kochs, after receiving the Trump tax cut, upped the ante with $400 million to undermine public education and “break” the teachers unions. Why? Because unions fight for a better life for people, and corporate interests see that as a threat to their power.

Strong unions create strong communities. We will continue fighting, caring, showing up and voting to make possible what is impossible for individuals acting alone. And we will continue to make the case—in the halls of statehouses and the court of public opinion, at our workplaces and communities, and at the ballot box in November—through organizing, activism, and members recommitting to their union.

 

When we fight for resources for schools, we’re fighting for students. When we fight for safe staffing standards for nurses, we’re fighting for patients. When we have the resources to do our jobs, all of society benefits. We may be a threat to the power of wealthy corporate interests, but by sticking together, we are stronger than their attacks.

Throughout the day, union members have been sharing selfies and videos on social media. Let’s show the world that we’re proud to be union members. You can start right now: Tell them you’re sticking with the union. Show the people attacking unions that you value your freedom to have a better life and your freedom to have a union.

In unity,
Randi Weingarten
AFT President

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The Time Has Come for Sectoral Bargaining

by Larry Cohen

It is now clear that enterprise-based organizing and bargaining in the U.S. has a dim future.  U.S. workers’ collective bargaining coverage is back to early twentieth century levels, and even the Democrats’ landslide national election of 2008 produced little measurable change when it came to workers’ rights.  For my union colleagues the challenge is how to focus more effectively on the 90 million workers left out of collective bargaining, realizing that more than ever the 15 million still represented by unions cannot realize major gains on their own.

We cannot simply chant “more funding for organizing” or “elect more Democrats” as important as both may be.  Union funding of great organizers cannot overcome the stacked deck of employer opposition and so-called corporate free speech in workplace-by-workplace organizing.  And all too often the political demands on elected Democrats don’t go beyond short-term transactions that are defensive in nature. The 2018 teacher walkouts and resulting statewide negotiations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona signal a new opportunity for workers in the U.S. : sectoral bargaining, familiar to teachers and other workers  around the world.  Rather than negotiating with each school district, teachers in the four states with strikes, at least to some extent, and with varying results, were able to negotiate statewide, not only on key issues affecting them but also on state funding of education. And the results have been unprecedented. In states like New Jersey and New York with practically wall-to-wall public-sector union representation, years of negotiations with hundreds of individual local school boards have produced much higher wages, but many other issues, like class size, school vouchers, and privatization, are off the table.

…the challenge is how to focus more effectively on the 90 million workers left out of collective bargaining…

With sectoral bargaining, collective bargaining itself is not a factor in union organizing, but the effectiveness of bargaining is very much connected to the membership level and solidarity of workers in those sectors.

In the U.S., at one time, unions in auto, steel, rubber, and other industries bargained jointly with employers or at least set patterns on wages and benefits.  But industry bargaining was never supported by law and, as new employers gained market share and opposed union representation, enterprise bargaining declined.  A version of industry or sector (sectors like manufacturing can be broader than one industry) bargaining persists, for example real estate developers in some cities negotiate jointly with building trades and building services unions, but examples are rare. Similarly the Railway Labor Act provides for craft based national bargaining, and in the rail sector bargaining occurs with multiple employers and crafts.

When U.S. bargaining coverage and rights at work are compared to other nations, the case for change is clear.  In nearly every other democracy, collective bargaining coverage in the public sector has been nearly universal for decades.  And many countries have fifty per cent or more coverage in the private sector—mostly the result of widespread, nearly universal sectoral bargaining.

For example in 1995 the new post-apartheid South African government was able to legislate sectoral collective bargaining and sectoral minimum wages as key parts of their initial economic agenda.  Finance workers in Brazil bargain for their sector with employers that include all the major U.S. banks, and as a result, wage rates in the Brazilian finance sector for back-office and customer service staff are higher than the U.S.

Public and private sectoral bargaining results in Europe are well documented, and even conservative political parties like Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany view sectoral bargaining as a way to engage workers and employers while maintaining a broader focus on jobs as well as wages.  The CDU and employer federations realize both that worker participation has not only social value but also provides economic stimulus through wages versus government spending.

…the new post-apartheid South African government was able to legislate sectoral collective bargaining and sectoral minimum wages as key parts of their initial economic agenda.

In Norway a national wage negotiation precedes sectoral bargaining and both unions and employers are mindful of the responsibility to balance productivity gains, jobs, and wages with an eye on tradable sectors, where jobs can be exported to a country with lower labor costs.  As a result, in Norway cleaners and unskilled construction workers enjoy sectoral wages of about $25 an hour while skilled workers in manufacturing and services earn about 50 percent more, but still within a range that incentivizes investment.  In addition, the political consequences of high levels of union membership have provided much of the support for universal health care, childcare, tuition-free higher education, and home health care for seniors.

As we discuss a new framework for U.S. workers’ rights, we must ask, “Do we believe that we can win?”  U.S. workers and our organizations need to aim higher and not accept arguments about U.S. exceptionalism that reject new approaches in a global economy that has left U.S. unions on defense for decades both at the bargaining table and in organizing.

If we were to build a movement for universal sector-based bargaining rights in the U.S., how would we do it?  The answer begins with unions and community and political allies, and a grassroots as well as legislative strategy realistically focused on congressional Democrats, and demanding the Party’s serious commitment to collective bargaining rights.  All too often commitments to workers’ rights, and other issues, is political speak but not with the fervor or focus necessary to accomplish real change.

There is already a foundation of grassroots work in cities and states raising the minimum wage, adopting scheduling notice for retail workers, paid family leave, and more.  It is clear for those fighting for rights at the local and state level that federal reform is slow and out of reach. But at the same time these initiatives should be viewed as instructional, much like the teacher strikes, demonstrating what is possible as well as key elements for future mobilization.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets a floor for minimum wages, does not preclude sector-based minimum wage campaigns in cities and states.  Imagine a minimum wage for transit workers of $25 an hour in key cities like Washington, D.C. where massive privatization of bus routes and paratransit has undercut union jobs while offering city government a cheap way out.  A municipal campaign in a city like Philadelphia could provide for a $25 an hour or higher wage for construction or communications techs, eliminating much of the incentive for low-wage bids and boosting the standard of living across the city.  Why are pay standards like those possible in Oslo but not Washington or Philadelphia?

Broad community support has been a key factor in the teachers’ strikes in the toughest states. Similarly this support would be critical in sectoral minimum-wage campaigns.  Community support for higher wages can also transfer to support for broad sector-based bargaining rights once we create a dialogue about how this can provide a decent standard of living, rights at work, and a sustainable economy.

Bringing this campaign forward as an urgent and critical economic issue for Democrats is key for credibility; support for collective bargaining needs to be more than a slogan for Labor Day.  In 2007 when Speaker Pelosi helped lead passage of the Employee Free Choice Act in the House by a wide margin (Senate supporters could not muster the 60 percent needed for a vote, nearly every Democrat supported the act as well as 16 Republicans).  Since then those Republicans have retired and the Republican Party outright opposes collective bargaining, a total reversal in the 40 years since President Ford supported and signed the extension of the National Labor Relations Act to hospital and other non-profit employers.

We need to be clear that universal sectoral collective bargaining rights would do far more to stimulate economic growth and reduce inequality than well-deserved increases in the minimum wage.  This cannot be simply a policy argument, but must be a political demand backed up by increasing militancy across sectors as demonstrated by teachers and fast-food workers.  If we don’t demand support from Democrats we will never get it.  If we build support inside the Democratic Party and insist that there is no path to real economic justice without it, our political work can lead to real change.

Several states including California, New York, and New Jersey have had some success with wage boards, which have included management, union, and public members setting standards in certain industries and occupations. Most recently in 2015 in New York, the state wage board authorized a $15 hourly minimum wage for fast-food workers that are part of chains, phased in over six years.  State-based initiatives like these can provide positive examples, but workers in the U.S. need to organize for collective-bargaining rights, as our predecessors have done for generations.  We want and demand self-organization where the strength of the union rests on the strength of our organizing.

…universal sectoral collective bargaining rights would do far more to stimulate economic growth and reduce inequality than well-deserved increases in the minimum wage.

We can win more for U.S. workers with universal sectoral bargaining supported by law, but based on organizing.  The details on sector composition are complicated (and left for further discussion) since unions would bargain together; and with sectoral bargaining there can be competition for members.  But we need to face the huge limitations of U.S. private-sector enterprise bargaining and the near total collapse of enterprise organizing compared to the growth of the labor force. Current statutory exclusions in the U.S. include not only contractors and temp agency workers, but a federal sector consigned to negotiating merely working conditions and disciplinary procedures, and the majority of states blocking bargaining rights for local and state employees.

Assuming sectoral bargaining gains broad-based support, next would come an outline of specifics, including proposed sectors, and the mechanisms to insure  employer and union roles and participation.  We are not starting from scratch; global research from a range of nations already documents various approaches. Additional organizing campaigns, including sectoral minimum wage campaigns, could be followed by drafting federal legislation and then the tough campaign for passage.  As with the yet unsuccessful Employee Free Choice Act, this campaign will take years, but is there an alternative that can lead to real change?

While 15 million union members can certainly help lead this movement in the U.S., particularly in the Democratic Party, the value of effective bargaining rights for the majority of the U.S. workforce needs to be central to building a broader political movement.  Unions in South Africa were bolstered by the much stronger African National Congress when sectoral bargaining was adopted there.  Conversely in Chile, coup leaders advised by U.S. right-wing economists, were quick to dismantle collective bargaining as they gutted the rules governing their democracy in multiple ways.  We need to learn from examples in our own history, as well as other nations, that we cannot separate larger economic gains from building a broad movement for political change.

Progressive political groups should join this discussion since economic equality and opportunity is at stake and nothing significant will be adopted without massive public support and organizing.  This is not mainly about union growth as important as that might be, it is about the economic direction and growth of our nation.

…effective bargaining rights for the majority of the U.S. workforce needs to be central to building a broader political movement.

There are no quick answers to an 80-year slide in workers’ rights.  The decline was partially obscured by the rise of public-sector collective bargaining in many of the largest states, and in those cases at least maintaining the political clout of labor despite the collapse of union manufacturing jobs.  But now the consensus is growing that we need much deeper change.

Most important, we need to act as if collective bargaining on a nearly universal scale is essential if we are serious about combating income inequality and empowering workers.  Otherwise generations of working-class Americans, black, brown, and white will continuously listen to politicians’ empty speeches about words on pages of legislation predestined for the dustbin.  Enterprise-based organizing and bargaining has played a useful role, but the promise of universal, sectoral bargaining is now much brighter.  We can learn from the teachers that much more is possible— “If We Believe That We Will Win!”

reposted from Portside, https://portside.org/2018-06-26/time-has-come-sectoral-bargaining

 Source: New Labor Forum, June 18, 2018

 

Larry Cohen chairs the board of Our Revolution, the successor organization to Bernie 2016, and is the past President of the Communications Workers of America.

Teachers’ Unions in a Post-Janus World

Excellent piece.  Concrete suggestions.

https://rethinkingschoolsblog.com/2018/06/26/transforming-teacher-unions-in-a-post-janus-world/

Janus: Elections Have Consequences

Elections have consequences. “Justice” Gorsuch in the stolen seat joined the 5-4 decision. Laura Clawson on DailyKos reports the long expected bad news:

The anti-worker right, bankrolled by conservative billionaires, has finally gotten the victory it’s been looking for through years and repeated well-funded Supreme Court challenges to a 40-year-old precedent. Janus v. AFSCME once again challenged the requirement that people represented by public sector unions who choose not to join the union still have to pay a fair share fee to cover the direct costs for representing them. That is, they’re paying the costs of collective bargaining and other things from which they personally benefit, not for any union political activity. But Republicans and their wealthy donors saw an attack on even that fair share fee as a way to weaken unions. And now, on the third try in recent years, with Neil Gorsuch on the court, the right got its win.

Viciously anti-worker Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion he’s been waiting to write since he joined the Supreme Court. The claim is that being required to pay a fee for representation that materially benefits a person is a violation of that person’s free speech when done by public sector unions, because in those cases the government is involved. The decision came along exactly the five to four split you expect: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Gorsuch joined Alito, while Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented.

Let’s be clear that this is not just an attack on a few specific unions. It’s an attack on worker power and on unions as institutions that anchor a great deal of the progressive movement. The case may bear the name of Mark Janus, a single worker, but it’s the culmination of big spending and legal firepower coming from the big-money corporate right. This is one more historically bad Supreme Court decision to mourn in this term filled with them.

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2018/6/27/1775486/-Supreme-Court-deals-unions-a-major-blow-and-anti-worker-billionaires-a-big-win-with-Janus-decision