Massachusetts Home Care Workers Win Battle for $15

Local 1199 SEIU Massachusetts

Mass Health aides victory

Tears of joy streaked the faces of cheering home care workers assembled in their Dorchester union hall on Thursday afternoon as a decades-long struggle for recognition and a living wage culminated in a historic moment of celebration.

According to an agreement reached in contract negotiations between the 35,000 home care workers of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the administration of recently elected Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R), Massachusetts Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) are poised to become the first in the nation to achieve a statewide $15 per hour starting wage.

Upon reaching the agreement, workers called off the fifteen-hour picket they had planned to begin at the Massachusetts State House on the morning of Tuesday, June 30th. Instead, caregivers are planning a celebration of this milestone and nation-leading achievement of a $15 standard at 4:00 p.m. on the State House steps the afternoon of June 30th.

“This victory, winning $15 per hour, it means we are no longer invisible,” said Kindalay Cummings-Akers, a PCA from Springfield, MA. Cummings-Akers cares for a local senior and became a union activist at the onset of the campaign. She was also a member of the statewide PCA negotiating team that reached the agreement with the Baker administration. “This is a huge step forward not just for home care workers, but also toward ensuring the safety, dignity, and independence of seniors and people with disabilities,” she added. “We are a movement of home care workers united by the idea that dignity for caregivers and the people in our care is possible. Today, we showed the world that it is possible.”

“Massachusetts home care workers are helping to lead the Fight for $15 – and winning,” said 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Veronica Turner. “We applaud Governor Baker for helping to forge this pathway to dignity for PCAs and the tens of thousands of Massachusetts seniors and people with disabilities who rely on quality home care services to remain in the community or in the workforce. As the senior population grows, the demand for home care services is increasing. By helping to ensure a living wage for these vital caregivers, Governor Baker is taking a critical step with us toward reducing workforce turnover and ensuring that Massachusetts families can access the quality home care they need for their loved ones.”

“It is a moral imperative that all homecare and healthcare workers receive $15 per hour, and Massachusetts is now a leader in this effort,” said 1199SEIU President George Gresham. “Extreme income inequality is a threat to our economy, our bedrock American values and our very democracy. With a living wage, we can ensure more compassionate care for homecare clients, and better lives for homecare workers and their families. We applaud this bold step by Governor Baker towards a better future for our communities in Massachusetts and our country overall.”
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Desperate Chinese are turning to mass suicide to get their government’s attention

by Robert Foyle Hunwick

BEIJING, China — The location was chosen for maximum impact: a downtown boulevard, famous for Beijing’s swankiest shops and its plushest hotels. Studded with these symbols of Western capitalist chic, Wangfujing Shopping Street could hardly be further from the more desperate concerns of rural China.

It was here that a group of about 30 men gathered on a warm spring morning and, in front of hundreds of shoppers, swallowed a quantity of pesticide. They fell to the ground en masse and, according to several eyewitnesses, foamed at the mouth.

As the men were rushed to hospital, startled crowds spread the news on social media, while the scene quickly returned to normal. Police issued a statement later that day that none had died; local reports explained they were taxi drivers from the northeast, who’d traveled to the capital to stage the protest. And there the official narrative ended.

But the fate of the men, and the extreme means of airing their grievance, reflects a tactic of last resort that’s far from uncommon. For some in China, suicide is the ultimate form of protest.

In Tibet, a cycle of clampdowns and radicalization, which began with a widespread uprising that embarrassed the government in 2008, has led to nearly 140 self-immolations in the last six years. These acts are prompted by fury at the repressive tactics of Chinese officials, according to Tibetan exile groups. The government says such acts are examples of “the Dalai Lama clique” exploiting vulnerable youths, blaming “forces abroad” that are “all aimed at separating Tibet from China.” Among the most recent was Yeshi Khando, a nun in her 40s, who set herself ablaze near a monastery in Sichuan province in early April. She is reported to have died. The fate of those who survive such protests is thought to be equally grim.

On the surface, Tibetan monks and disgruntled cabbies may not have much in common. Yet both groups were driven to abandon rational means, inflicting agonizing acts of self-harm to bring attention to their cause. The anthropologist Margery Wolf once observed of suicidal women in Mao’s era that, “In the West, we ask of suicide, ‘Why?’ In China, the question is more commonly ‘Who?’”

Tibetans-in-exile take part in a candlelight vigil following the self-immolation attempt by a monk to protest against Chinese rule in Tibet on Feb. 13, 2013.
Getty Images

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New Zealand Fast Food Workers Win Minimum Hours Guarantee

by Mike Treen, National Director, Unite

indonesia fast food nz

[Ed. note: Fast food industry workers in New Zealand have been organized by the Unite union for over a decade. Their relative strength has enabled their union to play an active role in the international campaigns to organize the fast food industry, both giving support to the Fight for $15 in the USA and receiving support from fast food workers in other countries through the IUF for their own campaigns. The photo shows a support demonstration from workers in Indonesia.-pg]

Workers in the fast food industry in New Zealand scored a spectacular victory over what has been dubbed “zero hour contracts” during a collective agreement bargaining round over the course of March and April this year.

The campaign played out over the national media as well as on picket lines. The victory was seen by many observers as the product of a determined fight by a valiant group of workers and their union, Unite. It was a morale boost for all working people after what has seemed like a period of retreat for working class struggle in recent years.

Workers in the fast food industry have long identified “zero hour contracts” as the central problem they face. These are contracts that don’t guarantee any hours per week, meanwhile workers are expected to work any shifts rostered within the workers “availability”. Managers have power to use and abuse the rostering system to reward and punish, without any real means of holding them to account.

This year, all the collective agreements with the major fast food companies (McDonald’s, Burger King, Restaurant Brands) expired on March 31. We were already in dispute with Wendy’s, as their agreement remains unresolved from last year. Unite Union was determined to end the system of zero hours and get guaranteed hours included in the new collective agreements. We had no illusions that this was going to be easy. We knew this would be a tough battle and we needed to prepare for that reality if we were to have a chance of success. At organising meetings I would sometimes use a phrase that appealed: “If you want peace, prepare for war”. I was told later it is taken from a Latin adage: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”. Whoever coined the phrase, it is a wise strategy.

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Bernie Sanders is a Thoroughbred

Senator Bernie Sanders   Photo by Don Shall

Senator Bernie Sanders Photo by Don Shall

Bernie Sanders is a thoroughbred—why call him a stalking horse?

by Michael Hirsch

Voltaire wrote that “the best is the enemy of the good,” but he cited it as a foible and not a redeeming practice.  Within hours of Bernie Sanders announcing his candidacy for the Democratic Party presidential nod on April 30th, in some warrens of the radical left, the long corrective knives were already out for the only socialist in Congress. Why? Because Bernie is just not good enough, they said. Criticism ranged from his being a faux socialist, a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton whose backing by the left would be a practical waste of a year that could be better spent building a movement. Politicking for a candidate who can’t win the nomination and who would be destroyed by corporate America and an avalanche of corporate funding if somehow he did was seen as a mug’s game.

They would be wrong.

Take this example: in his incisive report on the recent Future of the
Left/Independent Politics Conference in Chicago, Dan La Botz cites remarks made by Bruce Dixon of the Georgia Green Party to the effect that “Sanders is a sheep dog whose job is like that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman Dennis Kucinich in earlier elections, to round up folks who had strayed to the left in response to the Democratic Party’s retrograde domestic and foreign policies and to bring them back to the Party.” At least Dixon didn’t say Judas goat, leading lambs to the slaughter, but it’s still early in the campaign, and the cat-scratch phase hasn’t kicked in yet.

Another group that would at first blush seem natural allies of the insurgent Sanders is organized labor. Despite favorable coverage of him  in AFL-CIO Now , the website of the national labor federation, reporting on his role at a recent anti-TPP rally in Washington, D.C. and his remarks on the U.S. Senate floor against the job-swallowing trade bill and the slight-of-hand that would fast-track a vote on legislation no one has even seen, neither the national federation nor its 56 constituent unions are even hinting that Sanders could be their man. While there is considerable support for Sanders among middle-level union staff, that won’t be–and never is–enough to cinch an endorsement. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said that the beating Democrats took last fall during the midterm elections was due to the fact that labor issues–specifically  economic issues close to workers’ hearts–were not foremost in almost any campaign. Now Trumka and the others have a chance to correct that blunder by backing a presidential candidate who reflects and expands on their economic views. Will they do it? Or will they make a Christmas peace with their class enemy again. We’ll know by December.   Continue reading

Justice for Janitors: A Misunderstood Success

by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson

Los Angeles, CA. 15 Ap. 08:  The first day of the labor sponsored 3 day march

Los Angeles, CA. 15 Ap. 08: The first day of the labor sponsored 3 day march “Hollywood to the Docks”.

Part two of a series looking back on the 20th anniversary the AFL-CIO’s New Voice movement

John Sweeney, his officers, and their staff team came into office with high expectations and great optimism. A good part of their inspiration was drawn from SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign that many had directly participated in or saw as a model of success. After all, Justice for Janitors had succeeded in mobilizing members, winning better contracts and organizing thousands of new, mostly Latino members while garnering broad public support.(1)

Founded in 1921, the Building Service Workers was a Chicago-based janitors, window washer and doormen’s union. George Hardy, the predecessor to John Sweeney as International President, was a San Francisco native and organizer who took his comrades from Hayes Valley to Southern California after World War II to organize janitors in Los Angeles. From his base at Local 399 in Los Angeles, Hardy launched the campaign to organize Kaiser and health care that would transform the Building Service Workers into the Service Employees International Union.(2)

By the 1980s, much of the union’s market power among urban janitors had eroded as the industry restructured to a cleaning model that relied on outsourced contract cleaners instead of permanent staff. When Justice for Janitors was launched in the late 1980s however, the union still retained tremendous power and thousands of members in its traditional strongholds of New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.

In these cities, the union had excellent contracts with good wages and benefits for doormen and cleaners. These were the “fortresses” that played such a crucial role in the success of the janitor’s campaigns in Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Denver and San Diego where the battle was to reorganize weak and degraded bargaining units and organize thousands of new members.

The early janitor organizers in Los Angeles recognized the importance of first rebuilding and re-energizing their base. One of the first campaigns undertaken was the contract campaign for downtown janitors. Cecile Richards(3) skillfully directed a winning contract fight for the approximately 1,000 janitors in the core market of LA. The contract struggle gave the union a new core group of supporters; many of whom became the front line soldiers in the campaign to organize the vast non-union market outside of downtown.

A key to the membership mobilization was “market triggers” that Local 399 inserted into its collectively bargained agreements. The triggers provided for automatic increases in wages and benefits if the janitors union succeeded in organizing 50 percent or more of the commercial buildings in mutually agreed upon geographic areas. Thus, when rank and file union janitors marched for “justice for the unorganized janitors” it meant marching to increase their own wages and benefits and to gain a more secure future.

In Los Angeles long-time union signatory contractors like International Service Systems (ISS) were operating non-union or in the case of American Building Maintenance (ABM) double breasting by creating new entities like “Bradford Building Services” to clean non-union in LA.(4) On May 29, 1990 the SEIU janitors boldly struck non-union ISS buildings in the entertainment high rise complex called Century City. When the Daryl Gates-led police department brutally attacked the striking Los Angeles janitors on June 15, the shocking news footage traveled around the country.(5) With some prompting, SEIU Local 32 B-J leader Gus Bevona threatened ISS with a shutdown in New York City if the company didn’t settle in LA. That strategic solidarity contributed to victory and the nearly immediate organization of thousands of new members for SEIU Local 399.

Most successful organizing is not done in a vacuum, existing members have to be front line apostles.

The campaign even had a movie made about it; “Bread and Roses” directed by the Scottish filmmaker Ken Loach.(6) It did a fine job of presenting SEIU’s strategy to organize industry-wide and build a campaign that resonated broadly in the community particularly among Latinos. It also portrayed the challenges organizers always face in holding the unity of the working class. The deep divisions and contradictions among workers are often the biggest obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to have a shot at beating the boss.(7)

The Justice for Janitors campaign was often showcased by New Voice supporters as a premier example of “new” organizing. But what many union leaders and key staff strategists have missed is the fact it was not a “blank slate” campaign disconnected from the sources of SEIU’s membership and contract power. As we have shown above, it was a campaign (as William Finnegan also pointed out in an excellent New Yorker article) deeply rooted in the existing power, base and history of SEIU.(8)

Herein lies an important lesson: It takes members to organize members! While obvious and hardly a new concept, it was embraced as part of the New Voice strategy of “bargaining to organize” in 1996. But sadly the importance of worker-to-worker organizing, building strong committees and using our bargaining power with employers got lost. As a result, we’ve seen a multitude of costly “Hail Mary” passes being thrown in the labor movement with little chance of success because there is not the power of the market or the members in play.
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Boston Demonstration Launches Global Wage Action A Day Early

by Paul Garver

Boston wage demo 14th April

Boston launched the April 15 global day of action for higher wages a day early. Not out of competitive fervor, but because April 15 is reserved in Massachusetts to celebrate Patriot’s Day. As I write this today, drums are drumming, pipers piping and muskets firing in the towns around me as suburban Minutemen assemble and march towards the Old North Bridge in Concord to reenact a confrontation with the Redcoats.

In Boston yesterday, a diverse throng of several thousand people of all ages and colors assembled and marched past numerous institutions that underpay their workers, whether cleaners in office buildings and theaters, burger fryers at fast food joints, or adjunct faculty at universities. The unifying demand was the fight for $15 an hour. But the speeches, banners and chants expressed a hunger for a movement that goes far beyond reenactment. Even if some of these same marchers had previously participated in the equally spirited, though smaller and less diverse marches of Occupy Boston, they were not merely reenacting Occupy. Here is what democracy looks like.

Yesterday’s action in Boston was all about improving the real present conditions of the 99%, and building a future that includes all of us and our children and grandchildren. We are not Minutemen fighting Redcoats or a distant monarch, but struggling for the more difficult task of achieving greater economic and social justice in a sustainable world. This is not the work of Minutemen, but of long distance runners. Yesterday showed that the movement in Boston is advancing in that direction.

Join The Fight for $15

$15DSAThousands of people across the country will be taking part in a huge strike for better pay and working conditions  on April 15.  From fast-food to home care, airport, construction, and Walmart workers to adjunct professors and other underpaid workers, folks from every corner of the country and the globe will be joining together across industries on Tax Day, April 15th, for the Fight for $15.

Will you stand with them this Wednesday? Find an action near you.

You and I know that it’s inevitable in the capitalist system for bosses to exploit workers. But it’s not just happening at the level of individual workplaces. Corporations must compete with each other or die, and that means avoiding expenses as much as possible. Low-wage workers struggle to make ends meet and, if they can navigate the deliberately complicated application process and the constant shaming that comes with public assistance, they get the support they need from taxpayers while their employers get off the hook for paying higher wages. That’s what I call corporate welfare.

All workers deserve a union to demand their fair share of the fruits of their labor, but in the meantime, let’s demonstrate that collective action can be society-wide, not just in one workplace. It’s good practice for building a movement for democratic socialism. Continue reading

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