Living Legacies: Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta

By Ken Burt

Seventy-seven years ago, in March 1939, Juan Fabian Fernandez of New Mexico opened a session of El Congreso de los Pueblos Mexicanos e Hispanos Americano de los Estados Unidos (National Congress of the Mexican and Spanish-Speaking Peoples of the United States) in downtown Los Angeles. He stood out as the only Latino state legislator present, but he was not the only politico there. Seeking to bring the New Deal to California, Latinos, labor and the left had banded together the previous year to elect a slate of progressives, led by California Governor Culbert Olson.
Members of El Congreso cheered when the new lieutenant governor, Ellis Patterson, addressed them: “I pledge to you that President Roosevelt and the present administration in California is sincerely fighting to bring real democracy into being!”
Author and Olson administration official Carey McWilliams also spoke about the anti-immigrant bills in Congress, then being championed by representatives from the segregated Deep South. Elements of this California New Deal coalition clearly supported El Congreso. Sponsors included actor Melvyn Douglas and his wife Helen Gahagan Douglas, a future California Congresswoman.
Politics in California, then as now, was to the left of New Mexico’s. However, voters in New Mexico had done a much better job of electing Spanish-speaking elected officials, beginning with Dennis Chavez, who was then serving in the U.S. Senate. Continue reading

Why Unions Embraced Immigrants – And Why It Matters for Donald Trump

David Iaconangelo
Christian Science Monitor

After seeming to debut a more forgiving stance on immigration last week, Donald Trump arrived in Phoenix on Wednesday brandishing a resolutely hardline plan, warning of an undocumented criminal menace and promising deportations on an unprecedented scale.

“We will begin moving them out Day One. As soon as I take office. Day One. In joint operation with local, state, and federal law enforcement,” he said, according to transcripts.

As he has in the past, Mr. Trump tied his promise to carry out deportations to anti-globalist economic ideas. But he also drew a direct line between the fortunes of the country’s native-born laborers and the presence of undocumented immigrants – a connection he has rarely made in his remarks on the topic.

“While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, many, many, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower skilled workers with less education, who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they can ever possibly pay back,” he said.

“We will reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, the forgotten people. Workers. We’re going to take care of our workers.”

But the globalization that Trump denounces has also contributed to a decades-long reshaping of unions – a traditional voice for workers, and often vocal opponents of globalization – toward greater inclusion of immigrants, even those without legal status. And the reasons behind organized labor’s shifting stance on immigrant workers, now decades in the making, may undercut Trump’s narrative of foreigners arriving to America to crowd out the native-born. Continue reading

Unions and the White Working Class Vote

Harold Meyerson

MT. PLEASANT, SC - DECEMBER 7: (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission with alternate crop.)  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the crowd at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown December 7, 2015 in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The South Carolina Republican primary is scheduled for February 20, 2016. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

MT. PLEASANT, SC – DECEMBER 7: (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

It is now, as the Post’s numbers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio (where Trump holds a three-point lead) clearly suggest. The decline of white working-class support for the Democrats has engendered a debate as to its causes: whether it’s due to the declining economic condition (and, indeed, life expectancy) of working-class whites, or to their racial and cultural resentment at the rising number of minorities and the programs the Democrats have championed for the past 50 years to help them. Clearly, the cause isn’t simply one or the other. The sense of abandonment that many working-class whites feel is rooted both in economics and culture. It’s worth noting, however, that even at the height of the United Auto Workers’ power in Michigan, as far back as 60 years ago and more, it could persuade its white members to vote for Democrats for state and federal office, where economic policies were formulated and implemented, but never could persuade them to vote Democratic for Detroit city officials, who held sway over policing, school and housing policies—that is, over the policies with the greatest impact on race relations and discrimination.

Still, the presidential contest is for a federal office with huge power over economic policy. Shouldn’t unions be moving their white members toward Clinton? They probably are: The AFL-CIO released survey data yesterday that showed Trump is polling just 36 percent among its members in five swing states (Florida, Nevada and three in the Midwest: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). That, of course, is a survey of all its members, not just its white working-class members, whose level of Trump support is certainly higher than these aggregate totals. But more important than the preferences of these union members is the preferences of non-members who would have been members before the near collapse of private-sector unionism—that is, before corporations abandoned their employees for cheaper labor in China, before American management began to oppose and thwart unionization all across the private sector, and before a number of these states (Wisconsin and Michigan most notably), under Republican government, went right-to-work. In 2015, just 15.2 percent of the Michigan workforce was unionized, just 12.3 percent of Ohio’s, and just 8.3 percent of Wisconsin’s—all states where close to 40 percent of the private sector workforce was unionized in the mid-20th century.

The AFL-CIO’s Working America program, which goes door to door in white working-class neighborhoods to talk with non-union voters, does yeoman work, but there’s no question that unions’ capacity to reach and impact the kind of voters they once had as members isn’t what it used to be. Looking at exit polling since the early 1970s, white working class union members have tended to vote Democratic at a rate 20 points higher than their non-union counterparts—a tribute to the unions’ ability to get its white members to consider economic issues, not just what for some is their racial fear and loathing. Looking at the numbers in the Post’s poll, then, one explanation for the surprisingly high level of Trump support in the Midwest—beyond the purely economic or racial—is the declining level of unionization.
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Why Labor and the Movement for Racial Justice Should Work Together

by Maurice Weeks and Marilyn Sneiderman

fixla

Labor should work alongside the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition with more than 50 organizations, to usher in a radically new economic and social order. The path won’t be easy. But recent history has shown that one of the ways to get at this new reality is through union bargaining.  

It is exciting to imagine potential bargaining demands major unions could undertake alongside racial justice organizations.

The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) has made tremendous strides in exposing and challenging racial injustice, and has won real policy victories. The policies, while often imperfect, are a testament to the strength of the organizing and activism of the moment. Not coincidentally, this uprising comes at a time when income and wealth inequality are at peak levels and the economy for most black people looks markedly different than the economy for their white counterparts.

Just as we are in a critical moment in the movement for racial justice, we are in a critical moment for the right to unionize. Unions, which have been a major force for economic justice for people of color in the past 50 years, have been decimated to historically low levels.

Labor should work alongside the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition with more than 50 organizations, to usher in a radically new economic and social order. The path won’t be easy. But recent history has shown that one of the ways to get at this new reality is through union bargaining. Consider the example of Fix L.A.

Fix L.A. is a community-labor partnership that fought to fund city services and jobs alike, using city workers’ bargaining as a flashpoint to bring common good demands to the table. The coalition started after government leaders in Los Angeles drastically cut back on public services and infrastructure maintenance during the Great Recession. The city slashed nearly 5,000 jobs, a large portion of which had been held by black and Latino workers. Not only did these cuts create infrastructure problems—like overgrown and dangerous trees and flooding—but they also cost thousands of black and Latino families their livelihoods.

Fix L.A. asked why the city was spending more on bank fees than on street services, and demanded that it renegotiate those fees and invest the savings in underserved communities.

What was the result of this groundbreaking campaign?

The creation of 5,000 jobs, with a commitment to increase access to those jobs for black and Latino workers, the defeat of proposed concessions for city workers and a commitment from the city to review why it was prioritizing payment of bank fees over funding for critical services in the first place!

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Labor Day and Farm Workers

Arturo

Arturo Rodriguez,
This Labor Day the American worker has reason to be optimistic.

While a few short years ago a $15 minimum wage seemed like a moonshot, today municipalities and states across the country are standing with workers and adopting a minimum wage that will ultimately lift 35 million hard-working American families out of poverty.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration expanded overtime pay protections to more than 4 million working Americans.

And in California we are on the cusp on progress that builds on what the President has accomplished and paves the way for reforms that have the potential to put millions of working Americans on a pathway to the middle class.

Last week, California lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation that allows farm workers to get paid overtime like all other workers.

Right now – in 2016 – a Jim Crow-era federal law excludes professions like farm workers, maids and domestic workers from overtime. Professions almost exclusively held by people of color. The fact that 78 years later that law is still on the books, prohibiting farm workers from earning a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, is reprehensible.

In 1938, it was passed to discriminate against people of color and all these years later it still discriminates, now predominately against Latino farm workers.

While we haven’t been able to change that law on the federal level due to Congressional inaction, states have the right to expand benefits. After decades of fighting to correct this injustice, we are close to righting an historic wrong.

The bill sponsored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that recently passed would gradually raise overtime pay for farm workers, requiring time-and-a-half for more than 8 hours worked in a day or 40 hours worked in a week. Farm workers who work more than 12 hours a day would get double pay.

It means a hard working mother or father who rises before dawn in the summer heat or on a freezing winter’s day and gets home well after the kids are asleep will finally get the pay they deserve but have been denied.

This isn’t controversial – it’s just fair.

The legislation didn’t pass on its own. Hillary Clinton was the first national leader to advocate for the change, Obama Administration officials, including Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have stood with us, as has Senator Dianne Feinstein and a diverse coalition of labor, immigrant, civil rights and social organizations.

Now the only remaining hurdle we have to clear to level the playing field for farm workers is Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. Ed. note; Governor Brown signed the bill on September 12.

If we can do it in California – the largest agriculture producer in the nation and the state that produces more than half of our nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts- it would be the latest example of the Golden State leading the nation in workers’ rights. It will yet again be a model for other states to follow.

Today, I’m proud to see our efforts bear fruit. As we celebrate Labor Day, farm workers in California rejoice the passing of this historic legislation. We’re almost there.

Together, we will continue to fight alongside our brothers and sisters as we work to open up a path to the middle class for farm workers and their families.

Follow Arturo S. Rodríguez on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ufwupdates
President, UFW.
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Farmworker Overtime Gains in California

farm workers
The California Assembly was flooded with farm workers demanding over time pay on Monday, Aug. 29.
The California Assembly on Monday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a hard-fought and historic expansion of overtime rules for farmworkers, but it remains uncertain whether the Democratic governor will sign off on the measure.
“A nearly identical bill fell three votes short of passage on the Assembly floor in May, with 15 Democrats voting against the measure or declining to vote. But on Monday, an amended version of the measure, now contained in Assembly Bill 1066, passed on a 44-32 vote.”

“Agricultural workers already receive some overtime pay under California law thanks to a 2002 state directive that entitles them to extra wages if they work more than 10 hours in a day or more than 60 hours in a week. AB 1066 would expand that to bring it more in line with other industries, offering time-and-a-half pay for working more than eight hours in a day or 40 in a week and double pay for working more than 12 hours a day. The pay boosts would kick in incrementally over four years, and the governor could suspend them for a year if the economy falters.”
Business groups quickly condemned the vote. “We are deeply concerned with the passage of AB 1066 today and the devastating impacts this bill will have on our small, independent farmers and the workers they employ,” said Tom Scott, state executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, Assembly members heard from both farmworkers who forfeited a day’s pay to visit offices and press for the bill and from farm industry representatives, including minority farm owners, who warned lawmakers the measure would devastate small-scale growers and diminish work for laborers.
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Secrets of a Successful Organizer

 

by Jen Johnson

successful organizer

As a public high school history teacher for 10 years, I organized lesson plans and materials and the arrangement of my classroom. I facilitated thousands of discussions about history with classes of teenagers. I designed projects and guided the students to achieve our goals and get excited about learning and putting in the work.

Yet, somehow, if you asked me if I was an “organizer,” I probably would have said that I wasn’t. “Organizers are the professionals. I’m not a professional organizer!”

Thankfully, my union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), has tried to change that wrong-headed perception. The CTU works hard to train our members to understand that organizing is grassroots rank-and-file work. There are leaders everywhere if you’re looking for them. Improving our workplaces and the lives of our communities are collective tasks. We can all be organizers, but there is an art and science to learning to practice good labor organizing skills.

Secrets of a Successful Organizer—a new book from Labor Notes, by Alexandra Bradbury, Mark Brenner, and Jane Slaughter—is a perfect primer on the basics of good organizing. Distilled into digestible bites, the book lays out eight main lessons—from how an organizer thinks, to how an organizer maps a work site and designs, carries out and assesses a campaign. (It even includes a brief summary of labor law and related resources.)

Unlike many wordy and inaccessible how-to manuals, Secrets of a Successful Organizer reads more like a conversation with an experienced and patient organizer, guiding you and reassuring you along the way.

You’re encouraged to see that even reading the book can be a collective activity.

“You could read this book alone, but you’ll learn more if you talk each lesson over with a buddy—or better yet, a group of co-workers,” it reads.

The book is designed to make this possible through its organization and content.

Each chapter builds on the previous one to paint a coherent picture of how to build better organizers and organizations, and have successful campaigns. The book’s eight lessons are divided into 47 shorter tips, and nearly each one includes downloadable handouts, specific organizing stories and exercises you can do with co-workers or in trainings.

The perfectionist in me loves the chart handouts. One explains “How the Boss Keeps Us Disorganized.” Another shows how to track tasks during an organizing campaign, along with who is responsible and the deadline for each task. While you’re reading, you might think things like, “Easier said than done!” but no sooner than you have, the book anticipates your concerns and, like a good organizer, inoculates you—giving you reason to hope and telling you a real story to prove the point.

For example, the book profiles Joe Uehlein, an organizer in a Georgia meatpacking plant. He and his colleagues used the escalating tactics of singing, whistling and humming at work to call out a union-busting official every time he walked on the plant floor. Each escalation was a response to the boss trying to shut down an organizing drive with ridiculous new rules. The actions scared the bosses and gave workers confidence in a short period of time, which ultimately allowed them to win a union. Tip #34, “Don’t Let the Boss Trip You Up,” then lays out the main tactics that bosses use (fear, hopelessness, confusion and division) to stop organizing.

Some of the stories are complementary and help organizers not only see the tips come alive, but point out that the workplace context will often dictate what kind of tactics are best.

The section around Tip #25, “Choose an Issue That Builds the Union,” includes the story of Los Angeles hospital workers who organized a campaign after management changed policy to mandate that workers provide a doctor’s note even for a one-day absence. A subset of workers demanded a meeting with management and, when it was held, workers took their 15-minute breaks in rotating fashion to attend the meeting. One set of workers started the meeting, then as workers had to leave when their breaks were over, new sets of workers joined. They were able to keep the meeting going as long as possible and testify as to why the change was bad.

That story contrasts well with that of the Pennsylvania social workers who organized a powerful 15-minute strike by using the flexibility in their work rules to have all social workers take their regular 15-minute breaks at the same time.

This story, contained within Tip #31, “Keep the Boss Off Balance,” is simple and inspiring, but the similarities and differences between it and the story about Los Angeles hospital workers help organizers draw on universal advice and apply it to their unique setting.

Additionally, each of the stories includes reflections, quotes and honest assessments of mistakes and accomplishments from organizers and workers on the ground.

For me, maybe the biggest lesson the book helped to hammer home is that we are often reactive in organizing, but it’s important not only to respond to crises. To be our best possible organizers, we have to proactively and strategically select organizing issues that are the most urgent and important to the broadest set of members.

Whether you’re a labor leader wanting to increase worker or member engagement, a veteran organizer in need of a refresher or a new steward wanting an orientation to best practices,Secrets of a Successful Organizer is a must read.

Buy the book for $15 + shipping here.

Jen Johnson was a high school history teacher for 10 years in Chicago, where she was also a union delegate. She is currently a Chicago Teachers Union facilitator for teacher evaluation.