Incarcerated Workers Strike Against Dehumanizing Prison Conditions

by Fizz Percal, Institute for Policy Studies

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Nurses Strike for Patient Care and Higher Wages in New England

RI NURSES

Nurses, medical workers, and family members picket, Tuesday, July 24, 2018, in front of Hasbro Children’s Hospital, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) The Associated Press

Two different Nurses’ unions struck hospitals in Burlington, VT and Providence, RI for higher wages and better staffing.  Both strikes were called for two days to demand hospitals negotiate in good faith to improve nurses’ wages in order to improve staffing levels for better patient care.

Nurses at two Rhode Island hospitals, Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital, which are next door to one another, went on strike Monday, July 23, 2018, after negotiators couldn’t agree on contract terms during a meeting requested by a federal mediator.   Local 5098 of the United Nurses and Health Professionals (UNAP) called the two-day strike of 2400 nurses and other hospital employees to demand that the owner Lifespan stop delaying.  The union may take another vote to authorize an extended strike at Rhode Island Hospital if it becomes necessary.  Negotiators meet again Aug. 8.

In negotiations following a two-day strike July 12 and 13, the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and representatives of the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington reached tentative agreements on issues that help govern some scheduling issues and pay rates. Both sides say the first agreements are good steps.

The two sides did not reach an agreement on pay increases for the 1,800 nurses. The union insists that higher wages are necessary to recruit and retain nurses and support staff and alleviate understaffing.  Additional bargaining sessions are planned August.

What follows is an excellent article on the Burlington strike that will shortly appear in Labor Notes by Jonah Furman, used by permission of Labor Notes.


Vermont’s Striking Nurses Want a Raise for Nonunion Workers Too

by Jonah Furman

Especially for professional workers, when your main strike issue is pay, attracting public support can be a challenge.

Savvy employers paint union members as spoiled. They like to point out that you’re already making more than many of your nonunion neighbors.

Yet when 1,800 nurses and technical staff struck for better wages July 12-13 at the state’s second-largest employer, the University of Vermont Medical Center, the people of Burlington came out in force to back them up.

“We had policemen and firefighters and UPS drivers pulling over and shaking our hands” on the picket line, said neurology nurse Maggie Belensz. “We had pizza places dropping off dozens of pizzas, giving out free ice cream.”

And when a thousand people marched from the hospital through Burlington’s downtown, “we had standing ovations from people eating their dinners,” she said. “It was a moving experience.”

One reason for such wide support: these hospital workers aren’t just demanding a raise themselves. They’re also calling for a $15 minimum wage for their nonunion co-workers, such as those who answer the phones, mop the floors, cook the food, and help patients to the bathroom.

RED FOR MED

Restructuring in 2011 created the University of Vermont Health Network, an association of six hospitals, a visiting nurse association, and various clinics spread across the state and reaching into upstate New York.

But this hospital is the crown jewel, the state’s only Level I trauma center. As a “tertiary care” facility, it gets the network’s sickest and hardest-to-treat patients.

Funneling those patients to UVM Medical Center is a good thing, says surgical and pediatric intensive-care nurse Jason Winston, who has worked there a decade. “However, because the job has changed, we need the tools to do the job,” he said. “We need more staff, and wages that allow us to recruit and retain.”

Instead, the hospital struggles with a perennial nurse shortage. Winston said UVM doesn’t even match the wages at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, 30 miles away in Plattsburgh, New York—where the cost of living is much lower. And Champlain Valley sends its highest-need patients to UVM for specialized care.

FIGHT FOR $15

A bargaining survey of nurses and technical staff revealed that wages were a major concern—but with a twist. Members didn’t just want to boost their own wages. They wanted a raise for the nonunion secretaries and support staff, too. The Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals represents less than a quarter of the hospital’s workforce.

Vermont legislature passed a $15 minimum wage in May, but the governor vetoed it. Nurses knew that UVM Medical Center had the funds to raise its own minimum wage to $15—and the union had the will to fight for it.

While the union can’t officially negotiate wages for titles not covered in the contract, there is a provision that states that the hospital “shall provide sufficient ancillary staff so as to ensure that such duties do not fall to bargaining unit employees.” Chronic short-staffing should be addressed by raising wages to attract and retain support staff, says the union.

The union hosted a community rally in May focused on the low-wage licensed nursing attendants, who start at under $13 an hour. “LNAs are essential to our work,” says Belensz. “They’re taking patients’ vital signs, they’re helping to reposition patients to prevent bed sores, they help toileting patients. They’re our right-hand man.”

But, she adds, “More so than nurses even, LNAs are constantly short-staffed. Then we have nurses doing LNA duties, on top of the nursing workload.”

At the rally, 600 nurses and community allies marched through Burlington’s downtown, and then to the site of offices that are being built with UVM Medical Center as the anchor tenant. The hospital has agreed to pay annual rent that’s a million dollars higher than market rate, “for the health of downtown,” said Winston.

“Which is great, we want a healthy downtown. But if there’s money for that, and money for executive salaries, there’s money for nurses too.”

BRING A CROWD

Union members spent a year and a half building up to this two-day strike. The focus was on building as big a team as possible, not just union leaders.

In the union’s bylaws, each nursing unit at the hospital is entitled to elect at least one negotiating committee member, and large units get more than one. This produced a big bargaining team of 36 people. Even if you’re not on the bargaining team, you’re encouraged to sit in on negotiating sessions.

Whenever possible, the union brings a crowd:

  • For the initial delivery of the union’s notice of intent to bargain—often a low-key administrative matter—100 nurses came out to deliver the forms.
  • Close to 400 nurses showed up for the first bargaining session.
  • In June, 1,300 members cast ballots in a strike authorization vote; 94 percent voted to strike.
  • At the last bargaining session before the strike, hundreds of red-shirted nurses walked in, chanting “Safe staffing saves lives,” and “Hey Brumsted, what do you say? How many beds did you make today?” targeting the hospital’s CEO, who made more than $2 million dollars in 2017.

BIG PICTURE

Belensz, who has worked at the hospital for three years, was tapped to join the Member Action Team. That meant she was responsible for activating her co-workers in neurology—no easy task. Her unit hasn’t been much involved in past negotiations.

Day-to-day conditions in neurology are tolerable, and the managers are seen as fair. “There were a lot of people that were on the fence, or fully against the strike,” Belensz said. So her goal was to get them thinking about the bigger picture, especially the issue of short-staffing and overwork in other departments, like orthopedics and urology, where support staff are few and far between, and the nurse-to-patient ratio is much worse.

For her the rallies, marches, and open bargaining were crucial as “unifying events,” she said, that worked to “get people excited and show the hospital that we’re not messing around.”

The momentum grew as the strike deadline drew near. “We’ve made leaps and bounds in the last month,” Belensz said. She attributed that to the hundreds of one-on-one conversations and question-and-answer sessions the Member Action Team has held round the clock for months.

In fact, she was pleasantly surprised to see many of the former holdouts walking the picket line. One co-worker, who Belensz is sure voted no a month ago, told her, “If we need to strike again, we’re striking again!”

 

 

Support Striking Oil Workers in Australia

Eric Lee, LabourStart

esso

Last year maintenance workers at Exxon Mobil’s onshore and offshore facilities in Australia received a shock when they heard that their employer, maintenance contractor UGL, was firing the whole workforce. 

They were told that they could keep their jobs if they signed up to a new agreement that cut wages by 15-30% and other entitlements, and forced them onto new fly-in, fly-out rosters that tore them away from their families.

These workers have now been on strike for a phenomenal 350 days, resisting Esso and UGL from exploiting ugly legal loopholes that undermine workers’ fundamental rights.

They’ve asked for our solidarity, and for us to send messages to the company demanding a fair deal.

Please take a moment to show your solidarity today:

Click here

And please share this message with your friends, family and fellow union members.

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)

TGIF Steals Tips of Workers in UK

 

IUF worker solidarity appeal

 

 

 

 

Workers at two UK restaurants of the US-based franchise chain TGI Friday’s struck for 24 hours on May 18 after being given two days’ notice that they would be stripped of 40% of their income from tips – a loss of up to GBP 250 per month. Workers at two other TGI Friday’s locations have voted 100% in favor of possible strike action on June 25, with other locations set to follow.

As the strikes commenced on May 18, the IUF-affiliated Unite held lunchtime rallies at the restaurants to support the strikers before moving on to a mass low-pay rally in Central London including McDonald’s workers.

You can support the fight back against exploitation and low pay – CLICK HERE to send a message to CEO Karen Forrester, telling the company you support the workers’ demands and urging talks with Unite.

TGIF

Poor People’s Campaign – Sacramento

Support the California U.C. Strike

DSAI’m sending this urgent alert from our Democratic Socialist Labor Commission. This strike is happening RIGHT NOW — read on to see how you can help. In solidarity,  Maria Svart  DSA National Director

This week, 53,000 workers at ten University of California (UC) campuses and five UC medical centers across California will strike. The DSLC stands in solidarity with them.

The State of California is the fifth largest economy in the world, and The University of California is the largest employer in the state, so UC negotiations will have a ripple effect, setting standards for workers’ wages and working conditions across California.

This is a historic strike with three unions participating: AFSCME, CNA, and UPTE. The Democratic Socialist Labor Commission supports UC worker militancy and encourages all DSA and YDSA members to support this strike. If you are in California, join the picket lines! If you can’t, share your photos and messages of support on social media.

The UC Regents — a board that includes wealth managers, financiers, and real estate investors — have been imposing a regime of austerity on California’s public higher-ed system for years, raising tuition and privatizing services while the state cuts taxes on billionaires. Now they are going full tilt against workers in the hopes that the forthcoming Janus decision will allow them to attack contracts at every level. The Regents are targeting workers’ retirement, healthcare, wages, and layoff protections. Meanwhile, the Regents are ignoring workers’ demands for sexual harassment protections, ban the box, and protection from ICE raids at work.

Many of the strikers are entry-level service workers (custodians, security guards, groundskeepers) represented by AFSCME 3299, and are disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants. This strike is historic because workers in higher paid jobs in the UC system, such as nurses represented by CNA, are not allowing their workplaces to be divided and conquered — they are striking in solidarity with some of the lowest paid. Continue reading