Stamford Hotel Workers Show How to Transform Our Unions and Rebuild the Labor Movement

 

Hilton workers and supporters after one of the workers' daily actions inside the hotel. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Hilton workers and supporters after one of the workers’ daily actions inside the hotel. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

It’s Saturday afternoon in December 2017 at the hotel workers’ union hall in Stamford, Connecticut, a mere two days before a scheduled union election at the Hilton Stamford. Where one would expect nerves and chaos, a quiet calm covers the hall. American unions have struggled for decades to successfully organize non-union workers, with the movement’s difficulties organizing workers only intensifying. Notwithstanding a recent small uptick amongst white-collar workers and scattered victories, unions have been unable to figure out how to organize US workers en masse. Recent high-profile election losses, much of the labor movement choosing not to even attempt elections and some unions beginning to experiment with minority unionism all evidence this struggle. The Hilton Stamford workers were attempting where many are failing and decreasingly few are even attempting.

The 130 workers of the Hilton Stamford faced all of the familiar challenges: The majority Haitian-immigrant workplace faced great legal intimidation in the form of Trump’s elimination of Temporary Protected Status, hotel ownership spent upwards of $1 million on a vicious union-busting campaign (including contracting Trump’s personal anti-union consultant and armed guards to patrol the hotel), and hotel ownership ran roughshod over the workers’ organizing rights throughout the campaign.

Nevertheless, pre-election Saturday afternoon at the hotel workers union hall was uncomfortably comfortable. Two days later, the workers’ confidence proved well founded, as Hilton Stamford workers obliterated the company’s anti-union campaign in voting 110 to 5 for the union.

Beyond the life-changing victory for the workers and their families, the Stamford hotel workers used an organizing formula different from anything most unions use today, ferociously overcoming the challenges most unions face. Victories are occurring elsewhere and tests still remain for the Stamford workers, but the sheer scale and ferocity of their victory indicates that how these workers bucked the trend holds unique insight into reversing American unions’ fortunes.

A flyer of Stamford Hilton housekeeper Ismanie Dat distributed amongst workers in response to the company using armed guards to patrol the hotel to intimidate workers. All flyers were created by volunteer workers.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)A flyer of Stamford Hilton housekeeper Ismanie Dat distributed amongst workers in response to the company using armed guards to patrol the hotel to intimidate workers. All flyers were created by volunteer workers. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

A flyer of Stamford Hilton bellman Dominique Jean Pierre distributed amongst workers after their election victory. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)A flyer of Stamford Hilton bellman Dominique Jean Pierre distributed amongst workers after their election victory. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

Unions’ Organizing Challenge: External or Internal?

Unionists and academics frequently debate the cause of American unions’ declining size and their difficulties organizing, but the explanations typically given do not hold up under a bit of scrutiny. Most blame external forces beyond unions’ control, bemoaning the lack of legal protections for workers attempting to organize, the intensity of employers’ anti-union campaigns, or bad economic conditions that make organizing perilous. The problem with these explanations is that these conditions existed even more intensely at times when unions successfully expanded in the past.

Union leaders today decry the intensity of companies’ anti-union campaigns, particularly the widespread use of “union avoidance” consulting firms. Yet, today’s anti-union campaigns pale in comparison to the mass bloodshed, espionage and blacklisting workers overcame to organize in the 1930s. The hundreds of workers shot dead in successful organizing struggles in the 1930s certainly at least matches the intensity of today’s anti-union campaigns.

Union leaders today decry that employers run roughshod over workers’ rights enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Yet it was the hundreds of thousands of industry workers who organized (without any such legal protections in the first place) in the early 1930s prior to the NLRA that forced its passage in the first place — not to mention that involvement of “the law” during several previous organizing booms typically meant forceful repression from local police or the State and National Guard, much less enforcement of any organizing rights.

Union leaders today decry the precarious economic conditions facing workers and the difficulties of moving them to action with unemployment high and no safety net. Yet unions made perhaps their greatest organizing leap in the years immediately following the greatest economic crisis in the nation’s history.

Convinced of the notion that the obstacles to mass organizing are beyond their control,  many unions have resorted to experimenting with campaigns that seek to win union recognition without substantial worker organization, such as the SEIU’s high-profile and oft-celebrated fast-food worker campaign, which does not even attempt to mobilize a majority of workers in any workplace. Despite some scattered campaign victories, unions have been unable to generate the type of growth and movement needed to challenge the corporate stranglehold on US society through strategies based on things other than worker power, such as legislation, public relations, corporate research, etc. Try as they may to skirt the issue, the labor movement is unlikely to find a substitute for the irreplaceable core of workers’ power: collective action of a critical majority of workers in a workplace or industry. Fortunately, if workers overcame such challenges in the past, they can do so now as well.

If the outside forces confronting unions aren’t particularly new, something new within unions likely developed to make mass organizing stagnate. In this light, the Stamford hotel-workers union looked inwards to figure out how to organize more workers. Union leadership assessed that what’s changed since labor’s explosive organizing was a basic organizing formula: Instead of large groups of union workers going to organize even larger groups of non-union workers, unions came to depend on much smaller teams (or even individuals) of paid staff-organizers attempting to organize large groups of non-union workers. As American unions grew mid-century and established greater institutional footing, they also began to become more heavily bureaucratized and consequently more staff-driven; this applied to all facets of the union, but markedly bled into unions’ new organizing programs. The new formula of staff-driven organizing campaigns is plagued by obvious problems, such as a typically higher worker-to-organizer ratio, issues of “relatability” between organizers and non-union workers, and greater susceptibility to company propaganda that paints the union as a “third-party” or a business. Perhaps unsurprisingly, labor has made no significant leaps in size since the new formula has become commonplace, and Stamford’s hotel-workers union looked to change it.

Hilton worker committee along with Hyatt workers hold one of their weekly meetings to plan campaign tactics. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Hilton worker committee along with Hyatt workers hold one of their weekly meetings to plan campaign tactics. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Stamford Hilton room service server Jaime Alvarez alongside his coworkers and Hyatt workers informs hotel management of their intent to unionize. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Stamford Hilton room service server Jaime Alvarez alongside his coworkers and Hyatt workers informs hotel management of their intent to unionize. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

Looking Inward: How Unions Can Change Their Organizing Formula

To organize the non-union Hilton Stamford, instead of relying on paid staff organizers, the union turned to rank-and-file members from nearby union workplaces. Shop stewards from the Hyatt Hotel and Royal Bank of Scotland cafeteria workforce, already members of the hotel workers’ union local, conducted an overwhelming majority of the organizing meetings, predominantly house calls to the non-union Hilton workers. Rather than simply riding along as sidekicks to a staff organizer, the volunteer rank-and-file organizers led the organizing visits and held responsibility (“turf,” in organizing parlance) for meeting weekly with non-union Hilton organizing contacts. Nearly 20 rank-and-file members of the union accepted responsibility for meeting weekly with a handful of the non-union workers respectively, convening in the union hall once a week to discuss how the previous week’s organizing meetings went and plan the next week’s meetings. Every evening, union stewards met at the union hall, paired up and dispatched out to the living rooms of non-union workers. The stewards strategically took responsibility for those non-union workers with which they had most in common. Union housekeepers visited non-union housekeepers to discuss the union and next steps, Haitian union members visited Haitian non-union workers, cooks visited cooks, Colombians reached out to Colombians, bellmen talked to bellmen, and so forth on a weekly basis.

The results were explosive. Within only a few months, the organizing team of rank-and-file members with little previous experience in non-union organizing built a rank-and-file committee in the Hilton Stamford of nearly 30 workers and signed up over 85 percent of the Hilton workforce on union membership cards. The causes of their success were clear: The rank-and-file union members easily built trusting connections with the non-union workers who came from similar backgrounds, did the exact same work every day and often even lived in the same neighborhoods. The non-union Haitian bellman from the Hilton more quickly confided in the Haitian bellman from the unionized Hyatt, and the trust necessary to commit to a risky organizing drive developed far more easily than it may have with a white staff organizer with no experience working in a hotel. Organizing conversations transitioned smoothly from commiserating about the difficulties of particular hotel jobs, to the challenges of immigration, to the need to make sacrifices to win the union. Moreover, the sheer numbers of organizers in the field were much greater than usual for the union. With nearly 20 rank-and-file volunteer organizers visiting the non-union workers every week, the ratio of organizer to worker was much better than what unions can typically afford to staff, and made crucial organizing visits with the non-union organizing committee more frequent.

Stamford Hilton cook Irwin Martinez alongside coworkers and Hyatt workers informs hotel management of their intent to unionize.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Stamford Hilton cook Irwin Martinez alongside coworkers and Hyatt workers informs hotel management of their intent to unionize.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

Stamford Hilton housekeepers deliver a poster to hotel management illustrating where their bodies feel pain due to excessive workloads as one of their daily actions.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Stamford Hilton housekeepers deliver a poster to hotel management illustrating where their bodies feel pain due to excessive workloads as one of their daily actions.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

Many union campaigns begin strong but quickly crumble under the weight of high-powered and sophisticated anti-union campaigns. Yet due to the union’s altered organizing formula, when the Hilton Stamford ownership invested millions of dollars to persuade the workers to vote against the union, none of the company’s anti-union propaganda worked. Despite hiring notorious “union avoidance” consultants Cruz and Associates, Donald Trump’s personal union-busters of choice at his hotels, as well as flying in over 20 managers, consultants and lawyers to live in the hotel and meet daily with each worker, none of the anti-union propaganda had any influence on the Hilton workers. The typical anti-union tropes that paint the union as a “third-party,” a business, or as simply wanting the workers’ dues money was hardly persuasive to workers who understood the union as the rank-and-file union members who’d been visiting them in their homes. Surely the housekeeper from down the block, from the same country, who performed the same job daily was in no way a business simply out for non-union workers’ money. The rank-and-file volunteers lacked most of the formal training of the highly professionalized staff organizer most common in unions today, but proved equally, if not more, effective. Despite an anti-union campaign even more enormous and lawbreaking than unions usually face, the Hilton Stamford workers voted to join the union with 96 percent of the vote.

If the outcome seems obvious given the number of rank-and-file volunteer organizers, less obvious may be how the union was able to generate so many volunteer organizers. This question is perhaps most important, given a changing political leadership amongst many unions where obstacles to rank-and-file involvement are less ideological and more practical. While many unions initially bureaucratized at the behest of conservative, self-serving leadership, many progressive unions today would like to reconfigure their organizing formula with more rank-and-file volunteers but face challenges doing so. Long removed from the rank-and-file upsurges of the 1930s and 1940s, most union staff and members today have only known the top-down, staff-driven model commonplace today. Despite a growing desire to reinvigorate membership participation, old habits are difficult to break, and most unions (staff and members) operate with the expectation that organizing is primarily the responsibility (and best done) by paid staff. Breaking these expectations, hardened by decades of repetition, is a difficult task.

The Stamford hotel workers union sought to reinvigorate rank-and-file organizing by reviving two practices that have been systematically sucked out of unions for decades, but that were foundational in the great labor upsurge that built the modern movement: militancy and democracy.

For example, at the inaugural United Automobile Workers convention in 1935, a meeting of rank-and-file organizers from around the country would propel American unions from their deathbed in the early 1930s to organizing over one-third of all American workers in just two decades. The pre-convention program published called for three central things: “militant action,” a “democratically controlled convention” with “free elections from the floor of a chairman and all committees by majority vote,” and “confidence in the organized power of labor.”

Believing in the twin pillars of democracy and militancy was one thing, but the more difficult task for the Stamford hotel workers was figuring out concretely how to implement them organizationally.

Prior to descending upon the non-union workers, the union began by focusing on the existing membership, implementing as democratic and militant a program as possible internally. Union leadership banked that if members felt real ownership of their organization, they would be more likely to take ownership of the organizing — but workers wouldn’t take ownership if their daily experience was that they had no actual ownership within the union. Thus, the union ran weekly stewards’ meetings where nearly everything was voted upon, no matter how minute.

“We voted on the weekly agenda, then on every single agenda item before moving on,” said Chief Shop Steward Dennis Fiore. “Some votes felt silly at times [if] the issues were so small or obvious, but if someone put it on the agenda, we figured it wasn’t silly to someone, and everyone’s opinion in the union is important.”

From what type of shop floor action to take to what type of union apparel to purchase, rank-and-file members were handed the reins for nearly all decisions that had previously been made exclusively by staff. Modern unions often rhetorically tell workers “they are the union” without actually letting them be the union and drive the organization. This changed with the Stamford hotel workers in exaggerated form, with an eye on speeding up the process of moving rank-and-file organizers into the non-union organizing.

Similarly, if members felt real day-to-day power on the shop-floor, the union posited, they would feel real incentive to take part in building that power by organizing. Shop-floor militancy, in the form of workplace actions to resolve everyday problems, built that sense of power. Most modern unions have allowed the grievance-resolution process to become heavily bureaucratized, with staff navigating a complex web of contractual and legal procedures in a lawyereqsue fashion alienating to the average worker. While issues can and are won for members in this arrangement, the system by design takes the struggle away from the shop-floor and the power out of the hands of the worker. Similar to the democracy strategy, the union implemented an issue resolution program focused on shop-floor action (rather than legalistic contract enforcement) in an exaggeratedly intense form. Every issue merited a workplace mobilization, with grievance meetings becoming nothing more than an arena for mass demonstrations. Soon, workers established a culture where workplace problems meant workers were expected to organize actions, rather than commence the legalistic, slow and physically-removed grievance procedure.

“After a little while, it just became the system,” said banquet server and shop steward Francisco Tobias. “If someone had an issue, we knew the only solution was to mobilize an action. We mobilize … over every little issue, but that’s the union.”

Not only were more issues resolved faster, but workers developed a deeper belief that the union was themselves rather than the staff, and that the power of the union lay with the workers rather than a contract — crucial developments in the union’s push to have the workers lead non-union organizing.

Emboldened by their newfound power within both the union and the workplace, the rank-and-file leaders of the union were primed to organize non-union workers nearby. When union staff pushed shop stewards to take responsibility for the organizing, they understood that they were the union leaders who had to do it and felt a compelling incentive to do so. It was internal democracy and militancy that led to rank-and-file members’ commitment to organize the unorganized, and the new organizing formula led to rapid results.

What the Stamford Model Can Teach a Labor Resurgence

The lesson from the Stamford hotel workers is that unions must return to their roots as worker organizations — member-run and member-powered. The organizing cliché that “there are no shortcuts” applies in the most fundamental sense; no amount of staff expertise or clever strategy will succeed in rebuilding the labor movement so long as unions remain more like service organizations than actual worker-run organizations. Politics, public relations and corporate research — the focus of most current staff-heavy union efforts toward a resurgence — can supplement mass worker mobilization, but can never replace it as the spine of union power.

To begin a real process of rebuilding and growth, unions must first look internally as the Stamford hotel workers’ union did. Without a democratic and militant internal organization, unions will continue to be unable to mobilize the number of rank-and-file organizers needed to create a real movement.

Moreover, without a democratic and militant internal organization, unions could grow their membership and still be weak, as the labor movement’s lack of internal democracy currently leaves it unable to mobilize a significant portion of its membership. American unions still have nearly 15 million members; it is not difficult to imagine the potential influence labor could wield if capable of mobilizing merely half of that membership in a general strike or march on Washington. When Gov. Scott Walker essentially outlawed public-sector unionism in Wisconsin and unions either did not or could not fight back with a significant strike, what was already obvious should have become unavoidably clear: Labor’s internal petrification has left it unable to mobilize its own members, its ultimate weapon in both action and organizing. If unions couldn’t strike with their heads on the chopping block, when could they?

Yet, the ultimate lesson from the Stamford hotel workers is one of hope. If unions can figure out how to mobilize their members to organize non-union workers, the formula is explosive, since the conditions for workers in this country are increasingly atrocious. Nothing corporations and their political lapdogs can do in this country can eliminate the reality that they depend entirely on workers for their wealth. With still nearly 15 million members, a turn inwards to reorganize their ranks could yield unions a huge army of workers in the streets and in the living rooms of non-union workers. A democratic and militant worker organization overwhelmed the wealthy elite and built a vibrant labor movement once before in this country, and as the Stamford hotel workers showed, it can be done again today.

Copyright, Truthout. Reposted with the permission of the author. 

Andrew Tillett-Saks is a labor organizer and writer based in New York City, as well as vice president of the Connecticut hospitality workers union, Unite Here Local 217. Andrew can be contacted at andrewtillettsaks@gmail.com or @andrewtsaks on Twitter.

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CANADA: THE LABOUR MOVEMENT SPLITS

by Derek Blackadder

The big Canadian story so far this year is the decision by Unifor, the country’s largest private sector union, to leave the Canadian Labour Congress or CLC, the national labour centre.  The decision has sent shockwaves through all unions and it threatens not just national programmes but co-ordination between unions at the regional and local levels.

Splits in national labour movements are far from unknown.  In some countries longstanding ideological differences have meant that multiple national labour bodies are the norm as with Poland or India.  In the USA and South Africa splits over fundamental political or programmatic positions are more recent.  Other than a few years in the 1990s  when the building trades unions formed the Canadian Federation of Labour, the Canadian movement has been united since 1956 when two rival centres merged.

Unifor is the product of a series of mergers between unions dating back decades.  Most of the predecessor unions were the result of splits from an American parent union.  In the private sector most unions were and many still are sections of unions based in the USA.  The largest of Unifor’s predecessor unions, the Canadian Autoworkers or CAW, was formed when Canadian workers resisted the concessions that had been agreed-to by the UAW in bargaining with the large American car makers on both sides of the border.  Nationalism and a commitment to the creation of Canadian unions runs deep in Unifor culture.

Moves by Unifor to assist leaders of large local unions in taking their members out of US-based unions created considerable conflict within the leadership of the CLC.  Unifor sees its actions as supporting the right of workers to freely choose their union.  Opponents point to the CLC’s existing process by which unhappy workers can move from one union to another and attribute Unifor’s frustration to its inability to make gains in membership using that process.

Union activists are deeply worried that fighting over already organized workers will waste resources and serves as a distraction from the movement’s real task: organizing the unorganized.

On 16 January Unifor’s executive made the decision to leave the CLC, promising not to damage solidarity at the local level where unions co-ordinate national mass campaigns.  Several of these are under way at the moment and were, until recently, considered great successes, including one in support of coffee shop workers (see HERE for more).

Unifor explains its reasons for leaving the CLC HERE.

Within hours of the announcement Unifor, in concert with hotel union dissidents, began raiding workers who are currently members of UNITE-HERE, a US-based union.  At this point the Unifor campaign is having considerable success.

Leadership reaction to the split varies by union.  They range from attacks on Unifor to appeals for unification talks.  Activists across the country are expressing concern about Unifor’s motives and goals.  Cross-union caucuses and local Labour Councils (where activists from different unions co-ordinate local activities) are working to ensure effective solidarity despite the split.  See HERE for an example of the rank-and-file reaction and HERE for the reaction of the President of the Toronto Labour Council, the country’s largest.

The Canadian sections of what in North America are called international unions are turning inward and focusing on preparing their members for an approach by Unifor, on defending from a loss in membership.  Canada-only unions, referred-to as national unions, appear to be largely unconcerned about direct confrontations with Unifor.  Local Labour Councils and provincial Federations of Labour are working to minimize the impact, sometimes not knowing if the Unifor members elected to lead them are still eligible to do so.

LabourStart Canada will continue to follow this story as it develops and you can too by visiting the LabourStart Canadian news page or by following our Twitter feeds in both of Canada’s official languages: @LabourStartCanE for stories in English and @LabourStartCanF for stories in French.

This special report is reposted from LabourStart.  Look for the LabourStart table at the upcoming Labor Notes Conference in Chicago.

Winning Working-Class Voters with State Level Consumer Protection

by Marc Dann

Donald Trump’s election, made possible in part by his ability to capture the hearts, minds, aspirations, and votes of working-class men and women, has caused confusion and consternation among Democratic Party leaders. Stunned by the outcome, the Party has spent the last year searching for new messages that could lure this critically important constituency back into the fold. So far, that search has been unsuccessful.

However, as Democratic Party factions bicker, Trump himself may be handing them the issue they can use to end his presidency—and it doesn’t involve porn stars, Russians, racism, or tax cuts for the rich, none of which seem to matter much to the president’s supporters.

No, the Trumpites won’t turn away from him because of the outrageous things he says, or even the possibly illegal things he’s done. But they might abandon him when they finally realize that he’s betrayed them by gutting the regulatory framework that really made America great for the working class. Trump’s crusade to kill every rule and law he can get his hands on could be the thing that kills his presidency.

Some may scoff at this idea, but consider how these actions, all taken in the interest of his buddies on Wall Street, harm families who live on Main Street:

  • Net neutrality may seem like an arcane issue, but FCC Chair Ajit Pai ‘s decision to roll back Obama-era internet rules will inevitably lead to increased costs for internet access.
  • Betsy Devos, the clueless Secretary of Education, is repealing rules that made it difficult for private universities to rip-off students and making it more expensive for kids and parents to repay student loans.
  • Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who was installed as director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), has submitted a “zero budget” for the agency he absolutely loathes, and instituted a hiring freeze and a prohibition on new regulations.  Just for good measure, he’s also decided to make it easier for the vultures in the payday lending industry to prey on the poor and the working class.
  • The Labor Department’s decision to allow pool-tipping and to ditch rules that would have made hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers eligible for overtime pay will cost working families millions of dollars each year.
  • The unrelenting attack on the Affordable Care Act, which survived repeal but has taken a number of other hits, will lead to premium increases and the loss of coverage in the years ahead.

Every one of these actions will impact working-class Americans disproportionately, especially those who live on the edge of bankruptcy and lack the financial resources to fend off unscrupulous lenders and other scam artists. According to a 2016 Federal Reserve Report 46% of American households could not handle a $400 emergency expense. That makes them prime targets for payday, car title, and predatory mortgage lenders that generate huge profits by exploiting people who barely live paycheck-to-paycheck.

That’s why rolling back regulations on these industries, and especially eviscerating the CFPB, is such a big betrayal of Trump’s base. Since the CFPB was established in 2011 as part of the Dodd Frank Act, the agency has clamped down on predatory bankers, mortgage loan servicers, debt buyers, debt collectors, payday lenders, and credit card companies. It has recovered $12 billion for more than 29 million consumers. It also developed a centralized, transparent system for processing consumer complaints and created a searchable database that enables people to determine if a company they’re about to do business with has a history of ripping off consumers. In short, it has helped level the playing field between average Americans and the finance industry. That’s exactly why Trump wants to kill it, but it’s also why its demise will make life significantly worse for working-class families.

Now that Trump has positioned himself at the edge of the abyss, one question remains: will the Democrats be able to push him off?  I believe the answer is yes, but they must start this year by creating state agencies to take on the responsibilities the feds are abandoning. Montana Governor Steve Bullock is already taking this path by ordering agencies to create and enforce state-based net neutrality rules.

Democratic officeholders and candidates should also press for the establishment of transparent and statutorily independent Departments of Consumer Protection (DCPs). These “one stop shops” should identify potential financial predators, create an equitable process for resolving individual consumer complaints, and have the power to sue companies and industries that target vulnerable consumers or to force other regulators or the state attorney general’s office to do so. DCPs directors or commissions should serve terms that overlap those of the authorities who appoint them, and they should be subject to removal only for malfeasance. They could be funded by a portion of the fees paid to create new companies or to register foreign corporations doing business in the state, from the registration fees paid by regulated industries, and from fines and civil penalties collected via enforcement of state-based consumer protection laws.

We need this kind of independent agency because in most states the responsibility for protecting consumers is spread among multiple agencies or is subject to the political whims of the elected Attorney General.  Even worse, in some cases agencies and licensing boards handle complaints, even though they can be heavily influenced by lobbyists for the profession or industry they oversee — a situation that produces reliably unfavorable outcomes for consumers.

In addition to establishing new regulatory agencies, Democrats should push to bring industries like loan services, payday lenders, debt collectors, and car dealerships under the jurisdiction of the DCPs. Such agencies should also oversee wage and hour enforcement for workers.

Democrats can also protect working-class people by creating laws based on successful consumer protection statutes enacted in other states. That might include a Student Borrower Bill of Rights like that enacted by the legislature in Illinois to create transparency and to outlaw deceptive practices by student loan lenders or a Homeowner’s Bill of Rights similar to one enacted in California. Dems could model fair debt collection practices that prohibit companies that collect their own debts from engaging in deceptive practices on a Florida law. They could propose a bill like the one enacted in North Carolina, creating standards for debt buyers, including those that buy private student loans, to prove that they have the right to enforce the debt before taking legal. Other possibilities include an enforceable payday lending bill that outlaws title loans and protections against data breaches, which now exist in only 14 states.

When combined with Trump’s unrelenting attack on the very things that make America a land of opportunity, these bold, state-based initiatives may provide Democrats with the weapon they need to send Trump back to his tower – and actually make America better for the working class.

Marc Dann

Marc Dann served as Attorney General of the State of Ohio and now leads the Dann Law Firm, which specializes in protecting consumers from various forms of predatory financing.  His essay is reposted from Working Class Perspectives.

Defending Democracy Means Organizing Your Workplace | Portside

Source: Defending Democracy Means Organizing Your Workplace | Portside

From; Working IN THESE TIMES

DockworkersNYC

Why Physicists Don’t Rule the World

by Stan Sorscher

Labor Representative at SPEEA/IFPTE

I was a physicist for 30 years. My brain still works that way. In a post-factual world, scientists are at a distinct disadvantage. That may explain why very few physicists hold positions of authority.

A few years ago, I had a moment of insight in Los Angeles, after watching eight powerful videos at a labor conference. One video documented the joy of accomplishment for dancers negotiating their first contract. Another video shared an unforgettably poignant moment for family members on opposite sides of the border wall between the US and Mexico. A third video connected workers around the world who would lose social, political and economic power through our misguided approach to globalization.

In the videos, we experience the dignity of work and the power of solidarity. We could see and feel our problems with inequality, immigration, weakened social cohesion, and climate change.

By conveying the lived experience of workers in the videos, they had crystalized the power people have when they organize around a common purpose. The videos had more clarity and meaning than all the resolutions, speeches, strategies, and policies woven into the business portion of the meeting.

I went outside the conference to process what I had just seen. Standing on S Figueroa St, I carried the effect of the videos with me. I looked one way, and saw fashionable restaurants with customers accustomed to comfort and privilege. Looking the other way, I could see systemic inequality.

I had a second insight. My approach to the world has been shaped as a physicist. I believe in an objective reality, which I observe and test. Nothing I say can change that objective reality.

If a beam of electrons passes through a diffraction grating, I can inspire the electrons, intimidate the electrons, or pray for the electrons, but I get pretty much the same diffraction pattern, either way.

On S Figueroa St, I saw that my approach to the world is well-suited to roughly 6 percent of human experience, which includes microwave ovens, the thermodynamics of the internal combustion engine, and the motion of roller coasters at Universal Studios.

For the other 94% of human experience, what we say does affect our lives. Most people don’t make decisions based on a number. They need a story. When I studied physics in college, I had no idea what happened in the Communications Department. I do now. They’re running my world.

Many years ago, a member of Congress gave one of the best technical talks I have ever heard on climate change, alternative energy, and distributed power generation. It was full of ideas, solid data, and solutions to real problems.

Later, in an office visit with him, we brought our facts and data to another policy discussion. He listened, and then said, “I need a story.”

I was crushed.

I thought he doubted our compelling logic and data. In my eyes, his credibility dropped like a stone. Years after that meeting, back on S Figueroa St, I realized he understood his business much better than I did.

We were content to be smart. He needed to be effective. He might intend to vote our way, but he also wanted our position to have broad public support. We could help him with our argument AND by generating 20,000 emails, 137 phone calls to his office, and endorsements from 17 popular organizations in the next election.

A good story would make him effective. That’s human nature.

Spiderman, among others, warns us that great power comes with great responsibility. The power of story comes with risk. Stories work whether the idea is good or bad, true or false, benign or destructive. When leaders have good character, things can work out. It’s a different story, so to speak, when a President with serious character issues says, “People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you.”

Science is all about sorting good ideas from bad ones. Ideas start as hypotheses, which are tested repeatedly against reality. In the technical world, scientists and engineers tell a story with facts and data. A well-designed graph tells a story, based on credible meaningful data. Professional doom awaits a scientist or engineer who relies on story, or ignores contrary information, or disparages alternative interpretations.

In the larger 94% of human behavior, a powerful story can sustain a bad idea for far too long. It is some comfort to scientists that we know, deep down, that you can’t just make shit up. Science is true, whether you believe it or not. Eventually, nature delivers a reality check.

Leaders will use a good story to be effective, because that’s its great power over human behavior. We can all also apply critical thinking to look through a good story to see the reality carried within it. That’s our great responsibility.

Stan Sorscher’s article first appeared in the Huffington Post, and is reposted here with his permission.

#SaveTPS: A Working-Class Struggle

by Jessica F. Chilin-Hernández

dmv-sanctuary-movement-protest

Rally to Defend Dream Act and TPS on December 6, 2017 in Washington, D.C.. Image from DMV Sanctuary Network

By the time the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced in 2014, I had already benefited from another immigration relief program: Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In January and February 2001, my birth country of El Salvador experienced two earthquakes – a month apart from each other – that utterly devastated every aspect of life in Salvadoran Society. In order to help El Salvador reconstruct and get back on its feet, the United States extended TPS status to undocumented Salvadorans immigrants already in the U.S. I was one of them. Created by Congress in the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS was meant for people from countries going through environmental disaster and other extraordinary and temporary conditions or confronting armed conflict. Currently, the program is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In the past two months, TPS has come under attack from the Trump Administration. In November 2017, DHS terminated the program for Haiti, and four months later it extended that terrible decision to TPS-protected immigrants from Nicaragua and Honduras. Starting January 2019, an estimated 50,000 Haitians, 57,000 Hondurans, and 2,550 Nicaraguans with TPS status will become undocumented. They will be expected to leave the U.S. Furthermore, TPS was allowed to expire for three black-majority countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone earlier this year. None of them were granted a renewal period as the DHS had done in previous years.

From a working-class perspective, terminating TPS would be catastrophic for workers and families. The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) has estimated that 81 to 88 percent of TPS-protected immigrants just from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti participate in the labor market – well above the rate for the total US population at 63 percent. Indeed, many TPS workers have been in the US for so long that they’re now homeowners and entrepreneurs, and so they are very invested in their local economies. For example, Salvadorans with TPS must have continuously resided in the U.S. since the designation date of March 9, 2001 – that’s more than a decade of working legally and paying taxes in the U.S. Furthermore, the Center for American Progress (CAP) calculates that the loss of TPS workers would cost employers $967 million in turnover and reduce America’s GDP by $164 billion over a decade. Of course, working people represent more than just economic contributions, but you’d think that reports like these would influence rational policymakers. But this administration operates with little regard to facts, policy briefs by experts, or peer-reviewed research. Instead, it responds to the worst instincts in our politics, even excusing and allying with white supremacy. This is not rational. It is shamelessly racist.

TPS is a racial and environmental justice issue. The program’s primary beneficiaries are Black, LatinX, Asian, and Middle Eastern. We come from Haiti, Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen, Sierra Leone, El Salvador, Somalia, Guinea, South Sudan, Nicaragua, Liberia, and Sudan. All of these nations have historically been at the mercy of imperialist policies – by the U.S. and other countries — that pillage natural resources and do little to promote the well-being of residents, most of whom are people of color. For these countries, TPS was granted on account of either civil strife (usually the reason for Middle Eastern and African countries) and natural disasters (usually the reason for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean) thereby helping these countries rebuild what US Imperialism has destroyed. Thus, TPS is a form of humanitarian relief for civil war refugees and natural disaster victims that is also a form of reparations to formerly colonized working people of the world.

Similar to DACA, TPS beneficiaries like me receive provisional protection against deportation and permission to work in the United States for a limited period of time –no less than 6 months and no more than 18. In order to be eligible, immigrants from TPS-designated countries must be physically present in the U.S. on the date on which the program is designated for their nationality and must continue to reside in the U.S. In addition, the program does not grant permanent legal status in the United States, nor are TPS beneficiaries eligible to apply for permanent residence or for U.S. citizenship. In other words, working-class immigrants can be workers, but not residents let alone citizens.

My TPS work permit has provided me with many opportunities to pursue the American Dream by making it possible for me to join the workforce. It also allowed for me to file taxes – something that I’ve been doing since I was 17 years old. Since attaining full-time employment, I have been saving to purchase a home in Virginia for my mother. This is my greatest dream – the chance to honor my mother’s sacrifice by providing her with a home that she can call her own. Throughout my time living in the United States, I had never thought I’d be faced with the possibility of giving up this dream. Yet all of this changed on November 9, 2016. The morning after, I felt a fear unlike any I had felt before. The right side of my chest hurt, my stomach felt strange. I was hungry, but couldn’t bring myself to eat. I could just think of one thing: if Donald Trump’s DHS Secretary does not approve our renewals, then we’d potentially be forced to return El Salvador. As of today, I have 81 days left on my TPS work permit if the designation isn’t renewed by DHS.

Since the beginning of December, a number of actions have taken place in Capitol Hill to urge members of Congress to save TPS and pass a Clean Dream Act. The deadline for Congress to act is December 22 – the date Congress adjourns for the holidays. The urgency has escalated even more after Congress failed to include protections for immigrant youth in their spending bill fix. If Congress doesn’t act soon, then a number of Dreamers and TPS beneficiaries await deportation and an inhumane removal experience from US society.

As we have seen in recent years, more and more of our working-class brothers and sisters from the global south have had to flee civil war, genocide, economic exploitation, and the environmental effects of climate change – and that will almost certainly continue. Efforts have already begun to eliminate other venues for legal immigration, and the gradual termination of TPS is unlikely to be the end of the assault on immigrants under this Administration. If naturalized and documented allies do not step up to demand a comprehensive immigration reform that makes it easier for all workers, political asylees, climate change refugees, and persecuted people to pursue new beginnings in the United States, then we will forsake our responsibility to whose labor provided the capital to build the economies of developed nations.

Jessica F. Chilin-Hernández serves as Assistant Director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. She is originally from San Salvador, El Salvador.

This article is reposted with permission from Working Class Perspectives. https://workingclassstudies.wordpress.com/author/workingclassstudies/

NLRB Rules Against Harvard in Graduate Student Unionization Appeal

By PHELAN YU, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Harvard may have to hold a new election to determine whether eligible students can form a union after the National Labor Relations Board ruled against the University’s appeal Tuesday.

Harvard had appealed a previous NLRB decision requiring the University to hold a new election, arguing that the results of the Nov. 2016 election—the initial results of which showed more students voting against unionization than in support of it—should stand. Since August, the federal NLRB—a panel of presidential appointees—had weighed the University’s appeal, and on Tuesday decided to uphold the previous NLRB ruling that the election results were invalid.

Months of controversy and legal challenges roiled last year’s student unionization election as union advocates charged that Harvard had not provided the proper voter lists before the election. At stake is whether or not eligible graduate student researchers and teaching assistants and undergraduate teaching assistants at Harvard can collectively bargain with the University.

Representatives from the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers were quick to celebrate the decision. Some union advocates had worried that the NLRB’s majority Republican membership would sink their chances after more than a year of legal challenges.

“We’re excited to have a new election,” said Andrew Donnelly, a graduate student and union organizer.

In an emailed statement, University spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven did not comment on whether Harvard will hold a new unionization election.

“The University continues to believe the November 2016 student unionization election was fair and that well-informed students turned out in high numbers to vote. It is disappointing that the NLRB has not upheld our students’ decision to vote against unionization in that election,” she wrote.

In a press release, Julie Kushner, Region 9A Director of the United Automobile Workers, wrote that the NLRB’s ruling was an encouraging development.

“This is another great victory for graduate workers in the UAW and a shot in the arm to this growing movement,” Kushner wrote.

Reposted from The Harvard Crimson