Organizing Walmart

by Paul Garver

 

walmart

Working for Respect: Community and Conflict at Walmart is not for breezy summer reading on the beach or in the mountains.  Save it for cooler weather at a comfortable desk in September. But if you are either a prospective or current labor organizer or labor studies major, do read it and take notes.  Other than actually becoming a Walmart “associate,” there is no better way to learn what it is like to experience “Walmartism.”

Organizing Walmart workers is both totally necessary for the future of the workers’ movement and a quixotic project that requires enormous persistence and a huge leap of faith.  It is the largest employer in the USA and in the world.  “Walmartism” combines a huge centrally controlled bureaucracy with the arbitrary authority of layer upon layer of managers in such a way that Walmart “associates” have little control over their working conditions and lives.

Reich and Bearman describe in excruciating detail how Walmart workers make sense of their jobs on the shop floor.   Their information comes from the experiences and reports of twenty student activists who spend an intensive summer researching and helping organize Walmart associates in five different urban areas in conjunction with OUR Walmart [Organization United for Respect at Walmart].

The major source of resources for the OUR Walmart project, the United Food & Commercial Workers [UFCW], pulled the plug on its commitment the same time that the students’ summer project ended in September 2015.

By then the students had undergone much conflict, learned a lot, but organized few associates. However their interviews with current and former workers prove an invaluable source of insights into the complex obstacles to organizing at Walmart.

Drawing on a wide array of methods, including participant-observation, oral history, big data, and the analysis of social networks, Working for Respect is a sophisticated reconsideration of this pivotal workplace.  The most detailed and valuable sections of this book describe the variety of reasons why folks work at Walmart, why they remain or leave employment, and which issues are most important for them.

Current union organizing models are not effective at Walmart given its sprawling scale and its sophisticated management methods. Since employees have various reasons why they work at Walmart, no single organizing method is a magic key that reaches all associates at each store.  And Walmart, owned by the wealthiest family in the USA, is ruthlessly determined to stamp out any organizing among its associates.

The authors, like the students and the UFCW,  can offer no easy answers.  They do share a few insights with the reader.  One is that issues like respect and dignity on the job  mobilize Walmart workers more effectively than purely economic demands.  Another is that while face-to-face organizing is crucial, but Walmart, social media networks have to play a major role in sustaining networks of workers across the vast sprawl of the Walmart empire.

There is nothing in this book about Walmart organizing in other countries, but I will add an observation about China, where Walmart is well established and growing.  Whereas Walmart in the USA and Canada has closed whole stores and departments rather than allowing any kind of union foothold, Walmart in China embraced Chinese-style management- and Communist Party- dominated “trade unions.”  Walmart associates in China who insist on real collective bargaining are shut out by management and “union” alike. Sporadic communications among Walmart employees persist mainly through social media.

Welcome to 21st century global capitalism!   The essential, though seemingly impossible,  task for workers is to overcome Walmart and its clones through self-organization.  This book provides a few useful hints how to begin..

Adam Reich is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of Hidden Truth: The Young Men Navigating Lives in and out of Juvenile Prison (2010); With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in a Catholic Hospital (2012); and Selling Our Souls: The Commodification of Hospital Care in the United States(2014).

Peter Bearman is the Cole Professor of the Social Sciences and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theories and Empirics at Columbia University. He is the author of Relations Into Rhetorics (1993) and Doormen (2005) and coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology (2009), as well as coeditor of the Middle Range series at Columbia University Press.

New democratic trade union federation to be established in the Mexican automotive sector | IndustriALL

Source: New democratic trade union federation to be established in the Mexican automotive sector | IndustriALL

Workers Win Missouri Vote

 

missouri

Last night workers in Missouri organized, voted, and WON BIG.

On the ballot was Prop A, a so-called “right to work” bill that would’ve limited workers’ rights to stand together, form a union, and earn better wages. But workers refused to back down and voted to defeat Prop A by a 2-1 landslide.

I’m fired up because the same strength we built through organizing, marching, and striking – the strength that won us raises for 26 million people nationwide – is the strength that’s going to take back power for working people in November.

Share this image to show the corrupt politicians and greedy corporations that their time rigging the system is about to expire.

Thanks for standing with us – in the workplace, in the streets, at the ballot box, and beyond.

Onward,
Bettie Douglas
McDonald’s Worker
St. Louis, Missouri
Fight for $15

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.

Support Fired Tobacco Farmworkers

Dudley-membership-meeting-group-pic-2018-640x290

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

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

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

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

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

by Steve Early

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

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

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

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

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

Manic Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Revolt of the Precariat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Time Has Come for Sectoral Bargaining

by Larry Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Source: New Labor Forum, June 18, 2018

 

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

Pittsburgh Workers Oppose Theft of Wages from Immigrant Roofers

 

by Mike Elk

pgh wage theft
O’HARA, PENNSYLVANIA  – Popping out of the luscious greenery along the banks of the Allegheny River emerges the head of a giant 15-foot tall brown rat in a red tank sitting on top of a 4-foot high chunk of cheese.

“For us, the rat represents Stapleton Homes,” says Guillermo Perez, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). “The rat represents a business model that exploits workers.”
The workers here have gathered to protest Stapleton Homes, owners of the Chapel Harbor luxury condos on the banks of the Allegheny, only 15 minutes from the heart of booming Downtown Pittsburgh.

Last summer, a family team of five roofers from Guatemala spent ten days in 100-degree heat roofing the condos as they were preparing to go on the market. When the team completed the job, the immigrant workers building the project were never paid the $5,000 they were owed.

“It’s just wrong,” says 27-year-old Guatemalan immigrant “Gladys” as her young toddler runs around playing in the grass. “We have kids, I have family. I have more family in Guatemala…It’s not fair that we didn’t get paid.”

On Saturday, the Latino workers, members of organized labor and concerned community members gathered near the entrance of Chapel Harbor to protest what they see as wage theft.
“We love our community along the Allegheny, but the one thing we don’t love is taking from workers,” says Chapel Harbor homeowner Kevan Yenerall, whose wife is an immigrant from Thailand.
“[The workers] need to know that the people who live in Chapel Harbor are wonderful people, they work in the neighborhood, they pay taxes in the neighborhood, they aren’t in favor of what’s happening here,” says Yarnell. “My neighbors are wonderful folks, we love our homes, but this is awful.”

Stapleton Homes did not return a request for comment about the incident.

The story of Gladys and her crew is one that’s becoming increasingly common as Latino immigrants show up to take advantage of the massive building boom set off by Pittsburgh’s tech and natural gas boom.

Building contractors and construction unions in the area are struggling to find new workers.  And contractors regularly approach Latino labor leaders, desperately seeking new workers to fill these jobs.

Many immigrants say they prefer construction work to other types of work available to them.

“I used to work in the restaurant industry, I didn’t like it, and so I decided to try this,” says Gladys. “There is more independence.”

However, Latino workers in Pittsburgh often experience wage theft and are chronically underpaid compared to their unionized counterparts. Gladys says members of her crew on average make only $800 a week while working 12-15 hour days often in the heat on top of roofs.

Now, the areas’ unions are trying hard to organize workers regardless of immigration status and documentation.

“If we don’t step up and keep the pressure on [these contractors], they are just going to keep doing it,” says Joseph Hughes, a union representative with Painters’ Union District Council 57.

“I see this every day, thousands of contractors around the state of Pennsylvania do this everyday. This isn’t an isolated problem” Hughes tells the crowd.
Among the crowd, that day on the side of the highway in O’Hara Township, Gladys and her crew of a half-dozen roofers were some of the few Latino faces in the crowd of 50.
As a result of the economic downturn in Pittsburgh in the 1980s and 90s, which saw half the population of Pittsburgh leave, there was never as large of an influx of Latinos as in other areas of the country. In Pittsburgh, Latinos make up only 1.7 percent, while 17.6 percent of the U.S. population is Latino.
The crowd of supporters at the protest was mainly white, but numerous speakers in the crowd said they feel a sense of solidarity as their parents and grandparents worked similar jobs when they came to Pittsburgh from Southern and Eastern Europe in the early 1920s.
“This is such an important issue because it hits home to me. Both of my parents were immigrants that came [from Italy] after World War Two and they meet learning English at Allderdice High School,” says Anita Prizio, a 54-year-old DSA member who was recently elected to County Council to represent the region around Chapel Harbor.”
“My parents built the house that I still live in and they also created a company [that I run], but the one thing they told me and I learned this is that to be a good business owner, you have to be an ethical business owner, you have to have integrity and you have to pay your workers,” says Prizio. “There were times that it was hard for my parents to make payroll, but the first thing they did was to pay the workers before they actually paid themselves.”

“I stand in solidarity with Gladys and her workers because it’s the right thing to do and business should do the right thing,” says Prizio.

The campaign marks the beginning of new efforts by the area’s construction unions and community groups to combat the growing trend of wage theft facing workers. Recently, the Painters Union even donated a new sign to Casa San Jose, a Latino Resource and Welcome Center founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in the growing Latino community of Beechview.

Unlike other cities with large Latino populations, Pittsburgh currently doesn’t have a workers’ center for non-union workers, where low wage workers win claims against employers that fail to pay them on time.

While groups are pushing for the establishment of a worker center, the task has fallen to an ad hoc coalition of activists associated with the LCLAA, building trade unions, area labor lawyers and the Thomas Merton Center community group. Gladys says support from these groups has been uplifting as a new member of the Pittsburgh community.

“I feel very welcomed by the community,” says Gladys. “We appreciate the support.”

The embrace by organized labor is part of a larger shift occurring nationally as building trade unions begin to embrace immigrant labor as opposed to keeping them off out of workplaces.

While activists associated with the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement say they would like to see unions and other groups step up to fund a workers’ center, they say that the protests have been a learning experience for the Pittsburgh community.

As the protest ends, Perez takes the microphone and taught the yinzer crowd a few words of Spanish.

“El pueblo que lucha, triunfa.”

When we fight, we win.

Reposted from the Payday Report.