Report on the Labor Notes Conference

by Guy Miller

“The beating heart of the labor movement.” That’s how the moderator of the Friday evening April 6th plenary session of the 2018 Labor Notes (LN) Conference introduced six West Virginia school teachers. The teachers were fresh from a historic victory in their unauthorized – and unexpected – strike. The same could be said about the conference itself: it represented the beating heart of American labor. The record 3,200 activists who attended the three-day Chicago conference were living, fighting proof of that.

https://rdln.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/the-beating-heart-of-the-labor-movement-report-on-the-2018-labor-notes-conference/

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Purple Bullying: SEIU trustees trample membership rights

by Steve Early

In Chicago this coming weekend, 2,500 rank-and-file activists, from the U.S. and abroad, will be meeting under the banner of Labor Notes to celebrate the revival of union militancy, including recent strike victories like the West Virginia teachers’ walk-out.

This conference—nineteenth of its sort since 1981—will be the largest gathering ever hosted by the now Brooklyn-based labor education project. Labor Notes staff train shop stewards and local officers, promote cross-union networks, and publish books and newsletters about union democracy and reform.

As Labor Notes co-founder socialist Kim Moody explained to Jacobin readers two years ago, “the emphasis has always been on building power in the workplace” and “undermining the conservative consciousness produced by bureaucratic unionism” (“The Rank and File’s Paper of Record,” August 11, 2016).

One particular conference focus this year is how public employee unions can transform themselves to insure that the Supreme Court’s impending decision in the Janus case doesn’t lead to a worker exodus, once payment of union dues or agency fees becomes voluntary.

Among the many Chicago-area trade unionists planning to attend their first Labor Notes conference are members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, which represents 29,000 government employees in Illinois and Indiana. At a time when public sector labor organizations need to be on their best behavior—and increasingly responsive to the rank-and-file—Local 73 members have been experiencing “bureaucratic unionism” at its most frustrating and dysfunctional worst.

SEIU officials, from out of town, have run the local by fiat, since its elected officers were ousted in August, 2016 due to their “incessant infighting.” Under federal law, such headquarters-imposed trusteeships enjoy the presumption of legitimacy—regardless of their grounds—for a minimum of eighteen months. Time is up on that calendar in Local 73. So two thousand of its dues-payers have signed petitions demanding that their union be returned to membership control via democratic elections for seven officers and 100 executive board members.

Fired For Their Candidacy

To accelerate this process, a group of longtime Local 73 activists formed “Members Leading Members,” a reform caucus with its own slate of candidates. When their names were announced, ten contenders for office were summarily dismissed from their union staff jobs by appointees of SEIU president Mary Kay Henry. Their work is now being done by eight International union staffers, whose higher salaries will be absorbed by the local. Remzi Joas, a member of SEIU since 1986, former head of Local 73’s higher education division and now a candidate for local president, was among those fired. Local 73 members are pursuing a federal court challenge to the trusteeship and the related retaliatory firings.

When Henry recently made a worksite visit in Local 73, workers confronted her directly, presented their petitions calling for an election, and demanded to know when “self-governance” would be restored. Henry claimed that SEIU’s current focus on preparing for the fall-out of the Janus decision and electing a labor-friendly governor took precedence over local union voting in the meantime. But she did promise to refer the matter to her lawyers.

At a restive membership meeting in late February, Eliseo Medina, a Local 73 co-trustee, former SEIU Executive Board member, and long ago hero of United Farm Workers organizing, spent nearly three hours sparring with an equally unhappy crowd of 100. Those who turned up were angry about having no say about the day-to-day operations of their union, staff assignments or salaries, or the conduct of contract negotiations. To divert their attention, Medina showed a film about Martin Luther King, Jr. According to Jaos, “members were so disgusted with the trustees that they just finally left the union hall.”

A former SEIU-represented janitor and doorman in Chicago, Jaos worries that some workers in his current local will stop paying union dues or agency fees if the Supreme Court imposes open shop conditions on the public sector, and they still have no voice in union decision- making. If Local 73 is merged, by Washington, DC headquarters dictate, into a neighboring SEIU affiliate, the rank-and-file reaction could be similar (although some of its diverse bargaining units might prefer, after their recent mistreatment, to be part of SEIU’s mid-western Health Care Workers local instead, AFSCME’s Illinois District Council, or the Chicago Teachers Union).

Purple Déjà vu

SEIU does not approach this Chicago dispute with what lawyers call “clean hands.” Its past use of trusteeships, forced mergers, and top-down restructuring has been costly, counter-productive, and highly political—a way to reward friends of the leadership and punish internal critics. SEIU’s organizational culture of staff domination has led to repeated trampling of membership rights and, recently, embarrassing disclosures about sexual harassment of female members by male union officials in Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, and California.

In the run-up to SEIU’s largest and most disastrous local union take-over—involving United Healthcare Workers (UHW)—some of the first punches where thrown at a Labor Notes conference in Dearborn, Michigan ten years ago this month. Volunteer marshals at that gathering of 1,000 had to fend off several hundred gate-crashers wearing purple-colored T-shirts and bandanas to conceal their faces, who were bussed, in, from two mid-western SEIU affiliates.

Among those drawn into the fray were low-wage home care workers, told by their union, that the progressive labor conference in Dearborn was actually a conclave of “union-busters.” (An African-American SEIU member named David Smith collapsed and died of a heart attack before the heavily policed brawl was over; for a first person account of that senseless tragedy my article, “The Purple Punch-Out in Dearborn,” Counterpunch, April 15, 2008.)

In reality, SEIU’s target was Rose Ann DeMoro of the California Nurses Association, a prominent female union leader and then organizational rival of SEIU, who was scheduled to speak at Labor Notes’ 2008 fund-raising dinner. Protest organizers also hoped to intimidate fellow SEIU members from California who were attending the conference because they opposed the leadership of SEIU president Andy Stern and wanted to reform their national union.

Media coverage of the dust-up in Dearborn was so unfavorable that the AFL-CIO, then headed by former SEIU President John Sweeney, issued a statement declaring there was “no justification for the violent attack orchestrated by SEIU. Violence in attacking freedom of speech must be strongly condemned.”

Sweeney’s successor, Andy Stern, now SEIU President Emeritus, never apologized for or expressed any regrets over this PR debacle. Since leaving the union eight years ago, Stern has served as a corporate-funded Columbia Business School research fellow, drug company director, and paid consultant for gig economy firms like Airbnb and Handy, giving him even more to apologize for. (For all the sordid details, see: “Andy Stern’s Newest Gig: High-Paid Consultant for Billion-Dollar Tech Companies,” Stern Burger with Fries, January 12, 2017.)

A Toxic Culture

In early 2009, before he retired, Stern rewarded Dave Regan, the architect of SEIU’s 2008 Labor Notes protest with a plum assignment in California. Regan and fellow Stern appointee Eliseo Medina were sent to Oakland to seize control of UHW, a well-functioning and widely respected state-wide affiliate of SEIU, whose elected leaders had become critical of Stern’s approach to organizing and bargaining.

To impose that “mother of all trusteeships” on 150,000 workers, the Stern Administration spent tens of millions of dollars. It also dispatched an occupying army of union staffers to block ousted UHW officers, shop stewards, and rank-and-file members from forming a new union, after they were put under trusteeship. As I described in a 2011 book called The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor (Haymarket) the result was many months—and now years—of harassment, intimidation, and bullying of UHW dissenters, whether they are trying to leave SEIU, via decertification votes, or just get post-trusteeship UHW staff to represent them properly.

Regan turned his trusteeship duty into a sinecure, as UHW president, that now pays $250,000 a year, even though his local has one third fewer members than a decade ago. Other higher level Stern operatives involved in the dismantling of UHW include Mary Kay Henry herself, who once, famously called the Walnut Creek, CA. police to help bar Kaiser Permanente shop steward, Lover Joyce, from a post-trusteeship meeting in his own workplace.

After health care organizer Scott Courtney, a right hand man of Dave Regan, helped plan the assault on Labor Notes and, then, UHW members in California, Henry promoted his SEIU career. As president after Stern, she made Courtney Executive Vice President of SEIU and coordinator of its national “Fight for 15” campaign among fast food workers. Others of lesser stature on the SEIU national staff and from various locals also got their ticket punched—and their careers boosted—by running roughshod over UHW members at Kaiser and other California hospital chains, in 2009-11.

Where Are They Today?

The results were not pretty when some SEIU operatives took similar or worse liberties elsewhere, later on. Last October, Henry suspended Courtney from his $250,000 a year position because, as Bloomberg News reported, “people working for him had been rewarded or reassigned based on romantic relationships with him.” Courtney soon quit, before he could be fired, as demanded by the feminist advocacy group, UltraViolet, which deemed his conduct “wholly unacceptable.”

As BuzzFeed News then disclosed, two male SEIU staffers who reported to Courtney were fired or forced to resign in Chicago, based on allegations that he protected them, despite complaints from co-workers about their bullying behavior involving women. (Kendall Fells, “The Organizing Director Of The Fight For 15 Has Resigned Amid Harassment Investigation” Buzzfeed, November 2, 2017.)

A third offender, also fired for the same reason, had spent time in California during the UHW trusteeship. SEIU’s own version of the Harvey Weinstein scandal gathered further momentum, when media outlets, like the Boston Globe, chronicled examples of unwanted sexual advances by long protected officials like Massachusetts SEIU1199 leader Tyrek Lee, or staffers who moved from one SEIU local to another, despite allegations of misconduct trailing behind them. (Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, “Suspended head of health care workers union reportedly engaged in lewd behavior,” Boston Globe, February 14, 2018.)

To Sal Rosselli, the former UHW president and SEIU board member, who dared to criticize the direction of SEIU under Stern, this is clearly a case of chickens coming home to roost. “If you want to understand SEIU’s toxic macho culture, one of the worst expressions was the way its staff and leadership behaved before and during the UHW trusteeship,” he says. “In an environment where dissent must be crushed at all costs, leaders will be emboldened to prey on subordinates—and subordinates will feel intimidated about blowing the whistle.”

Now president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), the more democratic, independent union created from the ashes of Stern’s scorched earth campaign a decade ago, Rosselli is also coming to Labor Notes in Chicago, with a rank-and-file delegation of fifteen. While UHW, under the installed leadership of Dave Regan, has steadily shrunk, 14,000-member NUHW is growing and thriving. Its members backed Bernie Sanders two years ago, while Henry pushed SEIU into the Clinton camp, despite Sanders’ far superior labor record.

The Kaiser Partnership Frays

NUHW members at Kaiser and other employers have waged creative contract campaigns and militant anti-concession strikes. Kaiser mental health clinicians and other healthcare professionals are preparing for bargaining that begins in July. Like the CNA, NUHW operates outside the SEIU-dominated Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU), because the coalition’s embrace of labor-management partnering can inhibit much-needed public advocacy of patient safety and quality care.

Meanwhile, UHW’s Kaiser Division is in disarray. That’s because Regan appointee Marcus Hatcher had to be fired for—guess what?—alleged sexual misconduct with three members of the union’s Executive Board! Regan’s own mounting leadership failures just triggered a more significant departure. Twenty-one unions representing 45,000 out of the 121,000 workers affected by CKPU’s joint bargaining have just quit the Coalition.

As Denise Duncan, leader of the AFSCME-affiliated United Nurses Associations of California explained: “we cannot be derailed by the leader of a single local,” referring to Regan. According to Duncan, at a pre-bargaining meeting in March, SEIU-UHW “once again engaged in disruptive tactics designed to assert [its] control over the coalition, making it clear to us that this behavior will never stop.” Under Regan, she charged, SEIU-UHW has “continually fractured our unity and our ability to focus on bargaining.”

Bullying, disruption, capitulation to management, and no accountability to members or union allies—that pretty much sums up the post-trusteeship MO of SEIU-UHW, thanks to Andy Stern and Mary Kay Henry. Is it any wonder that, halfway across the country from California, SEIU Local 73 members want to choose their own local leaders? The alternative is continued domination by a national union with a history of hiring people later in need of discipline because their personal behavior not only harmed SEIU members, but also damaged the reputation of all unions at a moment of great political peril.


Steve Early is former national staffer for the Communications Workers of America and a longtime supporter of Labor Notes and the National Union of Healthcare Workers. In two books for Monthly Review Press—Embedded with Organized Labor and Save Our UnionsEarly reported on SEIU-related conflicts that weakened and divided the progressive wing of labor. Early can be reached at Lsupport [at] aol.com

This article is reposted from MR Online with the permission of the author.

Call For AFL-CIO to Open AIFLD Files

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

For those people, in particular trade union activists who are following developments in our movement, you should be aware of the resolution passed recently by the Duluth (Minn) Labor Body AFL-CIO. The resolution calls on the AFL-CIO leadership and President Richard Trumka to allow the University of Maryland to open the AFL-CIO’s AIFLD archives.  AIFLD was an AFL-CIO department that was set up in the 1960’s in order to combat and suppress any labor organizations throughout the third world that rejected the pro-business US model. It is well documented that AIFLD, funded heavily by the US government, was infiltrated by the CIA and supported the pro-capitalist US foreign policy.

The UAW’s Victor Reuther was an outspoken critic of this referring to the AFL’s “cloak and dagger” operations and the “indiscriminate whitewashing of the obvious shortcomings in US foreign policy.”*  The CIA through AIFLD and backed by the extreme anti-communism of the cold war and AFL-CIO leadership under George Meany and then Lane Kirkland, resorted to all sorts of coercion and violence to undermine radical and democratic unionism.

Rob McKenzie, a former UAW local president and Ford worker wrote the resolution which reads as follows:

Whereas, workers in Ford Motor’s Mexico City Assembly Plant were involved in a series of labor disputes in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s resisting efforts to bring their wages and benefits down to the level of the new plants on the U.S. border and demanding democratic elections in their union.  Many were kidnapped, beaten, shot and fired.  One died from wounds received in the plant.

Whereas, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), a now defunct arm of the AFL-CIO was reputedly involved in these events and the AFL-CIO has sent the old records from this group to the University of Maryland, the official repository for AFL-CIO records.

Whereas, the University of Maryland has requested permission for a year to open new AIFLD records and archive them for researchers and has not received approval from the National AFL-CIO to do so.

Therefore, be it resolved, That the National AFL-CIO take the action necessary to allow archivists at the University of Maryland to open new American Institute for Free Labor Development records. Continue reading

Richard Trumka Re-elected as President of AFL-CIO

Trumka(St. Louis, Oct. 22) – Today, delegates to the AFL-CIO 28th Constitutional Convention in St. Louis elected Richard Trumka (UMWA) as president, Liz Shuler (IBEW) as secretary-treasurer and Tefere Gebre (UFCW) as executive vice president. In addition, delegates elected 55 vice presidents, who will serve as the Executive Council for a four-year term.

Richard Trumka begins his third term as president of the AFL-CIO since first elected in 2009. Before his election to president, Trumka became the youngest president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in 1982 and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO in 1995. Born in the small coal-mining town of Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, Trumka’s commitment to improving life for working people began early. Trumka worked in the mines while attending Penn State and Villanova University law school. Throughout his leadership positions in the labor movement, Trumka has retained a strong commitment to creating an economy based on broadly shared prosperity, and holding elected officials and employers accountable to working families.

“I am humbled and honored for the opportunity to serve the working families of the AFL-CIO,” Trumka said. “We are committed to delivering on what we’ve started—a focused, independent and modern federation that works for working people and fights successfully for our shared priorities. We’ve come a long way, but we still have work to do.” Continue reading

A Tale Of Many Cities: Potholes in the Road To Municipal Reform

by Steve Early

reclaiming_gotham_final

There is no better role model for aspiring radical scribes than Juan Gonzalez. The country’s leading Latino journalist is co-host of Democracy Now!, a former columnist for the New York Daily News, and twice winner of the Polk Award for his investigative reporting. Not many veterans of campus and community struggles in the Sixties and workplace organizing in the 1970s later moved into mainstream journalism with such distinction, Gonzalez has managed to combine daily newspapering with continued dedication to the cause of labor and minority communities.

As a New York Daily News staffer for two decades, Gonzalez broke major stories on city hall corruption, police brutality, and the toxic exposure of cops, firefighters, and construction workers involved in 9/11 attack rescue or cleanup work. When he wasn’t cranking out twice-a-week columns, he helped lead a big Newspaper Guild strike and wrote four books including Harvest of Empire, a history of Latinos in America,

Gonzalez’s movement background and intimate knowledge of New York City politics makes him an ideal chronicler of the unexpected rise (and near fall) of Bill de Blasio as a city hall reformer. In Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and The Movement to End America’s Tale of Two Cities (New Press, 2017), the author situates New York City’s current mayor within a “new generation of municipal leaders” whose election reflects a broader “grassroots urban political revolt” throughout the United States. In that political cohort, however, de Blasio’s personal history as a Central America solidarity activist and, in the 1980s, “an often disheveled admirer of socialist ideas” makes him fairly unique.

Gonzalez reports that, under de Blasio, poor and working class New Yorkers have received a $21 billion “infusion of income and economic benefits” in the form of “universal free pre-kindergarten and after school programs, long overdue wage increases for municipal workers, paid sick leave for all, and a virtual freezing of tenant rents.” He believes the mayor’s sweeping pre-K initiative—deemed impossible by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other critics—“should be judged one of the truly extraordinary educational accomplishments of any municipal government in modern US history.”

Although critics of the mayor, on the left, may disagree, Gonzalez argues that de Blasio has presided over the “most left-leaning government in the history of America’s greatest city.”  Yet, New York remains in thrall to private real estate capital to such a degree that affordable housing for the non-wealthy is still shrinking, rent stabilization offers insufficient protection against displacement, and the mayor’s “build-or-preserve” housing plan, incented by tax breaks for developers and neighborhood rezoning, won’t provide enough below market rate units to meet future need. Continue reading

DSA Staff Form a Union

DSA

Staff of Democratic Socialists of America Join The NewsGuild-CWA
Washington DC – Staff at Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the largest socialist organization in the United States, requested and received voluntary recognition of their union. They are joining the Washington-Baltimore Local of The NewsGuild-CWA. July 27, 2017.
The group is excited to continue building on the exponential growth of DSA over the past year and to enact the political direction decided upon by the membership by advocating for sustainable working conditions and a workplace where all are treated with dignity and respect.
In a mission statement, DSA staffers explained why unionizing is a natural extension of the principles that guide their work:
“We need to practice what we preach, whether promoting diversity among leadership and staff, providing accommodation for people with disabilities, or creating the kind of community – one based on shared accountability, democracy, and transparency – that allows everyone to thrive. As an organization, we can also use this as an important example of workplace organizing.”
“We are dedicated to fighting capitalism and promoting democracy and socialism. If DSA is to be successful in this fight, national staff members must have the same protections and bargaining power we advocate for and desire for all workers,” said Administrative and Office Coordinator Eileen Casterline.
YDS Organizer Ryan Mosgrove continued, saying that the group is working “to establish structures which will promote DSA’s long-term health and stability as we work together towards the eventual triumph of democratic socialism.”
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The NewsGuild-CWA is the premier union for journalists, representing 25,000 reporters, photographers, ad employees and other media workers in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild (Local 32035) represents approximately 3,000 workers in and around Washington DC & Baltimore.

May Day Message – Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka; AFL-CIO

Throughout North America and globally, May 1 is a day to remember and respect workers’ rights as human rights. As working people take to the streets in communities around the world, a quieter but equally important movement of workers on both sides of the United States–Mexico border has been growing.

Whatever language we speak and wherever we call home, working people are building power, supporting labor rights and fighting corruption—and we’re doing it together.

Our agenda is simple. We oppose efforts to divide and disempower working people, and we oppose border walls and xenophobia anywhere and everywhere. We want trade laws that benefit working people, not corporations. And we want economic rules that raise wages, broaden opportunity and hold corporations accountable.

Nearly 20 years ago, many independent and democratic Mexican unions began an alliance with the AFL-CIO.

We’ve developed a good working relationship. We’ve engaged in important dialogue and identified shared priorities. Now we are ready to take our solidarity to the next level, turning words into deeds and plans into action.

You see, we believe no fundamental difference exists between us. We share common values rooted in social justice and a common vision of the challenges before us.

The corporate elite in the United States and Mexico have been running roughshod over working people for too long. Corporate-written trade and immigration policies have hurt workers on both sides of the border.  We each have experienced the devastation caused by economic rules written by and for the superrich.

 

Those of us in the United States can see how unfair economic policies have destroyed Mexico’s small farms and pushed many Mexicans to make the perilous trek north or settle in dangerous cities. Many in Mexico are worried about their own families, some of whom might be immigrants in the United States today. Workers in the United States share their concern, especially as anti-immigrant sentiment has become disturbingly mainstream.

The truth is more and more politicians are exploiting the insecurity and pain caused by corporate economic rules for political gain by stoking hatred and scapegoating Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants.

We will not be divided like this. Workers north and south of the border find the idea of a border wall to be offensive and stand against the criminalization of immigrant workers. We need real immigration reform that keeps families together, raises labor standards and gives a voice to all workers.

Instead of erecting walls, American and Mexican leaders should focus on rewriting the economic rules so working people can get ahead and have a voice in the workplace. One of our top priorities is to transform trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement into a tool for raising wages and strengthening communities in both countries.

We’re outraged by the kidnapping and murder of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, as well as too many other atrocities to list.

America’s unions are democratic in nature and independent of both business and government, but that’s mostly not true in Mexico. A key step in ending violence and impunity in Mexico and raising wages and standards on both sides of the border is to protect union rights and the freedom of association in Mexico.

We’re united. We’re resolute. We are ready to win dignity and justice for all workers.

Posted on the AFL-CIO website.

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