Bargain to Organize: From Boon to Embarrassment

by Steve Early

Steve Early

One sign, among many, of labor’s current travails is the stalled union growth strategy known as “Bargain to Organize.”

More than a decade ago, there was no bigger buzzword in union organizing circles. When John Sweeney was elected AFL-CIO president in 1995, he encouraged affiliates to employ the tactic by pressuring unionized companies to permit uncontested organizing drives at their non-union facilities or subsidiaries.

In one model Bargain to Organize campaign that began in 2008, the 6,000 SEIU members employed by Help At Home, a for-profit home healthcare company, used their own contract negotiations in Illinois to confront management about its record of union-busting in neighboring Indiana.

Then-SEIU organizer Matt Luskin reported that after an aggressive membership mobilization campaign, Help At Home signed an agreement that not only gave raises and better benefits to Illinois workers, but also “expanded the organizing rights of thousands of workers in other states where the company operates.”

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Teamsters Punish Lockout With Rolling Sympathy Strikes

By Josh Eidelson

Josh Eidelson

Over the past month, Teamsters in five cities refused work in solidarity with locked-out sanitation workers in Evansville, Indiana. The Evansville labor dispute is the second in three months to feature sympathy strikes against Republic Services. This rare tactic represents a major escalation in the Teamsters’ struggle with the company, and it’s poised to intensify this week.

As I reported for Working In These Times, Republic Services/ Allied Waste, the second-largest solid waste company in the United States, locked 79 workers out of their jobs six weeks ago. (Under U.S. labor law, when union contracts expire, companies can lock workers out, and either shut down production or bring in replacement workers to do their jobs.) Republic told workers they’d be locked out unless they accepted a “last, best and final“ offer that would eliminate their pensions and replace them with 401(k)s.

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Teamsters Score 3-to-1 Election Victory in Nearly Union-Free Industry

By Josh Eidelson

Josh Eidelson

Company pledges good-faith bargaining, but union remains skeptical

Wednesday night, the National Labor Relations Board announced that truck drivers at the Port of Los Angeles had won a rare union election. The 46-to-15 vote is a major step forward in the Teamsters’ campaign to transform the overwhelmingly nonunion port trucking industry—though it’s no guarantee of a union contract with their employer, the $8.8 billion Australian logistics company Toll Group.

“When they tried to push us down, they only managed to make us stronger…” said Toll driver Karael Vallecillo on Thursday.  “This is just the beginning of the big war.”

Wednesday’s was one of the first union elections held by U.S. port truckers since the deregulation of the industry in the 1980s. For most of the country’s 110,000 port truck drivers, NLRB elections aren’t an option. As David Bacon has reported, port truck drivers are frequently misclassified as “independent contractors” who aren’t employed by the companies they work for and thus aren’t eligible to file for an election. But Toll’s LA workers are classified as employees. Writing in the Australian newspaper The Age, reporter Malcom Maiden traced that difference to a Port of LA requirement—since overturned by an appeals court—that companies directly employ drivers.

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The IBT on Reality TV: Boston Union Teams Up With Mark Wahlberg

By Steve Early

A Teamsters entourage in the town near Mystic River?

Steve Early

BOSTON—From Jersey Shore to the short-lived All American Muslim to the much glitzier Shahs of Sunset, there seems to be no ethnic community left untouched by the national carnival show known as “Reality TV.”

Always dissed or ignored by the mass media—and thus hungry for more attention—the multi-ethnic enclave of organized labor might have been our last hold-out against letting it all hang-out in this shamelessly exhibitionist genre.
But that modest stance is about to change, quite possibly for the worse, on union turf that’s very familiar. A&E Television Networks is now filming a pilot called The Teamsters. Forget those flashy Persian immigrants, the scarf-wearing women of Dearborn, or the sacrilegious Italian stallions (and their tacky fillies) who populate the Garden State, this show is zeroing in on a local tribe that I know well, thanks to my great grandfather, who fled potato-less County Leitrim for Beantown more than 160 years ago.
According to The Boston Herald, A&E’s proposed new series will “focus on the lives and struggles of members of Teamsters Local 25,” a union with a long, colorful, and sometimes troubled history with the entertainment industry. Dorchester’s own Mark Wahlberg, the son of a Teamster, is collaborating on the project with Stephen Levinson. Continue reading

Sometimes A Great Notion: Local Union Reformers Run For National Union Office

Steve Early

Forty years ago this December, members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) did the unthinkable. They elected three of their own–rank-and-file coal miners–to top national positions in the UMWA. The labor establishment was deeply shocked and unsettled.

This kind of thing was just not done–and not a single labor organization (with the exception of the always independent United Electrical Workers) applauded W. A. (“Tony”) Boyle’s well-deserved defeat in his bid for re-election as UMWA president.

Then and now, rising to the top in organized labor normally requires waiting your turn (and, when you capture a leadership position, holding on to it for as long as you can, regardless of the organizational consequences). For trade unionists who are ambitious and successful, upward mobility usually follows a long career track that looks something like this: shop steward, local bargaining committee or executive board member, local union officer, national union staffer, national union executive board member, and then national union officer–president, vice-president, or secretary-treasurer.

Aspiring labor leaders can most easily make the transition from membership elected positions, at the local level, to appointed national union staff jobs if they conform politically. Dissidents tend to be passed over for such vacancies or not even considered for them unless union patronage is being deployed, by those at the top, to co-opt actual or potential local critics.

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Can’t Get No Satisfaction at United Airlines

by Carl Finamore

Once again, for the second year running, United Airlines (UAL) placed dead last in customer satisfaction according to a 2010 poll conducted by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. This is just about where United employees find themselves today, at the very bottom. That’s according to unions representing most of UAL’s 48,000 employees.

Here we have an example of something unusual and unexpected, passengers and employees alike sharing similar grievances against the same company. As we shall see, customer dissatisfaction with poorer service and crowded aircraft is not so unrelated to employee complaints about stagnant wage levels and staff reductions.

In response to many of these unresolved issues, union pilots (ALPA) and flight attendants (AFA-CWA) made their case public. They organized coordinated airport picketing across the globe on January 7, marking one year without a contract settlement since all labor agreements became amendable. Joining the pickets were International Association of Machinists (IAM) ground workers and Teamster (IBT) mechanics also in separate negotiations with the airline.

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Still Punching at Age 35: TDU in Chicago

by Steve Early

During the 1970s, a small slice of the trade union left was able to tap into working class discontent and workplace militancy in a very enduring way. The result, in the unlikely venue of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), was an on-going “Tea Party” in the best and original sense of that Boston-based organizing against economic royalists. Just as unruly protests against King George III in late colonial America didn’t emerge in a vacuum, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) was the product of a distinct historical period. It has, nevertheless, managed to survive over the last 35 years, and never stopped being a much-needed thorn-in-the-side of Teamster tories.

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