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!”

 

 

Advertisements

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.

Secrets of a Successful Organizer

 

by Jen Johnson

successful organizer

As a public high school history teacher for 10 years, I organized lesson plans and materials and the arrangement of my classroom. I facilitated thousands of discussions about history with classes of teenagers. I designed projects and guided the students to achieve our goals and get excited about learning and putting in the work.

Yet, somehow, if you asked me if I was an “organizer,” I probably would have said that I wasn’t. “Organizers are the professionals. I’m not a professional organizer!”

Thankfully, my union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), has tried to change that wrong-headed perception. The CTU works hard to train our members to understand that organizing is grassroots rank-and-file work. There are leaders everywhere if you’re looking for them. Improving our workplaces and the lives of our communities are collective tasks. We can all be organizers, but there is an art and science to learning to practice good labor organizing skills.

Secrets of a Successful Organizer—a new book from Labor Notes, by Alexandra Bradbury, Mark Brenner, and Jane Slaughter—is a perfect primer on the basics of good organizing. Distilled into digestible bites, the book lays out eight main lessons—from how an organizer thinks, to how an organizer maps a work site and designs, carries out and assesses a campaign. (It even includes a brief summary of labor law and related resources.)

Unlike many wordy and inaccessible how-to manuals, Secrets of a Successful Organizer reads more like a conversation with an experienced and patient organizer, guiding you and reassuring you along the way.

You’re encouraged to see that even reading the book can be a collective activity.

“You could read this book alone, but you’ll learn more if you talk each lesson over with a buddy—or better yet, a group of co-workers,” it reads.

The book is designed to make this possible through its organization and content.

Each chapter builds on the previous one to paint a coherent picture of how to build better organizers and organizations, and have successful campaigns. The book’s eight lessons are divided into 47 shorter tips, and nearly each one includes downloadable handouts, specific organizing stories and exercises you can do with co-workers or in trainings.

The perfectionist in me loves the chart handouts. One explains “How the Boss Keeps Us Disorganized.” Another shows how to track tasks during an organizing campaign, along with who is responsible and the deadline for each task. While you’re reading, you might think things like, “Easier said than done!” but no sooner than you have, the book anticipates your concerns and, like a good organizer, inoculates you—giving you reason to hope and telling you a real story to prove the point.

For example, the book profiles Joe Uehlein, an organizer in a Georgia meatpacking plant. He and his colleagues used the escalating tactics of singing, whistling and humming at work to call out a union-busting official every time he walked on the plant floor. Each escalation was a response to the boss trying to shut down an organizing drive with ridiculous new rules. The actions scared the bosses and gave workers confidence in a short period of time, which ultimately allowed them to win a union. Tip #34, “Don’t Let the Boss Trip You Up,” then lays out the main tactics that bosses use (fear, hopelessness, confusion and division) to stop organizing.

Some of the stories are complementary and help organizers not only see the tips come alive, but point out that the workplace context will often dictate what kind of tactics are best.

The section around Tip #25, “Choose an Issue That Builds the Union,” includes the story of Los Angeles hospital workers who organized a campaign after management changed policy to mandate that workers provide a doctor’s note even for a one-day absence. A subset of workers demanded a meeting with management and, when it was held, workers took their 15-minute breaks in rotating fashion to attend the meeting. One set of workers started the meeting, then as workers had to leave when their breaks were over, new sets of workers joined. They were able to keep the meeting going as long as possible and testify as to why the change was bad.

That story contrasts well with that of the Pennsylvania social workers who organized a powerful 15-minute strike by using the flexibility in their work rules to have all social workers take their regular 15-minute breaks at the same time.

This story, contained within Tip #31, “Keep the Boss Off Balance,” is simple and inspiring, but the similarities and differences between it and the story about Los Angeles hospital workers help organizers draw on universal advice and apply it to their unique setting.

Additionally, each of the stories includes reflections, quotes and honest assessments of mistakes and accomplishments from organizers and workers on the ground.

For me, maybe the biggest lesson the book helped to hammer home is that we are often reactive in organizing, but it’s important not only to respond to crises. To be our best possible organizers, we have to proactively and strategically select organizing issues that are the most urgent and important to the broadest set of members.

Whether you’re a labor leader wanting to increase worker or member engagement, a veteran organizer in need of a refresher or a new steward wanting an orientation to best practices,Secrets of a Successful Organizer is a must read.

Buy the book for $15 + shipping here.

Jen Johnson was a high school history teacher for 10 years in Chicago, where she was also a union delegate. She is currently a Chicago Teachers Union facilitator for teacher evaluation.

 

 

How to Fan the Flames

Two activists with Labor Notes discuss some of the issue that will be discussed at this weekends Labor Notes conference.

by Alexandra Bradbury and Jane Slaughter

Where will the next big movement come from? Fights in the workplace can be the training ground. Photo: OUR Walmart.

Where will the next big movement come from? Fights in the workplace can be the training ground. Photo: OUR Walmart.

We troublemakers keep hoping for the spark that will set a wildfire of workers in motion. The worse our situation gets—economically, politically, ecologically—the more we yearn for a vast movement to erupt and transform the landscape.

It’s not impossible. Look at 1937, when workplace occupations spread everywhere, from auto factories to Woolworth’s. The 1930s wave of militancy forced Congress to aid union organizing with new laws and to enact Social Security and unemployment insurance. Industrial unions formed during that upsurge continue to this day.

So why not here and now? Continue reading

Book Excerpt: Campaigning for Union Office

Labor Notes Staff

jumpstartOur new book, How to Jump-Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers, shows how activists transformed their union and gave members hope. This excerpt tells how the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) campaigned for top offices, and won.

It’s one of the universals of organizing—first you make a list.

Elementary teacher Alix Gonzalez Guevara remembers staying up late transferring data about each school from a district-published book into an Excel spreadsheet: region, address, how many teachers, how many students.

This became a Google document, an online spreadsheet available to everyone working on the campaign. The schools were grouped by regions. Within each, a couple of lead activists took responsibility to find people to do outreach at each school. Continue reading

Organizers Worth Their Salt

Many salts said they preferred doing their organizing from inside the workplace. Photos: Jim West/jimwestphoto.com.

Many salts said they preferred doing their organizing from inside the workplace. Photos: Jim West/jimwestphoto.com.

Bosses hate a salt—a pro-union worker who’s taken a job with the intent to organize.

A few unions are recruiting salts these days, usually young people who apply for low-wage jobs in retail, hospitality, or logistics. But unions are reluctant to talk about salting, not wanting to alert management to look out for suspicious characters. In this article every worker will use a pseudonym and their situations will be disguised.

Former salt Kendra Baker says salting offers something the labor movement badly needs: a “space for young people to develop skills as workplace organizers.” The 2011 uprising in Wisconsin and the Occupy movement created “a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm about the labor movement,” she said.

Now coordinating a salting program, she stresses that salting ensures a union drive will have “a workplace-organizing component, to maintain a level of militancy on the shop floor and make sure the campaign is putting the workers first. Workers should be taking a lead on the messaging and on the goals and planning the actions.” Continue reading

The Battle for Seattle

by Zach Cunnigham

Zach Cunningham

Zach Cunningham

The AFL-CIO’s 2013 convention came with a great deal of fanfare.  Unlike other conventions in the recent past, many felt a sense of revitalization surrounding this year’s proceedings as the federation moved to change strategy in a number of key ways.  Perhaps most indicative of this shift was the passage of Resolution 16.  Titled “Enduring Labor-Community Partnerships,” this resolution noted the “broad macroeconomic transformations” that have “[accelerated] deep divides and inequalities in our society.”  “Unions must work hand in hand with community partners and allies,” it continues, “to reverse these economic trends.”

In the run-up to the convention, Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times wrote that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka “believes that if unions are having a hard time increasing their ranks, they can at least restore their clout by building a broad coalition to advance a worker-friendly political and economic agenda.”  What’s currently happening in the Seattle area could serve as a testing ground for this theory.

These are certainly interesting times for the labor movement in Seattle.  As Paul Bigman recently wrote in Labor Notes, there have been a number of “dramatic actions by and on behalf of workers in the past few months.”  These actions included a victory for the “traditional” movement, as both the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Teamsters successfully fought a concessionary contract for many grocery workers in the area.  There have also been a number of victories for workers outside the channels of collective bargaining, such as the passage of a $15 minimum wage in SeaTac (a small airport community outside of Seattle) and the election of Socialist Kshama Sawant to Seattle’s city council. Continue reading