Immigrant workers and Justice for Janitors

We posted a fine piece on Justice for Janitors (below) by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson with suggested lessons for organizing.  Here is a well informed supplement by labor journalist and activist David Bacon.

David Bacon,

jforjr-1This article makes some excellent points, and shows the importance of the way the existing base of membership was used to reorganize building services and start Justice for Janitors. Its point about the market triggers was very interesting – I hadn’t really heard this discussed before, and it does show that putting this in the contract gave workers a concrete reason to support reorganizing the non-union buildings. As it says, ” it was not a ‘blank slate’ campaign disconnected from the sources of SEIU’s membership and contract power.”

Many of the janitors and leaders who fought in Century City were the Central American immigrants coming into LA from the wars. Their experience in their home countries was very important in their willingness to fight, and the use of the tactics of mass demonstrations and even CD in the street. They’re one of the best examples of the way migration, for all the pain it causes migrants, has benefited our labor movement enormously and given us leaders from Rocio Saenz to Ana Martinez to Yanira Merino. This is a big reason why there was an upsurge of organizing in general in LA in the 90s. Without this wave of migration I don’t think the best of strategies would have produced the results we saw. The article credits Gus Bevona with a role in getting the contract in Century City, but by comparison, this seems less important to me, and more like the mechanism than what actually forced the contractors to settle. Continue reading

If Labor Dies- What is Next ?

David Rolf. SEIU.

[if you see Tefere Gebre either watch the entire panel or  go to the playlist tab, and click on video 3. I have been unable to change this]

The American Labor Movement at a Crossroads. – Session 1

Co sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, the AFT, the Hillman Foundation and others.

The American labor movement is at a critical juncture. After three decades of declining union density in the private sector and years of all-out political assaults on public sector unions, America’s unions now face what can only be described as existential threats. Strategies and tactics that may have worked in a different era are no longer adequate to today’s challenges. The need for different approaches to the fundamentals of union work in areas such as organizing, collective bargaining and political action is clear. The purpose of this conference is to examine new thinking and new  initiatives, viewing them critically in the light of ongoing union imperatives of cultivating member activism and involvement, fostering democratic self-governance and building the collective power of working people. Jan.15, 2015.

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Enough Blame to Go Around

by Michael Hirsch

 Steier cover

Review of: Richard Steier, Enough Blame to Go Around: The Labor Pains of New York City’s Public Employees. Albany, New York: Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press, 2014. 304 pp. US$24.95  (paperback).

Two things I know to be true about Richard Steier. He is the best full-time reporter on the New York City labor beat. He is also the only full-time reporter on the New York City labor beat.

That is no mean praise. Sure, The New York Times’ Steve Greenhouse does yeoman work as its national labor reporter, and the city’s union doings are covered sporadically by the dailies, but with the Times and the tabs, if it does not have a business angle or a political angle or a sports angle or an education angle or does not prefigure a strike that threatens to close the city down, it is not news.

It is to Steier, who thinks that what happens to working people on the job and in their unions is well worth knowing. It is Steier who knows union leaders and their industries, knows elected union officers sometimes act heroically, if rarely. It is Steier who unfailingly listens to what workers say. Like James Thurber’s description of the good newshound, Steier “gets the story and writes the story.” That skill and that sensitivity are amply on display in his There’s Enough Blame to Go Around: The Labor Pains of New York City’s Public Employees Unions. The book is a selection of his writing from 1996 to the present. With the exception of an introduction, conclusion, and section updates, all first appeared in his must-read and widely circulated weekly The Chief, which he edits. Know that the book is no simple cut-and-paste job, but shows the utility of covering closely the progression of stories over time.

And what stories! They have the quality of a Grand Guignol, as Steier captures a real-life demimonde inhabited by thieves and poseurs who prey on the poor, whether they be union leaders running the table and stealing the chairs or elected public officials who think smart budgeting means shilling for the city’s already undertaxed corporate elite by instituting austerity programs whose savings come from either contract takebacks or employee layoffs. In the extreme case of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, that meant layoffs only for workers whose locals failed to endorse him, something even Michael Bloomberg never tried.
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Stand with Fast Food Workers – Dec 4

Stand with fast food, home care and airport workers fighting for $15/hr

seiuNo matter who you are or where you’re from, if you work hard, you should be able to make enough to live a good life and provide a better one for your kids. That’s the key to getting our economy and our families back on track – and it’s worth fighting for.

That’s why fast food, home care and airport workers are coming together to fight for $15 an hour and the right to stick together in a union.

Thousands of fast food workers in more than 150 cities across the country have voted to go on strike on December 4. Home care and airport workers will be on the picket lines alongside them in solidarity.

reposted from

Outside groups continue to pour over $7 million into anti teacher union effort in California.

Outside groups, the Waltons, former Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, tech millionaires, pour additional money into the anti teacher union race in California. The race now is spending over $10 million.

See the post below.

We Need the Representative Democracy of Unions

By Leo Casey on October 9, 2014 8:45 AM

LeoCaseyLeo Casey of the Albert Shanker Institute replies to Deborah Meier again today.

Deb: To practice genuine democracy in our schools, our unions, and our communities, we need a different understanding of what it means to be political.

When I taught at Bard High School Early College in New York City, one of my favorite questions on my mid-year exam was: What did Aristotle mean when he wrote that “man is a political animal?”

For most Americans, the term “political animal” would invoke the worst of American political culture: the paranoid ranting of talk radio, the political television shows modeled after wrestling entertainment, the election campaigns dominated by negative attack ads, and the gridlock of a Congress where narrow partisan advantage is everything. No wonder so many Americans run in the opposite direction when they hear “political.” Continue reading

Three sentenced for $100 million fraud in botched automated payroll project in New York City

timeclockThe conviction of three consultants charged in a $100 million fraudulent scheme involving a project to modernize the payroll system in New York City offers yet another lesson of the perils of contracting out.

On Monday, the three defendants each received sentences of 20 years in prison for their role in implementing the automated payroll system known as CityTime, whose cost mushroomed from an initial budget of $63 million to more than $700 million over more than 10 years.

“It’s a classic tale of greed and corruption,” U.S. District Judge George Daniels said. “It’s the largest city corruption scandal in decades. It is unparalleled in its amounts.”

The corrupt contractors lined their pockets with millions of dollars as they accepted kickbacks, funneled huge sums into shell companies, deposited stolen money into overseas accounts, inflated bills and maintained a bloated payroll with excessively paid and even fired employees. Continue reading

Sanitation Workers: You Gotta Love Them

by Michael Hirsch

Review of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City By Robin Nagle (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2013).

pickingupRationally, we know garbage isn’t picked up by the faeries, but to much of the public, it might as well be. We “take out” the garbage, but who removes it?

To write Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City, NYU anthropologist Robin Nagle took a job with the city’s Department of Sanitation and followed, as a participant observer, those she calls “the city’s own municipal housekeepers.” A city can’t survive without regular and dependable trash removal, and her ethnography presents a detailed portrait of the 7,200 men and women willing to do it expeditiously. It’s a tough, dirty, and dangerous job.

Nagle notes that injury rates for “san workers” outstrip harm done even to cops and firefighters. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks refuse and recyclable materials collection as the nation’s fourth most dangerous job, exceeded only by commercial fishing, logging and plane piloting. Continue reading

Union Suppression Movement- Part 2

America’s Union Suppression Movement (And Its Apologists), Part Two

LeoCaseyLeo Casey on April 18, 2013
This is part two of a two-part post. The first part can be found below.

As the war against American unions reached a fever pitch in recent years, there emerged a small group of right-wing academics and think tanks that have taken up the anti-union cause in intellectual circles. Of particular note for our purposes are Terry Moe’s book, Special Interest, and a recent study, How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions?, which was jointly sponsored by the Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now. [6]

Since I’ve already written a critique of Moe’s book for the American Political Science Association’s journal, Perspective on Politics, my focus here is mainly on the Fordham/ERN report.

Both publications tell a very similar story (all the more remarkable given the political and economic context I discussed in Part I of this post), in which incredibly powerful teacher union Leviathans invariably win the day in all manner of educational and public policy fights. The Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli offered a ten-second sound bite for this meme, when he recently wrote that teacher unions “were the Goliath to the school reformers’ David.”

How does one find one’s way to such an unfounded conclusion? With an ideological analysis that has only the thinnest veneer of social science.

Take the most basic issue in this narrative, the supposed “power” of teacher unions. As I used to teach my Political Science students, power can not be understood as a static, fixed property possessed by an individual or a group, but must be seen as a relationship among various players. Like any other political actor, a teachers union possesses no power in the abstract, but only in relation to other parties – school districts; school boards; state education departments; county, state and federal governments; corporations; political parties; parents groups; and so on, across the field of education policy players. Yet, in discussing the power of the “Goliath” teachers union, Moe and the Fordham/ERN report make no mention of the greater relative power of the education reform “David.”  This omission is telling for three important reasons: Continue reading

Night of Outrage: Thousands Protest NYC School Closings

by Michael Hirsch and Micah Landau

The Brooklyn Technical HS auditorium was packed for the Feb. 9 meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy. Photo by Dave Sanders

In one of the angriest demonstrations yet against Mayor Bloomberg’s failed education policies, thousands of teachers, parents, students and community members turned out to protest school closings at a Feb. 9 meeting of the city’s Panel for Educational Policy at Brooklyn Technical HS.

Despite virtually unanimous opposition, the panel approved the Department of Education’s bid to close 18 schools and eliminate grades from five others. The decision marked the largest number of school closings ever approved in a single meeting. Bloomberg has closed 117 schools since taking control of the school system in 2002, while opening 396 new schools that rarely serve the same high-needs students.

Some 500 UFT members, community allies and elected officials rallied at a press conference across the street from the meeting before entering.

“The entire city is sick and tired of the way the school system is being treated,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the crowd. “Enough is enough!”

Mulgrew also took aim at the PEP. “It doesn’t even do justice to the words ‘kangaroo court,’” he said.

The panel, dominated by mayoral appointees, has never rejected a proposal to close a school.

State Sen. John Sampson, who was among the 28 local elected officials at the press conference, gave the DOE an F for failing students and schools.

“It’s time not only to shut down Tweed, but to remove everyone in Tweed,” he said.

The UFT had initially planned to march to nearby PS 20, where it would hold an alternative “People’s PEP,” but, after police barred those assembled from marching in the street, Mulgrew led the crowd into the PEP meeting.

The UFT contingent starts a march toward the People’s PEP at nearby PS 20.

UFT  President Michael Mulgrew (center) and New York State NAACP President Hazel Dukes (right of Mulgrew) are among those leading the pre-meeting protest. Miller Photography

Inside the capacious Brooklyn Tech auditorium, the rage was palpable. The police were out in force, with NYPD officers standing in a phalanx near the stage and along the sides of the auditorium

Standing on a chair in the heart of the crowd, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “We have come here tonight to speak truth to power. The only thing that needs to be closed is the Department of Education.”

His words, not amplified by a microphone, echoed in waves through the auditorium as the crowd repeated them using the “people’s microphone.”

The more than 100 speakers, including many parents, almost all slammed the closings.

New York State NAACP President Hazel Dukes demanded that the DOE keep schools open.

“You’ve hired consultants who know nothing about our children,” she said. “Use that money instead to give schools the resources they need.”

Ernest Uthgenannt, the chapter leader at Grace Dodge HS in the Bronx, had intended to defend the importance of his school’s CTE programs at the “People’s PEP,” but instead told the New York Teacher that they offer “an alternative path” to students who may not be inclined to pursue higher education and in many cases “provide the motivation to get through the academic classes that are necessary to graduate.”

“I’m afraid to think of what might happen to some of these kids if their CTE programs are taken away,” Uthgenannt said, noting his school’s CTE programs are among the last remaining in the Bronx. “They might decide not to come to school at all.”

Uthgenannt said that the DOE placed Grace Dodge in the “transformation” model, a three-year process, in August. “How do they change their minds in four months? What kind of planning is that?” he asked.

Another chapter leader, Mavis Yon of General Chappie James Elementary School of Science in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, told the New York Teacher about the overwhelming — and overlooked — social issues confronting her school, where 98 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Yon said that her school community’s pleas to the DOE for additional “wrap-around” social services at their school fell on deaf ears.

“There are kids who need glasses, but their parents can’t afford them,” she said. “If you can’t see, you can’t read. You just can’t.”

She warned, “Until the DOE realizes you have to educate the whole child, they’ll have similar results.”

Harry Rivas, a freshman at Manhattan’s Legacy HS and a leader in the fight to save it, said that “if you close down the school, you close down the students with it.”

Of the coming four years, Rivas said, “We’re not going to be able to get the support and help we need. And we’re not going to be able to get the proper education we need.”

Natasha Capers, an alumna of PS/IS 298 and the vice president of the school’s PTA, asked the panelists when they will “stand up and do what’s right for New York City children?”

Students “need time, they need love and they need a proper education,” none of which they are getting from the DOE, she said.

Harlem Sen. Bill Perkins condemned “the slow death of space being taken away, piece by piece” from three schools just blocks from each other in his district. These schools would now be squeezed or closed to make room for new co-located schools, he said.

“The DOE often says they are providing these new schools to offer choice,” Perkins said. “If you live in this part of the city, you will have no choice as a result of them giving all of our public schools away.”

Educators from schools labeled “persistently lowest achieving” also turned out in force at the meeting after the mayor threatened to close 31 of these schools and remove half of the staff in each.

Brett Green, a music teacher at Grover Cleveland HS, which had been in the federal “restart” model, said that Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in a recent visit to the school, promised the school community, “I can see your progress. I will do what I can to help your school. It will not close.”

The mayor’s vow to close the school, Green said, has left students, families and teachers “demoralized, to say nothing of being thrown into complete and utter turmoil.”

At the end of the long night, true to form, the mayoral appointees voted to approve all the closings, while the representatives from Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn dissented. The Staten Island representative voted in favor of the closings, except for PS 14 in her borough, on which she abstained from voting.

Michael Hirsch and Micah Landau are on the staff of the New York Teacher, where this report originally appeared.