State of Our Unions – Secretary Thomas E. Perez

American Labor at the Crossroads Conference;  Jan. 15, 2015.

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

[If when you start you see Randi Weingarten of the AFT, then click on the lower margin where it says playlist. The second video is of Perez.  Weingarten is good also.  I was unable to separate these.]

The US  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.

Sit down, watch, educate yourself.

The conference has a number of leaders, including major DSA activists and former DSA leaders, to understand the reality of unions today and organizing the working class. Watch each of the sessions here.

NLRB Considering Legalizing the Use of Company Email for Organizing Purposes

by Chaz Bolte

Chaz Bolte

Chaz Bolte

The NLRB has issued a “Notice and Invitation to File Briefs”  [PDF] in the Purple Communications, Inc. case which could overturn the precedent concerning organizing activities on company email systems set by the board’s ruling in the Register-Guard case during the Bush Administration.

Using the Register-Guard decision as precedent, companies can currently enforce policies which prohibit company email from being used for anything but business purposes.  But the current NLRB appears interested in reversing that decision partially due to the increased importance of email in organizing since the Bush era. Another goal is to align the ruling with other recent rulings that helped streamline the union election process.   Continue reading

Review of Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance

by Joe Burns

LoW fcover pf5

Many times in discussing labor issues the tendency is to focus on policy issues or major events far removed from the workplace. In Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance, a couple dozen workers from the US, Canada and Great Britain, loosely affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, seek to turn the conversation in a different direction—to tell stories of work and the workplace. Sometimes they talk about workplace struggles and resistance; sometimes they talk about their jobs and work. There is something refreshing about this approach.

The book contains over thirty chapters with stories ranging from a warehouse worker’s fight against speedup to a clerical worker’s struggle to make her liberal boss at small non-profit understand her class privilege to a liquor store worker’s organizing against sexual harassment. Some of the stories are about organizing campaigns, such as Starbuck workers, others are about personal battles with victories as small as getting workers to celebrate each other’s birthdays over the boss’ objection. All, however, are up close and personal and share a common perspective that talking about time spent at work is important.

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Organizing For The Long Haul: Salting To The Rescue?

By Steve Early

saltIn the 1970s, as in the 1930s, left-wing activists who wanted to become working class organizers mainly headed for auto assembly lines, trucking company loading docks, coal mines, shipyards or steel mills. In all those gritty blue-collar venues, rank-and-file militancy was on the rise and the prospects for labor “radicalization” looked good. Three or four decades later, young American radicals similarly inclined to “colonize” often found themselves in very different workplace circumstances. The real action was no longer in America’s old industrial proletariat; it was among “the precariat,” the millions of native-born and immigrant workers who lacked traditional benefit coverage, union contract protection, and any semblance of job security.

This change of scenery reflected, in part, a much-noted intervening shift from traditional blue-collar employment to service sector jobs. By the beginning of the new millennium, the once commanding heights of the “old economy” had been reduced, in many mid-western cities, to a sad pile of post-industrial rubble. By 2012, there were 5.5 million fewer factory jobs than in July, 2000 and those that remained, in the auto industry, were paying $14 an hour for new hires–half the wages of newly hired workers only a decade before. Continue reading

6 Ways to Juice Up the Labor Movement

Some of the smartest organizers and thinkers we know give us their suggestions on how to build a reinvigorated, vibrant labor movement.

by Sarah Jaffe

Walmart (2)The passage of a so-called “right-to-work” law in Michigan recently left the labor movement feeling gut-punched.

The law, which defunds unions by allowing workers in shops represented by a union to opt out of paying for the cost of representing them, was a blow at the once-mighty unions that made manufacturing work, particularly Michigan’s famed auto manufacturing, a middle-class career. It came in the heart of union country, and while after Ohio and Wisconsin (not to mention RTW’s passage in Indiana last year as well) it was hardly a surprise that the wealthy businessmen who fund the Republican party wanted to destroy the labor movement once and for all, the swift passage of the bill (in just days) despite the protests of thousands outside still felt demoralizing.

To make matters worse, it came on the heels of some of the most exciting labor organizing in years; the strikes of hundreds of workers across the country at Walmart stores and warehouses, the strikes of fast-food workers in New York and similar organizing in Chicago. It came not long after Chicago’s teachers union struck and pushed back against a wave of corporate-backed education reform policies.

While Michigan’s unions regroup and begin the twin processes of trying to survive and retain dues-paying members in the face of RTW and trying to find a way to overturn the law, it’s clear that the national labor movement needs to do more than just fight defensive battle after defensive battle. To kick-start a conversation,

AlterNet spoke with several of the smartest organizers and labor thinkers we know, and asked them for their suggestions on how labor can go on the offensive in the next year.

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Rising Above the Odds With the National Labor Relations Board Process

by Cory McCray

Corey McCray

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to aid the workers of a sub-contractor that Comcast employs. The workers goal was to organize to have a voice at the workplace and obtain a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). On Election Day the final result was 58 Votes No to 40 Votes Yes, with 12 Challenged Votes. How could these results happen if over 65% of the 87 technicians signed authorization cards for representation?

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Dial 1-800 Unionism is Not the Answer

by Steve Early

Steve Early

When the history of public sector de-unionization in the American mid-west is written, its sad chroniclers will begin their story in Indiana. That’s where Governor Mitch Daniels paved the way, six years ago, for more recent attacks on workers’ rights in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan.

Daniels, a right-wing Republican, was elected in 2004. He got plenty of help from the Republican Governors Association, which that year received $500,000 from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as part of then-president Andy Stern’s misbegotten but Obama-like embrace of bi-partisanship. (In his 2006 book, A Country That Works, Stern boasted about being “the RGA’s largest contributor.”).

Daniels gave SEIU its reward, in early 2005.  He began cutting jobs and, via executive order, revoked bargaining rights granted by his Democratic predecessor, Evan Bayh. In the period since then, the number of state employees has dropped from 35,000 to 28,700.  In 2005, 16, 408 of them were paying union dues; today, only 1,490 still belong.

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Chicano students help Blue Diamond Workers

Chicano Students rally to almond workers’ cause

The nation’s largest Chicano student group brought some 400 students protestors on March 21,2008. to the Sacramento plant in support of the Blue Diamond workers’ long fight to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Since its founding in 1969, Mecha, the Chicano student organization, has supported workers’ organizing as an essential part of its program of community empowerment.

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