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!”

 

 

Support Justice for Migrant Workers

by Paul Garver

Free Kike and Zilly

When a repressive government wants to stifle organizing of migrant workers, it first strikes at those key leaders that are most effective in defending their rights..   

Talking Union posts last year pointed out how the Chinese government was closing migrant workers centers and jailing their volunteers to stifle the wave of organizing among internal migrant workers in China.

Now it appears that migrant worker organizers in Vermont are being targeted by the new Trump administration policies through ICE.

Please respond as quickly as possible to this plea from Migrant Justice. To sign the petition to

Demand the release of detained human rights leaders Kike and Zully!

Go to Migrant Justice website at:  http://migrantjustice.net/free-enrique-and-zully

Enrique “Kike” Balcazar, is a seasoned human rights leader in Vermont. Kike has lived in the state since 2011, when he became one of the many migrant dairy workers who make Vermont’s iconic dairy industry possible. He joined Migrant Justice in 2012, and soon became a spokesperson for his community, helping to lead the successful campaign for driver’s licenses for all Vermont residents. Kike has represented migrant workers at numerous national gatherings and coalitions, including the national Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s recent convention, and in the Cosecha National Assembly in Boston. He has received an invitation to speak at Harvard University on April 1st.  Kike leads the nationally-acclaimed Milk with Dignity campaign, and is part of the Vermont Attorney General’s task force on immigration. Kike’s infectious smile has cheered all of us who have had the fortune to interact with him.

Zully Palacios is an active member of Migrant Justice. Zully has participated in Migrant Justice Assemblies, learning about the reality that dairy farmworkers face in Vermont. She has been an active member since 2015, leading presentations, participating in activities of an immigrant women’s group, and designing know-your-rights information for the immigrant community. Zully participated in the campaign to secure a commitment from Ben & Jerry’s to join the Milk with Dignity Program. Her work for human rights includes joining meetings and trainings about the rights of workers and immigrants at the national level. In November, Zully went to New York for the Food Chain Workers Alliance’s Justice in the Food Chain Training, and in February, Zully participated in the Cosecha National Assembly in Boston.

On Friday, March 17, Enrique and Zully were leaving the Migrant Justice office in Burlington, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents targeted and arrested them. They are now in detention awaiting a court date. Neither has a criminal record. Their targeting appears to be political retaliation for their effective work in defending the human rights of workers and immigrants in this country.

Please sign to send the following letter to ICE Boston Field Office Director Todd Thurlow demanding the immediate release of Enrique and Zully, and calling for their deportation proceedings to be terminated!

Field Office Director Todd Thurlow

DHS/ICE/ERO

Boston Field Office

1000 District Ave

Burlington MA 01802

Director Thurlow:

I am writing to ask you to please grant Prosecutorial Discretion to Jose Enrique Balcazar Sanchez (birth date: 03/09/1993) and Zully Palacios (05/14/1993).

Mr. Balcazar is a seasoned community leader and spokesperson. He has lived in Vermont since 2011, where he is known for his advocacy to improve living and working conditions for all farm workers, particularly migrant workers. Enrique has lived in Vergennes, Burlington and South Burlington, where he has developed strong ties with his neighbors and peers. Mr. Balcazar has shown tremendous solidarity and integrity by traveling the state to listen to farmworkers’ problems, then sharing them with government and corporate leaders to develop solutions. He currently sits on the Vermont Attorney General’s task force on immigration, leads the Milk with Dignity campaign, and led Migrant Justice’s successful campaign to win access to driver’s licenses for all Vermonters.

Ms. Palacios is not a threat to the public or to her community. Rather, she is an outstanding community activist and human rights defender. ICE should not be spending resources keeping Ms. Palacios detained. She is an important figure in her community and her continued detention does harm not only to Ms. Palacios but to the farmworker movement for human rights of which she is a respected and beloved member.

I trust that this request will be promptly considered and that Mr. Balcazar and Ms. Palacios will soon be released.

 

Nurse Union Activist Runs for Vermont House

by Paul Garver

Mari_on_Verizon_Picket_Line_2016-05-15_at_10.46.13_AM

Labor for Bernie activist and now legislative candidate Mari Cordes shown at right, with Senator David Zuckerman, Progressive candidate for VT Lt. Governor and Matt Dunne, Democratic candidate for Governor, at recent Verizon strike solidarity event in Burlington.

We received this letter from seven leading activists of Labor for Bernie with connections to Vermont:

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

We are writing on behalf of Mari Cordes, a working nurse in Burlington, Vermont and past president of the 2,000-member AFT-affiliated RN union at UVM Medical Center. Click here to learn more about her.

Mari was an early supporter of Labor for Bernie. She was instrumental in securing her state federation’s support for his campaign and joined other members in lobbying the American Federation of Teachers to back Bernie’s presidential bid.

Mari is now running for office herself, as part of the surge of interest in local progressive politics generated by Bernie’s national campaign. She is running for the Vermont State House of Representatives from the Addison-4 District (the towns of Lincoln, Starksboro, Monkton, and Bristol).

She is campaigning, in part, based on her past labor-related work as a statewide leader of the Vermont Progressive Party and board member of the Vermont Workers Center. She has been one of Vermont’s leading advocates for single-payer health care, workers’ rights, and other causes, including environmental protection. (She is treasurer of the 350.org Vermont board.)

Like Bernie, in his campaign for president, Mari is relying on small individual donations. You can donate by sending a check (made out to “Mari Cordes for Vermont House”) to Donna Bailey, Campaign Treasurer, 298 Biddle Rd., Lincoln VT. 05443

Or contribute on line, via ActBlue, at: https://secure.actblue.com/entity/fundraisers/43597

In our individual capacity as former or current labor organization representatives, we urge your strong support for Mari’s exciting campaign. With help from fellow Labor for Bernie activists, she can become part of the growing bloc of progressive state legislators in Vermont in January.

Mari is currently seeking organizational endorsements from some of our own unions in Vermont and others. If you can help her with this effort or assist her campaign in any other way, in addition to donating, please feel free to contact her at: in…@maricordes.org

Best wishes and thanks for your help!

Ellen David Friedman, former organizer, VT-NEA

Steve Early, former New England representative, Communications Worker of America

Don Trementozzi, president, CWA Local 1400

Traven Leyshon, president Green Mountain Central Labor Council (signing in a personal capacity)

Heather Riemer, AFT-Vermont organizer

Rand Wilson, former SEIU organizer in Vermont

Based on this endorsement from trusted colleagues in Labor for Bernie, I had already decided to contribute when I looked at Mari’s own description of her other activities while working as a skilled nurse in cardiology.  This made me even more happy to support her candidacy.  Mari is involved in

Buddhism

Music (making, and listening)

Outdoor Activities

Homesteading (gardening-food and medicinal crops, laying hens)

Travel – have traveled extensively in India, Africa and many other countries.  Worked for 2 months as an RN with the Vermont Global Village Project in a village in Ghana, West Africa.  Coordinated 2 Buddhist Pilgrimages in India for a Tibetan Buddhist Lama.

I live in the Green Mountains with my husband in a completely off-the-grid (solar, wind) home that we built together.

Vice President – Health Care, AFT-Vermont

One, two, many Mari Cordes!

 

Why It Would Be a Mistake for SEIU to Endorse Clinton

Français : Logo SEIU

Français : Logo SEIU (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why it would be a tragic mistake for SEIU to endorse HRC at this time.
This letter is being sent to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and members of the IEB.  This is also being cc’d to members of the Board of Directors of SEIU Local 503 in Oregon, the local to which we belong.
Unhappy with the pro-corporate/pro-Wall St. bias of the Democratic Party establishment, of which Hillary Clinton is a major player; early on we have been among the many labor activists calling for Sen. Elizabeth Warren to step up and run for President.
We have long been appreciative of the stances taken by Senator Bernie Sanders on labor issues, and on broader economic and social justice issues.  However, when Sanders first announced his candidacy, many of us were unsure that he could mount a credible national campaign and candidacy.  What has happened since has surprised almost everyone.  The issues and values that we hold near and dear are today at the center of national discussion and in the Presidential debate.  For this, we largely have Senator Bernie Sanders to thank.
We list a number of reasons below why, 1) Hillary Clinton is not our candidate, at least not in this primary period, and 2) any primary endorsement should be the result of an exhaustive process of union-wide discussion in which our International provides hard facts to our members on the actual positions and voting records of all the candidates on the issues of critical importance to us. Continue reading

Unions and the Democratic Party

Watch Unions, Workers, and the Democratic Party

English: at a Hillary for Obama rally in 2008.

English: at a Hillary for Obama rally in 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With: Randi Weingarten (AFT) and Larry Cohen (Labor for Bernie)
with Juan Gonzalez, Basil Smikle and Ed Ott
The livestream starts tomorrow at 8.30 am (Eastern Time), you can watch the roundtable here:
http://murphyinstituteblog.org/2015/09/11/livestream-unions-workers-and-the-democratic-party-918

American Labor is facing the most exciting political contest since 2008’s rivalry between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Both candidates have a long record support from unions.

Partisans for each candidate and observers interested in the process are eager to see the first debate of the season – even if the candidates aren’t present, and the debate format is a friendly roundtable.

Please tune in on Friday, 9/18, at 8.30 am (Eastern) for the livestream of Unions, Workers, and the Democratic Party. Continue reading

How Brother Bernie is Making Labor’s Day

by Steve Early

Bernie-NNU-endorsement-600px-150814If it wasn’t for the Democratic presidential primary race now underway, Labor Day 2015 might be just another annual occasion for union mourning rather than celebration.

American workers have lost far more battles than they’ve than won recently. Further legal or political setbacks could be on the way, thanks to the Obama Administration and U.S. Supreme Court.

This spring, President Obama, big business, and their Republican allies in Congress won approval for a “fast-track” vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), when that controversial free trade deal is ready for ratification. Labor critics predict the TPP will undermine workers’ rights, environmental standards, and efforts to regulate multinational corporate activity. Continue reading

National Nurses Union Endorses Sanders

As the Executive Director of National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in our nation, I was there when we proudly endorsed Bernie Sanders for President.

In the moments leading up to our endorsement, I watched our nurses’ outpouring of love and respect for Bernie.

Bernie-NNU-endorsement-600px-150814

Bernie and NNU members

It was a magical moment of genuine hope for nurses who see people when they are at their most vulnerable and suffering, and who care for every person’s life in our country.

Nurses see the terrible social health consequences from:

Choosing between putting food on the table and getting the medications and treatment you need
Job loss
Severe depression from debt, especially student loan debt
Pollution, toxic spills, and climate change
Malnutrition and income inequality
With Bernie Sanders, we can turn our country around, and restore genuine hope for our families. Continue reading

Sanders Urges Unions to Hold Their Own Debates

Democratic presidential hopeful and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders advocated Sunday for more Democratic primary debates, including some run by labor unions.

 

“I’d like to see the DNC have more debates,” Bernie Sanders told Face the Nation host John Dickerson. “I would like to see labor union groups. I would like to see environmental groups, women’s groups, gay groups … different constituencies, host events and have us debate. So I believe the more debates, the better.” Continue reading

Bernie Sanders’ Labor Record in Vermont

by Steve Early

 Bernie 1981

Bernie Sanders has a long record of supporting pro-worker policies. Organized labor should back his presidential run.

When I first met Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders, he was a relatively marginal figure in his adopted state of Vermont. It was 1976 and he was running, unsuccessfully and for the fourth time, as a candidate of the Liberty Union Party (LUP).

Liberty Union was a radical third party spearheaded by opponents of the Vietnam War who had, like Sanders, washed up in the Green Mountain State as the sixties subsided. At its historic peak, the LUP garnered maybe 5 or 6 percent of the statewide vote for some of its more presentable candidates — in short, nothing like the winning margins racked up in recent years by the far more savvy and effectiveVermont Progressive Party, which now boasts a ten-member legislature delegation and attracts growing union support.

During Sanders’s quixotic mid-1970s bid to become governor of Vermont, I accompanied him to a meeting of local granite cutters, teamsters, and electrical workers. This was not a “flatlander” crowd, nor one dominated by full-time union officials. His audience was native Vermonters, some of them Republican, who were still punching a clock at local quarries, trucking companies, and machine tool factories in an era when the future home state of Ben & Jerry’s and Vermont Teddy Bear Co. still had impressive blue-collar union density.

These local union delegates had come together to make candidate endorsements under the banner of the Vermont Labor Forum, a coalition of unions outside the AFL-CIO. Sanders then delivered what is now known — due to its essential continuity over the last four decades — as “The Speech.” (For one of its longer iterations, see his2011 book by the same name.)

Sanders’s persuasive message to the Labor Forum was that corporations were too powerful, workers were getting screwed, and both major parties were beholden to “the bosses” (or, as Sanders might call them today, “the billionaire class,” a social category not yet invented forty years ago).

Sanders’s appeal for working-class support in 1976 seemed most persuasive to rank-and-file representatives of the United Electrical Workers (UE). They were, of course, members of a left-led national organization that had long favored political action outside the Democratic Party. However, in deference to their more cautious colleagues, the UE members politely went along with the Labor Forum majority, which, per usual, voted to endorse Vermont Democrats, despite Liberty Union’s superior labor bona fides.

This labor tendency to gravitate toward the least problematic of the two major parties is still with us today. Every election cycle, in every part of the country, AFL-CIO unions and unaffiliated labor organizations make pragmatic calculations about who to back and fund.

Rarely do they take a chance on third-party candidates, no matter how ardent their support for labor causes. Even a union rank-and-filer who runs against a corporate Democrat (for example, Howie Hawkins, the blue-collar Green who challenged incumbent Andrew Cuomo for New York governor last year) finds it hard to collect labor endorsements.

A few union leaders have recently vowed to withhold future support from Democrats who favor President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, but Hillary Clinton will certainly be exempted from any such retribution. By the 2016 general election — and much sooner, in the case of some national unions — organized labor will be in full lesser-evil mode once again.

The only place in the nation next year where union members will have viable, pro-labor third party candidates to support, at least at the state and local level, is Vermont. And for that the US labor movement has Sanders and other Vermont progressives to thank.

When Sanders comes knocking on their door, looking for support in his presidential primary challenge, trade unionists in other states should remember his long history of helping Vermont workers get their act together, in politics, organizing, and contract strikes. It’s a track record that few “friends of labor” can match.

Sanders got his own electoral act together by going local in 1981. Instead of persisting as a fringe candidate in futile statewide races, he joined a four-way contest for mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. Sanders beat the incumbent, a five-term Democrat, by ten votes.

As mayor, Sanders immediately hired a new human resources director for Burlington. This union-friendly lawyer worked to improve relations between city hall and municipal workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

During his four terms, Sanders continued to champion the cause of workers, tenants, the poor, and unemployed, while revitalizing the city. Under the Sanders administration, Burlington backed worker co-ops, affordable housing initiatives, new cultural and youth programs, and development of the city’s waterfront in a way that preserved public access and use.

“We were paying attention to low- and moderate-income neighborhoods rather than just downtown or the big-money interests,” Sanders told the Nation last year. “In fact, I went to war with virtually every part of the ruling class in Burlington during my years as mayor.”

The result, according to Sanders, was that “large numbers of people who previously had not participated in the political process got involved.” In addition, Sanders allies won up to six seats on the city council and campaigned as the Progressive Coalition (the forerunner of the statewide Progressive Party, which was founded in 1999).

But even a left-wing independent with a laudable record of labor advocacy at the municipal level found it hard to attract national union backing when he sought higher office. In 1988 major unions largely ignored Sanders when he ran for Congress against a Democrat and Republican. The latter won, but two years later, Sanders ran again and ousted the GOP incumbent, with more union support this time. Only gradually and very slowly has the country’s longest serving independent in Congress received the kind of national union funding that he should have gotten from the very beginning.

On Capitol Hill, Sanders blazed a trail not followed since Vito Marcantonio served six terms in Congress, between 1939 and 1951, as the lonely tribune of the New York City–based American Labor Party.

Fifty years later, during the Clinton administration, Sanders helped create a left pole for mainstream labor’s soon-to-be-thwarted campaign to reform the National Labor Relations Act. He introduced a “‘Workplace Democracy Act” to comprehensively reform and strengthen workers’ rights . . . to improve living standards for American workers, which have fallen precipitously.”

Sanders also promoted “economic conversion” — refashioning Pentagon-dependent manufacturing firms to produce socially useful goods — a cause since downplayed or abandoned by major industrial unions themselves.

Back in Vermont, Sanders used his congressional office to help workers get better organized, in their workplaces and communities, even when the labor movement lagged behind in both areas. He not only urged Vermonters to vote “yes” in union representation elections, he actually convened annual meetings of local labor activists to assist them in developing more successful organizing and bargaining strategies in the private and public sector. To stimulate new rank-and-file thinking, Sanders and his staff invited out-of-state labor speakers who were part of national efforts to revitalize organized labor.

He has also been a staunch and longtime ally of the Vermont Workers Center, the statewide community-labor coalition that fights for single-payer health care, immigrants’ rights, paid sick leave, and other working-class causes in the Green Mountain State.

When Vermont Verizon workers that I represented opposed the company’s sale of its northern New England landline operations in 2006, Sanders was campaigning for the US Senate seat that he now holds. He convened a public forum highlighting the reasons for our “Stop The Sale” campaign and brokered a meeting with the proposed buyer, FairPoint Communications, that enabled us to confront top managers about the company’s record of anti-unionism.

More recently, as labor opponents of the sale predicted, Verizon’s successor has floundered financially and tried to impose contract concessions on its workforce of several thousand. During their four-month strike last year, FairPoint union members had no stronger political ally, in public and behind the scenes, than Sanders.

Sanders’s four decades of active engagement with workers’ struggles in Vermont has provided a model for the Vermont Progressive Party’s own strong labor orientation. The VPP’s elected steering committee now includes key union activists in Vermont; its public office holders — on the Burlington City Council and in the state legislature — regularly join union members where major party officials are scarce: on picket lines and at rallies and press conferences. Members of my own union and others have been recruited to run as candidates for what has become the country’s most successful state-level third party.

It’s an axiom of labor solidarity that help received, in a period of need, will be reciprocated down the road. Vermont union members learned long ago that the mutual benefit derived from their work with and for Sanders goes far beyond the results of labor’s usual (and sometimes tawdry) transactional relationships with public officeholders.

That’s why trade unionists in Vermont have turned out for Sanders as much as he’s aided them over the years. Let’s hope that their union brothers and sisters in other Democratic primary states will figure out which side they should be on, without the benefit of such long personal association.

It’s promising that many rank-and-file activists have already signed up to join the “Labor Campaign for Bernie.” Last week, the Vermont State Labor Council urged the national AFL-CIO to support Sanders, calling him “the strongest candidate articulating our issues.”

But if the rest of organized labor plays it cautious and safe, jumping on the Clinton bandwagon instead of rallying around Sanders, it will be just one more sign of diminished union capacity for mounting any kind of worker self-defense, on the job or in politics.

Steve Early worked for 27 years as a Boston-based organizer for the Communication Workers of America (CWA) in Vermont and New England.   He is the author of Embedded With Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home and The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor.  He now lives in Richmond, CA.

Bernie Sanders is a Thoroughbred

Senator Bernie Sanders   Photo by Don Shall

Senator Bernie Sanders Photo by Don Shall

Bernie Sanders is a thoroughbred—why call him a stalking horse?

by Michael Hirsch

Voltaire wrote that “the best is the enemy of the good,” but he cited it as a foible and not a redeeming practice.  Within hours of Bernie Sanders announcing his candidacy for the Democratic Party presidential nod on April 30th, in some warrens of the radical left, the long corrective knives were already out for the only socialist in Congress. Why? Because Bernie is just not good enough, they said. Criticism ranged from his being a faux socialist, a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton whose backing by the left would be a practical waste of a year that could be better spent building a movement. Politicking for a candidate who can’t win the nomination and who would be destroyed by corporate America and an avalanche of corporate funding if somehow he did was seen as a mug’s game.

They would be wrong.

Take this example: in his incisive report on the recent Future of the
Left/Independent Politics Conference in Chicago, Dan La Botz cites remarks made by Bruce Dixon of the Georgia Green Party to the effect that “Sanders is a sheep dog whose job is like that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman Dennis Kucinich in earlier elections, to round up folks who had strayed to the left in response to the Democratic Party’s retrograde domestic and foreign policies and to bring them back to the Party.” At least Dixon didn’t say Judas goat, leading lambs to the slaughter, but it’s still early in the campaign, and the cat-scratch phase hasn’t kicked in yet.

Another group that would at first blush seem natural allies of the insurgent Sanders is organized labor. Despite favorable coverage of him  in AFL-CIO Now , the website of the national labor federation, reporting on his role at a recent anti-TPP rally in Washington, D.C. and his remarks on the U.S. Senate floor against the job-swallowing trade bill and the slight-of-hand that would fast-track a vote on legislation no one has even seen, neither the national federation nor its 56 constituent unions are even hinting that Sanders could be their man. While there is considerable support for Sanders among middle-level union staff, that won’t be–and never is–enough to cinch an endorsement. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said that the beating Democrats took last fall during the midterm elections was due to the fact that labor issues–specifically  economic issues close to workers’ hearts–were not foremost in almost any campaign. Now Trumka and the others have a chance to correct that blunder by backing a presidential candidate who reflects and expands on their economic views. Will they do it? Or will they make a Christmas peace with their class enemy again. We’ll know by December.   Continue reading