June 6, 2013: Unions have launched a petition drive and lobbying effort to get a fully-functioning National Labor Relations Board with five voting members.
The National Labor Relations Board protects the organizing and contract bargaining rights of more than 80 million private sector workers.
The labor movement's message is simple:
When workers stand up for themselves at work, they deserve to be protected from employer harassment, discipline or termination. It's time for the Senate majority to confirm the three Democrats and two Republicans who have been nominated to the NLRB so that workers' rights are protected and labor law is fairly enforced.
Right now, the NLRB is functioning without five members—and important NLRB decisions are being blocked as a result.
Earlier this year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a court decision (Noel Canning) that overturned a routine ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.
Employers have been using Noel Canning as an excuse to challenge rulings already resolved by the NLRB and to put current cases on hold—undermining the enforcement of labor laws.
To ensure we have a fully-functioning NLRB, five nominees have been put forward for approval by the U.S. Senate.
Concerned workers launched the "Give Us 5" petition urging the Senate to confirm all five members of the NLRB so that working people's rights are protected.
Reduced shifts. Worse hours. No raises. Being fired.
These are just some of the ways Walmart has retaliated against their workers who have spoken up for their rights.
Workers like Vanessa Ferreira, who worked at Walmart for 8 years, until she was fired earlier this month -- having done nothing wrong beside standing up for herself and her coworkers.
Or workers like Carlton Smith, a Paramount, California Walmart employee of 17 years, who was just fired for speaking up to make positive change.
So today, Walmart workers across the country are on strike, standing up against Walmart's retaliation against and attempts to silence those who speak out.
They'll be caravanning to Bentonville, Arkansas -- what they're calling the "Ride for Respect" -- to bring their complaints directly to the Walmart shareholder meeting on June 7th.
And the more of us who stand with them right now, the louder their voices will be.
Even though Walmart makes more than $16 billion in profits each year, the retailer is creating jobs that keep its workers without enough hours, without healthcare, and struggling to get by on poverty wages.
As a result many employees can't even support their families without relying on government assistance, while the Walton family, which controls the company, has the wealth of 42 percent of American families combined, and its CEO rakes in more than 1,000 times the salary of the average Walmart worker.
That's why workers have been calling on Walmart to publicly commit to offering full-time hours and a minimum salary of $25,000 -- and why your support is so important. Because we know what happens to workers when they speak out -- just ask Vanessa or Carlton.
The "Ride for Respect" -- to take their concerns directly to the executives and shareholders who could make change happen -- will be a huge effort.
And having you with the workers from the start will make a huge difference. Add your name today: http://action.changewalmart.org/strikers
May 29, 2013: To gear up for their 2013 convention the AFL-CIO has started a discussion forum to talk about the future of the labor movement. Each week a new moderator, from labor journalists, professors, directors of community organizations and worker centers, and more, helps facilitate. Join the conversation at "Let's Talk".
May 24, 2013: "A nickel an hour for Teamster power" was Hoffa's slogan in 2002 to get the dues raised by 25 percent at a one-hour special convention in Las Vegas. A decade later, it's time to evaluate the organizing program: how are we doing at building Teamster power?
Very little of that new money goes to local unions; the bulk goes to the International, where it funds more staff salaries, as well as the strike fund and organizing.
Strikes are as rare as winners in Las Vegas. What about organizing? Are we building that promised Teamster power?
Our union needs to evaluate how we are doing in this critical work, and what the plan is for the future.
Numbers and Strategy
In 2012 the International union lost 51,936 members (according to LM-2 reports signed by James Hoffa and Ken Hall), worsening a downward trend of recent years and falling to 1.25 million members.
Also during 2012 our union was hit with the highest number of decertifications of any union, and lost 38 of those 51 votes where the boss was able to convince workers to leave the Teamsters.
Numbers matter. We can all agree we need to grow.
But strategy matters, too. We need to organize in Teamster core industries: trucking, warehousing, construction, and other areas to build Teamster power.
Does the International union have a strategy to organize in Teamster industries, or is the priority to get any members we can by the easiest route? This question needs to be addressed, with input from all locals.
Core Industries or Union Raids?
|Teamster organizing in the waste industry has been|
aided by solidarity actions such as the rolling picket
lines used in a strike against Republic Waste in April.
The IBT is organizing in the waste industry, where two huge corporations (Republic and Waste Management) control 80 percent of the market. This is the kind of strategy that we need to build Teamster power. And we need more coordinated action in waste, as we have seen recently, with quickie
solidarity strikes and coordinated bargaining.
But we don't see this model spreading to other core industries.
Right now, the IBT's biggest organizing priorities are two raids on other unions. The IBT is seeking to replace the Transport Workers Union (TWU) at American Airlines, and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) at US Air.
Dozens of Teamster organizers are on these drives, seeking to win over the mechanics at these two airlines. This means those organizers are not working on organizing elsewhere.
Perhaps those unions brought it on themselves by doing a poor job representing members, but are we building the labor movement this way? If the Teamsters win these campaigns, our union will grow, which is good, but by beating other unions, not organizing the unorganized.
Is this a Strategy?
Organizing at Conway or FedEx may be harder and long-term but they are critically important to the future of our union if we want to grow the membership, defend our contracts, and protect our benefits.
In the 1990s, our union took on an organizing drive at Overnite with this long view in mind.
It wasn't fast or easy. But we stuck with it and organized terminals and laid the groundwork for unionizing the company nationwide when it became UPS Freight.
Organizing is about long-term strategy—not chasing a quick fix.
Problems in the Organizing Department
|Teamster organizing has been|
hindered by top officials who
harassed IBT organizers who
formed a union.This notice
mandates the IBT officials to
not threaten to pull the Teamster
cards or lay-off organizers who
sign a union card.
Funding for organizing has been cut in recent years, and the organizing staff reduced. The budget may be tight, but there seems to be plenty of money to maintain and expand multiple salaries.
Politics plays a heavy role in the IBT organizing department. Western Region organizing coordinator Manny Valenzuela has a checkered record on this score. For example, some five (!) former Teamster organizers he selected or trained now work as professional union busters! One of them, Sherri Henry, has a website advertising her sleazy work on defeating Teamster organizing drives. Should he be doing the hiring and coordinating?
It does not help that some top officials have antagonized and threatened some of the IBT's 40 full-time organizers. That's why a year ago, they voted to form a union despite heavy pressure from the Hoffa administration. They wanted protection against political firings and retaliation. A full year later, bargaining continues to try to settle the internal rift, pitting staff organizers against the top officials, including Organizing Director Jeff Farmer.
Various former organizers have lawsuits against the IBT for sexual harassment and other issues, costing upwards of a million dollars in legal fees and damages. Does this money come out of the organizing budget?
Turning into union busters, suing the IBT for sexual harassment, forming a union to prevent political firings: this does not sound like a well-run department.
It's time to make peace with the Teamster organizers and operate as a team and to rid the department of petty politics.
The Future of Organizing
The good news is that more locals, as well as the IBT, are committed to organizing as the lifeblood of the union. That's a positive foundation.
Now we need to take a hard look at how to grow in core industries and how to back up all locals who want to organize. Then we can build an effective and united organizing program with the International, the locals, and volunteer members.
Karen Lewis, the fiery leader of the Chicago Teachers Union who led a strike last year and became a nationally known anti-school reform figure, has been elected to another three-year term as president. Today she will lead the first of three days of protests against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to close 54 public schools.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that according to preliminary results, Lewis won about 80 percent of the votes, soundly defeating a candidate representing a coalition of groups that used to run the union until Lewis took office three years.
Last fall, Lewis's combative governing style won near-unanimous support from rank-and-file members when they voted to strike to protest Emanuel's reform plans, which included heavily linking teacher evaluation to student standardized test scores and extending the school day. After seven days of canceled classes, the strike ended with both sides claiming some success. Teachers won pay raises and were able to knock down the percentage that evaluations would be linked to scores, while Emanuel got his extended day.
The three-day protest against Emanuel's school-closure plans kicks off today with what CBS 2 Chicago said was "being billed as the mother of all marches." The march route will take demonstrators to each of the 54 schools on the closure list.
School district officials say a looming $1 billion deficit is forcing them to close the schools. The teachers union has gone to court to block the closings, arguing that they disproportionately affect African-American students in the district, which is not majority-black, and would harm special education students. Many parents are also concerned about safety issues, because their children will have to walk through violent neighborhoods to get to their newly assigned schools. The district says it is spending $8 million to beef up its Safe Passages Program, but parents remain worried.
Independent hearing officers hired by the school district to evaluate the closing plans concluded that 13 of the targeted schools should stay open for various reasons, including child safety and lack of evidence that the students were being assigned to better schools.
Click here to download a new report by the Chicago Teachers Union on the history of racial segregation in Chicago Public Schools.
The Republican-led House is poised to approve a bill that would give private sector workers the option of choosing paid time off instead of cash wages for working overtime.
The measure would allow employees who work more than 40 hours a week to save up their earned time off for use weeks or months later. GOP lawmakers say they want to give busy working parents at private firms the same flexibility that public sector workers have to take time off to spend with their children or care for aging parents.
Democrats and worker advocacy groups say it opens the door for employers to pressure workers not to take overtime pay. And they warn there is no guarantee workers would be able to take the extra time off when they want.
The bill is expected to pass Wednesday but has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate. President Barack Obama has threatened a veto, saying the bill would not prevent employers from slashing overtime hours and doesn't offer enough protection for workers who may not want to receive compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay.
The measure is part of a broader Republican agenda aimed at expanding the party's political appeal by offering conservative ideas to help average Americans on issues like economic growth and job creation.
"It puts parents over politics," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. He said the bill "makes sense" to help working moms and dads and gives them more flexibility with their hours at work to take care of family needs.
The plan would change the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which requires covered employees to receive time-and-a-half pay for every hour over 40 within a work week. The proposal would allow workers to bank up to 160 hours of comp time per year that could be used to take time off for any reason.
Current law only allows private sector workers to swap comp time for overtime pay within a single pay period. The time can't be saved up for use later in the year.
The Republican bill would let employees decide to cash out their stored comp time at any point and forbids employers from coercing workers to take comp time instead of cash.
But Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, No. 2 Democrat in the House, said it's not fair to compare the legislation to similar flexibility that is offered to public sector employees because there are "a lot more protections" for public sector employees.
Opponents say the reason public sector workers were given the option to take time off instead of overtime pay in 1985 was to save cash-strapped governments money. They say that's why business groups are lobbying in favor of the bill, not to protect workers.
Critics also say the bill lets employers decide whether to grant a specific request to use comp time, so workers have no guarantee of when they could use the time. Even if workers can collect their unused time as cash at the end of the year, opponents argue that essentially gives employers an interest-free loan from employees.
May 6, 2013: There will be no strike or lockout by mechanics at YRC who are in the International Association of Machinists (IAM), but some of the mechanics are not jumping for joy.
The contract was voted down in Chicagoland by 69-24, and was voted down nationally as well, but the national vote to strike was not carried by enough of a margin, so the contract was implemented at some 15 terminals.
The mechanics took cuts similar to those in the YRC Teamster contract. Their pension benefits were spared, but they took a 15% pay cut, gave up two weeks of vacation pay, and other concessions.
A steward told us that the Chicago mechanics feel good about the solidarity they received from rank and file Teamsters who pledged to honor picket lines, and said they will be there for the Teamsters in the future.
Charley Richardson passed away on Saturday, six years after his diagnosis with cancer. The well-deserved tributes to his work and memory are many, but I want to focus on what made him stand out among labor educators—and among union leaders.
That was his devotion to the workplace, to life on the job: to helping workers figure out how to wrest control from management’s clutches in the place where we spend most of our waking hours.
Charley was relentless in his belief that the seat of workers’ power was their ability to control their conditions of work and to act together where it counted. “Surrendering the shop floor means surrendering the future,” he warned.
I first knew Charley and his close colleague and wife Nancy Lessin (herself a formidable labor educator) in the 1980s, when labor-management cooperation programs were the management fad. It may be hard to remember, in these times when management feels no need to pretend to be nice, that in those days a major goal was to lure union leaders and members into programs that taught “we’re all on the same side.”
Charley was just about the only labor educator (outside of Labor Notes) who made a specialty of helping workers fight these programs. His “Tricks and Traps” opened the eyes of countless union members who knew something smelled fishy about the nice phraseology of cooperation.
He would take participants in his trainings through the seemingly apple-pie aspects of a cooperation program and take apart why each was a trick and a trap: brainstorming as a problem-solving method, consensus as a decision-making method, first-name basis, “win-win” solutions, trust-building exercises (like falling backward and having the other guy catch you), no discussion of the contract, using a “parking lot” for hard issues.
And Charley always gave practical advice for how to operate when management was trying to impose its own ground rules. Working for the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and the Steelworkers, he must have trained thousands of workers.
Out of this came Charley’s concept of “continuous bargaining,” which he taught, with Nancy, at many a Labor Notes Conference. (See a slideshow here.) Continuous bargaining meant that any session of any program when union members were in a room with management was not a gathering of individuals; it implied a table with sides. Unions should bring the attitudes and tactics they used in bargaining to every confrontation with management.
Of course, Charley led these eye-opening sessions with humor, sarcasm, and the utmost respect for members’ experiences—and often compared today's conditions to the solidarity he knew when he worked in a shipyard near Philadelphia.
Who Controls the Workplace?
As management’s interest in participation programs waned, Charley took up other aspects of the workplace, specifically how technology is used to surveil and control workers.
Charley always made the point that monitoring is not about catching a few slackers—which is where most people’s minds go when they hear they’re to be under scrutiny. It’s about gathering data on just how the work is done in order to analyze it, break it down into components, and then speed it up and eliminate jobs.
“He understood how technology could liberate people and make jobs easier, but more often was used for control,” said Mike Parker, Labor Notes’ own expert on cooperation programs.
Charley also wrote movingly about how the trend to work alone was undermining solidarity. “Solidarity is at the core of union power and depends on personal connections among workers, created in the course of interaction in the workplace,” he said.
It seems obvious, on one level—but Charley continually chafed at the fact that most unions were letting management have its way, through inaction. They were ignoring how the restructuring of the workplace leads to isolation. Speedup itself (no downtime), combining jobs so you’re doing it all yourself, Big Brother-type monitoring, weird schedules, use of temps and contractors from different employers, even the elimination of networking jobs like mail room clerks—all reduce the chances for human contact.
Charley wrote, “If I call someone from a different office to ask for information, I am very likely to chat with that person as well. If I have to walk over to another office, I’m likely to run into others and have a talk. If I go on the computer to get information, I chat with no one (especially if it is monitored). As one medical worker put it: ‘There is a lot more communication, and a lot less interaction.’”
In 2010 Labor Notes gave Charley the Troublemakers Award. At our conference banquet he told the audience he might not be around for the next conference—but he hung in there and taught “Continuous Bargaining” again in 2012. We’re sure the knowledge that so many people benefited from his work was one thing that kept him strong.
I want to add a final personal note. That is about Charley’s attitude toward his own death. He wasn’t in favor of it, but he was able to discuss it openly and frankly, without euphemisms. At the 2010 Teamsters for a Democratic Union convention, we sat for a while in an empty dining room, and I learned a lot about how to be in the world when your time grows short.
Goodbye, Charley. You—more than most—were truly one of a kind.
A memorial gathering will take place in the Boston area in the next months. To make a donation in Charley’s memory, he has asked that you go to:
Hundreds of thousands of garment workers walked out of their factories in Bangladesh Thursday, police said, to protest the deaths of 200 people in a building collapse, in the latest tragedy to hit the sector.
Grief turned to anger as the workers, some carrying sticks, blockaded key highways in at least three industrial areas just outside the capital Dhaka, forcing factory owners to declare a day’s holiday.
“There were hundreds of thousands of them,” said Abdul Baten, police chief of Gazipur district, where hundreds of large garment factories are based. “They occupied roads for a while and then dispersed.”
Police inspector Kamrul Islam said the workers had attacked several factories whose bosses had refused to give employees the day off.
“They were protesting the deaths of the workers in Savar,” he said, referring to the town outside Dhaka where Wednesday’s collapse of an eight-storey building housing five garment factories took place, injuring more than 1,000 people.
“Many wanted to donate blood to their fellow workers,” he added.
Some 1,500 workers marched to the Dhaka headquarters of the main manufacturers association, demanding the owners of the collapsed factories be punished.
“The owners must be hanged,” one protester cried, as others tried to lay seige to the headquarters.
Some workers smashed windows and vehicles before they were chased away by police, Wahidul Islam, a deputy commissioner of Dhaka police, told AFP.
Rescuers in Savar pulled dozens of bodies from the collapsed building on Thursday as the death toll in the country’s worst industrial disaster reached 200, police said.
Managers had allegedly ignored workers’ warnings that the building had become unstable.
Survivors say the building developed cracks on Tuesday evening, triggering an evacuation of the roughly 3,000 garment workers employed there, but that they had been ordered back to production lines.
The accident has again highlighted safety problems and poor working conditions that plague the textile industry in Bangladesh, the world’s second-biggest clothing exporter.
Last November a blaze at a factory making clothing for Walmart and other Western labels in Dhaka left 111 people dead, with survivors describing how fire exits were kept locked by site managers.
May 1, 2013: A report published yesterday indicates that some corporate CEOs are paying themselves so much that they violate U.S. law. Former J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson bagged 1,795 times more than fashion jewelry saleswoman Rebecca Gonzalez in 2011.
The AFL-CIO report on corporate greed cites a Bloomberg News article which notes that corporate execs on average now make 204 times as much as their workers.
The United States leads the world in this corporate greed index, as indicated by this chart.