Labor of Love: How The American Labor Movement Is Securing LBGT Equality

Labor of Love
Labor of Love

From Left to Right : Amanda Terkel, Congressman Mark Takana, Roland Leggett, Kate Childs Graham, Cari Stevenson

“Labor has been fighting for LBGT rights for the last 30 years,” Carli Stevenson told the audience of the “Labor of Love” panel at Netroots Nation.  Carli is an openly gay woman who has done communications for multiple labor unions and is currently working with AFSCME Indiana-Kentucky Organizing Committee 962.

The basis of the panel was talking about the direct influence that labor unions played in fighting for the rights of our brothers and sisters in the LBGT community.  There is no doubt that labor played a major role in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, working to end segregation, and fighting for equality.  Let us never forget that the reason Dr. Martin Luther King was in Memphis, where he was assassinated, was to march with AFSCME sanitation workers.

It is no coincidence that labor has been a leader in pushing for the current civil rights battle, the battle for equality and LBGT rights.  Congressman Mark Takano told the audience that “2013 may have been the gay-est year in history.”  He also said that younger members of the LBGT community do not remember the struggles in the past and who was there to help the LBGT community continue to move forward.

It was people like Cesar Chavez, who as President of the United Farm Workers union was the “first major civil rights leader to support gay and lesbian issues visibly and explicitly.”  Chavez also led the “Second National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights” in 1987.

Congressman Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians elected to Congress, helped the Teamsters organize a boycott of Coors in the mid ‘70s.  Milk organized the local gay bar owners to stop selling Coors while the Teamsters truck drivers were on strike.  In return, Milk asked the Teamsters to hire more gay and lesbian drivers.  The partnership was extremely successful, taking Coors from a 40% market share to 14% and ending the strike.

The United Auto Workers pushed equality forward.   “The UAW was the first union to get same sex couple benefits into labor contract,” said Roland Leggett, the Michigan State Director for Working America.  After the UAW successfully got domestic partner benefits into their contracts in 1982, more and more Fortune 500 companies started to adopt similar policies.  By 2006, 49% of all Fortune 500 companies offered domestic partner benefits.

“The patchwork of legal protections across the country underscores the reason why a union contract is an LGBT worker’s best friend,” wrote T Santora, Co-President of Pride At Work, in a 2009 article.

Labor was bold and progressive in their approach to get LBGT protections for all workers, and was right there to fight back when workers were being discriminated against.  Labor used their influence in State Houses and on Capitol Hill to push for same-sex marriage provisions and to pass provisions against worker discrimination.

Before becoming a politician, Congressman Takano was a public school teacher for over 20 years.  He talked about the importance of the partnership between the LBGT community and the teachers unions.  In 1978, they fought back against the Prop 6, the “Briggs Amendment” that would have “banned gays and lesbians from working in the California public schools.”

Together the labor movement and the LGBT community celebrated as the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.  This monumental decision is leading to the destruction of the anti-gay marriage provisions passed throughout the states.

 

Pushing To End LBGT Discrimination

From the beginning labor and the LBGT community have been working to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).  However, after the Hobby Lobby decision, the “religious provisions” in ENDA took on an entirely new meaning.

The Supreme Court’s decision allows Hobby Lobby a “religious exemption” from a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act.  Within days of that ruling, “closely held corporations” and religious institutions wanted to use the religious exemption to discriminate against the LBGT community.  (Read the story “Hobby Lobby’s harvest: A religious exemption for LGBT discrimination?” from the LA Times)

Just as quickly as religious institutions began to file for the ability to discriminate, national gay rights advocacy groups began pulling their support for ENDA.

“While we fully support strong protections for LGBT workers in the workplace, something that for many workers is currently only afforded by a union contract, after the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, it is clear that these broad religious exemptions would gut the intent and purpose of ENDA,” said Pride at Work interim Executive Director, Jerame Davis, in a written statement. “LGBT workers deserve strong, enforceable workplace protections and we look forward to supporting a bill to that end.”

The current version of ENDA has a religious exemption clause that would allow the “closely held corporations” and religious institutions to openly discriminate against workers because they are gay.

Carli Stevenson laid out the perfect example at Netroots Nation, when she explained that her partner works for a Catholic organization.  If the administration learned that Carli’s partner was in a same sex relationship, she could be immediately fired, and unable to collect unemployment.   “We’re not just talking about marriage, we’re talking about basic workers’ rights. Many of these religious and ministerial exemptions are an attack on basic protections most of us take for granted.” Carli continued. “We should not be pushing for any bill that will leave out any members of our LBGT family.”

Congressman Takano said that the staff from the Equality Caucus is working on the right language to protect the workers and the religious beliefs of religious institutions.

Roland Leggett, whose husband is a Lutheran minister, talked about the how “religious exemptions have been used a way to discriminate against people throughout history.”  He continued by saying, “there is a difference between a baker who does not want to make a cake for a gay wedding, and being fired for being gay.”

Some of this anti-gay messaging comes from the Catholic Church.  Kate Childs Graham, who does media affairs for the American Federation of Teachers, was raised Catholic and said she is “hopeful that this new Pope will make changes to move the church towards marriage equality.”

 

Moving Forward

After a long and moving discussion about how labor unions helped to push for many of the rights and protections that the LBGT community now enjoys, it was Kate Childs Graham who posed a question to the audience: “What can the LBGT community do to help labor?”

For decades, labor unions have seen a slow decline in membership and less of the private sector is covered by union contracts.  Over the past few years, labor unions have seen unprecedented attacks on workers rights.

Kate talked about the recent fight in Michigan, where Republican Governor Rick Snyder forced a “Right To Work (for less)” amendment through the state Legislature.  While that was happening, Kate talked to some of her friends at Equality Michigan, and asked for their help organizing people to rally against the legislation.  Without skipping a beat, Equality Michigan helped to gather hundreds of the LBGT community to a rally less than a week later.

In the 1970s when “gay rights” was a relatively new term, labor was there. Now these LBGT advocacy groups are very well organized, and very powerful.  Labor needs them to help push for better wages and better working conditions.  We need the LGBT community to help us push for a higher minimum wage.  We need the LBGT community to help us as we are organizing low-wage workers and restaurant workers.  We need the LBGT community to help us push for a single payer healthcare system. Sometimes, we just need people to stand with us at rallies. That is what the LBGT community can do for labor.

 

Closing Note

I have been running the New Hampshire Labor News for almost three years now.  My work has connected me with some wonderful people from around the country.  Many of the communications professionals inside the labor movement are gay.  They are some of the funniest, creative, and most dedicated people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  I wanted to personally thank my friend Asher Huey (AFT Digital Media) for putting this panel together.  I also want to congratulate all the people who participated in this panel, and especially my friend, and fellow Granite Stater, Carli Stevenson, who plans on being married to the love of her life in 2016!

 

FairPoint Employees Overwhelmingly Endorse Strike

Fairpoint Workers

Early vote count shows widespread support; voting continues in NH

Manchester, NH—At meetings across Northern New England last week, an overwhelming majority of union members voted to authorize union leaders to call a strike at FairPoint Communications. Representatives of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Locals 2320, 2326, and 2327 have been in negotiations with company management since late April and have yet to reach an agreement. The contracts of approximately 2,000 union employees in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont expire on August 2.

Union leaders say that this vote comes as a direct consequence of management intransigence. “No one here wants a strike but management has pushed us to this point,” said Glenn Brackett, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. “The bargaining team will continue to work hard to reach an acceptable solution. But if management continues to reject all reasonable proposals, we may be forced to go on strike.”

A strike authorization vote is a necessary precursor to a work stoppage, but does not require the union members to actually go on strike. Such a decision could be made later by union leaders. The voting has finished in Maine and Vermont. High service volume caused by extreme weather in New Hampshire led to an extension of voting times in that state. Full voting results from all three states will be available once voting in New Hampshire closes. Preliminary vote counts suggest an overwhelming majority of members support a strike authorization.

The major sticking point between management and labor is the company’s insistence on being able to replace union workers with outside contractors. “For the sake of New England customers, we will not let management ram this proposal through,” said Don Trementozzi, President of CWA Local 1400, which represents FairPoint workers in all three states. “New England communities will suffer if FairPoint is allowed to hire poorly trained, out of state temps who have no investment in our communities to maintain our vital telecommunications infrastructure. This proposal hurts our members and our customers – it only helps the Wall Street hedge funds that own the company.”

Victory for Long Island Rail Road Workers and Commuters

Victory for Long Island Rail Road Workers: Statement from SMART General President Joseph Nigro

Washington, DC – I am pleased to report that SMART (International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers) members at the Long Island Rail Road, along with their brothers and sisters at allied Unions, have finally attained a hard earned and fair contract that will avoid a management provoked disaster for workers, communities and commuters in New York.

These members have sacrificed much during these past five years while never faltering in servicing the traveling public with their unmatched professionalism and dedication. This is not a fight they chose but, nevertheless, they fought tooth and nail to ensure a fair contract to fulfill the fair day’s pay for the fair day’s work they contribute day in and day.

I would like to personally thank GCA 505 Chair Anthony Simon, who served as the leader of the Union coalition, for his tireless leadership and patience during this crisis. He is not only a credit to this organization, but a valuable leader with a bright future in this organization and within the American Labor Movement. I would also like to recognize General Chairman John McCloskey who represents railroad sheet metal mechanical and engineering workers at the LIRR. I would also like to thank Transportation Division President John Previsich who stood side by side with us in support of the members working at the Long Island Rail Road. Governor Cuomo, the bipartisan delegation of leaders and working families across Long Island who stood with us deserve credit.

Our work is not yet done. Members of this organization, sheet metal workers across the United States and Canada, conductors, engineers, rail road mechanics, aviation workers, sign workers and everyone in between, stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Long Island. Our work paid off. Now it is time to apply our strengths everywhere else – the strength that comes from the solidarity of this membership and working families across this country.

SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, is one of North America’s most dynamic and diverse unions with 216,000 members. SMART’s members ensure the quality of the air we breathe, promote energy efficiency, produce and provide the vital services that move products to market and passengers to their destinations. We are sheet metal workers, service technicians, rail road mechanics, bus operators, engineers, conductors, sign workers, welders, production employees, airline employees and more. With members in scores of different occupations, we advocate for fairness in the workplace, excellence at work and opportunity for all working families.

Randi Weingarten Re-elected AFT President

AFT President Weingarten  (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)
AFT President Weingarten  (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)

AFT President Weingarten (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)

Lorretta Johnson re-elected Secretary-Treasurer; Mary Cathryn Ricker chosen to succeed Executive Vice President Francine Lawrence 

LOS ANGELES—Delegates at the American Federation of Teachers national convention voted overwhelmingly to re-elect AFT President Randi Weingarten to a third term. The vote affirms the AFT’s commitment to solution-driven, community-engaged and member-empowered unionism that focuses on uniting union members, the people they serve and the communities in which they live. Also re-elected to lead the 1.6 million-member union was AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, who has held that position since 2011.

Joining Weingarten and Johnson as the AFT’s new executive vice president is the president of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, Mary Cathryn Ricker. Ricker will replace Francine Lawrence, who plans to retire this year.

Ricker has led AFT Local 28 since 2005 and has been a member of the AFT K-12 Teachers program and policy council since 2006. She has previously represented the AFT internationally in Finland and the Middle East; and she has represented the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers on mayoral Sister City delegations to Germany and Mexico. Ricker is a National Board Certified middle school English teacher who has taught in classrooms all across the country and internationally.

The union also elected 43 vice presidents representing each of the AFT’s divisions: K-12 teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; public employees; and healthcare workers.

“Over the coming two years, we will work to achieve all these dreams—of a more just society; an economy that works for all Americans; healthcare that puts patients ahead of profits; and public education from early childhood through 16 and more that nurtures the potential of every student in every way,” said Weingarten. “But dreaming does not mean dozing. We are leaving this convention charged up. Fired up.”

“Let us not waver in our commitment to make sure that every child, no matter their ZIP code, gets an amazing public education,” said Johnson. “Let us not falter in our fight to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.”

“I am energized by this convention and the mandate you’ve given our union and us leaders to work tirelessly to reclaim the promise of America and restore the gains that have been rolled back—by being solution-driven, community-engaged, member-involved and, yes, I guess this Minnesotan can be a little badass too,” said Ricker.

The AFT has been holding its biennial convention, which began on July 11 and ends today, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Earlier in the convention, the more than 3,500 delegates passed a series of resolutions and special orders of business to increase educational and economic opportunity, including:

Creating a Healthcare System That Puts Patient Care Above Profits
Safe and Effective Nurse Staffing Saves Lives, Prevents Errors
Ending the Exploitation of and the Reliance on a Contingent Academic Labor System in Higher Education
Support U.S. Postal Workers: Boycott Staples
Our Commitment to Fighting Back and Fighting Forward
The Role of Standards in Public Education
Real Accountability for Equity and Excellence in Public Education

CLICK HERE to say Congrats to President Weingarten on Twitter.

Maine Labor Advocates To Show Movie SALT OF THE EARTH in Solidarity For IBEW-CWA FairPoint Workers

SALT OF THE EARTH CROPPED

In an expression of solidarity with the IBEW and CWA workers at FairPoint Communications who are struggling for a fair contract, the Community Union of Ellsworth & Hancock County has organized a public showing of the movie Salt of the Earth on July 29.

SALT OF THE EARTH
Tuesday July 29th, 7:00pm
Ellsworth Unitarian Universalist Church
121 Bucksport Rd.

Join the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth’s Peace & Social Action Committee, Community Union of Ellsworth & Hancock County, IBEW Local 2327, CWA Local 1400, Maine State Association of Letter Carriers, Maine AFL-CIO, Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, for a free showing of the movie “Salt Of The Earth.”

For more information call 667-4877

Share this flyer with your friends by clicking here for Facebook or here for Twitter.  Also you can download this PDF version of the flyer to post at your worksite or email to your friends.

SALT OF THE EARTH PNH

IBEW 2320 Endorse Lou D’Allesandro for NH Senate

20140711-100707-36427697.jpg

A statement from Senator D’Allesandro:
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I am honored to receive the endorsement of the working men and women of IBEW Local 2320. I have had a long relationship with this union and their endorsement and support means that I am still connected to the root of politics – person to person and working hard to make the lives of our
citizens better.

These men and women go to work every day and do what they can to improve the communication and electrical networks that are a vital part of our society.

I can only say thank you and let these union members know that I am with
them and that support is a two way street.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Advocate Discusses Fighting Workplace Discrimination in Latest AFGE Documentary

I AM AFGE@

Agency has struggled to serve workers with shrinking budget, union leader Gabrielle Martin says

I AM AFGE@

WASHINGTON – In the 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s mission to protect employees from job-related discrimination has expanded as our nation has become more determined to enforce equal rights under the law for all Americans.

EEOC’s initial focus on discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin has grown to cover age, disability, genetic information, and more recently transgender status and gender identity.

But EEOC’s budget has not kept pace, says Gabrielle Martin, president of the American Federation of Government Employees council representing EEOC employees. “We have been woefully underfunded for most of our existence,” Gabrielle says.

The budget cuts required under sequestration have hit EEOC especially hard, resulting in unfilled vacancies that mean longer wait times for employees facing discrimination to receive assistance from the agency. It currently takes nine months on average for EEOC to investigate a case once it’s been filed, Gabrielle says.

“A pregnant woman who loses her job early in her pregnancy is really damaged by the passage of time. There’s the loss of the job, the benefits and really the destruction of a family unit that may be occurring behind that loss of job,” she says.

Gabrielle shares her story in the latest documentary produced by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Gabrielle and thousands of other bargaining unit employees throughout EEOC. The documentary series is part of AFGE’s year-long campaign, “I Am AFGE,” to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of the women and men who work for them every day.

“There is nothing more insulting to an employee or job applicant than being treated unfairly on the basis of factors that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “The women and men who work for the EEOC are often the only advocates for these employees, and they are doing a remarkable job with limited resources and attention.”

AFGE Council 216 represents all professional and nonprofessional General Schedule employees at EEOC, including investigators, attorneys, paralegals, mediators, administrative judges, and support staff.

Gabrielle says EEOC relies on labor unions to help counsel employees who are facing discrimination and walk them through the process for filing discrimination complaints. In the federal sector, unions like AFGE file complaints on behalf of employees and represent them throughout the process.

Gabrielle recalls hearing stories from her mother about her grandfather meeting with coworkers late at night in an effort to form a union for black employees at the U.S. Postal Service in Chicago. The stories resonated with Gabrielle’s mother and with Gabrielle herself, who joined AFGE to advocate on behalf of government workers.

Gabrielle’s story is one of 15 short-form documentaries being released by AFGE every three weeks through the end of the year, highlighting individual federal employees who carry out important work across the country.

All of the videos are being posted online and distributed to hundreds of news outlets across the country. The campaign also is being promoted through social media, an employee photo contest and other events.

“For 50 years, EEOC employees have served a vital role in ensuring our workplaces are free of discrimination and open to everyone,” President Cox said. “They and all other government employees have dedicated their careers to serving the public. This campaign is our way of thanking them for their service and reminding Americans of the valuable work they do.”

WMUR/UNH Poll Shows Shaheen’s Net Favorability And Lead Have Doubled

SenJeanneShaheen

Shaheen Lead Grows To 12, Favorability Go +28

Public Poll Shows Brown Losing Ground, Still Deeply Unpopular, and His Campaign Struggling 

Manchester — The latest WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll shows Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s lead has doubled from six to 12 points over Scott Brown and her favorability is up to 57%, while millions in ad spending on his behalf have left Brown in a weaker position than when he started the race. Brown’s unfavorability is at 40%, 9 points higher than his favorability.

Jeanne Shaheen’s strong favorable rating in tonight’s WMUR/UNH poll is proof that Granite Staters trust Jeanne Shaheen and know that she puts New Hampshire first and works hard to make a difference for people here.  Senator Shaheen is popular with voters, 57% of whom have a favorable opinion of the job she is doing, and her net favorable rating is a strong 28 points. She leads all of her potential Republican challengers – each of whom is deeply unpopular with New Hampshire voters – by double digits, and receives at least 50% support in every match-up.

“This poll shows what Granite Staters know: Jeanne Shaheen puts New Hampshire first and her common sense leadership makes a difference for people here. She’s got deep roots in New Hampshire, raised her family here and her record proves she shares our values,” said campaign manager Mike Vlacich.

Big Oil and Republican special interests have outspent Democratic groups to attack Jeanne Shaheen, and Scott Brown has spent big on his own positive advertising.  But Scott Brown is losing by a larger margin and is less popular now than he was when he got in the race. The poll also shows Bob Smith right at Brown’s heels. Since the last WMUR/UNH poll Republican groups have spent nearly a million dollars on dishonest and negative attacks against New Hampshire’s Senator, Jeanne Shaheen.

“The Big Oil Koch Brothers are desperate to get Scott Brown back into the Senate to protect their interests, not New Hampshire’s,” continued Vlacich.  “But what they are finding out is that New Hampshire is not for sale.  We are committed to running the type of grassroots people-powered campaign that New Hampshire deserves, and correcting every one of Big Oil’s dishonest attacks.”

Public Pensions: Still Waiting to be ‘Made Whole’

IOU in a piggy bank by Images of Money via Flikr

IOU in a piggy bank by Images of Money via FlikrLooks like the Justice Department is settling cases with banks responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown. Citigroup is next up: and reported to be paying $7 billion to end Justice Department investigations.

But I don’t see any of that money headed back to public pension systems.

…like, say, New Hampshire? In June 2007, the New Hampshire Retirement System Trust Fund held $29.7 million in Citigroup stock. Within two years, that stock had lost 94% of its value. (That’s a lot of retirees’ COLAs, right there.)

…like, maybe, Detroit? In June 2007, the two retirement systems covering Detroit public employees had a total of $343 million invested in mortgages. But after the crash, the systems’ “unfunded pension liability” was one of the main justifications for declaring that Detroit was “bankrupt.” (Read “Detroit’s Pension Systems: not ‘unaffordable’, just battered by Wall Street” here.)

State and local pension funds lost a total of $1 Trillion (yes, with a “T”) in value between 2007 and 2008. NOT a coincidence: those state and local pension funds are now “underfunded” by $1 Trillion.

And now the Justice Department is wrapping up its investigations, with fines to the federal government and assistance to homeowners…

… and nothing, as far as I can tell, in the way of restitution to all those public employees whose retirement dreams were destroyed.

Meanwhile, Wall Street broke more records last week…

…and Governor Chris Christie has decided not to pay New Jersey’s pension system more than $2 billion in employer contributions.

New Hampshire public sector retirees haven’t received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2010.

Detroit’s retirees are voting on whether to accept benefit cuts.

And so far, only one banker has gone to jail (compared to 839 people who were convicted for crimes during the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s)…

…and as far as I can tell, nothing whatsoever in the way of restitution to public pension funds.

Does that $7 billion settlement sound like a lot to you? Here’s some context:

  • That’s just slightly higher than the $6.4 billion Citigroup had originally planned to spend next year to buy back corporate stock. (Why would a company buy its own stock? “To counteract the dilution of bank shares when executives are awarded stock as incentives.”)
  • It’s roughly equal to six-months’ profit for the corporation.
  • It’s less than 2% of what Citigroup received in the federal bailout.
  • It’s less than one percent of what public pension funds lost in the meltdown.

Mad, yet?

Read the Rolling Stone’s “Looting the Pension Funds” here.

Read “The Plot Against Pensions” here.

 

Long Island Railroad Labor Dispute Could Leave Thousands Stranded

SMART Protest
SMART Protest

June 21 Rally to end the LIRR Strike.  Image from SMART Facebook

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) members who keep the Long Island Railroad running are about to walk off the job in strike.  The SMART members have been in a bitter labor dispute for months with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) over the MTA’s demand for benefit cuts and mandatory concessions.

“MTA management has rejected recommendations from two Presidential Emergency Boards that would end the dispute,” wrote Paul Pimentel, communication representative for SMART in an email to the NH Labor News. “Union members ask for nothing more than what both these neutral federal boards have already recommended.  “Rejecting the findings of a Presidential Emergency Board would be unprecedented and would create uncertainty for future events that involve similar mediation efforts.”

Workers have agreed that July 20th with be the day that the strike will begin, if MTA does not work with SMART to resolve their dispute.  A work stoppage would cripple Long Island, stopping millions of people from getting to work, and tourists from visiting the luxurious Long Island beaches.

The MTA boasts that over 2 billion people ride the MTA every single year.  How many of those people are coming from or going to Long Island?

“SMART and its partner unions have no interest in a work stoppage that would hurt Long Island Rail Road riders and small businesses dependent on tourism during the crucial summer months,” wrote Pimentel.

This dispute could be solved with strong leadership from New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo.  Gov. Cuomo, who is pursuing a possible run for the Democratic nomination for President, has yet to get involved in this dispute.  Even after a group of Democratic and Republican State and Federal leaders sent a letter to Governor Cuomo and the MTA Chairman Prendergast to end this dispute before any harm comes to the people of Long Island.

What is Governor Cuomo waiting for? Does he really want to see thousands of people stranded as the trains stop moving?

Take a moment and tell Governor Cuomo to step up and show what a true leader is by ending this dispute before any work stoppage occurs.  Send him a letter by clicking here.