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Rand Wilson SEIU 888: A Smart Strategy to Defeat ‘Right to Work’

Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. "Just Cause for All" campaigns should be part of the strategy. Photo: Glenn Schmidt.

 Photo: Glenn Schmidt.

By Rand Wilson

Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states.
“Just Cause for All” campaigns should be part of the strategy.

Wisconsin is now the 25th state to adopt a so-called “right-to-work” law, which allows workers to benefit from collective bargaining without having to pay for it.

It joins Michigan and Indiana, which both adopted right to work in 2012. Similar initiatives, or variants, are spreading to Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia—and the National Right to Work Committee and the American Legislative Exchange Council probably have a well-developed list of additional targets.

Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. To defeat it, the first step is committing to fight back, rather than resigning ourselves to what some say is inevitable.

Everyone’s Interests

Rand Wilson speaking at Local 888 convention 2014

Rand Wilson speaking at Local 888 convention 2014

We’ll have to go beyond what we’ve mostly been saying so far, which is that right to work is “unfair” or “wrong.”

That argument certainly works for most union households and many of our community allies. But the real challenge is to convince a much broader public that a strong (and fairly-funded) labor movement is in their interest and worth preserving. Clearly most Americans aren’t yet convinced.

Many unions over the last few years have undertaken important campaigns along these lines. For example, teachers unions have positioned themselves as defenders of quality public education. Refinery workers have struck for public safety.

Nurses and health care unions have fought for safe staffing to improve the quality of care. And most notably, the Service Employees (SEIU) and others have waged the “Fight for $15” for fast food and other low-wage workers.

In its own way, each union is working hard to be a champion of the entire working class. Yet with the exception of SEIU’s Fight for $15, each is essentially focused on the issues of its core constituency at work. This still limits the public’s perception of labor.

Supporters of right to work cynically play on the resentment many workers feel about their declining standard of living. Absent a union contract, the vast majority have few, if any, ways to address it. To most, organizing looks impossible and politics looks broken.

Workers’ understandable frustration is fertile ground for the far right, which promises to improve the business climate and create more jobs by stripping union members of their power.

Thus, when we anticipate right to work’s next targets, the best defense should be a good offense—one that clearly positions labor as a force for the good of all workers.

‘Just Cause for All’

Here’s one approach that would put labor on the offensive: an initiative for a new law providing all workers with due process rights to challenge unjust discipline and discharge, “Just Cause for All.”

Such a law would take aim at the “at-will” employment standard covering most non-union workers in the U.S. At-will employees can be fired for any reason and at any time—without just cause.

While such a major expansion of workers’ rights as Just Cause for All would be unlikely to pass in most state legislatures—Montana did it in 1987, but it’s still the only one—it could become law in states that allow ballot initiatives.

A well-orchestrated attack on the at-will employment standard would force the extreme, anti-worker, and big business interests who back right to work to respond. If nothing else, imagine how competing initiatives would force a debate. On one side, extending due process protections and increased job security to all workers: a real right-to-work bill. On the other side, taking away fair share contributions for collective bargaining.

This strategy isn’t untested. When the Coors beer dynasty backed a right-to-work ballot initiative in Colorado in 2008, labor collected signatures for a counter-initiative, “Allowable Reasons for Employee Discharge or Suspension,” which would have overturned at-will employment. (Labor also supported a proposal that would have provided affordable health insurance to all employees and a measure to allow workers injured on the job to sue for damages in state courts.)

Fearing that the just cause proposal might pass, centrist business people offered a deal. In exchange for labor withdrawing its proposal, they provided financial support and manpower that helped labor defeat right to work in Colorado. (For more on this story, read “The 2008 Defeat of Right to Work in Colorado: Is it the End of Section 14(b)?” Raymond L. Hogler, Labor Law Journal, Spring 2009.)

While it’s unfortunate that the labor initiative didn’t go before Colorado voters, the result was still encouraging—and instructive. By championing the interests of all workers, labor split business and blunted the right-to-work effort.

To win back “fair-share” participation in the three new right-to-work states and stop further attacks, we’ll need well-planned campaigns that include grassroots mobilization, direct action, paid and earned media, and focused electoral work.

Just Cause for All campaigns should be part of the strategy. Even if we lose, campaigns for due process and job security for all will help shift the debate on right to work, leave the labor movement stronger—and make labor and its allies once again the champions of the “99%.”

Rand Wilson is policy and communications director at SEIU Local 888 in Boston.

This story was also published on LaborNotes.

USW President Leo W. Gerard: The GOP’s Big Squeeze

Editor’s note: Beginning this week, the NH Labor News will also be posting a weekly editorial from United Steelworkers President Leo W Gerard. 

(Image by Gage Skidmore CC FLIKR)

(Image by Gage Skidmore CC FLIKR)

Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation last week to lower the wages of Wisconsin’s middle class workers. He wants pay cuts for hard working Wisconsinites.

It’s part of a pattern established by Wisconsin’s Republican governor and the Republicans who control the state legislature. Earlier, they slashed the paychecks ofteachers and government workers by 8 to 10 percent. Wisconsin Republicans refused to raise the minimum wage for workers who haven’t seen an increase in six years, even as 29 states gave raises to the lowest paid. Meanwhile, Walker and his GOP gang butchered state funding for public schools and propose the same fate for the state’s public universities – the colleges that, until now, the middle class could afford.

For putting the squeeze on workers, Walker is the darling of the GOP. In some polls,the college dropout is their leading candidate for the presidential nomination. His Mitt Romney-like hatred of the 47 percent, the working poor and organized labor is so GOP-revered that freshmen Republican governors like Bruce Rauner of Illinois are aping his efforts to shove workers down.

 

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Photo by Rob Chandanals on Flickr.

 

The legislation Walker signed last week is called right-to-work-for-less. That’s because workers in states with these laws are paid $1,500 a year less. Wherever Republicans control a house of a state legislature, they propose it.

After Republicans won majorities in both houses in West Virginia for the first time in eight decades, the GOP immediately introduced right-to-work-for-less legislation. GOP Gov. Rauner, a billionaire, tried to circumvent Illinois’ Democrat-controlled legislature by imposing right-to-work-for-less on government workers by executive fiat.

Every adult American, of course, has the right to work. What this legislation does is help corporations and state governments cut workers’ pay. Its intent is regressive. Republicans want to return America to the days when robber barons controlled workers’ lives completely. This was a time of grotesque income inequality, of child labor, of tragically unsafe workplaces, of bosses compelling workers to remain on the job 50, 60 even 80 hours a week with no overtime pay.

American workers already are suffering the worst income inequality since the Great Depression. Right-to-work-for-less laws worsen that. These statutes forbid employers and labor organizations from negotiating collective bargaining agreements requiring all workers to pay either fair share fees or union dues.

At workplaces where employees have chosen union representation, federal law requires the labor organization to act on behalf of all of the workers, whether or not they join and pay dues. Fair share fees, which are less than dues, cover costs such as bargaining contracts that benefit all workers and representing workers who haven’t joined the union but want it to file grievances for them against the company.

Right-to-work-for-less laws are intended to bankrupt unions. And they do.

In Wisconsin four years ago, before passage of right-to-work-for-less legislation for government workers, Council 40 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing county and municipal workers, received dues or fair share payments from 32,000 workers. Now, Council 40 gets dues from 13,000. That cut nearly in half the funds it has to represent all 32,000 workers. As reduced income diminishes the AFSCME Council’s ability to do that well, more workers may quit and stop paying dues. That’s the death spiral Republicans are seeking.

Wisconsin unions representing workers at private companies face that same fate as a result of the new right-to-work-for-less legislation that Gov. Walker signed last week.

Right-to-work-for-less laws take from workers the tool they used for decades to secure better wages and working conditions. Right-to-work-for-less sends workers back to the desperate days before 1935. That’s the year Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act encouraging collective bargaining.

For nearly four decades after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the act, union membership grew, America’s middle class blossomed and income inequality shriveled. For the past three decades, as Republicans attacked workers’ right to collectively bargain for better lives, union membership shrank and workers’ wages stagnated. Now, income inequality is back to robber baron levels.

While the GOP attacked unions, Republicans like Walker and Rauner wounded the working poor and middle class in other ways as well. They cut funding for public transit, day care and unemployment insurance. They slashed spending for public education from Florida to Oklahoma to Arizona.

Now, GOP governors are demanding hundreds of millions in cuts to the public universities attended by the children of America’s middle class. Rauner wants to take $400 million from the University of Illinois. Walker wants to slash $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey wants to carve $75 million out of his state’s universities.

The result is that while workers get paid less, they’re shelling out more to buy bus tickets to their jobs, to ensure that while they work their toddlers are safe and to give their kids a college education.

This is the GOP’s big squeeze. It means the death of opportunity for the working poor to climb into the middle class. It means more of the middle class dragged down into poverty as workers scramble to pay ever-climbing bills with ever-smaller paychecks.

Unions and progressive groups are fighting back. Unions, including the United Steelworkers, have filed lawsuits in Wisconsin and Illinois to try to reverse right-to-work-for-less in those states. And a coalition of progressive groups and social welfare organizations staged protests last week across the country under the banner: “We Rise.”  They’re demanding politicians put people and the planet first – that is, before the greed interests and ecological disinterest of Republicans and big corporations.

They refuse to be strangled by the GOP.

Scott Walker, A Horrible Governor And Based On What He Has Done To Wisconsin, Should Not Be President

There is now doubt that the Republican’s are off and running in their attempts to win New Hampshire’s First In The Nation Primary.

This weekend Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tested the primary waters with a whirlwind tour of New Hampshire. Walker has recently come under fire for his comments comparing union protesters to ISIS terrorists. Union members across the country were appalled by Gov. Walker’s statement at the CPAC convention. We are workers not terrorists!

Now, Gov. Walker has taken his anti-worker, pro-business agenda on the road and one of his first stops is New Hampshire, where he was immediately met by hundreds of protestors. Labor leaders from across New England demanded an apology from Gov. Walker for his comments at the CPAC convention.

(Below is a short video of some of the speeches given in Concord)

 

The fact is that Governor Walker would be a complete nobody if it were not for his outright assault on working families in Wisconsin and his laundry list of controversy that follows him like a puppy dog.

Pretty much everyone in the country knows about Walker’s attack on working families, when he striped away the collective bargaining rights of tens of thousands of Wisconsin workers. The outrage from unions can still be felt in union halls across the country. Then to make it worse, Walker just pushed for and signed “Right to Work” legislation that is a well know union busting piece of legislative garbage. Listen to this compelling testimony from a Vietnam Veteran opposing Right To Work in Wisconsin.

Directly attacking union workers is not the only way that Walker has hurt the working families of Wisconsin. He is in some really deep trouble over his current budget, which gave huge tax cuts to his wealthy friends and corporations.

“Governor Walker has called so-called ‘Right to Work’ legislation a distraction and apparently that’s exactly what he wants,” said Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca. “By rushing to pass Right to Work in less than a week, clearly the governor and Republican legislators want to distract from how destructive their budget is for Wisconsin’s workers, students and middle-class families.”

“Under Walker’s fiscal mismanagement the state budget faces a deficit in excess of $2 billion, which Walker proposes balancing with massive cuts to the University of Wisconsin System and K-12 public schools, scoop and toss borrowing schemes, and even hiking the costs of senior’s prescription drugs,” wrote One Wisconsin Now.

Walker’s tenure in the State Capitol has been riddled with accusations of campaign financing violations and criminal investigations.

The New York Times talked about how Gogebic Taconite got approved for a huge mining project in Northern Wisconsin. “The mine legislation was bad enough from an environmental point of view: It allows the operator to fill streams with mine waste, eliminates public hearings and reduces the taxes the operator would have to pay,” wrote the NY Times. “It turns out to be even more shocking from an ethical viewpoint. Newly released documents show that the mine operator, Gogebic Taconite, secretly gave $700,000 to a political group that was helping the governor win a 2012 recall election.”

This campaign donation and the alleged connection between Walker’s recall election campaign and the Wisconsin Club For Growth – a super PAC that cannot legally coordinate with the Walker campaign – brought Walker up on corruption charges.

“Because Wisconsin Club for Growth’s fundraising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker’s agents at the time of Gogebic’s donation, there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited,” a lawyer for lead John Doe prosecutor Francis Schmitz wrote in an April 2014 court filing.

Walker also created a quasi-public job creation agency, called the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which was recently accused of serious wrongdoing. The WEDC came under fire in the Wisconsin State Journal for “failure to track public subsidies to private companies and for the departure of numerous top executives.”

The Wisconsin State Journal continued, “A May 2013 audit found the quasi-public agency was not following state law in how it was keeping tabs on millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, and earlier this week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the agency continues to have difficulties despite assurances that the problem had been addressed.

This does not even begin to scratch the surface of how bad and possibly corrupt Walker truly is. He slashed funding for public schools by $127 million dollars while giving a $10,000 tax break, in the form of a school voucher, for people who send their children to private schools. He also cut over $300 million dollars from the University system and “suggested the cuts could be made up for if professors ‘consider teaching one more class per semester.’”

After cutting the University system by $300 million dollars, Walker had $220 million left over to donate to construct a new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. That is one way to show everyone in Wisconsin, and the rest of America, that getting a quality education is less important than a professional basketball arena.

“Typical Walker,” said NEA Director Britt Hall, an instructor at Wisconsin’s Waukesha County Technical Council, “It’s smoke and mirrors — it’s ‘do more’ on the one hand, and choking the system on the other.”

Scott Walker has made it abundantly clear to the people of Wisconsin that he was the wrong choice for Governor. The state budget is billions short, he cut education by hundreds of millions of dollars, gave tax breaks to wealthy corporations, and he approval rating is beginning to show it. He has fallen over six points in the last few months alone.

“Walker’s made it clear that he sides with big dollar special interests over Wisconsin and New Hampshire working families,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, Executive Director of Granite State Progress. “Our country doesn’t need a Presidential candidate who disparages the voices of tens of thousands of every day citizens but gladly takes phone calls from the billionaire Koch brothers.”

Scott Walker is not right for Wisconsin, not right for New Hampshire, and certainly not right for President.

 

(If you want to see the entire speeches from the Scott Walker protests, here is the long version of the speeches)

 

Hundreds Protest Governor Walker At NH GOP Event In Concord

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The people of Wisconsin have known for many years now how Gov. Scott Walker feels about working families and specifically about unions.

“Scott Walker is politics incarnate having spent almost his entire adult life in elective office,” said One Wisconsin Now Deputy Director Mike Browne. “Take it from us here in Wisconsin, he’ll do or say anything to get himself elected. And once he does, he’ll think nothing of turning around and doing the opposite.”

They even tried to warn the good people of the Granite State to beware of Walker’s “Trail of Deceit, Cronyism, Corruption and Incompetence.

“New Hampshire voters are accustomed to vetting Presidential candidates, and we won’t stand for politicians pandering just to get elected,” Zandra Rice Hawkins, Executive Director of Granite State Progress. “While he is here, Walker will be pressed to state his position on major issues of the day and he will be held accountable for his recent actions catering to the delusional fringe of the Republican Party.”

This morning over 350 workers gathered outside of a NH GOP event in New Hampshire today to condemn Scott Walker’s anti-working family agenda and call for an apology following his recent CPAC comments equating working men and women with the terror group, ISIS.

“Today I’m joined by working men and women not only from New Hampshire, but from across our region, who are under attack,” said NH AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie. “They are under attack by politicians like Governor Walker who has put his own political and corporate interests ahead of working families. It’s these interests, not working people, who are the central agenda of his campaign for President. We’re calling on Governor Walker to apologize for his comments at C10559966_1411792929127380_6660353811694176751_nPAC comparing working people with the group ISIS. Whether it’s attacking the rights of workers or attacking their patriotism, Governor Walker has shown that he’s not on the side of working families and we know that working families won’t be on his side.”

“I’m a retired letter carrier and Vietnam veteran. I worked for 35 years with the US Postal Service after my time in Vietnam,” said New Hampshire resident Lew Henry. “My service, both overseas and here at home, allowed me to provide for my family and make a good life for myself. It’s a right that all workers should have and that all workers are fighting for. But when Governor Walker said that our fight for worker rights was the same as the terror group ISIS, he went too far. There are millions of former veterans currently working across our country today, and many of them union members. They fought hard to make this country a safer place, and they don’t deserve to be compared to terrorists. Governor Walker should apologize – not only for his un-American comments on ISIS, but for his repeated attempts to silence the voices of workers.”

“We’ve seen what Governor Walker’s priorities are: taking away the voice and rights of workers, degrading workers by comparing us to terrorists, and saying whatever he needs to in order to become President,” said Jeff Bourque, a New Hampshire public school teacher. “The people you see here today have a different agenda – we want a voice in our workplace, we want respect from our so-called leaders, and we want an apology from Governor for his comments and his actions.”

Walker’s widely publicized and condemned comments attacking workers came only days before he signed legislation into law aimed at stripping critical rights and protections from workers in Wisconsin. At the press conference and rally, New Hampshire and regional labor leaders and workers promised to hold Walker accountable for his words and actions throughout his Presidential campaign in the First in the Nation Primary state.

(This is a short video of the press conference)

UFCW President Perrone and UFCW Local 1473 (WI) Speak Out Against Governo Walker And Right To Work Legislation

“By standing against hard-working families,
Governor Walker should be ashamed, but we know he is not.”

Marc Perrone, International President of the 1.3 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), today released the following statement in response to the adoption of right to work in Wisconsin.

“Every elected leader has a sacred responsibility to stand up for America’s hard-working families and to help them achieve a better life. Higher wages, better benefits, equal pay for equal work, protection from discrimination and exploitation; those are the rights that unions offer and which we fight for every single day. These are the true rights that Governor Scott Walker wants to take away from the union men and women who work hard, sacrifice, and help make Wisconsin and America a better place.

The truth is by standing against hard-working families, Governor Scott Walker should be ashamed, but we know he is not. He has chosen to pursue a radical agenda that willingly ignores that this law will devastate countless workers and their families. Make no mistake, this law gives irresponsible corporations, let alone politicians, the right to exploit and mistreat countless men and women all across Wisconsin.

Let me be clear, this fight is not over. We will stand up and fight for the right to protect our hard-working union family and the rights of countless families in Wisconsin and all across America who earn and deserve a better life.”

UFCW Protesting Right To Work

UFCW Local 1473 (Milwaukee,WI) Statement on
Passage of Right to Work in Wisconsin

“Just days after comparing union members to foreign terrorists and four years after limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employees, Governor Scott Walker today signed legislation that will lower wages and standards for workers across the State of Wisconsin.

“This is a sad day for our state. Right to Work is a ploy to take away the voice of workers. From refusing to expand BadgerCare for the sick, to enacting tax cuts for the rich, gutting education, slashing funding for State parks, stripping the Natural Resources Board’s authority and consolidating control over the environment into the hands of a few hand-picked politicians and eroding collective bargaining rights for working people – Gov. Walker has shown a true disregard for Wisconsin families. It does nothing to create jobs, attract businesses, or grow the economy. In fact, when it comes to overall quality of life, Right to Work states rank among the worst.

“This is a transparent attempt to gut private sector unions in the State of Wisconsin. But we at UFCW Local 1473 remain optimistic. By signing Right to Work, Gov. Walker continues to tip the scales against working class families in favor of his out of state millionaire and billionaire buddies who fund his campaign. Gov. Walker’s political stock amongst the campaign funding elite may be rising, but it is the people of Wisconsin who are paying the price of his unchecked political ambition. UFCW Local 1473 members understand that workers in unions earn higher wages, receive better benefits, and have more job security. In addition, women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBT workers all have far more protections in a union. In other words, our members know from experience the inherent value of their union contract.

“Wisconsin citizens should ask the Governor, who called for this Right to Work law? Not workers and not our State’s employers who went on record to acknowledge the value unions bring to their companies. It’s time Scott Walker wakes up from his dream of higher office long enough to remember who he took an oath to serve – the working families of Wisconsin not extremist out-of-state donors.

“Today Governor Walker placed himself on the wrong side of history. Collective action is on the rise. From retail stores to meatpacking plants to public schools and ports, workers are standing together and demanding respect on the job. This law will only embolden our movement to organize more workers, bargain better contracts, and hold the corporations and politicians that seek to destroy us accountable. UFCW Local 1473 and all of labor will emerge from this stronger and more united than ever.”

Worker Wins Update: Collective Action Results in Collective Gains in a Big Month for Workers

Workers across the country have stood up in the past month to fight for better wages and working conditions.

Walmart Workers Greet Wage Hike With A Smile: After years of collective actions calling for a raise in wages, Walmart workers won a huge victory as the largest private employer in the United States announced it will soon raise wages to $10 an hour for its lowest-level employees.

Brooklyn Cablevision Workers Get Clear Picture of Bright Future with New Contract: After three years of negotiations, Cablevision workers in Brooklyn, NY have signed a contract with the company, becoming the first workers in the company to earn a union contract.

Rocky Mountain Bus Drivers Deliver Workplace Protections Through Organizing: Colorado bus drivers have organized a vote on establishing a union for workers in an attempt to strengthen their regional transportation system. Drivers assert that raising wages would keep veteran drivers in the system and ensure quality service.

The Nutmeg State’s Spicy Good News: More Union Members: According to the US Department of Labor, 24,000 Connecticut workers joined unions last year. These gains include more than 1,500 University of Connecticut graduate students, and major worker wins in the health care and construction industries.

Workers See Green as Organizing Efforts Pay Off: Last week, workers at a major medical cannabis production facility in Minnesota have voted to organize, making it the first medical marijuana facility in the state to do so.

Columbia University Graduate Student Employees Make the Grade With Union Push: In mid-February, The Graduate Workers of Columbia filed a petition with the NLRB to reopen a case that denied graduate student employees the ability to become a recognized union. This filing comes after a majority of Columbia University graduate student employees signed cards to organize a union.

Nurses Show Organizing Is the Right Prescription for Better Pay, Rights: Northern California nurses are getting their voices heard through an organizing campaign that would create a new union for nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Workers have cited need for additional financial stability and workplace protections.

Today’s Lesson – Fighting for the Rights of Workers: More than 750 Boston University adjunct professors voted to form a union in a fight for better workplace rights and pay. February’s vote comes on the heels of a growing trend of universities to use lower-paid adjunct professors.

Low-Wage Workers in Oakland Raise Hopes After Raising Wages: The minimum wage in Oakland, CA was raised from $9.75 an hour to $12.25 an hour Monday, March 2nd, providing a huge boost for low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet. The increase will impact 48,000 people, a quarter of all workers in Oakland, while also providing paid sick leave to over 56,000 workers.

Philly Families Stay Fit with Paid Sick Leave Law: Workers in Philadelphia achieved a critical victory as the City Council passed legislation to establish mandatory paid sick leave for an estimated 200,000 residents. Philadelphia followed the lead of 16 cities and three states that have enacted similar laws.

Facebook Workers ‘Like’ Better Conditions, Pay Through Union: Facebook shuttle drivers voted to approve a new contract that will raise wages and improve workplace conditions. In addition to Facebook, drivers for major tech companies such Apple, eBay, and Yahoo have also voted to form a union, demonstrating a trend towards better pay and benefits for workers in Silicon Valley.

AFL-CIO National Organizing Workshop Brings Together Over 600 Organizers to Talk Future of Labor

Organizers from labor unions, student and community groups, and worker centers will gather this weekend to discuss strategies and tactics for growing worker power. The convening will demonstrate that workers continue to find new and creative ways to exercise their collective voice even in the face of right-wing opposition in states like Wisconsin, unfair treatment of workers in major sectors such as the oil and gas industry, and rampant income inequality.

The National Organizers Workshop will be hosted by the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute, with over 600 participants coming from across the country and the world. Organizers developed the workshops, will lead the workshops and will address the challenges and opportunities facing them.  Workshop sessions range from supporting organizing efforts of communities of color to adapting to an ‘Uber-model’ economy.

“This weekend was inspired by workers and organizers on the front line of our movement,” said Elizabeth Bunn, Director of the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Department. “Together we’re writing our future and planning together how to win justice for workers and communities.”

This year’s conference, comprised of unions from both the AFL-CIO and the Change-to-Win coalition, is held in the wake of a year of significant successes for organizing within the labor movement. Organizing campaigns have raised wages for Walmart workers, cable television workers, hotel and hospitality workers, legal services workers, nurses, port truck drivers and more. Over the last several months, workers in diverse industries and occupations are forming unions at their workplaces including, bike share workers, reality television writers, graduate teaching assistants, adjunct faculty, and Silicon Valley bus drivers.

To learn more about the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Institute, visit their website by clicking here.

Why Attacks on Public Employee Unions Are on the Rise!

Image by Star Tribune and UnionMatters

Image by Star Tribune and UnionMatters

By Steven Weiner

In recent years throughout America, there have been massive attacks on public employees and the unions that represent them. While I’m heartened by the news that New Hampshire defeated a “Right to Work Bill” in the State Senate, a number of states have enacted “right to work” laws and more are in the offing. The latest salvo has come from the newly elected governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, who, in the name of “fiscal austerity,” issued an executive order that bars public sector unions from requiring workers they represent to pay fees (often called “fair share payments”) to the union. This means that a worker canbenefit from a union’s collective bargaining with respect to wages, health insurance, pensions and job protections, while not financially supporting the union by paying their fair share. The purpose behind this measure is described by Roberta Lynch, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 31:

“I was shocked by the breadth of his assault on labor….It’s not limited to public sector unions. He’s targeting the private sector unions too….It is crystal clear by this action that the governor’s supposed concern for balancing the state budget is a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class.”

Right here in New York teachers are being blamed by various politicians for the state of our education system. In response New York State United Teachers President Karen E. Magee said:

“New York has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation and a professional, highly dedicated teaching force….The truth is, there’s no epidemic of failing schools or bad teachers. There is an epidemic of poverty and under-funding that Albany has failed to adequately address for decades. Nearly one million New York schoolchildren—including more than one-third of African-American and Latino students–live in poverty. The state’s systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably—while giving all teachers the tools and support they need—is the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug.”

And in an open letter in the Albany Times Union, seven retired “Teachers of the Year” added more compelling evidence, writing: “Classes are larger and support services are fewer, particularly for our neediest students….Students with an achievement gap also have an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a family gap, and a safety gap.”

The stepped-up, increasingly ferocious efforts to extinguish public sector unions are alarming. The persons most affected are children, the elderly, and those on very limited incomes. These individuals have few resources, and depend for their well-being on the services provided by those who work in the public sector—in health care, education, libraries, the maintenance of our bridges, roads, parks, and more. To effectively oppose these attacks, their source must be fully understood.

Beginning in 1970 Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, gave a series of lectures in which he showed definitively that America’s economic system—the profit system–had failed, and would never work successfully again. He also said that there would be a huge attempt to keep it going, regardless of the cost to the lives of millions of people. Since then Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, has been giving detailed evidence showing that the only way to keep profit economics going is by impoverishing the American people. That is why in these past years millions of workers have lost their jobs, union-busting is rampant, and increasing numbers of Americans are struggling in desperate poverty.

In an issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss explains:

Because of the failure of business based on private profit, there has been a huge effort in the last decade to privatize publicly run institutions. The technique is to disseminate massive propaganda against the public institutions, and also do what one can to make them fail, including through withholding funding from them. Eminent among such institutions are the public schools and the post office. The desire is to place them in private hands—not for the public good, not so that the American people can fare well—but to keep profit economics going. The purpose of privatizing what the American people as a whole own is 1) to provide new means for private profits to be made—which is necessary if profit economics is to continue at all; and 2) to have people feel that the non-profit or public way of owning and employing does not work and that the only way things can possibly be run is through the profit system!

For the same purpose, we have municipalities giving tax breaks and subsidies to private companies, and handing over public jobs to private firms, while also trying to slash the hard-earned pensions of public employees.

Ellen Reiss is right. I saw this go on firsthand. In my opinion, the chief objection by some (and really the only objection) to public employees is that the work they do does not provide profit to a few individuals and corporations. For example, as a computer specialist for New York City’s Department of Education for more than three decades I took great pride in my work. One of my most satisfying assignments was to take a substantial role in rewriting the computer programs that calculated how much New York State reimbursed the city for the services provided to Special Needs students.  The city and its children depended on getting this money, and I’m glad to say that as a result of my own and other programmers’ efforts, New York received $50 million more per year in reimbursements.  However, by the 1980s, jobs that were being done efficiently by public employees were outsourced to private companies in the name of “efficiency and cost savings”—not so different from what the governors of Illinois and New York are trying to do now. I also saw that often the work performed by profit-making contractors was shoddy and outrageously expensive. As far as I’m concerned, the people of New York City and its students were massively rooked by this outsourcing business. And as Ms. Reiss has explained: “The purpose of privatizing what the American people as a whole own is to provide new means for private profits to be made—which is necessary if profit economics is to continue at all.”

As a passionate, committed union activist, I am convinced that there will be no end to this thirst to privatize the work of public sector employees, and thereby extinguish unions, until the following question asked by Ms. Reiss is answered by union officials and the American people as a whole:

Should our economy be based on contempt, on the seeing of people’s labor and needs as means for someone else’s profit; or should it be based on good will, on having the people of our nation get what they deserve?

It is definitely the second!

NH Senate Tables — Essentially Killing — Right To Work Legislation After 12-12 Vote

Senator Soucy Applauds Defeat of Senate’s So-Called Right to Work Bill

CONCORD – Senator Donna Soucy of Manchester applauds the bipartisan defeat of Senate Bill 107 the so-called “Right to Work Bill” on the Senate Floor by a tie vote of 12-12.

“I am pleased to see the bipartisan defeat of the so-called ‘Right to Work Bill’,” said Senator Soucy. “There’s a reason why Democrats and Republicans have come together to defeat this flawed proposal for decades – it’s simply wrong for New Hampshire.”

After failing to pass on a 12-12 tie vote, the Senate voted to table the proposal which kills the bill for the year. It would require 13 votes to take the bill off the table.

“The facts remain clear, New Hampshire has a lower unemployment rate and a stronger economy than most states with so-called right to work laws,” said Senator Soucy. “In states with a so-called right to work law, workers on average have a lower standard of living, bring home less in their paychecks and go without health insurance more frequently.”

“I want to thank my Republican Senate colleagues for standing up and joining Senate Democrats to defeat this anti-worker legislation.”

TTD Applauds House Passage of Amtrak Reauthorization

Transportation Trade Department LogoWashington, DC—Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issues this statement about the House passage of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA):

“Today the House of Representatives took an important step to sustain Amtrak, America’s national passenger railroad. The overwhelming vote today on the floor of the House also demonstrates that the nation’s largest transportation challenges can be met with bipartisan cooperation and problem solving.

“As transportation unions recently declared in our Executive Committee policy statement, we now have an opportunity to set in motion a long-term vision for federal passenger rail policy. We are pleased that the House has endorsed a multi-year investment for Amtrak at a time when the railroad and its workforce are dealing with rising demand and aging equipment and infrastructure. While we will continue to advocate for higher federal funding levels for Amtrak, PRRIA gives Amtrak a measure of certainty as it advances long-term modernization plans.

“We are especially pleased that the House rejected an amendment that would have zeroed out Amtrak, hollowed out our only national passenger railroad, and destroyed thousands of middle-class jobs. Amtrak is an important driver of jobs and economic development and, like all areas of our transportation system, requires federal support in order to thrive. By voting against the McClintock amendment, members of Congress rejected the idea that the federal government should abdicate its responsibility to fund a key component of our national transportation system.

“Today’s bipartisan action in the House shows that members of Congress have heardAmericans across the country who have called for increased passenger rail service. I especially want to thank Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio, as well as Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham and Ranking Member Michael Capuano, for crafting this bill and moving it through the House.

“As PRRIA advances in the Senate, we will continue to oppose privatization mandates, outsourcing schemes, and other so-called reforms that would undermine Amtrak and its workforce and that were rejected in the House bill. At the same time, we will push for funding levels necessary to meet the long-term needs of our neglected passenger rail system and ensure that Amtrak is in a position to provide the type and level of service Americans are calling for.”

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