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February 27, 1937

February 27, 1937

Just days after the autoworkers’ victory at General Motors, more than 100 women workers at one of forty Woolworth stores in Detroit, Michigan, begin a sit-down strike over wages, hours, working conditions, and union recognition. Solidarity action in support of the workers was incredible, the strike spread, and on March 5 the workers won their demands, including the union shop. The union won a uniform contract for all forty stores in Detroit, which covered 2,500 workers.

February 25, 1941

February 25, 1941

The February Strike begins. It was a general strike in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands by workers against the pogroms and deportation of Jews in Amsterdam. It was the only direct action of its kind during World War II in Europe against the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. The strike is commemorated annually on February 25 at the statue of the De Dokwerker (“The Dock Worker”) in Amsterdam.

February 24, 1919

February 24, 1919

Congress passes a federal Child Labor Tax law that imposes a 10 percent tax on companies that employ children, defined as anyone under the age of 16 working in a mine/quarry or under the age of 14 in a “mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment.” The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1922.

Playing Against The House: The True Story Of An Undercover Union Organizer

PlayingAgainsttheHouse.coverimageAs an active union member, and labor blogger, I have always enjoyed sharing the stories of unions winning an election or ratifying their first contract. I know that it is very hard to organize a worksite but it was not until I read “Playing Against The House” that I truly began to understand how hard organizing workers and winning a union election really is.

When I began my career, I was lucky enough to have a union there to represent me. The only choice I had to make was to join the union or not.

I never had to risk losing my job and falling into homelessness over my decision to join the union. I never understood the risks workers face as a union election approaches.

Playing Against The House” is powerful and an amazingly well written book about the difficulties workers face when trying to organize their worksites and the fear workers face as their employer pushes back against their organizing efforts.

The book is a first person account of James Walsh’s experiences working in the service industry at two casinos in South Florida. The struggle to pay his bills, living off tips, the terrible shifts, all while working to build support for the union organizing drive.

After graduating from grad school, Walsh decided he wanted to write a book how unions organize workers. Walsh decided to become a union “salt”. A salt is a worker who helps to build support for the union from the inside of the company. In Walsh’s case he became a server at a couple of different casinos in the South Florida area.

James Walsh Photo Credit Cory Vander Ploeg

James Walsh
Photo Credit Cory Vander Ploeg

Walsh worked with organizers from UNITE HERE to get a job at the casinos the union had a card check agreement with. As a salt, Walsh was there to build connections with other workers, to identify leaders who would be willing to stand up against their employer, and to encourage more workers to support the union.

I was riveted by the story. I literally could not put the book down. I began to feel the anxiety as the organizers began collecting signature cards. I felt angry when workers were fired for supporting the union, knowing full well that it was an illegal termination. I was inspired as workers held demonstrations and were arrested in support of their fellow workers wrongful terminations.

Throughout the book, Walsh highlights the strong anti-union, anti-worker corporate agenda as the casino bosses skirt the edges of illegal union busting activities.   Walsh provided detailed accounts of the tactics used by his employer as they work to squash organizing drives.

To truly comprehend the hard work and dedication it takes to win an organizing drive, this book is an absolute must read.

(Below are a few other quotes praising Walsh’s work.)

The Dramatic World of an Undercover Union Organizer

By James D. Walsh

“[Walsh] does an engagingly readable job of humanizing the labor battle, showing just how much power the corporations wield.” Kirkus Reviews

“The degree of commitment shown by this young author is stunning. James Walsh used his two years in low wage jobs to help bring a union fight to casino owners and, now, an original, first-hand account to readers. It’s an up-close, empathetic portrait of the working poor, in particular the bravest among them, and what happens when idealism meets the sausage-making of union organizing.” —Ted Conover, author of Rolling Nowhere and Newjack: Guardian Sing Sing

“James Walsh’s Playing Against the House is a brilliantly conceived and executed undercover exposé about union rights at casinos. Set in South Florida, the narrative is full of compassion for the hard-working poor. Every page sizzles. This is New Journalism at its finest.” —Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite   

Meet James Walsh

March 7 * Half King Reading Series * New York, NY

April 3 * Politics & Prose * Washington, DC

Labor Innovations for the 21st Century (LIFT) Fund Announces 2015 Grantees

$585,000 given to 17 worker center-union partnerships nationwide, highlighting innovations and success in new forms of organizing 

Today, the LIFT Fund announced its 2015 grantees, awarding $585,000 to 17 worker centers partnering with labor unions nationwide – from Mississippi and New Mexico to Tennessee and New York – that support building worker power using new, innovative forms of organizing.

Grantees span regions, sectors and size—from seafood workers at Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores in Massachusetts, to hospitality workers at Nashville’s Workers Dignity Dignidad Obrera, to construction workers at the Los Angeles Black Workers Center.

At a time of unprecedented income inequality, precarious work and depressed wages, workers are more atomized than ever. Yet those at the edges of the economy are finding strength in numbers and discovering promising new ways to advance worker justice. They are building at the grassroots, organizing through campaigns that combat wage theft and discriminatory hiring practices, and creating strong enforcement mechanisms. These efforts are raising the living wage, improving labor standards across supply chains, and providing models for how to do it sustainably and at an increasingly larger scale. 

Through a partnership between foundations, including the Ford Foundation, General Service Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Solidago Foundation, and the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund is identifying and supporting these new worker-organizing models in order to facilitate broad impact and shared knowledge. The goal is to build infrastructure for the long haul: resources, spaces for relationship building, academic research and collaborations that produce strategies to drive industry-wide changes and support worker justice. These efforts aim to increase worker power, build nonunion-worker organization, and improve the living conditions of communities that are majority people of color and immigrants. 

“Black workers are leading the struggle for economic justice in Los Angeles, and this partnership is a powerful example of how to fuel the fight for a fair economy that puts our families first,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, Co-founder and Coordinating Committee Chair of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. “The LIFT Fund’s grant is a recognition of what works and a model of how to create fertile ground for organizing for years to come.”

Centro Comunitaro de Trabajadores is working with the National Guestworkers Alliance and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to better the working conditions throughout the seafood supply chain in the second-most profitable seafood processing port in the country; the Los Angeles Black Workers Center is working with the LA County Labor Federation to fight for a world-class Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement to address exclusionary practices in the construction and garment industries, push for fair wages, and combat a host of other worker issues through a racial justice lens. Workers Dignity Dignidad Obrera is working with the Iron Workers International to fight some of the nation’s worst labor conditions at publicly subsidized construction sites and hotels by building workplace organizing committees and launching public-pressure campaigns around municipal funding cycles. 

“In Nashville, we are pioneering new forms of organizing to combat truly abhorrent labor conditions, so the LIFT Fund’s support is vital,” said Garrett Stark of Ironworkers International Union. “Our close working relationship with Workers Dignity Dignidad Obrera will have implications for workers across the country. We are proud to be part of it.”

Established in 2011, the LIFT Fund is a first-of-its kind partnership between worker centers, labor unions, academics in the field, and philanthropic institutions to support investment in projects that build worker power through collaboration between worker centers and labor unions. To date, it has awarded more than $1.5 million in grants to 38 worker centers in 15 states. The Fund documents ongoing innovations and successes and sponsors cross-sector, field-level gatherings to share what has been learned. 

“The LIFT Fund creates an exceptional space for grantees and partners to bring together emerging and sometimes experimental innovations with concrete, tried-and-true power building strategies,” said Aditi Vaidya of the Solidago Foundation. “It is at these intersections that we can lift up and amplify the most promising, ambitious models for the future of worker organizing.”

In A Close Vote, Ground Workers Approve New Contract With Southwest Airlines

Southwest Jet at BWI (image by Rudi Riet FLIKR CC)

Southwest Jet at BWI (image by Rudi Riet FLIKR CC)

New labor agreement with Southwest includes 20 percent wage increase, first raises in five years for many ramp workers at highly profitable airline workers at highly profitable airline 

DALLAS  – After a five-year, often difficult contract battle, Transport Workers Union Local 555, the union representing 12,000 ground crew workers employed by Southwest Airlines, announced today that union members narrowly voted to approve a tentative agreement with the airline. TWU members by a close margin, 50.4 percent (4,703) cast “yes” votes, and 49.6 percent voted “no” (4,628), out of 11,073 eligible.  Electronic voting began February 4 and concluded earlier today.  Ballots were tallied this afternoon in Dallas.

 On December 29, 2015, the TWU Local 555 Executive Board voted to send the tentative agreement to union members for a ratification vote without a recommendation.  Contract talks had been ongoing since July of 2011 and federal mediation with the assistance of the National Mediation Board began in September of 2012.

“Our Board wanted the members to decide this one,” said TWU Local 555 President Greg Puriski. “While we had reached agreement on significant improvements in compensation there were still unresolved issues important to our members related primarily to working conditions. This was a hard vote for many of our members and this explains the close results.”  The new contract includes pay raises of more than 20 percent over the five-year life of the agreement. 

Southwest Airlines earned a record 2.4 billion in 2015. The airline has been growing in both size and profits since the ground workers contract became amendable in 2011, yet many ground workers have not had a raise during that period.

“This agreement is not the end of the road,” said Puriski. “This is merely a stop on the journey. We will continue to work for improved job security and working conditions and stress the importance of recapturing the culture that has made this company a model for not only the airline industry, but for all U.S. employers.”

Added Puriski, “Southwest’s long-time winning formula has largely been replaced by a structure not unlike the failed legacy carriers of the past. Other airlines have become more like Southwest. Somewhere our flight paths crossed—we’re now becoming what they used to be. Management should look at the closeness of this vote and respect what the “no” voters have said and work with the union leadership to improve working conditions and employee morale in order to build an even more successful Southwest Airlines.” 

TWU Local 555 is a local union of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), representing more than 12,000 ramp, operations, provisioning and freight agents at Southwest Airlines.

February 20, 1917

February 20, 1917

Wartime inflation fuels workers’ demands for increased wages; in the first six months of 1917 alone, there were over 3,000 strikes in the United States. Food riots were also common and on this date, thousands of women took to the streets in New York City to protest exorbitant prices. Their actions precipitated a boycott campaign that eventually forced prices down.

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