Whither Unions? – Organizing Lessons from a Right-To-Work State

Published on ZNet, by Paul Rubin, Jan 18, 2016.

The labor movement in this country is in deep crisis. All too many unions are losing members, confronting deteriorating job conditions, and fighting defensive battles. One would think that labor in conservative, right-to-work states would be in the worst shape of all. But this is not necessarily so. One union local in historically conservative Arizona has continued to grow not just in size but, more importantly, in influence. I believe there are lessons here for labor activists across the nation … //

… Internal Organizing/Education:

  • A union is only as strong as its leaders and activists in the shops. High turnover rates are characteristic of the food service industry, especially among grocery store workers. These high turnover rates compel food service unions to continuously organize internally just to maintain its membership density. This requires constantly educating the membership on what it means to be a union member and what the union is all about. For this reason, Local 99 spends significant time training staff in how to recognize potential leaders and advance their development. As part of this effort to help them develop as leaders, staff is required to meet with stewards or activists on a weekly basis.
  • Union leaders need to understand the big picture. Local 99 focuses a lot of energy on developing stewards and activists through regular steward trainings (for example, on worker safety, labor history, all the factors affecting negotiations – internal and external, the correlation between the decline of unions and the rise of inequality); day long steward conferences, both large and small; regular evening zone meetings of geographically close worksites, town hall meetings (the union represents workers throughout the entire state) via telephone on pressing issues (members can ask questions or make comments throughout the call); and individually by staff representatives. The union uses Facebook, both from the union but also from individual Union Reps, to communicate with member and has developed a young workers program.
  • Union building means developing rank and file leaders in the shops. The union regularly runs internal organizing campaigns to both increase membership and to have increased interaction with members. In addition to staff working on these programs, the union employs SPURs (Special Project Union Reps) who are rank-and-file members who take a leave from work and work alongside regular staff (or if capable – of working by themselves) for a set period for the union. Not only do the SPURs help the union grow during these campaigns but when they return to their worksite they take a new perspective with them. During these campaigns, staff is equipped not just with a list of non-members but with updated lists on current members who are not registered voters or aren’t contributing to the political PAC. Well over half of the membership contributes to the political PAC. The union also makes sure, on these campaigns, that stewards and activists are involved in all the sign-up activities.

Organizing the Unorganized: … //

… Political Action: … //
… Immigrants Rights: … //

… Building the labor movement at the intersection of economics, politics and community involvement – A Case Study:

A recent example illustrates how UFCW 99 combined the various elements discussed above: the union’s three-year campaign to organize janitors at the Phoenix airport. Most of these workers were either refugees or immigrants, so not just issues of pay and benefits, but also the fight for dignity and respect was critical to this campaign. Although job turnover throughout the campaign was high, the Union managed to maintain a strong organizing committee and a core of activists, with new leaders continuously sought out and developed, that were key to our success.

Since the Phoenix City Council manages the airport, it was a major focus of the campaign. The union’s past electoral support of Council members who were committed to improving the lives of working people gave us particular leverage in this arena at several stages of the campaign.

When the campaign began, the janitorial company hired by the City Council to work the airport was aggressively anti-union. Local 99 was equally aggressive in fighting for the rights of workers and for those who were penalized for union activity. After winning a number of cases, including getting fired workers their jobs back, and after public protests and worker demonstrations, the company lost its contract with the city. In addition to our political clout, the union’s previous community involvement was critical here – whenever there were demonstrations or picketing of the employer, other community and religious organizations always participated (Local 99 had an active record of supporting and often providing seed money to broader community groups working on other issues like education, payday loans, housing, LBGT rights, discrimination and domestic abuse.)

Our next task was to convince the Council to change the way it awarded airport contracts. Historically, contracts had gone to the lowest bidder, which meant the one paying the lowest wages and offering the least benefits. The union pushed for a bidding process that created a “floor” so that whoever got the bid would be in a position to both provide livable wages and not have to worry about losing the contract on the next open bidding process to a low wage operator.

The next company awarded the airport janitorial contract was initially equally anti-union but after similar pressure agreed to a card check. At this point, the union’s hard work in education and mobilization really paid off. The Union won the card check and when it came time to ratify the contract, not only was there a huge turnout, but membership sign-up for the union was almost 100%. And while the pay issues were immediately addressed in the contract, the contract also contained language addressing worker concerns about dignity and respect. The employer agreed in writing to treat all workers with respect and dignity, to maintain a work environment free of harassment, to develop and post a policy regarding harassment and to train all employees and supervisors regarding such policy.

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Putin offers Russian refuge to European Jews facing anti-Semitism, on RT, Jan 20, 2016;

Drone footage shows total devastation in Homs, on RT, Jan 20, 2016 [VIDEO 1.01 min];

World facing ‘wave of epic debt defaults,’ says economist who predicted Lehman crash, on RT, Jan 20, 2016;

Spain’s deadlocked parliament a reflection of the crisis of the regime, on In Defence of Marxism, by Jorge Martin, Jan 18, 2016;

USA, Texas: LISD students to offer free tax assistance, on LMT Online, Jan 17, 2016;

Published on Geopolitical Analysis, by K.N. Pandita:
Face to face with Frankenstein, Jan 17, 2016;
Pathankot airbase attack, Jan 5, 2016;

Suisse: Nicolas Walder en course pour la présidence des Verts, dans Tribune de Genève, par Marc Bretton, le 15 janv 2016 … ’à titre personnel, je soutiens les initiatives fédérales pour un revenu de base ou une monnaie pleine …;

What the World Bank report on tech-related income inequality is missing - Yochai Benkler, on The Guardian, Jan 15, 2016;

Major jump in congressional support for releasing the 28 pages …, on Executive Intelligence Review EIR, Jan 9, 2016 … the 28 suppressed pages of the 9/11 Joint Congressional Inquiry report, purported to reveal details of Saudi funding of that terrorist attack on American soil …;

Saudis unveil radical austerity programme, on Financial Times FT, Dec 28, 2015;

Release the 28 Pages, Restore Democracy – Ray McGovern, 28.29 min, uploaded by Joe Friendly, Nov 29, 2014 … “The Surveillance Pseudo-State – Release the 28 Pages” by Ray McGovern, CIA Analyst 1963-1970, co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals For Sanity, presented Nov. 22, 2014 at event titled “End America’s Blindness, Restore Its Vision – Open the 28 Pages (Dedicated to President John F. Kennedy and the victims and families of 9/11)” which took place at All Souls Church in Manhattan. Ray was extremely informative on details of the Senate/House Joint Inquiry into 9/11 including how it was viewed by many in the intelligence community as a “pretend” investigation, many glaring omissions, imposed limitations, and a coverup of FBI collusion. video by Joe Friendly;

… see again on this blog:

2015-12-27: Who Owns the Federal Reserve Bank;
2015-12-24: The Potential of Debtors’ Unions;
2015-12-21: what means Socialism for Americans?
2015-12-19: Dept concerns;
2015-12-02: … socialism with an iPad – John McDonnell.

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